Come Thou Long Expected Jesus
In 2010 my Christmas series focused on the biblical theology behind some of the favorite Christmas carols. Digging into the meaning of the lyrics of these memorable musical numbers was so enlightening and challenging, I thought it wise to circle back this holy season and delve into additional pieces we hold dear. Not only will this study teach you about the person and purpose of Advent, it will call you to a deeper level of spiritual commitment, while also giving you talking points, really bridge points, with those friends and family who don’t know the Babe of Bethlehem, Jesus, the Christ.
To begin our “new” series, I propose we start with Charles Wesley’s Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. Wesley, the father of Methodism, loved to preach and teach the Word, but he also loved to write lyrics and songs which extolled the God he worshipped and called others to worship. All in all, it is estimated he wrote some 6,500 hymns, which puts him the category of the greatest hymn writer of all time. He wrote a whopping eighteen carols for Christmas, and of these the two most known are Hark the Herald Angels Sing and Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. Next week when I am on sabbatical, Pastor Bob will break down the former piece, so this week I will guide you into the theology of the latter one.
As Charles looked around at the poverty, plethora of orphans, and bitter class division in England in 1744, his heart was troubled and moved. How he, as a godly man, should process the problems of his world found its answer in the words of Haggai chapter 2, especially verse 7:
4 'But now take courage, Zerubbabel,' declares the LORD, 'take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,' declares the LORD, 'and work; for I am with you,' says the LORD of hosts.
5 'As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!' 6 "For thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. 7 'And I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations; and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD of hosts (Hag. 2).
Here, the Lord’s prophet encouraged the post-exilic Jews (520 B.C.) to get to the difficult, demanding task of rebuilding the Temple, and to remember that He would be with them throughout the process. He called them in verse 5 to also remember to look back to the past when He was with them in the wilderness after He freed them from Egyptian bondage. With verses 6 and 7, God challenged them to look to the future when He would return to judge the wicked world and then personally fill the new millennial temple prophesied by Ezekiel chapters 40 through 48.
This tension between remembering the God of the past and the coming Messiah of the future is what arrested Wesley’s attention. Theological tension gave him iron-clad hope that despite the injustices and chaos of his day, God is with us and purposefully guiding history to a grand, glorious, and breath-taking consummation. Knowing, additionally, what God is going to do to in the future to bring lasting peace moved Wesley to write Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. The carol is, therefore, the cry and hope of every Christian, for we all long to be with the Lord, we all long to see Him, not us, set things straight, and we all long to see holiness, justice, and peace to finally triumph over evil.
I don’t know about you, but this Christmas I need my spiritual tank filled with the rich theology embedded in this old, familiar carol. Perhaps identifying a main motif will help us unearth the amazing theology of this song:
Saints Long To See The Messiah’s Redemptive/Kingdom Plan Realized
Within these two short verses, Wesley covered everything from the past prophetic promise of the Messiah, which logically results in God’s people historically looking for His arrival, to His redemptive work, His coming kingdom, and the believer’s enjoyment of their future heavenly home. Only a gifted man could have packed so much theology into such a concise Christmas carol.
From my analysis of this carol, I would say our longing to see the fruition of God’s program for mankind can be stated in two sub-points.
Our Longing Is Based On God’s Prophetic Promises
We encounter this truth in the first line of verse 1:
Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Saints in the Old Testament period could articulate these words because they had the promise of the Lord’s first coming. From Genesis 3, verse 15, God promised that battle between good and evil, light and darkness, and truth and falsity. Speaking to the Serpent, the Devil, who had been instrumental in getting mankind to rebel against God, resulting in sin entering the world, God prophesied the end of the conflict, the enmity with the coming of the Seed:
15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel." (Gen. 3).
From this text forward, until the close of the OT, the Jews looked and longed for One who would come and fulfill this divine promise. God did not let them down either.
As prophetic revelation unfolded, God gave them exact descriptions about the person and work of the Seed, the Messiah. These numerous prophecies run like a beautiful golden thread throughout Scripture. Here are a few of them:
- The Messiah would come from the seed of Abraham. 12:3 “And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed).
