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Living for Eternity: The Last Days and the Coming Kingdom


How should we understand biblical prophecy? Few questions have garnered more debate within Christian circles than the meaning of the last days. Prophecy looks forward, often containing layers of immediate, interim, and ultimate fulfillments. Reading this genre is a lot like hiking in the mountains: as soon as we think we’ve reached the summit, our new vantage point reveals that there are more summits ahead.

We know from the biblical record that prophecy doesn’t provide us with fixed dates. There are no linear progressions or detailed programs of the future, as if we need only to rearrange a few puzzle pieces to complete the picture. These qualities are what make prophetic passages so difficult to grasp.

Yet while there’s a lot we don’t know, we do know some things (1 Cor. 13:12). The late British minister C. E. B. Cranfield, in his commentary on Mark’s Gospel, states,

If we realize that the Incarnation–Crucifixion–Resurrection–Ascension, on the one hand, and the Parousia [the second coming], on the other, belong together and are in a real sense one Event, one divine Act, being held apart only by the mercy of God who desires to give men opportunity for faith and repentance, then we can see that in a very real sense the latter is always imminent now that the former has happened.1

To summarize Cranfield’s point: ever since the incarnation, we’ve been living in the last days. In Jesus the kingdom has come; in the preaching of the Gospel, the kingdom is coming; and in Jesus’ return, the kingdom will come in all its fullness.

The question for Christians since the ascension in Acts 1 has remained the same: How are we to live in light of the last days and the coming kingdom? And in Mark 13:32–37, Jesus issues a fourfold wake-up call to His followers, urging us to lead lives worthy of the good news until He returns.

No One Knows the Time of Christ’s Return

“Concerning that day or that hour,” Jesus says, “no one knows” (Mark 13:32). If we wish to understand biblical prophecy, then we must begin by acknowledging our ignorance concerning when Christ will return.

Our ignorance puts us in good company—a large company, in fact! Like the angels in heaven, we don’t know. John Calvin comments, “It would be a proof of excessive pride and wicked covetousness, to desire that we who creep on the earth should know more than is permitted to the angels in heaven.”2 Even the Son, who is coequal and coeternal with the Father, claims ignorance to the timing of these things.

Jesus’ first coming marked the beginning of last days.


Importantly, Jesus uses the language of “day” and “hour” in His teaching. In other words, His return will occur at a specific point in time. There won’t be any vagueness about it, no wondering whether we missed it. The whole universe will at once see the King descending in glory (1 Thess. 4:16).

No Excuse for Being Unprepared

Though we’re unaware of when Christ will return, our ignorance is no excuse for being unprepared. “No one knows,” Jesus says. “Therefore stay awake” (v. 35). Our ignorance should produce vigilance.

Jesus’ words in Mark 13 echo one of His parables that’s recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. It’s the story of ten virgins who, as was customary in Jewish wedding practice, lit their lamps and prepared to accompany the bridegroom into the presence of the bride—but only five prepared, the other five did not (25:1–4). The story continues,

As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise answered, saying, “Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.” And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. (Matthew 25:5–10)

Indeed, there will be a day when the waiting is over and the door of entry into the kingdom shut. The question for us is clear: Will Christ return and find us prepared to receive Him? Or will we be like the five foolish virgins, unprepared and unable to enter into the wedding banquet (vv. 11–13 )?

Ignorance Is an Incentive

Far from being an excuse for lax living, our ignorance combined with the Lord’s exhortation is an incentive for activity. Jesus illustrates this principle in Mark 13:34, comparing His future return to a man who leaves home, setting his servants in charge with the expectation that they will keep busy while he’s away. We are not to be idle in the time between Christ’s first and second advents. Rather, we are to “stay awake” (vv. 34–35, 37).

Our ignorance as to the timing of Christ’s return is no excuse for being unprepared.

How we view Christ’s second coming determines how we live in light of it. For some, it becomes occasion for agitation. These individuals enjoy little assurance on this side of eternity, viewing Jesus’ return through the lens of fear. Others use their ignorance as to the timing as reason for becoming isolated from the affairs of life. Functionally, they become like reclusive monks, withdrawn from the very world they’re purposed to evangelize.

These approaches fall short of the biblical ideal. Christ’s return is simultaneously imminent and distant (Luke 19:9–12). We’re meant to live every day as if life may go on forever and like today is our last day. We don’t passively drift into eternity. God’s people will enter His eternal kingdom having spent themselves on Gospel work.

The Certainty of the Second Coming

Though we’re ignorant of when Jesus will return, we’re not ignorant concerning the event’s certainty. Ignorance as to the timing is planned; knowledge of its certainty is also planned. We can hardly miss the burden of Christ’s message in these verses: since the timing of His return is unknown and certain, we must be prepared.

Our Lord’s wake-up call contains both a warning and an encouragement. The warning deals with matters of eternal salvation. As Jesus made clear in the parable of the ten virgins, a day is coming when it will be too late—when repentance and faith are no longer an option. He will close the door to unbelievers, saying, “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matt. 7:23).

The Evil One’s favorite word is tomorrow; God, on the other hand, says, “Now is the day of salvation.”

Those who are outside of Christ are playing with their eternity. They’re rolling the dice, taking a chance on a future that isn’t promised. The Evil One’s favorite word is tomorrow; God, on the other hand, says, “Now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

At the same time, Christ’s words offer encouragement to weary saints. When we view Mark 13 in the shadow of the cross, we realize that Jesus isn’t calling us to do something He was unwilling to do. Jesus is the one who stayed awake in the humiliation of Calvary. He refused the anesthetic of wine mixed with gall, experiencing in His body the fullness of sin’s toll (Mark 15:23). He stayed awake that He might say to all of us as He did to the thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). He endured to the very end.

We look to the Gospel for strength as we wait for Christ’s return. As Jesus stayed awake for us, atoning for our sins, so He asks us to stay awake for Him—and He gives us all the grace and power we need to do so.

This article was adapted from the sermon “A Wake-Up Call!” by Alistair Begg.

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  1. C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to Saint Mark (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959), 408. ↩︎

  2. John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, trans. William Pringle (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1846), 3:153. ↩︎

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