Hope and the return of Jesus

April 4, 2013

In the past several years, few verses in scripture have been as beautifully disruptive to my heart as 1 Peter 1:13:

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
(1 Peter 1:13 ESV)

Peter opens up his first epistle with a eulogy lauding the mercy of God towards His people. He reminds his readers of their coming inheritance (verse 4-5) as they remain faithful to Jesus through trials (verse 6-7), recalling the words of the prophets as they spoke of the glory of the age to come (verse 10-12). In light of the present difficulty and the future glory, he exhorts them to have a singular, undivided, all-consuming hope - Christ's return and the grace to be given on that day.

In today's culture, "hope" has become a wish for the future without any possibility of certainty: "I hope it doesn't snow again before spring comes!" In modern evangelicalism, we've often adapted our society's use by degrading it to a trite word used for expectation of a change in circumstances that brings comfort to others, peace to situations, healing to our body, revival to our churches and cities, or evangelization of the world. While this can be a right application of the word based on its definition in Webster's dictionary, it falls far short of the biblical vision of "hope" that filled the heart of the early church. When the anchor of hope is lifted from the age to come and dropped into this present evil age, the "inheritance" Peter speaks about also becomes wrongly understood, setting up the heart for disillusionment.

The biblical emphasis on hope is neither wishful thinking nor expectation for intervention by God in this present evil age. Hope is the future certainty of God's promises related to Jesus' return (Titus 2:13), unrighteousness being crushed (2 Peter 3:13), and the restoration of all things to their state before man's fall in Eden (Acts 3:21). These things are certain because Jesus has been raised from the dead and confirmed to be the one who will bring them to pass (1 Peter 1:3; Acts 17:31). Anchoring our heart there completely is pivotal because every lesser hope will always bring some measure of disappointment to us (Romans 5:5), no matter how fulfilled our expectations may feel when what we've longed for comes to pass.

Setting our hope

Peter uses two phrases to describe how this monumental vision of fully hoping in a future inheritance at the return of Jesus will come to fruition in us: we "prepare our minds for action" and become "sober-minded". The imagery from the original Greek of the first phrase is to "gird up your loins", an Jewish idiom for tucking up a long robe into a belt, allowing one's legs more freedom of movement. A modern idiom might be “roll up your shirt sleeves” as one prepares for intentional effort. Peter intentionally uses this idiom to describe what we must do not with our clothing but with our minds. The second exhortation is to "be sober-minded". Other translations render this "be self-controlled", a phrase also echoed by Paul in his letters about living in a righteous way that reflects our coming inheritance in the resurrection. Peter is clearly fusing confidence in the future certainty of God's promises to thinking with the mind and correct behavior from the heart.

Both of these phrases imply the importance of how we think and what we believe. To "prepare our mind for action" suggests a vigorous, unrelenting, careful examination and renewal of our minds in the truth of God's word. Because what we think with our minds is the basis for our confidence and hope, doctrinal neutrality and theological shallowness regarding the glory of Jesus, His divinity, His humanity, His sinlessness, His mercy, His return, His future kingdom, and His wrath is simply not optional.

Our thoughts and beliefs do not only affect our intellectual life but also determine our conduct. To be "sober-minded" and self-controlled implies that we conduct ourselves in a "manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him" (Colossians 1:10), walking as Jesus Himself called us to: "deny yourself, take up your cross, and die daily" (Luke 9:23). Peter uses the same phrase later in his letter saying that sober-mindedness facilitates prayer (1 Peter 4:7) and an awareness of the devil’s schemes to shift our hope away from the return of Jesus in the midst of suffering (1 Peter 5:8).

Examining our hope

Though Western churchgoers may be swift to profess a full hope in Jesus' return, we have largely not been tested by trials and sufferings like the church other parts of the world, and our hope is largely divided because of our theological understanding and our lifestyle. We must soberly examine our hearts. Does the all consuming vision of Jesus and his return in power and glory dominate our thinking, daydreaming, and small talk? The second coming of Jesus is worthy of our most eager and lively expectation. This singular hope is the goal of missions, the point of signs and wonders, and the ambition the Holy Spirit in reviving God's people.

Setting our hope fully by no means implies that we should diminish our prayers for awakening in the church, sings of the coming age, and amnesty towards the unrepentant. In fact, a full, complete hope in the return of Jesus gives the proper context for compassion for the poor and suffering, urgency in proclamation, and a desire for a divinely empowered witness.

Without our hope anchored in His return, disappointment and disillusionment will always arise within us to one measure or another. May the Holy Spirit disrupt us with this vision of full confidence and hope in His return and may that future certainly alone motivate us to diligently pray, study, act, and bear our cross daily for His sake.

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About the author

Joshua Hawkins is a pastor, Bible teacher, and content creator for disciples of Jesus from College Station, Texas. He co-hosts The Apocalyptic Gospel Podcast, a weekly audio show exploring how a first century Jew would have understood the Gospel. He's also an all-around tech nerd and enjoys road cycling.

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