One evening, in Matthew 24:1, as Jesus walks home with his disciples across the Mount of Olives, his disciples point out the grandeur of the temple. Jesus responds that it will soon be destroyed which leads to the two questions that prompt Jesus final discourse in Matthew’s Gospel. “When will this happen? And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Jesus’ response to these questions found in v4-35 has been the subject of a lot of debate. Let me just point out that the apostles seem to have believed that the only way for the Temple to be destroyed was for the world to come to an end. They were talking about one event, while Jesus’ answer describes two events: the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD, and the return of Christ at the end of time. However, it’s incredibly difficult to completely distinguish between each of these events in Jesus’ reply. The most important point we need to grasp is simply this: Jesus is coming again.
In light of the recent publicity surrounding predictions of the date of Jesus’ return, many people may roll their eyes at more talk on this topic, but it is in the Bible. Even many Christians go through life with Jesus’ return as merely a footnote in their biblical knowledge database. I rarely hear John’s prayer from Rev. 22:20 “Amen, Come, Lord Jesus.” In the circles I move. In a recent essay (available here) Richard Oster makes the point that most Christians have excluded the return of Christ and consequent judgement from their “core beliefs”, as though the God-story ended with Jesus’ resurrection.
In the section of teaching and parables from 24:36-25:46 Jesus describes how his return is more than an intellectual discussion. It impacts the lives of his disciples, you and I. The 5 parables in this section are as follows:
- The homeowner and the thief (24:42-44)
- The two servants (24:45-51)
- The ten virgins (25:1-13)
- The talents (25:14-30)
- The sheep and the goats (25:31-46)
Of the 5 parables Jesus tells in this discourse the 1st and 3rd have a similar message.”Be ready for the return of Christ.” We can prepare ourselves in many ways, but first and foremost, make sure you’re living in the kingdom of heaven.
The 2nd and 4th parables both describe this readiness in terms of our work in the kingdom. We’re not citizens of the kingdom of heaven just because we say so. The parable of the two servants demands that we behave toward those around us in a Godly manner. Can you serve others until Jesus returns? Can you live humbly until Jesus returns? Or will you give in to living for self rather than God? Will you give in to the temptation to “lord it over” those around & below you? Then the 4th parable also challenges the disciples of Jesus in a positive sense to use our giftedness for the benefit of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is coming back so make sure you’re using the gifts he’s given you wisely.
Jesus then closes this sermon describing the scene of judgment with the sheep and goats. At the end of time people’s eternal destiny will be determined based on how we have treated others, particularly the disadvantaged. This is not to say that faith and obedience are unimportant, but that our faith and obedience will find expression in our attitudes and behaviours, particularly toward those less fortunate than us. (Do you remember 19:30? Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.)
- Do you think churches spend too much time, or not enough time talking about the return of Jesus?
- What do you think of the suggestion that the return of Christ should be part of the core of Christian beliefs?
- Should the parable of sheep and goats be included in a response to the question, “What must I do to be saved?”