There are always headlines that catch your eye if you’re a Christian. We’re immediately drawn to topics about abortion, the persecuted church, evangelism; and now, even gay marriage and transgenderism. And while these are all important issues that we’re faced with in this country, and even globally; there’s one thing that they always have in common. That being, that they’re always focused on the sins of others, which is an easy thing to do. It’s very easy to look at the lives and deeds of other people and say, ‘that’s right’ and ‘that’s wrong’. But the bible tells us a number of times to, “Test [ourselves] to see if [we] are in the faith;” and to “examine [ourselves]” (2 Corinthians 13:5). And as we read here in this passage in Matthew, Jesus gave us far more to do than just test ourselves.
Now, this passage takes place during the Olivet Discourse. Just a few days before His betrayal and arrest (Matthew 26:2), Jesus led His disciples up to the Mount of Olives; and there He told His disciples that the temple would be destroyed. And the disciples then questioned Jesus, asking Him, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3). So then, Jesus begins to tell the disciples a number of things regarding both the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (which would take place sometime around A.D. 70), and of His ultimate return in glory, and with power; when He will judge the nations, and escort His bride, the church, into the kingdom of God, which is the new heavens and the new earth.
Jesus, first, talks about how they are to “See to it that no one misleads [them]” (Matthew 24:4). Jesus taught that many antichrists would come who would try to draw them away from God, and away from righteousness; claiming to be Christ themselves. He also spoke about not being drawn away on account of fear over what is happening in the world. He says, “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars”, and that, “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes” (Matthew 24:6 & 7). But then He says that, “all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs” (Matthew 24:8), not the end. He describes the many who “will fall away” and “betray one another” and “hate one another” (Matthew 24:10) and He says that ‘lawlessness will be increased’, and that the ‘love of most people will grow cold’ (Matthew 24:12). After that, He talks about the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, and He warns His disciples of the danger that awaits them in those days (Matthew 24:15-22). And then, beginning in verse 29, Jesus starts to describe His return. And He describes it as an event that will affect every aspect of creation, both heaven and earth, and that when the people of earth see Him coming, that they will mourn because of Him. John wrote several times about this event in the book of Revelation:
And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
And so, now that Jesus has gone into some clear details about the nature of His arrival, as we come to our passage in Matthew 24; Jesus goes on by addressing the timing of His arrival, and there are a few vague details that we’re given, as well as a few pointed omissions regarding His coming. The first omission occurs right at the beginning in verse 36:
But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.
Now there is clearly some debate, as you might expect, regarding the implications that this verse may have about the knowledge of Jesus and the nature of Christ within the Godhead. Just about every commentary I read mentions it as recently as John MacArthur, all the way to John Calvin over 500 years ago. I think we could easily file this debate right alongside the, ‘Could God make a rock so big that He couldn’t lift it?” question. It’s something that everyone wants to know,.. ‘If Jesus is God, then how can there be something that He doesn’t know?’
So let’s note a few things about this question. First, Jesus is God. The Gospel of John leaves no doubts as to that fact. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:1 & 14). The bible has no problem with calling Jesus God. Second, the Trinity is a beautiful mystery in which God is one being with three distinct and coequal persons, and still, each person within the Godhead has a unique and distinct role, yet never a role that is of any greater or lesser importance than that of the others. Ephesians says that “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,.. has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3), we’re told that ‘God has given all authority to Christ’ (Matthew 28:18), and in John’s gospel, we’re told that the Holy Spirit or, “the Spirit of Truth,.. will guide [us] into all truth… and glorify [Christ]” (John 16:13 & 14). Each person within the Trinity is completely unified with the others, and compliments the others. Third, Jesus was also fully man.
If any of you aren’t familiar with it, there’s a theological term known as “the hypostatic union”, which is essentially just a fancy way of stating that Jesus has two nature’s, one being His divine (or Godly) nature, and the other being His human nature. Jesus is completely divine, and is completely God in His divine nature, and likewise, He is completely man, with nothing lacking of His human nature. He is 100% human, and 100% God. His divine nature is demonstrated all throughout scripture. He commands the waves and the winds, He tells fig trees when to die and when to bear fruit. He commands demons, who then obey without question. We know that He is even the one who created all things. “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16). His human nature was also demonstrated throughout the gospels where we’re told that He ate and He drank, He slept and grew tired, He wept and He sweat, He grew old and He learned, and ultimately that He bled and He died.
