Biblical Prophecies and Eschatology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT PROPHECIES ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SDG                 rmb                 2/11/2021

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

Humility in the face of God’s mystery (Deuteronomy 29:29)

Spending time exploring biblical eschatology is a humbling endeavor. The study of “last things” involves pouring over apocalyptic visions and confusing prophecies written in vague and unusual prose as the author describes things that seem beyond language’s ability to describe. After reading passages of Scripture literally dozens of times and then reluctantly scurrying to commentaries to find out “the right answers,” my common experience is to come away thinking, “Yeah, I think this commentator is guessing, just like me.”

Does anyone really understand this stuff,

or do they, like me, just make their best bluff?

SCRIPTURES NOT UNDERSTOOD

            After about thirty years of consistent Bible reading and diligent Bible study, I have discovered this: Not everything that is written in the Word of God is meant to be fully understood. That is, there remain mysteries in the Bible. In writing His Scripture, God the Holy Spirit has inspired some passages whose meaning is intentionally hidden from us. Daniel in his prophecy and John in Revelation both confess that there are times when they did not understand all that they themselves saw and wrote.

Moses voices the same idea when he writes “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever (Deuteronomy 29:29).” Clearly, there are secret things that God has left as mysteries. Recently, I have been reading through Isaiah and am constantly awe-struck by the Scriptures he wrote. Did Isaiah really understand the meaning of these astonishing prophecies, or was he just obedient to what the Holy Spirit told him to write, even though his oracles were beyond his own comprehension?

            To display His glory, God has inspired His Bible to reveal everything necessary for His people to know Him and to serve Him, and to fear and love and worship and obey Him, while at the same time including passages whose meaning and understanding elude even the most diligent and learned of Bible students. This is not a mistake in editing, but is BY DESIGN, to confirm that the Bible is breathed out by God and contains writing that God alone can fully comprehend.

AS JOB WAS HUMBLED, SO SHOULD WE BE HUMBLED

When the LORD confronts Job in chapter 38, the Creator asks the creature where he was when the LORD created the universe. At one point, the LORD says to Job, “Who shut in the sea with doors, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said,

‘Thus far shall you come and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?” – Job 38:8-11.

The LORD is sovereign over the oceans and has determined their exact limits. The “proud waves” must stop when He ordains and may not go farther.

He seems to be saying something similar about His Scriptures. We may read our Bible anytime and we are free to read it and study it as often as we like. We are to take great pleasure in reading God’s word and delight in it as precious treasure, but we must acknowledge that the Bible is God’s book, and that there will be times when our proud intellect will be humbled. While we are here on this earth, there will be times when we encounter mysteries which God has left in His Scriptures. When we encounter these passages, we can hear the Lord saying, “Thus far can you understand, but no farther, and here shall your proud intellect be stayed.” This is because not everything that is written in the Word of God is meant to be fully understood.

HOW, THEN, ARE WE TO STUDY THE BIBLE?

      Because the Bible contains mysteries, are we to despair of ever understanding it or are we to abandon our zeal in studying it? A resounding “no” on both counts! Although there are still parts and passages in God’s Word that lie beyond our comprehension, there is a lifetime of delight dwelling in its pages for our joy, for our reading pleasure and for our spiritual edification.

      The more earnestly and diligently you seek the treasures of the Bible, the more you will bring out of its limitless riches. So, the first key is to apply yourself to earnest and diligent study each time you open the Word. Consider the context of the passage. What is the main message of the text? Are there other passages of Scripture that may shed more light on this passage? If you have some knowledge of the original languages (Hebrew and Greek), explore those sources, and see if there is some nuance in these words. Mainly we must realize that reading and studying God’s Word deserves serious effort and we must be willing to work hard to draw out all we can from the text.

      At the same time, we must humbly realize that even our most earnest efforts will sometimes leave us confused or unclear about the full meaning of a psalm or a prophecy or even the full meaning of a narrative account. “What is going on here?” We should apply all our energy to understand all we can, but also be ready to humbly bow before the mysteries the Lord has left in His word.

      The main point in what I am saying is that there is a finite limit to how much of the Scriptures anyone can understand. That is, no matter how many times you read the Bible or even read a book of the Bible, there will always remain mysteries. The Bible is God’s book, and, as part of His stamp of authenticity, there are some things that no human can grasp.

SDG                 rmb                 12/16/2020

The secret things and the revealed things (Deuteronomy 29:29)

A healthy walk of faith seeks to know and live out all that God has revealed to us, while at the same time accepting that the Lord our God is God and, as such has reserved for Himself “the secret things.” He has revealed to us the things that are essential and has invited us to trust Him with the rest. In this light, we will consider Deuteronomy 29:29:

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us forever. – Deuteronomy 29:29

Notice the order of presentation in the verse. First, the Lord establishes His sovereignty by declaring that He has kept for Himself “the secret things.” As His creatures, we have no secrets from Him, for “all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13).” The LORD “discerns my thoughts from afar and is acquainted with all my ways (Psalm 139:2, 3).” There is nothing hidden from Him, but He, as God, proclaims His sovereign right to have “secret things” which belong to Him alone and which remain hidden from our knowledge. No one can know these things because they are reserved for His eyes only.

