By Pastor Glenn Pease
Paul Harvey in, For What It's Worth tells of how Ann Connolly used modern technology to foil a crime. She was in Red Food Store in Knoxsville, Tenn. When a man snatched her purse from her cart. She is a real estate broker and has a talk back beeper device in her purse. She ran to the manager's office and dialed herself. Then she spoke into the phone knowing her voice would be transmitted through the beeper in her purse. The produce manager said, "You should have seen that surprised man standing there with a talking purse." The voice was saying, "Take this purse to the manger's office immediately." It spoke with such authority that he did it.
This example of the power of the voice dims like a candle before the noon day sun when compared with the voice of Jesus. In John 5 Jesus gives two examples of the power of His voice. In verse 25 he says, "I tell you the truth, a time is coming, and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live." You would think that would be the ultimate in the power of the voice, but Jesus was referring here to hearing the Gospel, and being saved from spiritual death to life. This is going on all over the world everyday. But Jesus goes on in verses 28-29 to reveal a day when His voice will be more powerful than all the energy in the universe, for it will accomplish the supreme miracle. He says, "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out-those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned."
Every human being who has ever lived and died will be awakened by the voice of the Son of God. Lazarus came forth when Jesus shouted, and this dead friend of Jesus walked out of the tomb. When Jesus comes again He will say, "Everyone come forth," and all the dead, both good and evil, will come back to life to face reward or judgment. Even Hollywood with all of its spectacular special effects would not be able to match this grand finale of the Lord's miracles. Contrary to those who say, "When you are dead you are dead forever," Jesus says,
"Nobody is dead forever," for all the dead will be compelled by His voice to rise and live.
The Second Coming of Christ will be the greatest demonstration ever of His Lordship over all. He was despised and rejected in His first coming, but in His Second Coming He will be King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and the first true ruler of the whole world. The world is the field, and the farmer makes two visits to his field. The first time he plows the soil and plants the seed. That is what Jesus did in His first coming. Then the farmer comes again to reap the harvest, and that is what Christ will do when He comes again. The analogy breaks down, however, for farmers go back several times to spray and weed, but Jesus said to His disciples, "Let the tares grow with the wheat till the harvest." Jesus only comes to His field twice in bodily form. He comes often in spirit, for where two or three are gathered in His name He will be there. We want to focus our attention on His second bodily appearing for all mankind.
David Koresh by his fanatical focus on end times has propelled the vocabulary of the Second Coming events into the media so that words like Armageddon and Apocalypse are in every paper and magazine. Fanatics have, all through history, caused by their fanaticism the view that only Christian weirdoes, out in left field, are into the study of end time themes. The fact is, the New Testament refers to the Second Coming over 300 times, and the early church from the start had this as a major focus.
John Wesley White, a partner evangelist with Billy Graham, in his book Re-entry II quotes the great Alexander Maclaren, "The primitive church thought more about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ than about death or about heaven. They were not looking for a cleft in the ground called a grave, but for a cleavage in the sky called glory. They were not watching for the "Undertaker," but for the "Uppertaker." White goes on to add, "In other words, they were not druggies looking for a cocaine high. They were believers looking for Christ from on high. They were not gamblers waiting at the Hialeah Course. They were Christians listening for the Hallelujah Chorus." Jesus teaches us a number of things about His coming again, and we want to focus first of all on His teaching to-
I. BE WARY.
The world is full of experts who will tell you they have read the signs, and they know when Christ will return. The one thing we can know for sure about the Second Coming is that we cannot know for sure when it will be. Jesus did not just make this point in passing. He stressed it over and over again. Listen to the voice of our Lord, and the many voices of the so-called experts who think they have found a way to decipher the time of His coming.
"Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come."
"Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh." Matt. 24:44.
" Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh." Matt. 25:13.
"Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.
"Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning: lest coming suddenly he finds you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, watch."
"Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not." Luke 12:40.
The key word in all that Jesus says is the word watch. This means it is legitimate to focus on the signs of His coming, and to join the multiplied millions who look for evidence of His coming. The danger of this focus will be that we forget Jesus said we cannot know when He will come, and that it will be when He is not expected. This means Jesus could come at any time, and not when men calculate that He should come. The fact is that it is part of God's plan to keep the time a secret so that all generations are equally responsible to live in expectation. If Jesus would have taught that He would return in the 20th century, the Christians of the centuries before could just forget watching. Once you let the secret out, you lose the power of the secret to hold all Christians in expectation.
It was just as likely that Jesus could have come in the second, third, fourth, or fifteen century. It has been an obligation for every Christian in every age to obey Christ and watch in expectation. Jesus could have come anytime, and He can come at any time now, and there is no way to predict when it will be. The New Testament Christians expected Jesus in their lifetime, and it has always been so, and should be so for us today. To pretend that we know something that Christians of other centuries did not know is to ignore His clear teaching that His coming could be at any time, and not just when we think the signs are most evident.
