Like a Sudden Trap for the Dissipated Soul
If you go to sleep spiritually, you will not be awake to discern the signs of his nearness. [This] is confirmed by the way Jesus speaks of the wise manager and the foolish manager in the following picture of the second coming:
Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, “My master is delayed in coming,” and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. (Luke 12:42–46)
This is a picture of Jesus’s departure to heaven after his resurrection and his leaving his disciples on earth to carry out the ministry he has given them. He probably has ministers of the word in view since he says the master “will set [them] over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time.” But the principle here applies to all Christians.
A blessing is pronounced on the faithful manager who does what he was appointed to do. He feeds the household. Nothing is said to him about an unexpected coming of the master while the manager is faithfully carrying out his duties. He has nothing to fear, whenever the master comes, because he is doing his appointed work.
But then comes the warning. What if the manager’s heart goes bad and he begins to presume on the master’s delay? “My master is delayed in coming.” What if this presumption leads him to “eat and drink and get drunk”? Jesus says that this drunkenness will result in his being taken off guard by the master’s return. “If that servant . . . begins . . . to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him” (Luke 12:45–46).
What are we to infer from this warning? The point is not that an unexpected, any-moment return of the master was overlooked by the drunken manager. The point is that the foolish manager is mentally and spiritually drunk. He has forsaken the master’s will and embraced the stupefying path of worldliness. He is now blind to what is spiritually real. He will be taken off guard by the master when the master comes, because there is no reason to think he will be “sobered up” in, say, five years, or fifty years, when the trumpet sounds. “The master of that [drunken] servant will come on a day when he does not expect” (Luke 12:46). The lesson is this: stay spiritually awake and busy at the master’s work, for if you give way to spiritual stupor (call it sleep or drunkenness), you will be blind to all the signs of danger, and will be taken in judgment suddenly and unexpectedly.
Jesus makes the same statement in Luke 21:34:
Watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.
The suddenness and unexpectedness is not owing to an any-moment view of the second coming. It is owing to the spiritual sluggishness of the human heart that is weighed down and dulled by the “cares of this life.” The appearing of Christ becomes a sudden trap not because it could happen any moment, but because the spiritually unseeing will be blind to Christ’s coming even if it happens five years from now, with serious warnings in between. To be spiritually asleep, drunk, or blind portends unexpected destruction even if it could be tomorrow or a decade from now.
Paul’s Warning to the Sleeping and Drunk
The apostle Paul combines both of the images Jesus uses to make the same point—the image of staying awake (Matt. 25:13) and staying sober (Luke 12:45; 21:34):
You yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep [μὴ καθεύδωμεν], as others do, but let us keep awake [γρηγορῶμεν] and be sober [νήφωμεν]. (1 Thess. 5:2–6)
To be spiritually awake and alert is to be in love with the Lord’s coming.
Paul says that for some, the day of Christ’s coming will be like the destructive surprise of a thief. But for others, it will not be like that. “You are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief” (1 Thess. 5:4). The difference is whether we are in darkness or are “children of the day,” whether we are spiritually asleep or awake, whether we are spiritually drunk or sober. He does not say that the suddenness and unexpectedness of the day is owing to an any-moment return of Christ. Rather, it is owing to an oblivious spiritual condition that says, “peace and security,” because that spiritual condition is one of “darkness” and “sleep” and “drunkenness.
Presumption of Delay for the Sake of Sin Is Suicidal
My conclusion, therefore, is that Jesus’s repeated command that we be awake, ready, on guard, watchful, and vigilant is not because the second coming will take obedient disciples off guard, but because spiritual stupor results in being oblivious to what is happening in the world, and thus being surprised and trapped and ruined. The uncertainty of the time of Christ’s return functions to warn all of us to be spiritually alive and awake and sober because the alternative is a spiritual condition that will be blind to signs and will not be able to recover from satanic stupor when “the lightning . . . lights up the sky from one side to the other” (Luke 17:24). Any presumption of Christ’s delay to justify worldliness puts a heart in a position of spiritual suicide.
Even if we are persuaded that he is three years away, or five, or six (and we never have warrant to think he must be farther away than that), that measure of nearness and the uncertainty combine to make us all the more alert and vigilant over our souls and our lives. We realize that spiritual carelessness will make all our calculations pointless, since we will be spiritually unable to fight the final battle for alertness and endurance. On the other hand, we realize that if we are spiritually awake, in fellowship with Christ, and walking in the light, we will discern “the signs of the times” (Matt. 16:3) and experience his coming not as a surprising thief (1 Thess. 5:4) but as a merciful servant-master (Luke 12:37).
Be Alert Means Love the Lord’s Appearing
Another way to describe our zeal to be spiritually awake and sober and discerning is to say that we love the Lord’s appearing (2 Tim. 4:8), or that we are “eagerly waiting for him” (Heb. 9:28; cf. 1 Cor. 1:7; Phil. 3:20), or that we have “set [our] hope fully on the grace that will be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13).
Immediately following Paul’s summons to love the Lord’s appearing in 2 Timothy 4:8, Demas is mentioned as one who loved this world more than the Lord’s appearing. “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me” (2 Tim. 4:10). This is what Jesus is warning against. “Watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap” (Luke 21:34). Demas fell out of love with the appearing of the Lord Jesus and into love with this world. It made him drunk with the illusions of better things.
So in all our discussion of Jesus’s commands to stay awake and sober, we have really been talking about love for the Lord’s appearing. To be spiritually awake and alert is to be in love with the Lord’s coming. The alternative is to fall into the stupor of love for the world and blindness to the beauties of the coming Christ. This is the great answer to how we should live. We should live in love with the appearing of Christ. Living in love with the appearing of Christ is a great anticipatory pleasure. It is a great power to walk in freedom from sin. It is a great protection from deception in the last days.
This article is adapted from Come, Lord Jesus: Meditations on the Second Coming of Christ by John Piper.
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