Jesus disciples asked Him two specific questions; the first,
“When would He return?”
and the second,
“What would be the signs of His coming and of the end of the age?”
In Matthew 24:36 Jesus answers the first question by telling them that; “No one knows the day or hour, not even the angels in Heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” However in verse 42 He exhorts them to “Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”
Jesus further amplifies this statement in Matthew 25:1-13 in the parable of the ten virgins;
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
At midnight the cry rang out: Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet Him! Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.
No, they replied, there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves. But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. Sir! Sir! They said, Open the door for us! But he replied, I tell you the truth, I don’t know you. Therefore KEEP WATCH, because you do not know the day or hour.”
Friend, are you like one of the wise virgins or one of the foolish?
My experience of the church over the past 24 years indicates, to me at least, that the majority of Christians today are more like the foolish virgins and very few are keeping an active watch for the arrival of the Bridegroom. They are not only running the risk of being caught unprepared, they are also missing out on a most exciting part of our Christian faith!
One morning, more years ago than I care to count, I stood on the deck of a naval warship watching as we prepared to leave harbour for a ten month voyage to many distant lands...
For weeks the ship had been a bustle of activity as food and provisions were loaded and crew arrived on board. Now two tug boats waited impatiently to pull us away from the wharf. As I watched, the ship-to-shore power and telephones were disconnected and the ship became a self-sufficient identity. As the gangway was brought on board, I felt the vibration through the deck plates as the great turbine engines were connected to the propeller shaft and we moved slowly but purposely away from the wharf.
You can imagine my feelings as I wondered what the next ten months would bring. For somebody who had never been out of his home country, I wondered what it would be like to see the many foreign lands and cultures to which we were headed.
I recall to this day, the intense feelings of excitement and anticipation I felt as we moved up the Waitemata harbour that morning. Although I had further adventures over the years, I never again felt quite such an intense feeling of excitement and anticipation as I did on that first voyage… that is until many years later when I finally allowed Jesus to enter my heart and was born again into His family.
Within a few weeks of receiving Jesus as my saviour I heard, for the first time in my life, teaching on the subject of the return of Jesus – the Second Coming. Up until a few weeks before, I hadn’t even known that He had come the first time. But now as the Lord led me into a study of this wonderful promise of His return, I once again felt that feeling of excitement and anticipation that I had felt so many years before. And those feelings have stayed with me for over 24 years.
We Wait Eagerly
During those years though, I have experienced times of sadness as I discovered that most Christians did not share my excitement. I couldn't understand why Christians in general didn't have the same anticipation of the Lord’s return as I did.
Why is it that this subject is almost totally ignored in many churches? Why is it that we tend to ignore such verses as…
“Eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus to be revealed.” ~ 1 Corinthians 1:7
“Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” ~ Philippians 3:20
“We wait for the Blessed Hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.” ~ Titus 2:13
The most significant single truth of all Biblical prophecy is the CERTAINTY of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. If the value of a teaching were to be judged by the number of times it is mentioned, then the Second Coming would easily rank as one of the most important doctrines in the Bible. Only the subject of salvation is referred to more often.
But strangely, the closer we get to the actual return of Christ, the less confident the church seems to be about His coming.
I must say that my experience has been that I find very few people waiting eagerly for that blessed hope.
To most of us Heaven is a place we will get to one day, there to reside with Jesus for eternity. But really, if we are honest, a lot of us will admit that we are in no great hurry to get there! We hope rather, that we will reach at least our 3 score years and 10, or even better – we might reach 4 score or even 5 score before we go on that journey!
But friends, there is without a shadow of doubt, one generation of believers that will go on that journey before their allotted time is up – when Jesus returns to take them home.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 gives us the exciting news . . .
“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep (die), or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep (died) in Him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that WE WHO ARE STILL ALIVE (note…still alive) who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep (died). 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. THEREFORE ENCOURAGE EACH OTHER WITH THESE WORDS.”
How can anybody not get excited at this promise? This is THE BLESSED HOPE that we are constantly told about in God’s Word. This event is commonly termed as ‘The Rapture’; and yes I know, I have been told many times that this word does not exist in the Bible. Well friends ‘rapture’ is simply a Greek word which literally means ‘to seize’ and the Latin equivalent ‘rapto’ meaning to seize forcefully. An apt description for our being ‘caught up’ into the clouds.
