The following is an assignment from my ST106 class (Eschatology) wherein we were required to write a 1-page, single spaced paper responding to the following prompt: Discuss the priority of Hope in Christian Eschatology. What is its content? What is its value? How has eschatological hope affected you personally in life and ministry?
In determining the level of priority which “hope” takes in Christian Eschatology, one must answer two questions, at least. First, “Hope in, or that, what?” and second, “How does the Christian go about hoping?” The result of answering these two questions will do the bulk of the work in assigning a priority level to the concept of hope in Christian eschatology.
First, “Hope in, or that, what?” As a verb, “hope” implies an object. In what, or for what, does the Christian hope? The object of the Christian hope is, put simply, resurrection. The Christian hopes that he will be resurrected, and that he will be so by grace alone, through faith alone, not by works of the law (Hab 2:4; Eph 2:8-10). Christianity posits that Jesus, as the messiah first promised to humanity in Genesis 3:15, paid the penalty of sin for all who believe in him, and thus secured their resurrection for them (Rom 3:21-26). Now, hope that one will be literally brought back to life on this earth (Rev 21:1), after one has died (1 Thess 4:13), hope that breath will be put back in lungs that once stopped, that flesh will be re-wrapped around bones that once decayed, that thoughts will enter brains that once rotted, and food and drink will enter stomachs that once dried and withered, in short, hope of resurrection, is quite a ridiculous hope without any sort of guarantee or evidence of such a thing. The Christian sees a guarantee of this hope in the first fruits of his own resurrection, namely, the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:20-23), his head (Eph 5:23). It is because Jesus has already been resurrected that the Christian has grounds to believe he will be resurrected on the basis of the exact same work that resurrected Jesus: namely, the crucifixion of God. It is because God took on human form, and paid the penalty of sin where no payment was required, that such payment can be passed on (Rom 6:6-11) to those who are counted among God’s chosen people; his body (1 Cor 12:12). And it is for this reason that, if Christ has not been raised from the dead, that Christians are, of all men, the most to be pitied (1 Cor 15:12-19). Their hope would be, not in resurrection, but in vain. This is what the Christian hopes for, hopes in: a divine work of God by his grace, to resurrect him after death, on a new earth, for all eternity.
Second, “How does the Christian go about hoping?” The belief, the hope, that I will be resurrected to a new earth, not because of the good I do, but in spite of the bad, for Christ’s sake, causes me, the Christian, to radically alter my daily interactions. By knowing that I will live for eternity after death, and I will still be “me,” I must rethink the way I treat my neighbor, my parents, my wife, my children, even my acquaintances. For not only will I be resurrected, but they may be as well. How horrible a thought to be resurrected for all eternity, to daily see the man from whom I stole a weed-eater, or with the woman whom I hated in my heart for her annoying talkativeness? For all eternity to go on seeing Bob from next door, all while knowing his property sat in my garage for 20 years, or to go on seeing Susie and knowing I went on nursing feelings of resentment and hatred, is a maddening thought. Much better to return the weed eater, apologize to Susie, and plead for mercy from them both. It will be done now by my own choice, or it will be done then by the compulsion of a just and wrathful God. So then, the Christian goes about hoping for the resurrection by daily aligning his desires and actions with those prescribed for him by the eternal, loving, good God, under whose rule he will be living in said resurrection. He goes about hoping for the resurrection, by becoming now the person he would like to be, and indeed is commanded to be, for eternity. As Jesus summarized, he goes about hoping for the resurrection, by loving his neighbor as himself, and loving his Lord God with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mat 22:34-40). Of what priority is hope of the resurrection in Christian eschatology? Of paramount priority, second only to the fact of resurrection itself. It is the fact of resurrection in which we hope, and the hope of resurrection that gives meaning to our Eschatology, and thus meaning to all the rest of our theology when properly thought through to its logical conclusion.