Reading Revelation (Part 2): The constraints

POST OVERVIEW. The second in a series of posts about ways to read the book of Revelation that make it less confusing and intimidating. This post discusses the constraints that are on Revelation which limit its possible interpretations. (Also, see previous post #568 which was on the purposes of the book of Revelation.)

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

CONSTRAINTS ON REVELATION

Having discussed the purposes of Revelation in our previous post (#568), we now turn our attention to the constraints that are placed on this last book of the Bible. It is probably unusual to think about a biblical book as being “constrained.” Of course, in a sense all sixty-six books of the Bible are constrained, because they all must harmonize with each other and agree with each other, particular in terms of doctrine. In that sense, each successive book of the Bible is more “constrained” than the one before it. But Revelation is constrained not only by the fact that it is the last book of the Bible and must harmonize with the sixty-five books that preceded it, but also because the book functions as a summary and a conclusion to the entire story line of the Bible, tying up loose ends and filling in blanks to make the entire scriptural masterpiece complete. This places constraints on Revelation that restrict (“constrain”) the way we can interpret the contents of the book, as we will see.

Some readers seem to approach Revelation as if it existed independent of the rest of Scripture and is filled with wild new ideas and events never before encountered in the Bible and disconnected from the rest of the God-breathed books which precede it. This approach, however, is exactly the opposite of what is the case. A significant portion of Revelation consists of quotes of previous Scripture or of obvious allusions to characters and events and prophecies from the Old Testament. Revelation could serve as a final exam, testing disciples of Jesus to see how well they know their Bibles. “Can you recognize the allusions to the Old Testament in this chapter (whatever chapter that is)? Having recognized the allusions, can you identify their Old Testament reference? Book, chapter, and verse?” And this characteristic of Revelation, that it is packed with Old Testament allusions, is the very thing that “constrains” Revelation in what it can say.

Let me try to give an example. Consider the concept of the last day. Revelation is constrained in its teaching about the last day. Why? Because the last day, “the day of the LORD,” “that day,” the day of judgment, etc. has been part of biblical revelation, in explicit prophecy or in implicit “types,” in virtually every book of the Bible. The flood in Genesis 6-8 foreshadows the last day. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 foreshadows the last day. In uncountable places in the Old Testament the last day is mentioned or implied. Then finally in Malachi 4, the last chapter in the Old Testament, the prophet teaches more about the last day. “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace,” says the LORD of hosts (Malachi 4:1). In the New Testament, Jesus talks about the last day many times during His earthly ministry, and Paul and Peter and John and the author of Hebrews also write about the last day in their inspired writings. So, when John receives his visions in Revelation, the events of the last day and the characters involved in the last day are very well known and our interpretations of these visions is constrained by all the writing about the last day that preceded them.

SUMMARY. So, when reading Revelation, remember that this last book of the Bible is constrained by its requirement to harmonize with all the inspired writing that has preceded it. Therefore, it is best to read the book with an eye to seeing which previous events are being concluded here. “Armageddon,” foreshadowed in Ezekiel 38-39, is concluded in Revelation 16, 19, and 20. The evil man (antichrist), whom we meet in Daniel 7, 8, 9, and 11, and in the man of lawlessness of 2 Thessalonians 2, is consummated and concluded in the beast of Revelation 13. The persecution of the church, sent out as “sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matt. 10:16), is culminated in the tribulation we see in Revelation 6:9, 20:4, 11:7, 13:7, etc. Most significantly, the return of the Lord Jesus in power and glory, mentioned and implied many times throughout the Scriptures, is completed in the Rider on the white horse in Revelation 19:11-16. Remember, Revelation is constrained, so we read the book with the eye for seeking conclusions and consummations.

SDG                 rmb                 9/10/2022                   #569

Do not be surprised by persecution (1 Peter 4:12)

INTRODUCTION. This fairly long post is a consideration of the New Testament’s prominent teaching on persecution and how we, as American disciples, can respond to it when it comes.

One of the young women at our church has taken a stand for Christ at her school and has thereby placed her job at risk. Her school wanted all the teachers to affirm the school’s LGBTQ and pro-abortion stances and this teacher refused. Praise the Lord that she refused! But her stance has definitely jeopardized her job. In fact, it would be an answer to prayer if she does not lose her job. Suddenly, her faith in Christ has become much more expensive.

NEITHER UNEXPECTED NOR SURPRISING

Which brings up an important subject. It seems that in America, disciples of Jesus are often surprised when following their crucified Savior, the one who was despised and forsaken of men, suddenly becomes painful or expensive or risky. This is very curious to me, not that a follower of Jesus would suffer some form of persecution, but that being persecuted for their faith would come as an unexpected surprise to any disciple of Jesus. The New Testament, start to finish, is full of declarations and examples announcing to the believer that persecution and affliction will certainly come upon them simply because they follow Jesus. Some of the best-known passages follow. Even a cursory reading of these makes it unambiguously clear that persecution and hatred from the unbelieving world should be expected, and the question is not “if” persecution will come, but “when” and “how.”

2 Timothy 3:12 – Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

COMMENT. Paul is preparing Timothy to take over his ministry of the gospel, so he tells Timothy of the persecution that will be coming to him. Paul states categorically that Timothy will be persecuted. In fact, the only way for Timothy to avoid persecution is to for him to not desire to live a godly life. This, of course, is not an option, because all believers “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt. 5:6). All true disciples will be persecuted, and “all” means all.

