Imminent Return of Christ
by David Dunlap
"Behold, I come quickly..."
The soon coming of the Lord Jesus Christ for
His bride, the church, occupies a large and important position in the word of
God. The Old and New Testaments in type and teaching fully expound this
doctrine of the imminent return of Christ. In the writings of the Gospels,
the Epistles, and Revelation the Lord Himself and the Apostles affirm, exhort
and instruct concerning it in exact detail. This doctrine has long stirred the
church to separation from the world and holy living, and has been used to
thrust out missionaries into the far corners of the globe. Yet the scope of
this doctrine extends further than a powerful challenge to holy living and
service; it is also a tender comfort to the soul amid the sorrows and
anguish of life. Christ's words to His disciples have long been a balm for
many in sorrow.
"Let not your hearts be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in Me. In My
Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I
go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I
will come again, and receive you unto Myself; so that where I am you may be
(John 14:1-2). Seasoned saints in the twilight of life have often testified
to the transforming power of the
"Trump of God".
In emphasizing the practical effect of this doctrine in the life of a
believer, theologian Dr. Alva McClain writes,
"To the churches on earth Christ gives a thrice-repeated reminder of something
which must never be forgotten; for it will give courage in the hour of
battle, strength in our weakness, and hope in the hour of despair. Let us hear
Him as He speaks: 'Behold I come quickly'(Rev. 22:7); 'Behold, I come
quickly' (Rev. 22:12); 'Surely, I come quickly' (Rev. 22:21)."
However, the doctrine of imminency is not
merely a great comfort and motivation to the Christian, but it is essential in
the interpretation of Holy Scripture. A true understanding of the offices
of Christ, the nature of the Church, the divine purposes of the Great
Tribulation, the Millennium and the eternal state hinge upon the careful
interpretation of biblical prophecy. It is the very key which unlocks
portions of the Bible that have long remained hidden by medieval theology. A
one-time professor of Systematic Theology at Wheaton College, Dr. Henry
Thiessen, writes passionately about the doctrines crucial importance to Bible
"The recognition of the fundamental character of the doctrine of the Lord's
return is the key to the Scriptures. Many Bible doctrines, ordinances,
promises, and types cannot be fully understood except in the light of the
doctrine of the Lord's return."
Unfortunately, down through the centuries the importance of the imminent return
of Christ for the church has eluded many Christians. Frequently, in
theological works on the study of "Last Things", especially during the
Middle Ages and Reformation period, the subject of the personal return of
Christ for the church was completely omitted. It is only within the last
170 years that this truth has been clearly expounded. Bible teachers from
among the so-called Plymouth Brethren have been recognized as leaders in
recovering this important truth. Referring to this recovery of the truths of
the Lord's return, respected Bible teacher Dr. Renald Showers writes,
"During the 19th century the Plymouth Brethren including one of their key
leaders, John Nelson Darby, played a very significant role in developing,
systematizing and spreading Dispensational Theology."
However, respected teachers and preachers
from Reformed and Baptist denominations have developed untenable teachings
through a misinterpretation of the words of Christ. These interpretations
have produced more heat than light, and thereby many sincere believers have
been robbed of their joy and motivation for Christian service. Although the
number of these prophetic interpretations has been many, some have been more
widespread than others.
The Misinterpretation of the Coming -- The Holy Spirit at Pentecost.,
It has been taught by some that the return of
Christ is the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Early church
fathers Hilary, Chrysostom, Euthymus and Theophylact taught that Matthew
16:28 pertained not to the coming of the Son of man in His Kingdom, but to
the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Bible teacher Albert Barnes,
well-known author of "Barnes' Notes of the Bible", believes that this verse
has a partial fulfillment on the day of Pentecost. However, did not the Lord
"A little while, and ye behold Me no more and again a little while, ye shall
The Misinterpretation of the Coming -- The Death of a Believer
Well-known expositor Matthew Henry wrote that
"ye know not what hour your Lord doth come"
(Matt. 24:42) refers to the day of a believer's death. He writes,
"We know not the day of our death, we cannot know how long we have to live nor
how little time we have to live. Concerning both, we are kept in uncertainty,
that we may every day expect that which may come any day."
Was this our Lord's intended meaning when He uttered those words? A
careful examination reveals that, biblically, the difference between death and
the Lord's coming is great. Death in the scriptures is referred to as an
but the Lord's return is said to be a
At death we dig a grave; at the Lord's return we leave the grave behind.
Thankfully, today most Bible students have set aside this ill-reasoned
Despite the fact that many have set forth
unsound theories concerning the scriptural evidence for the Lord's return and
that today quaint theories and wild speculations continue to assault us
regularly through popular Christian radio and the printed page, the serious
Christian need not despair. The biblical proof in the New Testament for the
Lord's return is extensive. The New Testament Christian lived in watchful
expectancy of Jesus Christ's imminent return. The
have all served to stir the heart to joyful anticipation. The apostle Paul
"...from whence (heaven) we look for the Saviour"
"Waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ"
(1 Cor. 1:7);
"Ye turned to God...to wait for His Son from heaven"
(1 Thess. 1:9, 10);
"Looking for...the glorious appearing of...our Saviour Jesus Christ"
"unto them that look for him shall He appear"
(Heb. 9:28). Not only was the expectation of His imminent return clearly
taught by Christ and His apostles, but it was also taught that to expect
otherwise was characteristic of an unfaithful servant.
