“… and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10).
What is this waiting, this expectation? Expectation involves tension.
I know there are many who do their best to turn the great waiting room of this world into a living room in which they make themselves as comfortable and relaxed as possible. Although the train carrying passengers to eternity screams down the track, they act just as though they notice nothing, as though their houses will stand forever, as though there will be no “day of the Lord”. They are sadly mistaken.
Mere waiting is a relaxed resting, with our arms folded and our minds undisturbed. Expectation, however, involves tension. The family of almost any fisherman can tell you what this means. Father has been at sea for months. During his absence there has been bad weather. Once there was such a storm that the family feared the roof would collapse. Many times, Mother and the children went on bended knee to ask Israel’s Protector to watch over Father out there on the turbulent sea. But tonight, according to Mother’s calculations – and she never makes a mistake in this matter – Father is supposed to come home.
They wait. The tension hangs in the air and clings to everything in the room. The tension makes Mother’s hands tremble and the corners of her mouth twitch. The tension is evident in the behaviour of the children: they do not play as they do other evenings. They are somewhat more boisterous, but they are also quieter. Mother picks up her knitting from time to time, but she lays it down as often as she picks it up. Every sound startles her. With every footstep that comes near, she holds her breath. All nerves are taut. She waits. She listens.
Do you now sense what it means to wait for His Son from heaven? He, Jesus, is on the way. He’s coming! It may take a while, or He may arrive tomorrow. No one knows the hour.
Are you familiar with the tension that expectation brings? Do you listen with taut nerves for His footsteps, which can already be heard in the signs of the times?
Could it be that this listening and looking toward heaven will turn us into impractical dreamers? Each day again we are caught up in the hustle and bustle of life with its demands. Is it possible that this tense posture of expectation will leave us unprepared for these demands?
Come now, surely you don’t mean that! Think again of the fisherman’s wife. How busy she is getting everything in perfect order. The furnace is on and the meal is ready, for – Father is coming home! This kind of waiting is a matter of working – and not dreaming.
I know very well from my own experience as a pastor how feverishly people clean up, sweep and polish when “important visitors” are expected. Well then, you, too, are expecting an important visitor – God’s Son from heaven, Jesus, the King of all kings.
If this is how you understand expectation or waiting, the return of Christ will never be a dead article in your confession or a fading ideal in the distant future. It will assume a place in the middle of your life and give it new colour. Then there will be a festive tension in your home and in your heart, just as there is when you are expecting guests and you clean house thoroughly. This housecleaning is what we call “daily conversion”.
Brothers and sisters, will you please take a good look around the home you live in? There may be rooms covered by layers of dust and permeated by the stench of sin. Are you waiting for His Son from heaven?
This expectation elevates earthly life to a higher plane and also makes it possible for us to appear before God’s judgement seat “without fear”. We do not appear there without fear because our tension and efforts have somehow made us holy. We know that no one will appear righteous before God on that day, for we all stand accused by our own hearts. The word wait already suggests a state of imperfection. Even the holiest among us must confess that his life is imperfect and stained by sin.
Therefore, it’s fortunate that Paul tells us that this “Son from heaven” is Jesus, who “delivers us from the wrath to come”. He is the same Jesus who earlier subjected Himself to God’s judgement for my sake.
Blessed is the man who has learned the passivity of waiting as well as the activity of expectation. “I wait for thy salvation, O, Lord” (Gen. 49:18). He will not be disappointed in his expectation.
The expectation of the world, which does not go beyond the horizontal level of earthly life, will be bitterly disappointed, like so many women who wait in vain for husbands who have not returned from the great dark sea with its insatiable appetite. This world and every nominal Christian in it will be assailed by a furious monster from hell.[I] That monster will seize anyone whose confession is a mere game, anyone who knows nothing of the tension involved in expectation.
But from heaven will come the shining figure of Jesus to gladden those who live in expectation of His coming. Those who wait for the Lord will not be put to shame.
Quoted from Herman Veldkamp, Waiting for Christ’s Return¸ Inheritance Publications, Neerlandia, 2015, pp. 9-13. The late Rev. Veldkamp served as minister of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands. He wrote many popular books about the Bible during the 20th century, some of which have been translated into English.
[i] This is what Paul means when he speaks of “the wrath to come”.