The Christian Hope and Expectation
Christians are to be people who are filled with hope. It is this hope that gives us confidence and joy. This study looks at what the Christian’s hope is and the effect it has on our lives.
Hope is one of the key features of a Christian. The meaning of the word ‘hope’ is different for a Christian and for the world. The word ‘hope’ as a noun means “a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen” or “a feeling of trust”. As a verb it means “to want something to happen or be the case”. Most of the time, when the Christian’s hope is being referred to in the Bible it is used as a noun. Because the world does not know the future they use the word hope with uncertainty, i.e. they don’t know if the thing they are hoping for will happen or not. The sense of the word completely changes when the person or promise concerned is known to be trustworthy because that means we can expect and anticipate something that we know will happen.
A Christian has certain hope whereas the world has no hope, only an uncertain wish. In Proverbs we find that both righteous people and wicked people have hopes. The Christian hope is certain and will come to pass for eternity. Therefore, it gives great joy. “The hope of the righteous is joy; but the expectation of the wicked shall perish” (Proverbs 10:28). The hope of the wicked is only temporary and even if received in life finishes at death.
Before we were saved we could be described, along with the rest of the world, as being “at that time without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Paul reassures the Thessalonian church/assembly that the Lord is coming again and that death was not to be a time of great mourning because there is a future for Christians. He says “But we do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them that are fallen asleep, to the end that ye be not grieved even as also the rest who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Death is described as “fallen asleep” because they will wake again. That is why, when he describes the coming of the Lord for His saints (the rapture of the Church) in 1 Thessalonians 4 he finished with “Wherefore encourage one another with these words”.
Having been filled with the love of God by the Holy Spirit (see Romans 5:5) we have hope because love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Hope is interwoven with faith and love, yet hope is only temporary. “And now abide faith, hope, love; these three things; and the greater of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Faith and hope will no longer be needed when the Lord comes because we shall see Him. We have faith and hope in a person fulfilling promises which we haven’t yet received. Once we are in the presence of the Lord we will be experiencing the fulfilment of those promises. Love, however, will go on and on in eternity.
A bride has faith in her husband-to-be that he will keep his promise to marry her and take her to his own house to be with him forever. The bride has hope as she anticipates the wedding day when this will happen and she will be united with her groom forever. She knows the love of her future husband and enjoys it. When the wedding day arrives and the groom is standing waiting for her to come up the aisle to marry him she has no need for faith that he will keep his promise for he is there in front of her. She has no need for hope because the day she hoped for has now arrived. It will only be love that characterises their relationship from that point on.
What is our hope based on and what is its purpose?
We can have our hope based on all the wrong things, even as Christians. The two disciples said to the Lord on the way to Emmaus before they realised that it was the Lord Jesus to whom they were speaking “But we had hoped that he was the one who is about to redeem Israel. But then, besides all these things, it is now, to-day, the third day since these things took place” (Luke 24:21). They had their own ideas about how God’s word would be fulfilled. The Lord showed them from Moses and all the prophets how the scriptures said the Messiah, the Christ, would die and then enter His glory. At the end of the day the two disciples said “did not our hearts burn within us”. Their hope was rekindled as they began to understand the scriptures and relinquish their own ideas. The Lord re-founded their hope on the word of God.
The Bible is quite clear that our hope is founded on God Himself and because the promises come directly from Him they will come to pass. God says “so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall do that which I please, and it shall accomplish that for which I send it” (Isaiah 55:11). God’s word, once spoken, will be fulfilled in every detail.
There are a number of ways our hope is to be fastened to God:
- We have hope in His name. God name is synonymous with reliability and truth. “And on his name shall the nations hope” (Matthew 12:21).
- We have hope through reading God’s word in the scriptures. “For as many things as have been written before have been written for our instruction, that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
- We have hope in Christ. “And again, Esaias says, There shall be the root of Jesse, and one that arises, to rule over the nations: in him shall the nations hope” (Romans 15:12, see also Isaiah 11:10). “Paul, apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the command of God our Saviour, and of Christ Jesus our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1).
- We have hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that ye should abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). The Holy Spirit’s presence is “the earnest (or guarantee) of the Spirit” (see 2 Corinthians 1:32, 5:5 & Ephesians 1:14).
- We have hope in God’s promises. “And now I stand to be judged because of the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers to which our whole twelve tribes serving incessantly day and night hope to arrive; about which hope, O king, I am accused of the Jews” (Acts 26:6-7). “… in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before the ages of time” (Titus 1:2).
