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

For the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16)

Perhaps it is just the haze that has clouded my memory over three or four decades, but in my mind, these present days are indeed evil days compared with times past. In my teens and twenties, when I was coming of age and moving into adulthood, I was decidedly not a Christian, so the decisions I made and the ambitions I had were completely disconnected from obedience to God and were, therefore, devoid of any wisdom that would come from the Bible or from wise men. I was living for me and was only interested in my desires and pleasures, and so I made many poor decisions and several disastrous ones. But in the days of my young adulthood, the world was a much more benevolent place and even my major mistakes seemed to have only minor and temporary consequences. Truly bad choices resulted in setbacks, certainly, but there remained a ray of hope and a peculiar confidence that all was not lost and that somehow there was still an escape as I continued to plummet earthward. A parachute would be procured, and the landing might be rough, but I would survive and move on.

But that is not the case today. The world today is a malevolent place where disaster seems to lurk behind the corner of even wise decisions and righteous actions. The devil has been released from the abyss (Revelation 20:7) and the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16) and the consequences of poor decisions and unwise actions are amplified. Our days these days are evil. Instead of hiding in the dark, the wicked brazenly parade their wickedness in broad daylight, unashamed of the vilest of deeds (Romans 1:32). It seems that even the wisest and most cautious plans of the righteous walk a tightrope toward success, and the scattered plans of the unrighteous which characterized my young adulthood inevitably meet with shipwreck.

And so, the disciple of Jesus must “be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time BECAUSE THE DAYS ARE EVIL.”

WHAT ARE SOME WAYS TO WALK WISELY?

In view of the present distress (1 Corinthians 7:26), here are some suggestions for how the believer can walk wisely in these evil days.

First, holiness should be a constant and conscious objective. This holiness is visible righteousness. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). In years past, it seems that a token nod to holiness would stave off the temptations to evil, but in the evil day the disciple of Jesus must take up the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:13). There needs to be a conscious striving for holiness that is driven into the soul by a persistent discipline. The days are evil, the disciple of Jesus is a visible target, and the battle is fierce. “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).

Second, the disciple of Jesus must be alert for the encroachment of Satan and watch for the impact of his schemes. It is a doctrinal fact that the believer has, in Christ, defeated Satan and, in Christ, the believer need not fear the ultimate success of Satan’s schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11). Nevertheless, the disciple of Christ is to be on the alert for the working of the wicked one. Our adversary is patient, is deceptive, is subtle, and springs his traps suddenly and unexpectedly. For the naïve and the careless believer, Satan’s schemes can ruin years of fruitful service and can render the disciple useless for future work. “Be sober! Be on the alert!” (1 Peter 5:8).

Third, pray that the Lord will protect you from shipwreck and will guide you along the path of righteousness. Consider the truths of Psalm 91. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1). Pray through the power of Psalm 18:1-3, joining with David in asking the LORD for His protection and declaring the ways the LORD defends His children. It is certainly true that the Lord is our strength and our shield, but it is also true that, when the days are evil, the disciple of Jesus is well-advised to cry out to the Lord and proclaim the Lord’s power and declare the Lord’s promise to be the Defender of His people. “But the LORD is with me like a dread champion” (Jeremiah 20:11). What adversary will come forward to fight my Champion?

SDG                 rmb                 7/6/2021                     #420

Reprove them severely (Titus 1:12-13)

Clearly, Paul had given Titus a hopeless assignment, or at least it appeared that way.

For this reason, I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you. – Titus 1:5

In the best of circumstances this would have been a challenging task, to appoint qualified elders in every city as Paul instructed him, but Titus was not going to the best of circumstances. Far from it. Paul left Titus in Crete, and the Cretans had a well-deserved reputation for being an ornery and belligerent lot.

One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. – Titus 1:12-13

Even the Cretans themselves acknowledge that they are pretty incorrigible, almost as if their gross behavior is a badge of honor. Thus, Titus’ task appears hopeless. For how can “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” ever become “above reproach” (Titus 1:7) so that they can serve as elders? How can these Cretans, who are by nature vile sinners, become just, devout, self-controlled overseers of a local assembly of the church of the living God?

