The elect, the believing, and the one the Father draws (John 6:39, 6:40, 6:44)

NOTE: This article is a detailed study of three verses from John chapter 6 about those whom Jesus will raise up on the last day in the Resurrection. The result is fascinating, as my study revealed how God the Father ensures that all His elect will certainly come to believe in Jesus, the Son, and be raised up on the last day. I hope you find it an edifying study. rmb

Who are the ones that Jesus will raise up on the last day?

John 6:39 – “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing but raise it up on the last day.”

LOOKING AT THE VERSE:

Who are “all that He has given Me?” These are all the elect (righteous) of all time whom God has chosen for salvation before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). These have been given to the Son by the Father.

What will Jesus do with all those whom the Father has given to Him? He will raise them all up on the last day. This “raise up” is certainly the Resurrection. Jesus even adds emphasis by saying that, of all that the Father has given Him, He will lose nothing. All the elect will be raised up on the last day. All the elect who are living will be resurrected, and all the elect who have died will be resurrected. Jesus makes no distinction between the living and the dead in terms of whom He will raise on the last day. “All that He has given Me” will be raised up on the last day. Thus, the Resurrection of all the elect occurs on the last day.

John 6:40 – For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

LOOKING AT THE VERSE:

COMMENTS: At first glance, it might seem that Jesus is just repeating Himself, but that is not the case. Jesus is teaching that the Resurrection of the righteous is two sides of the same coin. In John 6:39, our Lord stated that He will raise up “all that the Father has given Him” on the last day, and it is clear that the expression “all that He has given Me” refers to all the elect. Thus, in John 6:39, Jesus is talking about God’s sovereign decree of election and declares that He will raise up all the elect on the last day. But in John 6:40, we are looking at the righteous through the lens of believing unto salvation.

Notice that in both verses we read of the “will of the Father.”

In John 6:39, “the will of Him who sent Me” is that Jesus will raise up on the last day all that the Father has given Him (all the elect). This is the Resurrection of all the righteous.

In John 6:40, “the will of My Father” is that Jesus will raise up on the last day everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him. And this is the Resurrection of all the righteous.

ALL THAT GOD HAS GIVEN JESUS” EQUALS “ALL WHO WILL BELIEVE IN JESUS

We know that the will of the Father will always come to pass (Psalm 115:3; Ephesians 1:11). Now, since it is the will of the Father, we know that all that He has given Jesus will be raised up on the last day (6:39), and, since it is also the will of the Father, we know that everyone who believes in Jesus will be raised up on the last day (6:40). What Jesus is teaching here is that “all that the Father has given the Son (6:39)” is identical with “everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him (6:40).” Everyone who will ever behold the Son and believe in Him unto eternal life was given by the Father to the Son in eternity past, and all whom the Father has given to the Son will behold the Son and believe in Him unto eternal life. In simpler terms, we could say, “All the elect equals all who will ever believe.”

But this presents us with a difficult question. “How can the Father make sure that all those whom He has given to the Son will actually believe in the Son?” For election does not save. While it is true that God chose us, the elect (all the righteous), in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), it is also true that a sinner must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. So, again, how do the elect become those who believe in Jesus unto eternal life? Consider John 6:44.

John 6:44 – “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”

LOOKING AT THE VERSE:

COMMENTS: What does it mean in this verse “to come to Jesus?” For Jesus says, “No one can come to Me.” In most contexts, but especially in the gospel of John, we should understand “come to Me” as meaning “believe in Me,” because to come to Jesus has no significance unless the one who comes to Him also believes in Him.

But Jesus says, “No one can come to Me unless. . .” This word, “can,” speaks about ability. In fact, the original Greek could be written, “No one has the ability to come to Me.” In other words, “It is not possible for anyone to come to Me.” Then, if we added our interpretation, it would read, “No one has the ability to believe in Me.” This is an alarming verse, but we must remember that Jesus added a condition. “No one has the ability to believe in Me UNLESS the Father who sent Me draws Him; and I will raise Him up on the last day.”

