Keeping Ready for the Return of the Lord

Our Sunday morning Forum Class at my church has just completed a four week study of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24). In giving us this sweeping look down through two millennia of history between his first and second advents, Jesus highlighted the violent and turbulent course of the age we are living in. Five times he told his disciples to "Take heed." (blepo, "to beware, discerning, to watch out"). The entire age would be filled with increasing deception and of disinformation and misinformation arising from secular and religious sources alike. Natural disasters, wars, famines and plagues were to be expected anywhere, anytime.

The main predictive teaching in the Olivet Discourse culminates in a brief description of the dramatic events which bring our age to a close. Then follows a short announcement of the dramatic return of earth's Owner and King.

"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (23:29-30)

James Boice comments on the main purpose of the Olivet Discourse as follows.

"About half of Matthew 24 deals with signs that are not true signs of Christ's return (vv. 4-26, 32-35). A very small section describes the return of Christ itself (vv. 27-31). But a third of chapter 24 (vv. 36-51) and all of chapter 25 (vv. 1-46), a total of sixty-two verses, warn us to get ready since we do not know when that day of final reckoning will be. Or to put it yet another way, Jesus stresses this single essential point with seven historical references, verbal pictures or parables--four in this chapter and three in the next. The application is clear: Are you watching? Are you ready for Jesus Christ's return?" (The Gospel of Matthew, Baker Books 2001. * )

Three parables by Jesus close this great discourse and they are each very provocative. Reviewing the first of these parables in the sermons of Ray Stedman--dating from 40 years ago--I was struck by the extraordinary relevance of Ray's insights for the times in which we now live. Ray wrote,

"It is evident that the Lord now finished, for the most part, the predictive part of his discourse. Except for a few details concerning the final scene of the nations, there are no new events described in the rest of his message. But it is extremely important that we understand these parables, for if we do not understand them we will not watch in the way he expects. And if we do not watch we will be deceived and miss much, if not all, of the exciting possibilities of the present hour. So let us listen carefully to his parable of the household, verses 45-47:

"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions."

This parable is clearly for the instruction of those who are awaiting the Lord's return. The master of the household is gone but he has entrusted certain work to his steward until he returns. That work is primarily a ministry to the rest of the household, and notably, "to give them their food at the proper time."

It is clearly addressed to the disciples and to those who will follow in their footsteps --footsteps of ministry, of feeding and shepherding the church of Jesus Christ. Doubtless it includes any who have a ministry of teaching: pastors, evangelists, prophets, elders, Sunday School teachers, children's workers and Bible class leaders. It takes in any who have gifts of teaching, whether exercised in a church building or in homes. It includes theological professors, editors of magazines, radio teachers, missionaries, youth workers, and many others.

Since this is the first parable in the series it probably points up the most essential aspect of what it means to watch. The wise servant is given one major and primary responsibility: to feed the household at the proper time. If this is rightly done, the household will keep watching; if it is neglected, the household will languish and starve, and will not be ready when the Lord returns.

The task, therefore, of any leader within the church is to unfold the message of the Bible. Every pastor should set a loaded table before his congregation, not only that they might eat and grow, but also that they might learn from him how to draw from the Scriptures for themselves the spiritual nourishment they need. The Bible is wonderfully adapted to this purpose: there is milk for the beginner, bread for the more advanced, and strong meat to challenge and feed the mature. It is so designed that when books of the Bible are taught through consecutively they will cover a wide variety of subjects and yet keep truth marvelously in balance.

It is clearly evident, therefore, that the supreme need of the church during this time of waiting for its Lord is Bible study and knowledge. From this all else will flow. The Bible is the revelation of things as they really are. It represents the only truly realistic look at life that is available to man today. It is the only instrument provided by God that is adequate to the task of producing mature, well-adjusted, whole persons. That is the clear claim of 2 Timothy 3:16,17:

"All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."

