If prizes were given for hope, Christian faith would win the sweepstakes. No matter how bad conditions are in this world, no matter how desperate your personal circumstances may be, the Bible promises that the future is bright.
a bright, new wave
Biblical scholars have disagreed over the precise picture of that "bright new morning" and the sequence of events leading up to it, but on the important issue (that there are good times ahead) they are agreed.
Here is part of John's picture of what we have to look forward:
"I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he should not deceive the nations any longer And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshipped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.
"Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, for they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years" (Revelation 20:1-3, 4-6).
The beauty of this picture can be enhanced when it is seen in the context of what John reported to us in his gospel about birth and rebirth.
Jesus told Nicodemus, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Nicodemus was confused. "How can a man be born when he is old?" he asked. "He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?"
Jesus explained, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again" (John 3:3-7).
Jesus made it clear that there are two kinds of birth: physical and spiritual. They are similar. Both are the beginning of new life.
The birth of a child is the only genuinely creative act in this world. It brings into being that which never was and will always be. There is no reincarnation. The moment when your life began can be dated and celebrated, but there is no date for your extinction. Something was created in you at your birth which for good or ill will last forever.
Jesus said, "Unless one is born of again, he cannot see the kingdom of God That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Just as physical, fleshly birth begins new life, so rebirth begins eternal life. Paul describes it in similar terms: "If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation the old has passed away; behold the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17 RSV).
Both kinds of birth place you in a family. When you were born the first time, you had a mother and father and probably brothers and sisters. One of God's commandments is "Honor thy Father and Mother." After discussing that commandment, a Sunday School teacher asked her class, "Can you think of a commandment that tells you how to treat your brothers and sisters?"
"Yeah," said a boy from a family of eight, "Thou shalt not kill!"
Physical birth places you in a family, whether you like it or not. Spiritual rebirth also places you in a family. When you are born again, you have a new Heavenly Father (I John 3:1) and new brothers and sisters. The new birth often makes you closer to your spiritual brothers and sisters than you are to your blood relatives (Matthew 12:47-50).
Just as there are two kinds of birth, so there are two kinds of death. Physical death occurs when one's soul is separated from the body. "The dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
Humorist Woody Allen said, "It is impossible to experience one's death objectively and still carry a tune." Not many of us, of course want to experience death objectively or subjectively for that matter. We are like Falstaff in Shakespeare's play, Henry IV who when asked, "When wilt thou begin to patch thine old body for heaven?" protested, "Do not speak like a death's head. Do not bid me remember mine end."
That is in marked contrast to the attitude of the author of Ecclesiastes who writes, "The day one dies is better than the day he is born! It is better to spend your time at funerals than at festivals. For you are going to die and it is a good thing to think about it while there is still time. Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us. Yes, a wise man thinks much of death, while the fool thinks only of having a good time now" (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 LB).
The Roman statesman and philosopher, Seneca, wrote in the mid first century A. D. something that is still true today: "We are always complaining that our days are few and acting as though there would be no end to them." But Christians are delivered from such absurd foolishness. They are realistic enough to face death before death faces them. When it comes time to die, all they have to do is die. Death is no longer a threat to their welfare.
You must face death squarely before you can face life courageously. If death ends all if all your hopes, dreams and ambitions are destined to be a banquet for worms, then life is senseless. Nothing you do has any permanent meaning or value. If, on the other hand, death is a new beginning, then all of life this side of the tomb is colored and shaped by what lies on the other side.
Physical death occurs when one's soul is separated from the body. Spiritual death occurs when one's soul is separated from God. That is a process that begins here and now. From the Garden of Eden to the present the thing that alienates us from God is our sin, our willful transgression of God's law (Romans 6:13, 23; I Timothy 5:6).
Lostness is not just badness, it is awayness (I Peter 2:25). The lost sheep, lost coin and lost son were lost because they were separated from the shepherd, owner and father (Luke 15). That's the same reason people are lost today: they are away from God and getting farther.
Just as a Christian's closeness to God gives him or her a foretaste of heaven, so the non-Christianís distance from God gives them a foretaste of hell. Hell is prepared for those who prepare it for themselves by kindling its fires here and now.
The chief difference between this life and the life to come is that now the lost are able to divert their attention from the terrible gulf which separates them from God (Luke 16:26). But then there will be no diversion from their awful choice.
We know little about the furniture of heaven or the temperature of hell. But we do know on the authority of God's Word, that heaven is where God is and hell is where God isn't. And earth is somewhere between. For although we have departed from God, God has not departed from us.
Spiritual death is a process which begins in this life, but is confirmed in the life hereafter. "But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8). Every time you say "No" to God, something in you dies. It becomes easier to say to say "No" until someday you will be unable to say "Yes."
Sin is creatures saying to the Creator, "My will be done." Damnation is the Creator saying to creatures, "Have it your way." God gives them up (Romans 1:24-32.).
Just as their are two kinds of birth and two kinds of death so there are two kinds of people: those who have been born twice and die once and those who have been born once and die twice. "Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power." Besides being happy and holy, they will share in the first resurrection when Christ returns and all the dead will come to life and reign with him a thousand years (Revelation 20: 4,6 Cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-7). And even after the millennium they will continue to enjoy God's uninterrupted presence forever and ever (Revelation 21:1-3).
Those who have been born twice will die but once, but those who have been born once will die twice. Over them "second death" wields its awful power. It is described in the remaining verses of Revelation 20: "And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20: 11, 12, 14, 15).
It is better not to be born at all than not to be born again.
Life without Christ is one hopeless end; but life with Christ is one endless hope. Which will it be for you?