How to wait for Jesus

Part 4 of “The Second Coming” series. By Rosie Moore.

The key question asked in Matthew 24 and 25 is this: How do we wait for Jesus?

I’m much better at doing than waiting! Actually, one of my distinct childhood memories is waiting for my parents to arrive at the end of term to fetch me from boarding school and take me home. Sometimes they were late and I’d sit at my dormitory window longing and praying for their car to drive around the circle. It was hardly a traumatic experience, but it did reveal my impatient nature early on!

But when we look at Christ’s parables of the Ten Virgins and the Bags of gold, we see that believers are not expected to wait for Christ’s return like passengers standing idly at the taxi rank, or fiddling on our cellphones while waiting for an Uber. Christians are supposed to wait as stewards or trustees who know that they will give account to the Lord for their lives.

According to Jesus, His return at the end of the age will cause an irreversible division between people: One will be ready, while one will not (Matt 24:40-41). The wise bridesmaids will usher in the bridegroom with brightly lit lamps, while the foolish will scramble for oil in vain (Matt 25:1-13). Faithful servants will be working conscientiously in their Master’s household, while the wicked and lazy are abusing their positions (Matt 24:4649-51).

In Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus answers the key question of how to wait, using pictures and stories:

“Wait as those who don’t want to be surprised or shocked by your Master’s return (Matt 24:36-39). Wait as wise servants who are ready and expectant at all times, ‘because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you don’t expect him’ (Matt 24:42-44). Wait as those who know that your Master will be delayed a long time.” (Matt 25:13)

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions” (Matt 24:45-47).

So how do believers wait for Jesus? Jesus told us to wait as stewards who must give account for our service. This is the point of the parable of the bags of gold, which we will focus on today.

The parable of the gold.

The parable of the gold bags builds on two previous stories Jesus told—the absentee house owner and the Ten Virgins (Matt 24:45-5125:1-13). It’s important to place it in this context.

Last week, in “The Midnight Cry”, we saw that the only way to prepare for Christ’s future return is to accept His gospel invitation now, by faith. The folly of the five virgins was not merely that they were forgetful or negligent. They were foolish because they expected to be admitted to the wedding banquet while utterly unprepared to meet Christ as their Bridegroom. They did not know Christ or the holiness that only the Bridegroom can impart (Matt 25:12). And so, without ‘oil’ in their lamps, they were gatecrashers in God’s kingdom.

No small fortune.

The parable of the bags of gold (also known as the talents) rests on three assumptions already established in the parable of the ten virgins: The Lord’s return will be 1) after a long time, 2) at an unexpected time, and 3) only those who know Christ personally will be prepared to meet Him on that day.

The parable is about three slaves commissioned by their Master to invest some of his huge fortune while he is away. Because it’s usually called the parable of the talents, I often pictured ‘talents’ as human gifts, like a little toolkit of personal strengths or spiritual gifts that God has given to each person. While this is true, it misses the meaning of the Greek word ‘talenton’ in the parable.

A single talenton was a measure of money worth about six thousand denarii, roughly twenty years of wages, or around one million US dollars in today’s terms! A single ‘talenton’ of gold was the most valuable measure of all, worth many millions of dollars. And so, for an average South African, a single talenton would be worth more than a lifetime’s earnings. Imagine a room full of gold bars!

So, when the Master entrusted his slaves with five, two and one ‘talents’, he didn’t just toss them a few coins to invest on the Jerusalem Stock Exchange! They were commissioned to invest a massive fortune belonging to the Master, “each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey” and “returned after a long time” (Matt 25:1519).

Once we understand the value of the talenton, it’s clear that the property owner demonstrated shocking benevolence towards his slaves, giving them liberal latitude and responsibility when he “entrusted his wealth to them.” He expected them to step up to the plate; to actively buy and build businesses, farms, bakeries, mills, wells and fishing boats.

Although slavery in the first century was very different to the African slave trade, this liberal stewardship given to a slave would have stunned Jesus’s hearers. These three slaves were expected to use their discretion and skill to build buildings; to be enterprising and strategic in their planning, and to employ people in the name of the Master, over a long period of time. They were not commanded to wait passively for their Master to return.

When we think of what this stewardship implied, let’s remember that in those days, there was no online trading from the comfort of high-rise offices, no robots like Blackrock’s “Aladdin” to compute failsafe investment algorithms! They were expected to take calculated risks and work diligently, as they invested millions and millions of their Master’s wealth.

