The Importance of Watching
Passage: Matthew 24:1–24:3
The Importance of Watching
Matthew 24: 1-3
Jesus and the disciples are coming out of the temple and the disciples are admiring the beauty and magnificence of the temple and are pointing it out to Jesus when he shocks them by predicting the temple's complete destruction.
Later the disciples come privately to Jesus on the Mount of Olives and ask him two questions. They might think its all one question, but it's really two. The first question is when will these things be - the destruction of the temple that he just predicted. Jesus' prediction that the temple would be destroyed was fulfilled in AD70 by the Roman siege led by Titus. It was a horrible time for the Jews. The Jewish historian Josephus records horrific conditions for the Jews who took refuge in Jerusalem.
The second question is what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age? The disciples assume that Jesus' coming and the end of the world would be simultaneous.
This is a question Christians and others have asked for centuries: when will Jesus return? When will the end of the world come?
These are the questions we will be asking over the next several weeks: what does the Bible predict about the end of the world - the last days - what is known as eschatology (last things). This is a big (and complex) subject and we won't be able to cover all of it, or share all the different views on this, but we will be touching on the big subjects that most of us think of when we think of the last days:
¨ The tribulation
¨ The antichrist
¨ The rapture of the Church
¨ The second coming of Jesus Christ
¨ The millennium
¨ And the great judgment day and eternal kingdom of Christ
Title: The Importance of Watching
A lot of interest in the last days has been generated over the last decade by the Left Behind book series. I don't personally agree with all their interpretations, but there is no doubt they put last days prophecy back on the popular map. There was a book written in the 70's called The Late Great Planet Earth that really got my attention and prepared my heart to believe in Christ.
So we'll be spending some time looking at the prophecies about the last things. Introductory thoughts:
1. There is room for different viewpoints in eschatology
There are a lot of different views held by respected Christians. I will be sharing my best understanding. It may not line up with your understanding. Remind us at the outset that the study of eschatology is secondary to the gospel. It's good to know what we believe, but we want to remember that it is not of primary importance and the nature of biblical prophecy is difficult to be absolutely dogmatic about anyway. So know what you believe, make sure it's biblical, if I teach something that doesn't line up with your interpretation don't get upset. Be open, give it some thought, study the passages, but at the end of the day let's recognize that it is our common faith in Jesus' first coming and what he accomplished on the cross that is vital and most important.
2. The goal of this series isn't to make predictions or fuel speculations
History is full of folks that have crashed and burned by making predictions of when Jesus is going to return.
1. 1694 - In 1694 a German dude named Zimmerman concluded that the end will occur in the fall of 1694 and Jesus will return to Germantown, PA. So he gets a group of people to make the trip across the ocean so they can be there when Jesus returns, the problem is he dies on the very day they're supposed to depart (which I think might be meant as a discouragement). But they're not deterred and another guy takes over and they travel across the ocean and name themselves the "The Women in the Wilderness" which is really bad marketing because the group has more men than women. When Jesus doesn't return in 1694 they dejectedly return to Germany.
2. 1925 - The angel Gabriel appears to a woman in Los Angeles predicting that at midnight on Feb 13, 1925 he will come back with a trumpet blast. Across the country a house painter on LI named Robert Reidt gets so excited about this he spends all his money renting a billboard announcing an "end of the world" picnic and Rapture get together. At midnight the faithful waiting on the hillside hold hands and start chanting for Gabriel. At 12:05 they are briefly disillusioned until someone remembers that Gabriel appeared to a woman on the West Coast - so midnight there would be 3 hours later. They go back to holding hands and chanting for three more hours. At 3:05am they all go home, leaving Robert to clean up all the trash they left.
3. 1988 - NASA scientist Edgar Whisenant writes a booklet called 88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be In 1988. He is so sure of his calculations that he claims, "only if the Bible is in error am I wrong and I say that unequivocally."
The Christian station TBN believes his calculations so much they suspend their regular programming in order to run an instructional video for unbelievers called "Help! Everyone's Been Raptured But Me". When the rapture doesn't occur by Sept. 13, Whisenant finds his mistake and recalculates the rapture for 10:55am on September 15th.
36"But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only... Matthew 24:36 (ESV)
Jesus clearly did not want his disciples to be setting dates for his return. It will happen at an hour when we don't expect it. Some teachers have said "well, we can't know the day or the hour but we can predict the week or month" - they're missing the force of Jesus' statement - we don't know, we can't know, and we aren't supposed to predict.
Another pitfall to watch for is the "speculation theories" that can crop up: is Gorbachev the antichrist? How many years after the formation of Israel will the end be? Will the mark of the beast be a microchip implanted in the skin? We want to be careful that we're not promoting wild speculations that don't produce any godly fruit. So...we are not going to make any predictions or speculations.
3. What does the Lord want us to take from this series?
So you might ask, why have a series on eschatology? If it has led to so much weirdness and error, if it is secondary in doctrinal importance, if we can't be dogmatic about it...why not just leave it be and focus on other things? After all, it can seem so irrelevant to our daily lives. How does the study of last things fit into the Christian's life?
Jesus gives us the answer in Matthew 24. Let's read beginning in verse 36: Matt. 24:36-44
Jesus gives the disciples this prophetic vision of the end of the ages and his return and then he tells them that no one knows the day or the hour - not even the angels or the Son. No heavenly clock ticking down the minutes. This is an amazing admission, that in his humanity, the hour of his return is not even known to Jesus. His omniscience was veiled in some way from his human nature. Only the Father knows...
