This has been a surprisingly difficult study. It began, as several recent ones have, from a conversation at church. There is nothing like an interactive group of the Lord’s people to motivate earnest investigation of faithfulness. It is truly a gift of the Lord’s graciousness!
Jim had commented, almost as an aside, that whereas we usually think of ourselves as “waiting” for the completion of God’s plans, he had been impressed at Peter’s assertion that God himself was “waiting” for his people to get on board with his program (I Pet.3:20). That sparked speculation about how we might be inhibiting or delaying the fulfillment we seek. Are we keeping him waiting?
One excellent thing about such discussions is the way they send you “back to the Book”!
The concept of “waiting” in the New Testament is represented by no less than eight different Greek words! The lexicons are only of minimal help, and Trench’s work on synonyms does not treat these at all, so we are reduced to etymology and context to try to distinguish between them.
Three of the words appear only once, so there is no comparison available to us. Two of these are prefixed versions of meno (#58). Anameno (I Thes.1:10) speaks of waiting for Jesus’ return, and perimeno (Ac.1:4) is Jesus’ instruction to his disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but to “hang around” until they received the Holy Spirit’s empowerment for their assignment. The preposition ana can indicate either “up” or “again”, and peri is usually “around” or “in the vicinity of”. The third word, prosedreuo (I Cor.9:13), refers to people – either Jewish or pagan – who “wait” to perform ritual duties at an altar.
Three other words are prefixed forms of dechomai (“to accept, receive, or welcome”) which we will examine in a later post. It is not translated “wait” in the New Testament.
Apekdechomai, (“to await eagerly, to expect anxiously”), is used 7x. Although the people doing the waiting – uniformly for Jesus’ return – are usually disciples (“we” 5x) Rom.8:23,25; I Cor.1:7, Gal.5:5, Phil.3:20; and in Heb.9:28 “those who are waiting/looking for him,” in Rom.8:19, “all creation” is eagerly anticipating the “revealing of the sons of God” that will accompany that glorious denouement. The use of two prefixes would tend to emphasize the atmosphere of every reference as one of joyous anticipation.
Ekdechomai, (8x), with only one prefix, is usually a more ordinary form of expectation: the lame man “waiting” for the pool to be stirred-up (Jn.5:3), Paul “waiting” for his companions in Athens (Ac.17:6) or for the arrival of Timothy (I Cor.16:11); a farmer waiting for the harvest (Jas.5:7), and ordinary politeness at a church dinner (I Cor.11:33). But it is also used of Abraham’s faithfulness to God’s call (Heb.11:13), of God’s delaying the execution of his judgment (I Pet.3:20), and of Jesus waiting (Heb.10:13) for the final subjugation of his enemies! These latter two are the only references to “waiting” on the part of anyone but “ordinary” humans , other than the Rom.8:19 passage cited above. I am not sure of the implication of that observation.
Prosdechomai, occurring 14x, although its only use in Homer was “to await or expect”, later was more commonly used of welcome or acceptance, sometimes (not always) into the presence of a superior. New Testament references are weighted more heavily toward the older usage, including “waiting for the Kingdom of God” (Mt.15:43, Lk.2:25, 38; 23:51); for Jesus’ return (Tit.2:13, Jude 21); and for a master’s arrival (Lk.12:36), but also Jesus’ welcome of the “wrong” kind of people (Lk.15:2), admonitions to “receive” / care for traveling disciples (Rom.16:2, Phil.2:29), and the “acceptance”of persecuted status on the part of the faithful (Heb.10:34) and their refusal (11:35) to “accept” escape.
Prosdokao, also with 14 uses, although occasionally referring to “ordinary” waiting of people for other people (Lk.1:21, 8:40; Ac.10:24, 27:33) usually leans more toward the idea of expectation (Mt.11:3 and parallel Lk.7:19; Mt.24:50 and parallel Lk.12:46; Lk.3:15). This is true even on a totally human level (Ac.28:6, 3:5). However, there is an urgency evident in II Pet.3:12,13,14, regarding the Lord’s return, probably due to the severity of the persecution that the readers were facing.
Finally, proskartereo, usually translated (8x) “continue” – (which would really fit better with #58) – is only twice rendered “wait” – Mk.3:9 when Jesus requested the use of a boat, and Ac.10:7 of Cornelius’ servant. We will consider the others with the idea of “watch” (coming next!)
So where does this leave us?
Maybe our focus needs to be less on the specific idea of “waiting” and more on what we should be doing while we are waiting! The contexts of the listed references provide a clue: here are a few, and you can check out others.
I Thes.1:10, for example, is preceded by v.9, which speaks of their having “turned away from idols to become slaves to the true and living God.”
The discussion in Rom.8:18-30 includes dependence, not only on the Spirit’s intercession, but also on cultivating his fruit.
I Cor.1:7 is enclosed in an admonition (4-9) regarding growing into the community designed to prepare us for his coming.
While the disciples were “waiting in Jerusalem” for the coming of the Holy Spirit, they spent some of their time “organizing” – Ac. 1:15-26 – (which was NOT a part of the Lord’s instructions!) as well as “paying constant attention to prayer” (v.14), which was.
Later, Peter, who had earlier led the organization effort, writing to brethren under severe persecution (II Pet.3:12-14), reassures them that their longed-for deliverance will come – and urges them to live faithfully in the peace and justice for which they are waiting. (He was not laboring under the modern delusion that one needs government legislation or permission to live faithfully!!!)
Perhaps the most significant of all, although it does not use any of the “waiting” words, is the announcement of the Lamb’s wedding feast, in Rev.19:7. The waiting, of course, is over by then. But the invitation asserts joyfully, “His wife / Bride has prepared herself!” and explains that her radiant garments consist of “the just deeds of God’s people” !(v.8)
None of this should be taken as any kind of disparagement of waiting, or eager anticipation. That is very much in order. But it just might be that the “preparation” part is more practical that we tend to think. Maybe we and our Lord and Bridegroom are both “waiting”.
May we faithfully wait – and prepare – and speed the day!