Abraham Lincoln once commented, ‘Surely God would not have created such a being as man … to exist only for a day! No, no; Man was made for immortality'1.
Hope occupies a crucial place in the lives of individuals in Bible history. Abraham is a good example. The biographical information highlights both his weaknesses and his strengths. Some have exaggerated, almost obscenely, his weaknesses, while, at the same time, grossly minimizing his many positive characteristics. There is a universal recognition that Abraham is ‘… a father of many nations'2.
A New Testament writer states, ‘By faith he (Abraham) dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country…for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God’. One can see today in Iraq the ruins of Ur, the city that twice was known as ‘the capital of the world’. There is still a town in southern Turkey known as Haran. The ruins of Siquem in the modern state of Israel have not disappeared. All these cities had foundations and Abraham lived in them all. Yet at the same time he was waiting for a city that had foundations that only God, as Architect and Builder, could create.
In Abraham’s mind, Canaan was a transient shadow of a reality beyond history. Since then, the people of faith, in numbers ‘as many as the stars of the sky in multitude’ have followed his example, desiring ‘a better, that is, a heavenly country’, the author adds, ‘therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them’. In a spiritual sense, this multitude of the faithful has already ‘come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God’. They confess that, ‘here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come’, or, as another translation reads ‘here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come'3.
At last, after a long series of events in which smoke, blood, anguish and perversion abound, ‘the Holy City’ appears in the last book of the Bible. It descends from heaven, from God Himself, full of beauty, life and grace. It does not develop out of history, instead it is a precious and perpetual gift from God. It was Abraham who by faith perceived in advance, and with admirable clarity, the authentic destination of human beings beyond the frontiers of time and history.
Some six to seven hundred years after Abraham, Moses appears on the stage of world history. He was born in Goshen. The Pharaoh in the times of Joseph gave Goshen to Jacob and his family. It was occupied by the Hebrews from that period until the Exodus about four hundred years later. By then, Jacob’s descendants had become the slaves of the ruling Pharaoh. When Moses died alone, in the presence of God on Mount Nebo in the land of Moab, a hundred and twenty years later, he had left a deep and permanent impact on the human race that has lasted until present times. In spite of many weaknesses, he is recognized as a heroic leader in the ancient world, an outstanding, spiritual commander who gave to the former slaves the necessary legislation for the formation of a nation, according to God’s will. This remarkable individual, like Abraham, could see beyond the horizons of time and ‘he endured as seeing Him who is invisible’. Not even the great Pharaoh of antiquity could prevent Moses from knowing the true God.
The ancient prophets received from God spectacular revelations concerning the glory which permeates the eternal order. As a result, they penetrated so deeply the ‘invisible world’ that they employed a very special type of literature to describe it. Later it would be known as apocalyptic writings. It was a way to portray in symbolic language the astonishing visions of the eternal glory. These messengers of God left in the literature of the Bible, a united testimony concerning the future glory that awaits those who believe God.
Even in the horror of a Roman crucifixion, the repentant thief believed in the glory that Jesus, the Messiah, would bring. This is very striking, for he openly recognized that he was justly receiving ‘the due reward’ of his deeds. This man never studied under a famous university professor. He was not a theologian. Yet, during his short life it seems that someone, perhaps a mother, a father, a teacher in the synagogue, had spoken to him about glory beyond the grave, about a Messiah of magnificent dignity.
Just a few hours before he died, he found himself face to face with the Lord Jesus. The teachings from his past life exploded in the form of an incredible petition, for he called out to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom’. The Lord Jesus answered quickly, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise’. Of humble origins and with a past life of crime, a repentant thief was anticipating a glory beyond the present suffering of the Messiah, a glory He would share with men and women who were united to Him. With simplicity and authority, Christ confirmed that he was right.
The martyr Stephen saw Christ in His present glory. The vision of that glory was so real that this early leader in the Christian church ‘in the hour of his death’ could plead for forgiveness for his enemies, still prisoners of time and history, who were stoning him to death.
The radiant glory of Christ in His exaltation is so compelling that it not only brought to a sudden stop Saul of Tarsus at the gate to the city of Damascus, but radically transformed his life with tangible results of a permanent nature. In his ministry as a missionary and a theologian, he never lost sight of this glory and the certainty that the Christian will share in that glory with Christ forever.
When John Hooper (d.1555) was being urged to recant his faith or be burned at the stake, his antagonists reminded him that ‘Life is sweet and death is bitter’. The English Protestant bishop answered, ‘True, quite true! But eternal life is more sweet, and eternal death is more bitter'4. It is not likely that we will endure martyrdom, but many of us may soon face death in more normal ways. Hope is the window through which we see already the reality of that eternal life of glory. Concisely, Paul writes, ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory'5, Col. 1. 27.
1 Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), Edythe Draper, Draper’s Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, inc.) No. 6104
2 Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New King James Version, Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, inc.
3 The Holy Bible, New International Version, Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by the international Bible Society.
4 Hannah Ward & Jennifer Wild, The Doubleday Christian Quotation Collection (New York, etc.. Doubleday, 1998), p. 94.
5 Bible references: Genesis 17. 5; Luke 23. 40f; Acts 9. 1-9; Romans 4. 11; 16. 2; Corinthians 4. 6; Galatians 3. 29; Colossians 1. 27; Hebrews 11. 9f; 11. 12; 16. 27; 12. 22; 13. 14; 1 Peter 1. 10ff; Revelation 21. 2.