Fifteen years ago, as the clocks struck midnight on the 31st day of December 1999, the world welcomed a new millennium. It was a time of rejoicing, but it was rejoicing marked by worry. At the time, there was widespread fear concerning the way in which the new millennium would affect computers. It was feared that some programs which kept the date of the year using only the last two digits for the year would malfunction when it went from "99" to "00." Would "Y2K" bring a technological apocalypse? For those, of you too young to remember this personally (spoiler alert!) ... it did not. But the years following we have seen a returning concern in regard to the end of the world. The Mayan calendars (we are told) predicted the end of the world in 2012, and various Christian groups made national headlines by naming a date for the return of Christ. All this contradicts the plain teaching of Jesus in this passage - "No one knows the hour or the day."
We are pushing through one of the most challenging sections of Matthew, a teaching that Jesus gave on the Mount of Olives, known as the "Olivet Discourse." The entire section is a response to questions that the disciples had about the temple. Jesus had predicted the destruction of the temple, and the disciples responded to this traumatic news by asking, "When will this happen, and when will the end of the age come?" The answer that Jesus gives is a complex prophecy which is often difficult to understand. One helpful observation to make is that the prophecy is about two different events. It relates to both the destruction of the temple (which happened in 70 AD) and to the "end of the age." In our last post, Rob discussed the destruction of the temple. The passage for today is one in which Jesus turns his attention to the end of the age.
His admonition is simple. "No one knows the hour or the day," therefore, "be ready." He uses several illustrations to warn about situations in which someone who is meant to be anticipating an important arrival begins to act as if there will never be a return. Just as in the days of Noah, people will be taken away (in judgment) unexpectedly. A thief robs when we don't expect. A wicked servant abuses his authority believing his master will never return. Five bridesmaids give up waiting for the bridegroom. The point is clear, "Be ready."
Throughout the history of the church, we can see many ways in which the church goes wrong - one way or another - on this issue. At times, Christians have gotten wrapped up in visions of a countdown to apocalypse. For instance, in the years leading up to the end of the first millennium (1000 AD) speculation about the end of the world was rampant. Again and again, Christians have erred on the side of thinking they could pick the date for the end of the world. On the other hand, many in the church have lived as if Jesus would never return. That is, they have lived as if there would be no accountability for their actions. Walking the middle way between these two errors means that we recognize human uncertainty about the future, while living with a sense of God's immediate presence. The reformers spoke of this as "Coram Deo." That means living our lives "before the face of God." Jesus called it - "being ready."
How does it change your life when you see all of your decisions as being done in the presence of God, "before his face? -MK