‘Come, Lord Jesus.’ Right now would be just fine.

A few weeks ago, just for fun, I asked some of my friends to take what I like to call “The Brad Matthews Challenge.”

Matthews is an assistant professor of New Testament and the director of field education at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. About a year ago, I took an online course in New Testament History and Theology with him as the lecturer. Of course, I learned many useful things during that semester, but it was actually one of his asides that stuck most deeply.

The quiz is quite simple, really. It goes like this:

Save the Date!“Jesus made it very clear in Matthew 24:36-44 that no one, not even the Son, knows the hour when He will return to rule over the Earth. So it’s pointless to guess. If Jesus Himself didn’t know, then how likely is it that we will know? But just for fun, let’s say that somehow we do know when Jesus will return. And let’s say that we know for certain, without a doubt, that He will be coming back to Earth 500 years from now. In what way or ways would you want to change your life?”

When asked, most of my friends were honest enough to admit that a certainty of Christ coming back 500 years in the future would have precious little influence on how they lived their lives today. Sure, they might write some things down and make provision in some new way for their descendants, but knowing for sure that Jesus was going to come back long after they were dead and buried translated into almost no need to make changes in their everyday life.

Just as Matthews did during my class, I then proceeded to change the framing of the question a bit: “What if you knew for certain that Jesus was coming back in 10 years?”

Suddenly, everyone woke up a bit. Actually, now that you mention it, there are a few areas of my life I’d like to improve. I would like my prayer life to improve. I think it would be good for me to be a bit more generous in how I spend my time, talent and treasure. There are some goals I would abandon, such as saving up for a comfy retirement. I’d probably try to be kinder to those with whom I work, I would try not to sweat the small stuff so much. Come to think of it, there are a few relationships in my life that are seriously broken, and I’d like to make amends with those folks, too, if possible.

And finally, “What if you knew for certain that Jesus was coming back in three days?”

As you might have guessed, this knowledge would bring with it a rush of activity. There would be a frenzied search of Scripture to find out how Jesus truly wanted His disciples to live. Possessions that were not absolutely needed for daily life would be sold. Donations to charity would skyrocket. Working with the poor and the outcast would become a top priority. Widows would be comforted, orphans adopted and prisoners visited. The advent of Christ’s Second Coming would be celebrated with a renewing of His people, a marked inclination to throw off the trappings of a material life and to view each and every waking moment with a Kingdom-minded perspective.

Matthews’ quiz ends with this insightful question: “So if we say we are Christians, why is it that there’s any difference between Jesus coming back in 500 years or 500 minutes?”

When Matthews asked this question during the class I took, a long, awkward silence filled the classroom. Busted.

Having listened to his interactions with students who were taking the class on-site in St. Louis, and then having those results duplicated among my group of friends, it seems as though this is very likely a common issue among believers; we just don’t seem to take Jesus very seriously until His arrival in our lives seems imminent. But on the other hand, we say that we believe that one day we will see Him face-to-face (1 Corinthians 13:12), and that in that moment we will have to give an account for our lives (Hebrews 9:27). Living as we do in a violent and dangerous era, who can say for sure that we might not be called before Him within the next week, or even the next 24 hours? No one.

On July 1st, I received an email from Ann Graham Lotz that got me rethinking the Brad Matthews challenge all over again. Lotz’ email, forwarded to me by the good folks at RZIM, professed her belief that the Spirit of God might be drawing “human history as we know it” to a close. In that note, Lotz issued an Urgent Call to Prayer, and asked for God’s people to renew themselves and pray for three things:

  • For God the Father to restrain, protect, and deliver His people from the evil that has come into our world.
  • For God the Son to be exalted, magnified, and glorified in His church, in our nation, and in our lives.
  • For God the Holy Spirit to fall on us in a fresh way, compelling the church to repent of sin and our nation to return to faith in the living God, resulting in a great national spiritual awakening.

My read on Scripture tells me that we have been living in “the last days” ever since Jesus rose bodily from the tomb. His resurrection signaled the end of the dominion of darkness and the inbreaking of God’s Kingdom as He reconciles all people to Himself in grace and truth. We also know that with the Lord, one day is as a thousand years (2 Peter 3:8). Perhaps Lotz is correct in thinking that something has shifted recently, I really don’t know.

Returning to The Brad Matthews challenge, though, I couldn’t help but ask myself: “Why am I not praying for those three things every single day?” Perhaps Jesus really will return to Earth in our lifetime. Perhaps he will tarry. It really doesn’t matter. Whether He decides to come back in a week or in 2,000 more years, all I know is that I need to put my hand to His plow and not look back (Luke 9:62).

Today.

“Blow the trumpet…sound the alarm…for the day of the Lord is coming. It is close at hand; rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God…”
Joel 2:1,13

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