Biblical Prophecies and Eschatology

One of the most distinguishing marks of the Bible is its many prophecies about the future. In this, the Bible is unique among all books ever written. No other book, and certainly no other “religious book,” contains anything like biblical prophecy, but in the Bible, prophecy is common. The Bible makes predictions about things that are going to take place centuries or even millennia in the future, and then those prophecies come to pass.

Another distinctive of the Bible is the God-centered worldview it contains from Genesis to Revelation. Part of this God-centered worldview is the concept that history is linear. “History is linear” means that God has determined the beginning of history and God has also appointed the end of history. God is eternal, but His creation is not, and things will not endlessly go on as they are. Jesus Christ is coming back, and so the creation is hurtling toward the end at the rate of sixty seconds a minute.

Combining the idea of “prophecy about the future” with the concept that “there is an end to history,” we arrive at a working definition for eschatology: The study of the Bible’s prophecies about the end-times (also known as “last things”). This article will consider end-times’ prophecy and some thoughts about how to do that study.

What is the purpose of a prophecy? A prophecy is given in the Scriptures so that, when that prophecy is fulfilled, it will again be demonstrated that God is the one who has planned all things (Romans 4:21) and that He is able to fulfill the prophecies that He makes. “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3).” For this reason, when God makes a prophecy in His Word, He not only guarantees the fulfillment of that prophecy, but He guarantees that the fulfillment of the prophecy will be recognized. For example, in Isaiah 7:14, the LORD made a prophecy that “The virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” Then, more than 700 years later, God fulfilled that prophecy in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem (Matthew 1:23). The virgin, Mary, was with child and she bore a Son, Jesus, who was Immanuel, “God with us.” Prophecy made. Prophecy fulfilled and prophecy recognized. And this pattern, of “Prophecy made – Prophecy fulfilled and prophecy recognized,” is repeated literally hundreds of times, especially regarding the first advent of Jesus Christ. Prophecies made. Prophecies fulfilled and recognized.

Now, the prophecies about the first advent of Jesus have all been fulfilled, because Jesus Christ appeared in the flesh almost 2,000 years ago. But there are many prophecies in the Bible that are still unfulfilled because those prophecies are concerning Jesus Christ’s Second Coming at the end of the age. Even though these prophecies of Jesus’ return are yet unfulfilled, their purpose is the same as the purpose stated above and their guarantee is the same as the guarantee above. God has written prophecies about the end of the age for the purpose of proving that He has planned all things and that He is able to fulfill the prophecies that He makes. God is glorified by making then fulfilling prophecies. This also means that, since God has made these end-times prophecies about the end of the age and the return of Christ, He has guaranteed their fulfillment and has guaranteed that their fulfillment will be recognized.

These two ideas about prophecy, that end-times prophecy will fulfill God’s purpose and that all end-times prophecies are guaranteed fulfillment and recognition, justify the effort involved in discerning the meaning and the timing of the end-times prophecies in the Scriptures. Since all the prophecies of the end of the age will certainly be fulfilled, then the disciple of Jesus is encouraged to “make careful searches and inquiries seeking to know when we can anticipate the revelation of Jesus Christ (adapted from 1 Peter 1:10-13).”

While making careful searches and inquiries, it must also be acknowledged that the study of eschatology is hard work, and there are special challenges when studying end-times’ prophecy.

  1. The first thing to try to figure out is if this vision or passage is about the end of the age or about Jesus’ return at all, or is it about something else entirely?
  2. What is the nature of the prophecy? Since many of the prophecies about the end of the age and the return of Christ are given in figurative, apocalyptic language, it can be difficult to discern what is being prophesied. Discerning this is critical, for if the nature and meaning of the prophecy are not correctly discerned, then it is impossible to recognize the prophecy’s fulfillment.
  3. Understanding prophecy demands a thorough knowledge of all of Scripture. The more Scripture you have in your head, the more material the Holy Spirit has to use in showing related words and phrases and visions. Also, a deep familiarity with the whole Bible helps you to understand the language and the idiom of Scripture.

All these steps in exegesis require skill, prayer, and patience. Skill means gathering good exegetical tools and learning to use them well. Prayer is needed for the Holy Spirit’s insight. Patience keeps you moving forward in the study and prevents giving up. And all of this is meaningful because prophecy glorifies God. So, we willingly sacrifice ourselves (Romans 12:1) to see what God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Cor 2:9).

WHAT PROPHECIES ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?

We have established that God will certainly fulfil the prophecies He makes in His Word. Guaranteed. Our task is to identify God’s prophecies in the Scriptures and then interpret them such that they form a cohesive picture. So, what are some of the prophecies we need to examine in our study of the end-times? A partial list follows.

