When we look at the world today, we all feel a deep conviction that this is not the way things are supposed to be.
Global pandemic, our friends and neighbors sheltering in place, the economy doing somersaults. I’m reminded of Dante’s poem Inferno, in which a sign was posted on the gates of Hell that read: Abandon all hope, ye who enter here! These days, that disclaimer could be shared every time we open a news webpage.
It’s clear that we need hope, and thankfully, as Christians, we have a hope that no virus can corrupt.
The Biblical Definition of Hope
In I Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul explains that Christ’s resurrection is the very cornerstone of the gospel. Without it nothing else matters.
Paul does not describe Christianity’s great hope as Christ’s resurrection—he treats that as historical fact. Instead, he describes the great hope as our own resurrection at the end of this current age.
Many of us struggle with this concept because we don’t understand the biblical definition of hope.
Today, we define hope as wishful thinking: “I hope something will happen.” This is not what the Bible means by hope.
The Bible defines hope as a “confident expectation” based on the promises of God. Hope is a firm assurance regarding things that are unclear and unknown (Romans 8:24-25; Hebrews 11:1,7). It is not a feeling. It is an intellectual acknowledgment that God is faithful.
Paul says that because Christ was raised from the dead, Christians have the great hope (i.e., assurance) that we too will be raised from the dead at the end of this age. We will be given new, resurrected bodies that are imperishable, in which we will live with Christ forever in the new earth.
What’s Wrong with the World
In his book Lost in the Middle, Paul Trip writes, “Like a knife rammed into the heart of creation, sin brought death into the world and all the aging, sickness, and decay that goes with it.”
The other Paul wrote some insightful things about this conviction—and frustration, I might add, with death and destruction and all the negatives of this fallen world.
Paul writes in I Corinthians 15:52, 54-55,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed…then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
What Paul describes here is our great hope. Death will be swallowed up in Restoration, that fourth and final glorious chapter of the four-chapter gospel. In this last chapter, we will live with Christ in a new heaven and new earth which are not marred by the curse of sin.
Yet, while we are invigorated by the hope of what Christ has in store for us. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15:58,
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
The “work of the Lord” Paul is referring to is all the work we do in our families, our churches, our communities and our vocational jobs. This work done in the here and now, in the third chapter of Redemption, is still important to God. We must always be aware of the differences between the chapters of Redemption and Restoration in God’s story.
Redemption, gives us a glimpse of the way things could be. But there will still be weeds in our garden. Total restoration awaits the final chapter just like everything else in this world. In this current chapter we live and work in a cursed world that’s populated by fallen, sinful people. We see and experience these systemic problems every day.
Let us continue to put our hope in Jesus and the restoration to come.
Learn more about the story that gives meaning and purpose to all people in the booklet, All Things New: Rediscovering the Four-Chapter Gospel.