Ready for His Return: Matthew 24:36-51

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In response to a question several of the disciples have regarding the time of the end and Jesus’ return, Jesus challenges all His followers throughout time by including an interesting parallel. Mixed within this parallel is the topic of date setting and predicting the end of the world, and this seems to be a favorite activitiy of various groups of people throughout history. However, it’s strange in my mind that a startling percentage of these predictions come from people who should know Jesus’ words at the opening of our passage because many of these end-of-the-world theorists have a Christian background and they are clearly predicting Jesus’ return.

Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 24, and we’ll be reading it from the Contemporary English Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 36, Jesus continues by telling His disciples:

36 No one knows the day or hour. The angels in heaven don’t know, and the Son himself doesn’t know. Only the Father knows. 37 When the Son of Man appears, things will be just as they were when Noah lived. 38 People were eating, drinking, and getting married right up to the day that the flood came and Noah went into the big boat. 39 They didn’t know anything was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. That is how it will be when the Son of Man appears.

Let’s pause here for a moment to focus attention onto an interesting piece of information: If Jesus doesn’t know when He will return, it makes no sense to think that a clever, or even an “inspired” human would be able to figure it out. Also along these same lines, it is illogical to believe that God would tell a sinful human His plan before telling His own Son!

However, what if Jesus now knows when the end will be while He didn’t when on earth with his disciples? It is definitely possible that at some point between Jesus’ return to heaven and now, Jesus has asked and received the definitive answer regarding His return and the end of our world. However, Jesus makes no indication of wanting to ask or know specifically when, which leaves us with our illogical problem: If Jesus doesn’t know when He will return, it seems like wasted energy for us to try to figure it out.

Following this statement, Jesus makes an interesting comparison to the time leading up to the flood. Prior to the flood, people were going about their lives as normal, and the end of their world happened without them being prepared. However, in Noah’s world, plenty of signs and warnings were present that should have prompted the people to pay attention. While it might be easy to tune out a preacher carpenter after a number of years of preaching and building, when the boat was finished, and animals started miraculously coming to take their place on the boat, that should have at least turned some heads. The only way those in Noah’s generation missed the boat was because they were ignoring the signs and warnings around them.

The parallel in our world is that we can be easily distracted away from paying attention to the warnings that our world is ending soon. Jesus continues in verse 40 by describing how His return will be both subtle and a surprise:

40 Two men will be in the same field, but only one will be taken. The other will be left. 41 Two women will be together grinding grain, but only one will be taken. The other will be left. 42 So be on your guard! You don’t know when your Lord will come. 43 Homeowners never know when a thief is coming, and they are always on guard to keep one from breaking in. 44 Always be ready! You don’t know when the Son of Man will come.

Let’s pause reading again. Many people believe what we just read relates to a secret rapture, but the context of this passage and verse tell us this is Jesus’ return. However, why then do these verses seem to describe a subtle return while other passages describe a return where there is so much turmoil that the earth feels like it will fall apart?

I believe the answer lies in the focus of these verses, and specifically what Jesus is describing and what He is not.

Nothing in these verses describes what takes place the minute Jesus returns. Instead, all it tells us is what people are caught doing when He appears. This passage basically tells us that the day Jesus returns will start like pretty much any other day. People will be getting up, going to work, and His return will be a surprise.

This passage doesn’t focus on the trauma of the world breaking apart at His arrival, but to the important truth that being ready for His return is an internal thing. Being ready for Jesus is a matter of where our hearts and lives are focused, and on our relationship with God. While our outward lives might not look significantly different, God knows our hearts, our minds, and our focus, and these things play an important role in our salvation.

Jesus challenges us again with the clear statement that we don’t know when He will return. While it doesn’t say that we will never know, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that we won’t know it until it happens. Jesus describes His return like a thief trying to catch a homeowner off guard. While Jesus isn’t going to come secretly to steal His people away, His return will catch everyone who isn’t paying attention to the warnings around them off guard.

While believing in Jesus and trusting in His sacrifice leads to salvation, Jesus finishes our passage by telling us what we should instead focus on. Up to this point, we have seen how it isn’t worth our time or energy to predict or speculate regarding the date or time He will return. Instead, let’s finish our passage and discover what He wants us to focus on instead. Continuing in verse 45, Jesus asks:

45 Who are faithful and wise servants? Who are the ones the master will put in charge of giving the other servants their food supplies at the proper time? 46 Servants are fortunate if their master comes and finds them doing their job. 47 You may be sure that a servant who is always faithful will be put in charge of everything the master owns. 48 But suppose one of the servants thinks that the master won’t return until late. 49 Suppose that evil servant starts beating the other servants and eats and drinks with people who are drunk. 50 If that happens, the master will surely come on a day and at a time when the servant least expects him. 51 That servant will then be punished and thrown out with the ones who only pretended to serve their master. There they will cry and grit their teeth in pain.

