Imminence In The NT, Especially Paul’s Thessalonian Epistles -- By: Robert L. Thomas
MSJ 13:2 (Fall 2002) p. 191
Imminence In The NT, Especially Paul’s Thessalonian Epistles
Professor of New Testament
Fathers in the ancient church dealt frequently with the doctrine of imminence, sometimes viewing God’s future wrath against rebels as imminent and sometimes viewing the future coming of Christ as imminent. The NT furnishes good reason for the fathers to view both aspects of the future as imminent, beginning with the teachings of Christ who laid the foundation for the teaching of imminency through His use of parabolic expressions of a master standing at the door and knocking and of an unexpected coming of a thief and His use of the futuristic tense of ἕρχομαι (erchomai). In company with other NT writers, Paul emphasized the imminence of both future wrath and the return of Christ in His two epistles to the Thessalonians. He did this in several parts of the epistles—in discussing the day of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 5, in describing the “catching away” in 1 Thessalonians 4, in 1 Thess 1:9–10 and 2:16, and in 2 Thess 1:9–10 and 2:1–3. A study of the two epistles and a survey the rest of the NT indicates that the church fathers were right: the rapture of the church and the beginning of the day of the Lord could come at any moment.
The testimony of the ancient fathers is mixed, sometimes speaking of the imminence of Christ’s return and other times of the imminence of the future time of wrath. Clement speaks of the former as imminent:
Of a truth, soon and suddenly shall His will be accomplished, as the Scripture also bears witness, saying, “Speedily will He come, and will not tarry;” and, “The Lord shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Holy One, for whom ye look.”1
Ignatius speaks of the latter as imminent:
MSJ 13:2 (Fall 2002) p. 192
The last times are come upon us. Let us therefore be of a reverent spirit, and fear the long-suffering of God, that it tend not to our condemnation. For let us either stand in awe of the wrath to come, or show regard for the grace which is at present displayed—one of two things.2
Irenaeus speaks of both as imminent:
And therefore, when in the end the Church shall be suddenly caught up from this, it is said, “There shall ...
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