How can I be encouraged in those times when I feel as if I’m a smoldering candle about to go out? When the storms in my life are overwhelming, and my boat has been tossed and thrown about until I feel that I’m in danger of shipwreck? Where is my hope when waves of suffering wash over me, threatening to drown me in anguish?
Hope holds the promise out to us that some- thing good will happen in our future. At times people think they have reason to hope; at other times even without grounds to do so, people hope against hope, because to face living without hope is crushing, for hope does look forward to a good future, and that’s something we all want and need. That’s why hope always carries strong feelings— whether our lives are easy or hard.
The theme of hope runs throughout the Bible, but in contrast to other hopes, the hope the Bible describes is a sure and certain thing—even in those times when circumstances seem to tell us we hope against hope—for our hope as Christians is in God and in His promises.
One of the words for hope in the Old Testament is yāḥal:
This yāḥal “hope” is not a pacifying wish of the imagination which drowns out troubles, nor is it uncertain (as in the Greek concept), but rather yāḥal “hope” is the solid ground of expectation for the righteous. As such it is directed towards God.1
Hope in the New Testament is also marked by confidence in God—in His care, in His provision, and in His promises. Our hope is described in various ways, but Jesus Christ is the prevailing theme.
But what about suffering? Becoming a Christian doesn’t insulate us from the circumstances of living in this world, in fact, Paul wrote to Timothy that, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Sometimes our affliction is so intense that we’re at the point of breaking—even to the extent of wondering if our hope has been in vain. The Bible speaks to our needs in those times.
When you read Peter’s first letter in the New Testament, it’s evident he was writing to Christians who were suffering. In 1:6, he mentions that they have been distressed by various trials. In chapter 1 he speaks to their needs as he uses the word hope three times (1:3, 13, 21).
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…
Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ…
Read this again:
born again to a living hope…fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ…your faith and hope are in God.
In his encouraging commentary, Edmund Clowney writes:
“Our deepest needs drive us to our deepest beliefs. What hope do we have? Peter proclaims Jesus Christ, our sure hope now and for ever. Throughout his letter he grounds our hope in the reality of what God has done and will yet do for us through Christ…
“Peter writes of a sure hope, a hope that holds the future in the present because it is anchored in the past. Peter hopes for God’s salvation, God’s deliverance from sin and death. His hope is sure, because God has already accomplished his salvation in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…
“There is more to come, for Christ is to come, but our living hope is real in our living Lord.
“Christ’s resurrection spells hope for us not just because he lives, but because, by God’s mercy, we live.”2
Peter continues throughout the letter to instruct and strengthen them in their affliction. He writes:
Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.1 Peter 3:13–15
Even in the midst of their suffering, they had hope.
Jesus let us know that He would be with us and help us. The night before He was crucified Jesus spoke at length to His disciples about Himself, God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit, and explained to them what their lives as Christians would be like in this world. Why did he do this?
These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.John 16:33
The New Testament letter to the Hebrews was written to a group of Christians who had been faithful to Christ in their suffering in the past, but who were now faltering in their Christian life. The author keeps telling them to hold fast. He tells them their hope is an anchor of the soul, and is sure, steadfast and enters within the veil (read chapters 6–10 for context and further explanation), and gives them this assurance:
For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you.” And so, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise.
For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.
God wants us to know the unchangeableness of His purpose for us. We have fled for refuge to our hope, and God wants us to have strong encouragement to “lay hold and cling”3 to our hope, so He, Himself, guarantees our hope. A. M. Stibbs explains:
“…we have a double ground of confidence, in God the Promiser who gives us His word and in God the Guarantor who confirms it by His oath. There is therefore no possibility of being deceived or disappointed.”4
How we need this strong encouragement! John Owen writes:
“Fallen, sinful man stands in need of the utmost encouragement that divine condescension can extend unto, to prevail with him to receive and lay hold of the promise of grace and mercy by Jesus Christ.
“There is nothing that we are so prone unto, as to distrust the promises of God; nothing that we are with more difficulty won over unto, than to mix them with faith.
“…comfort” or “consolation” is the most usual signification of the word [encouragement] in the New Testament…This is that which relieves our souls against all fears, doubts, and troubles; for it either obviates and prevents them, or it outbalanceth them, and bears up our souls against them. For comfort is the relief of the mind, whatever it be, against sorrow and trouble.
