Historic Christian Hope

Historic Christian Hope

What is the Christian hope?

The hope that Jesus gives his followers brings them joy and peace in this life (Romans 15:13)

stories of hope

But the greatest Christian hope is for the future.

The following post includes discussion of life and death. Please contact us if this is a current issue and you would like some support. See our blog or stories of hope for more personal reflections.

There seem so many fantasies about what the afterlife is like (if it is anything at all). Novels, poems and now even a Disney film have all described ‘life beyond death’. The variety of dreamed up afterlives is creative, but also mystifying. Because the scenarios are so wildly different, the question “Is this really what happens?” won’t go away. What’s more, it all seems to be just wishful optimism.

So what versions of life after death that have been proposed?

Disney Pixar film “Soul” (2020) pictures it like this: There is a surreal world ‘ the great before’ inhabited by souls. These souls travel to earth to enter a human life… and once mistakenly entering a cat, with LOL consequences. After life on earth, a great heavenly conveyor belt carries many souls that have left earth to ‘the great beyond.’ The great beyond is a bright light into which the souls twinkle quite peacefully out of existence. (But the lead character resists this fate.) What’s the appeal? On the plus side, there is a positive message. Life is a one way journey, so enjoy each moment as a precious gift, appreciate it before the inevitable. On the other hand, there is not much comfort in terms of afterlife. At best, a peaceful passing into a destiny of non-existence, nothingness.

What other ideas have been dreamed up?

The popular poem “Do not stand at my grave and weep” tries to offer comfort to the mourner by suggesting the soul continues to exist as part of nature.

Do not stand
By my grave, and weep.
I am not there,
I do not sleep—
I am the thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints in snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle, autumn rain.

Do not stand by my grave, and cry— I am not there, I did not die."

In contrast popular novel “The lovely bones” suggests each individual has their own version of heaven that is just perfect for them as an individual. There is some overlap between these domains (but presumably no overlap of the heavens of marmite lovers and marmite haters?)

There you have three very contrasting ideas about the afterlife, picking just one from the categories of film, poem, novel!

So what exactly is the Christian hope?
Does it give solid comfort, is it true?

These are vital questions. For many people, Christianity seems like just another uncertain theory. In addition, most people (of some faith or none) reckon that Christianity only contains a vague, fuzzy concept of ‘going to heaven when you die.’

To start with, let’s tackle the first question, what exactly do Christians believe?

“God’s plan is not to abandon this world, the world which he said was ‘very good.’ Rather, he intends to remake it. And when he does, he will raise all his people to new bodily life to live in it. That is the promise of the Christian gospel.” 

N.T. Wright

Life in a perfect real body, in a perfect real world. The Christian hope is both personal and global.  The divine salvation offered by Jesus gives hope of a resurrected life, yet not because people earn it. Instead it is received by faith, as a gift, a transformed life, made possible because Jesus was like a trailblazer, going first. Titus 3:5-7 Romans 8:11 Ephesians 2:8 John 3:16

You might be wondering how this works, if any details are given.
In brief, there are two steps:

  • As each believer dies, their soul goes to be with Jesus. Luke 23:43 John 14:1-2
  • Then on one future day, there will be a mass resurrection to life. John 11:25-26 1Corinthians 15:20-26

On that future day, the believer’s soul will be re-embodied, and  their transformed body will no longer experience any aging or death. Revelation 21:3-4 Philippians 3:21 1Corinthians 15:42-43
Also, the whole of creation will be redeemed too, and the realm of heaven will exist fully on earth, God present with his people. 2 Timothy 1:8 Romans 8:22-25 Revelation 21:1-5

“The New Testament writers speak as if Christ’s achievement in rising from the dead was the first event of its kind in the whole history of the universe. He is the ‘first fruits, the pioneer of life’, He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought, and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because He has done so.”

What about the second question, can this great hope actually be true?

Early reaction to the Christian idea was astonishment…perhaps that is your reaction too?

After all, this could be the first time you’ve read that the Christian hope is about something so real, so tangible? Isn’t it startling, how utterly different from the imaginative fantasies in poems, films and novels? It is based on historic events. And therefore it is knowable, researchable. 1Corinthians 15:16-17 1Corinthians 15:13-14

christian hope is based on historic events

The Christian hope is substantial

It hinges on historic events

which means it can be researched, and known

It is knowable beyond reasonable doubt. It is similar to how I know beyond reasonable doubt that my spouse loves me. I can’t prove it scientifically. But I have years worth of evidence enough for me to know beyond reasonable doubt.
Likewise we need good evidence to put our faith in the Christian hope.
History involves studying sources. For example, the good historian considers the authenticity, bias, possible alterations of historic documents.

The historic evidence for Christianity is overwhelming, which surprises many people. In particular three items stand out. Firstly Jesus died and was buried. Secondly that the tomb was empty on the Sunday, thirdly that many believed they saw Jesus resurrected.

You might find plenty of objections spring to mind. However, answers exist. Here are a coupe of places to start if you’d like to research further

I know in their own terms, what they saw was the raised Jesus. That’s what they say, and then all the historic evidence we have afterwards attests to their conviction that that’s what they saw. I’m not saying that they really did see the raised Jesus. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what they saw. But I do know as an historian, that they must have seen something

Paula Frederickson, Non-Christian Historian

Thank you for reading -this is almost the end!

In summary, the Christian hope for the future is about new real life, in the new real world. Jesus resurrection is the key to this. Because it is based on historic events, this hope is grasped hold of by reason and faith. John 20:31

We invite everyone to read an account of Jesus life for themselves. See what he did, how he talked to people, the reactions that surrounded him. Decide what you make of his personality. After all the Bible is still the world’s best selling book!

Contact us now to get a free copy of a gospel, or to ask about our ‘guided read’ sessions that look through John’s gospel together.