The Doctrine of Imminence and the Spirit of Prophecy
By Sarah Beveridge
The doctrine of imminence or immanency as it is understood today, is the belief in the imminent or any moment return of Jesus to catch away His bride. It is taught in many evangelical churches and denominations. In this belief, it is currently taught that Jesus can come “at any moment” and there are no signs that need to occur and no prophecies that need to be fulfilled before the rapture/resurrection, and the claim is that the rapture is a “sign less event.” Although I find it rather ironic that many of the same Christians who espouse the doctrine of imminence are also watching and reporting the signs and speaking about bible prophecy.
About a year ago I started to research the “doctrine of imminence” and I am sharing my discoveries that led me to draw a different conclusion than the one I held previously. In my own journey to understand what true biblical imminence is and is not, what kept coming up in my spirit was this; if Jesus can come at any moment and His coming is “imminent”, then why is the Lord giving me dreams and visions where He is clearly showing me events in my future and the future of the church? This seemed to contradict the doctrine of imminence. Although I knew I was hearing from God, clearly something was not right about the “any moment” return of Jesus and I had to learn what it was. I don’t use personal experience to validate truth, I use the bible, so I knew the answer was in scripture and I set out to understand this paradox.
The Early Church and Imminence
One of the primary reasons given for belief in the doctrine of imminence is the belief that the early church believed and taught it. And the thinking goes that if the early church believed it, then it must be true. I find it sad and ironic how so many other things the early church believed and practiced are not taught and adhered to today.
There is no question the early church was looking for and expecting the Lord Jesus Christ to come in their lifetime. But after researching this I found that what the early church really believed was more accurately “expectancy” and not an “any moment, imminent” resurrection/rapture. They were expecting the Lord to come in their lifetime, and they lived their life as though He would, and they taught that Christians should be prepared at all times to meet the Lord. Paul said that “TODAY is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor 6:2) This dovetails into what Jesus really taught about the immanency of Christ, as you will read about further on in this article.
There is no question that scripture conveys Jesus promised that He would come back for His faithful followers and He taught to always be prepared to meet Him. (John 14:1-4, Mat 16:28, Mat 26:64, Mat 24:42-51.) But was Jesus really saying He was going to come back to rapture His church at any moment? After very close scrutiny of the scriptures, prayer and asking the Holy Spirit to teach me, I do not believe scripture supports that notion at all. To the contrary, there are many things Jesus said that absolutely show us there were things the church should be expecting to see before He came for them. There is only one place in scripture where Jesus speaks of coming to “receive” His people to Himself and take them to heaven, and that is John 14: 1-4. But He does not say this could occur at any time.
Jesus told His disciples they would see many events BEFORE His coming and these are just some examples:
- The temple would be destroyed- fulfilled in 70 AD (Mat 24:2, Mark 13:2, and Luke 21:6)
- The Holy Spirit would come in power (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8)
- There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars, and when we see these things we would know our redemption was near. Clearly this indicates “signs” we are to look for prior to the catching away. (Luke 21:25, Acts 2:16-21)
- Jesus said that when we “see these things come to pass, then look up and lift up your heads for your redemption draws near.” (Luke21:28) Clearly Jesus was telling us we would see some things before our “redemption.” (Read Romans 8:23.)
- Jesus told Peter that he would get old and die and his death would glorify God. Peter was absolutely part of the early church and a primary Apostle chosen by Jesus to “feed His sheep.” Since Peter knew the prophecy the Lord gave him about his own death, would he have also believed Jesus could come at any time? Of course not! (John 21:18-19)
- Jesus said a specific generation would not pass away until all the things He was speaking of were fulfilled (Mat 24:32-34.) That generation are those who would be alive from the time Israel became a nation in 1948 (the fig tree puts forth leaves) and conclude sometime with-in that time frame, which is generally understood to be the life span of a man, which is about 70-80 years. (Psalm 90:10)
- If the rapture is at any moment, then what about all the scriptures where we are instructed to watch and therefore know the time and season of His coming? Jesus said we would not know the day or hour, but He absolutely said that if we watched we would know the season. (Read Mat 16:3, Mat 24;42, Mat 25:13, Mark 13:33-37, Luke 12:38-40, Luke 21:36, 1 Thes 5:6, Rev 3:3)
These are just a sampling of prophecies that have either come to pass, are in the process of coming to pass or have not yet come to pass. In fact, in the Olivet discourse, when the disciples of Jesus asked this question in Matthew 24:3 “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” Jesus went on to give many signs to look for and in no way did He ever insinuate His coming would be sign- less and imminent.
