In class Dr. Don Carson presented what I think is a very simple and helpful diagram/explanation about the tensions that exist between three Biblical realities that relate to the return of Christ. Dr. Carson did not present a resolution to the tension (unless I totally missed it). But nonetheless, the diagram is helpful, if nothing else, for understanding the difficulties that differing eschatological (referring to “last things” or end times) views face and must try to resolve. Without diving into the debate, allow me to simply share with you his diagram/explanation in hopes that it helps you better understand the views and the tensions that they face.
First, Dr. Carson wrote on the board three Biblical teachings related to Christ’s return/second coming:
- Its singleness.
- Its imminency.
- Its being preceded by signs.
Then Dr. Carson unfolded the tension that exists between these three realities within the differing views.
First, if you maintain that Christ is only coming once and that His coming is imminent, it doesn’t seem as if you can maintain the the reality that Christ’s return will be preceded by signs. Instead, in this view, for example, one would understand the signs as simply generic signs that occur in any generation or things that have already occurred (e.g., AD 70, per Preterism).
Second, is you maintain that Christ is only coming once and that His return will be preceded by signs, it doesn’t seem as if you can maintain the reality that Christ’s return will be imminent. Instead, you will have to tweak a typical understanding of imminence so that it does not refer to “Christ can return at any second” but maybe “any generation,” that imminence should be viewed in a redemptive-historical context, or that these signs could happen very quickly.
Third, if you maintain that Christ’s coming is imminent and that His return will be preceded by signs, it doesn’t seem as if you can maintain the reality that Christ is only coming once. Instead, you will adhere to a pretribulational rapture which involves two “comings” of Christ–one to rapture the Church and one after the Tribulation.
Finally, it should be noted that Carson most assuredly recognizes that proponents of the above views would not say something like, “Well I don’t believe in (any one of the three realities).” They obviously have ways of resolving the tensions. For example, proponents of a pretribulational rapture would not say Christ has two comings. They would say that Christ’s coming to rapture His Church does not technically constitute a “coming.” And such is the case with all these views; they have explanations. The point of this post is not to show the explanations and how one might resolve the tensions but to introduce you to the tensions of which you may not be aware.
 Carson, Don, “Israel and the Church,” class lecture, Deerfield, IL, November, 19th 2012.