- The Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah. (Gen. 49:10, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” Shiloh in Hebrew is best translated “whose it is,” or “to whom it belongs,” speaking of the right to rule.
- The Messiah would come from the house of King David. Jeremiah 23:5, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, When I shall raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.”
- The Messiah would be born in David’s village, Bethlehem. Micah 5:2, “But as for you Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” Here we learn not only the place of the Seed’s birth, but his identity. He will be, as Isaiah prophesied in Isaiah 7:14, God in the flesh.
- The Messiah would die as our sin-substitute. Isaiah 53, “5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”
I don’t have the time to go through the 328 (yes, that’s no typo) additional specific prophesies of the Messiah God gave the Jews from Genesis to Malachi. Suffice it to say they had good reasons to long for the literal coming of the Messiah.
This prophetic evidence is so overwhelming, Rene Pache concludes,
According to the law of probabilities, there would be one chance out of 83 billion that so many predictions would come true in the case of one single individual. Needless to say, such a ‘chance’ does not exist, and no one but the omniscient God could predict and act like this.
To this, the late Dr. Norman Geisler observes,
Mathematicians have calculated the probability of sixteen predictions being fulfilled in one man at 1 in 10 to the 45th power. If we go to forty-eight predictions, the probability is 1 in 10 to the 157th power. It is almost impossible for us to conceive of a number that big. Mathematician Marvin Bittinger, who has sold over 12 million college math texts, calculated the probability of nine prophecies coming true of Christ at 1 in 10 to the 76th power. That is like picking the same grain of sand four times in succession in a domed football stadium filled with sand.
Israel had good reason to long for the Messiah’s coming because God had specifically told them who to look for . . . and come He literally did and by the end of His life He fulfilled all 333 prophesies. And you think God wants you to check your brain at the door of the church when you enter. Think again. He gives you, as He did ancient Israel, rock solid evidence to believe in and long for His arrival.
Like Israel, we, too, as Wesley notes, long for the Messiah’s arrival based on prophetic utterance. Realizing the Messiah has, in fact, come the first time as prophesied, we now look forward to the prophesies of His next two comings.
According to Paul, the next arrival of the Messiah will be to remove His Church from the world prior to the seven-year Tribulation as foretold by prophets like Daniel (Dan. 9:24-27). This imminent snatching away of the Church is showcased in 1 Thessalonians 4, verses 13 through 18.
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thess. 4).
These words are comforting insofar as they show us, the Church, that we will not be here for the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jer. 30:7) when the Messiah deals specifically with His people Israel. The Lord will suddenly appear and take believers up to be in heaven with Him during the Tribulation. At this time, He will judge them (1 Cor. 3), and prepare them to be His bride, which He will present to the world at the end of the Tribulation (Rev. 19). As Israel, therefore, looked for the literally coming of the Messiah based on the precise prophesies, we, too, long and look for His glorious arrival to usher us into the glory of heaven so we can by-pass His dealings with Israel and the wicked. Oh, how I long, daily, for my expected Jesus to arrive. Oh, how many times I’ve looked up at the clouds and thought of His arrival. Oh, how many times, as I, like Wesley, have been overcome with the sin around me, I’ve longed for the sound of the angelic trumpet. Can you relate?
Additional prophetic New Testament texts also inform us of the Lord’s ominous and glorious Second Coming. At this event He comes with His saints, the Church, and the angels. He touches down on earth (Zech. 14), successfully battles the forces of evil (Matt. 24), puts the Devil in a dungeon (Rev. 20:2), and judges between believers and unbelievers, resulting in believers walking into His long-awaited Davidic kingdom (Matt. 13:40-43). Many texts speak of His literal future arrival at the end of the Tribulation:
27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds (Matt. 16).
30 . . . and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory (Matt. 24).
6 For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, (2 Thess. 1).
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up (2 Pet. 3).
