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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’ return’

Advent series: Parables of faithful waiting

 We’re back into our advent series focused on Jesus’ parables of waiting for his second coming or “second advent.” I’m highlighting these because many among the people of God were not ready for Jesus’ first Advent. And so as we celebrate Jesus’ birth we rightly ask ourselves, are we ready for his second advent? Are we prepared?

Our text today is found in –

Matthew 25:1-13

– the parable of the ten maidens. (I have changed the ESV’s “virgins” to “maidens” throughout).

1Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.”

So this is about the second coming of Jesus when the kingdom of heaven will come to earth. When he returns, Jesus is saying, it will be like ten maidens waiting for a bridegroom.

We’ll come back to what this teaches us about the second coming, but for now let’s understand the parable.

Jesus is working with ancient marriage customs in this story. After the marriage ceremony, which included the exchange of vows, there would have been a marriage feast (v. 10) at the bridegroom’s house. (See Matthew 22:2-3 and that the groom answers the door at the end of the story.) The role of the maidens was to be ready, after the ceremony was over, to escort the bride and bridegroom to his house for the feast. They have lamps to do this, so they can light the way to the house in the evening.

In our story they’re in position and waiting. But there’s a problem . . .

2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”

So some of the maidens brought along extra oil for their lamps, just in case, and some did not. The lamps are most likely oil lamps and not torches, maybe attached to a pole. (The word here can mean either. For instance it means lamp in in Acts 20:8 and Judith 10:22. Luke uses a different word that clearly means lamp in his short parallel to this parable – Luke 12:35. And the details of the story favor a lamp – torches wouldn’t burn long enough for them to sleep; vessels of oil seem more suited to filling a lamp; and trimming v. 7 seems to apply more to a lamp – Davies and Allison)

5As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps.”

The delay is the key element in this story. The bridegroom takes so long that they all fall asleep, with their lamps burning all the while. Then at midnight the call comes. It’s time for them to fulfill their duty in the procession. And so they trimmed the wicks of their lamps for maximum brightness. And this is where the foolishness of five of the maidens becomes clear.

8And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’”

The foolish ones didn’t expect or prepare for a delay of the bridegroom. And so when they awake their lamps are going out, which leads them to ask the others for some of their oil. But the wise maidens refuse because there isn’t enough for all and the procession would be a failure if all the lamps went out on the way. So they suggest they go and buy more oil. (It is possible that in a town with a wedding going on, people would be up late and able to sell them oil.)

Next we see the consequences of the lack of preparation on the part of the foolish ones.

10And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.”

Those who were prepared were able to fulfill their function; they “were ready,” as it says. And they celebrated at the marriage feast.

11Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’”

Now the phrase, “I do not know you” doesn’t mean that the bridegroom doesn’t know them. They are most likely the bride’s good friends and relatives. It’s a statement of disassociation, “I have nothing to do with you now.” Or even, “I disown you.”

And then we have the lesson of the parable drawn out for us . . .

13Be prepared therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

–  that is, for Jesus’ return. (I have changed the ESV’s “watch therefore” to “be prepared.”) The phrase, “be prepared” can and often is translated as “stay awake” or “keep watch,” but here all the maidens slept and none are blamed for it. The issue is that some were not prepared and were thus shut out.

What this teaches us about Jesus’ second coming

It’s a pretty straightforward allegory.

  • The bridegroom’s coming = Jesus’ second coming (Is the “cry” of v. 6 the same as the “the cry of command” found in 1 Thessalonians 4:16? See also note below)
  • The ten maidens = disciples of Jesus who are waiting.
  • The delay = a delay in Jesus’ return. Jesus forewarns us here that it could take a while before he comes again.
  • The wedding feast = the messianic banquet. This is a common theme in Jesus’ teaching. This is the great party that will take place at the end of the world when Jesus and all his own celebrate his great victory and salvation.
  • The shut door = judgment.

(The maidens here match with what the living disciples will do when Jesus returns in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The word “meet” there and here has to do with an official delegation that goes out to welcome, and then escort a dignitary back into the city.)

This much is clear. But what about the central focus of the parable –the oil and the lamps?

The general point is the same as v. 13. Be prepared for Jesus’ return. The five foolish maidens didn’t count on a delay and so they didn’t prepare for it with extra oil.

To not know the day or the hour means that Jesus could return quickly – or as in this case – after a long time. And this parable teaches us to be ready for a delay. Don’t be caught off guard by it. (As many have pointed out, the slave left in charge saw the delay as a chance to be wicked and get away with it, but was judged. The foolish maidens didn’t consider or prepare for a delay and were judged for this.)

But is there more? Something more specific? I think so. The imagery of a lamp shining takes us back to Matthew 5:15-16 (different word in Greek but the same idea) where this refers to “good works” or being obedient to Jesus’ teaching and example. It means living out the Christian life. v. 16 says, “Let your  light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

And when equivalents to the phrase “Lord, lord” are used (Matthew 7:21, 22; Luke 13:25), as in our passage, as well as “I do not know you” (Matthew 7:23;; Luke 13:27) and “the door was shut” with people asking to get in (Luke 13:25) – when these phrases are used in Jesus’ teaching, the issue is Christians who are not walking in obedience to Jesus. (Jesus calls them “workers of lawlessness” Matthew 7:23; “workers of evil” Luke 13:27.)

And so to be prepared means that we have considered things carefully and are ready to follow Jesus, not just for a while, but for as long as our lives go on until Jesus returns. We are prepared to live out our Christian lives for the long haul; however long it takes until he returns.

And so I ask you –

Will you be ready?

Many among the people of God were not ready when Jesus first came. And here five of the ten maidens were not ready for his second coming.

Examine your own life. Are you a wise Christian or a foolish Christian? Are you committed to living in obedience to Jesus until he returns?

One final thought. Just as in the story when the wise could not share their oil, someone else’s preparedness can’t be shared with you. You can’t lean on your spouse, your friend or your parents. Their being prepared won’t help you. You must make sure you are prepared.

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Advent series: Parables of faithful waiting

We are beginning Advent today. The word comes from Latin and means arrival or coming. We use it to refer to the first coming of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas time – and the Advent season ahead of this is a way of preparing ourselves to celebrate this.

But of course, as we think about how to prepare ourselves to celebrate Jesus’ first coming,  it also makes us think about how to prepare ourselves for his second coming.

After all, many among the people of God were not ready for the first Advent of Jesus. And in the same way we have to ask, “will we be ready for his second Advent?” (Luke 2:34-35.)

We will be looking at three parables from Jesus about faithful waiting, and the first today is the parable of the slave left in charge, found in –

Matthew 24:45-51

 The question here is, will this slave be ready when his master returns? We begin with what it looks like if the slave is faithful and wise.

45“Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?” (I have changed ESV’s “servant” to “slave” throughout).

The situation is that the master has gone away for a time and has placed one of his slaves over the rest of his fellow slaves in his household. As such, he is in charge and has the responsibility of administering the affairs of the house. Specifically, his task is to give everyone in the household their food at the proper time.

Now this parable is certainly talking about pastors or elders in the church.

  • These are the ones Jesus has set over his household while he is gone (fellow slaves – v. 49).
  • And the imagery of feeding in Scripture is one that is associated with teaching – a chief role of a pastor or elder (e.g. Proverbs 10:21; Jeremiah 3:15; John 21:15, 17; 1 Corinthians 3:1-2; Hebrews 5:11-14; also Matthew 4:4).

(1 Timothy 3:4-5 speaks of elders as those in charge of the household of the church. I would argue that the presence of the words “not a drunkard, not violent” in the list of qualifications for an elder in 1 Timothy 3:3 reflects the influence of this parable. Luke uses the word “steward” in his version of this parable (12:42-48) which is used in Titus 1:7 for an elder. The context in Luke 12 points to this parable as focused on leaders. Peter says in v. 41, “Lord are you telling this parable – about the master and the thief – for us or for all?” Jesus then responds by telling our parable about leaders.)

