Reading Revelation (Part 3): Nothing significant and new

POST OVERVIEW. The third in a series of posts about ways to read the book of Revelation that make it less confusing and intimidating. This third post discusses the fact that Revelation introduces no significant new characters or events into end times prophecy. Everything significant has already been mentioned in the previous text of Scripture.  (Also, see previous posts: #568 on the purposes of Revelation and #569 about the constraints that are on the book of Revelation.)

INTRODUCTION. Reading the book of Revelation is a challenging task for any disciple of Jesus. The visions the apostle John relates to us in Revelation are strange and spectacular, and trying to make sense of the visions and then put them into some coherent picture is difficult work. But, while acknowledging the difficulties involved, I believe the challenge of understanding the book of Revelation is eased considerably when we understand how to read the book. In these posts I hope to offer some principles for approaching Revelation that will make the book much less intimidating.

CONSIDER THE FICTION NOVEL

Imagine for a moment that you are reading a classic novel by a skilled author, perhaps Dostoyevsky or Victor Hugo. You have been fascinated as you have seen the author create the main characters in the book, the protagonist and the antagonist and their supporting casts. What initially appeared to be unrelated stories about random people and events were gradually woven into the plot as the movement of the novel steadily picked up steam. Then, at precisely the right moment, the drama reached its climax and the complexities and perplexities of the story were resolved as the hero emerged victorious and the villain was trounced into disgrace. The entire reading has been a satisfying journey into realistic adventure, and now you are turning the final pages to see how the tensions are resolved and the loose ends are tied up.

Then unexpectedly, out of nowhere, a mere fifteen pages from THE END, three new characters appear and a brand new context is introduced which seems disconnected with anything in the previous 500 pages. You were, figuratively speaking, expecting the wheels of the plane to settle softly onto the tarmac and suddenly the nose of the jet was wrenched upward. “Will this flight never end?” Where did this come from? Why are these characters being introduced now at the end of the book? The fact is that a well-written, classic novel does not introduce new characters or plot twists in the last chapter of the novel. The last chapter is where the action is concluded and the plot of the novel is summarized. The last chapter is for landing softly on the tarmac, pulling into the arrival gate, and maybe even picking up your luggage at Baggage Claim. It is not for introducing new characters and plot twists.

CONSIDER THE PURPOSE OF REVELATION

In the same way as the novel, the word of God, the Bible, has as its final book, its final “chapter,” the book of Revelation. As we have already said in the previous post (#568) on the purposes of Revelation, this final book serves as the instrument of conclusion and summary, as the book of the Bible that ties together the loose ends and reveals how our Hero, the Lord Jesus, ultimately triumphs over His adversary, the devil, as He simultaneously gathers all His glorified saints around the throne to worship Him forever. Revelation is written to resolve the mysteries which have been created in the previous sixty-five books, not introduce new characters and events never before encountered.

SIGNIFICANT BUT NOT NEW, OR NEW BUT NOT SIGNIFICANT

Since that is the case, it follows that the book of Revelation introduces no significant new characters or events into the biblical story. Both adjectives are important. Revelation may introduce new characters who play minor roles, but who do not influence the plot. These would be new characters but not significant characters. An example would be “another beast” of chapter 13:11ff (who is also the “false prophet” of 16:13, etc.). This other beast has not appeared before in other biblical prophecy, but he is not significant in the events of the end times. Another example would be “the beast,” who appears in 11:7 and then again in 13:1-10, etc. This is a significant character whom we have seen before in Scripture with different names. This is the little horn (Dan. 7:11, 25), the small horn (Dan. 8:9, 23-25), the prince who is to come (Dan. 9:26), the despicable person (Dan. 11:21-45), and the man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:3ff). He is the human embodiment of evil, often referred to as the antichrist. So, “the beast” is significant but not new.

Thus, Revelation may give new labels to old major characters, but it does not introduce major new characters. So, “the thousand years” is a new label, but not a new concept, “the beast” is not a new character, and Babylon” is not a new city. These are examples of things that have appeared before in the Scriptures but now are being brought to a conclusion in Revelation.

AN EXCEPTION – THE 42 MONTHS

One concept that could be an exception to the rule is the time period of the 42 months. Mentioned five times in Rev. 11-13 (11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; 13:5), this is a time of upheaval and dramatic activity that occurs immediately before the return of Jesus on the last day. The period of the 42 months has not been mentioned before in Scripture, so it is definitely new. The question is, “Is it ‘significant’?” I think the answer has to be ‘yes,’ for it is during this time that the fifth seal is opened (6:9-11), the trumpet warnings are sounded (8-9), the two witnesses appear (11:3-10), Satan is thrown to the earth (12:7-17), and the beast and the false prophet rise up to persecute the church (11:7; 13; 16:13f; 19:17f).

SUMMARY

What I am saying in this post is that understanding most of Revelation does not depend on a vivid imagination but depends, instead, on a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, and particularly of the Old Testament prophets. There is very little new in the text of Revelation. A careful reading will reveal that the book concludes God’s inspired Word by pulling from much of the Old Testament to draw the story of Scripture to a close. The better that the disciple of Jesus knows the whole word of God, the better they will understand the difficult passages in Revelation.

A second attribute is also required to grapple with the book of Revelation. Scriptural knowledge must be accompanied by an ability to see patterns and to recognize allusions to previous scriptural books.

So, approach Revelation as a review of the entire Bible and a book that draws things to a close, and you will enjoy the book much more.

SDG                 rmb                 9/13/2022                   #571

The binding of Satan, Part 2 (Revelation 20:1-3)

POST OVERVIEW. There are two places in the Bible that teach about the binding of Satan, in Matthew 12:29 and in Revelation 20:1-3. In post #566, we looked at Matthew 12:29. This post will be a study of Revelation 20:1-3.  

