As I worked through this I idea of hope, and what the book of Jonah has to say about it, I came to these questions: 1) what should the proclaimer believe about both present hope and future hope, and 2) what does this hope mean for those who are receiving the proclaimer's message.
In chapter 3, we see Jonah finally arrive at Nineveh with a message from the Lord. He goes throughout the streets of the city proclaiming immanent judgment, and, both amazingly and surprisingly, it is met with genuine repentance. The rank and file of the city respond in repentance, and when the message of judgment makes it to the ears of the king, he too repents. But he doesn't stop there, he leads his entire city to repentance.
Why was this response amazing and surprising? Because they were receiving a message of judgment on account of their previous rebellion. There was precedent for rebellion, but not for repentance. Why would a rebellious people repent? After all, they are rebellious, right?
Thankfully, God is in the business of forgiving the rebellious when they come to him in repentance. Just because the people of Nineveh repented did not mean that they were no longer guilty of their previous sins, or that the judgment God was going to carry out against them was unjustified. If fact, their repentance confirms their understanding that the judgment that they were facing was indeed justified. True repentance can only follow a proper understanding of one's sin.
Before we jump into the discussion about what the proclaimer believes or expects, I want to draw two conclusions from a quick glance at this passage.
1. When we, a people who are guilty of rebellion against God, recognize our guilt and respond in repentance, God is merciful, and he extends his grace to us that we might come into right relationship with him.
2. Rebellious people aren't "necessarily" (in a philosophical sense) rebellious. That is, they do not have to eternally remain in a state of rebellion. There is an opportunity for repentance, and the rebel, upon repenting, can indeed be in right relationship with God. I once asked a worker for a parachurch organization that was a ministry to high school kids what they were doing to get the kids that they reached plugged into a local body of believers (i.e., a church). Her response, "Well these are unchurched kids", as if that were a status that could never change. She had completely missed the point of the ministry she was working for. If the people of Nineveh, a people slated for destruction, could repent and come into right relationship with God, then certainly formerly "unchurched" kids can be churched, and formerly "unreached" people can be reached.