Saturday, December 01, 2007

Third Pass at This Sunday's Bible Lessons

[To see the first pass and an explanation of what these passes are about, go here. To see the second pass, go here.]

Verse-by-Verse Comments, Matthew 24:36-44 36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
(1) After telling the disciples that temple at which they marveled would one day be destroyed, Jesus also reveals that the entire world that they knew (and that we know) will one day come to an end. One day, the risen and ascended Jesus will return to earth, judge the living and the dead, and fully establish His kingdom. The disciples wondered what authenticating “signs” would take place to prove Jesus’ portrait of the future would take place. Jesus spends thirty-two verses on these signs. Then, He comes to this passage.

One point seems to be that even of you know the signs, you cannot know when His return will happen. That isn’t for us to know. And it isn’t an appropriate subject for our speculation. Our call is to trust Christ and live as faithfully for Him as we can each day. Period.

(2) With three words, “nor the Son,” Jesus says that even He was ignorant of when His return would happen. One commentator suggest, rightly I think, that Jesus didn’t know this as part of His voluntary laying aside of divine power--something Paul talks about in Philippians 2:5-11--when it came to His personal comfort.

Jesus, “true God and true man,” as both the Bible and the historic creeds of the Church affirm, certainly possessed and used divine power while on earth. But He always did so in the service of His mission, which was to save a fallen human race from sin and death. His miracles were signs of Who He was and of the authenticity of His promises to all who follow Him. But Jesus came to “search and save the lost” and to be a servant of all.

Difficult as it is for us to imagine, I believe that Jesus chose to remain ignorant of those things that would bring Him more comfort and hope than other members of the human race might have when we face suffering and death. Jesus came to the earth in order to be one with us so that He could win new life for us. Jesus trusts that the future is in the hands of the Father. He calls us to trust in the same way.

37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.
(1) Jesus recalls the events recounted in Genesis 6, when God called eight believing but imperfect people, Noah and his family, to build an ark and ride out a flood that would destroy a human race that had totally rebelled against God.

While Noah and family built the ark and watched God gather animals from throughout the world, the rest of the human race went on with its business. Some of their activities, as Jesus tells it, were mundane and innocent. But through it all, they were heedless of God, eliminating God from their decisions and their thoughts.

Jesus says that “they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away.” Similarly, humanity will go along its merry way before Jesus returns, many people completely heedless of Christ. Like those outside the ark in the days of the flood, they’ll be caught by surprise.

40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.
(1) Much is made of these verses in certain Christian circles. These folks refer to what Jesus describes here as the rapture, a word that comes from the French and literally refers to being seized or taken away. Knit together with a few things written by Paul, what’s called “the rapture” projects that on Christ’s return, believers will meet Him in the sky.

But in the case of these two verses, we have to be careful to note what Jesus does and doesn’t say. We mustn’t read into these words what isn’t there. Jesus says nothing about where those taken go. Nor does He say anything about what happens to those who remain in the field or grinding meal.

These verses are a mystery, really.

42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
(1) Spiritual wakefulness entails keeping our lives focused on God and on God’s will. The object is to not be caught up in worrying about the past or the future, but to remain faithful to God today.

These words are similar to what Jesus told the disciples who fell asleep as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. If we don’t stay alert and remain focused on God, we’re apt to become discouraged or fall away from God.

(2) Once again, Jesus underscores the fact that we don’t know when He is returning. Instead of concerning ourselves about when He will come back, our call is to be faithful to Him now.

43 But understand this: if the owner 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. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
(1) Jesus closes out this discourse by sharing a mini-parable. Only Jesus would be so sacrilegious as to compare Himself to a thief. His point: Thieves don’t tell you when they’re going to break into your home. You have to be prepared for them by doing things like securing the dead bolt and locking the valuables. By maintaining a relationship with Christ, we secure our eternal lives. We’re prepared for His return whenever it happens.

(2) Notice that once again, Jesus uses a form of the word “know,” as He does throughout this passage. Here, it’s “if the owner of the house had known.” There can be no “know it all” Christians. We don’t know it all. And we know even less if reverence, respect, and awe for the God we know in Christ isn’t central to our faith. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7).

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