The Imminency of the Rapture
This is a doctrine that has been held since the early days of the church. Quote from the first epistle of Clement, a pastor in Rome, written approximately AD 96: "Of a truth, soon and suddenly shall His will be accomplished, as the Scripture also bears witness, saying, 'Speedily will, he come and will not tarry,' and 'The Lord shall come suddenly to his temple, even the holy one for whom you look.'" So the early church understood that Jesus can come back at any moment. They anticipated it within their lifetime, they did not think that it would be hundreds or thousands of years, they understood that Jesus could come at any moment.
At the Rapture all church age believers alive and dead are taken to be with the Lord in the air, and some time after this there is the seven-year Tribulation period referred to in Revelation as an "hour of testing." While that is going on believers are being evaluated in heaven. That period ends in the heavenlies with the marriage of the Lamb, and then Jesus returns to the earth at the Second Advent. In many passages these two returns, the return in the clouds for the church and the return to the earth with the church, are viewed as collapsed, like a telescope as one event. In the Old Testament the first coming and the second coming of Christ are collapsed into one event. It is not until time goes by that we realize that there is a separation. The second advent is then followed by a thousand years under the rule of Christ on the earth.
One thing that needs to be pointed out is that the Rapture ends the church age but the Rapture doesn't begin the Tribulation. Daniel chapter nine gives us our specific description of this seven-year period, it is known as Daniel's seventieth week, and it begins when the prince of the people who is to come (Antichrist) signs a contract or peace treaty with the nation Israel. That begins the countdown of that seven year period. There will be a gap of time between the Rapture and the signing of that treaty. It could be a couple of days, a couple of weeks, even a couple of years. We know that in other dispensations there are clearly transition periods. There was a fifty-day period between the end of the law and the day of Pentecost.
2 Timothy 4:8 gives us our attitude: "From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing." That is our attitude. Each day we are to anticipate, look forward to, be motivated by, the fact that that Jesus Christ could come today. Because He doesn't we sometimes become complacent in our spiritual life. But any day he could come, are we ready? That is the application that underlies the whole doctrine of imminency: that we don't know when he will come. So we always need to be ready as if that day were today.
The doctrine of the imminency of the Rapture
1) Definition: Imminency means the at-any-moment return of Jesus Christ. Nothing must occur prior to the return of Christ for the church, no prophetic fulfilment, nothing that has to come between today and His return. The Second Coming, on the other hand, is not imminent because there are specific signs that precede it. We are not looking for the Antichrist, we are looking for Jesus Christ, and that is the sense of imminency. The church age, then, is the only dispensation in history in which there are historical trends and no prophetic fulfilment in relationship to the church and the church age itself.
2) The doctrine of imminency is important to understand the pre-Tribulation Rapture of the church. Imminency means that it is certain it will occur, but it is uncertain when it will occur. It is not contingent on any other event. No prophesied event intervenes between the present time and the Rapture. The Rapture is the resurrection of all dead church age believers and the removal of all living believers from the earth at the end of the church age before the Tribulation begins.
3) The purpose of the doctrine of imminency is to keep each believer in a constant state of expectancy—looking, waiting, watching, hoping for the return of Christ that we might be ready. The purpose is to keep us ready, keep us on our toes, so that we might not be ashamed at His coming, 1 John 2:28.
4) Believers are to look forward to the blessed hope. We are to look for the savior, Hebrews 9:28; Titus 2:13. We are to watch for the savior: 1 Thessalonians 5:6; Luke 12:37. We are to wait for the savior, 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Thessalonians 1:10. We should live every day as if the Lord was coming back today, constantly in a state of readiness.
5) No prophecy occurs or is fulfilled between the baptism of the Spirit and the Rapture means that the Rapture is imminent.
6) The resurrection of the church, one of the terms used for the Rapture of the church, like our dying is completely out of our control. We don't know when it will be.
7) The resurrection of the church is totally beyond our control because the resurrection is the Lord's victory. 1 Corinthians 15:57: "But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." The Rapture of the church is a victory of the Lord Jesus Christ in taking us to be with Him and keeping the church, His bride, out of the Tribulation.
8) While the Rapture is imminent, the Second Advent is not. Before the Second Advent occurs there are many prophecies which must take place.
9) The Rapture could have occurred at the time of James or the time of Paul, because no prophecy had to be fulfilled before the resurrection occurs. They anticipated the imminent return of Jesus Christ.
10) Distortion of the imminency of the Rapture results in instability and foolish explanation or speculation about the time of the Rapture. 2 Peter 3:3, 4 tells us that one of the trends that will take place during the last days of the church that mockers would come with their mocking: "Where is the promise of his coming?" John 14:1-3 is our Lord's statement to His disciples about His departure: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also." Revelation 22:12: "Behold, I come quickly." James 5:4-9: "Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you. Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!" The focus is on the next event, which is the appearance of His Son: "and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming." 1 Corinthians 1:7: "so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ." That is what we are looking for. Philippians 3:20, 21: "But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself." 1 Thessalonians 4:15: "For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died." Titus 2:13: "while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ."
I am waiting for the dawning
Of a bright and blessed day,
When the darksome night of sorrow
Shall have vanished far away:
When for ever with the Saviour,
Far beyond this vale of tears,
I shall swell the song of worship
Through the everlasting years
I am looking at the brightness
See, it shineth from afar;
Of the clear and joyous beaming
Of the bright and morning Star.
Through the dark grey mist morning
Do I see its glorious light;
Then away with every shadow
Of this sad and weary night.
I am waiting for the coming
Of the Lord who died for me;
Oh, His words have thrilled my spirit,
I will come again for thee.
I can almost hear the footfall,
On the threshold of the door,
And my heart, my heart is longing
To be with Him evermore.