Our purpose in these two posts is to discover what the Scripture teaches us about the binding of Satan, implicit in Matthew 12:29 and explicit in Revelation 20:1-3. In post #566, we looked at Matthew 12:29 and discovered that this verse teaches us that Jesus is going to bind Satan so that Satan’s kingdom can be plundered, and that “plundering” will be accomplished through the church’s proclamation of the gospel. But Matthew 12:29 also left us with questions. Exactly when will Jesus bind Satan? And how will this binding take place? What does that actually look like? To answer these questions, we now turn to our second “binding” passage, Revelation 20:1-3.

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; 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.

We will start our study by identifying the characters involved. In Rev. 20:2 we see the dragon, and we know that the dragon is Satan. There is also “an angel coming down from heaven.” Although John uses “angel” to describe this being, this “angel” is none other than the resurrected Lord Jesus. Why do I say that this “angel” is Jesus?

  • First, we observe that the angel is holding the key to the abyss in his hand. In Revelation, the only one who has keys is Jesus. He has “the keys of death and of Hades” (1:18), and here he also has the key to the abyss where he is going to put Satan for a thousand years.
  • But also notice the power and authority of this unnamed “angel.” Whereas Michael the archangel did not dare pronounce a judgment against the devil (Jude 9), this angel has the power to throw Satan around like a ragdoll. He “laid hold of the dragon (Satan) and bound him for a thousand years; 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” (20:2-3). During all of this, the dragon (Satan) is powerless to resist. The only one who can throw Satan around like this is the Lord Jesus. This angel, then, is Jesus.

Thus, the characters in this scene in Rev. 20:1-3 are Satan and the Lord Jesus, and the action performed is that Jesus binds Satan. Notice this is the exact same situation that we encountered in our study of Matthew 12:29, where we had the strong man (Satan) and Jesus as the characters and the action was that Jesus bound the strong man. We remember from Matt. 12:29 that Jesus binds the strong man so that He can plunder his kingdom. Thus, by logical deduction, we can say that Jesus will bind Satan in the abyss so that He can plunder his kingdom.

WHEN IS SATAN BOUND?

But can we also determine when Jesus is going to bind Satan? I think we can.

First, from Rev. 20:2 we observe that the dragon (Satan) is bound at the beginning of the thousand years.

Also, from Matt. 12:29, we know that someone (in this case, Jesus) “first binds the strong man (Satan), and then he will plunder his house.” So the sequence goes, “First we bind him, then we plunder him.” From this verse and from ordinary reasoning, we can conclude that, immediately after the strong man (Satan) is bound, the plundering of the strong man’s house (Satan’s kingdom) begins.

Since, from Rev. 20:2 we know that Satan is bound at the beginning of the thousand years, and from Matt. 12:29 we know that, when Satan is bound, the plundering of his kingdom begins, we can logically conclude that the plundering of Satan’s kingdom begins at the beginning of the thousand years.

Now the question is, “When does Satan’s kingdom begin to be plundered?” If we can answer this question, we will have discovered both when Satan is bound and when the thousand years begins. But the answer to this question is obvious: Satan’s kingdom began to be plundered the moment the commissioned church (Matthew 28:19-20) began to proclaim the gospel of salvation so that lost sinners could be saved. Thus, we now know that Satan was bound at the very beginning of the gospel age (~AD 32) and, since, from Rev. 20:2, Satan was bound to begin the thousand years, we know that “the thousand years” began in ~AD 32.

DOES THIS FIT THE BIBLICAL RECORD?

So far, so good. But could this have actually occurred? That is, does the Scripture allow the possibility that the resurrected Jesus bound Satan in the abyss in ~AD 32? Yes, the Scripture does allow for this occurrence.

Recall that the resurrected Lord Jesus ascended to heaven in Acts 1:9. Then in Rev. 5:6ff, the victorious Lamb arrives in heaven to the praises of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders and to the praises of myriads of angels. He begins to break the seven seals of the book, and from that point until His glorious return (Rev. 19:11-16) He is seated in heaven at the Father’s right hand (Psalm 110:1). So, when would there be a time when Jesus could bind Satan in the abyss?

After the resurrected Lord leaves His disciples on earth (Acts 1:9), but before He arrives in heaven as the victorious Lamb (Rev. 5:6), He is seen “coming down from heaven, holding the key to the abyss” (Rev. 20:1). It is at this time, while He is ascending to heaven, that He binds Satan in the abyss for the thousand years. After binding Satan, Jesus ascends to heaven.

This scenario agrees with the biblical text and provides a reasonable explanation for the events surrounding the binding of Satan.

SDG                 rmb                 9/9/2022                     #567

The binding of Satan, Part 1 (Matthew 12:29)

INTRODUCTION. There are two places in the Bible that teach about the binding of Satan, in Matthew 12:29 and in Revelation 20:1-3. This post will be a study of Matthew 12:29, seeking to discover what Jesus teaches us about this subject.

Our purpose in these two posts is to discover what the Scripture teaches us about the binding of Satan, implicit in Matthew 12:29 and explicit in Revelation 20:1-3. First, Matt. 12:29.

Our study verse is at the end of a passage (Matt. 12:22-29) in which Jesus teaches about casting out demons. Satan does not cast out Satan (12:26) and Jesus does not cast out demons by Beelzebul (12:27). Rather, Jesus casts out demons by the Spirit of God, thus proving that He has more power than Satan. Then He says,

“Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.” – Matthew 12:29

Let’s examine and interpret this verse.

First, who is “the strong man?” From the context, it is clear that the strong man refers to Satan. Satan is the one who deceives and captures the unrighteous (2 Tim. 2:26). Satan blinds the minds of the unbelievers (2 Cor. 4:4). Satan has his schemes (Eph. 6:11) and he is the one who hinders us from proclaiming the gospel (1 Thess. 2:18).

And “the strong man’s house” speaks of Satan’s kingdom (12:26), consisting of his demons and his deceptions, his temptations and his tricks. Satan’s kingdom also contains his most valuable property, namely all the unrighteous whom he desires to keep trapped in their ignorance of the gospel. It is the unrighteous who are considered his property, and these Satan will guard with all his might. Satan is “the strong man, fully armed” of Luke 11:21. He is a formidable foe, and it seems unlikely that anyone has the power to “carry off his property” and to “plunder his house.”

