“Syd, get a pencil and paper and pull up a chair.”
Being a compliant kind of fellow, I promptly obeyed my old friend Chuck, with a tape measure in hand to set the forms for a concrete extension to our patio.
Returning with paper and pencil, I prepared to write down measurements. But suddenly the patio construction seemed far away. Chuck looked me in the eyes and asked a pointed question about the return of Jesus Christ.
It was one of those “when” questions, reminding me of the time when Jesus’ disciples asked about His second coming, in Matthew 24:3: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming at the end of the age?”
It was a natural and expected question for the disciples, after what He’d just told them about the destruction of Herod’s temple. But it wasn’t the most important question at that moment, as Jesus made very clear in His response.
Jesus offered a few brief signs that will precede His return. But for the most part, He told them, things would remain pretty much the same. Life would go on, just as it did before the great flood. In spite of Noah’s persistent warnings, everything was same-o same-o. Then came that first lightning strike—and a cloudburst beyond what anyone could dream or imagine.
Jesus offered two certainties to His disciples. First, He told them that no one will know the day and hour of His return, except God the Father. The angels wouldn’t know and—at that moment—not even Jesus knew. (Neither do we, by the way.) The second truth He gave them was that the promise of Christ’s second coming in glory is absolutely certain—more certain than the existence of heaven and earth (Matthew 24:35).
Perhaps you’re wondering how I responded to Chuck’s question. I am certain it wasn’t the answer he anticipated—or the answer I would have given 40 years ago.
Let me illustrate by sharing a hypothetical story.
Imagine that I am preparing for the trip of a lifetime. I’ve dreamed about it—talked about it—for as long as I can remember.
The destination? Somewhere exotic, but without hordes of tourists. Probably not Australia or New Zealand (Now there’s A to Z.) Someplace much further from home. How about the first commercial flight to the moon or Mars?
I’ve read all the tourism brochures about the destination and the long flight. I’m aware of very strict weight limits on my luggage. I’ve made a reservation. The departure date has been set more than a year in advance, but I’m well aware that it is only tentative. One thing is certain: I must be prepared to depart with very short notice. If I’m not at the gate (launch pad) I don’t fly! It’s as simple as that.
That’s also the way it will be with the return of Christ. The very most important question about His coming is not when, but how. How should I live every moment so that I’m prepared for that instant departure?
Jesus answered that critical “how” question with a series of instructions to His disciples. Each command could be summarized in two words. Words such as, “stay awake!” Don’t be like a homeowner soundly sleeping while a thief breaks into his home. (Matthew 24:42-44; Mark 13:32-36)
“Be faithful!” Don’t be caught by surprise like a servant caught messing around when the master unexpectedly returns. (Matthew 24:45-51)
“Be prepared!” Don’t be caught sleeping like five potential wedding guests with empty oil lamps when the wedding processional begins. (Matthew 25:1-13)
“Invest wisely!” Don’t be like the worthless servant that buried his master’s resources in the dirt. Here I am also reminded of Jesus’ instructions in His first recorded sermon—the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not lay up treasures for yourselves on earth…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” (Matthew 6:19-25) Jesus added another example of investing in people by serving them unselfishly. It may be as simple as sharing water or food or words of encouragement. (Matthew 25:31-46)
So how did I answer Chuck’s question as I sat there with pen and paper?
I briefly shared that when it comes to many of the finer details related to Christ’s return, we ought to be careful before speaking dogmatically. It is much better and wiser to say something like, “As I understand Scripture. it appears to me that such and such will occur.” But I also shared with Chuck that there are specific truths we can claim with complete confidence. Like money in the bank.
Jesus will return someday, just as He promised.
His coming will be literal, physical, visible and glorious.
And it could happen at any moment—perhaps while Chuck was working on the patio. Perhaps as you are reading these words.
The right response, then, is not to argue and debate the details surrounding these prophetic events. The best plan is to live with the strong conviction that Jesus could appear at any moment. The proof that I believe in the future return of Christ will be in my actions—how I live my life.
The bottom line is that I ought to live in such way that I can truly anticipate Jesus’ arrival. I need to live out my days anticipating the sweetest words we could ever hear: “Well done, faithful servant.” Otherwise, we may find ourselves saying, “I wish I’d been better prepared.”
If you are yet not a follower of Christ, why not repent of sin and place all your confidence and trust in Him and what He accomplished when He died in your place?
Now is the time!
Don’t ever find yourself exclaiming, “I wish I’d been ready!”