Jesus gives more detail about what his Second Coming will entail - but not the timing. He uses a parable to encourage disciples to be ready for his return at all times.
Jesus gives more detail about what his Second Coming will entail - but not the timing. He uses a parable to encourage disciples to be ready for his return at all times.
Hello and welcome to Series 12 and Episode 4. We're studying Jesus's teaching about the end times in Matthew 24. This is now the fourth episode that we've devoted to this important topic. This one is entitled, ‘Jesus predicts the Future - the Second Coming Part 2’, because the last episode also covered the topic of the Second Coming.
Introduction and Recap
I am looking forward to developing what I said last time and I hope that many of you will have followed the previous episode, in order to understand the teaching about the end times that I am giving, it is important to connect all the episodes together from the beginning of Series 12 but also important to remember the wider context, which is given by Series 11.
Series 11 has described for us the events in the first half of the last week of Jesus' life, often known as ‘Passion Week’. I hope many of you will have had the opportunity to study those episodes which are full of drama and tension. Jesus purposefully came to Jerusalem to confront his opponents in the Jewish religious establishment, the Sanhedrin, which had already declared their opposition to him and had denounced him as a false messiah. Jesus came in order to present his claims to them and to bring about events which he knew would ultimately lead to his suffering, trial, death and resurrection. His disciples found this very hard to understand when he tried to explain this to them on a number of occasions during the preceding months. However, Series 11 describes the actual events of arriving in Jerusalem and the rather provocative gestures that Jesus made.
First of all, he arrived in Triumphal Entry on Sunday, Palm Sunday as we call it, with a huge crowd of people gathered around him. He came into the city, and the Passover feast, as something of a hero - a prophet and a teacher - and people proclaiming that they thought he was the Messiah, the Son of David. ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ These wonderful statements that were made on that day indicated that they were believing him to be the Messiah. Then he went to the Temple and cleansed the Temple from its market trading, which the High Priests had set up and which created a huge amount of money for their families and friends but which was a corrupt financial market in the middle of the religious heart of Judaism. These were very provocative gestures. On the third day, the Tuesday - which is the day we're looking at today, if we accept the chronology as it appears to us - Jesus spent the day in the Temple. There were lots of questions and debates between him and the religious leaders - a lot of sparky confrontational moments. He told three parables against them, criticising them, predicting God's judgement on them; and the teaching about the end times in the future and God's activity in Jesus' return in the longer period of time. This comes after a day of being in the Temple - a day of difficulty and confrontation. We need to remind ourselves of the context. Every single episode, as we go through Matthew 24, I'm going back to the beginning of the chapter, reminding us, especially for those who haven't heard the other episodes, what exactly was happening. As Jesus had finished his time in the Temple, he predicted judgement on the Pharisees, the Teachers of the Law and the other religious authorities; he predicted at the end of Matthew 23 that God's judgements against the nation of Israel would come tumbling down upon them within a generation. Matthew 23: 36 and Matthew 23:38 predicted, ‘Your house will be left to you desolate’. This is a prediction of some form of judgement.
However, it is the first three verses of Matthew 24 that give us a very clear idea of what Jesus was discussing in his teaching in Matthew 24, and the same applies to the parallel passages Mark 13 and Luke 21, which don't give quite so much detail, which is why we are focusing on Matthew's account. It's the fullest account. Let's read again the first three verses Matthew 24: 1 to 3,
‘Jesus left the Temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another. Every one will be thrown down!” As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us”, they said, “When this will happen, and what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?”’Matthew 24:1-3, NIV
Jesus made a very bold and surprising prediction, that this glorious Temple - it really was a great building, built out of huge blocks of stone - would be destroyed in some future event. It was such an unlikely thing to predict because the Romans had no reason to destroy the Temple at that time. It would only provoke difficulty amongst the Jews; they wanted to control the land. It was a very difficult building to destroy. It was a very remarkable prediction and indicated some kind of a judgement against Israel, which is exactly what Jesus had predicted in the last few verses of Matthew 23.
