Is the Return of Christ imminent? The imminent Return of Christ would mean that there is nothing that must happen before Christ's return. No events. No signs. No fulfillment of prophesy. Jesus' return could happen at any moment.
The immediate application of this uncertainty is in a desire to be ready. Since they can't know when the Lord is returning, His people must always be ready for His return. That certainly doesn't seem like a bad idea.
The question, like all questions concerning Jesus' return should be addressed Biblically. Does the Bible say that anything must happen before Jesus returns?
He Is Coming Quickly!
Revelation 3:11 (NKJV)
11 Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.
Twice in the book of Revelation, Jesus Himself says the he is coming "quickly." The Greek Word used in both cases is ταχύ. Strongs defines the word this way:
Revelation 22:6–7 (NKJV)
6 Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true.” And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place. 7 “Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
One of the meanings is "without delay" which would basically mean "imminently". Another meaning is "soon". Which one better fits with the text? In chapter 3, Jesus is speaking to the church at Philadelphia regarding their perseverance. Whether Jesus' is coming "soon" or "without delay" would offer similar comfort. In chapter 22, the previous sentence speaks of things "which must shortly take place." The context here seems to be more about the nearness of the event.5035. ταχύ tachu, takh-oo´; neut. sing. of 5036 (as adv.); shortly, i.e. without delay, soon, or (by surprise) suddenly, or (by impl. of ease) readily:—lightly, quickly.
Because soon and without delay are so similar in meaning it is difficult to arrive at a conclusion. Not only that, but it could also refer to the "suddenness" of His coming. Jesus described His coming like lightening.
Matthew 24:27 (NKJV)
27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.
If His Coming IS Imminent, When Did Imminence Begin?At Jesus' ascension, the disciples are clearly told that the times and season's of Jesus' return was none of their concern.
Acts 1:7 (NKJV)But, were they expecting Jesus to return at any moment? Probably not. Remember what Jesus told Peter after the resurrection.
7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.
Jesus prophesied Peter's death. If Jesus were to return before Peter died, these words could not have come to pass. Clearly Peter knew that the Lord wasn't going to return in his lifetime. He would die. John offers the explanatory comment and records it in the gospel that bears his name, meaning that he and everyone who read it knew that Jesus' return would be delayed at least until Peter's death.
John 21:18–19 (NKJV)
18 Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” 19 This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”
What Are They Watching For?
Paul writes to the Thessalonians saying they have a complete understanding regarding the "times and seasons" of the Day of the Lord. In particular, they know that it comes as a thief in the night. That is it can't be predicted or scheduled. No one knows the day. That day will come and bring destruction on "them". He differentiates "you" and "them". Its "them", someone other than the church at Thessalonica who will be destroyed. In fact, though the day comes as a thief it in the night, Paul didn't expect the church to be surprised by it. Because they were sons of light. They were awake and not sleeping. They were sober and not drunk.
1 Thessalonians 5:1–10 (NKJV)
1 But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. 2 For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. 3 For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. 5 You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. 8 But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.
What happens in the night? Often times people don't know, because its just too dark out. What happens when someone is sleeping? They don't know. They were asleep! What happens when someone is drunk? Oftentimes they can't tell you. Night, sleep, and drunkenness all hide what is happening to the the observer. So things can sneak up on them and catch them off guard. But not the saints at Thessalonica. They were children of the day! They were children of light. They were awake and sober! These things that would catch others unawares, they would see coming.
How Can You Know It Hasn’t Already Happened?
Times get bad. Things were really bad for the church at Thessalonica. So bad, that when someone apparently wrote them and told them that the Day of the Lord had already come, some of them apparently believed it!
2 Thessalonians 2:1–12 (NKJV)
1 Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, 2 not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. 3 Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Of course this troubled them. But they could be sure that Day had not come, because certain things must happen first. Paul names two things: The falling away. And the revelation of the Man of Sin.
Interestingly, Jesus described both of these things as well.
Matthew 24:10–12 (NKJV)
10 And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.
Is Christ's return imminent or must certain things happen before Jesus will return? Peter should not have expected His return in his lifetime. Paul seems to tell the Thessalonians they wouldn't be caught off guard because of what they would see coming, then specifically says they could know the Day hasn't come because the apostasy had not yet happened and they Man of Sin had not been revealed. So, what about believers today? Should they be watching for these things to happen before Jesus' return?
Matthew 24:15 (NKJV)
15 “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand),