By Roland W. Keith
For what do you hope in life? Many people around the world have no hope. They merely exist from day-to-day until they die. They live in poverty and hunger throughout their lives with little vision of a future past tomorrow, and no concern for what lies beyond the grave. While some resist the oppression of abusive or inept governments, drug lords, and persistent lack of opportunity and seek to rise above these and other restraints to their well-being many simply live in a state of hopelessness. And so, it was in the first century when Jesus came to earth. As today there was great wealth and poverty in the world. However, there was an undercurrent of hope during that period that we do not see today. Even in our western civilization which has led the world in improving the lot of mankind politically, socially and spiritually since the time of the Roman Empire (in its stricter European form) there is today an unfathomable pessimism and resistance against the freedoms and values that have led to unprecedented growth and prosperity for billions of people over the last 150 years in particular. Yet, two millennia ago men were seeking for that freedom and spiritual truth so disdained today.
God providentially set the stage for the arrival of His Messiah. Understanding that, there are many reasons why the first century AD was the right time (Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:10). The political climate, travel conditions, Common language, multicultural cities of trade, a growing desire, especially in Palestine, to throw off all forms of oppression, and a hunger for spiritual understanding. Even among the oppressed there was a growing optimism that freedom could be obtained, and that there was something more out there for man. There was hope. Moreover, for a growing number that hope centered around God, spiritual redemption and unity, and eternity, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians concerning Christ: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ
as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory” (1:7-12).
When the mystery of God’s will was revealed in Christ Jesus hope for mankind soared! God guaranteed His promise to man with an unbreakable oath (Hebrews 6:17-19). To make good on that oath and to remove all doubt as to its validity He sent His only Son to establish the final covenant of that promise and to set in motion the final work for its completion. Moreover, Jesus was able to validate His own deity and claim to be the long-awaited Messiah through the miracles and wonders that marked His ministry, as well as the work of the Holy Spirit through His apostles and other disciples, as the approved work of God (John 3:16; 21:24-25; 2:23; Matthew 12:28; Acts 3:16; 4:29-31; 9:11-12; 15:12, 18-19). Not only did Jesus prove Who He was, He ransomed His life to pay the debt of sin for all who are willing to accept Him as Savior; so when we put our faith in Him we are putting our faith and hope in God, the originator of the promise Christ fulfilled (I Peter 1:13-21). Moreover, when Jesus laid down His life for us, He further validated His claims by promising to rise from the dead, and then doing it (Matthew 17:9; 28:5-7; I Corinthians 15:3-8)!
Jesus’ resurrection is the centerpiece of our hope for eternal life as Christians, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (I Corinthians 15:12-14, 18-19). The promise of eternal life is empty without the resurrection, however, we have that hope because Christ ensured He was seen by many to verify that He had come forth from the grave according to His word. Without the eyewitness testimony of the apostles and other disciples concerning Jesus’ life and resurrection, confirmed by the miracles they performed, the movement known as “the way” would have never survived the first century.
In Jesus God fulfilled His promise to Abraham that all men would be blessed through his seed (Romans 15:11-13; Ephesians 2:12-16); the great commission being a result of that promise (Matthew 28:18-20). All people everywhere can share in the blessings of God and should count it an honor if they suffer as the Lord did while awaiting their place in heaven (Romans 12:12; Romans 8:17; Philippians 1:29; I Peter 3:14, 17; 4:19). Paul rejoiced that he could suffer for the Lord in revealing the mysteries of God’s word which leads to the hope of glory (Colossians 1:24-27). It is in the revelation of that mystery that we are set free in life to seek God through His Son and receive eternal life (Galatians 5:1-6; John 14:6; 1 John 2:25). It is also in that mystery that we find that all men, Jew and Gentile, are to come together as one in Christ, as Paul revealed to the Ephesians, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (4:4-6).
There is one hope for mankind and only one avenue of grace to follow (I Peter 1:13). After he had met Jesus on the road to Damascus Paul spent the rest of his life bound up in that grace and he counted it as the supreme form of freedom (Romans 8:21; II Corinthians 3:17; Galatians 5:1; I Peter 2:16). He stood before the Sanhedrin, kings and emperors and common folks alike in defense of the hope and freedom offered by Christ (Acts 23:6; 26:6), with one desire for all, as he proclaimed to King Agrippa, “And Agrippa said to Paul, "In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?" And Paul said, "Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains” (Acts 26:28-29). A man bound in chains telling a king he wanted to set him free. Clearly, the apostle’s hope of true freedom was not for himself alone, but something he wanted for all men (Titus 1:1-3; Romans 9:1-3).
The apostle Paul understood that this grace he wished for all men was a kindness offered by a loving God subject to their willingness to obey Him, as he explained to Titus, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7). For his part Paul longed for the day he would escape the bounds of this earth for heaven (II Corinthians 5:1-2). We too should look forward to that day, patiently doing His work until that time (II Timothy 1:8-9; 2:15; I Peter 3:15; II Corinthians 5:20; Matthew 5:15-16).
As a final thought— we often hope for better days, for the perfect vacation, a promotion or raise, for a good report of health, for a better world, for many things. And that’s alright. But, is there anything that compares with the hope of meeting our Lord and Savior face-to-face and seeing a smile on His face as He welcomes us to our new home?
Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). If our hope is in Him, and we are His obedient disciples He has a place for us. In the book of Revelation John described it this way: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away"… And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life” (21:1-4, 22-27).
Regardless of my plight in this life it is my hope that my name is in the book of life, and it is my further hope that your name is written there, too.
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.