Is it possible that the idea of a pre-Tribulation rapture is correct, while the doctrine of imminence is not? Is it possible to divorce the pre-Trib rapture from imminence? Is it possible they never really belonged together, in the first place?
Most bible commentators, and scholars, if they are pre-trib also believe in the imminent return of Christ. I began with this philosophy, and held it for many years, however, during the research for The Spirit of Prophecy, I began to see that these two ideas do not necessarily depend on each other. In fact I have come to believe that linking them together can be counter-productive.
I have found at least five references to a pre-Tribulation rapture in the Old Testament (maybe 6), but for the sake of brevity, will only discuss a couple here.
13 O LORD our God, other lords beside thee have had dominion over us: but by thee only will we make mention of thy name. 14 They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise: therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish. 15 Thou hast increased the nation, O LORD, thou hast increased the nation: thou art glorified: thou hadst removed it far unto all the ends of the earth. 16 LORD, in trouble have they visited thee, they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them. 17 Like as a woman with child, that draweth near the time of her delivery, is in pain, and crieth out in her pangs; so have we been in thy sight, O LORD. 18 We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were brought forth wind; we have not wrought any deliverance in the earth; neither have the inhabitants of the world fallen. 19 Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead. 20 Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. 21 For, behold, the LORD cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain. (Isaiah 26:12-20)
The pertinent verses of this passage are 19-21, but notice 13-18. These verses speak of Israel having failed the Lord during their dispersion over the earth. The reference to being “with child” is a clue that this passage is an End Times passage. The fact that they have “brought forth wind” is an indication that they have been wasting their time, and it is not a reference to Rev. 12. The fact that Israel has “not wrought any deliverance in the earth” is an indication that God is going to recall them, like a defective product, back to their place of manufacture. This is the return of Israel, shortly before the beginning of the Tribulation.
In verses 19-21 we have the exact same chronological order found in 1 Corinthians 15:52, with a little more detail. In verse 19 we have the resurrection of the saints, denoted as “Thy dead men”. Note the lost are not “His”. In verse 20 we have His people entering into their chambers, in Heaven, while the indignation goes by, aka the Tribulation period.
If a day with the Lord is as a thousand years,(2 Pet 3:8, Ps 90:4) then the “little moment” is the seven years of the Tribulation itself, and the “indignation” is God’s wrath against the sinners who won’t repent, when the judgments of Revelation are revealed against them.
Jude 1:14, Mark 14:62, Matthew 24:30, and Revelation 19:14 speak of Jesus returning with the saints, like clouds. Isaiah 26:20 can not be the same event, for at that time the saints remain in heaven inhabiting their “chambers” which Jesus referred to as “mansions” (John 14:2). Jesus cannot return to earth with the saints, and have them remain in Heaven at the same time. Only God can be in two places at once!
Paul, in Romans 10:19, referring to Moses, told us that God intends to use the Church to make Israel jealous. He was referring to Deuteronomy 32:21:
They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. Deuteronomy 32:21
One day I was lying in bed, thinking of what Paul had said, not even realizing that he was quoting Moses, and I thought “It’s been almost 2,000 years, and Israel isn’t jealous!” In an instant the answer came to me; “The Rapture!”
For nearly 2,000 years Israel has NOT been jealous over the Church. They have been angry…very angry…but not jealous. Think about it. You don’t get jealous unless you see someone else receive something you think belongs to you, or that you deserve as much, or even more. Israel has no reason to be jealous over the Christian church. Christians have hard times, they work, they get robbed, and sick. While Christians go to Heaven when they die, this is something Israel cannot see, and therefore have no reason to be jealous about.
Israel will not become jealous until they see God do a favour for the Church. When they see God take the born-again Christians to Heaven, then they will begin to understand that they missed something! There would be no purpose for God to make Israel jealous as He tosses them into the Lake of Fire! Everyone in that predicament will be jealous. No, the only answer to the jealousy of Israel, is the pre-Tribulation rapture of the Church.
This jealousy is meant to cause Israel to turn to Christ, and they will! At least 1/3 of them will turn to Him, and survive to go into the millennial reign. It might actually be a larger number who do get saved, but many of them will be killed by the Antichrist.
It therefore becomes apparent that God has planned the rapture of the Church, as a pre-Tribulation event, from the very beginning of creation! It was not an afterthought! This also means that Israel, and the Church, are separate entities. God never replaced Israel with the Church!
Satan, on the other hand, has been working very hard to provide an alternate explanation for the rapture, so those left behind won’t feel too bad about it. Jews and Gentiles who believe his lies will be deceived, and lost.
