Though trials come to our lives and when wickedness prevails in the world, the hope that the Bible holds out for disciples of Jesus is far from ambiguous. The apocalyptic hope of the first century Jew focused on the coming day of God and the resurrection of the dead, and with a clear picture and certainty of what God has promised for the future, difficulties in this present evil age become momentary and light.
Hey everyone, it’s Josh. As someone in who’s been in full-time ministry for over 15 years, I interact all the time with folks who are going through all sorts of trials and troubles in life. And I’ve noticed that there’s always the well-meaning person that comes to them, whether it be their friend or family member or coworker or roommate or something that basically says to them: “bro, it’s ok, just trust God.” I’ve also noticed that when something unusual or tragic happens in the world and it shakes a lot of people, the common message that comes from churches and social media, at least here in America, is “just put your hope in God”. Pastors and leaders preach sermons on topics like setting your eyes on Jesus or looking to heaven or God always working all things for good. And while I don’t think it’s wrong or evil to tell someone to “just trust God” or “have confident expectation of God’s goodness for the future”, these things are far too general, and rarely if at all does that kind of ambiguous hope create perseverance in faith and deep joy in the midst of uncertainty and tragedy.
Let me give an example to illustrate my point before we look at a few scriptures. Let’s say a husband tells his wife, “sweetie, we’re going on vacation.” And the wife says back to her husband, “ok, well where are we going? What’s it gonna be like?” and the husband just says back to his wife, “well, whatever the vacation is, it’s gonna be great, because we’ll be together.” Now ladies, I’m sure this would make you a little uneasy, right? I mean, it’s not like the wife doesn’t love being with her husband or even enjoy the occasional surprise of not knowing what to expect, but she doesn’t have a lot to be excited about especially if the couple is going to spend a significant amount of money and time at a destination that she knows nothing about. Tell me if I’m wrong, ladies, but you really want to know the important things like what you need to wear, what kind of food will be served, or if the bathroom is nice, right? You want concrete things to look forward to.
Now I think this simple analogy can remind us that in order to be able to look forward to something, we need to be informed, we need details, we need something more than just obscure language that can mean anything we want it to mean. In this age when trials come, when tragedy strikes, when injustice prevails, and when wickedness increases, saying to someone “just trust God” or “remember that God’s got a plan” is not really helpful in the end because it gives no concrete, tangible things to look forward to, no finish line to aim for, no reason to persevere even in pain and difficulty.
Now suffice it to say that the Bible is not ambiguous about the future for a disciple of Jesus. It actually outlines with great detail on what we’re actually relying on God for. It’s concrete, it’s tangible, and it is guaranteed because of God’s faithful track record.
As I’ve mentioned in some of my other videos, it’s really important that we seek to understand the words in we read in our Bibles first and foremost as the original audience would have understood them. This is especially important if we want to live and walk like they did, and have hope for the future like they did. To be more specific and to give an example, a first century Jew was not primarily hoping for having their sins forgiven so that they can be free from shame and have a good community of friends to hang out with before they go to heaven and play a harp on a cloud when they die. Neither were they seeking to infiltrate Roman society and transform it into a Christian empire. The gospel for them was apocalyptic - it was the good news of a climactic day in the future where a political figure, a king called the Messiah would return to Israel, crush their enemies, bring back the twelve tribes, and reign forever as the Jews administered God’s blessings to the rest of the nations. This messiah would be from David’s lineage and would bring justice for the poor and restore all creation to its original glory, to the way it was before sin and the curse of death entered the picture. He would be the judge of the living and the dead, he would raise the righteous of both Jew and Gentile to eternal life and would give them a resurrected body that would never die, and he would throw the wicked into a lake of fire, and all creation would then flourish under his leadership. There are hundreds and hundreds of descriptions about this certain future in the Bible, and as disciples of Jesus, this is what our hope is and what we’re trusting God for. This is the hope that doesn’t disappoint, as Paul writes in Romans 5. This is the comfort and the encouragement that the apostles give over and over and over again. For example, look at what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4, this is starting at verse 13:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
See that last verse? This isn’t just end times doctrine from Paul. It’s encouragement, it’s giving a clear defined hope in the midst of grief and pain and death. It’s about how when Jesus returns, he’ll raise those who have died in Christ.
