After Jesus taught about the “signs” and events leading to His Second Advent, He pivoted to talk about how we should live, knowing about these signs.
Jesus could have said, “Now focus on ‘sign watching.’ Dig deeper into this and think more and more about signs. As my coming gets closer, spend even more time on this. Listen to all the YouTube teaching and sermons you can about this, and read as many books on the topic too.”
Actually, Jesus didn’t say that. He pointed His true followers in a different direction. Only Jesus’ way gives hope and peace and a solid foundation for our lives as we wait for Jesus’ Advent.
Focus on Mission, not Signs
Jesus definitely wanted His followers to know about the signs and events, or He would not have taught about them. In Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, and Revelation, He told them the way the world would be before His coming (like the days of Noah) and about great celestial and terrestrial signs that would precede it.
He said natural disasters would increase in intensity and occurrence, like labor contractions before a birth. In many places, He described how society would become worse and worse before He came back. In Revelation, He clearly described the broad paint strokes of Earth’s Final events. We should understand these things.
But why did Jesus teach this? He wanted us to know that God foresaw it all. It did not catch Him by surprise. He is an all-seeing, all-knowing God; so we can trust His care. He also wanted us to understand we are on the right road toward the kingdom, and to have an awareness of the signposts along the way–that we are nearing home.
But, that is not where Jesus ended His teaching about this. He spent the next 55 verses in Matthew 24 (vs. 36-51), more than a chapter, speaking about what to do while we wait for His return. That is, He devoted more time to talking about how to wait, than to teaching about signs.
Jesus’ emphasis was on staying spiritually alert and faithfully serving others like He did, filled with His love and Spirit. That is how to be ready.
First, he spoke about spiritual alertness
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.Matthew 24:42-44 NIV
What did Jesus mean when He said, “Keep Watch!”?
We might assume He was referring to all the signs He had just mentioned, and that He meant, “Keep watching the signs of the times. Focus on that so you don’t miss my coming.” We should be aware of the signs, but I don’t think that is what Jesus wanted us to watch.
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus told His disciples, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41 NIV). I think Jesus’ warning to Watch in Matthew 24 is more related to that. He is saying, “Stay spiritually focused in your relationship with me. Keep ready and prepared for My coming.”
It is so easy to get distracted in this world. Many things compete for our time and attention. The nature of our relationship with God is that He must be at the center of our lives. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30, 31).
We were created for a God-centered, neighbor-loving life. God is our Creator and Savior. He gives us life and helps us with everything. It is out of this center that all good grows. When Jesus’ followers or His churches lose this focus, they drift. So in Matthew 24, Jesus is alerting His Church they will need to stay awake and focused on loving Him and loving others as they wait for His Return.
Jesus’ call to God-centered living was not an invitation to live in perpetual spiritual solitude, but rather to take up the work Jesus’ did while He was on earth. To stay connected with Him, share the good news about His love and grace, and care for the needs of others in His name.
“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and. . .he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”Acts 10:38 NIV
The One Way to Stay Ready: Four Stories
Jesus illustrated this with four parables: a faithful servant, ten bridesmaids, loaned money, and a sheep and goat judgment. These stories describe four aspects of how Jesus wanted His Church to live in the centuries ahead, while they waited for His return. They show clearly how to be ready for His Second Coming.
1) A Faithful or Unfaithful Servant
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.”Matthew 24:45-47 NIV
The best way to stay spiritually alert and ready, Jesus says, is to faithfully do the work He has given us–to share the Bread of Life (Jesus and His teachings) with others. Whatever hope, forgiveness, truth, or love He has given, He asks us to pass them along.
We will not all work in the same way. God has given each person talents and abilities, ways to bless the world and show God’s goodness and love. Whatever vocation or role we have, our mission is to bless others and show God to them.
Continuing His story, Jesus gives a warning:
“But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of.”Matthew 24:49-51 NIV
Here Jesus showed that His Second Coming would not take place for a long time. Many in Jesus’ day expected it to be soon; but Jesus said, “Prepare yourselves; it will be longer.”
