Jesus makes a significant transition in His speech beginning in Matthew 24:36ff. He had been speaking about the destruction of Jerusalem (which took place in 70 A.D.). Now He begins speaking about the end of the world.
"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be" (Matt. 24:36-39).
The prior section (24:4-35) dealt with the annihilation of Jerusalem and was very specific regarding the timeframe (i.e., "this generation") and the signs that would precede it. However, this section of text (24:36ff) is just the opposite. The subject is now the second coming of Christ (i.e., the end of the age). It is easy to see that Jesus has changed the subject by the words He uses - "But of that day and hour no one knows..." He had been talking about Jerusalem's fall and how one could know when it was about to take place, but now He moves on to their final question (regarding "the end of the age"; cf. 24:3). One significant point that proves He is no longer speaking of Jerusalem's destruction is that Jesus now speaks of a singular day, and not a group of days (cf. 24:22). The events pertaining to the end of the world would not take days, weeks, or months to accomplish; they would happen all at once. When the New Testament speaks of the end of the world, it always speaks of the event as a singular day (cf. Matt. 7:22; 11:22,24; 12:36; Acts 17:31; etc.). Also, it must be understood that the phrase "the last days" does not necessarily refer to a short period of time just before His second coming (cf. Heb. 1:1,2; Acts 2:16,17). It simply refers to the Messianic era in which we now live. We've been in "the last days" for about two thousand years now. Jesus could literally come at any time!
Matthew 24:36 shows that the timeframe for the second coming is indefinite and the following verses illustrate that there will be no noticeable preceding signs. It is certain that Jesus will return, but no one can declare when because "no one knows," besides the Father. Since neither the angels of heaven nor Jesus Himself (cf. Mark 13:32) knows when the Father will decide to end the world, it is foolish and presumptuous for men to speculate and attempt to calculate when the Lord will return (though that has not stopped many from vainly trying!).
The people of Noah's day were unpleasantly surprised when the flood waters came upon them and destroyed them. In like manner, the vengeful return of Jesus will be an unexpected shock to an unprepared world. Those who do not know God and have not obeyed His gospel will be punished everlastingly in the fires of hell (cf. II Thess. 1:7-9). The everyday events of normal life continued right up until the flood, and the everyday events of normal life will continue right up until Jesus returns. There will be no signs to warn us that Jesus is about to return. The world could end at any time with Jesus' return!
Certainly the people of Noah's day ridiculed the idea of a flood, and many today mock the notion that there will be a Day of Judgment. They continue to live for themselves in slavery to the pleasures of the world. However, despite the doubts of the many, God judged the world in Noah's day, and He will do so again at the end of the age.
Jesus continued - "Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Matt. 24:40-44).
Jesus mentions that two men will be in the field working. Outwardly they were very much alike (as far as what they were doing right then), but inwardly they were obviously very different--one ultimately being saved and the other lost. The same is true in the next verse. "Grinding" is a reference to grain being ground on a stone hand-mill. Essentially, there were two people working, and although they appeared to be alike outwardly, inwardly they were very different since one was saved and the other lost.
"One will be taken and the other left" - Jesus repeats this phrase a couple times in this context. This statement does not support the false doctrine referred to by many as the "Rapture." Jesus is merely making a distinction between the saved and the lost and the order in which they will leave Earth on that final day. When Jesus comes again "the dead in Christ will rise first" (I Thess. 4:16). Then, those who are faithful and still alive will "be taken" into the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. All of the unfaithful who are still alive or who have been resurrected will then be judged and sentenced to hell. They will not be left on the physical earth (cf. II Pet. 3:10; Matt. 25:31,32).
"Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming" - Since one does not know when Jesus will return, one must always be prepared. It is in this sense that one "watches" for His return. If one knows when a thief is coming, he will take appropriate actions to prevent the thief from being successful (cf. I Thess. 5:2-6; II Pet. 3:10). Jesus' return will be like a thief in the sense that it will not be expected. You will not know the hour when He is going to come. He'll simply appear, and it will be too late for those who are not prepared beforehand (cf. Luke 12:40).
Jesus now changes the imagery from that of being prepared for a thief to that of watching for the return of one's master - "Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods. But if that evil servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 24:45-51).
Jesus' disciples must remember that the Lord could return at any moment. Thus, they should act accordingly by serving to the best of their ability at all times. A faithful servant will be rewarded by his master. However, a wicked servant will live contrary to the desires of his master, especially if he thinks the master is not coming back soon. A wicked servant will seek to take advantage of his master's absence (by acting immorally and being a poor steward).
Since the Lord's return will not be indicated by any particular signs, the wicked servant continues to feel safe, thinking that the end is not yet. The most dangerous of all delusions is that one has plenty of time. "Tomorrow" is a very dangerous word, especially when it comes to repentance and making one's life right with God (e.g., Luke 12:19,20).
Being a hypocritical servant of God will not result in eternal life. In other words, being a servant of God is not sufficient for salvation. One must be faithful at the time of the Lord's return! Otherwise he will find himself in the outer darkness where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (in other words, hell).
Mark's account here contains several other details worth mentioning. "Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is" (Mark 13:33). To "watch" is not to be worried about the time in which the world will end; rather, it is to steadily adhere to the duties of the present hour. Jesus states in Mark 13:35 that His return could be "in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning." In other words, Jesus could return at any time!
You must be ready "lest coming suddenly, he find you sleeping" (Mark 13:36). To be found by the Lord in such a spiritual state at His second coming would be both embarrassing and tragic. There is no place for the idle or lazy in God's kingdom. "And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!" (Mark 13:37). This warning message was not for the apostles alone, but for all disciples (including us today).
In summary, the Lord has here taught: (1) To take heed to ourselves, (2) To not be overcome by sin, (3) To be faithful in prayer, and (4) To know that Jesus will come in judgment (though we have no way of knowing when). Are you ready for the end of the world? If we can help you get ready, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.