Watching For Christ’s Return
September 5, 2010 / No. 3531
Dear radio friends,
In the next several weeks, I hope to consider with you the signs that clearly indicate the second coming of Jesus Christ.
The passage we consider today introduces the subject of these signs by instructing us to watch for Christ’s second coming. We read in I Thessalonians 5:1-6, “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day; we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.”
Other Scriptures also enjoin the child of God to watch and prepare for the swift return of our Savior who will usher in the end of the world and the beginning of a heavenly kingdom.
This watching is done in a concrete way. It does not involve quitting our jobs, sitting around idly and impatiently waiting for the time that Christ appears. Watching for Christ’s second coming entails looking for and observing how everything is developing in this world in order to be prepared for Christ’s coming. In I Thessalonians 5:1-6, Paul certainly brings this to our attention.
Obviously, those who were reading this letter from Paul knew about Christ’s return. They also knew well the figure Paul used in verse 2: “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.” Paul uses this figure because Jesus Himself spoke of His second coming using this same figure in Matthew 24:42-44: “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the good man of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.”
Consider this figure. A homeowner and his wife make ready to go to sleep. He routinely checks the doors of the house to see that they are all bolted tight. Confident that the house is secure for the night, he retires. He is assured that his house is safe. So he lays himself down, thinking to himself: “Peace and safety.” But sometime in the night, while the man and his wife lay soundly asleep, a thief breaks into his house and steals away the man’s expensive household items. The thief knew his profession well. He came swiftly, unexpectedly, and suddenly. No one knew it was his intent to plunder this man’s house. Who was to know what watch of the night the thief would come? So the man and his wife were caught unawares. He was not watching. He was not prepared.
That is the nature of the coming of a thief. He depends on the element of surprise. He comes when no one is expecting him. The only way the thief could be foiled is if the man of the house were to be watching and waiting for his coming. If the homeowner were somehow forewarned, he would be prepared to meet the thief to keep him from breaking and entering his house.
All of this, of course, lies at the heart of the passage we consider. The sudden, swift, unexpected coming of the thief is an important element. But so is the truth that if the homeowner was prepared and watching, the coming of the thief would not have taken him by surprise. Both of these are key elements in these verses we consider.
Now, let us apply this figure to the coming of Christ.
The obvious reference here, as we mentioned, is Christ’s second coming at the end of time. That coming will be swift. Jesus tells us: “Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me.” That coming will also be sudden. Again Jesus instructs us: “No man knows the day or the hour in which the Son of man returns.” For thousands of years now, the true church of Jesus Christ has heralded this coming of Christ. Warning has been sent out in every age to all who will hear. But Peter tells us in his second epistle, chapter 3, that unbelievers will, as the end approaches, mock. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”
This scoffing is on the lips of unbelievers because they live yet in the darkness of their unbelief. Their eyes are blinded to who Jesus Christ is, and therefore also to the truth that He will come again at the end of time to judge all men. The last days of this world will be as the days of Noah, Jesus warns us. The people of this world will carry on as if the world is never going to end. They will be eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, and refuse to heed the warning that destruction is at hand.
From a spiritual point of view, Paul teaches us here in I Thessalonians 5, the unbelieving world will say to themselves, “Peace and safety.” Being soundly asleep, in the darkness of unbelief, this world will not be prepared for the sudden coming of Christ. His coming, therefore, will be unexpected.
But there is an added element to this figure that we must consider as well. In verse 3 of I Thessalonians 5, Paul uses another figure to describe Christ’s coming. We read, “For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”
This second figure is that of an expecting mother who is due to give birth to her baby. Her term is up. She knows the baby will be born soon. But she does not know exactly when the moment will come that will bring her labor pains. The same is true with the coming of Christ at the end of time. Even for those who do believe and know the time is near, the day and hour Christ returns is unknown. Just as that mother who knows the time is very near does not know the moment of the first contraction, so also we do not know the day or the hour of Christ’s return.