The Apostle Paul also clearly states there are specific and significant “signs” to look for prior to our “assembling to meet the Lord” (rapture). Namely a great falling away from the faith and the revealing of the “son of perdition” will occur FIRST according to Paul.
“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him, we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thes 2:1-4)
The True Biblical Doctrine of Imminence
So why does Jesus instruct us to be prepared to meet Him at any time? This should be obvious, but to answer that from scripture we need to go to a parable in Luke 12:16-21. In these passages we learn what the TRUE doctrine of imminence is, as taught by Jesus Himself. In this parable of the rich man building two barns, Jesus indicates that at any moment a man’s soul may be required of by God, and therefore Jesus can come at any moment for any one of us. To quote a man of God that I have learned much from over the years; “the term ‘immanency’ is a term of discipleship and conduct as to how we ought to live our Christian lives and is not necessarily an eschatological term. Jesus may come at any instant for any believer at any time in history.”
I believe without a doubt that we are the last generation and that will see the rapture of the church and the second coming of Jesus to set up His Kingdom. And this is because we are absolutely seeing all the signs that Jesus said would be present, and if we are wise virgins let us heed the Lords command to be watchful, in prayer and prepared to meet Him. The Lord had me write a book on the subject of preparation, being a disciple and fulfilling our calling and destiny NOW, before He comes. So I am fully aware of the times and seasons. But if we are completely honest, we have no idea when the Lord may decide to take each of us home. The bible is clear that we should live our Christian life to the fullest, doing Gods will and obeying Him in all that we are commanded to be and do on this side of eternity.
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; 14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15)
Even still, with all this said, and the signs manifesting, The Lords coming to rapture His church is still NOT imminent or at any moment. James tells us to be patient as we see the nearing of that day, which we are seeing, but patient we must be because a harvest has to come first.
Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. 8 You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. James 5:7-8
Now let’s go deeper…
New Testament scriptures that are used to teach the “doctrine of Imminence”
Most Christians do not dig deep enough and only skim the surface in bible study and therefore miss very much truth that is waiting to be discovered. Also remember that we must consider the full picture, the whole context and the full council of scripture in order to draw our conclusions.
The word “imminent” or “immanency” is not found in scripture. There are four scriptures that use the term “at hand” or “nigh”. (Read James 5:8, Romans 13:11, Philippians 4:5 and 1 Peter 4:7) These are the words and primary scriptures used to teach the “doctrine of immanency” related to the rapture.
The same word “at hand” is also used to denote “nearness, closeness and access to God.” In some cases I believe those scriptures are really implying access to God because that is the primary meaning in the Greek. I believe this is true of Philippians 4:5 which you will read further down. Also think of the Lords promise to “never leave nor forsake us.” (Heb 13:5, Deut 31:6)
“At Hand” in scripture:
The word “at hand” is the Strong’s word G1451 (Greek- eggys) and means:
1-near, of place and position
2-those who are near access to God
1-Jews, as opposed to those who are alien from God and his blessings
2-The Rabbis used the term “to make nigh” as equivalent to “to make a proselyte”
1-of times imminent and soon to come pass
In Luke 21:31 Jesus tells His disciples that when you see all the signs coming to pass that He mentions in the preceding verses 5-30, know that the “Kingdom of God is at hand”. (G1451)
“So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.” (Luke 21:31)
Very clearly Jesus is giving an instruction to His disciples to watch for specific signs related to His coming. There is NOT ONE scripture where Jesus ever said not to watch for and recognize signs that would indicate the time and season of His return to catch away His church. The Apostle Paul echoes this same principle in scriptures such as 1 Thessalonians 4:1-4 where he outlines specific events to watch for that will occur prior to the resurrection/rapture.
