Read Luke 21:25–36.

The second coming of Jesus will be in no way subtle. The totality of creation, from the heavens down to the roaring seas, will spasm; the totality of the peoples of the world will see and despair. There will literally be nowhere to hide, nowhere to find safety from the One who will finally come to bring justice. Nowhere, except in him who comes again to judge the living and the dead. While the nations will anguish, the followers of Jesus are told not to duck and cover, but to stand and lift their heads. Because they have hidden themselves in Christ seated in heaven, they need have no fear when he returns to earth.

Jesus wanted his disciples to understand that this event would come quickly and surely. There is immense debate about who “this generation” is (Luke 21:32). Perhaps it refers to Jesus’ immediate listeners, for whom the fall of Jerusalem would be a sign and type of the coming end. Perhaps it means the generation who will see the signs of the coming, meaning that Christ’s return will shortly follow these metaphorically sprouting leaves. Either way, Jesus promises that the event is more firm than the natural world itself.

What are disciples to do in the meantime—in the waiting? Those of us from certain church backgrounds may expect a call to evangelize and disciple others because people must know about this coming calamity. And yes, we must. Those of us from other church backgrounds might expect a call to practice justice because we are called to love the things God loves and hate what he hates. And yes, we must.

However, in this specific moment in Luke 21, Jesus called his disciples to be careful, to watch. The suddenness and ferocity of the end make a springing trap the appropriate image. Who is so arrogant to assume they will escape? The mundane temptations of wild partying or undue apprehension are both examples of how any human heart can be weighed down. And a heavy thing, carrying heavy burdens, cannot quickly enough jump out of the way.

Neither escapism nor worry can deliver what they promise. The first doesn’t make reality go away; the other doesn’t truly prepare us. Jesus calls us instead to watch and to pray. To pay attention, completely reliant on the God who is truly coming. Jesus wants his disciples to be able to stand before him then; he will answer that prayer.

Rachel Gilson serves on Cru’s leadership team for theological development and culture. She is the author of Born Again This Way: Coming Out, Coming to Faith, and What Comes Next.

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