What do we mean by the Lord’s return being imminent? Is the return of Christ  imminent? Could it happen at any time? 

Scoffers have noted that those who preached the imminence of Christ’s return  50 years ago have died. They therefore conclude that it is wrong to say Christ  is coming soon or even that it could occur at any moment. Yet Jesus gave very  specific instruction to His disciples to watch for His coming. 

“Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of  man cometh” (Matt.24:44).  

If the coming of the Lord was not imminent (possible at any moment) then what  did the Lord mean? Not only did Jesus warn the disciples to be ready but He  also warned of solemn consequences for those who say, “my Lord delayeth his  coming” (Matt.24:48).  

If words mean anything then Christians of all ages should live their lives in the  constant expectation that Jesus could come at any moment whether it be the  first century or the twenty-first century. And if God would have us do so then, it  must be possible for Christ to come at any moment now. 

To suggest any specific time for Christ to return would be wrong for Jesus said: “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which  are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and  pray: for ye know not when the time is(Mark 13:32-33). 

Several things are obvious from this passage: 

1) There is a specific hour to be decided by the Father when Christ will return.

2) No man knows, or can know, when Jesus will come. 

3) The time of Christ’s return is unknown to the angels and even to Jesus.

4) The time of Christ’s return is known only to the Father. It would seem that  the Father has not yet made that decision which may be contingent upon  other events unfolding. 

The Bible teaches that it is the Father who determines WHEN future events will  occur. This is plainly stated by the Lord in Acts 1:7 

“And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons,  which the Father hath put in his own power.”  

It will always be a mystery to mortal men how there is one God yet three  persons. Within this Godhead the Father sent the Son to become flesh like us  (John 17:18) and the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father to indwell those who  believe (John14:26). The Father has “committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22) yet Jesus could say, “I and my Father are one” (John10:30). This  means more than just “one in purpose” for Jesus said to Thomas, “He that hath  seen me hath seen the Father” (John14:9). 

Old Testament saints belonged to the Father but when the New Covenant was  enacted, based on the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, the Father gave those  saints who were still living on earth to the Son (John 17:6), and they are secure  in the hand of the Son and the Father (John 10:27-30). This does not mean in  any way that the Son is inferior to the Father for Jesus said that “all men should  honour the Son, even as they honour the Father” (John5:23). Within the Godhead there is perfect unity yet it is the Father who determines “the times or the seasons” and thus we can understand that the Son does not  know when He will be sent a second time into the world. 

The Time of Christ’s First Advent 

Similar warnings to watch were NOT given to Old Testament saints about  Christ’s FIRST advent because about 538BC the Father revealed the precisely determined time when Messiah would appear as the King of Israel. Any Jew  who knew the Scriptures would have been able to calculate 483 prophetic  years from the date of the “command to restore and build Jerusalem” (Dan.9:25) in the month Nisan, the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, 445BC, to Palm  Sunday when Jesus fulfilled Zech.9:9 and was presented to the nation as the  son of David, their King. 

Many other prophecies of Christ’s first advent had no time attached.  Prophecies of His virgin birth are merged with His second advent in Isa.9:6-7  and descriptions of His sufferings on the cross give no clue as to when this  would take place. Bethlehem, is identified as the location of Jesus’ birth but  Micah does not indicate when He would be born. The flight to Egypt and the  location of Nazareth as the hometown of the Lord are mentioned in prophecy  but only Daniel is given a specific time when Messiah the Prince would be  presented to the nation after which He would be cut off.  

The time of Christ’s birth could not be precisely foreknown for no prophecy  told Messiah’s age when He would ride into Jerusalem as the King of Israel.  There were prophecies which indicated the time of Christ’s appearing was near for God would send His messenger, John the Baptist, to “prepare the  way” before the Lord (Mal.3:1). 

As the time for Christ to be born drew near, Zacharias received the message  that John would be born to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” and Simeon was told that Messiah would appear in his lifetime. Anna and a  remnant in Jerusalem lived in anticipation of His imminent coming and it would  seem they were aware of the prophecies. The preaching of John told the  message; “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (near) (Matt.3:2;4:17;10:7). At Jesus’ birth the shepherd’s “made known abroad the saying that was told  them concerning this child” (Luke 2:20) but this was after the event.

