Eternal Hope – Part 41

Eternal Hope – Part 41

September, 2011

Dear Co-Laborer,

Eternal Hope
Part 41


In the last three issues of the Dear Co-laborer letter I sought to address my concerns regarding what I called “Drifting Towards Dumbness.” Before continuing with the question of eternal hope in the Old Testament, allow me to give a brief summary of where we had been prior to this digression.

With the theme of eternal hope playing such a significant part in the lives of New Testament believers, I find it startling to discover that we have no record of God giving the individual an eternal hope in the Old Testament. We do see a gradual shift from the temporal to the eternal, the nation to the individual, and action to motive, particularly as we move to the exilic and post-exilic prophets. For example, God says through Daniel, “Many of those that sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to eternal life, others to reproaches, to everlasting abhorrence.”[1] This promise of the resurrection was never given to any particular individual, however.

In the Synoptics, although Jesus ministered to the masses through acts of healing, most of His dialogue was either with the Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, or with His disciples. His words are, for the most part, void of grace; they deal with God’s rejection and judgment. Only when we come to John’s gospel do we encounter a different tone. Most of the material in John’s gospel cannot be found in the other three gospels, and in John Jesus talks about election. Because election and grace are the head and tail of the same coin, you also see in John an emphasis on grace not found in the Synoptics. For example, Jesus says, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.”[2] The believer finds his security in the fact that God chose him rather than vice versa.

We will now return to an examination of the remaining portions of the New Testament to note the authors’ references to an eternal hope. The Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke, doesn’t differ appreciably from what we find in the exilic and post-exilic prophets.

Reflections on Acts

Peter preaches the first sermons in Acts, and does not differ appreciably from the message of Ezekiel:[3] God demands righteousness, justice, and purity, and the people must repent to receive the forgiveness of God. Peter adds that God raised Jesus from the dead and those repenting must be baptized in His name – a message not all that different from John the Baptist’s. Peter’s message at Pentecost referenced the unjust crucifixion of Christ, but made no reference to Christ’s propitiation as the basis of God’s forgiveness and only mentioned forgiveness of sins in response to questions and not in the context of Christ’s death:

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.”[4]å

Note the following from this first recorded sermon after the Ascension of Christ:
1 – Peter seems to have a boldness and ability to articulate that he did not manifest in the gospels.
2 – He has a grasp of the OT Scriptures that appears to be new, quoting from Joel and the Psalms.
3 – He does not separate the two advents of Christ when referring to Joel, indicating that he anticipated the imminent return of Christ; he believes that all of Joel is either fulfilled or about to be fulfilled.
4 – The people are called upon to believe in Jesus and be baptized in His name for the forgiveness of sin, but as noted above, I see no link between the death of Christ and God forgiving sin. Peter makes no reference to the theology of the cross.
5 – “Many wonders and signs were done through the apostles,” indicating that they were an impetus to believing.
6 – They “had all things in common, and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all as any had need.” Did they do this because they anticipated the immediate return of Christ? Did this add to the problem of their dependence upon the generosity of the Gentile churches, as Augustine seems to suggest?

After healing the lame man in Acts 3, Peter preached to the crowd, “But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.”[5] Once again, note that this message (minus the reference to Christ) does not differ from Ezekiel’s message.

After Peter was released from the Jewish leaders, the people prayed essentially the same thing as Peter had preached.[6] In Acts 5, when Peter was re-arrested, he testified to the council: “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”[7] Nothing in this material suggests that Jesus’ death, as a propitiation for sin was the necessary ground for God’s forgiveness.

Stephen’s long sermon to the Council in Acts 7 does not mention repentance or forgiveness; the present generation of leaders merely repeated the mistakes of their fathers who unjustly opposed God.

Peter told Simon, who practiced magic and wanted to buy the power of the Holy Spirit, “Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.”[8]

When Jesus revealed Himself to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road, He said nothing about sin and forgiveness.

Peter, when preaching to Cornelius’ household said, “To Him all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”[9]

Paul preached in the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, “Let it be known to you therefore, brethren, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him every one that believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.”[10]

At the Jerusalem Council Peter acknowledged that his message did not differ from Paul’s, “But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”[11]

In Philippi, after Paul and Silas were thrown in prison, they testified to the jailer that if he wished to be saved he must “believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”[12]

When in Athens, Paul preached at the Areopagus, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead.”[13]

Paul, when returning from his third missionary journey, reminded the Ephesian elders that he, “testif(ied) both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”[14] After arriving in Jerusalem, Paul sought to testify to the Jews in the Temple, but he wasn’t able to make any reference to their need to repent or Jesus’ propitious death as the means whereby God can forgive.

Finally, in the last recorded sermon in Acts, Paul preached before King Agrippa, “…to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me…. That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.”[15]

From this analysis of Acts we discover that although the apostles introduced Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises, their message regarding the need to repent in order to receive God’s forgiveness, did not differ all that much from that of Ezekiel and other Old Testament exilic and post-exilic prophets. We are not introduced to the theology of the Cross until the New Testament epistles. As far as I can tell the apostles in Acts also do not emphasize an eternal hope,[16] which, as we have already discovered, is so ubiquitous in the teaching of the Lord Jesus. The only reference to “eternal” in Acts comes from Luke’s comment, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”[17] “Heaven” is never used as the place the saints go after death. The word “hope,” connected to the idea of the believer’s eternal hope, appears twice in reference to the resurrection from the dead.[18]


We began this series by calling attention to the importance of hope; without hope people despair and lose their motivation for living. But like most things in life, hope carries with it the sober realization that the object of your hope determines how you live. If you hope in God, then you must meet His expectations in order to reap the benefits of your relationship with Him. If you hope in heaven you acknowledge the reality of hell. Hope is defined as future anticipation and people take their risks (faith) in the direction of their hope. An eternal hope means you live as the slave of Jesus Christ, acknowledging that: a) – you cannot be certain that God exists or that He “rewards them that diligently seek him,”[19]and b) – if He does exist, He will hold you accountable for the way you live.

Yours for a life of obedience,


[1] Daniel 12:2, JPS
[2] John 15:16, KJV
[3] Cf., e.g., Ezekiel 18:21-28.
[4] Acts 2:37-39 RSV
[5] Acts 3:19-20 RSV – Peter no doubt refers to the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel as seen in Malachi 4:6: “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Cf. also Matthew 17:11 and Acts 1:6.) That Peter had Israel in mind is supported by the fact that Peter didn’t know God planned on including the Gentiles until He revealed it to Peter in Acts 10:9-16.
[6] Cf. Acts 4:24-30
[7] Acts 5:29-32 RSV.
[8] Acts 8:22 RSV.
[9] Acts 10:43 RSV.
[10] Acts 13:38-39 RSV.
[11] Acts 15:11 RSV.
[12] Acts 16:31 RSV.
[13] Acts 17:30-31 RSV.
[14] Acts 20:21 RSV.
[15] Acts 26:18, 23 KJV.
[16] You catch glimpses of it (mostly by inference) in passages such as Acts 26:23 where Paul says that Jesus is “the first to rise from the dead.”
[17] Acts 13:48 KJV
[18] In Acts 23:6 and 24:15 Paul makes this link while defending himself against the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection. You get the impression that Paul did this to cause division among his accusers.
[19] Hebrews 11:6, KJV