THE EXPECTATION OF THE CHURCH FOR CHRIST'S RETURN
What is the
expectation of the church concerning Christ's return.
The expectation of the church was and is – NOT that Christ can return at any
But it is the FACT that Christ will indeed come again, but only according to
the wisdom and timing of the plan of God.
First let’s look briefly at the term the day of the Lord.
The day of the Lord refers to the period of time that will begin with the
second coming of Jesus.
Jesus taught that His second coming would arrive like a thief in the night;
that is, at an unknown day and hour. Mat. 24:43-44
He taught that it would occur after the tribulation that will be triggered
by the abomination event of Daniel's prophecy. Mat. 24:15-29
And He taught that His return would be signaled by the unique signs in the
sun, moon and stars mentioned at Mat. 24:29.
These signs are the same signs mentioned at Joel 2:31 as what will occur
before the arrival of the day of the Lord.
Both Paul and Peter understood what Jesus was talking about and both state,
"the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night." That is, it will
come at an unknown day and hour. 1Thes. 5:2; 2Peter 3:10
They used the same THIEF image that Jesus used in the Olivet discourse. Mat.
And what they believed and wrote must occur within the same context as what
That is, after the tribulation of those days.
So, in view of what Jesus taught - WHAT DID THE DISCIPLES EXPECT?
Throughout the beginning years of the church, the Christians were taught
that Jesus was going to come again.
As can be seen for example with the Thessalonian believers who according to
1Thes 1:10 "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to
wait for His Son from heaven." (anamenō).
Now, since there is clearly a promise of Christ's return and our gathering
together to Him, it is certainly something that believers should be HOPING
for and waiting for.
This attitude expresses the normal Christian life that looks forward to the
fulfillment of that promise.
At 2Tim. 4:8, This attitude is described as "loving His appearing."
However, the fulfillment of that promise must await the perfect timing of
the plan of God.
As Paul wrote, "which He will bring about at His own time." 1Tim. 6:15.
And as Jesus stated, "you don't need to know the specific times or time
periods which the Father has fixed by His own authority." Acts 1:7.
So, during this time prior to that fulfillment, Christians should still be
"loving His appearing" and be waiting in great anticipation for His return.
1Cor. 1:7, "waiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ."
At Rom. 8:23-25, The attitudes of Waiting and HOPE are equated.
And not only that, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the
Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our
adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been
saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already
sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, through perseverance we wait
eagerly for it.
Phil. 3:20, "our citizenship is in heaven from where we also eagerly wait
for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."
Gal. 5:5, "for we through the Spirit are waiting for the hope of
Titus 2:13, "looking for the happy hope and appearing of the glory of the
great God and our Savior, Christ Jesus."
HOWEVER, the attitude of looking for, and waiting, and expecting His return
does not mean that He can come at any moment. These words do not indicate
any idea of imminence.
The same word for eagerly waiting (prosdechomai) is used at
Mark 15:43, Joseph of Arimathea was waiting for the kingdom of God.
Luke 2:25, Simeon was looking for the consolation of Israel.
Luke 2:38, mentions the large group of people who were looking for the
redemption of Israel.
There is no any-moment arrival idea in the minds of these people.
Now, all the passages about waiting for His return must fall under the
umbrella of previously revealed truth; specifically, the words of Jesus. And
Jesus taught that certain things must first occur before He returns.
Jesus mentioned several specific factors associated with His second coming.
FIRST - He told them that they would have an extensive evangelistic outreach
to both Jews and Gentiles BEFORE His return. Mat. 10:16-23.
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be as wary
as serpents, and as innocent as doves. But be on guard against people, for
they will hand you over to the courts and flog you in their synagogues; 18
and you will even be brought before governors and kings on My account, as a
testimony to them and to the Gentiles.
“But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I
say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the
Son of Man comes.
In the Olivet discourse, He told them that His arrival (the end) would not
come until there was a world-wide proclamation of the gospel. At v. 14,
"this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world
and then the end will come."
And after His resurrection and toward the end of His 40-day ministry to
them, Jesus told them exactly what was expected of them as His witnesses.
He told them to go forth into all the world and proclaim the gospel.
Not only that, He told them that they would get assistance in this endeavor
through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:6-8; Luke 24:45-49
When Jesus finished
this teaching, He ascended away from them into the sky.