There are at least four other places in the Old Testament where a pre-Tribulation rapture of the Church is in view. These, along with several New Testament references are covered in chapter 2 of The Spirit of Prophecy, so I won’t go into greater detail here. My point is that the pre-Tribulation rapture is indeed a bible teaching that can be found throughout the bible. Proof for this doctrine comes from the bible itself, and does not depend on any other doctrine such as “imminence”.
The Problem of Imminence
The doctrine of Imminence says that the rapture of the Church could occur at any time since His ascension, without any warning. This means NO prophecies need be fulfilled, NO signs need occur before the rapture.
Thomas Ice says of Imminence:
“Imminence in relation to the rapture has been defined as consisting of three elements: “the certainty that He may come at any moment, the uncertainty of the time of that arrival, and the fact that no prophesied event stands between the believer and that hour.””
This doctrine can be destroyed, if at any time there is even one prophecy that must occur before Jesus returns. This is rather flimsy ground for a biblical doctrine to stand on.
In John 21:18-19 Jesus told Peter of the death that awaited him when he was old. Is it possible that Jesus could have returned before Peter got old and died? It doesn’t matter that the gospel of John wasn’t written until after Peter’s death. What matters is that Jesus said it! Had He returned before Peter’s death, Peter would not have grown old and died, and Jesus would have been a liar!
Thomas Ice makes light of this fact in his article and I don’t think he understands the seriousness of the issue.
Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred around 70AD (Luke 21:24). Is it possible that He could have returned before Jerusalem was destroyed?
Bible scholar, Grant Jeffrey, has discovered that the year 1948 was actually predicted in the Old Testament as the year that God would restore the nation of Israel;
Prophecy: Old Testament: Ezekiel 4:3-6 (Written: between 593-571 BC)
(In this Bible passage, Ezekiel is asked by God to symbolically act out the 430 years of punishment) … “Then take an iron pan, place it as an iron wall between you and the city and turn your face toward it. It will be under siege, and you shall besiege it. This will be a sign to the house of Israel . “Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the house of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the house of Israel . “After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the house of Judah . I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year.”
Fulfilled: 1948: In Ezekiel 4:3-6, the prophet said the Jews, who had lost control of their homeland, would be punished for 430 years. This prophecy, according to Bible scholar Grant Jeffrey, pinpointed the 1948 rebirth of Israel . Here’s a summary of Jeffrey’s theory:
1. Ezekiel said the Jews were to be punished for 430 years because they had turned away from God. As part of the punishment, the Jews lost control of their homeland to Babylon . Many Jews were taken as captives to Babylon .
2. Babylon was later conquered by Cyrus in 539 BC. Cyrus allowed the Jews to leave Babylon and to return to their homeland. But, only a small number returned. The return had taken place sometime around 536 BC, about 70 years after Judah lost independence to Babylon .
3. Because most of the exiles chose to stay in pagan Babylon rather than return to the Holy Land , the remaining 360 years of their punishment was multiplied by 7. The reason is explained in Bible’s book of Leviticus. (Leviticus 26:18, 26:21, 26:24 and 26:28). In Leviticus, it says that if the people did not repent while being punished, the punishment would be multiplied by 7. And, by staying in pagan Babylon , most exiles were refusing to repent.
4. So, if you take the remaining 360 years of punishment and multiply by 7, you get 2,520 years. But, Jeffrey says those years are based on an ancient 360-day lunar calendar. If those years are adjusted to the modern solar calendar, the result is 2,484 years.
5. And, there were exactly 2,484 years from 536 BC to 1948, which is the year that Israel regained independence. (Found at Israel’s Messiah)
If God actually intended Israel to be restored in 1948, is it possible that Jesus could have raptured the Church at any time before that date? Things like this don’t happen by chance, for God is in control of these events! Since He had planned them to occur before the rapture of the Church, then they MUST occur before the rapture, even if He did not tell us that they would.
If Jesus said there would be signs before His return, then it is not possible for Him to return before those signs take place.
And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. Luke 21:28
In verses 25-27 Jesus gives us signs of the End Times including His return, but here He tells us that we are to “look up” when these things begin to come to pass. In other words we will see something. This does not mean that the Church will be here for the Tribulation period itself, for anyone who “lifts up his head” at that time will have it cut off! (Rev 13:7, 10) This is not for Tribulation saints, the “redemption” here is the rapture of the Church.
In Matthew 24:3-6 Jesus spoke of signs of the End Times, including “wars and rumours of wars” and false teachers. There have always been false teachers in the world, but here He is warning us of false teachers being an epidemic in formerly sound churches.
The “wars and rumours of wars” He is speaking of are not just any wars. From that day until this, the world has seen precious little peace. There are always wars, and rumours of wars, going on. Does this mean that it will be “business as usual” up until the day of the rapture? To some it may appear that way, but that is not what He means.