How, indeed! But this shows Paul’s and Titus’ confidence in the power of the gospel. “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).” The apostle believed in the power of the gospel not only to save from condemnation, but also to transform into righteousness. Through the power of the gospel, slaves of sin are changed into slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:18).

HOW DO YOU DISCIPLE A CRETAN?

But we now need to consider the practical challenges of discipling Cretans. Paul knew the nature of the men of Crete (Titus 1:12-13), and he also knew the qualifications of men who could serve as elders in the church (1:6-9), and, for most of the men on Crete, there was a large chasm between their character and the character of the biblical elder. How was Titus to help these men become elder material?

Paul’s instructions to Titus are direct and unambiguous:

For this reason, reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith. – Titus 1:13

Because “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons,” the training program for the Cretan who would grow in grace, who would walk in a manner worthy of the gospel, and who would be sound in the faith is simple. The disciple maker must reprove the Cretan severely. This sounds harsh to our American ears, but these are the divinely inspired instructions of an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith.” Sin is driven out of hardened sinners by severe reproof, not by gentle pleading or by appealing to reason. Before the gospel came, the Cretans had long indulged in degrading and disgraceful sin (Ephesians 5:12; 1 Peter 4:3), and now that they were in Christ, it was time for them to be reproved severely. If they would be sound in the faith, and if the church in Crete would display the holiness that the church is called to display (Ephesians 5:27; Hebrews 12:15; Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 1 Peter 1:15, 16), then their sin needed to be exposed and they needed to be reproved so that they would abandon their evil practices and would embrace obedience to the truth. The Cretan disciple repeated the sequence of reproof-confession-correction-repentance over and over again until holy obedience began to replace open rebellion. Prior to Christ, the life of the Cretan was like an open sewer, but through severe and loving reproof and the power of the Holy Spirit, the moral sewer slowly runs as a clear flowing stream.

But for the Cretan, the key to sanctification is severe reproof, loving reproof that calls sin, “sin,” and insists that the one who names the name of Jesus must walk as He Himself walked (2 Timothy 2:19; 1 John 2:6).

“For this reason, reprove them severely.”

MODERN DAY CRETANS

The reason that I spent so much time talking about Cretans is that these types of believers are near to my heart. You see, when I came to Christ at 31 years old, I had long indulged in sin and my life was a moral sewer. Essentially, I was a Cretan and the best thing that could have happened for my sanctification and for my growth in Christ would have been for a brave man to come alongside me and begin to reprove me severely so that I would be sound in the faith. In God’s providence, that did not happen and, as a result, my sanctification suffered.

Because of our increasingly wicked society, many of those who come to Christ, especially men who come to Christ, come to Christ as Cretans. The days are evil, the sins of the flesh are available at an alarmingly early age and, without the power of the Holy Spirit to restrain them, many give themselves over to the desires of the flesh. Without knowing it, they become Cretans, and when they come to Christ, they need to be reproved severely. Sin has firmly established its residency in their flesh and the way to drive sin out is through severe reproof. The discipler sees sinful habits and reproves severely, and the disciple actively repents, and those who were formerly demoniacs are found seated at Jesus’ feet and are useful to the Master. In all this, God is glorified.

For those who would make disciples in our Cretan-creating world, learn to reprove lovingly but severely the ones you are helping to grow.  

For those who realize they are Cretans and who need help in displaying the holiness which believers are called to display, seek out one who would be willing to reprove you severely so that you may drive the sin out.

SDG                 rmb                 6/2/2021                     #412

An active repentance

When a person first comes to faith in Jesus, there will probably be a period of time before that new disciple realizes the nature of their conversion. The person has been made entirely new in their inner person, and so there will be new ambitions and new affections, and there will be the strange experience of beginning to detest the sin that formerly was so pleasant and to yearn for holiness and righteousness that once seemed so strange and unappealing. You have been born again. New creature in Christ. A child of God with a ticket to heaven. And you have instantly become an enemy to all the ungodly and a target of temptation for all manner of sin. You have passed from death to life (John 5:24).

