Anticipation: the birth and return of Jesus

john the baptist

John the Baptist, Preaching / Luca Giordano, ca. 1695

The season of Advent is a time of anticipation. The word itself means “coming.” In secular contexts we can properly refer to the advent of any significant event. In the church year, it can refer only to the coming of Jesus Christ.

Scripture affirms that Christ has come, Christ has risen, and Christ is coming again. Two passages commonly read at this time of year point to both the first and second coming.

Isaiah 11:1-10

First coming

Especially after his encounter with Ahaz (chapter 7), Isaiah knew prophetically that the corrupt kingdom could not endure. But he also knew that God’s promise to David could not fail. Much of the book of Isaiah comes from his struggles in coming to grips with these two seemingly irreconcilable truths.

One key promise came to him at the time God commissioned him: Isaiah’s message was to a people who would not understand until cities lay in ruins. God compared the nation to a tree that had been felled. Holy seed remains in the stump (Isaiah 6:11-13).

And so in 11:1, we see the house of David cut down to a stump. The promised shoot does not come from the stump of David, though. That would have meant another son of David. The shoot comes from the stump of Jesse. That heralds the coming of another David himself. David, not any of his descendants, is a type of Jesus.

The next four verses exactly describe the seven-fold Spirit of Christ and the character of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In particular, this holy shoot would judge with absolute righteousness. He would show neither improper favor to the poor nor improper disfavor to the wicked.

He would enforce his judgment with no other weapon than the words of his mouth. Isaiah compares his righteousness to a belt and faithfulness to a sash. Does that begin to remind you of the whole armor of God? There, too, the only offensive weapon is the word of God. (On closer look, all of the defensive weapons are likewise the word.)

Second coming

Peaceable Kingdom of the Branch / Edward Hicks, ca. 1826-30. Hicks must have loved this theme. This only one of several different paintings of it.

Peaceable Kingdom of the Branch / Edward Hicks, ca. 1826-30. Hicks must have loved this theme. This is one of several different paintings of it.

Has there been any time where wolves and lambs, leopards and goats, lions and calves, bears and cows, would all live together in harmony? Has there ever been a time when they have all eaten the same food?

Isaiah’s prophecy moves abruptly from the Jesus we think we know to a new Eden that has never yet existed. Humans, depicted here as a little child, exercise dominion over the earth, but no longer the greedy, rapacious domination that we have shown since before the dawn of history.

The picture of the child playing peacefully in the company of serpents portends a lifting of the ancient curse. The serpent who seduced Adam in the garden is nowhere to be found.

And Jesus himself? By verse 10 we no longer see a shoot growing out of a rotting stump. He is now the root of Jesse. He is now a banner not only for the children of Israel, but all peoples and nations.

Malachi 3:1-4

refiner's fire

Refining metal

We cannot neatly separate the first and second comings of Christ in Malachi. God himself speaks these words and says that he will send his messenger before him. In churches that follow a lectionary, this passage is paired with a New Testament reading about John the Baptist.

According to Revelation 11, God will also send his messenger(s) in advance of the second coming. Commentators generally name Elijah as one of them. He hasn’t died yet. They name either Enoch (who also has not died) or Moses as the other.

The Lord would suddenly come into his temple as the messenger of the covenant. Israelites had long looked forward to the day of the Lord with eager expectation. Before Malachi, Amos had warned that it would not be pleasant (Amos 5:18).

Jesus suddenly entered the temple with violence in his heart. He had made a whip and used it to drive out the money-changers. We don’t like to think of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” as becoming violent. But that is only a tiny foretaste of the violence that will accompany the end.

Malachi asks, who can endure it? Who can stand his ground? These rhetorical questions demand the answer that no one can. The entire book of Revelation describes how violent that end will be. Jesus himself painted a dark picture of it in Matthew 24. In Luke 12:49, he spoke of a fire that he would some day light and said he wished it were already kindled.

But here’s the good news. All of that violence will destroy only evil. The fire is not a wildfire, but a refiner’s fire. It is a beautiful picture, actually. A refiner of gold or silver in those days knew that the metal had been purified when he could clearly see his reflection in it. Jesus will scrape off dross until nothing is left that does not reflect him.

Photo credits:
John the Baptist. Public domain
Peaceable Kingdom. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons.
Refining metal. Source unknown

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