From this, I have three ideas:

  1. Since no one can come (has the ability to come) to Jesus unless the Father draws them, it means only those that the Father draws will come to Jesus. (By the way, we can see here God’s sovereignty in salvation. If He does not draw you, you are not saved.)
  2. On the last day, Jesus will raise up all those whom the Father draws. John 6:44 implies, “If the Father draws them, I (Jesus) will raise them up on the last day.”
  3. From our previous work in John 6:39 and 6:40, we already know those whom Jesus will raise up on the last day. From John 6:39, we know that, on the last day, Jesus will raise up all the elect. And from John 6:40, we know that, on the last day, Jesus will raise up all those who believe in Him.

PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER

I know that I have been going very slowly through this passage, but now we are ready to put the pieces together. Earlier in our study, we asked the question, ““How can the Father make sure that all those whom He has given to the Son will actually believe in the Son?” Then we asked that question another way, “How do the elect become those who believe in Jesus unto eternal life?”

Now in our study of John 6:44 we have the answer: The Father draws all those that He has given to the Son so that they all come to the Son to behold the Son and to believe in the Son.

Here is a simpler way to understand these verses: Jesus will raise up all the elect on the last day, and Jesus will raise up all those who behold the Son and believe in the Son, and Jesus will raise up all those the Father draws.

So, the Father draws (John 6:44) all the elect (6:39) to the Son so that they behold the Son and believe in the Son (6:40).

            SDG                 rmb                 4/28/2021

When is disappointment a sin?

My friend and I had talked for a long time over breakfast on Saturday morning about how crazy the real estate market is in Charlotte. When a house comes on the market, there are usually twenty showings the first day and then fifteen offers are made, all of them over the asking price, and within 48 hours the house is under contract. Davis and his wife, Natalie, had found a house they wanted, and Davis and I were talking about what they should offer. My advice was, “Go all-in, Davis. When God sent His Son to earth to save us, He went ‘all-in.’ So, we should live as ‘all-in’ people to demonstrate our trust in the Lord.” We had prayed about the house, and I had asked the Lord to provide the desire of their heart (Psalm 37:4). Then I had prayed, and I know that Davis and Natalie had prayed, throughout Saturday and Sunday, that their “all-in” offer would win the house.

Early Tuesday morning I received a text from Davis that their offer did not win the house. He said, “it is tough, but the Lord did what was best for us.” I replied, “Amen! The Lord has revealed His will in the matter. Romans 8:28.”

NOT DISAPPOINTED

Now, what is significant is that neither of us used the word “disappointed” in our conversation. We did not use the word “disappointed,” because we were not disappointed. We had prayed to our God and our God had given a clear answer. There was no ambiguity at all. The sovereign Lord of the universe inclined His ear to us (Psalm 116:1-2). He heard our supplications (Psalm 6:9) and the King of kings answered us (Psalm 99:6, 8)! And our loving God said, “No.” It was not the answer that we had requested, but we acknowledged that the Lord is infinitely wise, and He knows what is best. And, after all, He is the Lord. He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). But we were not disappointed.

UNDERSTANDING DISAPPOINTMENT

“Disappointment comes from unmet expectations.”

There is a lot of truth in this common expression. And this applies to believers as well as unbelievers. When our expectations are not met, we feel let down and we may even feel a little cheated, like somehow the world is obligated to meet our expectations. If that is our attitude, we will need to accept the advice from the dread Pirate Robert in the movie, “Princess Bride:” “Get used to disappointment.” Most (all?) of our expectations are baseless and unrealistic. “Why did you have that expectation?” “I don’t know, I just did.” “Oh. Well then, get used to disappointment.”