But second, the verse speaks of all that the Lord has graciously revealed to us that we may receive and believe. God has published in His Bible everything that we need to live a fruitful life that is pleasing to Him, that is useful to others, and that is deeply satisfying to us. In fact, we are commanded to learn everything we can learn from the Bible by hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, meditating, and even praying back to the Lord the words of His book. We are free to do this to our heart’s content without restriction and without limitation.

And what has the Lord revealed to us in the Bible?

  • How the universe came to be and how God created man
  • How sin came into the world and where death came from
  • God’s holy Law that shows us that we are sinners
  • God’s plan to redeem sinners
  • God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ
  • How I can be saved from God’s just condemnation
  • That Jesus will return in power and glory
  • How the world will end
  • What eternity is like

As we explore the Scriptures, we are amazed at all that the Lord has chosen to reveal to us. Peter says that God “has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:5).” So, we study to know the limits of His revealed promises so that we can legitimately claim all that He has promised us. We study to know the limits of His revealed truths and doctrines so that we can proclaim His gospel to the nations and tell of all His excellencies in all He has accomplished and declare the greatness of His power and wisdom. We search out His revealed commands so that we can joyfully strive to match our obedience to His holy demands and so walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. The disciple delights in all that the Lord has revealed.

But there are limits. Beyond what the Lord has revealed are “the secret things.” Our knowledge is limited like the waves of the sea in Job – The LORD “prescribed limits for it and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed (Job 38:10-11).’” Just so, God has placed limits on our knowledge. The Lord, He is God and is beyond our comprehension. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).” “O, the depths of the riches, both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways (Romans 11:33)!” His glory is infinitely greater than He has revealed to us. His wrath against sin is infinitely more furious than He has revealed. His mercy, demonstrated in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, is infinitely deeper than He has revealed. His power, which is displayed in His creation (Romans 1:20) and which He manifested in raising Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20), is infinitely mightier than He has revealed. God is infinitely higher than us, infinitely greater than us. He is so very “other” from us, and yet He has chosen to reveal to us not only the truths and the commands of His Word, but He has also chosen to reveal Himself to us and to call us into a relationship with Himself and to give Himself to us for us to enjoy forever.

What, then, do we do with “the secret things” that belong to God and are not available to us? We trust the God to whom these “secret things” belong. There are unknowns to us. There are “secret things” that we cannot know. But there is nothing that God does not know. So, we entrust the control of the “secret things” to Him who sent His only Son into the world to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10) and who found us.

SDG                 rmb                 11/10/2020

He set His face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51)

The plan that had been established in eternity past and that had been necessitated by Adam’s sin and by every sin since Adam’s first sin was reaching its climax. The Lord Jesus Christ had entered time and space at Bethlehem and had been anointed for ministry and was displaying His glory in His ministry on earth. But now there had occurred a critical shift in direction, for now Jesus was headed for Jerusalem.

When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem. – Luke 9:51

            All the preliminary details had been accomplished and the preparation was done. Now Jesus’ face was set, and Jerusalem was His goal, and there was nothing in heaven or on earth that was going to prevent Him from reaching His goal. And what awaited Him in Jerusalem? Was He going to be crowned king and begin to reign? Oh, no. He was inexorably, irresistibly going to Jerusalem because a Roman cross awaited Him there. He set His face to go to Jerusalem so He could be “rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Luke 9:22).” His goal was Jerusalem because He knew that He had to die as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of His people, and He was the chosen sacrifice. And so, Jesus decisively set His face.

            Everything about Jesus displayed His authority and His holiness, but I wanted to make three observations about this part of His earthly ministry.

  1. Jesus was crystal clear on His mission. He knew what He was and what He was not to accomplish. There was no ambiguity in His mind, no waffling or wavering. Having a definite target on which to focus enabled Him to avoid distraction. There was a cross for Him in Jerusalem, and His mission was to reach it, and the rest was just noise.
  2. Jesus had unflinching resolve. Knowing the goal, Jesus made the commitment to reach that goal. Regardless of the cost or the difficulty of the path, Jesus was directing all His energies toward that goal.
  3. Jesus had confident trust in His Father. The Father had created the plan and the Father had called Jesus to accomplish this part of the plan. Jesus trusted that the Father would be with Him and would guide Him and provide for Him until He had fulfilled the mission. He trusted in God’s sovereign control of all things to bring about the desired end.