Be careful that you do not conclude from this that the Bible itself is the food for believers. It is not the book but the Lord which the book reveals that is our food. Christ is found in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments. But Bible study alone can be most dull and uninteresting if one does not expect the Spirit to take the words and from them cause the living Christ to emerge. That explains why some Bible students are such dull and dry people; they have concentrated on the Word alone, without the Spirit. And yet it is impossible to know the Lord Jesus in the fullness of his being without the revelation of the Word. We cannot neglect the Bible and grow in Christ; but we can grow in the knowledge of Scripture and never feed upon a risen Lord.

Imagine the joy of that servant when his lord returns and finds him faithfully at the task he assigned him. "Blessed is that servant," says Jesus. The Greek word for "blessed" can also be translated "happy." What a satisfying feeling it will be to know that he did his work well in the eyes of the only one who counts. What shall be done for such a man? What the Lord says next is truly amazing. Listen to it: "Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions." In another place Jesus said, "You have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much" (Matthew 25:21). This is the invariable rule of the kingdom of God.

When you consider who this master really is, it becomes almost incredible that he should reward this servant by setting him over all his possessions. How much is that? Well, Paul wrote in I Corinthians 3:21-23:

"All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's."

There is a staggering thought in Paul's letter to the Ephesians which sums all this up in the phrase, "the unsearchable riches of Christ." Who can tell what boundless opportunities, what indescribable adventures of service, what fabulous vistas of challenge, are involved in a phrase like that? Surely one thing is clear: the commitment and labor required to fulfill the ministry of teaching which the Lord has left for us to do will not be worthy to be compared with what shall belong to a "faithful and wise servant" when the Lord returns.

The Unfaithful Servant

Unfortunately not every servant of the Lord proves to be wise and faithful. With the utter candor that characterizes him, Jesus gives the negative side of the picture in verses 48-51:

"But if that wicked servant says to himself, 'My master is delayed,' and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eats and drinks with the drunken, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth."

It is evident that this servant has the same ministry committed to him as the first one. He, too, is expected "to give them their food at the proper time." The same storehouse of the Word is at his disposal so that he too can feed the hungry of the household whenever they need it. The health and welfare of the household is his responsibility and depends upon his faithful ministry.

But this servant is different. When his lord does not come as soon as he expects, he says to himself, "My master is delayed." There is more than a hint here that the return of the Lord Jesus will be delayed far beyond the expectations of men. The apostles expected him in the first century, but he did not come. Now many centuries have gone by, and the effect of that long delay has been what the Lord here predicts. Many who claim to be his servants have given up hope of his return. The former bishop of the Episcopal Church, James Pike, himself one who had given up such a hope, stated that "only 24% of Episcopalians, by survey, believe it." The effect of that lost hope is immediately apparent. The servant, says the Lord, begins to beat his fellow servants, mistreat them, criticize and complain continually, neglect his ministry, and indulge his appetites to the full. It is a vivid picture of what happens, in one degree or another, when the expectation of the Lord's return is abandoned. There is a precise sequence of failure that can be traced. First, the hope of the Lord's return grows weak and eventually is lost. Because of this there is little motivation to the ministry of feeding the household, and therefore it is neglected. When the Word is not taught the people grow spiritually weak, and therefore full of weakness and carnality. This then manifests itself in quarreling, injustices, and excesses of every sort, in which the servant responsible for the feeding also joins.

It should be obvious from this that the fact of Christ's return is more important as a doctrine of the church than may at first appear. As we have already seen, it is an indicator of the degree to which the Lord's present indwelling life is being experienced. If there is little desire for his appearing, there is little concern to walk in the strength of his life. When the hope of the Lord's return crumbles, then it is already apparent that the experience of his life has largely ceased, if it existed at all. That is why the Lord lays such stress upon this and underscores it as the primary cause for the neglect of Bible teaching and the subsequent weakness of the church.

