There are some key words in the Bible that are spelled with four letters—words like lost, hell, life, save, seek, love—and there is also the word “hope.” The Lord expects us to have some knowledge about hope. God’s Word says, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Also, the opening sentence of 1 Timothy clearly says that “Jesus Christ is our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1).
There are nearly 150 verses in the Bible that speak of hope. Excerpts from some of those passages are listed below:
- “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27)
- “All creation hopes for redemption” (Romans 8:23-25)
- “Faith is the substance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1)
- “If in this life only we have hope in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:19)
- “Be sober and hope to the end” (1 Peter 1:13)
Hope is often looked upon as expressing a mere wish, or indicating a strong desire, or anticipating a good result. Common hope is a strong anticipation. It is a blind desire to have something happen. We sometimes say, “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow,” or “I hope my sore throat will soon get better.” But real hope is not mere wishful thinking nor is it a blind desire to have something happen. Christian hope is a firm conviction that God’s promises will indeed materialize. The concept of “faith” is related to “hope.” Faith is “the substance” of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1). It is what makes our hope a certainty. Because God has kept His promises in the past, we know He is going to do it again.
There is a distinction between “faith” and “hope.” Faith relates more to the past. Hope looks ahead to the future. We speak of hope for tomorrow. We never hope for yesterday. A little boy stood with his father, looking at a group of puppies in the window of a pet shop. Dad said, “Which one would you take if you had your choice?” One of the puppies was wagging his tail, and the little fellow pointed to that particular puppy, and said, “I’d like the one with the happy ending.” Hope has to do with the future and especially with a happy ending.
1. The Obvious Need For Hope
The present hurts of life, and uncertainty about what the future holds, create a constant need for hope. Most human beings long for something better. Hope is an essential ingredient for a balanced outlook on life. Take away hope from a person who meets with disappointment or tragedy, and he despairs of life. Our bodies and minds are constructed to withstand enormous amounts of pressure. We can survive the heat of the tropics and the icy winds of winter. We can go through long seasons of illness and bodily pain. We can face financial reverses and material losses. We can face all these things—if we don’t lose one ingredient—hope.
God grants the gift of hope to human beings so that we don’t need to despair. Cicero gave us the well known expression: “As long as there’s life there’s hope.” Hope is part of God’s image in man. It is a gift of God’s common grace, but in spite of that fact, most people do not have a solid basis for hope. They believe that because people are the source of the world’s problems, people can also be the solution, and so the world hopes for better things by promoting the progress of mankind. That, of course, is humanism.
Natural (common) hope is often a dead hope because it is based on flimsy foundations. The terminally ill patient hopes for some miraculous cure so that he need not die within a few months. Newlyweds hope for a nice house, healthy children, and financial security. The hostages in Lebanon hope for more peaceful relations between Iran and other countries of the world. The Cryonics Society freezes bodies at the time of death, and hopes to resuscitate them after a medical cure for the disease is discovered. For the unbeliever, hope lies in the changing circumstances of life, and in the solutions that man can offer. The philosophy is this: “Sooner or later, things will have to improve.” And, “if you hang on long enough, your luck will have to change.”
Christian hope is different. It is a living hope because it is based on the promises of Scripture. Christian hope is described as “an anchor of the soul, steadfast and sure” (Hebrews 6:19). Christian hope centers in Jesus Christ who conquered death and promised His followers that He was preparing mansions, and would come again to receive us into the Father’s house (John 14:1-3). Christian hope is anchored in the omnipotent Christ, because we know that everything is under His control, and will turn out all right (if not here, then in the hereafter). Colossians 1:17 speaks of Jesus Christ, and then says, “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” Christian hope is based on the certainty that God keeps His promises. By way of contrast, unsaved people are “without hope” (Ephesians 2:12).
Natural hope is flimsy because it is based on the changing circumstances of life and on man’s attempts to solve problems. Christian hope is sturdy because it is based on the promises of God, and is guaranteed by the resurrection, ascension, and second coming of Christ. We read in 1 Peter 1:3 that we have been “begotten unto a lively (living) hope” because of our Lord’s resurrection, and in Titus 2:13, that the Savior’s second coming is “that blessed hope.” Surely we can sing, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”
2. Some Biblical Examples of Hope
When Abraham was about 75 years of age (and Sarah was 65), God promised that they would have a child and that a great nation would grow from their offspring (Genesis 12:1-4). Years passed. When Abraham was 99, the Lord appeared to him and informed him that in about a year his wife would have a son. Abraham had been impatient. Sarah laughed: Their humanness showed through, but inwardly Abraham believed God (he hoped in God). Paul recounts the experience in the New Testament and says that Abraham, even though there seemed to be no hope, “believed (God) in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken” (Romans 4:18). The obvious lesson is this: When the answer doesn’t seem to come; when things don’t seem to add up; when life is unusually tough—hope should help us to hang in there. The promise to Abraham was that it shall happen “according to that which was spoken.”
