After telling His disciples that He was about to go away from them (John 13:33), Jesus comforted them by the words that His departure and their subsequent separation were not permanent. “Let not your heart be troubled… (John 14:1). The basis of this comfort was the promise that, even though He was leaving them, He would return for them. Then, where He is, they will also be (John 14:3). One of the most important Christian doctrines is the promise of Jesus’ second coming. This topic is discussed in about 4% of the verses of the New Testament. This is what we call “the Christian’s hope.” Remember, faith is “the right response to what God has revealed.” Hope (elpis) is a lot like faith. It is a product of faith. Hope is a confident expectation in the promises of God. It is faith pointed forward. Christians believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on the cross, and rose from the dead. That is what God has revealed as having happened in the past. The right response to these revealed truths is faith. Christians also believe in the future events prophesied in Scripture, the second coming of Jesus Christ is the one of the most important prophecies yet to be fulfilled. Hope is a confidence that what God has promised, He will perform. This is the confidence that we have. Since God never lies and never changes (immutability), we can take refuge in Him. The hope we have in Him will never disappoint us (Hebrews 6:18). He is the anchor of our soul, sure and steadfast (v. 19). Even as we believe that the Lord will return someday, we also hope for that day. The subject of this lesson is maintaining a Christian’s hope in Christ.
The Two Sides of Salvation
This hope is the final fulfillment of our salvation in Christ. One of the things that many Christians often misunderstand is that biblical salvation can be understood in two ways, present and future. When a person is saved, on one hand, he is saved in the present. On the other hand, he still awaits a future salvation. At the moment one repents of sin and trusts in the gospel, he becomes a child of God (the present aspect of salvation) and looks forward to eternity with Him (the future aspect of salvation).
The apostle Peter writes about the Christian’s hope in 1 Peter. The theme of 1 Peter is hope in the gospel. This becomes evident in the verses following the introduction (1 Peter 1:3-5). According to the abundant mercy of God, we have been given a living hope that pertains to the resurrection of Jesus (more on that later) (v. 3). This hope is in an inheritance from God in Christ that cannot diminish (more also on that later) (v. 4). Moreover, God keeps us by His own power according to our faith in salvation that will be revealed (future) at the end of time (v. 5). This hope that we have in Christ is the result of the gospel. Peter writes that Christians should praise God because through His mercies we have been “born again.” Every child of God has been born once (physically) and a second birth (spiritually). This is the teaching Jesus gave to Nicodemus in John 3. Jesus said to him: “unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Those who are born once die twice—physical and spiritual death. Those who are born twice die once—physical death. Christians do not experience the second death (Revelation 20:14). This is why Peter encourages believers to hope in the Lord. Because of God’s mercies (God does not give us what we deserve—namely hell) believers are “born again” to a living hope in Jesus. While we deserve the wrath and judgment of God (Romans 3:10-18 makes that perfectly clear), those who trust in Jesus for salvation have been born again by God’s mercy. This mercy gives hope to everyone who trusts in Christ. The same kind of trust that looks back at the death and resurrection of Jesus, is redirected to look forward to the future promises of God. Peter helps Christians look forward to the future inheritance that is in Jesus. This is the second side of salvation.
The resurrection of Jesus is the basis of Christian hope. God did not leave Jesus in the grave. Very early Sunday morning, Jesus rose from the dead by the power of God, the Father. The same power of resurrection will also raise every believer who has died and will die in Christ. Instead of getting what we deserve (death and Hell), we receive eternal life with God. Our living hope is based on the fact that Jesus rose for the dead. Even as we are in Adam, we have a sinful nature (flesh) that must die physically (1 Corinthians 15:21-22). However, everyone who is in Christ will be “made alive” (v. 23). Without this, we have no hope. What is the point of being a Christian if this life is not followed by the resurrection from the dead to life eternal? Because Jesus is the “first-fruits” of this promise of resurrection, we are a part of His new life. That is, just as there was the first “fruit” of a larger harvest, so Jesus is the first to rise from the dead of all who will also rise from the dead. If this were not true, Christians would be the most miserable people on the earth (v. 19) because we would still be in our sins (v. 17) and still subject to eternal damnation (v. 18). Without our hope in the resurrection, we have no hope. Yet we do have hope. Our mortal body will put on immortality (v. 54), and what is corrupt will become incorruptible (v. 54). This promised resurrection will occur when Jesus returns for the Church (v. 52). Death will be “swallowed up” in victory (v. 54). All thanks to God for giving us victory over death in Jesus Christ (v. 57).
The promise of God to believers is that this future resurrection is our inheritance in Christ. An inheritance is a gift from one person to another, generally given at the time of his death. Likewise, believers have an inheritance from the Lord that was secured by the death and resurrection of Jesus (1 Peter 1:3). This inheritance is the object in which Christians hope. Furthermore, it is not a possibility or opportunity. A Christian’s hope in Christ is a certainty. Peter explains the permanence of this hope in three ways. First, it is an inheritance that cannot be corrupted. (v. 4) The treasures of this life are all susceptible to decay. Everything is the process of deconstruction. Archaeologists often dig up buried treasures that show serious signs of rust. Old things are often delicate and must be preserved by the use of special means. However, there is no decay in what God has preserved for His own. Moreover, this inheritance cannot be defiled. Just as the ravages of time slowly destroy earthly things, these can also be defiled. That cannot happen to what God has preserved for His children. The heavenly inheritance cannot be destroyed by anyone. Finally, it cannot simply fade away. It is reserved and preserved for us in heaven.
