Preserving Distinctive Bible Hope
Robert C. Welch
Hope is one of the essential emotions of a true child of God. Its basic importance is stressed in the following two passages. "Looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ" (Tit. 2:13). "For in hope were we saved: but hope that is seen is not hope: for who hopeth for that which he seeth? But if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it" (Rom. 8:24, 25). From this last statement we readily can see that hope is directly related to our salvation. It motivates us to obedience to the gospel in order to be saved. Also, it produces patience or steadfastness on the part of the Christian, in order that he might attain unto the object of his hope.
There are two major errors about hope as it is taught in the Scriptures. Both of them are widespread and fearfully dangerous to faith in the Lord and his word. Atheism, modernism, neo-orthodoxy, social gospel, existentialism, and such like, are denying the teaching of the Bible that there is a resurrection and eternal life. This false teaching is refuted in all the passages herein presented concerning the resurrection and eternal life. The other serious and grievous error is that of substituting a materialistic millennium for the hope which is taught in the Bible. These premillennialists, hold that the "blessed hope" of the first passage quoted is for the return of the Lord to reign upon the earth for a thousand years in a material kingdom. This false doctrine is held by many in all the religious sects, by some of the sects as a distinctive doctrine of the sect, and by a growing number of churches of Christ springing from the influence of the late R. H. Boll.
The hope of the Christian which is involved in his salvation from sin and his patience in a righteous life is that of a resurrection. This resurrection is a bodily one; "the redemption of our body" (Rom. 8:23). It is a resurrection for which all creatures long (Rom. 8.22). And if this groaning, this hope, is not to have its fruition, we are but empty shells, helpless, hapless and despicable. "If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable" (I Cor. 15:19). Such hopelessness makes faith in Christ vain. It renders the preaching of Christ an empty form. It is no wonder that modernists have no use for the Bible. "Now if Christ is preached that he hath been raised from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither hath Christ been raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, then is our preaching vain, your faith also is vain" (1 Cor. 15:12-14).
Epicureanism is the result of such hopelessness; "If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die" (I Cor. 15:32). Such Epicureanism, as it was known among the Greek philosophers, is now called by the title "existentialism" or "religious existentialism," but it is the same form of immorality and debauchery. This theory of hoping only in this life is a feature of those who have no knowledge of God. They may pretend great scholarship, but they are ignorant of God, whether the name be Tillich, Brunner, or some other great name. This is not my indictment, it is the indictment of inspiration; "Awake to soberness righteously, and sin not; for some have no knowledge of God: I speak this to move you to shame" (1 Cor. 15:34). These words are couched in the discussion of the resurrection which some were denying.
Instead of producing this feeling of lonely emptiness, true hope comforts and strengthens the Christian. "But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that fall asleep; that ye sorrow not, even as the rest, who have no hope . . . and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words" (I Thess. 4:13-18). This pas sage does not even consider the wicked, for it is written to comfort the Christian. The dead in Christ will rise before the redeemed who are living are taken up, and all the redeemed together will ever be with the Lord.
"Hope of Israel"
"The "hope of Israel" is not for a premillennial reign of Christ upon the earth. Premillennialists say that such a materialistic reign is the hope of Israel which is spoken of by Paul. Notice the statement as Paul is speaking to the Israelites who have come to hear him in Rome: "For this cause therefore did I entreat you to see and to speak with me: for because of the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain" (Acts 28:20). This hope is defined by Paul. Notice that he says that for this hope he was bound.
If you will read the 22nd chapter of Acts you will find that because Paul told them about his experience of salvation in Christ, the Jews caused his imprisonment which finally brought him bound to Rome. Furthermore, he specifically defines it as being of a resurrection of the just and unjust; "But this I confess unto thee, that after the Way which they call a sect, so serve I the God of our fathers, believing all things which are according to the law, and which are written in the prophets; having hope toward God~ which these also themselves look for, that there shall be a resurrection both of the just and unjust" (Acts 24:14, 15). This states that it is "a resurrection both of the just and unjust." The premillennialist falsely teaches that there are two resurrections; one of the just before the thousand year reign on the earth, and a second of the unjust after the millennium has ended.
Paul further defines this hope of Israel in his defense before Agrippa as recorded in Acts, chapter 26. He says his defense concerns all the accusations of the Jews against him (verse 2). Then he says he is being judged "for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers" (verse 6). He affirms that it is that for which the "twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain" (verse 7). This hope is of God raising the dead (verse 8). And for preaching obedience to Christ who was raised he was seized (verses 20-23). This is sufficient to show that the hope of Israel was for the same thing for which we hope the resurrection.
