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A Theology of Hope

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

—Horatio Spafford, “It Is Well With My Soul”

Dispensational eschatology¹ often receives the accusation from those against it that it is escapist or pessimistic.

As for escapist, I would have to say that it is a good idea to escape.  The Lord’s forerunner, John the Baptist, said to the Pharisees and Sadducees when they came to his baptism of repentance, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7), and in so saying, he demanded fruits meet for repentance and warned of a coming baptism with fire with which the one mightier than he would baptize them.  The baptism with fire is wrath to come, and if they would flee from it, fruits meet for repentance would be required.  In saying this, it was a warning to not only fulfill their religious duty, but to have the reality (the fruits meet for repentance) to match the ceremony (the baptism of repentance).  But fleeing, however, especially from the wrath of God that is coming, is the right thing to do.

In our day, we are not preaching the “gospel of the kingdom”, heralding the kingdom of heaven to be at hand, but the gospel of God’s grace, in which we preach the cross of Christ for salvation from sin and the ensuing wrath that will come as God’s judgment.  When Christ came to earth the first time, He came proclaiming the prophesied kingdom to be indeed at hand, because the King was Himself in their presence.  After His death and resurrection, Peter, to whom the keys of the kingdom were given, actually offered the kingdom to the nation if they would repent, especially in context of rejecting and crucifying God’s Christ:

Acts 3:19–21 — “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”

The kingdom offer was never accepted, but indeed willfully rejected.  They fulfilled that which the Lord taught His disciples in Luke 19:11–14, declaring by the persecution against His apostles “we will not have this man to reign over us”.

In so doing, they left one thing for themselves:

Luke 19:27 — “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.”

But the witness of Scripture, and of history, is that God’s Christ did not return to take His kingdom and to slay His enemies, but He is longsuffering and waiting.  This time that we are living in is characterized by His longsuffering.  During this time, it is a “day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2), and God is administering His affairs in this world by grace.  The stewardship² of this grace was given to the Apostle Paul, to be His house manager³ during this time:

Ephesians 3:1–2 — “For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward…”

During this day of salvation, we are being encouraged to “flee from the wrath to come”, so being called “escapist” as a term of disparagement is unfounded.  We are, in fact, told explicitly that we are not the objects of God’s wrath, and this in context of the Lord’s return to catch us away to forever be with Him:

1 Thessalonians 5:8–10 — “But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.”

So in this time when God is administering the affairs of this world by His grace, we are not instructed to await wrath, or to build the kingdom, advance the kingdom, or to do anything about the kingdom, save to represent the One that God has anointed to be both Lord and Christ, and to live as summed up in these instructions of grace:

Titus 2:11–14 — “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”

That is not a lazy, escapist, or a pessimistic theology;  it is a theology of hope.  In the classic hymn, written during a time in the hymn-writer’s life that was, by all human standards, we see a reflection of that hope:

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

The apostle Paul teaches this in his epistle to the Thessalonians, not in a context of despair and retreat, but in context of standing firm and being comforted (our understanding of “comfort” brings the thought of a pillow, but we should think of being strengthened and encouraged, rather than having all of our problems taken away) by this hope.

1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 — “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

“For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them 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.”

It certainly can be well with our souls, knowing that we have this hope in heaven vested in our Lord Jesus Christ awaiting His return.  And we are not waiting on death to be with Him either.  A senior gentleman at a church that I once attended often would say, “I’m not waiting on the undertaker, I’m waiting on the upper-taker”.  Now this man has since met with the undertaker, but he will one day meet with the upper-taker.  The dead in Christ, and those alive and remaining until His coming, will meet Him in the air, and that is a hopeful theology.

Notice that we who are in Christ are never instructed to look for the antichrist, or to try and figure out his identity through some secret special revelation.  That is the business of prophecy-buffs who never have learned to rightly divide the word of truth and selectively bring kingdom teachings into the present dispensation leading to sensationalism and confusion, all the while setting dates leading to disappointment.

But the church of the Thessalonians was commended that they learned to “wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).  So while some may want to disparage those of us waiting on the Lord, while they attempt to build or advance the kingdom, let us continue to take our place with those that have learned to trust the Lord and believe His word.

If you have placed your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, you also are delivered from the wrath to come, so rejoice in it.  There is, however, wrath and war, the judgment against this sinful world that has long rejected His grace and His offer of amnesty to all the people of this world if they will but believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, the one Who died for their sins and rose again from the dead.

2 Corinthians 6:1–2 — “We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)”

Endnotes:


  1. Dispensational Bible teaching is not eschatology.  Too many claim dispensationalism just because they have “premillennial” theology and believe in a “pretribulational rapture”.  Those positions do not come out of nowhere, and without a dispensational framework for understanding the scriptures in their entirety, and especially in understanding the revelation that the Lord Jesus gave to the Apostle Paul as distinct from the prophetic scriptures (which it in no way contradicts, but teaches a secret never before revealed), their “dispensational premillennialism” falls apart.
  2. The word which we have translated as “dispensation” is the word οἰκονομία (oikonomia), and is elsewhere translated as “stewardship”, as in Luke 16:1–4.  It is a term related to managing the affairs of another.  Another term in current usage is administration.  Now, I understand here that I am opening up myself to ridicule by saying this, but in 2019, we could well say that we in the United States of America are living in the days of the Trump dispensation.  Now before you classify me as a dispensationalist loon, hear this out.  I am not referring to a dispensation of God, but a human governmental arrangement that is in charge of managing the affairs of the nation.  If we understand dispensations in that way, we make better sense of the present dispensation of God’s grace, committed to the Apostle Paul by Jesus Christ, where He is managing His affairs in the world by grace.
  3. In Luke 12:42–48, the Lord spoke about a steward, as also in Luke 16:1–8.  These are hard parables to understand if we think of ourselves as these “stewards”.  But if we understand this steward to be the Israelite nation, and its leaders in particular, it comes together.  Israel was the manager of God’s affairs on the earth (Exodus 19:5–6; Romans 3:1–2).  He created them as a nation to be just that.  There was definite responsibilities involved and they had not lived up to their end of the deal throughout their history.  If we understand this, and that the Lord’s first sojourn upon this planet involved a call to return to this place of stewardship, these two parables, among many other portions of the so-called “four gospels” become much easier to understand.

Charles Miller View All

Husband, father, engineer...Enjoys fishing, archery, guitar, running, and lifting, but most of all reading and studying God's Word.

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