Three questions are asked, and it's these three questions that Jesus seeks to answer in this passage. When will all this happen concerning the Temple? What will be the sign of your coming? And what will be the sign of the end of the age? As I have gone through the passage as indicated in Series 12, Episode 1, Matthew 24: 4 - 14 is a background statement by Jesus, in which he indicates the general things that are likely to happen in the age of the Church and all the many years and centuries of the Church's life. Then, in the second episode we looked at Matthew 24: 15 - 21, and at a parallel passage in Luke 21: 20 - 24. I propose that those two passages indicate a judgement that was going to come on Israel, with particular relevance for the Temple being destroyed, with a particular sign in the Temple of that destruction, something called ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ and that this would happen within one generation of Jesus. Indeed I linked those events to what we know historically from other sources. There was a great war between the Jews and the Romans between 66 and 70 A.D. in which the Jews were crushed; their nation dismembered; the city of Jerusalem decimated and destroyed; and the Temple was brought down to the ground so that ‘not one stone stood on top of the other’. In the third episode, which is linked closely to our current episode, I spoke about the verses Matthew 24: 22-35, which I proposed discuss the Second Coming, and by implication the end of the age. The end of the age, and the bringing in of God's full Kingdom, seem to be coming together, so questions two and three are linked together chronologically. The Second Coming brings the end of the age as we know it; the end of this era of human history. The destruction of the Temple and the destruction of Israel was a judgement that took place very close to the time of Jesus. That was the issue that Jesus needed to resolve first of all because of the prediction he had made about it and because of its connection to the events of Matthew 23 and the imminent judgement on Israel because of a rejection of his Messiahship.
Having dealt with that question, now in the second part of Matthew 24, Jesus goes much further into the future. The question is, how much further into the future? As we find out from this passage, the timing of the Second Coming has not been revealed to humanity. In fact, it is not even revealed to Jesus as the Son of God, as we will see very specifically in a moment. The Second Coming is a very major doctrine and teaching of Christianity. It is not just some vague aspiration that Jesus may return sometime in the future, we hope. This is an absolute certainty; it's a major doctrine of the New Testament and this section of Scripture is a very important foundational teaching about the coming of Jesus. It comes from his own lips and therefore carries supreme authority. We've already learnt, in the passage we looked at in the last episode, that the coming of Jesus is going to be public, glorious and powerful. It is going to bring a sense of regret, mourning, and grieving to unbelieving humanity; it is going to bring great hope and excitement to the Church, spoken of here as the elect, who are going to be gathered together by the angels from all corners of the earth. It is going to be a moment of vindication for the Church and impending judgement and doom for unbelievers as Jesus returns.
We go on in this passage to deal with, verses 36 - 51, the end of the chapter, some more specific teaching that Jesus gives that clarifies some issues about the Second Coming that are very important for us to understand. Let's read Matthew 24: 36 - 41,
‘But about the day or hour, no-one knows, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field, one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding a hand-mill, one will be taken and the other left’.Matthew 24:36-41, NIV
Timing of the Second Coming?
As I mentioned, the issue of the timing of the Second Coming has been left ambiguous in the earlier passage. All we know is that the birth pains of the coming of the Kingdom, as described in Matthew 24: 8, are going to increase with time. We notice a sense of tribulation and quite extreme suffering coming into the narrative from verse 22 onwards,
‘So that no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect those particular days of suffering are going to be shortened’.Matthew 24:22, NIV
We know that much, and we know that Jesus will suddenly appear in glorious power and majesty and he will come back to the earth to claim his Kingdom. That's essentially what we're told in the previous passage. But when is this going to happen? Very interesting. Mankind has speculated; people in the Church have speculated about the Second Coming all the way through from the Early Church days up until the modern era; modern religious cults specialise in predicting the date of the Second Coming; and all of them have been proved wrong. There ss a very simple reason why all of them have been proved wrong and that is that no human being knows the day or the time that Jesus Christ will return. According to verse 36, not even the Son, not even Jesus, knows the exact time of his return, only the Father; not even the angels in heaven know; none of the redeemed who are in heaven now know the timing of the return of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is absolutely futile for us to make any prediction whatsoever. If you've ever been confused by those kinds of predictions and past mistakes that people have made either in the Church or in cults, religious cults that are moving away from the Church, then I want to reassure you, don't follow any of those speculations. No human being knows the time of Jesus Christ's return. What we do know is that it's certain to happen, and what we will find out from this passage, is our responsibility is to prepare as if it could happen at any time. Only the Father knows.
