IN HIS model prayer, Christ instructed His disciples to pray "Thy kingdom come." And so we do — at least some of us do — perhaps perfunctorily, perhaps fervently — but we pray for it. And we hope it will come soon — or we hope it will come later so as not to preempt our plans and worldly pursuits. Or we don't hope at all. And we speculate about it. And argue over it. When will it come? Will it come at all? What sequence of events will lead to its arrival? But who among us is really preparing for it? Preparing to meet our God is something most of us would consider seriously only on our deathbeds or if we believed that Christ's return were very, very imminent. Otherwise, forget it for now — we'll think about it some other day. Such a don't-bother-me, devil-may-care (Satan takes the second coming of Christ very seriously, by the way) attitude is extremely shortsighted. In the first place, if Christ does return in your lifetime, you, of course, could be in real trouble. But should you die before He returns, as billions have before you, the question of preparation is still important. For the Bible teaches that the dead in Christ — and you do hope to be numbered among that privileged group — will be resurrected to immortality when Christ returns, when the Kingdom comes!
So no matter how you figure it, the coming of the Kingdom is of immediate concern to you. When you pray "Thy kingdom come," you should also pray the prayer of Moses: "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom" (Ps. 90:12). You should take to heart the exhortation of the Apostle Paul: "See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:15-16). How do we wise up? How do we know what Christ's will for us is in these crucial times? Fortunately, we don't have to guess. For Christ not only told us what would happen (which everybody worries about), but also what to do about it (which most people ignore). Let's take a look at His important — and often overlooked — instruction.
In 1970, Alvin Tomer, in his bestselling book Future Shock, proclaimed the gospel of rapid change and predicted a radically different world of the future. Tomer warned of massive future shock — bewildering anxiety, frustration and disorientation — for those who don't change their modes of thinking and living to prepare themselves for the changes to come. Toffer is one of a new breed of thinkers called futurists. They attempt to predict the future based on past and present conditions and trends. Over 1900 years earlier, Jesus Christ preached another gospel of change and prophesied of a different — better — world to come. You can read about it in His best-selling book, the Bible. As the first and foremost futurist, Christ predicted the coming Kingdom of God and told people to change — repent — in order to be prepared for its arrival (Mark 1:14-15). He also warned of extreme future shock — often summed up in the expression "there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" — for those who didn't heed His message. Some of Christ's strongest warnings about future shock are recorded in Matthew 24 and 25. First, He foretold the sequence of traumatic events that would culminate in His return. Then He warned: "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.... Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come" (Matt. 24:36, 42).
Second-Guessing the Second Coming
In spite of these emphatic statements of Christ, there have always been some who have tried to second-guess God the Father about the return of His Son. And who wouldn't want to know? After all, the return of Christ is the focal point of all prophecy, the hope and expectation of all true believers. But those who try to outguess God are setting themselves up for an unpleasant dose of future shock — the trauma and disillusionment of being wrong. Prophecy is interesting and informative, but it is plain from the words of Christ that there is only so much we can know beforehand. So it's futile to try to second-guess God. Besides, there are more important things for a Christian to do than play guessing games. Take a word of advice from Paul: "... Yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.... And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge... and have not charity [love], I am nothing" (I Cor. 12:31; l3:2). Concentrate on matters that really count.
Eat, Drink While the Lord Doth Tarry
At the opposite extreme of the second-guessers are those who give up hoping or believing Christ is coming. They comprise a much larger group, and their problem is far more serious. Second-guessing is foolish — but skepticism and doubt can be fatal! The Apostle Peter predicted that as we drew closer to Christ's return, there would be, ironically, greater and greater skepticism that He would return. "Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation" (II Pet. 3:3-4). Peter explained that God does not view time as we mortals do and any "delay" is for our benefit. "But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night..." (verses 8-10). The smart Christian realizes this and keeps himself busy doing what Christ says. "Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods" (Matt. 24:45-47). But the doubter or skeptic, lacking conviction and motivation, is liable to misuse the precious time afforded him. He adopts an eat-drink-while-the-Lord-doth-tarry life-style — with fatal consequences. "But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to smite his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (verses 48-51). A void future shock. Don't be caught off guard. If you let down in your spiritual responsibilities, you may be left out of the Kingdom.
The "Fuelish" Virgins
Another group of people in danger of suffering future shock is portrayed in the parable of the wise and foolish — or "fuelish," as we shall see — virgins. Ten virgins go out to meet the bridegroom — Christ (Matt. 25:1). Half of them are well supplied with oil; half aren't. While the bridegroom is delayed, they fall asleep. At midnight the cry goes out to meet the bridegroom. "Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not" (Matt. 25:7-12).
Spiritual Energy Crisis
Christ tells us to be lights to the world (Matt. 5:14). "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (verse 16). Your light can shine if you have plenty of oil — if you have and use God's Holy Spirit daily, if you have a close one-on-one relationship with God, and if you are doing His will. But if you aren't "on fire" for God, then you, like the "fuelish" virgins, are suffering from a spiritual energy crisis. The problem with them was not that they did anything particularly evil — but rather that they didn't do anything at all! They were spiritually apathetic and complacent. Maybe they didn't dive off the deep end of the cesspool of sensuality and sin — like the wicked servant in Matthew 24 — but neither were they fervent and zealous for the things of God. The foolish virgins couldn't make up their deficiency by borrowing oil from others. This shows that you can't make it into the Kingdom — you can't be saved — on someone else's coat tails. All of your friends and good connections won't do you any good at the time of judgment. You will be judged on your own merits — or demerits. Christ ended the parable with this warning: "Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh" (Matt. 25:13). Watch what? Certainly world conditions. But Christ also meant we should watch our own spiritual condition. The literal Greek carries the connotation of being vigilant, awake, alert, prepared. We should post a continual watch on our own lives — what we think and what we do — and have plenty of fuel on hand through contact with God and His Word. Then we will be prepared for future salvation instead of future shock.
