Preparing recently to preach on Philippians 3:20-21, the writer was pulled up sharply by the words ‘eagerly wait’.
Paul writes, ‘Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ’. Put simply, the followers of Christ are ‘strangers and pilgrims’ in this world, and the church is an outpost of heaven. Here ‘we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come’ (Hebrews 13:14).
All Evangelicals believe these truths, of course. They are robustly affirmed in our creeds and confessions of faith. We even preach sermons about them! But do they lead us where they led Paul – to wait eagerly for Christ’s return?
Sense of expectancy
I have met many Evangelicals who bemoan the present condition of the church. But I cannot remember any who expressed eagerness for the Lord’s return. We deplore the declension of society and long for revival in our day. But few of us are found rejoicing in ‘the promise of his coming’. The contrast with the New Testament is stark.
One obvious reason is the passage of time. The early church appears to have expected Christ’s imminent return. Of course, the Scriptures also warn against premature expectations (e.g. Matthew 24:23-28; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8) but nevertheless a lively sense of expectancy pervades the New Testament.
Two thousand years have passed and Christ has not come. Inwardly we think, ‘It could be another thousand years; why should I get excited?’
Let me suggest some reasons for rejecting such thinking – and regaining something of the eager anticipation that Paul displays concerning the return of Christ.
God is not slack
Firstly, in Scripture, only scoffers appeal to the passage of time. ‘Where is the promise of his coming?’ they ask. ‘For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation’ (2 Peter 3:4).
Peter draws a parallel with the Flood – when the scoffers of Noah’s day were overtaken by a sudden cataclysm when they least expected it. By contrast, believers in every generation must be ready.
Secondly, God’s promises are ‘exceedingly great and precious’ for through their fulfilment we become ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4). There can be no greater promise than ‘the promise of his coming’, for our redemption cannot be consummated without it (Philippians 3:21). We should look eagerly for Christ’s return, therefore, whether or not it occurs in our lifetime!
Thirdly, ‘the Lord is not slack concerning his promises … but is longsuffering towards us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9). In other words, Christ will not return until all the elect have been gathered into his kingdom. What a stimulus to mission and evangelism this should be! We have the privilege of ‘hastening the coming of the day of God’ (2 Peter 3:12) by preaching Christ in all the world.
At an unknown hour
Fourthly, the prospect of Christ’s coming ought to impact the way we live: ‘Since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness!’ (2 Peter 3:11).
Having described the manner of his return, the Lord Jesus Christ warns us, ‘of that day and hour, no one knows … therefore you also be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect him’ (Matthew 24:27-31, 44).
He then underlines his command in three parables – the evil servant, the wise and foolish virgins, and the talents – and concludes with the ‘final judgement parable’ of the sheep and the goats.
In every era, Christ’s true servants are those who are always ready to account for their stewardship to God – who ‘eagerly wait for the Saviour’ throughout their lives, no matter how long he tarries.
An eagerness for Christ’s return is an eagerness for Christ himself. That is something we should cultivate