Comparison to Time of Noah
When the Second Coming takes place, people will be carrying on in their normal life. Jesus makes the comparison here between the days of this coming of the Son of Man and the days of Noah. This is an interesting comparison because according to the story of Noah, as described in the book of Genesis chapter 6, it was only Noah and his immediate family who were aware, by revelation, that a great universal flood was coming across the earth as an act of judgement by God. They were called to prepare in what appeared to be a ridiculous way, by creating a large boat in the middle of the dry land - a boat that could never float unless the flood came. Everybody else had no idea. Those who knew Noah mocked him for his absurd construction and the rest of humanity just carried on living until the flood came. Suddenly, they were overtaken by the floodwaters and found there was nowhere to hide from them. As the water rose up and up, there was nowhere to go and they were carried away and destroyed by the flood.
So it will be at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The majority of humanity - most people - will be unaware of this revelation. Uninterested, unaware, spiritually blind, not aware that Jesus Christ is coming again, and they will be surprised. People will be living their ordinary lives, getting married, eating and drinking and working, as Jesus describes here,
‘two men in the field, one will be taken and the other left. Two women grinding with a hand mill, one will be taken and the other left’.Matthew 24:40-41, NIV
What does that sense of taken actually mean in the particular context? Interestingly, we have an answer to that question in 1 Thessalonians, in Paul's teaching about the Second Coming. We'll turn to that briefly because it is helpful in order to understand the Scripture. In 1 Thessalonians 4: 16 - 17, Paul, in teaching about the second coming, says the following,
‘For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will be with the Lord forever’.1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, NIV
This teaching enters into some very mysterious realities but it's still very clear. Verse 16, ‘The Lord will come down from heaven with a loud command’. That's exactly what we've seen described in the last passage with the archangel, the trumpet call of God, and Paul adds in those who died as Christians, which will be a vast multitude of people, who will be buried in the earth or their bodies long forgotten will experience physical resurrection at that very point that Christ comes again, and those who are still alive on the earth will be caught up together with the other believers in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. There's a very real sense of the coming of Jesus Christ from heaven being connected with the rising up of the believers from the earth. They will be taken up; they will be caught up in the air. I think this is a very similar sense to what we have here: ‘one will be taken’ - taken to be with Christ and the other will be left. The one who believes will be taken to be with Christ, the one who doesn't believe will just continue in their activity for a little bit longer. ‘One will be taken and the other left’.
This particular text has been subject to various other interpretations, relating to what we might call the secret rapture. I'm going to come back to that more in a moment, but let's press on and complete our passage. Verses 42 - 51,
‘Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come, but understand this. If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So, you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly, I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, “My master's staying away a long time”, and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him. and at an hour that he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth’.Matthew 24:42-51, NIV
Parable of the Faithful Servant
The coming of Jesus Christ in his return will be as unexpected as a thief who comes in the night and robs your house. I wonder whether you have ever been burgled or robbed. I've experienced it. I was talking to a friend recently who has experienced it. It's totally unexpected; it's extremely painful, threatening and stressful. The thief thrives on surprise. He comes when you are not expecting it and steals your possessions from your house, or steals your possessions as you are travelling around. The coming of Jesus Christ will be as surprising as a thief stealing from your house in the middle of the night. Nobody knows when he's coming but the certainty is assured.
Jesus goes on in verse 45 - 51 to tell a parable, the Parable of the Faithful Servant. He tells the story of a household. This is a rich family; this is a rich man who has a number of servants in his household and who delegates the responsibility to look after his household to the chief servant and he comes and goes. The chief servant is responsible for the work of all the other servants; he's responsible for the order of the house; he's responsible for serving the needs of the family; he's responsible for keeping things clean and tidy; he's responsible for dealing with visitors who come; he's responsible for buying in all the food and other commodities they need from the marketplace; and he's looking after the other servants. He's in regular touch with his master. His job is to do his will, to fulfil the things that he wants done in the house. Sometimes his master goes away. He's a rich man. Maybe he's doing business, maybe he's going on holiday, maybe he's going to visit his relatives or friends. He goes away, as rich people can easily do. He leaves the chief servant responsible for the whole household. It's an act of great trust. Jesus draws a distinction between a good servant and a bad servant. A bad servant who is selfish and doesn't care for his master will use the absence of the master to exploit the other servants, to go drinking, maybe to steal things and generally enjoy himself and fulfil his selfish desires. A faithful servant will act as if the master is present and as if the master is likely to come back at any minute. He acts so that if the master opens the door any time of day or night, on any day of the week, he'll be happy with what he sees. Jesus says that a disciple is like that faithful chief servant. We live our lives as if Jesus could come back at any point, and we would not be found out for being lazy, selfish, sinful and squandering our opportunities to serve God. That's what a faithful servant is. A lazy, foolish servant is one who only nominally accepts the authority of the master but his real desire is to exploit him and to do things that please himself only.