And even though they immediately received from the angels a confirmation of
the promise of His return,
for the next several days while they are waiting in Jerusalem, they are not
EXPECTING or LOOKING FOR the return of Jesus, but they are waiting for the
arrival of the Holy Spirit.
After the arrival of the Spirit, the expectation of the disciples and of the
church was to fulfill the evangelistic assignment that Jesus gave to them.
Not only what we saw at Mat. 10, "you will not finish with the cities of
Israel until the Son of Man comes."
but also in connection with the arrival of the Holy Spirit as we saw at Acts
1:8, "you shall be My witnesses, both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and
Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth."
Now - Throughout the OT, the nation of Israel had received a two-fold
promise concerning the coming of the Messiah.
The first factor was the promise of personal salvation: This was always
based on personal faith in the Messianic promise that God would provide a
Redeemer to bring individual forgiveness of sins. Peter explained it a Acts
10:42-43; "Jesus ordered us to proclaim to the people, and to testify
solemnly that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the
living and the dead. All the prophets testify of Him, that through His name
everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”
And at Rom. 10:13, Paul stated, quoting Joel 2:32, "For whoever will call
upon the name of the Lord will be saved."
The second aspect of the Messianic promise is National salvation: Hos.
For I will be like a lion to Ephraim And like a young lion to the house of
I, yes I, will tear to pieces and go away, I will carry away, and there will
be no one to rescue. I will go away and return to My place Until THEY
acknowledge their guilt and seek My face; In THEIR tribulation THEY will
search for Me. “Come, let’s return to the Lord. For He has torn US, but He
will heal US;
He has wounded US, but He will bandage us. He will revive us after two days;
He will raise us up on the third day That WE may live before Him.
3 So let’s learn, let’s press on to know the Lord. His appearance is as sure
as the dawn;
And He will come to us like the rain, As the spring rain waters the earth.”
All throughout the OT, these two factors were often mentioned as it were, in
the same breath without the details and distinction between them being
Peter did the same thing.
At Acts 3:18-21, Peter mentions both factors in his message to the multitude
of Jews gathered to the porch of Solomon at the temple in Jerusalem.
"But the things which God previously announced by the mouths of all the
prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has fulfilled in this way.
Therefore, repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order
(1) times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;
This refers to the PERSONAL spiritual refreshment of salvation from sin and
the experience of the abundant life of peace and joy. Jesus mentioned it at
John 10:10, “I am come that they might have life and have abundance.”
And at Mat. 11:28-29.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take
My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and
you will find rest for your souls.
And Jeremiah proclaimed at 6:16, This is what the Lord says:
“Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths,
Where the good way is and walk in it; Then you will find rest for your
and then Peter mentions the NATIONAL promise:
(2) that He may send Jesus, the Messiah appointed for you, whom heaven must
receive UNTIL the period of restoration of all things, about which God spoke
by the mouths of His holy prophets from ancient times.
This refers to the perfect timing of the plan of God for the return of
Christ as we saw earlier at 1Tim. 6:15,
"which He will bring about at His own time."
The personal blessing will be experienced immediately: the salvation of the
The national blessing will not be experienced until the nation as a whole
proclaims, "praised be Him who comes in the name of the Lord" as Jesus
taught at Mat. 23:39. It is then that the Father will "send Jesus, the
Messiah appointed for you."
Now, lets look at Paul.
WHAT DID PAUL EXPECT?
After Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus, He stated very clearly what was
expected of him and what he could expect.
First to Ananias. Acts 9:15-16; 22:14-15
Then to Saul directly. Acts 22:21; 26:16-17
And LATER to Paul: Acts 23:11; 27:24
And during his first Roman imprisonment: Phil. 1:19-26
Paul's expectation is to be delivered and to see those believers again.
And during his second imprisonment: 2Tim. 4:6-8
Paul's expectation is to face physical death and then be rewarded.
So, although Paul knew and expected and was looking for the promised return
of Jesus, he also knew that certain things had to occur first.
Personal: as we just saw.
Globally: as he taught to the Thessalonians. 2Thes. 2:1-3
Now we ask you, brethren, regarding the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and
our gathering together to Him, 2 that you not be quickly shaken from what
you know or be disturbed either by a spirit, or a message, or a letter as if
from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one
deceive you in any way! For it (that is, the coming of the Lord, our
gathering together to Him, AND the day of the Lord) will not come unless the
apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed.