Heaven and the New Jerusalem
When a Christian dies, he goes to be with God (2 Corinthians 5:1). While we are alive on this earth we are materially absent from the Lord (v. 6). However, when we are (one day) absent from the body (physical death) we will be present with the Lord. This is (or should be) the longing of every Christian. We should desire to be with Jesus (Philippians 1:23). Because Jesus is at the right hand of the Father in heaven (Acts 2:33), this is where a Christian goes at his physical death. The place where God dwells is called “heaven.” Because God is a spirit (John 4:24), this dwelling place is not material. It is not located as if it was on a map. It is not “in the sky.” Heaven is the very real, but immaterial (spiritual) dwelling place of God.
In the future, God has promised to bring this heaven down to earth. God intends to materially change the earth from the way it is now. He will “renovate” the earth. He promises that it will be new (Revelation 21:1). This newness can either be “brand new” or simply “new in quality.” This is what John is revealing in Revelation. The Bible states that the foundations of the earth are eternal (Psalm 78:69, 104:5). It states that the earth will abide forever (Ecclesiastes 1:4). Moreover, it also says that the earth will be changed (Hebrews 1:12). This change is the promise of God for our future. All Christians will inhabit the new earth. On this new earth will be a new Jerusalem. This is what most people think is “heaven.” This new Jerusalem and new earth will only have inhabitants that are saved, born-again people. Unbelievers will not be there (Revelation 21:8). They will experience the “second death.” This new Jerusalem will be beautiful. It will have a great wall with twelve gates that will be clear as crystal. The whole city within it will be pure gold. The foundations of the city will be various jewels and the streets of the city will be gold so refined that it is clear as glass. The city will not need any illumination because Jesus is the light of it (Revelation 21:12-23). There will be trees in the eternal city. They will bear their fruits monthly (Revelation 22:2).
There will be no more curse (Revelation 22:3). God’s throne will be there. His people, all believers for all time, will serve Him. The city will never experience night. This is the Christian’s hope. Here are five things that heaven means for the believer:
- Physically: Heaven means a glorified body (Revelation 21:4). There will never again be death. Never again will there be sorrow, crying, or pain. These will all be passed away.
- Residentially: Heaven means a new home (Revelation 21:9-10). This is the eternal dwelling place of Christians.
- Absolutely: There is no possibility of Hell for the Christian (Revelation 21:27). Nothing that defiles is admitted into eternity. All unbelievers are excluded. Satan is defeated. Sin will not exist anymore. Death will not exist any longer.
- Spiritually: Heaven is not a place where there is nothing to do. It will be a place of eternal service to God (Revelation 22:3). Christians will be more like the angels in terms of serving God.
- Specifically: In heaven, there will be eternal fellowship with God. Christians will commune there with Jesus eternally. There will never again be separated from Him.
Paul clarifies that in eternity both faith and hope will be no more. The promises of God will be always in the present, in the moment. We are not able to see the future perfectly. We see through a dark glass (1 Corinthians 13:12). One day, however, we will see perfectly. We will know God then even as we are presently known of God. Love is all that will remain then. Until that time, we must live in the here and now. What does our hope mean for us today?
Abound. The command of God to hopeful Christians is that in hope they would abound in their service to Christ. Hopeful Christians should stand fast like soldiers at their posts (1 Corinthians 15:52). This is a reference to the truth. We should be unmovable. Nothing should be able to push us off our mark of fulfilling the duty we have to Jesus. A believer’s faith should not change with circumstances. He should remain still. At the same time, he should be actively serving Christ. The command to remain steadfast in doctrine does not mean we should be lazy or live for this world. We should be “always abounding” in God’s work.
Rejoice. The trials of life can be very difficult. They can be painful. Peter compares them to a fire that can bring grief. Suffering is one of the realities of life. Many Christians have their faith tested in the furnace of affliction. Our hope in Christ through the gospel is the balm for our spiritual wounds. Even though we face tests of our faith, we know that through them the result will be the glory of God (v. 7). Even though we have not seen Jesus with our eyes, we love Him and believe in Him. A Christian can suffer great hardship, but his hope does not have to diminish. In fact, it is during the darkest moments of pain that his hope can burn bright with “joy unspeakable, and full of glory” (v. 8).
Watch. Because our hope is in heaven, we should spend our time on earth in hopeful expectation of the glorious appearing of Jesus. Being watchful is important because Jesus will return with the same stealth as a thief that breaks into a house at night (1 Thessalonians 5:2). Because we are His own, we are “not in darkness” (v. 4). We are “the children of light…of the day” (v. 5). People who are characterized as being in the darkness are “asleep” (v. 7). Those who are of the day are awake. Consequently, we are to “watch” for our Lord’s return in an even-tempered manner (v.8a). We should adorn ourselves with the great virtues of the Christian life—faith, hope, and love. While our faith and love are like a breastplate worn in battle, our helmet is our hope. Our minds are encompassed by the sure promises of God.
Purify. The love of God that He has given to us is so amazing, so incredible. Think about what it means that we are “sons of God” (1 John 3:1). Because of this, the world does not recognize us. That is okay. It refused to recognize Jesus. But we do not fret about it because even while today it is not evident what eternal life means, we expect to one day see Jesus as He is and be transformed to be like Him (v. 2). This does not mean that we should just wait to be holy someday in eternity. Our hope to see Jesus should motivate us to be free of sin even as Jesus is without sin (v. 3).
Personal Application Questions
- How confident are you in the resurrection of Jesus? Have you ever doubted it? What caused you to doubt? What encouragement can you find in the Bible (and even outside of the Bible) for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead?
- Do you think about heaven very often? What about heaven interests you?
- Which of the four verbs (abound, rejoice, watch, and purify) do you do well? Which of them is your weakest area?
- Read Revelation 21:1-27.
- What do you think it means that God will “wipe away all tears?”
- Why will the “fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, etc., be excluded from heaven?
- Why will there be no temple in the new Jerusalem?
- What does it mean that the nations will bring their glory into the city?