So I’m preaching to myself this morning for sure. But this parable can also have application to anyone who has responsibilities in the community of Jesus.

46Blessed is that slave whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.”

So this is a trial run for this slave; a test. The key phrase is, “will find him so doing.” If the master finds him doing what he told him to do, which is the test, he is blessed.

Specifically, he will get a promotion: his temporary position will become permanent and he will gain more responsibility and honor, since he will now be over the household and all that the master possesses.

Our life in this world is a trial run for life in the world to come; the kingdom of God on this earth. And if we are doing what we are supposed to do when Jesus returns, we too will be blessed.

For pastors and elders this means exercising the authority they have rightly (Matthew 20:25-28) and being busy to lead and teach the church in the right way. For everyone it means doing all that Jesus has told us to do, whatever our role is. This is the mark of a faithful and wise slave, which we are called to be.

Next we turn to the other possibility, if the slave becomes wicked.

48But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eats and drinks with drunkards . . .”

 This isn’t another, different servant, but the same one (as we see in Luke 12:45). If he chooses to be wicked instead of faithful and wise, this is what will happen. (The word “that” points back to the previous slave. The word “wicked” is anticipatory of the bad things that will be described shortly.)

The problem is that the master is delayed. So this parable forewarns us that there may be a delay in Jesus’ coming. So the wicked slave thinks that because of this he can do whatever he wants and get away with it. And so instead of being faithful to his task he misuses his authority – beating his fellow slaves and neglects his responsibilities – going off and living it up with the wrong crowd. Instead of a focus on feeding the household, his job, he is busy feeding himself and drinking and partying.

Again our life in this world is a trial run. And if we think Jesus won’t come because it has taken so long, or that we have time to be irresponsible or if we entertain any other thought that would lead us to stop doing what Jesus has told us to do – there will be consequences when Jesus returns.

50the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

 Jesus is saying, there will be consequences, because the master will return! And since the slave thinks his master won’t come or not anytime soon it catches him off guard.

v. 51 says literally he will “cut him in two.” He will be chopped in half. Jesus is getting our attention here. Just as he misused his authority to be violent to his fellow slaves, the master will use his rightful authority to violently judge him. Notice the symmetry. And he will be put with the hypocrites (a term Jesus uses for leaders who are false – Matthew 23. Luke 12:46 has “the unfaithful” or unbelievers). Just as he negligently associated himself with drunkards and partied, the master will rightly put him with the hypocrites where there is much suffering – weeping and gnashing of teeth. Again notice the symmetry. This latter phrase most likely means grinding one’s teeth because of pain. This is an image of Gehenna or hell.

This parable teaches us that if a pastor or elder misuses their authority and neglects to teach and lead their people – there will be judgment. And for anyone who is not doing what Jesus has told them to do – there will be judgment. Jesus will return on a day when we do not expect him and at an hour we do not know and we will be judged (the language of “day” and “hour” echoes 24:36, 44).

Well, just as this slave had a choice – to be wise and faithful doing what his master said, or to be wicked – not doing, or doing the opposite of what his master said, so –

We have a choice

What will yours be?

Many were not ready when Jesus came the first time. Are you ready for the master’s return at his second coming so that you will be blessed and rewarded? Are you faithfully doing what Jesus has told you to do, as we await his second advent?

 

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In our Scripture today Jesus teaches us about his second coming. It’s the most Jesus talks about his return, apart from the Olivet discourse, which in Luke’s gospel is found in chapter 21. So, there’s a lot of information here. (Some of this material is also found in Matthew’s version of the Olivet discourse in  Matthew 24).

I want us to go through this today, so that we can learn more about Jesus’ return, and also so that we can be challenged and encouraged to be prepared for it.

Looking for Jesus’ coming – vs. 22-25

As we work our way through the first few verses, notice that there is a “looking” or “seeing” theme throughout. First of all, the disciples will look for Jesus to return. v. 22 – “And he said to the disciples, ‘The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.’”

The reason they will “desire to see” Jesus come back, is that things will get hard for them. They will be persecuted for following Jesus. Life will be hard. And they look to Jesus’ return because he will give them relief. This will be the time when evildoers are judged and followers of Jesus will be blessed with peace and life eternal in his presence.

And yet, Jesus says, they will look but he won’t come. Jesus indicates here that his coming could take some time. As Christians, we will go through many difficulties, without relief from Jesus’ return.

Next he tells us that false prophets will say, “Look, here he is!” v. 23 – “And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them.”

Given the hard times the disciples will go through and their longing for Jesus to return, there will be the temptation to fall for false claims of his return. The false prophets will point to where they think Jesus has returned, or who he might be. But Jesus warns them, and us, ahead of time not to allow our desperation to lead us astray so that we follow after them.

He then tells them that his coming will not be some secret affair that only a few know of so that someone could even say, ‘Hey, come look, he’s over here!’ Jesus will be seen by all when he comes. v. 24 – “For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.” Jesus’ coming will be a worldwide public event. It will be like lightning that shoots across the sky. It will be impossible to miss.

v. 25 – “But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.’” This section ends with a reminder that Jesus has to suffer before he comes to his day of glory. This echoes v. 22, where his followers will go through hardship before we find vindication.

This brings us to the next section –

The three-fold pattern of Jesus’ coming – vs. 26-30

Here, Jesus begins to make some comparisons between his coming – and Noah’s flood on the one hand, and the destruction of Sodom on the other.

First, the days of Noah. vs. 26-27 – “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.”

The people in the days of Noah were unprepared. They were going about their normal lives, eating and drinking, unaware of any danger. But then “Noah entered the ark,” and afterwards judgment fell upon them all. Notice the three parts: 1. normal life; 2. the departure of Noah; and then 3. the destruction of the rest.

And then we have the days of Lot. vs. 28-30 – “Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot – they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all – so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.”

The citizens of Sodom were going about their normal routines unaware of the danger of the coming judgment. But when Lot left Sodom, the judgment came and killed all of them. Again, the same three-fold pattern emerges: 1. normal life; 2. the departure of Lot; and then 3. the destruction of the rest.

Jesus says twice in these verses, “As it was . . . so will it be. His point is that the sequence of Noah, Lot and the Son of Man is the same. So we learn from this that when Jesus returns:

1. People will be going about their normal life unaware of what is about to happen; clueless and unprepared.

2. The righteous will be removed, just as Noah and Lot were.

3. And then the judgment will come and destroy all the rest.

The remaining teaching in this passage focuses in on step #2, the removal of the righteous. And first of all Jesus calls us to –

Be prepared to leave! – vs. 31-33

vs. 31-32 – “On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife.” These verses draw further on the story of Lot in Genesis 19. Jesus is saying that when the righteous are taken it will be like when Lot came out of Sodom.

God sent angels to rescue Lot, but he was reluctant to leave his house. The angels practically had to drag him and his family out of the city. In the same way v. 31 pictures someone who is attached to their possessions when the angels come for them on the day of resurrection. They are thinking about scooping up the belongings in their house. They can’t leave their earthly life behind, just as Lot was hesitant to leave his life in Sodom.

Also, when they were outside of the city the angels told Lot and his family they were not to look back. And when Lot’s wife did look back, she was judged by being turned into a pillar of salt. So v. 32 pictures someone who is attached to their earthly life when the angels come for them on the day of resurrection. They are thinking about looking back from the field, because the want to preserve their earthly life. Jesus tells them not to look back. Rather they are to remember Lots’ wife, who longingly looked back to her life in Sodom and was judged. (The example of Sodom, a wealthy city, fits well the theme here of undue care for possessions and one’s earthly life).

