Click here for the reading: Luke 21:25-36.

Jesus speaks of the coming destruction of the temple, warning those who hear Him to pay attention so that they would not be caught by surprise. It will be a time of great distress, heralding the beginning of the times of the Gentiles. Why should we be watchful, especially in a season like Advent? How might we be lulled to sleep in our present time, especially in ways that past generations did not know? How do the letters of Revelation 2-3, especially the letter to the church in Sardis, speak to our own situation and what it means to be watchful?

When the Son of Man comes, the world will be caught up in fear. Jesus speaks of this coming in judgment in the Old Testament language of riding on a cloud, such as Isaiah 19:1, Jeremiah 4:13, or Ezekiel 30:3. Yet the coming judgment will be a time of joy, because God’s redemption is coming near. Why does the Lord give these signs to His disciples? What is the sign given to us of His coming on the Last Day? Consider Matthew 24:36-44 and if those in the days of Noah had any sign.

When understood within the context of the destruction of Jerusalem, the confusion surrounding Matthew 21:29-33 disappears. Jesus speaks of the coming of summer, the times of the Gentiles, and not the winter, the end of all things. The fall of the city came within a generation of these words being spoken. Yet how do these words help us to understand the Last Day as well? How do these words of Christ regarding His promises and his words give us comfort in difficult situations in our lives?

The coming of the Son of Man calls for vigilance, because it will come suddenly like a trap. Drunkenness and anxiety lead to laxity. Seeking earthly pleasures make us blind to the reality of what is about to come. What kind of distractions do we struggle with? Are there things of this world which often lead astray that we do not pay attention to or do not regard as distractions? What makes these especially dangerous for us as Christians? Compare the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21 and consider what makes them dangerous for the Christian.

Christ commands His disciples to stay awake and to pray for the strength to escape the coming things and to stand before Him on that day. In what ways do we stay awake for the coming of the Lord? What does it mean to have strength to escape the things which are coming, since the Last Day will come like a trap suddenly? What does it mean to have strength to stand before Christ, and how do we find this strength? What can we learn from the parables of Matthew 25 about being ready for the coming of Christ on the Last Day?

Click here for the reading: Romans 15:4-13.

This passage from Romans 15 forms the conclusion of the larger section beginning in chapter 14. Paul exhorts his hearers to not cause a fellow Christian to stumble by their actions and to bear with the failings of the weak, just as Christ did not please Himself. What are common ways that we cause one another to stumble? What does Paul mean by bearing with the weak in these matters? Why is this important to consider as we await the coming of Christ? Consider the parallel passage in 1 Corinthians 8 and what it means to have the mind of Christ.

Having just cited Psalm 69 to prove his point, Paul reminds us that the Scriptures are written for our instruction so that we may have hope. How are we instructed by the Scriptures? Why is it a danger to treat this instruction merely as information? Why does this instruction give us hope, especially when dealing with the sins of others? In what ways does Paul describe the purpose of Scripture in passages like 2 Timothy 3:16-17?

Paul prays that his hearers would find the harmony they had been lacking, a harmony which could only come from God. The Lord who speaks through the Scriptures would grant them this harmony through Jesus Christ. What is the ultimate goal of harmony in the Church? What does false harmony look like, and what are its goals? How do we find this harmony in Christ, who has welcomed us? Compare 1 John 3:11-24 and what it means to love not in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.

Christ, after all, became a servant in order to confirm the ancient promises and to lead the Gentiles to glorify God. His goal in doing so was not a divided congregation, bickering with one another and looking down on one another, but a united body of Jews and Gentiles united in one voice. Paul cites four passages from all over the Old Testament to prove this point. Why should we emphasize with Paul that Christ came first to the house of Israel? What does this coming show about the nature of God? What makes us as the Gentiles rejoice, and what does this show about the nature of God? Why is this a fitting conclusion to the problem of disunity in the Church? How does Paul address this question in Ephesians 2?

Advent looks forward in hope to the time when God will fulfill all of His promises and bring an end to all divisions and hostilities. Why do we sing praises to God’s name now? How will those praises change on the Last Day? How does this reality lead us to bear with one another while we wait in hope? Why is the song of Revelation 5 a new song, and how do we find unity in the Lamb who was slain?

Click here for the reading: Malachi 4:1-6.

Malachi speaks to a people who, though they had seen the promises of God fulfilled when He brought them back from exile, had fallen back into the same sins of their fathers. What made it worse, however, was that they thought they were still serving God! How do we fall into a similar trap? In what ways do people believe that they are serving God when they are in fact sinning against Him? Why does Malachi point to the coming Day of the Lord as a warning against such hypocrisy? Compare the seven woes of Matthew 23 and the attitude of the Pharisees in Jesus’ own time.

The great Day of the Lord is coming when a burning sun of righteousness will arise. Those who are wicked will be consumed by the fire of that day, but those who are righteous will rejoice in its purifying heat. What is the Day of the Lord to which Malachi refers? Is it only one day, or is there more than one? Why is that Day a terror for the wicked, but a delight for the righteous? Consider passages like Revelation 6:12-17 and how people react to the coming of that Day.

Moses received the Law at Horeb from the Lord, and it is precisely this Law which Israel has forgotten yet again. Again and again, God reminds His people of the words given at Sinai as a way of calling them back from their sins. Why does Malachi remind them of this in the face of the coming Day of the Lord? How is repentance sometimes a call to return to something forgotten? How is repentance sometimes a call to do something new? How do passages like Matthew 3:1-12 help us understand what it means to repent?

