There is a great variety of prophetic views among God’s people. There are scholars, past and present who have held and do hold conflicting theologies.
There are positions such as Amillennialism (we are now in the millennium), Post-Millennialism (we must see the world evangelized before Christ can return) and Pre-Millennialism (there will be a literal 1000-year reign of Christ on earth).
There are those who hold a Preterist view. The word means “past” – a full-Preterist sees all prophecy about the Tribulation and return of Christ fulfilled in 70 A.D.
A partial-Preterist sees some fulfillment in 70 A.D. and Revelation 4-19 unfolding during the Church age. Those who hold to a Futurist view see Revelation 4-19 as describing future events, the Tribulation and the Millennial Kingdom.
Three positions in the pre-millennial view
In the Pre-Millennial “camp” there are three different positions: Pre-Tribulation, Mid-Tribulation and Post-Tribulation. The debate is about whether Christ returns before, in the middle, or at the end of the Tribulation period.
In a discussion of the Pre-Tribulation return of Christ, it is good to keep several things in mind:
- The Lord promised that all believers will experience trouble in this world (John 16:33), the world’s hatred (John 16:1-4), and persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). God designed the Church to function best under persecution, whereas most of us prefer prosperity.
- It is good to consider that perhaps 90% of the Church is already in heaven. In fact, if the Lord tarries beyond our lifetime the debate will be of no account to us. This is a fact that some adherents to a mid and post-position lose sight of in their insistence that the Church must go through part or all of the Tribulation. It also undermines the attacks on a pre-trib position as a “dangerous” doctrine as well as the argument that the Lord will use the Tribulation to purify His bride or as a proof of real faith.
The defense of a “seven-year Tribulation” and Pre-Trib. rapture is dependent in part on the place Israel has in God’s plans. Amillennialists see no future for Israel and in their theology, the return of Christ will mark the end of time.
The case for a seven-year Tribulation
Daniel 9:24-27 presents a period of 490 years. This period divides into three sections: 49 years, 434 years, and 7 years. The last seven years present a future time and events that have not yet happened. The context of the passage relates to Israel, the Messiah, and the “coming Prince” – the person who sets up an abomination in the temple.
This person is described in many places in Scripture, Daniel, 2 Thessalonians and Revelation, to name a few. His names include, “the lawless one”, “the son of perdition” and “the willful king”. He will make or ratify a treaty with Israel, which he will later break.
An image of this man will be set up in the Temple and this image will be the object of worship. From that point there will be 3.5 years of “great tribulation”, also known as the “time of Jacob’s trouble”.
Is the return of Christ imminent?
The word “imminent” means “anytime” as opposed to the definition given by some as “soon”. It has within the word the sense of certainty that He will indeed return , but the timing of the event is uncertain. It is only imminent from our perspective; the Father knows both the day and the hour.
The New Testament saints were encouraged to “look for” and to “wait for” the coming of Christ. For example, consider the following verses: 1 Corinthians 1:7, “waiting for the coming” and in 1Thessalonionas 1:10, ” to wait for his Son from heaven”. Philippians 3:20 and Titus 2:13 speak of “looking for” – a phrase that indicates “expectation”.
In James 5:7-9 the author makes two references to the appearance of Christ. James was exhorting believers to persevere in the midst of persecution, the incentive being that “the coming of the Lord is near”.
James also told them not to grumble or groan because the “judge was at the door”. For those believers who read this epistle there was an expectation of imminency.
In his book,” Maranatha, Our Lord Come”, Renald Showers referenced a dozen individuals who wrote during the first two centuries of the church. Each of these men expressed in their writings a belief in the imminent return of Christ.
The following are two examples: the Epistle of Barnabas, written around 130 A.D., says “The Lord is near and His reward”. Justin Martyr wrote around 155 A.D., “Those out of all the nations who are pious and righteous through the faith of Christ look for His future appearance”.
The Apostle John would say to believers in his day and to us, “And now little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming”. If the Tribulation must come first, that fact would destroy the expectation of the imminent return of our Lord and Savior.