If before, in v. 23 Jesus said, “do not go out or follow them,” that is the false prophets, here we are to drop everything and go to Jesus when the angels come for us. (For references to angels as the gatherers on the day of resurrection: Matthew 24:31; 13:39).

In v. 33 Jesus says, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” This is a warning. Don’t be attached to your earthly life! That is, to your family, friends, job, possessions, status and earthly plans.

  • If you cling to your earthly life on the day of gathering, seeking to preserve it, you will lose it, just like Lot’s wife.
  • But, if you let go of it all, your possessions, your projects and your earthly dreams; that is, if you lose your life – then you will keep your life; life in the kingdom of God forever.

And the way to prepare is to already now die to your earthly life by putting God first and sacrificing whatever God wants you to sacrifice now. Then you will be ready, and not hesitant on the day of resurrection, when the angels come for you.

This brings us to the final section, which give a bit more detail about –

What will happen when the righteous are taken – vs. 34-37

vs. 34-35 – “I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding (meal) together. One will be taken and the other left.”

When Jesus talks about being “taken” he is, again, speaking of the exit of the righteous, or stage two of his coming; the resurrection. When he talks about being “left” he is talking about being left to be judged.

Notice the separation that will take place between, no doubt, family members, friends and coworkers. One is taken to be saved, the other is left to be judged.

v. 37 – “And they said to him, ‘Where, Lord?’ He said to them, ‘Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.’” The disciples are asking the question, ‘Where the righteous will be taken?’ Jesus gives a cryptic and somewhat gruesome answer.

What he is saying is that just like vultures are up in the sky over what is dead on the earth, so by means of the resurrection, the righteous will be up in the sky over those destroyed in the judgment. (See as well 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. Also notice that this saying in Matthew 24:28 comes right after the reference to Jesus being in the sky, v. 27).

This is in accord with Isaiah 66:24 which says of the righteous on the final day, “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me.” We will be in the sky, looking upon the results of the judgment.

  • This matches what happened at the time of the flood. Noah was lifted up above those who drowned in the waters below.
  • This also matches what happened when God destroyed Sodom, for Genesis 19:28 says, Abraham “looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.”

Now, there’s a lot in this passage, but let’s end with –

Five key points

1. When times are hard as we wait for Jesus, we need to be careful of false teachers who promise us relief by telling us that Jesus has, in fact, already returned.

2. We have to remember that when Jesus comes everyone will know, not just a few. It  is a can’t miss occurrence.

3. There is a three-fold pattern connected to Jesus’ coming: Things will be normal and people will be unaware. The righteous will be removed, then the rest will be judged.

4. Judgment is real! We don’t like to talk about this, but it is clearly here. It is patterned on what happened in the flood and the destruction of Sodom. As Jesus said of these, God’s judgment “destroyed them all.” And so it will be on the final day. It will be truly horrible! It will be a time of reckoning for rebellion and evil. This is not something you want to be a part of.

5. We need to be prepared by choosing now to die to our earthly lives, and live completely for God.

I end with the simple question – Are you ready??

Christians are you dead to your earthly life? Are you  ready to drop everything and go to Jesus when he returns? Or are you busy pursuing your earthly life and enjoying it – looking for more wealth, possessions, a bigger house and clinging to these?

If you aren’t yet a Christian, are you willing to receive the salvation that Jesus brings so that you can be a part of the great gathering of the righteous on the final day?

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A. Introduction/the coming of Jesus: 1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.

B. Their identity as foolish and wise: 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.

C. About their lamps and oil: 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.

D. All: 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.

E. Bridegroom’s arrival: 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’

D1. All: 7 Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps.

C1. About their lamps and oil: 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’

B1. The results of wisdom and foolishness: 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

A1. Conclusion/the coming of Jesus: 13 Be prepared therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

(changed ESV – virgins to maidens throughout; v. 13 “be prepared” instead of “watch”)

Alternate pattern for vs. 8-12

A. First exchange

  • The foolish make a request: 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’
  • The wise answer “no”: 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’

B. Action

Foolish: 10 And while they were going to buy,

Bridegroom: the bridegroom came,

Wise: and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast,

Bridegroom: and the door was shut.

A1. Second exchange

  • The foolish make a request: 11 Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’
  • The bridegroom answers “no”: 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

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We are ending our series on Habakkuk today, with a message entitled ‘Habakkuk on the end.’

Let me begin by saying, it’s not unusual when prophets speak, for there to be more meaning than even they know in what they say. That’s because the Spirit is the one who speaks through them. Peter says in 2 Peter 1:21, “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

And Peter says in 1 Peter 1:10-11 that the prophets “searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating . . ..” That is, they did not always fully understand what the Spirit was doing through them. But now with the coming of Christ we have the benefit of hindsight.

This surplus of meaning can be seen in relation to various prophecies about the day of the Lord. These passages speak to specific acts of judgment by God in the time frame of the prophet. But they also point beyond this to the final day, which is also called the day of the Lord in the New Testament; the end of all things (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10)

Here is one example from Isaiah 13:6-7. “6Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come! 7Therefore all hands will be feeble, and every human heart will melt.” This is specifically talking about a judgment on Babylon. But just from this small sample you can see how it becomes a picture also of the final judgment.

Habakkuk can be read in this way as well. Even though its most basic meaning is of a literal judgment on Babylon and the resulting salvation of Judah, that has already happened centuries ago – there can be more to it than that.

Hebrews 10:37-38

– reads Habakkuk in just this way. “37Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” He is quoting Habakkuk 2:3-4. The coming of the vision of judgment and salvation, or “the coming one,” according to the translation he is using, has to do with the second coming of Jesus. [The Greek Old Testament or LXX. Also in this translation the phrase, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him” is rendered, “If he should draw back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” The author of Hebrews then puts this phrase after the phrase, “my righteous one shall live by faith.” He departs from the LXX by not having the “my” before “faith” although some LXX manuscript traditions do have this.]

So he sees in these verses a reference to the final judgment, not just the judgment of Babylon; and a reference to the salvation of all God’s people throughout the world, not just the righteous in Judah. And living by faith has to do with faithfully waiting for Jesus’ return (v. 36) in the interval of Jesus’ first coming and his promised return. This is the context of the broader passage here in Hebrews. [The word faith in Habakkuk 2:4 can mean faith or faithfulness. Also, in Greek the word faith means both trusting in God and God’s promises, and also faithfulness – faithfully continuing to believe and faithfully living according to the promise. The latter is emphasized here in Hebrews.]

If we read Habakkuk in this way, we get an idea of what will happen on the final day. So let me share with you five things we learn about the end of all things from Habakkuk.

1. On the final day all nations and peoples will be judged

Habakkuk said much about the judgment coming upon Babylon; the bulk of his book is about this. And this was literally fulfilled not long after his time. But this judgment on Babylon, like in Isaiah 13, points us also to the end-time judgment.

Habakkuk 2:3 also takes us in this direction. When it talks about the vision of judgment having to do with “the end,” well, this can have a double meaning – the end of Babylon for sure, but also, the end of all things. And as we just saw the author of Hebrews sees in this also a reference to the end of all things.

Read in this way, we can say that those who are like Babylon – arrogant (2:4,5), violent (1:9), greedy (2:5), those who are strong, but use their strength against the weak – to take advantage of, shame and kill them (2:6-17) – all of these will be judged. And just as with Babylon in the five woe oracles in chapter 2, they will receive as judgment, what they did to others. They will get from God what they gave to others. For instance they killed, and so they will be killed (2:10); they shamed others, and so they will be shamed (2:16).

2. On the final day all mouths will be silenced

As a part of the judgment on Babylon Habakkuk 2:20 says, “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” There is a fulfillment of this just after Habakkuk’s day, when Babylon was judged.

Babylon had its idols who couldn’t even speak, but when the one, true God speaks and acts the result is that everyone has to be silent. And Babylon was silenced as it saw God’s judgment unfold against it.