1 Peter 4:12 – Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.

COMMENT. In Peter’s letter to believers experiencing the fires of testing, he takes time to explicitly state the case about persecution. Do not be surprised by any fiery ordeal, as though it is something strange. It is not strange; it is normal. Fiery ordeals (like persecution and affliction) are normal parts of the Christian life which the Lord brings in for our testing. The Lord brings an ordeal to test our faith and to prove that it is the genuine article. Instead of groaning in the unexpected pain, rejoice that you have been considered worthy to suffer for Jesus’ sake.

1 Thess. 3:3, 4so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know.

COMMENT. Again, as Paul writes to these new believers under the heavy artillery of intense persecution, his primary encouragement is for them to stand firm. There is little of what we would call sympathy or empathy. For the apostle Paul, the issue is obedience. Will these professed disciples of Jesus in Thessalonica endure their appointed affliction and continue to profess Christ, or will they collapse under the pressure and make a shipwreck of their faith? As Peter has said (above), we are destined for this. Persecution and affliction are our appointed duties. Therefore, the true disciple will stand firm.

Matthew 10:16 (10:21, 22) – “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.”

COMMENT. Anyone who knows anything about sheep and about wolves knows that what Jesus describes here is a dangerous situation for the sheep. Sheep are defenseless, slow, frail, docile animals, the very definition of the word “prey.” By contrast, wolves are vicious, cunning, fast, and strong. They travel in packs, relentless predators in pursuit of their prey. And Jesus sends His new covenant disciples out as sheep in the midst of wolves. It seems almost a death sentence. Sending sheep into the midst of wolves would be akin to something extreme like telling His disciples to take up their cross and follow Him.

The gospel mission requires that Jesus’ disciples are willing to go wherever He sends them as sheep in the midst of wolves. (“We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” – Romans 8:35) Not all will be killed for their faith, but some certainly will (Matt. 10:21). Not all will be scourged (10:17), but all will be hated because of Jesus’ name (10:22). And despite these dangers and threats, the disciple obeys His good shepherd (John 10) and goes out into the midst of a world of wolves, proclaiming from the housetops (Matt. 10:27) that men should repent and turn to God (Acts 26:20). Persecution is real for sheep among wolves.

John 15:18-20 – “18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”

COMMENT. Jesus is in the Upper Room giving His apostles, and by implication, His new covenant church, final instructions for life on mission before His crucifixion, and part of the necessary instruction has to do with the persecution His church will experience. Jesus’ message in these verses is clear: “The world hates you and they will persecute you.” While possibly unsettling and uncomfortable, these words are certainly unambiguous. Jesus leaves no room for misunderstanding, and it is the naïve and foolish disciple who is caught by surprise when the world reveals its true colors in hatred and persecution.

These are just some of the more prominent examples of the New Testament’s predictions of the persecution and hardship that will come upon disciple’s of Jesus just because they follow the King of kings. So, it would seem that believers would expect affliction to come.

THEN, WHY ARE WE SURPRISED?

But in America, it is easy to miss even these blatant messages and to overlook or downplay our promised persecution. Despite these scriptural billboards, we are often shocked when our alienation from the world produces painful consequences. So, why are we still surprised, even with all these promises?

Perhaps the most significant reason is the messages that believers receive from pulpits in America. The overwhelming majority of preaching pastors in America will not deliver a single sermon in their preaching lifetime on persecution. Ever. For the pastor, sermons on persecution are not popular with most congregations, so it is best to avoid them. Also, it is possible the pastor doesn’t really believe in persecution, so why would he tell his congregation about it?

Another factor is the idea that real persecution will never come to America. For those pastors who do preach on persecution when their text demands it, many of them will also add a phrase like, “Of course, persecution has not come to America yet.” This phrase is said such that the congregation can relax, secure in the knowledge that, not only has persecution not come to America yet, but, if we play our cards right and continue to behave ourselves as decent, quiet, law-abiding Christians, it probably never will. This is dangerous thinking, because, if we consider Paul’s teaching in 2 Tim. 3:12 (see above), the fact that we are not experiencing persecution in America can only be attributed to the fact that we are not “living godly in Christ Jesus” or because we are not vocal enough in our witness for Jesus that the world feels a compulsion to silence us.

But I think also a disciple can be surprised by sudden affliction because, even though they were prepared to suffer and expected that their bold witness for Jesus would draw enemy fire from the world, the timing took them off guard. With the woman who I mentioned at the top of this post, she knew that her biblical view of human sexuality and her view that abortion is murder were in conflict with most at her school, but she did not realize that her Christian values could put her job at risk. The world’s hatred of Christ was suddenly vented on her. So, in America, even devoted disciples can be stunned when Christ’s words are suddenly manifested in real life. And, for right now, these sudden but not life-threatening attacks from the world will be more economic and psychological than physical. A missed promotion. Losing a job. A rejected application. Lost relationships. Ostracism, alienation, loneliness. But the severity will increase, because the Scriptures call for it and the Scriptures must be fulfilled. There will be imprisonments and scourging. There will be oppression and violence and death.

WHAT SHOULD WE DO?

In the face of these promises of persecution and affliction, what should the disciple of Jesus do? As in all matters of faith and godliness, the believer is to see the example that Jesus gave us, that we should follow in His steps. “While being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). And we are to continue boldly “pressing on toward the goal for the prize” (Phil. 3:14), not letting our promised persecution derail us, but rather enduring the suffering the Lord allows as we continue on in obedience.