But there is One who is able and who has the power. Jesus, the Son of Man, is the one who “first binds the strong man, and then He will plunder his house.” Although this is in figurative language, we know exactly what Jesus is saying here. The Son of God came “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Jesus was sent “to proclaim release to the captives” (Luke 4:18), to render the devil powerless and “free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:14-15). “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), and Jesus will certainly accomplish His mission. Thus Jesus BINDS Satan so that He can plunder his house. When Satan is bound, he is unable to guard his house.

How does this look in biblical, redemptive terms? Now, Satan has been bound, and as the church proclaims the gospel among the nations, Satan can only watch helplessly as his house is plundered. Through His church, Jesus is now plundering Satan’s house and is drawing all men to Himself (John 12:32).

In summary, then, Matthew 12:29 teaches us that Jesus is going to BIND Satan so that Satan’s kingdom can be plundered. So far, so good.

But this still leaves us with key questions unanswered. For example, when is Satan going to be bound? That is, at what point in history does Jesus bind Satan so that Satan’s house can be plundered? Also, exactly how is Satan bound? For these questions we must ask, “Is there any other place in Scripture that might tell us more about this binding of Satan?” Glad you asked. As a matter of fact, there is. It turns out that Revelation 20:1-3 is another passage that explicitly mentions the binding of Satan, and a careful reading of these verses will reveal both when Satan is bound and how this binding takes place so that his kingdom can be plundered.

And that study will be the subject of our next post.

SDG                 rmb                 9/7/2022                     #566

The thousand years, the forty-two months, and Satan (Part 1)

SUMMARY. This short study of “the thousand years” and the “forty-two months” comes from the book of Revelation and serves as a refresher for understanding the flow of the events which occur at the end of the age. In this study we also see how the devil fits into the timing of these events. (See my book, “The Last Act of the Drama” (Amazon, 2021) for a more detailed treatment.)

MINI-SERIES OVERVIEW. A good understanding of the book of Revelation is needed to have a proper grasp of the end times. The problem is that it is very difficult to understand the book of Revelation and especially to follow the flow of events in the section of the book from chapter 4 through chapter 20. This series of posts serves as a teaching session to define the events that take place and to explain the order in which they occur. We will also see that Satan appears in the flow of events in Revelation.

THE LOCATION OF THE DEVIL IN HISTORY. Most people would say that the devil spends most of redemptive history on earth, but the Bible tells a slightly different story. The book of Job is one of the oldest books in the Bible, and in Job, Satan presents himself before the LORD (Job 1:6). This must mean that Satan is in heaven, for “the LORD is in His holy temple, the LORD’s throne is in heaven” (Psalm 11:4). Thus it seems that, during the Old Testament period, in some sense, Satan is in heaven.

When we jump forward to the time just before the Incarnation, in Revelation 12:3 we see the devil as the red dragon in heaven ready to devour the Messiah (12:3-4). Thus, just before Christ’s Incarnation, again we see that Satan is in heaven.

Revelation 12:5 describes the Incarnation and the Ascension of Jesus but is silent about what is happening with the devil during this time. To find out what happens with the devil next, we need to turn over to Revelation 20 and see how Satan is removed from heaven.

A PAUSE FOR SOME INFORMATION

AN OVERVIEW OF THE FLOW OF REVELATION. It is necessary to pause here and turn aside to supply key information about what is happening in Revelation. Therefore, we will take a moment, first, to give an overview of how the pieces fit together and then how the events flow through the chapters of Revelation.

FITTING THE PIECES TOGETHER. First, then, we will address how the pieces or components fit together. Chapters 4 through 20 of the book of Revelation describe three distinct periods of time: “the thousand years,” the “forty-two months,” and the last day.

THE THOUSAND YEARS. “The thousand years” is the name or the label for the period of time in redemptive history that occurs between the binding of Satan in the abyss (Rev. 20:1-3) and the release of Satan from the abyss (Rev. 20:3, 7). It will shown that “the thousand years” begins during the ascension of Jesus from earth to heaven following His resurrection. Thus, “the thousand years” was inaugurated around AD 30. The term “a thousand years” in Revelation 20 is a figurative expression for the duration of the period of time named “the thousand years.” In Revelation, a thousand of anything does not communicate an exact number but tells of a very large number too big to count. Thus, a thousand years is a really long period of time. So, “the thousand years” began with the binding of Satan in the abyss in about AD 30 and will continue for a really long period of time until the release of Satan from the abyss.

THE FORTY-TWO MONTHS. The period of “the thousand years” is followed immediately by the period of the “forty-two months.” “Forty-two months” (Rev. 11:2; 13:5), “one thousand two hundred and sixty days” (Rev. 11:3; 12:6), and “a time and times and half a time” (Rev. 12:14) are names or labels for this relatively short period of intense eschatological activity that occurs between Satan’s release from the abyss (Rev. 20:3, 7) and the beginning of the last day. As a thousand years was a figurative expression for the duration of “the thousand years,” so “forty-two months” is a figurative expression for the duration of this period. While “thousand years” conveys the idea of a very long, indefinite period of time, “forty-two months” conveys the idea of a much shorter, more defined period of time, not literally forty-months, but a brief time, like less than a decade.

THE LAST DAY. Although this series of blog posts will not touch on the last day, we will define it here. The expression “the last day” is to be understood literally, meaning it is literally the last day of human existence on the fallen earth. You may ask, “If ‘thousand years’ and ‘forty-two months’ are figurative, why do you claim that ‘the last day’ is literal?” The expressions “thousand years” and “forty-two months” are unique to the book of Revelation, both in actual textual appearance and in concept. Since these two concepts are unique to Revelation, they must be understood within the context of the book of Revelation. It is apparent in reading Revelation that these expressions are not required to be literal, nor are they intended to be taken as literal. It is clear from the text that these expressions are conveying a concept, not a precise period of time. By contrast, the concept and expression of “the last day” have been part of redemptive history since the very beginning. For example, in the gospel of John, Jesus speaks of the last day (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54). In the Old Testament prophets, we read often of “that day.” Ever since the fall of man in Eden, there has been a coming day of recompense when the unrighteous will be judged. As we examine this biblical concept of a last day, it is also evident that the last day is literally the last day. That is, all of biblical revelation presents the last day or “that day” as a regular, literal day. Since throughout God’s inspired word, the last day is presented as literal, we assume that the book of Revelation presents it the same way.

SUMMARY. So far, we have fit some of the pieces together. According to our understanding of these components, then, “the thousand years” began around AD 30 with the dragon (Satan, the devil, the serpent of old) being bond in the abyss. The end of “the thousand years” is marked by Satan’s release from the abyss, which simultaneously inaugurates “the forty-two months.” Once the events of “the forty-months” are completed, the final events of the last day occur, which closes human history.

Where are we in our study, then? Remember that, in the Overview section above, we stated that we were first going to see how the pieces fit together and then were going to consider how the events flow through the chapters of Revelation.

So, now that we see how the pieces fit together, the next post will explore how “the thousand years” and “forty-two months” appear in the text of Revelation so that we can see how Satan journeys from heaven just before the Incarnation (Rev. 12:3-4) to the lake of fire on the last day (Rev. 20:10).            

SDG                 rmb                 7/13/2022                   #553

Drive your roots deep and let your voice be heard

INTRODUCTION. Some comments about the need for disciples of Jesus to be firmly rooted in Christ and to boldly proclaim Him in these end times. Firm roots and a bold voice will prevent the follower of Christ from being overwhelmed by the rising evil of our age.

There is no place for the disciple of Jesus to hide anymore.

If your spiritual desires are to maintain a low profile and to be anonymous and to whisper some religious platitudes under your breath, then the last thing you want to do in this day and age is to be a disciple of Jesus. (John 15:18-20; etc.)

In the past, the American church-goer could be rewarded with respectable friends and people for their children to marry and connections for their business interests. “Being a Christian” was just part of the majority American culture, part of the American dream. In that halcyon bygone time, Christians did not proclaim the gospel to non-Christians. Christians typically went from birth to death without ever telling a single non-Christian anything about Jesus or sin or heaven or hell or how Christ had transformed their life and their eternity. Their faith was closely held, a private thing, a secret known by their friends at their church. And for a long time this sort of harmless, secret, nice, voiceless “Christianity” worked just fine and these Christians got all the benefits of the blessed life.

Meanwhile, the Great Commission languished and Christ had few witnesses and the evil of the world continued to fill the void. And yet even in this, Christ was building His church and the gates of Hades were not prevailing against it (Matt. 16:18).

But the days when “being a Christian” was part of the majority American culture are now far behind us, a small speck in the cultural rear view mirror. Whether the American dream still exists is debatable, but it is clear that America has become hostile to the person who openly follows Jesus. As a result, only a robust, vigorous, active, persevering, bold, joyful, vibrant faith will be of any help in these last days.

If your faith is only nominal; that is, if yours is a “faith” that goes through the outward motions but has no real substance, your masquerade will be shattered by the persistent and pervasive evil of our age. A nominal faith will be revealed as a sham and will be useless for you and for the kingdom of God.

But what if your faith is a genuine saving faith, but is weak or joyless or tepid or hesitant or wavering? In this time when evil and lawlessness are rising unabated and the righteous are vastly outnumbered by the ungodly, a weak, wavering, shrinking-back faith, even if genuine, will prove to be a useless faith. If your light for Jesus is to shine before men (Matt. 5:16) and if you would be Jesus’ witnesses in the world (Acts 1:8), then your devotion to Jesus must be placed on the lampstand (Matt. 5:15) and the truth of the gospel must be proclaimed from the housetops (Matt 10:27). A faith that remains in the closet to be retrieved for a few hours on Sunday will avail you nothing. Jesus will have disciples who are fully and unconditionally devoted to Him until death (Luke 14:26-27), or He will not have you at all (Matt. 10:32-33; 12:30). Therefore, if you examine yourself (2 Cor. 13:5) and see that your faith is hesitant or wavering, you should begin immediately to drive your roots deeper into Christ.

WHERE WE ARE IN HISTORY

On the timeline of world history, in the unfolding of great world events, the “thousand years” (Rev. 20:1-6) of relative peace for the ingathering of the church have drawn to a close, and now the testing and the cleansing of the church ingathered has begun. The devil has been released from his prison (Rev. 20:7), “having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time” (Rev. 12:12). His time is short and he is not playing games. We are now in Satan’s hour and he is bent on proliferating evil and destruction, and on fanning sin into a blazing inferno. Therefore, those who do not take a bold, firm stand against him (Eph. 6:10-18) and who do not persevere in a robust, overt righteousness will simply be swept away by the flood of wickedness.

The Lord has released the devil (Rev. 20:3) and is allowing him to test His people (Revelation 11:7; 13:7) to see who will shrink back (Hebrews 10:38, 39) and who will stand firm (Rev. 2:10). We are in an evil time, but it is evil that most plainly reveals righteousness, and the darker the darkness, the more brilliant the light.

CONCLUSION

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul warned about the circumstances of the last days:

1 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5

It is my opinion that we are in these “last days” and that Christ will come soon to rescue His oppressed church. But even if I am wrong, the “difficult times” Paul described are certainly upon us and those who love righteousness must persevere in the face of growing opposition. This means the disciple of Jesus must earnestly seek the Lord and must drive their spiritual roots deep into the saving soil of Christ.

SDG                 rmb                 6/20/2022                   #545

Reaching those in religion

INTRODUCTION. Encouragement for ambassadors for Christ who encounter people devoted to a religion. Thoughts on how to evangelize unbelievers in religions. Also, the power of the gospel.

