Saved From the Wrath to Come
1 Thessalonians 1:10
1 Thessalonians Lesson #022
June 4, 2015
“Our Father, it is a great privilege we have to study Your Word. Your Word is the basis for our salvation, understanding Who You are, what Jesus Christ did on the Cross, and that salvation cannot be accomplished through anything we do but was accomplished by Christ on the Cross. We know all we are responsible for is to either trust in Him or not, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and then we will be saved. Once we are saved we begin to understand this great plan of salvation that You have for us. It includes these three tenses: our present tense of justification, the ongoing sanctification in phase 2 and ultimate sanctification in phase 3, and the fact that we have a future glorified body face-to-face with You, and free from our sin nature. As part of our future we look forward to the Rapture, when the Lord Jesus Christ will return in the clouds to receive us unto Himself. And now Father as we study one of the most significant passages for this this morning or tonight, whichever, we pray You will help us to understand these principles. Amen.”
We are in 1 Thessalonians 1:10. This is the first time we have a mention of what will come to be a more expanded treatment of the pre-Tribulation Rapture in 1 Thessalonians. 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 functions as the introduction to the main themes, the main ideas, that will be developed within the text of 1 Thessalonians, within this epistle. In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 we find key terminology, key vocabulary, that relates to the doctrine of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture. (Slide 3) In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 we read that we are “to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
This is a very important verse and there are some things we need to pay attention to as we look at this verse. The last phrase is the key one that we are going to look to. (Slide 4) “Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.” The word for deliver there is not the word SOZO which sometimes is translated deliver, more often translated saved; it is the Greek word RHUOMAI which has the idea of deliverance or rescue from a physical calamity. This is not the most significant or controversial aspect of this verse. It really comes from the next phrase, “from the wrath to come.”
(Slide 5) We have to look at this verse because there are more than a couple of problems here. The first thing we have to determine is just what in the world does the Word of God actually say here because there is a textual problem in the manuscript tradition. We have two different readings in the Greek text. The first thing we have to do is determine what the best reading from the verse is. Then it is going to open the door to some things for us.
The first thing we see here is that there are two different readings and the difference is in the prepositions. EK TES ORGES versus APO TES ORGES. You have two different words, two different prepositions indicating the idea of something coming from a source. There is the first word, EK, and the second word, APO. We have to understand that and what the difference is. This really does not come through in English translations because “from” is “from”. So whether you have a NASB or a KJV or NKJV, they are all going to read basically the same in English. The difference is in the Greek.
After we determine the reading, then we have to determine the significance of what that reading is, if anything. I am going to just give you the summary of a lot of information here. EK is the reading that is found in the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, 27th Edition (NA27), the Critical Text edition that is usually the backdrop for the NASB, the NIV, the ESV, and more of the modern translations. On the other side we have what is called the Byzantine Text or the Majority Text view which is the view that the oldest manuscripts are not necessarily the best manuscripts and the reading of Scripture is primarily preserved in the Majority Text manuscripts, hence the name Majority Text.
There is a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) who was actually as classmate of mine when I went to seminary by the name of Dan Wallace. Dan is considered one of the premier textual critics among evangelicals. Dan has an interesting background because in his studies at BIOLA before he came to DTS he was a Majority Text guy. Then when he came to DTS he changed his views to the Critical Text and he has written a number of articles, theological articles, and technical articles which are critical of the Majority Text view. He is sort of like a lot of ex-smokers, a lot of people who have quit one thing and then they start attacking what it was they formerly belonged to. Dan is a good scholar but I disagree with him on this. I believe the Majority Text has the best view.
If you are interested in studying anything about textual criticism there is a course on textual criticism on the Dean Bible Ministries website that was taught three or four years ago at the Chafer Conference that forms the backdrop for a course in textual criticism that we have. It helps people understand what these issues are. They get pretty abstruse and pretty technical. A lot of time people just get lost in all of that technicality. If you are a little more interested in these issues, then you can look at those lectures.
The reason I bring that to bear is about ten or twelve years ago Dan wrote a technical article on this textual problem for Bibliotheca Sacra which is the theological journal that DTS publishes. Dan looked at this and the first reading is the reading in the Critical Text and the second reading APO is the view that is in the majority of manuscripts. Dan took the position that looking at both the external evidence of the manuscript tradition as well as internal evidence within the epistle of 1 Thessalonians itself, his conclusion was that APO was the superior reading. It had the greatest attestation of readings in the ancient world, not just some of the ancient manuscripts, but there was very little evidence of the EK reading among church fathers and among others. It had very limited textual evidence.
