Our Sanctifying Hope
Our Sanctifying Hope
The apostles tell us that early on Sunday morning before the sun came up Jesus rose from the dead. The first people to learn about this were the three women who went to prepare the body for burial. They were greeted by an empty tomb. Initially, they thought someone took the body, but then two angels appeared to them. On their way back to town Jesus Himself also appeared to them. Mark tells us that the apostles refused to believe the report from the women. When Peter and John heard what the women said, they raced to the tomb and also found it empty.
Luke tells us that as they were telling the others about what they saw, Jesus appeared to the eleven and rebuked them for not believing the reports about His resurrection. The moment they saw Him they were terrified. This is the man they saw dying on the cross two days ago. This is the body they helped carry to the tomb. Luke says that they thought they were seeing a ghost. But then Jesus gave proof that He was alive by eating with them and allowing them to touch Him. This event is unique in the history of the world. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the historical evidence your faith rests on. And, it’s pointed to as the evidence for the things that God has promised us.
Resurrection and an earthly Kingdom
So, what has God promised us? Beginning in Daniel 12:1-2 we read,
1 “Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.
2 Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.”
What is being explained to Daniel here is a condensed version of what will happen in the last days. I want you to focus on verse 2 for our purpose. Here we read about the resurrection. There will be a divide, some are raised to everlasting life and others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. But notice, Daniel is told specifically that these things pertain to the nation of Israel because twice we read “your people”.
In the book of Revelation this explanation that was given to Daniel is expanded on. Chapters 6-19 of Revelation clarifies what we read about in verse 1 of Daniel 12. This is the “time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time” and the ultimate rescue of the Jewish nation. But then, as we come to Revelation 20:1-15 we read about the resurrection foretold in Daniel 12:2. Only, notice that there is a very important event that divides the resurrection of the first group and the second.
1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand.
2 And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;
3 and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.
4 Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.
6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
When interpreting prophecy, you must always remember that the church, this is the entity God established in Acts, was a mystery that was not revealed in the Old Testament. The church is not the same as the nation of Israel though the church consists of Jews. The unique feature of the church is that it consists of both Jews and non-Jews whereas the Jewish nation to whom all of the promises were made consists only of Jews. So, whenever we read prophetic messages, even the explanations Jesus gave in Matthew 24-25, you must remember that they primarily deal with the nation of Israel. It’s only in the New Testament that the Holy Spirit explains how the church fits in with God’s plan with His nation. The book of Revelation is an expansion of the prophesies of the Old Testament. We must turn to the writings of Paul to see how we as the church fit into this picture.
But before we do that, what we read about here in Revelation 20:1-6 are the events that follow the great and terrible time spoken of in Daniel 12:1. Revelation 20:2 says that Satan will be bound for one thousand years. It’s during this time that verse 4 says there will be a resurrection. And those who are raised from the dead will reign with Christ for one thousand years. This is in fulfilment of the promises God made to the nation of Israel. They were promised a kingdom whose authority stretches the entire globe. In other words, here will be the first global empire or a world power in the fullest sense of the word. And Jesus Christ, who is the descendent of David through whom this promise if fulfilled (Rom. 1:1-4), will reign.
Jesus, the awaited King of the earthly Kingdom
2 Samuel 7:12-16 is a record of the covenant God made with King David. In verse 12-13 we read that God will raise up a son after David dies who will reign over Israel, and that God will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. In verse 16 God confirms this promise to David saying, “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.” This promise has clearly not been fulfilled. Shortly after Solomon’s reign the kingdom is split in two. Solomon is the man verse 13 refers to. We know from 1 Kings 12 that the kingdom splits under the reign of Solomon’s son. In addition, in 722 BC the northern kingdom is taken into exile by Assyria and they are never restored. The southern kingdom of Judah and Benjamin is also exiled in 586 BC, but they are restored 70 years later. From that time on Israel has never been a prominent power on the world stage.
Since that time there has always been an expectation among the Jewish nation of a king who will come from the line of David. A king who will establish a kingdom that controls the entire world. The New Testament clearly sees Jesus as that king. Even as the Lord ascends back to heaven the apostles ask Him,
6 “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” (Acts 1:6-7)
What they ask tells us that they were expecting Jesus, as the king, to inaugurate this kingdom. Israel is still expecting the fulfilment of the David covenant.
The church, the tribulation and the thousand-year reign of Christ
Now, what we don’t see in the Old Testament prophesies is the interim plan that precedes the fulfilment of the Davidic covenant of 2 Samuel 7:12-16. What we know today is that from the resurrection of Christ to the resurrection spoken of in Revelation 20, God established the church, and through the church He has called the Gentile nations to Himself. The purpose was to include them in the rich promises made to Israel. This is how you and I will be included in the Davidic covenant, or earthly kingdom, that Jesus will establish.