One of the activities you must learn quickly is the practice of repentance. This is to be an active repentance that is not in word only but plays out as martial combat, a soldier’s resolve against sin, with the attitude that “Only one of us is coming out of this alive.” Sin must be killed, and repentance is the most lethal spiritual weapon to accomplish the execution.

Repentance is the disciple’s most powerful means of holiness, but it is a weapon that requires skill in its use. And where does the new disciple learn to wield this weapon well? My advice to the new believer (or the “old” believer who was never taught about repentance) is to begin becoming familiar with this tool today! Wielded well, this weapon of repentance will yield a harvest of sanctification but left in the scabbard it poses no threat to iniquity. A hunger for holiness with a hatred of sin is the hand that draws the sword of repentance out of its sheath.

DAILY PRACTICE

Daily practice of active repentance establishes skill and readiness in the use of the weapon. Spend the next year in daily active repentance. Identify the sins that remain and that threaten to disqualify you, that would gladly ruin your testimony, and would make a shipwreck of your life. A partial list of potential sins would be: anger, pride, greed, lust, selfishness, hatred, resentment, jealousy, drunkenness, stealing, wasting time, laziness, worry and anxiety, fear of man, judgmentalism, lying, failure to proclaim the gospel, and there are others. Begin with two or three of the sins that most acutely plague you and actively repent of these sins at least once a day

SEE SIN, WIELD WEAPON

As a soldier in active warfare is ever at the ready to shoulder his rifle, so the disciple employs repentance at the first appearance of sin. As a soldier fires a hundred rounds of ammunition at practice targets to be ready for one shot at an enemy, so the disciple constantly practices repentance to fend off the foe.

A NEW SLAVE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

The believer, whether following Christ for one week or fifty years, has become a slave of righteousness (Romans 6:18). This is a doctrinal fact that is as true as the fact that the believer was formerly a slave of sin. But now that the disciple is enslaved to a new and righteous Master, who is there to teach him how to combat his former sins?

At conversion, the “flesh” is strong and healthy, and the new believer is clumsy with the means of spiritual combat. Truly, “the willing is present in him, but the doing of the good is not (Romans 7:18),” because there has been no training in the fight of righteousness. The new believer needs someone to come alongside to train them in the martial art of repentance.

Surely it is the elders of the church who are to teach the new (and not new, also!) disciple what weapons he now possesses, how to use those weapons effectively, and what tactics the enemy will employ to try to destroy him. The elders of the church should be skilled and practiced at using repentance in their own lives and should have experience teaching others to conquer indwelling sin.

THE ONE WHO DISCIPLES OTHERS

The one who disciples others must himself be skilled in the weapons of war, and the primary weapon for directly attacking sin is repentance. He who would walk in holiness should seek out one who is a master of repentance.

The disciple has begun a war with sin, and the flesh, which formerly served as your accomplice to wickedness, is now to be put to death so that the fleshly voice of temptation will be silenced.

SDG                 rmb                 6/1/2021                     #411

What is a wretched man to do? (Romans 7:24)

Do we as followers of the Lord Jesus lament our sin? And if we do, do we lament it in the way the Bible calls us to lament sin?

These are questions that come to mind as the disciple reads through Romans 7:14-25. In this passage, Paul teaches us that, regardless of spiritual maturity and sanctification, all believers are still indwelt by the “flesh,” that factory of indwelling sin that wages war against the Spirit and that attempts to lure the believer into sin. In this section of Romans, Paul teaches that the flesh persistently tempts and occasionally succeeds. The ongoing resistance to the flesh’s temptations is wearying and seeing ourselves falling into sin is distressing and humiliating. This leads Paul to cry out,

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? – Romans 7:24

This passage is well-known, and I think there are still strong lessons to be learned here.

