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Matthew 24:36-51

June 29th, 2011

The Day and Hour Unknown

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,[f] but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

The prophecies in today’s post are also reflected in Mark 13:32-37 (blog) and Luke 17:26-35 (blog). Jesus leads off this segment by saying that no one knows the day or hour of his coming, not even he. Only the Father knows. How can that be? Some say it’s because Jesus has limited himself in this area, the way God the Father limits himself by forgetting our sins after we repent. That could be, but I think it’s also possible that since Jesus was speaking in the present tense, he was saying that he didn’t know the time at that moment, while he was here in the flesh. Jesus was fully God and fully human, and he was limited in some ways while he was here in the flesh. He could not be everywhere at once, for example, and as I’ve said before in this blog, I don’t believe he was necessarily all-knowing then, either. The human brain cannot contain all the knowledge of God. It would kill us. If Jesus was fully human, he had a human brain which would have limited him to what’s possible for a human brain to absorb. I think it’s possible that Jesus did not know the day or time of his return at that moment, but since he ascended to Heaven, he now knows all things, including the time of his return.

In verses 37-39, Jesus compares the coming of the Son of Man to the days of Noah. In Luke, he also compares it to the destruction of Sodom. In both cases, it was business as usual when destruction came upon them. Both were also times of great wickedness. That was also the case with the time of Jerusalem’s destruction, and it will be at his second coming, both of which Jesus seems to be prophesying in this chapter.

One of the difficulties of these prophecies is the fact that Jesus seems to be describing both an instantaneous event and a process. In Luke 17:22-24, Jesus talks about both the “day” of the Son of Man and the “days” of the Son of Man. Noah’s flood was not an instantaneous event. It just started raining and didn’t stop for 40 days. The destruction of Sodom probably happened pretty fast, but there’s no reason to believe it happened instantly, like the Rapture is supposed to. And at the Rapture, it is supposed, those who are left are not destroyed, merely “left behind.” Verses 40-41 here are often quoted to refer to the Rapture. But in the context of what Jesus said in the previous verses, those verses seem to imply that the ones who were taken are destroyed, not taken to Heaven. I don’t have a better explanation for what those two verses mean, but I think it’s taking them out of context to use those verses to say there will be two Second Comings.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 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. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

If you know a burglar is coming to break into your house, you will take precautions to try to prevent a break in. My wife and I had the unfortunate and traumatic experience of a burglary in the 1980’s. After that happened, we started taking some precautions that we had not taken before. If we had been taking those precautions at the time, the burglary might not have happened. If a restaurant owner knows when the heath inspector is coming, the restaurant will be ready for the inspection. That’s why they come unannounced. Jesus’ point here is obvious, and it applied to his disciples and the end of the age that they faced, and it also applies to us. In part, Jesus was warning his disciples to be ready for the destruction of Jerusalem so they could get the Christians out of the city in time. Jesus was very concerned that they be watchful, and know when the time had come to keep the church in Jerusalem from being destroyed along with the city. He’s also warning us to be watchful and ready for his return. Then he uses these two contrasting parables to illustrate his point.

45 “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? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 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. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew is the only one of the gospel writers who gives us these two parables in this complete a form. As in other lessons of Jesus, I think it’s a mistake to think that the faithful and wise servant represents believers, and the wicked servant represents non-believers. They were both servants. Jesus taught this not to a crowd, not even to the Twelve, but to his inner circle, Peter, Andrew, James and John. He’s talking to the future leaders of his church, and telling them how they should be discharging their duties when he’s gone. This lesson applies to us as well, especially to those in ministry. He used the illustration of the master of a house going on a journey and leaving his servants in charge, and that is exactly what he has done. He ascended into Heaven, and has left us, his servants, in charge of his house, the church. Each of us has our assigned task. What kind of servants are we?

In Luke, the unwise servants merely fall asleep. That’s bad enough, but here, the contrast is between wise and faithful servants who are about the tasks their master gave them, and wicked servants who use their position of authority to exploit others and live as they please. In Luke, Jesus does not spell out a punishment for those who fall asleep at their duties, he merely warns them not to. But for those who are wicked and in ministry, the punishment is severe. For those who were wicked in ministry in Jesus’ time, the punishment was death and the destruction of everything they held dear. For those who are wicked in minstry when Jesus returns, it will be just as bad or worse.

I’ve often heard people talking about being ready for Christ’s return in terms of being saved. That’s good as far as it goes, but the lesson Jesus is teaching here goes much farther than that. Being ready for his return means being about the tasks he has assigned us. It means going into all the world making disciples. It means taking up our cross and following him, and being like him.

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