In spite of the absence of this particular word in your Bible, the underlying concept of the ‘catching up of the Saints’ captured in this word, accurately reflects a genuine prophetic event.
God doesn't give us fictional or fairy stories. Nothing in the Bible is false, yet the majority of Christians treat these promises as though they don’t exist.
Why Am I Not Excited?
One reason for this I believe is because of Augustine, a gentleman who lived in the 4th and 5th centuries. He argued against any literal readings of Bible prophecy and any detailed speculation concerning Christ’s return.
Augustine was regarded as one of the most imminent theologians of his time. His views were endorsed by the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD and that set the tone for Roman Catholicism from then on. Unfortunately this legacy is still prevalent today, both in Roman Catholic and Protestant churches.
Another reason for the lack of enthusiasm for this subject is no doubt caused by disbelief and confusion. For nearly 2000 years men have predicted Christ’s return! As early as 200 AD a man called Hippolytus of Rome, predicted the date of Jesus’ return as the year 500 AD. He based this prediction upon the dimensions of Noah’s ark, would you believe?
The history of the church is filled with self-proclaimed prophecy experts who thought that they had cracked some Biblical code which enabled them to predict the exact date of Jesus’ return … this in spite of Jesus’ warning in Acts 1:7 where He said to His disciples that “it is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority.”
Over the years religious movements haven risen and fallen on such speculation. In the 1840’s for example, Baptist Bible leader William Miller set four successive dates for Christ’s return. When it didn't happen, some of his disciples left, disillusioned, while others adjusted his teachings and founded a new denomination . . . the Seventh Day Adventists!
And in the 20th century we experienced an increasing number of ‘date setters.’
But friends just because a few misguided, and in some cases genuine, men have been led astray, does that make Jesus’ promises null and void? No, of course it doesn’t! HE WILL RETURN BECAUSE HE SAID HE WOULD!
As the Christian world approached the year 1000, the belief that the world was about to end and that Christ’s return was imminent resulted in turmoil; many of Europe’s monasteries nearly ground to a halt as they awaited the end of the year 999.
Predictably as the year 2000 approached, bringing with it the start of another millennium, we experienced another increase in the number of people predicting an end to the world. Not just Christians, but also many cultural and religious groups far removed from Christian belief, predicted and are still predicting the end.
The result of all this is like the story of the boy who cried wolf once to often! People have heard it all before and have stopped listening!
But isn't that letting Satan win by robbing us of faith and hope in the glorious promise of Jesus … the Blessed Hope!
In spite of all the errors of the past there is more reason now than ever before to believe in the possibility… no … the probability of the imminent return of our Lord and Saviour. So we must obey Jesus’ teachings and be found watching and ready for Him when He does return.
Are You Ready?
Five or six months into my first major sea voyage, our ship was on patrol when suddenly without warning the action station alarms sounded. A voice on the speaker system announced that “this is not a drill” and all hands leapt to their assigned duty stations.
The ship’s bow lifted and her stern dug deep into the water as it endeavoured to reach full speed. At the same time the ships guard rails were awash with water as the captain turned her hard to starboard.
In spite of the ships antics, the crew were at their stations within moments and the threatened attack by a motor torpedo boat was thwarted as her captain saw that we were ready and prepared for his attack. He consequently decided that prudence was better than valour and called off his attack run at our ship.
As I thought about this in a later, calmer moment, I realised that we survived this attack because we had been training for just such an event for months. We had been expecting such an event and because we had been watching for it we were not taken by surprise.
If we had not been looking and ready, we would have been caught by surprise and the end result could have been very unfortunate indeed… for us!
Friends, the Bible urges us to be just like that ships crew. We must be watchful and ready or we will be caught unawares by the Lord’s return.
For years the church has been almost silent on these matters. But I believe there is a change in the air. People like Billy Graham, Derek Prince, David Wilkerson and many others are now sounding the warning bells to wake the church from its slumber. All around the world the Lord is raising up men and women who, in spite of persecution and ridicule, are warning the church of the urgency of the times in which we are living.
