by Dr. Robert Morey
- The common denominator: No Christian can rightfully set a date for Christ's return for no one knows the exact hour or day of His return. (Matt. 24:36, 42, 44; 25:13).
- The imminent return theory: Christ's return is possible this very minute. It is always at hand, ready to happen at any moment. There are no signs or prophecies that must precede Christ's coming for the church. It will be an absolute surprise to the Christian for it will come "as a thief in the night." This means Christ's return will be sudden, without warning, a surprise, and a secret.
According to this theory, Christ's return was imminent for the apostles for they looked for Christ's return to happen suddenly and without warning. It has always been imminent throughout the ages.
- The historic and majority view:
- Christ's return for his church is preceded by signs and fulfilled prophecies which the observant Christian will see and thus prepare himself for the return of Christ. Only the disobedient Christian will be caught off guard by the coming of Christ. For the obedient Christian, Christ's return will not be as "a thief in the night". (Matt. 24:25; 1 Thess. 5:1-9, 11 Thess. 2:1-12).
- Because of the absence of the necessary signs in the sky and on the earth and the many prophecies which must yet be fulfilled which precede Christ's coming, His coming was not imminent from the time of the apostles up to the present day.
- While we cannot know the exact hour or day of Christ's return, the presence or absence of the signs and fulfilled prophecy which precede and herald that coming do indicate, according to Scripture, if that coming is far or near. (Lk. 21:25-31; Matt. 24: 32-33).
- Because there are signs and fulfilled prophecies which precede Christ's return, we are told to watch for them. (Matt. 24:42; 25:1-13; Lk. 21:28).
- The nearness or farness of Christ's return should not affect our continued preparation for His return. All the signs and prophecy may come to pass in any generation of believers.
Illustration: A young couple prepares for their first baby even though they know it is months away and that the birth is preceded by the signs of labor.
- Once all the signs and fulfilled prophecies have come to pass, then the return of Christ is truly imminent.
- The teaching of Christ. (I Tim. 6:3, 4): Christ taught that certain signs and fulfilled prophecies would precede His return. These signs and prophecies mean that His return is not to be viewed as secret, private, sudden, a surprise, or “as a thief in the night" so far as the observant Christian is concerned. (Lk.21-.25-28). The following things are to precede Christ's return according to His own teaching. These things reveal that the apostles could not have possibly thought or taught that Christ's return was imminent.
- Before His ascension, Christ prophesied the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Because of this prophecy, Christ could not come until His words had been fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. Thus from His ascension to Pentecost, Christ's return was not imminent. (Lk. 24:49).
- Before His ascension, Christ prophesied that Peter would grow old; he would then be captured and finally be martyred for his testimony for Him. Because of this prophecy, Christ could not return as long as Peter was alive. Peter had to grow old, be captured, and finally be martyred to fulfill the words of Christ. All the Christians knew that as long as Peter was alive, Jesus could not come. Peter died around A.D. 67. Thus from the ascension to Peter's death (67 A.D.), Christ's return was not imminent. (John 21: 18-19; 1 Pet. 1:13-15).
- Having established that Christ's coming was not imminent until Peter's death (A.D. 67), none of Paul’s or Peter's Epistles can have any references to an imminent return of Christ because all of the epistles were written before A.D. 67 and both men knew the prophecies of Christ, and that His coming was not possible at that time. The epistles of Paul and Peter make no reference to an imminent return of Christ.
- Before His ascension, Christ prophesied that His church would be planted in Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, and then to “the ends of the earth.” This prophecy was not fulfilled by the early church and has yet to be fully fulfilled. Until the church has been planted in every tribe, tongue and nation, Christ's coming is not imminent. (Acts 1:8; Matt. 28:19, 20; MK. 16:15; Lk. 24:7f; Rev. 7:9).
- Before His ascension, Christ prophesied the total destruction of Herod's temple by foreign armies. The temple was not destroyed until A.D. 70. Thus from His ascension to the destruction of Herod's temple (A.D. 70), Christ's return was not imminent. (Matt. 24:1; Mk. 13:1; Lk. 21:5, 6).
- Before His ascension, Christ prophesied certain signs to precede His return. These signs were not present in the early church and are not fully present right now. They are still future. Thus until all these signs are clearly and fully fulfilled, Christ's coming is not imminent. (Matt. 24-, Mk.13, Lk. 21).
- After His ascension, Christ prophesied that the apostle Paul would go to Rome and preach His gospel. Until Paul got to Rome, Christ could not come. Thus from His ascension to the time when Paul got to Rome (A.D. 61), Christ's return was not imminent. (Acts 23:11; 27:24). None of Paul’s epistles written before he got to Rome could possibly teach that Christ's return was imminent.
- After His ascension, Christ prophesied that the church at Smyrna would pass through a great persecution in the future. He challenged them to suffer faithfully. Until the Smyrna church had been through this trial, Christ could not come. Thus from His ascension to the trial of the church at Smyrna, Christ's coming was not imminent. (Rev. 2:10).
- Christ in various parables connected His church and His coming with the end of the age. Until all the Biblical Prophecies leading up to the end of the age, and the prophecies concerning the end of the age have been fulfilled, Christ cannot come. Thus Christ's return cannot be imminent. (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-50; 25:14-30)
- The teaching of the apostles: In addition to Christ's prophecies which were to precede the second coming, the apostles added prophecies of their own which made an imminent return impossible.
- Peter stated that Christ could not return until the time for restoration of all things as predicted by the Old Testament prophets. To Peter, Christ's coming could not be imminent because of his prophesied death and the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets. (Acts 3:21).
- Paul prophesied a coming apostasy in the Ephesian church. Until this great apostasy in the Ephesian church had taken place, Christ could not come. His return was not imminent. (Acts 20: 28-30).
- Paul plainly states in 11 Thess. 2 that Christ's coming was not imminent because the great apostasy and the coming of the Antichrist must take place first. Christ's return is not imminent until these things are accomplished.
- The book of Revelation places the return of Christ in Chapter 19. Until all the events leading up to this chapter are accomplished, Christ's return cannot be considered imminent.
- In Scripture, the coming of Christ is always connected with the end of the age (Matt. 24:28:20; 1 Cor. 1:8; 15:23, 24). The following things must happen before the end of the age, thus before the return of Christ:
- Israel had to be destroyed as a nation, enslaved and scattered over all the earth. A long time of persecution and distress would be upon the Jew. (Deut.28:63-68; Ezk. 37f). Until they were gathered back to the land, Christ's return was not imminent. Thus the early church knew that Christ's return was not imminent. It has only been since 1948 that this prophecy has been fulfilled.
- The Roman Empire had to be destroyed. This empire would break apart into many states. The empire would be in this condition until the end of the age. Until the fall and ruin of the Roman Empire had taken place, Christ could not come. To the early church this was conclusive proof that Christ could not return in their day until the then present very powerful Roman Empire fell apart, went into ruin. (Dan. 2:40-43; 7:7-8, 23-25).
- When the last stages of this age begin, the world must be sufficiently one in religion, commerce, and government for the Antichrist to take complete control of the earth. Until the World is at this condition, Christ's return is not imminent.
- Another possible proof is gained from the widely held view that Rev. 2-3 gives prophetically the seven future spiritual conditions of the church. Thus until the church had reached the Laodicean stage, Christ's return could not be imminent.
The coming of Christ could not have been imminent for the early church because of the many prophecies that had to be fulfilled first. The coming of Christ cannot be imminent today because the Scriptures definitely prophesy certain events to precede the coming of Christ. These events are still future.