He takes the position that APO is the superior reading. Now, what in the world difference does that make since both of these are roughly synonymous but there may be a slight difference? In his conclusion to dealing with that, I am just going to quote from Dan’s article. He says, “Hence all that can be argued from the variant reading in question is that if Paul [he is a Pre-Trib guy so he believes that Paul is talking about the Pre-Trib Rapture later on in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11] is affirming a Pre-Trib Rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11, then the preposition APO fits quite naturally with such a doctrinal stance. On the other hand, if EK were original, it would not necessarily affirm deliverance out of the coming wrath.” That is, the idea of being present in it and then being delivered from it. APO would clearly indicate that you do not enter into the Tribulation at all. You are kept out of it completely.
He goes on to say, “For Paul elsewhere uses this same phrase RHUOMAI EK where the sense seems to be ‘delivered away from’ in 2 Corinthians 1:10 where the Lord states, ‘The Lord delivered us from such a death’. That is, they never actually entered into death but they were delivered from it, using the preposition EK with this same verb. When you look at this, it is clear that this is clearly talking about a pre-Trib Rapture. The APO seems to be the superior reading and would indicate that.”
We are not limited to just that one verse. First of all, you should never base theology on a preposition unless you have more detailed information. Then you also have to make sure that there are corollary passages that support your view. You would not hang everything just on this. Especially, you would not hang everything on a passage where there is a textual variant but there are other passages.
(Slide 6) One of the most significant of these passages is found in Revelation 3:9-10. This too involves a little technical understanding of translation. I have often found this is one of the more interesting passages. There have been a couple of guys who have done some technical work on this. Let me just read it to you and then we will get into details. Let’s just turn in our Bibles to Revelation 3:9 because we are going to spend a little bit of time here this morning. This is a letter to the church in Philadelphia. This is the critique that Jesus is giving to the church.
He says, “Indeed, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.” Notice there is a period at the end of that verse. Then Revelation 3:10 begins, “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” There are a couple of things we have to look at here.
In verse 10 we have a statement that begins with “because”. It states the cause of an action. The way Revelation 3:10 reads it looks as if the promise to keep you from the hour of trial is caused by their keeping the command to persevere. That would indicate that if they failed to persevere, they would not be kept from the hour of trial. We have to look at this. There are a couple of interesting things we have to pay attention to. One is that it is very likely that the punctuation here is wrong, that the causal phrase, “because you have kept my command to persevere” really belongs with verse 9 and not with verse 10.
We have a case of a misplaced period. These kinds of things happen because in the original text of Scripture there were not any punctuation marks. There were not any commas or periods or anything like that. In fact, they do not even put spaces between the words. It is just like one long list of letters and you have to break those down. Grammar is very important so we have to look at some technical things related to grammar.
You will see that if we move the causal statement to verse 9 instead of verse 10 it reads very differently. (Slide 7) Just looking at the end of verse 9 Jesus would be saying, “Indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you, because you have kept my command to persevere.” If this is the correct punctuation, then Jesus is stating that the reason He has loved this congregation is because they have been obedient consistently.
Then He is making an additional statement in what would be the next verse: “I also [in other words, in addition to making them know I have loved you because you have kept My commands, to persevere] in addition to that I will keep you from the hour of trials which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” (Slide 8) The issue here is understanding this Greek word and this Greek phraseology. HOTI is the Greek word and it can be translated “because”, introducing a causal statement. It can be translated “for” which would be introducing an explanation.
In English sometimes we use the English preposition “for” as a synonym for “because”. Then the third option is to translate HOTI as that. This often is used in Greek to introduce an indirect quotation. So HOTI has a broad and dynamic range of meaning. Another thing we need to recognize in terms of English translations is that the King James Version translators attempted to make each verse an independent sentence, even though the Greek sentence may be very long and extend to eight or nine verses. Often the King James translators tried to break those down into as small a component as possible. If they could, they tried to make each verse a standalone sentence. (Slide 9) This is why they would translate Revelation 3:9 as a sentence and end it with “I have loved you.”
Remember versification was not entered into the New Testament until the middle of the 1500s, somewhere around 1530 to 1540, somewhere in there was when you had the verses set into the Greek New Testament. It was not until another 100 years or a little bit less, that you had the King James translations. They tried to make each verse a standalone sentence. The first option is to make verse 10 a separate causal statement and the (Slide 10) other option is to put that into verse 9 and separate out the sentence in verse 10. We have to understand what is going on here.
