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Bible Studies For Life

Rich Elligson

Richard Elligson

Richard Elligson is Professor of Missions and Chair of Theology at The Baptist College of Florida.  Archives

Session 3

May 8, 2022

WATCH FOR CHRIST’S RETURN

Matthew 24:23-31

The Old Testament prophets spoke of the Day of the Lord, a time of reckoning and judgment that signaled what the disciples here called “the end of the age.” Forewarned by Jesus (and no doubt intensified by the events of the week leading to Passover), the disciples asked the Lord, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what is the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?” While the emphasis of Scripture is always on being prepared for that day, Jesus nevertheless revealed the major events that surrounded His coming. In the focal passage, Jesus points out three additional signs to watch for.

Deception (vv. 23-28). The Bible has always warned of false prophets and false teachers, especially in the End Times (see Matt. 7:15; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 John 4:1; et al.). Here, Jesus is speaking not of false teachers per se, but rather of false Messiahs; those who will claim to be divine. With the Great Tribulation in full force, the people will be anxious to find their deliverance, and there will be a great proliferation of imposters. Moreover, these charlatans will attract unprecedented acceptance by performing unprecedented signs and wonders. So great will be their wonders, that even true believers will be tempted to follow them (v. 24). Verse 25 is emphatic: I have given you fair warning…do not believe them! With so many false claims of Christ’s return (v. 26), how are true Christ-followers supposed to know the real return is happening? It will be in the manner of His return. Jesus used the metaphor of lightning to explain it. His return will not be demonstrated by a barrage of miracles, or by His lingering in the desert, or hiding inside a room. Rather, like a flash of lightning, He will come quickly, powerfully, publicly, and visibly. At His ascension, the angels told the disciples, “This (same) Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven” (Acts 1:11). And Revelation 1:7 declares, “Look! He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him….” Verse 28 is generally considered to be a proverb (or saying) in that day. The statement is clear, but its application is not. Taken at face value, the saying likely means, “You’ll know it when it happens because the evidence will be unmistakable.” For reflection: What other innuendos might Christ be inferring by the use of the “vulture” saying in verse 28?

Reaction (v. 29). While the Lord Himself will not return performing signs and wonders, the event itself will be replete with signs. Just as creation reacted to Christ’s resurrection (see Matt. 28:2) so it will react to His return. Verse 29 refers specifically to the time immediately following the seven years of tribulation and just before the coming of the Lord. Many of these same cosmic calamities were foretold by the Old Testament prophets in relation to the oft mentioned Day of the Lord (see Is. 13:6-16; 34:4; Joel 2:10; Hag. 2:6. See also Rev. 6:12-14). We cannot begin to imagine the cosmic consequences of these events, much less the ramifications for those alive on planet Earth when all this takes place. For reflection: What do you think will be happening on earth as a result of these cosmic calamities? What do you think peoples’ reaction will be to them?

Reception (vv. 30-31). This chapter began with the disciples asking a question. Here, Jesus gives the answer. While some have grappled with what spectacular sign might accompany Him (v. 30), it seems the appearance of Christ Himself is the sign itself. At this event everything will change. The end of the age will have arrived in a display of divine power and glory. And as in every case when Christ appears, division immediately takes place. The peoples of the earth are the unbelievers, and they will mourn (v. 30). The idea is more emphatic than it sounds. The verb indicates the feeling of being cut off and is associated with the beating of the chest and great anguish (see also Zech. 12:10ff). His elect, on the other hand, are the saved, who His angels will gather to Him from the four corners of the globe. Though unstated, the clear implication is that the lost will be gathered for damnation and the elect for Glory. For reflection: Why do you think Jesus revealed all of these details to His disciples? What should our attitude be as we consider them?

Session 4

May 15, 2022

TRUST GOD’S TIMING

Matthew 24:32-41

Once again, the Lord was reminding His disciples of the signs of the times. Just as they wanted to know the what, when,and how’s of Christ’s return, so do our church folks today. But while theologians debate all the details, Jesus reminds us to be prepared, and leave the details to Him. In these verses, three themes emerge.

