Jesus said, “about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (24:36)
It always amazes (and slightly amuses) me when people insist that they can predict the time of the return of Jesus and Judgement Day. Given that even he didn’t know, it seems unlikely that there’s a secret message encoded in the Bible, which someone has only just managed to decipher. We’re not meant to know.
In these chapters, Jesus tells us some things about the end of the present age – and, most importantly, how we should live in the light of it.
First, he warns us that we will answer to God for the way we have lived. The most developed parable here is that of the sheep and the goats – those who by serving their neighbours in need served Jesus without realising it (who are rewarded) and those who walked by because they didn’t recognise Jesus in the poor, the hungry, the prisoner… Or there’s the parable of the talents, where he seems to be saying that all we have is on loan, and we’re expected to be doing something for God with the opportunities and resources we have. When we stand before him (whether that comes at our death or when Jesus returns) he’ll expect us to be able to say what we’ve done in this life – and why.
Second, he makes it clear that we won’t have a countdown to this reckoning. In his parables and teaching he draws a picture of a return unannounced and unexpected – perhaps seeming to be delayed beyond all that was expected. And we’re called to be ready.
It would surely have been easier if he’d known when this was going to happen, and made sure that Matthew wrote the date down exactly. He didn’t. And I don’t think that’s an accident. Because the things we should be doing to be ready for judgement are the things we should be doing every day because they’re the right things to do – for us and for those around us. If we knew that we had another 25 years before we were to die or Jesus would return, most of us would carry on as normal for at least 24 of those years, hoping to have a bit of time at the end to cram for a (very) final exam in the hope that all before would be forgotten. And by doing that, we’d miss out on 96% of the opportunities God gives us to live in freedom, peace and love. It’s for our own good that we’re left waiting, unsure of how long is still on the clock – for us and for the world.
After 2000 years, it’s hard to keep the same sense of urgency about life with God that the first Christians had, when they expected that Jesus would return in their very near future. But we’re called to live with that urgency, even if we don’t really feel it in our hearts. The puritans talked about ‘keeping short accounts with God’ – doing as soon as possible all the good that could be done, and confessing for forgiveness as soon as possible any good not done, or any wrong done in good’s place. It’s a good idea for lots of reasons to spend a few minutes at the end of the day going through the day’s events with God in prayer, asking for his perspective on what’s happened, and asking his forgiveness and blessing before going to sleep. Apart from anything else, you’ll probably find that it helps you to sleep better!
None of us knows how long we have to ‘bring glory to God by doing good to others’ as I quoted yesterday. We have the present moment, and that means that we’d be foolish to delay doing good for a moment. One moment will be our last. We may not have much of an idea which one that will be – so it makes sense to remember that this life is not a rehearsal, but the reality, shaping our eternity.
If there’s something good you can do for God today, please do it today. Tomorrow won’t make it any easier, and tomorrow is not actually guaranteed to arrive. Today is here.