Waiting is a dominant theme of Paul and the New Testament. According to Anthony Thiselton, “In everyday life, waiting can suggest dull and static situations like sitting in a railway waiting room, or standing at a bus stop.”
But Paul uses several verbs to express the range of waiting. We wait for the sons of God to be revealed; creation waits with eager longing; Paul has an “eager expectation” as he hopes for “deliverance” from captivity. The LXX usage implies that this waiting is a kind of “stretching of the neck, craning forward” as in eager anticipation with intense longing, craning one’s neck to see. Or, if you are Zacchaeus, you climb a tree (Luke 19:4)! This is far removed from idly waiting for a bus or train!
It is of a different quality. Look at the craning of necks as a bride turns up at the church, or a person trying to glimpse the Queen as she goes by. Sadly, some Christians have assumed an inhumane quality to this waiting, as though they need to be in a permanent state of joyous, frenzied expectation, “To keep up emotional fervour for an interminable period is impossible and unhealthy, and, in the event of flagging zeal, even causes guilt” (Thiselton).
For the New Testament, expectation “constitutes a disposition, not an emotion” a state of readiness, not emotional fervour. But what constitutes “being ready” depends on readiness for what, and how we prepare. Both Augustine and Luther regarded readiness for the coming of Christ as continuing in everyday Christian trust, work, and obedience in everyday tasks.
To the question, What is it to expect? Thiselton draws an example given by Ludwig Wittgenstein, who asks, “What should I do if I “expect” my friend for tea? “I put out cups, saucers, plates, jam, bread, cake, and so forth. I make sure that my room is tidy. “To expect” certainly does not refer to one process or state of mind . . . I prepare the tea for two, and so on.”
Thus the coming of Christ, and our waiting is ethical in nature; it is our discipleship, a life lived before God that pleases God (1 Thess. 4:1). Thiselton develops Wittgenstein’s thought, “The notion that expectation constitutes a mental act, he said, is a “curious superstition.” He concluded, “An expectation is embedded in a situation from which it arises.” In the Zettel, he substitutes for “expect” the phrase “Be prepared for this to happen.” This is why it is a disposition. It is a disposition to respond in an appropriate way when given circumstances bring it into play.”
This is all part of a wider discussion on The Return of Christ, the Resurrection and Related Issues. In order for a Christian response to be thoughtful, mature, and appropriate, Thiselton discusses five categories that help us think better about the return of Christ. They are:
- The terms used to denote it
- The validity of the belief in the future and the public coming of Christ
- The significance of its apocalyptic context
- Claims about its prediction and possible dating
- The language in which the event is described
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.