“And this consolation which God intends and designs for believers is…“strong,” “powerful,” “prevalent.” Strong so as to be prevalent against opposition, is that which is intended…a strong tower, an impregnable fortress, a munition of rocks…
“And what is it that is within this veil? Not an ark and a mercy-seat, not tables of stone and cherubim, the work of men’s hands; but the things signified by them; — God himself on a throne of grace, and the Lord Christ, as the high priest of the church, standing at his right hand; God the Father as the author of the promise of grace, Christ as the purchaser of all mercy, the counsel of peace being between them both. Here hope fixeth itself, to hold the soul steadfast in all the storms and tempests that may befall it.5
Not only is Jesus Christ the theme of our hope, but A. W. Pink writes that the imagery of the anchor refers to Jesus. A. M. Stibbs offers similar commentary.
19 An anchor provides a peculiarly appropriate illustration. It was a recognized symbol of hope. It suggests a confidence to turn to and to lay hold of, a confidence which will hold fast and never fail because it enters into the unseen depths, the holiest of all, or inner shrine. 20 Also, this line of thought brings back the minds of the readers to Jesus and to His high-priestly office after the order of Melchizedek, the great theme which the writer has already indicated his eagerness to expound (5:10, 11). Jesus offers us new hope because He has entered the innermost sanctuary not only on our behalf, but also as a forerunner, opening the way for us to follow Him and thus enabling us to draw near to God. Cf. 7:19 and 10:19. Also, like an anchor, He offers us a sure and an abiding confidence because in the innermost sanctuary of God’s presence He abides, or remains enthroned, in contrast to the Levitical high priest who came out and was removed by death. So He is a high priest for ever.6
Jesus came to give us hope—to deliver us from sin and from death. A sure and steadfast hope. An anchor for our soul. (If you haven’t read it, here is my story of how I became a Christian).
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.Hebrews 2:14-15
Storms are a vivid analogy of adversity, and in our times of suffering our hope is a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. To ships caught in the midst of dangerous storms at sea, an anchor is hope—it means survival and deliverance from death as it secures a ship. The use of an anchor to symbolize hope dates back to antiquity, and as A. M. Stibbs indicated, those who received the letter of Hebrews would have recognized the imagery.7 In ancient Greece:
“Every ship had several anchors; the largest, corresponding to our sheet anchor, was used only in extreme danger, and was hence peculiarly termed ἱερά [sacred] or sacra, whence the proverb sacram anchram solvere, as flying to the last refuge.”8
Falconer’s New Universal Dictionary of the Marine, 1815 edition, stated the sheet anchor is:
“…the largest and strongest [anchor], being that which the seamen call their last hope, and never to be used but in great extremity.”9
Mike MacKenzie describes the sheet anchor:
“This was the anchor of choice when the wind was blowing hard and the seas were heavy and the ship just had to be secure. Lowering the sheet anchor required nearly all the crew at the windlass, and demanded a heavy load of chain to be payed out. Setting this anchor was a big job, but worth the trouble to safely ride out a storm.”10
In Hebrews 6:18, the English Standard Version uses the phrase, we who have fled for refuge. I don’t know the date of the above proverb, “flying to the last refuge,” but the imagery is remarkable. As sailors in peril at sea fled for refuge to the anchor that was their hope for survival and life, so we have fled for refuge to Jesus Christ for life eternal, and our hope is the anchor of our soul.
This is the printers mark of Thomas Vautrollier, a Huguenot refugee to England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The Latin phrase anchora spei means anchor of hope. Reaching down from heaven is a hand firmly gripping the anchor.11
These are very hard times for many people. We question our beliefs and we question God’s promises and care. God wants us to have strong encouragement to lay hold and cling to our hope, and so He, Himself, has guaranteed our hope.
Derek Kidner gives Isaiah 63:7-64:12 the title, The crying needs of Zion, and describes the passage as one “of the most eloquent intercessions of the Bible, as he surveys the past goodness of God and the present straits of His people.” He writes that Isaiah begins in verse 7 by “doing the work of a ‘remembrancer’ (cf. 62:6); his resolve, I will recount, is literally ‘I will bring to remembrance’.”12
In the midst of adversity, Isaiah’s prayer teaches us. We need the work of remembering. Let the Bible remind you of who God is, of His promises of comfort and help in affliction, and remember His goodness in your life and His past deliverances.