But the language here yearns for a greater fulfillment; a time when this will literally happen, as it says over “all the earth.” It points us to what will happen on the final day. This will be God’s day. God will speak and act and there will be nothing that anyone can do. And as we see the greatness and righteousness of God revealed, and as we see the depth of our sin – there will be no excuses, no rationalizations – only the silent acknowledgement that God is right.

3. On the final day God’s people will be saved

Habakkuk mostly talks about waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise to judge Babylon. It doesn’t say a lot about the salvation that Judah will experience when this happens. Although this was certainly expected. 

As he says in reference to the Red Sea deliverance, “you went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed” – 3:13. And this is what was pictured as about to happen in his day on Babylon. And he ends his book with a reference to “the God of my salvation” – 3:18. This is what he was waiting for.

And sure enough, just after Habakkuk’s time Judah did return from exile, like the children of Israel escaping Egypt, as is pictured in chapter 3. The fig tree did have fruit, and the fields did have a harvest, in contrast to 3:17.

  But as we saw, the author of Hebrews reads it also as a reference to the salvation that God’s people will experience when Jesus returns.

But there is more. Habakkuk 2:4, “the righteous shall live by his faith” and especially the phrase “shall live” can have a double meaning.

  • The most basic sense of “shall live,” and what the book focuses on is living life while waiting for the promise to be fulfilled. Their lives will be characterized by faithful waiting on God.
  • But it can also be read, not as waiting for the fulfillment, but as having to do with receiving the fulfillment. The phrase, “shall live” then means what is received when the promise is fulfilled – new life, salvation, God’s blessing.

“The righteous shall live by his faith” means that by faith they will receive the promise, which is new life; God’s blessing as they return to their land.

And this second, double meaning can also be read as pointing to the end time when God’s people will be raised from the dead. They “shall live” because of their faith in God’s promise.

Paul uses the double meaning of this verse. When he quotes Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11 it refers to what we receive when the promise is fulfilled. And he sees it as referring to God’s end-time promise to give his people new life by the Spirit. We “shall live” because by faith we receive the Spirit, the same Spirit who will raise us up on the final day (Romans 8:11).

4. On the final day evil will be fully defeated

Habakkuk 3 teaches us that God didn’t just defeat Egypt when he battled at the Red Sea. He defeated the spiritual powers behind Egypt. Habakkuk saw in this vision God fighting and overcoming the cosmic powers of chaos and evil –  “the sea,” “the rivers,” “the deep.”

And as we saw, the sea is pictured as a sea serpent or dragon. The word “sea” is Yamm, the name of a sea serpent. It had a tail – v. 13, and it was trying to devour the Israelites – v 14. But God crushed its head, so that it was laying down – 13, and then he trampled it with the horses of his chariot – v. 15.

This vision of what God did to Egypt is then what is forecast for Babylon, which was fulfilled. It will be defeated, along with the spiritual powers behind it.

But this serpent language continues on in the New Testament and is applied to Satan.  Revelation 20:2 talks about “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan.”

Well, God will defeat once and for all Satan and all the spiritual powers behind evil in this world. On the final day Revelation 20:10 tells us that God will throw the devil “into the lake of fire.” And then notice what Revelation 21:1 says. “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.” No more chaos, turmoil and evil.

5. On the final day God’s glory will be everywhere

Habakkuk 2:14 says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” So the metaphor is that just like the waters cover every part of the sea, so the knowledge of God’s glory will fill the earth; it will be everywhere.

Now this was fulfilled in that when Babylon was judged and his people came back to their land, just as predicted by God’s prophets, all who heard of this exalted Yahweh and his power. “What an amazing God!”

But once again the language here yearns for a greater fulfillment, because it speaks of the whole earth and a filling that goes beyond what happened in the ancient world.

And indeed on the final day, when God’s goodness and righteousness is revealed everyone will actually know and worship Yahweh – all over the earth. Even those who have rebelled against him, who have scorned him will have to bend the knee and acknowledge his greatness.

William Higgins

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Series: Paul to the Thessalonians

We have been looking at 1 Thessalonians for a number of weeks and we are now in the final part of chapter 4, where Paul is going through a list of topics that need to be addressed. First was sex, or how we are to control our own bodies in holiness and honor. Next was mutual love, or how we should give generously to the needs of others, and how we ought not take advantage of such generosity to become idle busybodies.

Today the focus in on the resurrection of the righteous when Jesus returns. The second coming of Jesus is a big theme in 1 Thessalonians, mentioned in six different places. It also dominates 2 Thessalonians.

 But there was some confusion among the Thessalonians on the question –

What about the dead in Christ?

“13Now concerning those who are asleep, we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters.” Since Paul left, someone had died, or as he says here, fell “asleep. [Paul uses this metaphor for death  three times in these verses – vs. 13, 14, 15. This was a common euphemism for talking about death in Judaism and the Greek and Roman world. It also came to be connected with those who are waiting to be awakened at the resurrection – Daniel 12:2. See also Mark 5:39. He also speaks of “the dead in Christ” in v. 16.] But having a Christian die was distressing to the Thessalonians, because they’re not sure what that means for the person. 

As we will see in a moment, Paul has taught them the basics of the Olivet discourse from Jesus about his second coming and the resurrection (Matthew 24-25). And it’s true that here and elsewhere Jesus focuses on those living at the time of his coming. He doesn’t explicitly address the issue of the righteous dead (at least not in the first three gospels). So the question arose among them – ‘Will the dead in Christ take part in all that happens when Jesus returns?’

And apparently some thought not. And this led them to be full of grief for the one who had died. So Paul wants to teach them on this “ . . . that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” It’s true that in the Greek and Roman world there was very little hope for anything after death, except eternal sleep in the gloomy underworld. As one of them said, “Hopes are for the living, but the ones who die are without hope” (Theocritus). But as Christians we have hope.

So this is a place where Paul needs to supply what is lacking in their understanding (1 Thessalonians 3:10), given that he had to leave them so quickly. So he shares –

The story on those who have died

First, he appeals to the example of Jesus. “14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” Paul is saying, Jesus died too – but he rose again. And in the same way, because of the salvation that Jesus gives (“through Jesus”), God will bring with Jesus at his coming the dead in Christ, so that they can follow his pattern of first dying and then being raised.

So the dead in Christ are not left out. They will come with Jesus in order to be resurrected to new life. [When Paul says, “God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” are those “with him” already resurrected or do they come with him to be resurrected? Two things point to the latter: 1) The resurrection happens after Jesus descends from heaven – v. 16. But these are “with him” at his coming; at his descent. The idea, almost certainly, is that they come with Jesus from heaven, from their interim state, from being with him in heaven – Philippians 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:8. 2) God does not “bring with” Jesus those who are already raised, but those who are identified as “asleep,” that is, those not yet resurrected.]

But this teaching is not just based on the example of Jesus’ death and resurrection, it is also supported by a word from the Lord“15For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord . . .” What’s this all about? As I said, there’s no saying of Jesus that explicitly addresses the dead in Christ. 

Rather, I believe that Paul is referring here to Zechariah 14:5 which is a part of a “word of the Lord” oracle (Zechariah 12:1). This says, “And the LORD my God will come and all the holy ones with him” (LXX).

