What will Judgment Day be like? Popular culture and media have answered this question in many colorful ways. Nuclear bombs will destroy us in a series of radioactive mushroom clouds. A computer system meant to defend us will become sentient and attack humanity. A pandemic or modern-day plague will sweep across the globe and wipe us out. Zombies will devour civilization.
James uses the picture of a harvest to describe the Second Coming of Christ and Judgment Day (v. 7). It was also Jesus’ picture (see Matt. 13:37–43). Unlike events in a zombie movie, however, these events will happen, and we’re eager for His return and accompanying events such as divine justice being served on rich oppressors (5:1–6). But we can’t hurry history along, any more than a farmer can hurry along his crops or the seasonal rains.
Like a farmer, our response to this truth is to work hard and wait patiently (v. 8). Godly patience means that we “stand firm” or “take courage.” We persevere through trials and troubles on the road to mature faith (1:2–4). This is not a passive mentality of waiting to see what happens—we know what’s going to happen! This is waiting in faith and expectancy, with “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1).
Christ’s return is “near” or imminent, that is, it could happen at any time—“the Judge is standing at the door” (v. 9). We’re living in the last days, the biblical period of time that began with Christ’s Ascension and continues until His Second Coming. Being on the watch for His return and living for eternity should give us the perspective to avoid petty and self-centered issues such as grumbling against fellow believers (see also 4:1–2, 11).
The topic of eternal rewards is implied in today’s reading. While unbelievers will reap God’s wrath, the image of a harvest is positive for believers. Faithfulness will earn rewards such as the “crown of life” in James 1:12. If you would like to do a deeper Bible study on this subject, a good place to begin is 1 Corinthians 3:10–15.