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Hope: A Sure and Steadfast Anchor of the Soul

The Anchor of our Soul

The author of Hebrews speaks of our hope as an anchor that has dug itself deep into heavenly ground behind the curtain where Christ has gone as our forerunner (Heb. 6:19-20). A forerunner, as Geerhardus Vos points out, is not someone who merely leads and opens access, but also anticipates in himself the enjoyment of the access that he mediates to others. In the same way the firstfruits anticipate the full harvest to come, so Christ has entered into heaven anticipating in himself the heavenly existence that awaits his church.

The seismic quake of this teaching is of such magnitude for the Christian life as it breaks the richter scale of purely naturalistic thinking. It shakes us to the truth that the Christian faith is unreservedly (and unabashedly so) supernatural, for we are vitally connected in Christ to an unseen world beyond our senses. Just as an anchor descends out of sight into the depths of dark waters during a storm to hold the ship in safety, so our hope ascends out of sight into the everlasting city whose maker and builder is God. Calvin writes in his commentary on Hebrews,

There is this difference, that an anchor is cast down on the sea because there is solid ground at the bottom, but our hope rises and flies aloft because it finds nothing to stand on in this world. It cannot rely on created things, but finds rest in God alone. Just as the cable on which the anchor hangs joins the ship itself to the ground through a long dark gulf, so the truth of God is a chain for binding us to himself, so that no distance of place and no darkness may hinder us from cleaving to him. When we are bound in this way to God, even though we have to contend with continual storms, we are safe from the danger of shipwreck. That is why he says that the anchor is sure and steadfast. It is possible for an anchor to be torn out or for a cable to break or a ship to be broken in pieces by the violence of the waves. That happens on the sea. But the power of God to support us is quite different, as is also the strength of hope and the firmness of his Word.

Biblical hope is not wishful thinking that does nothing more than fuel otherworldly fantasies or provide an unhealthy escape from reality; rather, it is a dynamic link to a real heavenly world from which we draw Spiritual strength and sustenance for the present. It empowers the church not to be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (Heb. 6:11-12).

Hope and Faith

Hope and faith, then, are intimately related as the author of Hebrews later makes explicit: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Vos explains in his sermon, Heavenly-Mindedness, “[Faith] is the organ for apprehension of unseen and future realities, giving access to and contact with another world. It is the hand stretched out through the vast distances of space and time, whereby the Christian draws to himself the things far beyond, so that they become actual to him” (Grace and Glory, 104). The great feats we read about in Hebrews 11 were only possible because of faith, through which “the powers of the higher world were placed at the disposal of those whom this world threatened to overwhelm. … The entire description rests on the basis of supernaturalism; these are the annals of grace, magnalia Christi” (Grace and Glory, 107).

The apostle Paul will also at times speak of hope and faith in a similar way. “Hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom. 8:24-25). “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18). And so “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).

The Ascension of Christ

The ascension of Christ into heaven as our forerunner establishes our hope, expands our worldview to what is unseen, and lifts our gaze upward to where Christ is seated at the right hand of God in power. The Heidelberg Catechism captures well this dynamic interplay between heaven and earth. In its exposition of the Apostles’ Creed, it asks, “What do we mean by saying ‘He ascended into heaven?'” (Q. 46). Answer: “That Christ, while his disciples watched, was lifted up from the earth to heaven[1] and will be there for our good[2] until he comes again to judge the living and the dead.[3]” In this answer we see reflected, first, the biblical worldview that encompasses both heaven and earth, and, second, the truth we find especially in the letter to the Hebrews that Christ ascended not for himself, but for the interest and benefit of his church.

But wouldn’t it actually be better if Christ walked among us in his glorified body on earth? Well, flexing its pedagogical muscles, the Heidelberg Catechism asks the right pastoral question that naturally arises from this concern: “How does Christ’s ascension into heaven benefit us?” (Q. 49). It gives three answers.

“First, he pleads our cause in heaven in the presence of his Father.”[4]

Let this sink in: we have an advocate before God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. Greater than having the ear of any person of power on earth, we have the exalted Christ, our elder brother, whose influence is unbounded, pleading for us at the highest court, where the affairs of earth are settled and everyone’s lot determined.

Herman Veldkamp, in his excellent commentary on the catechism, writes, “Thus Christ is our Advocate and Intercessor in the heavenly palace. He is for that the most proper Person for He has entered into our human life and knows all our weaknesses, our temptations. No one is better able than He to be touched with our infirmities and He is always moved with compassion for us. In heaven He does not forget us as the butler forgot Joseph in prison. He is mindful of us and speaks for us” (170).

The ascension of Christ, then, teaches us to resign from the power struggle of this world, knowing that the One in whom all authority in heaven and earth belongs, is always for us. We can live boldly and courageously for the cause of Christ knowing that it alone, unfailingly, will prosper in the end. And even if we grow weary in our prayers and may even stop in despondency, Christ keeps on praying as our Great High Priest.

“Second, we have our own flesh in heaven– a guarantee that Christ our head will take us, his members, to himself in heaven.”[5]

The apostle Paul writes, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our body of humiliation to be like his body of glory, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20-21). In 1 Corinthians 15 he teaches us that this resurrected body fitted for heaven is a Spiritual body that is marked by power, glory and imperishability.

“Since Christ has taken our flesh into heaven, there is nothing in the world or in hell that shall prevent the glorious entrance of His purchased ones into heaven. There is nothing anymore that will keep us back. Even if open hell with all its devil-hosts grimaces at us. Wonderful! That Christ as the Head will take us, His members, to be with him. He went on before. We follow!” (Veldkamp, 171).

“Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth as a further guarantee.[6] By the Spirit’s power we make the goal of our lives, not earthly things, but the things above where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand.[7]”

The last benefit the catechism mentions brings us back to our concern of heavenly-mindedness. Notice the exchange of pledges between heaven and earth: As Christ takes our own (glorified) flesh with him into heaven, so he sends his Spirit to earth. With our flesh in heaven, we have a sure pledge that Christ will always remember us. With his Spirit on earth, we have a counter pledge, that we will always remember him.

By the Spirit’s power our grip on this world is loosened and whole of our lives are directed heavenward. The Spirit brings us to say with the Psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25-26).

Scripture Proofs:

[1] Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-11

[2] Rom. 8:34; Eph. 4:8-10; Heb. 7:23-25; 9:24

[3] Acts 1:11

[4] Rom. 8:34; 1 John 2:1

[5] John 14:2; 17:24; Eph. 2:4-6

[6] John 14:16; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 5:5

[7] Col. 3:1-4


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