I can't be the only one asking about "the end" right now???
40+ weeks pregnant, no baby, and you won't believe what happened this week. Incredible frustration turned beautiful - even bringing my husband to tears. Inside our week's story is an ancient one so profound I can't believe I'd never heard it as a Believer! Especially as one curious about the timing of Christ's return.
Are you familiar with Prodromal labor? Don’t feel bad if not, because even after four kids I hadn’t either. It’s essentially labor that mimics real labor and delivery in intensity, uncomfortability, and legitimacy. Except, it never yields the results it is designed to; a baby. It could last for days or in my case, weeks. My midwife who lives one hour away has already driven to my home well after midnight this week for one false alarm.
Every night is prepping, cleaning, and restocking supplies all over again with unhopeful exhaustion and a smidge of “just in case”. Bedtime doesn’t bring relief, but contractions 5 minutes apart leaving you feeling like, “Here we go again and while the rest of the world sleeps soundly.” This uncomfortable labor is the physical façade and frustrating tease of what is actually the most anticipated event of your life’s last 10 months. Always tempting you to think it’s time, yet day after day after day having you endure the physical and emotional roller coaster of anticipation with no tangible progress or baby. Your body and heart are so ready, so tired, and so is everyone around you.
Plainly, it’s miserable.
I’m now well past my due date and still. no. baby.
Could there be a more realistic picture of what it feels like to wait with absolutely no control over a much-anticipated fulfillment? Sometimes we can manipulate progress, but in the case of a woman’s body delivering a baby, there is literally nothing to be done. (Trust me, I’ve probably tried it with one of my five.)
In the middle of this waiting, my husband Aaron and I snuggled in one night to watch a docu-drama on Christ’s anticipated return, also called the “second coming”, the “end of the age”, or the Rapture. We both sat mouth open wading in what felt like our life’s parallel and own symbolic metaphor. Let me share why this was so personally powerful to us: just as my soul and body (which any mom can relate to) continually anticipates delivery and comfort in these remaining, trying days of pregnancy, we Believers seek the relief promised in Christ’s return as we see more and more of the world’s assured brokenness multiply.
In all the chaos of 2020 — Covid, masks, multiple hurricanes, impeachment, dangerous riots, frivolous looting, deaths and beatings, enormous fires, child sex trafficking awareness, and political unrest and freedoms in question, we can look through our Bibles and see specific prophecies being legitimately fulfilled before our eyes. So while none of us know the exact day or hour, I believe our generation is most definitely living in the last days before Christ’s imminent return. (Ezekiel 27, Psalm 102, Matthew 24)
It’s odd that we don’t discuss the “end of days” more as nearly ⅓ of the entire Bible is “prophetic” or foretelling. What hope it brings to humanity to focus on what God said He would do and then what He has already done -- because embracing these fulfillments produces fearlessness for our future as we can trust what God says is to come. In other words, God knows how we work. God knows our faith built on what is unseen is always strengthened by what has already been seen.
If the Gospel is about Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection for the purpose of our repentance and fellowship with Him, then it all points to the crescendo of what is the Gospel message; His return. Otherwise, why do you and I exist? I am about to tell you one of the most profound stories in all of Scripture that will open your eyes to this answer.
The scene is the upper room where Jesus dines with His disciples at what is famously called the Last Supper. This is essentially the last peaceful and private teaching moment Christ had with His disciples as His crucifixion was quickly approaching...and He laid it all out.
Christ often used real-life examples taken from the context of His listeners’ culture to make deep intellectual connections with their hearts. Just like you would talk with your children, Christ made the complex simple by pulling from what they already knew. In this case, the example of a Galilean wedding. Why? Because every last disciple, although from all different backgrounds and professions, was Galilean. All twelve clearly understood the intricacies of Jesus’ explanation of His return when He set it to the backdrop of their own ancient wedding ceremony. And, this backdrop changes everything we think we know about the second coming.
In Jesus' day, under Roman rule, life was uncertain and cruel - much like today. A wedding ceremony was not only singularly important in Middle Eastern culture but momentous in bringing joy to a city. Townspeople would rush to the scene of the two future lovers to witness the elders gathering and fathers’ exchange. As the groom's father would read a written covenant, the bride would consider the agreement’s words knowing that she could not go back on whatever her answer was.