The land promise which God made to Abraham and repeated to the patriarchs and to the Israelites as a nation is not a part of this hope. The premillennialists work hard to prove that the land of Palestine is a part of this hope, and that this is where Jesus will reign for a millennium. But their chain of promise is broken by direct statements from divine history. The land promise is first made to Abraham in these words; "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto the land that I will show thee" (Gen. 12: 1). On several occasions it is repeated to him and his descendents until we come to this statement made concerning the Israelites after they have entered the land following their Egyptian bondage and wandering in the wilderness; "So Jehovah gave unto Israel all the land which he swore to give to their fathers; and they possessed it and dwelt therein . . . There failed not aught of any good thing which Jehovah had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass" (josh. 21:43, 45). The uncluttered mind and unbiased from the premillennial tradition can see that the land promise up to that time was fulfilled in Joshua. Their chain is broken.
The keeping of the land by the Israelites was conditional; they must keep the words of the covenant (Deut. 29:9). If they failed, God would take them from the land and men would say, "Jehovah rooted them out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land ' as at this day" (Deut. 29:28). But if they would repent while in their captivity, God promised that he would return them to the land (Deut. 30:3). History develops the fact that they disobeyed that as a result of disobedience God took them from the land and sent them into Babylonian and Med Persian captivity. While there we hear a prayer of penitence and remembrance of the promise of release (Neh. 1: 8, 9). Subsequently, God returned them in fulfillment of the promise in Deuteronomy. That promised return is fulfilled. The land promise chain which the premillennialist hopes to rattle is once again broken.
What is the present status of the Jews as a nation? What can they expect? The Lord said to them; "The kingdom of God shall be taken away from you, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Matt. 21:43). In this dispensation God does not especially bless a person because he belongs to the Jewish race or nation. Peter was speaking to a Gentile about such distinctions when he said; "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to him" (Acts 10: 34, 35). The apostle James refers to the disciples of Christ as composing the tabernacle of David and says that a remnant or residue of Jews are included with the Gentiles in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Acts 15:13-18). In Christ Jesus there is no distinction as to Jew or Gentile. So far as God and his word are concerned, they are gone as his nation of people. "There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye all are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).
Those who are looking for those of the Jewish race to be the Israel of God have a vain and false hope. Christians, where distinction of Jew and Greek cannot exist, are the Israel of God. Follow the reasoning of an inspired apostle. "For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature" (Gal. 6:15). Who are new creatures? "Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature" (2 Cor. 5:17). Hence, new creatures are those who by faith have been baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:26, 27). Those who live by the rule of the new creature rather than that of circumcision and un-circumcision, or of Jew and Greek, are today the Israel of God. "And as many as shall walk by this rule, peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16).
Beyond the Resurrection, Eternal Life
The Christian's hope reaches beyond the resurrection to eternal life. Paul thus describes the theme of his inspired preaching; "In hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before times eternal; but in his own seasons manifested his word in the message, wherewith I was entrusted" (Tit. 1:2,3). Eternal life is not merely eternal existence. That belongs also to those who are condemned from the presence of God at the judgment. The Apostle Paul's definition is as follows: "To them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life" (Rom. 2:7). The grammatical construction of this sentence makes eternal life composed of three elements: glory, honor, incorruption. A fourth element, rest is given in the following statement; "And to you that are afflicted rest with us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus" (2 Thess. 1:7, 8).
That which is beyond the grave is described as the eternal kingdom; "for thus shall be richly supplied unto you the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 1:11). It is a kingdom of righteousness; "But, according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Pet. 3:13). It is there that the redeemed will be crowned with righteousness; "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me at that day; and not to me only, but also to all them that have loved his appearing" (2 Tim. 4:7, 8). Revelation 2: 10 speak of it as the "crown of life."
For every child of God, true and faithful, it is a time of shining forth, of appearing in glory, of being manifested with Christ. "When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory" (Col. 3:4). Men sometimes wonder what they will be like in the resurrection. Some even used such a question to instill doubt in the resurrection. The argument is annihilated by Paul in 1 Cor., chapter IS. There is a feature of this manifestation which so far transcends the question of what we shall be like that we lose sight of it; we shall be like Christ, seeing him as he is. "Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is" (1 John 3:2).
In conclusion two passages are used to sum up the greatness of the hope of Christians and the result of this hope is his life. "And every one that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself, even as he is pure (1 John 3:3)." That by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have a strong refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us: which we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and entering into that which is within the veil: whither as a forerunner Jesus entered for us" (Heb. 6:18-20).
Let every person who is yet in his sins lay hold on this hope by obedience to the gospel. Let every child of God strive to preserve this hope for himself, and for others, for eternal life against all who would destroy it, and for the glory of God.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XII: 1, pp. 3-6