Pastor Joe’s began teaching through Revelation on Sunday. In line with that, here’s a good concise explanation (from this book) of what we mean when we say that Jesus’ coming is imminent…
It is important that the difference between “immediate” and “imminent” in the English language be understood. “immediate” as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary” means “taking effect without delay.” Thus an immediate return would not allow any intervening events.
“Imminent”, on the other hand, means “impending”– it may happen at any time. Other events may intervene but this does not affect the impending nature of the return. The coming of the Lord in the NT is presented as imminent rather than immediate.
If it had been spoken of as immediate, saints would have cause for disappointment, as years have now run into decades and decades into centuries since the promise was given and the Lord still has not come. But the imminent return has been the hope of the church from apostolic times since it did not await the fulfillment of any intervening spiritual event.
God, with events in His own hands (Acts 1:7) could have so ordered matters that the return of the Saviour could have occurred at any stage. The perfect tense of [the word for “drawn near” used in] James 5:8–which can be literally translated “the coming of the Lord hath drawn nigh”–shows that with the divine calendar is His coming. It does not have to be immediate but it is certainly imminent. Believers in each succeeding age enjoy the glorious anticipation of His coming. The truth of imminence demands that a moral and ethical answer be seen in the life (1 John 3:3). God designed it so.
Sadly, in successive ages misinterpretation of scripture has robbed many saints of the joy and stimulus of the imminence of his glorious hope.