Paul cultivated among all of the believers in his day the eager expectancy that this appearing would take place very soon. In so doing he attempted, like his Lord, to wean them from this earth to live as those who were already citizens of heaven. To the Philippians he wrote: “For our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Philippians:3:20). And to Titus: “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus:2:13).
There are those who argue that it is foolish to think of Christ returning today, since the apostles vainly expected that great event in their time. On the contrary, they did not—yet they urged the Christians of their day to remain expectant. The apostle Paul unquestionably knew that this longed-for event would not occur during his own lifetime, which would be cut short by Roman execution. He told Timothy, “The time of my departure [by death] is at hand” (2 Timothy:4:6). And he told the Ephesian elders, “after my departing [in death] shall grievous wolves enter in among you…” (Acts:20:29).
Peter also had the same conviction, as his writings prove. He, too, spoke of his impending death. “Knowing that shortly I must put off this tabernacle [of flesh and blood]…I will endeavor [through his written epistles] that yet may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance” (2 Peter:1:14,15).
The apostles knew that they were “appointed to death…a spectacle unto the world” (1 Corinthians:4:9). Only the apostle John, of whom the Lord had said, “If I will that he tarry till I come…” (John:21:22), was the lone exception among them. He was spared martyrdom, yet died without seeing the promised coming.
This same apostle John tells us that the earnest expectation of Christ’s imminent appearing, and our deliverance from sin and death by transformation into glorious bodies like His, will inevitably have a powerful and purifying effect in every area of our lives. He wrote:
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. (1 John:3:2,3)