But though the servant has given up on the Lord's return, that does not prevent the Lord from returning. Suddenly he appears at an hour which the servant does not know and at a time when he does not expect him. Undoubtedly this will be one of those occasions when the servant will say, "Lord, Lord, have I not done mighty works in your name?" There may indeed be other things he has done which he felt would be impressive to the Lord if he returned. But it is all to no avail. He has specifically not done the one thing the Lord required of him. He has been faithless to his commission. Therefore he shall be punished and put where he belongs-with the hypocrites! He is himself a hypocrite, for he has assumed the name of a faithful servant of the Lord, but has proved false to his trust.

It is obvious from what our Lord says of this man, that he has never been a true servant at all. His destiny is to be put in the place where men will weep and gnash their teeth. Further on, in chapter 25, verse 30, the Lord describes that place as "outer darkness." It is a place of frustration and defiance. Men weep because of their lost opportunities; they gnash their teeth out of bitter rage and defiance. It is not a pleasant picture, but let us remember, it is the Lord Jesus Christ who thus describes it to us.

A Demoralized Household

The Lord has made crystal clear by this parable that it is a very serious thing to fail in feeding the household of God. It is not because the man's personal failure has a demoralizing effect upon the household. This has been most apparent in the church. One of the haunting problems in the church today is its identity crisis. In many places it seems to have lost the sense of what it was intended to be. Instead of a body, with each one "members one of another" and ministering to one another in love and concern, it has become an organization operating various programs. Paul wrote to the Galatians, "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). But today's Christians often touch each others' lives on only the most superficial basis, and do not want to hear another's problems because they "don't want to get involved."

This widespread ignorance of the church's true nature is directly traceable to a lack of systematic Bible teaching. Many passages in the New Testament epistles plainly detail the true nature of the church. Its "body life" is clearly described and illustrated from actual experience. Its supernatural endowment with spiritual gifts as the basis for all its ministry is described in half a dozen places. Its unique power, deriving from the presence of an indwelling and active Lord, is set before us again and again. The way to the consistent exercise of spiritual power, making its impact upon a decadent society, is detailed in many places.

Results of Biblical Ignorance

But how much does the average Christian know of this? The blunt answer is: scarcely anything! The degree of biblical illiteracy, prevalent in American churches, is beyond belief. And the widespread effect, visible everywhere, is a powerless, quarreling, materialistic church whose knowledge of its Lord's living presence is almost nil, and whose hope of his soon return has long ago burned out into gray embers.

The cause for this sterile mediocrity is, says Jesus, faithless and wicked servants who have never assumed or have given up the task of feeding the household at the proper time. He views this failure with the greatest solemnity. There is a sobering word from Paul in I Corinthians 3:17: "If any one destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are." Consequently we should not be surprised to hear Jesus say that when the master of the house returns he will confront the faithless servant and "will punish him, and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth."

The Secrets of the Heart

In both of these cases, that of the faithful and that of the faithless servant, it is evident that the return of Jesus Christ simply reveals what men have been all the time. "Each man's work will become manifest," says Paul, "for the Day will disclose it" (1 Corinthians 3:13). The truly shocking thing about that is that what we are proved to be in that Day, we must continue to be forever! What we have been in the secret places of the heart through life must now be displayed as our true self through eternity." (In the Meantime, by Ray C. Stedman,

C.S. Lewis said,

"God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks onto the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right, but what is the good of saying you're on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else--something it never entered your head to conceive--comes crashing in; something so beautiful to us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love, or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down, when it's become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realize it or not. Now, today, in this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever; we must take it or leave it." (Mere Christianity)

More Notes from James Boice on this section of Matthew 24:

"An important contrast exists between the verses we looked at in the last study and the opening verse of the section of Matthew 24 to which we now come. It is the difference between "you know" in verse 33 and "no one knows" in verse 36. What the disciples were to know is that "when you see all these things" the end will be "near, right at the door." "These things" refer to the terrible characteristics of their age, and ours-false messiahs, wars, earthquakes, famines, persecutions, apostasy, and false prophets. Having seen these things, we should know that the return of Jesus Christ is near, even at the door. That door could be flung . open by Christ at any moment.