And it’s with that understanding that we come to try to understand this verse. That as a Man, Jesus was also an image-bearer of God. And as an image-bearer, He understood that authority is given by God, or through divine means. The book of Romans says, “there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1). And over and over again, Jesus was repeatedly submitting to God’s authority. And also as a man, He only exercised authority that was given to Him by God the Father. We see that when Jesus taught, we see the people being amazed because Jesus, “was teaching them as one having authority” (Mark 1:22). He tells us in Matthew 9 that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Matthew 9:6). And when the scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus, asking Him, “By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?” (Mark 11:28), Jesus responded with a question of His own, that being, “Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men?” (Mark 11:30). Later on, just before He ascended, the disciples were asking Him if now was the time that He would restore the kingdom of God, and He responded by saying that, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority” (Acts 1:7). Or, that it’s not the place of man to know the things which are known by God. So, it’s not that Jesus didn’t know, or couldn’t know the time of His return, but He was willing to submit to His Father, God through His human nature, by understanding that it wasn’t something that He was meant to know as a man, because God hadn’t revealed it to Him as a man, or given Him the authority as a man to reveal it to others. There’s a great passage in Philippians that perfectly demonstrates this point.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
As a man, Jesus submitted entirely to the Father (or rather, His human nature did), and through that submission forfeited any worldly knowledge about the timing of His return. And likewise, we too have no business knowing when that day or hour will be. As the apostle Paul just told us, we should have Christ-like attitudes, and empty ourselves of any desire to be equal with God, and to have any knowledge that it isn’t our place to know. Don’t forget, it’s that very thing that led to the fall in the first place. After the Serpent told Eve that by eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, that we would be like God,.. that’s when she was enticed to look at the tree again, and see it as food. Because she wanted to be like God, and receive knowledge that was for God, and God alone.
And with that established, that the exact time of Christ’s return wasn’t for us to know; He then goes on to give us some details about what those days might look like. He gives us a pretty clear picture of the people that will be alive when He returns, and what their attitudes are, and where their hearts desires are.
For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.
And there are a few things that we need to see here in these verses. First, that the coming of Christ will be in judgment. Throughout all of the scriptures there is no clearer example of judgment to be found, other than the very cross of Christ, than that of the flood, and of Noah’s ark. We’re told in Genesis 6 that when, “the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”,.. and that “The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (Genesis 6:5 & 6). And when His wrath had been kindled as far as He willed, that’s when He decided to bring destruction upon the entire earth.
And God wasn’t just going to wipe out man, but all of His creation. The fall had allowed sin to infest the entire face of the earth, and God was grieved because of it. We’re told more in Genesis 6, that “the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth”” (Genesis 6:11-13). In the span of a mere 1,500 years or so since the beginning of recorded history, the world had become so depraved, and twisted, that God has nothing more to say of mankind but that we’re, all of us, evil, violent, and corrupted people. So much so, that our nature has even corrupted the earth itself. Almost as if we were a virus; spreading and infecting everything that we come into contact with. And furthermore, the sad thing is that we’re told that the flood never did change any of that. Genesis 8:21 says (after the flood, while Noah was sacrificing burnt offerings to the LORD), that, “The LORD smelled the soothing aroma; and the LORD said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done”” (Genesis 8:21). It’s a wonder that God would be so merciful to us, and that He didn’t wipe us out long ago.
The second thing to see here is just how utterly oblivious the people are. Jesus says that, “For in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage”, and that, “they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away” (Matthew 24:38 & 39). Now, there’s technically nothing wrong with either of these activities were it not accept for two things. One, being the manner in which they were doing them. We know from Paul that we are to do all that we do in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God (Colossians 3:17). Seeing how God calls these people violent, and corrupt, and evil,.. I seriously doubt that they were doing that. Most likely, these people were satisfying themselves, and became rather complacent with their own achievements, and with their accomplishments. And, it was hard to verify this, but the word used for eating there is the Greek word ‘trogo’; and apparently this was a word used to describe the way that animals would feed. It wasn’t your standard way of eating. I’ve never seen an animal give thanks for its meal. In fact, if anyone’s ever been to a farm, or seen one being worked on television, then you know that when you feed the animals, you’d better watch your fingers. There’s a greedy, gluttonous, even riotous element to this word as far as I understand it.
The other thing that was wrong with how these people were behaving was that they were being given warnings that judgment was coming, and they didn’t respond at all. 2 Peter says that, “[God] did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:5). Noah was building the ark for probably 80 or 90 years, and all the while he was preaching about the flood to come, and about judgment, and about God’s wrath against them. And what was their response? To eat, and drink, and get married. Not repentance, not humility, not grief,.. but celebration. “And they did not understand”,.. that is, “until the flood came and took them all away” (Matthew 24:39). Then, they understood. They understood that they were dying, and they understood that they were being judged, and they understood that God was completely righteous to do so against them, and they also understood that it was too late for them. That’s what happens when people obey their father, when their father is Satan.
The third thing that we should also note here, however, is that ‘Noah did enter the ark’ (Matthew 24:38). God made a way of salvation available. God has still made a way of salvation available, though another flood is coming, it’s coming with power, and with the clouds of heaven, and His name is Christ. He’s coming, and “[He’s] ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5), as Peter tells us. But, He’s also, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). For us, He’s the Ark. And we should be, as Noah was, ‘preachers of righteousness’. Because we know, and we should know very well, that without Christ, they won’t understand, and they’ll eat, and they’ll drink, and they’ll marry, until the flood comes. And Jesus says pretty much the same thing, just in a slightly different way in the next couple of verses.
Matthew 24:40 & 41
Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.