Moreover, each slave was individually responsible to multiply and improve his Master’s assets until the settling of accounts. Like the ten virgins, accounts were not settled as a collective.

This is how the slaves responded to their Master’s commission and this is how the Master responded when he settled accounts with them:

Settling accounts

“The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matt 25:16-30)

From this parable, there are at least two practical implications of what it means to wait for Christ’s return.

  1. Improve our Master’s assets.

Don Carson points out that there is no sin in the quiet pride of the first two slaves. They simply know that they’ve worked hard and invested wisely with what was “entrusted” to them” by doubling their capital (Matt 25:2022). There is nothing narcissistic about knowing that they have increased their Master’s assets.

The first two slaves recognise that the Lord assigned them their place in the world “each according to their ability”. They take no credit, nor feel shame, for their initial loan, because it was the Master’s wealth to distribute as he pleased. They understand that they are stewards, not owners of what God has given them.

And so, as faithful stewards, we’ll joyfully embrace our role as Christ’s slaves. Our job is not to create a name or legacy for ourselves, but for Him and His kingdom. We have the freedom to be industrious and creative wherever God has placed us, so there is dignity and individuality in this role.

As faithful stewards, we recognize and improve whatever the Lord has put into our hands by his providence — Time, education, money, gifts and skills, mentors, good health, living in a country where we still have religious freedoms; being raised in a Christian family; having a local church where we can serve and support others; owning a home or business. We are alert and put all this to work for His kingdom.

This parable opens our eyes to the vast bag of treasure God has placed in our hands to steward. Do you long for him to say, “Well done, my good and faithful slave? Come and share in your Master’s happiness!”

  1. Work as if it matters.

The foolish virgins failed because they thought their part in the Groom’s return was unimportant, so they made no provision for it.  But the wicked, lazy slave failed, not because he had one talenton, but because he thought his part was too hard and unfair. His disdain and resentment towards God is palpable, so that even what he had was taken from him.

It’s ironic that the lazy slave refused to serve his Master, who was stunningly generous towards him in the first place. This was Christ’s accusation of the Pharisees, but there are still many ministers of the gospel and pretenders today who are lazy and disinterested in their commission.

Instead of working for the Master’s eye, they exploit and mislead people for their own ends, building their own kingdoms of wood, hay and stubble, living as if they’ll never account to Christ for their work. They treat their stewardship with contempt and live like God is a cruel taskmaster.

But the ‘waiting’ of a faithful steward means ‘working’ as if it matters. The first slave was alert and “went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more.” Instead of taking his commission casually, he was a gutsy entrepreneur for his Master. His accountability and loyalty drove him to action.

Our work matters, because the way we serve God today prepares us for eternity. Work takes many shapes and forms in this world, but when Christ returns, He will set up a fruitful Kingdom on the new earth, filled with diligent, responsible, joyful, persevering, creative workers! (Revelation 22:1-21)

It will be labour minus the fatigue, frustrations, jealousies, failures, bankruptcies, redundancies, discouragements and negative cash flow of much of our work, marred by sin. And every precious person we have led into the Kingdom will be there to share it with us.

When the Lord returns and the accounts are finally settled, faithful stewards will be given more responsibilities and will share in our Master’s happiness. What an inconceivable reward for our labours!

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.” (Revelation 22:12)

The Midnight Cry

Part 3 of series “The Second Coming”, by Rosie Moore

“The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:5-613)

Jesus is coming back! We know this is true. If Jesus’s prophesies and parables in Matthew 24 and 25 are accurate pictures, His return will be sudden, swift and spectacular. Jesus’s appearing will be unexpected and unmistakable and His judgment will be final and inescapable. No last minute bargaining will be entertained on that day

Jesus said that His return will be like the flood in Noah’s time; like a thief breaking into a house at night; like a returning house owner; like lightning illuminating the sky. That’s why the Lord instructs his followers to be spiritually prepared for his coming, “Therefore keep watch, for you do not know the day or the hour” (Matt 24:4225:13).

Jesus’s three parables in Matthew 25 clarify what it means to be ready for His return and how to live until He comes: The wise and foolish virgins with their lamps; the landowner who loaned money to his servants according to their abilities; and the separation of the sheep and the Goats are challenging parables. They challenge our beliefs and behaviour as we anticipate and prepare for Christ’s return. Every generation of believers should be spiritually prepared to usher Him in as King.