On the other hand, we do not know when Christ will return. When Jesus said, "No one knows about that day or hour" (v. 36), he did not mean that smart Bible teachers are nevertheless able to calculate the year or the decade. Those who have tried to do so have always been wrong.

This deliberate contrast reinforces what 1 have been saying about this chapter, namely: (1) that the return of Christ to gather his elect and judge the world is yet future; (2) that we do not know when this will be; and that, therefore, (3) we must keep watch and be ready, since we will be lost and perish if we do not. Jesus said, "He who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matt. 10:22).

Everything in this last discourse, even the prediction of the fall of Jerusalem, makes these points. Nothing the disciples or we will ever see is a sure sign of the end, for the end will come without warning. As D. A. Carson writes, 'The hour remains unknown until it arrives; and then the cleavage is sudden, absolute, and irreversible."

Let me make this point another way. About half of Matthew 24 deals with signs that are not true signs of Christ's return (vv. 4-26, 32-35). A very small section describes the return of Christ itself (vv. 27-31). But a third of chapter 24 (vv. 36-51) and all of chapter 25 (vv. 1-46), a total of sixty-two verses, warn us to get ready since we do not know when that day of final reckoning will be. Or to put it yet another way, Jesus stresses this single essential point with seven historical references, verbal pictures or parables-four in this chapter and three in the next.

The application is clear: Are you watching? Are you ready for Jesus Christ's return?

The Days of Noah

The first story Jesus uses to emphasize the suddenness of his coming and the need to be ready for it is the destruction of the earth by the flood in the days of Noah. This was a well-known example of God's judgment of wickedness, and it is referred to quite naturally by Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah (Isa. 54:9) and Ezekiel (Ezek. 14:14,20) and by New Testament writers such as the author of Hebrews (Heb. 11:7) and Peter (1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5).Jesus refers to it in verses 37-39.

The point of these verses is that the waters of the flood came suddenly and that those who were not prepared drowned. But this also points to a world that will be largely unbelieving at the time of Christ's return. I emphasize this because some hold that Christ's kingdom will eventually triumph in the world. This view is usually referred to as postmillennialism. The word millennium refers to the reign of Christ (for a thousand years, if interpreted literally), and postmillennialism means that Jesus will return only after his role has been universally established. According to this view, Jesus reigns in and through the church and will return only after the church's mission is fulfilled.

Postmillennialism was popular in former centuries when the supposedly "Christian nations" were extending their colonial power. It is not as popular today, when the West is in evident decline. True, the mission of the church does not depend on Western Christianity, and a great growth of Christianity is taking place today in the third world. But even when we turn from history and restrict ourselves to explicit scriptural teaching, not much encourages us to think in this falsely optimistic way. On the contrary, those who were taught by Jesus say that there will be terrible wickedness and even widespread apostasy in the church when Christ returns.

Peter wrote of the presence of false prophets in the last days, saying, "They will secretly introduce destructive heresies" (2 Peter 2:1). Again, "In the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, 'Where is this "coming" he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation'" (2 Peter 3:3-4). Almost all of 2 Peter 2 and 3, two-thirds of the letter, describes the evil of the final days.

Jude is almost entirely about such times, and the author seems to echo Peter when he writes, "Remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, 'In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.' These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit" (vv. 17-19).

Paul wrote, "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons" (1 Tim. 4: I). Or again, "There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-having a form of godliness but denying its power" (2 Tim. 3:1-5).

None of these passages teaches that we are to be pessimistic. We must preach Christ everywhere, knowing that all whom God has elected to salvation will be saved. Not one will be lost. But neither do these passages teach an increasingly successful expansion of the gospel, still less a triumphant expansion of organized Christianity throughout the world. Rather, they encourage a faithful adherence to and preaching of the gospel in spite of the fact that it will not be universally received and in spite of the fact that there will be increasingly entrenched unbelief.