SDG                 rmb                 8/31/2022                   #564

Calling down curses: a New Testament perspective

INTRODUCTION. This post considers the topic of imprecation of enemies, asking the question whether imprecation is a spiritual tool of the New Testament disciple of Jesus.

Back in March-April of 2022, I had written a six-part series of posts considering the topic of the so-called “imprecatory psalms.” In the Bible, “imprecation” is when a believer calls on God to curse or destroy his enemies. So, in the “imprecatory psalms,” the psalmist (often David) is in distress and his life is being threatened by enemies, and in response, the psalmist cries out to the Lord to give him relief by cursing or punishing or judging the psalmist’s enemies. The question that we sought to answer in our six-part study was, “After the first advent of the Lord Jesus, is the believer still allowed to imprecate (call down curses on) his enemies, or has that forever changed with the coming of Jesus?” At the end of the sixth post (#514, April 7, 2022), I wrote this conclusion:

“And so we conclude our study of the imprecatory psalms. We have seen that these psalms which called down curses on the enemies of the righteous are no longer useful to the disciple of Jesus. Jesus Himself commands His people to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them, which renders an imprecatory psalm obsolete. But also, since we are to be wise ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), we realize that imprecating others is a poor strategy for sowing the gospel.”

If you would care to read through all six posts, they are Posts #500, 503, 502, 505, 509, and 514 back in March and April of this year. The key word “imprecatory” should get you to them.

IMPRECATION REVISITED

This week, my wife began a study of the book of Habakkuk with a group of ladies and, because of the content of the first chapter of this book, the subject of imprecation of enemies was discussed with vigor in their Bible study. Afterward, my wife and I talked about imprecation and I decided to revisit this topic and see if my views had changed. The rest of this post is a record of today’s musings about imprecation. (NOTE: Because of time constraints, I have not reviewed these thoughts and placed them in order.)

Observation: I do not believe there are any New Testament examples of imprecation.

THEORY: Imprecation of enemies was apparently allowed in the Old Testament, but the teaching of the New Testament has replaced imprecation with prayer for enemies, forgiveness of enemies, and endurance of the persecution and suffering by the saints.

When persecution and affliction for the name of Jesus come upon the disciple, the disciple simply adds perseverance and endurance to his other daily spiritual duties and disciplines and continues to press toward the prize.

For those being persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 5:10-12), it is okay to flee (Matthew 10:23), but it is not okay to fight. You are allowed to run, but you are not allowed to retaliate.

When Stephen is being stoned to death in Acts 7, he offers no imprecation of those who are killing him. Instead, he asks the Lord not to hold the sin of his murder against his murderers (Acts 7:60).

The church in Thessalonica was experiencing persecution when Paul wrote his two letters to them, but there is no hint of any imprecation against their persecutors in the letters. In 1 Thess. 2:14-16, the Thessalonians “endured the same sufferings” as other churches, and in 3:3-8, Paul reminds them that “no one would be disturbed by these afflictions (because) we have been destined for this (3). For we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction (4).” Paul told them they would suffer affliction and commended them for standing firm (8), but it is evident that he never told them how to defend themselves or retaliate. Why? Because the disciple of Jesus is called to stand firm, but not to retaliate.

In 2 Thess. 1:4-10, when the church is experiencing withering persecution, Paul reminds them that the Lord Jesus Himself will repay their persecutors on the last day when He returns in blazing fire. Again we see that the New Testament believer is to endure affliction now and entrust judgment entirely to the righteous Judge, the Lord Jesus.

In the New Testament, the disciples of Jesus accept persecution for Jesus’ sake as part of the cost of being His follower (1 Thess. 3:3-8). They may flee (Matt. 10:23; Acts 13:50-51; 14:5-7; 17:10, 14), but they do not organize themselves into an armed force. In fact, they even do very little to defend themselves. Disciples of Jesus do this because they are relying entirely upon the Lord to defend them. He is the one who will deliver them from their distresses and afflictions and so they wait for Him. Ultimately, Jesus’ disciples persevere in tribulation (Rom. 12:11) because they are waiting for Him to rescue them on the last day when He descends from heaven with a shout. The point is that Jesus is my Defender and I will trust Him to lead me through any circumstances and any affliction such that “with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (Phil. 1:20).

Philippians 3:10 – “that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and THE FELLOWSHIP OF HIS SUFFERINGS.” Paul desired to know “the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.” But how can this stated desire be fulfilled if, every time the Lord brings affliction and persecution into Paul’s life, he immediately prays for God to bring judgment on his persecutors and to bring relief from his affliction? Obviously, Paul did not do this. Rather, the apostle “rejoiced in his sufferings” so that he was “filling up what was lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col. 1:24). Here there is no suggestion of any imprecation of persecutors, but instead there is an acceptance of the fact that suffering for the name of Christ is part of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

The book of Revelation has several passages that give light to this question of imprecation of enemies. In Revelation 6:9-11 we see the souls of the martyrs underneath the altar crying out to the Lord, “How long, O Lord, holy and true?” These have been “slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne,” and they want to know when God is going to avenge their deaths. They were told to rest for a little while longer until the rest of the martyrs would join them. Again, no imprecation against their murderers is suggested, and more martyrs will join them, for the Lord has ordained that the full number of martyrs will be killed.

