HUNDERING, lightning, earthquakes, fire and hail mingled with blood, the third part of the trees burned up, the third part of the sea becoming blood, the third part of the ships destroyed, waters made bitter, darkness—each an expression used in Revelation 8:5-12 to refer to the end of time. Sounds a bit disheartening, doesn’t it?
Nothing in the teachings of Christ, Paul, or Peter leaves us with the impression that the closing of the present age of mercy and grace will happen quietly and peacefully. Conversely, the end times will be accompanied by incomprehensible disaster.
During the Passion Week, Jesus delivered His Olivet Discourse, in which He described conditions engulfing the earth in the days leading to His return. He warned that deception, wars and rumors of wars, pestilences, earthquakes, and family dysfunction would characterize this age. Further, He likened these days to the days of Noah—a time of complete self-absorption.
Ignoring Wakeup Calls
What happened in New York City; Washington, D.C.; and in a remote field in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, shook this nation to its core, as did the attack on Pearl Harbor 60 years earlier. For a fleeting time after 9-11, the American public thought about God. However, the prayer gatherings in churches, sports arenas, and other venues were short-lived. Soon, people returned to their work and play with only a fading memory of the call to spiritual renewal this attack prompted.
Even when people try to brush them aside, every war, every natural disaster, and every attempt to dismiss God is only a precursor to earth’s final conflicts. From this perspective, the future looks woefully bleak, deeply troubling, and utterly hopeless. For many people, the idea that the earth is in the final stages of travail is just too distressing—something they had rather not think about. Nonetheless, God’s Word is clear—the greatest tribulation is yet to come. Neither Pearl Harbor and the ensuing world war, nor the attack on September 11, 2001, will closely approximate the distress that is rapidly approaching.
Looking for Hope
As gloomy as biblical prophecy sometimes is, and as disturbing as Christ’s words are in His end-times treatise, neither He nor His apostles left us without divine assurances. After Jesus warned about disturbing signs in the skies, nations in anguish and perplexity, turmoil in the oceans, and people fainting from terror (Luke 21:25-26), He added, “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (v. 28).*
Embracing Christ’s promise of redemption is to “lay hold of the hope set before us” (Heb. 6:18). This hope is not rooted in political systems, charismatic leaders, or social evolution. No one will discover it in the traditions of man, in elevation to high office, in human strategy, in philosophies, or in material wealth. Spiritual hope rests only on the solid foundation of God’s infallible Word and is perhaps the first development of our faith.
The use of the word hope in Scripture differs significantly from its contemporary usage as “wishful thinking.” Reading Paul’s words in Romans 8:24, “We are saved by hope” (KJV), we quickly conclude that the hope he speaks of reaches much deeper than the limited wishes prompted by natural hope.
Biblical hope is inseparably interwoven with faith: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for” (Heb. 11:1). The Greek word for “hope” is elpis, which means “favorable and confident expectation.” Essentially, it is the desire for future good with the anticipation of someday obtaining it.
Hope is the fertile ground where faith grows, and has to do especially with faith in God concerning things to come. While faith is believing that God is, and He rewards those who “diligently seek Him” (v. 6), spiritual hope, although still faith, is projecting that faith into the future in anticipation of laying hold on those blessings offered us through biblical prophecy.
Hoping in the Resurrection
This hope looks with joyful expectation to the glory that is to come, and is validated by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without the Resurrection, all of God’s promises would fall to the ground, leaving us hopeless:
If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty, and your faith is also empty. . . . You are still in your sins. …If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable (1 Cor. 15:14, 17, 19).
Several years ago when my wife, Sandra, and I made our second trip to Israel together, I remember standing before Gordon’s Tomb one beautiful morning. As the sun brightly streamed through the gnarled olive trees, accenting the fragrant flowers and greenery within this tranquil garden, we beheld the empty tomb believed by many to be the burial place of Jesus.
As we stood with our group pondering the possible implications of this small piece of real estate, a young minister from England respectfully walked to the entrance of this tomb. Lifting his voice and gesturing with his hands, he began to speak, the tenor of his voice rising and falling with each new emotion.
I will never forget his brief yet profound homily, which he concluded with these thoughts: “If the world wants to destroy Christianity, it doesn’t have to publicly curse us, malign us in the newspapers, slander us through various other media, or attack us physically. If the world really wants to destroy Christianity, let them give us the body of Jesus Christ.”
Briefly pausing for effect, the young minister thoughtfully turned toward the tomb situated slightly behind him and to his left—a tomb whose stone had long since been rolled away. Now having everyone’s eyes and ears, he directed his left hand toward the tomb and triumphantly announced, “But He is not here. The tomb is empty. The body of Jesus will never be returned to us because He is not dead. He is alive!”
The coming down of the curtain on human history as we know it will bring immense sorrow. At the same time, it will bring to light the blessed spiritual hope embraced by believers for centuries: “Looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
The empty tomb of Jesus provides the indisputable evidence that our hope in Him will be vindicated.
Living in Hope
In preparation for the return of Jesus Christ and the events that follow, Peter asked, “What kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives” (2 Peter 3:11 NIV). In like manner, Paul wrote to Titus, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12).
Following the same theme, the apostle John identifies two effects of anticipating Christ’s return and the resurrection of the body:
Now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:2-3).
First, John assures us that, even though we are not certain just what we will be, we can rest in knowing we will be like the resurrected Christ. Second, he emphasizes this blessed hope prompts us to carefully guard our Christian walk. That is, looking for the return of our Savior has a powerful cleansing effect upon us. Steadfastly fixing our eyes on Him and always expecting His return is the reminder we need to carefully examine ourselves in the revealing light of His Word.
Although today’s rapidly unfolding events will ultimately lead to unimaginable tribulation, we also know these same events will lead to final triumph for believers. As hopeless as these spiritually dark and depressing times may be to some, we know otherwise. It is against this bleak backdrop that biblical hope shines so brightly. Consequently, we can sing with the suffering Job:
I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (19:25-27).
* Unless otherwise noted, all scriptures are from the New King James Version.
Bobby Duncan is pastor of the Parma Park, Ohio, Church of God. His book Is Truth Enough? has recently been published by Pathway Press.
From September 2013