“For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.” – Matthew 24:4
I opened my eyes this morning and … the world was still here. Now granted, I wasn’t expecting the rapture but there’s been so much hype around September 23, 2017 and the Revelation 12 Sign, the mysterious Planet X, earthquakes in Mexico City and Los Angeles and Japan, the endless Category 5 Hurricanepocolypse of 2017, Donald Trump addressing the United Nations, North Korea and their nuclear ambitions , Super Mosquitos spreading Super Malaria … it’s felt like we were in the middle of a Matthew 24 end times prophecy from Jesus.
Not quite the end
Of course, this is clearly not the end as so much of Jesus’ end of days depiction has not yet materialized and I’m apparently still able to write this. For instance, even though persecutions of Christians have increased around the world, they haven’t yet risen to the apocalyptic proportions of the Left Behind series. And while we’re on that subject, I didn’t see Drudge Report flashing the sudden disappearance of millions of people overnight.
Nor have we seen the Abomination of Desolation standing in the holy place. And with all respects to Rick Warren’s PEACE Plan, the gospel has surely NOT been “preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations.”
Now that we’ve established the world hasn’t ended and our best efforts to guess at Christ’s return have once again been thwarted, let’s have a word of honesty. Go ahead, lean in on this one.
The central, yet least understood foundation of Christian faith is the return of Jesus Christ to establish his kingdom. “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory,” (Mark 13:26), (Luke 21:27). Yet, “(Of) that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Mark 13:32).
Almost since the day following Jesus’ ascension, many have tried to second guess the Mark 13 passage. In 500 A.D. Hippolytus of Rome, Sextus Julius Africanus, and Irenaeus predicted Jesus would return based on the dimensions of Noah’s Ark. German monk and mathematician Michael Stifel published a work stating categorically that Christ would return at 8:00 am on October 19, 1533 (presumably local time). In 1844 American Baptist preacher William Miller proclaimed Jesus would return on October 22. His slightly missed guess came to be known as The Great Disappointment. And then there was Harold Camping’s famous prediction the world would come to a fiery end on October 21, 2011. Other near misses can be found here.
Yet still, Jesus told us what to look for. We will have signs, we’ll actually see Jesus return, but no one knows when. Folks are going out to dinner, getting married, watching TV, working their jobs, arguing about politics, posting their uber-filtered pics on social media – in other words, everything will be absolutely normal, until the moment it isn’t. Sounds like a perfect recipe for prophetic sensationalism.
Scripture tells us to prepare
Fortunately for Believers, scripture also tells us to prepare. “You must also be ready,” Jesus said in Matthew 24:44. “The day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night,” Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:2. “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,” declares Peter (2 Peter 3:10). The message is clear – we should stand ready for the Christ’s return every day of our lives.
Sadly, the vast majority of people in the world – even many Christians – live their lives as though Jesus never promised to return. If you and I were honest, we might admit to our own negligent view of the future.
In the moment of his most significant trial, Jesus took three disciples with him to the Garden of Gethsemane (Peter, John and James). Asking them to stay vigilant, Jesus stepped away to pray. Returning, Jesus found them sleeping and said “So, you men could not keep watch with me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation,” (Matthew 26:40-41).
This happened three times and on the third instance Jesus chided “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand,” (Matthew 26:45).
Lulled into complacency
Idle speculation, dramatized rumors, false predictions, endless distractions – these and a thousand other diversions lull us into complacency. The decades pass, Jesus still hasn’t shown up and we get busy with other things. We sleep while God extends His hand. We ignore the signs around us, unable to “analyze this present time,” as Jesus told the crowds in Luke 12:56. We search endlessly for signs of what God has already revealed.
The Greek Christian Bishop Origen Adamantius wrote in 212 A.D. “In a certain sense, the end of the world has already come for the person to whom the world is crucified.” In other words, for those of us who are dead to worldly things, the day of the Lord has already arrived – we are just awaiting Christ’s return.
And yet, his return is not quite here. The charge is not to awake from our slumber, but to stay awake with watchful endurance. Jesus calls us to be ready, or in a different sense, always be becoming ready. We find certainty based on the dependability of God’s character, not the accuracy of our predictions. We prepare for Jesus’ return not to figure out a puzzle, but rather to trust in a promise from God.
God wants us to be vigilant for Jesus’ return not because we know the specific date, but because we trust His promise. We see our future and are comforted because “not one word of all the good words which the Lord your God spoke concerning you has failed” (Joshua 23:14). We live our lives as though Jesus has already returned.
Three ways to live
What would this look like? How would we act if we lived as though Christ had already returned and we were walking in light of truth? There are hundreds of possible answers in scripture but here are three:
- Live the Word. God is not just a spiritual concept locked away in an ancient book of writings to be studied while ignoring the very people we are called to serve- God is real and active in our midst today, as we should be. After healing the cripple in Bethesda on the Sabbath, Jesus was challenged by Jewish leadership for doing works on the Sabbath. He answered “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (John 5:17). He goes further, admonishing the Pharisees and Sanhedrin that their substitute of studying the law rather than living God’s word out in the world condemns them: “You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” (John 5:38-39) Jesus is telling us that studying the Word is only the first step – we must go further in actually live the Word out in communion with those around us.
- Convert, don’t condemn. Every corner of our lives today seems filled with condemnation of something or someone. In the Beatitudes, Jesus teaches “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:40-45). When we convert those who hate us to a life of love, we demonstrate the foundational Kingdom principle of forgiveness rather than the earthly principle of retribution.
- Love God, love each other. When challenged by a lawyer on how to inherit eternal life, Jesus responded in terms the lawyer would understand: “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28)
Knowing where God is taking us, knowing what comes after the end of this world, truly understanding that there is a lasting and eternal life awaiting us, we can be at peace and live in confidence. And even if we may not know the day and hour, God tells us to stay vigilant.
Are you still sleeping? Behold the hour is at hand …