The conclusion to our passage describes in a broad way what we should be focusing on. Those who Jesus calls faithful and wise servants are the ones who are doing their job when the master checks in on them. Faithful and wise servants are responsible regardless of whether the master is present or absent, and regardless of whether the master is only gone for minutes or whether he is gone for millennia. It’s possible that Jesus’ return will be after we have died in this life.

However, we are called to focus on something different. It is not up to us whether we will be alive when Jesus returns, or resurrected when He appears. Instead, God brought us into the world at the time He did because He has a task for us to accomplish. While our role in the world might look different from everyone else’s, the ultimate task God has given each of His servants is to lead people to Jesus. In everything we focus our attention on, we should focus on the ultimate task of a faithful, wise servant, and that task is modeling Jesus’ love for others while leading people to Jesus.

All of God’s wise and faithful servants will be saved when Jesus returns, and this includes both those who are living at the time, and those who have been awaiting resurrection.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I often begin each set of challenges by saying, be sure to seek God first and be sure to focus on the highest calling a faithful and wise servant of God can have, which is leading others to Jesus. When Jesus returns, the only thing that will matter is whether we have given our heart and our lives to Him and the only relationships that will survive are with those who have also placed God first. This is why it’s important we share Jesus with everyone. If we want to see someone in heaven, we need to help them grow a relationship with Jesus!

Also, always be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself, because a personal relationship with Jesus is the only thing that matters when He returns. While pastors, speakers, authors, or even the occasional podcaster can give you some interesting thing to think about, always take what you hear or read and test it with what the Bible says. When we test words and ideas through the Bible’s teaching, we discover God’s truth.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of or drift away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of the Cross – Episode 16: When Jesus describes His return as catching people off guard, how should we understand this in light of how earth-shattering His return will be? Discover what we should focus on doing, and what is not worth our time in this challenging and often misunderstood passage from the gospel of Matthew.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

When God Says “Go”: Mark 10:46-52

Focus Passage: Mark 10:46-52 (GNT)

46 They came to Jericho, and as Jesus was leaving with his disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus son of Timaeus was sitting by the road. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!”

48 Many of the people scolded him and told him to be quiet. But he shouted even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called the blind man. “Cheer up!” they said. “Get up, he is calling you.”

50 So he threw off his cloak, jumped up, and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

“Teacher,” the blind man answered, “I want to see again.”

52 “Go,” Jesus told him, “your faith has made you well.”

At once he was able to see and followed Jesus on the road.

Read Mark 10:46-52 in context and/or in other translations on!

Have you ever told someone to do something, and instead they do the opposite?

Have you ever been that person – the one to do the opposite of what you were told?

In our passage for this post, we find an example of this type of disobedience displayed, but in this case, would we blame the disobedient person?

In this passage, Jesus heals Bartimaeus, a formerly blind beggar who lived in or near Jericho. Following the healing, Jesus says, “Go, your faith has made you well.(v. 52a) However instead of going away, Bartimaeus chooses to “go” follow Jesus: “At once he was able to see and followed Jesus on the road.(v. 52b)

Such disobedience: Bartimaeus chooses to follow the person who healed him.

If you are like me, I am not surprised at all by this reaction – even if it is counter to what Jesus said. When God does a miracle in our lives, following Him is a perfectly acceptable response.

However, is there something deeper in Jesus’ command to “Go”?

What if when Jesus said “Go”, the idea He was saying was “Be free [from your disability]”? In this angle, Bartimaeus was freed to see instantly, and this freedom allowed Him to choose whether to follow the One who freed Him, or choose to share what Jesus did with those in his community.

We could understand this also in Jesus’ similar command to, “Go, and sin no more.” We could angle this to say “Be free, and choose to never go back.” This then wouldn’t be a command to never sin ever again, but a challenge to not repeat the same mistakes we’ve made, to learn and grow from our mistakes, and to redirect our life towards God’s ideal for us.

In our own lives, when Jesus sets us free, will we thank Him and go our own way, or will we choose to follow Him—the One who set us free?

