You must also be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Luke 12.40)A Touchy Subject with Urgency
The Second Coming is a touchy subject, a doctrine strongly influenced by personal factors like upbringing, life philosophy, and chosen faith community. That Jesus may come any moment is extremely vivid for many. They live in a state of heightened alert constantly reinforced by churches they attend, books they read, music they listen to, and believers they fellowship with. Others view the Second Coming as a prophetic eventuality unlikely to occur before they die, a common view in their circles. And some regard it as a quasi-metaphor—less an actuality than a message to inspire vigilance. If you’re among Christians holding widely divergent opinions about this, take note. Simply broaching the topic may topple the apple cart quicker than you imagine, as the Second Coming gets wound up in profoundly individual implications. For instance, are we following Jesus out of expedience—what’s happening—or expectancy—what may happen? Does belief in a literal rapture versus a looser interpretation reveal respective weaknesses in either? And on it goes.
For unity’s sake, let’s agree to disagree about the whens and hows in hopes of reaching consensus about the Second Coming’s whys. Jesus obviously has major reasons for promising to return, and the Apostles’ insistence He will figures prominently in Early Church culture. Since the doctrine threads through the New Testament, from Matthew to Revelation, we can’t minimize it as we do specific religious, social, and sexual mores mentioned here and there. Faith in Christ’s return is a universal mandate. However we choose to interpret its mechanics, we must infuse its essence with urgency. The Second Coming matters. A lot.
Varying views on the subject don’t really affect our grasp of why it matters and why it’s urgent. While introducing the concept with three parables in Luke 12, Jesus clearly addresses our fondness of haphazard procrastination and frivolous pleasure. In a sense, the sophomoric “Jesus is coming—look busy” almost gets it right. The real message isn’t look busy, though; it’s keep busy. Relaxed attitudes, reckless behavior, and delays in rectifying them will not stand. Jesus’s stories convey the urgency of doing our best with an ominous moral: taking it easy inevitably leads to being taken by surprise.
In the first parable, the master of a house goes to a party and stays out later than usual. Jesus says he will reward servants who stay awake and occupied until he returns—“even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night” (roughly from 10 PM to dawn; v38)—by serving them. The second story concerns a homeowner who’s unaware a thief is casing his house, leaves it unlocked, and comes back to find it ransacked. “Had he known when the thief would strike,” Jesus says, “he’d have taken proper precautions.” (v39) In the third story, a master leaves one servant to manage the others in his absence. If he takes the job seriously, Jesus says the master will make him manager when he returns. But if suspicions his master is delayed cause him to abuse his authority and indulge in excessive pleasure, the master will catch him off-guard and destroy him. (v46) Jesus applies these tales to His Second Coming in verse 40: “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
No Time Left to Lose
Our conflicts about the Second Coming arise from a common—and convenient—misreading of its purpose. We presume it’s meant to ensure we behave without supervision. If we respond to this kind of discipline, we avidly embrace the Second Coming’s “Gotcha!” aspect. It works exactly as we think it should by using fear and uncertainty to create faith and hope. But if we resist (or resent) negative intimidation to achieve positive ends, we find it out of character with everything we know and love about Christ. So the same faulty understanding ends up justifying everyone’s perceptions, which makes all of us right and none of us wrong—or, more accurately, none of us right and all of us wrong.
The reason why Christ will return, as well as why it’s urgent to believe He will, becomes apparent in how it alters our sense of time. When Jesus establishes this doctrine, He effectively cancels tomorrow. We no longer can excuse what we do and need to do now on the premise we can compensate for it later. When we glance at a clock or calendar, all we see are the present hour and date. There’s no time left to lose. Because our Master hasn’t returned, we keep busy and stay awake. Because we don’t know when He’ll walk through the door, we take care that everything we’ve been given remains protected. Because we suspect His coming is delayed, we maximize the added time to nurture those around us and clean up our act. Jesus doesn’t say, “Get ready.” He says, “Be ready.” The Second Coming was never intended to focus our attention on an undefined future moment. It’s about remaining steadfast and responsible in the very real and present now. Jesus is coming soon—maybe not as soon as some think. But when He does, whether it’s today or a million years from now, no doubt it will be sooner than expected. Be ready.
Almost right. Instead of looking busy, though, Jesus teaches us to keep busy. Instead of getting ready, He tells us to be ready. The Second Coming is about the very real and present now.
(Next: Stick with Your Competencies)