Last Sunday, we drew to a close the series of readings that we have been following from “the orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us”, for our weekly Gospel passages. This orderly account, offered to a person named “lover of God” (in Greek, Theophilus), we are told, was written so that this Theophilus might “know the certainty concerning the things about which you have been instructed” (Luke 1:1–4).
In this narrative, Jesus has been positioned as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to [the] people Israel” (2:32), through whom “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (3:6). His final words to his followers charge them with proclaiming “repentance and forgiveness of sins … to all nations” (24:47)—indeed, “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). It’s the strongest biblical expression of the universal, scope of the Gospel.
Now we turn to the narrative entitled the origins of Jesus, chosen one, the son of David, the son of Abraham. This Gospel, by contrast, focuses intently on the Jewish origins of the Gospel. The opening chapters signal the Jewishness of Jesus (Matt 1:1), presents his Jewish genealogy (1:2–18), and locates him as the chosen ruler “who is to shepherd [God’s] people Israel” (2:6) and fulfil Isaiah’s words for “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light” (4:16).
In this Gospel, Jesus affirms that he did not come “to abolish the law and the prophets”, but rather to fulfil them (5:17); he instructs his followers to “strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness” (6:33), is portrayed as one proclaiming justice (12:18–21), advocating what is central to the life of Israel—God’s justice and righteousness (Amos 5:24; Ps 33:4; 72:1–2; Prov 21:3; Isa 1:21; 5:7; 28:17; 32:16; Jer 22:3; 33:15).
In the Matthean narrative, Jesus becomes the teacher supreme, the sole instructor, of the people (23:8, 10); his final instructions to his followers are that they are to “teach all nations … to obey everything that I have commanded you” (28:20). So this Gospel invites us (indeed, it leads us) into the heart of Jewish faith, for it is there that Jesus takes his stand, calling for repentance, the enacting of righteous-justice, through a deeper, more radical commitment to the covenant that Israel has with the Lord God. See
All of that lies ahead of us in the coming twelve months. Yet this Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent, we start with a confronting word from the latter part of the story: “two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left; two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left” (Matt 24:40–41). This striking declaration sits alongside exhortations to “keep awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (24:42) and “you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (24:44).
These exhortations are characteristic elements in apocalyptic literature of the time; and they crystallise the sense of an imminent catastrophic event which is set out in a longer speech which is vivid and explicit in its dramatic apocalyptic imagery (24:3–44). Immediately after these exhortations, Jesus tells a series of four parables (24:45–25:46) which further dramatise the message that “the end is near”, “you do not know when”, “make yourself ready”, “be prepared”.
The section offered by the lectionary for the first Sunday in Advent (24:36–44) seems a strange place to start a year of Matthean stories about Jesus. Why begin Advent with an apocalyptic passage? And yet, the injunctions of this passage seem to sit neatly with the opening words of Jesus in this Gospel: “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (4:17). See
These words echo exactly the message of John the baptiser (3:2) and point forward also to the demands that Jesus makes throughout his public ministry, culminating in the calls to “keep awake” and “be ready”, because “you do not know on what day your Lord is coming”. The opening message of Jesus is clearly echoed in this later apocalyptic speech.
David Cassian Cole is the founder and executive director of Waymark Ministries CIC. He is known as Brother Cassian. He writes about a custom in the early centuries of the Celtic church, for Advent to stretch for 40 days (mirroring Lent, the 40 days of preparation prior to Easter).
Cole writes, “It is believed that the 40 days of Advent were split into three sections, colloquially termed the three comings of Christ. The first is the incarnation, what we all focus upon at this time of year; the second is Christ coming into our lives; the third is the coming of Christ at the end of all things, as depicted in the book of Revelation. The third coming of Christ is that which comes at the end of all things, and through this period the Celtic Christians examine their own lives, not in a self-judgmental way, but in a positive self-reflection to see whether they are ready and prepared, in the way they are living, for Christ to return at any moment.” See more at
So we are offered these words from the final long sermon of Jesus as the introduction to the year of Matthew: a reminder of the claim that God holds authority of the creation as the one who will determine “the time”, and that “about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (24:36), a call to “keep awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (24:42), an exhortation to “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (24:44).
Those phrases set forth the attitude that is required, in being open to the coming of Jesus—an attitude that is quite appropriate for Advent, that is essential for personal faith in Jesus, and that is fitting for the whole year of reading and pondering stories about Jesus, in this “book of origins”.