In trying to work out the timing of Jesus’ return, many people turn to Old Testament prophecy, the book of Revelation or even world events. Perhaps an easier approach would be to refer to the things that Jesus said about the topic. However, in Matthew 24:29-35, it has to be said that a wide variety of views abound. Some of what Jesus said requires careful thought. He was not one to contradict Himself! Even more than that, it’s good to remember that just as Jesus has proved right with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., so His words can be taken as being rock-solid. Through the confusion of various interpretations and theories, it is good to know that the guarantee of His return is His own promise!
One of the keys to understanding all that Jesus said in Matthew 24 and 25, is to carefully locate the time reference that Jesus is referring to. In Matthew 24:15-28, it’s faily clear that the bulk of what Jesus said relates to the fall of Jerusalem in 70A.D. – something that the disciples of Jesus would need to be prepared for. But, it’s not all just in the past. The scenes that Jesus describes around those events, can be understood as being predictive of the events that will also usher in the end of the age and Jesus’ return!
When the disciples of Jesus once asked Him some questions as they stood near the Temple, they could never have known that the answers Jesus gave them were answers that would echo down the corridors of time for thousands of years. But this is the case with the ‘Olivet Discourse’ recorded for us in Matthew’s gospel chapters 24 and 25. And so, in Matthew 24:1-14, the scene is set. The disciples are there. Jesus is there. And the questions focus upon the end of the age and the signs of His coming. But the answers are a little more complex, reminding us that the Lord Jesus is also our great Prophet who declares to us the truth that we might not fear but be busy with His gospel.
It’s worth remembering that the name of the month of January comes from the Roman god, Janus, who is often pictured as having two faces – one looking back to the past and the other looking ahead to the future. At the start of a new year it’s always good to start off with that kind of attitude. Paul certainly had that attitude during his life and it’s nowhere as clear as in Philippians 3:12-21. The apostle was single-minded about purusing a goal of ‘knowing Christ’ and he certainly had his eyes set on a future prize in relation to that prize, constantly checking himself so that he did not live for lesser things and miss out. At the start of the new year, take a leaf from the Apostle’s book!
‘There’s no Christmas without Christ!’ If only that were so. Sadly, there’s lots of Christmases without Christ, and as Christmas comes and goes again, it’s possible that many fall for the trap of living as though, the trimmings count more than the reality. The Apostle Peter knew little about the Christmas story, but what he did know about Jesus he learned through first hand experience – and in the text of 2 Peter 1:16-21, Peter reflects on his time on the mount of transfiguration with Jesus. It must have been amazing to see and witness. A place where Peter saw the majesty and glory of Jesus. But even then, after having that experience, Peter said there was something even ‘more sure’ than what he’d seen and heard. It was the Scriptures. These testify to the One who came for us to be our Saviour.
One of the strong emphases of Scripture when it comes to the return of Jesus, is the important question of ‘how we live’ in the light of His coming. As Paul concludes his letter to the Church at Thesalonica in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28, this emphasis can be clearly seen. While Paul has established the fact of Jesus’ return, especially the unknown hour of that return, he does not finish the letter without calling God’s people back to living in the world, with their feet on earth, so to speak. And as he closes the letter, he does so with some practical instructions, so that the time we have while we wait for Jesus to come in spent the right way – in living for Him and not for lesser things.
This message was preached for the occasion of the celebration of the contribution of our organist, Mrs Jean Spicer, for nearly 70 years, something that is a great witness to the faithfulness of the Lord and the faithfulness He calls His people to. The central message of the parable Jesus told in Luke 19:11-27, is just that – faithfulness. Each of us are given gifts of grace by God that he exepcts us to use in the furthering of His Kingdom. Even Jesus was called upon to be faithful and it is by His faithfulness that we are richly rewarded. (The hymns chosen today are Jean’s favourites!)
There are certain events in life that we must all get ready for. As I write this, Christmas isn’t too far away – and we all know what that means! Some events, like Christmas, are expected. Others are not. The return of Jesus certainly fits into this second category. His return will not be announced beforehand, but like a ‘thief in the night’ He will come unexpectedly. What should we do then, in response to this? In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 we find what the Apostle Paul encourage us to do in the light of Christ’s return – so that we will not be caught unaware and we can be ‘be prepared’ for the inevitable.
If there’s one thing we all need to survive in this world and in order to ‘keep on, keeping on’ it’s hope. Not a vain ‘pie-in-the-sky’ hope that people have when they believe something that isn’t true to lessen the pain of reality, but a hope that is based on something outside of us, something that is tangible and real. God’s people have such a hope, and in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul speaks about that hope – a hope that says ‘we will be with the Lord forever’. How that hope works out in relation to the reality of death and in relation to the Lord’s coming is spelled out in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. It’s a great passage and one that should remind us that our hope in Christ is not just something for the present. It’s for tomorrow and every day and for eternity!
The ability to walk is something that most of us take for granted. It’s only if and when we lose that ability we realise that learning to walk all over again is hard. The Bible also lays emphasis upon how God’s people should ‘walk’ -in the sense of how we conduct ourselves as ‘chidren of the light’. In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, Paul lays down some practical teaching for these believers to follow. Even though they once lived in a different kind of way – that is, like the rest of the world – now they were called to live and to ‘walk’ in a way that pleased God, and by doing this, they would show to the world around them that the gospel really had made a difference in daily living.