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First Sunday in Advent
Matthew 24:37-44

by Dr. Jeff Gibbs

Context: The appointed pericope consists of the two short units ("The days of Noah" 124:37-421 and "The thief breaking in" 124:43-441) with which the second major section (24:36-26:2) of Jesus' Eschatological Discourse ("ED"; Matt. 24:1-26:2) begins. With the declaration of the utterly unknowable timing of the parousia ("But concerning that day and hour, no one knows...except the Father only," 24:36), Jesus' words, spoken on the Mount of Olives (24:2), begin to exhort and prepare the disciples for life in between His resurrection and the consummation of the age (28:18-20). Whereas the ED's first major section (24:4-35) does not always directly address us as modern readers and disciples, we can in our own day directly appropriate Jesus' words here. The parousia still remains at a day and hour that we do not know. Therefore, the proclamation of this text has an immediate applicability for a Christian congregation of Jesus' disciples today.

Textual features: Each of the two short units (24:37-42 and 24:43-44j consists, first of all, of "information," in which the parousia, owing to the unknowability of its timing, is compared to a sudden occurrence. The longest comparison occupies 24:37-39. Here Jesus reasons thus: Just as the generation of the Flood had no warning as to the timing of that great cataclysm, but carried on their lives in all their normal activities (present participles, ~eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage"), so the people alive when the parousia occurs will have no warning either. Jesus further emphasizes the comparison with His words in 24:40-41: Two persons will be in the field, or two women will be grinding at the mill. Even though they are side by side, at the parousia, there will be a separation.

The conclusion that Jesus draws from this information and applies to His disciples and to us takes the form of an imperative and its ground: "Watch, because you do not know at what sort of day your Lord is coming." He immediately follows this up with the somewhat shocking parabolic comparison of "the thief breaking in" (24:43-44). For those who are neither watching nor prepared, Jesus' second coming will be as unwelcome as an act of midnight burglary on the part of an unexpected thief. Because of this, Jesus draws the same hortatory conclusion and its accompanying ground: "Be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour at which you do not think [He will].

Theology: The message of the text is an urgent, even stern one. The urgency that Jesus here inculcates probably, in all honesty, seems foreign to most readers of this present study, as well as to many people in our congregations. One might normally associate a vigilant attitude and an eager expectation of the parousia with pre-millennial groups with whom we might have little in common.

Yet these words are words also for us. They present a challenge. The Lord would have us to continue to long for, to wait for, to watch for His parousia. Such expectation will restore a Biblical balance in our world view, a world view in which (one could argue) the expectation of the consummation of the age and of Christ's final victory over death and every enemy has all but disappeared under the onslaught of rampant individualism in which what really matters is "my own personal fate" and "whether I'll be in heaven when I die."

If it is urgent that we watch for the parousia, it must be that there is a blessing in it! The blessing would be that of a Christ-centered rather than a me--centered perspective on life and all of history; Jesus did, after all, inaugurate the reign of God. Christ's desire is that each of us be part of the gracious reign. The blessing would be that, in taking His second coming at the end of history with full seriousness, we would marvel and rejoice in His first coming into history, into flesh and blood, to give His flesh and blood as the ransom for the many.

There is little explicit Gospel in these verses; they are mostly exhortation. Yet Jesus reminds the disciples that they are to watch, because they do not know on what sort of day their Lord is coming. It is the Lord Jesus, who died and rose, who is coming again. All humanity will, at His parousia, be divided into taken and left, blessed and cursed, saved and lost. The challenge is to watch for the end, though we in no way know the time.

Introduction: How do you watch for something that comes unexpectedly, when you don't know the time? It is a difficult thing, yet each generation of Christians is to hear and heed the call of the Lord Jesus in this text. As Advent begins, it is a wonderful time to regain the perspective offered in this text.

Ready for the Unexpected

I. Because Jesus' second coming is unexpected, there is a danger that people will not be ready.
......A. The unbelieving world at the parousia and judgment will not be ready.
......B. There is a danger for Christians as well.
............1. The text is not a call to spiritual paranoia.
............2. But it is a call to watch. It is a warning that in this fallen world, our faith can dwindle and wither and die, under the influence of false prophets (Matt. 7:15) or our own prideful sin (Matt. 18:1-5).
II. Just remember that it is "your Lord" who is coming at the unexpected hour.
......A. All of life, all of history takes place under the shadow of His promised return - He is "the Lord," the "Son of Man."
......B. But it is "your Lord," O Christian, who is coming.
............I. Your Lord, who already came to serve, and to save (Matt. 20:28).
............2. Your Lord, who continues to come wherever His Gospel is proclaimed throughout the world (Matt. 26:13; 24:14).
............3. Your Lord, before whom everyone will bow in awe, and wonder, and true fear and reverence-and whom His disciples will worship with grateful praise.

Conclusion: Goals in life? Godly goals? Here is the best and the highest - should the Lord so decide, to be one who has been longing for His return and who rejoices when He comes. Together with the church of the ages, we pray. "Amen, Lord Jesus. Come quickly."

This article was used with Permission granted by the Concordia Journal.

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