The overwhelming hope shared by the authors of the New Testament is the hope of Jesus Christ’s return. When things are bad, the New Testament points us to a future hope, not an earthly one. This emphasis started with Christ’s own teaching:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3)
At Jesus’ ascension at the beginning of the book of Acts, we find two men dressed in white telling the disciples:
“’Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:11)
The apostle Peter writes of the rewards of suffering for Christ that will come at his return, when his glory is revealed fully to us:
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.“ (1 Peter 4:12-13)
Paul too speaks of the Lord’s return, answering in this case some of the concerns of the young Thessalonian church:
“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
All those in Christ, whether living or dead, will be with the Lord when he returns, Paul teaches–none will be lost–and the return of the Christ will ensure that.
Encourage One Another With These Words
Notice Paul’s words at the end of the above passage from his first letter to the church in Thessalonica: “Therefore, encourage one another with these words” (verse 18).
Why is the return of Jesus not just a eschatological fact but an immediate source of hope for believers? Why should we encourage and be encouraged by these words?
There are many reasons the New Testament gives us.
First, as the passage above suggests, those that died “in Christ” will rise again and we will be reunited with the other believers and the Lord (verses 16 and 17).
Secondly, our flawed, perishable bodies will be done away with and we will be given new, incorruptible, immortal bodies:
“I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you 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 trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (1 Cor. 15:50-53)
Thirdly, death will be finally defeated.
“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:54-57, also see earlier in this chapter verses 20 through 28)
Fourthly, all the wrongs of history will be righted:
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:17-19)
God’s vengeance towards those who wronged his people is depicted clearly in Revelation 6 as well:
“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.” (Rev. 6:9-11)
The martyrs are told to “rest a little longer” implying that soon their blood will be avenged. This is final answer to the prayer of the Psalmist in what are known as the “Imprecatory Psalms” (see Psalms 7, 35, 55, 58, 59, 69, 79, 109, 137, 139). These Psalms contain prayers of judgment or cursing over the Psalmist’s enemies. The desire for the many injustices of life to be righted is one that will ultimately and finally be satisfied at the return of Jesus Christ to the earth at his second advent.
Fifthly, and maybe most importantly, the return of Christ is a source of hope because it means we will eternally dwell with God. For the believer, the greatest reward of Heaven is God himself.
The apostle Paul, speaking of the many troubles of a life of ministry says that death is gain because it means he will be with Jesus:
“I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” (Phil. 1:23-24)
And the Lord Jesus himself says that the very essence of eternal life is to know him:
“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.
My life is one of contradictions. I’m a southern boy living in northern New England; a boring guy married to super-fun girl; a conservative pastor in a progressive Christian denomination; a changed man in need of change; a sinner loved by a holy and perfect God.