Below I have listed many scriptures that are used by those who teach and believe in the doctrine of imminence as related to the rapture. I also give the dates that the scriptures were written. Please read the whole chapters in context and study the scriptures closely and notice the admonition to “watch and be prepared”. And also notice the “expectancy” that is conveyed. I perceive the expectancy the early church had that Jesus would come in their lifetime, and not this modern idea that Christ can come at any moment to rapture His church. Also pay attention because at the end of the list is a surprise.
James – WRITTEN BY JAMES, HALF BROTHER OF JESUS – APPROX AD 49-50 (Likely before the Jerusalem council meeting in Acts 15)
“Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. 8 Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. (nigh= G1448) 9 Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door. (James 5:7-9).
NOTE: James 5:7-9 is clearly stating there is a harvest before the coming of the Lord. In verse 8 the word “nigh” is G1448 (Greek- eggizō) which means “drawing near, approaching.” This shows me that James was expecting Jesus to come in his lifetime, but what he never says is that Jesus can come at any moment.
1 Thessalonians – WRITTEN BY PAUL APPROX AD 50-52
“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 Thes 1:10).
“Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober” (1 Thes 5:6).
NOTE: Take notice of the expectancy, the warning to be watchful and sober; in other words Paul is saying, pay attention to the signs! Clearly they were expecting the Lord to come in their life time, but not one word about Jesus coming at any moment. In his second letter to the Thessalonians (2 Thes 2:1-4) Paul clearly told them to watch for specific events to occur before the “gathering/assembling” of the Saints. Why would he contradict himself by even implying the Lord can come at any moment?
Mark – WRITTEN BY JOHN MARK APPROX AD 55-65
“Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. 34 It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. 35 Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning— 36 lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. 37 And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” (Mark 13:33-37).
NOTE: The words of Jesus reiterate the warning to His people to be watchful and in prayer. Certainly He would never tell His disciples don’t worry about anything because you have 2000 more years to go. Of course He wants every generation to be the best Christians and disciples they can be, never letting our guard down and allowing the world to ensnare us. These scriptures also confirm that no man knows the day or hour, but other scriptures warn us we should know the times and season.
1 Corinthians – WRITTEN BY PAUL APPROX AD 55
“so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 1:7).
NOTE: The expectation and eagerness to see the Lord is again highlighted in this verse. Does Paul say the Lord can come at any moment?
Romans – WRITTEN BY PAUL APPROX AD 56-58
“Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: (G1448) let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (Rom 13:11-12).
NOTE: This scripture, Romans 13:11 really goes with what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 6:2 … now is the day of salvation. In verse 12 “at hand” is G1448 (Greek- eggizō) which means “drawing near, approaching.” Again this is not implying Jesus is coming at “any moment” but “expectancy” that the day would come in their lifetime.
Philippians – WRITTEN BY PAUL APPROX AD 60-62
“For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20).
“Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand” (Phil 4:5).
Note: In context the word “at hand” in Philippians 4:5 is G1451 (Greek- eggys) and it means “nearness and access to God”. This verse is really saying “the Lord is close by, near” so watch your behavior.
1 Timothy – WRITTEN BY PAUL APPROX AD 61-65
I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; 14 That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: 15 Which in his times (G2540) he shall shew, [who is] the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; (1 Tim 6:13-15).
NOTE: In 1 Timothy 6:15 Paul is saying Jesus will come in His times. The word “times” is G2540 (Greek- Kairos) which means:
A measure of time, a larger or smaller portion of time, hence:
- a fixed and definite time, the time when things are brought to crisis, the decisive epoch waited for
- opportune or seasonable time
- the right time
- a limited period of time
- to what time brings, the state of the times, the things and events of time
This implies that there is a set time, a Kairos moment, an appointed time, the right time, but ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT indicate Jesus is coming at “any moment” or “imminently.”
1 Peter – WRITTEN BY PETER APPROX AD 62-65
“Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).
“But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (1 Peter 4:7).
Note: In 1 Peter 4:7 the word “at hand” in this verse is Strong’s G1448 (Greek- eggizō) and it has a different meaning than G1451 (Greek- eggys). G1448 means to bring near, to join one thing to another, to draw or come near to, to approach. Basically Peter is saying the end of the world is approaching, so be sober. Was the end of the world really near? No, but clearly this scripture shows us that the early church was expecting Jesus to come in their lifetime, but not at any moment.