You see, unlike every other Middle Eastern betrothal tradition, the Galilean tradition gave the bride alone the final authority to accept or reject a groom. So, after a gift is given to the bride and money to her father (not securing payment for her, but rather insurance to care for her should something happen to the groom - also unique to Galilean culture) the groom offers a cup of wine to his beloved. All the onlookers hold their breath as the potential bride drinks or rejects the cup the groom presents as a proposal for marriage. Without her willing acceptance, the covenant is not solidified and the wedding will not take place. The close of this ceremony is breathtaking if she accepts. The groom says aloud for all to hear, “You are now consecrated to me by the laws of Moses and I will not drink of this cup again until I drink it anew with you in my father’s house”.
Returning back to the upper room, what does Jesus do, but offer wine and as a symbol of a “new” covenant in which He looks around and says to His Galilean followers almost word-for-word:
“I tell you, I will never again drink this wine until the day I drink the new wine with you in my Father's Kingdom." Matthew 26:29 GNT
How profound this statement is compared to the precious excitement found in a Galilean betrothal ceremony, not only to us now understanding, but to the disciples with personal context! In that upper room, they thought “wedding”. Then, true to the ceremony, Jesus gave each disciple the cup...like a groom would for his bride to accept — thee promise, a covenant, the "new" covenant.
After this ceremony and technically betrothed, there started an extended period of waiting for these two lovers. Actually, it would usually be around one, long year before they could come back together. Can you imagine this wait? The reason is that a groom would need to prepare for his bride. While she would do no more than 1) be ready to come away and 2) stay pure, a groom would bear the full burdens of building furniture, saving, preparing the wedding feast, and most importantly, building onto His Father’s house. He must go and prepare a room for His bride.
So, after Jesus passes the cup of wine, He too makes a promise:
“There are many rooms in my Father's house. I wouldn't tell you this, unless it was true. I am going there to prepare a place for each of you. After I have done this, I will come back and take you with me. Then we will be together.” John 14:2-3 CEV
If we don’t anticipate Jesus coming back for His bride, we have missed the Gospel and the essence of Jesus.
Like the groom anticipating his bride’s arrival as he sweats over his tasks bringing him daily closer to her, so Jesus waits for His Father to tell Him when to retrieve us.
"No one knows when that day or hour will come —not the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” Matthew 24:36 ISV
Aaron and I couldn’t believe it. Even in Galilean tradition, only the groom’s father, who read the covenant that day of the betrothal, was aware of the day and hour he elected for the actual wedding. This example is true to the Scriptural reality that even Christ does not know His day of return, but only His Father. (Matthew 24:36)
Once preparations are done during the long wedding wait, the groom’s Father builds the anticipation by choosing a time in the middle of the night or early morning to wake his son to retrieve his bride. I can only imagine the groom’s aching heart as he waited.
When Dad walks in and finally wakes his son saying, “It’s time”, he probably jumps up. He probably feels elated as he walks the streets to her home with his groomsmen in tow; blowing his trumpet to publicly call out such a private moment, at an intimate hour with torches lit, everyone asleep, and his heart pounding.
Knowing this will take place at such an inconvenient hour, a bride must always be ready. Historically, her bridesmaids sleep with her, her lamp is ready, and she even wears her wedding gown to bed in those days. She must be pure and she must be ready to be taken from her home at a moment’s notice.
We see the parallel again:
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”
Matthew 25:13 NKJV
But the bride is not asked just to get up and go. She is retrieved in the most beautiful and respectful way. She is placed on a seat and lifted in the air to be carried away in a custom called “flying the bride” — like we Christians are told we will “fly away” with Jesus. (I Thessalonians 4:17) All this honor is bestowed upon her. She simply must be ready. What another sweet display of grace.
Headed back to the house at such a time, only those readied for this wedding are able to join the procession. So, several guests are left behind. (Even the maidens who didn’t plan ahead by having enough oil for their lamps. Matthew 25:1-13) Per custom, sadly, once the groom retrieves his bride and participants file into the feast, the door is shut never to be opened. We must be ready, Church and with this eternal perspective.