In Luke 21, Jesus responds to a question about the signs of the end, “…they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness” (Luke 21:12-13).
Later in the same passage, Jesus concludes, “But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that are going to take place and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:36). Here, Jesus calls the disciples to live watchful lives of continuous prayer and points them to their ultimate hope, salvation on the last day.
Have you ever considered how these words must have landed on the disciples? Jesus paints them a bleak picture, assuring them their futures would include persecution and difficulty. He even got specific: They will abuse you. They will treat you like violent criminals. This is all part of my plan.
Perhaps the thought crossed their minds, “Jesus, might there be a way to serve you that doesn’t include pain and suffering?” We know from early church history that Jesus’ words did come true for each of them. Their lives from that moment got harder, not easier. They suffered, bore witness to Christ’s Gospel, remained faithful unto death, and are now present with the Lord awaiting the last day.
I wonder how the disciples kept themselves from responding to this difficult news with discouragement, sadness, and depression?
Today, we too often settle for a lesser hope than what Jesus gave his disciples on that day. When we comfort loved ones going through suffering, we tend to focus on the here and now. We encourage the sick with the hope of restored health. We encourage the unemployed with the hope of finding a job. We encourage the imprisoned with the hope of release. While helpful and encouraging, these things stop short of our ultimate hope, the hope that Jesus gave the disciples.
Jesus encouraged his disciples with the hope of standing before him on the last day. Paul describes the moment in 2nd Thessalonians, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another will these words” (4:17-18).
The Christian life can sometimes seem like a long trail of tears, full of difficulties, trials, and suffering. We may need to be encouraged regularly with reminders of hope. But if our hope is rooted solely in improving and fixing our lives here, we miss the sweet comfort of longing for and resting in our eternal hope. The greatest hope for every Christian is the climactic, glorious return of Christ. When we see him and are made like him (1 John 3:2), all our sufferings and difficulties will be permanently ended as we rejoice in the presence of the Lord forever. The return of Jesus Christ is always the Christian's best-case scenario.
This is the blessed hope we should meditate on every day, even as we seek to encourage one another. Let’s not let our greatest hope be for anything short of the glorious return of Christ. Think about it. Long for it. Watch and pray for it. Serve him and encourage one another until the future day when our blessed hope becomes our blessed reality as our Lord comes on the clouds with power and great glory (Matt. 24:30).