A lot of people want to know if we’re living in the end times. Is this it? Have the events of Revelation started? Will Jesus return soon? And there are plenty of people willing to answer them by setting dates, making predictions, or identifying the mark of the beast. There’s much fear, much distraction, and an eagerness — sometimes almost a desperation — to figure things out. We often overlook that the apostle John offered a simple answer to this question nearly 2,000 years ago.
Little children, these are the end times, and as you heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen. By this we know that it is the final hour. (1 John 2:18, all quotes from WEB translation)
We are living in the end times, and have been for as long as there’s been a new covenant church. Whether Christ returns this year, the next, or 100 years from now the things He had to say about how His people should prepare for the end of this world do apply to us. An end will come for each of us one way or another (whether we die or Christ returns before that), and we are told to be ready.
Near the end of His human ministry, Jesus’s disciples asked, “tell us, when will these things be? What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3). In Matthew 24:4-41 He answered their question by describing what “the beginning of sorrows” will look like, how things will get worse, and signs that His coming is near. He also clarifies that we do not know “the day or hour” but that we can still be ready and watchful. He then expounds on how to do that through a series of parables.
The Watchful Servant
But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what watch of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched, and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore also be ready, for in an hour that you don’t expect, the Son of Man will come. (Matt. 24:43-44)
We don’t have the option of getting our lives in order at the last minute because we don’t know when the end will come. The goal isn’t to figure out how much time we have left but to prepare for whenever our Lord returns. We’re to watch ourselves as much, and perhaps even more so, than the world around us.
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord has set over his household, to give them their food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his lord finds doing so when he comes. Most certainly I tell you that he will set him over all that he has. But if that evil servant should say in his heart, ‘My lord is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eat and drink with the drunkards, the lord of that servant will come in a day when he doesn’t expect it and in an hour when he doesn’t know it, and will cut him in pieces and appoint his portion with the hypocrites. That is where the weeping and grinding of teeth will be.” (Matt. 24:45-51).
The emphasis in this second parable is on how we treat others and whether or not we use the fact that Christ hasn’t come back yet to grow lax in obedience. Those who think they can get away with wrong living because there’s still time left before the end belong with the hypocrites. Preparedness involves consistent obedience and following what Jesus has told us to do.
The Ten Virgins
“Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. Those who were foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.” (Matt. 25:1-3)
It’s a familiar parable. All ten “slumbered and slept” while the bridegroom delayed, and woke at the sound of his coming to find their lamps going out. The wise were ready for this and refilled their lamps. They’d expected to be in this for the long-haul, and they wouldn’t risk missing the bridegroom by not having done some extra preparation. The foolish had to go buy more, and while they were gone the bridegroom came, “those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast, and the door was shut” (Matt. 25:5-10).
“Afterward the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Most certainly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ Watch therefore, for you don’t know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” (Matt. 25:11-13)
We need to be ready to hold the faith no matter how long it takes for Christ’s return. Be ready for it to happen today; be prepared for it to take your whole life or longer.
The Parable of the Talents
“For it is like a man going into another country, who called his own servants and entrusted his goods to them. To one he gave five talents (a unit of weight, usually measuring silver, about 66 pounds), to another two, to another one, to each according to his own ability. Then he went on his journey. (Matt. 25:14-15)
When Jesus talked with His disciples after His resurrection, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to His people, which He did in Acts 2 and continues to do for new believers. It is the down payment that “seals” us until Christ’s return (Eph. 1:13; 4:30; 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5). In addition to that gift, every good gift we have comes form the Father (James 1:17). We are servants of God entrusted with great treasures to keep until Christ’s return. And He expects us to use those gifts wisely.
“Now after a long time the lord of those servants came, and settled accounts with them. He who received the five talents came and brought another five talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents. Behold, I have gained another five talents in addition to them.’ “His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’” (Matt. 25:19-21).
The servant with two talents now has four and he’s rewarded with the same words as the one who’d been given five and now has ten. God desires growth, and if we do the work we get the same reward no matter how much or little we started with. But we have to do something with the gifts we’ve been given.
The servant with one talent hid it in the earth, and his lord called him a “wicked and slothful servant.” He’s thrown out because he did nothing to grow his gift, not even the bare minimum of putting the silver into a bank to make interest (Matt. 25:22-30). Do not make the mistake of thinking you can hide, bury, or ignore God’s gifts and still be welcomed into His kingdom.
The Sheep and the Goats
“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you took me in. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me.’… ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matt. 25:31-36, 40)
As He concluded this sermon, Jesus returned to an idea He touched on earlier — that how we treat our fellow servants is of vital importance. The righteous ones on His right hand go into eternal life, but the ones on His left who did not treat “the least of these” as they should treat Christ go into “eternal punishment” (Matt. 24:41-46). This is a serious matter! God doesn’t really care how wealthy or smart or talented you are. But He places an incredibly high value on how well you treat others.
Dear readers, we are living in the end times. Someday Christ will return or our lives will end and He will call us to account for how we’ve prepared, what we’ve done with His gifts, and how we treat others. He is a merciful judge. But He does expect us to put some effort into this, and and when we do He’ll supply all the strength we need to endure to the end, grow more like Him, and show the same kind of love that He does.
Featured image credit: Anggie via Lightstock