First thing we need to see here is that the people being taken away are the ones that are being taken away in judgment. Some, not many, but some of our dispensational brothers and sisters have tried to use these verses to reinforce the idea of a pre-trib rapture, but in light of the verses that come before it, where it talks about those who are being taken away by the flood in judgment, then it makes more sense that the ones being taken here are also being taken in judgment. Next, we see that, just as we saw in the previous section, the people here are being described as doing typical daily tasks. No one mentioned here is prepared for what’s about to happen. Both those taken away to be judged, as well as those that, we assume, are redeemed through the blood of Christ, are all caught off guard. 1 Thessalonians tells us that Christ, “will come just like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). It might also be worth noting here that both sets of these people aren’t differentiated from one another. In every respect both of these sets of people are exactly the same. But we know that there’s one thing, one essential thing that determines which of these people are being taken away, and which ones get to stay; and that one thing is whether or not they’ve come to believe that Jesus is the One true Son of God, and have put their faith in Him and Him alone for their salvation. And also, as with the last section, we should see that while there are those being taken away in judgment, there are also those being left. God is saving and redeeming a people, He’s building His church, He’s preparing His bride, He’s being glorified through His glory of power and authority, and by His mercy by sparing us from His wrath to come; which is great, and which is just.
And as we move into the last section here, we see that everything that Jesus has said to us, He’s been saying for our benefit. He’s been telling us of the flood, and of those being judged, and of those being caught off guard, all so that we might be warned against making the same mistakes, lest we be like those who fall way.
Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.
So Jesus urges us here in this section to be ready, because we have no idea at what day or hour He plans to return. And He does so three times. First, He says for us to, “be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42). Next, He gives us a mini-parable in verse 43. He says that, “if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into” (Matthew 24:43). And the way He describes this sounds a lot as if He’s describing a man whose house was broken into. Right? He says that “If” the man had known, then he “would have” been alert, and “ not” have allowed his house to be robbed. And last, He says in verse 44, “For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will” (Matthew 24:44).
Isn’t Jesus making it sound as if there’s something at stake here? Surely, if we’re in Christ, we have nothing to fear, certainly not losing our salvation or even death. But Jesus says for us to be ready, and to always be watchful. So what is He trying to warn us about here? I think that Jesus is making the point similar to the one Paul makes when he said that “Not all Israel is Israel” (Romans 9:6), because sadly, not every Christian is a Christian. It’s very easy to deceive ourselves, as well as others that we might be a part of the body of Christ, but we’re called to “examine ourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5), and to “watch over [our] heart with all diligence” (Proverbs 4:23). Paul writes to Timothy that ‘he had fought the good fight, and had finished the course, and had kept the faith. That he fought (past tense), finished, and kept. If Paul wasn’t truly in Christ, he could have just as easily lost the fight, or stopped running the race, or given away his faith to the men of this world; but by the grace of God, He has preserved His people, and will continue to do so until the Lord’s return.
So how exactly are we to be ready? How do we fight the good fight, and run the course, and keep the faith? Well, there are a few ways that the scripture give us that are a pretty good place to start. In fact, there’s an entire passage that describes perfectly how we can best be prepared, and make ourselves ready for the return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And we find that passage in the book of Ephesians:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,
And what Paul is describing here is spiritual warfare. It’s what we’re faced with everyday, all day. Whether we understand it or not, whether we believe it or not, there are evil forces at work that are doing everything within their power to corrupt you, just as in the days of Noah. And it’s something that’s at work if you’re eating or drinking or getting married or working in the field or grinding at the mill, or driving home from church. We need to be ready, because if we allow this darkness to overcome us, then we won’t be ready when Christ returns, and we might not win the fight; we might not finish the race.
There are basically three things that Paul is telling us to do here. First, we need to pray, and we need to pray hard! I see it in my life time and again, and I’m sure you see it too. You pray to God day after day, and at some point, you feel like you’re just repeating rote prayers that never even make it to God’s ears. You get distracted, and you get discouraged. But press on. Pray, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) as the scriptures tell us. Pray as you drive home, pray as you wake up, as you shower, and when you feel like your prayers aren’t good enough, pray about your prayers. Allow prayer to be a fixture in your life. And allow the time you spend in prayer to examine your heart. Allow it to reveal God to you. Allow it to impress the word of God upon your hearts all the more. God’s people pray, and we need to pray.
Second, right along with prayer, we need to study our bibles. Not just for instruction, not just for wisdom, not just for habit, but for the sake of our own peace with God. Paul says that, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things”,.. “practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8 & 9). The bible is all of those things. God’s word has already remade us through salvation through faith, it can continue to guide our hearts through sanctification. Read, study, believe and pray!
And all the rest that Paul speaks of,.. truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, and salvation; those are all a product of faith. We should always be ready to fight for our faith. To ourselves, to others, and to the evil powers that surround us. God has saved us, by grace through faith. It’s what makes us alive in Christ. Defend it and guard it, even with your life if necessary. And there’s no better way to do that, than to keep in prayer, and through the diligent study of God’s word.
Jesus will return suddenly, without warning, and although we don’t know when that will be, we know why He’s returning. Not just in judgment, but to receive His bride, the church. And when He comes for us we need to be ready. Because He’s only coming back one more time. So let us be ready, and look forward to that day, and be glad.