Welcome back to excerpts from my book “All Left Behind: The Case Against the Pre-Tribulation Rapture”. I was once a zealous defender of the pre-trib. rapture, but came to see things very differently when I eventually faced up to certain scriptures I had previously ignored, and analysed them more realistically. Here then is installment 6, which considers the doctrine of Imminence.
Pre-tribulation believers say that Christ’s coming is ‘imminent’. In the context of the rapture those who use the term mean that Jesus could come back secretly at any moment and take His Church to heaven, without any warning or notice, leaving everyone else including nominal believers behind. Nothing else needs to happen on “God’s prophetic clock” before the rapture, they say. Seemingly in support of this view are the words of Jesus who said we cannot know the day or the hour of his coming (Matthew 24:36-42).
PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE THEORY:
If Christians were still on earth when the first Tribulation event occurs, the words of Jesus would be broken, when he said that he would come like a thief in the night.
Therefore, true Christians will not be around to see any Tribulation event occur, because the secret rapture of the Church will come first.
According to the doctrine of Imminence, if we were to see any of the tribulation events occur, even the very first ones, we would be able to know he’s coming and when he’s coming. But this cannot happen, since Jesus said he would come “like a thief in the night”. Therefore his secret coming must happen before the “seven year tribulation”. If we saw the signing of Antichrist’s peace treaty on our nightly news, for example, we would then be able to calculate the day and the hour of his coming, but Jesus said we cannot know the day or the hour-therefore we will not see it happen: the rapture will occur first. The Church will be taken in a surprise rapture before the “peace treaty” is signed and before the tribulation begins. Don’t even question the doctrine of Imminence, they insist: that’s very nearly heresy. Imminence is presented on one web-page in defense of the pre-tribulation rapture as “the grand-daddy of proofs”.
Admittedly, it’s clear from Jesus’ own words that we cannot know the day or the hour of his coming, so it’s inarguable that his coming truly is “imminent”:
“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36)
However, the application of imminence to the concept of a pre-tribulation rapture does not stand up to close scrutiny.
THE OLIVET PARADOX
While Jesus’ Olivet Discourse is explained away by a large segment of the Church as having been fulfilled in the first century, the Dispensational view of Scripture, which I subscribe to, understands at least a half of it to cover events which are yet future. And within the Dispensational view there are varying theories as to its meaning. Because those events and warnings of the Discourse which are yet future speak of Tribulation events, Pre-tribulation teachers will say, as they must, that they don’t concern the Church at all. Instead, they’re intended for a Jewish believing remnant, also known as the elect, who will be around during the tribulation while the Church is in heaven. The prophecies of Tribulation events described by Jesus are intended, not for the Church, but for the last-days Jewish Remnant, says Pre-Tribulation theory. However, there’s one very large problem with this:
It was during the Olivet discourse on end-times events, and to those believers who Jesus said would be present for them, that He said these words:
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matthew 24:42) and;
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (25:13).
There’s something wrong here. Why would Jesus say “you do not know the day or the hour” to the very people who the pre-tribulation believers say will be around during the tribulation, if that warning is intended to support a pre-tribulation rapture? Pre-tribbers tell us that these quotes declare that the rapture is imminent and so before the tribulation, but in fact
Jesus is saying these things for the benefit and instruction of the people who will be living on earth during the tribulation!
Jesus wasn’t even talking to believers who might be gone before the tribulation when he said, “you do not know the day or the hour”. He was talking to his disciples about end-times events, and His visible, physical coming in power and glory!
What’s more, if Jesus were referring at all to early rapture candidates in his Olivet Discourse, wouldn’t he have said something like,
“Fear not, because you will not have to deal with these terrible events”.
There’s more bad news for the Pre-Tribulation interpretation of imminence. Here’s another quote from the same passage:
“So when you see standing in the holy place the abomination that causes desolation…” (24:15).
Since Jesus was speaking here to the same people who he told could not know the day or the hour of his coming, why did he give the warning of the abomination of desolation? This event is clearly said, in Daniel’s prophecy, to be at the mid-point of the Seventieth Week of years, and Jesus told his disciples that they would “see” it. If this was intended as a warning, not to the Church but to a Jewish remnant, wouldn’t they be able, upon seeing the “abomination of desolation”, to calculate the day and hour of his coming? Why then did he tell them they could not know the day or the hour of his coming, if, according to Pre-Tribulation rapture theory, seeing the abomination occur would tell us the exact day and time of his coming? Shouldn’t the same principle apply to them as to us?
By the reckoning of pre-tribulation teachers, the people Jesus was addressing in his Olivet Discourse-who they say represent the Jewish remnant- should also be aware of the “peace-treaty” which they say will be made to enable the rebuilding of the temple. Therefore, under the logic of Imminence theory, the Jewish remnant would be able to calculate the day and hour of his coming! But Jesus told them they could not know the day or the hour.
The inescapable conclusion is that it’s faulty logic and just plain wrong, to say that if believers were to see any tribulation events occur, they would be breaking the words of Jesus when he said we cannot know the day or the hour.
When Jesus said “No one knows about that day or hour…” (verse 36) he had, moments before in verses 28-31, been speaking about his physical, visible appearing in power and glory for all the world to see-not about a secret rapture. He was saying this at the time he gave the discourse in the first century, and even in our time now, nobody knows exactly when he’s coming. As we’ve seen, even during the future time of distress he described in Matthew chapter 24, it seems people will still not know “the day or the hour” of his coming. We can look, and we can expect and hope, and we can see certain events which suggest the time is near, but no-one, then or now, or in the future, can know the exact “day or the hour”.
Strangely, the same people who say that “nothing needs to happen before the rapture” will tell you that there are plenty of signs of the coming tribulation to be seen now, and they proceed to publish books and videos and TV shows about those very signs which they are clever enough to divine. They’re the “watchmen on the wall”, and so make a good living telling the rest of us what prophetic signs have been fulfilled, while also telling us that the coming of Jesus is imminent and nothing else needs to happen before the rapture. If it’s imminent to the point of us not having a clue about the time of his coming, and if “nothing else needs to happen before the rapture”, what’s all this talk of signs being fulfilled? Why does the “Imminence” principle have to be applied to a pre-tribulation rapture only?
Thanks for reading. This subject will be continued in a few days.