Christ’s Second Advent is always Imminent 

There was no excuse for Israel’s failure to recognize the time of Messiah’s  first Advent but His second advent has no such explicit time and Jesus’ final  message in the Olivet Discourse warned Israel to be ready at any time. In  other words, His coming would always be imminent! It could occur at any time.  The final generation however, would know that His coming was “near, even at  the doors” (Matt.24:33). 

In the parable of the rich man (Luke 12:16-40) Jesus told the Jews that the  Father would give them the kingdom (Luke12:31) and that He would return  “after the wedding” (Luke12:36) for the marriage supper. He urged Israel : “Be  ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think  not” (Luke12:40). 

“And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and  find them so, blessed are those servants” (Luke12:38). 

There were four 3-hour watches in the night and Jesus was saying that  whatever hour He should come they should be expecting Him! The Disciples, however, were not given the exact time of Christ’s second  advent and it is not indicated anywhere in Bible prophecy. When the Disciples  asked the Lord for the signs of His coming and of the end of the age He made  it very clear that there would be a short period of Great Tribulation immediately  before He appeared in glory. The whole purpose of the Olivet Discourse was  to provide information about events during the seven years prior to His Second  Advent so that the readers would THEN know WHEN the coming of the Lord  was near, “even at the doors” (Matt.24:33). 

Not only does the Olivet Discourse give signs to indicate the nearness of the  Lord’s return but it urges the reader to be in a constant state of watchfulness  because the Lord could come at any time. Those who are watching will be  blessed: 

“Blessed is that servant, whom his Lord when he cometh shall find so doing”  (Matt.24:46). 

These warnings in the Olivet Discourse, it must be remembered, were given to  Jewish disciples in the age of law before the Church was established. Once  the Church was established, Israel was put aside and, as the “natural branch” of the olive tree, was plucked off until the end times.

The reader will recall that we quoted Daniel 9:25-26 as evidence that an  explicit time was give for Christ’s presentation to the nation as her king.  However, that was only part of the prophecy. Verse 27 indicates that there are  seven more years determined on Jerusalem and the nation of Israel before the  Lord returns to reign. This period is divided into two equal parts of three and  a half years. Other Scriptures describe these periods as 1,260 days, 42 months  and “a time, times, and an half” or 3 1/2 years. 

These prophecies, located in Daniel 7:25; 12:7; Revelation 11:3; 12:6,14; and  13:5, clearly refer to the first and second halves of the last seven years which  God has determined upon Israel before they are blessed in Christ’s millennial  kingdom. Furthermore, the events of that last seven years are described in  great detail in Revelation chapters 6 through to 18 so that once the seven year  period begins, all on earth who know their Bible will know precisely when  Christ will return! In fact Jesus said that those who see the events of the  Tribulation would know His coming was near, “even at the doors”. How then  do we explain the words of the Lord that no man knows the day or hour of  His return? And how can we believe in imminence if the last seven years is  given in great detail? 

The coming of the Lord is in two stages. Jesus is coming FOR His Church  BEFORE Israel’s last 7 years of prophetic history and will come WITH His saints  (Zech.14:5) at the end of Israel’s last 7 years. 

Once this is understood the answer is very simple. When Jesus spoke to Israel  about watching for His return there was an unknown period of time which was  to precede the last seven years. That was the Church age in which God would  take out of the Gentiles “a people for His name” (Acts15:14). The Church is referred to as “the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been  hid in God” but is now revealed unto his holy apostles” (Eph.3:5,9). God has determined a definite period of 490 years upon the Jews and  Jerusalem but nowhere has he indicated the length of the Church age or the  “dispensation (administration) of the grace of God” to the Gentiles (Eph.3:2).  Only the Father knows how long the Church age will continue. He will decide  when “the fulness of the Gentiles” has come in and the Bride of Christ is  complete. Only then will the Father say to the Son, Go and get your Bride!  Then the Rapture will take place. 

Many Bible prophecies may indicate that the Church age is drawing to a close  but there is no definite time specified. Thus, nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus  could say, “ye know not what hour your Lord doth come”

What are the prophesied events which must occur in the gap between Israel’s  69th “seven” of years and her last “seven” of years (the 70th) when Israel’s  prophetic history begins again? They are: 

1) Messiah must be “cut off”. This happened four days after Jesus rode into  Jerusalem to the cry, “Blessed is the King that cometh in the name of the Lord!” 2) The city of Jerusalem must be destroyed by the Romans in fulfilment of  Daniel 9:27:

“The people of the prince that shall come (Antichrist) shall destroy the city  and the sanctuary.” 