Martin was a Vietnamese man who also worked at SGI. I had recently made his acquaintance and had invited him to lunch. As we were returning to work, I had asked Martin, “What would you say is the most important experience is your life?” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know. What’s yours?” Eager for the opportunity, I told Martin how I had met Jesus Christ and had become a follower of Jesus when I was thirty-one years old.

“So, Martin, what do you think about that?”

He paused for a second and then pointed to the jade green statue of the Buddha that hung from his rearview mirror. “Roy, I’m a Buddhist. My grandfather was a Buddhist, my father is a Buddhist. I’m a Buddhist.” Thus I encountered the immovable object of “religion.”

RELIGION ENCOUNTERED AND DEFINED

It can be frustrating to the witness, the ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) who has stepped out in obedience and begun to tell the gospel to someone only to encounter the stone wall of religion. Religion comes in many guises, but these various religious guises have a common trait.

A religion is a formal spiritual system which is given to the adherent at birth, and which becomes part of a person’s self-identity.

Let’s consider this definition for a second.

That a religion is “formal” means that it has a structure and is recognized as a system of thought or behavior by the adherents. So, poker players do not make up a religion because poker playing does not constitute a formal system, but Islam is structured as a formal religion.

Another distinguishing aspect of a religion is a “spiritual” component. Broadly speaking, the “spiritual” component of a religion is that part that provides a counterfeit or substitute for the one true and living God. Buddhism is “spiritual,” but atheistic. Hinduism offers millions of false gods. Islam presents the false god of Allah.

A religion is given to the follower at physical birth. Strictly speaking, of course, the newborn infant is not a Catholic or a Hindu, but the newborn infant raised in a Catholic or Hindu family will certainly take on that family’s religion. If asked, a Catholic or a Hindu will tell you they have been in their religion since birth. That a person has been in this “formal spiritual system” since birth is a distinguishing mark of someone in a religion.

Finally, this “formal spiritual system” is an integral part of the person’s self-identity. Now, by itself, the characteristic of “self-identity” could be religious or not religious. Those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ certainly self-identify as believers, as Christians. But the self-identity of those in a religion is of a different flavor.

RELIGIOUS SELF-IDENTITY

The adherent of a religion certainly identifies strongly as a member of that religion, but that identification is not by choice, but is by obligation. The person identifies with that religion because they must. Their religion is believed to be unchangeable, and so it is unchallengeable. The person entrenched in a religion has probably never thought deeply about their religion and has never considered any alternative to their religion. In fact, many of those who follow a religion are not aware that an alternative even exists. It has never occurred to them to question their religion. Their religion is “right” because it is the only thing they have ever known.

When one follows a religion, the religion is simply a fact of their existence, like the color of their eyes and like the color of their skin. And, like the color of eyes and skin, it cannot change. What the religion believes or does in its practice is irrelevant to the adherent. By that I mean that the beliefs or practices do not need to “make sense” with experience or with logic or even with any religious book. As the falcon flies because that is part of its essential “falcon-ness,” so the religionist does what he does without question simply because he is of that religion, and that’s what those in that religion do.

So, my friend Martin was born a Buddhist, and he will live as a Buddhist as long as he lives, and then he will die as a Buddhist. That’s just how it is with religion.

Unless . . .

That’s just how it is, unless there is a message that is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). The situation is hopeless for those trapped in the grip of religion unless there is some means available to set these people free (John 8:36; Galatians 5:1).

ONE GOSPEL CONVERSATION AWAY

And the good news is that the person who is trapped in his religion, even the one who is zealous for his religion may be one gospel conversation away from true freedom and salvation. The Bible declares that if someone will preach the gospel, then anyone may hear and believe and then call upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10:14-15) and be saved.

Before he was converted to Christ, the apostle Paul was as zealous a Jew as ever lived (Galatians 1:13-14), who persecuted the church and threw believers in prison (1 Tim. 1:13-15; Acts 8:1-3). He was born a Hebrew of Hebrew parents and had every pedigree of a religious Jew (Philippians 3:5-6). I suspect no one was praying for unsaved Paul, except perhaps that he would drop dead or go away. Then this zealous Jew was converted by the Lord Jesus Himself (Acts 9:4-6) and was sent out as an apostle to proclaim the gospel of salvation.

Thus, the Bible makes clear that the gospel is more powerful than the stone wall of any religion. Religion is one of Satan’s tools for creating confusion and for generating zeal in the wrong direction, but the gospel is “mighty before God for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Cor. 10:4) and we can be confident that the gospel will do its work.

A POSSIBLE STRATEGY FOR REACHING THOSE IN RELIGION

Like you, I do not have a “silver bullet” for winning anyone to Christ, let alone a perfect strategy for reaching those in religions, but I have thought about it some and suggest this as a possible approach. Since evangelism is the proclamation of the gospel to the unsaved, any strategy should lead to a gospel presentation as quickly as possible. The challenge is that the one who is trapped in a religion is predisposed against Christ and the gospel. But the evangelist and the religionist do have something vital in common. They both face death. So, once the witness has discovered that the other person is in a religion, he might say, “That is very interesting. I am a follower of Jesus, so obviously I do not share your religion. But there is something we both have in common, and that is that, as human beings, we both face death. What is your religion’s answer for death? How does your religion help you deal with death?” From here you would bring up Jesus Christ and how He has conquered death, which would hopefully lead to a discussion about the gospel.