In Revelation 11:7, we are given a scene where “the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with the saints and overcome them and kill them.” Once again, we see that suffering persecution is an expected part of being a follower of Christ, even to the end of the age. The picture here is not one of brave saints fighting against the beast and being outmatched, but of defenseless sheep being slaughtered by the beast because of their bold witness for Christ (see Romans 8:35, where “we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered”). This exact scene is also presented in Rev. 13:7, where “it was given to the beast to make war with the saints and to overcome them.” In this destruction by the beast, the Scripture gives no hint of imprecation.

Although the context of 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 is not persecution, Paul’s attitude toward suffering and affliction in this passage is instructive. Paul is given “a thorn in the flesh” and three times asks the Lord to remove the thorn. The Lord replies that His grace will provide him (and thus, will supply any believer) with all he needs to endure the trial. “My grace is sufficient for you.” “Most gladly, therefore,” Paul will boast about his weaknesses (12:9). Indeed, he is “well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties” (12:10) for Christ’s sake. Note that Paul does not complain or whimper about his affliction, which might be the equivalent of imprecation in persecution, but is well content and boasts of his weaknesses. In the same way, then, in persecution we remain well content in the Lord and we most gladly endure, rejoicing that we are considered worthy to suffer shame for His name (Acts 5:41).

CONCLUSION

There is certainly more that could be said, but I think the summary is this: In the New Testament, it seems that, at every possible opportunity to meet affliction and persecution with imprecation of the persecutors, the people refuse to do so and, instead, resolve to persevere and to endure through the affliction and, in many cases, pray for the very ones who are persecuting them.

Thus, the sanctioned New Testament response to persecution and affliction appears to preclude any retaliation, revenge, or imprecation of enemies. We would thus conclude that the disciple of Jesus is allowed to lament the suffering and to groan underneath it, and to long for the day when God will judge the wicked and set all injustice right but is not to imprecate his enemies. Rather, he is to trust the Lord with the administration of all justice and is to endure the suffering in the strength that Christ supplies.

SDG                 rmb                 8/27/2022                   #563

New covenant warfare (Matthew 10:16-42)

The gospel of Matthew is the gospel of the King. Matthew portrays Jesus as the promised Davidic King, the Messiah who has come to fulfill all of the Lord’s promises to Israel. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus establishes the characteristics of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven and describes the nature of the kingdom itself, declaring that He has come to fulfill the Law and to bring in a righteousness far superior to that of the scribes and the Pharisees. The Sermon, then, gives us the principles of the new covenant.

Now in Matthew 10:16-42, Jesus, like the commanding officer of a great army, tells His disciples about the warfare of the new covenant. This post is mostly about this warfare.

First, however, we need to understand what is going on in this chapter. In Matthew 10:5-15, Jesus sends out His apostles with the message to Israel (10:5-6) that their Messiah has come. “Go announce to Israel that the Lord has now fulfilled all His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Messiah is here! Embrace your King!” Since all the promises of the old covenant have now  been fulfilled by the coming of the Messiah (Romans 15:8), the old covenant can be closed. This is the significance of Matthew 10:5-15. Notice that this message is just for “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and is only for this specific time. In the words of Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” The old is gone, the new has come.

Observe, though, that the message of Matthew 10:16-42 is of a very different nature. First of all, although it is not explicitly stated, Jesus is now addressing a different group of people. As we stated earlier, in this section of the chapter Jesus is speaking as the new covenant King, the commanding general who is addressing His troops. The new covenant has been inaugurated, the war has begun, and Jesus is now talking to all His disciples of all the time between the advents and explaining to them what the campaign will be like. This message is to disciples from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, declaring to them that the war will be long and there will be casualties, but the victory is certain.

The new covenant campaign will also be more costly than the old, requiring more commitment. As in Matthew 5:10-12 in the Sermon on the Mount, so Matthew 10:16-42 makes clear that being associated with Jesus the Messiah will bring upon you the rejection and the hatred of the world. Even before Jesus gives His troops a clear description of their mission, He presents to them the cost of following Him. In essence, He is saying, “If you want to be My disciple, you must understand that I am only accepting those who are willing to follow Me to death. Yes, I have a grand mission for you that will bring you joy and that will end in heaven, but first I need to know if you will submit to Me and follow Me wherever I lead. My mission will require you to be like a sheep in the midst of a pack of wolves. It will involve hostile courts, scourging, death, and being hated by all just because  you love Me. You will need to endure persecution. I am not bringing peace on the earth but a sword, such that My disciples will be killed with the sword of men even as they proclaim to them the word of life. My mission will create many enemies for My disciples, even in their own households, and there will be those who lose their life for My sake” (a collection of the various warnings in 10:16-39).

“Now you have a decision to make. Understanding the cost, will you take up your cross and follow Me? Will you lose your life for My sake? When I receive your reply, we can talk in more detail about the mission to which I am calling you.”

APPLICATION. Although inaugurated two thousand years ago, the new covenant warfare continues essentially unchanged to this day as the church goes out, sheep in the midst of wolves, to call sinners to repentance. Our King is still calling into His kingdom those who will follow Him to death. Jesus’ disciples still accept “tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword” (Romans 8:35) to accomplish our Commander’s Great Commission of making disciples of all the nations.

One day there will be a trumpet sounded and we will hear the voice of the archangel. One day, heaven will be opened and behold, a white horse, and He who sits upon it will be Him who is called Faithful and True. One day, the warfare will be over, and the wolves will be gone forever, and we will be before the throne with other disciples which no man can count praising the Lamb. But until that day, we obey our King as we press toward the prize.

SDG                 rmb                 8/25/2022                   #562

Drive your roots deep and let your voice be heard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHERE WE ARE IN HISTORY

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

SDG                 rmb                 6/20/2022                   #545

The martyrs under the altar (Revelation 6:9-11)

INTRODUCTION. This is the first post in a series about persecution. Since our Savior, Jesus Christ, suffered persecution, we as His followers know that we will also be persecuted. The Christian is called to suffer persecution simply because they are a disciple of Jesus. This series looks at some of the Bible’s teaching on this subject.

Persecution is uniquely Christian. For while ethnic groups may be oppressed and afflicted for who they are, Christians are oppressed, maligned, and afflicted for what they believe. Those who are citizens of one country may be hated and attacked by citizens of another country, but disciples of Jesus are hated and attacked simply because they are disciples of Jesus. The point is that the suffering of persecution comes upon believers because believers associate with Jesus, and the world hates Jesus. So, persecution is a uniquely Christian experience.

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also. – Rev. 6:9-11

A BRIEF HISTORY OF MARTYRS

In this passage in Revelation 6:9-11, we encounter the martyrs, those who had been slain because of the word of God and their testimony. These had paid the ultimate price for their allegiance to Jesus.

Since the earliest days of the Christian church, persecution has been a normal part of following Jesus. Our Lord Himself said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Taking up a cross means preparing for your own death. Jesus also said, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Even though Jesus spoke these words over two millennia ago, His words have proven true. His followers are persecuted, and some are persecuted to death. Since Stephen was killed in Jerusalem (Acts 7) as the first martyr, the followers of Jesus have understood that being a disciple may cost you your life. What is remarkable is that the possibility of martyrdom has never deterred people from coming to Jesus for salvation. The true disciple understands that whoever believes in Jesus cannot die (John 11:25-26), so there is no fear in losing their physical life for Jesus’ sake (Matthew 10:39).

Now, as there were martyrs in the days of the early church and there have been martyrs throughout the gospel age as the church has been gathered in, so this scene near the end of the age shows that there will continue to be martyrs until the end. In the time of this scene, the earth is being made ready for the return of the Lord Jesus, history is drawing to a close, and end times prophecies are being fulfilled. And still we see persecution and martyrs. What this means is that, to the very end of the age, the true followers of Jesus will continue to willingly suffer and even die rather than deny Christ.

THE PERSECUTORS CONTINUE

By the way, this also means that those who hate Christ and who hate Christians will continue to persecute disciples of Jesus until the end of the age. For Jesus to declare that, for at least the next two millennia, His disciples will continue to count their witness for Him as more valuable than life itself is a remarkable prophecy. But to also declare that the world will continue to persecute and even kill His disciples over that same two millennia time period is even more amazing. Note that the world’s hatred of Jesus and of His disciples has not gone away over two thousand years. The martyrs willingly die and the persecutors eagerly kill.

Returning to the text, then, we see the souls of those who had been killed for Jesus’ sake (6:9). These souls then cry out to the Lord, asking how long He will refrain from judging and avenging their deaths (6:10). This cry is not imprecatory, for the souls of the slain are not calling down unusual curses on the wicked, but they are calling out to Him to render justice now. “We know that, at the end of the age, You will judge the wicked and avenge our blood on the unrighteous. O Lord, let Your judgment be now!”

But the Lord is going to delay His justice. He is not going to judge the earth now, because there are more martyrs who must be killed (6:11). The Lord knows that exact number of those who will be martyred and, until we reach that number, the justice of the final judgment will be delayed. So, disciples of Jesus will continue to willingly give their lives and the haters of Jesus will continue to persecute and kill His disciples. So, there will be martyrs until the end of the age.

A MARTYR TAKES TWO WILLING PARTIES

As I was reflecting on this passage about the martyrs and about their Holy Spirit-given faith and courage, something occurred to me that had escaped me before.

What is a martyr? A martyr is someone who is killed by another because of a radical difference in ideology. That means that a martyr cannot act independently. You cannot martyr yourself. A suicide bomber can blow themselves up independently, but they cannot thereby become a martyr. There is a big difference between suicide and martyrdom.

But what we have seen is that there will be martyrs for the entire gospel age all the way to the end. This Scripture in Revelation 6 is not just prophesying what believers will do for the entire church age, namely, willingly surrender their lives for “the word of God and the witness they had borne,” but also saying that the unbelieving world will continue to violently hate believers to the point of killing them for the entire church age. For a martyr requires two willing parties: one person willing to surrender their life for Jesus, and another person willing to kill that person because of Jesus. For both parties, Jesus is the issue. For the martyr, their testimony for Jesus is more valuable than their physical life, and for the murderer, their hatred of Jesus is great enough to warrant killing another human being. That is profound.

SDG                 rmb                 4/4/2022                     #512

Satan’s ever-changing agenda (Revelation 12)

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

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

REVELATION 12 IS KEY

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

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

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

THE DRAGON’S MISSION HAS TWO STRATEGIES

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

PERSECUTING THE CHURCH IS ALLOWED

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

REVIEW AND MAIN POINT

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

SDG                 rmb                 03/31/2022                 # 510

Imprecation and Jesus – What did Jesus teach?

