Watching for the Second Coming
Topic: Eschatology Passage: Matthew 24:1–24:3
Watching for the Second Coming
Pastor Allen Snapp
Jesus and his disciples are coming out of the temple and the disciples are impressed with the beauty and magnificence of the temple structure and call Jesus’ attention to it, thinking Jesus will be equally impressed. But as Jesus looks at the temple he sees something else: he sees its impending destruction and the disciples are shocked when he says, “It may look impressive now but I tell you not one stone will be left upon another. It will be completely destroyed.” To the disciples, that would be cataclysmic. This is God’s house, His temple, we are talking about.
So the disciples come privately to Jesus a little later and ask him two questions. They probably think it’s one question, but it’s really two. The first question is when will these things be –meaning the destruction of the temple that he just predicted. That would happen in AD70 when the Roman army, led by Titus besieged Jerusalem. After they took the city they destroyed most of the city including the temple. Many of these first disciples were alive to see that prediction fulfilled.
But the second question is what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age? That is the question Jesus spends most of his time answering in Matt. 24 and it is the subject of the series we are beginning this morning. What signs should we look for to know that the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus is approaching? I’ve entitled this study of the last days The Second Coming of Jesus Christ because just as his first coming was the climax of redemptive history, Jesus’ second coming will be the climax of mankind’s fallen history. A lot of teaching about the end times focuses on things like the tribulation, the antichrist, the mark of the beast, and the rapture. And we will look at all those things. But we want to always remember that the Bible doesn’t tell us to eagerly await the tribulation or the antichrist or the mark of the beast. We are to be waiting and looking and hoping for the glorious return of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
That’s the goal of this series. Not to stir up speculations and imaginations about the end times, but that the Lord might use this time to stir an excitement in our hearts that Jesus could
return in our lifetime. He could return at any time – even today!
- A tale of two extremes
There are two extremes we want to avoid when it comes to end time prophecies. The first extreme is what I call the crazies. Too many people have gone off the deep end trying to connect the Bible’s apocalyptic description of the last days with what’s going on around them resulting in harmful teachings and actions that do damage to the credibility and the witness of the church. We want to be careful in our handling of the prophetic words and how we align them with what we see going on around us. We don’t want to be gullible.
In 1976 the magazine Christian Life contained an article about a three story super computer in Brussels that contained the information of every human being on earth. It was called “the Beast” – a name associated with John’s vision in Revelation 13 of a beast coming out of the sea of humanity. This super computer was programmed to assign to every human being a number that would be invisibly lasered onto a person’s forehead or hand, comprised of three entities of six digits. 666.
Man, if that doesn’t confirm the Bible, I don’t know what does. The only problem is none of it was true – it was taken from the fictionalbook Beyond the Pale Horse by Joe Musser. A lot of Christians, including myself, believed in the Beast without verifying that it was true.
Another crazy practice we need to avoid is setting out elaborate time lines and dates for Christ’s return. Predicting the date of Jesus’ return is nothing new, it’s been going on for centuries.
- In 1694 a German dude named Zimmerman concluded that the end will occur in the fall of 1694 and that Jesus would 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 problems begin when Zimmerman dies on the day they’re supposed to start the journey, but the rest of the group decide to make the trip across the ocean to Germantown PA anyway. They name themselves “The Women in the Wilderness” which is odd since there are more men than women in the group. When Jesus doesn’t return in the fall of 1694 they return to Germany, dejected and disillusioned.
- In 1925 a woman in Los Angeles named Margaret Rowan claims that the angel Gabriel appeared to her predicting that at midnight on Feb 13, 1925 he will come back with a trumpet blast. On the other side of the country a house painter 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 Reidt to clean up all their trash.
- 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 arrogantly claims, “only if the Bible is in error am I wrong and I say that unequivocally.” The Christian station TBN is so confident of his calculations they suspend their regular programming to run an instructional video for unbelievers called “Help! Everyone’s Been Raptured But Me”. In case you’re wondering, Jesus didn’t come back in 1988 but I’m pretty sure it’s Whisenant and not the Bible that was in error.
- 2011 - Howard Camping predicted that Jesus would return on May 21, 2011 followed by five months of devastating judgment. Some of his followers sold their homes to put up billboards warning the world that the end was coming on May 21. When it didn’t happen, Camping recalculated his numbers and discovered the end would come on Oct. 21. When it didn’t happen, Camping admitted he was wrong, went into reclusion and two years later suffered a stroke and died.
- 2017 - Numerologists David Meade and Scott Clarke were among those who predicted that the rapture might happen on Sept. 23, 2017 based on the alignment of the stars, moon, and sun. In fact, if you go to Scott Clarke’s website, it still has a huge graphic declaring something epic this way comes on Sept. 23rd, 2017. Only thing is, nothing epic this way came on Sept. 23rd, 2017.
