Our Hope: The Appearing of Jesus Christ
For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
We began this series by asking, “What is the special character of biblical hope?” And we answered: Biblical hope is not finger-crossing. It is a confident expectation of good things to come. Hebrews calls it the “full assurance of hope” (6:11).
Then we asked, “Why can sinners like us be confident that a holy God will work for us and make our future bright?” And we answered with two words: grace and gospel. Paul says that “God our Father loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace” (2 Thessalonians 2:16). And he urges us not to shift from the hope of the gospel (Colossians 1:23). So the grace of God and the good news of Christ crucified for sins and raised from the dead are the reasons that sinners like you and me can hope in God and have a confident expectation that the future will be good for us.
Then after the questions, “What?” and “Why?” we asked the question, “How?” First, “How can I hope in God when by nature I do not trust God or love God or want to obey God?” And we answered: “New birth.” “By God’s great mercy we have been born anew unto a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3, 23). God overcomes our rebellion and gives us a new heart — a heart that by its very nature loves to hope in God.
Then, the second “How-question” was, “How are we to hope in God if we don’t know his promises?” The answer is Romans 15:4, “Whatever was written in former times was written for our instruction that by the endurance and encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” We do know the promises of God — the whole Bible — the Scripture — was written to give us hope. Take up and read!
What Is It That We Hope For?
Now today, after taking last Sunday to apply some of this to “holy women who hope in God” (1 Peter 3:5), we pick up and ask more specifically what it is that we can hope for. We will spend five messages answering that question.
Today’s answer is taken from Titus 2:13.
. . . awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
What is the content of our blessed hope according to this verse? THE APPEARING OF OUR GREAT GOD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. We set our hope on the second coming of our Lord.
The Rejection of the Second Coming
It would be possible here to enter into some controversies over the timing of this great event in relation to other prophetic events like the millennium and a time of great tribulation. We may do that some time, perhaps on a Sunday evening. It is an in-house debate, brother against brother — sometimes son against father.
But there is another debate that concerns me much more. And I want to mention it because we all need to realize that belief in the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ is considered by many to be utterly fantastic, an outdated mythology, and scientifically untenable.
We are prepared to hear Carl Sagan (the astronomer from Cornell) put the second coming of Christ in the same category with the cow that jumped over the moon. We understand that he has simply ruled out the meaningfulness of all religious language. It is not scientific. And so it is not real.
But what we need to be more prepared for is the rejection of the second coming from inside the church, lest we be jolted and lose our doctrinal balance. For example, in 1950, William Neil of the University of Nottingham wrote in the Moffatt Commentary,
[The Day of the Lord] is God’s timeless Judgment which is past, present, and future. In a sense it is always to come, in a sense it is always present, and in a sense it has already been passed . . . Thus the Parousia [a technical word for the second coming] is, like Creation, in a real sense timeless; not an historical event, but the underlying purpose of history and the summing up of all things in Christ. (Thessalonians, London, 1950, pp. xli–xlii)
In other words the second coming has symbolic meaning but will not be a historical event.
One of the most influential New Testament scholars of our century, Rudolf Bultmann, wrote
The mythical eschatology is untenable for the simple reason that the parousia of Christ never took place as the New Testament expected. History did not come to an end, and, as every schoolboy knows, it will continue to run its course. Even if we believe that the world as we know it will come to an end in time, we expect the end to take the form of a natural catastrophe, not of a mythical event such as the New Testament expects. (Kerygma and Myth, London, 1953, p. 5)
One more: In his major commentary on the Thessalonian epistles that appeared in 1972, Ernest Best, Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at the University of Glasgow, wrote,
We have to conclude that the End is something with which men will never have to reckon in practical terms, again excluding the possible destruction of our own planet, and that it is as wrong to think of a real physical End which God achieves in some public way as it is to think of a real physical Beginning. (London, p. 363)
Carl Sagan we can understand. But these professors of divinity who want to get their religion from the Bible and honor Jesus in some way are very curious. The main problem with what they say is not merely that it contradicts dozens of biblical texts, but that it attacks Christ. It attacks Christianity at its very center.