When ‘because’ begins a statement in English, as we have in this example (Slide 9), it states the cause of the following clause. That would be the cause for the statement: “I also will keep you from the hour of trial”. When ‘because’ follows a comma such as, “I have loved you, because you have kept my commandments to persevere,” it links to the previous clause. The least common use of ‘because’ begins the sentence. This is called technically in grammar, the suspensive use of HOTI.
Here is what is important. Of the approximately 450 uses of the causal HOTI in the Greek New Testament, grammarians recognize 12 as suspensive. Now let me remind you that suspensive is using HOTI at the beginning of a sentence with a causal sense. Only 12 out of 450 uses are recognized by grammarians as fitting that category. The preponderance of evidence is against beginning the sentence with a causal statement. This is extremely rare. John uses HOTI about 180 times in his writings and only 11 of those times is it suspensive. This makes it very unusual that this would have started this sentence this way.
(Slide 10) What we find if we translate it this way, Revelation 3:9b-10a is a very strong statement of Jesus’ love for the congregation at Philadelphia. He praises that congregation because they have persevered in the midst of difficulty, in the midst of persecution and in the midst of opposition. This would mean that Jesus Christ is promising the church at Philadelphia two things. First of all, He is saying, “I will make those who persecute you come and bow down before you because of your perseverance.” Second, He says, “I also will keep you from the hour of testing.” He is really stating two things. First of all He is going to deal with those who persecute them in one way. Second, He adds an additional promise that He is going to keep this congregation from the hour of testing.
So Revelation 3:10 is important because of the role it plays in understanding the relationship of the church to the events known as Daniel’s 70th Week or the Tribulation. As a result we have to look at this particular verse and come to understand it and see how this fits. The language here is very similar to the language in 1 Thessalonians 1:10. The language here uses the preposition EK just as the Critical Text uses the preposition EK in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and therefore, they are complementary. There are three things that must be understood as we look at verse 10. (Slide 11) First of all is the phrase, “I will keep you from…” What does that mean and what is the sense of ‘keeping from’? The second thing is what is the hour of testing and the third phrase is the relative clause that defines the hour of testing, the clause “which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.”
He says, “I will keep you from…” These are various issues we have to look at these verses. We have this phrase on the screen, TEREO, which is the Greek verb and the preposition EK. We have to look at TEREO. We have to look at EK and we have to look at the compound phrase TEREO EK to see what this indicates. The verb TEREO which is often translated by the word ‘keep’ sometimes has the sense of ‘obey’. You keep God’s commandments. You obey God’s commandments. But it also has the sense of protect or preserve something.
Now the context of Revelation 3:10 indicates the preservation or protection of this congregation since it is from a time of testing, a time of difficulty. What we are going to see is this phrase ‘hour of testing’ refers to the time period we also call Daniel’s 70th Week, which in some sense is a more correct term to describe the seven-year period we most commonly call the Great Tribulation. The reason that scholars often come up with an issue is that the Great Tribulation uses that term tribulation or THLIPSIS.
The criticism of the pre-Trib Rapture position that you often hear is that we are just teaching some sort of escapism from the problems of life. You hear this over and over again and it is really kind of irritating that somehow the opponents of dispensationalism and pre-tribulationism do not quite get it. It is not what we are teaching. I pointed this out last time that there are many times in the Scripture that talk about the fact that believers are going to face a lot of adversity and a lot of persecution. Down through the Church Age they have faced incredible persecution. In terms of persecution, that is universal, and the intensity might be a little bit worse during the Tribulation period. When you are being tortured and imprisoned for your faith, it does not really matter if more people are the object of that persecution, such as in the Tribulation, or just a few, which is what may be experienced in smaller persecutions throughout the Church Age. If you are the believer being persecuted, it just does not feel any better to know that there are only five or six hundred being persecuted as opposed to 3 or 4 million that are being persecuted.
There are persecutions all the time. This is not some kind of escape hatch that will make life easier for believers. This term ‘hour of testing’ really refers to Daniel’s 70th Week and the Great Tribulation, the seven-year period, which is an understandable term and we all know what we are talking about. It is also indicated in the Scripture as the “time of Jacob’s trouble”, indicating the focus is on Israel.
