Ready or Not (1): I Shall Return
July 26, 2015
Intro – Years ago at a girl’s college, dates were only permitted on Saturday night. A guy showed up on a Tuesday evening needing to see one of the girls immediately: “I want to surprise her. I’m her brother.” The woman at the desk said, “Oh, she’ll be surprised all right. But not as much as me. I’m her mother!” I imagine the guy was the most surprised of all! No one likes the unexpected! But it’s going to happen to a lot of people one day – one day when Jesus comes again. Most people don’t get this. They don’ really believe such a thing is possible. They are like the skeptics that Peter addresses in II Pet 3:2-4: “. . . remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” Imagine Jesus breaking through the clouds with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God. Crazy idea!
Not to Jesus. That’s the subject He now introduces for the first time in Luke. Verse 40 is key: “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” This sounds urgent. Yet, there He stands right in front of them. They must be thinking, “Say what?! Be ready? You haven’t even gone anywhere. How do we anticipate your coming?!”
But, of course, Jesus is preparing them for the incredible things that are about to unfold. He has already told them in Lu 9:22, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” They didn’t get it! When it actually happened, they were taken totally by surprise. But in retrospect, the pieces began to fit. Here, Jesus is giving them one more piece to fit in later. He will go away – but He’ll be coming back, and so He urges that they be ready.
Notice, Jesus says it’s the Son of Man who will be coming. They knew that was His favorite title for Himself. It connected Him immediately to Dan 7:13) “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14) And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” The disciples must have wondered why Jesus is talking about coming when He hasn’t even gone. But they would have known He was claiming to be Daniel’s “Son of man” who would be coming in the clouds to set up an everlasting kingdom. It confirmed their fondest hopes. They didn’t understand how it would all play out – the death for sin that would have to come before the coming in glory. So, they would have been puzzled, but not totally in the dark. And of course, later, it all made sense.
Naturally we now know the plan was always for 2 comings of Christ. The first was His coming in humiliation to demonstrate God’s compassion, love, and perfection. Further, in the words of Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man [note the title] came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Even Daniel didn’t know the Son of man, before claiming His kingdom, must die to pay the penalty for sin for all who would choose to enter that kingdom. Thus, the first coming was one of humiliation and suffering and compassion and death for sin. But that death was followed by the resurrection and then the ascension back to the right hand of the Father. And even as He ascended angels reported: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
Now why does Jesus start talking 2nd Coming right in the middle of the discourse to the disciples warning against greed and anxiety? What’s He doing? He’s showing the 2nd Coming is the antidote to greed and anxiety. He is showing His disciples, and us, there is more to this world than meets the eye. It may seem that nothing is ever going to change and things will continue forever as they always have, but that is no so. Jesus is coming again; when He does drastic changes will occur. And the time to get ready is now.
You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” He’s coming again, Beloved. And this time it will be to judge and to rule and to reign. So, even before He left, Jesus began to prepare His disciples and us by saying, “Be ready!” He’s coming again so, “Be ready!” That’s the message of 35-48. So how do we be ready?! In vv. 35-40 He urges that we Wait Expectantly. And in vv. 41-48 He urges that we Work Earnestly. Both waiting and working are part of being ready. First 4 parts to waiting:
I. Assurance of His Coming
“You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming.” He’s coming, Beloved. Jesus Himself said so. Oh, the people who are going to be surprised. We are convinced uniformitarians. We believe nothing can interrupt the flow of nature and history. The longer the delay; the more we doubt. But He’s going to surprise a lot of people. Redbook magazine surveyed several major denominational seminaries. When asked, “Do you believe in the 2nd Coming of JC?” 99% said “No.” 99%! That’s future pastors! No wonder the rest of the population does not believe. But that is not going to stop Him, Beloved. Jesus is coming again whether we believe it or not. It’s been in God’s program since before the beginning of time, and it’s going to happen. It’s inevitable!
The scoffers in Peter’s day mocked because it had been 35 years. Imagine what they would say today and it’s been 2,000 years! But Peter says they forgot one thing. II Pet 3:8-9, “ But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Two thousand years is a long time to finite people; it is nothing to and infinite God. The delay is a sign of His patience and desire that every last person who has been chosen come to faith in Him. It’s all on schedule, and He’s coming again. He promised and His credibility is at stake.
About 27% of the Bible was predictive when written. Hundreds of these prophecies concerned the 1st coming: that He’d be born in Bethlehem, be born of a virgin, spend time in Egypt, be betrayed by a friend for 30 pieces of silver, be crucified but no bones broken, that people would cast lots for his garments, that he would be raised again and ascend to the Father. Written hundreds of years in advance and fulfilled with lazer-like precision.
Other predictions remain to be fulfilled. God’s time-clock has been stopped for now because of Israel’s rejection of their Messiah, but it will start again one day leading the culmination of all things. The next event in God’s timetable is the Rapture – described in I Thess 4:13-18 when Christ will come in the sky to take all believers out of the world prior to a great 7-year period of tribulation – a time that Daniel predicts, Jesus confirms and Revelation describes in detail. At the end of that time, Israel finally, as a nation, accepts Jesus as their Messiah when they “look on him whom they have pierced”, (Zech 12:10) at His Second Coming to rule and reign for 1,000 years. After that comes the final judgment, a new heaven and earth and eternity begins.
That’s the program in a nutshell and the Rapture is the first event. What must happen prior to that? Absolutely nothing! It could happen any time. It could happen today. Paul describes it in I Thess 4:16-17, “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. 17 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.” This event will take the vast majority of the world by complete surprise, but for those who are ready! Wow! What a day.
