Finding Hope in the Midst of Crisis
Can Bible prophecy give us hope?
[read in Lamplighter (pdf)]
Hope is essential to life. Without it, people descend into deep depression or commit suicide or simply lie down and die.
During the Holocaust, Viktor Frankl, who later became a world renowned psychiatrist, was a prisoner in one of the Nazi death camps. He observed that every year as Christmas approached, hope would sweep the camp that the prisoners would be released on Christmas day. It was an irrational hope, but it was hope. Then, when Christmas would come and go without a release, hundreds of prisoners would just lie down and die. Without hope, they could not live.1 Frankl concluded, "It is a peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking to the future."2
A Desperate Need
The world desperately needs hope in these end times. We live in a world of increasing fears — fear of nuclear holocaust, fear of economic collapse, fear of plagues like AIDS, fear of terrorism, fear of war, and — of course — fear of life and of death.
Our nation needs hope. Our economy has collapsed. People are losing their jobs. Houses are being foreclosed. Corporations that have been American icons for over a hundred years are declaring bankruptcy. Retirement funds have been wiped out. Many people are feeling a sense of desperation for the first time in their lives.
Everywhere people are looking for hope, and that includes Christians. Some might respond by saying, "Christians are the only ones who have any hope!" That is true, but the problem is that most professing Christians cannot articulate their hope beyond a vague statement like, "My hope is heaven."
An Ignored Virtue
I came to this realization one day when I was reading Paul's great love poem in 1 Corinthians 13. It ends with the famous phrase: "There are three things that remain [or abide] — faith, hope, and love — and the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13).
As I thought about those words, it suddenly occurred to me that I had heard hundreds of sermons on faith and hundreds on love, but I could not think of a single one about hope.
At that moment the Lord impressed upon my heart that hope is the most ignored of the Christian virtues. I knew instantly why that is true. It's because hope is directly related to one's knowledge of Bible prophecy, and there is no topic in the modern Church that is more ignored than prophecy.
Stop and think about it for a moment. What is your hope? How would you explain it to an unbeliever? Could you get beyond the words, "My hope is heaven"?
During the first 30 years of my life I received almost no teaching about Bible prophecy, and I lived with little hope. If you would have asked me to define my hope, I would have given you a pathetic answer, based more on Greek philosophy than Hebrew theology.
I was taught that if I died before the Lord returned, I would experience "soul sleep." In other words, I would lapse into total unconsciousness and lie in my tomb until the Lord returned. At His return, I was taught that a "big bang" would occur that would vaporize the universe. My soul would be resurrected, and I would go off to an ethereal world called Heaven where I would float around on a cloud and play a harp eternally.
For me, it was a grim picture. I didn't like the idea of lying comatose in a grave for eons of time. The "big bang" scared me to death. I was repulsed by the idea of becoming some sort of disembodied spirit without any individuality or personality. I certainly could not get excited about playing a harp forever. In fact, I found that idea downright hilarious.
You see, I grew up in a church that believed it is a terrible sin to play a musical instrument in a worship service. Yet, we were going to play harps in Heaven eternally! It made no sense to me, so I wrote it off as a bunch of silly nonsense.
I had no one to blame but myself because I did not study God's Word as I should have. When I finally started doing that, and the Holy Spirit began to lead me into a study of Bible prophecy, I started making discoveries about the future that ministered great hope to my spirit. In fact, I got so excited about my discoveries that I started jumping the pews and hanging from the chandeliers, shouting "Hallelujah!" and "Praise the Lord!" People thought I had gone Pentecostal overnight! No, I had just discovered God's marvelous promises for the future that are designed to give us hope in the present.
The Fallacy of Soul Sleep
The first discovery I made concerned "soul sleep." I found out it is an unbiblical concept. It is true that when we die, our bodies "sleep" metaphorically, but the spirits of the dead never lose their consciousness.
Jesus clearly taught this in His story about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). When they died, their spirits went to Hades. The rich man's spirit went to a compartment in Hades called "Torments." The spirit of Lazarus went to a compartment named "Abraham's bosom." On the Cross, Jesus referred to Abraham's bosom as "Paradise" (Luke 23:43). The two compartments were separated by a "great chasm" which could not be crossed.
