Today’s reading: Matthew 24-25.
“How can I be ready for Jesus’ return?”
Many people have made the mistake of trying to set a date for Jesus’ return. Jesus himself said that no man knows that day or hour. Many Christians believe that his return is imminent – that he could return at any time without further preparation. Jesus seems to describe a recognizable series of events that will precede his return, so much so that while we cannot know the day or hour, we should certainly recognize the season.
- Birth pangs: false Christs, wars, famine, and earthquakes.
- Believers persecuted and hated by all nations; many fall away from the faith.
- False prophets and wickedness abound; love between one person and another grows cold.
- The gospel is preached to every ethnic group in the entire world.
- The world suffers distress and tribulation unequaled since the beginning of time.
- Cosmic disturbance: sun and moon darkened, stars fall from the sky, the heavens shaken.
- Jesus returns and his angels gather the chosen.
And what are believers supposed to do while waiting for this unknown day? Not worry, but watch and be ready.
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: 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. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Matthew 24:42-44
In order to teach us how to be ready, Jesus tells three stories about the kingdom. Note that these stories are heavy on action and deeds.
Don’t rely on another’s preparation (parable of the ten virgins). This parable comes from the familiar Jewish wedding tradition. The bride and her party are waiting for the call of the groom to come to the wedding ceremony. Without their oil, the unprepared virgins are in the dark and unable to go to the wedding. Perhaps this refers to the saving work of the Holy Spirit in the believer. In any case, the parable emphasizes that each one must make his own preparation for the kingdom of heaven. You cannot enter based on the salvation of your parents, friends, spouse, or merely by attending church.
Put your resources and abilities to work for the kingdom (parable of the talents). God gives each person their own measure of talents and money; some more and some less. What matters is how we use what we have to further God’s kingdom. Sitting on it to preserve it is the last thing God wants you to do.
Show compassion to the poor and to those in need (parable of the sheep and the goats). At the end of the age, God separates the sheep (the righteous) from the goats (the unrighteous). In this story, compassionate service defines the righteous. Do works alone determine our salvation? No, but Jesus is surely saying that his saved people will demonstrate their salvation by their good works.
Remember, my hearer, that in the day of judgment thy account must be personal; God will not ask you what your church did—he will ask you what you did yourself. Now there is a Sunday-school. If God should try all members of the church in a body, they would each of them say, O Lord, as a body we had an excellent Sunday-school, and had many teachers, and so they would excuse themselves. But no; one by one, all professors must come before him. “What did you do for the Sabbath-school? I gave you a gift for teaching children—what did you do?” “O Lord, there was a Sabbath-school.” That has nothing to do with it? What did you do? You are not to account now for the company with which you were united, but for yourself as an individual. “O,” says one, “there were a number of poor ministers; I was at the Surrey Hall, and so much was done for them.” No; what did you do? You must be held personally responsible for your own wealth, for your own ability. “Well, says one, “I am happy to say there is a great deal more preaching now than there used to be; the churches seem to be roused.” Yes, sir, and you seem to take part of the credit to yourself. Do you preach more than you used to? You are a minister; do you make any greater efforts? Remember, it is not what your brethren are doing, but it is what you do that you will be called to account for at the bar of God; and each one of you will be asked this question, “What hast thou done with thy talent?” Charles Spurgeon
Image by Will Humes on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0