The return of Jesus is the blessed hope that trains us to renounce ungodliness (Titus 2:11–14) and motivates us to purify our hearts (1 John 3:2–3). It strengthens us to cry out against injustice (James 5:1–8) and assures us God is faithful even when the people we minister to are not (1 Cor. 1:4–9).
The references to Jesus’s appearing that saturate the New Testament letters make it clear that hope is fuel, and our longing to see Jesus face-to-face can empower endurance through the fiercest challenges.
This raises the million-dollar question: How do we hope fully in Jesus’s appearing (1 Pet. 1:13) when we don’t know when it’ll happen? It’s one thing to have a date set so the timer is ticking and we can pace our excitement like kids counting down to Christmas Day. But how do we obey Jesus’s command to “Be alert!” when he also tells us that “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matt. 24:36)? How do we nurture anticipation of that Day without any certainty it’ll come in our lifetime?
Our longing to see Jesus face-to-face can empower endurance through the fiercest challenges.
We see how anticipating Jesus’s return gives strength for today in the life of the apostle Paul. Two of Paul’s earliest letters, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, are permeated with references to Jesus’s coming. When I read these letters, I hear a man who is convinced he’s going to see Jesus come back in person.
Fueled to Endure Suffering
In the 10 years between writing 1 Thessalonians and Philippians, Paul experienced many of the persecutions and near-death experiences recorded in the later chapters of Acts: beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, imprisonments, and the incitement of more than one riot. All the while, Jesus is still in heaven and Paul is still on earth, suffering for his sake.
When you read the book of Philippians, written as Paul awaited trial in jail, you hear a shift in Paul’s tone. In Philippians 1, Paul grapples with the fact that he may be executed and, consequently, see Jesus in heaven before his coming. Yet that doesn’t stop Paul from writing, in Philippians 3, that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20–21). He awaited the Savior’s return regardless of his situation.
Indeed, by the time Paul wrote his final letter, death was no longer just a possibility but an imminent inevitability. In 2 Timothy 4:6–7 he declared his famous valedictory, “The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
In this final season of life, his sights remained set on the coming of his Savior as he anticipated receiving the crown of righteousness: “The Lord, the righteous judge, will award [it] to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).
To the death, Paul loved Jesus’s appearing. He could approach his death with such confidence because this hope had propelled Paul to a faithful life with and for Jesus.
Fueled to Faithfully Minister
In a touching portion of 1 Thessalonians, Paul imagines presenting these new believers as his “crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming” (1 Thess. 2:19). All the long hours of teaching, modeling, correcting, and encouraging would be worth it when he says, “Here they are, Jesus! I did what you told me to do!”
Paul could approach his death with such confidence because this hope had propelled him to a faithful life with and for Jesus.
Indeed, even when Paul knew his death would predate Jesus’s return, his yearning to be with Christ—which relativized afflictions like imprisonment as light and momentary (2 Cor. 4:17)—drove his ministry to those believers. Much more than pie-in-the-sky dreaming, Paul’s anticipation of seeing Jesus face-to-face increased his resolve to “continue with” the believers for their “progress and joy in the faith” (Phil. 1:25).
This kind of hope can fuel your life and ministry as well. If you get impatient with immature believers, if you feel the brokenness of this world in your own body, if you face afflictions because of your stand for Christ, Paul serves as a model for how a full hope in Jesus can fuel your perseverance through those difficulties.
Even if Jesus comes back the day after you die, your yearning to see him face-to-face right now can give you the long strides needed for faithfulness to the end.