Now what about James? WHAT DID HE EXPECT?
Let’s look at James 5:7-8 (ekdechomai). "Therefore, be patient, brethren,
until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of
the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.
You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is
The Lord will not return UNTIL certain events occur. "the early and late
But what does the idea of NEAR mean?
The verb is engidzo. It means to be AT or close to any particular goal that
is in view.
It can mean RIGHT NOW.
Or it can mean soon.
Or it can mean to be in the process of arriving at the stated goal. 1Pet
4:7, the end of all things is drawing near.
Acts 7:17, but as the time of the promise was coming near, which God has
assured to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt.
Also at Heb. 10:25, “as you see the day drawing near.”
Here the verb is a present active indicative.
It means the coming of the Lord is approaching.
That is, it is in the process of reaching the point where it will actually
This is James’ way of describing what Jesus taught to be precedents to His
return; at Luke 21:29-31.
And He told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees: as soon
as they put forth leaves, you see for yourselves and know that summer is now
near. So you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that the
kingdom of God is near.
So in view of the severe persecution, that James just described, he exhorts,
Be patient. Relax in the confidence that God has perfect timing and will
bring it about "in his own time" after the early and late rains occur.
Paul expressed the same thing at Phil. 4:5.
In view of the various pressures from people and circumstances, Paul exhorts
“let your yielding attitude be known to all people. The Lord is near.”
In other words, be patient and leave everything in the hands of the wisdom
and timing of God, which is exactly what he expresses in verses 6-7.
“Stop worrying about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of
God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in
He wrote the same thing at 1Cor. 4:5, “Therefore do not judge anything
before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the
things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of hearts; and then
praise will come to each person from God.”
And this is probably what the expression, maranatha means at 1Cor. 16:22.
“If anyone does not love the Lord, he is under judgment. Maranatha!”
In a context of discipline from the Lord, what is Paul’s proclamation? The
Lord is coming.
This is the mantra of expectation for the church. THE LORD IS COMING.
Some think that the
translation should be, "come Lord."
However, most authorities understand the term to be either a past tense (the
Lord has come) or a statement of a future fact (the Lord is coming or will
In the book of Revelation . . .
In the book of the Revelation, John closes his record of all the visions he
received with the same statement of expectation, spoken by the Lord Himself.
Rev. 22:7, 12 and 20.
“Behold, I am coming quickly.”
This statement is made to give us assurance of His promised coming.
It must be kept in the context of the whole Bible and especially the book of
At verse 7, it is made with a focus on heeding the information in the
visions shown to John.
At verse 12, it is made with a focus on rewards for faithful service
And at verse 20, John repeats the promise, “Yes, I am coming quickly.”
He ends with the phrase that expresses the confident trust in the wisdom and
timing of God’s plan.
“Come Lord Jesus!”
This is not a COMMAND to Jesus for Him to actually come RIGHT NOW – as if
any individual or even the church collectively could bring about such an
It is a faith-rest attitude that relaxes in the fact that Jesus will come
according to the perfect timing of the plan of God the Father. It recognizes
that Jesus will indeed come back, and the believer is totally compliant with
everything that involves.
Now let’s look at Peter. What was his expectation. Jesus told him - John
Truly, truly I tell you, when you were younger, you used to put on your belt
and walk wherever you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out
your hands and someone else will put your belt on you, and bring you where
you do not want to go.”
So Peter’s expectation would be to die at an old age in what appears to be a
And in the meantime, while Peter waited with HOPE and confidence that Jesus
was going to fulfill His promise and come again, He would EXPECT to be
functional as a witness of Jesus, carrying the gospel throughout Judea,
Samaria and to the ends of the earth and ministering to the sheep of the
Lord. Just as he wrote at 2Peter 1:12-14, "Therefore, I will always be ready
to remind you of these things, even though you already know them and have
been established in the truth which is present with you. I consider it
right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of
reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent,
as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me."
Thus, he wrote that Christians should live in "holy conduct and godliness,
waiting for and promoting the coming of the day of God."
Just as the writer of Hebrews exhorts at Heb. 10:19-25.
So, with Paul, Peter, and James, and the other believers of the early church
we believers today need to be
LOVING HIS APPEARING
That is, looking for and waiting for the return of our Lord Jesus.
But we need to be patient until the early and late rains arrive; until the
leaves on the trees start to appear.