In Jesus' story both men are pictured as fully conscious. They even carry on a conversation with each other. Their souls are not asleep.
Further evidence of consciousness after death can be found in Revelation 7. John has been taken up to Heaven and is being given a tour of the throne room of God. He sees "a great multitude... from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues," standing before the throne of God "clothed in white robes" and waving palm branches in worship (Revelation 7:9). They are fully conscious as they sing, "Salvation to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb" (Revelation 7:10).
John wants to know the identity of these people. He is told that they are martyrs for Christ coming out of the "great tribulation" (Revelation 7:14).
Here are two scenes in Scripture of people after death who are fully conscious.
The Apostle Paul affirmed consciousness after death. In 2 Corinthians 5:8 he wrote that he would prefer to be "absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord." He repeated this sentiment in his Philippian letter where he wrote, "to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). He elaborated on the meaning of this statement by adding that his desire was "to depart and be with Christ" (Philippians 1:23). Paul had no concept of lying comatose in a grave for eons of time. Upon death, he expected to be with the Lord immediately.
The Intermediate State
My second discovery was that we are not destined to an ethereal existence as disembodied spirits. Immediately after death both the saved and the lost receive a body that I am going to call an "intermediate spirit body." I have given it that name because it is a body that is intermediate between our current fleshly body and the ultimate, glorified body that saints will receive at the time of their resurrection.
The Bible does not tell us much about this body except that it is tangible and recognizable. An example of it is found in 1 Samuel 28 where we are told that King Saul, in his rebellion against God, sought the counsel of a witch. She, in turn, attempted to call up her familiar demon spirit. Instead, the Lord sent Samuel who had died some time before. The moment Samuel appeared, both the witch and Saul recognized him.
Another example of the intermediate spirit body can be found in Matthew 17 where the story is told of the Transfiguration of Jesus. This was when His disciples were given a glimpse of His coming glory. As they witnessed this marvelous event, suddenly two people appeared and began talking with them. The two were Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1-5).
Additional examples of intermediate spirit bodies can be found in the two biblical scenes I have already mentioned: The Rich Man and Lazarus in Hades (Luke 16) and the Tribulation Martyrs in Heaven (Revelation 7).
When Jesus returns, the Bible says He will bring with Him the spirits of the saved (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). He will resurrect their bodies in a great miracle of re-creation (whether their bodies are preserved, rotted, cremated, or dissolved in the ocean). In the twinkling of an eye, He will reunite their spirits with their resurrected bodies and will then glorify their bodies (1 Thessalonians 4:15-16). Then, those saints who are alive will be caught up (raptured) to meet the Lord in the sky, and they will be transformed on the way up (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
All my life I have heard people say, "There are two things in life that no one can avoid: death and taxes." That statement is wrong. The only thing we cannot avoid is taxes and more taxes. A whole generation of believers will avoid death — the generation living when the Lord returns for His Church. It's no wonder that Paul concluded this great passage in 1 Thessalonians by saying, "Therefore, comfort one another with these words" (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
What is a glorified body? Paul wrote a whole chapter about the topic in 1 Corinthians 15. He said our glorified bodies will be imperishable, gloriously pure, powerful, and spiritual (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). Paul further states that the glorified body will be immortal, and as such will no longer be subject to death (1 Corinthians 15:53-55).
The Nature of the Glorified Body
Paul made a statement in his letter to the Philippians that I think provides us with a framework for understanding what our glorified bodies will be like. He wrote that when Jesus returns, He "will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself" (Phil. 3:20-21). In other words, our glorified bodies are going to be like Jesus' resurrected body.
Now, think about that for a moment. After His resurrection, Jesus had a tangible body that could be touched and recognized (Luke 24: 41- 43 and John 20:27-28). People had difficulty recognizing Him at first, but that is understandable. If you buried your best friend one day, and he knocked on your door the next, would you recognize him? Wouldn't you assume he was someone who looked like your friend? Once the disciples realized that Jesus had truly been resurrected, they had no more difficulty recognizing Him, even at a distance (John 21:1-7).
