What About the Pretribulation (Any-Moment)
What Saith the Scriptures?
A Pamphlet for Berean-Minded Christians
by Dr. Henry T. Hudson
What Guarantee have we that what we believe is the truth? It is a
fundamental principle of orthodox historical Protestantism that there
is only one court of appeal in matters of faith and practice, namely
the Word of God. How much of what we believe has been actually derived
from our own direct personal study of the Holy Scripture? We often meet
people who believe something because it is taught by some outstanding
man. (We must confess that this has been our experience also.) When
they read their Bibles they look for confirmation of such teaching.
Whenever the Bible fails to confirm the doctrine, they find what they
call a "difficulty." The real difficulty, however, is not in the Word
of God itself, it is rather in their minds. It does not seem to dawn
upon them that they might have to abandon some of their views if they
would get rid of the difficulty. When confronted with the difficulty by
someone else, it is amazing with what great facility they can dismiss
it either by totally ignoring its existence or, at best, by simply
glossing over it.
"When did the Apostle Paul Begin to Preach the Pre-tribulation
(Any-Moment) Coming of Christ?"
The Difficulty Proposed
The difficulty with which we propose to deal is one which the writer
believes, is inherent in the pre-tribulation-any-moment doctrine of the
coming of Christ. There are countless ramifications of this theory, but
essentially the main idea is that at any moment the Lord Jesus Christ
will return and the dead in Christ shall rise and living believers
shall be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air (1
Thess. 4:13-18). This event, it is taught, will precede the period of
time known in Scripture as the Great Tribulation (Matt 24:21). The
theory goes on to teach that sometime following the Tribulation, Christ
will return again to gather together the saints who were not caught up
before the Tribulation (Matt. 24:29-31). Generally the theory supports
the distinction that the first coming is "any moment" and the second is
heralded by certain definite signs. Our study intends to concentrate
upon one particular problem that the "any moment" coming raises. It is
a well known fact that the doctrine of a pre-tribulation-any-moment
coming of Christ is an integral part of certain Christian
organizations. To deny that Christ will return before the Tribulation
is tantamount to heresy. Very few seem to be willing to admit, as one
pre-tribulationist has, that there is not as much evidence for their
doctrine as they would like to think.
--We cannot help but wonder if the more adamant
supporters of this doctrine have ever seriously exposed themselves to
the many correlated problems their position engenders.
--We have not found one who has yet provided an adequate and
consistent solution to the problem which is the subject of this paper.
--The time of the Coming of Christ might have many implications for
one's system of theology, but we cannot allow this fact to divert our
attention from the essential question: "what does the Holy Scripture
actually teach?" It is only as we endeavor to answer this fundamental
question that we can hope to build a system of theology that is
structured upon the authority of The Word of God.
One further introductory remark is in order. This study makes not
apology for following the exegetical approach for it rests on the
assumption that this is the only method that can ever determine the
validity of Christian Doctrine. We desire to make this point clear, for
it seems that some doubts have been cast over the value of exegesis in
determining whether Christ comes before or after the Tribulation.
A Problem To Solve
The problem which we intend to put before the pre-tribulationist is to
be found in the amplification of the question that forms the title of
this paper. "When did the Apostle Paul Begin to Preach the
Pre-tribulation (Any-Moment) Coming of Christ?" We call the reader's
attention to the fact that "any-moment" is not the same as "imminent."
Any reliable dictionary will show that the word "imminent" conveys
essentially the idea of "close at hand" in its incidence, "impending,
or coming on shortly." A careful reading of the N.T. will reveal that
the strongest note of imminence, with respect to the Coming of Christ,
is to be found in the Gospels, without any support to the doctrine of
any-momentism. For example the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24) contains
three distinct elements:
(1.) A Historical Perspective (time consuming events)
(2.) An Apocalyptic Consummation (a definite climax)
(3.) A Note of imminence (the idea of nearness)
The only time at which it would be possible to preach that Christ would
come at any-moment would be after the historical events had come to
pass. Is this not precisely what the Lord Himself teaches (Matt.