Attacking Christianity at Its Center
The center of Christianity is the coming of the Son of God into the world as a real man to destroy the works of the devil and create a new people for his own glory. The very heart of our faith is that he did this by obeying the law of God, dying for the sins of his people, rising victorious over death, ascending to God’s right hand with all his enemies under his feet. The second coming of Christ is the completion of his saving work. If you take it away, the whole fabric of his saving work unravels.
Consider! A physical incarnation of the Son of God. A physical death. A physical resurrection. A physical ascension. And then poof! Vanish! Never to be seen on earth again. You can see what is really behind this denial of a real second coming — it is the denial of a real physical incarnation and a real physical resurrection.
Why? Because, to use Bultmann’s phrase, every schoolboy knows that if a real prince comes into a real country to conquer and reclaim it for his Father the King, and if he dies and really rises from the dead with all power in heaven and on earth, and gives the weapons of spiritual warfare to his revolutionary followers, and returns to his Father, then you can know for a certainty that he will come back to set up his throne and be acclaimed by his victorious people as Sovereign over his Father’s world.
He came to conquer! He will conquer! He will not be denied the fruit of his travail. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. He made it. He redeemed it. He will have it. He has not evaporated into some never-to-be-touched-again realm of the spirit. He is reigning at the Father’s right hand until the time for the restoration of all things.
I’m not sure which is the greater tragedy — that a man as brilliant as Carl Sagan is content to find the meaning of life in the evolution of the “limbic system” and neocortex of the human brain, or that professing Christians strip Christ of his final victory.
In any case let us pray for the scientists of our day, that they might see the limits of their methods and their materials and consider the authenticity of Christ. And let us pray for the liberal theologians of our day, that they might see the folly of forcing a supernatural Christ through a secular sieve.
The Blessed Hope of Believers
And let us encourage our hearts this morning that the blessed hope of all who believe is THE APPEARING OF OUR GREAT GOD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST.
Two Appearings of Christ
Notice first of all from our text in Titus 2 that there are two appearings of Christ — one called an appearing of grace, the other called an appearing of glory.
Verse 11: “For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men.” That is the first coming of Christ — the appearance of grace.
Then verse 13: “Awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” That is the second coming of Christ — the appearance of glory.
First grace, then glory. In Paul’s mind these two are inseparably linked. Which is why the rejection of a real second coming is an attack on the very center of our faith, namely, the first coming of Christ to die for sins. The Christ who will come in glory is the Christ who came in grace.
Verse 14 describes just how that grace appeared — “[Christ] gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.” So when the grace of God appeared in history about 2,000 years ago, it appeared as a real man, who really died to redeem us from sin and to make us zealous, or passionate, for good deeds. This was the aim or purpose of the appearance of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
That same aim of grace is described in verse 12 as well: “The grace of God appeared training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world.” That is the same as saying (in v. 14) that Christ aimed to purify us and make us zealous for good deeds.
So verses 12 and 14 are like a sandwich around verse 13. Both verses describe the aim and effect of God’s grace as it appeared in the first coming of Jesus Christ. The meat in the middle of the sandwich is our blessed hope (v. 13). What God’s grace has begun in our lives through the first coming of Christ his glory he will complete in our lives through the second coming of Christ.
Looking Back and Looking Forward
I think it would be fair to say on the basis of these four verses (vv. 11–14) that the incentive and power to live a Christian life pleasing to God comes from two directions as it were: it comes from looking back with gratitude to the grace of God that appeared in Jesus Christ at his first coming when he purchased our redemption; and it comes from looking forward with hope to the glory of God that will appear at the second coming when he completes our redemption.
Hebrews 9:27–28 describes the connection between the past and future work Christ as clearly as any biblical text.
Just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
This passage teaches so clearly that the saving work of Christ began with his first coming when he bore our sin in his body on the cross and will be completed at his second coming when he saves us from the final wrath of God and gives us rest in his kingdom. Strip away the second coming and salvation is torn in half. (See also 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Romans 5:9–10.) And half a salvation is no salvation.
Who Will Be Saved at the Second Coming?
