The Time Just Before the Second Coming (24:36–51)
There are verses in this passage which are often much misapplied. "The coming of the Son of Man" (verse 37) is frequently spoken of as being the same thing as death; the texts which describe the uncertainty of his coming are used in epitaphs, and thought suitable to the tomb. But there is no solid ground for such an application of this passage. Death is one thing, and the coming of the Son of Man is quite another. The subject of these verses is not death, but the second coming of Jesus Christ. Let us remember this. It is a serious thing to wrest Scripture and use it in any but its true meaning.
1. The State of the World When Christ Comes Again
The first thing that demands our attention in these verses is the awful account that they give of the state of the world when the Lord Jesus comes again.
The world will not be converted when Christ returns: it will be found in the same condition as it was in the day of the flood. When the flood came, men were found "eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage" (verse 38), absorbed in their worldly pursuits and utterly regardless of Noah’s repeated warnings. They saw no likelihood of a flood; they would not believe there was any danger. But at last the flood came suddenly and took them all away. All that were not with Noah in the ark were drowned: they were all swept away to their last account, unpardoned, unconverted and unprepared to meet God. And our Lord says, "That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man" (verse 39).
Let us note this text, and store it up in our minds. There are many strange opinions current on this subject, even among good people. Let us not flatter ourselves that the heathen will all be converted and the earth filled with the knowledge of God before the Lord comes; let us not dream that the end of all things cannot be at hand because there is still much wickedness both in the church and in the world. Such views receive a flat contradiction in the passage now before us: the days of Noah are the true picture of the days when Christ returns. Millions of people who claim to be Christians will be found thoughtless, unbelieving, godless, Christless, worldly and unfit to meet their Judge. Let us take care that we are not found amongst them.
2. Awful Separation
The second thing that demands our attention is the awful separation that will take place when the Lord Jesus comes again. We read twice over that "one will be taken and the other left" (verses 40, 41).
The godly and the ungodly at present are mingled together; in the congregation and in the place of worship, in the city and in the field, the children of God and the children of the world are all side by side; but it will not always be like this. When our Lord returns, there will at length be a complete division. In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, each party will be separated from the other forevermore. Wives will be separated from husbands, parents from children, brothers from sisters, masters from servants, preachers from hearers. There will be no time for repentance or a change of mind when the Lord appears: everyone will be taken as they are, and reap according as they have sown. Believers will be caught up to glory, honor and eternal life; unbelievers will be left behind to shame and everlasting contempt. Happy are those who are of one heart in following Christ! Their union alone will never be broken: it will last forevermore. Who can describe their happiness when the Lord returns? Who can imagine the misery of those who are left behind? May we think on these things, and consider our ways!
3. The Duty of Watchfulness
The last thing that demands our attention in these verses is the practical duty of watchfulness in view of Christ’s second coming. "Keep watch," says our Lord, "because you do not know on what day your Lord will come" (verse 42). "Be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him" (verse 44).
This is a point which our blessed Master frequently presses: we hardly ever find him dwelling on the second coming without adding a warning to "watch." He knows the sleepiness of our nature; he knows how soon we forget the most solemn subjects in religion; he knows how unceasingly Satan labors to obscure the glorious doctrine of his second coming. He exhorts us to keep awake, if we do not want to be ruined forevermore. May we all have an ear to hear his words!
True Christians ought to live like watchmen. The day of the Lord is coming like a thief in the night: they should try always to be on their guard; they should behave like the sentinel of an army in an enemy’s land, resolving by God’s grace not to sleep at their post. That text of St. Paul’s deserves many a thought: "Let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled" (1 Thessalonians 5:6).
True Christians ought to live like good servants whose master is not at home. They should try always to be ready for their Master’s return: they should never give way to the feeling, "My master is staying away a long time" (verse 48); they should seek to keep their hearts in such a frame that whenever Christ appears they can at once give him a warm and loving reception. There is a vast depth in the saying, "It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns" (verse 46). We may well doubt whether we are true believers in Jesus if we are not ready at any time to have our faith changed into sight.
Let us close the chapter with solemn feelings. What we have just been reading calls for great heart-searching. Let us make sure that we are in Christ, and will have an ark of safety when the day of wrath breaks on the world; let us try so to live that we may be pronounced "blessed" at the last, and not east off forevermore. Not least, let us dismiss from our minds the common idea that unfulfilled prophecy is speculative and not practical: if the things we have been considering are not practical, there is no such thing as practical religion at all. "Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure" (1 John 3:3).