Could Jesus Return At Any Moment? Rethinking the Imminence of the Second Coming -- By: Benjamin L. Merkle
TRINJ 26:2 (Fall 2005) p. 279
Could Jesus Return At Any Moment?
Rethinking the Imminence
of the Second Coming
Benjamin L. Merkle received his Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is currently teaching in Southeast Asia.
There is today a hesitancy to affirm the imminence of the Lord’s second coming—the teaching that Jesus could come at any moment and therefore we must be ready for his return. There are at least three reasons or fears for this hesitancy. First and foremost, Scripture clearly states that certain events must take place before Jesus comes again. Therefore, there is a fear of claiming that Jesus could come at any moment since certain events have yet to take place.1 Second, if one claims that the NT teaches that the end of time is very near, there is a fear of implying that Jesus and the NT authors (especially Paul) were wrong since it has already been two thousand years and time is still marching on. Finally, there is a fear to be identified with dispensationalism or, more specifically, a pretribulational view of the rapture. Since this view maintains that Jesus comes twice, or that his coming has two dimensions, all the events do not need to be fulfilled before he comes and rescues believers from the great tribulation. While such a view is common among some churches, many scholars want to distance themselves from this view.
Yet, should such fears keep the church from affirming that the return of Jesus is imminent? How can we do justice to the verses which exhort us to be constantly ready for Jesus’ return in light of the fact that we do not know when it will be? If certain events have yet to be fulfilled, might the church become lackadaisical knowing that Jesus’ return is not imminent?2 In light of these questions, I believe that we must rethink the doctrine of the imminence of the
TRINJ 26:2 (Fall 2005) p. 280
second coming and give it more prominence in our lives and in our teaching.
I. What Are the Events that Precede the Second Coming?
There are at least four events that are mentioned as taking place before the second coming:
- The gospel preached to all the nations
- The conversion of “all Israel”
- The great tribulation and the great apostasy
- The coming of the antichrist
First, we will consider the preaching of the gospel to all the nations. Jesus states, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14).
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