Is the Rapture Imminent?
Updated: Nov 18
Christians often use the words “imminent” or “imminence” to refer to the Biblical concept of the Rapture (the supernatural catching away of the Church from earth to heaven, which we examined in a past article). What do these words mean, especially within this Rapture context?
Bible scholar Renald Showers gives an excellent overview of the scriptural usage of the term “imminence.”
The English word ‘imminent’ comes from the Latin verb "immineo, imminere," which means to "overhand" or "project." In light of this, the English word "imminent" means "hanging over one’s head, ready to befall or overtake one; close at hand in its incidence." Thus, an imminent event is one that is always hanging overhead, and is constantly ready to befall or overtake a person. Other things may happen before the imminent event, but nothing must take place before it happens. If something else must take place before an event can happen, that event is not imminent. The necessity of something else taking place first destroys the concept of imminency. 
So, the concept of imminence refers to the definite occurrence of a specific future event, but with a completely unpredictable onset. The event can take place at any time. There are no signs or preconditions that must take place first in order for the event to occur. A requirement of prerequisite or preceding signs is contradictory to the meaning of imminence. An imminent event is one that can occur at any moment, suddenly, and without warning.
Christians have long recognized that the New Testament clearly applies this concept of imminence to the Rapture of the Church (contrary to the frequent assertions of opponents of dispensationalism, who often claim it to be a relatively new doctrine that arose with a man named John Nelson Darby in the 1800s). Countering this assertion, J. Dwight Pentecost writes:
This doctrine of imminence, or "at any moment coming," is not a new doctrine with Darby, as is sometimes charged, although he did clarify, systematize, and popularize it. Such a belief in imminency marked the premillennialism of the early church fathers as well as the writers of the New Testament. … This same view of imminence is clearly seen in the writings of the Reformers, even though they had different views on eschatological questions. 
Many modern scholars – even including those not in agreement with a premillennial dispensational outlook – have recognized the Biblical teaching of the imminence of Christ’s coming. For instance, J. Barton Payne concluded that:
In fact, no natural reading of Scripture would produce any other conclusion. 
J.G. Davies, the Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham likewise concluded that the Christian anticipation of Christ’s “imminent coming” is “so vivid in the New Testament.” 
The concept of an imminent Rapture has been recognized by premillennial dispensational scholars as a foundational pillar of evidence demonstrating the New Testament’s clear teaching of a pretribulational Rapture. For instance, Wayne A. Brindle writes:
The term "imminence" (or imminency) as applied to the rapture of the church means that Christ may return at any moment for His church, and no biblically predicted event must necessarily precede it. Those who believe that Christ will return for His church before the Tribulation normally hold that the rapture is imminent – that it may occur at any time and that it is the next predicted event in God’s prophetic timetable. 
The Rapture is an event that can occur at any time. No prophesied event must precede it. If this is true, then logically the Rapture must be pretribulational as concerning its timing. Any other Rapture viewpoint violates this teaching of imminency, as they claim that other definite prophetic events must precede it in sequence.
As we will see, the New Testament uses a number of noteworthy terms or phrases to refer to the Lord’s imminent coming. Although this “imminence language” is often overlooked by readers, it will be important for us to be aware of as we continue. The Lord’s coming is routinely referred to as being “near,” “soon,” “at hand,” and “at the door.” He is spoken of as coming “quickly” and “like a thief in the night.” It is said that His coming “draws near.” These are just several of the many ways the New Testament communicates the imminence of Jesus’s coming. They are all equivalent expressions that express imminence.
In addition, there are also an abundance of passages that, when the original Greek language is understood, clearly teach Rapture imminence. These passages are laced throughout the gospels, epistles, and Revelation, making Rapture imminence one of the most well-established teachings of the New Testament.
Let not your heart 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; that where I am, there ye may be also. -John 14:1-3
Here, in the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus Christ issues what many consider to be His first clear disclosure of the Rapture of the Church – but it’s only in the original Greek language that the element of imminence is obvious. Robert L. Thomas writes:
Imminence is part of the verb form "I will come," the Greek word erchomai. Used in 14:3 in parallel with the empsomai, which means "I will receive," the present tense erchomai is clearly a futuristic use of the present tense, a use of that tense that strongly implies imminence. The sense is, "I am on my way and may arrive at any moment." 
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; -Philippians 3:20 (NASB)
Here, we find Paul referencing the Church’s earnest expectation of Christ’s imminent coming – and he even includes himself as one also holding that expectation. Showers comments:
We should note that Paul included himself among those who had this attitude toward Christ’s coming. Thus, Philippians 3:20 indicates that the expectation of Christ’s coming was so intense for Paul and the other Christians of the New Testament times that it was the primary focus of their concentration. Would it have been so if there was no possibility of an any-moment coming? 