INTRODUCTION. Our study of the imprecatory psalms now shifts its focus to the New Testament as we seek to answer the question, “Now that Jesus Christ has come, and has lived and died and risen from the dead, and now that we are in the gospel age of ‘the favorable year of the Lord’ (Luke 4:19), are believers still allowed to call down curses on their enemies (“imprecate”) or to pray that the Lord would judge evil, wicked men?” This first part of our New Testament study will consider the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ and what He taught His disciples.

Several posts ago, we started a study of the imprecatory passages in the psalms, those verses where the psalmist calls upon the LORD to judge the wicked and to bring curses down upon the psalmist’s enemies. Those passages in the psalms seemed to give biblical justification for the believer likewise calling down curses on those who are guilty of monstrous evil today. “If the psalms contain imprecations against enemies and against the wicked, is it not permitted for the believer today to do the same thing?” Of course, if the Old Testament contained the last word on this subject, then the answer would be yes. But the Old Testament does not contain the last word on the subject, because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come, and Jesus has changed everything.

JESUS’ VIEW OF IMPRECATION

So, what do we see in the Lord’s teaching and in the Lord’s actions that informs our own attitude toward imprecation of our enemies or of evil men? Does the Lord Jesus teach His disciples to call for curses on their enemies? Does the Lord model for us an attitude of judgment of evil men? For if Jesus taught His disciples that cursing their enemies was allowed, and if He Himself retaliated against those who confronted and opposed Him, then the disciple has a basis for imprecation. But it is also possible that the King of kings teaches and models the very opposite. Thus, the need for this study.

METHOD OF STUDY. The material will be largely from the gospels. The first part of the study will focus on Jesus’ teaching (what He said) and the second part on His actions (what He did). The study passages are chosen because they give us information about Jesus and imprecation, whether pro or con. The Scripture reference for each passage will be given and then comments made with a verdict indicating our Lord’s view of Imprecation.

JESUS’ TEACHING AND WORDS

Matt. 5:38-48. “Do not resist an evil person. Whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (39). Note there is no imprecation or resistance in the face of mistreatment. “You have heard it said, ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (43-44). Jesus’ teaching in this passage leaves no room for imprecation since He expressly commands His disciples to love their enemies.

Luke 6:27-36. This passage in Luke parallels the above passage in Matthew. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (6:27-28). These two verses alone could conclude this study since they intentionally exclude any thought of imprecation. “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” (35a). Once again, the disciple of Jesus is commanded to love their enemies and to do good to others with no thought to how the other person is going to respond. Imprecation is excluded. “The Most High is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (35b). Jesus teaches us that God’s attitude toward “ungrateful and evil men” is kindness. This is certainly opposed to an attitude of cursing. And since God is kind toward evil men, it is incumbent on His children to be kind to their fellow human beings.

Matt. 6:14-15. According to Jesus, forgiving those who have transgressed against them is a mark of His disciples, and an attitude of unforgiveness indicates that the person is not a true believer. Now, it is obvious that forgiveness and imprecation are opposite actions, for no one can curse and at the same time forgive the same person. Since forgiving others is demanded of the believer, it necessarily means that imprecation is excluded.

Matt. 10:16-23. Jesus is teaching His disciples that they will experience opposition and persecution as they go out to proclaim His name. “sheep in the midst of wolves (16).” “they will scourge you in the synagogues (17).” “Brother will betray brother to death . . . they will cause you to be put to death (21).” “You will be hated by all because of My name (22).” “Whenever they persecute you (23).” These are the types of afflictions and suffering the disciples will experience as they go out to tell the world about Jesus. Yet in all this Jesus does not give them one word about how to fight back or to defend themselves or to avoid these afflictions. In the face of enemies and persecution and hatred, our Lord tells His disciples to endure to the end (22) and to flee to the next city (23), but there is not the slightest hint of any imprecation or retaliation against those who hate us and persecute us. Once again, we have strong evidence that imprecation is a thing of the past and is not available to the disciple of Jesus.

Matt. 12:20. Jesus is said to be fulfilling the words of Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 42:1-3). “A battered reed He will not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out.” The character of Jesus is diametrically opposed to the spirit of imprecation. He is “gentle and humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29) and feels compassion for the people (Matt. 9:36; 14:14).

Luke 9:54-55. Jesus is not received by the Samaritans because He was traveling toward Jerusalem, so James and John said to Him, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” In 2 Kings 1, Elijah twice calls down fire from heaven to consume the fifty soldiers sent to him. It is a display of God’s power and of His protection of His prophet. James and John want the same respect to be shone to Jesus, so they ask Jesus to give them permission to burn up the Samaritans. But, instead of destroying the Samaritans, Jesus rebukes His apostles and says, “The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” The picture is clear: Jesus has come to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10), not to curse the wicked. Again, there is no room for imprecation.

Matt. 21:33-39. In the telling of this parable, Jesus is clearly aware the chief priests and elders intend to kill Him, yet He does not lift a finger to stop them, nor does He threaten them, so there is no imprecation here.

Matt. 24:9, 13. Jesus is telling of the great tribulation that will come upon the church at the end of the age. “They will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name” (24:9). Jesus offers no defense tactics for the persecuted and He hints at no curses for the persecutors. As in Matthew 10, our Lord declares that “the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (24:13). Endurance, not imprecation, is the Lord’s charge to His disciples.

We have surveyed Jesus’ teaching in the gospels and have seen that, each time Jesus had an opportunity to imprecate his enemies and those who opposed Him, He chose not to retaliate or to offer any curses. Instead, both explicitly and implicitly, Jesus taught that the believer is to receive the hatred and persecution of the world as the expected cost of following Him and being His witness (Acts 1:8).

