The End is Near: What is the proper Christian response to Christ’s return?

In Phoenix, Arizona a news team takes to the streets to gather people’s reactions to a recent billboard added to the industrial landscape. “Save the Date: Christ’s Return on May 21, 2011” was the general message of the billboard. “How can they know?” one passer-by says. “It doesn’t change anything for me, I’m not going to live my life based on a billboard,” says a man from his car as he drives by. “That’s just asinine!” one woman retorts. Yet another man being interviewed says, “Honestly, I hope its true!” Did he believe it was going to happen on that day or was he conveying something else? Was he getting ready for May 21st, or was he perhaps conveying a hope which all Christians should have? In denouncing dates and men who make end time claims, maybe Christians have forgotten the fact that the return of Christ is the content of our constant hope. We are to “watch and pray.” Our lives are to be marked not by date-setting, but by prayerful-watching. To watch is not to interpret signs of the times, but to interpret the marks of our lives. Are we in the faith? Do we seek to share the message of the Gospel? Are we seeking righteous and living in a blameless fashion? These are the instructions we’ve been given.

Watch and Pray

“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”- Mark 14:38 ESV

Though our hope is in Christ’s return, no one knows when that can be. We are called to watch and pray, not predict and damn. As Jesus exhorts his disciples in the Garden, he is expecting the hour of his betrayal at the hands of Judas. He knows the time of his death is upon him, yet he submits to the will of the Father. He overcomes temptation and shows that his position is one of submission and humility to the will of the Father in the act of redemption. The disciples are unaware of the events that are to transpire that night, though they had been warned. They had been told, yet they did not know. In so doing, they had fallen asleep when they should have been watching and praying. They did not know what was to come, yet Christ compelled them to watch and pray. So it too must be with the church. We have been warned, yet we do not know. Christ calls us to watch and pray, in order that we may not enter into temptation. Christ says in Revelation 3:3, “Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” Christ says we are to be ready, to stay awake, and to pray. This is our first and most important activity. Why specifically are we to watch and pray? Because this life is a suffering life, a sinful life, and he calls us to live a satisfied life.

The Suffering Life

The testimony of Scripture is that life is filled with suffering. If there is any doubt in this statement, I implore to take up and read the Psalms. Suffering is the experience of life. And more so for those who believe. Paul tells the church in Philippi, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29 ESV). Those who trust in Christ have been given a warning of suffering. It is inevitable. Whether its loss of family and friends for the sake of Christ, physical suffering, or other forms of persecution, Christians will suffer. There is suffering all around, but for the sake of Christ, believers will suffer. Paul gives us comfort when he says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  (Romans 8:18 ESV). The Those of faith will not necessarily experience perpetual blessing and comfort, but rather suffering for the sake of Christ. First we are to watch and pray because we recognize that this present life is a suffering life.

The Sinful Life

The second reason to watch and pray is because this present life is a sinful life. Though we have been forgiven of the penalty of sin through faith in Christ, we still deal with the effects of sin. We see this clearly in Paul’s message to his readers in Romans 7:20-25. He says, “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (Rom. 7:20 ESV). We must recognize the struggle of our inherent sin nature and that of the new nature given to us by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God in his providence is working holiness in his people, and we must continually watch and pray and ask for God’s deliverance from evil, as Christ taught us to pray (Matt. 6:9-13). The apostle Peter tells us, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Pet 2:11 ESV). Scripture is filled with commands and exhortations to flee from evil and seek righteousness. Christian, though saved by grace, should be the first to recognize our need to live blamelessly (Eph. 1:4; Phil. 1:10; 2:15; Col. 1:22; 1 Th. 2:10; 5:23; 1 Tim. 3:10; Jude 24; Rev. 14:5). Because we recognize that this present life is filled with temptation and struggles with sin, we are called to watch and pray in order that we may seek holiness before the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Why else are we to watch and pray? Because we are called to live a satisfied life. But what does this exactly mean?

The Satisfied Life

The third reason to watch and pray is because we are called to live a satisfied life. Satisfaction with this life is not the point, but we are called to be satisfied with how God chooses to work things out. Paul exhorts his readers to wait for our hope with patience (Rom. 8:25 ESV). To the Galatians, he says, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” (Galatians 5:5 ESV). We know that God’s ways are above ours, and therefore we are to be satisfied with how he chooses to work. Though we may not understand and may be tempted to complain, God’s will is to be our desire. This does not mean, however, that we sit back and do nothing. Paul tells the Galatians to wait eagerly. This is an active waiting. Doing, praying, watching, telling, serving, sending; these are all action words of an eager waiter. We are to watch and pray, but with patience and eager expectation, which will produce sound minded Christians who both desire for the return of our Lord yet will communicate this to others in love.

The End is Near

The Christian hope is to watch and pray with patience because this present life is filled with suffering and sin. We must recognize that we will suffer, so we watch and pray. We must also realize that we will struggle with sin, therefore we watch and pray. And we must finally understand that God’s will must be done, hence we will watch and pray. Like the hopeful passerby in Phoenix, Arizona, we must recognize that men cannot set dates for the return of our Lord but we can still exclaim, “I hope its true!” Watching and praying are the actions of an expectant church who desires for her Bridegroom to return. This gives us fuel for the engine of missions, outreach, worship, evangelism, and relationships. We must realize that our faith is unfulfilled until we have been reunited with our Lord. May we all, with eager expectation, watch and pray and expect the Lord of Lords to return. May the words of our Lord be our constant hope: “He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20 ESV)

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