Lesson 13

* December 21 - 27

Ultimate Things

Sabbath Afternoon  

December 21

READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY:  1 Thess. 4:13-18.

MEMORY TEXT: "Encourage each other with these words" (1 Thessalonians 4:18, NIV).

KEY THOUGHTS:  Hope keeps us alive, not as some vague desire for something better in this life now but as the promised redemption found in Christ Jesus, who, having paid such a dear price for our souls, will come back again and retrieve these souls. Just as the disciples felt their hearts burn within them on the road to Emmaus, as we walk the road toward God's eternal kingdom, His promises of hope keep faith alive and burning in our hearts. "We have this hope that burns within our hearts—hope in the coming of the Lord."

EVERYTHING IN HUMAN LIFE AND HUMAN HISTORY," wrote Reinhold Niebuhr, "moves toward an end." He is right. Whether sooner or whether later, the end, or at least an end, is coming. As Christians, we know what that end is. And even if we don't know when the end will come, we know how it will come and why it ends as it does. That is why we have such a great hope, because not only do we know how it will end, we also know the promise— sealed with "the death of the testator" (Heb. 9:16)—that will be unfurled and presented at the end, the promise that we shall "meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:17). It does not get any better than that!  

*Please study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, Dec. 28.

Sunday  December 22


"But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope" (1 Thess. 4:13).  

Read this text in the context of the verses for the week. What is Paul specifically talking about? Why should they not sorrow over those who are asleep? Why do some have "no hope"? No hope for what?  

American author Benjamin Franklin once said that only two things were certain, death and taxes (and though not everyone pays the same taxes, everyone faces death).

All people—no matter their race, age, religion, gender, economic status, or tax bracket—confront the reality of death. Whether it comes slowly and anticipated or quick and unexpectedly, death strikes, taking us into the tomb.

Though many questions about death remain unanswered, one thing is certain: It remains our most inflexible and uncompromising enemy. It accepts no surrender, it takes no prisoners, it offers no truces, but, instead, it strafes, snipes, and shells until every cell wall crumbles and all within drains out and decays. Death is a foe impossible for us to hunt out and destroy, because it is made out of what we are. In a universe without God and without hope, what is life, what is death but different mixes of the same stew? If everything that we live for, struggle for, and hope for ends in the grave, forever, life becomes so meaningless, so pointless. If the grave is the ultimate end, what are living human beings, other than pubescent versions of the dead?

Peter wrote: "Hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 1:13). Hope to the end? What end is he talking about? How does this text fit in with the one we have looked at today? (See also Matt 10:22.)

Shakespeare once wrote that life is "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." In light of today's lesson on those who have "no hope," why does Shakespeare have a point? How might you rephrase the same idea? How did Paul express the same idea in 1 Corinthians 15?  

Monday  December 23


"For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air:  and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:16, 17). 

Read the above verses and, in your own words, with as much detail as you can, write down what they are saying that will happen sometime in the future: 

At least two things stand out from these promises, two things that can help us keep this hope in perspective. First, the Second Coming is something totally out of the ordinary. Nothing in nature, history, or logic portends or even hints at it; on the contrary, in and of themselves, nature and history tell us that when we die we turn into nothing but carbon and dust and that the closest we will come to life again is when we fertilize a tree or feed the bacteria that dissolve our corpses. This tells us that the most important hope we have, the only hope that gives life any real meaning, is a hope in something that is impossible for us to accomplish on our own. We are totally helpless, totally dependent, totally at the mercy of God. If this doesn't keep us humble, nothing will.

Second, and tied to the first, is that we have this great hope only because we have been told about it. No amount of pure logic, science, reasoning, or study of the natural world could tell us about the Second Coming. We couldn't figure it out on our own; no scientific experiments will teach us about it. It is a supernatural event, an event that transcends anything in nature itself. We know about it only because we have been told about it by God, who has revealed this truth to us through His Word. Without that revelation, how else could we know about this wonderful hope? We could not.

Read again the two texts for today. In light of the above discussion, what do they tell us about our ultimate hope? In other words, because our hope is utterly dependent upon something outside ourselves or anything that we can ever accomplish, how should we relate to it? Hint: An answer can be found, perhaps, in what we are supposed to do on the Sabbath.  

