For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there shall be two men in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. (24:37–42)
Jesus used the Flood to illustrate the point He was making about the coming of the Son of Man, namely, that the attitude that prevailed during the days of Noah … before the flood will also characterize most people living during the end time just before Christ returns. They will not be expecting His coming and will not care about it. Despite the perilous signs and wonders, they will simply be unconcerned about the things of the Lord, especially the prospect of His imminent return to judge them.
Many people doubtless will try to explain the extraordinary end-time phenomena on a scientific and rational basis, expecting to discover a natural cause for the cataclysms. Like their counterparts today, they will look everywhere for answers except to the Word of God.
At Jesus’ first coming, most men refused to recognize Him for who He was. He healed every sort of disease, cast out demons, made water into wine, stilled a raging storm, and raised the dead, but even most of His own people refused to believe in Him. In fact the Jewish religious leaders were so determined to discredit Jesus that they accused Him of casting out demons in the power of Satan (Matt. 12:24).
Sinful, materialistic, hypocritical, godless mankind is willfully blind to God’s truth, no matter how compelling that truth may be. And when God’s truth exposes their wickedness, they make every effort to oppose and condemn it.
On one occasion “the Pharisees and Sadducees came up” to Jesus, “and testing Him asked Him to show them a sign from heaven. But He answered and said to them, ‘When it is evening, you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.” And in the morning, “There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.” Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?’ ” (Matt. 16:1–3). By that time in His ministry the Lord had performed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miracles, all of which testified to His divinity and His messiahship, yet those religious leaders refused to acknowledge Him. Because their hearts were determinedly set against Jesus, no sign could have brought them to belief. He therefore said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah” (v. 4). As Jesus explained on an earlier occasion, the sign of Jonah was His resurrection from the dead (12:39–40). That sign did not convince unbelievers, either. Just as most of their forefathers had done, they shut their minds to God’s Word and God’s messengers, even ignoring the teaching and miracles of the very Son of God. Worse even than ignore Him, they put Him to death.
During the time of the Tribulation, mankind will be hardened to sin and ungodliness as never before in history. As evil men get worse and worse (2 Tim. 3:13), the world then becomes spiritually darker and even physically darker. Unbelieving people will more intensely indulge their sins and more vehemently oppose God’s truth and God’s people. During the Tribulation the Holy Spirit will be removed from the earth, and evil and Satan will be unrestrained (2 Thess. 2:6–7). During the fifth trumpet judgment, demons bound in the bottomless pit will be unleashed on the earth to wreak unprecedented torment on unbelieving mankind, being forbidden to harm God’s people (Rev. 9:1–5).
As people run amok in sin and every form of debauchery and ungodliness, they will become more and more impervious to God’s truth and resentful of His standards of righteousness. They will be so vile, wretched, and preoccupied with sex, drugs, alcohol, materialism, and pleasure seeking that they will believe every explanation for the end-time signs except the one given in Scripture. Rather than turning to God in repentance, they will curse Him (Rev. 9:21).
In the days of Noah before the Flood, they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage. While Noah built the ark, he also preached (2 Pet. 2:5), but the people were just as unconcerned about his preaching as about the ark he was building, thinking both were meaningless and absurd. They laughed when he spoke of the coming flood. They had never seen rain, much less a flood, because until that time the earth was apparently covered by a vapor canopy that provided all the moisture necessary for life to flourish. Because they had never seen such a calamity, they discounted the idea that it could happen. They therefore went about their daily routines of eating and drinking and of marrying and giving in marriage. It was business as usual until the day Noah entered the ark and it started to rain.
Even when his prediction began to be fulfilled before their eyes, they did not take his warning to heart. Noah had built and preached for 120 years, yet without having the slightest impact on anyone outside his immediate family. The people were so untouched by God’s truth that they did not understand their perilous situation until the flood came and took them all away into a godless eternity. Flood translates kataklusmos, which means deluge or washing away, and is the term from which the English cataclysm is derived. Only after it was too late did the people of that generation understand their tragic destiny.