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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The Missing Bride: Matthew 25:1-13

Focus Passage: Matthew 25:1-13 (NIrV)

“Here is what the kingdom of heaven will be like at that time. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Five of them were foolish. Five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but didn’t take any olive oil with them. The wise ones took oil in jars along with their lamps. The groom did not come for a long time. So the bridesmaids all grew tired and fell asleep.

“At midnight someone cried out, ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the bridesmaids woke up and got their lamps ready. The foolish ones said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil. Our lamps are going out.’

“ ‘No,’ they replied. ‘There may not be enough for all of us. Instead, go to those who sell oil. Buy some for yourselves.’

10 “So they went to buy the oil. But while they were on their way, the groom arrived. The bridesmaids who were ready went in with him to the wedding dinner. Then the door was shut.

11 “Later, the other bridesmaids also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘What I’m about to tell you is true. I don’t know you.’

13 “So keep watch. You do not know the day or the hour that the groom will come.

Read Matthew 25:1-13 in context and/or in other translations on!

In the parable of the ten bridesmaids, there is a character who must be present, but who is never mentioned. For there to be a groom and bridesmaids, there would also have to be a bride. Otherwise, there really wouldn’t be a wedding.

Perhaps Jesus shared the parable in this way to allow for multiple people to fill the role, but if that were the case, then they all should be at the wedding itself. In first-century weddings, the bridesmaids role was to light the way at night between the wedding ceremony (which would be at a church or synagogue) and the reception hall (which would be in a home).

The bridesmaids had an important role in helping guests make their way from the ceremony to the celebration. If this wedding represents Christ’s marriage with the symbolic bride that is the church, then Christians everywhere would be a part of the wedding ceremony, and the role of bridesmaid would ultimately be composed of a different group of people.

Missing in this parable is the role of the bride. The bride actually links the bridesmaids with the groom. The bridesmaids know the bride, and they are interested in meeting the groom. With this idea in place, the bridesmaids may be composed of friends of Christians who are looking for evidence of their faith, and who desire to meet God themselves. Some of these friends may fall away, looking for something else, while others of them may persevere and find God.

This slight distinction in who fills the role of bridesmaid in this parable makes for an interesting question, but in some ways, it misses an important characteristic of our spiritual journey: No one starts life as a Christ-follower. Life does not begin with us as a part of the symbolic bride.

Instead, as we grow, we make the decision whether to align ourselves with God, Jesus, and those who have aligned themselves in this way, or we make the decision to reject God in favor of another option. Choosing to align with God takes us from being a bridesmaid to being a member of the symbolic bride and this only happens after we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives and joining with the bigger body of Christianity.

With the freedom to choose God we also have the freedom to reject Him. It is within our freedom of choice to leave being a member of the symbolic bride and walk away from being a bridesmaid.

With the freedom of choice, we will all fill the role of bridesmaid at some point in our lives, and while in that role, this parable gives us guidance for how to be wise, how to persevere, and how to ultimately and successfully meet the groom.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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Flashback Episode — Like the Sun or Like the Son: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

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Tucked at the heart of Matthew’s gospel is a chapter filled with parables. Included in this set of parables is one that seemed to bother the disciples a little more than the others, and we can be thankful for this, because the disciples wanted clarification and asked Jesus to explain this parable to them. We can also thank Matthew for including both the parable and Jesus’ explanation in his gospel.

Before beginning our discussion on this parable, and on Jesus’ explanation, let’s read the parable for ourselves and refresh our minds about the details that Jesus shares. This parable is found in Matthew’s gospel, in chapter 13, and we will be reading from the New International Reader’s Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 24:

24 Jesus told the crowd another story. “Here is what the kingdom of heaven is like,” he said. “A man planted good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came. The enemy planted weeds among the wheat and then went away. 26 The wheat began to grow and form grain. At the same time, weeds appeared.

27 “The owner’s slaves came to him. They said, ‘Sir, didn’t you plant good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’

28 ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The slaves asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull up the weeds?’

29 ‘No,’ the owner answered. ‘While you are pulling up the weeds, you might pull up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the workers what to do. Here is what I will say to them. First collect the weeds. Tie them in bundles to be burned. Then gather the wheat. Bring it into my storeroom.’

There are a number of key details that we should pay attention to in this parable. The owner of this field planted only good seed, and while we might simply blame nature for helping weeds get mixed into the gardens that we plant, the description Jesus gives of this field is that there were too many weeds to have occurred naturally. The owner attributes the weeds to one of his enemies. We’ll come back to this point in a moment.

