The Imminent Appearing Of Christ -- By: J. Barton Payne

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 02:3 (Summer 1959)
Article: The Imminent Appearing Of Christ
Author: J. Barton Payne

The Imminent Appearing Of Christ

J. Barton Payne

Wheaton College

The doctrine of the Lord’s second advent has experienced a remarkable revival of interest in contemporary neo-orthodox theology.1 But its further discussion among Bible believers, particularly as this is related to the translation of the church, might appear to be both undesirable and unnecessary: undesirable, as reopening the emotionally charged “rapture rupture”; and unnecessary, as repeating arguments that for years have unduely monopolized the thinking of many evangelicals. There exists, however, a correlation between the advent and the rapture which, though dominant in the past, has been widely overlooked in recent literature. This classic view, moreover, combines many of the positive features both of the pre-tribulationism that has arisen in the last century and of the post-tribulationism that has, increasingly, reacted against it. The following paper seeks therefore, to sketch the leading historical interpretations that the church has held toward its own place in the events that surround her Lord’s second coming and to suggest a Biblical reconstruction that reflects the classical viewpoint.2

I. Historical Positions

The Early Church. Prior to the Council of Nicaea in 325 the church in general held two convictions respecting the sequence of events in Christ’s second coming.3 (1) It expected His appearing any day. I Clement 23 (A.D. 96) states, “Soon and suddenly shall He come”; and Ignatius to the Ephesians I (c. A.D. 105), “The last times are come upon us.”4 Now was it simply a complex of events that was imminent or was it Christ’s own appearing? “Look for Him.”5 (2) The early church anticipated His coming as post-tribulational, that is, as subsequent to the persecutions they would suffer at the hands of the antichrist and to the heavenly phenomena that would inaugurate the wrath of God against this evil one. Barnabas 4 (before 100) warns, “Withstand coming sources of danger . . . the Black One.” Nor was it simply tribulation in general;6 it was the great tribulation: “Christ shall come from heaven with glory, when the man of apostasy . . . shall venture to do unlawful deeds on earth against us Christians.”7 That both of these convictions were held at the same time arises from the early church’s contemporaneous, or as we would call it, historical, me...

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