Using the Olivet Discourse as a frame of reference, how soon after it
was given could the any-moment Coming of Christ be preached? Judging
from the contemporary situation that prompted the discourse and from
the parallel account in Luke 21, one of the historical events foretold
was the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. The discourse was given
around the year AD 33. Surely the events of verses 4-14 would involve a
considerable number of years. At what point in all of these historical
events did the preaching of an any-moment return of Christ begin?
To many pre-tribulationists, Matthew 24 presents no apparent problems
for their authority for any-momentism is distinctly derived from the
Apostle Paul. It is this position which is the primary concern of this
study. However, surely it is obvious that the generation who heard the
discourse of Matthew 24 expected to live through at least some of the
historical events that were foretold by the Lord. Paul was saved in
approximately AD 36. This is no more than three years after the
discourse of Matthew 24. Are we to believe that Paul when "straightway
he preached Christ in the synagogues. . ." (Acts 9:20), preached
something different than that spoken by the Lord in Matthew 24? This is
hardly a fair question, for his career of service did not officially
begin until Acts 13, and this takes us to at least AD 47. While this is
true, it is evident from Acts 9:13-16, that Paul was destined for a
career of service and suffering. This, it will be granted, involves an
indefinite period of time. At what point after he actually begins his
career of service does he begin to preach the
pre-tribulation-any-moment coming of Christ?
Paul's First Missionary Journey
Paul's first missionary journey probably covers the years AD 47-48. Did
he preach to his converts the any-moment doctrine? This seems hardly
possible for he tells them, "that we must through much tribulation
enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). Well, it is was not on his
first missionary journey, perhaps it was on the second one. This would
probably cover the years AD 50-53. It is generally taught that it was
during those years that he wrote 1st and 2nd Thessalonians. From the
record in the Acts we learn very little. He was accused of preaching
"another King" (Acts 17:7), but there is nothing explicit concerning
the time the King would come to inaugurate His kingdom. But, there are
two great epistles, which are usually considered to be the first he
composed. These were more likely than not written from Corinth
somewhere around AD 52-53. In these epistles he has a great deal to say
about the Coming of Christ.
First of all, he describes the new converts as having "turned to God
from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son
from heaven..." (1 Thess. 1:9-10). He goes on to say that Christ
"delivered us from the wrath to come" (vs. 10). Literally, it could
convey the meaning that Christ is going to deliver the believer from
the wrath at the time, when He comes. The thought of deliverance from
coming wrath is found elsewhere in Scripture (1 Thess. 5:9; 2 Thess.
4-10; Luke 3:7, 17:26-30). A common error among many
pre-tribulationists is to confuse this coming wrath with the period of
the Great Tribulation. It is obvious from such contexts as Revelation
6:16, 17; 11:18; Matthew 25:31-46; 24:30-31, 13:39-43; Zephaniah
1:14-23; Joel 1:15; 2:1-2; Isaiah 2:11-10; 13:6-11; 26:20-21, etc.,
that the coming day of wrath synchronizes with the day of the Lord and
that it follows the Tribulation. The former involves judgment for the
unsaved and the latter concerns primarily the persecution of the saints
(Rev. 13:4-7; Dan. 7:21-27; 1 Thess. 5:2-9; 2 Thess. 1:4-10). It should
be noted that the day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night but
this is not so with the Tribulation (cf. 1 Thess. 5:2 with Matt.
