Though only a small child at the time, I remember the sight of a large old farmhouse with a peculiar small room on top of it with windows on all sides. The farmer told my dad that the previous owner of the homestead had the lookout post built on the pinnacle of the roof so he could watch for the return of the Lord.
While we admire this man’s confidence in Jesus’ promise to return for us, is this really what Jesus meant by watching for His appearing? Although our English word for “watch” fits such passive behavior as looking out a window, the word in the original implies much more than that.
What does Jesus tell us to do in light of His imminent return? What do His instructions tell us about our expectation of His appearing?
In Matthew 24:42, Jesus said, “There, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” While “watch” is a valid translation of the Greek in this verse as reflected in other translations of the Bible, the words “stay awake” capture the added sense of alertness in Jesus command. The word also denotes giving “strict attention” to a matter.
So to what do remain alert? The context gives us the answer; this instruction comes after Jesus spoke extensively about what life would be like in the days leading up to and during the tribulation (Matt. 24:3-39). The command for us to “watch” or “stay awake” does not mean we never go to sleep at night or spend our days gazing into the sky.
Rather than allow the long delay in Jesus’ return lure us to sleep, we “stay awake” by watching for the signs of the coming tribulation as well as other fulfillments of prophecy. Jesus did not give us signs of when to expect the rapture, but as we see world events fitting with the season of the last days, we know His return for us must be close. And, this is exactly what we see today.
Jesus also left us with this instruction in Matthew 24:44, “Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” The key phrase here is “be ready,” which denotes preparedness.
What does such readiness imply? It starts with knowing Jesus as our Savior. Those who remain apart from Christ because of unbelief can never be ready for His return. Saving faith is the first step in being ready for Jesus’ appearing.
If you are already in Christ (see Eph. 1:3-14), readiness consists of walking with the Lord with the awareness He could come at any moment. I believe this is the essence of what the apostle John wrote about In 1 John 2:28-3:3. The anticipation of Jesus’ soon return has a purifying effect on us as believers (3:3) because we do not want to be those who feel shame when we suddenly find themselves in the presence of Jesus (2:28).
This does not mean we never plan ahead; it would be foolish not to do so. But as we do, we remain alert to the world events that indicate the nearness of the tribulation and thus to the rapture, which happens before it.
Be Active in Serving Him
If you have listened to JD Farag’s prophecy updates for any length of time, you’ve would heard him repeat these words of Jesus, “Occupy till I come.” These words come from Jesus’ parable of the “Ten Minas” in Luke 19:11-27 (KJV). More modern translations read, “Engage in business until I come” (v. 13).
The point of the parable is that until Jesus returns for us, we should be active in serving Him with the gifts, abilities, and opportunities He gives to us. As the body of Christ, we possess a variety of spiritual gifts such as giving, helps, encouragement, evangelism, teaching, leadership, and that of being a pastor, to name a few.
Jesus gives us these gifts through the Holy Spirit to use as we have opportunity and strength, especially as we recognize the signs of the last days.
In Luke 12:35-36, Jesus said this about our readiness for His coming, “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.”
Perhaps the most difficult challenge we face some days is that of waiting for Jesus to come for us. We see this posture of expectancy throughout the New Testament (1 Cor. 1:7; Rom. 8:23; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; Titus 2:11-14; Heb. 9:28; James 5:8; 1 John 3:1-3).
In Philippians 3:20 Paul wrote this, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The word the apostle used for “await” in the verse points to an “intense anticipation” or an “excited expectation” of a future event. The word signifies a heart-felt longing for what is expected. In this case, it’s Jesus return for his church, or what we refer to today as the rapture.
What Do Jesus’ Instructions Tell Us?
To sum up, what do Jesus instructions tell us?
1. He could come for us at any moment. Jesus instilled a sense of imminency regarding His appearing that we later see in what the apostles wrote. The watching and readiness imply He could come for us at any moment.
2. We cannot know the day or the hour (Matt. 24:36). While Jesus expects us to stay alert to signs of His return, we cannot know when it will happen. Jesus said “the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:44). Jesus prohibits date setting in regard to His return!
3. His commands to watch refer to His return for His church. The sense of imminency and call to readiness indicate these commands refer to the rapture rather than the second coming. Several specific events must happen before Jesus returns to earth such as the defilement of the Jewish temple (Matt. 24:15). The second coming cannot happen until three and a half years after the antichrist defiles the Jewish temple; the rapture can happen today.
4. We obey Him by paying attention to the signs of the last days. Understanding and recognizing how current events relate to prophetic Scriptures is not just for prophecy nerds like me, Jesus instructs all of His followers to actively watch for His appearing and all the more so as we see the signs of the last day multiply before our eyes.
In Luke 12:54-56, Jesus chided the Jews for not recognizing the signs that He, their Messiah, was with them. Since Jesus gave us so many signs of what life in the last days as well as during the tribulation, does He expect us to be unaware of the signs? I do not think so. While we cannot know the exact calendar date of the rapture, we are in its season; we just do not know how long we will need to wait.
I recently heard someone scoff at the idea of reading the Bible in one hand while holding a newspaper in the other. The answer to such mocking is that Jesus expects us to be watching for signs of His return; how else are we to do that besides staying up to date on current events as they relate to prophecy? Furthermore, knowing what Scripture says about the end times provides clues as to what we will see in the news tomorrow.
Why would the Lord have provided so much information about the return of Israel to the land and the tribulation if not to provide signposts pointing to the soon appearing of Jesus to take us home?
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