Thinking About the Second Coming of Jesus
At Christmas we remember and celebrate the Son of God coming to earth to save us from our sins. We think not only what Jesus has done for us, but also what he will do when he returns. - as he promised to come again -- this time not to deal with our sins but to bring salvation to those who believe and to judge upon those who reject Him. Therefore, as we come out of the season in which we focused on Jesus’s first coming, it is right and proper to now think about his return.
When - What We Know, What We Don’t/Can’t Know
Often in discussions about Jesus’s return or second coming, the first question people ask is “When will this happen?” Depending on how you frame the topic, “when” may or may not be the best word to consider. If the discussion is in the context of “If” or “When”, then “when” is the correct term, as Jesus makes it clear that it is not a matter of “if” he is returning, but “when” he returns; the return itself is not in question. The angelic messengers at the Ascension of Jesus also make this clear: “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).
So the question is not, “Will Jesus return?” Rather, the question is, “When will Jesus return?” Unfortunately, nobody has that answer. If those who had memorized the Old Testament could not predict the timing of his first coming or what exactly it would look like, what hope do we have for figuring out the the timing of His second coming? Moreover, Jesus makes this point in Matthew 24:36: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” If Jesus, as the Son of God, does not know the time of his return, then surely no one else does either.
Because it is when and not if, Jesus tells us not to focus on trying to figure out when he will return, but as people who are ready for his return at any moment. This is at the heart of what Jesus teaches in Matthew 24 and 25. In a nutshell, Jesus tells us that the second coming could happen very soon (so be ready!) or it might be a long way off (so continue being ready!). We need to daily live as his faithful followers in preparation for the second coming.
It Will Happen When You Don’t Expect (Matthew 24:36-44)
Jesus teaches that his return will be like the time of the flood. People will be living their normal, everyday lives when he returns - and this will lead to destruction for some and salvation for those who are prepared for his return. In effect, he is saying that people won’t see it coming! Therefore, we must constantly be ready for his return.
It Might Take Longer Than You Think (Matthew 24:45-25:13)
Somewhat related to this point that we won’t expect his return is that it might happen after we have been waiting a period of time and may be tempted to lose heart. In Matthew 24:45-51, Jesus tells a story about a servant whose master has been away for a long time. This leads the servant to act as if he is the authority and owner of the land, as he beats the slaves and does his will instead of his master’s will. His master returns when the servant does not expect it and throws him into judgment for his action. This parable serves as something of a bridge from Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 24:36-44 that his return will be at an unexpected time to the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. That parable features virgin bridesmaids who were shut out of the wedding feast because they fell asleep during the time of the delay of the bridegroom. Jesus tells us that he will be returning soon, but he also reminds us that “soon” on his timeline might be different than “soon” in our perspective. Being ready isn’t a scramble at the end, but something we need to be continually ready for.
How To Be Prepared For His Return (Matthew 25:14-46)
In some ways these parables then lead up to two other key teachings of Jesus on his return found in Matthew 25. One is the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) in which the master goes away and entrusts his servants with certain levels of resources (called talents - this is where we get the term talents from). Some use the talents to gain wealth for the master, while one hides it and is rebuked for it, being told he could have at least deposited it to earn some interest. The point of this parable in the context is that we are not to live in expectation of Christ’s return as if we are in a waiting room or just looking out the window - he has entrusted us with resources and expects us to use these resources as we wait for his return.
The teaching that follows on the judgment that occurs when the Son of Man (Jesus) returns (Matthew 25:31-46) helps to teach the nature of how we live and serve while we wait for his return. It is not about achieving great fame and honor in our activities, but rather through serving the “least of these my brothers”.While many would see this term as referring to anyone in need (hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison), there seems to be a particular emphasis with the phrase “my brothers” as it relates to our care for brothers and sisters in the Christian faith who are persecuted and rejected (something that was common in the early church and could lead to rejection and persecution if one identified with them).
How to Welcome Jesus
Jesus offers a different vision for how we are to understand and relate to him. At Christmas, we often hear people talk about what they would have done if they had witnessed the birth of Jesus. There is nothing wrong with putting ourselves into the story to help personalize it for us - as it can be a reminder that the Christmas story is a true story, not one of the made up holiday tales. However, we must remain humble in recognizing the religious people of the time did not do these things but seemed to ignore the birth of Jesus or even participate in the opposition to the birth of the king (see the reaction and response of the people of Jerusalem and the chief priests and the scribes in Matthew 2:3-4); is that how we would have responded? While we were not at the manager to witness the birth of Jesus, we have the opportunity to serve Jesus all year long. In fact, let us not just remember him and serve him at Christmas, but rather all through the year.
How to Look for Jesus’s Return
We need to constantly live our lives knowing that Jesus will be coming back, and it might happen soon or it might be far off. Faithful waiting is not figuring out if he is returning tomorrow or next year, but finds ways for us to serve him and his people now - recognizing that God has a purpose for His timing andt we have been given the opportunity to serve Him and the kingdom as we wait.
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