I share all these to drive home the point that people have been making crazy predictions that have failed to come to pass for centuries. Can we just agree that if anyone predicts a day or a month or a year, we all run for our lives? Jesus said: 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)
So one extreme we want to avoid is all the end time craziness. The other extreme though is where I think most believers tend to be and that is we just don’t think much about Jesus’ return or the end time prophecies at all. I became a Christian in the 70’s and a bestselling book at the time was The Late Great Planet Earth and I know it had a great impact on my becoming a Christian. Today I probably wouldn’t agree with everything in it, but it did stir my heart with excitement that Jesus could return any day. I think we’ve lost that sense of excitement in general in the church.
God did not put the end time prophecies and visions in the Bible so that we would run off the rails with them, but neither did He put them in the Bible so that we would ignore them and think they’re unimportant or impossible to interpret. Let’s go back to Matt. 24 and Jesus’ own instructions to us.
We will cover some of the in between predictions Jesus gives between vs. 3 and vs. 36 but essentially Jesus shares a prophetic vision of the end of the ages and his return with his disciples and then in verse 36 he tells them that no one knows the day or the hour – not even the angels or the Son. But why does Jesus tell them (and us) that? What does he want us to do with that information. Well, he tells us.
- His return will be unexpected and sudden
First, the reason Jesus tells us no one knows the day or hour is to reinforce that when it happens, it will happen so suddenly and so unexpectedly that there will no time to react, or adjust, or get things right. He compares it to the days of Noah before the flood but look at what Jesus highlights. He doesn’t highlight the terrible sin and wickedness of that time, he highlights the ordinariness of life – everyone was eating and drinking and marrying and doing all the stuff ordinary people do on ordinary days, totally unaware that judgment was at hand. Life was going on as it always does…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.
That’s what it will be like when Jesus returns. It will be an ordinary day like every other day…until it isn’t.
There was a sad story in the news this week. Two women were walking on a beach in the San Francisco with their dog when a landslide covered them instantly. First responders were able to save one woman and the dog but couldn’t reach the other woman in time. Two people doing the same thing, walking close by each other, but one of them will have their life cut off unexpectedly and suddenly and the other won’t.
Jesus says that’s a picture of that day: two men will be working in the field, like they’ve done day after day, year after year, decade after decade. Two women will be grinding at the mill talking about what they have planned for the weekend. Ordinary work, ordinary day, ordinary stuff. Then suddenly, like the flood – with no warning, Jesus will return and judgment will fall.
And at that point it will be too late to repent or clean things up or get things right. So what does Jesus want us to do with this information? Verse 42 tells us “Therefore stay awake…” A better translation is “watch therefore”.
- Watch and be ready!
Jesus doesn’t say, no one knows the day or the hour so forget about it. No, he says because you don’t know, be vigilant, be alert, be aware. Then Jesus tells five parables that emphasize different things, but all include this one point: watch and be ready!
- Jesus will come like a thief in the night – so watch!
- The master who was delayed will suddenly return and the workers who remained faithful will receive reward but the workers who saw the master’s delay as an opportunity to be unfaithful will be cast out where the weeping and regret goes on forever.
- (It continues in chapter 25) The bridegroom – who is also delayed – will find five bridesmaids ready with oil in their lamps and five foolish bridesmaids with no oil and too late to get any oil. The bridegroom tells them “I do not know you.” And they are shut out of the celebration.
- Then he tells the parable of the master who entrusts talents to his three servants and then leaves for a long while. When he returns he calls each one to account – and the unfaithful servant who buried his talent instead of investing it in his master’s business is cast into outer darkness.
- The last parable is the judgment of sheep and goats. The sheep cared for the hurting and the poor and the outcast, the goats didn’t. The 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 an evidence of grace and a vital part of the Christian faith. Watching was clearly a vital part of the early church and is woven into the New Testament. Paul mentions baptism 14 times but he mentions the second coming of Christ 50 times! Here are just a few NT passages that speak of Jesus’ return:
For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Matthew 16:27 ESV
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 ESV
So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:28 ESV
And listen to the last words in all the Bible:
20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. Rev. 22:20-21
So we want to stir up an excitement and commitment to watch and wait for our Lord Jesus’ second coming. There is a good and healthy readiness and hopefulness that comes from watching. While we need to be careful not to carelessly or dogmatically connect what’s happening around us to biblical prophecies, we shouldn’t not be making connections either. God gave us these signs so we would be watching and ready.
- Watching protects us from being unfaithful in service and motivates us to pursue sanctification
In all of the parables Jesus tells, watching 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. If we know he could come at any moment, we will be more careful with our lives. There is a healthy sense of accountability that motivates us to be faithful and pursue holiness. In fact, a pastor named John Linton made this thought-provoking statement:
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!
That’s in line with what John wrote: …we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:2b-3
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. So that when he returns, he will find us faithful. That is healthy and good motivation!
- Watching for Christ’s second coming can be stunningly hopeful because of what Christ accomplished for us in his first coming.
Unfortunately all too often “end time” teachers 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. Keeping our eyes on Calvary and the finished work of Christ helps keep us rooted in Christ and guards us from all the crazy speculations and foolish predictions that some end time teachers promote.
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. It challenges us to put away ungodliness, sin, worldliness, selfishness, and laziness. It motivates us to tell others about our amazing Savior, Jesus Christ.
We find our hearts longing for his appearing. Loving his appearing. Praying as the elder apostle John did, “even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”