Am I the only one whose mind is a little hazy right now? Anyone else’s emotions a little raw? I feel a little bit like I’m running on empty, and there is no end in sight. I’m creatively tapped out as evidenced by the number of projects I’ve started and abandoned – projects that usually give me a lot of joy and satisfaction. Anyone else?
I bring this up not as a downer, but as a kindness. As someone who writes to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ, it seems cruel not to talk about the collective anxiety most people are feeling right now. We are living in a time when people do not endure sound teaching (2 Timothy 4:3); a time when evil is called good and good is called evil (Isaiah 5:20-21); and a time of great division (2 Timothy 3:3). If we act like everything is okay, it only further disheartens those who see clearly that things have changed – and not for the better.
As I sat down to write about the word “equip,” it seemed tone-deaf not to acknowledge where we are in the world. But I would also be remiss not to acknowledge that those who are in Christ have a promise and a hope that is not of this world.
The past year has brought a lot of change, and for some, a fear for the future. There’s been a shift in our world, and we all feel it. Even people who previously didn’t care to read the Bible are picking it up to see what it says about the End Times. While it’s common for me to have conversations about Jesus, I have had more conversations about Jesus’ return in the past year than I have had in my entire life. And I love it.
I know this is a dicey topic and people land in different places – whether or not there will be a rapture of the Church before the Second Coming of Jesus; whether Christians will go through the tribulation; etc. As for the rapture and the tribulation, I’ve studied those, and I know what I hope will happen, but even Bible scholars who have spent their lives studying the End Times disagree. The great thing is that disagreeing about the rapture and the tribulation is not salvific. In other words, people can disagree and still be saved. No one is going to Hell over their views on these topics.
As well, there are some Christians who have never really considered Jesus’ return – it seems like something for some far-off, future generation. However, Jesus’ return was obviously something He wanted us to look for and be equipped for. Seven out of 10 chapters in the New Testament mention His return. In other words, 1 out of 30 verses in the New Testament teaches us that Jesus is coming back. We are well-versed in His birth story, His death on the cross, His resurrection, but then we kind of trickle off as we discuss the promise of His return. His glorious return!
Part of being equipped for His return means being prepared for His unexpected arrival. In Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus gives us the parable of the 10 virgins (or bridesmaids). In this parable, He conveys that we must keep watching for Him and be prepared for His imminent return. Jesus says:
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
This parable has a few aspects that are up for debate, but what is clear is that the bridegroom is Jesus and this parable describes His return. In the story, it’s interesting to me that five of the women are called foolish and five are called wise. All 10 women did the same things until the moment the bridegroom arrived. All 10 expected to see Him, all 10 had lamps, all 10 were expected to carry and maintain their own lamps. In addition, all 10 had oil for the trip, and all 10 slept while the bridegroom tarried. But only five of the bridesmaids were equipped just in case the bridegroom took longer to return than they expected – and they were called wise.
The foolish bridesmaids had to go get more oil, taking them away from the bridegroom. They weren’t equipped to stay at their post and fulfill their mission: to go into the banquet with the bridegroom.
The parable ends with Jesus saying, “Keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” He’s telling us to be equipped, look for Him – He IS coming, but we don’t know when.
As we discuss the return of Jesus, Christians should look out for two common pitfalls. The first is getting absorbed in matching symbolic imagery with current events and trying to pinpoint and exact time that He is returning. Thus far, everyone who has predicted an exact date has been wrong. Jesus has already told us over and over that we will not know when He’s coming back, so just be ready. (And steer clear of those who are giving exact days and times.)
The other pitfall is that some Christians are lulled into complacency and distraction. Since we don’t really know when He’s coming, we don’t stay on mission. We major in the minors and forget that we are on assignment (like the five foolish bridesmaids). This pitfall invites comments like, “every generation has thought Jesus was coming soon,” minimizing Jesus’ call for us to anticipate His coming. He is coming soon (Revelation 22:20), without unnecessary delay. History is moving according to God’s timetable and prophesy is being fulfilled as we speak. Again, be ready.
Yes, things have shifted, and anxiety is offering its services to anyone who will partake. Doom and gloom is being written everywhere – but it was never written on the Believer. No, we have a different, glorious story written for us – a new heaven and a new earth. We need only keep our focus on Him.
I will close by sharing the refrain of my heart these last few months when I’ve been tempted to feed my flesh with division and unholy righteousness: “Eyes on Jesus. Eyes on Jesus. Eyes on Jesus.”
He is coming… soon.
Dear Lord, thank You for saving us and for promising to come get us. Nothing excites me more than the expectation of seeing You face-to-face. This world is hard and there are new evils being revealed every day. Lord, we long for You. You keep Your promises and You’re never late, but come quickly, Lord, Jesus. Maranatha! Amen.