The Lord promises to send Elijah before the great Day of the Lord comes, and Jesus clearly says that John the Baptist is the fulfillment of this prophecy in Matthew 17:10-13. The coming of Elijah serves as a final call to repentance after which no more will come. When and why did God strike Israel with a decree of destruction? Why should we take the warnings of God against sin seriously? At what point will it be too late to turn back? What can be learned from the example of Josiah and the judgment of God in 2 Kings 23?

The words of Malachi are especially appropriate in the season of Advent, since they look forward to the coming Day when God will act on behalf of His people. On that day the righteous will rejoice like a calf set loose from its pen, because the Lord keeps His promises. Why is this passage a fitting conclusion to the Old Testament? How does it inform our understanding of the New Testament as a whole? How does it teach us about the coming Last Day? In what ways does it resemble the words of Revelation 22?

Jesus, with the Temple in view, speaks about the coming of the end. Those who marveled at the building regarded it as enduring and noble. They had evidently forgotten that this was no less than the third sanctuary of the Lord. The Lord rejected Shiloh, the tent of the tabernacle, and cast down the temple of Solomon (Jeremiah 7:12-15). Even the foundation of this temple met with grief, since it was the sin of the fathers which had caused the Lord to cast the first one down (Ezra 3:10-13). Putting trust in the building itself missed the point entirely. This temple also would be pulled down, so that one stone would not be left upon another.

The pericope for the Second Sunday in Advent opens in the middle of this prophecy. The world will be in turmoil and confusion on the great and terrible day of the Lord. These signs will be the breaking of the fixed order of the world at the coming of the Son of Man. The nations will be in emotional distress because they will be perplexed, seeing no way out of what is coming upon the world. They will be gripped in the indecision of fear, because of the roaring of the sea and the waves and the breaking of the world. Everything is breaking forth from its appointed boundaries and casting all into confusion. It was God who set the boundaries of the sea (Genesis 1:9-10), commanding its proud waves to stop at His command (Job 38:8-11). The Lord shut its waves in, no matter how much it rages (Jeremiah 5:22), so that it would no more cover the earth (Psalm 104:8-9). But now the old order is passing. The sea threatens to overwhelm all again, because heaven and earth are passing away.

Fear is the only possible response for the godless. They will faint away as though dead, just as the soldiers did at the tomb of Christ (Matthew 28:4) or John did at the vision of Christ (Revelation 1:17). A sense of dread will overtake them, even before the Son of Man appears, because the heavens will rot away and the skies will roll up like a scroll (Isaiah 34:4). They will try to hide, but in vain, because the great day of the wrath of the Lamb has come (Revelation 6:12-17). All the heavens, which seemed so firm and immovable, will be shaken, and nothing will be left upon anything else.

In that hour, they will see Christ, the Son of Man, returning in power and majesty. As the Son of Man, Jesus has dominion over all heaven and earth (Daniel 7:13-14). He will come on the clouds, because they are under His feet. Just as the sky is depicted under the feet of God (Exodus 24:10), so also is the earth His footstool (Isaiah 66:1). Jesus is exalted above all, and all will see Him in the fullness of His glory.

But, Jesus says, lift up your head. Lift your eyes to the hills. The Lord comes as Your Helper (Psalm 121:1-2). Though the believer is in the pit, they can look up to find their deliverance in the coming of the Lord. This is why the return of Christ is a joy for the faithful, even though it is a terror for the ungodly. The Lord sets us free from the waterless pit (Zechariah 9:11-12). In the hour that Jesus judges the living and the dead, He will give justice to His elect speedily (Luke 18:7). All the workers of lawlessness will depart, because all will be set right forever. The violent rhetoric of every imprecatory psalm looks toward this glorious hour, when God will remember every injustice done against His people and bring the due reward of the wicked on their heads. We will rejoice in that hour, because the Lord has not forgotten His people.

Jesus then uses a parable to explain His meaning further. A fig tree bears fruit once or twice a year. The first appearing of its fruit comes in late spring and early summer. When this early fruit appears, it is a sign that the heat of the summer is coming near. Likewise, the signs in sky and sea are a herald of the coming end, not the end itself. The coming winter wind will come and shake the stars from the sky like the late figs from the tree (Revelation 6:13). Thus, these early fruits are the signs of the coming wars and persecutions which Jesus said will come before the end (Luke 21:10-11).

This generation, Jesus says, will not pass away before all these things take place. Generation here does not have to refer to a single group of people in the way we typically use it today. It can also have a broader application, as it does in some of the Psalms and elsewhere (Psalm 14:5; 24:6, for example). Jesus may also be referring to the signs which herald the end, which that specific generation certainly saw before the judgment on Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

However, the key point here is that, even though heaven and earth will pass away and be found no more, the Word of the Lord will never pass away. It is the one enduring and everlasting reality, because it is the Word of the living and eternal Lord. Earth and heaven will perish, but God will remain (Psalm 102:26). The heavens will vanish, and the earth will wear out like a garment, but the salvation of our God will be forever (Isaiah 51:6). Do not put your trust in anything of this world, because they belong to God, and God will destroy them with fire (2 Peter 3:7). But put your trust in the Lord, who is our stronghold in trouble. He will never let the righteous fall (Psalm 55:22).

But watch for that day! If we become bogged down in the anxieties and cares of this world, giving into the works of the flesh, that day will catch us like a thief (1 Thessalonians 5:1-4). Drunkenness and anxiety are the works of those who fear the future, who seek refuge in the things of this world. But that day will come like a trap upon all who are alive. Stay awake! Ask the Father in holy prayer to be counted worthy (or to have strength) to escape. Only through asking, that is, only through prayer will we be found worthy, because prayer relies on God alone. We will stand before the Son of Man on that day because we rely on Him for all things. It will be a fearful day to see the fixed order of the world broken before our eyes, but it will be the last violent pangs of a world reborn through Jesus.