That is precisely the attitude and response that will prevail before the coming of the Son of man. The perilous signs, the abomination of desolation, the disruption of the heavenly bodies, and the preaching of God’s witnesses during the Tribulation will have no effect on the majority of men. They will see God’s signs but attribute them to natural causes or to supernatural causes apart from God. They will hear His Word, in one instance supernaturally preached worldwide by an angel (Rev. 15:6–7), but they will respond with disdain or indifference. They will heed neither warnings nor appeals from God up until the very moment the Son of Man appears to confront them in righteous judgment.
During the Tribulation there will be multitudes won to Christ (Rev. 7:9–14), including the 144,000 Jewish witnesses who will preach His gospel (Rev. 7:1–8), and there will be marvelous revival in the nation of Israel (Rom. 11:26). But that time will be dominated not by belief but by unbelief, not by holiness but by wickedness, not by godliness but by ungodliness. It will be epitomized by secularism and false religion, even as most of the world is today, but to an immeasurably worse degree.
Like the people of Noah’s day, the generation of the Tribulation will be warned and warned and warned again. Some of them will have been warned many times before the Tribulation, while the church is still on earth proclaiming the gospel.
When the Son of Man finally appears in His second-coming judgment, then there shall be two men in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Jesus is giving a figure parallel to the unbelievers of Noah’s day being taken away by the judgment through the Flood. When He returns, one will be taken to judgment and the other will be left to enter the kingdom. This is the same separation described in the next chapter by the figures of sheep and goats (25:32–46). The ones left will be Christ’s sheep, His redeemed people whom He will preserve to reign with Him during the Millennium.
But even until the very end, as Peter declared in his sermon at Pentecost, just “before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come … it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:20–21). In that final moment when the King comes to establish His kingdom, some people will turn to Christ in sincere faith and be redeemed. They will be set apart as the Lord’s sheep by the angels and will inherit the kingdom prepared for them.
Therefore be on the alert, Jesus said, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. The phrase be on the alert translates a present imperative, indicating a call for continual expectancy.
When the Lord comes, the ungodly will be swept away, having forever lost their opportunity for salvation. Just as believers today do not know at what time the Lord is coming to take them to Himself in the rapture, the generation alive during the Tribulation will not know the exact time of His appearing to judge the ungodly and to establish His kingdom.
Malachi envisioned believers in the last day apparently discussing among themselves the possibility that they would inadvertently and mistakenly be separated out with the wicked and be condemned. But “the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name. ‘And they will be Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.’ So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him” (Mal. 3:16–18).
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly thereafter; and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day with their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation [or trial], and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment. (2 Pet. 2:4–9)
Christians at that time must be alert, even though they will be secure and have no cause for dread.
42 This is the only call to “keep awake” in Matthew’s version of the discourse (except for its inappropriate insertion at 25:13; see comments there), as compared with its insistent repetition in Mark 13:33–37 (together with the related charge to avoid sleep in the verb agrypneō). The following parables, with their message about being prepared in advance and living a continuously good life, suggest that Matthew had a less frenetic approach to “readiness” than Mark (and Paul; see 1 Thes 5:1–7), and the acceptance in 25:5 that it is alright to sleep suggests a different perspective. But the call to be ready at any time is nonetheless appropriately symbolized by staying awake, as the simile in the next verse will show.
The event for which they must be ready is described as the day when “your lord comes.” The language anticipates the following parable (vv. 46, 50) where the kyrios is the returning master of the slaves; so also in 25:19. Indeed in the parallel at Mark 13:35 this kyrios is explicitly the “master of the house” (referring back to a different mini-parable in Mark 13:34 which Matthew does not include). But the Christian reader will naturally identify the “Lord” as Jesus, and so will think of the “day” (cf. v. 36) of the parousia of the Son of Man, even though the term parousia will not be used again. In its place here is the ordinary verb erchomai, “come,” but not now with the accompanying terms “the Son of Man” and “on the clouds of heaven” which in v. 30 indicated a primary allusion to the enthronement scene in Dan 7:13–14. In v. 44 the same verb will be used with the Son of Man as subject and clearly also with reference to the parousia as here, and it may be that in these uses of erchomai we have an allusive hint that the parousia may be viewed as a further and final fulfillment of that enthronement vision. That would tally with the use of Dan 7:13–14 language in 19:28 and 25:31–34 with reference to the “new age” and the final judgment (see comments on 10:23): the heavenly authority of the Son of Man which is to be demonstrated through the events of the Roman war according to v. 30 will be finally consummated in his parousia at the end of the age. But that may be to read too much into so everyday a word as erchomai here, especially when the following parable gives it a sense quite appropriate to the story line without demanding also an OT allusion.
