The word imminent means “likely to happen at any moment; impending.” When we speak of the imminence of the Messiah’s return, we mean that He could come back at any moment. There is nothing more in biblical prophecy that needs to happen before Jesus comes again. The imminence of the Messiah’s return is generally taught among evangelicals, with some disagreement according to one’s view of dispensationalism and whether one holds a pre-, mid-, or post-tribulational view of the rapture.
“Therefore, be on the alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning”
Mark 13:35 (NASB)
Jesus spoke of His return repeatedly during His ministry, which naturally prompted questions from His disciples. One of their questions was, “When will these things happen?” (Mark 13:4). Jesus responded, “Of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come” (verses 32-33). It is important to remember in any discussion of eschatology that God does not intend for us to fully understand the timing of His plans.
The Bible says that Jesus’ return is near, and we are to wait eagerly for it. James encourages us to “be patient and stand firm, because the Master’s coming is near” (James 5:8). Revelation 1:3 and 22:10 also say that “the time is near.”
Jesus taught His disciples to watch for His return. “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Luke 12:40). The command to “be ready” implies imminence. Throughout the New Testament, the church is told to be ready. If the disciples and the early church were to expect the coming of the Master at any time, how much more should we be waiting in keen expectation?
It is important to distinguish between the second coming of the Messiah, proper, and the rapture of the church. The second coming of the Messiah, when He defeats His enemies and sets up His kingdom, will not occur until after certain other end-times events take place, including the tribulation (Matthew 24:15-30; Revelation chapters 6–18). Therefore, the second coming is not imminent. However, according to the pre-tribulational view, the rapture will take place before the tribulation. The rapture could occur at any moment (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:50-54) and can rightly be called “imminent.”
Our salvation is “ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). Jesus could return for His own at any moment, and that event will set in motion the series of events detailed in Revelation 6-18. Like the five wise virgins in Jesus’ parable (Matthew 25:1-13), we must be ready. “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).
- Matthew 24:42–44 (NASB) — 42 “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Master is coming. 43 “But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 “For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.
- Matthew 25:10 — 10 “And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.
- Mark 13:35 — “Therefore, be on the alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning”
- Luke 12:35–36 — 35 “Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. 36 “Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks.