[This article was first published in somewhat different form as “Hastening the Day”]
When Christ first came to His own, what caused the majority of His own to reject Him while others received Him gladly and with joy? What was it that differentiated a Mary, an Elizabeth, a Simeon, or an Anna from the masses that would in thirty plus years cry, “crucify him, crucify him!”? All were children of Abraham, all had the same Law, read the same prophets, and even believed that a Messiah would indeed come. So, what differentiated the saints from the serpents at His arrival?
Luke, I believe, gives us the answer in his Gospel account. When the Christ child, but eight days old, was brought to the Temple for circumcision, we are presented with two saints, each receiving Him joyfully as the expected Messiah. First Simeon:
And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. (Luke 2:25-26)
We read again of Anna in the same chapter,
Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, […]who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who were waiting for redemption in Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)
Christ’s true saints were waiting for Him.
Though it wasn’t until a few years ago that this occurred to me, it should have come as no surprise being that it was the constant description of the saints throughout the entire Old Testament. Jacob, while blessing his sons, prophesying of the coming Messiah and the bloody history that would precede, cried out, “I have waited for your salvation, O Lord!” (Gen. 49:18). And how often in the Psalms do we read the saints instructed to “wait for the Lord” and the righteous described as those who “wait upon the Lord”? The prophets as well made clear to whom Messiah’s redemption would come in the last days:
And it will be said in that day:
“Behold, this is our God;
We have waited for Him, and He will save us.
This is the Lord;
We have waited for Him;
We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.” (Isa. 25:9)
And further, the Lord is good to those who wait for Him (Lam. 3:25), He acts for those who wait for Him (Isa. 64:4), and they who wait for Him will not be ashamed (Isa. 49:23).
We can even, with ample warrant, go one step further: waiting has always been an integral part of saving faith itself.
We read in Habakkuk 2:4, “the just shall live by his faith”. As we know, this passage is used multiple times in the New Testament as a proof text demonstrating that justification had always been by faith and never by works, even in the Old Covenant; the Apostles were shown thereby to be no innovators. But what was the Old Testament context of this declaration of the Lord? The prophet Habakkuk was, in chapter 1, bemoaning the wickedness that was rampant in Israel and frustrated that God was allowing it to continue. God tells Habakkuk that He will indeed deal with the sin of Israel by bringing judgement upon them, but by a foreign and violent nation. Habakkuk was quite flabbergasted at this notion, viz., that a people even more wicked than Israel would be the means of judging Israel!
After completing his complaint, he determines to go up to his watch-post and wait for the answer and “correction” of the Lord. The following is what we read next:
Then the Lord answered me and said:
“Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.
“Behold the proud,
His soul is not upright in him;
But the just shall live by his faith. (Hab. 2:2-4)
Clearly, the contrast here is between those who would patiently wait for the salvation of the Lord (the just) and those who would trust in themselves, leaning on their own understanding (the proud). The just live by their faith—they wait upon the Lord’s gracious and sovereign intervention; but the wicked see all through worldly eyes, with worldly measures of success and power (see 2:6-17). Even the prophet’s own complaint was born of worldly understanding; his “correction” from God was to live by faith, waiting for the redemption of the Lord, despite what he saw with his eyes (see 3:17-18).
When Christ came unto His own, His own did not receive Him because they were on the wrong side of this contrast. They were not waiting for their Messiah. They had chosen to rely upon the types and shadows that were only ever intended to point them to Messiah, to cause them to long for and daily await His coming. They had put their confidence in the Law rather than wailing under its discomfort as uncoupled its end, the coming Righteous One. When Christ came, they were already satisfied with their worldly arrangements. But His saints were waiting for Him and they received His redemption.
So, what of us New Covenant members? Does faith mean something different to us, living as we are after the advent of our Messiah? By no means. The saints are indeed the waiters, past, present, and future, until the great and final appearing of our Lord, the resurrection of our bodies, and the revelation of the New Heaven and Earth. We see throughout the New Testament the exact same description of the saints as we do in the Old. Paul addresses the believing Corinthians as those “eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:7) and the Philippians as those whose “citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior” (Phil. 3:20). To the Romans he writes,
We[…] who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. (Romans 8:22-25)
Many passages can be mustered to demonstrate this truth. Simply put, the saints are the waiters.
In fact, our situation is little different from those at His first coming, for Christ will come again, and will redeem only those who are waiting for Him! We read in the letter to the Hebrews,
Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. (Heb. 9:28)
To those who eagerly wait for Him! Christ Himself warns of the same in many words and parables throughout the Gospels. We read, for example, in Luke chapter 12:
Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. (Lk. 12:35-37)
So, a question I am asking myself this Advent season (and you are welcome to join in the asking): am I waiting for the coming of the Lord, just as those found rejoicing at the first Christmas? Not just, do I believe that He will come; not just, do I expect that He will come; but, am I eagerly waiting for Him? Am I truly “looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Pet. 3:12)? For this is what distinguishes the saints from the serpents, and always has.
Or (to put an even finer point on it), when I read the closing sentences of the Canon of Scripture, “surely I am coming quickly,” is my heart moved with anticipation, hope, and expectation, causing my satisfaction in these meager beginnings of imperfect communion with the perfect Lord to vanish like a mist? Do I find complacency in knowing only in part, participating in the means of grace, all without anxiously desiring its glorious end—the presence of the Lord Himself?
“Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)