APPLICATIONS

            What can we learn from our Lord for our daily challenges?

  1. Be clear on my mission. Having a clear purpose and mission is a great help in directing our energies and activities. We are not going to be the savior of the world, but God has called us for a purpose and for a mission. What is my mission? Why am I here? Clarity on your mission will help you focus and avoid distraction.
  2. Resolve to press on and persevere. The best way to persevere is simply to resolve to not quit. All paths have monotony and difficulty, but a determination to continue and to persevere will make you an overcomer. “One thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).”
  3. Trust the Lord. If the Lord has called you to Himself, then He has adopted you as His child. He is for you. “If God be for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?” He is with you. “I will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).” The Bible is a book of the Lord’s faithfulness to His people. He is trustworthy. In the midst of the battle or in the midst of the calm, we can trust His sovereign control of all things to bring about His desired end.

SDG                 rmb                 11/4/2020

Living in the present with Joseph (Genesis 50:19-20)

My last post was about living in the present moment so that we can maximize our enjoyment of the Lord and can give ourselves away for the blessing of others. If I am dwelling in the past and lamenting things that cannot be changed, or if I am fearing the future and fixating on the threats that might come, then I am not living in the present. And the present is the only place where I can live and be faithful to my calling (Ephesians 4:1) and accomplish the works the Lord has given me to do (Ephesians 2:10).

In this post I wanted to further explore this idea of living in the present by looking at some biblical pictures of this and asking, “So, what do I do with my past? How do I handle thoughts and feelings about my past? Do I just pretend those things never happened?”

TWO ASPECTS OF THE PAST: MY OWN SINS AND THOSE OF OTHERS

It occurs to me that there are two aspects of our past that can prevent us from living fully in the present. First, there are my own sins and failures. There are the things that I have said and done in violation and rebellion against God’s moral Law and have thus wounded others, and these things now bring me the pain of shame and guilt and regret. How can I ever remove these black marks from my past when the sins are committed, and the words are said and cannot be taken back and are etched in history’s stone? Who will set me free from this guilt and shame (Romans 7:24)? The good news of Jesus Christ answers this question, because most of what the Bible has to say about our past and about how we are to deal with our past is focused on this aspect of our past. The Bible declares that, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool (Isaiah 1:18).” The Bible proclaims that, because the Lord Jesus Christ died on Calvary’s cross, your sins can be forgiven and your guilt and shame can be removed if you will place your faith in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. The gospel, and only the gospel, offers forgiveness, full and free, from all your sins and failures (John 8:36).  

But the second aspect of our past that can prevent us from living in the present is the things that have been done to us by others. This second aspect has to do with dealing with how others have wounded and harmed us. People can often be thoughtless, and they can be intentionally cruel, and they can inflict deep and long-lasting damage to us. But regardless of who or how the damage is done, we are the ones who must mend and forgive and untangle and resolve and defang these deep pains from our past. These kinds of wounds can stay with us a long time and can leave us trapped in the wreckage of the past. How do we deal with this part of our past? How are we able to bury these specters from the past so that we can live and flourish in the present?

JOSEPH RECEIVED CRUEL AND EVIL TREATMENT, AND YET . . .

            Joseph was the favorite son of his father, Jacob. Then one day, while obeying his father’s instructions to find his ten older brothers (Genesis 37), his brothers conspired together to strip off his special coat and to throw him into a pit to die. Before they could kill Joseph, however, some slave traders come along, and the ten older brothers decide to sell Joseph to the slave traders heading to Egypt. When Joseph is gone, they dip his robe into goat’s blood and tell his father that he is dead. Meanwhile, as a slave in Egypt, Joseph is falsely accused and thrown into an Egyptian prison. Here is a man who should have been trapped by his past and by the evil that was done to him by others. Here is a man whose major hope for the future would be to get out of prison so he can take revenge on his brothers.

            But that is not what we find. Through God’s providence and God’s plan, Joseph is dramatically promoted from prison to the palace and is made second in charge to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. And what does he do with the pain of his past?

MANASSEH AND EPHRAIM

            Pharaoh gives Joseph a wife and through her, Joseph has two sons. He names the firstborn Manasseh, for “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house (Genesis 41:51).” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction (41:52).” Joseph is able to break free of the poison of his past because he focuses on what God is doing, and he focuses on God’s goodness. It is as if he says, “Yes, people can be cruel and evil, but God is good and I will rejoice in Him and I will trust Him to run His universe as He sees fit.” Joseph could have remained trapped in the past, bitter and vengeful and blaming others for his pain, but he chooses instead to trust the Lord and to live in the present and to do today what God has commanded him to do today.