  • The name, “LORD” or “Yahweh” is most often taken as a reference to Jesus, when Paul reads the Old Testament. So this speaks to Jesus’ coming.
  • The phrase “the holy ones” most often refers to the angels who are a part of “the assembly of the holy ones” in heaven (Psalm 89:5). But even in the Old Testament “holy ones” can also refer to the people of God. [In the LXX see Psalm 33(34):9 and Daniel 7:18, 21.] And Paul uses this particular phrase (the plural ῾οι ῾αγιοι as a substantive) to refer exclusively to believers or saints in his letters [38 times by my count with one instance of the singular – Philippians 4:21.] And he speaks of the dead in Christ as being “with Jesus” in several places (Philippians 1:26; 2 Corinthians 5:8), so this puts them in this assembly. They are a part of the “all” of his holy ones. [See also Hebrews 12:22-24, Revelation 4-5, 6:9-11.]
  • Finally, the dead in Christ, will come “with him.” They will come along with the rest of the host of heaven at his return. [Didache 16:7 quotes Zechariah 14:5 and clearly refers it to the resurrection of the dead in Christ.]

Notice the similarity of this to v. 14, “God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” His reasoning is, if  “all” the holy ones come with him, then the dead in Christ will come with him too.

[Paul clearly alludes to Zechariah 14:5 (LXX) already in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 – “at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones,” in the prayer that sets up this teaching section. (This can be seen in the Greek. Both use κυριος and both have similar phrase about the “holy ones” – Zechariah – πάντες οἱ ἅγιοι μετ’ αὐτοῦ; Paul – μετὰ πάντων τῶν ἁγίων αὐτοῦ – see Gordon Fee). Notice that it is cited in the context of praying that the Thessalonians will become holy.] [Although there is no word of Jesus that makes this precise point, which is the reason for confusion in the first place, given that Paul takes Yahweh as a reference to Jesus, it turns out that this is in a sense a word of Jesus.]

Paul goes on – “. . . that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” Paul also concludes from this word of the Lord that since the dead in Christ descend with Jesus from heaven, even before the resurrection happens, they have a certain precedence over the living, who are still on earth at this point. They are first, because they are already with Jesus. [Those “who remain” might well mean those that are not already a part of the assembly of the holy ones with Jesus.]

So, not only do they take part in what happens when Jesus returns, they have a certain chronological priority.

Next, Paul gives the sequence of events that will happen when Christ returns and the righteous are raised. “16For 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. 17Then 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.”

Notice how this sequence is really just a summary of the Olivet discourse of Jesus from Matthew 24:30-31, which Paul had taught them when he was with them. [The connections with the Olivet discourse continue in 5:1-11, where Paul says that they know these things – 5:1-2.] 

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 Matthew 24:30-31
1. Jesus will descend from heaven 1. “The Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven”
2. A cry of command, the voice of an archangel 2. “And he will send out his angels”
3. The trumpet of God 3. “With a loud trumpet call”
The dead in Christ will rise first Zechariah 14:5
4. We who are alive will be caught up (resurrected) 4. The angels will “gather his elect from the four winds” (a common metaphor for resurrection)

But since Jesus doesn’t address the dead in Christ in the sequence, which caused the confusion for them, Paul adds in Zechariah 14:5. A word of the Lord that supplements and clarifies the teaching of the Olivet discourse on the place of the dead in Christ (in blue).

Paul also makes clear that this is a royal event. Several aspects of his description of it in vs. 15-17 point this out. For instance having an angel herald his coming and the blowing of a trumpet. Also, the word used here for “coming” makes this point. It means presence, coming or arrival. But it could also be used of the coming of a ruler or emperor on an official visit. Finally, the word “meet” has to do with an official delegation that goes out to welcome, and then escort a dignitary back into the city (Acts 28:15-16; Matthew 25:6). This will be the role of the living when Jesus comes. So the dead in Christ will be raised first, and the living will function as the welcoming committee.

The Thessalonians had welcomed Roman emperors to their city before, so they would know what Paul is talking about here. Except that here they will be welcoming the emperor of all creation to earth.

Paul’s message is – be encouraged! “18Therefore encourage one another with these words.” He has taught them that:

  • the dead will be a part of the events of the second coming
  • they will even have a certain priority in the order of resurrection
  • we will be “together with them” in the resurrection – v. 17
  • we will all be with the Lord forever – v. 17

And he has done so, “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” – v. 13.

[Why is there no discussion of a reunion with loved ones in the interim state? Most likely because of the contrast that controls this passage between the living and the dead. The living, as living ones, can only be reunited through the resurrection. If they die they can presumably be reunited in this way, but then they are no longer the living. Paul does not speak of a reunion in the interim state, perhaps because the real hope of the Christian is the resurrection. And also this isn’t the specific question being addressed. Rather it is, ‘Will the dead in Christ take part in the events of the second coming?’]

Finally, a few words on –

Hope and grief

Paul is not saying don’t grieve when a fellow Christian dies.

  • Jesus grieved for Lazarus, even though he knew he would be a part of the resurrection and even though he knew that he was about to raise him back to life  – John 11.
  • And in Philippians 2:27Paul spoke of the sorrow he would have had if his coworker, Epaphroditus had died, “sorrow upon sorrow.”
  • And we are told in Acts 8:2 that when Stephen was killed fellow believers “made great lamentation over him.”

It is perfectly fine and natural to grieve. Paul is simply saying don’t grieve like those who have no hope. The Christian who has died will be raised again to new life when Jesus returns. This tempers our grief and is a testimony to our strong belief in the salvation that Jesus brings. That we if we are dead when Jesus returns, we will awake. And if we are alive we will be caught up. And this should encourage us indeed.

May God make us to be a people of hope in a hopeless world. May we be a light to the world of a faith that even death cannot defeat. Amen.

William Higgins 

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The theme of hope is a core distinctive of Christianity, based, as our faith is, on a resurrected Jesus, who lives forevermore. Peter speaks of the “living hope” that Christians have in 1 Peter 1:3. And Paul prays that his readers will be enlightened so that, as he says, “you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, (and) what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” – Ephesians 1:18.

And it is this “glorious inheritance” that I want to talk about this morning. What is our hope as Christians? What are “the riches of his glorious inheritance?” I am focusing on this because I fear some Christians aren’t getting the full scope of what God has for us. I say this because some believe that going to heaven when you die, is what it’s all about.

But I ask – Is going to heaven when you die the extent of our hope? This past year I visited a church and I heard just this belief expressed. Someone had died in the church and one person shared, in so many words, that the one who died now had all that God has for him.

Let me begin by saying, yes –

When we die, we go to be with Jesus

Anyone who dies in the Lord, goes to be with the Lord at death.

We’ve talked a lot about Sheol in the last few months – the place of the dead. Scripture doesn’t say a lot about what happens to the righteous dead with the death and resurrection of Jesus. But the best way to put together what is said, is to say that those in paradise (the good part of Sheol) have now moved to heaven to be in the presence of Jesus.

And this is a great blessing and something to look forward to. And this is a great comfort as we think of our loved ones who have died in the Lord, and even as we contemplate our own future. We go to a better place.

Paul says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. . .. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”- Philippians 1:21-22. He also says, “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord . . . and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” – 2 Corinthians 5:6-7. Dying and going to be with Jesus is far better than this earthly life so full of sin and suffering.

And then in the story of Stephen, when he is being stoned to death. He says, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” – Acts 7:59. He knew that when he died, he would be with Jesus. His spirit would go to be in the presence of Jesus.

But our hope is more than this. That’s the message today. Our hope is actually so much more than this! And we don’t want to sell short the amazing hope and inheritance that God has given us in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our hope is more in three specific ways: First of all, our hope is not just something that happens right when we die.

Our hope looks to the end when Jesus returns to completely save us

In other words there is an issue of  timing here. The fullness of our salvation awaits the coming of Jesus at the end of all things. This is when we will receive all that God has for us.

To think that our hope only has to do with when we die, is to mistake the end of one short sentence as the conclusion of a grand, complex and long story – made up of many, many volumes. We are talking about all of history here, billions of stories being woven together into the story of Jesus and coming to the end that God has chosen when Jesus returns.

In the bigger picture our time with Jesus in heaven is a place of waiting for this final goal, the return of Jesus and all that God has for us. It is like a grand waiting room. A good one, for sure, but a waiting room nevertheless. And just like any waiting room, it is easy to get impatient.

