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What will happen and why we don’t know when it will
It’s the third Sunday of Advent and so we’re continuing with our series about the second coming of Christ. If you’ve missed those first two articles, we started by looking at the meaning of Advent, that we are watching and waiting for the coming of Christ and how when we look at the world, the broken world, the weary world, around us, we can see that it’s not just us but the whole world which is in need of healing and is waiting on Jesus to bring that healing. (You can read that here.) Last week we looked at how Revelation reveals to us why it seems that we are at war spiritually and why in some places the Church is under severe persecution. We also read that though the war still rages against us, it’s not because the winner is still yet to be decided, but because the Devil is writhing in agony now that the Lord has been declared victorious and is taking anyone he can down before the end finally comes for him. (You can read that here.)
This week we’ll be looking at Jesus’ coming, what that means for us and why we don’t know when it’s coming. Our vision of what the new heaven and new earth will be like at the end of days is often subject to infiltration from everything from Greek mythology to Looney Tunes sketches, leading us to see heaven as boring or silly. In addition, many have, over the centuries, incorrectly predicted the exact date of the Apocolypse and thereby made the idea that the world will ever end a ludicrous, possibly cultish, idea. The end of this world is, according to the bible, nothing to be laughed at though and is an event not to be taken lightly. In fact, we’ll see that to an almost unprecedented point, the disciples are unanimously influenced by Jesus’s precise language on the subject, leading us to believe that this was a subject they spoke about often. Not only did they speak about it often, but it had a profound effect on what they taught and how they taught it.
Tiding of Comfort and Joy
(Thanks to Chris Thomas for letting me use this wonderful Haiku, you can find his blog here:
After 2000 years of ‘the final days’ (Heb 1:2) being upon us, it might be hard not to feel like we are too late to the party. It might likewise feel like the end must be right around the corner! The reality is that for, like the shepherds, like those men who did not deserve anything but to remain with their sheep in the night, the truth has been revealed to us in so glorious a way that it should baffle us. Like the angels who invited these men into the nativity story, the scriptures and the Holy Spirit have invited us to the final feast which is to come. It probably doesn’t feel like that though. Maybe we feel far more the brokenness of the world, the injustice, the harm that we’ve been subjected to. Life doesn’t feel like heaven, it feels far more like the other place. If that’s the case it should be good news that this is the story of this fallen world and that it’s not the last page.
In the final paragraph of ‘The Final Battle’ which is C.S.Lewis’ apocalyptic end to the Narnia series he writes:
"The things that began to happen [after the world ended] were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before."
That isn’t just a children’s story but a deep reality. Far more real than any suffering in this world, the comfort and joy in the world to come will outshine them all. As Paul says:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18
This is further explored in our favourite book this season, Revelation 21:3–4.:
“Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.”
Jesus’s return will end death for us all, usher in an eternity in which we will no longer have within us the ability to weep or to feel pain (Isaiah 25:8, Isaiah 60:20). It will not be wonderful because we get to meet people again or finally pick up the harp or eat the best food, but because we will finally, once and for all, be with God forever! The first chapter of our lives will begin, and we will praise him forevermore.
A Thief in the Night
We know for certain, to start with, that Jesus return won’t happen before the 12th of December 2021, 21:28 pm GMT (The current time that I’m writing this.) Aside from that, no one on earth can pinpoint anything about the timing of the final moment of this earth (It’s now 21:31, still hasn’t happened.) We can surmise reasons why the Lord has made it so, but we can with utter certainty say that we will never know. Why? Well, firstly because Jesus said so.
“Now concerning that day and hour no one knows—neither the angels of heaven nor the Son—except the Father alone. As the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. For in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah boarded the ark. They didn’t know until the flood came and swept them all away. This is the way the coming of the Son of Man will be. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding grain with a hand mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore be alert, since you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. But know this: If the homeowner had known what time the thief was coming, he would have stayed alert and not let his house be broken into. This is why you are also to be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
The thief is indeed coming, but we know not when. The Lord is not described like this in one place only, but Jesus’ parable seems to have had such a profound effect on his disciples that they reference it over and over again.
“Remember, then, what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent. If you are not alert, I will come like a thief, and you have no idea at what hour I will come upon you”
“About the times and the seasons: Brothers and sisters, you do not need anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night”
1 Thessalonians 5:1–2.
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; on that day the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed”
2 Peter 3:10
For sure there are things in scripture that are hard to understand and have been twisted and turned more times than one can count (2 Peter 3:16). Scripture interprets Scripture and as Augustine teaches us:
"In the easier passages [The Holy Spirit] relieves our hunger; in the more obscure He drives away our pride. Practically nothing is dug out from those obscure texts which is discovered to be said very plainly in another place."
Augustine, On Christian Doctrine
To be perfectly honest, the original text should be enough, but if there was any ambiguity as to what may or may not be meant, the other scriptures I’ve mentioned quash them pretty quickly. It seems that the apostles were deeply affected and impacted by Jesus’ words and so should we be. Unfortunately, there are many who do not pay heed.
I don’t know about you, but I know many people who, knowing that a party begins at 7 pm, don’t begin to ready themselves until after that time. No outfit, no bottle of wine to bring with them, and no idea how they’re going to get there, they have no option but to turn up late, or not at all. The truth of the matter is that even if we knew the date, the time, the very hour, many would still not turn to him before it came. That we do not know either is not an excuse for us to put off repenting until some later date but is instead conviction that as we are in the final stage of this world, we should treat every moment like it is our last. Let us together smash our own clock against the ground, dashing against the rock of ages our plans and our intentions, sacrificing them to his greater plan. It may be that he decides in his providence that they come to pass, but let’s be ready for something far greater than anything we could fathom. If Christ came tomorrow, it would not be a shame that we were unable to achieve all we had before us, but rather we would simply wish that it had come all the sooner.
This week we began to record some podcast episodes, one on reading fiction as Christians and an interview with author Chris Martin. He has written a book on social media and the real cost our society is paying for using it. “Do we use social media, or are we being used by it?” is such a good question and one he has answered thoroughly in his book Terms of Service (you can pre-order it now.) If you’d like to read some of his work online he has a blog by the same name which you should absolutely sign up to and you can do that right here: