If we confess our sins (1 John 1:9)

PURPOSE OF THIS POST: To come to a correct understanding of 1 John 1:9 and of what it means “to confess our sins.” BACKGROUND: At first glance, this verse can appear to be teaching us to regularly confess our sins so that our sins are forgiven. This is how the verse has been mistakenly taught in the past, perhaps because of some carryover from the Roman Catholic practice of confession. A careful reading of the verse, however, reveals John is actually teaching us about the nature of our salvation. When we “confess our sins,” God forgives us (all) our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Therefore, this confession of sins results in salvation. This post studies this verse to understand its true meaning.

The epistle of 1 John can be viewed as a letter that assures true believers of their salvation by walking them through a series of spiritual tests. If you pass the tests, you should be assured in your faith, but if the tests raise doubts and concerns, you need to examine your faith to see if it is real.

Before John gets into his spiritual tests, he presents a series of contrasts between the one who merely claims to be a follower of Jesus and the one who actually is a follower of Jesus. Verses 1:6 and 1:7 form one such contrast and verses 1:8 and 1:9 form another. We will examine these verses to see what they tell us about true faith.

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

1:6 – If we say/CLAIM “we have fellowship with Him,” but we walk in darkness, we are still unsaved and have an evil, unbelieving heart (Hebrews 3:12) and we do not believe in Jesus.

This is then contrasted with 1:7.

1:7 – BUT, if we walk in the Light (that is, if we believe in Jesus and walk with Him),

Result 1 – we have fellowship with one another (according to 1:3, believer has fellowship with believer and believer has fellowship with Father and Son), and

Result 2 – the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (Emphasis mine.) That means that all our sin – past, present, and future – has been washed away. This is a one-time event that occurred at salvation.

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1:8 ‘we say/CLAIM “we have no sin,” we are refusing to confess our sin. That is, we will not acknowledge that we are sinners, and therefore we deny that we need forgiveness. As long as we say/CLAIM we have no sin, our sin will never be forgiven. The Lord will never forgive the one who denies their sin. The one who claims to have no sin cannot be saved.

Result: ‘we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ We are living in an ongoing state of self-deception. The truth is that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), but we are rejecting and ignoring that truth. Romans 5:12 declares that all sinned, but we CLAIM that “we have no sin” to confess or be forgiven.

In Luke 18:10-14, Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee is proud of his religious performance and the tax collector simply beats his breast saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” And the tax collector receives mercy from the Lord because he acknowledges his sin and begs the Lord for mercy. Just so in this pair of verses. Some claim that they have no sin and so have nothing to confess. They will perish. But there is the contrast.

1:9 – “(But) If we confess our sins”

This confession of sins has in view the acknowledgment by the convicted sinner that they have transgressed the Law of God and are justly condemned for their sin. They know they deserve the wrath of God. The person has been brought under full conviction by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8) and feels the weight of their sin. The person fully and unreservedly confesses their sins to the Lord. This confession is synonymous with repentance unto salvation. It is the cry from David which said, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and You forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5). This confession of sins contrasts with the proud, godless refusal to confess or acknowledge sin that was expressed in 1:8. Instead, this confession to God marks the initial repentance by the sinner and so represents the moment of salvation.

Result: “He (God) is faithful and righteous to forgive us (ALL) our sins and to cleanse us (confirm in 1:7) from all unrighteousness.”

The result of this confession confirms the nature of the confession.

1:9 – “If we confess our sins,” we read of the results.

Result 1 – God forgives (ALL) our sins, and

Result 2 – God cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

Notice that these results are two aspects of what God does in justification.

Result 1: God’s forgiveness – God’s forgiveness is bestowed on the repentant sinner at the moment of salvation. In justification, God declares the sinner to be forgiven of all of their sins. This is, by definition, a one-time event, for in the moment of salvation, God forgives all the person’s sins, based on their faith in Jesus. If all the person’s sins are forgiven, what is the reason to repeat this forgiveness again?

Result 2: And at that moment, God cleanses the person from all unrighteousness. Our confession and acknowledgement of our sins transfers all our sins to Christ, so that our sins were punished on the cross, and imputes Christ’s perfect righteousness to us, so that we are seen and treated as righteous. Our sins are forgiven because they have been atoned for and our unrighteousness is cleansed and replaced with Christ’s righteousness.

CONCLUSION

What we see happening, then, is that John is establishing the necessary starting point for passing all the tests in his first epistle. If you have come to faith in Jesus and you walk in His light; if you have confessed and repented of your sins; in short, if you have been born again, relax. You will pass the tests.

SDG                 rmb                 9/5/2021                     #432

Those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12)

The Scripture is very clear that persecution should be expected by the follower of Christ. This is stated in numerous places in the Bible, but perhaps the clearest is 2 Timothy 3:12:

Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

WHO ARE THESE WHO DESIRE TO LIVE FOR CHRIST?

Who are these men and women “who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus”? The following is not an exhaustive list, but it does present some of the prominent characteristics.

Their lives proclaim that they live for Christ. These people are “tall blades.” By that I mean that they faith is not a private affair hidden under a rock. Rather, their faith is evident in everything about them. If you are looking for a Christian, these are not hard to find.

The light of Christ shines out of them (Matthew 5:16). This is related to the trait above. They let their light shine before men.

They bear much fruit (John 15:5), meaning that their life is rich in good works (Ephesians 2:10). These people are intentional in focusing their energies and their resources in channels that are going to commend Christ and the gospel and that will do good to others.

It is evident that they love the body of Christ. Their love for their brothers and sisters in Christ is almost tangible.

These men and women spend time in prayer and in reading God’s word.

In summary, these men and women are born-again followers of Jesus.

EXPECT PERSECUTION

Because these are born-again followers of Jesus, these men and women joyfully accept persecution as an expected part of following Christ. Jesus Himself promised His disciples, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Our Lord also told of the blessing that comes to those who are persecuted.

10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:10-12

Jesus left us an example to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21). He accepted the cross and uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to God the Father, who judges righteously.

Jesus’ apostles clearly told us to expect heat and hatred from the world. Peter wrote, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). And so we as followers of Jesus accept persecution as a stamp of authenticity. As J C Ryle wrote,

“Persecution, in short, is like the goldsmith’s stamp on real silver and gold. It is one of the marks of a converted man.”

THE HEAT IS INCREASING

And so, as we see those who hate Christ rising to places of power, and as we watch out religious freedom being systematically demolished and our ability to worship our God specifically attacked, we must be sure our resolve to persevere to the end is firmly established. Only a very few years ago the idea of severe persecution or martyrdom in America would have been absurd, but no more. With only a little bit of imagination, we can see that what used to be a prayer for far away people has become a real possibility here.

As I was considering my own possible martyrdom and wrestling with an encroaching fear, I went to the Scriptures to again find God’s assurance and peace. Again, 2 Timothy 3:12:

Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

We will all be persecuted, but we will not all be persecuted in the same way.

Some of those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be martyred as they persevere to the end. They will experience the first resurrection (Revelation 20:4-6) and will be among the dead in Christ who will rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16) in the Resurrection. Their persecution was unto death.

And some of those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will die before the Resurrection but will not die as martyrs. They persevered to the end, but they were not killed for their faith. They will experience the first resurrection (Revelation 20:4-6) and will be among the dead in Christ who will rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16) in the Resurrection. Their persecution was not unto death.

And some of those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be alive and remain until the coming of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:15, 17). They will persevere to the end and, in the Resurrection, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. Instead, they will be changed (i.e., glorified; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52) in the Resurrection. Their persecution was not unto death.

Those are the three possible outcomes for the true believer, and they all three end in heaven. If we persevere to the end, our eternity will be glorious.

SDG                 rmb                 9/4/2021                     #431

The God who creates spiders and welcomes sinners

“For that which may be known about God is evident within them, for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen through what has been made so that men are without excuse.” – Romans 1:19-20

This morning I noticed that the spider, whose web is in the corner of our kitchen window, had captured a rather large bug in its web and appeared to be feeding on that captured bug.

And I again marveled. God designed and created insects of a certain size with an exoskeleton that keeps all of their vital fluids within that hard case. And God designed and created the spider of a certain size who creates a web that is sticky and allows the insect to be caught in the web. The spider who created the web can run back and forth on the same web that traps the spider’s prey in a sticky tomb. But also, not only did God design and create the spider to produce the material for its web, but He also designed and created the spider with the ability to create webs with the web material its body continuously produces, webs of the perfect shape to capture the spider’s prey. And God designed and created the spider to build the same web repeatedly. And God designed and created each species of spider with its own unique web design, such that, if you see the web, you can know the species of spider. But also, God designed and created the spider such that its mouth can penetrate the exoskeleton of the insects which are captured by its perfectly created web and thus feed on its prey.

And there are myriad other details of this infinitely complex drama of spider and prey, this drama that unfolds in the corners of kitchen windows all over the world every morning. And this drama of spider and prey, in all its infinite complexity, has gone on virtually unnoticed since God designed and created the heavens and the earth.

But this infinitely complex drama of spider and prey is an infinitely minute and insignificant component of an uncountable number of similarly infinitely complex dramas that interact with one another in perfect unison day after day and year after year. Such is the nature of God’s creation.

And it all began with nothing.

Our God created all this infinite beauty and complexity “ex nihilo.”

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” from nothing.

God spoke, and nothing became everything.

Try to grasp that with your finite mind and you will quickly be driven to overload.

But there is something more mind-bending than that.

This same Creator-God has put on human flesh and has visited this planet that He created. Earth is the visited planet. Jesus Christ has visited this planet. The God-Man has come down to dwell with the people He created.

And this God has made a way for the very humans who have disobeyed Him and who have killed His Son, Jesus, whom He sent, and who have broken His laws and have disobeyed His commands, to be reconciled to Him and to be rescued from His holy, righteous wrath by trusting His Son Jesus for eternal life.

This is the God whom I serve and love and worship, the one true and living God, who has created the world out of nothing and who now invites every sinner to come to His throne and receive eternal life.

“For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear, nor has the eye seen a God besides You, who acts on behalf of the one who waits for Him.” Isaiah 64:4

God is worthy of all praise!

SDG                 rmb                 9/2/2021                     #430

Isaiah 12: Streams of salvation – Part 1

This post begins a series of blogs exploring and enjoying this short chapter from the prophet Isaiah.

In six verses, Isaiah 12 takes us on a journey all the way from a time of being an enemy of the LORD to being His joyful herald as an inhabitant of Zion. The chapter divides neatly in half, with the first half telling of the author’s journey from being under the LORD’s anger to his enjoying the LORD’s salvation, and the second half urging those who have received salvation to trumpet the LORD’s praises and declare His excellence throughout the earth.

Then you will say on that day,

“I will give thanks to You, O LORD,

For although You were angry with me,

Your anger is turned away

And You comfort me. – Isaiah 12:1

“THAT DAY”

The text tells of a certain day called “that day.” In this context, what is “that day?” In many Old Testament contexts, “that day” is referring to the day of the LORD, the Last Day, when the LORD finally pours out His wrath on all those who do not bow the knee in worship to the Lord Jesus Christ. But here in this context, “that day” is referring to the day of this man’s salvation. This is the day when any man or any woman passes from death to life (John 5:24). “That day” is the day when God’s wrath toward that sinner is quenched and is forever turned away, and God’s blessing and God’s favor forever replaces it. This is “that day.” (See Isaiah 49:8, quoted by Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:2.)

SOMETHING CHANGED

What has happened on “that day?” Something life-changing has happened that has prompted spontaneous and irrepressible thanks, something astonishing that has somehow resulted in God’s righteous anger being turned away from this person and being replaced with the LORD’s comfort. This man pours out thanks to the LORD because “although You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away.”

THE DOCTRINE OF THE LORD’S RIGHTEOUS ANGER AGAINST US

The Bible teaches that the LORD is holy, and because He is holy, He will not tolerate sin. His holiness requires Him to punish the sinner. When we sin, the LORD’s wrath rests upon us (John 3:18, 36). He is angry with the sinner (Ephesians 2:3), and He will punish the sinner for his sin. (Also Psalm 32:3-4; Romans 1:18)

And so, this truth answers one of our questions. “For although You were angry with me . . .” The author acknowledges that there was a time when the LORD’s anger rested upon him, but we wonder, “Why was the LORD angry with him? Isn’t it true that the LORD is a God of love? What horrible thing did this man do that warranted the LORD’s being angry with him?” Now it has become apparent that this man did nothing that you and I have not done. The LORD was angry with him because he was a sinner, and that his “ordinary” sin brought the LORD’s “ordinary” wrath and judgment. And if the LORD was angry with this man because of his “ordinary” sin, it follows that the LORD also must be angry with me for my “ordinary” sin.

BUT THERE IS “ALTHOUGH”

But we must read on, for the LORD’s wrath is not the end of the story. There is hope for the sinner (there is hope for me!) because there is this word “although.” O, what is the meaning of this “although?” We will explore that in our next post.

SDG                 rmb                 8/14/2021                   #429

Why are the warnings in Hebrews so severe?

There is no shortage of warnings in the Bible. God has sent His word to mankind to warn us that we are in peril because of our sin and to alert us that God, the Holy One of Israel, will surely judge and will condemn the unrighteous. And so, in each genre of the Bible and in many places in each genre, the Bible issues warnings so that men will turn from their sin and repent.

THE WARNINGS IN HEBREWS

But while there are many warnings in the Bible, there are some warnings that are particularly striking and daunting, that pierce like an arrow and slam into us like a cutlass. The warnings in the book of Hebrews are of this variety. There are multiple warnings in Hebrews and each succeeding warning seems to be more unsettling than the last. In chapter 2 we are warned not to drift away from so great a salvation (2:1, 3). Chapter 3 tells us about the dangers of an evil, unbelieving heart (3:12). Chapter 4 urges us not to come short of God’s rest (4:1). In the well-known passage in chapter 6 we read of the impossibility of renewing to repentance those who have heard the word of God and then have fallen away (6:4-8). Then in chapter 10 we have perhaps the most frightening, as we read that, if we sin willfully after we have claimed faith in Christ, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment” (10:26-27). This passage (10:26-31) is punctuated with the warning, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31).

WHY SO SEVERE?

Why does the author of Hebrews dramatically and repeatedly warn his readers in such alarming terms? What is it about the purpose of the epistle that warrants these strident warnings? As I have studied the book of Hebrews, I have reached the conclusion that the reason for these devastating warnings has to do with the particular people the author is trying to reach.

When you design an alarm system for a facility that stores explosive chemicals, politeness is not a design criterion. Rather, the alarms are designed to be as loud and irritating and irresistible as possible so that, if there ever appears any threat of an explosion, the people in the facility will be alerted and will evacuate and get away immediately.

If you were going on an African safari into lion country, your weapon of choice would not be a small caliber handgun. You are going after a target animal that requires potent weapons which assure a kill when they encounter the target. Best be sure that the first bullet does the job, for you may not get a second.

Likewise, the author of Hebrews has as his purpose to alarm and warn a specific type of person in the congregation, and he is determined to achieve his purpose. The last thing he wants to do is issue a so-called warning that falls short of arousing and that fails to alarm. There is nothing more pathetic than warning people who are in terrible danger with an alarm that is not capable of alerting or alarming. It is like a fire alarm that is mistaken for the music of an ice cream truck. People perish in the flames because of the incompetence of the one who issues the alarm. The author of Hebrews will not be accused of issuing such a warning.

WHO IS THE AUTHOR TRYING TO ALARM? THE MOST ELUSIVE

This epistle is intended to rouse to awareness that most elusive and stubborn of all unbelievers, the person who is comfortable with Christian words and Christian practices, who regularly attends church services, who writes checks to his church and who is generally a decent, polite fellow, but who has never been born again, who has never been personally delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. These startling warnings are for those who are merely going through the motions and who are simply doing the external works of Christianity, thinking that these are all that the Lord requires. The author’s warnings are severe and drastic because he is attempting to rouse the external “Christian.” The external, nominal “Christian” is not born again and so is not saved and has not been set free by Jesus, but they wrongly believe they are, based on their religious performance. He would, in fact, be insulted and offended if anyone were to suggest to him that his external, formal Christianity was somehow not good enough to get him into heaven. Even this person’s own pastor would be treading on thin ice if the pastor suggested to this “fine Christian man” that his walk needed to show the fruit of repentance and should display greater holiness in order to display genuine faith.

“If you were accused of being a biblical Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

The author of Hebrews must make these warnings severe and harsh and drastic so that the nominal church-goer, still dead in their sins, might be shaken from their slumber and stirred to consciousness, and might be frightened into genuine repentance. The alarm must be loud and piercing and prolonged because of the spiritual stupor of the religious once-born. The one who has been dutifully plodding through the external motions of Christianity for a long time has been lulled into a spiritual coma (confirm in Hebrews 6:4-6). A loud, piercing, prolonged alarm is needed to rouse them and, alas, even that alarm rarely rouses. The one in the coma assumes the alarm is for someone else and that their listless church experience is the real deal. So, the author of Hebrews makes his warnings harsh and direct because his intent is to rouse those who are still dead but think they are alive. (See the church in Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6.)

By these strident warnings, the author also does an immense service to the pastor who is duty-bound to preach these warning passages to those in his own congregation whom he suspects to have fallen short of salvation. These severe and stunning passages allow the pastor to preach with great boldness without stretching the text too far. The brave pastor can thus declare the warnings that lie plainly in the text and then apply the warnings to his flock without being accused of reading into the passage his own pleadings and opinions.

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

So, preach boldly, my friend, with the full sanctioning of the Scriptures.

SDG                 rmb                 8/7/2021                     #428

Maintain your zeal all the way to the end

I have been reading through J. C. Ryle’s book Practical Religion and have recently finished the chapter on “Zeal.” In his usual direct style, Ryle convincingly presents the case that the only way to run the Christian race is to run with effortful zeal. He presents example after example, both biblical and historical, that demonstrate that those who make a difference for Christ live with an abandoned zeal for the things of Christ. Theirs is an unclouded gaze that is set toward heaven which sees life as a brief window of time to be spent in undistracted devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:35).

This resonates with me. In our age of distraction and dissipation and dissolution, where it seems that all in our society is intentionally designed to obscure Christ and to lure people into the wasting of their lives, the believer needs to be spurred to action and encouraged to press on with zeal. We are those who are convinced that Jesus Christ is Lord, that He is King of kings and Lord of lords, that He is worthy of all praise, and that He is coming back soon to judge the living and the dead. He is the One who has died on the cross and He is the One who has been raised from the dead, and He is the One who now rules and reigns. We proclaim His name and call the nations to bow down to Him. We are those who declare, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Therefore, in a world that is hostile to everything that I have just stated, the believer must be diligent to maintain his zeal without wavering.

Below are some of my own random thoughts on this subject.

My prayer – “Lord, let me never let up on the throttle! Let me never coast. Lord, fill me with Your Spirit so that I am useful until the day that I draw my last breath. Give me undimmed zeal. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

There is danger in coasting in the Christian race, even for a little while, and coasting poses a significant threat to your future usefulness. Reasons:

  • There is not one biblical reason to choose to coast, so any decision to ease up on your zeal is a decision against the Scripture. The Scripture speaks to the contrary and expects the believer to “die at their post.”
  • Because the flesh still indwells us, we are unwise to consciously reduce our zeal and “give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:27). Zeal for Christ suppresses the flesh, but reduced zeal gives the flesh breathing room. If given the chance, the flesh will kill your zeal for Christ and for His service and will turn you into a harmless pew-warmer.
  • The Lord rewards zeal, but He often withdraws His hand from those who desire to coast, and once His hand is removed, He rarely replaces it.
  • Human nature is such that when we decide to reduce our effort, even for a short while, it is difficult to get back on the track. This is seen in many human endeavors, but especially in our pressing toward the goal for Christ. The danger is that once we get accustomed to coasting, we find that our zeal has been lost. Once effort is reduced, we suddenly develop an aversion for work and an affinity for ease.

THE SCRIPTURE SPEAKS OF ZEAL

The Scriptures speak to this issue.

Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Since God has prepared for us good works to carry out, we need to be zealous for good works to be sure that we do all the works that God has prepared for us.

Titus 2:14 – Jesus “gave Himself for us to purify for Himself a people zealous for good deeds.” According to this Scripture, Jesus Christ gave Himself to establish a people zealous for good deeds. This was not the only reason He gave Himself up on the cross, but it is certainly one reason. If Jesus died so that I would be a man zealous for good deeds, how can I be otherwise? My very identity is tied to my zeal. If I am not zealous for good deeds, where does that leave me with Christ?

Matthew 25:15 – The Lord gives to His people a certain number of talents, “each according to his own ability.” The thing is that you don’t know how many talents He has given you. You may live under the assumption that you are a one-talent person and so live with that level of zeal and effort, when, in fact, He may have given you five talents. He may expect much more from you than your effort produces. Therefore, better to spend all your energy for the greatest impact.

Nehemiah 6:3 – Nehemiah was building the wall of Jerusalem, which was certainly the work of his lifetime. To rebuild the wall of Jerusalem was the reason Nehemiah was created, and he knew that. So, when his enemies Tobiah and Sanballat invited him to come have dinner with them, he smells a rat and declines their invitation. But notice what Nehemiah says to them. “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” Nehemiah would not be distracted from his life’s work. In the same way, we should seek our “great work,” that work for which the Lord created us, and then live spending ourselves for that work.

2 Corinthians 12:15 – “I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls.” Paul’s zeal for Christ manifested itself in the unrestrained outpouring of himself for other believers. Whatever he had and whatever he was, he eagerly poured out for the blessing and the encouragement of others.

Isaiah 6:8 – “Here am I. Send me.” In this scene, the prophet sees a vision of the Lord in the temple, lofty and exalted, and he is ruined. In the misery of his sin, he cries out to the Lord for mercy and the seraphim takes away his sin with a burning coal. It is then, after his sin is cleansed, that Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord calling for laborers to go. “Here am I. Send me.” In the zeal of his cleansing, and in his joy for now being in fellowship with the Lord, Isaiah gives the Lord a blank check for his future service to the Lord. The prophet gives no conditions to his service, and no limitations. Anywhere, anytime, for however long, he is available to be sent. And this is the normal zeal for the believer. We have been cleansed of a terminal stain and have been placed in the service of the Lord. With zeal, therefore, we give ourselves away to the Lord for as long as He sees fit to use us.

Philippians 1:21 – “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” No comment is required to understand the zeal in this statement.

2 Timothy 4:6-7 – “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” The apostle Paul is drawing near to the end of his life. Shortly, the Roman guards will lead him away to his place of execution and his faithfulness will be sealed by his death. But Paul’s zeal has had its full expression. He will have been poured out. There will be nothing left. He has held nothing back in reserve. All will have been expended for Christ. This chosen instrument will have accomplished the work he was given to do. At some point in his journey, Paul realized that zeal is only for this life. It is only now that you can pour yourself out for Christ. Only in this fallen world can you be exhausted and expended, so Paul decided to be exhausted and expended for his Savior.

Let us imitate Paul’s zeal.

SDG                 rmb                 8/6/2021                     #427

“What is a hyacinth breastplate?” (Revelation 9:17)

This post is part of my upcoming book on the end-times, The Last Act of the Drama, and attempts to answer the question, “Do we need to understand all the details to get the meaning of an end-times passage?”

In this chapter, we examine one of the most mysterious visions in Revelation in the hopes of answering the question, “Must I grasp all the details of a passage to understand the meaning of a passage?”

“Do I need to understand all the details to understand the meaning of a passage?”

Studying eschatology can be intimidating because, in any given end-times passage, there may be terms or expressions which we do not recognize and there may be little in the context to enlighten our understanding. Usually in Scripture, the unknowns in the text can be deduced by looking at the greater context or by considering other biblical passages, but in eschatology, there are times when the entire context is confusing and yields no solid, unambiguous starting point. An example would be something like Revelation 9:16-19:

16 The number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. 17 And this is how I saw in the vision the horses and those who sat on them: the riders had breastplates the color of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone; and the heads of the horses are like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceed fire and smoke and brimstone. 18 A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which proceeded out of their mouths. 19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents and have heads, and with them they do harm.

Two hundred million horsemen? Hyacinth breastplates, and fire and brimstone coming out of the mouths of the horses? Heads like lions and tails like serpents? Is the “third of mankind” literal in 9:18? How are we supposed to make sense of all this?

NO NEED TO UNDERSTAND EVERY DETAIL

In passages like this one in Revelation 9, the student of eschatology can take heart, because understanding every detail of a passage is not necessary for understanding the meaning of the passage. It is not necessary to unpack every single symbol in Revelation or Daniel or any end-times passage to grasp their basic messages. The inspired Scriptures have been written so that God’s main message can be understood, even if some of the supporting details remain obscure. So, not knowing what a hyacinth breastplate is will not prevent you from understanding the message of the sixth trumpet warning in Revelation 9.

THE SUBJECTIVE ASPECT OF UNDERSTANDING SCRIPTURE

More, however, needs to be said about this statement to make it helpful in our study of eschatology. For while it is true that understanding every detail of a passage is not necessary for understanding the meaning of that passage, we still need to discover the meaning of the passage. What I mean is that, even if we do not worry about the hyacinth breastplates or “the tails like serpents with heads,” we are still faced with the task of figuring out what in the world this passage means. “Why has God placed this Scripture in His Word?” That is the question that ever confronts the Bible student. What makes understanding eschatology difficult is that it requires greater exegetical skills and a fuller grasp of the entire sweep of the Bible to confidently make decisions about the meaning of these complex passages. So, while God has breathed into His Scripture everything needed to understand it, there may not be enough there for me to understand it. That is, my current skill in understanding Scripture may be inadequate for me to discover the meaning of this passage. This subjective aspect to understanding Scripture comes into play more frequently in eschatology than in other genres of Scripture, because, again, there is generally more skill required in discovering the meaning of end-times passages.

So, will I ever understand all the mysteries?

MYSTERIES REMAIN HIDDEN

The fact is that it may not be possible for us to understand or explain everything that is happening in John’s visions or in Daniel’s dreams. Those details may be things which the Lord, for His own purposes, has chosen to leave hidden from us. Even Daniel, who was specifically gifted by God to interpret dreams and visions (Daniel 1:17; 4:9; 5:11-12), did not fully understand what he had seen, even after he had been given an explanation by angels (Daniel 7:15-22, 28; 8:15-19, 27; 12:8). Humility would say that, if Daniel and John did not fully understand all they recorded, there is a more than even chance that I, too, will need to accept some degree of mystery. For His glory, God has written mysteries into His Bible that may remain hidden or unexplained until heaven, and we joyfully and humbly bow before these mysteries.

RESIGN OURSELVES TO MYSTERY?            

If we acknowledge that mysteries may remain until heaven, does that mean that we give up trying to understand and interpret eschatology? Absolutely not! Despite the effort involved, the disciple of Jesus continues to explore and pray through these difficult passages because these, too, are breathed out by the God he loves and are profitable for equipping him for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

SDG

Why must Satan be released from the abyss? (Rev. 20:3)

NOTE: This article is an excerpt from my book on the end-times, “The Last Act of the Drama,” a guide for the end-times that will be completed and self-published soon. rmb

and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time. – Revelation 20:3

In this article, we find ourselves in the “thousand years” of the gospel age (Revelation 20:3). As we can see from the quote of the verse above, during the “thousand years” the dragon, which is an alias for Satan, is sealed in the abyss so that he will not deceive the nations.

While Satan is locked in the abyss, the church is in a long season of relative peace. For the duration of the “thousand years,” the gospel is being proclaimed and the church is growing as Christ is building His church (Matthew 16:18). This gospel age goes along steadily “until the ‘thousand years’ were completed; after these things he (Satan) must be released for a short time (Rev. 20:3).”

Now, this is something we need to investigate. The gospel age of the “thousand years” apparently does not go on forever, but there comes a time when the “thousand years” were completed. At that time, Satan must be released for a short time. Observe that the Bible does not say that “he is released,” but it says, “he must be released.” In other words, it is necessary for Satan to be released from the abyss when the “thousand years” are completed. But why must Satan be released? That is the question.

In answering this question, we first need to keep in mind that Satan is merely a created being. Because of his arrogant words and because of some of the things he is allowed to do, some Christians can have an inflated view of Satan’s powers, but this is a mistake. Satan, like all created beings, is entirely under the sovereign control of the Lord. That means he is not a threat to the church, and he is certainly not a threat to God. He is brought onto the stage when his character is needed by the Lord, the Director of the drama, because there are some things that Satan is uniquely qualified to do.

Second, we observe that Satan is released from the abyss. Satan does not conduct a successful jailbreak. Rather, he is released. Satan was not in control. He was rotting away in the abyss during the “thousand years” when he was unexpectedly released.

So, Satan must be released because his unique talents and abilities are needed by the Director to take the grand drama of human history toward its scripted conclusion. The Hero of the Drama is preparing to make His final, glorious appearance (Revelation 19:11-16), and all the details must be made ready for His grand entrance. The church must be purified, pruned, and cleansed through the furnace of persecution. Evil and lawlessness must increase so that the unrighteous are revealed and so hatred against the church can abound. The final trumpet warnings of coming judgment must be loudly proclaimed to the unrighteous. Satan must have time to raise up the beast and the false prophet to oversee the proliferation of evil and the persecution of the church. And Satan is the only character in the drama who can accomplish these necessary tasks, so Satan must be released.

Finally, upon his release, notice that Satan is given only a short time (Rev. 20:3). He is not the one who is in control of the length of his performance. Rather, his time on the stage has already been determined by the Lord. He will burst upon the scene “having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time” (Revelation 12:12) to create havoc and destruction. After that short time, according to the script, “he was thrown (ἐβλήθη) into the lake of fire and brimstone (Revelation 20:10).” Satan, the great dragon, performs his necessary role and then is thrown into the lake of fire.

So, in simplest terms, Satan must be released after the “thousand years” because the Lord has need of him. That is the simplest answer to our question.

In Luke 19, as the Lord Jesus nears Jerusalem for His triumphal entry, He sends two disciples ahead to fetch a colt. As the disciples were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord has need of it” (Luke 19:33-34).

That is probably the best way to think of Satan in the book of Revelation. Consider him to be like this colt. He comes onto the stage of the grand drama because the Lord has need of him.

SDG                 rmb                 7/23/2021                   #425

Satan’s activity and God’s sovereignty in the end-times

NOTE: This article is an excerpt from my book on the end-times, “The Last Act of the Drama,” a guide for the end-times that will be completed and self-published soon. rmb

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 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.

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.

But, if God is in sovereign control of all things, why do we see escalating wickedness in our 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.

This means that, as we study the end-times and see Satan and his demons creating chaos and strife, we must maintain a settled view of Satan’s power and his role. 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 and to fulfill everything that God has created him to fulfill in the last act of the grand drama. “The great dragon, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan” (Revelation 12:9) is the actor needed to move history toward the end of the age. In his role, the devil will accomplish exactly as much destruction and lawlessness as the Lord, before the foundation of the world, ordained for him to accomplish, but not even the slightest bit more. Satan will freely choose to do all the evil that the Lord has sovereignly scripted for him to do, and he does not get to adlib. He is an actor on God’s stage, and he enters and exits that stage according to the Director’s precise instructions. He can do no other.

Therefore, we need not be frightened when, as we approach the end of the age, we see Satan doing those things that the Bible declares he must certainly do. He is simply playing the role that God has sovereignly ordained for him to play. 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 (Matthew 24:5-13, 21-28). We conclude that Satan acts exactly as God has decided for him to act, completely contained by God’s sovereignty.

SDG                 rmb                 7/21/2021                   #424

Set your house in order (2 Kings 20:1)

The report from the doctor was not what they had hoped. The initial surgery seemed to have gone very well and all the cancer appeared to be removed. They had expected a good prognosis with some chemo and maybe some radiation and then the “all clear” as the cancer went into remission.

But that was not what they got. Instead, the doctors related that the cancer went deeper than they could reach and that it was of a particularly aggressive and malevolent variety. Instead of the “all clear” being given soon, the prognosis was that this is usually terminal, and the end will come in less than two years. So, instead of this being a temporary obstacle along life’s journey, this appears to be the cause of life’s end.

And now, what is to be done? How are they to respond? How would you respond if you were in their situation? What if you received this news?

HOW DO WE RESPOND TO BAD NEWS?

I tried to imagine myself in that doctors’ office hearing this news about what are, most likely, the details of my death certificate. What would I do?

As a believer, I would turn to the Bible and see what the Lord had to say about this. My first thoughts went to 2 Kings 20 and to King Hezekiah. After Hezekiah’s godly rule and his displays of devotion to the LORD, the prophet Isaiah comes to him with a message from the LORD saying, “Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live” (2 Kings 20:1). This passage would set the tone for my response. “What does it mean to set my house in order?”

GOD ALONE DETERMINES WHAT HAPPENS IN HIS UNIVERSE

But before I begin my “end of life” planning, I would go to the LORD and seek His face. This is the first and primary and dominant thought: God, and God alone, determines the end of my days.

3 Do not trust in princes,
In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
His spirit departs, he returns to the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.

This psalm is teaching that, while there are men who are in positions of authority, whether government or business or even medicine, they possess limited authority, indeed, derived authority. God has appointed them with authority for their sphere (Romans 13:1-2), but God retains all ultimate authority.

Applied to this situation, then, where the doctor (“mortal man”) says that my life will soon be over, I would remind myself that there is still a sovereign God in heaven who does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). Not only that, but this sovereign God has demonstrated His love for me (Romans 5:8) and has told me that I can call out to Him in any and every time of distress (Matthew 7:7-12; etc.) and that He can rescue me. Nothing is too difficult for my God to do (Jeremiah 32:17). My God has promised me that I can ask whatever I wish, and it will be done for me (John 15:7). And so, I would begin to cry out to the Lord in prayer, that He would extend my life. This is exactly what Hezekiah did when he received the bad news from Isaiah. He prayed to the LORD, and the LORD added fifteen years to his life (2 Kings 20:5-6). I would not discount the news from the doctor. I would take it seriously and consider what I should do in terms of practical steps of health, but I would not take the doctor’s prognosis as the final word. He is but a skilled mortal man of very limited abilities and powers, but the LORD made the heavens (Psalm 96:5). A doctor may tell me a diagnosis, but the LORD determines all outcomes. Again, “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3).

OK, BUT WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

So, what would I do regarding the doctor’s diagnosis and God’s sovereignty? In the case where I was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I would assume that the doctor was correct, that without divine intervention, the cancer would kill me, and so would begin immediately a program of strict fasting and extended prayer. In my times of prayer, I would ask God to heal me of the cancer for His glory. I would engage in strict and radical fasting because I have heard that fasting is the body’s best defense against cancer. I do not think that I would take chemo or radiation but would rely upon God’s power to heal through the means of fasting.

SET YOUR HOUSE IN ORDER

But now, having accepted the fact that, unless God intervenes, my time on this earth will be over, I would strive to set my house in order (2 Kings 20:1). As I think about this now in the clear light of day, there are two components to this setting the house in order. First, I would make sure that I had finished my work, and second, I would prepare to meet my God.

STRIVE TO ACCOMPLISH YOUR WORK

As in every aspect of His life, Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of finishing the work God has given you to do. In John 17:4, our Lord says,

I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.

Jesus was given the assignment to live a sinless life and then to die an atoning death as the sacrifice for all the sins of His people, and this He did perfectly. Then, when the work had been accomplished, His triumphal cry sounded from the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).

But we have other examples of those who finished their God-given work. In the Bible, we see that Paul finished his work (2 Timothy 4:6-8), and Peter finished his work (2 Peter 1:14-15). Noah completed his work of the ark, Moses completed his assignment of bringing Israel out of Egypt, as Jacob and Joseph and David completed their journeys. Their work was done, as was Stephen’s work done (Acts 7). Many others have likewise finished their work and then have joyfully gone on to glory. I think of John Owen and George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon and D. L. Moody. Accomplish your work! Determine the great work (Nehemiah 6:3) that the Lord has assigned to you and, in the time that you have left, pour all your energy into that work.

PREPARE TO MEET YOUR GOD – AMOS 4:12

Since the end of the race appears to be somewhat definite and seems to be in sight, the time has come to prepare to meet the Lord. One of the blessings of a doctor giving you this kind of news is that the mystery about when you will go home has been solved. Now you can plan how you will exit this life, at least to some extent.

Resolve to hit the finish line at full speed. This may sound like an impossibility, since your physical strength will be fading as the disease takes its toll, but spiritually you should be growing stronger and stronger. My mother had 2 Corinthians 4:16 over her sink in her home as a constant reminder:

Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.

This enabled her to continue to grow spiritually while her “outer man” grew weaker.

But how do I hit the finish line at full speed? Make sure that my sanctification is greatest in the last week of my life. Pray for and strive for greater and greater holiness and radiate evidence of purity in heart and mind.

Manifest the fruit of the Spirit. Strive for people to be able to tangibly see joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control.

Repent of all known sins. Turn from them and walk in holiness.

Read the Word. Spend as much time as possible in the Bible. Memorize whole books of the Bible. Meditate on the psalms. Know the whole Word, because some of the folks in heaven are going to want to know what you thought of their writing.

Seek to spend time with your brothers and sisters in Christ, hopefully in person, but at least on the phone.

Proclaim the gospel to every unsaved person you know and urge them to come to Christ. You have nothing to lose! If they reject you and think you are crazy, who cares! You will be dead in a few months. Don’t go to your grave with unused gospel tracts.

Serve your local church as long as your physical strength holds out.

Be able to say without reservation, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Be able to say with all sincerity, “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Run down the home stretch so that you will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21) “Enter into the joy of your Master.”

As I imagine myself being confronted with the end of my mortality, I think these are the things that I would do.

WHY NOT START NOW?

But, if I would act this way if I were given two years to live, surely the obvious question would be, “Well, why wait until you have a terminal cancer diagnosis?” Why not start now? If “to live is Christ and to die is gain,” then why would I wait to live that out until I was a short distance from the grave?

In other words, why not “set my house in order” and keep my house in order so that the Lord can take me at any time, and He will be satisfied with my work?

SDG                 rmb                 7/16/2021                   #423