This is exactly what we see in Revelation 6:9-11. The souls in heaven who died for their faith, “cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long . . .? Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer . . ..” They are told to be patient.

Our hope is much more than something that happens right when we die. Those in heaven with Jesus, along with us, await the full blessings when Jesus returns.

Second, our hope is not just something that has to do with our spirit.

Our hope includes the redemption of our bodies

Here the issue is the scope of our salvation. Salvation involves every part of us – spirit, soul and body. Our destiny is not to be disembodied spirits in heaven, which is what we are after we die and go to be with Jesus.

Being in the presence of Jesus is far better than life on earth with suffering and sin. But still better is the resurrection. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:3-4, in the resurrection we will no longer be “naked” or “unclothed” – that is, a spirit without a body in heaven with Jesus. In the resurrection we will be clothed with our new resurrected bodies.

Christianity is not like some traditions, where the goal is to escape creation or our bodies. Creation is good, though fallen. And the solution is not abandoning it to be in a purely spiritual realm. The solution is the renewal of creation.

So it is in the resurrection, not simply being in the presence of Jesus in heaven, that we will find our completion; our full salvation.

We see that this is true in Jesus’ resurrection. He was not a spirit or a ghost. He was an embodied person. In Luke 24:39 the resurrected Jesus said to his disciples, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” He had a real body, even though it was supernatural, disappearing and appearing at times, waking through walls and so forth. It was supernatural, but it was a body nonetheless.

And this is also our hope. Philippians 3:20-21 says, “from (heaven) we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

Our hope is much more than something that happens to our spirit. Every part of us will be saved when Jesus returns. 

Third, our hope is not something that has to do with just me going to heaven.

Our hope includes the fulfillment of all of God’s purposes

The issue here is the excessive individualism. Salvation includes all of creation, not just me making it to heaven. 2 Peter 3:13 says, “according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” This is when, as Paul says in Romans 8:21, “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Then there will be a new creation.

Salvation also includes God gathering together a new community, not just me being in heaven. Jesus sais in Luke 13:29, “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” There will be a new community.

Salvation includes the establishment of God’s kingdom over all the earth, not just me in heaven. Just as Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:10, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” so it will be when Jesus returns. The innocent will be lifted up and the wicked will be put down. Justice will be done. All wrongs will be righted, and all suffering will be rewarded. And righteousness will prevail.

Our hope is much more than me being in heaven with Jesus, it is the fulfillment of God’s grand plan, formulated from before the beginning of time, brought to completion through Jesus, when he returns. God’s people living in a perfect creation, in righteousness, peace and joy (Romans 14:17).

 

Because Jesus defeated death, rose from the grave, ascended to God’s right hand and reigns over all we have a great and amazing hope!

But do you have this hope? It is one thing to learn it in your head, but do you have it in your heart? Receive the new resurrection life that Jesus gives. As Jesus said, “ask and you will receive.” Ask for and receive God’s free gift of new life in Jesus. 

William Higgins

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Well today is Palm Sunday, the day we remember when Jesus presented himself to Jerusalem as king. 

We are looking today at “How to be ready for the great gathering” that is, the resurrection of the righteous. I think that this is a timely topic for Palm Sunday. Consider this: 

  • At Jesus’ first coming, he presented himself as king, but very few were ready
  • At Jesus’ second coming, when he appears in glory as king, will we be any more ready?

Review

We saw last week why we need to be ready for when Jesus returns and sends out his angels to gather those who claim him as Lord. We need to be ready because the unfaithful will be separated out from the faithful.

We saw how Jesus talks about this a lot. Here are just two examples:

  • Matthew 25 – parable of the bridesmaids: five make it in, five don’t
  • Matthew 25 – parable of the talents: two make it in, one doesn’t 

So there is a sorting process, and some who are gathered, or who seek to be gathered, will not make it into the eternal kingdom. While those who are found faithful will be gathered to Jesus, will be resurrected, and will receive eternal rewards.

Now we know that . . .

The foundation of our salvation is the gift of grace in Jesus 

It is based on what he did for us through his life, death and resurrection. To receive this gift, we must:

  1. Acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah, whom God has sent to be the Savior of the world.
  2. Turn from our old life of sin and wrongdoing, and commit to live a new life just as Jesus has taught.
  3. Ask for and receive the new life that comes through Jesus. This includes the forgiveness of our sins and also new life by the Spirit; new birth.

Without this you don’t get anywhere! This is the foundation. And this is all assumed in what our Scriptures talk about today, for Jesus is speaking to his disciples – Christians. 

The question that is focused on in our scriptures today is: Have we been faithful with the grace we have received?

It’s one thing to receive the mercy of God’s salvation. It’s another to continue on in that mercy until the end; to be faithful. It is as Jesus said, in the midst of the trials and testings of this life, “The one who endures to the end will be saved” – Mark 13:13

And on that day of sorting we want to be found among those who are faithful! So here are . . .

Three marks of faithfulness 

. . . that Jesus speaks of, that show us how to be alert and ready for his coming.

#1. Be Dead To Your Earthly Life. This comes from Luke 17:28-35 –

“Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.”

Jesus teaches us here that the great gathering of the resurrection will be like when the angels gathered Lot and his family out of Sodom. Jesus said, “Just as in the days of Lot (v. 28) . . . so it will be when the Son of man is revealed” (v.  30). So lets look at this comparison:

The Gathering from Sodom:

  1. Angels were sent to gather Lot and his family
  2. Lot’s wife longingly looked back to her home in Sodom
  3. She was attached to her life in Sodom  and was judged. She was sorted out of the faithful remnant.

The End Time Gathering:

  1. Angels will be sent to gather us (as we saw last week)
  2. We should not tarry or turn back. This is what Jesus is talking about in v. 31. In that day don’t seek to grab your possessions, or if you are in the field don’t turn back toward your home.
  3. So this raises the question for us – Are we attached to our earthly life?

As he says in v. 33, in the context of his second coming, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” This is a warning. Don’t be attached to your earthly life! That is, to your family, possessions, status and earthly plans.  

If you cling to your earthly life on the day of gathering, you will be sorted out, just like Lot’s wife. That’s why Jesus said, in v. 32 – “Remember Lot’s wife.” That’s the lesson here. She sought to preserve her life and so she lost her life. Don’t be like her.

We have to be able to let it all go, to lose it all in a moment – unsaved loved ones, our possessions, our projects and our earthly dreams. 

And the way to prepare for this is to choose now to die to your earthly life. In the words of Jesus “to lose your life.” Already now put God first above all else on this earth. Then you will be ready and not hesitant on the great day of gathering when the angels come for you. 

#2. Do the will of God, just as Jesus teaches. By far, Jesus talks about this the most when he speaks of being ready for the great gathering. 

We will focus in on one example: Matthew 7:21-23 –

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” 

  • Notice that they confessed Jesus as Lord. They looked to him as the Messiah.
  • They did works by the Spirit of God – prophesying, casting out demons and performing miracles 
  • And they ministered in the name of Jesus

These are disciples that thought all was OK in their lives. Indeed they thought that they were outstanding followers of Jesus, waiting for their commendation. But they don’t make it in!

Why? They did not obey the will of God. Jesus has just taught about this in the Sermon on the Mount, right before this passage – much of it focused on what it means to love our neighbor. They didn’t practice this.

As Jesus says in v. 21 it is “the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” who “will enter the kingdom of heaven” on that final day of sorting.

But these people knowingly allowed sin to remain in their lives. They chose not to deal with it. This is why Jesus said, “depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” They are sorted out due to continued unrighteousness in their lives.

What do we learn about being ready for the great gathering? Obey God in every part of your life. Put into practice all that Jesus has taught and modeled for us. Hold nothing back; no part of your life. 

