Christendom just wrapped up its official season of waiting. “Advent” (from the Latin, adventus, meaning “coming” or “arrival”) is a nearly month long liturgical celebration marking the long-awaited arrival of Messiah some 2,000 years ago.
But coupled to this retrospective, celebratory focus, there is also to be a prospective, anticipatory disposition. To be sure, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, was born in a Bethlehem stable two millennia past. But this same Jesus will come again and Christians are called to await his second advent with expectant hope (Titus 2:13).
It is worth noting that the disposition of awaiting Messiah’s coming binds God’s people together across the millennia. From the first cryptic prophesy (Genesis 3:15), thousands of years of increasingly unambiguous prophesies encouraged a spirit of keen anticipation of Messiah’s first advent.
The prophets Isaiah, Daniel, and Micah, for instance, identified specific features of Christ’s identity and birth hundreds of years before he came. They foretold that Messiah’s lineage would pass from Adam through Seth through Noah through Shem through Abraham through Judah and through King David (Genesis 3:15; 5:1-32; 10:1-31; 11:10-12:3; 49:8-10; Isaiah 11:1-2; Matthew 1:1-16; Galatians 3:8). They foretold of Messiah’s virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14-16), pinpointed the date of His arrival (Daniel 9:24-26) and identified the town where He would be born (Micah 5:2).
God’s people read these prophesies for centuries. The faithful staked their hopes upon their fulfillment. And generations of watchers died waiting for Messiah to come.
Finally, faith and hope gave way to sight and gladness. Messiah had come and waiting hearts were filled with celebratory joy (Luke 2:25-32). And more than two thousand years later, believers continue to look back and rejoice that Messiah came (and lived and died and lives again!).
But the waiting is not over for God’s people. Like the faithful awaiting Christ’s first advent, believers today find themselves anticipating similar prophesies concerning His second.
Indeed, God’s promises regarding the next coming of Christ are as clear as any pertaining to His first. Jesus unequivocally promised His disciples: “I will come again” (John 14:3).
Angels appeared to the awe-struck disciples after Christ ascended into heaven forty days after His resurrection. “ ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’ ” (Acts 1:9-11; cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).
The Lord’s Supper, a continuing symbolic rite of the Church, is intended to provoke a number of considerations in the spirit of the worshiper. Among them, participants actively “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Certainly to most, the notion of a literal return of Christ will sound like so much lunacy—a Santa Claus legend with a twist of religious fanaticism, an “Elvis thing” without a tongue in the cheek. But the very Bible that long prophesied the first coming of Messiah has long warned of skepticism concerning His second advent. “In the last days,” forewarned Peter, “scoffers will come…They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” He promised?…Everything goes on as it has since the beginning’ ” (2 Peter 3:3-4).
Peter goes on in this passage to boldly charge such skeptics with deliberate, historical amnesia (vs. 5). God’s promises have always come true in the course of time. With unmistakable precision they were realized in Christ’s first coming. They will be equally fulfilled in His second. God’s merciful, patient endurance with unbelievers, cautions Peter, should never be misconstrued as broken promises (vss. 6-10). Jesus will return to earth.
Concerning His second advent, Jesus warned that most will live in willful ignorance of it (Matthew 24:36-44; cf. 7:13-14; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11) and will not care at all for the implications of His return (Matthew 24:45-51). But the faith of those who anxiously await His second advent (like those who awaited His first) He will richly reward (Luke 2:25ff; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).
It’s pretty tough to look forward with anticipation to the return of Someone you do not know or with whom you are at odds. But if you find yourself in that position, there is good news: Jesus is in the business of creating new watchers. He specializes in taking people once willfully ignorant of His second coming and reconciling them to God when they repent of their sins and place their faith in the means of salvation Christ provided in His first advent (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; 1 Corinthians 15:1-7; Ephesians 2:8-10).
Each Sunday, I gather with Jesus watchers—some old, some new—but all reborn into a living hope that waits expectantly for the second advent. In fact, I notice that this week we will sing, “Come, Thou Almighty King.” I can hardly wait!