A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
One of our Q&A posts received more comments than any other we’ve ever posted by a wide margin. It concerned a woman’s frustration because in a recent conversation her friends confirmed that they believe in an any-moment rapture but then went on to tell her their plans for the next 10-20 years, what they expect to do when they retire, what kind of career they hope their children will have, and how they can’t wait to have grandchildren. She felt like they were just paying lip service to the nearness of the rapture and were more focused on their long term hopes and plans for this world.
I agreed with her, saying that what people pay attention to in their life gives you a clue as to what their intentions are for their life. When people spend more time talking about their long-range plans for their life in this world than they do about their longing for the Lord to return for the Church and what they’re doing for Him while they wait, it tells us they intend to be here for a long time.
The comments I received in response to this posting were all over the place. A few agreed with the questioner, but most thought there is nothing wrong with making long term plans for our lives because we can’t know for sure when He’s coming. And more than one person said, “We can’t just abandon our lives and go camp on a hill waiting for Him.”
Several quoted the phrase “Occupy until I come” from the Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:11-27) as their justification for making long term worldly plans, but I wonder how many of us realize the context in which the Lord said this.
In the parable, a man of noble birth was going on an extended trip and was leaving his servants in charge of a portion of his wealth saying, “Occupy till I come.”
As you know a parable is a heavenly story put into an earthly context where every character is fictional and represents an actual one. In the Parable of the Ten Minas, the man of noble birth represents Jesus, and His servants represent us.
The Greek word translated “occupy” in the King James translation of Luke 19:13 can mean to be occupied in anything, but in the context of the parable it means to “carry on a business.” In place of “occupy till I come” some English translations have the nobleman saying, “Put this money to work until I come back.” Others say, “Engage in business with this until I return.”
While there are a number of ways in which different translations convey this idea, I didn’t find a single one that indicated the nobleman was just telling his servants to idly wait for him as in “camping on a hill.” Nor did I find one that had the nobleman telling them to do whatever they wanted while he was gone. They all conveyed the idea that he expected them to conduct his business on his behalf using the resources he was leaving with them.
Therefore, the phrase “occupy until I come” doesn’t mean we’re free to live our life according to whatever priorities we’ve established while we wait for the rapture. It means we’re to be occupied in the work He’s given us until He returns, and to have something to show for it. The fact that the nobleman criticized the servant who preserved the money he’d been given but didn’t increase it at all lends credence to this interpretation. He expected a return on his capital.
What Work Has He Given Us?
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship (Romans 12:1).
Romans 12:1-2 could be called Paul’s interpretation of the phrase “Occupy until I come.” I say that because the Greek word translated “worship” in Romans 12:1 is not the one that would normally be used. In fact, it actually means “service” and that’s the way many translations render it. The King James translation calls it our “reasonable service”. In Romans 12:1 Paul urged us to offer ourselves to God to perform whatever service He has in mind for us as our response to the mercy He has shown us. And how are we supposed to know what that is? Verse 2 gives us the answer.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2).
Do you know what God’s will for your life is? We can discover His will for us by refusing to accept the pattern of this world with it’s “bigger this and more of that” mentality and allowing our minds to be renewed and become focused on the much more meaningful plans God has for our life.
You can make this discovery at any point in your life. The minute you decide to give your life to the Lord and start seeking His will for you, He will meet you right where you are. The only radical change you’ll have to make is in the area of your priorities. God has to replace you or anything else you might currently have in your number 1 position. But even then, He knows you have family and financial responsibilities and will not expect you to abandon them.
Remember, in the early Church there were no paid positions. Every one was a volunteer, and earned his or her own living. Even today there are untold numbers of bi-vocational pastors, para-church ministries, missionaries, etc. who earn their own way in life, yet consider the work they do for the Lord as their reasonable acts of service and their number 1 priority.
Remember, the mission fields aren’t all in faraway places. They are all around us. There are people everywhere who need food, shelter, and clothing. There are sick people who need visitors to comfort them, lonely people who need someone to talk to, ministries who need volunteer help, the list goes on and on. Some are even missionaries to their own local congregation. Also, there are two kinds of missionaries; those who go and those who send them.
Gifted For Service
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in everyone. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1 Cor. 12:4-7).
All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He gives them to each one, just as He determines (1 Cor. 12:10-11).
The ten minas the nobleman gave to each servant can represent the Spiritual gifts we’ve all been given to enable us to accomplish the Lord’s will for us. And just as the nobleman expected his servants to put what he had given them to work, so does the Lord expect us to put the gifts He’s given us to work for him. Listen to these words He spoke.
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).
Do you know what spiritual gifts He’s given you to help you achieve His will for your life? We all have them, you know. We just need to discover them, and put them to use. That will happen as we seek His will for our life.