There are different views related to the Tribulation. The pre-Trib Rapture is the view that the Lord returns in the air for His church. We will be caught up with Him. This is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 and following. We will be caught up with the Lord. The dead in Christ will rise first and then we who remain shall be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air. Not on the ground but in the air. And thus we shall ever be with the Lord. This is a view that indicates that we do not go into the Tribulation at all.
The debate over this is really over whether the Lord is going to preserve the church in the midst of the Tribulation or not. If you truly understand the intensity of the Tribulation (we have done this in our study of Revelation) and if we realize how universal it is, how extensive it is, how horrendous it is, then I do not think that anyone could logically infer that somehow there would be millions of believers, millions of Christians on earth, and that they are going to somehow skate through.
The book of Revelation indicates there will be millions, tens of millions, of martyrs who are slaughtered through the persecution that arises from the Antichrist. We look at this and we try to understand the meaning of this particular word. The question is does EK mean out from, implying that the person is in something and preserved through it or does it refer to being removed from something without any reference to ever being in it?
(Slide 12) I drew this diagram to indicate the two differences. On the left we have the idea that you are in the situation, you are inside the circle, and you are taken out of it. You are preserved in or through it. The one on the right indicates the nuance that you are kept out from something but you are never, ever within it. So those are the two differences. The predominate meaning is the one on the right, that a position is outside its object with no thought of prior existence within the object or of emergence from the object itself. Sometimes EK does mean what is on the left. It has a broad range of meaning. It primarily means that you are kept from something and you are never in it but sometimes it does mean that you are in it and then you come out of it. We have a couple of examples of that right here in our passage in 1 Thessalonians 1:10. This is one of the things that Dan points out that argues from the internal evidence that APO is more than likely the correct reading because we read in verse 10 that we are to wait for His Son from Heaven.
That is the preposition EK. Jesus is in Heaven at the right hand of God the Father and He comes from a place where He is within Heaven and He comes out of it. Then He says, describing Jesus’ resurrection, “Whom He raised from the dead.” That is out from the dead. He was dead and then He is taken out from that. In both of these cases the circle would describe Heaven and Jesus comes from inside Heaven to outside Heaven. The circle describes dead. Jesus is resurrected out from the dead and in both of those examples He goes from inside to outside.
But this is the minor understanding of EK. Primarily EK has the idea of being outside and being kept from being inside. Let me just give you just a couple of examples of that. (Slide 13) What we see here in conclusion is that the predominant meaning of EK is outside its object, with no thought of prior existence within the object or emergence from the object. So if you are going to take the minority view, which is just a few examples in the New Testament relatively speaking, then you have to be able to demonstrate that from context.
This is one of the arguments that Dan points out that it would make more sense by the writer if he were to use EK OURANOS and then he would use EK NEKRON and then for parallelism use EK ORGES. This would be all three prepositional phrases using the same preposition. That would give it a certain parallelism and a certain symmetry and so it would be likely that if you had EK, EK, and then APO that a scribe in order to make things appear more symmetrical would be more likely to change APO to EK than to change EK to APO. If it was originally EK why would you change it to another preposition when the other two prepositional phrases in the verse are the same thing. So it is more likely that you would have a better explanation of the change from APO to EK than a change from EK to APO.
Also, in a scribal, depending upon just how the lines broke down on a page, it is very easy to understand how a scribe’s eye would go to these other two EKs and just pick those up and change the APO just through a scribal error from APO to EK because his eye just goes to the wrong word and he writes that down. That is why you do not have that many manuscripts or that many quotations in the tradition that use the preposition EK there in the last prepositional phrase.
Now if we look at the evidence we have from the broad range of examples we have of classical literature in The Iliad, Liddel, Scott, Jones gives the example of a sentence, “Therefore will we hold ourselves aloof from the fight beyond the range of missiles?” There he uses the preposition EK indicating they are not in the range and then they pull back but they are kept completely from going within the range of missiles. So there is an example from a classical work, The Iliad, where EK has the same sense that it is kept from ever being within.
In the Septuagint it is used that way in a number of passages. One of these is Psalm 59:1–2. This is a michtam of David when Saul sent men to watch the house in order to kill him. David prays, “Deliver me from my enemies. Defend me from those who rise against me. Deliver me from the workers of iniquity.” In each of these cases when that is translated into Greek in the Septuagint it uses the preposition EK, which does not mean to keep him safe after he has fallen under the control of those of his enemies, but to prevent him from ever coming within the control of his enemies.
