Anticipate the Lord’s Coming
Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. (5:7–8)
Three times in this section (vv. 7, 8, 9), James refers to the believer’s great hope, the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The realization that things won’t always be as they are now, that believers are headed for “the city … whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10), provides great hope for those undergoing persecution. For that reason, the more persecuted a church is the more eagerly it anticipates the return of Jesus Christ; conversely, an affluent, indulgent, worldly church has little interest in the Lord’s return.
Parousia (coming) is an important New Testament eschatological term. It is the most commonly used term in the New Testament epistles for the second coming of Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 15:23; 1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:1, 8; 2 Pet. 1:16; 3:4; 1 John 2:28; cf. Matt. 24:3, 27, 37, 39). Parousia refers to more than just coming; it includes the idea of “presence.” Perhaps the best English translation would be “arrival.” The church’s great hope is the arrival of Jesus Christ when He comes to bless His people with His presence. That glorious truth appears in more than 500 verses throughout the Bible.
Our Lord said much about His return, especially in His Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24–25; Mark 13; Luke 21). He taught that His return would be preceded by definite signs (Matt. 24:5–26). He portrayed His coming as a dramatic, climactic event, as striking and unmistakable as the flash of lightning across the sky (Matt. 24:27–30). It will be a time of separation, as the angels gather the elect to enjoy Jesus’ presence (Matt. 24:31) and gather unbelievers to banish them from it (Matt. 24:39–41).
Every Christian is to live in the hope of the certainty of Christ’s return. “The end of all things is near,” wrote Peter; “therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” (1 Pet. 4:7). With his own death imminent, Paul could confidently say, “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). The sure hope of Christ’s return is especially comforting to those undergoing trials and persecution. To the Romans Paul wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). He reminded the Corinthians that “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Peter also encouraged suffering believers to remember their Lord’s return:
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 1:6–7)
Focusing on Christ’s return also motivates believers to godly living. In 1 John 3:3 John writes, “Everyone who has this hope [the Second Coming—v. 2] fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” The study of end time events should not produce speculative eschatological systems, but holy lives. After discussing the destruction of the present universe, Peter exhorted his readers, “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (2 Pet. 3:14; cf. Phil. 3:16–21; 1 Thess. 1:9–10; Titus 2:11–13).
To further reinforce his point that believers need to wait patiently for the second coming, James described a familiar scene using a simple, straightforward illustration. The farmer, he points out, waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. The farmer would have been a tenant farmer or small landowner. Having planted his crops, he waits expectantly for the precious produce of the soil—his crops—to come in. That depends on something outside of his control, God’s providentially bringing together all the elements needed for the crops to grow. Those crops are precious or valuable to him because he depends on them for his existence. All he can do is to be patient (from makrothumeō, the same word used earlier in the verse) as he waits eagerly for the crops to come in.
James’s reference to the early and late rains shows just how long farmers had to patiently wait. The early rains in Palestine arrive at the time of the fall planting season (October and November), the late rains just before harvesttime (March and April).
Applying the analogy to his readers, James exhorted them, you too be patient. Just as a farmer waits patiently through the entire growing season for his crop, so also are believers to wait patiently for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul addressed a similar exhortation to the Galatians: “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Gal. 6:9). Perhaps James’s readers, like those described in Revelation 6:9–11, were growing impatient for Christ to return. They may also have been plagued by scoffers who denied the reality of the Second Coming (cf. 2 Pet. 3:3–4).
James further exhorted his readers to strengthen their hearts. Strengthen is from stērizō, a word meaning “to make fast,” “to establish,” or “to confirm.” In Luke 9:51 this term is used to describe Jesus’ resolute determination to go to Jerusalem, although He knew He faced death when He arrived there. It is a word denoting resoluteness, firm courage, an attitude of commitment to stay the course no matter how severe the trial. Stērizō derives from a root word meaning “to cause to stand,” or “to prop up.” James urges those about to collapse under the weight of persecution to prop themselves up with the hope of the Savior’s return.
