“We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel…” (Colossians 1:3-5).
I always was cautious about insisting that eschatology (the study of the end times) was really a necessary component in sharing the gospel. I really didn’t insist on it until I studied this passage. Then I got to thinking, “Apparently, when Paul preached the gospel to the Colossians, he included the ‘hope laid up for (them) in heaven.’” That’s eschatology.
Not only that, but this “hope” was also the driving force, it seems, behind their faith in Christ Jesus and the love they had for all the saints. If that hope that Paul included in the gospel could incite them to faith and love, we would be foolish to leave it out of our gospel, wouldn’t we?
So, what is this hope?
I think it’s necessary to point out that Christians at that time were all futurists. That means, they believed this hope laid up for them was in their future. What do we know about this future hope for them?
1. This future hope united them in love. Paul says his prayers stem from hearing about their faith in Christ Jesus and “the love which you have for all the saints...” This love he says is “because of the hope…” The hope they had united them in love; it did not divide them. It’s not New Testament futurism (or any theology, really) that says, “Believe like us or we break fellowship.”
2. Their future hope was tied to the gospel. Paul says of this hope that they heard about it “in the word of truth, the gospel.” This makes me wonder about attaching the “end times” to the actual sharing of the gospel. I used to think that end times theology was really not necessary in the preaching of the gospel. Now I’m not so sure.
I always thought that, because of all the different views of the end times, we shouldn’t even bring up our views on the subject because it really doesn’t have anything to do with salvation. Again, now I’m not so sure.
I don’t mean by this that if you don’t believe eschatological position X, you’re not saved. God gives us a lot of room for error when it comes to our theology. We are not saved because we have razor-sharp accuracy of every point of doctrine.
However, what we believe about the end times can mean the difference in a life of spiritual joy and riches or spiritual poverty. Let’s look at another place where Paul mentions “hope” and what he connects to that hope.
Look at Romans 8 beginning with v. 18. I’ll not do a detailed exposition, but here are some observations:
1. The creation was waiting for the revealing of the sons of God. The sons of God were those who were led by the Spirit (v. 14). The sufferings of that present time (the first century; not our present time) were caused by others also claiming the title of “sons of God.” They were those who believed that their claim to the favor of God was because of their faithfulness to the ritual worship of the temple – the sacrifices, the priesthood, the dietary laws, the observance of Sabbaths and holy days. The creation looked on asking the question: Which of these really are the sons of God?
2. Paul said this revealing was “about” to take place. In the Greek text, there is the word “mello,” which means “about to, on the brink of.” The Young’s Literal Translation is the only English translation to bring this out: “For I reckon that the sufferings of the present time [are] not worthy [to be compared] with the glory about to be revealed in us.”
3. Paul mentions the “hope” in v. 20. Rather than explaining the hope as some universe-ending cataclysm, Paul describes it as the time when “the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” I think the best way to understand this freedom for which they hoped is to examine the letter to the Galatians. The freedom needed by the children of God is not from a supposedly sin-besotted planet, but from the burden of Old Covenant religion which the wannabe sons of God used to accuse day and night those of faith in Christ.
4. In AD 70, the Roman army, after a 3 ½ year siege, breached the walls of Jerusalem and destroyed the city and the temple. I don’t think we appreciate the significance of this historical event in redemptive history. This event totally wiped out any claim that anyone could make that their faithfulness to the temple ritual crowned them as a “son of God.” With the whole center of Old Covenant religion destroyed, there was only one body standing that could claim the title of “sons of God” – those who walked in the Spirit. The creation now had their question answered as to the identity of the true sons of God.
This was the “hope” to which they looked forward. This was the event that would reveal them – the followers of Christ – as the true children of God.
Now to the part that beautifully illuminates the gospel. In Romans 8:31, Paul sums up what he’s been saying thus far. “What shall we say then to these things?” I see this as Paul putting the “hope” to which they looked into a single thought:
“If God is for us, who can be against us?”
In the midst of all the pain, suffering, tribulation, persecution and anguish the Christians bore, the questions on their minds were, “With all the difficulty we’re going through, could it be that we really are going against God? Has our abandonment of the Old Covenant ritual brought upon us the wrath of God? Is God really for us, or is he bent on punishing us for leaving the temple worship?”
Paul wanted the Christians to know – and for us to know today – that no matter what kind of pain, suffering, anguish, tribulation or accusations they underwent, they were still the object of God’s infinite love. Their suffering was not the result of God’s disfavor, anger or rejection.
This was the hope to which they looked forward. They looked forward to a hope where the Father, who they were told loved them, would destroy the temple--the corrupt, ineffectual temple system, the home of those who heaped upon them daily condemnation and persecution. The “end times” for the Christians was the ultimate statement from the Father: I am for you!
It is totally contrary to the gospel today to preach to a person that they are “saved by grace” and then turn around and heap guilt upon them because they fail to keep some jot or tittle of the church or denominational tradition. Many Christians today are deflated because someone condemns them because they haven’t been baptized just right, or haven’t attended the right church, or don’t believe certain doctrines just right, or they don’t read the right translation of the Bible or …. and the list goes on.
The good news of the gospel is that by being in Christ, and only by being in Christ, God is for you. Solidly, unmovingly, lovingly, soundly and eternally for you. If you are in the midst of disaster, trial, tribulation, hardship, sorrow, loss or death, the gospel has a message for you: God is for you. There is nothing that can happen to a child of God in Christ that would change this great truth: God is for you.
We today don’t look into the future for that assurance like they did. We look back. We look back to the work of Christ, including that which was to the first century Christians a “hope” and stand on the solid rock that “GOD IS FOR US.” We don’t look forward to that hope like they did, we look back to a promise fulfilled.
Christians, be encouraged that we do not wait for a future event to let us know of God’s love for us. We can see now when we look at the skyline of Jerusalem and see the absence of the Old Covenant temple that the Father does not accept us on the basis of ritual religion or denominational tradition, but the finished work of his son says: God is for you!
Grand Junction, Colorado