The Hope of Heaven

Dr. Brian Allison

Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), the witty, brilliant, and sophisticated Irish essayist and lecturer referred to the barrenness of his life with the following pointed statement, "There are two tragedies in life, the first is not to get your heart's desire, and the second is to get your heart's desire." When Shaw talks about the 'heart's desire,' he does so from the perspective of the worldly or natural person. When the natural person does not get his heart's desire, he becomes frustrated and experiences a great sense of dissatisfaction and disappointment. Even after one does get his or her heart's desire, a sense of hopelessness typically persists; life remains void of meaning; there is still nothing worth living for. Sir Thomas Lipton (1850-1931), the English multimillionaire and well known international boat racer, bemoaned while on his death bed that he would have given up every trophy in his collection for the one that he hadn't yet won – a hope of heaven and eternal life. Only the hope of heaven and eternal life gives real meaning and purpose to life.

The Christian's hope

The Bible teaches that we, as Christians, should be, "Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer" (Rm. 12:12). What is hope? Very simply, hope is a firm or certain expectation. Now hope is very different from wishful thinking. Wishful thinking is simply a positive, uncertain desire. Eugene Peterson in his book, Practical Christianity, distinguishes between hoping and wishing. He writes, "It is essential to distinguish between hoping and wishing. They are not the same thing...Wishing grows out of our egos; hope grows out of our faith. Hope is oriented toward what God is doing; wishing is oriented toward what we are doing...When people say they've lost hope, what usually has happened is that they have given up wishing. Their wishes have turned out badly; they didn't get what they wished for, or they got what they wished for and it wasn't what they wanted after all. Hope, by contrast, is never disappointed (Rm. 5:5)...People who hope never know what is coming next. They expect it is going to be good, because God is good. Even when disasters occur, people of hope look for how God will use evil for good. A person with hope is alive to God. Hope is powerful. It is stimulating. It keeps us on our toes, looking for the unexpected..." What specifically is the Christian's hope? Well, very simply, Christians have "the hope of salvation" (1 Th. 5:8c). Thus, we read, "Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pe. 1:13).

The Christian's hope consists of at least three aspects. The first aspect is the resurrection. Christians are looking forward to the resurrection of the body when God, through the display of His power, will raise our corpses or dead remains from the ground and infuse new life into them again. In his defence before the governor Felix, the apostle Paul impugned the accusations of the Jews, saying, "Having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked" (Acts 24:15).

The second aspect of this hope is glory. Christians are looking forward to the coming glory – the bestowal of the inheritance for the sons of God. Christians shall reign in honour and majesty. We read, "Through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God" (Rm. 5:2). Glory and resurrection go hand in hand, don't they? Christians shall be raised with glorified bodies (see Php. 3:21).

The third aspect of this hope is eternal life. So we read, "That being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Tit. 3:7). Christians shall enter into a new dimension and state of blissful existence. They will experience the fullness of life in the very presence of God. Again, eternal life goes hand in hand with the resurrection and glory. When we are raised from the dead with glorified bodies, we are raised unto eternal life (see Jn. 5:29). Christians shall be immortal and incorruptible.

Hope! – the hope of the resurrection, the hope of glory, the hope of eternal life. Is that your hope? Be honest with your own heart. Are you living in hope? Do you have the expectation that one day you will rise in glory and enter into eternal life, or is that truth just a creed or doctrine to which you adhere? Is it just some nice sounding teaching; or simply some wishful thinking?

When I was in seminary, a fellow student was suffering from cancer at that time. He was 21 years of age and he knew that his days were numbered. Yet he continued to train and prepare for ministry because he wanted to devote what time he had remaining to the service of the King. Well, he died while still a student, but I remember him for his strength of faith and depth of hope. For though he knew that death was coming quickly, he rejoiced in the hope of the resurrection. Though his body was diseased, and would eventually lay in the grave, he confidently knew that one day he would rise again with an imperishable body. Do you have this kind of hope, a hope that is motivating? This kind of hope is empowering. So we read, "Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 Jn. 3:2,3). That is why it should not matter to a Christian what troubles fill his or her life. One can rise above the perplexing and distressing circumstances of the present life because he or she can truly hope for a wonderful future life.

