Faith after Jesus returns
The argument that faith ends at the Second Coming is usually based on —
(Heb 11:1 ESV) Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
The idea is that if faith and hope expire at the Second Coming, then love lasts longer (making it greater?), but since faith and hope must “abide” beyond the duration of tongues, prophecy, and knowledge, these lesser gifts must have passed away at some time before Jesus’ return.
But Paul does not say that love lasts longer than faith or hope, and he is specific that tongues, prophecy, and knowledge will be destroyed at the Second Coming. Nonetheless, to be all-the-more certain of the conclusion, let’s see whether the traditional argument correctly interprets Heb 11:1.
This passage is often taken as a definition of “faith,” but it’s not. It’s a description of one element of faith: trust. I’m assured of things hoped for because I trust God’s promises. I’m convicted of the truth of things not seen because I trust God to have told the truth about such things.
The passage is not an exhaustive treatment of what faith is in Hebrews, ‘but a characterization of some key aspects of the faith of the OT witnesses’.
Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews (Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 398. Other commentaries agree.
The point of the passage is that it takes faith to trust in promises not yet fulfilled. In a sense, we Christians need less faith than these Old Testament heroes because we’ve seen so many of God’s promises fulfilled, which they did not get to see.
(Heb 11:39-40 ESV) And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
What is it that the Old Testament heroes trusted in but did not see? “What was promised”? What did we receive — “better for us”– that they did not? Well, that “they should … be made perfect.”
“Made perfect” is a theme that courses throughout Hebrews. For example,
(Heb 10:14 NIV) For by one sacrifice [Jesus] has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
“Made perfect” describes the grace we find in Jesus by the power of his sacrifice. We are “made perfect forever” even though we are not yet fully holy. And this is the “something better for us” that was not provided the Old Testament heroes during their lifetimes. They did not live to see Jesus and his resurrection. Their forgiveness came by the power of the cross — which to them was far in the future.
Hence, this passage is not saying that faith ends at the Second Coming, but that the faith of the Old Testament heroes is greater than our faith because they believed in a salvation not yet realized in Jesus, while we believe in a resurrection that has already happened.
On the other hand, Hebrews turns to the Second Coming by the end of chapter 12. He is not saying that faith expired with the resurrection of Jesus! He is only saying that we need to appreciate how fortunate we are to have our faith better confirmed than the heroes of the Old Testament did — and to take courage by their example. Consider their sacrifice for the gospel long before the gospel was even announced in its fullness!
So can faith survive the Second Coming? Well, let’s try for a better definition. As I’ve covered here many times, “faith” in the Greek refers not only believing something to be true, but also having trust in someone’s promises, and most importantly, being faithful.
Can I be faithful after Jesus returns? Of course. Can I trust God’s promises after Jesus returns? Well, most of those promises will have been kept — but his promise is to keep his promises forever — to save me and to save me eternally. And so, yes, I’ll be with Jesus trusting him to continue to keep me save by his side forever.
Can I believe in something that I see? Well, did the Jews healed by Jesus have faith — even though they saw the healing with their own eyes? Of course. And after Jesus returns, I’ll believe that he is the Messiah sent by God. I’ll believe in the cross and the resurrection. I’ll make Jesus Lord. I’ll still have faith.
Hope after Jesus returns
(Rom 8:24-25 ESV) 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Just so, it is traditionally argued that, based on this verse, hope must end at the Second Coming.
Again, the logic seems impeccable — until we realize that Paul uses “hope” in multiple senses. “Hope” can be the feeling that I have that carries me on as I trust in God’s not-yet-fulfilled promises (as in Rom 8:24-25). But “hope” can also be what I hope for.
(Col 1:3-5 ESV) We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.
And in that sense, hope never dies, but abides forever because what we hope for will abide forever. And we’ll always have hope — confident assurance — that Jesus will continue to honor his promises forever. Remember: New Testament “hope” is not “hope against hope.” It’s a confident assurance of God’s promises.
So I apologize for going all the around the world to get next door, but the interpretation of these passages is the primary argument against the interpretation of chapter 13 I argue for in the first post of this series.
I’ve never been convinced by the argument that “that which is perfect” refers to the New Testament or completed apostolic revelation. Until recently, I did not have the Greek tools to properly sort through the grammar — but now I see that Paul was plainly drawing a line at the Second Coming, and the major, conservative commentaries agree.
And so we just have to live with not having that argument available to disprove modern day miracles. But I’m good with that. I don’t know that I care to live in a world where God is no longer in charge.