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

Defense against the devil – Part 3

INTRODUCTION: We first meet the devil in Genesis 3. There, “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) and the father of lies (John 8:44) appears to our first parents as a talking serpent, creating doubt about the goodness of God and about the truth of His word, and eventually tempting Adam and Eve to disobey the LORD and to eat the forbidden fruit.

But even though he was cursed because of his wickedness in Eden (Gen. 3:14-15), the devil has continued to tempt people to sin throughout human history, even down to our day. The devil hates God and hates His Christ and so hates the followers of Christ. The devil hates believers and he hates the church, and his ambition is to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10).

As God’s word to His people, the Bible clearly reveals the devil and tells us about his schemes. In fact, the believer would be wise to become familiar with how the devil operates so that we are not ignorant of his schemes (2 Cor. 2:11).

In this third post in this series, we will continue our study about the devil and about how the disciple of Jesus can avoid becoming a victim of his devices.

A brief review of the last post is in order. We determined that, for the disciple of Jesus, there are definite limits on the devil’s threats. First, the Lord is the defender of every follower of Christ, so any activity of Satan must first be allowed by the Lord. The devil can do nothing unless it is allowed by our sovereign Lord. But beyond that, we also saw that the devil can bring material loss, physical distress, and even death on the disciple of Jesus, but that these events of suffering and testing are not to be received as a threat to the believer. That is, material and physical loss are of no spiritual consequence. The believer’s standing with the Lord and his eternal destiny are unaffected by these changes in circumstances.

Further, we saw that there is nothing that the devil can do to take away our salvation. Once the disciple passes from death to life (John 5:24) and is secure in Jesus’ hands (John 10:28) as a result of their faith in Jesus, the devil is powerless to threaten them with condemnation.

THE REAL THREAT

We did discover, however, that the devil is a very real threat in causing spiritual shipwreck. “Shipwreck” is the term we use to describe a disciple of Jesus who has ruined their testimony and who has squandered their usefulness to Christ because of their sin. This is the realm where the devil thrives. Satan spends most of his time scheming how to damage the testimonies and ruin the usefulness of the followers of Jesus by tempting them to sin. For this reason, the disciple of Jesus must be alert for the devil and his “schemes.” The Lord allows the devil to “prowl about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8), and careless disciples may be devoured.

DEFENSE STRATEGIES – PART 1

So, how does the disciple of Jesus defend themselves from the devil’s threat of shipwreck? I am going to suggest two main strategies.

In sports, the saying goes that, “the best defense is a good offense.” A modification of this idea will serve the disciple well in his battle against the devil. The strategy is this: Build the walls of your defenses so high and so thick that the enemy has great difficulty in breaking in. How do we build high, thick spiritual walls? The continual use of Christian disciplines will make you an unlikely target for the devil’s attacks. He will seek out easier prey.

HIGH, THICK WALLS

What are these disciplines? There is nothing novel about them. First, read and meditate on the Bible. There is no better defense against the devil than a well-worn Bible. A disciple who has a solid foundation in the Scriptures will prosper (Psalm 1:2-3). Also, times of prayer. Genuine, deep fellowship with other believers. Regular corporate worship. Times of thanksgiving. Praising the Lord. Proclaiming the gospel to others. Recording and reviewing times of His great faithfulness. Being careful to obey the commands of the Scriptures and avoid sin. The one who does these things will have thick walls indeed.

VULNERABILITY

But the devil also seeks those times when you are especially vulnerable to attack. Our adversary will wait a long time to spring his temptation trap, and he usually strikes when we are vulnerable. Paul says that we should not be ignorant of the devil’s schemes (2 Cor. 2:11), and part of that is being aware when we are vulnerable to attack.

When are we more vulnerable? When we are tired. When you are physically or mentally more tired than normal, you are not as alert to attack. In seasons of extended effort where you feel depleted or exhausted, you will be more vulnerable.

In a season or period of stress, you can become vulnerable. Maybe your situation at work is difficult. Perhaps there are financial pressures. There could be relational stresses at home or in your extended family. If these go on for a while, they can wear you down and distract you from normal alertness. Then you are vulnerable.

Other situations are when you are discouraged or depressed for whatever reason, when you feel isolated or alone, or when you experience the letdown that comes right after a significant victory or accomplishment (remember Elijah in 1 Kings 18-19). The disciple of Jesus needs to be aware of these vulnerable situations so that they can avoid shipwreck.