Guys, this matters because when our future in a resurrected body on a restored earth without sin, death, injustice, or unrighteousness is clear, defined, and certain, it makes the difficulties and the trials of this present evil age seem so much smaller. Details on the future give us the right perspective on the present. Then we can take seriously what the apostles wrote as well, that suffering in this age is a normal part of being a disciple of Jesus, anything on the scale of misunderstanding to martyrdom is fair game. But if the future remains ambiguous, if it’s just generic “confident expectation of good things from God”, or if the promises that God made for the age to come are assumed to be for this age whether in part or in full, that sets us up for disillusionment when life starts going really wrong in every way and water is filling up our boat in a big storm in the middle of the sea. And when that happens, whether individually or in our society, what’s going to give us confidence that we’re not going to end up perishing and drowning in the end? Friends, the Lord hasn’t guaranteed us deliverance from trials in this age. He hasn’t promised the ending of injustices or mass healing or huge revival, as if those things in and of themselves will somehow solve all our issues. Don’t get me wrong - God does sometimes do those things in this age to demonstrate his compassion and to give signs and encouragement for what’s to come. There is a guarantee of deliverance held out in the scriptures, but it’s not in this age. The hope we have is that things are not always going to be this way. It’s all going to change on a real day in the future that the scriptures call the day of the Lord or the day of Christ Jesus. This is what the Law and the Prophets spoke about, and this is what Jesus and the apostles affirmed in their teachings and writings. This great Day is good news for every disciple, it’s universal - it means the righteous will be rewarded, it means there will be a leader who will treat the poor with equity and with justice, it will mean an end of wickedness and oppression. And while we can be thankful for as many signs in this age that point us toward the age to come, that is the singular hope we are called to cling to.
I’ve said in some of my past videos that one of the main reasons why the message of costly discipleship is not often understood or taken seriously in the West is because we’ve largely lost the perspective on the future that Jesus and the apostles handed down, and hope has become either vague or at worst, pressing for something that the scriptures have not promised for this age. The more you read the words of Jesus and the writings of the apostles, the more you will see that the Day of the Lord and the age to come was the driver for discipleship. Without a real day of judgment and a real reward of eternal life in a resurrected body in the age to come, to repent and live as Jesus calls us to loses its urgency very quickly.
So friends this is why we seek to get the story of the Bible clear in our hearts and minds. It’s why we read it in context and seek to understand the details as a first century Jew would have understood them. This is what we need to be telling others - this is the good news of the coming kingdom based in Jerusalem. Yes, it’s a glorious thing to know that we are forgiven and that because of the cross, our sins won’t count against us on the day of judgment. But the typical Western “gospel of forgiveness” is not the same as the first century Jews’ “gospel of the kingdom”. We too need an anchor of hope in the midst of this present evil age… We need to remember that the world is not always going to be this way, and the details of the scriptures are there to encourage us to that ultimate end. This great hope of the return of Jesus and the age to come is the message that God has given through Moses and the prophets and Jesus and the apostles that we would do well to heed until that great day dawns and the morning star rises. Paul writes in Romans 15, starting at verse 8:
For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness [to show that he is trustworthy, that what he spoke really will come to pass], in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs [not redefine them or reimagine them, to confirm what he said to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob], and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. Verse 13: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing [believing what? That God is going to do what he said he would in the scriptures], so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope [that our lives would have an anchor to cling to in the midst of this present evil age, as we look forward to the return of Jesus and the age to come].
Amen. If this was encouraging, smash that thumbs up button below and leave a comment. I want to talk more about the details of this hope in future videos, so make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss any of those. God bless, and maranatha.