The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation 
  "The Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect"

Scripture:  Matthew 24:36-51

36 "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. 42 Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

43 But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect. 45 "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, `My master is delayed,' 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eats and drinks with the drunken, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, 51 and will punish him, and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.

Meditation: If you knew that an impending disaster, such as a flood or hurricaine, was about to destroy your home and threaten your life, wouldn't you make preparation to escape and find refuge in a safe place? Jesus warned his followers to avert spirtual disaster and to not be caught off-guard when the "day of judgment" would strike the earth and its inhabitants. The "Day of the Lord" was understood in the Old Testament as the time when God would manifest his power and glory, and overthrow his enemies. Isaiah describes it as a day when God will bring down the proud and the arrogant who flaunt his law (Isaiah 2:11). That day will be darkness, gloom, disaster, and desolation for the earth when "God will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their iniquity" (Isaiah 13:6-11). The prophet Amos declared that the "Day" meant judgment for the house of Israel as well, and not just the other nations who followed other gods (Amos 5:18-20). The prophet Joel proclaimed that at this "Day" those who truly repented would be saved, while those who remained enemies of  God, whether Jew or Gentile, would be punished (see Joel 2).

The day when Noah entered the ark
Jesus compares the separation of the good from the evil on the Day of judgement at the end of the age with the judgment and separation that took place in the days of Noah, when God saw that the inhabitants of the world had been filled with every imaginable evil (Genesis 6:5), with corruption and violence spreading everywhere (Genesis 6:11-13). In Noah's day, God swept away in the great flood all who chose the way of evil rather than good.  God intended to start over again with a people who would choose to do good by obeying him. Noah and his family alone were spared this punishment because they remained faithful to God. They heeded his warning to build an ark to escape the destructive force of the impending flood. [See the book of Genesis, chapters 6-8, for the account of Noah's ark and the great flood.]  Noah's ark has stood as a beacon of hope to all who would seek refuge in God and follow in his way of justice and holiness.

Jesus makes clear to his disciples that the Father has given him all authority to execute judgments on the earth "because he is the Son of man" (John 5:27). The "Son of man" is a Messianic title for God's anointed one who will destroy God's enemies and establish an everlasting kingdom of righteousness and peace. The "Day of the Lord" points to the final judgment of all the living as well as all the dead who dwelt upon the earth. The "Son of man" is the one who is given supreme authority to judge and execute justice on the earth. Jesus comes the first time to lay down his life as the atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world. He promises to return again at the "end of the age" to complete the work of restoration and final judgment. While we do not know the time of his return, we will not mistake it when it happens. It will be apparent to all, both Christians and non-believers as well.

One taken and one left
How are we to live in light of  Jesus' promise to return again on the day of judgment? Jesus gives two striking images to illustrate the urgency of the need for personal preparation and readiness to meet the Judge when he comes. The first image is a picture of two men working in the field. One is suddenly taken away without a moment's notice and the other is left to fend for himself. The image of two women at their work repeats the theme of the sudden rupture and separation of two people working together. Would this illustration appear strange to Jesus' audience? Probably not. When a ruler wished to arrest someone, he would not announce his intention ahead of time to give the culprit an opportunity to escape. It was also common for armies to conscript civilians for their service. An officer or soldier could show up unexpectedly and grab whoever he wanted and force that person to do whatever he was commanded. We are familiar with the incident of Simon of Cyrene, a passerby who was forced by Roman soldiers to carry Jesus' cross to Calvary. What is striking about this parable is the unannounced encounter with the judge who shows up unexpectedly to arrest one and to release the other. You can imagine the shock on the face of both subjects -- the one taken and the one left behind! The encounter is so unexpected and so swift that neither had any opportunity to hide, escape, or look for help!

The thief in the night
Jesus' second story of the thief in the night brings home the necessity for constant watchfulness and being on guard to avert the danger of plunder and destruction, especially under the cover of darkness and secrecy! While no thief would announce his intention in advance, nor the time when he would strike, lack of vigilance would nonetheless invite disaster for those who are unprepared to keep their treasure and their lives secure at all times! The intruder strikes when he is least expected!

Origen, a third century bible scholar and church father, comments on how this verse can be applied to our everyday lives:

All who listen to the depths of the gospel and live it so completely that none of it remains veiled from them care very little about whether the end of the world will come suddenly and all at once or gradually and little by little. Instead, they bear in mind only that each individual’s end or death will arrive on a day and hour unknown to him and that upon each one of us “the day of the Lord will come like a thief.” It is important therefore to be vigilant, whether in the evening (that is, in one’s youth) or in the middle of the night (that is, at human life’s darkest hour) or when the cock crows (at full maturity) or in the morning (when one is well advanced in old age). When God the Word comes and brings an end to the progress of this life, he will gather up the one who gave “no sleep to his eyes nor slumber to his eyelids” and kept the commandment of the One who said, “Be vigilant at all times.”…But I know another kind of end for the righteous person who is able to say along with the apostle, “Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world.” In a certain sense, the end of the world has already come for the person to whom the world is crucified. And to one who is dead to worldly things the day of the Lord has already arrived, for the Son of man comes to the soul of the one who no longer lives for sin or for the world. (Commentary on Matthew 56)
The faithful and wise servant
Jesus ends his teaching on watchfulness and vigilance with another judgment parable about a master and his servants (Matthew 24:.45-49). The storyline is similar. There is an element of surprise--the master suddenly returns home unexpectedly, probably from a long journey. He rewards one servant for his faithfulness to his master. He has performed his service dutifully and has done all that the master required of him.  He punishes the other servant who behaved wickedly.  This servant was not only irresponsible--he was frequently absent from work and spent his master's money by partying (eating and drinking) a lot with his friends. The wicked servant also abused his fellow workers with physical force and violence--probably to make them do the work he was supposed to do for his master.  The master not only throws him out of his house (he fires him from his job!). He also throws him into the worst possible place - a prison of no return where there is nothing but torment and misery. Should we be surprised to see the master acting with such swift judgment?  He rewards faithfulness with privilege, promotion, and honor, and he punishes unfaithfulness due to lazyness and abuse with demotion, dishonor, and imprisonment.

The Lord Jesus calls us to be vigilant in watching for his return and to be ready to meet him when he calls us to himself. The Lord gives us his Holy Spirit so that we may have the wisdom, help, and strength we need to turn away from sin to embrace God's way of love, justice, and holiness. The Lord's warning of judgment causes dismay for those who are unprepared, but it brings joyful hope to those who eagerly wait for his return in glory.  God's judgment is good news for those who are ready to meet him. Their reward is God himself, the source of all truth, beauty, goodness, love and everlasting life.

“Lord, you have captured my heart for you. Make it strong in faith, steadfast in hope, and generous in love that I may seek to please you in all things and bring you glory.  Keep me ever watchful for the coming of your kingdom.”


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(c) 2007 Don Schwager