This was fulfilled in A.D.70 by the Roman armies led by Titus, 38 years after the  presentation of Messiah the Prince to the nation on Palm Sunday. 3) After Israel rejected Messiah God turned to the Gentiles to take out of them “a  people for His name” and this Church of Jesus Christ would issue a genuine call  to Israel to repent. Jesus told the Disciples just 10 days before Pentecost that  they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit and that they were to witness, first at  “Jerusalem, then in all Judaea, and in Samaria and unto the uttermost part of  the earth” (Acts1:8). The Gentile Church was the “other sheep”, which were not  of the fold of Israel, whom Jesus said He must bring (John 10:16). The Church was formed on the day of Pentecost but her first message was to  Israel and so Peter preached to the Jews: 

Repent ye (of killing the Prince of life) therefore, and be converted, that  your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from  the presence of the Lord. And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was  preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive UNTIL the times of  restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy  prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:19-21). 

The last chapter of Acts describes Israel’s rejection of the Gospel presented by  the Church and so Paul says: 

“The heart of this people is waxed gross (calloused), and their ears are dull  of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their  eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. Be it known therefore unto you, that  the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it(Acts 28:27-28). 

To the Church at Rome Paul wrote that the Gospel was the power of God unto  salvation “to the Jews first, and also to the Greek” (Rom.1:16). The Church  fulfilled its testimony to Israel in the lifetime of Paul. 

In the parable of the marriage supper for the king’s son (Matt.22:1-14) the  guests were invited three times. The parable teaches three calls for Israel  to come to the marriage supper of the Lamb which takes place after Christ  returns to the earth.  

The first invitation was given by the Lord during His earthly ministry but “they  would not come”. Jesus said:  

“How oft would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen  gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not(Matt.23:37). The second invitation was issued by the early Church but they “spitefully  entreated” the Christians and “slew them.” Had Israel accepted the invitation  to the marriage supper of the Lamb at the second call then Christ would have  come to establish His kingdom but they rejected the testimony of the Church  (Acts 3:19-21). 

The third invitation will be given by 144,000 Jewish witnesses who will preach “the Gospel of the kingdom in all the world for a witness” during the first half  of the 7-year Tribulation. At this time, “All Israel shall be saved” (Ezek.39:22;  Rom.11:26)  

The unknown factor in God’s program is the commencement of the last 7 years  before Christ returns to reign so we need to ask, What event brings the Church  age to a close and introduces Israel’s final 7 years of prophetic history? In Paul’s epistle to the Romans chapters 9 to 11 we have described the relationship  of Israel to the Church in this age. In this age there is a remnant of Israel being  saved but the Church is “neither Jew nor Greek (Gentile)...for ye are all one in  Christ Jesus” (Gal.3:28). 

Israel is described as a “natural olive branch” which has been broken off and the  Gentile believers are described as a “wild olive branch” graffed into the olive tree  in her place. But this will only continue “UNTIL the fulness of the Gentiles be come  in. And so all Israel shall be saved” (Rom.11:25-26). 

Acts 15 explains what the term, “the fulness of the Gentiles” means. This is the  Church of Jesus Christ which God is taking out of the Gentiles “for the name” of the Lord Jesus (Acts15:14). “The fulness of the Gentiles” therefore means the  completion of that number which make up the predominantly Gentile Church. That  number is either not yet determined by the Father or the time when it will occur  awaits the response to the Gospel. Jesus was perfectly right to say that no man  knows the day or the hour when He would return. 

Once the Rapture of the Church has occurred, then Israel’s prophetic clock will  begin to tick and the last 7 years of history before Christ returns to reign will run its  course. 

The Parable of the 10 Virgins 

Jesus gave a parable of 5 wise and 5 foolish virgins. He told this parable to the  Jews. It applies to Israel and not the Church. 

The marriage supper of the Lamb occurs AFTER Christ returns in glory and the  parable is addressed to Israel warning them to be ready for Christ’s return at the end  of the Tribulation. Foolish virgins will not enter the kingdom or be at the marriage  supper of the Lamb! 

Israel will heed this warning because in the Tribulation, all ungodly Jews will perish  and “all (surviving) Israel shall be saved” at the time of the Russian invasion in the  first half of the Tribulation (Rom.11:26; Ezek.39:22-29; Jer.31:34). 