So, Jesus had a body similar to the ones we have now. It was tangible and recognizable. It was also a body that ate food. Jesus is pictured eating with His disciples several times, including a meal of fish on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (Luke 24:30-31, 41-42, and John 21:10-13). I must admit that I get excited when I read these accounts of Jesus eating, and also when I read about our eating with Him in Heaven at the "marriage supper of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:7-9). I have this fantasy that we will be able to eat all we want in our glorified bodies and not have to worry about gaining weight! (That should be sufficient to prompt many of you to shout, "Maranatha!")
A Different Dimension
The resurrected body of Jesus was similar to ours in many respects, but there were also some differences. Jesus' body seemed to have a different dimension to it, for He could pass through a wall into a locked room (John 20:26), and He could move from one place to another almost instantly (Luke 24:30-36). One moment He was on the road to Emmaus, the next He was in Jerusalem, and then He would appear in the Galilee area.
His disciples were so startled and frightened by His ability to vanish and reappear suddenly at another place that they thought they were seeing a spirit. But Jesus countered that idea immediately by telling them, "Touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have" (Luke 24:39). When the Word says that our glorified bodies will be "spiritual" in nature (1 Corinthians 15:44), it does not mean we will be ethereal spirits. It says our natural body will be raised a spiritual body, not a spirit. We will still have a body, but it will no longer be controlled by the old sin nature, the flesh. Rather, it will be a body yielded completely to the control of the Holy Spirit.
There is one other thing the Bible reveals about the glorified body that should be a source of great comfort. The glorified body will be a perfected body. That means the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk, and the mute will speak. Those who are mentally impaired will have their minds healed (Isaiah 29:18-19, 32:3-4, and 35:5-6). There will no longer be any pain or death (Revelation 21:4). God will "wipe away every tear," and "there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain" (Revelation 21:4).
My first discovery was that there is no such thing as "soul sleep." We remain conscious after death. My second discovery was that we are not destined to be disembodied spirits. We continue to have a body — first, an intermediate spirit body, and then a glorified body. My third discovery was that we are not going to be bored stiff playing harps for eternity. We are going to be engaged in some meaningful activities.
If you are a believer and you die before the Lord returns, you will go to Heaven where you will be involved in worship (Revelation 7:9-14) and service (Revelation 7:15). Admittedly, the Bible does not get specific about our worship and service, but we can be assured that we will find both to be fulfilling and edifying. It could also be that this will be a time of rest, preparing us for the time of vigorous service that will follow, when the Lord returns to earth.
Judgment and Rewards
At the time of the Rapture (most likely before the Tribulation), both the living and dead in Christ will receive their glorified bodies. We will be in Heaven with the Lord during the Tribulation. This will be the time of our judgment, not to determine our eternal destiny, but to determine our degrees of reward. Each of us will stand before the judgment seat of Jesus and be judged as to how we used our spiritual gifts to advance His kingdom (2 Corinthians 5:10). Our works will be judged as to quantity, quality, and motive (1 Corinthians 3:13-15 and 4:5). Some will experience embarrassment as all their works are burned up as worthless (1 Corinthians 3:13-15). Others will receive great rewards.
Some of the rewards will relate to the degree of ruling authority we will be granted during the Lord's millennial reign (Luke 19:11-27). Others will consist of crowns and special robes. There will be a "crown of righteousness" for those who lived yearning for the return of Jesus (2 Timothy 4:7-8). A "crown of life" will be given to those who persevere under trial (Revelation 2:10 and James 1:12). Faithful elders and pastors will receive a "crown of glory" (1 Peter 5:4). Soul winners will be given a "crown of rejoicing" (Philippians 4:1 and 1 Thessalonians 2:19). An "imperishable wreath" will be given to those who exercise self-control (1 Corinthians 9:25). Even the clothing we receive will indicate our degrees of reward. It will in some way reflect "the righteous acts of the saints" (Revelation 19:8).
