Remember Jesus Christ

By Charles R Erdman

Chapter 6 - Predictions of His Return


During those last days of His ministry, Jesus often spoke of His departure. He was to go by the mysterious pathway of death and resurrection; but He was to come back again. He was like a nobleman who “went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.” So after a long time the risen and ascended Lord would reappear, and in power and great glory. It is with these predictions in mind that we should close the celebration of the third day of Holy Week.

When He had defeated His enemies, our Lord left the Temple with His disciples; He crossed the brook Kedron, and rested on the slope of the Mount of Olives. He could look westward, as the sun declined over the sacred city, the destruction of which He had predicted. Then “the disciples came unto him privately, saying. Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world [age]?”

In reply to this question our Lord delivered His most memorable message concerning His return. The outline is clear; its surprising theme is impressively stated; but many of the phrases are difficult to interpret, and this for a number of reasons.

First of all, it is evident that we have recorded here only a portion of the discourse. Even when we add the details found in the Gospels of Mark and of Luke, it appears that here is only a fraction of the prophecy. A fuller report might be more easily understood.

Then, too, our Lord is using symbolic language, and Oriental imagery must be interpreted with caution and reserve. The facts in mind are more important than the figures, and they must not be confused.

In the third place, it must be noted that Christ is predicting, not one event, but two. He is prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem by the armies of Rome, under Titus; but He is using the colors of that tragic event to paint the picture of His own return in glory. These two scenes are so blended on the horizon that it is difficult to determine whether certain statements refer to the nearer or the more remote event.

Consequently, while there should be no doubt as to the reality of the personal glorious return of Christ, much diversity of views, regarding details and circumstances, must be allowed.

As to the present age, from the ascension of Christ until His return, the prophecy is dark with heavy shadows; yet not darker than the pages of history by which it has been fulfilled. There would arise false Messiahs offering deliverance and salvation to men; there would be unrest among the nations and physical disasters: “Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.” The followers of Christ would be hated among all nations; many would prove false and treacherous; but those who continued faithful would be saved.

However, no matter what conditions might prevail in the world, or in the Church, the duty and the mission of Christians would continue unchanged and imperative, namely, the evangelization of the world: “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all the nations; and then shall the end come.” While acute differences of opinion exist among believers in regard to the details of Christ's return, all should be united in the prosecution of their common task and should be inspired by the same “blessed hope.”

As the age draws to its close, the sufferings and distress are to find their climax in a “Great Tribulation.” In this prediction the reference to the fall of Jerusalem is so clear that it evidently is taken as a prototype or pre-shadowing of the more terrible tragedy which is still future. The sign that the event is at hand was to be “the abomination of desolation . . . standing in the holy place.” The reference is supposed to be to the standards of the Roman armies, or, in the case of the Great Tribulation, to the “Man of Sin” or the “Anti-Christ” to whom the New Testament writers refer. So great would be the savagery and horror that, but for divine intervention, none would survive.

As men yearn for deliverance they might easily be misled by the claims of false Christs and false prophets; but the followers of Christ are not to look for a human deliverer who is to be found in the wilderness or in a secret place of the city. Their Deliverer is to appear from heaven. His coming is to be “as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west.” He also will execute judgment on the enemy and the oppressor, for “wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.”

Immediately before the coming of Christ there will be signs so startling and so terrifying as to leave no doubt as to the occurrence which is to follow: “The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.” Then shall occur the event toward which all the ages have been moving, for which the weary world is waiting, by which the work of the Church will be crowned, namely, the personal glorious appearing of the crucified, risen, and ascended Lord: “They shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

With such marvels in view our Lord urged upon His disciples a spirit of watchfulness. For them His coming should not be unexpected; the “signs” which He had just described would indicate to them His return as clearly as the budding of trees announces the approach of summer. Even the generation then living might witness the fall of Jerusalem, which would be a type and prediction of the more distant event. How distant, no one could foretell;
“of that day and hour knoweth no man.” To the busy unbelieving world, the coming would be a startling surprise. Men would be occupied in their usual pursuits, as in the days of Noah when they “knew not until the flood came, and took them all away.” Therefore to His disciples came the word: “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.” Each one should be alert, as the master of a house who anticipates the coming of a thief, or still more, as a servant who is expecting the return of his master and wishes to be found faithfully performing his duty.

Such a comparison indicates what our Lord means by “watching” for His coming — surely not idle dreaming or nervous speculation, but activity and devoted service. This lesson as to vigilance is further illustrated by a series of parables, all of which indicate what our Lord means by “watchfulness.”

First, there is the Parable of the Virgins. All of them were invited to a marriage supper; all were expected to meet the bridegroom with brightly burning lamps; all were to accompany him to the banquet hall. But five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they carried no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. When the bridegroom was delayed they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.” Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.” But the wise replied, “Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell and buy for yourselves” And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” But He replied, “Verily I say unto you, I know you not.” “Watch therefore,” our Lord concludes, “for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”

The story is easily understood. Oil is the Scriptural symbol of the presence and the influence of the Holy Spirit. Those who are looking for the return of the Lord must be spiritually prepared. Their lives must be like lights shining in a dark place. When He comes it will be too late for the character to be changed, nor can the necessary preparation be borrowed from the nearest friends. One always must be ready for the coming of Christ. That is what Christ meant by “watching” (Matthew 25:1-13).

Another parable is the Parable of the Talents. It teaches that watching for the return of Christ does not mean idle carelessness nor nervous speculation, but the faithful use of the abilities and opportunities entrusted to us by our Lord. The story is of a certain man who, going on a journey, called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one. “After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.” He found that the one who had received the five talents had gained five more by trading; he who had received two had gained two more; but the one who had received only one had buried it in the ground and returned it, claiming that he had been afraid to use what belonged to such an exacting master. The two faithful servants received the same words of approval, but to the unfaithful servant a severe rebuke was given and his talent was taken away.

The lessons of this parable are familiar. To all of us our Lord has entrusted some gifts, or “talents,” which may be employed in His service. These may be increased if rightly used; not to use them is to lose them; equal faithfulness will receive equal rewards. Those who have the least ability are most tempted to make no effort to serve the Master; but all the servants of the Lord may show such fidelity in their daily tasks, in their use of the simplest occasions for service, and in their accomplishments of any work He may assign, that when He appears they may meet Him without fear and receive His word of blessed assurance, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant . . . enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

There is a third picture, which presents the proper preparation for the return of Christ. It is the mysterious scene of the Judgment, “when the Son of man shall come in his glory and . . . shall sit upon the throne of his glory”; when He shall separate all the nations into two divisions, the one to enter His kingdom and the other to go away into punishment. The ground of the judgment is the attitude which has been taken toward the poor and the sick and the suffering. To those who have given food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, who have received strangers, who have clothed the naked, and visited the sick, and relieved those in prison, the thrilling words will be spoken, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Our Savior then explains His words of praise, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

This parable does not teach that one who is sinful and vicious can secure a place in the kingdom of heaven merely by performing deeds of charity. Those who are watching for the return of their Lord will be most unceasing in their works of loving sympathy and relief, finding in this sorrowing, suffering world countless opportunities for manifesting a spirit of true charity, and ministering to their Master in the persons of those who are most in need.

All whose lamps are burning, all who are faithful to their trust, all who are serving such as are in need, can pray most sincerely, “Even so, come Lord Jesus, come quickly.”