To address so delicate a subject without offending at least some sincere Christians is almost an impossibility. I pray that I might not write one word that would be contrary to the Word of God. My prayer is that all who read these lines will receive these words with as much sincerity as they are written.
The first thing to establish is the meaning of the word "imminent." The primary meaning of the word is "threatening to occur immediately." Another meaning is "impending," which could mean that which hangs suspended which could be indefinite as to time. If by imminent is meant, an impending or an indefinite suspension, something that might occur at anytime or yet may be delayed indefinitely to some unknown future time, it, of course, could be said that Christ's second advent may be imminent. That is, it could be delayed for hundreds of years or it may happen before you finish reading these lines! Even if you believe Christ's second advent to be post-millennial, sincere Christians disagree as to the nature and length of the millennium. Whether it is a literal one thousand years or only a long period of time or as some believe, three hundred sixty thousand years in length, the Scriptures are not at all clear. Some Christians believe the millennium to be going on now. If Satan is indeed bound or restricted now (and it is certain the he is to some extend), then the millennial period could be coming to a close, leading one to expect the coming of the Lord soon. If the millennial period is yet future and Christ's second advent is after this, then the second advent is yet at a great distance.
However, usually what is meant by the second advent being imminent is that the second advent is pre-millennial and that it is at hand or that it will take place within the next few days or, at most, a few years, not over ten or twenty years, no later than 2000 A. D. for sure. Of course, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find scriptural support for this. When you stop and think a little, you realize how foolish it is to believe something like that without strong scriptural support.
Is Christ's second advent then imminent - about to happen now? I find no real proof in the Scriptures or even that His second advent must be pre-millennial!
Let's examine the Scriptures that are usually interpreted to "prove" that Christ's second advent to be imminent (must occur very soon). The budding of the fig tree theory (Matthew 24) is based solely on the assumption that the fig tree is the nation Israel, which is purely speculation from which you can prove nothing. "This generation" in verse 34 obviously means the people to whom Jesus was then speaking, which, no doubt was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem. Adam Clarke gives a good account of this. The great tribulation of verse 21 is then obviously past nor need we look for another one for the same verse states "nor ever shall be."
In Paul's epistles to the Thessalonians we find not evidence to support that the second advent must take place by the year 2000. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 states that the Christians are not to grieve over parted loved ones, those who have died and gone to heaven, for when Christ returns (the second advent is obviously meant) they will come with Him and receive their glorified bodies and we shall all be together with the Lord in the air - not on earth! It is obvious Paul could not have meant himself by the "we that are alive and remain" in verse 17, nor the Christians to whom he was writing. This could not possibly be true for Christ did not appear in their lifetime nor has He appeared the second time even yet! "We that are alive and remain" obviously means those who are alive when Jesus comes, whoever they may be. To say that Paul expected Jesus to come in his lifetime is indeed to put him in a bad light, and even worse yet, to say he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures to encourage Christians to believe that Christ would appear in their lifetime. This is to make the bible in error for it taught the Thessalonians to look for Christ to come in their lifetime when He obviously was not coming then or for a long period of time. "That the dead in Christ will rise first" has no reference to the wicked dead, but to the "living Christians" of verse 17.
In chapter 3, Paul tells them that the day of the Lord will come suddenly and unexpectedly upon the wicked, but not, of course, to the Christians, for they are always ready. THE DAY OF THE LORD WILL NOT BE AS A THIEF to the Christian - only to sinners! None of this even hints the second advent is imminent or must happen by the year 2000.
In his second letter Paul labors to clear up any misunderstanding about the second advent as some seemed to think Christ would come immediately in their life-time. 2 Thessalonians 2:2 states clearly that Christ's coming is NOT imminent! Anti-Christ must first come, but he will be consumed with the spirit of His (Christ Jesus') mouth. (The spirit of His mouth obviously is the preaching of the gospel) and destroyed (at last, at the last day by His second advent) with the brightness of His coming in judgment. Regardless of how you interpret this passage, you cannot read into it an imminent return of Christ - then or now!
In 2 Thessalonians, chapter 1, Paul speaks of Christ's second advent as being in flaming fire in vengeance upon the wicked and at the same time He is glorified in His saints and admired in all who believe. There is not hint of "two phases" of the second advent in any of this. The "two phase theory" is mere speculation without any scriptural foundation.
The description of the end of the world given by Peter in 2 Peter 3 certainly does not set any dates, but leads us to believe the second advent will be in judgment upon the wicked, not to set up a kingdom.
The "so much the more as we see the day approaching" in Hebrews 10:25 must have had reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and not the second advent, for they could not have seen the second advent approaching then so as to excite them to meet together, if those words mean anything close to what such language means now.
The "Behold I come quickly" in Revelation 3:11 and elsewhere refers to the "manner" not the "time" of His coming.
"The Lord is at hand" in Philippians 4:5 simply means the Lord is at hand observing our actions, so therefore, "let your moderation be know to all men."
The book of Revelation is a book that must be interpreted by the rest of the Bible. No book so full of types and figurative language can be used as a guide to interpret the rest of the Scripture, but the other Scriptures are used as a guide to interpret this highly figurative book. It is certainly a wild stretch of the imagination to try to read a "rapture of the church" into 4:1; or that the souls that were beheaded in 20:4 really means the glorified bodies of all saints of all ages or that they reigned with Christ in earth at all! Nowhere does the bible state that glorified saints will reign with Christ on earth!
Yes, Christ is coming back! He will judge the world! He is coming in flaming fire - this world will be burned up and the wicked cast into hell, but the righteous will shine forth as the sun (Matthew 13). But when will he come? It is not for us to know the time and the seasons (Acts 1:7).
What about Israel? Israel became a nation in 1948. Was not this a fulfillment of prophecy? Yes, it was, but does that mean that the coming of the Lord is imminent? Not necessarily. Let's look at Romans 11 where this subject is discussed. In Romans 11:15 Paul speaks of the fullness of the Jews, meaning by that, the turning to faith in Christ as Savior and Lord, which hasn't happened yet. Israel is still in unbelief, but when there is a great and general turning to Christ by Gentile nations first, this will provoke them to jealousy and Israel will turn to Christ (verse 25). Verse 25 speaks of Israel being blinded until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. The Gentile fullness is the same as the Jewish fullness, meaning simply a great awakening among Gentile nations which will produce a similar awakening among the Jews, especially when Israel sees what great economic blessings a Christian reconstruction among the Gentile nations will produce. This will provoke them to jealousy to do the same (verses 11, 25-27).
"O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out" (Romans 11:33).
Adam Clarke predicted the fullness of the Gentiles and Israel turning to Christ in 1947, which he thought "would be a final fulfillment of prophecy when all great events relative to salvation shall have taken place. Wars and contention will probably then cease over the whole world. Jews and Gentiles become one fold and one Shepherd and the Triune God be worshipped from generation to generation." But he adds, "We have not chronological data; and the times and seasons God has reserved in His own power." Of course, Mr. Clarke thought or assumed when Israel once again became a powerful nation, she would also at the same time believe in Christ (Commentary, 4:618-9). Obviously this was not true, but Israel will turn to Christ, but only after a great awakening and reconstruction among Gentile nations.
If Israel must turn to Christ, and she surely will, then she must do so before the second advent, because after the second advent (which will be in flaming fire taking vengeance upon the ungodly) no one will turn to Christ, for that will be the end of the age and the final judgment.
Let me recommend a book: Christ's Second Coming: Will It Be Premillennial? by David Brown (1876; rpt. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983).