The Holy Spirit Gives Us Hope in the Last Days

The Holy Spirit as a dove on stained glass windows, from the Holy Trinity Catholic Church (Trinity, Indiana), Nheyob, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A previous article briefly outlined three areas of mission where the Holy Spirit guides and empowers us. We rejoice that we can understand what “Spiritual” fruit looks like (Gal. 5:22-23), that the Spirit leads us as we embody and proclaim the message of Jesus (Acts 8), and that the Spirit orchestrates our mutual collaboration as we share our Spirit-bestowed gifts with those around us (I Cor.12, Rom. 12).

     This may sound like life is smooth sailing when we follow the Holy Spirit, but is that the case? Do our challenges just melt away? Does the Spirit guiding us guarantee our “success,” resulting in fruit readily born, lives easily transformed, and collaborations without challenge or suffering? How does the Holy Spirit lead and nurture us during our trials, temptations and tribulations (James 1)? In this article we will explore how the Bible assures us of the hope that we have in the Holy Spirit as we try to live faithfully with God. Paul described this hope to the church in Rome: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13).

Metaphors of Hope

 A photo of a wheat field in Israel, via Wikimedia Commons

Paul employs “three important metaphors” that “capture”[1] his understanding of how the Holy Spirit leads us in these “last days” (Acts 2:17), inaugurated at Pentecost when Peter preached to those gathered in Jerusalem. First, he asserts that we “have the firstfruits of the Spirit” (Romans 8:23). The term firstfruits is rich with meaning. Agriculturally speaking, it is the earliest of a harvest given to God (Ex. 23:19):

By giving the firstfruits as an offering to God, the Israelites acknowledged that all the harvest—in fact, everything they had—came from God and belonged to Him. The offering of firstfruits was likewise an expression of faith that something else—the harvest of the rest of the crop—would come later. [2]

Other Bible passages echo this faith or hope in the coming harvest. Firstfruits is used to describe the nation of Israel (Jeremiah 2:3), the first converts in a region (Rom. 16:5, I Cor. 16:15), and, significantly, the resurrected Christ, “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Cor. 15:20).  As Paul states: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him” (I Cor. 15:22-23). The firstfruits of a crop hint at the mature harvest to come. Leonard Allen writes that

As the ‘firstfruits,’ the Spirit provides both evidence and guarantee—evidence of our adoption as God’s children and status as joint heirs with Christ, and guarantee of our final adoption, which is the redemption of our bodies.[3]

We claim the forward-looking promise of the “firstfruits” of the Holy Spirit as we await our final adoption to come.

     The second metaphor associated with the Holy Spirit is one of “down payment or guarantee (2 Cor. 1:21-22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14).”[4] Allen continues as follows:[5]

God has given us “his Spirit in our hearts as a first installment (arrabon)” (2 Cor. 1:22, NRSV). This is a term used only in reference to the Spirit in the New Testament. The New International Version translates it in both 2 Corinthian passages as “a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” The Spirit is “the certain evidence that the future has come into the present, the sure guarantee that the future will be realized in full measure.”[6]

As Lesslie Newbigin explains, arrabon “is a commercial word denoting a cash deposit paid as a pledge of the full amount to be paid later.”[7] Paul uses this metaphor to assure his listeners of what the Holy Spirit provides right now and of the promise of what is yet to come. He gives them hope.

     Finally, the third metaphor of hope that Paul employs to describe the Holy Spirit is that of a “seal” (2 Cor. 1:21-22; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30).[8] A seal on a letter verifies who authored it and signifies that the author backs up the document’s contents. In a similar way, we have the backing of being owned by the Holy Spirit, “with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). We belong to God, who will guarantee our future, if only we continue to walk in step with the Holy Spirit.

Pointing Us Forward, Meeting Us Where We Are

     Paul’s use of metaphors such as the firstfruits, an installment, and a seal nurtures our faith to anticipate the future that God is preparing for us in these last days. Theologians describe this looking forward, this having “already” achieved a standing but at the same time anticipating a “not yet,” as a view of the “eschaton.” The Greek is ἔσχατος, η, ον, or ésxatos, which means “properly, last, final (the furthest, extreme-end)”—from this word we also derive the term “eschatology,” which is “‘the study of last things.’”[9] While it is not the purpose of this article to explore what these “last days” will exactly look like, suffice it to say that the Holy Spirit guides us in these times and gives us God’s pledge that we will stand on the very last day.

     Before then, however, we will continue to suffer trials, temptations, and tribulations (James 1:2-4).[10] As we “serve God by his Spirit” we must also experience “participation in his sufferings” (Phil 3:3, 3:10). Consider the eschatological language Paul employs below:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoptions as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Romans 8:22-25

We are assured of what we already have and long to see the fulfillment of the future to come but it has not totally arrived yet. We labor in the here and now, with all our imperfections, as we yearn to see all of God’s promised kingdom come to full fruition. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit truly guides us through our tests:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Romans 8:26-27

Not knowing even how to pray in our trials, we are blessed by the Holy Spirit, who expresses for us our inarticulate groans, pleading for us before God.[11] When all of our other words fail, we have special support from the Holy Spirit, who enables us to call out to our Father in heaven:[12]

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:14-17

Heirs to an inheritance from God, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit as we share in Christ’s sufferings. The Spirit intercedes for us, especially when we are weak and know not what to pray.