Can we Say Christ’s Return is Near? 

The coming of the Lord to reign will always be at least 7 years away because  there must be 7 years of Great Tribulation called, the Day of the Lord, immediately  preceding it. Jesus said His coming to reign would be “immediately after the  tribulation of those days” (Matt.24:29). The Rapture of the Church however,  precedes the Tribulation and it is this event which triggers the final 7 years of Israel’s  history as determined in Daniel 9:27. 

Paul wrote of the Day of the Lord and told the Christians, “Ye are not in darkness,  that that day (the Tribulation) should overtake you as a thief…for God hath not  appointed us to wrath” (1Thess.5:4,9).

During Israel’s last 7 years of history and before the kingdom is established,  there are certain political, economic and environmental events described and  these will occur quickly. Preparation for these events will no doubt begin prior  to the 7 year period. Some of these are as follows: 

  1. i) Israel must already be re-established in the land before the last 7 years  begins because a Roman prince will make a 7-year treaty with Israel at its  commencement. Israel became a nation on 14 May 1948. 
  2. ii) The last 7 years of Israel’s history begins with a treaty signed by a Roman  prince whose people destroyed the city of Jerusalem and other Scriptures  (Dan.2 and 7) indicate that the Roman Empire, the fourth kingdom on earth, is to  be revived just before Jesus returns.  

The union of European states under the banner of the EU is undoubtedly a  revival of the Roman Empire. In 2024 the EU has 27 member countries and a  population approaching 500 million. After the Lisbon Treaty in December 2009  a President and a Foreign Minister were appointed. The President will ultimately  have power like that of the US President. Foreign policy will be administered by  the EU Foreign Minister. The Bible teaches that the Revived Roman Empire will  be led by the Beast (Antichrist) and his False Prophet. 

iii) Halfway through the 7 years the Roman prince will cause the Jewish Temple  sacrifices to cease. This requires the Jewish Temple to be rebuilt. There has  been no Temple for nearly 2,000 years and any move by the Jews to rebuild or  to refurnish the Temple must therefore be an indication that Israel’s last 7 years  before the return of Christ must be approaching.  

The Temple mount was captured from the Jordanians in 1967 and there are  a number of Jewish organizations actively preparing for and promoting the  reconstruction of the 3rd Temple. Since 1998 Jews have been minting and  selling the “holy half-shekel” and accumulating funds for the maintenance of the  3rd Temple. 

  1. iv) During the first half of the 7 years Israel will be invaded by a “northern army” led by Russia. At this time Israel will turn to the Lord (Ezek.29:22). This army  will be drawn from Iran, Turkey, Libya and Sudan (Ezek.38:1-7). In 2011 these  Islamic countries began forging economic and military ties with Russia, and Iran  is threatening to destroy Israel. 
  2. v) Daniel foretold that at the time of the end “many shall run to and fro, and  knowledge shall be increased” (Dan.12:4). In the 20th Century millions of  people began traversing the globe daily and there has been an explosion of  scientific knowledge. This prophecy is being fulfilled. 
  3. vi) The Great Tribulation will be a time of unprecedented global warfare and we  see many nations in possession of nuclear weapons or in the process of acquiring  them. Vast sums of money are expended on armaments and preparations are  being made for warfare on a scale described in the Bible for the last seven years  before Christ returns. 

vii) During the Tribulation, apostasy will reach its zenith with one global  religion set up by the Antichrist halfway through the Tribulation and centred in Jerusalem. The world’s religions will be overthrown and “all the world” will  wonder after the Beast (Rev.13:3). The ecumenical movement made massive  strides during the 20th Century and dialogue is continually being encouraged  between all religions. Within Christendom many have departed from the Truth  and deny the Word of God. The Charismatic movement is practicing signs and  wonders, the very thing that will characterize Antichrist’s religion (Rev.13:13-15;  2Thess.2:9; Matt.7:22-23). The present theological climate is preparing for the  apostasy of the Great Tribulation. 

With all of these events enacted before us it would be foolish of us to deny that  we are in the last days or that the Rapture must be drawing near. How long?  We do not know. But if ever the Church needed to be watching in holiness and  giving a strong Gospel testimony it is in this 21st Century. It certainly is not an  exaggeration to say that the Lord’s coming is imminent and that His coming for  His Church could be at any time!

by John R Ecob

John R Ecob