One of the recurring words in the Pastoral epistles is ἐπιφάνεια, translated as “appearing” or “revealed”, and from which we get the word “epiphany”. It is used to describe both the return of Jesus and his incarnation. Both were an “appearing” of Jesus. 2 Tim 1:10, Tit 2:11 and Tit 3:4 refer to Jesus’ first coming. 1 Tim 6:14 and Tit 3:4 refer to Christ’s second coming. 2 Tim 4:1 and 2 Tim 4:8 are a little less clear, but I think they also refer to the Parousia.
For Paul, these two “appearings” of Jesus are the two most significant interventions of God in human history, and we are living in between. I particularly like the way he describes the two appearings in Tit 2:11,13. Jesus’ first coming is the “epiphany of the grace of God”, and his second coming is the “epiphany of the glory of God”.
The “appearing of grace” is a beautiful way of describing what happened in the incarnation. Jesus came as a servant, rather than a king, as a rescuer rather than as a judge. His glory was concealed, only perceived by those whose eyes had been opened (Jn 1:14). Jesus’ first coming is the ultimate revelation and embodiment of the grace of God.
We now await the “appearing of glory”. When Jesus returns, this time his true glory will be evident to all. This will be a day of judgment (2 Tim 4:1) and reward (2 Tim 4:8). It is not that Christ will no longer be gracious – it is only on the basis of grace that anyone can expect a favourable outcome on that day. Jesus’ second coming is the ultimate revelation and embodiment of the glory of God.
It seems a shame to me that controversy over the end times (premil, amil, postmil, rapture, mark of the beast etc) has caused many Christians to steer clear of the topic of the second coming. We have many songs and sermons on the epiphany of grace, but comparatively few on the epiphany of glory. But we are not only to be a backwards oriented people, simply thanking God for his grace in the past. We should be those who live in the light of the appearing of God’s grace, and live in the hope of the appearing of God’s glory.