No One Knows The Day Or Hour
Most people have no idea that the Lord only spoke this phrase in reference to the 2nd Coming, never the rapture. Even so, no one knows exactly when the rapture will happen. But the Bible gives us a number of signs as to when the end of the age will arrive, and tells us the rapture will precede it. And for the first time in history, every one of those signs is visible today.
Paul said the coming Day of the Lord should not take us by surprise because we’re children of the light (1 Thes. 5:4-5). That means we’ve been given all the information (light) we need to know the times and seasons of His Coming. The only people who can be taken by surprise are those who have not made themselves familiar with end times prophecy, whether by accident or design. In other words, those who say we can’t know the nearness of the rapture simply haven’t made an effort to inform themselves.
Read what the Lord said to the generation that wasn’t expecting Him the first time He came.
“When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times” (Matt. 16:2-3).
It was not that they couldn’t have known He was coming, because their Scriptures contained hundreds of prophecies of His first coming, many of which pointed to their time. It was that His coming had become less important to them than knowing what the day’s weather would be, so they didn’t bother learning about it. He could say the same thing to much of the Church today.
Some scholars are calling what’s happening in our time the convergence of signs. That means we don’t just have a few signs showing up, which would be exciting enough. It means that all the signs we were told to look for can now be found and they are all converging on a point in our not too distant future. No generation since His first coming could say this.
Does This Mean I Can’t Have A Life Of My Own?
Truth be told, the Bible never promised us a life of our own. In fact it says, “We are not our own. We’ve been bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). But God never forces any of His children to do anything. The single condition for our salvation is to “believe in the One He sent” (John 6:28-29). So you can have a life of your own. If all you want is to have your “fire insurance” policy paid up, you did that by becoming a believer (Ephes. 1:13-14). Even if you never do a single thing for the Lord and all your works are burned up in the fires of judgment, you yourself will still be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames (1 Cor. 3:15).
In Romans 12:1 Paul said, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy …” He didn’t order or command us, he urged us. Even the Holy Spirit is only our counselor, not our commander. No one will force you to do anything.
Instead, what this means is you can have a better life than the one you’ve planned for yourself. Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). In the first place, when you turn your life over to the Lord, He will see to it that all your needs are met, so you won’t have to worry at all about what tomorrow might bring (Matt 6:31-34). He will see that everything works together for your good (Romans 8:28). He will give back to you all out of proportion to what you give to Him (Luke 6:38). He will make you rich in every way so you can be generous on every occasion (2 Cor. 9:11), and you’ll be storing up untold treasure in heaven (Matt. 6:19-21) as well.
So you see, neither camping on a hilltop and waiting nor getting on with life while waiting is the Biblically correct approach. To occupy till He comes is to be engaged in the conduct of the business He has called us to.
In closing, I’m reminded of my favorite paraphrase of James 2:17 where the apostle wrote, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by deeds is dead.” The version I like goes, “If what you say you believe does not result in action, maybe you don’t really believe it.” If you’re not longing for the rapture and engaged in the Lord’s work while you wait for it, then maybe you don’t really believe it’s coming soon.
When viewed from a strictly human perspective, the rapture of the Church is the most incredible event in history. The resurrection of believers is the fulfillment of a promise that was made on the cross, the delivery of the greatest blessing ever given to mankind. And among resurrected believers, no other group has been or will be blessed as richly as the Church. Paul said God is doing this so that in ages yet to come He might demonstrate the incomparable riches of His Grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus (Ephes. 2:7).
But even above all this, He has chosen one generation of the Church to pass directly from mortal to immortal without experiencing death. This generation will be standing on Earth in our mortal, sin-filled bodies, and then in the twinkling of an eye, we’ll be transformed directly into a perfect, immortal version of ourselves. Immediately, we’ll be transported to the home He has spent the last 2,000 years preparing for us to begin a life with Him that is literally beyond imagining. And it could happen any day now.
But what if it doesn’t happen today? I was a business consultant when I became a believer 30 years ago. One of the services I provided was to help individuals and companies identify and achieve long term goals. Following my own example, I had binders full of five-year plans for myself and my company which I faithfully tracked each month and completely updated annually.
I had learned about the rapture early in my life as a believer and, like most people, I was immediately excited about it. When I felt the Lord telling me to put my plans for my life aside and follow the path He had laid out for me instead, I thought, “Why not? We won’t be here that long anyway.” I decided to stop making my own plans for the future, and began letting Him implement His plan instead. Later I realized that this is what He meant in Matt. 16:24-25.
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
That was 30 years ago, and I haven’t made any future plans for me or anyone else since. The life I have today is nothing like the one I had planned for myself. But it’s more exciting and more fulfilling than anything I could have imagined. I still see the rapture as an “any day now” event and I’m ready to go the instant I hear the trumpet. But I also realize that if that doesn’t happen today, the plan the Lord is unfolding in my life is the next best thing that could have happened to me, because I’m occupying until He comes. You can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah 02-21-15.