For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
– Philippians 3:20 –
This verse teaches us that the posture of the heavenly citizen is one of patient, eager anticipation of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. While we usually think of “waiting” and “anticipating” as generally being passive endeavors, the Greek word apekdechomai has a much more active force. The great 19th-century Scottish expositor, Alexander MacLaren, commenting on this verse, wrote, “The eagerness of the waiting which should characterize the expectant citizens is wonderfully described by the Apostle’s expression for it, which literally means ‘to look away out’ … like a sentry on the walls of a besieged city whose eyes are ever fixed on the pass amongst the hills through which the relieving forces are to come.” This eager anticipation is nothing less than the active fastening of one’s gaze and attention on a dearly desired end.
This is how the New Testament speaks of the Christian’s enthusiastic anticipation of the return of Christ.
- In Galatians 5:5, Paul describes the Christian as one who “through the Spirit, by faith…eagerly wait[s] for the hope of righteousness” (ESV).
- In his opening words to the Corinthians, he commends them for not lacking in any spiritual gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:7).
- In 1 Thessalonians 1:9 and 10, this is how Paul defines a Christian: one who “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven….”
- And of course, in that section of the believer’s future hope in Romans 8, in verse 23, Paul says, “…even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.”
- And then in 2 Timothy 4:8, as Paul prepares himself to go to his execution, he looks forward to his heavenly reward and says, “In the future 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.”
So what does it mean, practically, to be one who loves and longs for Christ’s appearing, to eagerly await the return of our Savior from heaven? I can think of at least four implications.
Reflection and Meditation
First, it means that we make the return of Christ a consistent theme of our reflection and meditation. We are to give ourselves to the task of treasuring up and memorizing key passages of Scripture that speak about Christ’s return and the promises of blessing at His coming, and of filling our minds with thoughts of that glorious time. It means a fervent devotion to praying that He would come, just as those Scriptures speak about—praying that Jesus would come to set up His kingdom on the earth, so that all the earth might know and worship Him as He is worthy of. And in such prayer and meditation, we seek to actively cultivate our affections for that day. We tune our hearts to longing to have Him with us, to longing to receive those blessed and magnificent promises upon which we have fixed our hope, and to delighting in the fact that He will one day be honored by all creation in the way that He deserves.
A Steady Focus
And a mark of that eager anticipation is a steady focus. The heavenly citizen does not eagerly anticipate Christ’s coming only at certain allotted times. It’s his constant preoccupation.
My wife and I visited our family back in New Jersey over the holidays. And as I was reflecting on the importance of eagerly awaiting Christ’s return, I was reminded of my in-laws’ dog, Sammy. Sammy absolutely cannot contain himself when he knows that someone is about to come home. Before you even pull your car into the driveway, Sammy knows you’re coming. And my in-laws have a little chest that sits under the front window, and when Sammy hears that car, he props his two front paws onto that chest so he can see out the window. And his eyes are fixed on that car pulling into the driveway. No matter what is going on inside of the house, he will not move! From the moment you pull up, to the time you get out of the car, to when you walk up to the door, he is absolutely fastened upon you. And if you mess with him, like I tend to do, and just sort of stop and wait and stare back at him, he will bark at you, as if to say, “Come on! Can’t you see I’m waiting for you?!”
That is a wonderful picture of the believer’s eager anticipation of Christ. The Bible tells us that we are living in the last days—that Christ is coming quickly—that He is, if you will, pulling into the driveway! And no matter what may seek to distract us from Him and His coming, our steady focus must be on that day. And even if it should seem like He’s delaying Himself a bit, that should only be an occasion for us to “bark,” as it were—to cry out in prayer for Him to come all the more quickly.
Another mark of that eager anticipation is joy. Steady and consistent reflection and meditation on Christ’s coming should make us the most joyful people on the planet! Have you ever seen a mob of people waiting for their favorite musical group (or actor, or some other celebrity) to make their grand entrance at some event? Well if you have, you’ve not seen a passively resigned or disinterestedly bored group. You see these people hanging all over each other, pressing on one another, getting on their tip-toes, craning their neck, trying to get a clear angle to see their favorite celebrity. And just before that person arrives, almost without fail, you see everyone in that group smiling. You see them all bubbling over with delight at the prospect of seeing that person they’re so eagerly awaiting.
How much more should that be true of Christians! We await a Savior of infinitely greater fame, of infinitely greater worthiness, of infinitely greater glory, than all of earth’s celebrities combined. And He is coming! He is almost here! Oh how great our joy should be! Though we have not seen Him, we love Him, and though we do not see Him now, but believe in Him, we greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory (1 Pet 1:8).
And finally, this eager anticipation should motivate us to obedience. If our Master is returning soon, we, the slaves of His household, ought to be on the alert! In Matthew 24:44, Jesus tells us, “For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions.” But those who are unfaithful, He goes on to say, those who do not expect his master’s return and therefore plunges himself into sin and evil deeds, his master will not return and commend him as a good and faithful servant, but will bring him to a wretched end.
Friends, the Lord is coming quickly! And we don’t know when exactly He’s coming. And therefore we must be on the alert at all times. Alexander MacLaren, again, says it well:
“If we are sure that a given event will come sometime and do not know when it may come, surely the wise man is he who thinks to himself it may come any time, and not he who treats it as if it would come at no time. … [Such anticipation] will stimulate all energies in pressing towards the goal, and will turn away our eyes from the trivialities and the transiences that press upon us,” and fix them upon the Savior.
And I can’t improve upon the words of Spurgeon. He says,
“Brethren, Jesus is coming! He is even now on the way. You have heard our tidings till you scarcely credit us, but the Word of God is true and it will surely be fulfilled before long. The Lord is coming, indeed! He promised to come to die and He kept His Word—He now promises to come to reign and you may be sure that He will keep His tryst with His people.
“He is coming! Ears of faith can hear the sound of His chariot wheels! Every moment of time, every event of Providence is bringing Him nearer. Blessed are those servants who shall not be sleeping when He comes, nor wandering from their posts of duty! Happy shall they be whom their Lord shall find faithfully watching and standing fast in that great day!”
May we be marked, then, as good citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, by the eager anticipation of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.