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In present-day society, the word “hope” often refers to wishful thinking or to the expectation that something positive is going to happen. This understanding of hope is certainly found in the Bible (see Luke 23:8, for example). In the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament), Hebrew words translated as “hope” refer to “waiting with expectation,” but also to “trusting and being full of confidence.”
Often this kind of hope is used in connection with trust in God’s saving help (Ps 71:5; Jer 14:8; 17:13). In some passages, God will watch over, that is, protect and bless, those who continue to place their trust in God alone (Ps 33:18). Trusting, or placing hope, in anyone or anything other than God leads to disaster (Exod 20:3-5; Ps 49:5-14; Isa 44:9-11). After the time of the exile in Babylonia, Israel’s prophets described Israel’s hope for the future, not so much in terms of renewed political power, but in terms of renewed hearts and minds (Jer 29:10-14; 31:31-33).
In the centuries before Jesus, many Jewish people began to believe that Israel’s hope for new life would be fully realized only when God defeated the people who opposed God’s rule or oppressed God’s people. At that time God would create a new kingdom for God’s people. This kind of hope is especially important in a type of writing known as “apocalyptic” (see Dan 7–12; Zech 9–14).
Hope is an important theme and idea in the New Testament, especially in the letters of Paul. For Paul, hope is closely connected to faith and love. The “hope that we will be saved” is a Christian’s “helmet,” while faith and love are like a “suit of armor” (1 Thes 5:8). He compares faith to “firm hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thes 1:3). These three are combined and highlighted also in 1 Corinthians 13:13. Christians can hope, Paul says, because God raised Jesus to life, and all who have faith in Jesus will be raised to be with Jesus forever (1 Thes 4:13-18). Jesus died on the cross to set people free from sin so that they could be accepted by God (Rom 3:25,26). Even so, those who have faith in this promise need hope so that they can continue to be faithful until the future time when their salvation is complete and they share in the glory of God (Rom 5:1-5; 8:23-25; Phil 3:10-14).
In the New Testament as in the Old Testament, one thing that sets apart God’s people is their unique kind of hope (Heb 3:6; 6:11; 10:23), and it is their faith that makes them sure of what they hope for (Heb 11:1). So, faith creates hope, but hope, in turn, is needed to keep faith strong and to give Christ’s followers courage to face trials and testing (1 Pet 1:3-9; 3:14-16).