DEFENSE STRATEGIES – PART 2

How, then, is the disciple to defend themselves?

  1. Make it a habit to always be on the alert for enemy attack (1 Peter 5:8; Eph. 6:10-13). Remember, we are in enemy territory and the devil’s goal is to render us useless for Christ.
  2. Develop the discipline to regularly evaluate your spiritual vulnerability. Are you tired, stressed, feeling alone and isolated, depressed or discouraged? Be aware of these things!
  3. In times of greater vulnerability, increase your alertness to spiritual attack and sharpen your readiness. Seek reinforcements from others in the body of Christ. Refuse to be shipwrecked or sidelined by the devil’s schemes.

            SDG                 rmb                 11/26/2021                 #460

Defense against the devil – Part 1

INTRODUCTION: We first meet the devil in Genesis 3. There, “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) and the father of lies (John 8:44) appears to our first parents as a talking serpent, creating doubt about the goodness of God and about the truth of His word, and eventually tempting Adam and Eve to disobey the LORD and to eat the forbidden fruit.

But even though he was cursed because of his wickedness in Eden (Gen. 3:14-15), the devil has continued to tempt people to sin throughout human history, even down to our day. The devil hates God and hates His Christ and so hates the followers of Christ. The devil hates believers and he hates the church, and his ambition is to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10).

As God’s word to His people, the Bible is clear to reveal the devil and to talk about his schemes. In fact, the believer would be wise to become familiar with how the devil operates so that we are not ignorant of his schemes (2 Cor. 2:11).

In the next couple of posts, I will be talking about practical ways that the believer can defend themselves from the ploys and schemes of the devil.

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. – 1 Peter 5:8

Here in Peter’s first epistle is one of the classic biblical texts describing the devil’s activity. First, the apostle makes a clarion call for the disciple to be alert. There is no excuse for slackness in your walk with Christ. The disciple is to be alert for the enemy’s attacks at all times. We are in enemy territory, and we must expect the enemy to attack. So, “be sober, be on the alert.”

Now, what is the enemy’s goal in his prowling? What is the devil hoping to achieve? The devil is seeking to render you useless for the Kingdom. Make no mistake about it. The devil seeks to ruin your life and to make a shipwreck of your testimony for Jesus. Therefore, make it a matter of spiritual discipline to always be on the alert for enemy attack.

Also, know this, that the devil will continue with his ambition of ruining your life until you are called home or are quickly changed. So, your alertness must be lifelong.

And the more useful you are to Christ and His kingdom, the more eager the devil will be for your shipwreck. So, if you sense that the spiritual attacks on you are frequent and intense, know that this may be because you are perceived as a threat to the devil’s plans. The devil does not waste his artillery on harmless targets.

THE DEVIL USES MEANS TO ACHIEVE HIS ENDS

Even though the devil can attack directly, he almost always works through means. Most commonly he issues his temptations though the “world” and the “flesh.” Our purpose here is not to give a complete theological description of these two areas, but to describe them briefly so that the disciple can be alert to their working in your life.

The “world” (“kosmos” in the Greek) is a label for the godless world systems that have been constructed by fallen man at the supervision of the devil that are anti-God and that appeal to sinful behaviors. These include economic and political systems, and cultures that operate without any reference to the living God and breed godlessness. The “world” creates the visible playground for pride and lust and greed and hatred and jealousy and envy and revenge and so on. The devil has planned and constructed these “world” systems to ensure the ongoing sin of the unrighteous and to tempt the righteous to give in to sin. Thus, the devil uses the means of the world to cause the shipwreck of believers.

The devil also works through the means of the “flesh.” The flesh is not the same thing as the human body. The LORD created the human body as the ideal vehicle for carrying a man or a woman from birth to death. Rather, the flesh is the indwelling desire lurking deep within every human that craves and delights in sin. The flesh loves sin. The flesh dwells in the human heart and constantly suggests sin to the subconscious so that the person will indulge in sinful thoughts and words and behaviors. Think of the flesh as the enemy inside the gates, tempting the disciple who loves righteousness to continue in wickedness and ungodliness. Paul talks about the war with the flesh in Romans 7:14-25 and in Galatians 5:13-24. The message here is that the devil uses the flesh in his efforts to shipwreck believers.

SUMMARY

Let’s review what we have covered today.