When we lose sight of our goal and mission, it is easy to become self-centered and begin pursuing our own purposes or pleasure as the highest good. In Jesus’ story, some servants gave up their dream and started living completely for themselves. When we lose God, we run the danger we will not be ready with He comes. It is in unselfishly living for others that we stay ready for Jesus to come.
2) Ten Bridesmaids: Matthew 25:1-13
In the parable of the ten bridesmaids, a wedding takes place. The groom was delayed in arriving, and all ten women fell asleep. As they slept, their oil lamps burned out.
At “midnight,” the announcement was heard that the groom was arriving. The ladies all woke up and looked for oil to replenish their lamps. Only five had brought extra oil, the rest went shopping. While they were gone, the groom arrived and the wedding started. When the “five foolish” women finally arrived, the wedding was in progress and the door was locked. When they asked for entrance, it was refused.
Bible parables usually have one main point, but several symbols. The women represent the Church. They all have lamps (God’s word) and oil (the Holy Spirit) to begin with. Their long wait depicts the the apparent delay in Christ’s coming. Their sleepiness shows spiritual drowsiness and lethargy in the Church, especially close to Jesus’ Second Advent. The announcement of the groom’s coming symbolizes the Endtime message that Jesus is coming soon.
Crucial Point: Five of the women, though sleeping, had brought extra oil, five had not. This shows that some in the church will only have an intellectual knowledge of God and the Bible, not a life-changing experience. They know Bible teachings, but they have not surrendered their hearts to Christ (In the parable, He says He doesn’t know them). The ones with extra oil have a real relationship. They have accepted Jesus as a personal Savior, received the Holy Spirit as a personal guest and been changed by that experience. When Jesus comes, they are ready to meet Him.
3) Parable of Talents (Loaned Money) – Matthew 25:14-30
In this parable, Jesus shows that “watching” and being ready to meet Him when He comes involves putting the talents, abilities, and giftings we have received to work for Him in this life.
In this story, three servants are called in by their master. Today we would say an employer called a meeting with his managers. They are each given different amounts of capital to invest while he is away. Two double their money through wise decisions. One is fearful and buries his.
When the employer returns, he asks for a report. The first two managers are rewarded with eternal life, the last loses out.
This parable shows that our abilities and wealth are gifts from God which He has given us to put to work for Him in His world. The first two managers were grateful for the opportunity and put their money to work for the good of the company. The third man had a distorted view of his employer and was irresponsible.
God is good. He cares for us and blesses us in many ways. But living in the land of the enemy, where Satan claims to rule, we often misunderstand God’s character and see Him as harsh and unfair. Satan plasters his reputation on God.
Crucial Teaching: Being ready for Jesus’ coming means having an accurate knowledge of His loving and good character and using the gifts and blessings He has given us to make the world a better place. When we do, our abilities and opportunities grow because He blesses them as we put them to work for Him. Our relationship with Him grows too, as we partner with Him and get to see His love at work through our service.
This parable can also apply to whatever work or avocation we do. We might be a “domestic engineer,” as my wife calls it, caring for family and home. We might work outside at a profession or job. Whatever we do in the name of Christ, who has blessed us with ability, can be done for His kingdom.
4) Parable of the Sheep and Goats – Matthew 24:31-46
Don’t skip this story because of its barnyard setting. This is Jesus’ parable of the Final Judgment and shows who will make it and who won’t.
Shepherds in Jesus’ day often kept sheep and goats together, separating them for market or other purposes. Jesus took this common pastoral happening to graphically portray who will be ready to spend eternity with Him and who will not.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”Matthew 25:31-33 NIV
My wife and I got takeout at a country restaurant the other day. The owners have some small livestock pens with sheep and chickens. I was reminded of years ago when my parents kept goats. Sheep and goats are quite different, and Jesus invested these creatures with human qualities.
To the people on the right, His sheep, Jesus will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:34-36 NIV).
To the people on his left, the goats, he says they did not care for Him. In both cases, the people ask, “When did we do (or not do) these things for you; and Jesus’ answer was that what they did or failed to do was really for Him, in the person of others. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did (or did not do) for one of the least of these people of mine, you did (or did not do) it for me (vs. 37-45).”
