"Jesus is Coming...Be Ready"
Dec.2, 2007 Mt.24:36-44
Changing Climate: Expect the Unexpected
Jesus warned His followers, "...the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." (Mt 24:44)
How alert are you? To what extent do you expect the unexpected? For example, we have a sneaky driveway. Most of the year it's fine; people drive in, carry out their errand or stay for their visit, then hop in their car, back up out onto the road, and carry on their merry way. Without so much as a second thought.
But when the weather changes, there is a brief spell at the start of winter or during the spring melt when our driveway becomes a thief or kidnapper of sorts. The alternating freezing and thawing causes ice to form, and there is just enough of an incline to make getting back out difficult. You sit there on the slope and spin (some of you have experienced exactly what I'm describing!). You and your vehicle have suddenly been taken captive; it throws a wrench in your plans and steals your time as well. Just this past week a young man with a pickup truck found himself captured; he said he nearly 'took out' our garage before he was able to get the truck into four-wheel-drive and back out.
Few of our driveway hostages ever expected to be captured as they casually drove in. Expect the unexpected. We may think we know what's going to unfold in a day - we have our plans; but Jesus warns that when He comes, the time-continuum will be interrupted. It's an unpredictable surprise. Mt 24:36, "No one knows about that day or hour...only the Father." 42, "...you do not know on what day your Lord will come." And 44, "...the Son of Man will come when least expected." (NLT)
To drive home the point, Jesus offers a couple of comparisons or analogies. First, in v43 He uses the example of the owner of a house not knowing at what time of night the thief would be coming. Strange that the Lord would compare Himself to a thief: though He's not saying He IS a thief, just that His coming would be as stealthy and surprising as a thief's. In 1Thess 5(2) Paul writes, "for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night." And in the Revelation to John, chapter 16(15), Jesus again says, "Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed." When He comes like a thief, He will catch many unawares, just like the cars that are captured by our icy driveway.
A second comparison Jesus uses is found in vv38ff: "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." Were they surprised! Noah had warned them during the time it took to construct the ark, but they took no heed, probably ridiculing him as coo-coo. But when the rain started falling, and the springs of the great deep burst forth, it was too late to get aboard: that 'ship had sailed'. The word for 'flood' in Greek is that from which we get "cataclysm": their world underwent a sudden, violent change.
There they were, minding their own business - "eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage," preoccupied with the daily routines of life; going to the mall for their Christmas shopping, getting the car serviced, topping up their RRSPs, planning their winter vacation - when suddenly the flood burst upon them and swept them all away. Jesus emphasizes THAT's what His coming will be like.
The Thief is Choosy
When Jesus comes, at His 'advent', there will be a universality but also a selectivity. It will be universal in the sense that everyone will be suddenly aware of it. V30, "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." All peoples on the face of the planet will know about it. You can't miss it, it will be unmistakable. So Jesus also warns His followers not to be fooled by some who say it has already happened.
Did you know Jehovah's Witnesses believe the second coming of "Jesus" has already occurred invisibly? They initially taught that Christ returned in 1874; the date was later changed to 1914. They say He obtained His kingdom in 1914. But actually the "Jesus" they teach is actually a new improved version of Michael the Archangel, not part of the Trinity at all. 'JW's teach Jesus never incarnated; that the man Jesus is dead, annihilated; that He was not bodily resurrected, only an improved spiritual re-creation of the old Michael. Since the average Jehovah's Witness holds that the Second Coming of Christ has already occurred invisibly, what they look forward to is the Battle of Armageddon, which will end with the new millennium. When this didn't happen in 1914 as predicted, the events were rescheduled for 1918-1925; when they didn't occur then, the Watchtower Society again changed or deleted the dates in its literature.
By contrast, the Lord Himself taught that His coming would be unmistakable: v27, "For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man." He said there would be mourning among all the nations when it happens - why? Probably a sudden acute consciousness of their guilt, compared to Jesus' holiness and righteousness. V12, "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold..." It's a time characterized by rising evil and faithlessness, so most WOULD mourn to see Him come. There is a universality, all the nations will be aware of it.
But there is also a selectivity. When a burglar does a B&E, say through a kitchen window, he doesn't start filling his sack with whatever is at hand: "I'm gonna grab some of those apples; and why not stock up on those rolls of toilet paper?" No, the thief searches for what's of value to them, whether money or jewellery or portable electronics. The thief is selective.
So with Jesus at His coming, He's 'choosy': v31, "And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other." He'll gather His elect, literally 'picked out, chosen' ones. As the old hymn put it, "All His jewels, precious jewels, His loved and His own."
This selectivity is spelled out very practically by Jesus in vv40-41, twice in case we miss it the first time: "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." I remember watching a movie at Frontier Lodge Boys' Camp in Quebec one summer as a teen, and being very impacted by the fact that some people would be taken and others left. You don't want to be the person in the 'left behind' category! As in the Larry Norman song, "Two men walking up a hill: one disappears and one's left standing still...I wish we'd all been ready; There's no time to change your mind, The Son has come and you've been left behind."
This isn't some quaint doctrine mentioned only here in the Bible. It's echoed in various places. We've already referred to the angels gathering the elect in v31. 1Thess 4(17) says, "After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up [Jerome's Vulgate, rapiemur/'raptured'] together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever." It has to do with Jesus' promise in John 14(3), "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." The thing to be excited about is not the sudden air transportation - but being with the Lord forever.