When it has been discovered what happened, the workers ask if they are to go pull the weeds early to let the grain grow better and have better access to the soil nutrients and sunlight. But the owner responds that he is worried that they might pull or damage some of the grain in the process. This is a key point to remember as well.

Lastly, when the harvest time is ready, the workers will first pull the weeds and bundle them before harvesting the grain and bringing it into the owner’s storeroom. This is a third key point for us to remember.

Let’s now read Jesus’ explanation of this parable a few verses later. Jumping back in at verse 36, Matthew continues by saying:

36 Then Jesus left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him. They said, “Explain to us the story of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who planted the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world. The good seed stands for the people who belong to the kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. 39 The enemy who plants them is the devil. The harvest is judgment day. And the workers are angels.

40 “The weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire. That is how it will be on judgment day. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels. They will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin. They will also get rid of all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace. There people will weep and grind their teeth. 43 Then God’s people will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Whoever has ears should listen.

Jesus doesn’t sugarcoat His description. Each detail of the original parable represents something. The enemy who planted the weeds is the devil, and specifically the field is the world. When reading this parable, we may be tempted to see the field as the Church, but this would be inaccurate – except to say that the more like the world the church becomes, the ratio between wheat and weeds in the church will more closely reflect ratio in the world.

The weeds are simply described as those who belong to the evil one, and this is a nice contrast with those who belong to the kingdom. Closer to the end of the parable, another description is given of the weeds. The last statement in verse 41, which describes God sending out His angels, describes their actions as weeding outeverything that causes sin” and getting “rid of all who do evil”. The actions of the weeds are evil actions. Nothing is said about the weeds intentions.

We could assume that an evil action will always have an evil intention behind it, but this is not always the case. The devil is a master of lies and it is possible that there are weeds that believe their intentions to be good while doing evil things.

However, one point in the parable that Jesus skips over explaining is the response the owner gives to the workers when they want to go clean up the field of weeds before the harvest. The response the owner gives is profound. Verse 29 and the first part of verse 30 tell us that the owner responds by saying, “No. While you are pulling up the weeds, you might pull up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.

Perhaps the weeds that were planted would look similar to wheat while both were young or maybe the owner doesn’t trust that his servants would be careful, diligent, or observant enough to protect every stalk of wheat. The clear message, which is a very profound idea when we look closely at it, is that God does not want to risk harming any of His chosen people from an eternity-wide perspective. This might mean that His people will be injured or irritated by “weeds” in their own lives, but in the biggest picture that matters, we are able to see that even though we don’t have life easy now, God is more concerned with saving us for eternity. This parable tells us that the alternate, which isn’t an option, is risking losing some of His people with weeds that are pulled up early.

Applying this to the world today, those who are paying attention can see a growing divide between people who are growing, developing, and displaying a Christ-like character, and those who are developing and displaying characters that are not like Christ. The biggest distinction between these two groups is where the role of self is placed. While this wasn’t as obvious in the past as it is now, when we look for this distinction today, it is becoming easier and easier to see, and it will get more obvious as we move towards the final judgment. Our role as wheat in God’s field is simple: reflect Jesus.

The last point for us to pay attention to is that while the weeds are described as those who do evil, the wheat are not contrasted by doing good. Instead, verse 43 describes God’s people as shining “like the sun in their Father’s kingdom”. While the spelling of sun in this passage is s-u-n, in God the Father’s kingdom, no s-u-n will shine as brightly as the S-o-n Son. God’s people are destined to let their lives reflect and display Jesus. This is the contrasting description, and it is a lot more significant than simply doing something good or avoiding doing evil.

As we conclude another podcast episode, here are the challenges that I want to leave you with:

Don’t limit yourself by simply doing good while avoiding doing evil. Instead, focus your life on the destiny of God’s people, and don’t wait until eternity to begin reflecting Jesus. Begin reflecting Jesus today, regardless of what the weeds in your life might think.

The best way to learn how to reflect Jesus is by growing closer to Him and by learning what He is like. This is best done through prayer and studying the Bible for yourself. If you let all your Bible information filter to you through me or someone else, you are limiting yourself based on what others have learned. While learning from each other is nowhere near bad, choosing to depend on others for your spiritual life is one of the worst things you could do. Reflect Jesus by learning about Him directly from God’s Word.

And, as I always end each set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 15: Cam discusses the parable of the wheat and the weeds, and he draws our attention to some key ideas included in the parable and explanation, including a description of God’s chosen people.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.