Trustful expectation, particularly with reference to the fulfillment of God's promises. Biblical hope is the anticipation of a favorable outcome under God's guidance. More specifically, hope is the confidence that what God has done for us in the past guarantees our participation in what God will do in the future. This contrasts to the world's definition of hope as “a feeling that what is wanted will happen.” Understood in this way, hope can denote either a baseless optimism or a vague yearning after an unattainable good. If hope is to be genuine hope, however, it must be founded on something (or someone) which affords reasonable grounds for confidence in its fulfillment. The Bible bases its hope in God and His saving acts.
Words for Hope In the Old Testament the words which are most often used to connote “hope” are tigwa (“to look for something with eager expectation”), batach (“to rely on something reliable”), and yachal (“trust”). In the New Testament “hope” is the proper translation for the verb elpizein and the noun elpis. Other words which belong to the vocabulary of hope are pepoithenai (“to trust”), hupomenein (“to endure”), and prosdokan (“to expect” or “to await”). It is important to note that the reality of hope is often present where the exact words are absent. A case in point is the New Testament Book of Revelation. The word “hope” does not appear in its pages. The message of Revelation, however, is permeated with the reality of hope. A complete examination of hope would have to include all of the exhortations, prayers, promises, and future tenses in the Bible.
The Ground and Object of Hope In the Old Testament, God alone is the ultimate ground and object of hope. Hope in God was generated by His might deeds in history. In fulfilling His promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), He redeemed the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. He provided for their needs in the wilderness, formed them into a covenant community at Sinai, and led them into the successful occupation of Canaan. These acts provided a firm base for their confidence in God's continuing purpose for them. Even when Israel was unfaithful, hope was not lost. Because of God's faithfulness and mercy, those who returned to Him could count on His help (Malachi 3:6-7). This help included forgiveness (2 Chronicles 7:14; Psalms 86:5) as well as deliverance from enemies. Thus, Jeremiah addressed God as the “hope of Israel, the saviour thereof in time of trouble” (Jeremiah 14:8; compare Jeremiah 14:22; Jeremiah 17:13). Likewise, the psalmist called on Israel to “hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins” (Psalms 130:7-8 NIV; compare Psalms 131:3).
A corollary of putting one's hope in God is refusing to place one's final confidence in the created order. All created things are weak, transient, and apt to fail. For this reason it is futile to vest ultimate hope in wealth (Psalms 49:6-12; Psalms 52:7; Proverbs 11:28), houses (Isaiah 32:17-18), princes (Psalms 146:3), empires and armies (Isaiah 31:1-3;2 Kings 18:19-24), or even the Jerusalem Temple (Jeremiah 7:1-7). God, and God only, is a rock that cannot be moved (Deuteronomy 32:4,Deuteronomy 32:15,Deuteronomy 32:18; Psalms 18:2; Psalms 62:2; Isaiah 26:4) and a refuge and fortress who provides ultimate security (Psalms 14:6, Psalms 61:3; Psalms 73:28; Psalms 91:9). An accurate summary of the Old Testament emphasis is found in Psalms 119:49-50. “Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope. My comfort in my suffering is this: your promise preserves my life” (NIV).
A significant aspect of Old Testament hope was Israel's expectation of a messiah, that is, an anointed ruler from David's line. This expectation grew out of the promise that God would establish the throne of David forever (2 Samuel 7:14). The anointed ruler (messiah) would be God's agent to restore Israel's glory and rule the nations in peace and righteousness. For the most part, however, David's successors were disappointments. The direction of the nation was away from the ideal. Thus, people looked to the future for a son of David who would fulfill the divine promise.
The New Testament continues to speak of God as the source and object of hope. Paul wrote that it was the “God who raises the dead” on whom “we have set our hope” (2 Corinthians 1:9-10 NIV). Furthermore, “we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men” (1 Timothy 4:10 NAS). Peter reminded his readers that “your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:21 NAS). In the New Testament, as in the Old, God is the “God of hope” (Romans 15:13).
For the early Christians, hope is also focused in Christ. He is called “our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1), and the hope of glory is identified with “Christ in you” (Colossians 1:27). Images applied to God in the Old Testament are transferred to Christ in the New. He is the Savior (Luke 2:11; Acts 13:23; Titus 1:4; Titus 3:6), the source of life (John 6:35), the rock on which hope is built (1 Peter 2:4-7). He is the first and last (Revelation 1:17), the day-spring dispelling darkness and leading His people into eternal day (Revelation 22:5).
New Testament writers spoke of Christ as the object and ground of hope for two reasons. 1) He is the Messiah who has brought salvation by His life, death, and resurrection (Luke 24:46). God's promises are fulfilled in Him. “For in him every one of God's promises is a “Yes” (2 Corinthians 1:20 NRSV). 2) They are aware of the unity between Father and Son. This is a unity of nature (John 1:1; Colossians 1:19) as well as a unity in the work of redemption. Because “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19), hope in the Son is one with hope in the Father.
The Future of Hope While the New Testament affirms the sufficiency of Christ's redemptive work in the past, it also looks forward to His return in the future to complete God's purpose. Indeed, the major emphasis on hope in the New Testament centers on the second coming of Christ. The “blessed hope” of the Church is nothing less than “the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
This expectation filled the horizon of the early Christian community. Jesus Himself spoke of it (Mark 8:38; Mark 13:26; Mark 14:28; John 14:1-4). His disciples were promised that “this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Apostolic preaching reiterated the theme (Acts 3:19-21; Acts 10:42; Acts 17:31). References in the epistles are numerous. Paul reminded the Philippians that “our conversation is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20 NAS; compare1 Corinthians 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Timothy 6:14). Christ “will appear a second time… to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28 NRSV). Christians are “shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). If the Lord's coming seems delayed unduly, it is still certain because “the Lord is not slack concerning his promise” (2 Peter 3:9). The last book of the Bible begins and ends with a reference to Christ's return. “Behold, he cometh with clouds” (Revelation 1:7). “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
The content of the hope which will be realized in the future is described in different ways. Christians will “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21 NRSV); realize their hope of “righteousness” (Galatians 5:5); be “transformed into his likeness” (2 Corinthians 3:12-18 REB; compare 1 John 3:1-3); acquire possession of the inheritance (Ephesians 1:14), and experience the resurrection of the body (1 Corinthians 15:21,1 Corinthians 15:50-55).
Hope is not merely individual in scope, however. It has cosmic dimensions as well. God's purpose is to redeem the whole creation. Thus, Christians expect that “the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). Peter expressed it like this: “we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).
The Assurance of Hope Christians live in hope for two basic reasons. The first reason is because of what God has done in Christ. Especially important is the emphasis the New Testament places on the resurrection by which Christ has defeated the power of sin and death. “By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3 NRSV).
The second reason is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:16). Furthermore, the Spirit is the “first installment of our inheritance, so that we may finally come into full possession of the prize of redemption” (Ephesians 1:14 Williams). “Hope never disappoints us; for through the Holy Spirit that has been given us, God's love has flooded our hearts” (Romans 5:5 Williams). Hence, Paul's prayer that “the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Romans 15:13).
Given the assurance of hope, Christians live in the present with confidence and face the future with courage. They can also meet trials triumphantly because they know “that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4 NIV). Such perseverance is not passive resignation; it is the confident endurance in the face of opposition. There is, therefore, a certitude in Christian hope which amounts to a qualitative difference from ordinary hope. Christian hope is the gift of God. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19NIV).