Last week Bruce led us in an excellent discussion of the first chapter of Revelation. I admitted that I don’t like Revelation, but not because it bothers me like James does. James bothers me because it points out the flaws in my life. It says to me,”So, you have faith in God. Prove it by how you live.” It is definitely a portion of scripture, for me, that cuts sharper than a two edged sword.
Revelation, on the other hand, bugs me not because of what it says, but because of what everyone says about it. It is one of those portions of scripture that everyone has an opinion on and are willing to fight over. Are you pre-trib or post-trib. Premillennial or postmillennial? Just what do all the symbols in the book mean? And it drives me nuts because most people are reading the book to find out the answer to one question: when is Jesus to return and what will be the events leading up to His return.
So is this kind of attempt bad? Well not per se, its just a waste time. Let me be clear, all scripture is valuable, including the parts that make me feel uncomfortable or bugs me or that I find just plain boring, and this applies to Revelation. The problem does not lie in Revelation, it is in us. Jesus knew this and he had the answer to the problem. Frankly the answer is more of the same sort of stuff I find unsettling in James.
Our text is Matthew 24:36-51. The context of these verses is that as Jesus was leaving the Temple He told his disciples the entire vast, sprawling second temple complex would be destroyed. Later, in private, His disciples asked Him the $64,000 question: When? He told them a lot of things about what the end time would be like, some likely metaphorical and some literal, but the main take away was He didn’t know when. Because He didn’t know He was very concerned that His disciples not be fooled either as to His identity or the timing of His return.
Essentially he tells them that they will know with certainty when He returns, as will everyone in the whole world. (The corollary to this is if everybody does not know its Him, then it isn’t.) There will be no doubt. So, Jesus says,
For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time. So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.
In short, anybody who tells you they know where the Son of Man is or when he will return is a liar because as the first verse (36) of our text says,
But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,but only the Father.
He compares the coming of the Son of Man to the Flood of Noah. The world was going on as usual, people were doing all the things they did right up until the water rushed over them suddenly. No one knew what was coming until it did and then everybody knew it.
But what is the practical point of all this (there is one). Jesus gives us the application Himself starting in verse 42. He says “Therefore keep watch”. You can’t know when and how Jesus will return no matter how you study or pray. The Father has not revealed that information even to the Son, it seems unlikely it will be revealed to any person. So what should we do instead?
Jesus gives a very on point, easily understood example (I think it is instructive that His teaching on how we should spend our days until He returns is as clear as His teaching on the end times was obtuse). The master of a household goes on a trip and leaves one servant in charge of the other servants. The master stays gone a long time and the servant begins to lord it over the others, beating and neglecting them and carousing instead of being about his master’s work. What happens when the master returns unannounced? What happens if instead the master finds him doing the the job he set out for him, caring for his other servants? How would we act if we were determined to be sure God caught us working for Him? What is required to keep watch? What is required to be ready for the Son of Man?