Although there is debate about the meaning of details, it’s impossible to miss the essence of these eschatological parables: There will come a day when the door to God’s kingdom will shut. No one can buy or borrow spiritual preparation at the last minute, because every person is responsible for his or her own spiritual condition. In this sense, faith in Christ is a matter of individual, not collective, responsibility.

Let’s hone in on the first of these parables today.

The Ten Virgins/ Bridesmaids

This parable sounds strange to our 21st century ears, but when we understand a 1st century Jewish wedding, its meaning becomes clearer and richer. Customary weddings were by no means instant or casual affairs. Don Carson gives us helpful cultural context to the parable:

“Normally the bridegroom with some close friends left his home to go to the bride’s home, where there were various ceremonies, followed by a procession through the streets—after nightfall—to his home. The ten virgins may be bridesmaids who have been assisting the bride; and they expect to meet the groom as he comes from the bride’s house…Everyone in the procession was expected to carry his or her own torch. Those without a torch would be assumed to be party crashers or even brigands. The festivities, which might last several days, would formally get underway at the groom’s house.”

One can just imagine the air bristling with expectation, anticipation and preparation for the Groom’s arrival. The marriage definitely didn’t just start on the wedding day– unlike couples today who waltz off to Home Affairs and find a marriage officer to marry them! The anticipation of a Jewish union began on the day that a father would arrange a bride for his son and then pay a pre-determined “bride price” on her behalf.

The son (the bridegroom) would return to his father’s house to make arrangements and prepare a home for his wife, while the bride prepared and consecrated herself in anticipation for the groom’s return to her house. Then the bride and groom shared a final glass of wine together before parting ways one last time.

Suddenly, at an unexpected moment, even in the middle of the night, the groom would return to take his bride to the wedding feast. The lamps were supposed to be lit and the groom was ushered in. Oil was the means by which they did their job of welcoming the groom and leading the way to the wedding ceremony.

After the wedding feast, the groom would take his bride to the home that he had prepared for her and the marriage would be consummated.

And so, there was a considerable delay between the paying of the bride price and the time of the wedding feast. This explains why Jesus says, “the bridegroom was a long time in coming” (Matt 25:5). The fact that we’re still waiting for Christ two millenia later is no surprise to Jesus, as he told us so.

Here’s the Bridegroom!

I find it beautiful that Jesus chooses to set the stage for his return against the backdrop of this intimate picture of marriage and the joyful signal of his appearance. It gives us a glimpse of the intimate love relationship that God has forged with his people and their anticipation of his return. What a privilege to watch and prepare for the Groom in our own lifetime!

But we need “oil in our lamp” to do our job. In these days of Loadshedding, it might be more apt to charge our LED torch before the darkness of Stage 4 sets in! Once the electricity goes off, it’s futile to plug it into the dead socket.

The metaphor of the bridegroom wasn’t an arbitrary one. On many occasions during his ministry, Jesus pictured himself as the Bridegroom who will return to take his people to the home that He has prepared for them. (John 3:27-30Matt 9:15Mark 2:19-20John 14:2-3).

Of course, people today are encouraged to self- identify as anything they like, but Christ’s self-identification as the Groom was particularly controversial. It riled the Jewish religious leaders, who knew full well that Jesus was identifying as Yahweh.

Throughout the Old Testament, God pictured himself as the Bridegroom of his people Israel (Isaiah 54:4-662:4-5Hosea 2:19), and like any loving husband, God has always jealously guarded the exclusive devotion of his people– his bride (Deut 6:14-15).

In the New Testament, Jesus’s claim to be the Bridegroom is fleshed out by the Apostle Paul, who describes the Church as Christ’s Bride, for whom He laid down his life in order to sanctify her and present her “in splendour, without spot or wrinkle, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25-32).

This helps us understand why Christ mentioned ten virgins as the supporting roles in his parable. Most commentators agree that they represent those who profess to be part of God’s kingdom, his Bride. But there are foolish and wise virgins in Christ’s story. The wise ones took oil along with their lamps, while the foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. At the sound of the midnight cry and the returning bridegroom,

“All the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ (Matt 25:7-12)

Once the midnight cry comes, it will be too late to cross over from being a foolish virgin to a wise virgin. In other words, no matter how long the delay seems, there will be a certain day when the door to the kingdom will finally be shut (Matt 25:10-12). The time to be wise is now.