RECONCILES WITH HIS BROTHERS

            What will Joseph do with his feelings toward his brothers? How can he ignore the hateful evil that they did to him, throwing their own brother in a pit and then selling him off to slave traders? But even in this Joseph will not be a slave to his past. He will not be trapped in the pit of self-pity or in the chains of revenge. Instead, when he finally confronts his brothers, the men who robbed him of his home and of the peacefulness of his youth, he says, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life (Genesis 45:5).” Joseph knows the God is the one who used the evil deeds of his brothers to preserve life in Egypt. God is the one in control. and God is good. God has made Joseph lord of all Egypt (45:9). Joseph focuses on God and is thus able to escape the slavery to his past. So, Joseph chooses to forgive his brothers and not to hold them under his judgment, and thus is able to live and love in the present. At the end of this scene, Joseph “kissed his brothers and wept on them, and afterward his brothers talked with him (45:15).”

CONFESSION OF SIN AND FORGIVENESS AT LAST

            Joseph has been freed from his past, and he has forgiven his brothers’ sins against him, but because his brothers have never admitted (confessed) their evil to Joseph and have never asked for his forgiveness, they remained trapped in the past. They remain fearful that Joseph may some day remember the evil that they have done to him and may take revenge. But finally, the brothers, too, are set free from the evil that they did to Joseph. “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong (Genesis 50:17).” Joseph responds to their request for forgiveness by weeping, as all the evil of the past and its pain finally rolls away, and he says, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good to preserve many people alive (Genesis 50:19-20).”

FORGETTING THE PAST SO WE CAN FULLY LIVE IN THE PRESENT

            By fixing his focus on God, and not on the evil deeds of men, Joseph is able to move past his past, so that he can fully live in the present. The Lord has given him the ability to forgive his brothers so he can forget their cruelty to him. He thus forgets what lies behind, so that he can be free to embrace what lies ahead (Philippians 3:12-14). When we focus on the Lord and His goodness, we remove from our past the power to enslave us and we can joyfully live in the present.

SDG                 rmb                  10/1/2020

To you it has been granted . . . (Matthew 13:11)

In chapter 13 of Matthew we read of the kingdom parables, where Jesus tells a series of parables which describe different aspects of the kingdom of heaven. After telling the parable of the sower, the disciples ask Jesus why He speaks to the crowds in parables, and He answers them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the Kingdom, but to them it has not been granted (13:11).” Here is this simple statement is profound teaching, indeed. For while there are many things that could be said about this verse or this passage, what strikes me most powerfully is how clearly this verse demonstrates God’s sovereignty in revealing truth to some and denying truth from others.

Like the world of this age or of any age, this crowd also is made up of two groups of people. Every single individual in the crowd is in one group or the other. Each person has either been granted to know the mysteries of the Kingdom or they have not been granted to know. The one who decides who is able to understand the parables and who is not able to understand is God Himself. The ability to know the mysteries of the Kingdom does not depend on education or intelligence or social status or gender or any other human characteristic. The content of the parables is simple enough for a child to understand, but to understand how the parable reveals the kingdom of heaven is only granted by God. God grants to whomever He chooses the knowledge of the Kingdom and to the rest, He does not grant that knowledge. The teaching is thus that God and God alone is the One who sovereignly chooses who will be granted the knowledge of the Kingdom and who will thus be blessed (13:16). God is the One who grants and blesses some, and God is the One who does not grant and does not bless others.

And it is the same with the gospel message. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16), but some are granted to believe that gospel message and some are not granted to believe. As God was sovereign in granting spiritual understanding so that some of these people could understand the parables, so God is sovereign in opening hearts and minds of some to receive the gospel message. The same message that brings one person to faith and repentance leaves another entirely unmoved or drives them finally away from God forever. God and God alone is the one who determines who will believe “the report” (Romans 10:16, quoting Isaiah 53:1) and who will thus be saved. He grants to some and He does not grant to the rest.

How, then, should we respond to this teaching that God is the one who grants the ability to know and who decides who will be saved and who will be condemned? First, if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and you have thus been saved from the wrath to come, then you should praise the Lord for His mercy. Because of nothing that you ever did or ever will do, the Lord granted you salvation and opened your eyes and gave you the ability to believe. By His sovereign choice He granted you faith and repentance. Why did He grant His grace to you? We do not have an answer to that question. He simply granted salvation to us by His grace. Therefore praise Him for His mercy.

Second, I think that we as believers must bow before His perfect justice when we come to truths which we find hard to grasp. That God is the One who grants salvation to some means that He is also the One who does not grant salvation to the rest. How does He decide who will be granted salvation and who will perish? He does so perfectly and with perfect justice. In the end when our finite minds cannot grasp a truth or reconcile truths about God we will do best to trust that the God of all the earth will do right (Genesis 18:25).

SDG      rmb          1/23/2017