At the end of this time of judgment, we, the Bride of Christ, will sit down at a banquet table in Heaven to celebrate our union with our Bridegroom, Jesus. The Bible calls it the "marriage supper of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:9). It will be a time of unparalleled celebration. The heavens will ring with "Hallelujahs!" (Revelation 19:1-6).
Witnesses of Glory
When the meal is completed, we will return to earth with Jesus (Revelation 19: 11-14). We will be there in our glorified bodies when His foot touches the Mount of Olives and that mountain is split in half (Zechariah 14:1-9). We will be there to shout "Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna to the King of kings!" as He rides down the Kidron Valley on His white horse and approaches the Eastern Gate. We will be there to witness the supernatural opening of that gate as it welcomes Jesus to the holy city of Jerusalem (Psalm 24:7-8):
Lift up your heads, O gates,
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
Who is the King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
The Lord mighty in battle.
We will be there to shout, "Hallelujah!"
when Jesus is crowned King of kings and
Lord of lords and begins His glorious millennial reign.
The Millennial Reign
During the Lord's reign, the Redeemed are going to be doing anything but floating around on clouds playing harps. We are going to reign with Jesus over those who are allowed to enter the Millennium in the flesh (which will be those believers who are alive at the end of the Tribulation). Jesus will reign over all the earth from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:1-4) as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). David, in his glorified body, will reign as king of Israel (Ezekiel 37:24). Those of us who will be glorified saints will be scattered all over the earth to assist with Jesus' reign (2 Timothy 2:12).
Think of it — every person on earth who is in a position of governing authority will be a glorified saint. Some of us will be in administrative positions, sharing in Jesus' reign as presidents, governors, or mayors (Luke 19:11-27). Others will serve as judges (1 Corinthians 6:3). Most of us will serve as "shepherds," or teachers, trying to bring those who are born during the Millennium to faith in Jesus (Isaiah 66:18-21 and Jeremiah 3:15).
None of us will serve as legislators because the law will be given by Jesus Himself, and it will be perfect (Isaiah 2:1-4). There will be no abomination known as the Texas Legislature or the United States Congress. Nor will there be any lobbyists or political parties.
The Lord will rule with "a rod of iron" (Psalm 2:9 and Revelation 2:27). The government of the world will be a theocracy, with Jesus serving as both the spiritual and political leader. "He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices" (Zechariah 6:13).
We will be given the blessing of seeing this old sin-sick world flooded with peace, righteousness and justice, "as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). There will be no homeless people or hungry people (Isaiah 65:21-22 and Micah 4:4). Peace will envelope the earth (Isaiah 2:4). The Lord's reign will be characterized by righteousness, fairness, and faithfulness (Isaiah 11:4-5). "The whole earth will acknowledge the Lord and return to Him. People from every nation will bow down before Him" (Psalm 22:27).
The Eternal State
When the Millennium ends and we move into the Eternal State, the Bible does not go into detail as to what our activities will be. It tells us only three things: we will see the face of God (Revelation 22:4); we will serve the Lord (Revelation 22:3); and we will reign with Him forever (Revelation 22:5).
Seeing the face of God is an exciting prospect, for the Bible says that no one has ever seen His face (Exodus 33:20 and 1 Timothy 6:16). I believe the promise of seeing God's face means we are going to enjoy intimacy with Him forever. Much of that, undoubtedly will be in the form of worship. I think it also means we will grow in our knowledge of the Lord forever. He is infinite, and no matter how much we come to know Him, there will be just that much more for us to experience. I feel certain that one aspect of this will be the eternal study of His Word. I get excited over all this as I think of singing the Psalms with David and studying the book of Romans with Paul.
As for service, I would imagine, for one thing, our gifts and talents will be magnified and that we will use them to glorify the Lord. Thus, a singer will be able to sing with a perfection and range never before achieved, and a painter will be able to paint with a glory never imagined.
Reigning with the Lord forever implies that we will be reigning over someone. Who that will be, I do not know. Perhaps it will be the mysterious "nations" referred to in Revelation that seem to inhabit the new earth (Revelation 21:24-27 and 22:2).