Then remember ‘Jesus Christ, our sure hope now and for ever’—because in the storms of our lives when our ship is swamped, with masts broken and sails torn, you and I both need to know how strong God’s grip is on us.
Hold fast to our hope, Jesus Christ, the anchor of our soul.
You can read the story of one of the gales of my life in Journey Through The Storm.
Further reading on Hebrews from the sermons of John Piper:
What Is Hope? Hebrews 6:1-12
An introduction and overview of biblical hope. He makes an interesting connection between forgiving someone and hope.
When Does God Swear? Hebrews 6:13-18
On God’s strong encouragement to Christians to take hold of our hope.
Hope Anchored in Heaven Hebrews 6:19-20
An explanation of our hope and an urging to take hold of it.
Numerous Christian hymns and songs have the anchor theme, including: The Story Behind – “The Anchor Holds,” written and perform by Lawrence Chewning,” “My Anchor Holds,” and “My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less.”
The anchor was used as symbol during the days of in the early church. Jim Egan writes, “From about 200 AD to 400 AD, the anchor occurs frequently on Christian gravestones…Strangely, from about 300 AD to the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance the anchor cross fell from use. Charles A. Kennedy, in Early Christians and the Anchor, offers an explanation…The Greek word for anchor, ankura, sounds like the expression en Kurio which means “in the Lord.” Around 300 AD, the epitaphs started to be written in Latin instead of in Greek. Even though the Latin word for anchor “anchora” matches the Greek word “ankura,” the phrase en Kurio (in the Lord), in Latin, is “in domina.” (Thus the word play didn’t work anymore).” Jim Egan, John Dee, Governor Benedict Arnold, and the Anchor of Hope (Cosmopolite Press, Newport RI: 2010) 31.
Strong Wind, Ivan Aivazovsky: Public Domain.
Thomas Vautrollier’s printers mark, Printers’ Marks , Project Gutenberg.
1Paul R. Gilchrist, yāhal, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, eds., 1980, vol. 1, 373.
2Edmund Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1988) 15, 44, 45.
3Fritz Rienecker, Cleon L. Rogers, Jr. (Translator and Editor), Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Zondervan, Grand Rapids MI: 1976, 1980) 323: “…καταφεύγω to flee, to flee for refuge. In the LXX (Deut. 4:42; 19:5; Josh. 20:9) for fleeing from the avenger to the asylum of the cities of refuge…κρατέω to hold fast, seize. The idea is “to lay hold on and cling to that which has been taken” (Westcott).”
4A. M. Stibbs, “Hebrews,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., 1202.
5John Owen, The Works of John Owen, D.D., The Rev. William H. Goold, D.D., ed.; Vol. 5, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Chapter 6 (T & T Clark, Edinburgh: MDCCCLXII) Ver. 18, Obs. VIII. 272, 275; Ver. 19, Obs. VI. 284. Owen can also be read here.
6A. M. Stibbs, 1202.
7A. M. Stibbs, 1202.
Rienecker & Rogers, 684. “…ἄγκυρα anchor. The term anchor was used in the Gr. Hellenistic period as the picture for hope. (s. Moffatt; EGT; Michel; RAC I, 440–443).”
In his comment on Hebrews 6:19, Adam Clarke includes this quote from Socrates, “The comparison of hope to an anchor is frequent among the ancient heathen writers, who supposed it to be as necessary to the support of a man in adversity, as the anchor is to the safety of the ship when about to be driven on a lee shore by a storm. “To ground hope on a false supposition,” says Socrates, “is like trusting to a weak anchor.” He said farther, ουτε ναυν εξ ἑνος αγκυριου, ουτε βιον εκ μιας ελπιδος ὁρμιστεον· a ship ought not to trust to one anchor, nor life to one hope. Stob., Serm. 109.”
As Christians we do trust our life to one hope—a sure and certain hope that will not fail.
8History of the Anchor: Wikipedia.
9William Burney, ed., Falconer’s New Universal Dictionary of the Marine, 1815 edition, 2006 reprint edition, 15.
10Mike MacKenzie, Sea Talk.
11Print, patronage, and the reception of continental reform: 1521-1603.
12Derek Kidner, “Isaiah,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., 263.
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