SDG                 rmb                 5/5/2022                     #526

Let me introduce you to my Big Brother

It does not happen often, but there are times when I feel so discouraged, when I am just feeling low and down on myself. There are times when I feel so inadequate and so incompetent and so very imperfect. I ask myself, “How can the Lord use me at all?” But it turns out that, because of the fall, we are all imperfect and weak and prone to error and failure. It is at times like these that I need to stop thinking like one who is all alone in the world and like one who does not have the Lord on his side. I need to stop thinking like a sheep without a shepherd. The LORD is my shepherd! (Psalm 23:1) The Lord is with me like a dread Champion. (Jeremiah 20:11)

When Satan tells me that I am a failure and will be a failure and he reminds me of all the mistakes that I have made and tells me of all the times that I have failed and then tells me that I am therefore a failure, I will refer him to my Big Brother, Jesus. “You, Satan, are the father of lies. You are the accuser of the brethren. You are the one who hates me and who seeks to kill and to steal and to destroy. You intend nothing but my destruction and plan for nothing but my failure. But let me introduce you to my Big Brother, Jesus. I think you may have met Him before. Do you remember? He was the One who kicked you out of heaven and determined that you would crawl on the earth like a serpent. He was the One who defeated you in the wilderness and resisted every one of your temptations. You will remember that He is the One who drove the cross through your skull on Calvary’s hill and He is the One who said, ‘It is finished,’ from the cross. He is the One who has delivered me from the domain of darkness. He is the One who has destroyed your works. He is the One who has conquered death and who promises that I will never be condemned. He is the One who is at my side and has promised to never leave me or forsake me. Nothing shall be able to take me out of His hand and nothing can separate me from His love for me. He is the One who is in heaven interceding for me. He is the One who is with me like a dread champion. He is my refuge and my Rock and my Redeemer. He is the One who will come from heaven with a shout and with the voice of the archangel to receive me into heaven and to give me a glorified body. And He is the One who will throw you into the lake of fire to be tormented forever. Don’t you remember Him? I think you do. He is my Big Brother. He is my Savior. He is the One who will defend me from those too strong for me.

“So if you have something to say to me, Satan, and you have some accusation to bring against me; if there is some discouragement that you want to bring against me or if you want to remind me of some failure and if you want to tell me that I am a failure, you will need to speak to my Big Brother first and see what He has to say about it. The reality is that apart from Jesus, I am nothing, but because Jesus Christ is my King and because He died for me and because He is for me and because nothing can separate me from His love, I am destined for glory and my life is useful to the Master. I have been given a white robe and a ring. I have been washed in the blood of Jesus Christ so that I am whiter than snow. My frail efforts, when offered in the name of Jesus, are powerful for the destruction of all your fortresses. You, Satan, say that I am a failure, but Jesus Christ says I belong to Him, that he has bought me with the price of His own blood and that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose. You, Satan, say that I will fail and that the future is bleak, but because you are the father of lies, I know that is a lie and that my future is, in fact, bright and that God will use me and that nothing can stand against God’s purposes to bring about His glory through my feeble efforts. So, tell your lies to my Advocate and to my Intercessor and to my Redeemer and see what He has to say about them.”

When I remember to refer Satan to my Big Brother, the Lord Jesus Christ, then his vain threats vanish like so many puffs of smoke and He is revealed to be a toothless lion and a fangless viper. I am reminded that Satan is a mere fallen angel, but the One I worship, my rock, my shield, and my defender, Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, King of kings and Lord of lords.

So, next time Satan attempts to harass you with his taunts and temptations, introduce him again to your Big Brother, and press on toward the goal for the prize.

[Some of the Scripture references: Isaiah 64:4; Hebrews 11:6 (“God rewards (‘is a rewarder of’) those who diligently seek Him” – Believe this promise, that God rewards not on the basis of height or looks or wealth or strength or even ability (remember the parable of the talents in Matthew 25) or age, but God rewards on the basis of faith and according to His faithfulness – Hallelujah!); Romans 8:31-39; John 19:30; 2 Cor. 5:21]

SDG                 rmb                 5/3/2022                     #525

Satan’s ever-changing agenda (Revelation 12)

INTRODUCTION. In my last post on Satan’s activities during the end times (#508 on March 29), we had determined that, when the Scripture says that Satan is bound for the “thousand years” (Revelation 20:2, 3), it means only that, during the “thousand years,” his specific ability to deceive the nations is “bound” so that the gospel is free to spread among the nations without Satan’s hindrance. This explains how Satan can be “bound” (Rev. 20:2, 3) and can also “prowl about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

During this post we will be considering a related topic, namely, how Satan has been forced to change his mission several times throughout history in response to what God has done through Jesus Christ. The devil is always trying to react to what God is doing, changing his gameplan to try to thwart God’s irresistible plan of redemption. In this post, I will look at how these dynamics work.

REVELATION 12 IS KEY

Understanding Revelation 12 is key to understanding the entire book of Revelation. There are several themes at work in this chapter, which span redemptive history from the Old Testament people of God through the Incarnation and even into the 42 months. One of the things that we see here is that, as redemptive history unfolds, the devil, who is presented figuratively as a red dragon, must change his strategy and even his mission to try to oppose the Lord.

Observe, for example, how radically the dragon’s (Satan’s) activity changes in the chapter. Before the Messiah was born, “the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth” (Rev. 12:4). The woman represents the faithful saints of the Old Testament who have followed the Lord until this moment when the Messiah is about to come into the world. The prophecies of a coming King who would deliver His people are now to be fulfilled, and the dragon’s mission is very simple: kill the Child and prevent His arrival. The dragon is poised to “devour her child” (12:4). But the dragon fails in that mission and Messiah is born. “She (the woman) gave birth to a son, a male child” (12:5a). The Messiah accomplishes His mission of atonement, is raised from the dead, and then is “caught up to God and to His throne” (12:5c). Now the dragon has failed twice. He failed to prevent Messiah from being born into the world and he failed to prevent Messiah from accomplishing His mission, “the work (the Father) had given Him to do” (John 17:4). What will the dragon do now?

Once Christ has accomplished His mission and has charged His church to go and make disciples of all the nations (Matt. 28:19-20), the dragon’s mission becomes a desperate attempt to prevent the church from accomplishing her Christ-given mission.