The next post will look at the supreme example of Jesus’ attitude toward imprecation as we examine His actions and words during His passion and crucifixion. In His crucifixion, the Son of God is subjected to the greatest injustice in human history and is condemned to death by His enemies. Does Jesus cry out to His Father for justice? Does He curse His enemies because of their wicked acts? Does He threaten these evil men with eternal judgment? We will see.

SDG                 rmb                 3/19/2022                   #505

Imprecatory psalms – A definition, then a look at Psalm 69

INTRODUCTION. In post #500 on March 8, I had begun a series of articles discussing the so-called “imprecatory psalms” in the Bible. There are a number of these passages in the psalms, and their purpose seems to be to ask the Lord to destroy the psalmist’s enemies. This post will consider specific imprecatory psalms and think about how the believer is to apply these passages.

In the last post about this topic, we had taken time to get the proper mindset for these imprecatory passages. While the Bible does give us these psalms as a means of calling upon the Lord for justice, the calling down of God’s curses and God’s vengeance upon someone is an exceptional act. This is done rarely in cases of unusual cruelty or when the injustice is blatant and heinous. A believer is usually to endure the evil in the world and to persevere through the evil using the ordinary means given to us in the Scriptures. So, the believer is not to call down heaven’s curses and woes on every personal enemy at the first sign of conflict but is rather to bear with the conflict and the difficulty while pressing on in obedience. There comes a time, however, when the injustice is too evil merely to be endured. The time has come for God to stop the evil and to stop the evildoer. “Rise up, O Judge of the earth. Render recompense to the proud” (Psalm 94:2). This is when the believer calls upon the Lord and imprecates the wicked.

DEFINITION

We need to establish a definition for what we mean by “imprecatory.” The Webster’s Dictionary definition for “imprecate” is “to call down evil upon” or “to curse.” When we are referring to imprecatory psalms (verses, really) in the Bible, we mean “when the believer calls upon God to render punishment on perpetrators of evil, cruelty, or destruction.” The evildoer’s crimes and cruelty can no longer go unpunished, but the one committing these heinous, sinful acts is too powerful to be restrained by human means. Therefore, the believer cries out to the Lord, the One who is all-powerful, to observe the shocking injustice and to stop or to destroy or to punish the wicked one.

THE IMPRECATORY PASSAGES

We have talked about these imprecatory passages long enough, and now it is time to take a look at some of them. As we look at these, I want to consider the context of the verses; that is, what prompts the psalmist’s cry to the Lord, as well as the content of the cry.

Two passages stand out as the most obvious of imprecatory psalms, Psalm 69 and 109.

Psalm 69:22-28

22 May their table before them become a snare;
And when they are in peace, may it become a trap.
23 May their eyes grow dim so that they cannot see,
And make their loins shake continually.
24 Pour out Your indignation on them,
And may Your burning anger overtake them.
25 May their camp be desolate;
May none dwell in their tents.
26 For they have persecuted him whom You Yourself have smitten,
And they tell of the pain of those whom You have wounded.
27 Add iniquity to their iniquity,
And may they not come into Your righteousness.
28 May they be blotted out of the book of life
And may they not be recorded with the righteous.

CONTEXT. In this psalm of David, the author is lamenting his oppression by his enemies. The literal context, then, is one of distress from attack and affliction by David’s enemies, and David is pouring out his complaint before the Lord and asking for His intercession.

But this psalm is much deeper than that. This is an overtly Messianic psalm and is about the suffering of the Lord Jesus during His passion in Gethsemane and then His agony on the cross. The foreshadows of Calvary are obvious, for in this psalm we can hear the groans of our Savior as He prepared to bear the wrath of God on our behalf. The psalmist prophetically laments the greatest injustice in human history as by Jesus’ wounds we are healed.  

But there is even more than that because this psalm is also about the persecuted church that, as the body of Christ, suffers the world’s hatred as the witnesses of Christ on the earth. Faithful believers are “hated without cause” (69:4; John 15:25). They are reproached for Jesus’ sake (“reproach” – 69:7, 9, 10, 19, 20). Dishonor, pain, shame, distress, and affliction (“afflicted”) are the words of the psalmist, again picturing the suffering church as they endure the reviling of the world. So, the context of the psalm is suffering, and the lamentations of Christ and then of His church as they fill up His sufferings (Colossians 1:24).

Although these sufferings are God-ordained, they are, nevertheless, evil and deserve to be punished by God. These are wicked acts of injustice, and they demand a just recompense. Therefore, the psalmist calls on the LORD to act and to punish the wicked NOW.

CONTENT. David calls on the LORD to bring specific curses on these wicked men. First, he asks for physical punishment. Let their food be poison and let all peace be taken from them (22). Cause them to go blind and make their legs lose their strength and shake (23). “God, pour out Your indignation and anger upon them for their evil (24).” Let there be strife in their house and may they have no children (25). In the midst of the imprecation, the psalmist speaks explicitly of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 (~300 years before Isaiah wrote his prophecy) and reminds the LORD of the crimes of the wicked (26). The curses conclude with spiritual, condemnatory judgments upon these evil men. May their iniquities be multiplied and never forgiven (27) and may they be blotted out of the book of life (Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 20:15) so that they will never be recorded as righteous. The effect of David’s imprecation is to ask the LORD to condemn these evil men to eternal punishment.