  • The disciple of Jesus needs to be on the alert for the attacks of the devil.
  • The devil’s attacks against the disciple are lifelong.
  • The more useful the disciple is, the more the devil seeks to derail them.
  • The devil’s goal is to shipwreck the disciple’s life by ruining their usefulness to the Kingdom and their testimony for Jesus.
  • The devil most typically works through the means of the “world” and the “flesh.”

In the next post we will talk about when we are most vulnerable to the devil’s schemes and what the devil can and cannot do to the disciple of Christ.            

SDG                 rmb                 11/23/2021                 #458

Running with the footmen (Jeremiah 12:5)

The prophet Jeremiah was writing to a people who were disobedient to the Lord and were heading toward judgment. He was given the daunting task of declaring the coming judgment to the nation of Judah with full knowledge that his words would not be heeded. Jeremiah had been told by the LORD that he was to preach to Judah even though they would never listen. But the language of the Scripture in Jeremiah’s prophecy evokes powerful images.

“If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out,
Then how can you compete with horses?
If you fall down in a land of peace,
How will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?” – Jeremiah 12:5

Judah had been living in luxury and peace (“running with the footmen”) and had steadily decayed in their service to the LORD and in their giving glory to the LORD among the nations. Instead of holiness, Judah was marked by wickedness and idolatry, and the halcyon days of running with the footmen were about to be replaced by competing with horses.

WE HAVE BEEN RUNNING WITH FOOTMEN

As I read these words of Jeremiah, I can’t help but think that, in different a sense, the American church has been “running with the footmen” for a long time. By “running with the footmen,” I mean that the American church has had a long season of great material wealth, of protection from the government, and of tolerance from the prevailing society. The church militant in America has had decades of a favorable climate for declaring the gospel to the nations with very few hindrances. The American church has had a long comfortable period of peace and material prosperity. That is what I mean by “running with the footmen.” And yet, despite the wealth to fund far-reaching gospel ventures and the freedom to pursue our faith out in the open, the church has made scant progress in the gospel. While there have been some focused efforts to move the message of the gospel forward, there has also been the squandering of immense amounts of money, time, and focus on building opulent church campuses that serve only the people in the church. In my opinion, the excesses have far outnumbered the useful projects, the church in America has become inwardly focused through pampering, and the cause of the gospel has languished. We have been running with the footmen, and we have wearied ourselves in the most favorable of circumstances.

COMPETING WITH HORSES AND ENTERING THE THICKET OF THE JORDAN

But something else has been occurring as the church has been entertaining ourselves and improving our “church experience.” The material wealth of the church has slowly eroded, religious protection from the government has all but disappeared and has been replaced with restrictions, and the attitude of the American culture has gradually turned hostile to Christianity. I sense that the pleasant days of leisurely “running with the footmen” are fast coming to a close (if they have not already) and that we are beginning a time of “competing with horses.” To quote Jeremiah, we are entering “the thicket of the Jordan,” and in that place the obstacles to the gospel will be many and further progress will be hard-won.

How, then, are we who wage war (2 Cor. 10:3-5) under the banner of Jesus to respond to this increasingly hostile culture? Here are some thoughts that I employ that help me to persevere:

  • Be careful and thoughtful with my doctrine so that I am not blown here and there by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14) and thus end up in apostasy.
  • Be more intentionally encouraging to other believers since the sources of discouragement will continue to grow in number and in magnitude (Ephesians 4:29).
  • With a sense of urgency, be more vocal with my evangelistic efforts (2 Cor. 5:11a).
  • Strive to be more useful and productive in whatever area of Kingdom activity or ministry the Lord has given us (Colossians 3:23; Romans 12:6-8).
  • Expect and embrace persecution from the world. Bear it with joy and continue to proclaim Christ in the midst of persecution (Matt. 5:10-12, 44; Romans 12:14).
  • Stand firm against the schemes of the devil (2 Cor. 2:11; Ephesians 6:11ff).
  • Close ranks within the local church, and make sure that I am doing the “one anothers” for my fellow church members. These are the people the Lord has called me to encourage toward heaven.

As we must more and more compete with horses and run through thickets, let’s lean into the Lord and be steadfast (1 Cor. 15:58).

SDG                 rmb                 10/4/2021                   #438

For this reason, you also must be ready (Matthew 24:44)

NOTE: This post is an excerpt from my upcoming book, The Last Act of the Drama: A guide for the end-times. rmb

In His teaching on the Mount of Olives, our Lord commands His people to be ready and to be on the alert. “Therefore, be on the alert (Matthew 24:42), for you do not know which day your Lord is coming,” and “For this reason, you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will (24:44).” Regardless of the details, the Lord Jesus will certainly return one day in power and in glory. Knowing this, His disciples persevere in faith and wait for the trumpet sound and for the appearance of the Rider on the white horse (Revelation 19:11-16). Our main “end-times task” is still to be ready when our King comes.