And when you fail, repent and find forgiveness and move forward again. Endure in your obedience until the end.

#3. Do your work for the Kingdom. That is, whatever God has called you to do, whatever God has gifted you to do, make sure you do it.

Jesus speaks of this in several passages, but we will focus on the familiar Matthew 25:14-30, the parable of the talents. Here’s a summary:

  • Jesus, the master is going away 
  • And so he gives to his servants specific tasks to do according to their abilities, while he is gone
  • Two worked hard at their tasks and were blessed when the master returned
  • One didn’t work. He was lazy and did nothing and was judged. Jesus says about him, “Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Matthew 25:30.

It will work the same way for us on that final day when Jesus returns. If you do nothing to work for the kingdom, you will be sorted out as well.

What do we learn about being ready for the great gathering? Serve Jesus with your life, your gifts, your time, your resources. Find out what Jesus wants you to do, and then get busy! Work hard to advance the kingdom.

A final note

Now, I know it can be a somber thing to think about this business of being sorted, and some being sorted out. But we are given this teaching (and there is a lot of it) so that we can examine our lives and make the changes we need to make in order to be ready. So that we can indeed be found faithful. 

But, having said that, lets end on a more joyful note. For if you:

  1. Die to your earthly lives so that you are ready to go
  2. Do the will of God and 
  3. Work hard for the kingdom – you will be blessed! 

You will hear these words from Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We will have Jesus’ seal of approval before all of creation.

He will say, “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” We will be rewarded for our faithfulness; for all of our troubles and sacrifices for him. It will all be more than worth it.

And he will say, “Enter into the joy of your master.” We will have joy with Jesus for eternity in the kingdom of God. (Matthew 25:21)

William Higgins

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We’re continuing on in our series on the second coming today. Last time, two weeks ago, we went through the second half of the Olivet discourse. We looked at what I called “Jesus’ Roadmap to the End” – with its three major points:

1) The destruction of Herod’s Temple and the events associated with this, which happened within a generation of Jesus’ words, just as he said they would.

2) The times of the Gentiles – a time when God is working with the nations of the world for both salvation and judgment, as people respond to the gospel. This is the time we live in, and we don’t know how long it will continue.

3) The return of Jesus and the resurrection of the righteous.

We also saw how once the Temple was destroyed, Jesus could come at any time. Nothing else has to take place in the scheme of things.

And finally we saw how no one knows the time, not even Jesus. The Father will make the call for when the times of the Gentiles are over and Jesus will return.

Today we begin to focus on what Jesus talks about the most with regard to his coming – that We must be ready! Next week we will look at “How to be ready for the great gathering.” In other words, how to be ready for Jesus’ return and the resurrection of the righteous. Today its “Why we need to be ready for the great gathering.”  We begin by looking in more detail at . . .

The resurrection of the righteous

1. It will happen after Jesus returns and the nations experience great tribulation. Matthew 24:30 talks about the second coming and this time of suffering when “all the tribes of the earth will mourn.” And then Matthew 24:31 (the next verse) talks about the resurrection of the righteous. There is a sequence here.

2. The resurrection is called a “gathering” (as in our title today). Mark 13:27 tells us that after Jesus returns, “he will . . . gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” 

This gathering language is used in other places:

  • In Matthew 13:30 (the parable of the weeds) speaking of the resurrection, Jesus says, “. . . at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn’” – a reference to resurrection.
  • In 2 Thessalonians 2:1 Paul says, “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him . . .” – again, speaking of the resurrection of the righteous.

Also, the word “taken” is used for the resurrection. Jesus said in Luke 17:34, “one will be taken, and another left.” The one taken is resurrected. The phrase “caught up” is also used in –  I Thessalonians 4:17.

Whatever the language, the point is that we will be brought to Jesus, from all the ends of the earth and gathered around him.

3. Angels will be involved in this gathering. They are not always mentioned, but they are involved.

Matthew 24:31 tells us that Jesus “will send out his angels . . . and they will gather his elect . . ..” And as Jesus said in Matthew 13:39 (the parable of the weeds) speaking of the resurrection, “the reapers are angels” who will gather us to himself.

4. The resurrection will be signaled by a trumpet blast.

  • Matthew 24:31 speaks of “a loud trumpet call.”
  • I Corinthians 15:52 says that at this time “the last trumpet . . . will sound.”
  • In 1 Thessalonians  4:16 the resurrection is accompanied by “the sound of the trumpet of God.”  

5. The faithful who die before Jesus’ return will be first. At death they go to be with the Lord (as Paul talks about in several places) and they will come with Jesus as he returns in the clouds.

  • They will receive their resurrection bodies first. Their souls and their new bodies will be joined.
  • And then the faithful who are alive will be resurrected. Our current lowly bodies will be made imperishable.   

Paul teaches on this in I Thessalonians 4:13-17 and I Corinthians 15:52.

Finally, and the point we are heading to – 6. Those who are gathered will be sorted. For the dead in Christ, this happened at death. But for those who are alive when Jesus returns – as the angels gather us – there will be a process of separating those who are faithful and those who are not.

The angels will gather in all who profess Jesus as Lord; who look to him as the Messiah (Matthew 7:21; 25:11; Luke 13:25). But not everyone who is gathered, or seeks to be gathered will make it into the eternal Kingdom.

This will be when, in Jesus’ words, “those who are considered worthy to attain . . . to the resurrection from the dead” (Luke 20:35) will be blessed. They will be given resurrection bodies and will receive the rewards of the faithful. And as we will see, those who are not worthy will be cast away from Jesus.

This is why we need to be ready!

This is the moment of our greatest hope, for resurrection life and blessed reward. But it is also the moment of our greatest testing. Have we been faithful to our Lord and King? Or have we squandered his grace and mercy? And the truth is that not all will make it in.

Jesus speaks of this on a number of occasions. Here are some of them:

Matthew 7:21-23. This is Jesus speaking about the final day.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

As Jesus teaches here rather straightforwardly, “many” who confess him as Lord and even do works of the Spirit will not make it in. Rather, Jesus says to them, “’I never knew you; depart from me” – v. 23.  They are sorted out.

The parable of the bridesmaids: Matthew 25:1-13. In this parable about the second coming, there are ten bridesmaids waiting for the groom, Jesus. As we know, five made it because they were ready, and five did not make it in because they were not ready.

When these last five came back later to try to get into the wedding banquet they said, “’Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he (Jesus) answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’” – vs. 11-12.

The parable of the talents: Matthew 25:14-30. This is a familiar story. The master gave his three servants tasks to do while he was gone.

When the master returned, the second coming, two servants had worked hard and they entered in. But one did not work, and he was excluded.

Jesus said about this last one, “Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – v. 30.

The parable of the weeds: Matthew 13:24-30; 37-43. We have already looked at this in part. At the end of the age, as v. 41 says, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers,” that is, all the weeds. And then the wheat, the faithful ones, will be gathered. 

Those who are a part of Jesus’ kingdom, who are not faithful are separated from those who are faithful.

Jesus said about the weeds, “Throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” v. 42.

The parable of the fishnet: Matthew 13:47-50. The net of the gospel has collected fish of every kind. Some Christians who are faithful, and some who have responded to the gospel, but are not faithful.

As v. 49 says, “The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous.” It concludes by saying of the former, “throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – v. 50.

As we see in all these examples (and there are more) there is a sorting process. Some who are gathered, or seek to be gathered, will not make it into the kingdom. This is why . . .

Jesus calls us to be ready

He calls us to be alert. At the end of the Olivet discourse he says, “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.” – Mark 13:33. He also says, “And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” – Mark 13:37. We will look at how to be ready and alert next week.
 
William Higgins

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We are continuing on in our series on the second coming of Jesus. Last week we began to look at Jesus’ Olivet Discourse in Mark 13, Jesus’ primary teaching on his return.