1 Corinthians 15:50-57 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 both speak about the event we know as the rapture. In both passages Paul is speaking to the church and says that the church will be raised from the dead, and those who are alive at the time will be transformed in the blink of an eye. In 1 Thessalonians 4:17 Paul explicitly says that we will all be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8 Paul expands on this event and shows its connection with the terrible time prophesied about in Daniel 12:1. The rapture according to Paul is the first event that sets off that horrific time. He puts it like this:
3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it (the time prophesied about in Daniel 12:1 and Revelation 6-19) will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,
4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.
5 Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?
6 And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed.
7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.
8 Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming.
(2 Thess. 2:3-8)
Verses 6-7 say that something needs to be removed before those events can take place. It is my opinion that it is the Holy Spirit working through the church that needs to be removed. The church is the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13-14). When it is not there to perform those tasks, the world will have no light to interpret the Word, nor will it have anyone to speak preserving truth to it. That’s when the lie will prevail and there will be a great apostacy. All those who claimed to be Christians will fall away from the faith, just like Judas.
And so, the church is removed through the rapture event prophesied about here (1 Thess. 2:6-7). This is God’s promise to you and me. We will not be part of that terrible time of judgment coming over the whole world. Once we are taken out of the way, the prophesies of Daniel 12:1 and Revelation 6-19 will come about. And then, we will come with Christ when He comes to reign on the earth. And we will share in the reign of the kingdom He will establish. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the evidence and forerunner to what God has promised us. Just as He was resurrected on that day, so we will be brought back to life and given an immortal body to reign and live with Him.
How does this hope determine life today?
Marriage is a good picture to illustrate how this hope of ours shapes our everyday lives. Marriage is a wonderful gift from God. And the wedding day is one of the great highlights in every marriage. I think you will all agree with me that the greater joy belongs to the bride on that day. She is the one we wait for when we sit in the venue, waiting for the moment to arrive. She gets all the attention when she arrives and walks down the aisle. It’s for her that we stand in honour as she walks to meet her husband to be. She is the most precious and celebrated person on that day as her father gives her as a gift to her husband. On that day there’s also no one so elegantly adorned as the bride. But you will also agree that she’s not thinking about any of those things. She is thinking about her husband. She cannot wait to see him. To be given to him and to be united with him. She prepares herself and does everything within her means to be ready when she arrives at the venue. She wants to take his breath away, and so she stylishly and tastefully adorns herself.
In the same way, Christian, the church is being prepared to meet her husband. You are part of the church and you make up part of the body that has been washed and is being adorned for her husband. Your holy life matters not just to you, but to all of us. It’s important because we want to be ready when He comes. We want to present ourselves to Him like a bride, stylishly and tastefully adorned with a holy life. May I remind you of what I have said before? When you hear “holy life”, you must immediately think love. A life that is marked by love for God and neighbour.
Look to what lengths our forefathers went to prepare themselves. In Hebrews 11:4-39 the writer lists example after example of believers who sacrificed to make sure they are ready to meet the Lord. The writer says they all walked by faith. That is, they set their hope on the promises of God and this led them to do the following:
24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter,
25 choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin,
26 considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.
32 And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets,
33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions,
34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
35 Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection;
36 and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment.
37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated
38 (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.
This is the heritage that has been left for us.
The apostle John exhorts us to the same endurance and perseverance as we see our forefathers exercised, saying,
2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.
3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (1 Jn. 3:2-3)
Both Paul and Peter say the same thing to us:
1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Cor. 7:1)
13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance,
15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behaviour;
16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
(1 Pet. 1:13-16)
We pursue sanctification because we want to be ready and adorned when the Lord comes. Imagine what the bride would feel like who left her preparations for the last hour. This is the stuff of nightmares! She would be ashamed. She would never be able to greet him with the joy the occasion calls for. But the bride that has done everything within her means to be ready will walk down the aisle radiant. Is she perfect? No, but she has done everything she can to be as prepared as she can be. This is what your hope does. When He comes you are going to be resurrected. You are going to see Him as He is. You are going to reign with Him. His resurrection is the evidence and foundation for this hope. Prepare to meet Him!! Make sure that you are ready!!
Each one of us make part of the one big body that waits for the Lord. Each one of us will add to the joy – or the shame – of meeting Him. We have one hope and we are preparing together. Let us then seek ways to encourage each other to prepare and be ready to meet Him when He comes. May the Holy Spirit give you grace even in this day to do something that might impart grace to someone else in the church. May you help someone else to hate sin and love righteousness more today than what they did yesterday. And may that increase until we all soon shall see Him.