Resurrection * (1 Thess. 4)                             The Seventy Weeks (Daniel 9)

The apostasy (2 Thess. 2)                               The man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2)

The beast (Rev. 13)                                         The false prophet (Rev. 13, 16)

The 144,000 (Rev. 7; 14)                                 Time, times, and half a time **

Forty-two months **                                      1,260 days **

The trumpets (Rev. 8-9)                                  The seals (Rev. 6)

The “four horsemen” (Rev. 6)                        The battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16)

The bowls of wrath (Rev. 16)                          The two witnesses (Rev. 11)

The “thousand years” (Rev. 20)                      The great white throne judgment (Rev. 20)

The little horn (Daniel 7)                                 The small horn (Daniel 8)

The rider on the white horse (Rev. 19)           The lake of fire (Rev. 19; 20)

NOTE “Millennium” = “thousand years”      * Resurrection includes “the rapture”

** These three expressions are what I refer to collectively as the 42 months*.

And there are others, but the main point is this: God has placed these prophecies in His Word for His glory. They will certainly come to pass, and they will be recognized. This is what makes the study of eschatology so exciting and rewarding.

SDG                 rmb                 2/11/2021

The Angel of the LORD – Introduction

Of all the characters in the Old Testament, perhaps none is more fascinating and mysterious than the angel of the LORD. He first appears in Genesis 16 talking to Hagar, the Egyptian servant of Sarai as she is running away into the wilderness, and he makes random appearances in the Pentateuch, the history books, and occasionally in the prophets. Although he is called the angel of the LORD, he is no ordinary angel. He exhibits powers and a presence that separate him from all the other characters who appear in the Old Testament. Why do I say that?

When the angel of the LORD speaks, he speaks as God, and not as a mere messenger of God. Whereas prophets would say, “Thus says the LORD,” the angel speaks in the first-person singular: “I say.” So, although he is not YHWH, he speaks as YHWH. Note that he does not speak for God, but he speaks as God.

The LORD Himself appears in some of the scenes where the angel of the LORD also appears, and in those situations, the angel is indistinguishable from the LORD. One seems almost to blend into the other. It is difficult to tell which is which. It is as if they are the same, even though they are distinct, almost as if the LORD and the angel of the LORD are one.

The angel of the LORD knows all the details of the situation as soon as he appears. He knows names of the people involved and he knows the issues involved; it is almost as if he is omniscient. He also knows the future and declares it as fact.

The people who see the angel of the LORD believe they have seen God face to face, and they are struck with terror when they realize who he is. Men and women encountering the angel of the LORD somehow know they should worship him. It is appropriate and fitting to do so. Their worship is almost spontaneous, as if it is incumbent on them to worship him. And, unlike all other angels in the Bible, the angel of the LORD accepts the worship of men as fitting and appropriate.

One final interesting point to make about the angel of the LORD: He never gives his name, nor is he ever identified by name. Several times the people that meet him directly ask him his name, but he avoids the question. He deflects the question and leaves it as a mystery. That is very interesting, that this amazing character remains nameless throughout the Old Testament. Other powerful angels like Michael and Gabriel are identified for who they are, but this powerful angel remains anonymous in the Old Testament.

WHO IS THE ANGEL OF THE LORD?

The angel of the LORD made the LORD visible. The LORD said, “You cannot see My face and live (Exodus 33:20),” but in the person of the angel of the LORD, sinful man could see the Holy One of Israel and not be consumed. As YHWH, God was a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), but as the angel of the LORD, the eternal one who dwells in unapproachable light could be seen and heard. Although clearly divine, the angel of the LORD had the appearance of a man. He was the image of the invisible God, a mediator between God and man.

Who is the angel of the LORD? Surely, it is obvious who he is. The angel of the LORD is none other than the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other candidate, no other suspect. Who else can speak as the LORD and yet not be the LORD? Who else is indistinguishable from God? Who else is divine, although He has the appearance of a man (Philippians 2:5-8)? Who is the one mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:4-6)? Who is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15)? Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father (John 14:9).” Just so, he who has seen the angel of the LORD has seen the LORD. And now we know His name: “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).”

A NEW SERIES OF BLOGS ON THE ANGEL OF THE LORD

For a long time, I have thought about writing about the angel of the LORD, and now I am committing to that. The series will probably be about 12-14 blogs. We will look at appearances of the angel of the LORD and see if he really is the pre-incarnate Jesus. It should be fun.

Our first post will be on Genesis 16 when Hagar, the Egyptian servant girl, encounters the angel of the LORD.

SDG                 rmb                 2/10/2021

The Beauty of Old Testament Narratives: A series

One of the fascinating features of the Bible is the large percentage of the Scriptures, in both the Old and the New Testaments, that are made up of narrative stories. Narrative stories have an inherent attraction to us because we all like to read a good story. We see other people like ourselves wrestling with the challenges of life or making decisions or trying to figure out their meaning and purpose or dealing with conflict and confusion and loss, and we identify with them. Narratives connect us at a basic human level, and it is the same with the narrative stories of the Bible. They are remarkably accessible, and the characters are surprisingly real.

But there is something else to consider in these narrative stories in the Scriptures, and it is this: Why were these stories selected to be included in the pages of the Bible? Of the uncountable events that have taken place in history and the millions of characters who have walked on the face of the earth, why did the authors of the Bible select these narrative stories to be preserved for all time? It would be one thing if these stories had great political or historical interest and showed prominent world-changers as they made history, but the narratives in the Scriptures, and particularly those in the Old Testament Scriptures, are chosen seemingly at random. The characters are, for the most part, ordinary people in ordinary circumstances. So, why these people? And if we figure out why these people are included (Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, and so on), we may still have questions about why these events. Is there a reason these stories were selected?

The narrative stories we will explore are from the pages of the Old Testament. The Hebrews held these writings to be inspired revelation from the LORD Himself and were, therefore, sacred writings. Since they were sacred, they could not be changed or altered, for then they would not be God’s word. These Scriptures were central to the life of the Hebrew faith community. In fact, two important jobs came from the Hebrews’ veneration of the Scriptures: the lawyer and the scribe. The lawyer’s job was to study the Scriptures to see what they meant, while the scribe was tasked with painstakingly copying the Scriptures, letter by letter, onto new scrolls so that the word of God would be preserved exactly as it had been received.

But why all this effort? Why all this tedious attention to detail to make sure that these obscure events about unknown people were preserved in their original form? Why? Because in the mind of God, there was a definite purpose for the Old Testament and even a definite purpose for how the Old Testament was written. These books of Torah and history and prayer and wisdom and prophets were given by God to the Hebrews to prepare the world for a coming event. The Scriptures were written to prepare the world for the appearing of Jesus, the Messiah. And so, some of these narratives point forward to show us the promised Messiah.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I plan to post a series of articles on selected narratives from the Old Testament Scriptures which give us foreshadows and clues about the first advent of Jesus the Messiah. As we explore these stories, we will see that, though ordinary in their characters and their details, the stories have a quality about them that transcends their ordinariness. We will also discover that the stories, though interesting in themselves, are written for the purpose of foreshadowing the one to come.

So, that is the plan. The first post in the series will look at Genesis 22:1-14, the story of Abraham and his son Isaac going to the land of Moriah to make a very unusual sacrifice.

SDG                 rmb                 2/9/2021

Means of Spiritual Growth (Romans 8:29)

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren. – Romans 8:29

Spiritual growth is almost synonymous with being a disciple of Jesus. When a person repents of their sin and trusts in Jesus as Savior and Lord, they pass from death to life (John 5:24) and are made alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:5). Once blind, now they see (John 9:25). All this means that when you and I came to faith in Christ, we knew little about what it meant to walk with the Lord. We began our journey like newborn babies (1 Corinthians 3:2; 1 Peter 2:2), and now we grow in spiritual maturity until we are received into glory. So, all believers long to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) and to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23). But what is the means of spiritual growth?

The Lord has given the believer three primary means of spiritual growth:

  • The Word of God / the Bible
  • fellowship with other believers
  • prayer

In this blog post I will talk about these means of growth. I also want to say that, since spiritual growth is vital to a disciple of Jesus Christ, these means of growth should also be high priorities. These activities should appear on your daily and weekly schedules (explicit) and should also lodge in your brain as a non-negotiable part of your mindset and lifestyle.

THE WORD OF GOD AS MEANS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

Of the three means of spiritual growth, the Word is primary, because the Word of God informs all aspects of our spiritual life, including our fellowship and our prayer. The Bible is our spiritual food (Matthew 4:4). The Word is the primary means of our sanctification (“Purify me with hyssop.” Psalm 51:7) and allows us to see our sin (Romans 3:20; Psalm 119:9, 11, 67) and then guides us into repentance (Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:9, 10).

The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to man. As such, it is the source of all truth because God’s word is truth (John 17:17). When you are reading the word of God, you can trust what you are reading because it comes from the God who can never lie (Hebrews 6:18). The entire word of God is God-breathed and is therefore “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).” It equips you for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).

Perhaps the most important thing about the Word of God is that it is the source of the gospel of our salvation. The Bible declares to man the holiness of God, a holiness that manifests itself in wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). The Bible repeatedly warns man that he is a sinner in danger of eternal condemnation because of his sin (Genesis 2:17; Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Romans 6:23). Then the Bible proclaims God’s supreme act of His mercy and grace when it announces the Savior and the Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, whom God sent to earth to die on a cross for the sins of His people. Finally, the Bible urges us to be saved from this perverse generation (Acts 2:40) by believing in the Lord Jesus as our Savior and following Him wherever He leads.

One final comment: there is a direct correlation between the time spent in God’s Word and spiritual growth. If you want to grow in spiritual maturity, you must commit to spending significant time in the Word.

FELLOWSHIP AS MEANS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

First, we need to be clear by what is meant by “fellowship.” Fellowship, as I am using the word, necessarily involves other believers (2 Cor. 6:16; 1 John 1:3, 6-7), other people who are indwelt by the Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 2 Cor. 1:22), and therefore excludes nonbelievers. Also, spiritual growth from fellowship depends on the quality and the intentionality of the time. It is fellowship when it is understood that “spiritual benefit” is one of the main reasons for the interaction. Fellowship, then, is any interaction between believers where spiritual benefit/growth is implicitly or explicitly the intended result.

The New Testament is full of “one another” verses which urge us to encourage one another and to interact with one another for our spiritual good. The idea is that, as I spend time with other believers, the Holy Spirit within us is going to cause spiritual growth. This fellowship is hard to describe, but it is commonly experienced. As I spend time with other believers, I hear how they talk and how they respond to life’s joys and challenges, and the Holy Spirit shapes me. As we discuss theological topics or examine a Bible study, ideas are presented and challenged and debated, and truth is indirectly instilled. As I interact with brothers and sisters different than me, the Spirit incrementally changes me into a person who understands others and loves them despite our differences. This is how we grow by fellowship. If Christ is at the center of the interaction, and we are longing to pursue Him more closely and to be conformed more and more into His image, we will long for more times of fellowship when other members of the Body can pour into our lives.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. – Proverb 27:17

“Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25

PRAYER AS MEANS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

Prayer certainly is the most mysterious of these three means of spiritual growth. In prayer, the creature is allowed into the presence of the Creator, and the unholy draws near to the Holy One. In the time spent in prayer, as we offer up worship and praise and confessions and repentance and thanksgiving and supplications, the Lord is imperceptibly but irresistibly transforming us day by day.

Prayer is learned. The disciples asked the Lord Jesus to teach them to pray, and He taught them the “Lord’s prayer (Luke 11:1-4).” Just so, we must patiently learn to pray. Often in prayer, our mind drifts. There are long silences in the dialog. We do not know what to ask for. We do not know how to pray as we should (Romans 8:26). And how do we listen to the Lord in prayer? These are all things that every disciple must learn for themselves as they spend time with the Lord.

In prayer, we have the undivided attention of the most fascinating Person in the universe. The Bible declares to us that the Lord delights in His people (Psalm 147:10-11; 149:4) and He has chosen gladly to give us the Kingdom, so He is patient as we learn to talk to Him in prayer. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him (Psalm 103:13).” We also have His Holy Spirit dwelling within us, so as we spend time in His presence, the Spirit within us is molding us into greater Christlikeness. Like any relationship, the more time that we spend together, the better our communication. Therefore, it is wise to include times of prayer on your weekly and daily schedules. The more we “pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17),” the more we will see spiritual growth from our prayers.

SUMMARY

As we spend time fully engaged with the word of God and intentionally interacting with God’s people and wrestling with the Lord is prayer, we will experience spiritual growth.

SDG                 rmb                 2/4/2021

Disappointment and Grumbling (Exodus 16:8)

“Disappointment comes from unmet expectations.” Most people will accept this statement as true. If I have pictured my life (or this relationship or this decision or this investment or this whatever) turning out in a certain way, when my plans do not work out according to my wishes and when my expectations are not met, I am disappointed.

Disappointment is a big deal. It is a danger to your emotional well-being. Disappointment can lead to feelings of regret or failure or anger, and the nasty brew of these emotions can lead you into depression. But for the believer, of vastly more significance is the spiritual danger of lingering disappointment. Disappointment is a spiritual acid that erodes your walk with the Lord. It acts like a ball-and-chain that prevents your running the race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1). Disappointment puts a low ceiling on your spiritual growth. And sooner or later it results in grumbling.

The sons of Israel are sort of the “poster children” of grumbling. As the book of Exodus begins, they are oppressed slaves of the cruel Egyptians, scavenging around Egypt for straw to make bricks. They had not heard from Yahweh for a long time and had no real hope that anything about their situation would change. Then Yahweh found a washed-up shepherd in Midian and, through this Moses, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, He had decimated the land of Egypt and drowned the Egyptian army in the Red Sea after the children of Israel had walked through the sea on dry ground. Not only that, but this great God, Yahweh, had promised them a land flowing with milk and honey, a land that He was giving them for free. Despite this, within a week or so, the sons of Israel are grumbling because of unmet expectations. And grumbling is a big deal.

“For the LORD hears your grumblings which you grumble against Him. Your grumblings are not against us, but against the LORD.” – Exodus 16:8

Grumbling is a big deal because our grumbling is against the Lord. By my grumbling, I am letting God know that my expectations have not been met, and He needs to do something about it or else! I may protest that my grumbling and complaining is not against the Lord but is against some circumstance, but the Scripture makes clear that all my grumbling is against the Lord. He has promised to supply all my needs according to His riches and glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19),” but with my grumbling I question that. I call God’s faithfulness into question. And that is a big deal.

I have been found out! I am a grumbler and a complainer. Wretched man that I am! What is a grumbler to do? How can I overcome this sin? Well, I have some thoughts.

First, cut off the source of our grumbling, which is unmet expectations. How do we cut off that source? Keep my personal expectations to a minimum. The disciple is the Lord’s bondservant. As bondservants we have very few of our own plans because our goal and role in life is to serve our Master and to obey His commands.

Next, read your Bible and model the heroes you find there. For example, consider the apostle Paul. How different were his expectations from mine! His goal was to exalt Christ “by life or by death (Philippians 1:20).” It is difficult to disappoint a man who expects to die for his faith and to suffer for the name of Jesus while he lives. (Philippians 1:21) It would be an interesting exercise to go from listening to Paul in the Philippian jail in Acts 16, after he has been beaten and thrown in the stocks, and then traveling to the hill overlooking Nineveh in Jonah 4 and listening to the prophet Jonah. In the Garden of Gethsemane, our Savior, the Lord Jesus, prayed to His Father, “Not My will, but Your will be done (Matthew 26:39).” Taking that same attitude will radically reduce your disappointments.

Third, replace worldly expectations with biblical ones. Before I make my plans for my glory, I need to remember that “I am not my own; I have been bought with a price, to glorify God with my life (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).” I am called to “present my body (meaning my life) as a living and holy sacrifice, which is my spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1).” Therefore, my goal is to use my life, not for my pleasure, but for God’s glory. This mindset effectively erases expectations. In Romans 8:36, the apostle Paul declares, “We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” A sheep appointed for the sacrificial slaughter would have modest expectations, and it would be difficult to be disappointed.

Finally, be thankful. An attitude of thankfulness and gratitude will crowd out disappointment and grumbling. “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess. 5:18).” There is no disappointment if you are always content with the outcome. God has delivered you from the domain of darkness and seated you in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. He has separated your sins from you as far as the east is from the west. He has wrapped you with a robe of righteousness. He has sealed you with His Spirit and He has promised you an eternity with Him in heaven. Now, tell me again, what is the source of your grumbling?

SDG                 rmb                 2/2/2021

Satan’s activity and God’s sovereignty – Part 2

“You are not to say, ‘It is a conspiracy!’ to all that this people call a conspiracy, and you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it.” – Isaiah 8:12

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.” – Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:6

ARE WE FEARING WHAT THE NATIONS FEAR?

On January 29, I had posted an article about possible feelings of fear in this age of rising confusion and evil.   There is no doubt that our world today supplies us with reasons to fear. A lot of people, myself included, see a marked increase in evil in many spheres and at many levels, and it is unsettling. Things in which we used to trust as rock-solid and unchanging have collapsed and worst-case scenarios are common. Most challenging of all is that the trajectory into the future seems to be for things to get more chaotic and for losses to continue to outpace gains. Yes, the view is troubling and we as believers can be tempted to think that God is no longer in control and that Satan and wickedness have gotten the upper hand.

A BIBLICAL VIEW OF GOD’S CONTROL

Before we consider “the prince of the power of the air (Ephesian 2:2),” Satan, who is “a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44),” we need to make sure that our own thinking is on solid ground. That means that our first task is to establish a correct view of God’s control. What does it mean when we say God is in sovereign control of all things?

There are many voices competing for our attention these days, seeking to influence us to forsake the Bible and its clear truth. If we listen to these worldly voices, we will adopt an unbiblical view of God’s control that sounds much more like our unsaved neighbor than it does a child of the King who calls God his or her Abba, Father. In that case, our view of “God is in control” says that “my life is peaceful and safe, and the world is getting better and better every day, so I know God is in control.” The most serious problem here is that, with this view of “God’s sovereignty,” God is accountable to me and each day He must again prove to me that He is still in control by keeping me safe and comfortable. This is an abominable error!

On the other hand, a biblical view of “God is in control” says this:

  • God has declared in His word that He is in control of all things, and His word is truth (John 17:17)
  • God has demonstrated that He is in control of all things by displaying His control in myriad episodes recorded in the Bible
  • God has demonstrated that He is in control of our lives by ordaining the events of our salvation and by providentially guiding the events of our lives
  • Therefore, since He has proven He is in sovereign control of all things, God has commanded us to trust Him

RECONCILING SATAN’S ACTIVITY WITH GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY

Now we turn to a consideration of Satan and his activity in the world. How can God’s sovereign control be reconciled with Satan being able to increase evil and lawlessness in the world? Doesn’t a rise in Satan’s work of chaos and strife and violence indicate that God is not in complete control?

The short answer is, “No.” God remains in complete control, but as the world moves toward the end of the age, God will manifest His sovereign control by using Satan’s activity to take history in a new direction. At the appropriate time, God will begin to fulfill all the prophecies about the end-times that are written in His Word so that the world will be prepared for the glorious return of the Lord Jesus.