Our Eternal Home
This brings me to the fourth and final discovery I made when the Holy Spirit led me into an in-depth study of Bible prophecy. I discovered that the Redeemed are not going to live eternally in an ethereal world called Heaven. I learned, instead, that our eternal home is going to be on a new earth. Most Christians are amazed by this truth, which shows how little Bible prophecy is taught in the Church today.
Since the Bible teaches that the current earth is eternal (Psalm 78:69 and Psalm 148:6), I have concluded that the "new earth" will be the current earth renovated by fire. It is true that Peter said that the current earth will be "destroyed" by fire (2 Peter 3:10,12), but in the context, it is clear that he is referring to a radical transformation of the current earth. Earlier in the same passage he referred to the original earth as having been "destroyed" by water, speaking of the Noahic flood. The earth of Noah's day did not cease to exist, but the flood "destroyed" it in the sense that it radically changed the nature of the earth — tilting it on its axis, splitting the continents apart, laying down the fossil record, depositing the marine organisms that would become petroleum deposits, and creating the ocean depths and the mountain heights.
At the end of the Millennium, fire will be used by God to burn away the pollution of Satan's last revolt (2 Peter 3:12). In the midst of that fiery inferno, God will reshape the earth like a hot ball of wax. He will refresh it and restore it to its original perfection (Acts 3:21). He will then lower the new Jerusalem down to the new earth, with the redeemed inside (Revelation 21:1-2). Then, He Himself will come to earth to live in our presence eternally! "The tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them" (Revelation 21:3).
Heaven is where God resides. When the new earth is supplied, Heaven will descend to earth as God takes up residence on this new earth. So, it is true that the redeemed will live eternally in Heaven, but Heaven will be on earth.
The Redemption of All Creation
God loves His creation, and He intends to redeem it — all of it — and not destroy it with some mystical "big bang." Jesus died on the Cross not only to redeem Mankind but also to redeem the Creation. That's the reason the High Priest in Old Testament times sprinkled the blood not only on the mercy seat of the Ark, but also on the ground in front of the Ark (Leviticus 16:15).
The blood on the mercy seat of the Ark was a symbolic prophecy pointing to the fact that the blood of the Messiah would cover the law of God (the tablets inside the Ark) with the mercy and grace of God. The blood on the ground was a reminder that the sacrifice of the Messiah would make it possible for the curse to be lifted and for the animal and plant kingdoms to be returned to their original perfection (Isaiah 11:6-9 and Romans 8:18-23).
An Unjustified Fear
Many people are afraid of Bible prophecy. They say it is full of "doom and gloom." That is true for those who have rejected the Lord. But for those who know Him and love Him, there is only good news.
The Old Testament ends with an example of what I'm talking about. It says, "For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze" (Malachi 4:1). That is bad news. But the very next verse contains incredibly good news for believers: "But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves released from the stall" (Malachi 4:2).
Bible prophecy is full of glorious promises that are designed to give God's people a strong sense of hope as they live as strangers and pilgrims in the midst of an increasingly evil, God-rejecting world. When you read these wonderful promises, you can understand why Paul wrote these words in 1 Corinthians 2:9: "No eye has seen, no ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him."
A God of Hope
As this verse indicates, we cannot even begin to imagine the marvelous blessings God has in store for the redeemed. But the very next verse says that the Holy Spirit has revealed those blessings to us in God's Word (1 Corinthians 2:10). The sad thing is that most Christians are ignorant of those promises and therefore have no idea what Paul meant when he wrote: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18).
In Romans 15:13 Paul wrote: "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Our God is a God of Hope who desires to fill us with hope. If you know Jesus as your Savior, you are an heir to some incredible promises, and if you know those promises and believe in them, you can live in this evil world with hope, joy, and great expectations.
As the world we have built on the dollar collapses around us, let us keep an eternal perspective with our hope fixed firmly on the soon return of Jesus. Maranatha!
This article is an edited excerpt from Dr. Reagan's book, Living for Christ in the End Times.
1) Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning (New York, NY: Washington Square Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, 1963, revised and updated edition in 1998).
2) Ibid., page 115.