(Slide 14) In the New Testament we have an example in Acts 15:28-29 where James says, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.” This was the conclusion of the Jerusalem Council. So you abstain from things offered to idols. That would indicate that you never did enter into that sphere of idolatry but that you were prevented from entering into that sphere of idolatry. Abstain from blood, not that you would be eating bloody or raw meat, but that you were outside of that. You never did that. “From things strangled, and from sexual immorality.” Each of these indicate examples of that chart I made showing on the right side that you never entered into the sphere but you are kept from ever being in the sphere, whatever that object might be.
(Slide 15) In John 12:27, Jesus says, “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour.’ But for this purpose I came for this hour.” The word “from” here when Jesus says to save Him from this hour, He indicates He does not want to enter into it at all. He does not want to enter into any of the suffering that is in relationship to the Cross. He wants to be prevented and kept completely out of it.
(Slide 16) In John 17:15 in Jesus’ high priestly prayer where He is praying for His disciples He says to the Father, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world [Greek word AIRO, to take up; to lift up, to raise up] but that You should keep them from the evil one.” (Slide 17) There we have the same Greek phraseology that we have in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, TEREO EK, so Jesus is praying that they would not ever come into the influence of Satan, the evil one. This second half of this verse clearly indicates that the believer is to be protected from entering the sphere of the evil one. He is not viewed as being in Satan but to be protected and preserved in his current position outside of Satan.
(Slide 18) From all of this what we understand in Revelation 3:10 is that they would be kept from a position outside the hour of testing that will come upon the whole world. So that tells us if we look at the last question I addressed earlier, that this is the worldwide conflagration of the Great Tribulation. The hour of testing refers to that period known as Daniel’s 70th Week which comes upon the entire world. (Slide 19) It is referred to in Revelation 14:7 as the hour of judgment. “Fear God and give glory to Him for the hour of His judgment has come and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea, and the springs of water.” The time of testing is this hour of judgment and they are to be kept from it completely.
(Slide 20) Now this is stated in Revelation 3:10 as the time which is about to come upon the whole inhabited earth, using this Greek word MELLO which indicates imminency, that it could come at any particular time. It is about to come. This letter written to the church at Philadelphia was written about 1,950 years ago and yet this time of testing has not come yet. For the Philadelphians they had no knowledge of when this would come. Historically they were kept from the hour and by application, all other believers will also be kept from the hour.
It is important because the purpose for the hour is to test those who dwell upon the earth. What we see in Revelation is the term “earth dwellers” which refers to the unbelievers, the kings of the earth who are hostile to God during the seven-year Tribulation period. So there is a testing, an evaluation, and a judgment upon the earth dwellers during the time of the Tribulation. That clearly is referencing that the hour of trial is the period of Daniel’s 70th Week. It is the time of testing of the earth dwellers. Again, this indicates the future period known as the Tribulation.
Back in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 we read that they are “to wait for His Son from heaven Whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Now these words “wrath to come” is an important phrase. We ought to understand a little bit about wrath. (Slide 21) We find a parallel to this phrase in Matthew 3:7 and Luke 3:7 where John the Baptist confronts the Pharisees when they come down to evaluate his ministry and his claims. He calls them the seed of Satan, actually. It says there the “brood of vipers”. The word “brood” means the descendants or seed of someone. This ought to remind us of Genesis 3:15 that the “seed of the serpent will bruise the heel of the Seed of the woman but the Seed of the woman will crush the head of the seed of the serpent.” The seed of the serpent refers to those who are followers of Satan, carrying out his mission.
John is very confrontational here when he calls the Pharisees the seed of Satan. Then he says, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” In both of these places we need to understand what this wrath is. It is a future wrath and I believe that in context of the message of the coming kingdom that this would probably describe the judgment of what is known as the Day of the Lord that precedes the establishment of the kingdom in passages like Joel 2:28 and following going on into the next chapter. There are other passages in the Old Testament.
It is a time of worldwide cataclysm which immediately precedes the establishment of the kingdom. They are trying to escape that future Day of the Lord which is Daniel 70th Week, or flee the wrath to come. (Slide 22) Luke 21:23 Jesus warns, “Alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days! For great distress shall be upon the earth and wrath upon this people.” Again, in context it is talking about judgment and as a matter of fact, this in Luke 21:23 is talking about the judgment that came in AD 70. This is a wrath in time.
