Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming…Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. ~ Jesus
We’re so sorry Uncle Albert
But we haven’t done a bloody thing all day ~ Paul McCartney
As far back as you care to go, you can find preachers with a penchant for interpreting Bible prophecy by holding the daily news in one hand and the Bible in the other. Back in the 1950s, many last-days pundits claimed the apocalyptic city known as “Magog” in Revelation was the Soviet Union, but in the 1980s the USSR collapsed. Then, new revelations began to come as to the identity of “true” Magog (many now say Magog is Islam).
What confuses me is how the last-days experts talk with such confidence and authority. These guys read the New York Times and the Jerusalem Post the way a psychic reads tea leaves. And with a rising fever in the air, you get the feeling you need to stay close and stay tuned to hear the latest from their prophetic perspective.
But then, when what they say doesn’t happen or the interpretation they have been espousing demands adjustment, they do so as unapologetically and frequently as the local meteorologist. But are Bible prophecies supposed to be approached like weather forecasts, or should we just be a little more tentative about our interpretations to begin with?
The point of much apocalyptic and poetic imagery is that the very elements of the cosmos one day will announce Jesus’ full and triumphant return. It will be majestic, beautiful, and awesome. There will be a day when God will finish what He started at the cross and the empty tomb—when he will heal and restore everything forever.
Jesus imagines this day as both rescue and judgement. God is going to gather a worldwide human family of forgiven failures just because he is staggeringly gracious. They will join together to be with Him forever. And when God tears the thin veil between our dimension of reality and His, and overcomes darkness, evil, and injustice for all—there will be a judgement. The nations will mourn, according to Jesus.
God is so passionately committed to the world that he refuses to shrug off its darkness and wrong like a doting grandfather.
One of my favorite authors, Cormac McCarthy, captures this in his bestselling book No Country for Old Men, when he has the chief protagonist, a sheriff named Ed Tom Bell, who is trying to solve a drug trafficking crime spree of epic proportions along the Mexican border near El Paso say,
I think if you were Satan and you were settin’ around tryin’ to think up somethin’ that would just bring the human race to its knees what you would probably come up with is narcotics. I wake up sometimes way in the night and I know as certain as death that there ain’t nothin’ short of the second comin’ of Christ that can slow this train.
That echoes exactly what the Christian story says. It will all come to a sudden and decisive halt: All of our violence, addictions, injustices, power-grabbing, bullying and death. Because a God that refuses to judge the world is a God who refuses to love the world.
Jesus is telling us that God will save his redeemed family from judgement but will not save them without judgement.
Jesus’ teaching gives us deep energy to live each day of our lives with bated breath and in complete anticipation of God’s activity moment-by-moment in our lives. It wakes us up for today.
This is not primarily an evangelistic passage. It is for those of us who are His followers. We are to wake up!
Imagine the most important person in your life, after a long absence, calls you and says, “I’m coming over, but I’m not going to tell you when.” What would you do? Would you clean the house? After that would you keep it ready?
That is Jesus’ point when he says, “Stay awake! I’m coming again, but you don’t know when.” Don’t wait until tomorrow to deal with the life God has given you to live today. There’s no time for that—no matter how much time there is.
Maybe we should look ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves the question, “How do I to need to be ready? How do I need to wake up today? Write the letter that needs to be written, make the phone call that you need to make, forgive the person you who hurt you, stop postponing the day when you will start taking God seriously.
How do you need to wake up to Jesus today? Because in reality it is the only day you have. Annie Dillard, in her beautiful book The Writing Life, says, “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and that one is what we are doing.”
What can you do today for the durable welfare of the world that God loves and has promised that one day he will reclaim, restore and make right? How can you invest your time, energy, talents, experience, resources—in serving the needs of your town and community—today?
One summer when I was a boy, my dad had about 3 yards of top soil delivered to our home and dumped in large piles in front and back of our house. All summer my brother and I’s job was, while he and my mom were at work, to take our shovels and spread the top soil out over the yard area so he could plant some grass. Of course, since he and mom were gone we did precious little work—until right before their scheduled arrival then we would work like Turks. When he assessed our work we always got in trouble because it was clear we had only been working for 30 minutes or so. That’s when the appropriate judgment of our father came down.
Until one day we started digging tunnels through the large mounds of dirt. Tunnels large enough for our cat or a puppy to walk through. We dug tunnel after tunnel. We had a blast. We dug all day long. And when our parents came home they caught us actually working and we had, quite unintentionally, accomplished their mission of scattering the dirt all over the yard. It’s funny, when we found joy in the work, we worked hard and was found working by our parents when they returned.
How can you wake up to Jesus’ grace, life, and hope with the today that He has given you?
Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver gets at this in her poem The Summer Day where she reflects on the uncertainty and brevity of life. She closes her poem with this profound question:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life? —Mary Oliver
“If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would plant a tree.” ~ Martin Luther