You say, “You really believe that? That people are going to be here one minute and the next? That seven years later Jesus is really going to return and become King of the earth? Really? You believe that?” Oh, I do! Look again at Acts 1:11, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” In the same way! Did Jesus ascend bodily? Absolutely. Could be seen, touched, heard, and held. He ate, drank, walked, and talked. Did everything we do and more. He was no ghost! He was flesh and blood. And He’s coming again, just like He went.
All the OT prophecies. How were they fulfilled? Spiritually or literally and physically? Very literal, weren’t they? Bethlehem meant literal Bethlehem. Birth meant literal birth. Piercing meant literal crucifixion. Every one of them was fulfilled literally. So why in the world, would we suddenly begin to interpret Jesus’ 2nd coming differently? He’s coming, Beloved. And it will be just as literal as was the first coming. You may not think so and the world at large may not think so, but that’s not going to stop Him. Jesus is coming again, and you’d better be ready or you’re going to be left behind.
Early in WWII, the enemy was encroaching on US bases in the Philippines and General Douglas MacArthur was ordered to leave his post there. Very reluctantly, on March 12, 1942, he left for Australia where he arrived with a short speech, “I came through and I shall return.” Shortly after came the Bataan death march and for a time it didn’t look anyone was going to return. But after leading a brilliant war in the Pacific, 2-1/2 years later on Oct 20, 1944, MacArthur waded ashore under sniper fire and returned to retake the Philippines. He reported, “People of the Philippines: I have returned.” Just like one day soon Jesus Christ is going to set foot once again on planet earth and report, “People of earth; I have returned.” MacArthur’s return was nothing compared to Jesus return. Be ready! It’s guaranteed by His Word.
II. Astonishment of His Coming
40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” History is strewn with the wreckage of those who thought they knew the hour. The Thessalonians were among the first. Some quit their jobs to wait and Paul told them to get back to work. Several church fathers, including Irenaeus predicted AD 500. Nice round number. Didn’t work out. Same thing happened in AD 1000. William Miller famously led a group of 7th Day Adventists out to a hillside in NY to meet the Lord on Oct 22, 1844. He’d figured it all out from Scripture. He was positively bewildered when nothing happened. Charles Taze Russell and his JW society have posited various dates beginning with 1876. They conveniently moved the date several times after succeeding failures, finally settling on 1914 as the date of Christ’s invisible return to get them off the hook. The famed radio preacher Herbert W. Armstrong of the WW Church of God set dates in 1935, 1943, 1972 and 1975. He got cautious after that, claiming only that the Lord would come in his lifetime. He died in 1986. Harold Camping, president of the Family Radio Christian Network first predicted 9694, then May 21, 2011 and then Oct 21, 2011, then gave up the predicting business. TV pastor Jack Van Impe has presented moving targets, the latest having passed without incident in 2012.
This is only a fraction of the dates that have set for Christ’s coming or the end of the world. Do you sense a trend, Beloved? Many of these were out and out charlatans. Others were well-intentioned, but seriously misguided and misguiding others, usually misusing Scripture as the basis for false predictions. It turns out, Jesus was right and men are wrong. My conclusion is that the only dates Christ will likely not come is the date some alleged Bible scholar assures us He will! I promise you, there will be astonishment at His coming because He is coming “at an hour you do not expect.” We need to get over predicting His next move and get on with living for Him.
You think you know when Jesus is coming again? Paul, who had been to heaven, Paul didn’t know. I Thess 5:1-2, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” When is He coming, Paul? “I don’t know!” Paul didn’t know. Neither did Peter. II Pet 3:10, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness.” When is He coming, Peter. ”I don’t know, so get on with living holy lives!” Paul didn’t know. Peter didn’t know. And listen to this: Jesus didn’t know either. Not while on earth. Mt 24:35-36, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” Paul didn’t know. Peter didn’t know. Angels didn’t now. Jesus didn’t know. I assure you, you don’t know, and no one you know knows! Jesus says later from heaven to the church in Sardis in Rev 3:3, “Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” “I’m coming, but it will be as a thief. Unpredictable. So you worry about repentance. I’ll worry about the timing.” Later He says in Rev 16:15, “Behold, I am coming like a thief!” Bible prophecy is a great thing to study, but it has one aim – to encourage holy living! It was not and is not intended for us to set dates.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne, the great Scottish preacher who died at 29 used to ask pastors, “Do you think the Lord is coming tonight?” When the pastors responded, “No,” M’Cheyne would quote our text indicating, “If you don’t expect it, then look out. That’s when it could happen.” Here’s what we do know. We’re almost 750,000 days closer to Christ’s return than when He said those words. So what was Jesus’ point in making this statement – “for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect”? The answer is found in the first part of the verse, “You also must be ready.” If we don’t know when He’s coming what’s implied? We must be ready at all times. Be ready all the time! That’s Jesus’ message. Don’t be astonished like the rest of the world. Be ready – all the time! By having sins confessed, by living a holy life, by holding things loosely. By anticipating that it could be today. Always ready!
Conc -- Chuck Swindoll worked in a machine shop before he became a pastor with a guy named George. George swept up shavings and kept the place clean, often singing Christian hymns as he did so. Late one Friday afternoon when everyone was weary Chuck looked at George and said, “George, are you ready to go?” George replied, “Yes.” But he was dirty from head to toe. Chuck said, “Look at you man. You’re not ready. You need to go clean up.” But George said, “No – I’m ready.” And just as the whistle blew, he unzipped and removed his coveralls to reveal the clean, neat clothes underneath. He said, “You see. I stay ready all the time so I don’t have to get ready. I’m always ready to go – just like I’m always ready for Jesus.” Are you ready – for Jesus? He’s coming soon. Let’s pray.