Comfort in Waiting
“The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” – Isaiah 40:5
When looking back at the way people anticipated Christ’s advent, we can sometimes only marvel at the kind of faith they displayed. Though promises were made to Adam, Abraham, David, and many prophets at various times, many thousands of years passed before the promised Messiah actually came to earth. Adam only knew that one of his descendants would oppose the serpent (Gen. 3:15). Abraham only knew that his descendants would form a great nation that would bless the world (Gen. 12:3). David only knew that one of his descendants would rule on his throne forever (2 Sam. 7:12-13). And various prophets were given all sorts of visions of a time when the promised one would come to redeem Israel and take away the sins of the world (Is. 53:4-6, for example).
God’s promises were incredible, but they did not answer all possible questions or remove all possible doubts. Many generations of believers passed away waiting for the time when God would make good on these promises. But like Joseph – whose burial arrangements showed that he understood God would redeem his people – these generations of believers knew that when God promised something, it was as good as done.
Peter was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, and probably heard the story of Christmas told many times by Jesus’ mother. Paul was converted later, but also could have heard these stories from eyewitnesses in and around Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Both of these men knew that Jesus was the fulfillment of all the promises that God had made to Adam, Abraham, David and the prophets.
Peter also had the experience of learning from Jesus for three years of ministry, and Paul’s missionary work in Europe and Asia showed him the reality of the Holy Spirit. Both men were also aware that Jesus had made some promises of his own concerning his second coming. This put Peter and Paul and the other Apostles in a unique position in history: they lived in between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Even as those who had seen God fulfill promises before his own eyes, the Apostles were still waiting for Christ’s return.
Romans and 2 Peter are written to Christians who are eagerly expecting Christ’s return. In the early church, and perhaps even among the Apostles themselves, it was understandable to think that Jesus’ return would happen soon. Why else would Jesus encourage them to be so watchful?
But as the years passed, the doubts began to grow and objections were raised by the Church’s opposition. Why hadn’t Jesus returned yet? We may ask the same question today, thousands of years later, as we look at the signs of the times. But Paul and Peter are adamant that this “delay” is not a reflection of God’s incompetence or poor planning. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
Both Paul and Peter encouraged future generations of Christians to show the same patience with Christ’s “second advent” that Old Testament believers did with Christ’s “first advent.” Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem was carefully orchestrated and came at the right time in history, and the events of the first Christmas give us plenty of reason to trust in the fulfillment of the second. Therefore, we can rest assured that Jesus will return with the same impeccable timing – and not a moment too soon, or too late.