On one hand, too few Christians dwell in Romans 7:14-25 because too few Christians are aware of the war against personal sin. Too few Christians take seriously the New Testament’s imperatives about the demand for personal holiness, and so they never lament their indwelling sin. As a result, Paul’s teaching in Romans 7 about the danger and persistence of the sins of the flesh receives scant attention and results in no lament. It goes without saying that the person who can read the Bible and not lament their own sin has at best a shallow experience of the gospel’s power. To them, we recommend a daily meditation on Romans 7.

But on the other hand, too many Christians remain trapped in Romans 7:14-25, excessively lamenting their sin instead of repenting of their sin and walking forward in greater holiness.

Do we lament, and there, cease? No! We repent, and thus increase!

There can be a very human tendency to think that if I lament loud and long such that others can see and maybe even feel my contrition, then the sin will somehow be diminished or even overlooked. Thus, the emphasis shifts to the lamentation and away from vanquishing the sin. While this may be a human tendency, this sort of lament is useless for the believer. It is like enlarging and hanging on the wall the PET scan that reveals your cancer while ignoring the treatment plan that will get rid of the disease. The goal is to kill the cancer, not admire the evidence. In the same way, the disciple laments the sin long enough to fan into flame a holy hatred of that sin, and then trains the cannons of sin-killing artillery on the target such that it never rises again. The goal is to kill the sin, not perform your lament.

So, having seen and lamented the sin, the disciple resolves to expose, to root out, and to destroy the hated sin. The disciple moves quickly and resolutely from lamentation to repentance because the calling is to holiness.

But what is the disciple to do about the sin they have committed? Sin has been exposed and the one who sinned has confessed the sin and is now walking more carefully and in repentance, but doesn’t the sin remain?

No! “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 8:1

Jesus Christ died for that sin, too. Almost two thousand years ago, Christ died on Calvary’s cross to atone for all the sins of His people. Christ has been punished in my place, to bear the wrath of God for my sin so that I can walk free and without fear. So, I do not unduly lament the sin because Jesus has died for that sin, as well. My condemnation has been forever removed and now I am free to repent while I hunger for ever greater holiness.

SDG                 rmb                 6/1/2021                     #410

Sin, crabgrass, and repentance (Luke 3:8)

If you have ever been a homeowner in the south, then you are acquainted with crabgrass. Crabgrass is the bane of the person who would have “the yard of the month.” The threat of this ugly grass requires the landscaper to enter into the fray and attempt to exterminate the green demon. This post is about the analogy that exists between crabgrass and persistent sin in the life of the believer.

DEALING WITH CRABGRASS

There are a number of steps in the campaign against crabgrass that can help the homeowner keep the brute at bay, but these steps must be accompanied by an acknowledgement that this will be a war, not a short skirmish or a single battle. Crabgrass is persistent and difficult to kill, and the homeowner who would engage in this combat must be committed to the full campaign.

The first step in the war against crabgrass is recognizing what crabgrass looks like and that its appearance represents a call to arms. The lawn-owner must become an expert at spotting crabgrass and become savvy to all its disguises and hiding places. Once sighted, it is all hands-on deck. There is an enemy within the gates, and you must respond to the invasion.

The next step is to develop a conscious hatred for the infernal weed. Crabgrass must be detested and seen as only and purely evil and the enemy of your lawn. In your mind there is nothing pleasant or appealing about this diabolical plant. If it is not destroyed, it will destroy your lawn. This mindset of hatred of all things crabgrass motivates action.

Having recognized what crabgrass looks like and being armed with a hatred of it, the homeowner’s task now becomes clear: crabgrass must be killed wherever it is found. There is no compromise, no middle ground, no terms of peace, no room for reconciliation. Crabgrass is the avowed enemy, and the only possible objective is to put it to death so that the lawn can be rid of the hated infestation and restored to its lush innocence.

