Rev. Gritters is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Byron Center, Michigan.
When I was leading discussion groups at the Young People’s convention this summer, I asked the young people in my group if they had read a certain article in the Standard Bearer. I was discouraged at the response; not one of them had. In fact, it was almost discouraging enough to conclude that I would not write any more.
Parents, if your young people have been reading, thanks! And thanks to you too, young people! It was all worth the time and effort! But, parents, if your young people have not, please ask them to read at least part of the magazine. This section is designed specially for them, for their encouragement and benefit. Some of the past articles have been, “What Shall I Do After High School?” “Should I Begin to Smoke?” “How Do I Handle a Sinning Friend?” and “What Am I Worth?” I hope these subjects were of concern and interest to them, for it is vitally important for their Christian walk and faith.
Let’s get together with our children sometime (perhaps on Sunday afternoons) to read and talk about these matter!! God bless you and your young people!!!
If there is a subject young people are interested in discussing in Young People’s Society, it’s the subject of the last times. And if there is an aspect of that subject that spurs more interest than the question, “When will the end come?’ I don’t know what it is.
Part of the reason we are interested in asking the question, “When will the end come?” is that we have a natural curiosity about these things.
Then some of us are interested in the question because we are terrified at the prospect that the world will end. We fear that we will not be ready. We fear that the return of Christ will be a terrifying coming. We fear that we will not be able to handle the days before that coming. Or, we fear simply because we do not know what the Bible says will happen in the last days. And this last is probably more often the case than not. How much do you remember of your Essentials instruction in Lesson 29? How many weeks did you spend learning about the second coming of Christ and the events prior to that coming?
Let’s try to get a good, broad picture of the Reformed view of the end times. Then our unhealthy curiosity or unhealthy fear of the future will be put aside. My prayer is that you will be confident about what Scripture says will happen in these last days.
When will the end come?
By the end, I mean the day when Jesus Christ returns for the judgment of the wicked and the salvation of the righteous. On this day the world as we know it will come to an end. To this day the Old Testament judgments pointed. The destruction of the world with the flood, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, both pointed to the day of the Lord when the righteous will be delivered and the ungodly world destroyed. When will this take place?
Don’t forget, this is an important issue not only for us, but for Christ! This is His return. It’s possible for us to get caught up in the study of the last days, thinking about what will happen to us, where will we be when it happens, how many of God’s people will survive the great tribulation, what heaven will look like . . . but forget that the last things have to do with Christ. We must be Christ-centered and God-centered in our thinking of the end of time. In God’s decree, Christ was central. In the focal point of history, Christ came, suffered, was crucified, buried, raised, exalted, and then He poured out His Spirit on the Church. Christ will be central in the last day, too, because it is “His day” (see Phil. 1:6, 10). Christ is the meaning and purpose of everything in the past as well as in the future. It is His glory, His honor, His praise that is the issue of “The Day.” It will be the day when every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. In our discussions about the last things, keeping that in mind is essential!
When will this day of Christ come?
The answer is, “We don’t know!!!”
Even though there are many signs that point to the coming of Christ, we need to remember the words of Jesus to the disciples in Acts 1:7ff: “It is not for you to know the times and the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.” The words of Mark 13:33ff bring this out: “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not, when the time is.” When the ten virgins in the parable were waiting for the coming of, the groom, although they knew he was coming, they didn’t know the hour.
Even though we know there are signs of the coming of Christ, in the end of our search for an answer, we have to say, “We do not know when the day will be.”
But this we do know about the day: It will be a complete and terrifying surprise FOR THE UNBELIEVER.
More than once in Scripture God describes the second coming of Jesus as a coming like a thief in the night. The key to a thief’s success is the element of surprise; he wants to take his prey unaware of his coming. The coming of the Lord will be like that; He will come when the unbeliever is least expecting Him. There is no warning (see I Thessalonians 5:1ff). As a woman first experiencing labor pains, unexpectedly, at any hour of the day or night, in any place, so the coming of the Lord will be for the wicked. “Peace and safety,” they say; “then sudden destruction shall come upon them.”