Prophesies like these give us all the reasons we need for singing Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus as we watch wickedness flaunt itself and flourish. The King is coming to set things straight. He came the first time as prophesied, and He is coming again.
Believer’s long for the blessed hope of the Lord’s arrival based, as I have said, on the precise prophesies from the Old and New Testaments. They are the rock hard evidence that our faith and hope is not baseless, but it highly viable. From the final words of this old carol we also learn that . . .
Our Longing Is Based on God’s Prophetic Purposes
From the ensuing verses, three divine purposes in the Lord’s coming are denoted:
The Messiah was born to release us. Release us from what? Release us from our inherited and imputed sin God decreed on us when our forefather and mother, Adam and Eve rebelled against His commandment (Rom. 5:12-21). Only Jesus, the perfect sacrifice for our sins could, and did, provide the means by which we, as sinners, could be freed forever from the shackles of sin. As John the Baptist rightfully stated when Christ approached him to be baptized in the green flowing cool waters of the Jordan River, “29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1). All of this is why Wesley wrote these memorable words:
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
The prophesied mission of Jesus focused on definitively dealing with sin by Christ’s perfect and powerful sacrifice so sinners could be saved at the moment of belief in Jesus (John 3:16; 5:23-25; Heb. 9:11-14). No wonder Wesley writes, “Let us find our rest in Thee” for this is exactly what happens when you stop running from God and kneel at His nail-scarred feet. You finally have rest in your mind, heart, and conscience like you never knew.
The Savior. That is who Jesus was and is. A small group of shepherds became privy to this information when a mighty angel appeared to them on the night of the Lord’s birth:
10 And the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2).
Now here is good news for sinners. The prophesied Savior was born in time and space in lowly little Bethlehem. His goal? To save repentant sinners from their slavery to sin. The question this Christmas can’t be overlooked: Has He saved you yet?
What, therefore, should be the logical response of a sinner who has become a saint based on the person and work of Christ? The logical response is to long to see Him and say, “Thank you. Thank you for what you did for me when you didn’t have to. Thank you for wearing the cross so I can wear a crown.”
In addition, the Lord’s prophetic purpose is to be our personal King of Kings.
The Messiah was born to rule us. Here is how Wesley develops this idea:
Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
“Born to reign in us forever” speaks of His Lordship in our lives. Prior to being freed from sin’s domination of your life, you and sin were lords of your selfish life. All of that changed instantly when you turned to the Savior and confessed your sinful status to Him.
9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed (Rom. 10).
At the precise moment of salvation, Jesus became the Lord of your life. He now reigns in and over you until the day He calls you to your spiritual home. Yes, He who was prophesied to the King and the Priest (Zech. 6:12-13) is now your High Priest and King (Heb. 8:1-2). Isn’t His lordship over your life wonderful? He gives you wisdom for living, insight into the questions of life, and the power to live a holy, moral life as you yield to His lordship. Again I ask, What is the natural response of one who knows Jesus, the Christ, as his King of Kings in the here and now? The natural response is to want to see Him to thank Him for giving you, yes, you, the sinner, the option for His presence in your life. Amazing.
The Messiah’s rule isn’t prophetically limited to our lives directly. It’s much broader and more magnificent as prophetic texts like Daniel 7 inform us:
13 I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. 14 "And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed . . . 25 'And he [The Anti-christ] will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. 26 'But the court will sit for judgment, and his dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever. 27 'Then the sovereignty, the dominion, and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.' (Dan. 7).