Ver. 42.—Watch therefore. The end will be sudden, the final separation will be then completed; be ye therefore always prepared. Few exhortations are more frequently and impressively given than this of the duty and necessity of watchfulness. Of course, the Christian has to watch against many things—his own evil heart, temptation, the world, but most of all he must watch and be always looking for the coming of his Lord; for whether he be regarded as Redeemer, Deliverer, or Judge, he will come as a thief in the night. What hour. Very many good manuscripts and some late editors read “on what day.” This is probably the genuine reading, “hour” being an alteration derived from ver. 44. What (ποίᾳ) means of what kind or quality—whether sudden, immediate, or remote.
42. Watch therefore. In Luke the exhortation is more pointed, or, at least, more special, Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and the cares of this life. And certainly he who, by living in intemperance, has his senses overloaded with food and wine, will never elevate his mind to meditation on the heavenly life. But as there is no desire of the flesh that does not intoxicate a man, they ought to take care, in all these respects, not to satiate themselves with the world, if they wish to advance with speed to the kingdom of Christ. The single word watch—which we find in Matthew—denotes that uninterrupted attention which keeps our minds in full activity, and makes us pass through the world like pilgrims.
In the account given by Mark, the disciples are first enjoined to take heed lest, through carelessness or indolence, ruin overtake them; and next are commanded to watch, because various allurements of the flesh are continually creeping upon us, and lulling our minds to sleep. Next follows an exhortation to prayer, because it is necessary to seek elsewhere the supplies that are necessary for supporting our weakness. Luke dictates the very form of prayer; first, that God may be pleased to rescue us from so deep and intricate a labyrinth; and next, that he may present us safe and sound in presence of his Son; for we shall never be able to reach it but by miraculously escaping innumerable deaths. And as it was not enough to pass through the course of the present life by rising superior to all dangers, Christ places this as the most important, that we may be permitted to stand before his tribunal.
For you know not at what hour your Lord will come. It ought to be observed, that the uncertainty as to the time of Christ’s coming—which almost all treat as an encouragement to sloth—ought to be felt by us to be an excitement to attention and watchfulness. God intended that it should be hidden from us, for the express purpose that we may keep diligent watch without the relaxation of a single hour. For what would be the trial of faith and patience, if believers, after spending their whole life in ease, and indolence, and pleasure, were to prepare themselves within the space of three days for meeting Christ?
42. The practical conclusion to be drawn from vv. 36–41 is that of constant readiness, which will also be the focus of the rest of the chapter and of 25:1–13. The parallel verse in Mark (13:35) is the conclusion to a short parable about a door-keeper, which Matthew omits (no doubt because it makes the same point as Matthew’s longer parable in vv. 45–51). Your Lord (kyrios) is in the Marcan version ‘the master (kyrios) of the house’, referring back to the parable; Matthew has drawn out the latent Christological overtones of the word (cf. on 7:21).
42. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.—
The coming of the Son of Man:—
- The warning. Christ’s coming is compared to that of a thief in the night. Seems disparaging, but is remarkably apt (1 Thess. 5:2–4). The dispensation under which we live is emphatically that of night, in comparison with the dispensation which is to be introduced at the day of the Lord, &c. The plans of the housebreaker are all laid beforehand, and yet studiously concealed. So the coming of the Lord and the day of His appearing are fixed with infinite wisdom, but kept secret with a profound reserve. That mystery wears a pleasing or repulsive aspect, according to the preparedness of those to whom the Master comes.
- The caution. It is remarkable that the Evangelist Luke, while omitting the parable, gives us the most lucid account of its application (Luke 21:34).