Spiritual strengthening is seen elsewhere in Scripture as the gracious work of the Holy Spirit (e.g., Eph. 3:14–19; 1 Thess. 3:12–13; 2 Thess. 2:16–17; 1 Pet. 5:10), but is here presented as the believer’s responsibility. This is another instance of the profound tension between divine provision and human responsibility that permeates doctrinal truth. Christians are not to “let go and let God,” nor are they to view the Christian life as one of legalistic self-effort. Instead, they are to live as if everything depends on them, knowing that it all depends on God (cf. Phil. 2:12–13).
James does not tolerate double-minded, unstable people. In 1:6 he observed that “the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind,” and warned “that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (vv. 7–8). In 2:4 the inspired writer denounced those who equivocated by making “distinctions among [themselves],” and thus became “judges with evil motives,” while in 3:8–12 he pointed out the incongruity of those who bless God while at the same time cursing their fellowmen. James also rebuked those who claimed to love God, yet were in love with the world (4:4), exhorting them, “Purify your hearts, you double-minded” (v. 8). It is not surprising, then, that James exhorted his readers to have a settled conviction that the Lord Jesus Christ would return, and thus strengthen their hearts.
The obvious idea of this exhortation was that believers should realize that their trouble is temporary. It will end when Jesus returns. Though Jesus would not return in the lifetime of the recipients of this epistle, nor in the lifetimes of millions of other believers who have lived and died since—no one has known when He will—all may live in the anticipation that He may come at any moment. This argues for imminency, the idea that the next event on God’s schedule for Christ is the deliverance of believers from this world with all its troubles. This is the message of comforting hope for the church in every age (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13–18).
James emphasizes imminency by reminding his readers of the hope that the coming of the Lord is near. The verb translated near (eggizō) means “to draw near,” “to approach,” or “to come close.” The return of Christ is the next event on God’s prophetic calendar and could happen at any moment. He delays His return because God is still redeeming those whom He “chose … in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). But from the human perspective, Christ’s return has been imminent since He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9–11). That reality has always been the church’s hope. “The night is almost gone, and the day is near,” wrote the apostle Paul to the Romans (Rom. 13:12). The writer of Hebrews exhorted his readers not to forsake their “own assembling together … but [to be] encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25). “The end of all things is near,” wrote Peter (1 Pet. 4:7), while the apostle John added, “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). And Jesus’ last recorded words in Scripture are “Yes, I am coming quickly” (Rev. 22:20). It is both the privilege and the responsibility of all Christians to be constantly “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Titus 2:13; cf. John 14:1–3; 1 Cor. 1:7; Phil. 3:20–21; 1 Thess. 1:9–10; 4:16–18). Any view of eschatology which eliminates imminency (believers in every age living with the hope that Christ could come at any moment) is in conflict with all those passages which provide hope for suffering believers by anticipating the Lord’s coming.
8 Like the farmer, Christians must be patient and strengthen their hearts (compare Luke 9:51; 22:32; 1 Thess. 3:13). In both instances such confidence is based on hope: the farmer is sure that the rains will fall, and the Christian that the Lord will come. The tense of the verb indicates that the coming is near.31
7.3.2. Second Exhortation to Patience (5:8)
126.96.36.199. Exhortation (5:8a)
James now repeats his exhortation to patience, but this time with some emphasis and in light of his analogy: “You must also be patient.” To this James adds a new idea before he gives his second reason for patient endurance: “Strengthen your hearts.”188 The word “strengthen” (Greek, stērizō) is used of fortifying oneself with food (Judg 19:5, 8), and by trusting in the strength of God one’s heart can be fortified and the will made resolute (Ps 57:7; Sir 6:37; cf. 22:16–17). Paul wants to strengthen, or fortify, the Romans with some spiritual gift (1:11), he prays that God will fortify hearts in holiness (1 Thess 3:13), and he is confident that good works fortify the heart (2 Thess 2:17). Not surprisingly, strength of heart comes from grace not food observances (Heb 13:9). When James says he wants the messianists to be strengthened “in your hearts,” he is thinking from the inside out, from the core of their being, both in resolution and confident faith (James 1:26; 3:14; 4:8; 5:5).