Spot the difference.

The foolish and wise virgins had a lot in common. They all professed to be virgins. They all “took their lamps”. They all professed faith to “meet the bridegroom”. And yet the foolish took lamps but no oil, while the wise did both (Matt 25:3-4). This was the only difference.

The Puritan, Thomas Shepard (1605-1649), preached for four years on this one parable! You can read his sermon notes here. Shepard described the wise as having been born again, filled with the Holy Spirit and the power of grace. In contrast, he described foolish virgins as “refined hypocrites in the visible church” when Christ returns, like the pretenders discussed in Hebrews 6:4-6,

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

The story of the Ten bridesmaids is an exciting and motivating parable, but it’s also meant to be a sober warning.

An incentive to prepare.

This parable is exciting, because it points to the perfect love story that spans from Genesis to Revelation. It reminds us how God the Father has sent his Son to secure his treasured Bride, the Church, for himself. He paid an exorbitant price for his Bride— the life of his own Son (1 Cor 6:20). This is the ultimate dowry or lobola for those who are in relationship with Christ by faith. It gives us a powerful incentive to persevere in faith.

What’s more, this parable reminds believers that our names are on the guest list at the great marriage feast between God and his people. We are called out to meet the Bridegroom one day (Rev 19:7-81 Thess 4:16), to go with Him to the home that He has prepared for those who love him (John 14:2-3). What a privilege to be bound to our Groom in an unbreakable covenant relationship!

This covenant relationship is a powerful motivation. It is because of this ‘marriage’ that Peter urges believers to be holy, watchful and awake as we await Christ’s coming. Being holy and obedient is integral to how the Bride makes herself ready for Christ’s return:

Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16).

A sober warning.

But this parable is not only exciting and motivating. It is a sobering snapshot of the return of Christ the King. The midnight cry will elicit a cry of joy in some, but a cry of mourning and anguish in others (Matt 24:30Matt 25:611).

Jesus warns us that when he returns, there will be many participants in a church or Bible study setting, enjoying the fellowship and benefits of God’s people while tasting God’s goodness. They look like they belong to the bridal party, but are in reality, “foolish virgins,” who do not have a relationship with the Bridegroom at all.

Jesus identifies why the foolish will be spiritually unprepared: It is because they do not know him personally (Matt 25:12). They do not have their own relationship with Jesus. No friend, pastor or family member can stand in as a proxy for this relationship with Christ, just as no one can take a spouse’s place in a marriage.

It’s easy to walk and talk like a Christian, but the question that Jesus asks in verse 12 is not if we called Him “Lord, Lord” in our lifetime, but if we know Him and He knows us.

And so, the uncertain date of Christ’s final appearing is not a reason to be complacent or to skeptical. Rather, it’s an urgent incentive to accept Christ’s invitation to the wedding feast now, while the door is still open (Matt 22:1-14).

After all, for over two thousand years, the gospel invitation has been going out into the streets, to both the “good and the bad” (Matt 22:9-10). Until the day the door is shut, God’s wedding hall has infinite capacity for guests.

Waiting is not enough.

But waiting passively is not enough to keep our lamp alight.

Christ’s delayed return is not an excuse for a believer to sit around and speculate, quit our job, or become disillusioned with the world. Rather, it is a powerful incentive to live out each day as if it were our last, whilst also living as if our whole life stretched ahead of us. Our readiness as Christ’s Bride includes preparing the next generation for their service to the King.

We hold tightly to our Bridegroom, who is holding fast to us. We charge our lamps by living holy lives that look different from the world around us. We draw our fuel from the oil of the Holy Spirit and a deep affection for Christ. That’s how we will be wise.

Prayer.

Lord, we know that your delay means we are still living in times of mercy, patience and grace, when many more will enter your kingdom. We long to be part of that work! Make us faithful and wise servants who invite others to your banquet, so that your wedding hall may be filled with guests before the door finally shuts. May affection for Jesus fuel our lamps, so that we will light the path to the Bridegroom. Give us daily grace and light from your Spirit, so that our lamps will always shine brightly with joy, peace, gentleness, faith, hope, love, perseverance and eager expectancy for the return of our Lord Jesus.

Amen.

As In the Days of Noah

Part 2 of Series: The Second Coming, by Rosie Moore

Jesus told us what we need to know about his return. His pictures help us see that it will be sudden and visible; spectacular, triumphant and inescapable. Jesus said that it will be like lightning, like a thief in the night, like the Flood in the days of Noah. These apocalyptic images are not literal, but they give us a hint of what the Second Coming will be like.

