The Father alone knows the time of Jesus’ return (Matt. 24:36); thus, His people must always be ready for the end. Using illustrations and parables, our Savior begins to explain how to be prepared for His coming (24:37–25:30).
The first few analogies tell us the second advent of Christ could occur at any moment. Signs may indicate the nearness of Jerusalem’s ruin (24:1–35), but there will be no way to know whether His final return is around the corner. Everyday life — eating, drinking, marrying — will go on until He comes (24:37–39). No remarkable difference in the basic, life-sustaining ways of humanity will herald His return; in fact, the lack of change will make many believe He is not coming back (2 Peter 3:4). We will be unable to discern the last moments before final judgment from the day people cease to form families or find a way to survive without consuming calories, for this day will never come. Mankind will do the most common tasks up until the end (Matthew 24:40–42).
Verses 40–44 stress the suddenness of Christ’s return. The taking of men and women from their tasks (vv. 40–42) is not a picture of a pretribulational rapture. Instead, Jesus is saying that the separation of the wicked and the righteous will be immediate. It is as if we will look up from our labor one seemingly ordinary day and find ourselves at the consummation of all things. Just as a thief might suddenly break in without warning, so too will our Lord return at a moment when we are not expecting Him (vv. 43–44). These illustrations encourage us not only to be ready for the Savior’s final advent, but also to be prepared to meet Him at any point should we die before He comes. Matthew Henry comments, “We cannot know that we have a long time to live; nor can we know how little a time we have to live, for it may prove less than we expect.” Putting off repentance and faith can lead to eternal damnation.
Therefore, we must be ready for Jesus’ return. Readiness, however, is not passive; rather, we are to serve our king actively, knowing that He could come at any minute. May we be wise, faithful servants who work for the kingdom, not those who lie down on the job and are fit only for destruction (vv. 45–51).
Bishop Hilary of Poiters, an early church father, says, “Our ignorance of the day of Christ’s return should provoke us to be careful as we eagerly await his coming” (On Matthew, 26.6). Knowing that Jesus could come at any minute should motivate us to pursue holiness, loving God and neighbor. We certainly do not want the Lord to catch us off-guard. Instead, we want to be found working diligently so that He will have no cause to be ashamed of His people.
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