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The Mystery of the Hope of the Church

L. R. Shelton, Sr.

The individual who loses all hope commits suicide. The church – and I am now speaking of the local assembly – that loses the mystery of the hope in Christ has a name to live, but is dead. Our subject is, "The Mystery of the Hope of the Church." We find this great mystery set forth in
I Cor. 15:51-58,

"Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord."

The mystery of the hope of the church is the coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ to this earth for His own. The return of Christ to this earth again to take His own out of this world to be with Him is called by Paul, a great "mystery." It is such a mystery that only born-again ones understand and know anything about it, and to them it is a living reality. His return to earth, Paul tells us in writing to Titus, is a blessed hope. The word "blessed" means happy, joyous. We could say, it is a hilarious hope. Every born-again believer looks for His coming, longs for His coming, waits for His coming, prays for His coming, because he longs to see the One who loved him so much that He died for him, rose from the grave for him, and became his Surety, the One who intercedes for him, who undertakes for him, the One who loves him with such love that passeth knowledge.

Listen to God's Word as recorded in Tit. 2:11-15,
"For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee."
The first great fact I wish to call your attention to about the mystery of the hope of the church, or the believer in Christ, is that according to I Pet. 1:3, it is a living hope, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively (living) hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."

It is not a dead hope; it is not an uncertain hope. It is not a speculative hope. It is a living hope. Day by day and night after night the believer looks for the coming of his blessed Lord. Now that's so. The coming of the Lord to the believer is not a cold doctrine; it is not some event that he is looking forward to, but it is the personal coming of the Lord Himself. That hope lives within the bosom of the believer. I get so tired of listening to individuals trying to propound the pre-millennial coming of Christ, or the post-millennial coming of Christ, or the a-millennial coming of Christ. Why in the world can't we just preach the Word of the living God? Christ is coming! It's not a cold doctrine to me. I have sat and listened to men work out, seemingly, every detail of His coming. Well, I don't like that, do you? The believer is not concerned about the manner of His coming, or who may come with Him, but he is concerned about one thing, and that is, Christ Himself, the One who gave Himself for Him, the One who died for him.

Paul brings this out so clearly in I Thess. 1:9,10,
"For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how we turned to God from idols (salvation) to serve the living and true God (the Christian life); and to wait for his Son from heaven (the living hope of the believer), whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come."
I call your attention to that expression, "to wait for his Son from heaven." That is a living hope. Isn't that great! Are you waiting for Him? I am. Are you waiting for Him? You talk with the average church member today. He will never talk to you about the coming of the Lord. That has no place in his heart and life – not even as a dead doctrine. The believer lives in the expectation of the coming of his Lord from glory to receive him unto Himself. Paul is not talking here about coming on the day of Pentecost, as some would try to make us believe. He is not talking about coming in salvation, as others would try to make us believe. He is not talking about coming in death, as unsaved religionists would have us believe, but it is the return of the Lord Jesus Himself in Person in His resurrected, glorified body. This makes it a living hope to the believer, the constant expectation of the return of Jesus Himself for His own.

When Christ ascended back to Heaven, and the disciples stood there gazing into the heavens which received Him, two men stood by them in white apparel and said, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? 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).

My friend, daily and nightly I am looking for the coming of my blessed Lord Jesus back to this earth again. Paul also brings this out so clearly in Heb. 9:28, "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation." This gracious Scripture also sets forth the hope of the return of Christ as a living hope. It must be a living hope. It is a living hope, and everyone who has been justified in Christ – that is, called out from the world by the Holy Spirit and made a new creature in Christ and adopted into the family of God – looks for His coming. My friend, if you are not looking for the coming of the Lord, you are not saved. If the coming of the Lord is just a doctrine to you, or is a cold event, and you are taken up with the different aspects of the Doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ, you do not know Him personally. You cannot say, "He is mine, and I am His." The return of our Lord to this earth for His own is a living reality and an experimental truth to every child of God. It is not only a part of his life; it is his whole existence. He is literally conscious of the fact that the Lord may come at any moment, and that is true.

When the church has lost this living hope, they may be living (that is, have natural life), but they are dead while they live. Then they will begin to substitute other hopes, such as the building of fine cathedrals or expensive temples of worship, their robed choirs and all their services. Their hope is to build large memberships. They will turn earth, sea, and sky inside out to make one proselyte. When you meet them, they are interested only in their extensive church programs, their ritualistic services. Very seldom do you hear them talk about the Lord Jesus Christ. They become offended at the mention of the Sacrifice. Their religion has become a devilish religion. They are earthbound, and their conversation is of things of the earth.

It is vastly different when you walk into the midst of a group where this hope is a blessed hope. They are talking about their Lord, what He has done for them, what sinners they are, what a saviour He is, how they long to be delivered from the old body of death that they have to carry around with them (Rom.7:24). They are looking for a city which has foundations whose Builder and Maker is God (Heb.11:10). Their conversation is in Heaven (Phil.3:20); their affections are set on things above where Christ sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Col.3:1,2). They are strangers and pilgrims on earth (Heb.11:13). They are a peculiar people and speak a peculiar language (Tit.2:14). They are a separate people (II Cor.6:17,18), hated and despised by the religious world, and otherwise. You may ask the question, "What makes the difference?" The first group knows nothing about the living Christ. The grace of God has had no effect on their lives. They sing about Christ, but they don't know Him.

Not only is the coming of the Lord back to earth again the living hope of the church, but it is the purifying hope. Listen to God's Word,
"Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure"
(I John 3:1-3).
We see here in these verses of Scripture the great love of God that has been bestowed upon us, but the world doesn't know it, or recognize it, because they do not know Christ. We are now the sons of God, but the world doesn't recognize us as such; and it is not made clear what we shall be when the Lord comes, but we do know that, when He comes, we will resemble – or "be like him" – for we shall see Him just as He really is. Isn't that gracious? That is the longing of the believer's heart. That's the living hope that rests within him, and that hope cleanses, or purifies, the believer as Christ is pure and undefiled.

