The Imminence of Death


Or perhaps better—the imminence of death as related to prophecy.

The Imminence of Death—note that I didn’t say The Death of Imminence—though some want to quash the latter. Death isn’t a nice subject. Yet it’s one which demands our attention. Barring the Lord’s return for His church—in whatever context we think that will be—we’ll all have to cross the Great River of Death at some point.

Over the years I’ve seen a number of articles from a non-pretribulational rapture perspective rejecting the idea that Christ can return any moment. Packaged within these are admonitions that the church ought to prepare for a future Great Tribulation and the temporary reign of the Antichrist.

Many of these writers believe that pretrib teachers are recalcitrant in not preparing their flocks for this future event. Here are two prominent cases in point…

One fellow asserts that believers who’ve been told they’ll miss this future tribulation will be the ones fretting over their faith. Another one claims that pastors who aren’t preparing their flocks for potentially facing the tribulation are failing in their roles as shepherds.

Several responders have noted that death might find us before an end-times scenario. We may think we’re seeing the End of Things by observing events relating to Israel. Israel is God’s end-time prophetic clock and things are getting interesting. However, God acts on His own timing, not our expectations (Acts 1:6-7).

These events could continue for many years. One thing we can always rely on is the imminence of death. We are transient creatures – here one moment, gone the next.

Man, who is born of woman, is short-lived and full of turmoil. Like a flower he comes forth and withers. He also flees like a shadow and does not remain. (Job 14:1-2)

LORD, make me to know my end, and what is the extent of my days, let me know how transient I am. (Psalm 39:4)

All flesh is like grass, And all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, (1 Peter 1:24)

I won’t venture too much into personal maudlin territory. But some things ought to be pointed out:

An older mentor of mine struggled with heart and stroke issues for many years. After his retirement he changed a few things and looked his healthiest ever. One day he visited his doctor and got a clean bill of health. The next morning he fell off his chair during breakfast and apparently died before he hit the floor.

When I left Australia I had no idea I wouldn’t see one younger cousin again. He suddenly succumbed to a disease in hospital, constantly in denial of his impending death. A slightly older cousin got up one morning, tripped, fell and hit her head on a plastic chair. She was dead instantly. Death didn’t announce itself in advance.

I’m sure many readers have similar examples. Life is transient—death is always imminent. Even now for me as I write!

In context to the above, recently I was rebuked for saying that perhaps we focus too much on prophecy to the exclusion of other important areas. I certainly do! I’ve often heard the complaint that churches ignore prophecy etc. The one I attend encourages the congregation to study prophecy on their own time. The pastors understand that this area can be divisive and that people hold different views.

Most who complain about churches failing to teach prophecy (even rejecting it) already have almost never-ending resources about it on the internet, in groups and in books. How much more prophecy can we want? Aside from that, how does one locate a church that teaches the brand of prophecy one favors and is faithful in all other areas?

The self-identifying “biblical prophecy” ministry that chided me devotes itself to combating pretribulationism and promotes preparation for Antichrist’s Tribulation. How one exactly prepares is left to one’s imagination. The website owner states: “Those who avoid biblical prophecy do not love God rightly.” I infer from this that biblical prophecy must comply with what this person teaches.

While its polemics are centered on pretribulationism, we may conclude that the charge above must then logically apply to the church I attend, and a number of other pastors and ministries as well. This is dangerous cliquey thinking.

Must we conclude that James White, Alistair Begg, Paul Washer, Sinclair Ferguson, and a host of others don’t love God rightly because they don’t preach prophecy—let alone the brand this person endorses? Further, it doesn’t automatically follow that a correct view of biblical prophecy means we love Christ as we ought.

Death is always imminent. Moreover we’re promised tribulation while we live in this world (John 16:33). Give me Christ! Bring me closer to Christ—this is what comforts me during personal crisis. Not some vague homily about preparing for the Antichrist.

The reason the old Puritans (who didn’t focus on prophecy) endured the loss of loved ones, loss of homes, pastorates and martyrdom, was that they loved Christ more than their own lives. This was why John Bunyan and Samuel Rutherford were able to rejoice while in prison. This was why John Rogers (and many others) went faithfully to his death.

We all should love Christ’s future appearing (2 Tim 4:8). Yet there are more important things than an endless focus on prophetic matters. Find a church which cultivates the kind of love for, and faith in, Christ that enables Christians to endure unforeseen tribulation—including possible persecution and death.

John Murray wrote:

If we prize our life (that is our natural life) more than Christ’s honor and will compromise his truth and glory rather than part with life, then we are not Christ’s. (O Death, Where is Thy Sting? p. 181)

The important question is: Will we face death with faith? Do we love Christ more than death and suffering?


Photo by Kenny Orr.

Alf Cengia bio

Alf Cengia has a keen interest in politics (especially the Middle East), is a collector of books and dabbles in weight training. He is stepfather to Michelle, Sammy’s chief walker and his wife’s favorite coffee maker. He blogs at Zeteo316 and Thoughts on Eschatology.