We’re fascinated by thinking about the future, and the end toward which history is moving. Every major worldview I’m aware of has some view about how it’s all going to end and what eternity holds. Or at the more popular level, TV shows and movies depict some view of the future as well: for example, just think "zombie apocalypse," "doomsday preppers," and A.I. that becomes self-aware and takes over the planet.
And the way we think about the future has a whole lot to do with how we live our lives in the present. If you believe life is meaningless beyond the eighty or so years we live on earth, that will influence what you do now. If the future is filled with fear and uncertainty, that also will influence how you live this week. Alternatively, if the future holds hope, and if it's moving toward a glorious purpose, that also will shape how you live.
What you believe about "then" impacts your life "now."
All of this reinforces the value of Christian eschatology. ("Eschatology" is the formal theological word for "the study of the end times." It's all about the end - or the goal - toward which history is moving.)
In Matthew 24-25, Jesus teaches at length about this topic, the end toward which history is moving. This is called the "Olivet Discourse," and it's the longest block of teaching from the lips of Jesus on this subject. Along with everything else this passage teaches, here we learn three "big take-away" truths about Christian eschatology that we can't ignore: (1) Jesus is coming back; (2) the timing of His return will be unexpected; and (3) His return in the future means something for our lives today.
To tease out (3) a bit more, we discover that Jesus' return means we stay faithful through crisis. We aren’t swayed by false teaching. We live obedient and alert lives. We trust in and honor the One we will stand before someday when He returns. All of this gives us purpose and direction.
And all of this means we must "live ready." (Check it out especially in Matthew 25:1-13.) The reality of Jesus return calls us to live lives that are ready for His return - prepared for His arrival and ready to accompany Him into a fully-restored eternity.
But what all does it mean to "live ready?" How can we prepare ourselves now to be prepared for His arrival? What does it mean to be ready for Jesus' return?
I remember each time Carrie and I were getting close to the end of one of her pregnancies. We didn’t know exactly when our boys would be coming. But we always did certain things in preparation - to make sure we would be ready, whenever “the time” came.
We would do things like make sure the nursery was ready. We would have a "go-bag" in the trunk of our car or by the door, with things we'd need for a stay at the hospital. We'd know who we would be calling to watch our other boys.
Did we know exactly when any of our boys would come? No. But were there things we could do to get ready? Absolutely.
So back to our question: What can you be doing to be ready for Christ’s return - whenever that is?
Here are five things you can do to cultivate readiness for Jesus’ return. (I’m going to lean pretty heavily on the lead of other Scripture here. I'm so grateful the Bible doesn't leave us in the dark on this!)
1. Know Jesus.
Not just know about Jesus, but really know Jesus. In Matthew 25:1-13 Jesus tells a parable about readiness - a parable with 5 bridesmaids who were ready for His arrival, and 5 bridesmaids who WEREN'T ready. Jesus words to the foolish bridesmaids should catch our attention, “I never knew you” (Matthew 25:12).
If we were reading straight through Gospel of Matthew, that phrase would sound very similar to something Jesus said earlier, in his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. Here's what Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23:
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Doing the will of God the Father isn’t about a dramatic display of gifts - even supernatural gifts. You can be doing lots of right things, and still not know Jesus.
When you peel everything else back, "doing the will of God" is ultimately about knowing Jesus personally. It's about believing that He is the Son of God who died for our sins, and following Him.
And the great news is that when we place our faith in Jesus we receive the Holy Spirit, who makes us children of God. Through faith in Jesus and because of the Holy Spirit, we’re not strangers to God but His sons and daughters (see also Romans 5:1-5; 8:15; Galatians 4:4-6).
2. Pursue personal holiness and godliness.
Look at what one of Jesus’ closest followers, Peter, says in 2 Peter 3:10:
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief….
Peter is saying the same thing Jesus did, about the unexpectedness of Jesus’ return. And then he gets into the purifying power of God’s return in the next few verses. Let’s jump down to v. 14 (look at where his train of thought goes):
14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
This is driving at the idea that, over time, we look more and more like Jesus. It doesn’t mean we’re perfect, but there are ways we can point to progress. God changes us through His Holy Spirit in His people.
Hear me carefully here: The ordering of these first two ways we get ready is important. We don’t pursue holiness so we can know Jesus. Because we know Jesus, we pursue holiness.
3. Encourage others in community.
Here’s another of Jesus’ followers, the Apostle Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2:
1 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night….
(This language is sounding familiar by now!) In verse 4 Paul goes on to say that this day shouldn’t surprise us (we know Jesus is coming back!), and then in 1 Thessalonians 5:11:
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
Readiness for Christ’s return takes a community - encouraging us, building each other up. This is why community groups and gathering together with others is so valuable (see also Hebrews 10:24-25)!
4. Persevere with confidence.
For a single year in high school, I ran cross country. Long enough to realize there are two types of people in this world - (1) those that love to crazy run long distances even when someone isn’t chasing you, and (2) the sane people. I’ve done my best to forget as many of those memories as possible, but one thing I remember the coach drilling into us was this: run all the through the finish line. Even after you’ve run a bunch of miles already, finish strong. It’s worth it!
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul spends a whole lot of time talking about what happens when Jesus returns, and what that means for us. Here’s how he finishes this chapter (1 Corinthians 15:58):
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
Paul is telling us to persevere. To stand firm. To run all the way through the finish line! Why? Because your labor in the Lord is not in vain!
Where do you need to persevere in faithfulness right now? Where do you need to recommit to giving yourself fully to the work of the Lord - in whatever area of life that is? Your family? Your neighborhood? Your work or life on campus?
5. Stand out by your hope.
Here’s what I mean by this: As we ready ourselves for Jesus’ return, the attitude with which we do so is so important. Sure, there’s vigilance and grit. But let’s not forget hope! (Quick note here that in the Bible, “hope” doesn’t mean “boy I hope so with my fingers crossed” sort of hope. In the Bible, hope is a settled confidence.)
In 1 Peter 3:15, Peter says hope should be a distinguishing feature of followers of Jesus:
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…
The picture we get is that Christians so stand out for their hope that other people are actually approaching us and asking “what’s that about?!” The picture we get is that our countercultural hope draws people into the chance to tell them more about the reason for our hope - Jesus Christ and what He’s done for us.
So many things are feeding fear, discontent and division in our world right now. The truth of the Bible shows us that none of these things win the day. Jesus wins! And with Him, He brings peace, wholeness, and restoration! These are all reasons for hope! Let’s be known as people who stand out by our hope.
That’s what it means to be ready for Jesus’ return. That’s how we can be preparing now.
So now let me make the question very personal: Are you ready for Jesus’ return?
Which one of those questions is the question you need to soak in and do something about, starting today and into this week?
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