Critical Issue: In this simple, but dramatic parable, Jesus showed that God’s decision in the Final Judgment will be based one one point–what people have done or neglected to do for Him in the person of the poor and the suffering. If our hearts have been touched by God’s love and mercy, we will give it in turn to others, especially the needy.
Being Ready: The Whole Picture
After describing what the intervening centuries would be like while His followers waited for His Second Coming; after describing the kind of events that would take place in the intervening years and some signs along the way, Jesus taught how they could be ready for that event whenever it came. Here is a composite summary:
In the Parable of the Faithful Servant Jesus says we have been called to faithfully share the Bread of Life, the good news of salvation with others. If we do that and resist the temptation to live selfishly, we will be ready. We don’t have to be a preacher or teacher to do this. If we just tell what Jesus has done for us personally and what we have learned, as we have opportunity, He will consider us a faithful servant.
In the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, Jesus shows that having a real relationship with God through Jesus will make the difference. When we accept Jesus as a personal Savior for our sin, the Holy Spirit comes to live in our hearts, and prepares us for Jesus’ coming, even if we grow a little sleepy.
In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus clearly teaches that our view of God determines how we use the gifts and talents He’s given us. If we understand His love and grace, we will put our abilities to work for Him and for the good of others. This will help us be ready for His Coming.
The Parable of the Sheep and Goats makes clear that those who have received God’s mercy and blessings and, in gratitude, shared them with the poor and suffering, visiting the sick, caring for the poor and those in prison, we will be accepted in the Final Judgment.
If we follow Jesus in the ways pictured here, we will be ready for His Coming whenever it happens. I think that was Jesus’ main point. (1)
The Devil’s Tricks
When I was in college, an outside religion teacher known for focusing on Last Day Events, had compiled a very detailed chart showing all the things leading up to Jesus’ coming, which, he was convinced, was very soon.
A group of my friends were deeply involved studying this chart and trying to “get ready” for Jesus’ coming. Some even left college and moved to New York, convinced they had to help that City get ready. There was a lot of fear and self-preoccupation.
That was about fifty years ago. The group who went to New York finally came back and finished college. The man who made the charts later confessed he was wrong in his focus–legalistic, perfectionistic, and fear-based–as if his good behavior could save him. He came to understand the good news and spent the rest of his life sharing that salvation and Christian growth are gifts received by faith and a personal relationship with Jesus.
In Matthew 24, Jesus warned about setting times for His coming and about false prophets and Messiahs who would entrap people to create a following for themselves (Matthew 24:24, 36).
Eschatological Caffeine. Some people relate to the topic of signs and Last Day events like a person hooked on caffeine. Every time some serious world event happens like the COVID-19 Pandemic, they feel a shot of spiritual caffeine. They start reading their Bibles and praying and getting ready, out of fear, for Jesus’ coming.
Some preachers and teachers play into this addiction (the news media aren’t the only ones who do it). They get out their charts and preach doom and gloom, motivating people through fear. With all this “crying wolf” people often turn off all conversation about such things and become desensitized to any good teaching on the subject.
Jesus taught that is is knowing God’s gracious, loving character and beginning a daily walk with Him is what creates a sustainable relationship that will prepare us for His Coming.
Aware of signs and focused on mission. Jesus wanted us to be aware of the signs and the times as He described them in Matthew 24, but not focused on that as if knowing it will save us. He wants us to understand Bible prophecy but be committed to God and His mission in this world, as depicted in the four parables Jesus told.
An Issue of the Heart
If we have allowed God’s mercy and love to speak to our hearts and change us, the way we live, the way we use our resources, and how we care for others will prepare us to spend eternity with Him. That is ultimately the key. That’s why Jesus says:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”Revelation 3:20 NIV
Will you open the door of your heart and receive Him as your Savior, letting Him do the work in you He wants to do. That is the key the unlocks the door into a beautiful life.
(1) I deeply appreciate the insights of Pastor Randy Roberts and the book he has written on this topic, “Waiting and Longing: Being Ready for the Return of Jesus, Whenever It Happens.” He gave a series of teachings, called “Ever Ready,” in 2016 on this as well.