- We hope in a living God, i.e. we are trusting in a living person who is truth and cannot lie (see Titus 1:2). “For, for this we labour and suffer reproach, because we hope in a living God, who is preserver of all men, specially of those that believe” (1 Timothy 4:10). As a result of this we have a ‘living hope’ because it will come to pass according to God’s timing. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his great mercy, has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Because the Lord Jesus is alive so also is our hope of seeing Him and being with Him.
To sum up the above points, we hope in God. Peter tells us “… who by him do believe on God, who has raised him from among the dead and given him glory, that your faith and hope should be in God” (1 Peter 1:21). This the end result of everything that God has done, namely, that our faith and hope should be in God alone.
God has given us hope in the glad tidings and thus we have gone from having no hope and being unable to save ourselves to having hope because our salvation is now complete in Christ and what He has done on the cross. “If indeed ye abide in the faith founded and firm, and not moved away from the hope of the glad tidings, which ye have heard, which have been proclaimed in the whole creation which is under heaven, of which I Paul became minister” (Colossians 1:23).
God has given us hope as a result of His grace. He has had mercy on us to save us and now He has blessed us with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3) making us, not just slaves in His kingdom but His own sons by adoption (see Romans 8:15). “But our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us, and given us eternal consolation and good hope by grace” (2 Thessalonians 2:16).
Hope for the Future
Perhaps, the key thing we think of when we consider the Christian’s hope is what we are looking forward to in the future. Christians are anticipating expectantly the imminent arrival of the Lord Jesus to claim them for Himself and remove them from the earth to be with Himself forever (see the study on “The Future for the Church/Assembly”).
“For the anxious looking out of the creature expects the revelation of the sons of God: for the creature has been made subject to vanity, not of its will, but by reason of him who has subjected the same, in hope that the creature itself also shall be set free from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans together and travails in pain together until now. And not only that, but even we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, we also ourselves groan in ourselves, awaiting adoption, that is the redemption of our body. For we have been saved in hope; but hope seen is not hope; for what any one sees, why does he also hope? But if what we see not we hope, we expect in patience” (Romans 8:19-25).
The created world (i.e. the creature) suffers as a result of mankind’s sin. We see not only predators and prey, but disease, human exploitation and extinction all around us. It awaits liberty when the Lord and the sons of God appear. The Lord will reign and set everything right (see Isaiah 11) in His thousand-year reign on earth. We are looking for the redemption of our body. Just as the creature longs for the day when the nations will be judged and it shall be set free, so also do Christians yearn for the day when our bodies will be redeemed just as our souls have been. They will be like the Lord’s own glorious body. We have been saved with this very hope ahead of us and so in patience we wait, serving the Lord and seeking souls to be saved, while looking for the Lord to come for us.
Fourthly, being friendly with the world means joining with the enemies of God: “Adulteresses, know ye not that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore is minded to be the friend of the world is constituted enemy of God” (James 4:4). We are either with God and against the world or with the world and going against God. No Christian would ever desire to stand against God in anything.
Fifthly, the world is full of deceivers: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, they who do not confess Jesus Christ coming in flesh—this is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 1:7). These deceivers may claim to be anything, even fellow Christians, but it will be obvious what they are by what they think of the Lord Jesus. If they deny that Jesus is God’s Son and our Lord and Saviour then they are not of Christ and we must be separate from them, appealing to them to be saved.
“But Paul, knowing that the one part of them were of the Sadducees and the other of the Pharisees, cried out in the council, Brethren, I am a Pharisee, son of Pharisees: I am judged concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6). Paul says that he has hope in the day of resurrection. Christians will be part of the first resurrection to life.
“Having hope towards God, which they themselves [the Jews] also receive, that there is to be a resurrection both of just and unjust. For this cause I also exercise myself to have in everything a conscience without offence towards God and men” (Acts 24:15). The knowledge of this resurrection leads to a change in the way we live our lives. Knowing that we will be raised means we live with our focus on the next world and not this one.
“For this cause therefore I have called you to me to see and to speak to you; for on account of the hope of Israel I have this chain about me” (Acts 28:20). Israel’s hope is for the Messiah to come and set up His kingdom on earth. Paul sought to explain to the Jews that the Lord Jesus who their countrymen had murdered was the Messiah and therefore their hope.
