The Hope of the Believer and the Church
C. E. Hocking, Cardiff
The believer should be confident that God's prophetic promises are to be fulfilled. The New Testament scriptures quote and allude to many Old Testament contexts of hope in a spirit of joyous anticipation as touched upon in our previous paper. But biblical revelation is progressive, and the new enterprise in which our Lord is presently engaged He intimated to His disciples with the words 'I will build my church', Matt. 16. 18. What does the New Testament reveal regarding future events as they affect the church? Are there distinctive elements in the church's hope, and if so what are they? Once again, we shall only draw out a little from the treasury of truth stored up in the New Testament.
1. The Hope of the Believer and the Church
Christian hope is centred in a Person; Christ Jesus is our hope, 1 Tim 1. 1. We are not simply waiting for it to happen but rather we are waiting for Him to come, ct. Hab. 2. 3; Heb. 10. 37. Our hope is directed to and centred in God, 1 Pet. 3. 5. With the Christ, the God of hope has freely given us all things, Rom. 15. 13, and consequently upon Him even 'the Gentiles hope', v. 12. In Christ God has opened to us:
the hope of the gospel (i.e. of the fulfilment of the promises that are presented in it), Col. 1. 23, 25
the hope of righteousness, Gal. 5. 5
the hope of salvation, 1 Thess. 5. 8
the hope of His calling, Eph. 1. 18
and the hope of eternal life, Tit. 1. 2; 3. 7.
Believers are urged to fulness of hope, that is, that the full range of its influence in the heart and soul may be realized by us, Heb. 6. 13. Such hope is described variously by the adjectives:
good, 2 Thess. 2. 15, blessed, Tit. 2. 13,
living, 1 Pet. 1. 3, and better, Heb. 7. 19.
Our hope which is to be fully realized in the future, encourages endurance through life's trials in the present, 1 Thess. 1. 3, it acts as an anchor of the soul staying it amid the storms of life, Heb. 6. 18, 19, and also it stimulates purity, 1 John 3. 3.
2. Hope and our Lord's Upper Room Ministry in John
After supper on that memorable night when our Lord would be betrayed, His concern was to strengthen and encourage His own. One of His precious promises on that occasion was, 'In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also', John 14. 2, 3. The simplest child of God has never questioned, on the basis of such words as these, that he is destined for the Father's house in heaven. Heaven is our home, and our Lord's presence there is the guarantee of it; where He is we are to be also. He is to come again, spurred by love for His own, to receive us to Himself and to transport us to heaven. As the Bridegroom He is to come to receive His Bride, and to take her to the home which is His. Peter who heard these words, and who most needed the balm they brought to his troubled heart, later wrote of God's great mercy in begetting us 'unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time', 1 Pet. 1. 3-5.
3. God's revelation through Paul explaining the hope of the Church
Paul clarifies how this hope is to be realized, not only by those living at the moment of our Lord's coming again, but also how that even the dead in Christ are not to miss its blessedness. Consistent with the Lord's words to His own in the Upper Room, Paul writes 'For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven'. His love will not allow the sending of another for His Bride. From heaven He is to descend so that His own shall be with Him for ever. His gathering shout, voice of the archangel and trump of God, effect the raising of the dead in Christ from among the dead, and the catching up of the living with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, never to be parted from Him again, 1 Thess. 4. 15-17. Paul has to supplement our knowledge concerning those who are alive when the Lord comes, for 'flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.' Another completely new revelation was called for, which Paul describes as 'a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we (the Jiving) shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality', 1 Cor. 15. 50-53. Then His own shall be with Christ and like Him, conformed to His image perfectly at last, having bodies like unto His body of glory. For truly 'our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself, Phil. 3. 20, 21.
4, The mystery of God's will
How and when can God be faithful to our hope in Christ and also confirm the prophetic promises related to Israel, the nations and creation? The prophecies are expressed in earthly, paradisaical terms, and look forward to the restoration of all things, while heaven, spiritual and glorified bodies, perfect conformity to Christ, being at home with the Lord, express features concerning the future of believers and of the church. The two catalogues are distinct, different, and yet both are divinely revealed. We have no biblical mandate to rewrite the 'earthly and nationalistic' in heavenly and supra-national terms. Israel is never equated with the church. There is ample evidence for both continuity and progression in biblical revelation, but we cannot write off or even re-write one set of straightforward divine commitments and claim confidently the certainty of others. There must be both a restoration, a regeneration, in time, and a new creation which is eternal. But as these different goals are each guaranteed by the sovereign grace of God in Christ who is the Heir of all things, yet also the Head of the church, we are not surprised that in the age to come the interrelationship between the earthly and the heavenly will be evident.
