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Jesus' Prophecy of Consummation of the Kingdom, Part 5: Just Like the Days of Noah

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Aug 22, 1999

Matthew 24:36-41

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If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Matthew chapter 24. We have been looking at the subject of Jesus’ teaching on the end times or Eschatology as the technical term is for a number of weeks now. We have come to Matthew chapter 24 and we will begin in verse 36 today, where we left off last time. Let’s hear God’s holy Word.

"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. "For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. "For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. "Then there shall be two men in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. "Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left.”

Thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired Word. May He add His blessing to it. Let’s pray.

Our heavenly Father, we ask that by the Holy Spirit this day, You would do business with our hearts as we kneel before Your word. These are Your words, they are not the words of men, they are Your words, and they are meant for the up-building of your people. And for the calling of those who do not know You into an everlasting relationship through Jesus Christ. And so we ask that by Your Spirit, you would make these words powerful and effective to our hearts in Jesus’ name. Amen.

There are two or three mistakes that we could make approaching the issue of the end time. One mistake is to think that all such discussion of the end times is speculative and impractical. I think it has already become apparent to us as we have looked through Jesus’ instructions that they are anything but impractical. Every one of Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 24 as we have studied so far, is something that we can put into practice today. Yes, it is true that we can say with one of the great divines, that it is possible to think more about the events surrounding His coming, than to think about the one who is coming. Yes, that can happen. That would be improper for us, would it not, to care more about the time table, and the accompaniment than it would be to think about the one who we long to come. That would be inappropriate. But the teaching of the New Testament on the end times, the teachings on Eschatology is eminently practical. And we have seen example after example of that so far.

Another mistake that we could make, and there are many who make it, is simply do not believe that Jesus is coming at all. Perhaps you have had friends who have made jokes about the delay of the coming of our Lord Jesus. They say, it has been two thousand years, are you seriously still waiting for this occur. And they mock. And they make fun. And Jesus in this very passage today, makes it clear that on that day, unless their hearts are changed, they will be just like those who lived in the days of Noah. Mocking and laughing and going on with life and surprised with His coming.

There is a last mistake that we could make however, and that is to be unprepared for His coming. Note, Jesus’ coming is something that often times terrifies sincere believers. They have grown up on the horror tales of the end times and they are actually frightened of the thought of the Lord Jesus coming. And though it is appropriate that we would have a godly fear at the thought of the great judgment of the Lord. Ultimately the New Testament wants Christians to be excited about the second coming of the Lord. And so the issue of how to be prepared is a very practical issue. And it is in fact something that Jesus is going to spend much time on through chapter 25.

But I would like to look with you today and see some of the answers to these very kinds of concerns that we find in the passage that we are going to study.

I. The uncertainty of the exact time of the return of Christ - Christians must be watchful

First in verse 36, in that verse which we looked at last week, we see the uncertainty of the timing of Christ’s coming stressed. Jesus makes it clear that the timing of His coming is unknown. And that teaches us a lesson. Christians must be always watchful for His coming, in view of the secrecy of its timing. The only secret about the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ is its timing. Everything else about it is going to be wide open for the whole world to see. No one will have a doubt when our Lord Jesus comes on cloud with glory.

And Jesus is telling us here in verse 36, as He is stressing the certainty of His coming. And the uncertainty of the timing of that coming. He is telling us this for very practical reasons. Jesus is telling us His coming is certain. The timing of it is uncertain. And He is telling us this for a very practical reasons. Listen to what Calvin says, “he wishes the day of His coming to be so hoped for and looked for that yet no one should dare to ask when it will come?” And he goes on to say this. “The uncertainty of the time of Christ coming ought to be a stimulus to our attention and watchfulness.” He is saying, the reason that Christ has chosen not to reveal this to us is as a stimulus to our obedience.

Now that is very important because there is something else in there that I did not read you. Let me go back and read it. Calvin says, “the uncertainty of the timing of Christ’s coming which for the most part, induces idleness in men, ought to be a stimulus to our attention and watchfulness.” You see what he is saying, He is saying the very lack of knowing of when Jesus is coming in produces idolizes in the natural man. In the man that does not have a living saving relationship with Jesus Christ, the fact that Jesus has not revealed the timing of His coming, produces indifference. His slack and carelessness in that, but that very thing which produces indifference in the natural man ought to stimulate us to be careful not to neglect our watchfulness. Listen to how Matthew Henry puts it: “The uncertainty of the time of Christ’s coming is to those who are watchful a saver of life unto light, and makes them more watchful. But to those who are careless, it makes them a saver of death unto death and it makes them more careless.” It is amazing isn’t it? The very same thing makes one person more careless and one person more careful. Why? The difference is faith. Those who have trust in the Lord Jesus Christ will be made more careful by this particular reality. Those who do not trust in the Lord Jesus Christ will be made more careless by this particular reality. It is a strange thing, isn’t it how God uses the same thing to warm the hearts of some, and to harden the hearts of others, isn’t it of His providence.