Christ is going to appear at the end of the seven-year Tribulation to deal with sin and Satan and then usher in His long-awaited and prophesied Davidic empire (Psalm 2; 89; Isaiah 2; 9:6ff; 11:1ff; Jer. 33:15; Zech. 6:12). Prophetic texts like this are why Wesley wrote: Now Thy gracious kingdom bring. He wrote this because He knew the logical, natural longing of any saint living in a governmental system tainted by sin was for the institution of Christ’s government known for everything lacking in our old sinful world right now: peace, national and individual (Isa. 2:4; 9:4-7; 11:6-9; 60:18; Ezek. 28:26; 34:25; Hos. 2:18; Mic. 4:2-3; Zech. 9:10), joy (Isa. 9:3-4; 12:3-6; 14:7-8; 25:8-9; Jer. 30:18-19; 31:13-14; Zeph. 3:14-17; Zech. 8:18-19; 9:10), Holiness (Isa. 1:26-27; 4:3-4; 29:18-21: 60:21; 61:10; Jer. 31:23; Ezek. 36:24-31; 37:23-24; Joel 3:21; Zeph. 3:11,13; Zech. 14:20-21), justice (Isa. 9:7; 11:5; 32:16; 42:1-3; 65:21-23; Jer. 23:5; 31:29-30), and so on and so forth. Oh, don’t you long for the arrival of the King of Kings as prophesied? Oh, don’t you long to see Him sitting on the throne to beat all thrones in Jerusalem (Isa. 2:1-5)? The golden thread of prophecy gives us this resilient hope in seemingly hopeless times. Thank God for it and look up for your King is coming!
Finally, the prophetic word creates divine longing in believers because we know the final truth Wesley wrote about.
The Messiah was born to relocate us. Relocate to where? His home, heaven. Rightfully did Wesley, then, close out this moving carol with these triumphant words:
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
“Thy glorious throne” is just another way of saying, heaven.
While Jesus walked among us, or more precisely, while He hung on the cross, Jesus, the Prophet, told believers where they go at the moment of death. His exchange with the repentant thief tells us all we need to know:
42 And he was saying, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!"
43 And He said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise"
Christ’s prophetic promise was fulfilled to that man instantaneously that afternoon. With his last breath, the thief closed his eyes to this old wicked world, and he then opened them in heaven, really, Paradise. I’d dare say his profession of Christ as Lord was the wisest thing he ever did. In that moment of faith, he traded death for life, spiritual and moral darkness for moral and spiritual life, and hell for the indescribable glories of heaven. His story naturally makes me wonder this Christmas about your story. Is it one of unbelief, or of faith in the prophesied person and purpose of Christ?
Writing around thirty years later, the Apostle Paul gave an additional prophetic word about the great trade:
For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven;
3 inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked. 4 For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. 6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord-- 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight-- 8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5).
Currently our earthly bodies resemble deteriorating tents. Take a look at yourself and you’ll see what Paul means. Muscle mass isn’t what it used to be, the chest is where it once was, the waist line expands even if you eat like a bird, the mind goes, the eyesight heads south, the gums recede, teeth crack and need crowns, and so on. Your body is a perishable tent, right.
But as a believer there’s more to the story. One day you lay the old tent down, only to pick up a heavenly body which is something akin to a glorious, spectacular eternal temple. Amazing. Yes, to be apart from your body is to be instantaneously present in heaven where this new body awaits. What saint among us does not long for this day to arrive?
Last week I was asked to call one of my former California parishioners who is terminally ill. She wanted to talk with me so I got her number and connected with her. By the end of the call I, who had called to encourage, was encouraged. Why? Here was a saint who just can’t wait to see Christ face to face. A stroke has negatively impacted her speech. She has lost eyesight in one eye. She fell and broke both wrists. She really can’t walk anymore without great assistance. She had to sell her lovely home because she couldn’t live alone anymore. She, who used to have a wonderful voice which allowed her to sing a Billy Graham Crusades in California, now can’t sing at all. Her body is, well, and old, tattered, worn out tent.
Sitting with her doctor the other day, she told him she wanted to add a ‘Do not resuscitate” order to her trust documents. “Why would you want to do that?” he quizzically wondered. Her reply? “Do you know where I’m headed? I do and I can’t wait to get there.” Where are you going?” he queried.
Here is a saint who has the longing Wesley wrote about. Her greatest present this Christmas would be to trade the tent for the temple because she knows her earthly work is over. I think I know a song she just might be singing, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. Is this your song this Christmas?