CLAIM: Amillennial and historical premillennial interpreters argue that the rapture cannot be imminent because Jesus told Peter: “When you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go” (Jn. 21:18). John goes on to write that this described Peter’s death. Thus, they argue, if Jesus couldn’t return before Peter’s death by crucifixion (~AD 67), then how can the rapture be truly imminent?
RESPONSE: A number of responses can be made:
First, this passage was not well known to the Christian community BEFORE Peter’s death. John wrote his gospel in roughly AD 90. So only Jesus’ closest disciples would’ve heard or even known about this prediction when it was still pertinent to the question of the rapture.
Second, retrospectively, we know that this passage was fulfilled in AD 67, but the early church wouldn’t have known this. The early apostles were persecuted by the authorities. Peter was flogged for speaking about Christ (Acts 5:40) and imprisoned—being nearly killed (Acts 11:3). In fact, Peter’s close comrade James was killed right before his imprisonment (Acts 12:2). I doubt the early church was too confident in Peter’s survival during these days! In fact, when Rhoda spoke of Peter’s release (only a few years after Jesus’ prediction in John 21:18), the early church had assumed that he was killed in prison. When Rhoda had spotted Peter alive, they told her that she was out of her mind (Acts 12:15-16). Therefore, it’s clear that the early church didn’t expect Peter to live for very long.
Moreover, the first NT books were written around AD 50 (e.g. James and Galatians). By the time these first books were written, Peter was getting old—this was almost two decades after Jesus’ resurrection. When these NT books were written, the imminence of the rapture was then revealed (Jas. 5:7-9). This seems to fit perfectly with the notion that the early church believed in imminency.
Third, the early church wouldn’t have known if Peter was dead or alive. Peter’s death wouldn’t have been broadcast on CNN or posted on the Internet. For example, if Peter died planting churches in Corinth, Greece (1 Cor. 1:12; 3:22), this might not be made known to the rest of the church. For this reason, the early believers would have no certainty that Peter was alive. Given Peter’s dangerous position as an apostle (1 Cor. 4:9), it is more likely that they would have thought him dead.