So, that is a little about disappointment from the world’s perspective. But there is also a disappointment that applies uniquely to the Christian when we request and the Lord answers, but we do not like the answer we received, and thus we are disappointed. This disappointment is sin because it means we are not satisfied with God’s performance. In this case, our prayer “requests” were really veiled demands and God did not do our bidding. To put it another way,

“Disappointment comes from unmet prayer requests.”

You had prayed fervently about a job opportunity, and someone else got the job, and you remain unemployed. Like Davis and Natalie, you prayed that your offer would win the house, and you came in second. You prayed for healing and your friend died. You have prayed for a godly spouse and yet you remain alone. And so, you feel something inside. Is it disappointment?

DISAPPOINTMENT IS A SIN

In these cases, I would suggest that disappointment is sin, because the “request” was really a demand. When we are disappointed with a clear answer to our prayer, have we not treated God as our servant?

Isn’t our thinking a lot like this? “After all, we did what we were supposed to do. We made our request according to the formula (Matthew 7:7; Philippians 4:6), we even prayed, ‘In Jesus’ name. Amen.’ We put our prayers in the correct slot of the prayer machine, and we expected the right answer, but out came an answer we did not request.” In essence, our disappointment says that God got the answer wrong. God did not do our bidding, so we are disappointed.

The truth is that when we experience disappointment, it means we were not seeking God’s will on a matter and then accepting His answer as the perfect answer, but instead we expressed our demand in a “prayer request,” and then pouted when God gave us the wrong answer. (See Jonah, chapter 4, for a good example of this.)

This is the very essence of sin. We, the creatures, are disappointed with the Lord God, the Creator of the universe. Brothers and sisters, we must be very cautious when we make demands of our God. Like Job, we should repent of this in dust and ashes (Job 42:6).

HUMBLE ACCEPTANCE IN PLACE OF DISAPPOINTMENT

Alan had been a pilot for American Airlines, when he contracted a rare disease that robbed him of his eyesight. Some years after he was blinded, Alan was having a conversation with his mother. His mother is a strong Christian who has walked with the Lord a long time, but she was asking Alan how he felt about being blinded. Didn’t he wrestle with God about this? Alan simply said, “We accept what the Lord allows.”

Queen Esther understood what it was to go before the sovereign king and make a request. She was not making a demand, but rather a humble request. And she accepted the possible answers and their consequences: “If I perish, I perish (Esther 4:16).”

Likewise, we should replace disappointment with acceptance of the Lord’s perfect will.

CONCLUSION

The Lord invites His children to come boldly to His throne and He calls us to make our requests to Him as our Abba, Father (Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 4:16), but He remains ever and always the One who sovereignly “works all things (including all answers to our prayers) after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11)” to the praise of His glory.

Therefore, I will repent of disappointment and will replace it with acceptance of the Lord’s perfect will, and I will rejoice in the love of the Lord my God. Replace disappointment with contentment (Philippians 4:10-13).

SDG                 rmb                 4/20/2021

Man, the fearful creature (Isaiah 41:10)

Man is a fearful creature. Although he was originally created to enjoy fellowship with God and to walk with Him, today we know that the human being is a fearful creature. Ever since Adam and Eve rebelled against God and sinned in the garden, all mankind has known fear as the most basic of all emotions. We feel all alone in a hostile world where death is a constant threat and an inevitable eventuality, and we are exceedingly small facing challenges that are enormous.

THE SOURCE OF OUR FEAR

The source of our fear is our sin against the God who created us and to whom we are accountable. Adam and Eve had enjoyed sweet fellowship with God until they ate the forbidden fruit, and fear followed immediately after their sin. In their guilt and shame, they hid from God, and we, as the children of Adam, have been doing that ever since. Through Adam, all sinned (Romans 5:12), and so also through Adam all of us know the fear that comes from our guilt. Whether we know it or not, we sense that we deserve God’s judgment and punishment, and so we put on our own personal fig leaves and we go into hiding.

