Watch and Be Ready For the Coming of the Lord

by Thomas W. Finley

Lesson One: “Keep on the alert” (Mark 13:32-37)

"But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. It is like a man away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert. Therefore, be on the alert--for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning--in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep. What I say to you I say to all, 'Be on the alert!” (Mk. 13:32-37)

From each of the gospel passages we will draw out certain truths about the Lord’s coming. Here in Mark we clearly see the fact that no one knows exactly when the Lord will suddenly return. In verse 35 Jesus uses the four “watches,” spanning from six in the evening until six in the morning, to illustrate the indefiniteness of the timing of the master’s return. The uncertainty of the timing of Jesus’ return has led Bible teachers to call His coming “imminent,” potentially possible at any moment. An illustration of an imminent event might be an earthquake in southern California in the U. S. Geologists tell us that a big earthquake is definitely going to happen there at some point. But, no one knows exactly when. It could happen tomorrow or thirty years from now. Thus, for the people living there, the “big one” is imminent, always threatening. An event that is truly imminent cannot require that certain other events take place first, or the idea of imminency is lost. For example, if the geologists said that the big earthquake is coming, but that it must be preceded by a series of smaller shocks over several days, then the big earthquake is not truly imminent. The idea of the imminent return of Christ is shown by this passage in Mark, and by other passages such as Jas. 5:7-9, which says that “the coming of the Lord is near [or, “at hand”]...the Judge is standing right at the door.”

Considerations on rapture

The Bible reader should notice many details earlier in Mark 13 concerning the return of Christ. For example, verse 14 talks about the desecration in the temple (cf., Matt. 24:15; Dan. 9:27; 11:31), verse 19 tells of a great tribulation unparalleled in history, and verses 24 and 25 speak of momentous signs in the heavenly bodies. All of these things happen before the appearing of the Son of Man (Christ) coming on the clouds with great power and glory (v. 26). So, how could Christ warn us that He might come at any moment, without warning, if His coming in power and glory is definitely preceded by such obvious events? This question has led many Bible teachers to consider that there are two phases to Christ’s return. Those who believe in a “pre-tribulationrapture (one that removes the church from the earth prior to the time period of the “tribulation”) view the first phase as the rapture of the believers. This rapture is seen as being the imminent event, which is then followed by many events of the tribulation. Then, at the end of the tribulation period is the second phase of Christ’s return on the clouds in power and glory, and this phase is commonly termed “the Second Coming.” So, according to the pre-tribulation rapture theory there is first a rapture, where Christ comes suddenly and unexpectedly for His saints (without necessary preceding events or signs), and then some years later the visible coming of Christ, follows, when He comes in glory with His saints (Rev. 17:14; 19:11-15). Between the two events this teaching holds that Christ is present (but unseen) in the air, which allows time for the marriage feast of the Lamb and His bride (Rev. 19:7-9), as well as for the Judgment Seat of Christ where believers are judged (2 Cor. 5:10).

Besides giving a good resolution in line with the doctrine of imminency, a pre-tribulation rapture theory is also strengthened by the idea of certain promises given to the church for exemption from the time of tribulation. One of the strongest verses the pre-tribulation teachers use is Rev. 3:10. But, as we shall later see, this verse does not fully support all of their claims. On the other hand, the Biblical teaching of Christ’s return being able to happen at any moment causes severe problems for the “post tribulationrapture theory. This other major rapture theory teaches that the catching up of the saints (“rapture”) happens only after the severe tribulation and judgments of the final seven year period of this age. The “post tribulation” school of belief argues that the rapture described in 1 Thess. 4:14-17 happens when Christ comes to earth openly, as the trumpet and the gathering of God’s people to Christ in the clouds in this passage matches the trumpet, the clouds and the gathering in Matt. 24:30-31. However, by placing the gathering of the church at this point this theory states that the church as a whole must go through the tribulation and be raptured afterwards (“post-tribulation”). This position presents real problems as it negates any verse that promises escape to the church from tribulation. Also, by compressing into one short time the rapture of the church and the return of Christ to fight His enemies on earth (2 Thess. 2:8; Rev. 19:11-21), there appears to be no time allowed by this theory for believers to appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10) or for the marriage feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9) to take place just prior to this return of Christ in battle.

In order to consider an alternative understanding of rapture and Christ’s return, we now turn to the passage in Luke, which gives some promise of escape to believers from the time of great tribulation.

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)