When most Christians think about the parousia of Christ, at which time both the dead and living in Christ are to be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4: 16-17), they think of it as an imminent expectation. That is, the rapture and resurrection of believers is something that can occur during any generation. It doesn’t matter whether you are pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-trib; if you are solidly evangelical in your views, then you believe that the rapture intimately concerns you. Very well. But while the doctrine of imminency is confessed by all, it is less often understood why this element is essential to a true unfolding of the Gospel message.
We are aware of some who would postpone Christ’s second advent to a far future time. They urge Christians not to look for the second coming, which is the blessed hope of the church (Titus 2: 13), but for the evangelization of the world. They urge us to buy houses and cars, plant vineyards and oliveyards, make investments, and look for long-term schemes to reach fruition. One writer has even suggested that Christ will not return for another 36,000 years! This is wrong, all wrong. If only the truths concerning this matter were better understood, Christians would shun any doctrine that seeks to put off the coming of the King to receive us unto Himself.
The doctrine of imminency is indeed important, and is based — believe it or not — on the substitutionary, sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6: 23). Christ paid the wages when He died on Calvary’s cross. Hence, Christ’s death is substitutionary in nature. That is a simple equation, and easy to understand — as it well should be.
Think about it for a moment. If Christ’s death was substitutionary (which all Protestants admit), then it is evident that regenerate Christians need not die. That is, there is no more necessity for undergoing death. Wherefore Paul explicitly teaches: “Behold, we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed” (1 Cor. 15: 51). That is, not all members of the Body of Christ shall undergo physical death; but regardless of whether we live or die, we shall all be tranformed into the image of Christ. In this regard, nothing has changed since the apostle penned these words.
For any Christian to claim that all the members of Christ’s body on earth at any given time must needs fall asleep in death, is to subvert this truth, and to demonstrate ignorance of the springhead whence it flows. Sometimes Preterists seek to solve the problem of imminency by relegating all the “expectation passages” to the first century, and positing their fulfillment in A.D. 70. But this method is inconsistent, and inadequate to deal with the facts. Paul’s teaching in Philippians 3: 20-21 places the rapture of believers in the immediate foreview of the church. Since the transformation of the living and dead did not occur in the first century, it is clear that it must still occupy an important place in our daily walk. There is only one body and one faith (Ephesians 4: 4-5). The church has received but one set of marching orders. How faithfully we adhere to these marching orders will reveal our value as stewards. It is a matter which concerns “all” (Luke 12: 41-48).
The questions we must ask is: Did Christ die for our sins? Was He raised for our justification? Is He coming again? If you answer yes to all three of these questions, then you will have to place more importance on the second coming, if you haven’t already. For the return of Christ is bound up with His sacrificial death on Calvary’s cross, and is therefore part of that “good news” which we are to preach. Any man who seeks to deny or wilfully obscure such good news will have something to answer for at the judgment seat of Christ.