On November 1, 1755, a devastating earthquake struck the city of Lisbon, Portugal, triggering fires and a tsunami. At least 10,000—and perhaps as many as 100,000—people died. It was a momentous event that changed history.
That Lisbon earthquake shares many key features with the events Jesus described in Matthew 24. First, such events are devastating. Jesus foretold not only earthquakes but also wars, famines, persecutions, and betrayals (24:6–10), calamities whose destructiveness seems certain to surpass even the worst earthquakes to date. Second, these events are momentous. Lisbon’s devastation was a turning point in modern history. The events Jesus described will be the culmination of all history, preceding the triumph of the Son of Man.
Perhaps above all, however, such events are unpredictable. The Lisbon earthquake arrived without warning—and even today’s most advanced earth-quake detection systems offer only a few minutes warning at best. Jesus said: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (24:36). Even as Jesus encourages us to “interpret the signs of the times” (16:3), He suggests we will not foresee the end of the age.
Our most productive efforts while we wait for His return do not lie in the equivalent of advanced detection systems. In earthquake readiness, the shortcomings of advanced detection require an emphasis on vigilance and constant preparation, especially in the form of earthquake-resistant buildings. Rather than trying to predict the end, we must be ever vigilant, living lives that will withstand even the greatest tumult (7:24–27) and being always ready to receive Christ, the bridegroom (25:1–13). Lamps of the sort Jesus referred to in 25:1–13 needed to have their wicks trimmed constantly.
If they were not, the flame would dim and produce excessive smoke. What parts of your life might need to be trimmed so that it can give off the most radiant light and so that you are most ready for the coming of Jesus Christ?