     The Holy Spirit also gives us the words to say before man. Paul, Silas, and Timothy relied on the Spirit when they preached in Thessalonica, knowing that their gospel “came… not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction” (I Thess. 1:5). Jesus himself encouraged His disciples not to worry about what to say when they were arrested, for “The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say at the moment when you need them” (Luke 12:12; see also Matt. 10:20, Mark 13:11). Whenever we struggle to proclaim Christ before others, the Holy Spirit enables us to express ourselves. He remains our Helper and Advocate.

     Meeting us in our weakness as a community, the Holy Spirit nurtures our interpersonal relationships as well. It is only through the “common sharing in the Spirit” (Phil 2:1) that we can begin to live with a humility where we surrender our self-interests and imitate the sacrificial love of Jesus, exhibited fully in his death on the cross (Phil. 2: 1-8). As we follow the way of Jesus’ kingdom, the church becomes a “community of broken walls.”[13] Boundaries between individuals and groups disintegrate, relationships draw closer, and deeper connections forged as we “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). We can taste more fully the future that we all desire as we labor with the Holy Spirit, sharing our gifts for mutual edification, so that together we may embody more deeply the kingdom that Jesus preached about.

Conclusion: A Taste of the Coming Banquet

     Do we believe that the best is yet to come? Do we rest assured that we have but a hint of the full harvest, that we are sealed by the Spirit, that an initial payment has been made on our behalf? Newbigin writes that

The Spirit is a foretaste of the messianic feast. The presence of the Spirit is a real presence of the love, joy, and peace that belong to God’s perfect reign, but it is not yet the fullness of these things. It is a sign that the last things have begun (Acts 2:17); consequently it both assures us of their coming and makes us hope more eagerly for their fruition. It is in this way that the presence of the Spirit brings a powerful witness to the reality of the reign of God to which the world is otherwise blind.[14]

Before the complete banquet arrives, we have been given an appetizer from the master chef. We have a taste but also must wait patiently. We are heirs to the coming kingdom. The Spirit walks before us at all times, especially when the world rejects Christ and we suffer as a result. The Holy Spirit gives us hope in our weakness as we await the fullness of time when all that is promised will be fulfilled by God.

***

Some questions to encourage an attentiveness to the Holy Spirit:

1. Read Romans chapter 8. What words or ideas in the chapter especially grab your attention? Can you relate to the suffering that Paul talks about? Can you recall times in your life when you suffered but gained strength and comfort from the Holy Spirit?

2. We know life is not all smooth sailing. When the trials and tribulations come, where do you go for help? Do you rest assured in the presence of the Holy Spirit, seeking guidance from the spiritually mature, or do you look elsewhere for strength? How well do those alternative sources of “hope” work for you? Discuss with a friend.

2. Part of having hope or waiting patiently (Rom 8:25) is to endure.[15] In what areas of your life, relationships, or community may the Holy Spirit be calling you to wait patiently and endure? Discuss your need for endurance with a friend. 


[1] For what follows regarding these metaphors, see Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 806-808, as cited by Leonard Allen, Poured Out: The Spirit of God Empowering the Mission of God (Abilene, Texas: Abilene Christian University Press, 2018), 88. 

[2] Mike Livingstone, “5 Kinds of Firstfruits (Session 5 – John 20:3-9; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28),” found at https://explorethebible.lifeway.com/blog/adults/5-kinds-of-firstfruits-session-5-john-203-9-1-corinthians-1520-28/, accessed in November 2022.

[3] Leonard Allen, Poured Out, 89.

[4] Allen, 89.

[5] Allen, 89.

[6] Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 807.

[7] Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 58.

[8] Allen, 89.

[9] Bible Hub, “Strong’s Concordance: 2078. Eschatos,” found at https://biblehub.com/greek/2078.htm , accessed on November 6, 2022.

[10] I thank teaching team member Aaron Chow for this reminder, given recently in a sermon.

[11] For more discussion on the intercession of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8, see Douglas J. Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans: A Theological Survey (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2002), 131-142.

[12] Besides this passage, Paul also cites how the Holy Spirit enables us to call out to the Father in Galatians 4:4-7.

[13] Leonard Allen, Poured Out, 176. The argument in this paragraph essentially belongs to Allen.

[14] Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, 62-63.

[15] Douglas Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans, 139. Moo writes that “the Greek underlying the word ‘patiently’ (di’ hypomonēs) contains the idea of endurance.”

Author: Dan Liu

Dan has degrees from Yale (American Studies), Harvard (public policy), and Rochester University (religious education). He serves as an elder in the Hong Kong Church of Christ. Married for 32 years, he has two sons, one daughter-in-law, and one grandchild. Email: danliu1961@gmail.com. Dan 擁有耶魯(美國研究)、哈佛 (公共政策)、Rochester University (宗教教育) 等院校學位。現時是香港基督教會長老。結婚32年,育有兩子及一兒媳、一孫兒。電郵:danliu1961@gmail.com

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