Why is this true for the unbeliever? Why will this be true even for the unbeliever in the church who has learned about the coming of the Lord perhaps right beside you in catechism and church? First, because he is spiritually blind, out of touch with things of heaven. You can try to show him things as clear to you as the sun in the heavens; but as a blind man cannot see the sun, he cannot see the approach of Christ. Add to that the spiritual drunkenness of the unbeliever (that is, his spiritually numb senses) and the picture is complete. He cannot understand spiritual things because he’s not only totally blind, he’s stone, drunk. Though his house were on fire, he would not know it.
Now we apply that to the coming of Jesus Christ. You can hold before the unbeliever’s eyes the truth that the Lord is coming, show him the signs of the coming, compare prophecy with world events; but he’s not only blind, so that he cannot see, he’s also drunk so that, even if he saw, he would not be able to understand what he saw. Like a warning to a drunken man that he ought not to drive, it doesn’t bother him at all . . . until he perishes.
But you, BELIEVING YOUNG PEOPLE, are not in darkness (I Thess. 5:4ff). Being born again by the word of God, you are neither deaf nor blind. You can see the things of the kingdom, read the signs of the times, hear the warning signals of the coming of Christ.
This does not mean that we will be able to pinpoint the clay or even the year of Christ’s coming. I remember well one afternoon as a boy waiting to pick up the papers for my afternoon paper route, that all the people were excited about the supposed moment for the end of the world. Looking into the sky for some thing, they thought this would be the time. That’s not only impossible; it would be spiritually unhealthy if we were to know that in, say, three years and six months, Jesus would return.
But this does mean that the day of the Lord will not be a surprise for us. Noah was not surprised when the flood came; nor will believers be when the Lord returns to make all things new.
But I am waiting, as a Reformed believer, “with uplifted head . . . for the very same .person, who before offered himself for my sake . . . to come as judge from heaven: who shall cast all his and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but shall translate me with all his chosen ones to himself, into heavenly joys and glory” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 52).
I then saw in my dream that (they went on till they came into a certain country, whose air naturally tended to make one drowsy, if he came into it a stranger. And here Hopeful began to be very dull, and heavy of sleep; wherefore he said to Christian, I do now begin to grow so drowsy that I can scarcely hold up mine eyes; let us lie down here and take one nap. CHRISTIAN: By no means, lest sleeping, we never awake more. HOPE: Why, my brother? Sleep is sweet to the laboring man; we may be refreshed if we take a nap. CHRISTIAN: Do you not remember that one of the shepherds bid us beware of the Enchanted Ground? He meant by that, that we should beware of sleeping; wherefore “let us not sleep as do others, but let us watch and be sober. ” (from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.)
You may ask, “If the believer will not be surprised at the coming of the Lord, why the warning to watch and be sober? Is there any need?” Let me ask you this, “If God’s people will never perish, why the call to a holy life?” Of course there is a need for the warning to watch and be sober, just as there is the constant need for the call for every Christian to a holy life. It is through that call that God preserves in holiness, and through that call that God preserves in watchfulness.
Are you awake? Are you active in the life of the church? Are you busy in the things of God’s kingdom? Do you love the truth and confess the faith? I wish it would work to take each of you by the lapels and with loving concern in my voice say to you, “Wake up, young people, wake up.” Charles Spurgeon is said to have taken drastic steps one Sunday when more than a few people were sleeping in church. At his signal, one of the children pulled the fire alarm in the building. And when asked in a panic where the fire was, he said, “In hell, waiting for those who are sleeping, spiritually.”
Wake up, young people, wake up! Be sober, young people, be sober!! Put away every ungodly practice and unbelieving confession. Take to yourself the holy life and the Reformed confession. And then comfort one another with these words: “Though we know not the day and the hour, we will not be taken by surprise when the day of Jesus Christ comes!”
Questions to discuss with parents or friends:
1. If the Bible is so plain that we do not and cannot know the precise time of Christ’s return, why do so many Christians try to pinpoint it? What type of religion especially does this?
2. Is it possible for a Christian to be “sleeping” when Christ comes?
3. What are some examples of spiritual drunkenness and sleepiness?
4. If a church member is spiritually drunk, or sleeping, is it possible that he would be saved if Christ returned today?
5. If someone has learned about the end times just as you have, but is an unbeliever, how can it be that he will be taken by surprise at the second coming and you will not?