“For for our sakes it has been written, that the plougher should plough in hope, and he that treads out corn, in hope of partaking of it” (1 Corinthians 9:10). We serve the Lord and seek to bring Him glory and honour knowing that we will also enter into His rest and His glory (see Hebrews 4:3 and John 17:22-24).
“For we, by the Spirit, on the principle of faith, await the hope of righteousness” (Galatians 5:5). We have been made righteous in Christ, but we are anticipating the day when we will have righteous bodies of glory that are no longer susceptible to sin.
We have tremendous hope as we wait for the Lord’s coming to take us to be with Him forever. We know it will happen because it has been promised and we look forward to it being fulfilled at any moment. As we wait for the Lord the fact that He may appear at any moment transforms our whole attitude to life. As we rely on faith we find that the promises of God are not just whimsical things that may or may not happen but things of substance because we know that He has fulfilled so many promises in the past and therefore He will fulfil them in future too. “Now faith is the substantiating of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
The effect of hope in the present
Hope is not just about the future coming of Christ and our freedom from this world and the weakness of our bodies. It is our present existence. This hope has a transformative effect on our lives.
- The knowledge of the Lord’s coming glory causes us to live justly, piously and soberly doing good works and shunning worldly lusts. “For the grace of God which carries with it salvation for all men has appeared, teaching us that, having denied impiety and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, and justly, and piously in the present course of things, awaiting the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all lawlessness, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14). Also “But we being of the day, let us be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as helmet the hope of salvation; because God has not set us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who has died for us, that whether we may be watching or sleep, we may live together with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:8-10). The hope of our coming salvation from this world where He will save us from its continual influence is a helmet that guards our minds from temptation and the whispers of the enemy. “Beloved, now are we children of God, and what we shall be has not yet been manifested; we know that if it is manifested we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every one that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). Knowing what we shall be like in the Lord’s presence, in bodies like Him, we will desire to purify ourselves to be as much like that now as we can be.
- We have joy because we have known our sins forgiven and our saviour risen and glorified. “For if those that are dead are not raised, neither is Christ raised; but if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then indeed also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are the most miserable of all men. (But now Christ is raised from among the dead, first-fruits of those fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Our trust in Christ will not only last for this life but also right into eternity. Death does not end our hope in Jesus but rather we still have that hope because Christ has been raised. He is the first-fruits and where there is a first-fruits then there is a huge harvest to follow. “As regards hope, rejoicing: as regards tribulation, enduring: as regards prayer, persevering” (Romans 12:12).
- We have boldness and courage to serve God. The Old Covenant with Israel was introduced with a great display of God’s glory in the face of Moses, such that he had to cover his face with a veil to enable the children of Israel to look at him. The New Covenant now not only begins with glory but actually subsists in glory, i.e. it cannot be separated from it because it is glorious. Knowing the glory of the New Covenant which is founded in Christ we are told that “Having therefore such hope, we use much boldness” (2 Corinthians 3:12). Our expectation of hope is founded in our apprehension of the glory of the Lord and the coming glory for every one of us. Armed with this apprehension we will have great boldness to speak God’s word and serve Him. “… according to my earnest expectation and hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but in all boldness, as always, now also Christ shall be magnified in my body whether by life or by death. For for me to live is Christ, and to die gain” (Philippians 1:20). “Therefore having been justified on the principle of faith, we have peace towards God through our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom we have also access by faith into this favour in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in tribulations, knowing that tribulation works endurance; and endurance, experience; and >experience, hope; and hope does not make ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Romans 5:1-5).
- We will always believe that God can do the impossible because the love of God in our hearts will cause us to believe all things. Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7).
- We will have abounding and constant hope in God. “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that ye should abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). Others won’t be able to understand how we can continue trusting God when in great trial but we know that He will bring us through to His glory. “… remembering unceasingly your work of faith, and labour of love, and enduring constancy of hope” (1 Thessalonians 1:3). Abraham is an example of this. His hope was in God and therefore, even though what God was promising him seemed impossible to him it still says of him: “who against hope believed in hope to his becoming father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be: and not being weak in faith, he considered not his own body already become dead, being about a hundred years old, and the deadening of Sarah's womb, and hesitated not at the promise of God through unbelief; but found strength in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that what he has promised he is able also to do” (Romans 4:18-21).