But how is the disciple to be ready for the return of King Jesus? The following are some specific suggestions from my own efforts to be ready during these last days.

GROW YOUR TRUST IN GOD

Grow your trust in God by regularly reminding yourself who He is, what He has done in creation, what He has done in His redemptive plan, and what He has done in your life, not only in your salvation but also in myriad providences and answered prayers and blessings that He has poured out on you.

The goal here is for your trust in God and your experience of His greatness to overwhelm all fears. The LORD declares that He is God, and there is no other. He is sovereign over all things, and that means over ALL things. He has displayed His glory in His creation, which He spoke into existence from nothing (ex nihilo), so that His people would give Him glory and know His power (Romans 1:20). He has conceived and executed His redemptive plan that allows Him to forgive wretched sinners like me. The Lord remains just even though He is the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). And, if you are in Christ, God has redeemed you and called you by name, and you are forever His child and treasured possession (Isaiah 43:1). God has proven Himself faithful. So then, even if “the mountains slip into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:2) and everything in our world collapses, we will not fear because God is our refuge and strength (46:1). We get ready, then, by making sure that our trust in God will not waver regardless of what happens.

GROW DEEP IN YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD’S WORD

Your Bible is the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18). It is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). It is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105). The Bible has been breathed out by the third Person of the Trinity (2 Timothy 3:16) so that His people will be ready for the battle. As the lawlessness and persecution of the end of the age intensify, we must wield the sword of the Spirit with precision and skill. The strategy is straightforward: Know your Bible and believe what it says as truth from God. Know your Bible so well that all fear is consumed in your reverent love of God and your unwavering trust in Him. In this way you will be ready to persevere until the King comes.

GROW IN YOUR LOVE FOR CHRIST’S CHURCH

In His grace, at our salvation, the Lord sealed us with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13) and joined us to the body of Christ, which is the church of all believers in Jesus in the world. Now, as those who have been joined to Christ, we enjoy fellowship not only with God the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, but also with all the saints who will make up “the great multitude which no one could count from every nation and tribe and people and tongue standing before the throne” in heaven (Revelation 7:9). That worship will go on forever, but now on this side of eternity, we also get to worship with the saints in our local church. And one of the most powerful and effective ways to be ready for Jesus’ coming is to learn to love the saints in your local church. As the end of the age draws near, it is the local church that will provide the encouragement we need to press on. The author of Hebrews says this:

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:23-25

Especially as we contemplate persecution and think about being hated by the world because of our faith in Jesus, the blessing of the local church, of real flesh and blood followers of Jesus who are committed to loving us to the end, becomes sweeter. Notice that the author of Hebrews exhorts “us” to hold fast the confession of “our” hope. We don’t have to go it alone. We will be ready for Jesus because the saints in our local church have continually stimulated us to live out our faith and to persevere. We will continue to assemble as a body of believers because we enjoy our time together and because we need the encouragement, especially as we “see the day drawing near.” So, loving the saints in my local church is part of what it means to be ready.

GENERAL TACTICS FOR THE END-TIMES

Lastly, there are also some other tactics that help me keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and not be distracted and not be “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind” (Ephesians 4:14) of culture and every scheme of the devil (2 Cor. 2:11; Ephesians 6:11). These tactics are not intended to sound drastic or dramatic but are meant to communicate the immense importance of our perseverance. Our enemy is committed to our destruction, and we must therefore be committed to glorifying the Lord through our perseverance in holiness.

  • Expect persecution so that you are not surprised by it (1 Peter 4:12).
  • Prepare for persecution. This may involve envisioning specific persecution and deciding now how you will respond then. Again, the local church would be a tremendous encouragement here as we resolve together now how we will respond then. There is tremendous power in that type of commitment.
  • Commit now to persevere to the end no matter what comes. “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). It is only the one who endures to the end who will be saved. Be ready to persevere to the end.
  • Finally, resolve now to die rather than deny Christ. Make that decision now while the skies are still mostly blue. “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

These suggestions should help you to be ready when the last trumpet sounds.

SDG rmb 9/16/2021 #434

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