Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Any attentive reader of the Synoptic Gospels will understand that the Kingdom of God is the central theme. The reign of God has already entered human history in a unique way through the glorious person and work of Jesus Christ, but its consummation awaits a future intervention. So the Kingdom of God has to be seen as both present and future. The Kingdom of God has come; the Kingdom of God is coming.
Jesus took time to teach and answer questions concerning the future of the Kingdom. For the first sixteen centuries of Christendom, the eschatology of Jesus was sufficient. But in the seventeenth century, Johann A. Bengel set the return of Christ for the year of 1836, and in so doing he became the father of premillennialism. During the nineteenth century an entire system of dispensational eschatology was developed, and the idea of the pretribulation rapture of the church can be traced to J. N. Darby and the Plymouth Brethren. Concerning this dispensational eschatology, H. Ray Dunning writes, “For some reason it has become so pervasive among conservative Christians … that it has assumed the status of orthodoxy among large groups of both laymen and ministers.” Contemporary advocates of this Second Coming theory include John Walvoord, Charles C. Ryrie, Hal Lindsey, Tim LeHaye, Jack VanImpe, John Hagee and many others. While these dear men are my Christian brethren, and I rejoice in the Gospel they preach, I must in the interest of genuine revival make a statement: Christian Renewal Ministries believes in the Second Coming of Christ — and I am convinced that there is some biblical support for the idea of a Rapture. But we do not subscribe to the feverish speculation and depressing theories of latter-day premillennialists who confuse a pretribulation Rapture with a general Resurrection, and who would set the time of the Lord’s Return around current events (Israel, Russia, conflicts in the Middle East, the European Common Market, NATO, etc.) instead of the Word of our Lord concerning the obedience and empowerment of His Church.
George Eldon Ladd, an evangelical thinker and writer on the Kingdom of God, suggests that the most important single verse in the Bible might well be Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” This verse was Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question, “What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the world?” Matthew 24:14 should help us understand something of when Christ shall return, and His parables on the Kingdom (Matt. 25:1-46) should help us understand something of the conditions of both the world and the church at the time of His return.
The Midnight Darkness
The first of Jesus’ three parables on the Kingdom (Matt. 25:1-13) draws on the drama of an old Middle Eastern wedding celebration to show how it will be at the time of His return. The bridegroom and his ten male attendants would at some time around the midnight hour (but almost never at the exact minute of midnight) arrive at a significant place (under a certain large tree near the main house, at the end of a bridge over a stream, or at a large rock marking the boundary of the property, etc.) on the bride’s father’s estate. No one would know the place or the time when the groom and his party would arrive except the coordinator of the activities having to do with the bride and her ten female attendants. The ten girls would all gather with the bride at her father’s home early in the day and hear the rules and be told to rest and sleep. The bride and her attendants would be wakened by calls before the time of rendezvous. This would come around midnight, but usually before. When the midnight cry went out, every girl was to trim her lamp (more like a torch) and see to her oil supply, because if any girl’s torch went out on the way to the rendezvous, then and there she would be disqualified to be a part of the wedding celebration.
The parable refers to midnight as a symbol for darkness and lateness. Surely, we now live in a moral midnight, and though we do not know how late it is, we believe it is very late. What an hour for the Church of Jesus Christ to come awake and see His glory in revival and the harvest of souls!
The Midnight Delay
“But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept” (v. 5). Our Sovereign Lord’s delayed coming has been hard on those who have been tempted to play the dating game and insist that He had to return by certain times or events. But when I study passages such as II Pet. 3:9, I have to feel that the Lord’s delay is due to the slumbering of His people in our indifference to the Great Commission. The day of the Lord will come, but He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance — He longs for His Gospel to be preached to all the peoples of the world.
When the Church has finished with her task, our Glorious God will decide when to end the delay and Christ will come back. Meanwhile, let the dooms-day prophets be silent. They are now a dime a dozen, and getting cheaper all the time. I’ve heard them announce the end so often that I have to agree with Hap Cawood who wrote in the Atlanta Journal some time ago, “Don’t get me wrong; I respect the prophets of old. I just think today’s Armageddon’s-here guys couldn’t pass the entrance exam for Prophecy 101.”
The Midnight Declaration
“And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!'” This midnight cry is not an announcement that the bridegroom has been seen, or is here; it is the warning from the coordinator and those whom he has appointed to go up and down the halls warning the girls to get awake, to get up, to trim their lamps, to get an extra supply of oil, and to be ready soon to get out into the darkness and make their journey to the rendezvous.
The Midnight Cry represents an awakening, a renewal and a time of preparation for the coming of the Bridegroom. This generation has heard more about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ than any generation since the Apostolic Age, even if much of it has come from crackpot speculators and dooms-day prophets. But true Christian scholars and historians have not been silent on the subject. The cry is now going out that the people of God must prepare for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ — He is the only hope of the Church and the world!
The Midnight Dilemma
“Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps … Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut” (vv. 2-4, 8-10).
It is commonly felt among scholars that the oil here is a type of the Holy Spirit. We cannot overlook the phenomenal interest in the person and work of the Holy Spirit that began in the 70s and has grown stronger since. This might well be a critical clue as to how close we are to the coming of the Lord. I find it inspiring to believe that the closing years of this age will be characterized by mighty hunger and repentance on the part of millions of professing Christians, who are willing to admit that their lamps are going out and that they need fresh oil (the fullness of the Holy Spirit). As one who has been preaching the Gospel for 51 years, I must say that I have never seen such an interest in the Holy Spirit among people in all churches, denominational and nondenominational.
The greatest sin in any Christian or church today is the sin of not being filled with the Holy Spirit. That is the sin that must be repented of before we can have personal or congregational or denominational or national revival. That is the dilemma we must face! We are not qualified to worship God in Spirit and in truth until we are filled with the Holy Spirit. We are not empowered to live a holy life until we are filled with the Holy Spirit. We are not equipped to witness to lost loved ones and friends in love and in truth until we are filled with the Holy Spirit. We are not ready for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ until we are filled with the Spirit.