As we prepare our hearts and minds to celebrate Jesus’s arrival, it’s clear that many of us are hitting a wall of exhaustion.
We have been overwhelmed by chaotic global events, division in our communities and personal relationships, and the loss of loved ones and life as we knew it in a pre-COVID world.
But today, we light the first of the four candles in the Advent wreath: the candle of Hope.
As we do so, we may be wondering what hope can we actually have?
A Renewed Vision of Hope
We often confuse hope with crossing our fingers. With wishing for a good outcome, but not knowing whether or not it will take place.
Fortunately, hope, in God’s Word, is significantly different than that.
In the Scriptures, hope is a present state of confidence based on the guarantee of a glorious future. To hope, means that, by faith, we begin to smell the grass of the new heaven and new earth and that the wonder of God’s promises are brought to bear upon our present and difficult circumstances.
This true hope frees us in every age and place to rejoice despite suffering. And even to embrace suffering in the form of sacrificial love for God and others.
I am convinced, without a doubt, that the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, was written primarily to stimulate the people of God in every generation to great hope.
Let’s pray for grace to expand our hearts as we explore three passages from Revelation – and consider – what does a renewed hope look like for ourselves and our world today?
The Author of Our Hope
Revelation, 1:4-6 says, Hope is generated by God himself, and the Gospel.
Grace and peace to you, from him who is and who was and who is to come and from the sevenfold Spirit before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth to him who loves us, and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father to him. Be glory and power, forever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:4-6)
At this point, the apostle John, who’s in exile on Patmos, probably between 81 and 85 years old, is a prisoner of Rome. And he receives a series of visions for the people of God during an incredibly stressful time in which the first generation of martyrs are beginning to emerge.
Emperor Domitian is now on the throne and demanding to be addressed as “lord and god.” Under his reign, those who call Jesus Lord and God are being severely persecuted and put to death.
It’s not hard to imagine that it was a very difficult season to be a follower of Jesus in late first-century Rome.
But isn’t it impressive that John would begin this letter by connecting us with a heart of worship, telling us that God is calling our gaze, not to the outcome, but to God Himself.
Substantive hope is wired to God Himself.
In Romans, Paul wrote, May the God of hope, fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
This is not wishful thinking, it’s not denial – it’s the presence and provision of God no matter what happens.
And we need that right now. How many of us could have predicted the events of the past few years? Well, it has not taken our God by surprise.
At such a time, and to such a people, John writes of a Sovereign Lord and a Savior Lamb. There is no trace of panic, fear, or defeatism. Instead, there is encouragement, insight, worship, and hope!
What do those believers, and we today, most need at this time and in every season of life? We need to see Jesus! He is our anchor!
Until Jesus returns, life won’t be without its storms, but we’ll never experience a Christ-absent day.
Consider what God wants us to know about our Savior in chapter 1 alone:
Jesus is the “faithful witness.” We can trust him without hesitation, for he is God’s final word to us. The Bible says in First Corinthians 120:1 that Jesus is the yes to every promise God has made.
Jesus is the firstborn from the dead who “has freed us from our sins by his blood.” His resurrection guarantees ours. His shed blood secured our forever freedom.
Jesus is “the ruler of the kings of the earth”— John did not say Jesus will be King of Kings and Lord of lords but he already is. Through His resurrection and ascension, the Bible says Jesus has been seated at the right hand of God the Father.
How powerful is that for a generation of young believers facing all kinds of predictable unpredictability?
It’s so comforting to know that God is sovereign all kinds of leaders on Earth and we can be sure that our God reigns and has no rivals.
It’s not a story of triumphalism or thinking that we win. It’s not about our winning. It’s about the love of the Lamb of God, Jesus, triumphing over all things. Including our own rebellious unbelieving fear-filled hearts.
God’s love has freed us and is calling us to see his gift of hope and to live as participants in the story of God.
God Opens the Door
If hope is generated by God himself and the Gospel, the second passage tells us that our hope is deepened by seeing the occupied throne of heaven.
I looked, and there before me was a door standing open and heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me, like a trumpet said, Come up here, and I’ll show you what must take place. After this. At once I was in the spirit, and there before me was a throne and happened with someone sitting on it. (Revelation 4:1-2)
John’s readers thought in terms of kings and crowns and thrones.
What an incredible gift to John and therefore to all of us, that John catches a glimpse of what is, what has been, and what will be forever.
There is an occupied throne in heaven.
