A church member emailed asking about end times. One sentence stuck with me: “Most Christians do not have an appropriate understanding and appreciation for the end times and the return of Christ to Earth. How did we get from the stories and letters of the Bible to where we are today?”
Is he/she asking me to define and talk about Eschatology, Premillennialism, Postmillennialism, Rapture, Pretribulation Rapture, Armageddon, and other big words?
Not really. What each of those terms describe is what Christians believe will happen when we die and when the world approaches the end. One creed most churches recite in worship: “Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead.” Eschatology is the study of end times and Christ coming again. There is a lot of scholarly debate over the details, and we could spend hours sorting through them. But a better question is: “Will we be ready?”
“Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. The five who were foolish didn’t take enough olive oil for their lamps, but the other five were wise enough to take along extra oil.” (Matthew 25:1-4)
Previously in Matthew 24, Jesus gave the disciples a glimpse of the future. The world would pass away, but the Word of God would endure forever. The disciples naturally asked: “When?” Jesus said that he would return but couldn’t tell the exact day or hour. That was known only to God. Jesus stresses the need to be prepared and then shares the parable of the 10 bridesmaids.
A Jewish wedding in Jesus’ day included a twilight procession to escort the bridal couple from the home of the bride to the home of the groom. An important part of this procession were the bridesmaids who wait for the bridegroom. These girls are to light the way for the wedding party as they head to the house. Each girl carries a small shallow lamp to provide the light.
The bridegroom is delayed, so when the bridegroom arrives there is no oil left in the lamps. But half the girls were prepared enough to bring an extra flask of oil. In a panic, the other half tried to borrow from the others. When that didn’t work, they ran off to buy more. While they were gone, the bridegroom arrived and the prepared girls led the bride to the groom’s house. The procession began without the missing girls. The unprepared girls miss out.
Then Jesus says, “So stay awake and be prepared for you do not know the date or moment of my return.” The warning is clear: “Be prepared!”
We don’t know when Jesus will come again. We don’t know when our life on earth ends. We don’t know when that time comes when the only thing that matters is when we stand in front of God. “So, be prepared.”
Easy to say, but what does that mean in today’s language? After all, the world has gone on for centuries and Jesus hasn’t come yet. So what do we do?
1. Don’t panic. Don’t overreact by selling all your possessions, camp out in the woods, strum a guitar, eat birdseed and hum as you read the Psalms. That idea is not Scriptural as far as I can tell and it’s certainly not helpful. We continue to carry out our responsibilities.
2. Take spiritual inventory – Take an honest look at your life with God. There are good habits to celebrate and a few that need improvement. We refuse to let the bad stack up. We seek forgiveness and repentance knowing God can and will help us change and improve.
3. Deepen our relationship with God – Our life of prayer, Bible study, worship, service within our church and community is so critical. It is a life that realizes the need for a spiritual perspective that looks beyond our immediate needs of today and anticipates a brighter future.
Maintaining a proper balance in getting ready can be difficult at times. I believe Jesus would say: “Facing difficult times is part of being ready. If you want to live your life for Jesus Christ, embrace the struggle because it is in the struggle you will find a deeper, more satisfying relationship with God and fulfill Jesus’ desire for us to “be ready.”
Confession: I wanted this column to provide answers for Life’s Final Questions but instead, I discovered more questions than answers: Frustrating. But maybe that is the answer. We are meant to struggle with Life’s Final Questions. Our quest for answers is a critical component.
Life’s Final Questions was never about answers. It’s about our willingness to engage in the spiritual process of exploring those answers in a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus means to “be ready.”
Larry Davies is pastor of Mineral United Methodist and Mt. Pleasant Methodist churches in Louisa County.