Jesus is Coming Again

 

Week of April 29, 2012

 

Bible Verses:  Matthew 24:9-14, 39-44; Revelation 7:9; 22:12-14.

 

Lesson Focus:  This lesson is about the return of Jesus and the need to be ready for it and faithful.

 

See the End Game:  Revelation 22:12-14.

 

[12]  "Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. [13]  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." [14]  Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.  [ESV]

 

Behold, I am coming soon is obviously a major emphasis of the last part of Revelation [22:7,10,12,20], reiterating the prologue [1:1,7]. The nearness of the Parousia throughout the New Testament is the basis for the call to ethical commitment. Since Christ is returning soon, we had better be ready at all times, lest He find us unprepared like the ten virgins [Matt. 25:1-13] or the servant who wasted his talent [Matt. 25:14-30]. This is stressed in the rest of verse 12, for Christ says when He comes, He will be bringing recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. In Revelation the reward is eschatological and relates to the eternal recompense that will be given believers at His return for their faithful walk with Christ. God and the Lamb will vindicate and reward their people for all that they have sacrificed. A careful study of recompense shows that it does not automatically refer only to a positive reward. It refers literally to “payment for work done,” and as such it can refer to punishment as well as reward. Indeed, this fits the context remarkably well, with the saved and unsaved side by side in both 22:11 and 22:14-15. The idea of “judged according to works” occurs often in Revelation, speaking of both believers and unbelievers. Christ appears here as the judge of all humankind, and this is both a promise and a warning, building on verse 11. We must clarify, however, that this is not a “justified by works” theology. It is clear in Scripture that we are saved by grace through faith … not works [Eph. 2:8-9]. To put both teachings together, “We are saved by grace and judged by works.” The teaching here deals not with salvation by works but with our eternal reward. This is the last of the Alpha and the Omega passages, and fittingly all three types of this saying are found here in verse 13. The titles refer to the sovereignty of God and Christ over history. They control the beginning of creation and its end, and therefore they control every aspect of history in between. Since this is the only passage to contain all three titles, it has the greatest emphasis of them all on the all-embracing power of Christ over human history. These are the perfect titles to occur between the emphasis on Christ’s coming as judge in 22:12 and the warnings to the believers and the unregenerate in 22:14-15. Christ is sovereign over all and therefore the one who has authority over the destiny of everyone. The seventh and final beatitude of Revelation, like the others, emphasizes perseverance in the faith: (1) in 1:3 God’s blessing falls on those who read and those who heed the exhortations in the book; (2) in 14:13 He blesses those who die in the Lord; (3) in 16:15 the blessed are those who stay awake and guard their clothes; (4) in 19:9 the blessing belongs to those invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb; (5) in 20:6 it is those who have part in the first resurrection; and (6) in 22:7 it refers to those who keep the words of the prophecy of this book. The one unifying theme is the necessity of remaining true to the Lord in order to participate in the resurrection to eternal life. In this final beatitude, the language is close to the language of 7:14, where the victorious saints are described as those who washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. There too the imagery of washing their robes speaks of spiritual revival, that is, ridding their lives of the accumulated filth of this world and living pure lives before God. The present tense speaks of an ongoing activity that characterizes their lives. This is a recurring theme in Revelation, used negatively for the church at Sardis [3:4-5] and at Laodicea [3:18]. Most often, white garments are used positively for victorious saints. In 7:14 the garments are washed in the blood of the Lamb which is the basis of the victorious life. Christ gives those who wash their robes a new right or authority. Throughout Revelation this word, right, speaks of the authority or power given to the saints over the nations [2:26], the demonic hordes over the earth-dwellers [9:3,10,19], the two witnesses over their enemies [11:6], the beast over the nations and the saints [13:2,4-5,7; 17:12-13], the angels over fire from the altar [14:18] as well as over the earth [18:1], and God over the plagues [16:19]. Now this authority is given to the saints, and the text returns to the regained Eden theme from 22:1-5. The saints are given authority over the tree of life, meaning they have eternal life. This was stated negatively in 20:6, over such the second death has no power, but now the positive side is seen, and it is expressed wondrously. Adam and Eve had access to the tree of life but hardly authority. In eternity the saints will be able to partake freely of the twelve kinds of fruit [22:2] and also to enter the city by the gates [14]. In 21:25 the gates of the New Jerusalem are never shut, and through them the nations bring their glory into it [21:26]. In contrast, anything that is unclean, vile, or false cannot enter it [21:27]. Like 21:25-27, the picture here is one of total peace and security, an eternal city that is constantly open to its citizens.