My point in both of these examples is that they are not talking about the Lake of Fire or eternal punishment. They are talking about wrath or judgment in time. (Slide 23) Romans 1:18 does this as well, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth.” This is in the present tense. It is going on right now. God’s divine discipline and divine judgment on the human race at this time is being discussed. The wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. So this, again, is divine judgment of God in present time.
(Slide 24) Romans 2:5 and Romans 2:8 also talk about this wrath of God as something that is stored up for those who are rebellious against God and refuse to turn to Him. They are in verse 5, “treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath.” That’s looking forward to a future time of judgment, not the Tribulation period but the time of the Great White Throne judgment.
(Slide 25) Hebrews 4:3 refers to God’s judgment in past time, His discipline upon the wilderness generation. He says, “As I swore in my wrath [His judgment against them], ‘They shall never enter my rest’.” In context entering My rest was entering into the Promised Land so that is very clear. We see from these examples that wrath has to do with God’s judgment in time. It refers to past events, present events, and as well, some future events within time.
(Slide 26) Then we have passages that specifically talk about the Tribulation judgment. 1 Thessalonians 5:9 along with 1 Thessalonians 1:10. “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Slide 27) Then we have statements, as I mentioned earlier, related to eternal judgment. Romans 2:5 refers to the Judgment Seat of Christ. Romans 9:22 is not as clear.
(Slide 28) John 3:36 is clear, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” This is eternal judgment. So wrath has a range of meanings. The primary use of wrath has to do with divine judgment in time although there are a few examples that refer to eternal judgment. That is the minority view. When we look at this passage as it is in the introduction here, it is focusing on what will come up. 1 Thessalonians is a book that is mostly concerned with prophetic events related to the church and we need to just look at the doctrine of imminency.
(Slide 29) Imminency of Christ’s return. This is a really important doctrine that I do not think a lot of people teach today and it is the historic view of the church that Jesus Christ can return at any moment. It is not the doctrine of the Soon Coming of Christ but that He could come at any moment; that nothing has to take place before the Rapture occurs. That does not mean that some prophecies related to the Tribulation or to Israel might not take place before the Rapture but they are not related to the Rapture; they are not necessary for the Rapture to take place. Imminency refers to the fact that no prophecy needs to be fulfilled or must be fulfilled before the coming of Christ at the Rapture.
What that means is that if nothing has to take place before that, then there are no signs for the Rapture. You cannot look out and say, “Look at what is happening in the Middle East. Look at what is happening politically in the world. Look at what technology is doing. We now have the capability to tattoo everyone with some sort of barcode or something that would allow them to buy or sell.” That is what people are doing. It is newspaper exegesis. We could go another 100, 200, or 500 years before Jesus returns because nothing has to take place before He comes. I do not think it will be that long.
What we do see is that things related to events within the Tribulation seem to be set up. It seems to be that at this time there are things that are going to take place in the Tribulation that would seem more likely to be fulfilled. I caution everyone and this caution is really important. There is a wide range of people who are speculating on all kinds of eschatological fulfillment but we have to remember that no one knows the time. No one knows the day or the hour. Satan does not even know the day or the hour. Satan has to be ready at every generation with his man who he could move into position to be the Antichrist because when the church goes up, then he has got to move. He has got to be ready at any time.
This means that you can look out on the political, economic, and spiritual scene and you can always pick someone. You can always look at circumstances and say, “See, we are ready right now. This could happen next week.” Satan has to be ready. He has got to move things into position continuously so that if the church is raptured, he can move on his plan to destroy Israel and to finally defeat God. All of this fits into the doctrine of the Imminency of Christ’s Return.
(Slide 30) This is a doctrine that was taught in the early church. We have a quote here from 1 Clement. This was written by Clement who was a pastor in Rome. Sometimes he is called the Bishop of Rome. Sometimes Roman Catholics claim him as one of the early popes even though the papacy did not come into existence in their sense until around the first century. He wrote, “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.’ ”
He expected Jesus to return in his generation, just as Peter and Paul and the other writers of the New Testament did. They did not believe anything had to happen prior to the return of Christ for the church. (Slide 31) Ignatius, another important writer in the early part of the 2nd century in his epistle to the Ephesians writes, “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.” What he is saying here is that Jesus can come at any moment, the last times are upon us, and so we need to be prepared because Jesus can come at any time and take us away from the wrath to come.
