"...waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ," (Titus 2:13 ESV)
The importance of the appearing of Jesus Christ is underscored in the passage quoted above. It takes little imagination to see why Christ's appearing is our blessed hope. And in the context, Paul shows us that it is the appearing of Christ in the future which shapes our behavior in the present.
The Importance of Christ's Appearing
Why is the appearing of Christ our blessed hope? It is because the appearing of Christ represents the consummation of our salvation. Christ's appearing represents the story of the world come full circle from Eden to the New Jerusalem, from garden to city, from innocence to redemption, from beginning to new beginning, from the first Adam to the last Adam, from promise to fulfillment. The appearing of Christ represents the rest of the story, the part of history which Scripture predicts but does not narrate. We live now at the edge of what has been revealed. We look back at thousands of years' worth of God's faithfulness to his people, and we anticipate with complete confidence during however many more millennia are necessary to complete the preparation period preceding Christ's appearing. Christ's appearing is not a question of "if", but "when", and that is cause for great hope.
We should note that the text above not only says that Christ will appear, but more specifically that his glory will appear. Of course, the appearance of the glory of Christ means that Christ himself will come. We will not see his glory without seeing him. Nevertheless, there is a distinction between the past and future appearances.
In Christ's first appearance, the incarnation, he arrived humbly and nondescript, except for the angels who announced his arrival. But the angels' worship is offset by the fact that the one whom they worshipped and whose birth they announced was lying in a feeding trough for animals.
The appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ will not be this way. The first time, Christ arrived humbly, as a baby to a family with no status or wealth of which to speak. Christ's first appearing was all about what he would accomplish in the future. It was all potential and no actuality in the present. The second time, Christ will come in glory, as a king to claim a family and kingdom whose reign encompasses all that is. Christ's second appearing is about what he has accomplished already. It is all power that is felt and seen in the present.
This is why the appearing of Christ is our blessed hope. Our hope is not in what he has done only, for that would make it a partial work. Our hope is not in a savior who left and will never return. Our whole hope hinges on the return of the king. He is not hiding amongst us. He is not in exile. He is exalted, he is reigning, and it only remains for him to finish what he started. Our hope is fixed on what is to come and is grounded in what has already happened. The facts of the past form the foundation for our hope for the future.
This is also why the subject of the appearance is the glory of Christ. It is truly glorious. The glory of God, understood as his refulgent presence, is a common theme in the Old Testament, and it constitutes the greatest experiences narrated in the Bible. When Christ comes, it will be in a blaze of glory that has never been experienced or seen before on earth. This is because the glory of God will be encased in the body of a man. The glory of the eternal God will be expressed in the image of God in man. God incarnate will be man glorified, and he is our kind, and all his people look forward to his arrival. The Christian hope is the anticipation of an experience that represents the consummation of all the experiences of the glory of God in the pages of Scripture.
Christ's Future Appearing and Our Present Living
Since the appearing of the glory of Christ will be so glorious, and is our blessed hope, it stands to reason that our behavior ought to reflect the hope that we have. Paul mentions the appearance of Christ in the context of his instructions for how Titus ought to instruct his people to live. We should live lives that reflect the change in our approach to life which Christ has wrought. As those who are saved, we have been saved from lawless deeds to do good works, and so our behavior should be marked by self-control, godliness, and uprightness.
One way of summarizing this may be to say that our lives should be characterized by a dignity worthy of our hope. We no longer belong to the world but to Christ, and our behavior should reflect that.
In conclusion, perhaps the best observation we can make regarding the appearing of Christ is that it is the event for which we are waiting. In fact, "waiting" is a good one-word description for the whole of the Christian life. We are fundamentally a people who are waiting. We do not believe the consummation of the world lies in our ability to make happen. We do not believe all the resources for happiness lie at our disposal. We do not believe the hope of the world is currently in the world. We are waiting for a king, waiting for glory, waiting for joy, waiting for fulfillment.
This makes us distinct. As we await Christ's appearance, we should look like a people who are waiting. This does not mean that we should not engage with the world at all. It means what Paul says, that we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age. We live in the age in which we find ourselves, but we can live in expectation of a far greater one to come. Praise God for that.