by Steven Chan
30 November 2008
In Acts 1:11, the Bible records that the angels spoke thus to the apostles: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” Indeed Jesus has risen from the dead and has ascended into heaven – and He promised that will come again as recorded in John 14:1-3: “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
Since then, many have been predicting that Jesus is coming soon – whenever they hear of calamities, wars or rumours of wars. This afternoon while I was having lunch with a friend, who is not a believer, he mentioned that the economic crisis enveloping the world and the recent terror attacks in Mumbai, India seem to indicate that these are signs of Jesus coming soon. It is true that the coming of Jesus is nearer now than when we first believed (Rom 13:11) but the second coming of Jesus will not necessarily be preceded immediately by these so-called signs.
Listen to what Jesus said about the end in Matt 24:4-6: “And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.” The signs of “wars and rumors of wars” do not signify that the end is at hand – and He forewarned that we should not be deceived by those who tell us otherwise.
Further on in Matt 24:23-27, Jesus said: “if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” Jesus forewarned of false teachers and false prophets who will teach falsely and deceive many – and we are not to believe them.
In Matt 24:36-37, Jesus makes this very important point which seems to be overlooked by many Bible believers: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” Further along in Matt 24:42-44, Jesus again emphasize thus: “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Then in Matt 25, Jesus proceeded to use the parable of the virgin to emphasize this same fact that He will be coming at a time when one does not expect: Matt 25:13: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” The point is that we are to be ready at all times and not think that he is only coming when there are so-called signs of wars or rumors of wars or calamities.
In Mark 13:32-37, a similar warning is given by our Lord: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming–in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning– lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”
The apostle Paul wrote in the same manner in 1 Thess 5:1-5: “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.”
You will notice that Jesus is likely to come at a time when one least expects it as when one is saying “peace and safety” – in other words, when things appear to be going well – the economy is doing well, there is peace and security – then suddenly the Lord will come as a thief in the night. This was the same sense of false security that the people in the days of Noah were enjoying just before the flood came: “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matt 24:37-39).
According to 1 Thess 4:16-18 the coming of our Lord is described thus: “for the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
In Matt 24:3-4 when the disciples asked Jesus: “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”, one needs to be aware that Jesus was speaking first with reference to the time when Jerusalem would be destroyed wherein there would indeed be signs given for the Christians in Jerusalem so that they may be able to escape the destruction that would befall the city: “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”(Matt 24:15-16) If Jesus was referring to His second coming when according to 2 Peter 3:10, “the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up”, why would He ask those staying in Judea to flee to the mountains!? The whole world would be burned up – there would be no reason to run to the mountains. But in Matt 24, for the most part, and especially when He was giving signs, He was referring to the destruction of Jerusalem, i.e. the impending judgement on Jerusalem. – the signs would facilitate the fleeing by those in Judea to the mountains – and that happened at about AD70.
But Jesus was very careful to distinguish between the destruction of Jerusalem where there would be signs of the impending doom, and that of His second coming where there will be no signs – no one would be expecting it – it would come as thief in the night and hence, we should always be ready, sober and watchful. Let us not be deceived in such matters.