It may be unfashionable; it may be seen as fanatical; we may suffer laughter and ridicule for preaching what, too many Christians and non-Christians is a ridiculous expectation. But I, like growing numbers of others, would rather believe and obey God, as I am sure most of you would.
It’s one thing to profess a belief in God – a somewhat remote God who is safely in His Heaven, and one who we will get to meet face to face when we die – but not before. To some extent this belief is tolerated in the world, although to a lesser and lesser extent as the years go by.
However its’ another thing to profess a belief that this same God is actually going to snatch His people away from this earth – without them actually dying first, would you believe! To proclaim that this same God is going to return in power and in glory so that every eye shall see Him and every knee bow, is to see how quickly some people move away from you when they see you coming!
What Does The Future Hold?
The average person today, especially in Western countries, enjoys a level of comfort and standard of living much greater than even Kings and emperors of just 200 years ago. We take for granted, running water, electric light, education, medical care, transport systems, books television, telephone, clothing, food and fuel. We have solved most of the problems that once made daily living a backbreaking round of drudgery for the overwhelming majority of peopler.
On the other hand, we have given ourselves a set of problems our forefathers never had to worry about – pollution, decline and breakdown of the family, and new, dreadful diseases. Will the economy collapse? Will there be a third world war?
Our modern world, for all its progress, is a fragile, uncertain place!
Some futurists tell us that the 21st century will be a high-technology wonderland where even more dramatic advances will make life easier and easier for everyone. Biotechnology, they insist, will cure diseases and lengthen lives. Computers and robots will do all the hard work. We’ll abolish poverty. We’ll have universal peace. We’ll colonise space. We’ll do this and that … and on it goes!
Others are not so sure. They see a world where greed and short-sightedness have caught up with us. The battered environment will give up the struggle. Agriculture will collapse. The oceans will die. Prosperity will vanish. There will be too many people … and not enough of anything else. Life may once again become a grim struggle for survival … IF we still exist!
The gloomiest of the doomsayers think that we may destroy ourselves before the 21st century is very old!
Who’s right? The optimist or the pessimist? We HOPE that it is the optimist because most of us are, at heart, optimists. But a quick glance through the daily newspaper often swings the odds in favour of the pessimist. Does anyone know for sure?
God certainly does; and we do also, if we believe what He has told us in His word!
Bible-believing Christians have nothing at all to fear from the future, but we must recognise God as the Coming One. Every time we pray the Lord’s prayer – “Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven…” we are looking towards this great day, and in effect, are imploring God to fulfil His promise to return. But do we really mean it, or do we just repeat meaningless words?
Just as a bride looks forward eagerly to her coming marriage, when she will begin her life with her bridegroom, so a believer in Christ, even though he is thrilled with the fellowship he has with Christ now, should be looking forward to that fuller relationship that will be his when Christ returns.
The Dawn Is Breaking!
One of the things I loved to do whilst at sea, especially in the tropics, was to get up early and watch the sunrise. What a breathtaking site it could be.
One morning as I looked around me, knowing that our ship was in the middle of a large convoy, I expected to see other ships all around me. But, as we were running without lights, all I saw was the occasional glimpse of a silhouette against the horizon. Then as the sky lightened, I began to see details as the indistinct and shadowy ships became vivid reality.
Friends, over the centuries, we have glimpsed some of the details God has given us pertaining to the end times; but now, the dawn is breaking! What we previously saw and understood in vague shadowy silhouette, is now becoming clearer and more distinct – heralding in a new day. I believe that it has never been so important, as it is right now, for us to understand world events in the light of Bible prophecy.
We live in exciting times, and while we are not to speculate on exactly when Christ will return, we are urged to watch for the signs and not to be taken by surprise.
My friend, and brother in Christ, Dr Don Stanton, has a wonderful reply to those who ask him “When will Jesus return?” He says that “I believe Jesus will return this year… last year I believed He would return last year … and if we are still here next year, I will believe He will return next year!’’
I urge you to read and study the Bible. Don’t be put off by the hysteria of past and present so-called “end-time preachers” who have cried wolf once too often and have interpreted prophecy in line with their own particular understanding.
When you read the Bible don’t neglect the ending … it’s a fantastic conclusion; and guess what … in the end, GOD WINS!
“Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your master is coming.” ~ Matthew 24:42
Let us lift our voice like trumpets and proclaim –