188.8.131.52. Reason (5:8b)
Why do they need to be patient and strengthen their hearts? As James puts it, “for the coming of the Lord is near.” We concluded above that “the coming of the Lord” refers to the act of God in judgment against the oppressors in the defeat of Jerusalem. But, again, some of this needs to be shown, and this verse and the next will clarify what remains to be demonstrated. Everything here hinges on the meaning of “is near” (Greek ēngiken). The word (engizō), in short order, means “draw near.” It speaks of something so near that its impact is beginning to be felt. The fear that somehow James, and therefore the Word of God, would be wrong if this word is given the meaning one expects it to have has led too many to less than obvious explanations. The word is used forty-one times in the New Testament.191 One of the more telling uses is in Mark 11:1 (par. Matt 21:1): “When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples.…” The point is that they were close but not yet there; so close that Jesus sent two disciples on ahead to get things ready. Other uses, such as Matthew 21:34; 26:45–46; Luke 15:25; 18:35; 19:41; 21:8, 20; 22:1 confirm that engizō means to be near, very near, but not yet arrived—but close enough for things to start happening.
What matters in our context is that ēngiken is used for cataclysmic eschatological events in the time-plan of the early Christians. Hence, Jesus can say the kingdom of God has drawn near (Mark 1:15; Luke 10:9, 11). Of note are Luke 21:20: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near,” and 21:28: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” From Acts, we read in 7:17: “But as the time drew near for the fulfillment of the promise that God had made to Abraham, our people in Egypt increased and multiplied.” Paul says in Romans 13:12: “the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” And Hebrews 10:25: “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Peter too: “The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers” (1 Pet 4:7). In addition to these considerations we note that this term emerges at times in the context of oppression and serves to buttress the hope of the oppressed. Thus, Mark 13 speaks often of persecution and how the nearness of the Son of Man’s coming brings hope (Mark 13:26–31). Peter’s words about the end of all things being near immediately lead to encouragement about persecution (1 Pet 4:7–11, 12–19). The so-called roll-call of heroic faith in Hebrews 10 winds up its point in a combination of encouragement and promise that the Lord is coming (10:32–39).
One can read “the coming of the Lord is near” in James 5:8 in the context of Paul’s statements about the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and, if ēngiken is understood as referring to something about to happen, then either Jesus did return somehow or James was wrong. Or one can read this text in light of the teachings of Jesus about the parousia in a Jewish context and see it as a prediction of the imminent judgment of God, and in this case one would have to think of the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 ad as told of so graphically by Josephus in his Jewish War. The latter is far more probable, and the next verse tips the balance in its favor. There (5:9b) the parousia has to do with God appearing as Judge. Grammatically speaking, the perfect tense of ēngiken needs to be seen in context: the state of affairs that comes through the perfect tense is that God has heard the cries of the poor (5:4, perfect tense), so the flipside of that hearing is that the “coming near” of the Lord’s parousia is a state of affairs. One might think of “being near” the way a plane might be put into a holding pattern just before it arrives. The Lord’s parousia then mirrors the hearing of the cries of the oppressed as a state of affairs. The Judge’s standing, or hovering, at the doors (5:9b) is another set of affairs sketched in the perfect tense. They need to be tied together: God having heard the cries, the coming near of the parousia, and the approach of God as Judge.
5:8 / Christians also must be patient. Like the farmer, the Christian bets his or her life on the outcome of a long wait. Like the farmer, reducing the tension (by compromise or attack) would be self-destructive. The Christian must place all hope in a condition outside his or her control, waiting patiently for the coming of the King.
As they wait they are to stand firm. As they wait doubt must be fought at all costs: The inner defenses must be constantly attended, their hearts must be strengthened in the face of suffering.
As a further encouragement he adds, the Lord’s coming is near. For the rich this is bad news (5:3–5); for believers this is good news. The waiting may still be long, but like a runner who has rounded the last curve on the track and sees the finish line down the interminable straightaway, they can receive a new wind from the vision of the end.