Tuesday  December 24


Read again 1 Thessalonians 4:14. Paul's point is that Jesus died and rose from death; thus, because of His death and resurrection, we who die in faith will rise from death, as well. This has to be our ultimate hope, because whatever else we have, whatever we accomplish, whatever we gain, sooner or later it ends with our death. If death is the end, everything we do would all come to nothing. Fortunately, thanks to Jesus, death is not our final stop.

"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (Heb. 2:9). Paul said that Christ died for every man. Think about the implications of that statement. Every person? What does that mean?  

From Cain to the world's worst mass murderers, from the homosexual rapists in Sodom to the pornographers in California, from the person who stuck a spear in Christ's side to the one who lighted the fire that burned John Hussy, from Adam's first sin to the last man's final sin and every one in between—the legal penalty for the most outrageous and sadistic and lustful deeds has been paid, in full, by Jesus at the Cross. There, at Calvary, He bore the righteous judgment of a righteous God against all sin, with not one transgression—from the rape of Nanking to John the Baptist's most sinful thoughts—left out or unpaid for. If even one sin were overlooked, then the person who had committed it would have no hope of salvation, no chance at the promises found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. Yet, that is impossible because Christ died for everyone, and for that death to save anyone, all sin had to be covered by Christ's death, no exceptions allowed. "No sin can be committed by man for which satisfaction," wrote Ellen White, "has not been met on Calvary."—Selected Messages, book 1, p. 343. To borrow an analogy from accounting, the books had to be perfectly balanced, down to the penny.

Because those sins have been paid for, those who by faith claim the merits of Jesus can have the precious hope that because Jesus rose from the dead they have the promise that they will rise, as well.

Dwell more on this idea that Christ died for every human being. That includes the world's worst. Yet, all their sins were there, at the Cross. What does that tell us about the unfathomable love that God has toward us? How does this truth give you hope that, whatever evil you might have done, the penalty already has been paid by Jesus? 

Wednesday  December 25


"Therefore encourage each other with these words" (1 Thess. 4:18, NIV).  

Christianity is nothing if not a religion of hope. Christ's whole time here on earth was spent, in one way or another, giving fallen sinful beings encouragement, hope, and the promise of something better.

Pick one Gospel story, any one, scan through it, and mark down the places where Jesus spoke words of hope and encouragement to people. Note what the words were and the specific situation that was being addressed.  

We, as His professed followers, should also speak words of cheer and hope to those in need. And though most of us never raise the dead or heal lepers, we still have the privilege (not to mention the sacred responsibility) to sharing hope to those around us as did Jesus. And while we might not be able to perform the kind of miracles that Jesus did, we all are able to perform acts of kindness, of self-sacrifice, and of self-denying love that could give our words a power that otherwise they might not have.

Basing his message on Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, Paul, here in 1 Thessalonians, was able to give hope and encouragement to those who were reading this letter. Should we not be able to do the same for others?

Look at the text for today. Paul said to "encourage each other" with these words. Paul was talking to other Christians, those who believe in Jesus, those who were in the church already. In other words, even Christians at times need to encourage and inspire the gift of hope in each other.

Are there those whom you know, right now, who are going through some terrible struggles: death, sickness, loss of employment, whatever? If so, taking in the sweep of this entire quarter's lesson, what could you say that might be able to give them hope? Look at this particular situation in light of the great hope we have as Christians and see if there is not only something you can say but something you can do as you say it that could help these people believe the words that you are speaking. In short, do not just say something kind to them— do something kind, as well! It could make all the difference in impacting people with what you say.  

Thursday  December 26


"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, NIV). 

As we conclude these studies on living the Advent hope, let us always remember the source of hope and the destiny of hope:  God Himself, the "God of hope."

The God of hope. What a short, concise, and accurate description of the God who came to us so that one day we can come to Him. He is the God who lived close to humanity, as the Son of man, so that one day we can live close to God, as the sons and daughters of God. He is the God who, as Ellen White famously wrote, "was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves"; the God who "was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share"; the God who "suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His."—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 25. No wonder He is called the God of hope.

Look at the text for today. The verb translated here "overflow" also can mean "exceed, abound, increase, have more than enough of." Thus, we are to overflow in or exceed in or increase in or even have more than enough hope, not by anything we can do but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Is this talking about always being happy, in a good mood, cheerful (was Paul?); or is it talking about something else? If so, what? How should we understand the phrase? How can we abound in hope even in stressful, painful times?  

