A Biblical Rebuttal of John MacArthur’s Statement that the Lord’s Return is “Imminent”

Dr. MacArthur’s stunning error concerning the “delay” of the return of the Lord Christ.

[Dr. MacArthur's quotes appear highlighted like this.]

While Dr. MacArthur’s carelessness with the Scripture regarding his biblically indefensible notion of the “imminent”, “at any moment” return of the Lord Christ is very troubling (remember 2 The 2.1-4!), his meandering thoughts on the “delay” are even more troubling. That is, how does a Christian hold to the “at any moment” return of Christ but then attempt to resolve (in a manner consistent with the Scriptures!) the fact that the promise of His return was made nearly 20 centuries ago?

Dr. MacArthur does not really tackle the issue head-on, but rather invents the unbiblical concept of the “delay”, something he mentions 11 times in 5 paragraphs throughout the article:

I suppose it is also possible that Christ could delay his coming another two thousand years or longer. Given the rapid decline of society, I do not see how that is possible, but neither did the apostles when they surveyed the state of the world in their time. He still could delay His coming. That is why Christ taught us to be prepared, whether He comes immediately or delays longer than we think possible (cf. Matthew 24:42–25:12). [emphasis mine]

...

In other words, the real reason for the Lord’s delay is not that He is negligent or careless in fulfilling his promises, but simply because He is longsuffering and kind, delaying Christ’s coming and the wrath that will accompany it while he calls out people to salvation. And Christ will not return before the merciful purposes of God are complete. Far from suggesting apathy or neglect on God’s part, the long delay before Christ’s appearing simply underscores the remarkable depth of His nearly inexhaustible mercy and longsuffering. [emphasis mine]

...

Now is certainly not the time to let down our guard or fall asleep. Although some might be tempted to think the long delay means Christ’s coming is no longer an urgent matter, a moment’s thought will reveal that if we believe Christ was speaking the truth when He promised to come again quickly, we must believe that the time is drawing nearer by the moment—and the urgency is not lessened by the delay, but heightened. [emphasis mine]

...

It is perfectly natural for infidels, skeptics, and unbelievers to think Christ’s delay means He will not fulfill His promise (2 Peter 3:4). But no genuine believer should ever think that way. Rather than despairing because He tarries, we ought to realize that the time is nearer now than it has ever been. He is coming. As we saw earlier, His Word guarantees that He will come. Our hope should be growing stronger, not diminishing, as He delays his coming. [emphasis mine]

...

Too many Christians in our time have settled into a state of insensate lethargy and inactivity—an unresponsiveness to the things of God. They are like Jonah, fast asleep in the hold of the ship while raging storms threaten to sweep us away (Jonah 1:5–6). They are like the foolish virgins, who “while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept” (Matthew 25:5). It is high time to awake from that slumber. [emphasis mine]

If one erroneously holds to the unbiblical notion that Christ could return “at any moment” while concurrently misunderstanding the NT's use of the terms ”soon”, “quickly”, “near”, “at the door”, etc., it becomes impossible to resolve the fact that nearly 20 centuries have elapsed and the promise remains unfulfilled.

Given this flawed reasoning, how could it be otherwise than to claim, as Dr. MacArthur does, that Christ's return is obviously “delayed”!

In his unthinkably hellish reasoning, what other reason could there be?

Dr. MacArthur cites a pair of references (in the excerpts above) from the gospel of Matthew (24.42–25.12 and later, 25.5) in the failed attempt to provide “eschatological cover” for his error (I quote from vv, 42-44 for the first reference to establish the context):

Mat 24.42-44
Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. 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. 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.

Mat 25.5-6
Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’

Earlier in his article (in the section I labeled in this article as his Introduction), Dr. MacArthur cited:

Heb 10.37-39
for yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. but My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

Mat 25.5 refers to a “delay” while Heb 10.37 says the opposite.

Before I resolve this apparent contradiction (that is, is there a “delay” or not?), I reference another pair of texts spoken by the Lord Christ Himself in the Bible’s closing book:

Rev 22.7a
And behold, I am coming quickly.

Rev 22.20a
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.”

These three references state unequivocally that there is no "delay" in the Lord’s return! The “odd man out” is the statement of the "delay" in the parable at Mat 25.5.

The answer to the apparent contradiction is really very simple: first, the purpose of the parable is to highlight the difference between responsible and irresponsible (that is, no!) preparation for the groom’s appearance:

The wise virgins planned well and were therefore ready for the groom’s return (whenever it was to occur); the foolish virgins did not regard the coming of the groom with the same gravity; they were cavalier, lazy, indifferent and irresponsible and ultimately were left behind—an unambiguous indication that they were false!

The main point was not that the groom was “delayed”; rather, it was that the foolish virgins would never have been ready to receive the groom, regardless of whether it was sooner or later. The use of the verb “delaying” is simply to indicate the interval between the time at which preparation to receive the groom began in contrast to the actual arrival of the groom.

