On Holy Tuesday, according to Mark 11:20-13:37, Jesus taught his disciples and disputed with his enemies. He addressed so many topics on that day that it’s difficult to know which one to focus on. But since I must choose one, I choose the words with which Jesus’ closed the day. They are found in Mark 13:32-37:
No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!”
These words are the conclusion to the Olivet Discourse, which Jesus delivered Peter, Andrew, James, and John while looking at the Temple from the Mount of Olives. These four disciples commented on the massiveness and magnificence of the Temple, but Jesus prophesied its impending destruction. No doubt astounded at Jesus’ words, the disciples asked, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” (Mark 13:4).
In response, Jesus said many things, which many later commentators have interpreted in many different ways – to no one’s general satisfaction. Was Jesus prophesying the impending destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70? Or was he looking farther into the future, to an event that is still yet to happen? I don’t know. The debate between preterists (the A.D. 70 crowd) and futurists goes on and on with no sign of abatement. Perhaps only Jesus himself can settle the debate when he returns.
Too often, the theoretical debate about the timing of these events overshadows the practical application Jesus himself drew from his prophecy. And that practical application is fairly straightforward: “Watch!”
Jesus reminds us in the verses I quoted above that our ignorance about the future is great. “No one knows about that day or hour,” he tells us. Astoundingly, he includes himself (“the Son”) among the ignorant. God has his own plans, his own timing, and he hasn’t made them to known to us. We don’t know when Christ will return, only that he will return.
Because of our ignorance, we must pay constant attention, like the servant “at the door” in Jesus’ parable. The opposite of watchfulness is sleep, inattentiveness, disobedience, and unpreparedness for the master’s return.
In the early years of the Twentieth Century, there was a keen sense among Bible-believing Christians of the imminence of Jesus’ coming. Some, perhaps, took it too far – like my great-grandfather, who refused to buy life insurance because Jesus would return in his own lifetime. But we lose something spiritually when we stop watching for Jesus’ return, when we lose the edginess of imminence.
If at any moment Jesus might return, how should we then live?
That’s a good question to ask yourself today, and everyday.