Here’s a recap: Jesus predicted that Herod’s temple would be destroyed. The disciples, who saw this as something that must be connected to the end of all things, asked Jesus – “When’s it gonna happen?”

This is a picture of a model of Herod’s Temple:

second temple

But instead of answering their question right away, in vs. 5-13 Jesus talked more generally about how we are to expect  false teachers and persecution as we wait for the end and his return.

Today, we look at Jesus’ answer to the disciple’s specific question of – “When will Herod’s temple be destroyed?” This is where Jesus presents, what I am calling his roadmap to the end.

Stage 1: The destruction of the temple

Jesus talks about four things here:

1. The abomination of desolation.

Mark 13:14a – “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not to be (let the reader understand) . . ..”

Jesus is using prophetic – apocalyptic code language – “abomination of desolation.” This is emphasized when Mark invites the reader to understand what is being said. Its like saying – “Do you get it?”

Jesus is drawing on the book of Daniel here. Daniel portrays a pagan king who defiles the temple, most often associated with Antiochus Epiphanes and what he did in 168 BC.

By using this phrase, Jesus is saying that this will happen again (or perhaps he is even saying that this will be the true fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy).

In Luke 21:20 (Luke’s account of the Olivet discourse) we are given the decoded version of what Jesus means: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.”

This helps us to see that Jesus is talking about events that occurred not long after his death. In 66-70 AD the Roman armies came against Israel.

  • They laid siege to the city and eventually destroyed Jerusalem and the temple under General Titus, who later became emperor.
  • Then they offered up sacrifices to their idolatrous banners on the temple site

In these ways the pagan Roman empire, its armies and emperor, showed itself to be truly an “abomination of desolation.”

In answer to the question – “When will Herod’s temple be destroyed?” Jesus indicates that, it will happen sometime after you see the Roman armies coming ready to attack.

2. Flight to the mountains.

Mark 13:14b-18 – “. . .  then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not happen in winter.”

The recognition of the Roman armies coming against the city is the cue for the Jewish Christians in Judea to flee. Usually you would flee into a walled city in time of war. But not this time. This time God’s judgment is coming on Jerusalem and the temple. 

Jesus emphasizes the seriousness of the situation. Leave your possessions and extra clothes behind and run! Jesus also speaks to the practical difficulties of fleeing:

  • It will be very hard on women who are pregnant or with small children.
  • He also tells them to pray that it not be in winter, when the rivers are flooded and hard to cross and the mountains have snow.

According to one report the Christians in Jerusalem did in fact flee the city, sometime at the beginning of the war.

3. A great tribulation.

Mark 13:17-20 – “For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.” 

Luke’s version here shows us that this time of tribulation is still speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. “For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles . . .”  – 21:23b-24.

This was a horrific time of suffering for the Jewish people:

  • They were subjected to the realities of seige warfare being stuck in Jerusalem. Some resorted to cannibalism when the food ran out.
  • Over a million were killed throughout Israel (which was a huge percentage of the population in that day). So many were crucified that it was said that there were few trees left in the region.
  • Almost a hundred thousand were taken away into slavery
  • Their temple was defiled and destroyed, the city of Jerusalem was burned, and their national-political identity was taken away

As Jesus said, if God did not cut short the days for the sake of his chosen ones, followers of Jesus – none would have survived.

Now, when Jesus speaks of suffering beyond what has ever occurred or will occur again:

  • He may be speaking figuratively, as the prophet Joel does in Joel 2:2. This would, then, simply be a prophetic way of describing suffering beyond imagination.
  • With regard to Jerusalem, he could be speaking literally. For it is true that it had never suffered this much before. And, if this is what he meant, then it will never suffer this much again.

4. A time of deception.

Mark 13:21-23 – “And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. False christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.”

Jesus already warned of this, as we saw last week. Here he gives a specific warning. During this time of chaos and distress, don’t listen to false messiahs and false prophets. For they will seek to lead followers of Jesus astray through the use of signs and omens.

And this kind of activity – false prophets and talk of omens – did take place during and after the war that destroyed the temple.

This leads us to . . .

Stage 2: An undefined time of geo-political turmoil

Mark 13:24-25 – “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” 

This is a new section, for he says, “after that tribulation.” We are past the destruction of the temple and that awful time.

But what does all this cosmic language of sun, moon and stars mean? Is it literal? Well, when we look at the rest of Scripture, we find out that this is prophetic speech that was used to describe geo-political change as one empire rises and another falls at the hand of God:

Isaiah 13:10 uses the same cosmic language that Jesus does to speak of God’s judgment of Babylon. “For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light, the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light.” As we know, it wasn’t literal here. It was a way of speaking of God’s judgment on this nation.

Isaiah 34:4 also uses some of the same language that Jesus does to speak of God’s judgment on Edom. “All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall . . ..”

The prophets Ezekiel, Joel & Amos  also use cosmic language to speak of judgment on nations.

Luke confirms this understanding. In Luke 21:24 the destruction of Jerusalem is followed by “the times of the Gentiles.” God will be dealing with the Gentile nations now.

Then in verses 25-26 comes the cosmic language with additional statements that help us see what is going on. Jesus speaks of “. . . distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the wave, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.” Why are the nations distressed? Because of “the roaring of the sea and the wave.” And as we saw in our study of baptism this has to do with chaos, turmoil and judgment in the world (see Revelation 17:15).

Jesus here speaks in the most general terms possible about a time when nations will rise and fall in the world at the hand of God.

This section recalls Mark 13:8. “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” These are the birth pangs of the end expressed in cosmic language.

This brings us to the last stage . . .

Stage 3: The coming of the Son of Man

Mark 13:26 – “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”

After this undefined period of Gentile geo-political turmoil, “then” Jesus will return as ruler and king.

We learn from Matthew’s version that a part of this is that the peoples of the earth will be judged. Matthew 24:30 says “all the tribes of the earth will mourn.” Jesus’ return will bring great woe upon the people of the earth. The book of Revelation expounds on this in some detail.

More hopefully this also involves the resurrection of the righteous.

Mark 13:27 – “And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

Jesus will send out his angels to gather together his followers. Again, this is a common way of talking about the resurrection of the righteous.

Next we see the connection between . . .

The temple destruction and Jesus’ return

Mark 13:28-31 – “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

Now notice, the phrase, “these things” in this passage cannot refer to the coming of the Son of Man, for “when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” The two are differentiated by Jesus. “These things” must take place first, then we know that “he is near.”

The phrase, “these things” connects back to the original question of 13:4 – “When will these things be and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?” In other words, the phrase “these things” refers to the temple destruction and the beginning of the times of the Gentiles.

Jesus gives us more information about “when” in this section:

1. “These things” will happen within the span of a generation. That is, the destruction of the temple through to the ushering in of the times of the Gentiles will occur in the lifetime of Jesus’ hearers. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” – v. 30.

And Jesus stakes his prophetic authority on this prediction. He said, “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” – v. 31. And, in fact, “all these things” did happen by 70 AD, within a generation of Jesus’ words!

2. Once the temple is destroyed, Jesus’ return is imminent. That is, no other event must happen before he returns. Which means he could come at any time!

But, lets be clear as we end . . .

No one knows when Jesus will return

Mark 13:32-33 – “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.”

Although the other events will be fulfilled in the generation of Jesus’ listeners, no one knows when the Son will come in glory and power.

He could not emphasize this point more. Not even Jesus himself knows when! Only the Father knows.

So if anyone tells you that they know, ask them if they know more than Jesus! Then tell them what Jesus said, “you do not know when the time will come.”

We currently live somewhere in stage two – the times of the Gentiles. And Jesus could come at any time.

Since we don’t know when, as Jesus said, we should “be on guard” and “keep awake.” We should be ready at all times!

William Higgins

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