In our passage for study, Jesus encourages his disciples to "watch", to be prepared as the day of the Lord's "coming" draws near. The passage is a call to vigilance; "keep awake."
v32-33. The passage opens with a recurring statement; "No one knows" when the coming of the Son of Man will take place. Jesus is not trying to define the limits of his understanding, but rather he is emphasizing the fact that it is not possible to calculate the day of his coming. Vigilance must be our way of life, rather than calculation. The day Jesus is referring to is the day when we "will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory", v26. This is the day when he is received by the Ancient of Days and begins his eternal heavenly reign, cf., Dan.7:13. That day is a day of judgment and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD serves as a paradigm of that day and thus of the last day. The people of Jeremiah's day were looking forward to the great day of the Lord's coming and failed to listen to his warning that the coming of the Lord is not always good news, for it is a coming in judgment. That day will concern the people of God, not just rebellious humanity. Will we be found wanting in that day? Will we stand condemned as have his people in the past? Be vigilant therefore, be on your guard, be alert, be prepared.
v34-36. Jesus now gives a short teaching parable to explain the thrust of his exhortation. The parable pictures the application of vigilance. Being on guard, being alert, watching, is not just describing expectant waiting, but rather standing ready and prepared for the master's return. The master leaves his house in the care of his servants. Each has their assigned task which is to be faithfully executed. The door-keeper is to keep watch, waiting to open the door at the master's return. The master can return at any time, so there is no possibility for safe-slacking. He can return at any time during the four watches of the night. If he comes unexpectedly, don't be found sleeping. So, the point of the parable is "watch" - be prepared for the Master's return.
v37. The final verse sums up Jesus' teaching; we must all be prepared for the coming Son of Man.
The second coming of Christ is a forceful incentive for faithful discipleship. The day will come when Jesus will return and what will he find? Will he find us asleep? So it is essential for us to be on guard! be alert! watch! A phrase like "be prepared" probably sums up the meaning of Jesus' words here, but be prepared in what sense? It's very easy to have a stab in the dark on this subject, but there is a principle which covers our lack of information in this passage. We must always interpret scripture from scripture.
A disciple's faithfulness is determined by their faith in Christ. It is by grace we are saved through faith and not by works so that no one can boast, Eph.2:9. So, our preparation involves a constant reliance of Christ for salvation. We must take care that nothing leads us from a total reliance on Christ for our standing and progress as a believer.
Does an exhortation for an ongoing reliance on Jesus imply that a believer could lose their salvation? In Reformed churches (ie. Calvinist in theology) there is a simple answer to this question, "once saved, always saved". Mind you, there is little security in this view, for if a person does "fall away" from following Christ, the usual line given is, "Oh well! it just shows that they were never really saved in the first place." In the end, knowing we are one of God's elect (chosen, predestined for salvation by a sovereign determination of the will of God) can only be evidenced by never turning our back on Christ. A strict Calvinist may never be able to lose their salvation, but then they can never be sure they are saved.
The answer to the question has more to do with the nature of faith. God's sovereign choice is primarily exhibited in his choosing the method of salvation. "It is not ... dependent on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy." God's gift to humanity is a "righteousness for everyone who believes." We stand perfected in the sight of God and thus eternally secure, "by grace though faith." In simple terms then, we cannot lose our salvation while we place ourselves under the mercy of God and rest on his forgiveness freely given in Christ.
If it is true that God's sovereign will enacts the method of salvation rather than selecting individuals for salvation, then in theory a believer can abandon their faith. Yet, Jesus' prophetic warning serves to empower perseverance. As long as we "keep watch", keep watching to our faith, we will find that the indwelling Spirit of Christ carries us toward that dreadful day. As long as we place ourselves under the mercy of God we will never lose our salvation and that mercy, of itself, will hold us firm to the end.
1. Be on guard, be alert and watch. Discuss what Jesus means.
2. If we fail to "watch", could we lose our salvation? Discuss what Jesus might have meant by his statement in Matthew.12:32.
3. What is the purpose of exhortations and warnings like the ones contained in this passage?
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