WE RUN AWAY, BUT THE LORD PURSUES

And what does the living God do in response to our sin and our hiding? We have broken His commandments and we have run away from any fellowship or relationship with Him. How does the Lord respond to our sin and fear? Remarkably, the Lord pursues us. As we turn the pages of Scripture, we encounter a God who pursues the sinner, any sinner, and offers that sinner reconciliation and restoration and relationship. In response to our running away in guilt and fear, the Lord commands us to “fear not”

“Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

There is no human solution to the problems of guilt and fear. Your guilt is because you have sinned against the Holy One, the living God, and your fear is ultimately a fear of God and His terrifying judgment of your sin. And yet the God whom you have offended is the very one who pursues you to offer His forgiveness and His strength.

The Bible is full of commands from the Lord for His children to “fear not.” And why is it appropriate for the one who has been reconciled to God and who has been forgiven by God to no longer fear?

“But now thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are Mine.’” Isaiah 43:1

It is inappropriate to fear when the LORD the Creator of the universe, has redeemed you. The One who formed you and called you to Himself in Jesus Christ is the One who is always for you and is ever at your right hand. So, fear not! Claim your freedom from fear that is the right and blessing of the twice born, of all those who confess Jesus as Lord!

“I sought the LORD, and He answered me, and delivered my from all my fears.” – Psalm 34:4

How can the psalmist be delivered from all his fears? Because the LORD, the all-powerful One, is his God! When the living God is your protector, there is no reason for fear.

THE LORD GOD, THE CONQUEROR

But not only is the Bible full of exhortations to “fear not,” but the Bible is also full of examples of our God overwhelmingly conquering adversaries and enemies against seemingly impossible odds. The children of Israel were backed up against the Red Sea and the most powerful army in the world was bearing down on them. Then the LORD split the Red Sea so Israel could walk through on dry ground and the Egyptian army was drowned. Gideon had 300 men and some pitchers and lanterns and trumpets, yet 150,000 Midianites were defeated by the 300. David had nothing but a slingshot and confidence in the LORD, and the giant Goliath was struck down and his head taken off. Jerusalem and King Hezekiah were under siege from the Assyrians, who had conquered all the other countries around the nation of Judah and had boasted that they would destroy Jerusalem as well. Then the angel of the LORD struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians in one night, and the contest was over.

In the most glorious example of all, one Man was called upon to endure the agonies of the cross so that He could bear the full wrath of God against sin and could defeat death by rising from the dead. One solitary Man was pitted against the sin of the world and the horrors of death, and on Sunday morning sin and death lay vanquished at Jesus’ feet.

These examples show us that the God who pursues us for reconciliation is worthy of our confidence and trust.

JESUS SPEAKS ON WORRY

In one section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells His disciples of the futility and folly of worry. Five times in Matthew 6:25-34 our Lord mentions worry and instructs us why it does not make any sense. In simplest terms, what is the reason the disciple of Jesus should not worry? It is because you have a heavenly Father. Simple as that. Your heavenly Father is in control of all things. He feeds the birds and clothes the flowers of the field, and He is completely aware of your physical needs. You have a heavenly Father who knows you and loves you. What could you possibly be worried about?

SDG                 rmb                 3/30/2021

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

In this article, we parachute into the “thousand years” of the gospel age in Revelation 20:3. Things are going along splendidly with Satan locked in the abyss. Now for the duration of the “thousand years,” the gospel is being proclaimed and the church is growing, and Christ is building His church (Matthew 16:18). This all goes along swimmingly “until the ‘thousand years’ were completed; after these things he (Satan) must be released for a short time (Rev. 20:3).” And there need be no ambiguity about the intention of the Greek in this sentence. John uses the Greek word δεῖ, which is accurately translated by the NAS as “must.” It is necessary that Satan be released from the abyss. But WHY must Satan be released? That is the question.

In answering this question, we first need to keep in mind that Satan is a mere created being. 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 Director, because there are some things that he is uniquely qualified to do.

