of the Second Coming of Christ

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After he came into contact with a group headed by Henry Drummond which was devoted to eschatological speculations, Edward Irving began to preach the imminence of the Second Coming of Christ. His writings on Christ, in which he deemed the human nature of Christ as sinful, led to his excommunication (1830) and his expulsion from the ministry (1833).

In 1832 he joined with others in forming the Catholic Apostolic church. The members, known for a while as Irvingites, believed that the Second Coming was near and tried to restore the biblical organization of the church in preparation for Christ's return. The movement was somewhat influential in Britain until 1900; it then spread to Europe and the United States. Membership in the church is about 50,000 at the present time, with over half of the members in Germany.

In 1870, at the age of 18, Charles Taze Russell, first president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania (Jehovah's Witnesses) began a systematic study of the Bible with a small group of associates. Becoming convinced of the imminence of Christ's millennial reign, he began to preach and spread his teachings, and in 1879 he founded the Watch Tower journal. Notable among Russell's writings is a 6 volume collection, Millennial Dawn (1886 - 1904).

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P E Shaw, The Catholic Apostolic Church (1946).


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Imminence is the doctrine that Christ can return at any moment and that no predicted event must intervene before that return. This view is held primarily by those who believe the church will be raptured before the seven year tribulation (also known as the seventieth week of Daniel). It is the view typically held by dispensational premillennialism.

Traditionally, most pretribulation rapturists have considered the imminence of Christ's return to be one of the strongest evidences that the rapture will occur before, rather than after, the tribulation. The argument runs like this: The NT presents Christ's return as a comforting hope (John 14; 1 Thess. 4:17 - 18; Titus 2:13; James 5:7 - 8). Believers wait for Christ (1 Thess. 1:10) and are exhorted to watch and be sober (5:6); consequently, it is a purifying hope (1 John 3:1 - 3; cf. Rom. 13:11 - 12; 1 Pet. 4:7). If the hope is a blessed and comforting hope, no events of predicted trial and tribulation are expected to occur before Christ returns for the church. Otherwise, believers would dread the approach of Christ's return because of the preceding events to be endured.

If Christ's return is the basis for exhortation to godly living, that return must be expected at any moment; events thought to be some distance away because of predicted intervening events do not serve well to promote purity and readiness. Finally, believers are exhorted to live in watchfulness and expectation of Christ's return, not of intervening events. According to pretribulationists, all these considerations imply that the event believers await is imminent, and a rapture that comes after a seven year tribulation cannot be imminent. Therefore the rapture must be pretribulational.

Posttribulation rapturists reply by insisting that the passages in question only imply the believer's attitude of expectancy, but do not imply imminence. They also argue that the NT clearly implies certain necessary intervening events in the early church before Christ's return, such as time to carry out the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18 - 20; Acts 1:8) or the assurance to Peter he would reach old age (John 21:18 - 19; 2 Pet. 1:14). Thus, for the NT church the exhortations to watch could not have implied imminence. Why, then, should they now?

The doctrine of imminence has been most characteristic of pretribulation rapturists. However, some who hold to a midseventieth week rapture accept at least a limited imminence by maintaining that the beginning of the seventieth week cannot be known. Also, those who either understand the tribulation or seventieth week to be already fulfilled or who spiritualize it can hold to the imminence of Christ's return. A few posttribulational premillennialists accept the imminence of Christ's return on this basis. Amillennialists are hesitant dogmatically to espouse a strict imminence doctrine, but they do not subscribe to a seven year period necessarily occurring before Christ's return. Though amillennialists are uncomfortable describing Christ's coming as strictly imminent, they do think it may be described as impending and as something the believer should always be ready and watchful for.

S N Gundry
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

R H Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation; G E Ladd, The Blessed Hope; J F Walvoord, The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation and The Rapture Question.

Also, see:

Westminster Confession of Faith. London Confession
Augsburg Confession
Thirty-Nine Articles

Second Coming of Christ
Dispensation, Dispensationalism
Last Judgement
Rapture of the Church, Tribulation
Tribulation, Great Tribulation

Also, an entirely different concept is:
Divine Immanence

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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