(Slide 32) Irenaeus, who writes in the middle of the 2nd century states, “And therefore, when in the end the church shall be suddenly caught up from this, it is said, ‘There shall be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning, neither shall be.’ ” This indicates probably a pretty unsophisticated but never-the-less accurate view that the church is caught up before the Tribulation. This is in Irenaeus’ writing “Against Heresies” which was written about AD 160.
(Slide 33) Now just a reminder of God’s panorama. We currently live in the Church Age. What we see in terms of the Pre-Trib Rapture is that Christ is going to return in the air. He is going to be in the clouds. Christians are going to be caught up to be with Him in the air. Then there is going to be a gap that comes, a transition period, and then the Antichrist will sign a treaty with Israel and this will begin seven years of Tribulation.
In the heavens we will have the Judgment Seat of Christ and then the final Marriage of the Lamb. At the end of the Tribulation Jesus Christ returns to the earth. He will destroy the Antichrist and the false prophet and send them directly to the Lake of Fire. He will send the devil and his angels to the Abyss and they will be in chains through the thousand years of the Millennium. Then they are released and will lead a brief rebellion against God. Millions [of people] will join them. God will destroy them with fire and brimstone from Heaven.
Then the present heavens and earth are destroyed and a new heavens and a new earth are created and we will go into eternity. (Slide 34) This is the attitude the Christian should have, expressed in 2 Timothy 4:8, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them that love His appearing.” We should love the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ.
So what does imminency mean? (Slide 35) Imminency means the “at any moment” return of Jesus Christ. It could happen right now. It could happen this afternoon. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen 100 years from now. We do not know but we need to be prepared because we do not know when He will show up. (Slide 36) The term “imminency” in the Oxford English Dictionary means that something is hanging overhead, it is constantly ready to befall or overtake us, and it is something that is close at hand in its incidence. It is something that could be at any moment. It is impending. It is not necessarily soon or immediate, but it might be.
(Slide 37) It is something that is certain that it will occur but it is uncertain when it will occur. It is not contingent on any other event. That means that no prophecy has to be fulfilled so you cannot look at anything going on in the newspapers or the world around us and say that Jesus is coming soon. A lot of us believe that. I think a lot of people hope that because they just want to get out of the devil’s world, but that should not be our mentality. We need to not count on that. We need to live our lives as if Jesus might come back today and yet, we need to plan and prepare as if Jesus is not going to come back for 1,000 years. There is no excuse for being irresponsible for the future but we need to live every day as if we are going to give account to the Lord that day or the next day.
Basically imminency means there is no prerequisite for the return of the Lord for the church. There is no sign. We are looking for the blessed hope. We are not looking for the Antichrist. We are not looking for these other events that will take place. We are looking for Jesus Christ, not the Antichrist. The next thing that Christians are supposed to expect is the blessed hope of the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Slide 38) The second thing we learn about this in the doctrine of imminency is that it is important to understand the Pre-Tribulation Rapture of Jesus Christ for the church. (Slide 39) The Rapture is the resurrection of all dead Church Age believers and the removal of all living believers from the earth at the end of the Church Age before the Tribulation begins. The resurrection of all dead Church Age believers. Technically the word rapture or HARPAZO is the word for the dead in Christ will be caught up with Him. That is the word HARPAZO in the Greek. We who are alive and remain go to meet the Lord in the air. It is the resurrection of all dead Church Age believers and the removal of all living believers from the earth at the end of the Church Age before the Tribulation begins. The dead in Christ will rise first, then we who are alive and remain will be caught up with Him. That is HARPAZO. That is the Rapture. It applies only to those who are alive at Christ’s return, not to those who have died already. They rise from the dead.
Let’s look at the views. (Slide 40) Here is the pre-Trib Rapture view. All believers go up to be with the Lord. The dead in Christ will rise first. We who are alive and remain will be caught up with Him in the clouds. That precedes the coming of the Tribulation. It includes all believers. (Slide 41) There is another view that is a minority view, which is called the Partial Rapture view, which is the view that only those who are faithful, only those who are spiritual, only those who are growing will be caught up. Carnal Christians, out of fellowship Christians, will not be raptured. They believe there are different raptures during the Tribulation period which depend on you reaching a certain stage of maturity. That is not a very popular view.
(Slide 42) The other view is the Mid-Tribulation Rapture view and a modification of that called by some people the pre-Wrath Rapture. The Pre-Wrath view is towards the end, sort of like the three-quarter Trib view, not the Mid-Trib view, but the last quarter being viewed as the intensification of the wrath of God. And again, it ignores passages such as the wrath of the Lamb being poured out at the very beginning in Revelation 4. There you have the kings of the earth hiding from the wrath of the Lamb, which shows that the wrath of the Lamb comes from the very beginning of the Tribulation. So the mid-Trib view again is a minority view that the Rapture occurs at the time of the abomination of desolation.