Let us go back to that earliest creation scene, when God made a woman with the rib he had taken from the man, and He then brought her to the man. Overjoyed, the man said, 'This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she is taken out of the Man', Gen. 2. 22, 23. In Ephesians 5 Paul reads a spiritual mystery in that event, understanding it typologically in regard to Christ and the church, its members, too, being members of Christ's body, see vv. 25-32. More pertinent to our question as to whether God's purpose for Israel, for the nations and for the church are to be linked harmoniously in the present universe is Ephesians 1. This unfolds the breathtaking privilege of the church in the words 'he (God) put all things in subjection under his (Christ's) feet, and gave him . . . to the church which is his body' (as Ihe head over all things).
Typologically, this is revealed at the beginning when Adam, who having been given dominion over ail, was joined to Eve. Truly believers are 'heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ', Rom. 8. 17. The fresh element in the divine revelation through Paul here is, 'the mystery of his (God's) will', that relates to 'his (God's) good pleasure which he purposed in him (Christ) unto a dispensation of the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in (the) Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth', vv. 9, 10. This summing up of all things in Christ is to be displayed in the age to come which is to witness the establishing of the Son of man on the throne of His glory on earth, the period of the regeneration, the times of the restoration of all things, and that Sabbath rest for which the people of God have waited through the millennia, Matt. 19. 28; Acts 3. 21; Heb. 4. 9. However, the heavenly administration of the inhabited earth to come is not to be subjected to angels. God is already preparing and is bringing many sons to share in that coming glory, Heb. 2. 10. Believers in fact are come to these realities, which are unseen by the natural eye, but which are assured to and handled by faith even now. We are indeed 'come unto mount Zion (so central in those irrevocable messianic promises to Israel and the nations), and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem', 12. 22.
It is John who uses suitably resplendent symbolism to describe in greater detail 'the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God; having the glory of God her light was like unto a stone most precious, as it were a jasper stone, clear as crystal: having a wall great and high; having twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels: and the names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. . . And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb . . . And the nations shall walk amidst (by) the light thereof: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory into (to) it . . . And on this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve manner of fruits, yielding its fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations . . . and his servants shall do him service; and they shall see his face; and his name shall be on their foreheads . . . and they shall reign for ever and ever', Rev. 21. 10-14, 24; 22. 2, 3, 4. Here at last God's purpose in creation, that He might be glorified and that His creatures might enjoy Him for ever, and which is achieved necessarily via the route of redemption, embraces the heavens and the earth, the bride, the wife of the Lamb, the twelve tribes of Israel and the nations. The scene has changed from the garden to the city. The river that went out of Eden to water the garden has become 'a river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb'. The tree of life now bears 'twelve manner of fruits, yielding its fruit every month' and even its leaves are 'for the healing of the nations'. Clearly, this is not simply paradise restored, or regained, but paradise exceeded in 'the fullness of the times' when God sums up all things in the Christ, 'the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth'.
Finally, the relationship between creation's liberation and the children of God is revealed through the apostle Paul in a thrilling series of features of the future recorded in Romans chapter eight. Briefly, here there are two inter-related sub-units glowing with glory and hope in the anticipation that all groans are to go! Firstly, Paul develops creation's expectation of the revealing of the glory of the children of God as this will synchronize with the removal of creation's groans, vv. 18-22. In sympathy with such Old Testament prophecies as Isaiah chapter 11. 6-9, the New Testament revelation waits to see 'creation all, below, above, redeemed and blessed by Thee (the Lord)'. Secondly, Paul cannot restrain himself as he contemplates the most welcome change in the believers' state which must precede their appearing in glory with Christ. With the expression 'And not only so', he introduces our excelling hope, glorying in the prospect of the redemption of the body and of the removal of the believers' groans for ever, vv. 23-25. Simplistically, we may distinguish these 'expectations' as those bound up with the revelation [apokalypsis] of the children of God in glory, when they accompany the glorified Heir of all things at His return in glory, and those that belong to their rapture [harpazo = to catch up, snatch away], their being changed and caught away in order to meet Him in the air. In God's programme, 'the last (of these events) shall be first, and the first last'!
To these things our glad response is 'Maranatha'; even so, come Lord Jesus!