1 Corinthians 16:22
If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema. Maranatha! -1 Corinthians 16:22
In this passage, Paul pronounces anathema – or the status of being accursed – upon those who love not the Lord Jesus Christ. He then uses the Aramaic word maranatha as a petition to call for the Lord’s imminent return. If he expected that Tribulation events must precede the Rapture, then Paul could not have used this word. It serves as a warning that Christ could return at any moment. Brindle writes:
Maranatha is an Aramaic word meaning "our Lord, come" – a petition to Christ that He should return now – at any moment. Paul used it in this letter to Greek-speaking (mainly Gentile) Christians in Corinth because it expressed an idea that had become universal in the early church. Christ could return at any moment, and Christians called upon Him to do so. 
Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. -Philippians 4:5
In this passage, Paul’s exhortation to the Church is based on the expectation that the Lord’s return could happen at any time. He uses an expression of imminence (“the Lord is at hand”) to convey this. Concerning this passage, F.W. Beare wrote:
The Apostle is not speaking of the nearness of the Lord in his abiding presence with us, but of the imminence of his coming. 
Alfred Plummer adds that the Philippian church was to maintain the expectancy that “at any moment they may have to answer for their conduct.” 
1 Thessalonians 1:10
And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come. -1 Thessalonians 1:10
This is the lone New Testament passage where the specific Greek word anamenó – here translated “to wait for” – is used. According to W.E. Vine, this word “carries with it the suggestion of waiting with patience and confident expectancy.”  Concerning this passage, D. Edmond Hiebert said:
In 1 Thessalonians 1:10, the Thessalonian believers are pictured as waiting for the return of Christ. The clear implication is that they had a hope of His imminent return. If they had been taught that the Great Tribulation, in whole or in part, must first run its course, it is difficult to see how they would be described as expectantly awaiting Christ’s return. Then they should rather have been described as bracing themselves for the Great Tribulation and the painful events connected with it. 
Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door. -James 5:8-9
James’ exhortation makes it clear that the coming of the Lord and the judgment that His arrival will bring should be a matter of importance to his readers. His statements that “the coming of the Lord draweth nigh” and “the judge standeth before the door” are both meant to convey imminence. Regarding these verses, Showers says:
The second important thing to note about James 5:7-9 is that the Greek verbs translated "draweth nigh" (v. 8) and "standeth" (v. 9) are in the perfect tense and indicative mood, meaning that each of these verbs refers to an action that was completed before James wrote his epistle and that continues on in that completed state. The implication is that Christ’s coming drew near before James wrote his epistle, and His coming continues to be near. In addition, Christ as judge began to stand before the door before James wrote his epistle, and Christ as judge continues to stand before the door. In other words, Christ’s coming was imminent in New Testament times and continues to be imminent. James wanted to impress his readers with the fact that Christ could come through the door at any moment and cause them as Christians to stand before Him at the Judgement Seat of Christ. 
These were just a few of the many instances in which the New Testament writers convey the Lord’s coming as an imminent event. The reality is that the New Testament writers and the early Church maintained a fervent expectation of an any-moment return of Christ. These passages not only reveal the mentality of the early Church, but also inform us of the identical expectancy that should be held by believers today. This doctrine of imminence then acts as a prominent reason necessitating a pretribulational Rapture for the Church.
 Renald Showers, Maranatha: Our Lord Come! Bellmawr, NJ: Friends of Israel, 1995, p. 127.
 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1964, p. 203.
 J. Barton Payne, The Imminent Appearing of Christ, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962, p. 102.
 J.G. Davies, The Early Christian Church, Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1967, p. 132.
 Wayne A. Brindle, “Imminence” in The Popular Encyclopedia Of Bible Prophecy, eds. Tim Lahaye and Ed Hindson, Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2004, p. 144.
 Robert L. Thomas, “Imminence In The New Testament, Especially In Paul’s Thessalonian Epistles,” in The Master’s Seminary Journal, Vol. 29, No. 1, Spring 2018, p. 75.
 Showers, p. 132.
 Brindle, p. 145.
 F.W. Beare, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians, London: Adam & Charles Black, 1959, p. 146.
 Alfred Plummer, A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, London: Robert Scott, 1919, p. 93.
 W.E. Vine, entry “anameno,” in An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol. IV, London: Oliphants Ltd., 1940, p. 194.
 D. Edmond Hiebert, The Thessalonian Epistles, Chicago: Moody Press, 1972, p. 205.
 Showers, p. 136.