Despite his reputation, the Bible reveals that Satan is merely another character on the Lord’s stage. As Judas was chosen as one of the Twelve because the Lord Jesus needed a betrayer, so Satan has been created because the Lord required someone to do the grand evil acts scripted into His great drama. The Lord needed someone to tempt Adam and Eve, and Satan was ordained as the tempter (Genesis 3:1-6). God needed someone to test Job, so Satan was selected for that part (Job 1, 2). Someone was needed to test the Lord Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), so Satan received that part, as well. So it will be in the future, when Satan is released from the abyss (Revelation 20:3, 7) to play his role as God’s supporting actor, accomplishing what God created him to accomplish and moving history toward the end of the age. In his role, the devil will accomplish exactly as much destruction and lawlessness and sin as the Lord planned for him to accomplish before the foundation of the world . . . but not even the slightest bit more. Satan will freely choose to do all the evil that the Lord has sovereignly ordained for him to do, and he does not get to adlib. He is an actor on God’s stage, and he enters and exits the stage according to the Director’s precise instructions. He can do no other.

Therefore, we need not be frightened when we see Satan doing those things the Bible declares he must certainly do. The Lord Jesus Himself told us these things would surely take place and He told us these things so that we would not be frightened when they came to pass. (Consider Matthew 24:5-13, 21-28) Instead, when we see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:25), we can have these responses:

  1. Have strong confidence in God’s Word, for we see what the Bible has clearly predicted coming to pass.
  2. Increasing joy of anticipation, for we will see Jesus soon! (Matthew 24:33)
  3. Resolve to persevere to the end, for now the time is short (Matthew 25:13).
  4. Draw closer to one another, draw together for encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25)
  5. Send roots deeper into Christ so that we can stand firm (Ephesians 6:10-18).

SDG                 rmb                 1/31/2021

Satan’s activity and God’s sovereignty – Part 1

“Do not learn the way of the nations, and do not be terrified by the signs of the heavens although the nations are terrified by them.” – Jeremiah 10:2

“You are not to say, ‘It is a conspiracy!’ to all that this people call a conspiracy, and you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it.” – Isaiah 8:12

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.” – Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:6

ARE WE FEARING WHAT THE NATIONS FEAR?

There is no doubt that our world today gives us reasons to fear. A lot of people, myself included, see a marked increase in evil in many spheres and at many levels, and it is unsettling. Things in which we used to trust as rock-solid and unchanging have collapsed and worst-case scenarios are common. Most challenging of all is that the trajectory into the future seems to be for things to get more chaotic and for losses to continue to outpace gains. Yes, the view is troubling.

As we search for security and seek to keep our feet in the raging storm, we can begin to wonder if the Lord is still in control. How can all these “bad” things be happening unless God’s grip has slipped? Godlessness and lawlessness and evil are on the rise. Does this mean Satan is in control? Natural disasters. A global pandemic. Racial tension. Political division. Fear. Distrust. Chaos. “Lord, how can You allow these things on Your watch?” Has Satan broken out and is he now on the loose?

It is in times like these that we open our Bible and dig deep to find out what God has said in His Word. With regard to what we see in our present times, our Bible gives us a foundational truth that never changes:

Our God is always in absolute control of all things.

This is implicit from the general tone and content of the Scriptures. In the Bible, the Lord makes statements about events that will take place decades or centuries in the future, because the Lord will control all things needed to bring those events into existence. See Genesis 15:13-14 about the captivity in Egypt; Isaiah 7:14 about the virgin birth of Immanuel; Micah 5:2 giving the Messiah’s birthplace.

But the Bible also makes explicit statements about the Lord’s sovereign control.

“But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” – Psalm 115:3

“. . . having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” – Ephesians 1:11

“But He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” – Daniel 4:35

So, if God is in sovereign control of all things, why do we see rampant godlessness in our world? Isn’t it possible that Satan is causing this rise in evil and is creating this open attack on the church and on the maligning of everything good?

Before we answer those questions, we must bury a myth that can easily insinuate itself into a Christian’s thinking, and the myth goes something like this: “If God is really in control, then Satan is powerless to cause evil to increase in my world and God will protect me from major problems in my life and bad stuff won’t happen to me.” (Read Satan’s words to God about Job in the first chapter of “Job” to get a biblical account of such thinking.) When those who have adopted this myth see growing corruption and wickedness and violence and conflict, they can conclude that God is no longer in control, and thus be deeply troubled and confused.

How do we deal with this?

First, we set our feet back on the rock of our foundational truth: Our God is always in absolute control of all things.

            Second, we confess that this idea that “God proves He is in control by keeping me safe” is an unbiblical myth. God IS in control, and we trust Him to work all things together for good (Romans 8:28).

            Third, I must realize that God is not ordaining all the events of history to ensure my personal comfort and happiness. Rather, God is ordaining all events because history is irresistibly moving toward a day of reckoning and final judgment when the Lord Jesus will come from heaven on a white horse to destroy the unrighteous and gather all the righteous to Himself forever (Revelation 19:11-21), and He has chosen me for salvation so that I can perform my small part in the grand drama.