DEALING WITH INDWELLING SIN

Although there are some landscapers who would disagree with me, eliminating crabgrass from your lawn is not a life-and-death struggle and if, after a valiant effort, there was still spots of the weed in your yard, life would still go on. It is not a big deal.

But indwelling sin in the life of the believer is a big deal. In fact, it is at precisely the point when we start talking about persistent sin that all humor leaves the conversation. This IS a life-and-death struggle. The believer is called to holiness (1 Peter 1:14-16; Romans 6:2, 15; Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 1 John 2:3-6) as evidence of their conversion, and without sanctification, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). But while the seriousness of crabgrass is insignificant compared to indwelling sin, the methods of warfare are similar.

Realize that the battle against indwelling sin is a war, not a skirmish. You will be engaged in this conflict as long as you are in the flesh, and the enemy never rests. But “Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).”

For this warfare, you will need to recognize sin when it appears. You will need to be familiar with all sin’s disguises and hiding places. To do that, you will need to become familiar with your Bible and with all that the Bible tells you about this enemy called sin. Know that there are no small sins or minor sins, no forgettable sins and no acceptable sins. Every sin that every believer ever committed nailed Jesus to the cross. Every sin, if it were the only sin, would have required the death of Jesus. Therefore, we must recognize every sin so that we can kill it. You cannot confess or repent of the unrecognized sin.

You should possess an active, conscious hatred of all sin. All sin must be detested and seen as only and purely evil and the enemy of your soul. In your mind there is nothing pleasant or appealing about even the most minor sin. If sin is not destroyed, it will destroy you. Sin seeks to make a shipwreck of your life. Sin has brought unimaginable suffering and ruin into the world and sin seeks to destroy your life. Remember Cain who refused to be warned when sin was crouching at his door. Sin is the devil’s primary weapon, and sin’s commission gives him pleasure. So, take his weapons away from him! To see sin is to hate sin, and this mindset of hatred of all things sinful motivates action.

Having recognized what sin looks like and being armed with a holy hatred of it, the disciple’s task now becomes clear: sin must be killed wherever it is found. There is no compromise, no middle ground, no terms of peace, no room for reconciliation. Sin is the avowed enemy of every believer, and the only possible objective is to put it to death so that the disciple can walk in a manner worthy of their calling.

WEAPONS OF OUR WARFARE

And what action are we to take?

Confession is the identification of sin and the acknowledgement that this sin is evil. Confession serves the function of identifying the enemy and aiming the artillery at the target. While confession is necessary, simply identifying the enemy and aiming the weapon does not accomplish the task. The aimed weapon must be fired.

Firing the weapon so as to destroy sin is called repentance. The disciple of Jesus who would have victory over sin must regularly fire the guns of repentance. Until you resolve to destroy sin through regular acts of repentance, you are probably not serious about holiness.

Put sin to death, as Paul says in Colossians 3:5. In daily prayer, actively attack the sinful behavior. Develop a loathing for the very idea of these activities. If there are memories of this sin from the past, bring them to the light and put those memories to death (Ephesians 5:12). See them as offensive to God and His holiness. Be repulsed by your former sins (1 Peter 4:3).

Find Scriptures which address your specific besetting sins and read them and meditate on them regularly. At the same time, find Scriptures that extol holy behavior and develop a holy affection for godly behavior. Meditate on holiness and purity. Find Scriptures which extol the holy opposite of your besetting sins. If you are battling pride, meditate on humility and on being of the same mind with one another. If you are an angry man, meditate on the fruit of the Spirit of peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.

Confess your indwelling sins to a trusted friend and then pray together about the sin. Confess them to the Lord in prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse you and purify you. Express in prayer your hatred of the sinful behavior and your desire to be holy.

Meditate on psalms of repentance like Psalm 51 and Psalm 32. Engage in daily repentance until the grip of sin has relaxed its stranglehold.

Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.

SDG                 rmb                 5/20/2021

When my spirit was overwhelmed within me (Psalm 142:3)

Limitations and weakness define man. Although man is created in the image of God and is the pinnacle of God’s creation, he is nevertheless a dependent being fraught with limitations and weakness. We need other people, yes, but most of all, we need to know the living God, for He is the one who is able to rescue us when we call.