 

See that you are Ready:  Matthew 24:39-44

 

[39]  and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. [40]  Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. [41]  Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. [42]  Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. [43]  But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. [44]  Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.  [ESV]

 

[39-41]  The people could see Noah building the ark, and doubtless, human nature being what it is, some mocked him. But they were unaware; they did not share in Noah’s wholehearted commitment to the service of God, so they did not know what was coming on the earth. They disregarded what Noah said to them, doubtless believing firmly that their views were just as valid and just as likely to be correct as those of the ark maker. But such convictions did not avail when the flood came and swept them all away. The purposes of God are worked out quite irrespective of what humans think about them. Jesus is saying that people will in this way continue to be about their normal business right up to the time of His coming. That will be the critical point; after that it will be too late, just as it was too late for the antediluvians when the Flood came. The coming of the Son of Man will be just as abrupt, just as unexpected, just as decisive as the coming of the Flood was. Two pictures of the activities that will be going on at the time of Jesus’ return bring out the importance of being ready and also of the fact that some will not be ready and will miss the glories of the great day. The first picture is of two people in the field. Presumably these will be men at work on their land. No distinction is made between them; their circumstances are the same. But one will be taken to share in the blessings of being with the Lord. But there is also one who is left. In both cases the verb is in the present tense, which makes it all very vivid. The reality is that some will have lived with no thought for the things of God; in that day they will, of course, have no part in the things of God. The story is repeated with two women. They, too, will be going about their normal duties, on this occasion grinding at the mill, a regular part of normal life for women of that day. The reference is to a hand mill that the women used each day to grind the grain required for that day’s food. Here, too, there is separation: one will be taken and one left. In both the field and the mill the emphasis is on division. The coming of Jesus marks a complete and permanent division. Jesus makes clear that the coming of the Son of Man does not mean that all indiscriminately will enter into the joys of that day. Those who have chosen to live without God will find their choice respected when the great day comes. It will be the portion of the godless to be without God.

 

[42-44]  In the light of this certainty Jesus calls on His followers so to live that they will be ready when the great day comes. He says, stay awake, where this verb looks for His followers to live such lives that whenever He comes they will be prepared, and the present tense conveys the meaning of “keep watching.” Therefore links the demand to the uncertainty that attaches to the time of the coming. If people knew just exactly when the coming would take place, they could delay preparations until just before the time. They do not know, and therefore they must live in constant readiness. Jesus underlines the point with you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. Ignorance of the day is one of the conditions of living here and now. A homely illustration underlines the point. Burglaries do happen from time to time, but what makes them possible is that the burglar does his work unknown to the householder. He chooses a time when he will not be expected and thus can get away with his evil business. If the time of his coming was known, even in general terms, the householder would be ready for him because he would have stayed awake. The point is that no one knows even approximately when the Son of Man will return so we have to be ready at all times. Therefore carries on the chain of the argument: because disciples are in essentially the position of the householder and do not know when the coming is to be. Jesus therefore calls on His followers to be ready at all times, and again He repeats the reason; it is because they do not know the time of the return that they must live in a state of constant preparedness. Jesus says once more, the Son of Man is coming. He leaves no doubt about the fact. That is a certainty on which they may reckon. But the timing of it all is another matter. The hour of the coming is one that they do not expect.

 

See that you are Faithful:  Matthew 24:9-14; Revelation 7:9.

 

[9]  "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. [10]  And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. [11]  And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. [12]  And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. [13]  But the one who endures to the end will be saved. [14]  And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

[Rev. 7:9]  After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands  [ESV]

 

[9-14]  Jesus moves from what the Jews in general expected to the way these happenings will affect His followers. They refers to people in places of authority, people in a position to take decisive action and who will take action against the disciples. People in authority will take the initiative against Jesus’ followers: they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death. Thus His followers must expect special trouble in the last days and not simply the suffering they will share with all people, such as the famines and earthquakes of which Jesus has just spoken. They will suffer because of who they are – Christians, and their suffering will be no insignificant discomfort but the trouble that crushes. Put you to death does not mean that all Christians will be killed but that some of them certainly will. And they will all be the objects of a hatred that will be universal. It is one of the things that puzzle Christians in every age that, although they are doing their best to love God and their neighbor and to put love into practice by ministering to whatever needs they discern in those they encounter on their way through life, they are so often the butt of ridicule and the objects of hatred. Jesus is saying that this will be especially the case in the last days. Perhaps the issues will be more clearly drawn then. Whether that is the reason or not, Jesus’ followers are clearly warned that the end time will mean serious trouble for them. They will be hated not because of anything that they will have done, but for my name’s sake; they will suffer persecution simply because they bear the name Christian. In an evil world they must expect to suffer for what they are, not for what they have done. In verses 10-12 Matthew has a little section not found in the other Gospels. In those difficult circumstances many will fall away or stumble. The meaning is that they will be caught in the situation in which their Christian profession will be the accusation against them. These people will encounter disaster: they had professed to be Christians because of the peace and joy they sought in a difficult world, and instead they find persecution. In such a situation nominal Christians readily find the faith a trap and seek to get out of it promptly. They will even go so far as to betray one another and hate one another. So far from fulfilling their function as the servants of God they will actively assist the evil people in authority by handing over to them those with whom they had been associated in the church. Those who had been taught to love as Christ had loved them will degenerate into living in hatred.

