53. Contrary to the dispensationalists’ urging Christians to live their lives expecting Christ’s return at any moment, “like people who don’t expect to be around much longer” (Hal Lindsey), Christ characterizes those who expect his soon return as “foolish” (Matt 25:1-9), telling us to “occupy until He comes,” (Luke 19:13 ) and even discouraging his disciples’ hope in Israel’s conversion “now” by noting that they will have to experience “times or epochs” of waiting which “the Father has fixed by His own authority” (Acts 1:6-7).
Response: [I shall address the specifics of the doctrine of imminence under the next Thesis].
Let me begin by pointing out the obvious fact that the Nicene brethren run to parables to teach that imminence is unbiblical. The first thing which should be said is that one must first make sure that the parables in question have been rightly interpreted before their proposed teaching can be admitted.
Matt. 25 is within “the Olivet Discourse,” which some of these men would apply to the Church, and the preterists among them would say was fulfilled in 70 AD. We respectfully reply that a person could not find the church in Matt. 24-25 unless he was bound and determined to see it there. The passage addresses the Great Tribulation (24:21), which concerns a “Holy Place” (24:15), “Judah” (24:16), “housetops” (24:17), the Jewish Sabbath (24:20). Notice the Jewish context!
The Coming of Christ is after this Tribulation (24:29-31). The precise “day and hour no one knows” (24:36), therefore people in the Tribulation are to “watch” (24:42). The Parable of the Virgins concerns Christ’s Second Advent after this period of time (25:31f.). Since most Dispensationalists (i.e. consistent ones) believe the church will be caught away before the Tribulation period (to be discussed later), Matt. 25:1-9 does not apply to the issue of imminence.
Luke 19:13 comes from another parable. Please read the context (Lk. 19:11) carefully, and notice by way of interest that it concerns a future kingdom. Hence, the parable concerns the delaying of the expected Messianic Kingdom (in contrast to Lk. 10:9-11, 12:31-32, 17:21 where the present spiritual aspect of the kingdom is in view). Since the establishment of this future Davidic kingdom (e.g. Lk. 1:32-33; 13:28-29), is at the Return of Christ to earth in the Second Advent, which, as we have seen and shall see, comes after the Great Tribulation, this parable cannot be used to dispute the doctrine of imminence.
Last but not least; to find these men citing Acts 1:6-7 to disprove Dispensationalist doctrine is a little amusing. Verse 6 plainly shows that the Jewish disciples were still expecting a literal Messianic Kingdom on earth “restored…to Israel.” Did Jesus jump on them and tell them the church is/would be the kingdom? or that they were misled by their “literal hermeneutics” into thinking Israel would enjoy a future kingdom? Absolutely not! Rather, one reads in the very context (Acts 1:3) that the Risen Christ specifically taught these men about “things pertaining to the kingdom of God”! (cf. Lk. 21:29-31; 22:16, 18, 29-30; 23:42). Can anyone seriously think that the greatest Teacher who ever lived would neglect to inform 11 Jewish disciples, whose only Bible was the Old Testament, that the literal kingdom they expected was not going to be a reality, but would be “expanded” and the promises spiritualized and given to the Church? Sadly, the answer seems to be “Yes.” This was the golden opportunity for the Lord to prevent premillennialism from ever arising in the Church (which it did almost universally until the 3rd Century). If He had just corrected them here the 95 Theses and the controversies of the past, present and future would never have begun!
But what did Jesus say? It was not for them to know the “times” (not “days”)and “seasons” (or “epochs”[not “hour”] – though this is probably an instance of paronomasia). Not a word of correction on doctrine! Ergo, there will be a future literal Messianic-Davidic Kingdom or Millennium.
Isn’t it strange how amillennialists and postmillennialists cannot see the wood for the trees?
54. Contrary to dispensationalism’s doctrine that Christ’s return always has been “imminent” and could occur “at any moment” (J. D. Pentecost) since his ascension in the first century, the New Testament speaks of his coming as being after a period of “delaying” (Matt 25:5) and after a “long” time (Matt 24:48; 25:19; 2 Pet. 3:1-15).
Response: We have already responded to the Matt. 24-25 texts. The 2 Peter passage concerns the Second Coming of Christ to earth and the creation of the New Heavens and New Earth. It does not address the issue of imminence or the Tribulation or other eschatological matters. It does not speak to the doctrine of imminence.
But let us now turn to some passages the Nicene Council have neglected to mention:
1. James 5:8-9 – If Christ cannot return at any moment this passage simply makes no sense.
2. 1 Thess. 1:9-10 – The idea here is an expectant waiting for the Lord’s return. The “wrath to come” is that of 5:3,9 called “the Day of the Lord” (5:2). This is a reference to the Tribulation (cf. 2 Thess. 1:7-9), which is the “wrath” we have been delivered from.
3. Titus 2:13 – If Paul believed Christ would have to return only after a long time, why would he describe believers as “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”? Simple, he believed in an anytime appearing.
4. 1 Jn. 3:2-3 – This text indicates that the coming of Christ is a motivation to consecration. That would hardly be the case if the Apostles taught that He couldn’t return for a great while.
5. Jn. 14:1-3 – Christ will not come for believers just to bring them straight back again to Armaggeddon. He will take us to the mansions He has prepared for us (however grudgingly we may go based on our eschatological convictions).
6. Rev. 22:7,12 and 20 – These again would be redundant statements if imminence was untrue.
Other texts include 1 Cor. 1:7, 16:22; 1 Thess. 5:4-9. The Nicene Council would do well to argue against these plain texts rather than focussing on parabolic passages taken out of context while ignoring these.
55. Contrary to dispensationalists’ tendency to date-setting and excited predictions of the Rapture, as found in their books with titles like 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon and Planet Earth 2000: Will Mankind Survive, Scripture teaches that “the son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will” (Matt 24:44), “at an hour which you do not know” (Matt 24:50).
Response: We wholeheartedly agree that some dispensationalists have brought disrepute to the system by playing at being God’s fortune-tellers. But this is not a fault of the system itself, but of some who smuggle in historicist assumptions into an otherwise dispensational outlook. But least we forget, Augustine (amillennial) thought the return would occur at least by the Year 1,ooo (He also seemed to believe in a Millennial reign). Luther (amill.) was a date-setter, as was Jonathan Edwards (post-mill.). By far the majority of date-setters have been Historicist Premillennarians (E.g. Bengel). And let us not forget the prognostications of Harold Camping and Gary (Y2k) North! There is no call to be smug.
In other words, date-setters, doom-sayers and cranks are certainly not limited to Dispensationalists. In fact, a consistent Dispensationalist will not be a date-setter because he knows the Church is given no signs. The signs in the Olivet Discourse are for Israel, not the Church, which is not referred to there. Does the Nicene Council’s use of it mean they believe the signs are for the Church?
56. Despite the dispensationalists’ frequent warning of the signs of the times indicating the near coming of Christ (Lindsey), their doctrine of imminency holds that no intervening prophecies remain to be fulfilled. Consequently, there can be no possibility of signs (John Walvoord); and as “there was nothing that needed to take place during Paul’s life before the Rapture, so it is today for us” (Tim LaHaye). Christ himself warned us that “of that day and hour no one knows” (Matt 24:36a).
Response: We thank the Nicene brothers for confirming what we said above about the signs not being for the Church. We leave them to discover the Church within the Olivet Discourse!