The extended teaching known as the Olivet Discourse is one of the Bible’s most important pertaining to end times prophecy. In it Christ reminds to always be watching for him. He is coming and we do not know when.
Jesus warned us that many will be deceived by false signs and false Christs prior to his actual coming. Please protect us from every form of spiritual deception.
Help us not to fear as we continuously hear of wars and rumors of wars, political turmoil, famines, earthquakes, and increasing troubles of various kinds. We understand that these things must be, but they do not mean that the end is here, or even that it is near enough for us to see it.
On the other hand, help us to always be watchful, because our Lord is returning for us at a time that we do not know and will not expect.
He might even come today, so help us to always be ready.
In Christ’s name,
In this passage, part of Christ’s Olivet Discourse, Jesus makes a vital point for us. We must always be ready for his return.
36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
I have personally and unscientifically observed two common and unfortunate responses to the thought that Jesus can come back at any moment.
One is to go completely overboard in end times enthusiasm. I remember years ago having to comfort a man whose wife had died. Grief is hard. His was made worse by the conviction that he and his wife, who were not young, were both going to live to see the rapture of the church. He has since died as well. No rapture.
The other unfortunate response, perhaps egged on by views like the one above, is to decide that Bible prophecy is so difficult, obscure or controversial that it’s not worth paying it any attention. This seems to be more common at present, but it directly contradicts Jesus’ point.
Whether one believes this passage from Matthew is talking about the rapture or not (I personally think it is, which I know is a minority view), Christ wants us to be ready. He wants us to stay awake (v.42), be ready (v.44) and to watch (Matt 25:13).
The fact that we cannot know when Jesus is coming is not a motivator to not care when he will return. I believe this tension and lack of clarity regarding his return is designed to keep us always watchful. Every generation of Christians has every reason to believe that Jesus can come during their lifetime, but we can never be sure that he will.
Therefore we must always be ready. Let’s repeat that.
44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!
This time I’m paraphrasing several comments or questions, so I hope I am being fair to the inquirer. As best as I can tell, there are actually three questions we ought to address.
Q1: Is this one of our “major doctrines” as a church?
A1: Not exactly. It is a doctrine. I don’t know if I’d call it major. I do believe it. We teach it at Horizon Central. I think all Calvary Chapel churches do. There are people here who disagree with me on this point, but I can’t recall it ever becoming divisive. I hope that doesn’t happen now. We don’t include it on the shortest Statement of Faith we hand out because we save that for a relatively few big things.
Document: What We Believe.doc
Q2: This doctrine leads so many into false assurance that they will not have to undergo troubles similar to those experienced by saints throughout the ages, so isn’t it counterproductive to believe it?
A2: This person has probably seen more abuse of the doctrine of the Rapture than I have. I began doing Christian work in Eastern Europe under communism, in an environment that didn’t exactly coddle believers into false hopes for easy times. The present was usually difficult enough. It was shortly after that period that I came to the views of the Rapture that I now have, while working with the Baptists in Catholic Poland, where such topics were more ignored than debated. The inquirer’s experience probably differs considerably and I respect that. We each come to our conclusions from various starting points.
So yes, this is a doctrine that can be abused. It is important to underline that a belief in the Rapture should never allow us to think that we will be spared either persecution as Christians or the normal trials and tribulations of this fallen planet. Both are clearly guaranteed to us as participants in Christ’s church. If we are not experiencing enough of either right now, that can always change. The Rapture only spares us from experiencing the time in which the wrath of God will be poured out on a Christ-rejecting world.
We should also note that it is best never to judge a doctrine by its abusers. For example, if we compare the kindest, most generous atheists we know (and we no doubt know several such) to the most despicable, self-proclaimed Christians (and indeed there are too many), we might be tempted to dump Christianity altogether. If we must compare, it’s better to compare the best with the best and so on.
We should similarly not judge any doctrine by those who fail to understand it, no matter how much they may think they know what they believe. Growing up Catholic, I came to realize that many people thought the Immaculate Conception (of Mary) was talking about the Virginal Conception (of Jesus). They were wrong, probably just poorly informed, and/or not highly motivated to keep their dogma on a tight leash. I now happily disbelieve the first while holding to the second, persuaded in both cases by the Bible. Their lack of understanding need not impact my present beliefs.
Q3: The Bible is so unclear at this point. Can we really be sure – or even expect clarity?
A3: Admittedly, there is not much about biblical eschatology (study of last things) that is simple. The Rapture is no exception. All the same, the Trinity is probably more complex and is far more important, so complexity should not be a deal killer. Sometimes we have to confront doctrinal density head on. If one enjoys thinking about theology in general or eschatology in particular, as I do, then I think a good case can be made for the Rapture. (I might even include it under the heading of ecclesiology, the study of the church, but that’s another matter.) In any event, belief in the Rapture is not unwarranted. A reasonable place to start examining my thoughts on the subject might be the three teachings we did on Sundays when we were going through 1 Thessalonians in May of 2011. That may even encourage further discussion, which I would welcome. If I fail to persuade our inquirer to my own views, I hope he or she will at least admit that, for us, this is not a naïve or hastily accepted belief.
As we approach the end of the Bible, eschatology or the study of end-times events will become more and more important. It will help us to begin getting a good grasp of the issues now, at this introductory stage. The material we cover today will be foundational to our understanding of all that the Bible says in this area.