Imminence means “impending” or “about to occur.” We say when the storm clouds grow dark, that the rain is imminent. This word is often confused with two other words that sound similar but have entirely different meanings: immanence and eminence.[i] In Christianity, imminence is a fancy term that refers to the fact that the Lord can return soon, or at any time. As we will show in this article series, the idea of the soon return of the Lord was central to the thinking and living of all those in the New Testament, and it should still be the attitude of the true believer today. The imminence of the Lord’s return was not only part of the doctrine taught by Jesus and the apostles, as contained in the New Testament, but it was a real part of their lives. They genuinely expected the Lord’s return at any moment.
But the longer the Lord delays His coming, the more some of us tend to feel that He is not going to come soon. Peter predicted: “knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3-4). Sadly, this kind of worldly thinking has infected Christians also. But just think about it: Statistically, the longer He delays, the closer we are to His return. So here we are, 2,000 years closer than Peter was. Paul confirms this when he says “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.” (Romans 13:11).
Does that mean that the apostles were mistaken and that the Lord’s return is only close to us, but it was not close for them? Not at all. For example, It has been 20 years since the last big earthquake here in Los Angeles.[ii] For 20 years we have heard “the next big one is imminent – it could happen at any moment – be prepared.” That was true 20 years ago, and it is even truer today. We do not know when the next big earthquake will happen, just that it will happen. But it is literally around the corner at any moment.
Because believers have not known when God has planned the Rapture of the church (Matthew 24:36), His return was imminent then and is still imminent now. Just like the next big earthquake, He could come for His saints even before I complete this paper.
Jesus’ Teaching on Imminence
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:36-44)
“Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:35-40)
The plain meaning of Jesus’ message is clear – you don’t need some fancy seminary degree, nor do you need to learn Greek or Hebrew to understand what He says: He is coming at a time you do not expect, therefore be ready at all times. Any attempt to interpret these texts to mean anything except what they clearly say and mean is a deception.
The simple truth is that if something is unexpected, then there are no warning signs, nor a schedule, which predicts exactly when it will occur. Some have tried to set an exact date, which has caused much trouble for Christians over the centuries. But, by its very definition, “unexpected” requires surprise with no forewarning. Therefore, those who believe that Jesus cannot return for His church today because certain events need to be fulfilled first are in blatant contradiction to the clear words of Jesus. It is really quite simple.
In Luke 12:42-48 Jesus tells a parable that teaches that there will be Christian leaders who, because He delays His coming, will begin to abuse their fellow Christians and begin to live immorally. That is exactly what is happening today. Many Christian leaders have lost sight of His imminent return and have begun to live as though He is never coming back. In the process they also remove the idea of imminence from their theology. This seems to be done in order to salve their, and their disciples’, consciences. Jesus warned that when He returns He will judge such men.
The book of Revelation closes with the words of the Lord Jesus: “Surely I am coming quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20). His words are truth, and the lies of man cannot, and will not, change the facts: He is coming soon, without delay and without warning. Therefore we must be prepared. Are you ready?
To be continued...
[i] Immanence refers to God’s presence in the universe and eminence refers to something being important (sometimes a title as in “your eminence”).
[ii] The Northridge Earthquake in 1994 claimed 60 lives in, and around, Los Angeles and destroyed much property.