Indicators (vv. 32-33). People have always used the cycles of nature to predict the future. There is nothing wrong with that when it comes to the climate, the seasons, or the weather. The Old Farmer’s Almanac has endured since the time of George Washington by doing the exact same thing! In some cases, Eastern religions have developed elaborate methods for reading signs depicted in nature as a means of fortune-telling. But the Bible never advocates for this type of divination(see Deut. 18:10; 1 Sam. 15:23). Here, Jesus is not suggesting that a fig tree offers some hidden message. Rather, He is talking about the natural, observable cycle of the plant’s budding; something that everyone sees and understands. The Mount of Olives had both olive trees and figs, and it is likely that a live example was right before them. The object lesson is quite simple: the budding shoots of the fig plant indicate that summer is just around the corner. “In the same way” (v. 33), the various signs Jesus mentioned throughout this discourse would indicate the imminence of Christ’s return. For reflection: Some people interpret parables as allegories, seeing every aspect of the illustration as symbolic of something. What is the danger of reading the Bible this way?

Assurances (vv. 34-35). Generations of theologians have argued what generation Jesus means here. As I mentioned earlier, 1) the End Times are painted in very broad strokes; and 2) prophecy is often fulfilled in stages, with certain previous fulfillments foreshadowing the ultimate fulfillment. We know that Jesus is referring in part to the fall of Jerusalem that would occur within the forty-year generation of His day (in AD 70). But “all these things” (v.34) did nothappen at that time. Notice the cosmic and global calamities Jesus mentioned (see especially verse 21). That leads me to believe that some events are still in the future. If that’s the case, then the generation of Jesus’ day would see the destruction of the city as a foreshadow, but the ultimate fulfillment would occur in the generation of the End Times. Regardless, Jesus’ emphasis was not on the timing of these events, but rather on their certainty (v. 35). For reflection: Do you see why studying the End Times is both fascinating and frustrating!? What should that tell us about people who “have it all figured out?”

Exhortations (vv. 36-41). The verses that follow tell us two things. First, that the timing of these events is not our primary concern; and second, that being prepared for these events is our primary concern. In regard to the timing, Jesus pointed out that try as we might, we really cannot know such a thing. Obviously, we should be looking for the signs (that’s a major theme in this discourse). But how could we predict the exact timing with any certainty when even the angels are not privy to such information? (v. 36). The words “nor the Son” (included in Mark’s account as well) should not trouble us, as in this case it should be taken as the human aspect of Jesus at the time He was speaking (He most certainly knows now!). The notice to be prepared is inferred by the suddenness in the illustrations given. Just as the people of Noah’s day ignored the preaching of Noah (see 2 Peter 2:5) and went on with their lives, so the End Times generation will ignore the warnings of Christ’s church, go on with theirs, and be caught suddenly, urgently, and unaware.For reflection: Do you think that you and your loved ones are really ready for Christ’s return? What is going on in our lives today that might lull us into complacency?

Session 5

May 22, 2022

KEEP SERVING FAITHFULLY

Matthew 24:42-51

I often recall the story of a man I knew in South Carolina we called J.T. I had spent a good part of the night driving his son home from Tennessee to attend a funeral and spent the rest of the night in his guest room. In the morning, J.T. was puttering about the yard, working. I poured a cup of coffee and walked out in the morning sun to visit. “It could be today,” J.T. said. “Ok,” I replied, “What could be today?” He smiled and kept on working. A few minutes later, he said it again. “It could be today.” Again, he smiled, and didn’t elaborate. A few more minutes passed when he stopped, straightened up, looked up at the sky and said, “You know, it really could be today. Jesus could come back…today.” Then he looked at me, and asked, “Do you believe that?” In all my years of ministry, I never met anyone more sincerely watching for Christ’s return than J.T. Nor have I ever been more directly confronted with the question, “Do you believe that?”  In this week’s focal passage, Jesus reminded His disciples not only to be prepared for His return, but to be looking for it. Three key words come to mind.

Vigilance (vv. 42-44). While Jesus has His appearance in mind here, we would do well to remember that we will all one day stand before Him, in either judgement or reward. We could be raptured at His return (see 1 Thess. 4:13ff) or taken to Him in death (see Heb. 9:27). Either way, our meeting is inevitable. It’s just a matter of when. For this reason, we must always remain alert. Jesus is not being compared to a thief in this example (v. 43). Rather, the key idea is the manner of His coming: sudden, surprising, unexpected; like a thief in the night (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10). The admonition is to be more than ready. It’s to be watchful. For a Christ-follower to be caught off guard (especially after Jesus reviewed so many signs!) would be as bad as a homeowner allowing a thief to enter his home while he slept. For reflection: How often does your church speak about Christ’s return? Do you think there is a sense of urgency or one of complacency? Do you get the impression anyone really cares?

