What is God’s purpose for the church?
Is the church merely the earthly holding pen for those who are looking forward to eternal life, someday? Or, does God have other, current, intentions for the Bride of Christ?
In Titus 2:13, Paul talks about “… looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus …” (NASB)
What does that mean? Especially the part about the appearing of the glory of Christ Jesus?
I should mention that that passage reads differently in the King James and New King James versions. In those translations the noun ‘glory’ is turned into the adjective ‘glorious’, and the verb ‘appearing’ is made into a noun, i.e. “… looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…” (NKJV)
Based on that reading, the thing in view is the glorious end-times return of Christ. That has been a common way to read the passage, which has made it a strange eschatological parentheses in the generally here-and-now book of Titus, and a touch point of dispensational theology. Case in point is the title of the last of the Left Behind book series: Glorious Appearing: The End of Days.
Having noted that popular understanding of the verse, and the particular translation that encouraged it, let’s look again at the verse and its context in the chapter, and in the book of Titus. I was greatly encouraged as I re-examined the passage, and hope you might be, too.
Verse 13 falls in the middle of a sentence that starts in verse 11, and goes through 14:
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” (NASB)
The verses that lead up to this passage contain what Paul refers to as “sound doctrine”, including instructions to older men and women, young men and women, and bondservents on how to conduct themselves, and the kind of character they are to cultivate in their lives. Paul gives pointed instructions about what Christians should model, and then comes to verse 11, where he unpacks the motivation for the preceding instructions.
“For,” he says, “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age…”
Paul reminds Titus of the basis of the new character Christians are to model. The grace of God has appeared, and salvation has been brought (at least made available) to all men. The grace of God -the favor and power of God – has instructed us to turn from the sin that would otherwise direct our course, and to be directed in a course of a righteous and godly life. And, he says that this is all happening in the present age. It is not that we will someday live a righteous and godly life. It is now, by the grace of God.
Paul goes on: “… looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus …”
This calls to mind what Paul wrote in Colossians 1:27: “To [His saints] God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in [you-all], the hope of glory.” Christ in the saints, together, is the hope of glory. The hope of glory is tied to the presence of Jesus in his people.
But, what is glory?
Glory has a variety of meanings. Per Vines, a basic definition is “the honor resulting from a good opinion”. But, there’s much more to glory than just honor. Glory is associated with manifest image. It is associated with visible characteristics that bring honor. It is associated with brightness or splendor, including the supernatural brightness that emanates from God. And, it refers to God’s character and activities as exhibited through Christ to and through believers.
In the third chapter of Second Corinthians, Paul speaks more of glory, comparing the glory of the Old Covenant with the glory of the New. He finishes chapter three with this: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
As we look to the Lord, and as we experience the Spirit of God and embrace the freedom of the Gospel, we are transformed. Our transformation happens bit by bit – “from glory to glory” – each “glory” being a increasing conformance to the image of Christ. This ongoing transformation is not just at an individual level, but is happening to “we all” – a corporate transformation.
Back to the passage in Titus. As Paul calls us to embrace (by the grace of God) the character of Christ in living a righteous and godly life in this crazy messed up world, he encourages us to be looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of Christ Jesus, who “gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.”
The last part of this section speaks to God’s purpose in the work of Christ on the cross: to redeem us from sin, and to purify us as a special people who would be zealous to do good works. That seems pretty straight-forward. But again, what about that bit about the appearing of the glory of Christ?
Well, It could be that Paul is breaking in with an encouragement to keep our eyes open for the appearance of Jesus in the clouds. It could be that in the midst of these exhortations to obey Christ, to be zealous for good works, to live a righteous and godly life, Paul wants to remind the saints that Jesus is going to rescue his people from an evil world and judgement. Maybe so.
But perhaps Paul is continuing the thought of the rest of the passage and encouraging the believers to be anticipating and desiring the ripening fruit of this pursuit of a righteous life, which is the increasing manifestation of the glory – the image – of Christ in his people. Maybe Paul is calling the saints to put a high value on the wonderful hope that Jesus is alive and at work in the process of building his church. To my mind, that makes more sense.
While we dwell on this planet, we can do no better than to seek to be doing the things Jesus called us to do, and being the people Jesus called us to be. The hope of our being increasingly conformed to the image of Christ while we live in this present age is a magnificent hope. It is not a hope in our own works, but a hope in the work of God in a people, by grace, for the glory of God.
I am convinced that one of our Father’s key desires is to see the ever increasing manifestation of Jesus Christ in his people, shining brilliantly forth into the misery of a sin-stained world, casting the bright light of the hope of salvation like a lamp in the darkness.
Jesus calls still: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”