I like the way John R. Rice the fighting fundamentalist put it. He angered a lot of his fundamentalist friends by robbing them of the pleasure of thinking they had figured out the signs of Christ's coming. He wrote, "The coming of the Lord might have been at any time from Pentecost on until now. For that reason all the signs of the second coming are left indefinite in degree. Wars grow worse and worse, but the Scripture never says just how much war must occur before the Savior comes. Worldliness and unbelief in the churches grows worse and worse, an accelerating and increasingly weighty evidence that the Savior's return is "even at the door." But some of this worldliness has been in the churches from the beginning, and how far wrong the church will go before the Savior's return is not revealed in the Bible. There is not one single sign for which Christians have needed to wait before they should expect the return of the Savior. And not one single event has occurred or will occur definitely enough that any person can know the day or hour of His return."
Knowing this is our only protection from self-proclaimed prophets. They are not always fanatics, but sometimes very sincere Bible students who feel they have found the key to the mysteries that have been locked up. It is very presumptuous for men to say we now know what Jesus said cannot be known, but they do it all the time, and history is filled with sincere Christian scholars who feel they have gone over the head of Jesus and figured out what He said we can't know. 1988 was the date for which a popular book was written proving that was to be the year of Christ's return. Like all other such books, it was also wrong.
Be wary and listen to Jesus, and not men. In the 40 days between His resurrection and ascension Jesus would come and go, and His disciples never knew when He would appear. G. Campbell Morgan says of this: "Have you ever tried imaginatively to enter into the experience of those men during those 40 days? They never knew where they would see Him next. Suddenly appearing in their midst, no door opened, no bolt shot, not preparation made; but He was there with them. His presence, parousia, nearness, they were made conscious of! With equal suddenness He disappeared. The appearances and disappearances of the 40 days were but to train these people to the consciousness of His constant presence, and to the fact that at any moment He might appear. That is the teaching of the New Testament about the coming of our Lord. Nothing in human pomp or pageantry can express the true idea of this great truth of the New Testament as to our Lord's second Advent." The second thing Jesus says is-
II. BE WATCHFUL.
I read of an estate in the land owned by a man in Milan, Italy. It was kept up beautifully by a full time caretaker. The grass was cut, the trees trimmed, the flower beds all neat and in bloom. It was post card beautiful, but nobody was around but the caretaker. A visitor asked him when the owner was last here, and he said, "12 years ago." "Yet you keep it so trim as if he was coming tomorrow." The gardener said in response, "As if he were going to come today."
One of the major points of Jesus is that His servants must be watchful and ready at all times, for there is complete uncertainty as to the time of His return. It could be the second or third watch of the night even, which means late in the middle of the night. The second watch was from 10 at night until 2 in the morning, and the third watch was from 2 until 6 A.M. Anybody could be alert and ready to open the door on the first watch. That is prime time, and everybody is alert and ready. But as the hour gets late, and you have to stay awake all night, that is a real test of loyalty and readiness. It was on the third watch that most guards were found sleeping. If a thief is smart he will wait until the third watch, for this is when the response is likely to be the lowest from those who are to intercept you.
Notice verse 38: "It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he come in the second or third watch." What is the point? Jesus is saying the Christian life can get hard, and Christians get tired of waiting and watching for Him to return and make all things right. There are endless delays and disappointments. In our lifetime it was Hitler who was to be the anti-Christ, and then the end was near. Then Russia was to be the power to invade Israel and start the beginning of the end. Now Russia has fallen apart and the end seems to be delayed again. Hope for the Blessed Hope to be a reality, and for the church to be raptured out of this world, is dashed time and time again, and Christians can become weary of it all, and begin to sleep, and cease to watch as they enter the midnight to morning hours. Jesus knew this would be the challenge, and that is why He teaches that we must watch and not faint.
To be ready for His coming is one of the great works for which Christians will be rewarded, for Jesus will be most pleased with those servants who are ready when He returns. The reason for rewarding them who are watching is that they put the Master's service above their own personal pleasure. They would rather be sleeping, or engaged in their own all night party, but instead they stay dressed and ready for His return from the wedding banquet to open the door and minister to Him.
Here is a picture of loyal servants who deny themselves for the sake of the Master. But note, it is a good investment of their time, and the sacrifice is worth it, for in verse 37 Jesus says the Master will be so pleased He will become their servant and be their waiter at a feast for them. The point is quite clear. If you are a watchful servant who makes the Master your priority until His plan is fulfilled, He will make you a priority and lavish on you more pleasure than you ever could have achieved by forsaking His plan to do your own thing. The bottom line is, every sacrifice you make to do the will of Jesus is an investment in your own future reward.