Second, we need to observe that Satan is released from the abyss. This was not a successful jailbreak. Rather, he is released. Satan was not in control. (He never is.) He was rotting away in the abyss when he was unexpectedly released. Who released him? We are not told, but it would be reasonable to assume that the one who locked him in the abyss (the risen Christ) is the same one who released him from the abyss.

So, Satan must be released because his unique talents and abilities are needed by the Director to take the drama toward its scripted conclusion. The Hero of the Drama is preparing to make His final, glorious appearance, 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. Although they will be ignored, the final 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. Satan is the only character in the drama who can accomplish these tasks, so Satan must be released.

Finally, upon his release, notice that Satan is given only a short time (Rev. 20:3; μικρὸν χρόνον). He is not in control of the length of his performance; rather, his time on the stage has already been determined by the script. He will burst upon the scene “having great wrath (Rev. 12:12)” and will create havoc and destruction, but he has only a short time (Rev. 12:12; ὀλίγον καιρὸν). And after that short time, “he was thrown (ἐβλήθη) into the lake of fire and brimstone (Rev. 20:10).”

So, Satan must be released after the “thousand years” because the Lord has need of Him.

In Luke 19, as 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; consider him to be like this colt. He comes onto the stage of the grand drama when the Lord has need of him.

SDG                 rmb                 3/13/2021

They will return to Me (Jeremiah 24:5-7)

SUMMARY: This (fairly long) article was taken out of Jeremiah 24 and gives a fascinating account of the LORD promising eternal blessings on people whom He “regards as good.” The expression, “regards as good,” introduces the idea of God’s sovereign election of some for salvation. This passage shows that God was sovereign over their salvation and, by implication, He is also sovereign over our salvation.

“The Lord God is sovereign over His universe.” Most professing Christians will agree with this statement whether they have thought much about it or not. But it makes sense, especially when we remember that, according to Genesis 1, God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Since He is the Creator, He should also be the ruler. Many do not realize, however, that the Bible claims that God is sovereign over all that takes place to anyone anywhere in the world, including where people will spend eternity. And uncomfortable though some may be with the Lord God’s right to rule His universe as He sees fit, and “to have mercy on whom He desires, and to harden whom He desires (Romans 9:18),” the biblical evidence of God’s sovereignty is plentiful in both testaments. In my daily Bible reading, I was in Jeremiah 24 and found a fascinating passage about good figs and bad figs.

BACKGROUND

In the Old Testament, it is often helpful to get the context of a passage. In Jeremiah 24, the year is 597 BC. The nation of Judah has been in moral and social decline for a long time. Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has recently carried away into exile Jeconiah king of Judah along with many others in Jerusalem and has brought them to Babylon. Jeremiah has been the LORD’s anointed prophet to Judah for thirty years, warning them of the LORD’s coming judgment and urging them to repent.

In Jeremiah 24, the LORD shows Jeremiah a vision of two baskets of figs:

One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, and the other basket had very bad figs which could not be eaten due to rottenness.

Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying,

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: ‘Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the captives of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans. For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land; and I will build them up and not overthrow them, and I will plant them and not uproot them. I will also give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.’”

Consider carefully what the LORD God of Israel says:

“I will REGARD AS GOOD the captives of Judah, WHOM I HAVE SENT OUT of this place into the land of the Chaldeans.”

REGARDED AS GOOD

The LORD declares that He will regard the captives as good. Notice that it is of no importance how the captives regard themselves. Nor is it of any importance whether the captives are actually good or not. We search the text in vain for any mention of the obedience or of the moral character of the captives. We do not know if they fear the LORD and try to obey the Law or if they ignore the LORD altogether. When the LORD regards them as good, all other data or opinion becomes irrelevant.

Again, we ask, “Why does the LORD regard them as good?” No reason is given. The LORD regards the captives as good because the LORD regards the captives as good. No other reason is given because no other reason is needed. The LORD’s declaration of “good” establishes the fact of the captives’ “goodness,” and nothing can change it.