            Fourth, as we carefully read our Bibles, we see that Satan has, in fact, been given a significant role in world events at the end of the age. Therefore, if we have reached that time in history, we should not be surprised to see evidence of his activity in the world.

CAN GOD BE IN CONTROL IF SATAN IS RELEASED AND FREE?

            Even with all that we have said, we are still left with the question, “How can God’s sovereign control be reconciled with Satan being able to increase evil and lawlessness in the world?” We will attempt to answer that question in our next post.

SDG                 rmb                 1/29/2021

End-Times Study of 2 Thess. 2 #2: The apostasy (2:3)

Back on January 21 I published a blog post introducing an end-times Bible study on 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12. The title of that post was not terribly creative: “End-Times Study of 2 Thess. 2: Introduction to the study.” As I have further considered this study, I have decided to publish the long articles as “pages” on my “Roy’s Reflections” site and to announce each long article with a blog post, summarizing the longer article and also providing a link to the “page” for those who want to read more. So here is the first of my announcements. I hope you enjoy the study. rmb

WHY THIS STUDY OF 2 THESSALONIANS 2?

The Lord has given us eschatological passages (passages about the end of the age or “last things”) in His Word to show us “the things which must soon take place (Revelation 1:1).” Jesus Christ will surely return to this earth bodily in power and glory (Acts 1:11) and will draw history to a close, and there will certainly be a generation of people who will see Him coming on the clouds (Revelation 1:7; Matthew 24:29-31). Given the unprecedented events of recent history and the general trajectory of events into the future, I have wondered if, perhaps, we might be that generation of people. That is, does what the Bible describe as the events at the end of the age bear any resemblance to what we see swirling around in our world today? This study through 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12 is an attempt to answer that question.

WHAT ARE WE LOOKING AT TODAY? THE APOSTASY

“Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.” – 2 Thessalonians 2:3

In this article the subject will be “the apostasy” from 2 Thessalonians 2:3. The apostasy (“rebellion” in the ESV) is one of the “gating events” mentioned in this passage, for Paul says that “it (the day of the Lord) will not come unless the apostasy comes first.” Thus, according to Paul’s teaching, the apostasy must take place before Jesus will return. Our study of the apostasy, then, should answer two questions: 1) What exactly is “the apostasy?” and 2) Has the apostasy taken place yet? If we can answer the first question satisfactorily and then answer “yes” to the second question, we can be confident that at least this end-times event is not preventing His return.

The article then goes on to attempt to answer these two questions (above) and then to draw some conclusions.

Link to article: End-Times Study of 2 Thess. 2 #2: The apostasy (2:3) – Roy’s Reflections

SDG rmb 1/27/2021

Imitating Bartimaeus (Mark 10:51)

There may be times in our lives when the stress of our disquiet and anxiety becomes distracting. The complexities and difficulties of life are coming at us too fast for us to deflect and to process and we are feeling overwhelmed. Maybe the issues are relational or financial or vocational, or all the above, but the net effect is a sense of being outmatched by life. How are we to pray in these situations? How do we cry out to the Lord when it feels like, “There is no escape for me; no one cares for my soul (Psalm 142:4)”?

As I look at the examples and the instructions of the Scriptures, I think the answer is to cry out to the Lord in faith with a specific request. Even when you see many threats and concerns bearing down on you and collectively creating anxiety and stress, there is usually one specific issue that is primary. That is, there is usually one issue that, if defused, would bring things back into the realm of the manageable. But in any event, whether you can identify the key issue or not, you begin by identifying one issue and then addressing that issue with the Lord in prayer.

So, having identified one specific problem or fear or threat, we can cry out to the Lord about THAT. We confess our trouble and probably our fear, and then we “pour out our complaint before the Lord (Psalm 142:2).” We are saying, “Here is my trouble and sorrow. O Lord help me! O Lord answer me! Deliver me!”

AN EXAMPLE IN THE DUST OF THE JERICHO ROAD

There was a day when Jesus was leaving Jericho (Mark 10:46). The Lord had been passing through Jericho on His way going up to Jerusalem (Mark 10:32), where He was to be arrested, beaten, and crucified. He was on His way to Jerusalem to accomplish atonement for all of God’s people for all time by His death on the cross. But as He is leaving Jericho, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus was sitting by the road (Mark 10:46), and the beggar began to cry out to Him, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me (10:48)!”

It is hard to imagine a greater contrast: The Son of God on His way to Jerusalem to accomplish the mission of salvation for the whole world and a blind beggar sitting in the dust beside the Jericho road pitifully crying out for mercy. Jesus could not be bothered with such a one as this, could He?

AND JESUS STOPPED

When Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus for mercy, what happened? AND JESUS STOPPED (10:49). Think about this for a moment. The Son of God is “on the road going up to Jerusalem (10:32)” and when, above all the noise of the large crowd, He hears a cry for mercy, Jesus stopped. Jesus temporarily set aside His mission of saving the world to talk to a blind beggar. He then calls Bartimaeus to Himself and says, “What do you want Me to do for you (Mark 10:51)?”