Dr. MacArthur cited Heb 10.37, Rev 22.7 and Rev 22.20 earlier in his article—then summarily dismissed them at various points by his distorted and unbiblical thoughts on the “delay” of the Lord’s return! He “boxed himself into a corner”; apparently, he assumed that creating the erroneous notion of a “delay” was the only way out!

Let’s look at a key excerpt again:

In other words, the real reason for the Lord’s delay is not that He is negligent or careless in fulfilling his promises, but simply because He is longsuffering and kind, delaying Christ’s coming and the wrath that will accompany it while he calls out people to salvation. And Christ will not return before the merciful purposes of God are complete. Far from suggesting apathy or neglect on God’s part, the long delay before Christ’s appearing simply underscores the remarkable depth of His nearly inexhaustible mercy and longsuffering. [emphasis mine]

Dr. MacArthur, where is your biblical proof of such an extraordinary claim!?!? The LORD planned for the return of His Son and the beginning of judgment, but then (apparently!) changed His mind!?!?

How does this corroborate Rev 22.7 and Rev 22.20? (Hint: it can’t and doesn’t!)

You chide those who maintain that the Lord’s return can’t occur “at any moment” (as I do, because there are very clear events yet to be fulfilled, 2 The 2.1-4!), but then make the wild and irresponsible claim above that the Lord “delayed” His return because He wanted more time to show His mercy!

For someone who claims to be an adherent of the sovereignty of God, this is a very bizarre and contradictory position. Does the LORD act in accordance with His will or, rather, is He in the habit of second-guessing Himself?

Did He plan for the return of the Lord Christ or, instead, tell Him, "Wait, I've changed my mind. Let's give mankind a bit more time."


Dr. MacArthur: think about it!

This is exactly the double-minded "god" you've created! He planned and executes all events "according to His own will", but then countermanded Himself when it came to one of the most important events in human history!?!? What a useless, capricious "god" you've created if what you "teach" with the "delay" is true!

This is such an important point that I must continue this reasoning just a bit longer. Consider the following pivotal text:

Act 17.30-31
Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.


How would it even be possible for the Apostle to state that the LORD "has fixed a day" of judgment when He decided to "delay" the return of His Son—the key event which initiates the coming Day of Judgment! If the day of the Lord Christ's return became "unfixed" (which it must, since—according to Dr. MacArthur—it was "delayed"), then either the Holy Spirit was clearly in error when He inspired the Apostle to preach this message, or Paul preached from his own understanding in contradiction of the will of the LORD who "did not fix the day" in spite of what Paul preached!

Have you never read:


Isa 46.9-10
“Remember the former things long past,
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is no one like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;"

I suppose that the LORD must have been speaking of plans other than the return of the Lord Christ to earth, right? His other purposes were "established", but not that one. The LORD obviously left His options open because He '"delayed" the return of His son.

What a mess you've created with your silly, unbiblical, preconceived notion of the "imminent" return of the Lord Christ!

I ask sincerely: have you considered how much damage have you done to the true Body of Christ? What about the open contempt for the LORD and His Word you have shown with your "doctrine of delay" and its attendant error of the "imminent" return of the Lord Christ"?

EDIT Feb 2019
: A detailed article detailing the events surrounding the return of the Lord Christ and coming judgment has been completed and posted: The Day of the LORD.

 

This well-known text comes to mind:

Jam 1.7-8
For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

 

But, let's continue...

Your conflation of the “foolish virgins” with true believers who take 2 The 2.1-4 literally is very troubling. The foolish virgins were deemed so because of their carelessness and indifference. Your attempts to “explain away” the stark truths of 2 The 2.1-4 (in your Question 1 section) was a complete fail. You then demonstrated that, in favor of your mythical “at any moment” return of the Lord Christ, you would rather throw out the specific and stunning details of 2 The 2.1-4 rather than accept what that powerful Scripture says:

Second, nothing in the NT ever suggests we should defer our expectation of Christ’s appearing until other preliminary events can occur. The one apparent exception is 2 Thessalonians 2:1–3 (quoted in full above), which says, “that Day [the day of the Lord] will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed.” That is obviously a key text for those who believe the Tribulation is next on the prophetic agenda, and that the church should be expecting the reign of Antichrist rather than the return of Christ. Indeed, if 2 Thess 2:1–3 actually means Christ’s coming for the church cannot occur until after seven years of Tribulation, it nullifies everything the New Testament teaches about the imminence of Christ’s return. [emphasis mine]

You failed to prove your premise (the Lord can return “at any time”) then put in print your willingness to throw out 2 The 2.1-4 because it contradicts your unbiblical, predetermined premise!

How can you show such contempt for the Word of God?

2 The 2.1-4 doesn’t “nullify everything the New Testament teaches …” because the notion of the “at any moment” return of the Lord Christ, your invalid and useless starting point, is a lie of Apollyon.

I fully realize that you didn’t create this error; it existed long before either of us came on the scene. But, you do advance the error and thereby do real damage to the Body of Christ.

Moreover, it is you who have it completely backwards! It is your silly and unbiblical idea of the “at any moment” return of the Lord Christ which is nullified!

Beware: disregarding and distorting Scripture always comes with a very high price, even for a well-known "Bible teacher"…

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