Then he goes on to describe as it was in the days of Noah before the flood came. But what Jesus highlights isn't the great sin of the age or the perversions and wickedness that led to judgment. Highlights the ordinariness of life (eating/drinking, marrying and giving in marriage - ordinary life-stuff) and the unawareness of everyone that judgment was so near. Life was just going on as it always goes on and then BAM! The ark door is closed and the rain begins to fall. Suddenly: irreversible judgment. When it comes, it's too late to do anything about it.
So will be the coming of the Son of Man. Unexpected. A day like every other day. Suddenly...
Two men working in the field. Two women grinding at the mill. Husband and wife lying in bed. Ordinary work, ordinary day, ordinary stuff. Suddenly, like the flood - with no warning, judgment will fall. And when it does it will be too late. One is taken (in judgment, like the flood swept away), one is not.
There will be no time to reverse a decision or change one's status. No time to get things right. Like the flood, like Sodom and Gomorrah, when it begins its too late. It will be sudden and it will distinguish between the closest of people. Two men will be working in an office. Two women will be shopping in a clothing store. Man and woman lying in bed - one is taken and one is not. Suddenness is clear because in all these cases the people are so close to each other and yet there is no time for one to change their status to be like the other.
Verse 42 tells us why all of this is important and how we should respond and it is the burden on my heart for this message series: "Therefore stay awake..." Better translation would be simply "watch therefore". Be vigilant, be alert, be aware. Because you don't know. Because it will be sudden and irreversible. Because of the consequences of being caught unaware, "watch".
Then Jesus tells five parables that emphasize different things, but all include this one point: watch!
¨ Jesus will come like a thief in the night - watch!
¨ The master who delays will suddenly return and the faithful workers will receive reward and the unfaithful workers will be cut up and cast out where the weeping and regret goes on forever.
¨ The bridegroom - also delayed - will find five bridesmaids ready with oil in their lamps and five foolish bridesmaids with no oil and unable to get any oil when they realize it's too late. The bridegroom tells them "I do not know you." Shut out.
¨ The three who receive talents and the master leaves for a long while. When he returns he calls each one to account - and the one has not invested their talent in the master's business at all, but buried it with no return. He is cast into outer darkness.
¨ Judgment of sheep and goats. Goats will hear those devastating words, "depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels".
In each case the consequences for not watching are so severe, it leads us to the conclusion that watching is a vital part of the Christian faith. Not that we are saved by watching, but watching is an evidence of grace.
a. The early church lived in a state of eager expectation that Christ would soon return.
The NT mentions the last days and the return of Christ so often we can see that it was an important characteristic of the early church. Paul, for instance, mentions baptism 14 times and the second coming 50 times!
¨ Paul looked forward to the crown of righteousness that would be his on that day and not his only, but "to all who have loved his appearing." 2 Tim. 4:8
¨ Paul describes God's grace as producing godly men and women who are "waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ..." Titus 2:13 (ESV)
¨ Paul tells us the Thessalonians were waiting for the Son from Heaven (I Thess. 1:10).
¨ The next to last words in all the Bible is the prayer of Apostle John, "even so, Lord, come Lord Jesus!" That is the heart of all the apostles - waiting and watching for the second coming of Christ.
If we were to drop into the first century church, we would find a vibrant, dynamic sense of anticipation and expectation for Christ's soon return. I believe the church in every generation is meant to live in an eager expectation of Christ's return.
b. Watching protects us from being unfaithful in service and motivates us to pursue sanctification
Watching in these parables has a two-fold nature: watching for the Lord's return and watching one's own soul. Because we are watching for Christ, we are watching our souls. Healthy sense of accountability that leads us to be faithful and pursue holiness. See that more through this series.
In the end, we may not be the generation that sees the return of the Lord. But it is the anticipation of the return of the Lord, not the thought that one day we will die, that is to be our motivation for living a godly, unworldly, unselfish, loving, Christ-centered life. John Linton preached this many decades ago:
In much of our modern preaching we urge people to live holy and work diligently because death is swiftly coming. But that is never the Bible argument. The Bible argument always is, Christ is coming! Be ready when He comes!
c. Watching for Christ's second coming is to be with hope and anticipation which is possible only because of what Christ accomplished for us in his first coming.
Unfortunately all too often "end time" specialists seem to neglect Christ's first coming in their teaching. We must never disconnect Jesus' second coming and the end of the world from his first coming in order that the world might be saved through him. His life, death, and resurrection are the hope of the believer and because of all Jesus is and has done, we look forward with eager expectation to his return.
Paul makes this connection clear in Titus as he writes of God's grace at work in believers that has us...
waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:13-14 (ESV)
We wait and watch with hope because Jesus gave himself to redeem us from our sin and purify us as his own people. Keeping our eyes on Calvary and the cross and the finished work of our redemption helps guard us from all the crazy speculations and foolish predictions that end time teaching can result in.
It leads us to love Christ, trust his blood alone to save, and desire to be more like him in every way. It stirs in our hearts a hope that motivates us to be faithful and faith-filled. Challenges and motivates us to put away ungodliness, sin, worldliness, selfishness, laziness.
We find our hearts longing for his appearing. Loving his appearing. Praying as the elder apostle John did, "even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly!"
More in Watch
July 26, 2009Watching For the New Heaven and New Earth
July 19, 2009What In the World Is Going To Happen At the End of the World?
July 12, 2009Watching For the Second Coming of Christ