After exhorting the new converts at Thessalonica to walk worthy of God
who had called them into His glorious kingdom (1 Thess. 2:12), he goes
on to rejoice in the act that they would be "in the presence of our
Lord Jesus Christ at His coming" (2:19). Then in 3:13; 4:14-17; 5:2,
23, he mentions the coming of Christ again. Nothing is said of the
Tribulation and nothing is said that would lead the new converts to
believe in any-momentism. In the Second Thessalonian Epistle, Paul
begins by once again associating the persecutions and tribulations of
the believers with their being counted worthy of the kingdom of God (2
Thess. 1:4-5). Rather than preach any-momentism, he clearly teaches
that they can expect no permanent relief until the revelation of the
Lord Jesus Christ from heaven (vs. 6 and 7). At that time there will be
deliverance for the believers and destruction for the unbelievers (vs.
7-10). Both experiences are objects of the one verb "recompense" (vs.
6) which action takes place "when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed," or
more literally, "at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven; with
his mighty angels." In the second chapter Paul reveals a deep concern
that the young converts be not deceived concerning certain events
connected with the day of Christ (vs. 1,2). He assures them that this
day cannot come until two things happen: (1) the apostasy; and (2) the
revelation of the man of sin. Does this not fit into the framework of
Matthew 24:11, 12, 15? How could pre-tribulationism or any-momentism be
taught from 2 Thessalonians when in clear language both ideas are so
It will be recalled that Paul wrote both these epistles from Corinth
about the years AD 52-53. His stay at Corinth is recorded in Acts 18.
It is in this chapter that we have the beginning of his third
missionary journey. Chapter 19 records his visit to Ephesus where for
three months he spoke boldly "concerning the kingdom of God" (Acts
19:8). Did he now preach an any-moment pre-tribulation coming? After
many miles and many adventures, chapter 20 of Acts finds him at Miletus
where by invitation the elders of the Church of Ephesus meet him. The
occasion is a sad one, for Paul bids them an affectionate farewell.
What are his parting words?
And now, behold I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing
the things that shall befall me there: Save that the Holy Ghost
witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.
But none of these things move me neither count I my life dear unto
myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry,
which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the
grace of God. And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have
gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face not more. . . Take
head therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which
the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God,
which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after
my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not spearing the
flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse
things, to draw away disciples after them. (Acts 20:22-25, 28-30)
Once again Paul makes it clear, and it is by the witness of the Hold
Spirit, that certain events were projected into the near future which
would make it veritably impossible for him to preach an any-moment
coming. The subject of his preaching was "the kingdom of God."
About this time (approximately AD 55-59) Paul writes his first letter
to the Corinthians. In the first chapter he describes the believers as
waiting for the revelation (apokalupsis) of the Lord Jesus Christ
(1:7). He informs them that it is not mere profession of words, but it
is their character of life which identifies them with the kingdom of
God (4:20). He assures them that there is coming of time when the
saints are going to possess the kingdom (6:2,3,9,10). His words in
chapter 15:50 concerning the inheriting of the kingdom seem to reecho
the words in John 3:3-7. In order to enter the kingdom it is necessary
to experience the new birth. In the whole epistle there is no statement
anywhere that Paul was preaching an any-moment coming of Christ. The
oft quoted passage in chapter 15:51-53 has nothing to do with the
thought of imminence, it simply describes the rapidity with which the
saints whether living or dead, will undergo the transformation from a
corruptible to an incorruptible body.
Acts Chapters 21-28
Moving along in the Acts of the Apostles to chapter 21 we discover that
Paul is warned by certain disciples not to go to Jerusalem. The warning
is said to originate from the Holy Spirit and Paul is told exactly what
would happen if he did go (21:4, 11). In spite of the warning, he
determines to go and the results were exactly as foretold (21:33). In
chapter 23:11, the Lord speaks to Paul and explicitly informs him that
he would bear witness at Rome. Even during a storm at sea, when it was
feared that all lives would be lost, he is assured by the messenger of
God that he would be brought unto Caesar (27:24). How then would it be
possible for Paul to preach an any-moments coming of Christ in the face
of these passages? Do they not show clearly that time consuming events
are to be fulfilled within the lifetime of Paul? How could he preach an
any-moment coming before he had borne testimony at Rome?
