“So stay awake and be prepared, because you do not know the day or hour of my return.” - Matthew 25:13
Every generation of Christians has expected Christ to return in their lifetime. And they have had one thing in common: They have all been wrong.
The Lord Jesus did promise to return to take his people home. But he did not say when the event would take place. In fact, he told his disciples specifically, “You do not know the day or hour of my return” (25:13). This has not stopped some prognosticators from saying that they may not know the day or hour, but they have figured out the month and year! They’ve all been wrong, too.
Why did Jesus compare his return to the Flood of Noah (24:37-39), when despite countless opportunities to hear and see that something was going to happen, Noah’s contemporaries studiously avoided responding to his warnings and carried on life as usual? Why did Jesus compare his return to the arrival of a thief (24:43- 44), explaining that his return would not be advertised any more than the arrival of a burglar is publicized in advance? His multiple illustrations were designed to hammer home both the inevitability of the event and the uncertainty of the when.
Supposing Jesus had said, “I’ll give you three millennia to evangelize the world, and then, on January 1, A.D. 3001, I will return at precisely 9:00 GMT.” What would the promise of his return have meant to generations of believers who lived in the preceding centuries? In the midst of their sufferings, exiles, and martyrdom, what comfort would they have derived from his promise, knowing that he would not come soon? And what would have been the effect on the church if they had known that they still had a little time to do what they wanted to do before getting around to doing what he had told them to do? Where would have been the sense of urgency, the challenge to holiness, and the keen sense of tiptoe anticipation?
Jesus’ point was that all his disciples should be living in a sense of anticipation, actively on the job, working hard to bring about the consummation of his purposes and living consistent lives so they would not be ashamed at his coming. His instructions could not have been more clear: “So stay awake and be prepared, because you do not know the day or hour of my return” (25:13).
Speculating about Christ’s return is intriguing but not unproductive. Participating in preparing for his return is imperative and pays lasting dividends.
For Further Study: Matthew 24:37-25:13