So, we ought not try to predict it either. There were a number of the Thessalonian believers who felt that Christ would return in a matter of days or weeks, or at the most, months. They quit their jobs and sat idly by, waiting for His return. That was wrong of them. Our Lord does not want us waiting in that sense of the word. He does not want us trying to predict the year or day or hour of His return.
This was, and is, the error of Seventh Day Adventism. William Miller, the founder of this cult, predicted that Christ would return in 1843. It never happened. This is the same error that some in our day make. One radio show host wrote a book entitled 1994. He predicted that Christ was going to return in that year. It never happened. Now we learn that this same man’s latest date is December 31, 2012. Maybe. Maybe not. It does not really matter. When we hear predictions of this sort, we must ignore them. Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms: “Of the day or the hour knoweth no man.” Even the angels in heaven do not know the exact time of Christ’s return and of the end of the world. We must make no assumptions, no calculations, no predictions. Neither do we give ear to those who foolishly try to do so.
But, having now established this fact, Paul goes on to instruct us in verse 4: “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.” That is striking! Paul informs all believers that the coming of Christ ought not to overtake us as a thief in the night. There is no contradiction in this instruction of course. Christ comes in a day and hour that no man knows; at the same time, however, we must be those who are prepared for that thief when he appears unexpectedly. We may not know what hour of the night that thief comes. Nevertheless, we know he is coming. And because we know, we should be prepared for Him. Even if it means that we will sit and stay awake all night, we will be watching. That is what we are told to do in this passage, too—to watch. Believers must be ready for Christ’s return.
This must be true of us because we know perfectly of Christ’s coming. Notice verses 1 and 2: “Of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.” The knowledge of the child of God, Paul says, is a perfect knowledge. It is not just a knowledge about some facts of Christ’s coming. It is not some human deduction we make for ourselves that Christ will come again. It is the knowledge of faith, a knowledge of Christ’s coming that the unbelieving of this world does not have. When the wicked man is warned and instructed concerning the swift and sudden return of Christ, he refuses to believe. His reasoning is blinded by unbelief. He knows, yet he does not know, that Christ comes again. He knows about it without believing it. For that reason, too, Christ’s coming will suddenly overtake him with destruction. But believers are given a perfect knowledge of the coming of Christ, and of the times and seasons that will bring about the coming of Christ. We know Christ comes quickly. Christ Himself has taught us that. That warning lives in our hearts.
This blessed truth Paul emphasizes for us in verse 5 of this chapter. “Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.” Our world is lost in the darkness of sin and unbelief. The hearts of unbelievers are not opened to receive the things of the kingdom of heaven. But God is gracious to others. He has graciously and powerfully delivered them from the power of sin and unbelief. He has removed the darkness of that sin.
God reveals this grace only and ever at the cross of Jesus Christ. Christ earned there the gift of faith, the faith that gives us perfect knowledge of Christ’s second coming. He has opened our eyes to see the things of His kingdom. He has revealed to us the times and the seasons of this world. He has given us the light of salvation. We are children of the light. We are no longer of darkness. We are given eyes to see and hearts to understand.
What are we given to see concerning history and the coming of Jesus Christ? Well, Paul says, “We are given to know the times and the seasons.” God has revealed to us the times, first of all. The Greek word translated here in verse 1 as “times” is equivalent to our English term chronology. When we use this word, we refer to a sequence or succession of events that take place in time. If we, for example, put events in chronological order, we are putting them in the order in which they occurred. What God’s Word here means, therefore, is that we are given to know, perfectly, the sequence of events that take place in the history and development of this world. We know that all of history is ordered by God from eternity. Events transpire in this world exactly according to the counsel of God’s will. God has ordered every event in this world in such a way that He will glorify Himself by a people chosen in Christ unto eternal life. He created all things for that purpose. Man fell into sin for that purpose. Christ has come into this world for that reason. The church is defended and preserved for that reason. The end of the world, also, comes for that reason. Every event that transpires in creation, in the nations, and in the church leads to that end. We are given to know the times. We understand why everything is headed the way that it is.
