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The Master Has Delayed His Coming?

by UNC Contributor

In Matthew 24, a special discourse took place between Christ and his disciples. The disciples were showing Christ the great buildings of the temple, and were indicating how magnificent they were. But to their surprise, they received a rather chilling response from the Master, Jesus Christ, foretelling that all these great structures would be destroyed. What did this mean?

Christ’s disciples were plagued with intense curiosity. They asked for more information about the destruction of the temple area and Christ’s coming. They received a lengthy and disturbing answer. By highlighting various themes, Christ not only explained what was to happen in the near future, but also explained the course of events that would lead to His second coming.

The Master Is Delayed

After giving an overview of the course of history and of the end-time events to take place after His death, Jesus indicated that seeing all these events unfold would signal His imminent return (Matthew 24:32-33). Yet, He also explained that there would be an element of uncertainty which one must heed, for He said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (verse 36). Most people will still be caught unaware by what is happening, and will be carrying on their lives as though nothing has changed - “as it was in the days of Noah...and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away” (verses 37-39). There is thus a need for preparedness, for Christ will come at a specific time of which we do not expect (verse 44).

This need to be prepared is emphasized by Jesus Christ. He told Christians to “watch” (verse 42) which is primarily a warning to watch our spiritual condition, even though we are also to take heed to what is occurring in the world. It is necessary for those who are faithful to be ready for Christ’s return. Christ then made reference to a wicked servant who concludes, “my Master is staying away a long time”, or “my Master has delayed his coming” (Matthew 24:48, NIV and NKJV respectively). The wicked servant is not necessarily wicked because he concludes that Christ’s return has been postponed, for many of us, including the apostles, have often made wrong assumptions about the timing of Christ’s return. Rather, he might base this conclusion on a freedom to beat his servants (in a figurative sense), “and to eat and drink with the drunk” (verse 49). It seems he does not expect to be punished for his behaviour, nor that his spiritual life is in any spiritual danger. How might we consider that this servant can conclude his master is delayed?

The Marking of Dates and Events

We might consider that the wicked servant personally concludes the Master’s return is delayed. He could be viewing the time for Christ’s return to either be a date, or after the occurrence of an event or series of events and is establishing the approximate time of Christ’s return by marking the passage of these various dates or events. Perhaps his setting of such dates could be based on feelings and assumptions.

The conclusion of the servant that Christ was now late, is not based on any clear Scripture or evidence of a change with Christ. For if He had chosen to do so, He would not Himself now be late. But changes within the wicked servant’s personal attitude, feelings and assumptions about Christ’s return are what make him conclude Christ is not coming at the time he personally expected. As we observe in certain societies where clocks and watches are uncommon, the concept of lateness becomes a fuzzy notion.

Only when we begin to measure time by some marker, and to do it with more precision, does the concept of being early, late or on time have more meaning.

Our responsibilities and focus as Christians should lie in being ever ready, hence the warning to watch. Yet we do find in history numerous occasions where some tried to establish dates anyway. This does not necessarily mean they were wicked servants. But what put them into this category is their attitude and reaction when Christ’s return did not take place according to their timetable.

Observations From Recent History In the 1990s, after the Soviet Union (USSR) had disintegrated, leaving the United States as the then only world superpower, it was somewhat observable in our society, even in Church circles, that there was nothing now on the world scene that could threaten the western world’s peace and values (everyone felt more secure). The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union that began in the decade of the 1950s had ended. From the church perspective, for many (including myself) it seemed we might have more time before a European power emerged; that we had more time than we had thought, between the decade of the 1990s and Christ’s return.

But things can change very quickly, and they did. On September 11, 2001, terrorists attacked and destroyed the World Trade Center twin towers in New York City. The United States entered a state of turmoil and appeared to be under siege, and some sort of war now seemed imminent. But there was a peculiarity that is of interest to all of us.

I recall hearing several stories from church members that soon after these events occurred they were subsequently contacted by former church members, and were being asked whether the end was now coming. These former church members, who were once in the church, but had subsequently walked away from obeying God to do their own thing—in one sense you might say they were spiritually, “eating and drinking with the drunken.” These former members now had a semblance of worry due to these new events on the world scene.

But once reassured from current church members that world events were not being perceived as reaching some sort of climax in a prophetic and literal sense, these former church members continued in their current lifestyles (rather than to clean up their act) and never called back again. Ironically we can note that such former church members did have some insecurity about their way of living (so they were not totally blind about what God expects), and did feel that others were more in tune with what God requires than they were, yet they still wanted to live their own way once they perceived the height of the danger had passed, and that there was simply more time left.

So the concept of a wicked servant as Christ portrayed is not too far-fetched after all, as some really may not truly want to obey God heartily, but may stick around the church and obey God if they are feeling a sense of personal danger based on their perception of events.

As children, we were likely well behaved when we wanted something from our parents, and then became lax in our self-discipline when we either got what we wanted, or what we wanted became far out of reach. Likewise as adults, when we want something, we can put on our best show and effort, and then let down when the goal or the expected outcome that drove the motivation has changed. God understands that mindset, and this is the thought process God warns about, and that underlies the attitude of the wicked servant. We might say that the ‘wicked’ are simply motivated by the desire to avoid punishment, while the faithful are seeking to please God, no matter when the end finally comes.

Also, the world has figuratively been ‘dodging bullets’ whenever it has gotten close to destruction, so some may even think that the world will continue to do so (some will scoff saying the world has continued as it has since the beginning of creation - 2 Peter 3:3-4). So there could arise a feeling or sense in various people that the end is not coming in any dramatic way, or in their lifetime.

We Have to Be Intelligent and Cautious in Measuring the Future

Even though making predictions about the future may not always be a sin, one really begins to wonder what the purpose of making predictions is. Is it really to glorify God? Does it put people’s minds on God or on the ‘self-proclaimed prophet?’ And does the faith of Christians become strengthened, especially after a series of failed attempts at calling the future course of history? Is it satisfying one’s need for information, or is it just meeting one’s inner need to become emotionally charged?

God does provide prophecy, and in time expects His people to understand. God does indicate that He does speak through His chosen servants when a significant event is to take place for, “the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).

God holds the prerogative of who is to know when something important is to occur. But to take this prerogative upon oneself is both presumptive and foolish. We certainly lack faith if we think that God cannot take care of His people and guide them through troubled times. As the apostle Peter instructs ; “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). In the end, it is virtually impossible for us to save ourselves unless God is on our side.

For many of us, as we look back on our prior expectations as to when Christ might return, we may think that Jesus Christ should have returned by now, or that He should have come back a long time ago. We may even think that Christ’s return has somehow been postponed or delayed, based on either our measure of the time elapsed since Creation, or based on how bad we view the state of the world of today. We can also conclude that Christ should have returned by now, based on our understanding of biblical prophecy. We can also reach such a conclusion by making various assumptions, or basing them on some sort of feeling.

Christ, in a discussion with His disciples, did make reference to those who conclude that Christ’s return is now delayed, and such people can misuse this statement to become lax in their spiritual behaviour. We must watch and be ready at all times as Christ warned. Which means we should always endeavour to be spiritually zealous.

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