To the clay-footed and gravity-bound, getting caught up in the air may sound far-fetched; but this is the Resurrected One speaking, Maker of heaven and earth. In v35 (right before our text) He pointed out, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away." He assembled us as we are now, He has the power to re-configure us in the twinkling of an eye. Most of our bodies are just empty space anyway, shot through by neutrinos many times a day and we don't feel a thing. If God did it with Jesus - as the early apostles bore eyewitness to - He can do it with the elect, too.
If there is this selectivity - if not everyone is saved - on what basis do the angels gather the 'elect', those the Lord chooses to be with Him?
For a clue, poke around in John 14 just before and after Jesus' promise in v3. He tells the disciples to "Trust in God; trust also in Me." Believing is essential. V7 talks about knowing Him. Vv12&15 introduce the necessity of obedience too: "...anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing...If you love me, you will obey what I command." So the elect are those who are in relationship with Jesus - trusting in Him, knowing Him, loving Him, and doing as He directs.
Earlier we heard Jesus say in Rev 16(15), "Behold, I come like a thief!" [then He added] "Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed." Stay awake - that's alertness. What are these 'clothes' He talks about? Not Roots or Levi's, but a metaphor for righteousness, obedient actions that don't result in shame. Clothe yourself with Christ and His goodness, put on the 'breastplate of righteousness" (Eph 6:14); Eph 4:24, "put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." Trusting, knowing, loving Jesus results in obedient good deeds, serving Him consciously.
Knowing a thief's coming would prompt one to stay awake. V42 "keep watch" because you don't know what day the Lord's coming. V43 "If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into."
Unlike the Jehovah's Witnesses and other cults, we are not into predicting exact times of events prophesied in the Bible. But various analysts point out that the stage is gradually being set for end-times predictions to come true. The battle of Armageddon seems to involve nations gathering together to fight Israel, just before God intervenes. (Rev 16:14,16) The middle east peace process was again in the news this week, although the agreement for more talks between the leaders of Israel and Palestine was immediately denounced by radical Islamic groups such as Hamas. Here is a short excerpt from a video CBC's The National showed Monday of Islamic radicals manufacturing rockets in Gaza to fire into nearby Israeli towns. Pay particular attention to the mindset of these young university student militants...[VIDEO]
Did you catch the contradiction between their words and actions? They say the rockets are only intended for the Israeli government and soldiers - but they are firing into a town where the main casualties are civilians.
You might dismiss this saying, those are just a few radicals, firing off annoying rockets (much like the V-1s and V-2s over Britain, I would add). But is their attitude not representative of militant Moslems at higher levels?
Chuck Missler is not a scatter-brained fanatic, but graduated with honours from the US Navy academy and joined the Air Force. He joined the Missile program and eventually became Branch Chief of the Department of Guided Missiles. He became a systems engineer with a large aerospace firm, then a senior analyst with a non-profit think tank where he conducted projects for the intelligence community and the Department of Defense. During that time, Chuck earned a master's degree in engineering at UCLA, supplementing previous grad work in applied mathematics, advanced statistics and information sciences. He has served on the board of directors of several firms. All this to say, he's no slouch! When he talks about 'strategic trends', he comes with knowledgeable background.
On a 2-DVD set Missler talks about weapons proliferation, the rise of Islam, and the Magog Invasion, among other trends. Much of the documented news he relates fits in with the Bible's prophetic predictions about end-time conditions. He describes how Iran's parliament approved its nuclear program with shouts of "Death to the United States! Death to Israel!" Obviously, if countries plan to attack Israel, they will have to also deal with the U.S. In this short clip he describes how just one relatively small nuclear bomb could send America (and much of Canada) back into the 19th century through an effect called "electro-magnetic pulse" or EMP...[VIDEO]
(So they conclude Iran is actually practising for an EMP attack.) Now, remember that mindset of the Islamic militants in Gaza firing rockets into civilian towns? Might not that same irrational hatred and zeal apply to those practising with missiles from the container ship in the Caspian Sea?
Here are some additional disquieting facts: in 1998 Al-Quaeda purchased 20 nuclear warheads from Kazakstan, Turkmenistan, Russia, Ukraine. In 2004 their purchase of 20 "suitcase nukes" was confirmed by Hans Blix, former Director General IAEA. The US Dept of Homeland Security has said, "Americans should prepare for the inevitability of a
'nuclear event' some time in the future." And here's a big name not known to be alarmist or a fanatic - Warren Buffett said to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway, "We're going to have something in the way of a major nuclear event in this country.It will happen.Whether it will happen in 10 years or 10 minutes, or 50 years…it's virtually a certainty."
There now, does Jesus' coming seem more imminent, knowing all that? Keep watch! Be ready!
Beware the Slippery Slope
Expect the unexpected; stay awake. The icy sloping driveway holds vehicles captive because it's on an INCLINE.
What inclination characterized the time of Noah? Genesis 6(5f) says the Lord was grieved that he'd made man, God's heart was filled with pain, because "The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time." (Ge 6:5) Why did God send the cataclysm? Gen 8:21 says "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood..."
It's the inclinations of our heart that trap us, that get us mired in evil, needing a Saviour - else judgment awaits. To be ready for the coming of the Son of Man, keep watch - not just over world events, to understand 'the signs of the times'; but keep watch over your heart, over its inclinations, how easily our carnal nature would slide down into self-serving and wickedness. Note your 'default' activities, things you gravitate towards without thinking - do they bring you closer to God or further away? Are you using your spare thoughts to focus on Jesus, growing to trust and know and love Him better? May He find us ready and waiting when He comes at that unexpected hour. Let's pray.