III. The precept. A personal preparation for the coming of our Lord is to be regarded as a matter of imminent motive with us all. You may be deceived as to the signs; but you are not to be negligent of the event. “Watch and pray.” Watchfulness is the habit of keeping the eye constantly alive to events; prayer is the habit of keeping the heart constantly lifted up to God. Taking into account the conditions under which we are admonished to watch and pray, the intent becomes palpable that things we are not permitted to know beforehand will be gradually unfolded to us as the events are about to transpire. But the chief motive defies analysis. The holy instinct of loving hearts prompts that ardent expectancy with which “hope” anticipates the appearing of the Lord. (B. W. Carr.)
- The unexpected arrival. 1. Of what person? 2. In what manner? 3. For what purpose? 4. At what time? Date unknown (ver. 36), knowledge might induce carelessness, &c.
- The unforeseen disclosure. 1. To many, of the character of others. It will be a day of great surprises. We only judge by appearances. God knows thought, intention, character. 2. To many, of their own destiny. Judge not. Leave the judgment with God.
III. The needful watching. 1. With increasing prayer. 2. With unfaltering diligence. 3. With unfailing patience. Biding the Lord’s time submissively. He will not always tarry. (J. C. Gray.)
Temptations demand watchfulness:—
- Temptations may enter the senses without sin, for to behold the object, to touch, or taste, is not to commit sin, because God Himself hath thus ordered and framed the senses by their several instruments and organs. He hath kindled up light in the eyes, He hath digged the hollow of the ear, for hearing, and hath shut up the taste in the mouth or palate, and hath given man his senses very fit for the trial and reward of virtue. Therefore, we may make a covenant with our eye, bridle our taste, bind our touch, purge our ears, and so sanctify and consecrate every sense unto the Lord, which is indeed to watch.
- They may enter the thoughts, and be received into the imagination, and yet, if we set our watch, not overcome us; for as yet they are but, as it were, in their march, bringing up their forces; but have made no battery or breach into the soul. III. The sense and fancy may receive the object with some delight and natural complacency, and yet without sin; if we stand upon our guard, and then oppose it most, when it most pleads for admittance. (Anthony Farindon.)
24:42 “be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.” This parable is paralleled in Luke 12:39–40. The emphasis on being ready (cf. v. 43, 44) and the uncertainty of the time (cf. vv. 39, 47, 49, 50; 25:5, 13) are recurrent themes in the chapter. The uncertainty of the time provides motivation for the continued readiness of each generation of believers.
The lesson is clear: 42. Be on the alert, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. To be (constantly) on the alert or watchful—a Greek word from which the proper name Gregory (the watchful or vigilant one) is derived—means to live a sanctified life, in the consciousness of the coming judgment day. Spiritual and moral circumspection and forethought are required; preparedness is necessary. The watchful person has his loins girded and his lamps burning (Luke 12:35). It is in that condition that he looks forward to the coming of the Bridegroom. For more on this subject of watchfulness and its implications see N.T.C. on I and II Thessalonians, pp. 124, 125. Note that Jesus refers to himself as “your Lord.” So glorious, powerful, and clothed with authority and majesty is he; also, so condescending, so closely united with those whom he is pleased to call his own, and who are loyal to him. Cf. Isa. 57:15. Let them therefore persevere in being vigilant.
24:42. Therefore means, “because the time of my return will be sudden and unpredictable.” This is the central turning point in the discourse. As Noah spent time and energy preparing for the Flood, so people living prior to Christ’s return must spend themselves in being alert and ready for his coming.
The command is, Keep watch (cf. 1 Cor. 16:13; 1 Thess. 5:6; 1 Pet. 5:8; Rev 3:2–3; 16:15). The reason for this exhortation to continual diligence was in the preceding teaching (24:36–41), which Jesus summarized in the next clause, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. “Your Lord” is significant, drawing attention to the fact that we do not belong to ourselves. Rather it is our master and creator who will return. He will call us to account.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 4, pp. 72–76). Chicago: Moody Press.
 France, R. T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew (pp. 941–942). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co.
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