"But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his
"...be ye therefore ready also, for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye
Moreover, the belief in the imminent return
of Christ constrains Christians and churches to develop a worldwide missionary
vision of reaching the lost for Christ. Our burden for the lost should be even
greater, considering the nearness of the Lord's return. Since we have more
reason to believe that Christ will come to receive us to Himself in our
lifetime than in any other time in church history, with eagerness we ought to
seek to reach the lost with the good news of Christ. Dr. Timothy Weber, a
church historian at Yale University, has noted that the doctrine of imminency
has been a great incentive in world missions since the rise of premillennial
teaching in the 1840's. He writes,
"By the 1920's (dispensational) premillennialists were claiming that they made
up 'an overwhelming majority' of the missions movement. Others estimated that
believers in the imminent second coming made up from 75 to 80 percent of the
missionary force world-wide...American premillennialists were better
represented on the mission fields than in the home churches...Instead of
cutting missionary involvement, premillennialism increased it."
Therefore, we suggest that the best cure for
spiritual apathy and lethargy among Christians is an aggressive prophetic Bible
teaching program in the local church stressing the imminent return of Christ.
The greatest incentive for holy living is for able ministers of the word to
boldly assert that the glorified, holy Son of God may at any moment leave the
glories of the Father's house and re-enter the closing days of world history to
call the church, the body of Christ, to be with Him forever. The imminent
return of Christ should have a tremendous and profound effect upon the values,
priorities and activities of every serious Christian. This doctrine provides
every Christian with a great hope for the future, a comfort in sorrow and a
steadfast purpose for today. Dear Christian, the Lord's coming is near--
perhaps today? Are you ready to meet Him?
(1) Alva McClain,
Greatness of the Kingdom,
(Moody Press, Chicago, MI 1968), p. 515
(2) Henry Thiessen,
Lectures in Systematic Theology,
(Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1976), p. 442
(3) Renald Showers,
There Really is a Difference,
(Friends of Israel, Bellmawr, NJ, 1990), p. 28
(4) Matthew Henry,
Matthew Henry's Commentary,
(Hendrickson, Peabody, MA, 1991), p. 294
(5) Timothy Weber,
Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming, 1875-1982,
(Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI,1983), p. 81
Watching or Waiting
by Dr. Walter P. T. Wolston
The fishing fleet has gone to the fishing
ground, when a furious and long- continued westerly hurricane bursts on them.
Rapidly getting in their nets, they have to fly before it. Finally, the
gale spends itself, and the wind veering to the south-east, the boats, having
all weathered the storm, make for home. On their way they manage to get a
telegram sent ashore--"All safe! Coming home!" The news spread like wildfire,
bringing joy to many a troubled mother and wife.
Up the Firth of Forth, Scotland, they now
come, at a spanking pace, having a fair wind and a flowing tide. The old
skipper of the leading craft has a telescope, and as the pier-head comes in
sight, he says to his crew,
"The hale village is out on the pier, watchin' for us, my hearties,"
which gladdens every man aboard. The telescope is used again and the skipper
is heard to say half under his breath,
"God bless her! the dear auld soul,"
while a tear rolls down his weather-beaten cheek.
"Who do you see?"
says Jim, the mate.
"I see my auld womun stan'in' at the vera pier-end, wi' naethin' but her mutch
on her heid, watchin' for her auld man,"
and another tear drops to the deck.
"Div ye see my missus tae?"
"Na, Jim, I canna see her; maybe she's there, but she's no visible."
By this time the staunch lug-sailboat had neared the harbour, and loving
salutations pass between the old couple, culminating in a warm embrace as the
skipper steps ashore. No special greeting has awaited poor Jim, who, rather
dejected, trudges up to the back of the village, where lies his home. Peeping
in at the window, he sees his wife sitting at the fire, deep in a book. Jim
opens the door. She hears the latch, and looking up, says,
"O Jim, my dear, I'm real glad to see you back; I was waiting for you."
"Very like, but the auld skipper's missus was watchin' for him at the
Is there no difference between "waiting", and
"watching", for Jesus? God give you and me to be true watchers for the
return of His Son.
"It is impossible to read the epistles and not see that the hope of the Lord's
sure and speedy return governed the hearts of the Lord's people. This bright
and heavenly hope caused them to set loose the things of earth. They believed
he might come at any moment --concerns of this life were properly attended to
--but only on the very tip-toe of expectation."
C. H. Macintosh
Papers on the Lord's Coming
"Christendom apostatises by putting off in the heart the Lord's coming."
J. N. Darby
"I believe that all the signs which are to precede the last days have already
appeared. Let us not think that the coming of the Lord is afar off; let us
look up with heads lifted up ; let us expect our Redeemer's coming with longing
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