Hebrews – WRITTEN BY PAUL (or Apollos or possibly Barnabas . . . ?) APPROX AD 60-62 or as late as AD 70 prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.
“So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb 9:28).
“Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the Day approaching” (Heb 10:24-25).
“For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry” (Heb 10:37).
NOTE: The “expectancy” of the early church to see the Lords coming is apparent in these scriptures. Again, I am seeing “expectancy” and not the “any moment”, “imminent” coming of Christ that is taught in todays churches.
Revelation – WRITTEN BY JOHN APPROX AD 90-96
“Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown” (Rev 3:11).
“Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book” (Rev 22:7).
“He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20).
NOTE: These scriptures are consistent with the teachings of Jesus to always be ready to meet Him, which is the true “doctrine of imminence.”
Did you notice something else?! All of the scriptures that are used by teachers of the “doctrine of imminence” were written anywhere from 26-47 years BEFORE John ever wrote the Revelation of Jesus Christ! What this means is that the most important and valuable prophetic book in the bible with a multitude of post-apostolic church era and end time prophecies was written AFTER all the other New Testament scriptures were written. And the prophecies for the seven churches that actually existed in Asia Minor at the time John wrote the book of Revelation, would shortly begin to experience those prophecies that were for them. Let’s read Revelation 1:1-3 and notice that Jesus tells John the words of the prophecy are about to come to pass.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw. 3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near. (Rev 1:1-3)
In fact, the prophecies to the seven churches of Asia Minor did come to pass already. The seven churches is a HUGE and multi-layered topic and I won’t go further into it here. But the point I am making is that if the early church believed Jesus could come any moment, and there are no signs, and no prophecies that need to be fulfilled, then when John presented the seven letters to the seven churches around AD 96, they would have experienced quite a shock, when for example, the church at Smyrna was given a prophecy in Revelation 2:8-19 that some of them would be put in prison for ten days.
Therefore how could the early church have thought the coming of Jesus to rapture His church would be at any moment and without any signs or impending prophecies if the most prolific end time prophecies in the bible had not even been written yet?
With all this said, I believe the modern church has taken the true biblical doctrine of the imminence of Christ and applied human understanding and reasoning to it and made it into something that it was never intended to be. And I believed this teaching, not because I had studied it and came to my conclusion from study, but because I believed the men who taught it and I did not ask the Holy Spirit to teach me what truth is. That has all changed now.
The Testimony of Jesus Christ is the Spirit of Prophecy
The bible clearly tells us that God is pouring out His Spirit on ALL flesh.
“Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2:17-18)
As a maidservant of the Lord I have easily had hundreds of dreams (that I recall) since I started to experience dreams from the Lord in 2008. Many of those dreams have already come to pass; including dreams where the Lord showed me about new jobs, moving, end of relationships, new ministry, etc. Last year I had a dream from the Lord where He showed me I was going to Florida. I did not understand why or when this would occur. But this is now coming to pass!
The testimony of Jesus Christ is the Spirit of Prophecy (Rev 19:10) and He absolutely prophesies into our life and shows us things in advance so that we know He is sovereign over our lives. There is nothing that He does not know about us! Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, so why wouldn’t He prophesy to us, just as He prophesied to the seven churches of Asia Minor? Jesus has ABSOLUTELY NOT stopped prophesying to His church.
To those who believe that the rapture is at any moment and therefore Jesus can’t prophesy into our life by giving a dream about the future I would say to you, ask and allow the Holy Spirit to be your teacher and lead you in all truth. That is really the issue at hand. Are we going to follow men and their doctrines and traditions, or are we going to follow Jesus? I made a course correction about 2 1/2 years ago that I was going to follow the Holy Spirit and let Him teach me and guide me. That includes who I should be listening to, because the Lord Himself does choose teachers for His people. (Eph 4:11-12).
Christianity is filled with man’s interpretation and opinion, and very little revelation from the Holy Spirit. Believe me when I say that I am not smart enough to come up with this information on my own. It came by revelation from the Holy Spirit. Since we truly are the last generation and we really do not know for certain how much time we have, don’t you think we had better start listening to the Holy Spirit and stop following the doctrines of men?
To God be the Glory!