Recently, there was yet another controversy about the time of Jesus’ return. Sadly, many people were misled into thinking that May 21, 2011 would be that date and were deeply disappointed and confused when they found out they were misinformed.
It is easy, and quite tempting, to be dismissive of these forlorn followers, but empathy and reflection are far better responses. We respond with empathy, because we recognize that like them each of us has weaknesses and blind spots that our adversary, the devil, uses to trip us up, repeatedly.
- “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.” ~ Mark 14:38
- “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” ~ 1 Corinthians 10:12
And we respond with reflection, because there are many things to learn from their plight so that we can avoid making similar mistakes in our own lives.
- “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” ~ Galatians 6:1
With that said, here are a few lessons we can learn from this incident:
STUDY, it’s our Responsibility
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” ~ 2 Timothy 2:15
There are many warnings in Scripture about false prophets and teachers, namely, those who would (try to) lead Believers astray. Moreover, the Bible makes it clear that a primary method false teachers use is the distortion of Scripture:
- “And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.” ~ Matthew 24:11
- “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies…” ~ 2 Peter 2:1a
Accordingly, when satan tried to tempt Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), he deliberately misused Scripture in a vain effort to deceive our Lord (Matthew 4:6, which quotes Psalm 91:11-12). In this battle, Jesus shows us how to resist false teaching by quoting another Scripture passage to reveal satan’s deception through misapplication. Indeed, Jesus repelled ALL of satan’s attacks with Scripture!
(Footnote, Psalm 91:11-12 talks about the protection God provides to a believer walking in His will. Psalm 91:11-12 does NOT imply that we can do our own will and still receive God’s protection, therefore Jesus rightly countered satan’s misuse of Scripture by pointing out that we should never tempt God. That is to say, we must never try to impose our will on God, God does not do our bidding, rather we are to do God’s bidding. We don’t step into “fire” and “make” God save us, rather when God sends us through “fire” He promises to keep us from being “burnt” by it.)
In other words, to fight false teaching specifically, and to fight temptation generally (Psalm 119:11) we must know for ourselves what God’s Word, The Bible, says. We must be able to “rightly [divide] the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Otherwise, we will always be vulnerable when a false teacher misapplies Scripture in order to deceive us.
- “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” ~ Ephesians 4:14
It is the responsibility of every Believer to learn Scripture (not just pastors/priests/deacons); so that The Holy Spirit that indwells us can “teach you all things” (John 14:26). In short, The Holy Spirit is our teacher and the Bible is our textbook. Without reading the textbook, how can we expect to learn? And if we don’t learn, how will we be able to resist false teachers/teaching?
SERVE, it’s the result of Righteousness
“But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is” ~ Mark 13:32-33
These well-known verses quite clearly and explicitly state that no human being has knowledge of the time of Jesus’ return. Nevertheless, they are universally overlooked, undervalued or otherwise discounted, by those who try to predict Jesus’ return. The Bible tells us the how and why of Jesus’ return (Matthew 24-25, 1 Corinthians 15), but it withholds the time, because God alone is in control of the event.
Jesus explains this in a brief parable in Matthew 24:43-51. In the parable, Jesus contrasts two servants, the first one conducts himself well consistently even when his master was gone away for a long time. The first servant is unconcerned about the time of his master’s return because he is good: his orientation, his whole purpose is to do what is right. For him, goodness was an end in itself; he wasn’t just doing good to stay out of trouble, he wasn’t just doing good for personal advancement. Consequently, the time of his master’s return was irrelevant.
Conversely, as soon as the second servant realized that his master would be away for a while, he immediately sets out to do wrong. He took advantage of the other servants and indulged in the pleasures that were available. For the second servant goodness was only valuable when his master was around. As long as the master was away, it was time for dirty play. His ultimate plan was to be “good” again just before his master returned. Therefore, for him, the time of his master’s return was absolutely crucial!
Hence, the three great lessons from the parable are,
- The time of the Master’s (Jesus’) return is of concern primarily to the unrighteous. The righteous are busy doing the work of God; the time of His coming won’t change how hard they work for Him.
- Our omniscient, all knowing, and omnipresent God is not fooled by insincere displays of goodness. God KNOWS those who truly love Him and are truly dedicated to serve Him. The Good Shepherd KNOWS His sheep (John 10:14); he isn’t fooled by “wolves in sheep’s clothing”.
- Therefore, by not revealing the time to us God has benevolently protected us from the temptation of fooling ourselves.
If we knew the day and the time of Jesus’ return, imagine how many people would rush to find salvation in the days leading up to that event, convinced that there is merit in ignoring God for all but the last few days of their lives (just like the evil servant in the parable, Matthew 24:43-51). Even worse, imagine how many of us would be tempted to do just the same. On the other hand, NOT knowing the time of Jesus’ return helps us to identify whether we see salvation as “fire insurance” (best bought at the last minute) or as a real everyday relationship with God (best accepted as early as possible).
SCHEDULE, His Return is a Reality
“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” ~ Matthew 16:27
Jesus IS coming again. We know this truth by faith. Believers can’t prove it to be true and Non-believers can’t prove it to be false. Jesus’ return is accepted, or rejected, on faith alone. Some might have been led astray, because of their lack of knowledge, while others might have become mistakenly preoccupied by the day and time, BUT the truth of Jesus’ return remains. Likewise, the same Bible that tells us of His return, tells us that while His first coming was for justification (Luke 19:10), His second coming is for judgment (Matthew 24-25, 2 Timothy 4:1).
Therefore, whether we live or die Jesus’ return is on every man’s schedule. Even though many might mock the mistaken misled on May 21, that does not change the fact Jesus’ will return. And those who fail to acknowledge this fact—not just notionally, but by faith—will at that time find the joke’s over. In the words of a song:
There’s no time to change your mind,
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind
“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works… and they were judged every man according to their works… And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” ~ Revelation 20:12-15