This past week someone rang my doorbell, asked to talk for a few minutes, and then tried to convince me that Christ is returning within a year. Plenty of others have made similar claims in the past. But Jesus, in Matthew 24:36–44, warns against that kind of speculation.
You don’t know when the Son of Man will return. No one but the Father knows the day or the hour. Avoid speculation. Many simply ignore Jesus’ warning against predicting the time of his return. Remember that he is still answering the questions of the disciples, v.3. Don’t get caught up in speculation. Jesus, as the incarnate Messiah, had limited knowledge. Notice the progressive force of his words: no one, not even the angels, nor the Son! As the truly human Savior, Jesus remained ignorant of some things. This may be hard to grasp, but is part of the mystery of the incarnation. Only the Father knows the time of Christ’s return. Jesus does not want you to focus on the when of his return. “The knowledge denied to men, angels and the Son is a knowledge specifically of ‘that day’ (the day of judgment) and of ‘the hour’ (the time of the coming of ‘that day’)…. The correct paraphrase, therefore, will have to read: 1. Men are informed of certain things. 2. Angels are informed about more things. 3. The Son, in virtue of His Messianic office, is informed about still more things; but this question of ‘that day’ and its hour has not been communicated even to Him as an item of official knowledge.” (Geerhardus Vos, The Self-Disclosure of Jesus, pages 167–168)
As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be. There was great wickedness during Noah’s time. And Jesus does speak about an increase in wickedness, Matthew 24:12 (although the most immediate fulfillment may refer to the time before the destruction of Jerusalem). Eating, drinking, and marrying are not sinful activities in themselves. Rather, they are the normal things people do. Jesus’ emphasis seems to be on the “life is just going on like normal” attitude that characterized Noah’s day. The slowly growing framework of the huge boat in Noah’s back yard did not result in a line of people seeking passage. Only the flood brought about the sudden separation between the godly and the ungodly. The time before Christ’s return will be characterized by people going about their normal business. His return as Judge will take them unawares. That is the point of the “one taken, and the other left” language. Peter listened to Jesus’ words. He compares the attitude towards the coming judgment with the complacency of Noah’s day. “God keeps sin under his omnipotent control. Repeatedly he restrains or restricts it, inhibits its momentum and puts a stop to it by his judgment (Gen. 7:11; Exod. 15; Matt. 24:22; 2 Pt. 2:9), and whether forgiving or punishing it, he ultimately makes it subservient to the fulfillment of his counsel, the glorification of his name…. The doctrine of perseverance is not a philosophical system but a confession of faith, the confession that, notwithstanding appearances, neither Satan nor a human being nor any other creature, but God and he alone—by his almighty and everywhere present power—preserves and governs all things.” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2, pages 617–619) The story of Noah is a story of judgment—but also of deliverance. Jesus talks about those being taken. They escape the judgment that he brings when he returns. The temporary restraining of evil in the flood anticipates God dealing with sin once and for all.
Keep watch! The Son will return unexpectedly. Jesus does talk about signs, but the signs are general enough that each generation of believers has tended to see something of them. Jesus does call you to look for his return soon.
The leaves budding on the fig tree indicate the nearness of his return. The Lord’s words in Revelation 22:20 are, “Yes, I am coming soon.” But keep in mind that God is not limited to our sense of time, 2 Peter 3:8. At the same time, the parables in the immediate context suggest a delay, perhaps a lengthy delay, before Christ’s return. The servant expects his master to be away for a long time, verse 48. You do not know even the general time of the thief’s arrival, verse 43. Jesus explicitly warns that his return will be unexpected, verse 44. “God is busy completing his work of fulfillment. This one central truth constrains us to persevere patiently and to be watchful and faithful.” (Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, p.292) It is as Son of Man that Christ will be returning. He is the sovereign, glorious Judge.
Always be ready. Maintain a watchful attitude. Never fall into the complacency of thinking that you have lots of time until Christ returns. Not only do you not have that assurance, but you also have no idea how soon you may stand in Christ’s presence, even if his return is delayed. The emphasis on the watchful attitude will be amplified in the parable of the Ten Virgins, Matthew 25:1-13. Be busy about the work that Christ has given you to do. Don’t stop eating, drinking, or getting married! May the returning Lord find you carrying out the tasks he has entrusted to you, verse 46. (This is detailed in the parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30.) Christ’s instructions certainly include the Great Commission. But being obedient to him in every area of your life is included. If he has given you the ability to farm, may he find you busy planting a field. If he has enabled you to program computers, may he find you in the middle of checking code on a program that meets the customer’s need. If he has made you a parent, may he find you reading a book to your children. Live each moment of your life with the knowledge that your returning Lord could find you doing this!
Don’t speculate. Don’t read the Bible with the news feed as a cheat sheet to interpret prophecy. But do be busy faithfully serving your Lord. Do pray, “Come Lord Jesus, come soon!”