But what do you wear for the Second Coming? Jesus says to be dressed ready for service. If you want to please the Master you will be in your work clothes when He comes. All of this is analogy, and it means the truly watchful Christian who is always ready is the one who is always involved in Christian service. This does not mean they never get away from it all. Even Jesus had to escape the constant demands and pressure and get away. But the Christian is one who is a servant, and this is one who is ever seeking for ways to do the Master's will. He is ever in work clothes seeking first the kingdom of God.
Being watchful is not gazing into the sky looking for the glory of Christ to burst through. That would be very impractical and non-productive. It is to be busy preparing the world for His return. He has gone to prepare a place for us, and meanwhile, we are to prepare the world for His coming back to take us to be with Him. How do we prepare the world? We make it a place where His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. We make it a place where His commands are obeyed; where His love is displayed; and where His Gospel is conveyed. Watching for the Second Coming amounts to using your gifts and talents for the kingdom of God. Charles Wesley wrote several thousand hymns, and 5 thousand of them included the theme of the Second Coming. He was busy using the gift God gave him as he looked for his Lord's return.
The idea of watching means there is to be a consistency about one's commitment to Christians service. The parable Jesus tells here of the manager of his servants shows him being okay at first, but after he sees the Master is long delayed he starts abusing others, and getting drunk and becoming totally irresponsible. That is unacceptable behavior, and it leads to judgment. A loyal servant does not get slipshod, but is consistently committed to doing what he knows is the Master's will. If your motivation comes from quick reward, or the gratitude of man, you can easily grow cold and slip into indifference. A watchful servant is one whose primary motivation comes from pleasing the Master. They are moved to obedience, not to please man, but Jesus, and this keeps them from growing weary in well doing. The third thing Jesus stresses is-
III. BE WARNED.
Jesus uses some strong language here to describe the judgment of the servant who knows his Master's will, but says, "That's tough, let him do his own will, I've got other things to do." That servant is not ready for the Second Coming, and if the Lord returns before he repents and shapes up, he will suffer severe punishment. Jesus uses words like cut to pieces, and beaten with many blows. The Second Coming is not all peaches and cream. There is blood and bruises in the picture in part, for there will be slipshod servants who forget the Master can return unexpectedly and surprise them in a state of disobedience. A serious consideration of the Second Coming is a key to motivating Christians to be consistent and persistent in obedience.
When Lavonne and I would go away and leave Mark to care for the house, several times we came home a day early. We find the sink full of dirty dishes and the house generally messy. He would not get it cleaned up until the last minute, for he thought we would be gone another day. Procrastination is in all of us. If Jesus would have told us when He would return, we could be negligent until then. But the time is a secret, and so we never know. We have to keep the dishes washed everyday, that is, keep current in our Christian service. This does not mean you are in trouble if Jesus returns when you are on vacation, or if it is your day off. It means, if you live a life with no concern for Christian service and doing the Master's will, you will be judged.
Jesus adds an element of fear to the Second Coming. Jesus says that He will come ready or not, and if you are not ready you will lose reward, and pay a painful price. In a very real sense the purpose of the church and all we do in Christian education, worship, and service, is to get Christians dressed and ready for the Second Coming. It would be easier if we knew it was in a specific year, for then we could wait until the year before and spend that year cramming for the finals. But Jesus says this is the kind of information we do not have on purpose. No matter how many think they have figured out God' schedule, this is information that will never be released from the mind of God.
Jesus will come, as He said, like a thief in the night. If you knew just when the thief was coming, you could prevent him from breaking in. But thieves just do not have the courtesy to post the time of their breaking in. If you came home some night and found a note saying I intend to rob this house at 3:00A.M., you would be ready for that event, and fully prepared to thwart it. But thieves are not inclined to release this information, and so you cannot plan to be ready at any particular time to catch the thief. You have to be ready at all times, for you just can never know when one might come. So you lock your doors, and keep valuables hidden, and you prepare the best you can to prevent any surprises.
The point is, Jesus is coming again like a thief in the night. Peter says in II Pet. 3:10, "The day of the Lord will come like a thief." Paul says in I Thess. 5:2,"For you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night." Jesus says to the church of Sardis in Rev. 3:2-3, "Wake up!" .............."But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you." Again, in Rev. 16:15 He says, "Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed." This is not a Biblical basis for not sleeping in the nude, it is a warning for all Christians for all time to not be careless about their Christian life and service. Be dressed and ready always to do the will of your Lord.
"Let not the sun go down on your wrath." Why not? Because it is the will of Christ that you forgive and be reconciled. If you go a night in rebellion against His will, that could be the night He comes like a thief, and you will be caught naked and not dressed for His coming. We dress properly for the Second Coming by living in obedience to the Master's will. Have you ever been undressed when someone knocks at your door? You try to quickly get prepared, but nothing seems to go right. The button won't button, and the socks won't go on right, and there is general panic, for in such a hurry you make a lot of mistakes. By the time you are ready, they have left. So when the Master returns it is a little too late to get dressed then. You need to be dressed and ready at all times. The main question about the Second Coming is not when will it be, but are you dressed for it?