“Therefore, be on the alert,” serves as Jesus’ warning for His disciples to be ready for His second coming (Mt 24:42–44). In His Olivet Discourse, on Wednesday of His passion week at Jerusalem, He answered two questions, “When” would the Temple be destroyed? and “What” will be the sign of His coming again? and the end of the age? (Mt 24:3).
Some eight signs would appear and have appeared in every generation. At the climax of human history, tribulation will pique, and Christ will appear in power and great glory (Mt 24:30). On the last day, destruction will come to the heavens and the earth (Mt 25:35; 2 Pet 3:10–12). The great separation will occur (Mt 24: 40–41; 25:31–46) in resurrection and judgment (Jn 5:28–29).
The severity of the consequences, and the unknown time of Christ’s return, warrants preparation. Jesus chose a simple illustration to press this singular point. His illustration was that of a thief (Mt 24:43).
Who has not suffered loss at the hand of a thief? Not that the King of glory should be likened to a petty criminal in a broad comparison; rather, the point is simple: the thief comes unexpectedly, and loss is suffered.
The elect, who have been resurrected with glorified bodies and souls (Jn 5:28–29), will clearly not suffer loss at Christ’s glorious appearing. These have eternal life to gain. They have watched and prayed through the dark night of tribulation in the world. Christ’s reward is with Him. There will be great joy, as the Master of him who was faithful returns on God’s appointed day and hour.
The thief producing sudden loss is to the grief and mourning of the unbeliever. Unbelief has manifested the natural consequence, which is unpreparedness. The biblical imagery of the one swept away in judgment is voluminous. The rich fool (Lk 12), the citizens of Sodom (Gen 19), the inhabitants of the earth at the deluge (Gen 6–9), Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea crossing (Ex 14), and Jerusalem at the time of Titus’ invasion (A.D. 70).
The unrighteous in the Bible, also seen throughout history and around the world, are characteristically: lazy; drunk; mockers; negligent; vulnerable; easily tempted; bored; distracted; pleasure seekers; and hypocrites.
These people do not want Christ Jesus to come again. They have heard He will judge the living and the dead (Acts 10:42; 2 Tim 4:1; 1 Pet 4:5), but they procrastinate with their preparations. They will go to church next Sunday. They will read their Bible next year. They assure you of their prayers, but then they don’t pray. The homeowner who has heard of a rash of burglaries is to blame for sleeping through his own house falling prey.
The spiritual loss suffered on the last day will be profound. It will be a total loss for the wicked, who did not know God. Possessions, family, friends, her life, and her soul will be gone for eternity. The gnashing of teeth, forever, along with weeping in outer darkness will surely be the lament from total loss. There are few ways to describe the terrors of eternal punishment, but “fiery hell” may be the best (Mt 5:22; 18:9).
In contrast, those who are prepared have joy unspeakable. Their lives of spiritual discipline will have their reward. Their labors in the Lord were never in vain (Is 65:23; 1 Cor 15:10). Waiting for the promise/fulfillment of His coming was that which marked their lives. By His grace, the believer presses on toward the mark of her high calling in Christ (Phil 3:14). Her narrow path is a walk of faith (2 Cor 5:7), but it is also a walk by the Spirit (Ezek 36:27; Rom 8:4; Gal 5:25). She increasingly revels in the truth.
Those who heed Jesus’ instruction to be alert and to be ready have set their minds on the things above (Col 3:2). They have diminishing love for the world and the things of the world (1 Jn 2:15–17). They have set their affections on those things that will prepare them for the world to come. Like one who is preparing for a long journey, she meticulously packs what she will need. With discernment she eliminates the frivolous. As the hour of departure draws near, she must be utterly ready when the taxi cab arrives at her door.
Christians suffer well the loss of possessions in this world (Heb 10:34) because these are non-essentials for their transport to Zion, where all things will be abundantly provided for one’s eternal stay (Rev 21–22). The task of readiness is preparing to meet the person she is to marry, whom she has not yet seen face to face. She possesses a letter from her Beloved, and the more she reads it, the more alert she becomes. The same is true when she speaks to the lover of her soul in prayer. She closes her prayers with, “Come, Lord Jesus (Rev 22:20),” with earnest pleas.
Are you ready for eternity? Have you understood the vaporous life you now live in your failing body of flesh? Is your mind set on futility? Are your passionate pursuits mere meaninglessness? Jesus is coming, and He says, “Behold, I come quickly (Rev 22:12).” He is coming at an hour you do not expect. Here is your simple test question: Do you want Jesus to come again?
Spokane Valley, Washington
April 10, 2022