And look at who will be saved at the second coming of Christ. Verse 28 (at the end): “. . . to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” I wonder if Ernest Best and William Neil and Rudolf Bultmann ever trembled when they read these words. He will save those who are waiting for him. The sheep and the goats will be divided, and the sheep will be those who have been waiting for him. Not waiting like a criminal on death row waits for the day of his execution. But waiting like a schoolboy waits for the last day of school and the beginning of vacation.
Will it not be an utterly terrifying thing when the liberal, modernist, secularized pastors and theologians stand before the judgment seat of Christ in that day and see him open before them their own sermons and books and read the paragraphs where they have actually taught the bride of Christ NOT to wait for his coming and not even to believe that he would come. I can’t but think that it will be an utterly terrifying moment because the Scripture says, “He is coming to save those who are waiting for him.”
Do You Eagerly Await Christ’s Coming?
Now let us look to ourselves this morning. Do YOU eagerly await the coming of Christ? And I don’t mean: Do you believe in the doctrine? Do you eagerly await him? This is a very crucial test of the genuineness of your faith. Peter said in his first letter (2:7), “To you who believe he is precious.” And so the preciousness of Christ is the evidence of your faith. And the anticipation of his coming is the evidence of his preciousness. And therefore you can test the reality of your faith by whether you are eagerly waiting for Christ’s coming.
I don’t mean that you must think about the second coming all the time. Even when you are in love, you don’t think about your sweetheart all the time. Rather, ask yourself these three questions:
- Does your mind return frequently to the truth of Christ’s appearing?
- When your mind turns to the truth of his appearing, does your heart want it — is there an eagerness to see him?
- Do you pray for his coming? Maranatha, praised the early church! Come, Lord Jesus!
If you come up short in answering those three questions, there are three possible explanations. From the least to the most serious:
- You may have trusted Christ as your Savior and Lord but you have not yet been well taught about the second coming, and ignorance hinders the eager expectation of your heart and your prayers.
- You may have trusted Christ as Savior and Lord; you may know in your head the truth of his second coming; but you have grown cold and distant and have not felt for some time that Christ is precious and that seeing him would be the fulfillment of all your longings.
- You may have never submitted to Christ as Lord and trusted him as Savior and may stand in desperate need of new birth.
The Coming of Christ Is Worthy of Eager Expectation
If any of these three conditions fits you, listen carefully as I close by trying to show from Titus 2:13 that the coming of Christ is worthy of your most lively and eager expectation. My prayer is that God will touch us all and make us love his appearing.
Paul says that the appearance of the grace of God at Christ’s first coming trains us to wait eagerly for “our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Note three things very briefly:
1. It Is a Blessed Hope
We should eagerly await the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ because this is a BLESSED hope. A blessed hope is the opposite of a cursed hope. So the first reason to be eager for this great day is that it will mean blessing and not cursing.
“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). There is only blessing for those who are in Christ Jesus. As awesome as the coming of Christ will be, there will be no curse in it for Christians.
Notice what Christ is called in this verse: “the great God and SAVIOR!” Savior! Not merely Judge. Therefore, “let us put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:8–9).
It is a blessed hope, not a cursed one. Our hope is confident expectation of salvation not wrath.
2. It Is a Visible Hope
It is the APPEARING of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. Ever since the Son of God became a man, men and women have wanted to see Jesus. Philip said to Nathaniel, “Come and see!” Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree because he wanted to see! The Greeks said to his disciple, “Sir, we would see Jesus!” The apostle Paul wrote, “Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face!” And John seems to make everything hang on this one hope: “It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
I don’t want a long distance phone call. I want to see the lips of Jesus move on that great day when the grace of his heart overflows with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
3. It Is a Glorious Hope
It is “the appearing of THE GLORY of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Listen to John’s attempt to put this into words in Revelation:
I saw . . . one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast; his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters; in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. (Revelation 1:13–16)
Behold, he is coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. And we shall glorify the Lord and enjoy his greatness forever and ever.
Let the final word belong to the great apostle of hope:
Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8)
Do you love the appearing of Christ? If not, confess the sin; pray for the awakening of your heart; and set yourself to meditate on the blessedness, visibility, and glory of the coming of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.