- We will have increasing faith: “not boasting out of measure in other people's labours, but having hope, your faith increasing, to be enlarged amongst you, according to our rule, yet more abundantly” (2 Corinthians 10:15).
- We will demonstrate love and faithfulness to our brothers and sisters in Christ. “We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ continually when praying for you, having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and the love which ye have towards all the saints, on account of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens; of which ye heard before in the word of the truth of the glad tidings” (Colossians 1:3-5). We will find that a part of our hope and expectation is that we will not only see the Lord but all our brothers and sisters in Christ will be there also “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of boasting? are not ye also before our Lord Jesus at his coming?” (1 Thessalonians 2:19).
- We will continue in prayer, relying on God for our daily needs. We will hope and trust in His daily care for us. “Now she who is a widow indeed, and is left alone, has put her hope in God, and continues in supplications and prayers night and day” (1 Timothy 5:5).
- We will be subject to God always. “For thus also the holy women who have hoped in God heretofore adorned themselves, being subject to their own husbands” (1 Peter 3:5). Both men and women will be subject to God.
Hope in Christ causes us to look for His coming and change our lives to be more like Him. It also causes us to depend on God in our everyday lives as we seek to live in the hope of His care for us. He has given us the hope of eternal life through His own love and kindness to us, having even given His only Son in our stead. “But when the kindness and love to man of our Saviour God appeared, not on the principle of works which have been done in righteousness which we had done, but according to his own mercy he saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, which he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that, having been justified by his grace, we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7). Eternal life does not simply mean that we live for ever. In John 17:3 we are given a description of what the words ‘eternal life’ really mean: “And this is the eternal life, that they should know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). While we will live forever in eternity (where there is no time anyway) the point of eternal life is that we know God personally and Jesus Christ. The term "eternal life" is the character of life which we enjoy and not the length of it.
This means that we will understand what ‘our calling’ really means. We have been called to serve God. The Lord says many have been ‘called’ though not all have answered. Our calling, i.e. what our life of service is to be, is for us to be imitators of God (see Ephesians 5:1). We are also told that “it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 3:16). God’s calling results in a great inheritance where we will be in the presence of God, without fear for eternity (see 1 John 4:18).
“There is one body and one Spirit, as ye have been also called in one hope of your calling” (Ephesians 4:4).
“Being enlightened in the eyes of your heart, so that ye should know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18).
Paul was given a commission to complete the written word of God to man. As part of this He tells us the real secret of hope. Christ is in us. We are like Him, we are to think like Him, love like Him, pray like Him and so on. The fact that He is in us means that we can see glimpses of His glory by faith, even here on earth! “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, looking on the glory of the Lord, with unveiled face, are transformed according to the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). As a result of His being in us we know that we will be with Him in glory.
“According to the dispensation of God which is given me towards you to complete the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but has now been made manifest to his saints; to whom God would make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the nations, which is Christ in you the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:25-27).
An appeal concerning hope
While we have looked at the joy and peace that comes with having our hope in God, the God of Hope, we need to lay hold of that hope by faith. There are many despondent Christians because they do not have hope in God. Perhaps they do not understand that the Lord is coming for His saints and therefore fear that they are going to pass though the terrible ‘Day of the Lord” and the tribulation that the world is going to suffer. Or perhaps they are weak in faith and doubt God’s ability. Whatever the reason, we have to lay hold of God’s promises knowing that “… in which it was impossible that God should lie, we might have a strong encouragement, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:18).
We are exhorted to put energy into understanding God’s word so that we may have a full knowledge of God and the promises He has made to us.
“But we desire earnestly that each one of you shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end” (Hebrews 6:11).
“But Christ, as Son over his house, whose house are we, if indeed we hold fast the boldness and the boast of hope firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:6).
“Let us hold fast the confession of the hope unwavering, (for he is faithful who has promised;)” (Hebrews 10:23).
“Wherefore, having girded up the loins of your mind, be sober and hope with perfect stedfastness in the grace which will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).
Having steadfast hope will enable us to be a sure testimony to others of our Lord Jesus Christ and the wonderful future that awaits those who are trusting in Him.
“But sanctify the Lord the Christ in your hearts, and be always prepared to give an answer to every one that asks you to give an account of the hope that is in you, but with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).
Soon we shall be with the Lord forever and life will spring forth in the eternal day of glory.
“Hope deferred maketh the heart sick; but the desire that cometh to pass is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12).