Once again, human calculations and predictions about the end of the world, the return of Christ, the parousia if you want to sound fancy, have amounted to nothing more than hype and media coverage.
And this Sunday I’m preaching on John 14. How fitting.
Jesus has just dropped a bombshell on the dinner conversation. He’s going to die. He’s going to leave them and they can’t come yet. What’s more, Peter, the confession-giving, water-walking, sword-slinging disciple was just told that he will deny the very Christ he proclaims to defend. If Peter’s faith will fail, what chance do the others have?
But Jesus reassures them. “Don’t let your hearts be troubled; don’t fret; don’t worry; don’t let all this confusion and doubt stand in your way. You believe in God, right? Then believe in me, too. My Father’s house has many room, plenty of dwelling places, and I’m going to prepare a place for you. Yes, you. So if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you back with me. That way, where I am there you can be there, too. But until then, you know the way to where I’m going.”
We read that, and it seems like a nice sentiment. It’s heartwarming to know that Jesus has promised to come back and get us one day.
But what impact would this have had on the disciples?
The imagery Jesus uses is actually that of a man and woman who are to be married. In Jewish custom, there is an engagement, a betrothal, and marriage. The engagement is the initial “we’re going to be married one day” phase. Following that is the betrothal. During this time, the bride and groom would be separated for as long as a year while the groom made all the preparations for his future family. This would often be done by adding onto the home of the groom’s parents. Jewish families were very patronistic in that multiple generations would be living under the roof of the father.
After this betrothal period–after all the carpets were installed, all the curtains were hung, all the walls painted–the groom would come again, get his bride, and bring her back into the home. This would begin the official marriage.
Do you notice what Jesus is doing here?
There were some dangers involved in such a long separation period. For instance, the woman, left on her own, could end up falling in love with some other man. This would certainly bring a halt to the impending marriage. On the other hand, the man could never return. In the BC era (before cellphones), someone could get sick or injured without family ever knowing about it. There was the potential risk of something tragic happening to the groom as he is making preparations. If he were not to return, the woman would be left as essentially a husbandless married woman.
But Jesus gives us the reassurance that he WILL come again and bring us home. The ball is in our court. Are we going to remain a faithful bride eagerly awaiting the return of her groom? Or will our eyes begin to stray as we look for other people/places/things to fill our desires or loneliness?
Don’t be afraid or anxious. We will not be left as a widow. Our groom will come again one day. They are now saying this will happen in October. If so, great! But if not, I’ll continue on my journey along the way to where Jesus is.