Our nearly three year old has two concepts of time these days: right now and Tuesday. When will his March birthday party happen? Tuesday. When is Christmas? Tuesday. When will he play on his own soccer team? Tuesday. We aren’t quite sure why he has latched on to Tuesday, as opposed to the six other days of the week, but, for now, it is working for him.
As juvenile as his concept of time may seem, it is much closer to the Biblical concept of time than we might imagine.
Throughout the Scriptures, when God is speaking to His people, phrases like in a little while, soon, and quickly appear regularly. Oftentimes these phrases strike a hint of frustration or cue eye-rolling in us, because the things they modify (restoration, peace, solutions to painful circumstances, clarity, etc…) seem to be coming anytime but soon. Rather, from our vantage point they tarry painstakingly long.
God’s answer to the prayers and cries of His people often seems to be, Tuesday. When God’s people cried out, asking “How long?” under the oppression of the Pharaoh in Egypt: Tuesday. When Israel descried the destruction and devastation of the temple, and asked when it would be rebuilt to its former glory: Tuesday. When the saints in exile longed to be carried home: Tuesday. When we walk through pain, infertility, singleness, sickness, loneliness and ask God when these will end: Tuesday. When will Jesus come again and usher in the New Heavens and New Earth where tears and bombs and mass shootings will be no more: Tuesday.
We beg for answers and solutions now. When He says, “Not Yet,” it often feels like never. In the season of Advent, we have the opportunity to practice active waiting in the Not Yet.
Lest we think our Heavenly Father is not empathetic with the pains of long waiting, I want to look at two specific books of the Bible where God speaks lovingly and hopefully to a long suffering people: Haggai in which God points to the first coming of Christ and Revelation in which God points His people to the second coming of Christ. Both of these books give us a glimpse into how we can live hopefully in the Not Yet when it feels like Never.
In the prophet Haggai’s time, the Temple of God was in complete disrepair and the situation for God’s people looked bleak. God raised up His prophet Haggai to stir up the people’s hope and devotion, causing them to rebuild the Temple (though even its reclaimed state was nothing compared its former glory). In the second chapter, God asks His people a series of challenging questions:“Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem like nothing?” (Haggai 2:3).
God was juxtaposing the past and present situation with the promise of an even greater glory: the coming of Christ to the earth.
Looking around about themselves, I am certain God’s people were tempted to throw in the towel, to give up, thinking, “We are doing our best, but all our efforts look like a shamble.” Yet, God follows His questions by speaking great hope to them.
“‘Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty…In a little while...what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty.”
In the in-between time, before the coming of the Promised One, God told his people to continue to do two things: to be strong and to work. Why? How? What was the motivation? The Lord answers these questions by saying two significant things: “I am with you” and “I promise.”
We are called to be strong and keep working, even when it looks hopeless and helpless, even when the promises we are desperate to see fulfilled seem a long time in coming. We will only be able to do this by clinging tightly to the powerful truths that He is, indeed, with us in the waiting and that what He promises, He always fulfills.
The last words canonical words that God speaks to His people (us) in the book of Revelation closely resemble these words from Haggai. This time, instead of encouraging His people to hang in and keep on keeping on until the Incarnation, He encourages us to wait until Christ’s second coming when all things will be made new.
“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes to take the free gift of the water of life….He who testifies to these things say, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ (Revelation 22:17 & 20, emphasis mine).
Soon and In a little while often feel like never; yet, God intends to sustain His people until the Not Yet becomes Now. Be strong and work, for He is with us and He promised.
Amen. Come Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen (Revelation 22:21).