The book of Lamentations is the account of Jeremiah’s weeping over the city of Jerusalem after it had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. Lamentations 1:1-9 is an introductory description of the situation. Jeremiah sat on a hillside overlooking the City and wept for a long time, but in the middle of the book of Lamentations, he says in essence, “Yet there is one ray of hope; God’s compassion never ends.” Lamentations 3:21-26 (in summary form) says, “This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope. It is because of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed . . . the Lord is my portion . . . therefore will I hope in him . . . it is good that a man should both hope, and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.”
The Apostle Paul was chained to a guard in a Roman prison, yet he did not moan about his situation. Instead, he rejoiced in his sufferings because his hope was in God. Some of the guards believed the Gospel. Onesimus, the runaway slave, was converted. Christians were stirred to witness with greater boldness because of Paul’s courageous example. Four of the New Testament Epistles were written during Paul’s imprisonment.
The thing that kept on motivating the Apostle Paul was his earnest hope. We read about it in Philippians 1:20, “According to my earnest expectations and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness . . . Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death.” Paul, because of his hope, was confident that whether he would be released from prison—or face death—the cause of Christ would be advanced. Even death was not a frightening experience, because of his hope. We will pursue this truth further in the paragraphs that follow.
Bismarck once said, “Without hope of an afterlife, this life is not even worth the effort of getting dressed in the morning.” The Bible indicates that God’s people do have hope. We have seen examples from the lives of Abraham, Jeremiah, and the Apostle Paul. Those who know Christ today share in the same hope of an afterlife with the Lord that these patriarchs of old had experienced.
3. Hope in the Face of Death
God’s people do not have hope in this life only. We read in Colossians 1:5 about “the hope which is laid up for you in heaven.” It is true that death is a terrible enemy. It plays no favorites. It often beckons the young before the old, and sometimes the strong before the weak. Yet death was not a part of God’s original creation. Adam was told that he would die if he ate from a forbidden tree (Genesis 2:17). He disobeyed, was expelled from the Garden, and death was passed on to all human beings (Romans 5:12). But for the Christian, death is not the end. Followers of Christ do not have hope in this life only. We look for a better land.
People often try to avoid thoughts about death. One major newspaper refuses to print the word “death” in its columns. People don’t die, they “expire.” Undertakers are called “funeral directors.” Coffins are “caskets” and hearses are “coaches.” Americans have built a multi-billion dollar industry to help them forget about death. The entertainment business is built around the concept of amusement. The word “amuse” means “not to think.” The theologian Helmut Thieleke says, “People must make noise, to drown out the eerie sound of grass growing over their graves.” Many simply do not want to think about death.
For the Christian, there is another way to view death. By dying and rising from the grave, Jesus Christ destroyed the power of death (2 Timothy 1:10). Because of this victory by our Lord Jesus, we can say with Paul, “Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). The grave used to be victorious, but now we can say to the grave, “Where is your victory?” The grave is not victorious anymore. For the believer, death is a transition, not a termination.
Three of the Bible words used for the death of believers indicate that death is a commencement, not a conclusion, and that death is a comma, not a period. The words are these:
The word “sleep”: Jesus told His disciples that He was returning to the village of Bethany to wake Lazarus out of sleep (John 11:11). Dead saints are described as those “who sleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). Sleep is only for a while. We expect to awake out of sleep, refreshed for a new day. So it is with death for believers.
The word “exodus”: The Apostle Peter spoke of his own death and reminded his readers of truths which he wanted them to remember “after his decease.” The original word is “exodus” (2 Peter 1:15). Just as the Israelites passed through the Red Sea and left their enemies behind, so the Christian passes through the waters of death, leaving his enemies behind forever.
The word “departure”: The Apostle Paul speaks of his death by saying, “The time of my departure is at hand” (2 Timothy 4:6). The word “departure” was used by the Greek sailors of New Testament times. It means literally “the loosening of an anchor.” When a ship “loosens anchor” at one port, it implies setting sail for another harbor, and letting down the anchor there. A number of our hymns speak of “crossing the swelling tide,” and “landing safely on that beautiful shore.”
