Sunday, August 7, 2022 | Trey Comstock
We should definitely be thinking about Christ’s return. We should definitely be thinking about how this age will end. We should definitely be motivated to faithfulness because Christ will return, and this age will end. We also definitely need to take care that we are motivated by the right things and towards the right action.
Often, when I find myself preaching or writing about Christ’s return, I’m reminded of the Essenes. They were a Jewish apocalyptic movement at around the same time as Jesus, John the Baptist, and the rest of our New Testament friends. They saw the Jewish life of the time as irredeemably broken and withdrew into the desert to do their own thing. They wrote fiery literature about how bad their society was and how they were the only true faithful ones. The Essenes had a real sense that the moment of crisis was very much at hand and that it was going to go great for them and terrible for anyone who had the misfortune to be not them.
On point one, they were weirdly correct. During the time of the Essenes, John the Baptist came and also declared the arrival of God’s chosen one. Christ was born in Bethlehem, lived, taught, suffered, died, and rose again unleashing the end of one age and the beginning of another. This was all sealed by the arrival of the Holy Spirit, and Christ’s promise to return in glory. On top of that, the Temple in Jerusalem fell to the Romans, in 70 AD, radically altering forever the nature of Jewish life. Turns out, the world that the Essenes fled from was indeed not long for this world. They seem to have read the divine room.
On point two, they missed the mark entirely. The Essenes did not emerge as the vindicated ones in the First Century. Building a fort in the desert with the a sign saying “no sinners allowed,” turned out to be the wrong way to embrace the rapidly arriving new age. They faded into the pages of history. One of their document caches, the Dead Sea Scrolls, have given us a wonderful insight into their time including into how the New Testament developed. Still, we only really know them from archeology and a few references rather than a lasting lineage. Their sense of motivation, of an incoming, age ending movement of God motivated the wrong reaction.
For us, we need to make sure that the call to vigilance in Luke 12 motivates the right kind of vigilance. Discussions of the end times and Christ’s return has been on the minds of Christians since immediately after Christ ascends. In Acts 1, the disciples have to be told to move along and go about life rather than stand their and stare awaiting Christ’s return. Scripture does concern itself often with the end of the age. Jesus mentions it directly frequently. Paul discusses it. John devotes an entire book to recounting his apocalyptic revelation. Thus, it’s far from shocking that modern Christians, in our own way, frequently dwell on the end of the age. We scour the Bible to piece together details and timelines. We debate particulars. We draw up charts. We write books of fiction about what it will be like. We yell into the void of YouTube our theories. We keep picking specific dates only to be constantly disappointed. That is all a kind of vigilance, and some of it, like understanding the details and trying to wrap our heads around what it will be like, are important spiritual exercises. Still, I don’t think its what Luke 12: 32-40 wants us to do.
Jesus reminds us, in verses 39-40, that we will never fully know and never be able to fully predict the end times. “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Luke 12:39-40 NRSV) Until Christ arrives, we will not know, when he is coming. Getting into the business of attempting to predict the end times is a great way to gain a following but is a fool’s errand. We are meant to be uncertain about it. That uncertainty is meant to help motivate our discipleship.
I have a postcard on the bookshelf in my office. It reads, “Jesus is coming. Look busy.” I first came across this in the office of a mentor of mine many years ago. It makes me laugh every time that I see it. In fact, it is in my eyeline right now, as I am writing this. It is also a humorous version of what Jesus is getting at in our text. In school, a teacher uses the threat of a pop quiz to motivate the day in day out work of keeping up with the material. The test or exam is on the calendar meaning that you can cram for it. A pop quiz could happen at any moment, meaning that you need to be reading and focusing all the time. That’s how I understand Christ’s call to vigilance. Jesus is coming. We need to be busy with the work of discipleship, so that whenever he comes, we are ready. None of us know when the age ends or when our season of life will end, so we can’t expect to be able to cram for it. The end is the ultimate in discipleship pop quizzes.
It’s not that I never wonder within myself as to when the end will come. The way the world feels sometimes that kind of speculation is inevitable. My point is more that whether the end comes tomorrow or comes thousands of years in the future, how we are supposed to live our lives doesn’t change. We follow God. We make disciples. We love our neighbor. We strive to let God’s grace transform us. We need to be vigilant in our own walk with God, so that whenever the end comes, we are ready to be welcomed into God’s Kingdom. Our knowledge of an incoming end should motivate us to discipleship not speculation.
Or, as the musical Godspell put it, “Just as old Elijah said to Jezebel, you better start to learn your lessons well.”