For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matt 24:27).

 “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;  and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt 24:37-39).

It’s sometimes useful to look at history to gain perspective of our own times.

The Second Coming (1919)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand…

(The Second Coming, by W.B Yeats- 1865-1939)

These are lines from William Butler Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming” which he wrote in 1919, soon after the end of the First World War. This was known as “The Great War” because it was the biggest war yet, and “The War to End All Wars” because it was so horrific that everyone hoped it would be the last war ever. It resulted in about 20 million deaths.

The poem was also written shortly after the Easter Rising in Ireland, a rebellion that was brutally suppressed, and the Russian Revolution of 1917 which overthrew the long rule of the Czars and ushered in a period of lingering chaos in Russia. No wonder Yeats expressed his sense that the world he knew was spiralling into chaos and coming to an end.

Sadly, the year that Yeats died marked the beginning of World War 2, which wiped out a further 75 million people in another “blood-dimmed tide”. Josef Stalin’s communist regime killed a further 10.5 million Russians in the Gulag, the Great Purge and the Ukrainian Famine.

Mao Zedang outdid both Hitler and Stalin with his “Great Leap Forward” economic policy, which ironically led to the deaths of 45 million Chinese people, mostly through starvation. When we look at human history, it does seem true that “the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” All of this took place in just the 20th century.

But here we are in 2022, still seeing things falling apart. In every sphere of individual, family, political, moral and social life, “the falcon cannot hear the falconer.”

Things fall apart.

As we look forwards to the technology revolution, we may fear that the “gyre” is widening, as humanity spins further and further away from its source—the Creator God himself. Like Yeats, we may be thinking, “Surely the centre cannot hold and the Second Coming is at hand!”

But Yeats did not write The Second Coming from a biblical worldview. Although his words resonate with us and express the birth pains of a fallen world, his poem describes historical cycles and an apocalypse very different from the Christian vision of the end of the world.

The Bible does not give us a date or time for the Second Coming of Christ, but it does tell us that at an unknown but certain moment in the future, Jesus Christ will appear in full majesty to judge the world, overthrow evil and establish God’s kingdom promised in the Old and New Testament. This Kingdom will never end and will be the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:12-13).

The Bible also teaches that the historical Coming of Jesus between 1BC and AD33 was a preview of the glorious Parousia (appearing or arrival) of the Messiah. The Second Coming is the ultimate climax of history. Thus, human history is linear, not cyclical.

And so, however much things seem to be falling apart now, God has given us four certain promises for the future:

  1. Jesus will return in glory.
  2. Death will be finally conquered.
  3. The entire cosmos will be restored to its rightful condition.
  4. Christ will overthrow evil and establish perfect justice.

When will this happen?

In Matthew 24, Christ gives us a vision of the future through multifocal lenses.

Although He concentrates on events that would soon take place in the disciples’ own lifetimes, like the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70AD, Christ also gives a panorama of the whole era known as the ‘last days’—the era between Christ’s ascension and his return. Then He zooms in on His triumphant return, known in the Old Testament as the great “Day of the Lord”.

Christ was answering his disciples’ questions: “When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” (Matt 24:3)

Like us, the first century disciples wanted signs and certainty, but when we seek certainty, we often become susceptible to being deceived. That is why Jesus starts his prophesies about the future with this warning,

Watch out that no one deceives you!

“Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Matt 24:4-8)

23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time.” (Matt 24:23-25).

Like the disciples, we too must hear Jesus’s warning not to be gullible, fearful or speculative about the future. Speculation can be a deceptive diversion from the work that we’ve given to do as Christ’s stewards on earth (Matt 24:45-47).

Frightening world events should not alarm or control us, because Jesus told us “ahead of time” to expect them (Matt 24:25).  What’s more, Christ says that they are the beginning of birth pains, not necessarily the final contractions before the restored creation is birthed.

And did you notice that Jesus specifically didn’t give us a timeline of events leading up to his Second coming? Instead, he spoke in apocalyptic language and focused on the need for Christians to live now in the light of the future reality. He specifically told us,

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Matt 24:36).

Christ’s point throughout chapter 24 is that we must be ready at all times for His return, resisting our cravings for signs and dates that not even He or the angels are privy to.

