“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13, NASB95)
Twelve years have passed since this verse first began to disrupt my life. Through all the changing seasons of circumstances, ministry, and family its devastating comprehensiveness has continued to pursue me. The deep, defining hope of our lives as those in Christ is to be fixed entirely upon His return. Entirely. The word leaves no options or alternatives. All thoughts of diversifying our portfolio of hope must be abandoned.
Taking this verse (and the many verses in the New Testament that echo its truth) seriously has profound implications both theologically and practically. Not only does it necessitate that we actually care desperately about eschatology, it can often challenge deeply embedded assumptions about the form and mission of the Church in this age. We are beckoned to uproot the anchor of our soul from the passing shadow of our days and throw it unreservedly into the glorious, everlasting light of His Day. (cf. Heb 6:19) At times the charge has been raised that such a consolidation of hope somehow undermines the significance of the first coming of Jesus and produces a disparaging view of the present. This is a very strange objection when one considers it for a moment.
The language of “first coming” implies, of course, that this coming was followed by a going. Jesus ascended. He has gone away, but still we remain. The Lord Jesus is our very life – to Him we are joined and in Him we are hidden – and yet He is not here. How are we to live on the earth in the midst of this “present evil age” (Gal 1:14) when our entire identity and all of our affections are bound up in One from whom we are separated? The glorious bond of communion forged by the indwelling Spirit does not heal the bittersweet pain of this question. It only drives the wound deeper and makes the need for an answer more dire.
There are a handful of pictures that the New Testament gives to help shape how we should understand this paradox and dilemma inherent to our existence after regeneration. All of them are alike in that there is a dynamic relationship between the present and the future, where the former becomes incomprehensible apart from the latter. One of the most prominent is that of marriage. With this is mind, let’s return to the claim that the marvelous blessings and unspeakable import of the first advent of Christ are being overlooked when His people long vehemently for His second advent.
During the time of my own engagement , it would have brought me no comfort if sometime in the weeks leading up the wedding one of my friends had come to me and cried, “Fret not! I have spoken with your beloved! She has warm feelings toward you and looks forward to the day of marriage, but rest assured that she is not at all dishonoring your proposal or the precious gift of your ring through earnest pining or discontentment. She is quite content and would like you to know she very much enjoys her betrothal and is occupying herself with many constructive pursuits. Her hope is both temperate and diverse.”
The theological equivalent of this can be spared from having its faults exposed only if Christianity is removed from the relational context in which it truly subsists. This is one of a multitude of reasons why Jesus must be preeminent in our thought and practice in an overtly personal way. When He is subtly reduced to a noble concept, all sorts of skewed perspectives can be given credence. What the analogy above makes so plain is that the only reason there can be a consuming expectation for a wedding is because there was first an engagement. Furthermore, it is actually in the act of pained yearning and absorbed hoping for the marriage that the proposal and the One who made it is valued. It is precisely in setting our hope completely on His Day (cf. Luke 17:24) that we demonstrate just how precious His first coming is to us.
His breathtaking incarnation, His matchless life, His unthinkable death, His triumphant resurrection and His glorious ascension are the reason we so deeply love the One we have not seen (1 Pet 1.8), and have our hope fixed entirely on the Day our eyes will meet at last. No one would ever accuse a maiden consumed with preparations for her wedding of being unbalanced or having a negative view of her engagement. Quite to the contrary, she would be called wise and faithful. As those betrothed as a chaste virgin to Christ Jesus (2 Cor 11:2), let us press on in singularity of devotion to Him and be found blameless as His appearing.
The nature of the future defines the reality of the present. This is inescapable. The only question is whether our vision of the future is true or false.