The end-times in four verses (Isaiah 26:19-27:1)

The prophet Isaiah lived about 700 years before the birth of Jesus, and yet the book of his prophecy contains some of the most remarkable predictions and foreshadows of the Messiah’s first and second advents found in the Old Testament. The accuracy of Isaiah’s prophecy about the events of Jesus’ Incarnation are well-known to most Christians, including predictions of Jesus’ virgin birth, His ministry in Galilee, and His work of atonement to take away sins by His death on the cross. What is not as well-known is that Isaiah also had a lot in his prophecy about Jesus’ Second Coming when He returns in power and glory at the end of the age. This article is about one of Isaiah’s end-times passages.

In one short section of four consecutive verses, Isaiah writes about four key events that will occur at the end of the age. In Isaiah 26:19-27:1, the prophet leaps over thousands of years of human history to tell us about the resurrection, the great tribulation, the return of the LORD, and the judgment of Satan, one major event per verse. And what Isaiah wrote in 700 BC agrees with what other biblical writers have penned since. The Holy Spirit inspired Isaiah to write of future events, and Ezekiel and Daniel and Zephaniah and Jesus Himself and John and Paul and others have confirmed the prophecies Isaiah wrote.

ISAIAH 26:19 – THE RESURRECTION

In this verse, Isaiah gives a crystal-clear prophecy of the general resurrection.

19 Your dead will live;
Their corpses will rise.
You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy,
For your dew is as the dew of the dawn,
And the earth will give birth to the departed spirits.

   At the end of the age, the dead will live, and their corpses will rise out of the dust. The tomb will become a womb. This is the resurrection, when “those who are Christ’s at His coming (Parousia) (1 Cor. 15:23)” will be made alive. This is what Ezekiel described in the valley of dry bones, when bone came to its bone and sinews were on them, and flesh grew and skin, and “breath came into them and they stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army (Ezek 37:7-10). Daniel prophesied that “many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life (Daniel 12:2).” Jesus talked about this event in John 5:28-29: “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and will come forth.” In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul tells of the resurrection when he writes, “The last trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed (15:52).” In 1 Thess. 4:16-17, Paul gives the most complete description of the resurrection: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” So, Isaiah writes first of the resurrection.

            At the end of the age, the dead will live, and their corpses will rise out of the dust. The tomb will become a womb. This is the resurrection, when “those who are Christ’s at His coming (Parousia) (1 Cor. 15:23)” will be made alive. This is what Ezekiel described in the valley of dry bones, when bone came to its bone and sinews were on them, and flesh grew and skin, and “breath came into them and they stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army (Ezek 37:7-10). Daniel prophesied that “many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life (Daniel 12:2).” Jesus talked about this event in John 5:28-29: “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and will come forth.” In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul tells of the resurrection when he writes, “The last trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed (15:52).” In 1 Thess. 4:16-17, Paul gives the most complete description of the resurrection: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” So, Isaiah writes first of the resurrection.

           

ISAIAH 26:20 – THE TRIBULATION

Now Isaiah tells of a time of tribulation when the people of God are forced to hide until the conflict passes.

20 Come, my people, enter your rooms
And close your doors behind you;
Hide for a little while
Until indignation runs its course.

God’s people are urged to “enter your rooms and close the doors behind them.” Outside is some great “indignation” that is threatening them and, to avoid being annihilated, they must “hide for a little while.” This is describing the time of the great tribulation, which Jesus mentioned in Matthew 24:21-22, when the church is severely persecuted, and the best course of action is to retreat into hiding. This is also what John is describing in Revelation 12:6, when “the woman” (the faithful church) “fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God to be nourished for 1,260 days.” The exact event is described again in Revelation 12:14 where “the woman could fly into the wilderness to her place where she was nourished for time and times and half a time, from the face of the serpent.” The church will hide in the wilderness until they are rescued by the returning Jesus Christ. So, we see that Isaiah also wrote about the great tribulation.

ISAIAH 26:21 – THE RETURN OF THE LORD

21 For behold, the Lord is about to come out from His place
To punish the inhabitants of the earth for their wrongdoing;
And the earth will reveal her bloodshed
And will no longer cover her slain.

Now Isaiah tells us about the terrifying day of the LORD when He will “punish the inhabitants of the earth for their wrongdoing.” This is a day of wrath and judgment, a day of thick darkness. The prophets and the Lord Jesus in His Incarnation and the church through her preachers and prophets have been warning of this day for thousands of years, but usually men refuse to hear and refuse to heed and refuse to repent. (See Revelation 9:20-21.) Now the day has come, and there is no room for repentance. The prophet Zephaniah warned of this day: “A day of wrath is that day, a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and battle cry (Zephaniah 1:15-16).” Paul wrote of that day in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 “when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” Revelation 19:15 presents an awesome image of the returning Christ: “From His mouth comes a sharp sword so that He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.” And Isaiah wrote of this day 700 years before Christ.

ISAIAH 27:1 – THE JUDGMENT OF SATAN

21 On that day the LORD will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent,
With His fierce and great and mighty sword,
Even Leviathan the twisted serpent;
And He will kill the dragon who lives in the sea.

