STANLY COMMUNITY CHURCH (www.stanlychurch.org)
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by Pastor Rick Clayton
If you knew the exact day and hour of your death, would it make any difference in the way you live? Of course, none of us know the details of our future, so we cannot answer that question with any degree of certainty. But death is a reality that we cannot ignore. And death points to the more significant reality of God’s judgment simply because death is the end result of sin. So we should ask ourselves if these realities affect our daily living.
God gives many examples of His judgment in the Bible (e.g. Gen. 6-7; 19:1-29, etc.). In each instance we find that, while He will not overlook sin, He is longsuffering toward the sinner (Ex. 34:6-7; Ps. 86:15; Rom. 2:1-11; 2 Pet. 3:9). Because God is both merciful and gracious, He offers time to repent before He administers His judgment. And the truly repentant sinner finds forgiveness.
But those who ignore God are lured into a false sense of safety. They foolishly believe that no immediate, severe judgment means no judgment at all, and they grow bolder in their rebellion against the Creator. As a result, they live their life as if there are no consequences for their transgressions. Eventually, God and His judgment are not even remotely a consideration in their mind, and they explain away the reality of death. Sadly for them, judgment comes all the same.
In the last days before the return of Jesus Christ, the prevailing sentiment toward the true and living God will be to ignore Him altogether. And the vast majority of people showing any sign of religious interest will have completely discounted any threat of His judgment. But in the moment that it will take for God’s patience with sinners to end, this world of sinners will suddenly realize their fate.
Paul writes in First Thessalonians 5:1-6: “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober” (cf. vv. 7ff).
This need for true Christians to anticipate Christ’s second coming is the topic of Matthew 24:36-44. Because Jesus’ return is imminent and His judgment sure, we must always be vigilant in our efforts to faithfully warn people of the coming Day of the Lord.
In this passage, Jesus emphasizes that the timing of His return is secretive (v. 36) and sudden (vv. 37-39), and the nature of His judgment is selective (vv. 40-41). Because of this, the believer’s responsibility is to be serious-minded about our faith and our mission (vv. 42-44)
His Return is Secret (v. 36)
Earlier, in verses 32-35, Jesus gave a very simple parable regarding the timing of His return. The disciples had asked when He would establish His glorious kingdom (v. 3). So Jesus pointed to a nearby fig tree to help them understand. He told them that, just as one could look at a budding fig tree and know that Summer was near, so those who experienced the undeniable and unparalleled events of the Tribulation would know that His return was “at the doors” (v. 33). He also emphasized that this strictly applied only to the Tribulation generation (v. 34), but He promised us that His return in power and glory was an absolute certainty (v. 35).
Why are we not allowed to know the exact “day and hour”? Because it is not relevant to our present mission which is to represent the kingdom of God with the Gospel (Matt. 28:18-20). We do not need to know when Jesus will return in order to do His will. If we did know, we would certainly struggle with laziness and procrastination in our ministry even more than we do now. Not knowing exactly when He will appear encourages vigilance.
Our Lord Jesus fulfilled His earthy mission in His humanity without knowledge of the precise time of His return (Mark 13:32). So “no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but [the heavenly] Father only.” In His glorified human state, Jesus certainly does know all of the details now. However, our focus in this world is to be the same as our Lord’s when He walked the earth in His humanity. We are to do the will of our Father in heaven, and His will is that we represent His kingdom with the truth of the Gospel. Our concern is not to attempt a guess at when the Lord will come again.
In order to do effectively represent the kingdom, we must always keep in mind the judgment of God that every unbeliever now faces. And we must present that judgment as being ready to occur at any moment.
His Return is Sudden (vv. 37-39)
The sudden return of Christ will mean that any unbelievers will enter the Tribulation and experience a literal hell on earth. And if they somehow survive that terrible time, they will be judged at Christ’s appearing. There is the hope that they will turn to Christ and believe His Gospel during that time and avoid the final judgment of eternal death. But it is far better to avoid the Tribulation altogether. And so we must warn them that judgment is at the door.
To focus His disciple’s attention on this fact, Jesus gives an example of God’s judgment from the past. He draws our attention all the way back to “the days of Noah” (v. 37) when God flooded the entire earth with water and destroyed a world full of people who did not believe they would be judged for their sin.
Genesis 6:3 tells us that God declared that He would “not strive with man forever” in his sinful condition and determined 120 years before He brought judgment. Genesis 6:5 records that “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (cf. vv. 11-12). For this reason He determined to destroy the world of men that then existed with the exception of Noah and his family who alone feared the Lord (vv. 8-10; cf. Heb. 11:7). Because the Lord had chosen to redeem more of the human race, He preserved a remnant through Noah’s family. He graciously postponed His final judgment by decreasing the level of sin in the world with the flood. But His final judgment is coming.
In verse 37, the Lord says, “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” In other words, if we want to know how God’s judgment operates, all we have to do is look at the example He set in Noah’s time. The wickedness of the human race will once again reach a level of defiance that God can no longer tolerate, and He will again judge the entire world.
But just as it was in Noah’s day, people really do not believe that God will judge them, and just prior to the tribulation this arrogance will reach its height. “For as in the days before the flood,” says Jesus, “they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away. So also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (vv. 38-39; cf. Lk. 17:27). In other words, people will be so wrapped up in their life that they will completely disregard God and any warning of His judgment. All they will be concerned with is the here and now. They will give absolutely no thought to eternity.
That will be the mentality in the last days. Nevertheless, the judgment of God will come, and because people will disregard His warnings, it will come upon them when they least expect it. They will have convinced themselves that they are above and beyond God’s reach, and then the end will come. This attitude will characterize the Tribulation generation.