Fanny Crosby, in her final illness, said, “How can anyone call it a dark valley? It is all light and love.” Adoniram Judson, in his dying words, said, “I go with the gladness of a school-boy, bounding away from school at the close of the day.” Susanna Wesley uttered this last request just moments before death: “Children—as soon as I am released—sing a psalm of praise to God.” D. L. Moody preached his heart out in a revival meeting in Kansas City in November, 1899. He took sick during the meeting, was returned to Northfield, Massachusetts, where he died within days. His parting words were these: “Earth is receding; heaven is opening; God is calling me. If this is death, it is a most wonderful thing.” Sorrow and weeping are natural when a loved one dies, but for the Christian, natural sorrow is accompanied by a supernatural joy!
We lay the mortal remains of our loved ones in the cold earth, but God promises a resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:52). They are absent from our family circle, but God’s promise is that they are with Him (2 Corinthians 5:8). Surely we can let our redeemed friends and loved ones, with confidence, in God’s hands—when they die.
4. Hope in Light of the Lord’s Coming
Someday Jesus will rend the skies and rescue this world from its present distress. His coming is called “that blessed hope” (Titus 2:11-13).
Our world is in a sad state. Nations stagger from one crisis to another. One-fourth of the world’s countries are at war. Ten thousand people each week die of starvation. Millions are without enough medical care. Hopelessness abounds in many, many ways. But when Jesus returns in majesty and power, all nations will kneel before Him as He executes His rule on earth. Jesus will bring peace to this troubled planet. See Zechariah 14:9 and Revelation 19:15.
There are more than 300 references in the New Testament to our Lord’s Second Coming. If those references were spaced equi-distantly throughout the 27 books of the New Testament, on the average, one out of every 25 verses would be saying, “Jesus is coming again.” Nobody knows when He will return, but there are some major signs which say something about the nearness of His coming.
There is the sign of Israel’s restoration. The Jews are back in their homeland. They have maintained their identity since New Testament times, and now they possess their own national state. Other nations are desperately trying to take it from them, and thus Jerusalem is becoming a “burdensome stone for all people” (Zechariah 12:3). Israel, once dead like a fig tree in winter, has begun to bud.
There is the sign of increased travel. Fifty years ago the next country seemed far away. Today, Africa is our next door neighbor. A century ago, airplanes were unknown and automobiles were a novelty. Today space vehicles have carried men to the moon. When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, more than one hundred million people from all parts of the world watched him. What happens in Singapore or Hong Kong or Cairo or Bogota is flashed on newscasts just a few minutes later. The world has shrunk in size because airplanes now fly from one continent to another in just a few short hours. Millions of people travel from city to city or country to country daily.
There is the sign of spiritual indifference. In many places the church has degenerated into a soup kitchen to serve dinners, when it should be a rescue station to save sinners. Like the days of Noah, many today are going through the routines of life (eating meals, spending money, getting married), but giving no serious thought to eternal matters (Matthew 24:37-39). Vast numbers all around us are almost totally indifferent to God’s name, God’s church, God’s day, God’s Son, and God’s Word.
For each faithful believer, the hope (sure certainty) of Christ’s coming should have some significant effects. For one thing, it should bring encouragement to troubled hearts (John 14:1,3). The hope of Christ’s coming should also be an incentive to faithful service. Jesus said at one point, “Behold, I come as a thief; blessed is he that watcheth” (Revelation 16:15). The real meaning of the word “watch” is “to be busy doing one’s task.” At another place, Jesus said, “Who then is a faithful and wise servant? . . . Blessed is he who when the Lord comes, shall find so doing” (Luke 12:4243). Watching implies faithful “doing.” The hope of Christ’s coming is to be a motivation for holy living (1 John 3:2-3).
Every Christian should seek to share the message of hope with others. We should invite people to believe the Gospel message—the fact that all have sinned and no one can save himself; the truth that Jesus died in our place—and the necessity that each person embraces Christ as his own personal Savior. Most people want to enter the gates of the Celestial City when this brief life here on earth is ended. We must urge people to forsake the “city of destruction” (as John Bunyan described life here), and pass through the gate of repentance, and then kneel at the Cross of Jesus where our burdens are rolled away.
The future hope empowers the Christian to live without despair through the struggles and sufferings of this present life. May God help us not to grow weary in well doing, for “in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9).