The Parable of the Talents
Now that you're awake, you need to keep yourself busy. You need to be doing something constructive with your life. This is Christ's advice in His next parable — the parable of the talents. A talent in Christ's time was a unit of currency worth several hundred dollars at today's rates. In this parable Christ used it to symbolize a person's abilities and natural aptitudes. Etymologists tell us the modem use of the word "talent" is derived from the use Christ made of it in this parable. The parable begins in Matthew 25:14 with a man (Christ) taking a long journey into a far country (heaven). Among his servants (Christians) he distributes his wealth for them to invest; some get more than others. Upon his return he calls for an accounting. "And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord" (verses 20, 21). The servant with two talents also doubled his amount and was similarly commended. "Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 25:24-30).
Don't Sell Yourself Short
The lesson to all is to make the most of the talents and opportunities God gives you. This message is especially important to those who think they possess only one talent — or less. Focusing their minds on what they don't have instead of what they do, they are fond of quoting Paul's statement in I Corinthians 1:26-27: "For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world... the weak things... and base things of the world, and things which are despised." Identifying themselves with this description, they short-sell themselves, bury their talent, and wait, wait, wait for Christ to come. It's too bad they don't read and identify with Paul's response to his own weaknesses. In II Corinthians 12 Paul prayed three times for relief from his physical afflictions. But God answered: "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." To which Paul responded: "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (verses 9-10). The short-sellers should also read, the parable of the pounds in Luke 19:12-27. It is identical to the parable of the talents except for the fact that each servant is given only one pound to work with. (For those who like to discount their ability, it should be pointed out that a pound was worth much less than a talent.) The profitable servants were able to show Christ a 1,000% and 500% return on His investment in them. What you start out with is Christ's responsibility — and what you end up with is yours. The criterion for Christians to keep in mind is that Christ will only hold you accountable for what you do with what you have — not what you haven't. So get busy!
The Ice Age Cometh
In Matthew 24, Christ predicted that as the end approaches there would be an Ice Age — of the human heart. "And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold" (verse 12). The Apostle Paul elaborated on this chilling of human emotions and relationships in II Timothy 3:1-4: "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves... unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good ... lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God." One of the great challenges facing Christians today is to give love, to be concerned and involved in people's problems and needs. Thus the parable of the sheep and goats. The time setting is the judgment when Christ sorts out the sheep (righteous) from the goats (wicked). "Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me." The righteous ask how this could be so. "And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matt. 25:34-40). The goats on the left are left out of the Kingdom of God because they never took the time and effort to care. They took their motto from the first murderer, Cain: "... Am I my brother's keeper?"
If you were in the sorting pen now, on which side of Christ would you be placed? If you can't say confidently that you'd end up on the right side, now is the time to do something about it. There are too few sheep in the world — in fact, they are becoming an endangered species! Any additions to their depleted ranks will help a love-starved humanity and be well rewarded by Christ when His Kingdom comes. The concept and practice of brotherly love is such a vast one that it could scarcely be covered in a whole article, much less in these few paragraphs. But for a working definition read Romans 13:8-10. Also read our two important booklets — What Is a Real Christian? and The Ten Commandments. They expand upon the theme of love.
Warn the World
We have seen that Christ instructs us to watch, to develop our talents, and to love our fellowman. These are things we as individuals can — and must — do. There is yet another responsibility Jesus places upon us. But it is a collective responsibility — a job that He has assigned to His spiritual organism — the Church. And that is to warn the world that He is coming. "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature," said Christ (Mark 16:15). The gospel is the good news of the coming Kingdom of God — see Mark 1:14-15. He also commissioned His Church to "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in [into] the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20). This is the work given to the Church to perform until Christ returns. It is being- accomplished today through the personal ministry of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, now proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom of God to heads of state around the world. Through the personal ministry of Mr. Garner Ted Armstrong on TV, radio, in print, and now in evangelistic campaigns. Through hundreds of ordained ministers around the globe who teach repentance and baptism, and who are involved in the problems and needs of tens of thousands of people. Through the printing and mailing of millions of magazines and booklets each year that proclaim the gospel and instruct people in all the teachings of Christ. The Worldwide Church of God is doing something more than pray "Thy kingdom come." As the collective body of Christ it is striving to make this important prophecy of Christ a reality: "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Matt. 24:14). For more information about who we are, and what we are accomplishing, read the booklets This Is the Worldwide Church of God and Where Is God's True Church Today? And if you are interested in becoming a part of this worldwide Work, and have questions you would like answered, you are invited to write us and request a special, private appointment with one of our ministers. Or if you would prefer faster service, simply pick up the phone and dial this toll-free number in the continental United States: 800-423-4444. (Readers in California, Alaska and Hawaii may call 213-577-5225 collect.) We have no religious ax to grind, no quotas to meet, no pressure to exert. We simply have a message of hope and salvation, and a mission to broadcast that good news to the world. We intend to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God until that Kingdom comes. For as Christ said: "Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing." What will you be doing when Christ comes?