Jesus had given His disciples the lesson that all of Israel had longed to hear. As they sat together on the Mount of Olives, He laid out God’s plan for the end of human history. Times would continue to be hard in the world of sin, and the hardships would grow worse until the time of the Great Tribulation. But the horrors of life under the powers of evil would be cut short, and the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, would return in power in a mighty flash across the sky. The Lord told His disciples to be on the lookout. He said:
“But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
“‘Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away.'”
Wow. What did He mean when He said that all of these amazing things would happen before this generation passes away? Well, sometimes we think of generation as a group of people who was born in a certain time period. Your mother and father were probably born in the same generation, and then you were born in the next generation. But sometimes generation can mean a group of people that have the something important in common. The disciples of Jesus were men who would receive the Holy Spirit and become new creatures in Christ. They were to pass that incredible message on through the proclamation of the Gospel, and many more would put their faith in Christ. God would strengthen them to pass on the faith as well, and Christianity would grow and grow for two thousand years (so far). In that case, everyone in each century who put their faith in Jesus Christ is a member of the generation that Jesus was speaking of. The Lord will keep the Body of Christ alive until the very end when He returns to make all things new. Is it possible for us to know when that will be? This is what Jesus said:
“‘No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.'”
Wow! Not even Jesus, the Son of God, knows when the end times will come. How can that be? Isn’t Jesus God? Doesn’t He know everything?
Well, yes, He is fully God, but as we learn in Philippians 2:1-11,when He came to earth as a human, “He emptied Himself, took on the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of a man.” He grew up and learned as any other human being does. He waited on His Father for all of His understanding and did nothing apart from His Father. The Spirit of God taught Him all the magnificent truths that He taught about the Kingdom of God as Jesus depended on Him completely. It is wonderful that Jesus lived exactly as we are called to live, only He did it perfectly! He was the perfect model for how to live a fully human life.
If not even the angels or God’s Son know when God the Father will bring all time to an end, what does Jesus want His disciples to do as they waited for His return? He told His men this:
“ ‘Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house knew in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’”
Do you think Jesus really meant that His disciples had to stay awake forever? Weren’t they allowed to sleep? Of course they were. They had to. Jesus was describing to them how they had to stay awake to God’s plan throughout their lives. They had to pay attention to the things going on around them and watch for the birth pangs. The Lord Jesus wants His followers to live with sharp and ready loyalty, as if He could come back any day. He went on:
“‘Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.’”
Wow. There are high honors awaiting the faithful servant! Jesus gave us powerful reasons to strive hard to do all that He has called us to. But Jesus also knew there would be many servants who would be terribly unfaithful, and He had words to say to them, too:
“‘…if that wicked servant says to himself, “My master is delayed and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
That is a graphic and horrific warning…all the more so because someday it will be true. Yet consider the reason that the person will face such punishment. God hates it when humans hurt and oppress others. He watches over every human and pays close attention to how they treat each other. Every person matters to God, and no one person has the right to abuse another, no matter who they are. There are severe penalties for every servant that dishonors the Lord. It shows that he or she never belonged to God in the first place. There is also tremendous, lavish grace for those who truly repent.