In Christ’s day, a Jewish bride-to-be had to be ready for her bridegroom to arrive at any moment. She prepared herself, and listened for the trumpet blasts and shouts signaling his eminent arrival. Jesus’ first coming followed a similar pattern, with a “friend of the bridegroom” telling people he was on His way. Scripture indicates His return will also follow a pattern like this.
As we approach the fall holy days of Yom Teruah (Feast of Trumpets), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), my mind has been on Jesus’ return. These days picture parts of God’s plan that have not yet been fulfilled, including Messiah’s second coming.
Here on this blog, we’ve often talked about how Jesus’ relationship with the church is like that of a Jewish bridegroom with his bride (you can read more about this in my posts “The Bridegroom’s Pledge” and “The Bridegroom Cometh!“). After the betrothal, the bride wouldn’t know exactly when the groom was going to come back for the wedding. She had to be ready, listening for the trumpet blasts and shouts signaling his eminent arrival. In much the same way, we don’t know when Christ will return and it’s very important that we get ready and keep watching for Him to come back.
Prepare The Way
Before Jesus’ first coming, someone went ahead telling people to prepare for Him to show up. John the Baptist described himself as “the friend of the bridegroom” who was “sent before him” (John 3:28-29, WEB). His role was connected to two prophesies from the Old Testament:
The voice of one who calls out, “Prepare the way of Yahweh in the wilderness! Make a level highway in the desert for our God.” (Is. 40:3, WEB)
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me; and the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, behold, he comes!” says Yahweh of Armies. (Mal. 3:21, WEB)
Every gospel mentions John’s connection with one or both of these prophesies (Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:2-3; Luke 1:76; 3:4; John 1:23). He was clearly fulfilling a vital, planned role in God’s plan for Messiah coming to redeem and rescue His bride.
Getting People To God
There are also two prophesies about preparing the way that aren’t connected to John the Baptist. They talk about preparing a way for people to get to God. Here’s the first one:
He who takes refuge in me will possess the land, and will inherit my holy mountain. He will say, “Build up, build up, prepare the way! Remove the stumbling-block out of the way of my people.” For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Is. 57:13-15, WEB)
In these verses, the ones who take refuge in Yahweh and inherit His holy mountain talk about preparing the way for others to come to Yahweh. And Yahweh promises that those who seek with the right heart will dwell with Him. The other verse has a similar message.
Go through, go through the gates!
Prepare the way of the people!
Build up, build up the highway!
Gather out the stones!
Lift up a banner for the peoples.
Behold, Yahweh has proclaimed to the end of the earth,
“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your salvation comes.
Behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.’”
They will call them The holy people,
You will be called Sought out,
A city not forsaken. (Is 62:10-12, WEB)
Build Up, Clean Up
How do you prepare people for Christ’s coming? The verses we just read say you need to build up the way and remove stumbling blocks. It also assumes we’re walking in the way already. This is similar to what John the Baptist did. He proclaimed the good news of Christ’s coming. He called people to repent and leave behind the things that made them stumble. And he did all this while humbly walking in the ways of God (Luke 3:1-20; John 1:19-51; Matt. 3:13-17; John 3:22-36).
“Build up” is the Hebrew word salal (H5549). It refers to the practice of making a road higher than the surrounding terrain (TWOT entry 1506). Figuratively, it can also mean “exalt” (BDB definition). Since we’re talking about highways, this makes me think of the “narrow way” which leads to eternal life (Matt. 7:13-14). Perhaps preparing the way for Messiah’s second coming involves building up this way so that other people can more easily see where they should walk.
The Bible also talks about stumbling blocks. Mostly, it’s to tell us not to put stumbling blocks in front of people (Rom. 14:13) or to talk about how Christ is a stumbling block that people who walk contrary to Him trip over (1 Cor. 1:23). If people come into a church or talk with a Christian, the only thing that should “trip them up” are the kinds of things that get them to fall toward Christ. We shouldn’t leave “stones” in the way that would cause them to stumble or shipwreck instead of drawing closer to God.
Make Yourself Ready
Our every action as Christians should point people toward Christ. We won’t always do that perfectly, but it should still be our goal. We also need to become the sort of people who are preparing ourselves for Christ’s return before we can adequately prepare a way for others that points to Him.
The Bible describes the Bride of Christ as someone who has “made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7, WEB). As we do this, we discover who God wants us to be, what He expects from us, and how we’re to share that with others. The more we develop the mind of Christ, the better we’re able to share Him with a world that doesn’t yet know how desperately they need Him to come back.
With Yom Teruah — the Feast of Trumpets picturing our Bridegroom’s return — starting tomorrow evening at sundown, there’s no better time to remember how important it is for us to prepare our hearts for His coming. In addition, we should be doing all we can to point others toward Him. The Father is the only one who can call someone into relationship with Him and His son, but He does give us a role in preparing the way for others. Some people do that through teaching, some through their example, and some using other gifts. But we all get to have a part in preparing for the Bridegroom’s return.