Maranatha (Part 2): Why Think About Jesus' Return
As we saw in part one, there was an unmistakable expectation that Jesus would return when He ascended into heaven. Nearly two-thousand years have passed since Jesus was born, taught, healed the sick, raised the dead, was tortured and killed, rose bodily from the grave, and ascended into heaven. With all that time passing, is the return of Jesus something we in the twenty-first century need to think about? The short answer is a resounding yes!
Necessarily, we must go to the Scriptures to see what Jesus said about how we, as His followers ought to think about His returning. We find firsthand accounts of what Jesus said on this matter in Matthew 24:34-44, Mark 13:32-37, and Luke 21:34-36. I contend that in all three of these passages, Jesus commands, not suggests, that His followers watch for His return.
It is both useful and essential to understand the Greek words translated as “watch” in the passages above. Watch is translated from either gregoreuo (Strongs G1127): “to keep awake, be vigilant, wake, be watchful” or agrupneo (G69): “to be sleepless, keep awake, watch, to be intent upon a thing.” Interestingly, both words translated as “watch” are, in fact, a warning not to be caught sleeping, and to be actively alert and on the lookout. Are you presently alert and on the lookout for the return of Jesus?
Matthew 24 records how Jesus compares the time of the Great Flood to the time immediately preceding His return. Life will be happening normally and people will be carrying on with their usual activities (v. 37-39). He also uses the comparison of the loss that that occurs when a thief breaks in to steal and how that would not be able to happen if one had been keeping watch (v. 43). “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (v.44 NKJV). The word translated as ready is hetoimos (G2092): “adjusted or prepared, especially to receive one coming.” The notion of being prepared is reiterated in Matthew 25 where we see that only the virgins who were ready with oil in their lamps would be able to meet the bridegroom. “Watch (gregoreou: to keep awake, be vigilant, wake, be watchful) therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (v. 13 NKJV).
Mark 13 instructs the followers of Jesus to take heed (blepo (G991); to look at, behold, beware, look on or to, perceive, regard), watch (agrupneo), and to pray (v. 33). To say it another way would be: behold, perceive, keep awake, and pray. Involved in all of those commands is cognizance in action as opposed to lackadaisical listless drifting. To drive that point home, Jesus says in v. 37, “And what I say to you I say to all: Watch (gregoneou; to keep awake, be vigilant, wake, be watchful)!” (NKJV). Specifically, watching for and anticipating “the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory” (v.26 NKJV). Our modern use of the word watch is often passive and much less intense than the Scriptural use of the word. We watch television, watch a movie, or watch a sporting event. The modern idea of watching is a careless, put-your-mind-in-neutral-and-coast-easily approach. Unfortunately, because of this, most people will use that same low level of attentiveness when they currently read “watch” in the passages being discussed.
Luke 21 adds another dimension to the importance of watching for the return of Jesus. In verse 34, we are commanded to “take heed to yourselves,” which is, in context of the remainder of the verse, a call to personal holiness and to be on the lookout for the things detailed in verses 7 through 33. The “Day” referred to in v. 34 is none other than the day of the return of Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus warns that the day of His return will come as a snare (suddenly and unexpectedly) for those not watching. He then transitions to the command to watch (agrupneo) for His return and to pray to be successful in avoiding the upheaval and calamities prophesied to happen just prior to His return.
As was discussed in part one, it was prophesied to the people who witnessed the Messiah taken up into heaven that He would return (Acts 1:11). Jesus also prophesied His return and commands those who claim to have a part with Him to watch for that day. Now let us consider what the expected response to that command is for a follower of Jesus and the effect on a believer’s daily life.
The expected response for a follower of Jesus when understanding His return and His commands to watch would be to obey that command and to do it with an intentional zeal. Paul expected Christians to be “eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7 NKJV). The KJV does not include “eagerly,” but the word “waiting” is apekdechomai (G553), which Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines as, “assiduously and patiently wait for.” Assiduously is the action of showing great care and thoroughness. In Philippians 3:20, the KJV renders apekdechomai as “we look for” while the NKJV translates it as, “we eagerly wait for”. Apekdechomai is seen again in Hebrews 9:28 which is translated “and unto them that look” in the KJV but “to those who eagerly wait for” in the NKJV.
In addition to eagerly waiting and vigilantly watching for the return of Jesus, several passages use the anticipated return of Jesus as a call to individual holiness and perseverance. “When Christ who is our life appears then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:4-5 NKJV). Further examples of exhortation to live a holy life with the return of Jesus being the preeminent event in the passage can be seen in the following: 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13, 1 Timothy 6:13-16, Titus 2:11-14, and 1 Peter 1:13-16. As for perseverance, James 5:7-9 tells us “the coming” (parousia) of The Lord is the event to focus on as a motivation to “be patient.” “Be patient” is makrothymeo which means “to be long in spirit, not to lose heart, to persevere patiently and bravely in enduring misfortunes or troubles.”
Interestingly, in the epistles of the New Testament we see the return of Jesus referred to regularly. It was the event that was looked forward to as the culmination of Messiah’s work; where He will reign on the earth, fully freeing from the effects of sin those who eagerly wait for His return. Jesus commanded His followers to keep awake, be vigilant, and be intent upon His return. Is Jesus’ return something you have even had a fleeting thought about in the last week, the last month, or the last year? Perhaps you have unintentionally drifted to the sentiment expressed in 2 Peter 3:4, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation” (NKJV).
The One who bought us with His own blood commands us to watch! He also gave clear indicators of what will be happening just prior to His return. In the next part, we will examine the prophesies of Jesus concerning His return. Maranatha!