THE DRAGON’S MISSION HAS TWO STRATEGIES

So, the dragon’s mission, for the time between Christ’s ascension to heaven and His return from heaven, is to thwart the gospel and to make sure that the church fails to reach all the nations (see Matt. 24:14). The dragon has two main strategies for succeeding in his mission. The first strategy is to deceive the nations so that they will not heed (believe) the gospel and the second is to attack the church so that they will not preach the gospel. The combination of these two strategies would create a formidable threat to the building of the church and could endanger the church’s accomplishment of their mission. But notice that, in Revelation 20:1-3, “the angel (the risen Lord Jesus) bound him (the dragon, Satan) for a thousand years” (20:2), “SO THAT he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed” (20:3). By binding Satan at the beginning of the “thousand years,” the Lord Jesus has neutralized one of Satan’s two main strategies and has made the spread of the gospel among the nations dependent only upon the church’s faithful preaching of the gospel. During the “thousand years,” the nations will be receptive to the gospel, and many will believe the gospel, because Satan is bound and is not able to deceive them. If the church is bold and faithful to proclaim the gospel, then, during the “thousand years,” the nations will receive the gospel.

PERSECUTING THE CHURCH IS ALLOWED

It is significant that Jesus does not prevent the devil from attacking His church during the “thousand years.” Instead, Jesus allows His chosen and commissioned church in the world to be opposed, maligned, and persecuted as they proclaim the gospel. Doesn’t this seem a little strange? Why would Jesus allow His bride, the church, to be subject to suffering and persecution in the world when the church is faithfully proclaiming the gospel and is being a bold witness to the Lord Jesus (Acts 1:8)? That is a great question, and that is what we will explore in the next post in this series, “The Lord’s purposes in persecution.”

REVIEW AND MAIN POINT

To review what we have covered, then, we have seen that the dragon (Satan, the devil) has two potential strategies for stopping the spread of the gospel to the nations: “deceiving the nations” so they will not believe the gospel and the attacking of the church so the church will not preach the gospel. The main idea of this post is that the binding of Satan in Rev. 20:1-3 eliminates his use of the “deceiving the nations” strategy during the “thousand years.” Thus, during the “thousand years,” the dragon’s main strategy (only strategy?) is to attack the church so that she will not preach the gospel.

SDG                 rmb                 03/31/2022                 # 510

How is Satan “bound”? (Revelation 20:1-3)

INTRODUCTION. According to Revelation 20:1-3, Satan is bound in the abyss for the “thousand years.” But if that is the case, how is he, at the same time, prowling about like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8)?

Last Friday evening, during a discussion of the end times, a friend mentioned the consideration that, if Satan is “bound” immediately after Christ’s ascension, then how do we explain verse like 1 Peter 5:8, which speaks about the devil’s ongoing activity during the “thousand years?”

A REVIEW OF THE LAST DAYS

Before we plunge deeply into this controversial text (Revelation 20:1-6) and the equally controversial subject of the “thousand years,” it would be good to review some basics of the end times so that we have a common vocabulary and a common framework. I have expressed my views on these topics in detail in my book, The Last Act of the Drama, which I self-published with Amazon in October 2021, and this review will be based on the explanations in that book.

The last days began with the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ in Bethlehem (Hebrews 1:2). Jesus, the Son of God, performed His earthly ministry, accomplished His work of redemption by His death on the cross, was buried, and rose again from the dead in glorious resurrection. He commissioned His church to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20) and then ascended to heaven to await the Father’s command for His return to end history and judge the earth. Of course, there is no controversy among evangelicals concerning these truths, but there is a great deal of debate about what happens between Jesus’ ascension and His return, especially regarding the end times, the time just before His return.

Since I have written about my view in detail in my book, I will not supply explanations here, but will just present my view, especially as it relates to the “thousand years.” From Revelation 20:1-3, we know the beginning event and the ending event of the “thousand years.” That time period begins when the “angel” “bound him (Satan) for a thousand years” (20:2). Then, when “the thousand years were completed,” “he must be released for a short time” (20:3). This is confirmed in Revelation 20:7, where the Scripture says, “When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison.” So, the beginning and the end of the ”thousand years” are given, but questions remain. When, exactly, does this period occur? What precedes it and what follows it? What occurs during this period? What is the purpose of Satan being bound and what is the purpose of the “thousand years”? Who is this “angel”?

In my book, I explain that the “thousand years” is not intended as a literal 1,000 years but simply suggests a long period of time. I use the term “relatively literal,” meaning that “thousand years” gives us the right mindset. It gets us in the ballpark. The “thousand years” is a long time. The “angel” (Rev. 20:1) is the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ as He is ascending to heaven to assume the throne (See Rev. 5, when He arrives in heaven.) The “angel” must be Jesus, because no ordinary “angel” has the authority to lay hold of Satan and throw him into the abyss. Only Jesus, as God the Son, can do this. Thus, Satan is bound in the abyss for the “thousand years.” The “thousand years” begins with Satan being bound during Jesus’ ascension and ends with Satan’s release “for a short time” (20:3). The “thousand years” is followed by the 42 Months (Rev. 11:2, 3; others), which is followed by the Last Day.

THE OBJECTION STATED

But if Satan is bound in the abyss for the “thousand years” and the “thousand years” begins with Christ’s ascension, how do we explain the New Testament’s references to an active devil during the entire time from the beginning of the church forward? For example, in his first epistle,  the apostle Peter warns that, “your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Why would Peter issue this warning if the devil is bound in the abyss? Jesus tells the church at Smyrna that “the devil is about to cast some of you in prison” (Rev. 2:10). Paul declares that we are not ignorant of Satan’s schemes (2 Cor. 2:11) and devotes a whole passage to spiritual warfare so “you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:10-18, esp. 6:11). How can “bound in the abyss” be reconciled with these passages?

THE OBJECTION ADDRESSED

While Satan is bound during the “thousand years,” he is not bound absolutely. He is not bound such that he is unable to do anything, but the Scripture states that he is bound specifically in his ability to deceive the nations. In Revelation 20:3, we read “he (the angel, who is the glorified Christ) threw him (Satan) into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, SO THAT he would not deceive the nations any longer” (emphasis mine). The purpose for Satan being bound in the abyss is SO THAT (the Greek is ἵνα, which indicates purpose) he would not “deceive the nations.” That is, the devil’s ability to hinder the spread of the gospel among the nations is “bound,” but the Scripture is silent about Satan’s other abilities.