The LORD’s declaration of “good” was not based on anything the captives had done in the past, and so it cannot be lost by anything they will do in the future. The captives did nothing to merit the LORD’s regarding them as good. According to His sovereign will, the LORD chose to regard as good this group of people called captives, and whatever the LORD regards is irrevocable.

THE LORD AT WORK IN THE PAST

But notice also that the LORD’s sovereignty has already been at work in the past on behalf of these captives. The LORD says the captives are those “whom I have sent out of this place.”

How did this group of captives get taken from Jerusalem? The LORD sent them out. Well, how did these captives get taken to Babylon? The LORD sent them out. But didn’t Nebuchadnezzar come to Jerusalem from Babylon and take these captives away with him? Yes, the LORD sent out these captives by bringing Nebuchadnezzar and his army from Babylon to Jerusalem and then having him gather the exiles and take them back to Babylon That was how the LORD sent them out.

THE LORD HAS PLANS FOR THE FUTURE

And, also, notice that the LORD has plans for those who He has regarded as good. The LORD pours out eight promises for future blessing.

I will set My eyes on them for good.

I will bring them again to this land.

I will build them up and not overthrow them.

I will plant them and not pluck them.

I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD.

They will be My people.

I will be their God.

They will return to Me with their whole heart.

The LORD gushes out on the captives four promises of temporal, material blessings, but He also pours out four promises of eternal, spiritual blessings. Note that none of these blessings have been requested by the captives and that none of them are earned by the captives. These promised blessings are given by the LORD solely because it is His sovereign will to do so. Also observe that in these promises, the LORD is declaring what He will certainly do. These promises will certainly come to pass because the LORD always does what He intends to do. Nothing and no one resists His will (Romans 9:19).

ETERNAL SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS

“I will give them a heart to know Me.” All children of Adam are born with a heart that is deceitful and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9). We have a hard heart (Ephesians 4:18), a foolish heart (Romans 1:21), a stubborn, unrepentant heart (Romans 2:5), and an evil, unbelieving heart (Hebrews 3:12). But the LORD here promises a new heart to those whom He regards as good, a heart that will know Him. He “will remove the heart of stone and give a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26-28).” And with that heart they will know the LORD.

“They will be My people and I will be their God.” The captives who are regarded as good will be the people of the LORD (1 Peter 2:10), and in all the earth they will be His treasured possession (Exodus 19:5). And the LORD will be their God: their defender, their shield, their refuge, their provider, their Lord and their God.

“They will return to Me with their whole heart.” Read this carefully, for in this blessing the LORD is making an unconditional promise about what free people will do. What does it mean when the Scripture says, “Return to Me with their whole heart”? This is an Old Testament way of saying that they will genuinely and fully believe in the LORD. We would say that they will be saved. But notice that the LORD is promising that these captives whom the LORD regards as good WILL CERTAINLY return to Him with their whole heart. How can the LORD promise that these captives will do that? He can make this promise because the LORD is the sovereign ruler of the universe and has ordained it to be so.

APPLICATION TO OUR LIVES

This story from Jeremiah 24 of God’s eternal promises and of His regarding some people as good to their eternal, unmerited benefit is the story of the gospel and of how God has sovereignly chosen His people for salvation. But this story in Jeremiah also shows that, when the Lord chooses to regard someone as good, He also ordains that all the means necessary to bring about that person’s salvation will providentially occur in their lives.

So, just as the LORD unconditionally regarded the captives as good, so the Lord has unconditionally “chosen His people in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).”

As the LORD promised to give the captives a heart to know Him, in the same way the Lord has “made us alive with Christ and raised us up with Him” (Ephesians 2:4-5), and the Lord has “caused His people to be born again to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3).”

The LORD declared that these captives would return to Him with their whole heart, and now we who are in Christ have a heart that says, “To live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).” We are those who declare, “I count all things loss in view of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Philippians 3:8).”

SDG                 rmb                 3/12/2021

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