The Return of Christ

Matthew 24:36–51 (NLT)
36 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself.* Only the Father knows.
37 “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. 38 In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. 39 People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.
40 “Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.
42 “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. 43 Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. 44 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.
45 “A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. 46 If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward. 47 I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns. 48 But what if the servant is evil and thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ 49 and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? 50 The master will return unannounced and unexpected, 51 and he will cut the servant to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
In Matt. 24 & 25, Jesus is speaking about the end times.  The teachings are prompted by Jesus leaving the Temple grounds.  As they leave the Temple, the disciples are awed by the beautiful structure of the Temple.  But Jesus replies to them with a prophecy concerning the destruction of the Temple.  (Matt. 24:1-2)  In response, the disciples ask him, “When will all this happen?  What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?”  (v. 3) This discourse is the final block of teaching material in Matthew.  The following narrative describes the final events leading to Jesus’ death and resurrection (Matt. 26:1-18:20)
In v. 36, Jesus clearly states that no onw will know the time when these things will happen.  In vv. 36-51, Jesus emphasizes the unexpectedness of the return of Christ.  Now Jesus deals with his final coming and the end times more consistently, while vv. 1-35 deals mostly with the timing of the destruction of Jerusalem.
If Jesus does not know the day or the hour, then his followers should not seek to determine it.  Human efforts to determine the day of Christ’s return have all failed to this day.  Every generation of Christians up to today has believed itself to be the last, especially those groups of Christians who were undergoing persecution for their faith.
The entire Book of Revelation must be read in this context.  The church in Ephesus, to whom John the apostle wrote, was suffering persecution.  The purpose of Revelation was to comfort the church that in the midst of persecution, God was still in control, and God would judge those who had been persecuting them (namely Rome, Caesar, and his servants).
Much of what passes for interpretation of the end times only serves to confirm our own expectations in a strictly American religion.  It doesn’t translate to other cultures or times.  America is seen sometimes as the new Israel.  This kind of triumphalism has led to the prevalence of Rapture theology.  It expresses the desire that Christians will escape persecution.  But if Jesus was persecuted and even killed, how much more will his followers.  Further, Jesus never hints that his followers will escape persecution.  In fact, he argues the opposite.
The point that Jesus is making in this chapter is “Keep watch!  For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.”  To illustrate his point he gives two examples from life.  If you knew when the burglar would come to steal, then you would stay awake.  If the faithful servant knew when his master would return, then he or she would stay awake and be ready for the return of the master.  The master will put the faithful servant in charge of all his possessions.
God forbid that we are like the evil servant.  The evil servant is not ready and treats his fellow servants badly.  So the master will return when he least expects him.  (by the way, Jesus hints that his return might be a long time in coming, v. 48) Jesus suggests divine judgment will fall upon the servant who is not faithful.  The point is that just as the servant should have been ready, so Jesus’ followers should be ready for his coming, whenever that may be.  Jesus calls us to be like the faithful servant.  We must be ready at any moment for the return of our Lord.  We must demonstrate faithful obedience until the day of his returning, whenever that may be.
Lord, I want to be ready.  Help me, O Lord, to be ready for your return every day.  Help me to live each day in the light of your return, so that I will be found to be a faithful servant.  In the name of Jesus my Lord.  Amen.

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