This specific binding of Satan in this way is very strategic for the spread of the gospel among the nations and for the building of Christ’s church (Matt. 16:18). Remember, before His ascension Jesus has commissioned His church (Matt. 28:19-20) and has given the church the mission to “make disciples of all the nations.” When the first of the seven seals is broken (Rev. 6:1-2), the church is pictured as a rider on a white horse whose only weapon is “the bow” of the gospel and who “went out conquering and to conquer.” To enable the church to accomplish her mission of making disciples by proclaiming the gospel, the Lord Jesus removes Satan from the playing field before the church rides out. Jesus commissions His church, then binds Satan in the abyss for the “thousand years,” then sends out His church conquering and to conquer. With Satan bound SO THAT he will not deceive the nations (prevent the gospel from advancing among the nations), the “thousand years” is a period of tremendous gospel advance as the Lord Jesus builds His church through the proclaiming church.

SUMMARY

To summarize, then, when the Scripture says that Satan is bound for the “thousand years,” it means only that his specific ability to deceive the nations is neutralized so that the gospel is free to spread among the nations without Satan’s interference. The fact that Satan is bound does not, however, affect his ability to oppose and persecute the church or to create havoc and chaos in the world or to raise up evil leaders and governments or to create false religions that draw many to destruction.

My next post on this subject will be about Satan’s shifting agenda (or mission) as the Lord brings about His plan for the salvation of His elect.

SDG                 rmb                 3/29/2022                   #508

Considering Religions – Part 2 “Christian” religions

INTRODUCTION. This is the second post in a series of articles about “religions.” Last time I gave a functional definition of “religion” so that we would have a common understanding of the topic. We then looked at pagan or non-Christian religions. This post will focus on what I am calling “Christian” religions.  

REVIEW – DEFINITION OF RELIGION: (From my last post on religions #495, 3/3/2022)

A good functional definition of a “religion” is “any worldview or philosophy or system of thought which exists for the purpose of intentionally obscuring the gospel of Jesus Christ so that people remain trapped away from salvation in a godless, Christless, hopeless religious system.” Additionally, religions are Satanically conceived and are designed to convince the adherents that they can ignore or despise or even hate Jesus Christ with no consequence. Thus, the definition of a “religion” is based on its function rather than its form, which allows religions as diverse as Buddhism and Roman Catholicism to fall within the definition and to both be seen as systems that are opposed to the true church of Jesus Christ and opposed to His gospel.

REVIEW – TWO CATEGORIES OF RELIGION: Also from my last post, there are two broad categories of religions. Covered last time was the first category, which are those religions that have no association with the Bible or with the God of the Bible. We refer to these as pagan religions. In this post I will cover the second category, the so-called “Christian” religions. As stated last time, these have an obvious connection to Christianity but have none of the saving power of the gospel (refer to 2 Timothy 3:5).

CHRISTIAN RELIGIONS

Religions in this second category have been developed by Satan through the agency of evil men for the purpose of obscuring, distorting, counterfeiting, and denying the saving gospel and replacing the glory of Jesus Christ with useless, faithless rituals and false doctrines. Their religious systems have some external similarities to what is publicly considered to be Christian, but they trivialize sin, and they twist and confuse the Person and the work of Jesus Christ such that sinful man is at the center of the system trying to save himself by his own pathetic sin-stained works and best efforts.

The most prominent “Christian” religious systems are Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Both of these evidently sprang from the early Christian church but have drifted far from the gospel in the ensuing centuries to the point where they are now apostate. An examination of the doctrinal beliefs of these two religions will reveal that there is no agreement between the biblical position and the position of the church. In fact, in some cases the religion directly contradicts the clear teaching of the Bible. One of the reasons for their current failure to reflect biblical doctrine in their church doctrine is that both these religions long ago abandoned the Bible as the sole authority for their doctrine and practice and, instead, opted to use “tradition” as their guide. This choice guarantees ongoing drift away from biblical truth and into man-made error and eventual apostasy, which is where both religions find themselves today.

This point about “abandoning the Bible guaranteeing eventual apostasy” should have a chilling ring to it. Satan is always eager to invent more religions and he desires to pollute any true worship with useless, man-made counterfeits. This means that there is a constant pressure from Satan to turn the gospel of the glorious Lord Jesus Christ into meaningless, impotent rituals which exalt man and his cleverness and his works and which condone sin. Satan is always seeking to transform the church into a useless social club of decent, unregenerate sinners who have lost the message of the cross and the resurrection.

So, while Catholicism and Orthodoxy are the most prominent of the “Christian” religions, they are by no means the only ones. The true church of the Lord Jesus Christ must constantly strive for obedience to the imperatives in His Word and for boldness in proclaiming the pure gospel lest we drift into apostasy. The sad truth is that the worshiping and witnessing church of today can become the shipwreck of tomorrow if there is not a vigorous adherence to the word of God as the active and only source of faith and practice.

The reason this is so critical is that the drift toward becoming a “Christian” religion can begin with a small disobedience to the Word. It can seem like such a little thing, but whole denominations are now nothing more than “Christian” religions because they ignored the Word in what seemed to be a small thing. When Jesus Christ was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, He declared, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on EVERY WORD that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). My emphasis on “every word” is to point out that there is no optional obedience in the Bible. “Every word” is important and every instruction and command is to be obeyed. (What would have happened if Jesus had decided that a small disobedience was probably okay?) Jesus came to fulfill and accomplish ALL of the Law, not just most of it, and “not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass” away (Matthew 5:17-18). Paul told Timothy, “ALL Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), which means it is ALL to be obeyed. If the Bible has a position on something, all options are void. If the Bible speaks on something, man does not get an opinion.

We have thus covered pagan religions and “Christian” religions. In the next post, I will continue to explore religions, looking at the threats that these religions pose to the church and the nature of their opposition to the gospel. The next post will also include examining the biblical warnings to the church about these religions so that the church can stand firm against them. I will see you then.

SDG                 rmb                 3/4/2022                     #497