But why would we need rescue? Aren’t we “the captain of our ship and the master of our fate?” An occasional drive by a cemetery will quickly dispel any such myth. But it is not so much death that intimidates us as it is the day-to-day challenges of life. Is it just me, or do you also sometimes have the sense of overwhelming foes and underwhelming personal resources? The reality is that because our spirit is easily overwhelmed, our spirit is often overwhelmed. Will there ever be enough money? Will this conflict never end? Will I find a job? Will I keep my job? Will my children find their way in life? And so on. And so, my spirit is overwhelmed within me.

When my spirit was overwhelmed within me You knew my path.

In the way where I walk, they have hidden a trap for me.

Look to the right and see, for there is no one who regards me,

there is no escape for me, no one cares for my soul.

I cried out to You, O LORD.

I said, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” – Psalm 142:3-5

Like us, David knew what it was to face overwhelming foes. In this passage from Psalm 142, David’s spirit is overwhelmed within him. He looked to the right and he saw no allies, no escape, and no one who cared. Despair and surrender seemed inevitable. But then David reminded himself of this eternal truth:

You (LORD) knew my path.

God always knows my path because God is the one who has planned my path. He has determined my path. The living God who loves me and who has saved me is the God who has sovereignly ordained my path, and I can trust Him.

But also, while my human vision is limited to a little bit of my path at a time, God sees my whole path from start to finish at one time. With my limited vision of my immediate surroundings, my spirit is overwhelmed within me and I feel fear. But God knows my future path in exact detail and, when I trust Him, my fears retreat.

Finally, David cries out to the LORD and affirms his love for Him and his trust in Him.

I cried out to You, O LORD.

I said, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”

            When our spirit is overwhelmed within us, we need power. We need a Champion who cannot fail. When my resources are exhausted and my foes are not, like David, I will cry out to the LORD and confess, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living (142:5).” When we cry out to the LORD, we can say with David, “You will deal bountifully with me (142:7).”             SDG                 rmb                 2/18/2021

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

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

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

ARE WE FEARING WHAT THE NATIONS FEAR?

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

A BIBLICAL VIEW OF GOD’S CONTROL

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

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

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

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

RECONCILING SATAN’S ACTIVITY WITH GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY

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

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

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

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

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

SDG                 rmb                 1/31/2021

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

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

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

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

ARE WE FEARING WHAT THE NATIONS FEAR?

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

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

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

Our God is always in absolute control of all things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we deal with this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

SDG                 rmb                 1/29/2021

Are you a contender? (Ephesians 6:11, 13)

(To get the full effect of this article, it is recommended that you watch Marlon Brando in one of his most famous scenes in the movie “On the Waterfront” where “he coulda been a contender.” You may get nothing more from this article, but you will see a brilliant actor at the pinnacle of his craft.)

He coulda been a contender! I mean, this kid had fists like iron and threw a left hook that would take down the walls of a city. He could fell a tree with that hook! Yes, he coulda been a contender, if only the other guy didn’t punch. Well, that’s not really fair. In addition to being a powerful puncher, he could also take some punishment and still remain standing. And that was a good thing because he just could not keep his guard up. “He coulda been a contender,” if he had only been able to keep his guard up. But he couldn’t do it. And so, before he could launch that lethal left hook, he was usually lying on his back as the referee counted him out.

What’s the point of this story? Nobody can be a victorious disciple if they can’t keep their guard up. That is, you will never be a “contender” if you do not have your defenses up. In Ephesians 6:11, Paul says, “Put on the full armor of God that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. (13) Therefore, take up the full armor of God that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” The disciple who would be a “contender” must know the devil’s schemes and must have his armor on so he can resist the enemy’s attacks. Don’t let the devil put you on your back and have you counted out! Know your weaknesses and make sure they are fiercely defended.

SDG rmb 8/13/2020