It is such a time Jesus envisioned when he told his disciples, "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 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; 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" (vv. 37-39). John Ryle had it right when he wrote, ''The world will not be converted when Christ returns," adding that "millions of professing Christians will be found thoughtless, unbelieving, Godless, Christless, worldly, and unfit to meet their Judge." Will you be one of those who perishes in the judgment? Or will you be ready and watching when the Lord returns?

A Sudden Separation

The second picture Jesus paints to describe the nature of things at his return is in verses 40 and 41. "Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left." Here we find the idea of a sudden separation. Two men working in a field would be coworkers. Two women working with a hand mill would probably be closely related, most likely a mother and daughter or two servants in the same household. Outwardly they would seem to be in identical situations and even identical in their relationships to Christ, but at his return one will be taken and the other left behind.

The verbs taken and left raise questions that Jesus does not answer in this passage. Does taken mean taken away in judgment and left mean left behind to prosper? That would not be an unreasonable way to understand these words. Or does taken mean taken to heaven when the Lord returns in glory with his angels and left mean being left behind on earth? Those who believe in a sudden "rapture" of the saints before a final return of Christ and the final judgment choose this second possibility.

It does seem clear that the idea of being taken to be with Christ at his return best fits the chapter, since Jesus had earlier spoken of sending his angels to "gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other" (v. 31). Yet the verses do not specify how this will happen, and they certainly do not say when. The point is only that "persons most intimately associated will be separated by that unexpected coming," as John Broadus says.

That alone should encourage serious soul-searching. For one thing, it demolishes any fond hope of universalism, the idea that in the end everyone will be saved since God could never send anyone to hell. No one in the entire Bible speaks of hell as much as Jesus. In fact, he does so in this very chapter, saying in verse 51 that the servant who is found to have been unfaithful when the master returns will be "cut. . . to pieces" and assigned "a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." In the next chapter "weeping and gnashing of teeth" is joined to "darkness," "eternal fire," and "eternal punishment," meaning hell. When Jesus says that "one will be taken and the other left," he means that not all will be saved. Many will be lost. Be sure that you are not among those who perish when Jesus returns.

And there is this point too: No one will be saved simply by being close to or even related to another person who is a Christian. Salvation is not a hereditary matter. On the contrary, you must believe on Jesus, and you must be ready.

The Need to Be Watching

The third of Jesus' illustrations is of a thief breaking into a house. "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" (v. 43).

This parable also teaches the sudden and unpredictable coming of the Lord and is used this way in four other New Testament passages. Paul wrote, "The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, 'Peace and safety,' destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape" (1 Thess. 5:2-3). Peter said, "The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare" (2 Peter 3:10). Jesus told the church in Sardis, "If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you" (Rev. 3:3). He says the same thing later in Revelation: "Behold, I come like a thief' (Rev. 16:15). Each of these verses emphasizes the suddenness of Christ's return.

But the image of a thief adds two additional factors. First, it adds the matter of value, since the thief comes to steal what is worthwhile. Almost everyone values his or her possessions. No one is careless with money, cars, or jewelry. That is why we lock these things up. We have safe-deposit boxes. We install anti-theft devices and alarms on our cars. We insure especially valuable possessions. If we take such great care about these items, things that will all be lost to us or decay over time, shouldn't we take at least that much care about things that are eternal? Shouldn't we be at least equally anxious for the salvation of our souls?

Jesus said on an earlier occasion, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" (Matt. 16:26). Obviously, it will be no good at all. Such a person will have lost the only thing that really matters, and in the end he will lose the world as well.

Second, the picture of the thief emphasizes the necessity of being watchful. "Since no one knows at what time, or during what 'watch,' the thief might strike, constant vigilance is required," says D. A. Carson. The need to watch is explicitly stated both in the verse that precedes the words about the thief and in the one that follows. "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come" (v. 42) and, "So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him" (v. 44).