In addition to that, John has been called to look upward and is invited to get a bigger perspective.
This is what hope does – it lets us get the big picture of where we’re heading and who’s in control.
I turned 70 recently and I can look back over different decades of wandering and worrying, but more than once God has called me to see the fact that in heaven right now, there’s no panic. There’s no second-guessing.
There’s no big board meeting going on to kind of think how God’s gonna respond to a pandemic or crisis in the world. No, there is an occupied throne.
And don’t miss this – the Spirit says to John, “Come up here and I’ll show you what must take place after this.” Not might. Not probabilities. God’s will is going to be accomplished on earth, even as it is in heaven!
And from Revelation 4 to Revelation 19, there’s a lot that must take place and it’s not always easy. There’s a lot of rapture and rupture. There’s a lot of difficulties, a lot of stress.
But isn’t it a gift of God, for us to see throughout his Word that He’s so honest about what life in a broken world looks like?
God says, don’t be thrown by the suffering. Don’t be thrown by the difficulties.
Hope does not replace grief and trials – it wonderfully transforms them.
Even where we’re sitting now, in the things that disturb us and move us to appropriately cry out “How long, Oh Lord?” it’s comforting to know that there’s an expiration date on all evil and brokenness.
As we longingly wait for the return of the Lord, God himself is renewing our hope with the promise that there is a joyful, peaceful, and totally occupied throne in heaven.
Empowered by Hope
In our constant fearfulness brothers and sisters, our hope is generated by God and is deepened as we see and worship him before his occupied throne of grace.
And finally, it is renewed as we meditate upon the end of His story.
How does the entire Bible end?
In the last vision of the bible, in Revelation 21, John writes –
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and that was no longer any sea.”
Then in verse five, “He who was seated on the throne said, I am making everything or I am making all things new.”
Then he said, “Write this down for these words are trustworthy and true.”
That our Lord finishes his written Word with a magnificent vision of a new heaven and new earth is exhilarating and worth pondering.
God wants our hearts to be consumed with a vision of our forever.
But don’t miss this – Jesus is making all things new; he’s not making all new things.
We live in a story of redemption, or renewal, not a replacement. The great hope is not to get out of this mess, but for Jesus to put all things right.
This is important because what we think of this glorious state of existence is critical to how we invest our lives until Jesus returns.
Our calling has never been to retreat into little Christian cocoons of fear, self-protection, and survival. We are to live on mission.
We are, by our proclamation and by our presence, to preach and demonstrate the gospel of Jesus Christ among the nations until he comes back.
We, the church, are the two witnesses. And We are empowered by God himself.
Whether you cross the street or cross the world, and whether it is to tell about Jesus or to display his kingdom through kindness – doing this in love will mean a sort of dying.
Death to sin, death to putting ourselves first, death to our own comfort. You might not meet physical death, but you will have to die in some way.
But even our suffering in this world is under God’s control. It has meaning and a tender, redemptive purpose.
Consider the narratives in your life that cause you to worry, feel defeated, or lose hope. We default to all kinds of narration.
But the ultimate story finds its focus on Jesus, an occupied throne, and a story of redemption.
God’s story has a guaranteed outcome of no more evil, no more brokenness, the redemption of our pain – not just the wiping of our tears.
What else could we possibly want but to give our lives in his name?
A Prayer for Advent
Father God, in the midst of this season of our lives, our hearts are heavy as we long for your return. Will you renew our hope day by day, by the work of your Spirit, the riches of grace, and the hope of glory?
With the throne of heaven occupied, free us now to live with a greater sense of hope, confidence, trust – and boldness in sharing that same hope with others. Rather than focus on self-preservation, help us be wise, careful, and more generous than ever, as we seek ways to serve and love others.
Our hope rests on the fact that through the gift of Jesus, you have fulfilled your promise of salvation…
And so we say – Hallelujah, what a Savior! Hallelujah, what a salvation! Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly.
This blog post is part of Renewal for Advent – a five-part Advent devotional series, centered on asking Jesus to renew our Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love:
Renewing Our Hope (by Rev. Scotty Smith)
Renewing Our Peace (by Lindsay Kimball)
Renewing Our Joy (by Dr. Robert Kim)
Renewing Our Love (by Serge Staff)
Catch up on the whole series at: serge.org/renewal-for-advent
This post includes excerpts from Revelation: Hope in the Darkness by Scotty Smith, a new addition to Serge’s Gospel-Centered Life in the Bible Series.