And we are given to know the seasons. This term refers to a fixed period of time. We know the various fixed periods of time in this world. God’s Word teaches us of the period before the Flood. We are taught of that period of time from the Flood to the establishment of God’s covenant with Abraham and his children. We learn of the period of the kings of Israel. We learn of the early New Testament times. And we learn in Scripture that the period of time we live in today is the last times, or what we call the new dispensation. Right now, Christ reigns in the heavens over His spiritual kingdom. This period of the new dispensation began with Christ’s ascension. And this season, or period of time, will come to its close at the end of time. This period of time, from Christ’s ascension to the end of time, is what is known as the millennium. That is the season in which we live. And we know that this season will end when all things are finished—when the church is called and saved, when the cup of iniquity of this wicked world is filled and it is ripe for judgment, when the creation with a groan gives way to the new creation—then we know that the end is at hand.
We live in the last days of the millennium, friends. It is given to believers to know the times and the seasons by faith. The Bible everywhere points us to the imminent return of Christ. We are given to know what must transpire in this world before Christ returns. And we watch the signs that are evident—in creation, in the nations of this world, and in the church—in order that we might be prepared and waiting for the coming of Christ at the end of time.
But, let us not forget that in verse 6 we receive a command, too, as far as our watching is concerned. “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.” There would be no need for this command, of course, if we were able to predict the exact time of Christ’s return at the end of the world. If I knew that the thief was going to break into my house, for example, at 4 A.M., then there would be no need for me to sit and watch the rest of the night. I already know when he is coming. If I knew exactly the year, month, day, and hour of Christ’s second coming in the end of time, I could live as I please until just before He comes. Then, just before His coming, I could hurriedly prepare myself and be ready for Him. There would be no need for me to watch right now and every day of my life and in my generations. That is why Christ does not want us to know the day or the hour of His return. We must be those who are sober and watch right now! Christ wants us to live right now as if He would come tomorrow. Always we must be prepared and anticipating His coming.
Negatively, this means that believers may not sleep. Those who sleep, sleep in the night, because they are of the darkness, Paul writes. Believers are children of the light, who labor while it is light. We may not become sleepy as far as our spiritual lives are concerned. By all indications, we live in the last days of this world. We may not, therefore, at this time, when our eyes should be wide open, close them in spiritual slumber. We may not ignore the signs that are around us, that Christ comes quickly. Neither may we be drunk with the cares of this world. We may not be overcome with the intoxicating pleasures and treasures of this world so that we become comfortable here and do not want to leave. The second coming of Christ ought to be our hope. He will usher in the new heavens and earth where righteousness will dwell. We must not, therefore, indulge in the excesses of this world. Our pleasure and our treasure are heaven and its riches—not the sins of this present society in which we dwell.
Positively, our minds must be clear, our senses honed in on the things of God’s kingdom. We must be able to see the signs and read them correctly. We remain sober by exercising ourselves daily in God’s Word and prayer. And we must teach our children to be sober, too. We must teach them to read God’s Word and to pray. May we equip ourselves in this way. And may we watch. Every day. Each day. Watch.
Are you preparing yourselves for the coming of Christ? Are you watching the signs that indicate that Christ comes? Watch them. And prepare yourselves, children of the light.
Let us pray together.
Father in heaven, we are thankful unto Thee that Thou hast revealed to us the times and the seasons of this world, and that Thou hast given us the knowledge that Jesus Christ comes and that He comes quickly. Wilt Thou prepare us and our children so that together we might constantly watch for that return of our Savior Jesus Christ from heaven. Go with us, Father, and where we in weakness have failed to do so, forgive us. And equip us for today and tomorrow that we might indeed watch for the coming of our Savior. In His name alone we pray, Amen.