Diligence (vv. 45-47). Here, Jesus adds yet another obligation to His disciples. Not only should they be prepared for His return, and not only should they be actively watching for it, but they should be busy in service until it occurs. Those who do so are considered both faithful (trustworthy; committed) and sensible (intelligent; wise) (v. 45). The result? Reward (v. 46). While some commentators try to apply this promise to pastors, doing so misses the point. The work of serving Christ should be everyone’s priority until Christ comes again. For reflection: How do you think we can balance our “here and now” kingdom obligations with the kind of “forward thinking” vigilance Jesus mentions?

Indulgence (vv. 48-51). Peter pointed out in his second epistle that “scoffers will come in the last days to scoff, living according to their own desires, saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? Ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they have been since the beginning of creation’” (2 Pet. 3:3-4). The wicked slave (v. 48) is in contrast to the faithful and sensible servants mentioned above. The problem with Christ’s delay is not with Him (see 2 Pet. 3:9), but withus. Marginal believers are quickly bored, easily influenced, and insufficiently interested in eternal things to maintain their commitment. For them, it is “business as usual.” It was for people like this that Jesus so frequently stressed the cost of discipleship (see Luke 14:25 ff). Keep in mind, verse 51 does not suggest that truly born-again believers will lose their salvation and be thrown out of God’s presence (see John 6:37). Rather, those who are unwilling to watch for Him and unwilling to fulfill their commitment to Him will be exposed for what they truly are: lost. For reflection: What comes to your mind when you hear the phrase, “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth?” Why do you think Jesus pronounces such harsh condemnation to those who neglect or ignore the promise of His appearance?

Session 6

May 29, 2022

STAY PREPARED AND READY

Matthew 25:1-13

As I am writing this study, I am back home in Maryland, where I await the honor of performing my niece’s wedding. As you know, these events don’t happen spontaneously! Months of planning culminate in a weekend of frenzied activities, frilly dresses, and frayed nerves. While I always offer to alleviate the stress by simply signing the proper documents (for a fee, of course!) and sending the couple on their way, I’ve never had any takers. Why? Because the joy and blessing of the wedding celebration (as well as the potential for new grandbabies) makes it all worthwhile.

In this week’s focal passage, Jesus uses the traditional Jewish wedding events to illustrate once again the need for vigilance and preparation at the prospect of Christ’s return. The story He uses is set in three scenes.

A celebrated evening (vv. 1-5). While there was some variety in the events surrounding a Jewish wedding in Jesus’ day, the basic elements remained the same. Typically, there was an engagement, an almost contractual agreement between the families that established the couple’s intentions. This was followed by a betrothal period that involved vows that identified the couple as a couple. Finally, there was a wedding feast that celebrated the ultimate joining of the husband and wife. This feast was initiated by a parade of sorts, as the groom was met by lighted torches and escorted into the ballroom. While much of the Olivet Discourse refers to the end times in general, this story seems oriented to Christ’s second coming, following the tribulation period, when all hope of salvation is lost (see vv. 10, 12). The story is fairly straightforward, but there is clearly some symbolism involved. The virgins (v. 1) are essentially bridesmaids, awaiting the arrival of the groom. Notice the clear distinction between them. While none knew for certain the exact time of his appearance, only half of them were fully prepared with extra oil for their torches. The others were foolish (literally dull, stupid, or absurd). As the evening wore on, all became drowsy, and all drifted off to sleep (v. 5). For reflection: In this parable, the virgins represent the church. What similarities can you see between the virgins in the story and today’s church? How about in your own congregation?

A startling event (vv. 6-9). In verse 6, the bridesmaids are suddenly awakened and called into service. Even though they were all acquainted with the groom, and they were all aware of the signs leading up to his arrival, the sudden appearance startled them into reality. But for some, their preparation for this event—and their commitment to it—paid off. Even when startled by the announcement, they were secure in their role. Notice the direct connection to salvation in verses 7 and 8. As much as they may have wanted to, those prepared with the oil could not give it away to those without. They were all responsible for their own commitment to the groom. For reflection: What Bible verses can you find that reinforce the truth that all people—individually—are responsible for responding to the gospel for themselves?

A sad ending (vv. 10-13). There is a subtle but important shift in the story at this point. Up until now, the emphasis of this discourse was on waiting and watching. Here, the focus moves toward the end results. Three important truths stand out. First, there is a definite deadline for salvation. Notice in verse 10, “the door was shut” (contrast this to John 10:9 and Rev. 3:20). Second, there are no second chances (vv. 11, 12. See also 2 Cor. 6:2). Third, those attendants left out may have been acquainted with the groom, but they were not known by him. They did not lose their salvation…simply put, they never had it (v. 12). For reflection: Compare these verses with Matt. 7:21-23, from Jesus’ other major discourse, the Sermon on the Mount.  What similarities do you see?

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