We should note that on the day God decided to bring the flood judgment, He shut Noah and his family in the ark and closed the door Himself (Gen. 7:16). Prior to that time, Noah preached to the people of his generation to warn them of the wrath to come (2 Pet. 2:5). So for 120 years, Noah constructed the ark as a testimony to God’s offer of salvation and evidently called the people to repentance.
Genesis 7:4 explains that, after Noah, his family and all the animals entered the ark, God even waited seven days before closing the door, but no one believed Noah’s testimony. What an example of the grace and mercy of God toward sinners! But it is also an example of God’s determination to judge sin. And judge He will -- making no mistake about whom He will judge.
His Judgment is Selective (vv. 40-41)
Verses 40 and 41 note the selective nature of God’s judgment. There Jesus says, “Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.”
This passage is often misinterpreted as referring to the rapture of the Church. But the context does not allow for such a view. It clearly has nothing to do with what Paul describes in First Thessalonians 4:17 as the catching away of living believers immediately following the resurrection. The Rapture (from the Latin meaning “catching away”) will mark the beginning of the Tribulation period and leave the world with nothing but unbelievers to face God’s judgment on the earth. Many will repent and believe the Gospel during this awful time (Rev. 7:1-17), but none who enter it will yet have faith in Christ.
The “men…in the field” and the “women grinding at the mill” both picture normal, daily activity as in Jesus’ description of the days of Noah (v. 38). In other words, nothing will be out of the ordinary when the Day of the Lord arrives. As noted in earlier studies, the Day of the Lord involves the entire Tribulation, Christ’s glorious appearing, His judgment and the establishment of His kingdom.
Jesus is referring to God’s ability to judge just as He did in Noah’s day. The word, “taken” (Gr. - paralambano), literally means “to take from,” and in this case it refers to those taken from the earth in judgment, just as the flood “took them all away” in Noah’s day (v. 39). God delivers from judgment those who, by faith, enter the “ark” of safety which is Jesus Christ. They are “left” to enter the kingdom of their Lord. In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus elaborates on the distinction He will make between His followers (“sheep”) and unbelievers (“goats”). The righteous will enter the kingdom and the unrighteous will go into everlasting punishment in hell (25:46).
Our Responsibility is Serious (vv. 42-44)
Knowing the reality of God’s judgment, Christians have a responsibility to be serious in our faith and our representation of Christ and His kingdom. Even though we live in a world where people give no real thought to God’s judgment, we must always be mindful of it.
There are two reasons for this as it relates to believers who live prior to the Day of the Lord. One is that it keeps us from becoming complacent and, therefore, ineffective. The other is that it keeps us compassionate toward sinners. As those who know the truth about God’s judgment, we must trade complacency for compassion.
Partly for this reason, Jesus says, “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (v. 42) He is obviously not talking to unbelievers. The call to “watch” is to the believer whose duty it is to herald the coming of their “Lord,” and the emphasis is that of continuous expectation.
Jesus says that we are to be as diligent in our anticipation of His return as a homeowner would be to guard his home from a robber. “But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into” (v. 43). The Bible frequently likens His coming to that of “a thief in the night” (Lk. 12:35-40; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 3:3; 16:15).
Jesus is, of course, not comparing Himself to a thief but, rather, His coming to the unexpected appearance of a thief. However, it is true that He will take everything that the unbelievers of the world so love and cherish. He will take away their ability to pursue the sin they crave. And He will take them from their place of rebellion to a place of punishment.
The Lord’s call to watchfulness, however, applies primarily to Tribulation saints. While they will be able to better ascertain the chronology of the Lord’s appearance because of the definite time period of the Tribulation given in Scripture, they still may not know the exact “day and hour” (v. 36). So for themselves, they need to be watchful.
This seems to refer back to Jesus’ warning not to be deceived by the Antichrist’s attempts to entice believers out of hiding in order to destroy them (Matt. 24:23-26). In other words, they must keep their hope set on the Lord’s soon appearance. Unlike believers today, they will not have any opportunity to openly witness to the world because they will be in hiding. They must watch and pray as they endure the Tribulation (Matt. 26:41).
But being watchful also speaks of being ready to meet the Lord. In other words, those in hiding who claim to follow Christ should make sure that their faith is genuine. Paul exhorted the Corinthians: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? -- unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Cor. 13:5). That is, unless your faith is not saving faith.
In Colossians 1:22-23 he reminds believers that we are “…holy, blameless, and above reproach in [God’s] sight -- if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard…” The true believer will continue in the faith. They will persevere (Matt. 24:13), and their faith will keep them watching and longing for the Lord’s appearance (2 Tim. 4:8).
And so, Jesus’ words in verse 44 so appropriately apply to all believers in any age, but most surely to those in the Tribulation: “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” His appearance at the end of the Tribulation will be sudden, and unless a person sincerely humbles themselves before Him in sincere faith, they will be taken in judgment. Merely surviving the Tribulation will not mean that one will enter the kingdom. Only the redeemed will be preserved as Noah and his family were. Only the redeemed will enter the joy of their Lord (25:21, 23).
In Mark 13:33-37 our Lord says, “Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming -- in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning -- lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”
In Luke 21:34-36 He says, “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
What words of warning to all people both now and in the Day of the Lord!
Although we have no way of knowing the exact day and hour of the Lord’s return, the very fact that He is returning to judge the world should change the way we live today. Are you ignoring Him or watching for His return with great expectation?
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