When finally he arrives at Rome, probably in the year AD 60, he was
allowed to dwell in his own hired house and to receive visitors.
Speaking to his visitors he tells them that "because that for the hope
of Israel (i.e. the resurrection) I am bound with this chain. . . "
(28:20). In later conversation, we learn that he "expounded and
testified the kingdom of God. . . " (28:23). For "two whole years. . .
" we read, he continued to preach "the kingdom of God" (28:30,31).
During this two year imprisonment he wrote the epistles of Philemon,
Ephesians, Colossians and Philippians. Let the reader go carefully
through these epistles for there is no verse in them that would support
the any-moment-coming doctrine. In broad outline, the Apostle tells how
according to the mystery of God's will the believing Gentiles are made
partakers in the redemption provided through the blood of Christ, and
how that they have been predestined upon to the adoption, and to the
inheritance that up until his ministry had been primarily reserved for
believing Israel. When he mentions the coming of Christ, it is not to
focus attention upon it happening at any moment, but to show its
practical bearing upon the believer's life on the earth in this present
age (Eph. 5:1-17; Phil 3:15-21; Col. 3:1-4).
The Apostle's Last Epistles
With the close of the record given in the Book of Acts, it is generally
supposed that Paul was set at liberty and that he traveled for at least
three or four years throughout Asia Minor; some think even as far as
Spain. Probably around the years AD 65-66 he is imprisoned once again.
According to tradition he was beheaded in the summer of AD 68. During
these final years of his life he wrote 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. The
pertinent passages concerning the coming of Christ are 1 Timothy 6:14;
2 Timothy 4:1,8; Titus 2:13. The first reference simply asserts that
the Appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ will terminate the service of
Christians in this present age. The second deals with the Coming of
Christ's kingdom and the judging of the living and the dead. In verse
8, Paul speaks of the day when the Righteous Judge will reward him and
all who love his appearing. Titus 2:13 describes the blessed hope of
believers. It is "the appearing of the glory of the great God, and our
Saviour Jesus Christ." Paul expresses the idea that the believers are
waiting for it, but there is absolutely no statement that it would be
fulfilled at any moment. Judging from what he says in 2 Timothy 3:1-17
and 1 Timothy 4:1-16 he was not living in a moment by moment
expectation of the coming of Christ. He knew that certain events of
prophecy were to take place before Christ returned (e.g., 2 Thess.
2:1-3), hence he could not preach any-momentism in the sense of a
secret unheralded event.
Going back to the title of this study:
"When did the Apostle Paul Begin
to Preach the Pre-tribulation (Any-Moment) Coming of Christ?" we are
obliged to conclude that as far as the New Testament record is
concerned there is no indication anywhere that he ever did begin to
preach it. Those who insist that he did, must engage in some
methods of exegesis for as this paper has clearly shown there is not
point in his ministry when he could have preached such a doctrine. In
the chronological outline of his life and work there are always certain
events on the horizon than must be fulfilled which would completely
contradict the whole theory of any-momentism. How long will those who
preach the any-moment unheralded pre-tribulation coming of Christ
continue to evade this problem? It is time that this novel nineteenth
century doctrinal innovation be exposed for what it is, namely, a
perversion of the teaching of Holy Scripture. Let Bible students be
guided solely by the principle of "what saith the Scripture?" and may
we rest assured that pre-tribulationism will soon be recognized as a
fabrication of the human mind without any biblical basis.
1. Clarence E. Cramer, "The
Nature of the Great Tribulation and its
Relation to the Rapture," Grace Impressions, IV, No. 7 (June,
2. Some of these problems are dealt with in the author's paper, A
3. Exegesis is the science of interpreting statements and passages of
4. John Dean, "The Rapture -
Imminent or Not?" Truth, XII, No. 11 (April, 1963), 248.
* Also published in article form
titled: When Did The Apostle Paul Begin To
Preach The Pre-tribulation (Any-moment) Coming Of Christ?