To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.– Colossians 1:17
Last night during a weekly men’s Bible study group, we were discussing the word “hope” as found in Colossians 1:27, which ends with the statement “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The Apostle Paul, who wrote this letter while in prison, explains to the Church at Colossae how the mystery of the word of God has finally been revealed to all through Jesus. The Greek word used for “word” is logos, the same logos used in the opening of the Gospel of John that reads “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Thus the mystery of the word of God, the logos that is behind the world, is Christ in you, the hope of glory. But in our discussion the word hope gave me pause to consider both its meaning and implications for Christians living in a present day world filled with a tremendous amount of angst and uncertainty.
The first entry given by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary for the word hope is “to cherish a desire with anticipation: to want something to happen or be true.” This definition fits with my initial response to the use of the word hope in this passage in Colossians, which sees the term used in the context of uncertainty and wishful thinking. This definition permeates modern Christianity in the sense that as Christians were are often hoping or wishing or waiting for the best outcome to occur in whatever situation we find ourselves in. Right now we are hoping that COVID-19 goes away so we can get on with our lives. We are wishing that the civil unrest that has been taking place in our cities following the George Floyd murder works itself out to a peaceful solution. We are desiring positive results from the Presidential election in November no matter who wins. But this sense of hope is not guaranteed or inevitable or certain.
I do not believe that the word hope is mistranslated in our Bibles as this is the common word used in almost all English translations. More likely it is that the modern definition of the word has changed from its original meaning. The Greek word used in this passage and the rest of the New Testament is elpis, which can also be translated to the word “expectation.” Expectation, in modern English, has a different connotation than hope. Expectation carries the weight of assurance. It states that an outcome will happen and not that it is just a wish or desire or dream. Perhaps expectation is a better fit for our purposes here: “Christ in you, the expectation of glory.”
Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection stands as the final victory over sin and death. When he died, Jesus’ final words were “It is finished.” The spiritual battles on earth might still be raging but the war has already been won. There is no hope or desire or wish for salvation in Christ- It is already done. Romans 10:9 states “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Perhaps it is only an argument of semantics, but I believe that this mindset change, of the expectation of glory in Christ instead of merely hope, can strengthen one’s faith and resolve during tumultuous times such as these. We are not hoping to be spared from the ill effects of COVID; we are expecting that whether or not we suffer from it we will someday be united with Christ in heaven. We can hope that the racial and economic injustice that plagues our fallen world can be solved in our time, but we can expect that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). And while we pray that the political order continues to allow the free expression of our faith in the world, we are assured that even in the face of persecution and possible martyrdom that Christ has prepared a place in heaven for us (John 14:2).
I believe that this expectation of the glory of Christ is what drove Paul to completely change his course in life from persecuting Christians to being the one persecuted for Christ. As he sat in that prison cell, knowing that eventually he would be executed by the Romans once his mission was complete, he had assurance after having met the risen Christ himself while alive that he would be granted eternal life upon his death. And we too, as Christians living in uncertain times, should freely and fully live our lives with those same expectations.