5:8 the Lord’s coming is near. A double meaning is intended here. “Near” means near in time, that is, “soon” (as in Rom. 13:11–12; Heb. 10:25). But “near” also means near in space, that is, “nearby” or “at hand” (as in Matt. 3:2; Luke 10:9–11). The word for “coming” (parousia), when used of Jesus, almost always refers to the second coming, which is in the future. And the primary frame of reference thus far in 5:7–12 has been the future. But the verb “is near” is in the perfect tense, which usually indicates something that has already been put into place and that has continuing effects. So besides the emphasis on Christ’s future second coming, there is also a sense that James is saying the Lord is nearby his readers now, that they should wait for him to rescue them from their sufferings in some ways before the second coming. This ambiguity of Jesus (or his kingdom) being both already present in some sense and not yet present in another runs through much of the New Testament. While 5:7–12 has a stronger emphasis on the “not yet” aspect, 5:13–20 emphasizes the “already” aspect.
7. Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. 8. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.
Note these observations:
Fully aware of their adversities, James tells his readers to exercise patience. The adverb then links the command to be patient to the preceding verses in which James describes the oppressive conditions under which the poor live. In a sense, James takes up the theme with which he begins his epistle: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (1:2).
Patience is a virtue possessed by few and sought by many. We are living in a society that champions the word instant. But to be patient, as James uses the word, is much more than passively waiting for the time to pass. Patience is the art of enduring someone whose conduct is incompatible with that of others and sometimes even oppressive. A patient man calms a quarrel, for he controls his anger and does not seek revenge (compare Prov. 15:18; 16:32).
The old English term long-suffering does not mean to suffer a while but to tolerate someone for a long time. To say it differently, patience is the opposite of being short-tempered. God displays patience by being “slow to anger” when man continues in sin even after numerous admonitions (Exod. 34:6; Ps. 86:15; Rom. 2:4; 9:22; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 3:15). Man ought to reflect that divine virtue in his day-to-day life.
James knows that the readers of his epistle are unable to defend themselves against their oppressors. Therefore, he urges them to exercise patience and to leave matters in the hands of God, who is coming to deliver them. Even if they were able to do so, they should not take matters into their own hands. God has said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay” (Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:12; Heb. 10:30).
“Be patient … until the Lord’s coming.” The readers know that the Lord is coming back in the capacity of Judge. They ought to exercise self-control toward their adversaries and demonstrate patience in respect to the coming of the Lord. He will avenge his people when he returns (2 Thess. 1:5–6).
Throughout his epistle the writer reveals his love for God’s creation. In this verse he portrays the expectations of the farmer who anticipates a bountiful harvest but must patiently wait for the arrival of “the autumn and spring rains.” The farmer has learned that everything grows according to the seasons of the year. He knows how many days are needed for a plant to develop from germination to harvest. Moreover, he knows that without the proper amount of rainfall at the right moment, his labors are in vain.
Although the amounts of rainfall in Israel fluctuate, the farmer knows that he can expect the autumn rain, beginning with a number of thunderstorms, in the latter part of October. Then he can plant his seed so that germination takes place. And he eagerly hopes for a sufficient amount of rainfall in April and May when the grain is maturing and the yield increases every time the rains come down. He depends, therefore, on the autumn and the spring rains (Deut. 11:14; Jer. 5:24; Hos. 6:3; Joel 2:23). He is able to predict the coming of the rain, but he cannot speak with certainty about the harvest. He waits with eager expectation.
James applies the example of the farmer to the readers. “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” As the farmer confidently waits for the coming of the autumn rain and the spring rain on which his harvest depends, so the believer waits patiently for the coming of the Lord. As God promised Noah that “as long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest … will never cease” (Gen. 8:22), so the Lord has given the believer the promise that he will return.
James tells the readers to be patient and to stand firm (“to strengthen your hearts” in the original). They can say with confidence that the Lord is coming back, but they do not know when that will be. While they are waiting, doubt and distraction often enter their lives. For this reason, James counsels his readers to stand firm in the knowledge that the Lord in due time will fulfill his promise made to the believers. He falls into repetition, but the reminder of the Lord’s imminent return is necessary so that the readers will not lose heart in difficult circumstances.