APPLICATION. The psalms are given to us as poetic theology and describe for the believer how they can speak to and pray to their God. How, then, is the believer to apply this psalm? It seems to me that the nature of Psalm 69 limits its application to those situations where the believer, as a member of the body of Christ, is suffering or enduring affliction because they are a follower of Jesus. In other words, the injustice being experienced comes only because a person identifies with Jesus. (See Matt. 5:10-12; 10:16-22; 24:9; John 15:18-21; 1 Pet. 4:12-14, 16, 19.) So, the believer would turn to this psalm when they are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus. Then the believer would cry out with the psalmist for justice from the Lord. Persecution of the righteous is still wrong, and it is still appropriate to cry out to the Lord that He would bring justice to His people and recompence to the evildoer.

But also, the suffering believer would pray through this psalm for perseverance through the suffering, that he would endure as his Savior endured His hour of suffering. The believer would remember that the Lord has ordained all things and that his attitude should be, “Not my will, but Your will be done,” whatever that will is.

Psalm 69 would encourage the believer that part of the calling to Jesus is a call to suffer for His name (Acts 5:41; Phil. 1:29-30). The psalm, then, reminds the believer of the privilege it is to suffer for Jesus’ name and, therefore, to suffer well, to suffer as a Christian should suffer.

ONE QUESTION. One of the issues with these imprecatory psalms, these passages that invoke cursing upon the evildoer, is that they seem to conflict with specific teaching in the New Testament about how the believer is to view their enemies. This is the topic that I want to address in the next post.

SDG                 rmb                 3/14/2022                   #502

Imprecatory psalms – How is the believer to view these?

INTRODUCTION. This post begins a series of articles focused on the so-called “imprecatory psalms” in the Bible. There are a number of these passages in the psalms, and their purpose seems to be to ask the Lord to destroy the psalmist’s enemies. This series considers these imprecatory passages and how the believer should view them.

What is the believer to do when evil men commit crimes of vicious injustice and are not punished? How is the believer to respond when lawless tyrants murder and destroy the innocent with impunity? Does the believer have a clear, biblical recourse when evil rises to heinous and atrocious levels? What does the Bible say?

In our world today, atrocities, injustice and wickedness are commonplace, and events that would have shocked us as unthinkable ten years ago fail to make the news because of more spectacular evil. What does the Bible have to say about how the disciple of Jesus should respond to this kind of injustice?

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

There are a number of things that we know from the Scriptures about this situation.

  1. We know that in every situation, God is sovereignly in control. Whether or not we understand or agree with the direction of human events is not of primary importance for the believer. “God is sovereign” is primary. Since my God is in control and since God “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11), and since “God causes all things to work together for good” for me (Romans 8:28), then I am willing to trust Him and persevere with endurance. “God is our refuge and strength; therefore, we will not fear” (Psalm 46:1).
  2. God alone is the perfect Judge. God is never partial or biased and He always acts with complete justice, having perfect knowledge of all the details of every situation. As Judge, God also knows exactly what His desired outcome is from a given situation. By contrast, our knowledge is always incomplete (sometimes glaringly so), our understanding of justice is flawed, and our knowledge of God’s intended outcome is nonexistent. Therefore, the believer is to leave all judgment of the offender in the Lord’s hands.
  3. The Bible is also clear that the believer is not permitted to retaliate against a wrong done to them, nor are they permitted to take revenge. There are too many verses that speak to this truth to quote them all, but we will look at several to get a feel for the Bible’s teaching.
    1. Our greatest example is Jesus. When He was teaching, He told the disciples, “Whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:39). Then, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (5:44). After teaching these things to His disciples, Jesus did these things during His passion. To fulfill Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth.” He suffered without fighting back and without seeking revenge upon His executioners or His betrayers. As Peter says about Jesus, “While being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). The things that Jesus taught were the things that Jesus did, even when suffering the greatest injustice in the history of the world. And we are “to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
    1. David’s attitude toward Saul when the king was hunting David and seeking to kill him was, “The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’s anointed” (1 Samuel 26:11) and “I refused to stretch out my hand against the LORD’s anointed” (26:23). David refused to kill Saul because he did not have the authority to do that.
    1. In Romans 12, Paul gives us several principles for how we relate to our enemies and those who oppose us. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (12:14). “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone” (12:17). “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God” (12:19). The message: the believer is not permitted to act personally against enemies, even against those who are trying to kill him.
  4. At the end of the age, the Lord will certainly punish the unrighteous by throwing them into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15) where “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10, the description of the punishment of Satan). This makes clear that, although the wicked may appear to delay justice, there is never a situation where the wicked will escape justice. The Lord will certainly bring a just recompense on all the unrighteous at the end of the age and onward into eternity.

THAT’S THEN, BUT WHAT ABOUT NOW?

Okay, so that is all well and good, and I am convinced that “the Judge of all the earth shall do justice” (Genesis 18:25). I am willing to yield to Him who works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). Yes, God is perfectly sovereign, and I am not, and I trust that He will punish the unrighteous eternally at the end of the age. But here is my question: “What about now in this life?” Is there nothing the believer is permitted to do now in the face of gross injustice except trust the Lord and endure? Are our spiritual hands basically tied?

No. Our spiritual hands are not tied. The Lord has given us a Bible-sanctioned means for crying out to Him to bring justice in this age through the “imprecatory psalms.” So, having given some background, next time we will explore more about these psalms that allow us to cry out to the Lord for justice. “How long, O Lord?”

SDG                 rmb                 3/8/2022                     #500