Rejoicing in the Christian's hope

Now if you are really expecting the future blessing, if you are really expecting Christ to eventually break through the clouds and descend with a host of angels, what kind of an impact should that make on you? If you are really filled with hope, can you be indifferent, can you be complacent, can you simply lay back and let things unfold? If you are caught up with this hope – if you are really expecting the resurrection, the glory, and the eternal life – then your life will be marked with an air of excitement and anticipation. You ought to be "rejoicing in hope." Rejoicing is the language of anticipation; it is the language of excitement. Are you rejoicing? When you truly realize the wonder of it all, when you really contemplate the reality of it all, you cannot help but rejoice. The Scriptures confirm, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials" (1 Pe. 1:3-6).

I sat under the ministry of a seasoned Bible instructor a number of years ago. At that time, he had been in the ministry for some 30 to 35 years. When he was giving the Sunday morning lesson, he said something like this, "Do you know what I realized this past week? I realized that I am never going to die." "Well, all Christians know that," you say; but he emphasized again, "Listen, I really realized that I am never going to die." You know this truth, but you need to really realize that you, as a Christian, are never going to die. I remember this Bible instructor's face beaming as he shared that newly appreciated truth with us. He was rejoicing in hope.

Strengthening the Christian's hope

As a Christian, you really have something to look forward to; you have something worth living for; and hence you should rejoice. Now maybe your response to this teaching is this, "I really like what you are saying, but my hope is not strong. If I were to be honest with my own heart, my hope is quite weak; I am not rejoicing in hope. What I know with my head I do not feel with my heart." Is this your situation? Be encouraged. Hope can be strengthened. For instance, if I were a millionaire (which I am not, nor do I hope to be) – and assuming that I am a man of the utmost integrity and seriousness – and if I were to promise to give you $2,000.00 every week, would you expect it every week? Well, I'm sure you would. Why would you expect it every week? Because knowing my character and realizing what I possess, you would expect a fulfilment of that which I pledged. Do you see the point? Hope rests on, and is promoted by, promise; and God has provided promises for us in order that we may have hope. The connection between hope and promise is obvious. Hope anticipates something in the future; promise is the assurance given that something will indeed happen in the future. Think, for a moment, of a young couple who have just entered into a romantic relationship. The woman may be wishing that marriage would soon be an inevitability. When that young man eventually promises her that he will marry her, that wishing, no doubt, will become hope. An element of certainty now exists. Why? Because he has promised.

So it is with our God. If you want to strengthen your hope, you need to consider and meditate on the promises of God. Hope grows out of the soil of the promises of God. God has promised a resurrection – "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day" (Jn. 6:40). God has also promised glory – "the promise of the eternal inheritance" (Hb. (9:15c). God has also promised eternal life. So we read, "And this is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life." God has promised! The Lord, the righteous Judge, the King of glory, He who is holy, He who cannot lie, He who cannot deny Himself (because His integrity is on the line), He has promised! He hasn't simply said it (for that would have been sufficient), but He has promised it; and He is therefore bound by His word. When you really understand that God has promised, and that His integrity is on the line, you will then begin to abound in hope; and when you abound in hope, you will then rejoice in that hope because, as your hope is strengthened, it will naturally give way to rejoicing.

Are you feeling discouraged or depressed? Maybe you have experienced some difficulty this past week, maybe some problem this very day. Here is an antidote for you. Steal away and meditate on the promises of God – the promises of the future grace and mercy – and your hope will be strengthened, and in that hope you will rejoice and you will discover that your depression and discouragement will soon disappear. You will discover afresh that there is something worth living for (even something worth dying for); that life really has meaning.

My final word is to my non-Christian friend. Do you know what the Bible says about you? Because you do not know God, you do not have real hope. You, no doubt, are trying to make some sense of your life; you are trying to find some meaning to your life. You may turn to your career, you may turn to material things, you may pour your energy into acquiring assets because you think that these accomplishments will give your life some meaning and value, but listen – at the end of the day you will discover that when you get your 'heart's desire,' it will not be what you really want; it will not satisfy you, and you will still be disappointed and empty.

I want to invite you to come to Christ and place your trust in Him. He is the only One who can satisfy. He is the only one who can fill your emptiness and remove that sense of disappointment and futility. He is the only one that can give meaning to your life. Won't you come?