What is the pastoral point then? The pastoral point is that we must be ready. We must be watchful by being ready, not prying into the secret things of God, but being ready by obedience. We said last week, by keeping the house clean, by doing the things of the Lord, by being about the business of the kingdom. By continuing to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Why is Jesus telling us this in verse 36? Let me suggest two reasons.

Jesus first of all, tells us that His coming, the time of His coming is unknown. Because He wants to exhort us against the tendency of our nature to be sleepy. To be idle, to be lazy in preparation for His coming, so He tells us this in order to exhort us, to encourage us to be faithful in watching. But He also tells us this in order to encourage us in light of the very sober note that He is going to strike in verses 37-41 which we are going to look at in just a minute. Jesus makes it very clear that the second coming is not going to a happy day for those who are unprepared. But precisely because He wants it to be a glorious day for us. He tells us that He wants us to be prepared. And as we are prepared, it will be a glorious day of triumph for us. Not something that we look forward to with dread, but something with which we join our prayers in with the saints of all ages, come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen, becomes our prayer.

Are we looking and longing for the coming of Christ? Is that something that is really a part of our Christian experience, is it ever a part of our prayer? That God would build our desires for His coming and do we ever actually pray that the Lord would come? Is it something that is an active part of our thoughts during the day? Is our preparation of the coming of Christ something that we only think of every once in a while, every few months, maybe every few years? Or is it something that is part of our daily regimen as Christians? I love mottos, and I love the various family mottoes that you see on press, genealogical press or badges. And some of them are interesting, some of them have strange stories behind them, and some of them are inspiring. If you go to the Grampian region of Scotland, where the Lindsey family lived, in the hedges, they have their family motto inscribed, and it literally translated, 'While I breath, I hope.' It is very inspiring, that these people, they are going to have hope as long as there is breath them. Many of you may know the motto of Admiral Duncan who was the Viscount of Camperdown, who defeated the Dutch navy in a great battle during the wars with France in the early 1800’s. And his motto was 'Learn to Suffer.' He was a seaman, and he went through much in order to win those victories and so his motto became learn to suffer. Somewhat inspiring. Many of you know the motto of the Marine Corps, 'Always Faithful.' You will hear them say, Semper Fi, Marines, Always Faithful. It is a good motto. I love the motto of the Boy Scouts, 'Be Prepared.' It is a Christian motto, isn’t it? That is what Jesus was saying to His disciples, be prepared. Be waiting, be expectant, be watchful for my coming. That is the first thing that we learn today.

II. Unbelievers will not look for the second coming of Christ.

Then if you would look at me with verses 37-39, we will see a second thing. Here Jesus tells us that the second coming is going to be unlooked for by unbelievers. Unbelievers aren’t going to be expecting this. They are not going to be looking out for this. Christ’s coming is going to be surprising to those who are unprepared by faith. And again, we learn another lesson by this. If it is going to be surprising for those who are unprepared by faith, then we must be prepared for that coming by faith. That is how you prepare for the coming of the Lord, in a faith relationship with Jesus Christ. That is how you prepare. In this passage, Jesus explains Himself further by a comparison. He compares the days of His coming, to the days of Noah. And this is to highlight the sudden and unexpected nature of His second coming. People, He says are going to wrapped up in their own affairs. They are going to be eating and drinking. Business as usual. Marrying and giving in marriage, business as usual. They are going to be wrapped up in their own affairs, to the extent that they are blind to the greater realities all around them.

And interestingly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with anything that Jesus gives in this list. Jesus doesn’t say, and when I come again, there are going to thieving and murdering, and pillaging, and lusting. All of that may be true, but that is not what Jesus says, why? Because Jesus wants to highlight that these people are going to be preoccupied with mundane activities that they have forgotten the greater spiritual realities of life. You see, the problem will be worldliness. They will be trapped by worldliness. You see, more radical opposition to Christ’s word, might shake some from their slumber. When we hear someone openly and boldly oppose God, and oppose Christ, and oppose Christianity, we are all shaken from our slumber. When we hear of the things that are said and written by the two killers at Columbine High School, all of our necks bristle. All of our spines are upright and we are ready to be at war with that type of unfaithful, ungodly thinking.

But you know there is something more dangerous than that. It is worldliness. It is being so wrapped up into the routine of daily life, that God is pushed to the periphery and forgotten. He is something that is plugged into the schedule, a couple of hours a week, but the rest of life is not so fused with the thoughts of Him in the mundane. Rather the mundane has so dominated our thinking that the temporal has replaced the eternal on our list of priorities. And we are the frogs in the kettle and the temperature is going up and we don’t even realize it. Let me tell you, that kills far more people eternally than open bitter opposition to God. Jesus is saying that is how it is going to be when I come again. Neglect of God, you see, is a far more dangerous symptom of spiritual sickness. It is far more dangerous to our souls than the particular instances of daring open rejection of God that we may see. William Hendrickson says, “when the soul becomes entirely wrapped up in these mundane things, however appropriate they are, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, so that these matters become ends in themselves, and spiritual tasks are neglected, they are no longer a blessing to us, they have become a curse. They have become evidences of gross materialism, false security, and cold selfishness.