Many of the events that Jesus foretold in Matthew 24 were indeed fulfilled in AD 68-70, when Jerusalem was besieged and destroyed. More than a million Jews were murdered or died of starvation, and women and children were taken as slaves. It was a devastating judgment on Jerusalem. Emperor Titus put an idol on the site of the burned temple just as Jesus had foretold (Matt 24:15-22).

Moreover, as Jesus prophesied, his followers were persecuted in their lifetimes (Matt 24:9-10). They were killed because they worshipped Jesus and not Caesar, refusing to place the Lord alongside the gods of Rome.

Because many layers of Christ’s prophecies have already been fulfilled, and are being fulfilled in our own lifetimes, we can trust what He said about the future too. Jesus answered his disciples’ questions by giving them some signs to look out for:

Less love, more wickedness.

Leading up to Christ’s return, we can be sure that wickedness will increase and the love of most will grow cold (Matt 24:12).

With false teaching and loose morals comes a particularly destructive disease—the loss of true love for God and others. Therefore, people will increasingly love only themselves and hate what is good.

Consequently, people will become more abusive, boastful, prideful, ungrateful, slanderous, treacherous, hedonistic, conceited, brutal and lacking in self restraint. Paul confirms this increase in wickedness and self-obsession in his letter to Timothy (2 Tim 3:1-4).  Our narcissistic culture is no surprise to the Lord.

More deceit and lies.

False prophets and false saviours will persist, deceiving even believers, “if that were possible” (Matt 24:24). Only a solid foundation in God’s Word will prepare us to discern the distortions of false messages that abound throughout the last days. There will be an intolerance for sound doctrine (2 Tim 4:3).

There will be an increase in knowledge, yet people will be “always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” (2 Tim 3:7). Our culture is a testimony to this craving for information, but disdain for the truth.

More turmoil and persecution.

Christ says that wars, famines, persecution and natural disasters will continue to rock our world until He returns. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom (Matt 24:6-7). “You will be hated by all nations because of me.” (Matt 24:9).

Luke’s record adds diseases (Luke 21:11), promiscuity (Luke 17:28-29) and prosperity (Luke 17:28) as further signs of creation’s intensifying birth pains.

“Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (Matt 24:6).

The triumph of the gospel.

But even while evil persists and increases, we can be absolutely sure that “the gospel of the kingdom will continue to be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt 24:14). “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matt 24:35).

This wonderful promise is also a wonderful mission of mercy, which is still ours today. We are gospel witnesses to the nations until Christ returns in glory! From God’s perspective, there is nothing hopeless or out of control about our world. That is why Christ says to his followers, “See to it that you are not alarmed” (Matt 24:6).

While the Lord is gathering a people for himself, His kingdom will keep growing, like a stubborn plant persistently pushing its way through the hard and thorny earth.

This is the gospel work that all Christ followers are to be busy with, as God’s “faithful and wise servants” (Matt 24:45). We are to “stay awake” because we do not know when our Lord will come” (Matt 24:42).

Jesus paints a beautiful picture of an attentive servant– a joyful believer, alert to opportunities to love and serve people. It’s this kind of service that marks the future kingdom.

As in the days of Noah.

Peter reflects Christ’s picture of people living their normal lives, scoffing at the idea that Christ will ever return in judgment, just as they scoffed at Noah building the Ark when there wasn’t a drop of rain. They insist that, “everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

But as in the days of Noah, there will be no room for bargaining and last-minute pleas when Christ returns. His appearing will be the decisive end of the world as we know it.

“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory (Matt 24:30-31)

Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left (Matt 24:40-41).

If Christ’s return is as unexpected and inescapable as the worldwide Flood, we have an infinitely greater Ark to take refuge in than the ship that Noah built. Our Ark is the Lord Jesus himself (1 Peter 3:20-21Heb 11:7Gen 7:17).

Prayer

Lord, we don’t know exactly when you will return, but we trust that you will come back. We don’t know exactly how you will appear and gather your people from the four winds of the earth, but we trust that you will send your angels to accomplish what is humanly impossible. We trust that the gospel will continue to flourish in people’s lives and fill the earth until you return. Help us not to be alarmed by the rise in evil, but rather to focus on being gospel witnesses and living like the day is already here. Give us strength to be faithful and wise servants of your righteous kingdom, taking care of whatever you have put in front of us. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Listen to this beautiful hymn, “I cannot tell”. It was one of our wedding hymns!

“But this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture….