The Epiphany of Grace and Glory1
You may find it rather strange that I have chosen to write about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ during that time of year when everything and everyone are focused on the First Coming of Christ. But I have two very good reasons for doing so.
My first reason is personal. I can’t recall a time in my life when I have so deeply and passionately longed for the return of Christ as I have in 2020. At times, the feeling has been overwhelming. It’s even been so intense that I have felt physically exhausted from my desire for Jesus to come back and put an end to the brokenness and wickedness in our world. I’m emotionally burdened and spiritually sick from the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The racial hostilities and violence that erupted in our streets was almost more than I could tolerate. And the deep political divisions in our country reached a new level in this past year and especially in the Presidential election.
I’m ready for Jesus to come back! I don’t mind telling you that I’m ready for him to impose true and eternal justice on those who have defied him and have sought to spread evil throughout our land. I’m ready for him to vindicate truth and to put things right and to renew and recreate this physical universe and deliver it from the curse under which it has existed for these many thousands of years.
But it isn’t simply because of how bad things have gotten in our world that I long for Jesus to return. I want it to happen first and fundamentally because I want Jesus to be glorified and exalted and seen by all as the one true Lord of the universe! And that leads me to my second reason for justifying why I’m talking about the Second Coming of Christ at a time when we typically think only of his First Coming.
My second reason for linking together the two comings of Jesus is because that is precisely what the Apostle Paul does in Titus 2:11-14. I want you to see something here that I think is incredibly important.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14).
In the NT there are three words that are used to describe the Second Coming of Christ. One of them is parousia, a word that means coming, arrival, or presence (1 Thess. 3:13). A second word is one that you are more familiar with: apocalupsis. We get our English words apocalypse and apocalyptic from it. It means a revelation or a disclosure (1 Cor. 1:7; 2 Thess. 1:6-7). The third word is the one I want to focus on today. It is the Greek word epiphaneia. We get our English word “epiphany” from it. It means a manifestation or appearing (1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 4:8).
It is this third word that appears twice here in Titus 2, once in reference to the First Coming of Jesus, and once in reference to his Second Coming.
Paul refers to the first coming of Jesus in v. 11 and says that with the incarnation of God the Son the “grace of God has appeared” or has made its manifestation. The first coming of Jesus was an epiphany! And when he appeared or made his epiphany he brought “salvation” for all people.
But Paul refers to the second coming of Jesus in v. 13 and uses the same term. There he says we are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing [the epiphany] of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
The use of this word means that when Jesus first came as a baby and lived his sinless life and died his substitutionary death, something profound appeared or was made manifest. And Paul says it was “the grace of God.” He uses the verb form of epiphany later in 3:4 and says that “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared [there it is], he saved us.”
There is a sense in which the apostle wants us to conceive of the saving work of Jesus Christ as two epiphanies. They are like two bookends that cover the extent of all that Jesus came to do. He first “appeared” or made his “epiphany” when he took on human flesh and was born of a virgin. He will “appear” or make his “epiphany” yet one more time when he returns in the clouds of heaven to consummate his purposes on this earth, to bring judgment on the wicked and to deliver his people from their sorrows.
This is really good news! Jesus won’t simply come. He won’t simply show up. He won’t simply be disclosed. When Jesus returns he will be manifested for all to see. He will make an epiphany! Note that Paul describes his Second Coming as an epiphany of “the glory” of Jesus Christ.
The contrasts are striking. Here at Christmas, as we focus on the first coming of Jesus, there is certainly “glory” that is manifested, but of a different sort and in a different way from how Christ’s “glory” will be manifested at his second coming.
Let’s not overlook how Luke describes the “glory” of the first coming of Jesus:
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14).
Although there doesn’t seem to be much glory in a wrinkled baby in diapers, lying in a manger, there was still great glory in the event. Back in Titus 2 Paul says that the “glory” of the first epiphany of Jesus was in the fact that by his coming he brought us salvation. And by his life, teachings, death, and resurrection he trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions as we live “in the present age.”
But Christmas and the first epiphany of Jesus was also a prelude, if you will, an anticipation of the second epiphany of Jesus when the salvation he came to secure for us is brought to its completion.
The Jesus who made an epiphany at his first coming is going to come back. Did you hear what I said, people? Jesus is going to come back! Covid-19 will not have the final word. No expression of human selfishness or immorality or wickedness of any sort will have the final word. We who are God’s people, who have been saved by virtue of the first epiphany of Jesus, are to fix our eyes and hearts on heaven. This is our blessed hope, that the tiny infant in the manger who lived a sinless life for us and died a sacrificial death in our place and rose bodily from the grave will make another epiphany! It will be an epiphany of even greater “glory” than that which was seen in his first coming.
When we celebrate Christmas, we look back two thousand years to the epiphany of grace, the appearing and manifestation of Jesus who is the source and foundation for our salvation and life of obedience. But Christmas is also a time for us to look forward, to look ahead to the epiphany of glory when Jesus will return and put all things to right.
So, when you gaze on a nativity scene or when you sing of that incredibly holy night, that silent night, that night when Christ Jesus was born, think deeply and give God thanks for the epiphany of his saving grace. But don’t stop there. Continue to gaze on the majesty of the risen Savior who will one day make his appearing, his epiphany, not in weakness and humility, but in irresistible power and splendor.
This Christmas, let your prayer be one of thanksgiving for the first epiphany of Jesus, his appearing to bring us grace. But let it also be one of joyful anticipation of the second epiphany of Jesus, his appearing that will be filled with glory.
As John the Apostle concluded the book of Revelation, join with me in prayerful unison: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).