(Slide 43) Then we have the post-Trib Rapture view. It is a view that the Rapture occurs at the end of the Tribulation, forcing all believers to endure the entire seven years. There are several problems with that view. I am not going to go into that right now. I just want to clarify this in terms of vocabulary. (Slide 44) What we see is the doctrine of imminency pretty much precludes all views except the pre-Trib view. If anything has to happen before the Rapture, then it is not imminent. If we have to wait for the Antichrist to appear, then it is not imminent. If we have to wait for the seal judgments to begin, if we have to wait on the abomination of desolation, or we have to wait four and half years before the wrath of God appears, or for something else to happen, then it is not imminent.
Imminency is usually rejected by the other views. The idea is that we are waiting for Him to appear today. The purpose of the doctrine of imminency is to keep every believer in a constant state of expectancy. We are looking. We are waiting. We are watching. We are hoping for the return of Christ that we might be ready, prepared, and not be ashamed at His coming. So it keeps us in a state of watchfulness and in being prepared and making sure we are walking in obedience to the Lord. If Christ did not return until after the Tribulation, after the Antichrist, after the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments, then Christians would say, “Well, Jesus is not coming back for a long time. I can wait until later to get serious about my Christian life.” So it is to keep us watchful and prepared.
(Slide 45) The fifth point is that believers are to look for the blessed hope. We are to look for the Savior, according to Hebrews 9:28 and Titus 2:13. We are looking for Him. He is the blessed hope. We are to watch for the Savior according to 1 Thessalonians 5:6 and Luke 12:37. We are to wait for the Savior, according to 1 Corinthians 1:7 and 1 Thessalonians 1:10.
(Slide 46) The sixth thing we need to realize about imminency is that there is no prophecy between the baptism of the Spirit and the Rapture, which means that the Rapture is imminent. There is no necessary prophetic fulfillment. That is what we mean when we say there is no prophecy fulfilled between the baptism of the Spirit and the Rapture. It can occur at any moment.
(Slide 47) The seventh point is that the timing of the resurrection of the church, the timing of the Rapture is completely out of our control. We cannot do anything to speed it up. We cannot try to hurry up the return of all the Jews to Israel. That is one of the lies that is out there, that Christians just want all the Jews to get back. They just want to hurry it up to get all the Jews back in the land so the Rapture can occur. Nothing we do can speed up the time or the manner of the Rapture. That is set by God, and it is not based or predicated on anything else.
(Slide 48) Eighth point is that the resurrection of the church is totally beyond our control because resurrection is the Lord’s victory. 1 Corinthians 15:57 says, “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Slide 49) The ninth point is that while the Rapture is imminent, the Second Coming, the Second Advent, is not. There are many signs for the Second Advent. That is what the Apostles are asking at the beginning of Matthew 24. “What are the signs of Your coming?” There are no signs related to the Rapture. There are only signs related to the Second Coming.
(Slide 50) The tenth point is that the Rapture could have occurred at the time of James or Paul or even Clement as we read in the quote earlier because no prophecy had to be fulfilled before the resurrection of the church occurs. (Slide 51) Now what happened is that a distortion of imminency, when people do not understand this, results in instability. Christians are always looking and speculating wondering when the Rapture is going to occur. We are warned by James in James 5:7–8 that we are to just patiently wait for the coming of the Lord. In James 5:7 he says, “Be patient, therefore brethren, before the coming of the Lord. Behold the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil being patient about it until he gets the early and late rains. You, too, be patient. Strengthen your hearts for the coming of the Lord is near.” That word “near” indicates the doctrine of imminency. So 1 Thessalonians 1:10 indicates the pre-Trib Rapture relies upon or assumes the doctrine of imminency and sets us up for what will be discussed in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5. Let’s close in prayer.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things and to be reminded that Jesus Christ is coming soon. It could happen at any moment and we need to be motivated to be prepared, to make ready, to make sure that we are spiritually prepared for the end game that will be taking us to Heaven, the Judgment Seat of Christ, and preparation for our future role to rule and reign with the Lord Jesus Christ. We pray that You will challenge us with what we have studied this evening. In Christ’s name. Amen.”