At Christmast time, the world’s children look for Santa Claus to come. In the Church, we have a very special view on who’s coming. While we celebrate the first coming of Jesus as a baby in a manger, we also celebate Advent, which means we look forward to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. What are we to do until He comes? According to my understanding of the Scriptures, we’re called to Watch for His Second Coming, Wait for His timing, and Work in the Kingdom until He comes again.
19. For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be. 20. And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days.
When we left off last week, Jesus had reminded us to pray that our flight would not be in winter. I believe He said that because the cold, the rain, and the other issues of winter would make the afflictions that Jesus prophesied here that much worse. In other words, He was saying that things are going to be bad enough that you don’t need the woes of winter to add to your affliction. What’s going to happen in the end times will be worse than anyone can imagine and worse than has ever happened before. Given that at times Jesus was talking about the coming destruction by the Romans as well as the end of times, the question here might be, “Was Jesus talking about the destruction by Rome or the afflictions to come at the end of times. My guess would be that Jesus is thinking of both. And if the afflictions are worse at one time than the other, it won’t be to a great degree.
One of the doctrines that many believe is that Jesus will rapture the church before any of the really bad things happen. We know that the church in Jerusalem suffered when the Romans invaded, just like everyone else. But if these words can (also) be applied to the end of times, it sounds like the elect, God’s chosen people, will go through these afflictions like everyone else and that were the days of affliction not shortened, no one would survive. I’m going to be honest with you here. I really don’t enjoy discussions about the end of times and how Jesus is going to come back because there’s so much uncertainty and speculation. What we know is that Jesus will come again, that times will be terrible until that happens, and that there will be an end of this timeline that’s signified by the arrival of the new heaven and the new earth. We don’t know how or when any of these things will happen and one of the problems with this speculation is that everyone is certain that their view is correct. There’s too much uncertainty, and even Jesus didn’t give us a hint as to the time of year because He left open the possibility that it might be winter, even though He advised us to pray that it wouldn’t be then. Notice that Jesus also didn’t ask us to pray that these things not happen, He just told us to pray that it would be less unbearable when they did.
21. And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not: 22. For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. 23. But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.
During those terrible times, many will claim to have seen the Christ, the Messiah, back on earth. Whether their words were meant with deliberate deceit, hope of truth, or sadly mistaken identity, the important thing is not to become victims of this error. I believe that when Jesus comes back, we’ll know it. Whether it be misguided prophets who will predict the day, or mistaken people who identify someone as the Messiah, don’t believe them. There will be false Christs. There will be false prophets. They will show signs and miracles that might make them appear authentic. Jesus commanded us to be careful, and not to fall for anyone who comes along like that because He warned us it would happen. The indication is that God’s people won’t fall for those tricks, “…seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.” The key to avoiding falling for the wiles of those false prophets is getting so close to God through the blood of Jesus Christ that we can’t be fooled.
24. But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, 25. And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken.
Jesus made a point of noting that all of these things He was about to describe would happen after this tribulation. Is this the great tribulation mentioned in Revelation? I would think so, but, what we do know, based on these verses is that the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus will return after a time of tribulation that was the worse than anything imaginable. After the tribulation, the lights in the sky will begin to disappear. (cf Isaiah 13 :10, and 34:4) I’m not sure what it means that the powers in heaven will be shaken unless maybe things are so bad that the angels themselves will be disturbed. I don’t believe that there will be any more evil powers in the heavenly realms at that time.
26. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. 27. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.
Once all these things happen, only then will they see the Son of man, the Messiah, coming back to earth in all His power and glory. And the angel army go out across the earth and heaven, to gather the elect, the Church. Again, the indication here is that God’s people will go through the tribulation just like everyone else. While we often see evidence for a pre-Tribulation rapture, the problem is that Jesus doesn’t indicate it here. So, while we can hope and pray that we’ll be spared any great tribulation, we need to prepare for life through the Tribulation. Our attitudes and acts of ministry will either draw people to Christ, or they will turn them further away from Christ. If we go through the tribulation Jesus mentions here, will you spend your time whining about being cheated because you expected to be raptures, or will you use this opportunity as one extra chance to tell people about Jesus?
28. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near: 29. So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors. 30 Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done. 31 Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.
Here, Jesus gives a sign. Just as we know that summer is coming when we see the fig tree developing and showing leaves, so, when we see all these things that Jesus prophesied coming to pass, we’ll know that it’s almost time. If we see all these things come to pass in these days, we still won’t know the day or the time, we’ll just know that the end of times is near. When Jesus says “that this generation shall not pass…” He makes it clear that He’s talking about an event that many of them will see. While I believe that His words relate to the end of times as well, this message is specifically fulfilled in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. The fact that it applies to that, does not mean that it doesn’t deal with the return of the Messiah in the future. (Hopefully, the near future.) I believe His comment about His words not passing away show that they can be applied at different times in history. Just because the destruction wrought by the Romans was one fulfillment of these words, it doesn’t mean that God can’t use them in a different way as well.
32 But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. 33. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.
In verse four, the disciples asked Jesus when all these things would happen. They finally get a definitive answer from Jesus here when He tells them that He doesn’t know, only the Father knows. I’ve seen some people that are pretty sure of when Jesus is coming again, which means that they think they know more than He does about that. Our job is not to determine the day and the hour that Jesus returns, our job, while we’re waiting for that return, is to be busy about kingdom work: caring for people in need and sharing the love of Christ with all who need to know the good news.
34. For the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. 35. Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: 36. Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. 37. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.
Jesus then tells a parable in which the main message is that we should keep on working. The master of a house goes on a long journey and gives all of his servants tasks to do. He expects them to be done when he returns. The thing is, there was no way for the master to communicate when he would be returning and all the servants knew was that he would return. They key to earning the master’s pleasure was to do the work they were commanded to do when he left. That way, when he returned, he would know that they had been working. They should be able to watch for him, expecting praise for their work in his absence. They shouldn’t be watching for his with the idea that they’ll start working when they see him coming.
This parable reminds me of my work as a teacher. There were times when I needed to leave the classroom for a short time. I would warn the students about their behavior and appoint one student to monitor behavior. I would also appoint another student to watch the monitor to make sure that they were being fair. Sometimes, I’d come back and I could tell there had been some spontaneous, undesired activity. At other times the students did very well. One time, I had to leave the room to help another teacher with technical problems. While the teacher next door was able to listen for problems in my classroom for me, I was still concerned. When I finished my work and came back to the classroom, I noted my neighbor in my classroom. I groaned, but before I could ask what was wrong, she pointed at our assistant principal who had chosen that moment to do an unplanned walk through observation of my classroom. I think it’s safe to say that I died inside. I explained quickly why I wasn’t in the room and his comment made my day. “I wasn’t here to observe you, Mr. James, I was here to see how engaged your students were. They were doing a great job when I came in the classroom.”
When Jesus returns, assuming that I’m still living when that happens, I want to hear that kind of report about my work in the Kingdom of God: “I found Bob busy about the work that I called him to do. Well done, good and faithful servant.” Watch, wait, work – our call as we live in the Kingdom of God here on earth.