Are you keeping watch? Are you ready?

The Need to Be Ready

Each of these pictures is alike in stressing the sudden nature and unpredictability of Christ's return, but each also adds its own unique elements. The picture of the flood reminds us that many persons will be lost. The picture of the two men working in the fields and the two women grinding at the mill points to a radical separation and reminds us that we are not saved by knowing or being close to a believer. The picture of the thief reminds us that our souls are valuable and that it is simple prudence for us to be ready.

What about this next picture. the contrast between the two servants? This picture provides an explanation of what being ready means. Being ready means loving, trusting, and waiting for Jesus Christ, of course. The faithful servant is faithful because he is expecting his Lord's return. But it also has to do with faithful service, that is, continuing to carry out what Jesus has left us in this world to do. We find the same idea in two of the three parables in chapter 25. In one parable faithfulness is demonstrated by the wise use of the talents Christ has given (Matt. 25:14-30). In the other it is seen in selfless service to those who are hungry or thirsty or have other pressing needs (Matt. 25:31-46).

How are we to evaluate the service of these two men? Not much is said about the good servant, only that he gave the other servants their food at the proper time. Jesus may be thinking of spiritual food and of the service of ministers in teaching the Bible. On the other hand, a great deal is said about the bad servant. His service is marked by three vices.

1. Carelessness. He neglects his work because, he says, "My master is staying away a long time" (v. 48). This reminds us of 2 Peter 3:4, which I referred to earlier: "They will say, 'Where is this "coming" he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation"" It always seems like that to unbelievers. Jesus has not returned yet, so they are careless. But, says Peter, they "deliberately forget" that God judged the world in ancient times by water and that he has promised to do so again by fire at the final day (vv. 5-7). Besides, "with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day" (v. 8). What seems delayed to us is not a delay with him. Therefore, says Peter, "Be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position" (v. 17).

2. Cruelty. The second vice of the wicked servant is cruelty to his fellow servants, because he began "to beat" them (v. 49). This is like the Pharisees whom Jesus said would pursue, flog, kill, and crucify his servants (Matt. 23:34), only here it is not merely the apostles and missionaries who are beaten. The under servants are beaten, and the one doing the beating is a person who claims to be a servant of the Lord.

3. Carousing. Finally, the Lord denounces the wicked servant for his carousing, noting that he has begun "to eat and drink with drunkards" (v. 49). He is behaving like those living in the days of Noah who were "eating and drinking" and "knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away" (vv. 38-39).

The passage says of the good servant only that it will be good for him when his master returns. But of the bad servant it says, "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. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (vv. 50-51).

Are You Ready?

There is an old fable in which three apprentice devils were talking to Satan. The first one said, "I will tell people there is no God." Satan replied, "That will not fool many; because they know there is a God." The second devil said, "I will tell them there is no hell." Satan said, "You will never fool many that way, because they know there is a hell." The third said, "I will tell people there is no hurry." Satan said, "Go, and you will ruin millions."

Lord Shaftesbury, the great English social reformer of the nineteenth century (1801-1885), is reported to have said on one occasion, "I do not think that in the last forty years I have ever lived one conscious hour that was not influenced by the thought of our Lord's return." The anticipation of Jesus' return' must have been one of the strongest influences behind Shaftesbury's efforts to assist the poor and advance the cause of foreign missions. Shaftesbury expected to meet Jesus face to face, and he watched for him. He was ready for his master to come.

So I ask again; even as Jesus asks over and over again in these chapters: Are you ready for his return? Are you watching? To be ready when Jesus returns means salvation; not to be ready is to perish." (The Gospel of Matthew, James M. Boice, Baker Books 2001)

Current Sunday morning Bible teaching series is on the subject of New Testament prophecy. Notes and MP3 are on my web site,

Lambert Dolphin, January 12, 2005.