Frederick Nietzsche wrote that hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs the torments of man. In contrast, Paul told us to "overflow in hope" through the love and mercy coming from "the God of hope."

In many ways, these two statements encapsulate the two basic choices that all people face: life or death, glory or shame, hope or hopelessness. There is no middle ground.

One day the universe will be clean of sin, sinners, and evil, completely. Thus, this leaves us, as human beings, with only one of two final ends. When all is said and done, either we will be removed once and for all with sin, sinners, and evil; or we will live, forever, in a closeness with the God of hope, who, through Jesus, opened the way for all of us, even the worst of us, to dwell with Him in paradise.

The options are that clear, that stark, that different, that ultimate; for we are dealing here with, indeed, ultimate things.  

Friday  December 27

FURTHER STUDY:   "Someday, and soon, the skies will disclose their glorious Maker. Someday we who often watch the sky will see a cloud such as we have never seen before. . . . A cloud will one day be seen that will be the chariot of heaven's King of glory when He comes to refresh His saints.

"What a sight it will be! How it enraptures the faithful ones who 'love His appearing,' and who have hoped to the end 'for the grace that is to be brought unto' them 'at the revelation of Jesus Christ.' Of a sudden the blazing light of day will take on a new brightness, above all the glory of the sun, and grow still more light, more bright, and more dazzling, until there is revealed to us the advancing glory of the King of Kings. And on a glory cloud of myriads of angels the all-conquering Christ will come again to earth."—Carlyle B. Haynes, Present Truth, Mar. 15, 1940.

"One of the most solemn and yet most glorious truths revealed in the Bible is that of Christ's second coming to complete the great work of redemption. To God's pilgrim people, so long left to sojourn in 'the region and shadow of death,' a precious, joy-inspiring hope is given in the promise of His appearing, who is 'the resurrection and the life,' to 'bring home again his banished.' The doctrine of the second advent is the very keynote of the Sacred Scriptures."—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 299.  

1. Look at the above quote by Ellen White. What does she mean when she says that at the Second Coming the work of redemption will be complete? Didn't Jesus complete it at the Cross? Discuss.  
2. On the other hand, unity is important, but do we want it at all costs? Discuss whatever answer you give.  

SUMMARY: "Encourage each other with these words" (1 Thess. 4:18, NIV).  

InSide Story

God's Gentle Leading

J. H. Zachary

Rathna was a carpenter living with his wife and young daughter in a small village in North Andhra, India. Then the couple's three-year-old daughter fell seriously ill, and they took her to several doctors for treatment. But the doctors gave them no hope. "Your daughter will not live for more than a week," they said. The couple turned to their Hindu priests for help, but the priests could offer no hope for the child either.

Then the couple remembered Ludian, who had visited the village and told the people about Jesus. Some said that when Ludian prayed, Jesus healed them.

The couple took their little girl to Ludian's home in a distant village. As Ludian prayed, the child seemed to improve slightly. Ludian told the couple to fast and pray to Jesus for three days, and their daughter would be healed. The couple fasted and prayed for five days. They rejoiced when their daughter was completely healed.

A short time later Ludian, the wife of a Protestant pastor, held evangelistic meetings in their town. The couple attended every night and accepted Jesus as their Savior in response to Ludian's invitation.

They were deeply in love with Jesus and began sharing their faith with others. A Protestant pastor urged them to work full time for God and start a Christian church in their village.

Rathna began sharing God's love with his neighbors. Their testimony of the power of Jesus was a powerful influence in their village. Within a few months they had raised up a congregation of 80 members. The pastor and his congregation worked and prayed for three years to build a church.

One day an Adventist naturopath visited homes in Rathna's village and met the pastor. The doctor began visiting Rathna and slowly revealed further Bible truth. Rathna was amazed that he had never noticed the biblical command to keep the Sabbath holy. The doctor led them into greater truth, and early in 2000 the couple was baptized.

The Rathnas invite members of their church to study with them and keep the Sabbath. They plan to give the church they built to the Adventists. Pastor Rathna receives a small stipend from The Quiet Hour to continue ministering in his village.

This couple is one of 400 independent pastors who have accepted the Sabbath and joined God's growing army of pastors in India. Pray for them as they reach others with the full gospel message.

J. H. Zachary is coordinator of international evangelism for The Quiet Hour.

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