Always Watching Out
Is The Key
“I like the sermons to be practical”; “I want to hear what helps me during the week - things that make sense”; “All this doctrine is like showing off dry bones, when what it really needs is fleshing out - you know, really spelling it out.” These are the kind of comments we might hear when the preaching is seen as being a little beyond the level of “the person in the pew”. Something, no doubt, sometimes said in connection with apocalyptic literature, where some pretty way-out subjects are involved. Perhaps this is one reason why some preachers and writers have gone out of their way to mak e it mean something now. While over 90 % of the biblical prophetic literature is actually addressed to the people then and there, the remaining less than 10% involved some foretelling which would apply in future to God's people - whether those then in the immediate future, or believers further down the line. It's this small proportion that has sent so many believers into a dither.
So far in Matthew 24, the focus has been the word of the Lord about what is coming to pass. Now, though, a distinct change occurs.
This Won't Be The World's Time
Our Lord begins this passage by making it clear that it is only His Heavenly Father who knows the time of this world's end and His return. God knows the time, since it's all part of His will - the will which was sovereignly ordained from before human history began - in the time when God foreknew what mankind would do. The angels don't know that time, nor either, for that matter, Jesus in His humanity. This is for us, and will remain for us, a genuine mystery. And that's how we must leave it.
What we can deal with, however, is our response to this information. If we don't know exactly when Jesus is returning, how can we be ready?
Our Lord shows us two possible responses, whether according to faith, or coming from unbelief. He deals with the unbelief first. That's why we have this different side to the picture of Noah's ark, and what was going on outside of it.
Here the situation is clearly one of unbelief. These people of Noah's time are shown to be so absorbed in the everyday activities of life - no different here than if they were buying and selling, or planting and building, only here it's the more seemingly `exciting' things mentioned - they have become so wrapped up in that they have chosen to ignore altogether the real purpose behind it all. After all, they had the gospel proclaimed to them. The apostle Peter tells us this in describing Noah as “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!
The ultimate seriousness of what these people have done is brought out in two pictures in verses 40 and 41: Two pictures that reinforce the change in the Lord's address here, as they are two reoccurring themes through a variety of subsequent pictures. At the Lord's return, the break between heaven and hell will be as clearly seen as the break between the two workers in the field and the two women grinding with the handmill.
Notice how the Lord again uses a series of clear and succinct images to press home the desperateness of this situation. Like the verses 17 until 20, where there's also an image in each verse vividly picturing the desperation of these last times, here again there comes an almost slide-like collection of images. Actually, the comparison with a slide show seems to do more justice to what is being apocalyptically portrayed - much as its differs from the continuous film-like style western man has become used to. Again we see the difference between the Hebrew-sign and the Greek-wisdom cultural backgrounds.
But The Believer Can Keep The Time
“To be forewarned is to be forearmed” one well-known saying goes. It is all about being prepared because something wrong could happen. This is also a distinguishing mark of the believer over against the unbeliever.
Another slide shows this. A slide which shows the picture of a house owner not knowing when a thief is coming - because if he had he would have been ready and waiting then - so he has to be ready all the time. We can extend this picture into our time with the use of an electronic alarm system. A system we install because it works as if there were someone in the house to give the alarm when the house was being burgled. Only a system continuously working like this can give that assurance.
Just as the house owner is not imagining that he “might” get burgled but rather acts on the basis that he “will” be robbed, so the perspective of the believer is thoroughly different than that of the unbeliever. Thus the warning of the Lord in verse 44 isn't generally to all, but specifically to His own. He urges us to heed our calling - to be ready for His return.
Y R U 4 Y 2 K ?
Now who wasn't prepared on December the 31st 1999? Most of us would have done at least some preparation - just in case! Certainly the local authorities in many parts of the world advertised extensively through local papers, letters to all residents - even a fridge magnet with a mini-checklist on it. So how did you go? Did you have your three days supply of:
Canned, non-perishable food
Water (3 litres per person per day)
BBQ or something to cook on
Toilet paper, plastic bags, bucket?
There were even some Christians whose supply went way beyond these few essentials. Their basement storage areas were not only specially enlarged, but included such things as gold - for the inevitable world money market collapse!
Now, while watching out is the key, the Lord wouldn't want it to prevent our getting on with the everyday activities He put us here for. Buying up rural property miles away from other folk, for a self-sufficiency in food and other resources, smacks a little of selfishness. It's certainly far from the apostolic injunction to be in the world but not of it (1 Cor. 5:9f).
So while one may believe that the `being ready' spoken in verse 44 is not exactly an evangelistic appeal to the lost, neither is it reason to do exactly the opposite and to be cut off from the rest of society altogether. There are enough sects involved in that as it is, and we have accused them of having lost the balance, scripturally speaking, for long enough now.
Knowing how often our Lord spoke of returning like a thief in the night, at a time and hours unknown, one must question the wisdom of many believers who follow teachers declaring otherwise. Perhaps they were the ones the Lord had in mind with describing the rise of false prophets (v11). Their effect often results in God's people being falsely prepared, usually by focusing on outward signs and actions instead of an inward, spiritual, response. One well-known Christian described the biblical approach when asked what he would be doing today if he knew the Lord were coming back tomorrow, “Oh, the same as I was doing yesterday.” The next verses develop this faithfulness as that which the Lord really looks for from His people.