 

In the early church prophets were very significant figures, ranking second to apostles [1 Cor. 12:28]. Clearly they were valued very highly and their words listened to with close attention. Accordingly it is a disastrous situation when false prophets make their appearance, and in that there will be many of them, Jesus is speaking of no small trouble in the church. The inevitable result, given the church’s estimation of the prophets, is that they will lead many astray. Jesus’ followers were accustomed to valuing the prophets highly; until a false prophet discredited himself, therefore, he was going to be heard and heeded, and he was going to lead simple people astray. In that situation lawlessness will abound. With the increase of evil both inside and outside the church many people will choose to go their own way. It is possible to put too much stress on the letter of the law and thus to descend to legalism. But the opposite error can cause much wider devastation. When people refuse to submit to law and each person does what is right in his own eyes, moral disaster follows. It is basic to the Christian way that the follower of Jesus must be humble, must say “No” to self [16:24]. To acknowledge no law is to place oneself outside the sphere of those who are Christ’s, so it is not surprising that in an atmosphere of lawlessness Jesus says, the love of many will grow cold. Real love is impossible for the lawless person. By definition the lawless person is motivated by personal, selfish concerns, not by any regard for others or for the rules that govern our intercourse with one another. So with the upsurge of lawlessness there is a cooling off of love. The one necessarily involves the other. All this, however, should not daunt the true follower of Christ. Saving faith is known not by some firm declaration or a well-intentioned beginning, but by endurance: the one who endures to the end will be saved. The words, however, are not to be thought of wholly as an injunction to constancy. They are that, but they contain also a valid and valuable promise: the person described will be saved. The power of God is such that He can and will sustain His faithful servants through whatever trials they may be called upon to endure.

 

The church’s missionary task is very important for Matthew. For the third and last time in his Gospel he speaks of the proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom. He has first spoken of Jesus as proclaiming this gospel [4:23; 9:35], but now it is a task for His followers. The Gospel is the good news that God has established His kingdom through what His Son has done for sinners and it is a message that must be taken to the ends of the world. So Jesus now says that it will be proclaimed throughout the whole world. At a time when His followers were confined to a little group of people mostly in Galilee with a few in Judea, Jesus looked to the gospel message as good news that would be taken throughout the whole world. Christian salvation calls for endurance, as this passage makes abundantly clear, but in its essence it is not anything that people do. It is what God in Christ has done. The death of Jesus was to be an atoning death, a death in which He would deal with the problems of human sin and be a ransom for many [20:28]. The proclamation of the gospel is the bearing of testimony to that great fact. And this is to be done in no minor way but to all nations. The followers of Jesus must not lose sight of the fact that their Savior, during His life on earth, spoke of carrying the gospel to every nation. Christianity must always be a missionary faith. All this is spoken in an eschatological context. Jesus has been speaking of the importance of being prepared for all manner of troubles before the end of this age. Now He says that the missionary task must be carried out, and then the end will come. Jesus has foretold grievous trouble for His followers in the days ahead. But He does not let them forget the certainty of final triumph.

 

[Revelation 7:9]  The great multitude echoes the promise of God to the patriarchs that their descendants would be innumerable. This multitude is drawn from all tribes and peoples and languages. Every nation continues the stress in the book on the universal mission of the church to the nations. These saints are standing before the throne and before the Lamb. There are two contrasts here: first, like the four angels standing at the four corners of the earth [7:1], these victorious believers are standing before the throne and the Lamb. The angels function on the earth before the great battle, and the saints function in heaven after it. Second, in 6:16 the throne and the Lamb are filled with wrath against the earth-dwellers, while here they welcome the conquering saints home to heaven. The divine throne means judgment in chapter 6 and reward in chapter 7. By being placed before the throne the believers are given a place of honor as they receive their reward for faithfulness. Once more we see the unity between God on His throne and the Lamb, as they function together. In keeping with the white robes given to the overcomers in 3:4-5 and those given to the martyrs in 6:11, these victorious Christians are clothed in white robes. These are the robes of purity but especially of victory. This establishes a special relationship with the martyrs, who were given the white robes by God [6:11] that they now wear before the throne. In addition to the white robes, they had palm branches in their hands. Palm branches were a sign of rejoicing on a festive occasion, such as the triumphal entry of Christ [John 12:13]. The contexts are similar, for the crowds then thought Jesus a conquering king, and here the imagery is also a celebration of victory.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         Revelation 22:14 is the seventh and final beatitude in Revelation. What do the three images – wash their robes … right to the tree of life … enter the city by the gates – teach us about eternal life? Note that the last two images result from (so that) the first image. Thus washing our robes gives believers eternal life. See Revelation 7:14 for what we wash our robes in to make them white.

 

2.         What did Jesus mean by his command stay awake in Matthew 24:42? What are you doing in order to stay awake and be ready for His return?

 

3.         The Old Testament frequently mentions false prophets who said what the people wanted to hear, even when the nation was not following God as it should. There were false prophets in Jesus’ day, and we have them today. What can you do not to be led astray by false prophets?

 

References:

The Gospel of Matthew, Leon Morris, Pillar, Eerdmans.

The Book of Revelation, Robert Mounce, Eerdmans.

Revelation, Grant Osborne, ECNT, Baker.