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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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READINESS—The expression γίνεσθε ἕτοιμοι, ‘Be ye ready,’ is employed by Christ to denote the necessity for constant readiness to receive Him at His Second Coming (Matthew 24:44, Luke 12:40). Closely akin to it in meaning is the more frequently used γρηγορείτε, ‘Watch ye,’ the word with which Christ demands constant watchfulness for the day of His Parousia (Matthew 24:42; Matthew 25:13, Mark 13:34 f., 37, Luke 21:36). The two terms are used almost interchangeably in Matthew 24:42; Matthew 24:44, as is evident from the fact that the illustration of the necessity for watchfulness by the case of the negligent householder who suffers his house to be broken through (Matthew 24:43), is followed by the exhortation to readiness in the next verse; further evidence being found in the parable of the Ten Virgins, where the proper performance of the duty enjoined in Matthew 25:13 (‘Watch, therefore’) is exhibited in the careful preparation made by the wise virgins, who are described as αἱ ἕτοιμοι, for the coming of the bridegroom.

The duty of being constantly prepared for the return of Christ is rendered urgent by the fact that the time of its occurrence is known only to the Father, and, being concealed even from the Son, cannot be communicated to the disciples (Mark 13:32). It is the ignorance of the disciples as to the day and the hour of the final Advent which lends point and emphasis to Christ’s exhortations in prospect of it (Matthew 24:42; Matthew 24:44; Matthew 25:13, Mark 13:33; Mark 13:35, Luke 12:40).

If, as some (Weiss, Charles) maintain, He foretold that the fall of Jerusalem would be the immediate prelude to the end of the world, thus furnishing the disciples with a certain clue to the date of the latter event (Matthew 24:32 f.), the need for such exhortations is far from obvious, and indeed inexplicable, based as they are on the utter uncertainty that prevailed as to the time of the end. In the case of the earlier event, exhortations to watchfulness are wanting, the signs of its approach being quite unmistakable; in the case of the later event, they are frequent, the date of its arrival being quite unknown. Weiss admits that ‘any determination of the day of His return, even if it had been possible, would only have rocked the disciples in false security’ (Life of Christ, iii. 93). The truth is, the question is one on which our Lord declined to dogmatize; and while His confession of nescience regarding the end (Mark 13:32) did not preclude the possibility of its speedy occurrence, neither did it preclude the possibility that it might be long deferred. He undoubtedly favoured the idea that the latter alternative was much the more likely one. ‘There are distinct hints in some passages (Matthew 24:48; Matthew 25:19, Mark 13:35) that the end may be delayed beyond all human anticipation, and that “an indefinitely long night of history” may intervene before the return of the Lord’ (Forrest, The Authority of Christ, p. 322).

The parables and parabolic sayings in the Synoptics (Matthew 24:42 to Matthew 25:30, Mark 13:32-37, Luke 12:35-48; Luke 19:11-27), intended to enforce the lesson of constant readiness for the Second Coming, may be described as parting counsels and admonitions to the disciples for the guidance of their conduct during the period, indefinitely prolonged, which must elapse between Christ’s departure from the world, then impending, and His return at the close of the present dispensation. They all proceed upon the assumption that membership of the Kingdom during its earthly development does not, ipso facto, guarantee fitness for a place in the perfected Kingdom to be inaugurated at Christ’s return. The period of His absence is a period of probation for His disciples, who are to be tested individually, and are expected to prove their individual fitness for the glorious Kingdom of the future. ‘Every man’ has his own proper sphere and work assigned him (Matthew 25:14 f., Mark 13:34, Luke 19:13), and the lack of personal preparedness cannot be made up for by connexion with the believing community, animated by the common hope of the Lord’s appearing (Matthew 25:1-2; Matthew 25:9).

Preparedness for the last Advent naturally depends on maintenance of the moral and spiritual qualities, and continued performance of the duties, pertaining to members of the Kingdom of God—qualities and duties fully described in the teaching of Christ throughout His ministry. The fact of His departure involves no alteration in His great requirements, which are ever the same; it involves merely a deepened responsibility, an increased sense of gravity on the part of the disciples, whose conduct is to be constantly regulated and controlled henceforward by the thought of its bearing upon future destiny. Wendt remarks that ‘since Christ’s ideas of the future are comparatively general and indefinite, His admonitions regarding the future always retain a comparatively general character.’ Directions in greater detail were not needed. The character and conduct required on the part of the disciples, as outlined in Christ’s previous teaching, are calculated to satisfy the most stringent tests. The only difference is that they must now be formed under the altered conditions presented by the withdrawal of Christ’s visible presence. The proper attitude of the disciple has to be preserved in face of the difficulties, perils, and temptations incident to (1) Christ’s unexpectedly prolonged absence, and (2) His sudden and unexpected return.

(1) It is everywhere implied that Christ’s withdrawal from the world affords His disciples the needful opportunity for the free and independent exercise or the gifts and powers entrusted to them. Their spiritual resources are to be developed to the utmost without the consciousness of being constantly overshadowed by His visible authority and supervision, but always in view of the day of reckoning (Matthew 24:45-51; Matthew 25:14-30, Mark 13:34-36, Luke 12:42-48; Luke 19:12-26). The proof of readiness for His return is thoroughgoing devotion to the interests of the absent Lord, which are identical with the interests of His Kingdom, displayed in steadfast fidelity and unflagging diligence in the use of the gifts held in trust, under the severe test of indefinitely prolonged absence (Matthew 24:45; Matthew 25:20 f., Luke 19:16 f.). But the same situation which creates the opportunity for freely utilizing the entrusted gifts, may lead to the misuse or to the absolute neglect of them. The perils attending a delayed Parousia, which must be guarded against with ceaseless vigilance, arise from a weakened sense of obligation issuing in slackness and lethargy, the sin of ‘the untrimmed lamp and the ungirt loin’ (Mark 13:36, Luke 12:35 f.), yielding to unbridled self-indulgence and the tyrannical abuse of authority (Matthew 24:48 f.), faithless and inexcusable failure to improve one’s trust (Matthew 25:26 f).

(2) The main strength of the appeal for constant readiness is drawn from the consideration that Christ’s return will be sudden and unexpected. The frequent admonition to watch sounds a note of alarm, pointing to the danger of being taken unawares and found in a state of unpreparedness, due to the abrupt and startling manner in which the Parousia breaks in upon and breaks up the established order of things (Matthew 24:50; Matthew 25:6, Mark 13:36, Luke 12:36; Luke 21:34). Being of a catastrophic character, it leaves no time for the making or completing of preparations previously neglected (Matthew 24:38 f., Matthew 24:43; Mat_25:10). The period of probation, and with it the possibility of repairing past negligences and failures, are ended, and future destiny determined by character and achievements, now to come under searching scrutiny.

As the Parousia immediately heralds the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:19; Matthew 25:31), the manner in which the disciples have acquitted themselves during the period of Christ’s absence is then passed under review, and appropriate destiny assigned them. Those who have proved their capacity in humbler spheres of service by fidelity to Christ’s Person and interests are promoted to loftier spheres of service (Matthew 24:47; Matthew 25:20-23), raised to equality with Himself (Luke 12:37), and participate in the eternal blessedness of the consummated Kingdom (Matthew 25:10; Matthew 25:21; Matthew 25:23). Those who have failed to reach the required standard are excluded, so far as appears, irrevocably, from such high fellowship (Matthew 25:11 f., Matthew 25:30), and incur penalties varying in degree in proportion to their unfaithfulness (Matthew 24:51, Luke 12:47 f.). See also artt. Parousia and Second Coming.

W. S. Montgomery.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Readiness'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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