CONSIDER BARTIMAEUS: A MAN OF ONE REQUEST

The King of kings has just called Bartimaeus to come to Him and He has given this blind man a blank check. “What do you want Me to do for you?” Now is his chance. Now Bartimaeus has the full attention of the Lord of the universe and he can ask Him for any one thing. With this incredible privilege, what will he ask for?

Bartimaeus is ready with his one request. Without hesitation he said to Him, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight (10:51)!” This is a perfect request! Not only does the request demonstrate Bartimaeus’ faith by asking Jesus for what is humanly impossible, but it also clearly identifies the one issue that is most critical to the blind man: his sight. Bartimaeus gives Jesus a specific request. What happens next?

Jesus instantly and evidently answered his “impossible” request. No one there could deny what had taken place. A blind beggar had come to Jesus and had asked Him to give him his sight, and Jesus had spontaneously done exactly that. “Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road (10:52).” Thus, Jesus was glorified as the great healer and the one who answers impossible requests asked in faith.

APPLICATION

Now if we switch back to the situation where we are feeling overwhelmed by life’s complexities and difficulties, maybe we can learn from Bartimaeus’ example. Although as a blind beggar, there is little doubt that Bartimaeus must have had many challenging issues, when it came time to present his request to the Lord, our man gave one specific request. “I want to regain my sight.” Like Bartimaeus, once we have identified our major issue, we present our one specific request to the Lord in prayer. “Lord, here is the complaint that I am pouring out before You. Here is my trouble and my sorrow. Here is THE issue. O Lord please answer me!”

A specific request makes possible a clear, specific answer. The Lord is glorified by answering our prayer request and we are blessed by His answer.

SDG                 rmb                 1/25/2021

Sow your seed morning and evening (Ecclesiastes 11:6)

To be a witness for Jesus Christ is an essential part of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus has called His disciples to be witnesses to Him. In fact, the last thing that Jesus said to His disciples before He ascended to heaven after His resurrection was, “You shall be My witnesses . . . to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8).” Thus, being a witness (“martyr” in the Greek) for Jesus is virtually synonymous with being a disciple. And what is the best means that we have, as His followers, to witness for Him in this world? The best means we have been given is the gospel. We are called to sow the seed of the gospel so that Jesus Christ is glorified.

AGRICULTURAL WISDOM

Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether this or that will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good. – Ecclesiastes 11:6

The author of Ecclesiastes gives us simple wisdom about successful agriculture in chapter 11, verse 6: Scatter the seed! And then continue to sow the seed. Morning and evening (an expression that means “all the time”) sow the seed, because you have no idea which will sprout, but we do know that you will not have a good harvest if you do not scatter any seed. Of course, God gives us this wisdom for more than just agriculture. When considering the seed of the gospel, what wisdom can we take away from this? Scatter the seed! Morning and evening and all the time sow the seed, for we do not know which of them God will use to change a heart.

Matthew 13 is a chapter that is full of “kingdom parables,” which tell us about the kingdom of heaven through stories of everyday life. In the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:3-8, Jesus tells the large crowds, “Behold, the sower went out to sow.” Then we see the sower scatter the seed indiscriminately on roads and among weeds and on the rocks and in good soil, apparently indifferent to where the seed is going. Yet, despite the sower’s careless sowing, Jesus makes no mention about the need for greater skill on the part of the sower. The sower is not rebuked. Why not? Because the sower is not called to evaluate the condition of the soil, but is called to sow the seed, and trust that the seed will yield a crop. The sower’s confidence is in the seed. Just so, we cannot see the condition of the human heart and so we cannot know what the Lord will do when we sow the seed of the gospel. We have been called to sow the seed indiscriminately and extravagantly and then trust the Lord to bring the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

FAITHFUL SOWERS AND WASTED SEED

The sower who does not sow is a contradiction in terms. How can it be that the one who is defined by his task does not do the work that defines him? A sower is obviously hired to sow seed. If he does not sow seed, shouldn’t his compensation be in jeopardy? Indeed, his very identity is in jeopardy! Now, the believer is called to be a sower of the seed of the gospel. If we do not sow the gospel seed, shouldn’t we be concerned about our identity? Therefore, since Jesus has called us to be sowers of the seed of the gospel, let us be sure that we are laboring at our defining task.

If some of his master’s seed is “wasted” by extravagant and indiscriminate sowing, the sower will still be praised as faithful to his duty, because the master has called the sower into the field to sow. Now, we know that the seed of the gospel is potent seed and that the master has an ample supply, but we also know that the sowers of the seed are few (Matthew 9:37). Finding faithful sowers of the seed is the limiting factor.

The only “wasted seed” is the seed that is never sown.

The unfaithful sower is the sower who has been given seed that he does not sow (Matthew 25:24-26).

Let us, therefore, be faithful sowers who extravagantly scatter the seed of the gospel.

SDG                 rmb                 1/22/2021