Are Jesus’ words a wake up call to you today? You know the sad thing is too, these people are taken be surprise, but they shouldn’t have been. You know they are like a person in an office, who works for a very patient employer, that person has for many years, been the problem person in the office, they turn everybody off in the office, everybody is miserable around them, and they develop problems at home, and those problem lead to further problems in the office, they are chronically late. They are not doing their work well. Over and over, the patient employer comes and says Joe Blabs, you really are treading on thin ice, you have got to improve in this area and this area and this area and it never happens, and things get worse and worse and finally one day the employer calls him in and says, you are fired. And what is so often the reaction? Utter shock. What do you mean, what do you mean I am fired, I have done anything wrong. Why didn’t you tell me about this, why didn’t you give you me warning? I have been giving warning after warning, after warning, but what has happened? It has never gotten through. Those who are unprepared by faith at the last day, will be in the same boat when the Son of man comes.

III. The second coming will bring about a final and eternal distinction between believers and unbelievers.

One last thing, verses 40 and 41. Jesus says here, that the second coming is going to bring about a final and eternal distinction between believers and unbelievers. That is why He tells this story here. The second coming is going to bring about a final and an eternal distinction between believers and unbelievers. Christ’s coming, in other words, is going to be a separating event. His coming is going to finally divide belief and unbelief, the just and the unjust. He promised His disciples this all through His earthly ministry, but it only seemed to confuse them, you remember He would say things like, I didn’t come to bring peace, I came to bring a sword. And He would say things such as, I came to set parents against their children and children against their parents. And the disciples, no doubt, scratched their heads, what in the world are you talking about. Because at the same time he would say things like he came to bring peace, and He came to bring rest and they couldn’t put those two things together. Here is what Jesus is saying. For all those who will rest in Me, all those who will trust in Me, they will find peace. But those who do not trust in me, they will be eternally at war with those who love me. And they will never be joined either here or in the here after. Those who reject me will be rejected of my fathers. Those who embrace me, will be embraced by my Father who is in heaven.

The point of this passage here in verses 40 and 41 is to teach us the irremediable separation between the just and the unjust. Those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and those who reject Him. You know, when we were growing up, it was probably a passage like this that was appealed to by someone to convince us of the secret rapture. Now, whether you believe in that doctrine or not, that doctrine is not taught here. This passage is speaking about the judgment of those who are wicked. And the equivocal of those who are righteous. In fact, it very likely means that one will be taken to judgment and the one who is left behind will be spared from judgment because Matthew usually uses the verb, here to be taken to refer to being taken to judgment. So it is very likely that he is saying one will be taken to judgment while the other will be spared judgment. He will left behind. He won’t be judged.

But however you render it, it is clear that he distinction is in a moment in the twinkling of an eye, there is going to be this separation between those who have embraced Christ and those who reject Him. Christ’s coming is going to bring about a final division, just like He promised. J. C. Ryal catches the meaning of this passage perfectly. He says there shall be no time for parting words or a change of mind, when the Lord appears. No second chance. No time for parting words. It will be like one person working in the field, and judgment has come. It will be like two women working together and judgment has come. Blessing on one and judgment on the other. Blessing on one, and judgment on the other. Have you taken account of your own soul today?

Are you ready for that judgment. Jesus is going to spend much of Matthew chapter 25 telling us specifically how to be prepared for this judgment. But I want to say to begin with today that the first way we prepare for this judgment is through a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. If you are not now trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are not ready for this judgment. And I do not want to stand before God not having plead with you to do business with Him today. To embrace the Lord Jesus Christ.

All those who have embraced Jesus Christ, have no need to fear this judgment. Their judgment has occurred already in Christ. He has absorbed the judgment and wrath of God for them. For them, the second coming is going to be a day of victory. It is those who have not trusted in Him, who are not trusting in Him, who are unprepared and who face a day of woe and grief. And an eternity of woe and grief. That is a hard teaching. Who can understand it? Who can accept it? All those who trust in Jesus Christ can. Because those are the words of our Lord.

In a few moments we are going to sing a hymn as we close. And in that hymn, we are going to lift up a prayer which commits us to do something and ask God to help us do something. It commits us to serving and loving God to the end. Being prepared. And it asks God to help us to do that. That would be an appropriate prayer for us to pray right now, if we need to do business with God. Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, we pray that by faith, you would prepare us for the coming of the Son of man so it would be a day of joy for all of us. Oh Lord, if we have never embraced Him, and if we are not embracing Him now, humble us before You. Change our hearts and enable us to trust in Him and in Him alone for our salvation as He has offered in the Gospel. If we are trusting in Him now, oh Lord, help us to be always looking and longing for our Savior to come. We ask these things in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

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