Jesus always pointed His followers to the Old Testament Scriptures. (Mat 22:29, Mark 12:24, Luke 24:27, John 5:39, 46, etc.) He is doing the same here. What He meant by “wars and rumours of wars” is a reference to biblically prophesied, End Times wars.
Since Jesus was referring to Old Testament prophesied wars, being a sign of His coming, then it is not possible for Him to return until these wars occur. Check through housetops to find descriptions of these wars, or read The Spirit of Prophecy.
Now, some may accuse me of saying “my Lord delayeth His coming”, but is that what I am saying? I am actually saying that God has a set time for all the biblical prophecies to be fulfilled, though I don’t know exactly when those events will occur. Jesus said something very similar, regarding the subject of prophecy, shortly before He ascended to Heaven:
And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. Acts 1:7
Paul told us that the rapture of the Church will not occur before the Antichrist is revealed. I contend, though, that this does not mean the Church will go through the Tribulation period. It is entirely possible that the Antichrist will be revealed to true Christians shortly before the rapture, so they will have time to warn their friends and family;
1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, 2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. 3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; 4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. II Thessalonians 2:1-4
Post-tribulationists like to use this passage to say that the Church will be here during the time the Antichrist rules the world. This passage does not say that, however, it only says that we will be here when he is revealed. As you continue reading you will see that he is revealed after the rapture (v6-8). This is not a contradiction, but only shows that there will be a dual revealing. First to the Church, and then to the world. By the time the world begins to understand, however, the Church will be gone and they will be left behind, to go through the Tribulation.
Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets. Amos 3:7
The Church is in the position of the Lord’s prophets, today. I believe the true Church will be privileged to see and understand, who the Antichrist is, and then will be whisked away, in the rapture, before he can do them any harm. Understanding who the Antichrist is, then, would be a sign of imminent rapture. Am I looking for Jesus? Yes! Am I looking for the Antichrist? Yes!
God has a set time when all the End Times prophecies will play out. Now, if the two days spoken of in Hosea 6:2 are the same days Peter spoke of in 2 Pe 3:8, and the evidence is that they are, then the events of Revelation will not be complete until after 2,000 years past the Lord’s ascension!
Hosea 5:15 I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early.
6:1 Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. 2 After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.
When did God leave Israel, and return to His place? Was it not at the ascension of Jesus Christ, some 40 days after the resurrection? His return is related to these two days. Therefore, since the subject here is Israel, He can’t return to rescue them until after the two thousand years are up, in the third day! Though the rapture of the Church could still occur before that time, it must be very close to that date, if not after it.
If Jesus could not return for at least 2,000 years, then His return was not imminent for the first 2,000 years of Church history!
What is it that those who say Jesus’ return is imminent are actually saying? They are saying that Jesus could have returned the day after He ascended, but He didn’t. He delayed it! “Every day He doesn’t return is a day he has delayed His coming!” This is a serious problem for those who believe in the imminent return of Christ! Matt 24:48 indicates that those who think this, will end up compromising, living for the day, and suffering destruction!
What of the verses commonly used to teach an imminent return of Christ?
1 Thes 5:6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
1 Tim 6:14 That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ
Titus 2:13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;
James 5:7 Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. 8 Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. 9 Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.
There are others, but they are much the same, so this sample should suffice.
First, note that none of these verses say that there won’t be signs before the rapture. 1 Thes 5:6 tells us to “watch”. Now if there are no signs before the rapture, there is nothing to watch for, and the passage is rendered incomprehensible!
1 Tim 6:14 tells us to obey the commands set out earlier in the chapter. It says nothing of whether there are signs or not. We are to continue obeying the Lord whether or not there are signs, and Tribulation saints, after the rapture of the Church, will still be commanded to obey.
Titus 2:13 tells us to watch for the blessed hope and the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ. If there were no signs before the rapture, there would be nothing to watch for. It follows that he is telling us to watch for the signs of imminent rapture.
James 5:7 does not mean that there won’t be signs before the rapture. The final remarks may well be a reference to Luke 12, below. Many Christians have already stood before the Lord, and they weren’t raptured!
The day is coming when His return will be imminent, but until that day, we need to be witnessing for Jesus, studying the Scriptures, and watching for the signs!
The True Doctrine of Imminence
There actually is a true biblical doctrine of imminence. It is found in the words of Jesus in Luke 12
16 And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: 17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? 18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. 20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
This then, is the true doctrine of imminence. You or I are not promised to live out this day. Tonight we could be standing before God, or in Hell awaiting judgment! Our exit from this life is imminent, and we therefore ought to be seeking the Lord while He may be found!
Yes, the rapture of the Church is a pre-Tribulation event, but it is not imminent until the biblical signs are observed, but thank God, those signs will occur shortly before the end of the Church age! Keep watching!
For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, I Thessalonians 5:9