Every chapter of 1 Thessalonians ends with a reference to the Lord’s second coming.
…You turned to God from the idols to serve a living and true God and await His Son from the heavens… (1:9-10)
For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at His coming? Are not even you? (2:19)
So that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. (3:13)
…We who are living, who are left remaining unto the coming of the Lord, shall by no means precede those who have fallen asleep. (4:15)
The God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (5:23)
Paul was only in Thessalonica for three weeks, yet, to this young church he repeatedly stressed Christ’s second coming. This is important to note because it indicates that from the very beginning the Christian life is future oriented. That, despite the very real significance of our present experiences, they are anchored to an even more significant and certain future reality (Heb. 6:18-19). To this young, persecuted church Paul repeatedly directed their hope to the second coming of Christ.
Recollection and Expectation
As Christians we adopt a characteristic disposition in this world—expectation. For the true believer, hope is not a flimsy and unsubstantial concept, like the hope to be rich one day. It is a profound attitude that connects our everyday experiences to a very real eschatological reality. Christians believe in and are defined by a future event, not merely a past one.
And the certainty we harbor in the second coming of Christ is bolstered by the certainty of His first coming. We live between the landmarks of the ages—a manger and a mountain. With faith we look back to the manger in Bethlehem and with hope we look forward to the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4).
Recollection and expectation are not successive notes in the melody of the ages, one beginning only after the first ends. They are chords played simultaneously, creating a harmonic fullness that adds depth and texture to the present (think Debussy). Or to use another metaphor: they are like the full moon and resplendent sun, rising and setting on opposite horizons at the same time and in full view of each other, “with palpable currents of light passing back and forth.” We live in the strange, pre-dawn light of a new and glorious morn and are reminded that we must reflect that light on earth. Advent reminds the church who she is—the lover in the Song of Songs who is both “as beautiful as the moon, as clear as the sun” (6:12).
Karl Barth linked the two comings of Christ in the life of the church:
The Church’s recollection is also its expectation.
Our recollection fuels our expectation, because the decisive element in both events is the same. That decisive element is the person and work of Christ. Thus, the more we recall, muse on, and worship God for the first advent, the more we will actively anticipate, hope for, and live in light of the second advent. The crucial thing though is that this recollection would be activated.
Hans Küng said,
Memory can curb the excessive power of the factual, can divert the pressure of existing facts, can break through the wall of reality, of what has been effected, can get rid of the present and open the way to a better future. Merely as recollection, it can do this at least for brief moments. Really activated, it can do this permanently… [Christianity] is the activation of a dangerous and liberating memory.
The Lord’s Table and Advent
As Christians around the world are celebrating Advent, I would like to propose that THE premier activity for recollecting Christ’s first coming and expecting His second, is the Lord’s table. Personal “devos” are good, topical Bible studies are helpful, but nothing should replace the centrality the Lord’s table should have in our celebration of Advent. The table is where this memory is most activated in light of the Lord’s coming. This meal connects Christ’s first coming for redemption with Christ second coming and, as the lines of a hymn reminds us, is “hope to fill our daily living.”
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you declare the Lord’s death until He comes. (1 Cor. 11:26)