A number of arguments against the doctrine of imminence were put forth by pre-trib critic Robert Cameron in his book entitled Scriptural Truth About The Lord’s Return.1 Cameron contends that a proper understanding of the New Testament meant that Christ could not have come at any moment.2 In this issue, I will further evaluate more of Cameron’s arguments, which pre-trib opponents through the years have established as standard objections against imminence. Cameron attempts to disprove the New Testament doctrine of imminency by showing that certain events must take place either during the lifetime of the apostles or before the return of Christ could occur.
THE PROMISE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Cameron argues that the coming of the Holy Spirit, which Christ promised in the Upper Room Discourse (John 13—17), meant that many events had to take place in the lives of the apostles. Christ could not return while these events were being fulfilled in the lives of the disciples.3 This is a rather trivial argument and I wonder why Cameron would even make it, since it can easily be dismissed.
The Church was founded on the Day of Pentecost, the day Christ’s promise of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled. How could Christ return for His Church before the Church was founded, as Cameron implies? How could the fulfillment of this predicted event possibly be a legitimate obstruction to the apostles and their belief in Christ’s imminent return? Gerald Stanton notes:
Actually, Pentecost took place a mere ten days after the ascension of Christ. It must constantly be kept in mind throughout this discussion that imminent does not mean immediate, and the fact that there was a brief interval before Pentecost does not prove that it formed any barrier to the disciples’ faith in the Lord’s soon return.4
PREDICTED EVENTS IN PAUL’S LIFE
Cameron writes that Paul wrote to the Church at Rome of “a visit he proposed making to Jerusalem, and then to Rome, and after that to Spain” (Romans 15:22–25, and 30–31). If he had any thought of Christ coming immediately, could he have written this?”5 “For this reason I have often been hindered from coming to you; but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while—but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints” (Romans 15:22–25). “Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company” (Romans 15:30–32). A similar passage is also cited against imminency in Acts 9:15–16: “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.’”
These passages do not contradict the doctrine of imminency. In the Romans 15:22–25 passage, Paul explains why he has not yet been able to visit them, but for many years he has desired to see them. Paul further explains in verses 30–32 that Roman believers should pray that he might be released from the circumstances preventing him from coming to visit them in Rome “by the will of God.” Nothing in the passage above indicates that Paul’s desire to visit is not controlled by the will of God. Nothing in this passage says that Paul would absolutely, by the will of God, come to Rome. Paulwas seeking the will of God and proper timing for his long desire on this matter. Stanton writes:
All of his plans, including these proposed journeys, were contingent on the Lord’s leading and the further revelation of God’s will for his life. Thus it was that he conditioned his promise to the Ephesians, ‘But I will return again unto you, if God will’ (Acts 18:21). To the Christians at Rome he expressed his desire that ‘I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come to you.’ Often he had purposed to come unto them but had been hindered (Romans 1:9,10,13). He wrote plainly to the Corinthians: ‘But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will’ (I Corinthians 4:19).6
It is clear that statements like those noted above that appear in the New Testament are under the control of the will of God. The timing of the prophetic events are also under the control of God’s will, as noted in Acts 1:7, which says, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” It is reasonable to believe that God will coordinate His plan for history in a way that will not bring into conflict events in the lives of his apostles with the events already scheduled to occur in His prophetic plan. Every indication in the New Testament is that Paul lived in such a way as to seek God’s will and direction for his life while at the same time knowing that the Rapture could occur at any moment, which would leave undone some of the plans he might have had to spread the message to which he had been commissioned.
In a similar way, Paul’s example shows us that we should plan to follow the will of God, but at the same time we must recognize that Christ could, at any moment, interrupt our plans with the Rapture. Hey, I sure would not complain if that glorious event were to interrupt the long-range plans I have. The doctrine of imminence implies the possibility of an any-moment, sign-less coming by Christ at the Rapture. Since it is sign-less, there are no indicators of when it will occur; thus, we should plan to live as if we will die, but at the same time we are to be waiting for Himsince He could come today. This is the example provided by Paul.
“It is gladly conceded that the next great, direct interference from heaven with the affairs of men will be the Coming of our Lord,” declares Cameron. “But then there are so many intervening events predicted that the word ‘imminent,’ so commonly used at the present day, is certainly inadmissible.”7 Posttribulationists say that prophesied events like the destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:29—24:2; Mark 13:1–2; Luke 19:41–44; 21:20–24) had to happen before Christ’s return could occur. They are both right and wrong! Nothing must take place before our Lord’s return in the clouds at the Rapture; but, on the other hand, hundreds of events must take place before the Second Coming of Jesus to planet Earth.
Posttribulationists like Cameron believe that there will be a single return of Christ in the future. They note the many events that must occur before His return. Pretribulationists believe many events are scheduled to occur before Christ’s return to the earth, and they will take place before His Advent—during the Tribulation, but after the Rapture. The post-tribbers simply ignore the many passages listed in my previous article indicating that Christ could come at any moment, without any signs preceding His coming, as if they were not in the New Testament. They then emphasize the many events that the Bible does say will lead up to Christ’s return.
For example, Matthew 24:29–30 says, “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken, and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.” This passage describes all the events of the Tribulation and the darkening of heavenly luminaries; then the sign of the Son of Man will occur before the coming of the Son of Man (the Second Advent). Pretribulationists agree that signs precede the Second Coming, but we believe the Rapture is a separate event that is not preceded by signs, and thus, the posttribulational argument has no traction since there are two events and not one.
There is no necessity for signs before the Rapture since the New Testament teaches that we are to wait for Jesus, who could come at any moment. The posttribulationist wrongly insists that there is but a single event in the future, which is preceded by signs. Therefore, the more that one recognizes the New Testament teaching of two future events (one imminent and the other not), then, they are able to harmonize properly the two sets of passages. Maranatha!
(to be continued...)
1 Robert Cameron, Scriptural Truth About The Lord’s Return (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1922).
2 The title of a chapter against imminence in his book: Cameron, Scriptural Truth, p. 21.
3 Cameron, Scriptural Truth, pp. 21-23.
4 Gerald B. Stanton, Kept from the Hour: Biblical Evidence for the Pretribulational Return of Christ, 4th. edition (Miami Springs, FL: Schoettle Publishing Co., , 1991), p. 112.
5 Cameron, Scriptural Truth, p. 41.
6 Stanton, Kept from the Hour, p. 121.
7 Cameron, Scriptural Truth, p. 68.
Read also: A Brief History of the Rapture