As we bring this episode to a conclusion, let me reflect a few things that I think we can learn. First of all, we've looked at a text here that is often used to support the idea of the secret rapture. The text is Matthew 24: 40 - 41, the story about the two men in the field and the two women grinding with a hand mill, one taken and one left. Some modern theologians and teachers have proposed that there is what they call a secret rapture, that Jesus will come towards the end of times, during the time of great tribulation in the earth and take away his Church. The Church will leave the earth and go to be with him in heaven and life on earth will continue during a time of great tribulation and then later on will be his public Second Coming. This is the theory known as the ‘secret rapture theory’. There are a number of problems with this theory. First of all, it was never known in the Early Church and was never ever preached until the 19th century. The fact that it was never taught before the 19th century should make us suspicious about whether it has a strong biblical foundation. Even more significant, the texts used to try and assert this view are wrongly applied, and this text is a good example. This does not speak about a secret rapture. This speaks about the public Second Coming of Jesus. We know this by the context. Context helps so much to understand the meaning of small parts of Scripture. The whole of the teaching of the life of Jesus that I'm presenting is based on the principle that context is a major influence in terms of understanding what the text means. The context here is a discussion about the public Second Coming of Jesus. That has been the main theme for a significant passage beforehand and will continue to be a main theme in Matthew 25. This can't describe a secret rapture which is not stated and not specifically described here. This is another way of describing the experience of the Second Coming and shows the differential between a believer and an unbeliever. A believer will be taken in the sense of caught up to be with the Lord in the air, as 1 Thessalonians 4:16 - 17 clearly teaches us. I want to encourage you to focus your thoughts, not on the possibility of a secret rapture but on the certainty of the public Second Coming. We won't, as believers, be leaving this earth if we're alive, until the Second Coming, when we meet the Lord in the air.
There are three types of people described in this passage: those like those at the time of Noah in verses 38 - 41, are unbelievers they're just unaware of what's going on around them; the unfaithful, evil servants in the parable are like nominal believers they nominally accept Jesus Christ; but the true disciples are also here. They are the faithful servants who look after the household until the master returns. That is the attitude that should be taken by true disciples of Jesus.
Let me conclude with the encouragement of Matthew 24: 47, speaking of the good and faithful servant, ‘When the master returns’, a reference to the Second Coming, it says, ‘Truly, I tell you he will put him in charge of all his possessions’. Faithfulness will be rewarded at the Second Coming for us. We should live our lives as though the Second Coming could happen at any minute. We don't know the time: it's hidden from all of humanity; it's hidden from Jesus; it's known only to the Father. Our job is to live our lives as if the Second Coming could happen today, or tomorrow or next week - rather like that faithful servant who was ready for his master to return to his house at any point, being confident that he'd find everything in order. When Christ comes and returns to this earth, there'll will be many surprises: there will be many people taken unawares; there are many people who are nominally Christians who will be shocked to find that they are excluded from God's Kingdom because they never really believed the foundational truths or that the Second Coming was a reality. We can be sure that the Second Coming is a profound and certain reality and we can build our lives on the expectation that Jesus will return and bring about the full implementation of his Kingdom. We true disciples will participate in that process with wonderful joy.
The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.
- In the light of the Second Coming, how can you present the idea of judgement to non-believers?
- How would you respond to someone trying to find out when Jesus will come again - or if he will?
- List the differences between what the Second Coming will mean for believers and for those who do not believe.