Eternal Hope – Part 42

Eternal Hope – Part 42

November 2011

Dear Co-Laborer,

Eternal Hope
Part 42


We are indebted to the Apostle Paul for many things, not the least of which is the theology of the Christian Church. Paul, more than any other biblical writer, lays emphasis on grace – that a person is justified before God without reference to his works. Of Paul’s epistles, most agree that Romans stands at the pinnacle of his writings.

Reflections on Romans

Paul addresses an eternal hope for the first time in the context of judgment: “To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life.”[1] Note that he seems to say a person can obtain eternal life by good works, something the whole of his epistle refutes.

Paul references the resurrection with the words, “as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’ — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” [2] This resurrection does not lead to eternal life, but rather to the continuation of temporal life – as illustrated by what would have happened if Abraham had killed Isaac and God raised him from the dead. God raised Jesus from the dead: “But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification,”[3] but Paul does not connect this with an eternal hope.

Romans ties Christ’s death with the sinner’s forgiveness, implying that we have, as a result, eternal hope: “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”[4] Paul connects the two later: “so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”[5] And again, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[6]

In the great chapter on assurance of salvation, Paul says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.”[7] And again, “it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him… we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies… And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.”[8]

Returning to the certainty of judgment, Paul says, “But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God.”[9] With these words, you don’t so much gain an eternal hope as the certainty of eternal accountability.

Reflections on 1 Corinthians

Paul begins this letter by contrasting the wisdom of God with the wisdom of the world. In so doing, he implies both an eternal hope and the propitious death of Christ for sinners: “So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ… But we preach Christ crucified…”[10]

Not only can the believer legitimately hope in a life after death, Paul warns that the quality of that life depends on how he lives his present life: “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”[11] Temporal behavior has eternal consequences, and heaven will not be of the same quality for all believers. Those reading Paul’s epistle ought to take care to make application, for “the Lord (will) come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.” [12]

The believer participates in the Lord’s Supper as a testimony to the fact that he anticipates Christ’s return: “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.”[13]

For Paul, understanding the judgment of God plays an important role in preparing for eternity. Some sins, when willfully committed, deprive an individual of any assurance of heaven: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.”[14]

Because this life prepares a person for eternity, the stakes are so high that Paul encourages, but does not command, people to remain celibate so they can concentrate on accruing eternal profit.[15] Paul himself lived so focused: “For I would that all men were even as myself… Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”[16] Again, Paul admonishes his readers to emulate him in this regard: “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.”[17]

When the believer leaves this life for an eternity with God, he carries with him the need to walk by faith, maintain hope, and practice love: “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”[18] Loves is the greatest of the three, for it, unlike faith and hope, is an attribute of God.

When Paul addresses the issue of the resurrection, he articulates an eternal hope; the certainty of the resurrection guarantees eternal life. Note three consequences if there is no resurrection: First, “For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised.” Christ remains in His grave. Second, “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” Without the resurrection of Christ, the believer loses all hope of heaven. Third, “Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.”[19] Death ends everything, and this means that for those who die having lived a short or pain-filled life, life is a sick joke.

In this epistle Paul outlines the order of events when God terminates history as we know it: “Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”[20] “But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he (Christ) shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he (Christ) shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he (Christ) must reign, till he (Father) hath put all enemies under his (Christ’s) feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he (Father) hath put all things under his (Christ’s) feet. But when he (Father) saith all things are put under him, (Christ) it is manifest that he (Father) is excepted, which did put all things under him (Christ). And when all things shall be subdued unto him (Christ), then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him (Father) that put all things under him (Christ), that God may be all in all.”[21] Before Christ’s ascension, the Father reigned, as evidenced by Jesus seeking only the will of His Father. After the ascension the Father rules through Christ. When the end comes, Christ will deliver up this administrative kingdom, and God will again be all in all. When Christ ascended, all power in heaven and earth was given to Him, His not having possessed it before. He retains this power until His enemies are put under His feet. Then Christ delivers it to the Father. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord… Maranatha.”[22]


Throughout Scripture God tests His people, usually for the purpose of helping them define their hope. As Paul says in Romans 5:3-5: “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” You can see these various tests as illustrated by:

1 – At Kadesh Barnea, did Israel hope in the deliverance of God, or the strength of her own arm?

2 – When Israel was sent into Babylon for 70 years, God promised to return them to their land. Many returned, but many stayed in Babylon, probably for financial reasons. Was their hope in what God promised, or in what they were able to temporally accrue by their wits?

3 – God uses prosperity in the lives of the NT saints to test them regarding their hope by asking them to be generous.

4 – God uses adversity in the lives of the NT saints to test them regarding their hope by asking them to be grateful.

5 – God postpones His return to test the people regarding their hope of heaven. The believer pleads with God for His imminent return as an expression of his eternal hope.

6 – God gives many the opportunity to retire from their vocation, to test them regarding their understanding of their purpose.

In Christ,


[1] Romans 2:7, KJV
[2] Romans 4:17, RSV
[3] Romans 4:24-25, KJV
[4] Romans 5:6-9, NAS
[5] Romans 5:21, RSV
[6] Romans 6:23, RSV
[7] Romans 8:11, RSV
[8] Romans 8:16-17, 23, 30, RSV
[9] Romans 14:10-12, NAS
[10] I Corinthians 1:7-8, 23, KJV
[11] I Corinthians 3:13-15, KJV
[12] I Corinthians 4:5, KJV
[13] I Corinthians 11:26, KJV
[14] I Corinthians 6:9-10, RSV
[15] Cf., e.g., I Corinthians 7:8-9, 32-35
[16] I Corinthians 7:7, 9:24-27, KJV
[17] I Corinthians 11:31-32, KJV
[18] I Corinthians 13:13, RSV
[19] I Corinthians 15:16-18, KJV
[20] I Corinthians 15:51-53, KJV
[21] I Corinthians 15:23-28, KJV
[22] I Corinthians 15:58, 16:22, KJV