So then we can assuredly say that this living hope purifies the believer, because we are constantly looking for Him, and everything believers do is in relationship to the coming of our Lord. We are not earthbound. "Our conversation (citizenship) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself" (Phil. 3:20, 21).

This hope causes the believer to be willing to suffer and to endure hardships as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. This hope will cause him to live under the shadow of misunderstanding and criticism and persecution with patience and longsuffering. This living hope will be the means of helping to mold his life and character like unto his blessed Lord. This hope will cause him to behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord, and, by beholding His face by faith, will change him into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

So we see it is a purifying hope. The individual who has not this hope will indulge in all the things
of the world. He may live above gross sins, but will be worldly in his attitude, in his practice, in his business, in his entire church life or religious life. But the individual who lives in the sunlight of this great hope of the coming of his Lord will be molded into the image of Christ. It will reflect in his face, in his conversation, in his everyday living, in his home life, his business life, and wherever he may move, whether at home or abroad, because Christ is the same to him on his vacation as he is at home.

The individual who does not have this living hope lives one life at home among his acquaintances and his church friends, and then he lives another life which is entirely different when he is abroad, where he thinks no one knows him, with this one thought in mind: "Well, I've got to have a little pleasure in life." This shows he does not know Christ. By the grace of God this living hope trains us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts that we may live soberly and righteously and godly in this present evil world (Tit.2:12). This living hope in a living Christ purifies unto Christ a peculiar people, zealous of good works, which means a people who are eager and enthusiastic about living a good life that is filled with beneficial deeds, and at the same time rejecting and renouncing with hatred all irreligious or passionate desires, and seeking to live a temperate life at home and abroad. Brother, that's what that living hope does for you.

Not only is this hope a living hope, a purifying hope, but it is a comforting hope.
"But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words" (I Thess. 4:13-18).

Paul here in connection with the second coming of Christ comforts the bereaved ones there in the church because some of their loved ones had fallen asleep in Jesus. How many times have I heard preachers try to comfort sorrowing saints by talking to them about Heaven! Nowhere in the Scriptures can you find that any writer tried to comfort sorrowing saints by talking to them about Heaven. Even on the night before Christ's crucifixion, He said to the disciples in their sorrow, "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:2, 3). The emphasis in this portion of Scripture is not on preparing a place for His disciples, but on His coming again for them. What would Heaven have meant to those sorrowing disciples apart from their Lord? The thing that comforted them was that He said, "I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also."

The believer's longing is not to go to Heaven, but to be with Christ. The believer would rather live in Hell with Christ than to live in Heaven without Him. So Paul said by the Word of the Lord that Christ is coming back. Now you comfort one another with these words. What words? Listen! "For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout." Not some representative, but the Lord Himself! He shall lay aside His priestly robe and deck Himself in the robe of a Bridegroom, and He shall descend from Heaven with a shout, with a summons in the form of a command, and the dead in Christ shall rise first.

As He stood at the tomb of Lazarus and cried with a loud voice, saying, "Lazarus, come forth!", He gave the command in the form of a summons. Lazarus came forth. So when our blessed Lord Himself shall return in midair with such a summons, accompanied with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God, all believing dead will come forth from their tombs, and then we which are alive at His coming shall be changed and, with the risen believers, shall be caught up with the Lord in the air. My friend, to my heart these are precious words. They are comforting words, I know it's a great mystery, because Paul said there In the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians, "Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep (that is, fall asleep in Jesus), but we shall all be changed (in other words, translated into the likeness of our risen Lord)." He said, "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (at the bat of an eye), at the last trump... the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed (that is, translated without passing through the throes of death)."

What is more comforting to the heart of a believer than that assurance based upon the eternal Word of God that our Lord is going to return? Won't it be a gracious moment of the day or night when we shall hear the summons from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself to come up to meet Him in the air! We shall lay aside these old bodies of sin and receive our new bodies made in the image of the Son of God, in which there will be no sin. When this corruption shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, we shall n e v e r know separation from our blessed Lord any more! Praise the Lord! The joy is to be with Him. We will be forever with Him, the One who died for us, the One who arose for us, the One in whom and through whom God gives us everything that we have or will ever need. Therefore we can wait. Time means nothing, because we are going to live forever and forever with Him. Amen. We can suffer, but we shall reign with Him. What a comfort!

Then in the fourth place, this is a hope of rejoicing. "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ a this coming? For ye are our glory and joy" (I Thess.2:19,20). As I sit and meditate on the coming of my Lord, apart from seeing Him and falling at His feet and worshipping Him, I contemplate the next great joy of presenting to Him the trophies of His grace through this ministry. You who have been saved as a result of this ministry are our hope, our joy, our crown of rejoicing in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming. You who have heard the Gospel under this ministry and have turned down the truth, you who will not have the Man Christ Jesus to rule over you, you will face a sad day at His coming when you are left behind.

As the unsaved religionist knows nothing of this living, purifying, comforting, and rejoicing hope in Christ, but is walking after his own lusts, he becomes a scoffer of this hope. He laughs and makes fun of this second coming of Christ. You can hear such a one say, "Where is the promise of His coming? Where is that blessed hope you are talking about?" There waits for that individual nothing but judgment and the fiery indignation of our Lord, as Paul said when writing to the Thessalonians, "When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe... in that day" (II Thess. 1:7-10). What a contrast between the saint and the sinner in the coming of our blessed Lord! Like the Apostle John, our cry is, "Even so, (come quickly), come, Lord Jesus."




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