Finally, Isaiah’s prophecy reaches all the way to the end of history at the end of the last day as Satan himself is being judged. “The LORD will punish Leviathan.” And who is Leviathan? He is “the fleeing serpent” and “the twisted serpent.” Does Scripture tell us of any serpents? There was a serpent in the Garden who tempted Eve. In Revelation we read that “the serpent of old, the dragon, who is the devil and Satan (20:2; also, in 12:9).” “The fleeing serpent” and “the twisted serpent” are none other than Satan. Isaiah also tells us of “the dragon who lives in the sea.” And who is the dragon? From the same verses in Revelation, we see that the great dragon is another alias for Satan. Satan is the serpent, he is the dragon, he is Leviathan. From Isaiah 27:1, “On that day, the LORD will kill the dragon who lives in the sea.” In Revelation 20:10, we read almost the same thing from the pen of the apostle John: “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone to be tormented day and night forever and ever.” And so, just as Isaiah prophesied, so it will be on that day, the day of the LORD.

In this remarkable passage, in four verses the prophet Isaiah gives us sure prophecies of four events that will occur at the end of the days.

SDG                 rmb                 3/22/2021

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

Our suffering as accomplishment (1 Peter 5:9)

“But resist him (the devil), firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.” – 1 Peter 5:9 (NASB)

            Christ has suffered, and so His body, the church, is also called to suffer. Paul’s goal is to know “the fellowship (“koinonia” in Greek) of Christ’s sufferings (Philippians 3:10).” It may correctly be said that to be a Christian is to anticipate suffering for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:10-12). The apostle Peter mentions in his first epistle that Christ suffered and left us an example to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21). As Christ has suffered, so we will suffer as witnesses to Him. Jesus said, “And you shall be My witnesses (Acts 1:8),” and the Greek word for witnesses is the word “martyr.” So, we are certainly to anticipate suffering for the name of Jesus. But while it is true that Christ suffered in the flesh (1 Peter 3:18; 4:1) and that the church also suffers, there is a profound difference between these two experiences of suffering.

            Christ has suffered in the flesh and has perfectly accomplished the work the Father gave Him to do. In John 17:4, Jesus said, “I glorified You (the Father) on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.” What work did He accomplish? Jesus accomplished the work of atonement. That was the reason Jesus was sent to the earth, to accomplish the work of atonement, a work that He alone could accomplish. To accomplish this work, Christ had to endure the full fury of the wrath of God against all the sins of all His people of all time. Thus, Christ suffered as a means of accomplishing His work. Accomplishing His work involved suffering, but His work was not the suffering itself. How much suffering was Christ required to endure? Exactly the amount of suffering needed to propitiate the wrath of God against His people’s sins.

            Then, when God had poured out all His wrath on Christ, Christ’s work was done. Therefore, Jesus could cry out, “Tetelestai!” “It is finished (John 19:30)!” Three hours of suffering the full wrath of God had been endured and His work was accomplished. Once Jesus’ work of atonement was accomplished, His life could be yielded up (John 19:30; Luke 23:46; Matthew 27:50), because the purpose of His life was fulfilled, and now He needed to die.

            We have already said, “Since Christ suffered, so we will also suffer,” but for Christ’s body, the church, our suffering is central, not incidental. That is, there is an amount of suffering that the body of Christ must accomplish. Note what Peter says in 1 Peter 5:9: “the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.” The verse says that the suffering is the work being accomplished. God has ordained that the body of Christ must suffer as an end and not merely as a means to some other end. As we have seen above, Christ’s suffering was the means necessary to accomplish His work of atonement, but the church’s suffering is the work to be accomplished.

            The New Testament has much to say about suffering for the name of Jesus Christ, but there is also an underlying theme in the New Testament suggesting that there is a predetermined amount of suffering which the church must “accomplish” to fulfill her purpose of witnessing. Consider these verses.

  • “Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered’ (Romans 8:36).” As the sheep were sacrificed routinely and anonymously, so the church suffers continually and without glory to give testimony to the worth of Christ.
  • “Now I rejoice (!) in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Colossians 1:24).” Notice that Paul’s sufferings are on behalf of the church and that they are “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” This thought is consistent with the idea that the purpose of the church is to witness to Christ through suffering.
  • We have already looked at 1 Peter 5:9, “the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.”
  • Underneath the altar were the souls of those who had been slain (for Jesus), and they cried out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood?” They were told to rest a little while longer until the number of their fellow servants who were to be killed even as they had been would be completed also (Revelation 6:9-11). The clear message from this passage is that God has determined a set number of martyrs who must be killed to complete the testimony of the church.

The church is called to be a witness to the risen Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8). This is one of the purposes of the church, and the collective suffering of the entire church is accomplishing this part of the church’s purpose. Thus, it may be said that a suffering church is an accomplishing church.                         

SDG                rmb                 1/20/2021

Do we seek suffering? – Part 2 (Philippians 3:10)

“that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings.” – the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:10

It seems that the statement is made at some point in conversations about suffering, especially among American Christians. It is usually well intended and sounds like an appropriate thing to say in response to affliction for the name of Jesus. “Well, of course, the Christian is not called to seek out suffering. . .” But the more I think about that statement, the more uncomfortable I become. Is that true? Are we not to seek suffering? And if that is the case, then why do so many of my heroes in the Bible and so many Christians in history suffer for their faith? Is it normal to be a serious Christian and not suffer for my faith? And what do I do if God is calling me to a course of action that almost certainly includes suffering to some degree?

            Because of the importance of the topic of suffering for the believer, I am going to spend several posts exploring what I see to be problems with the statement, “Of course, the Christian is not called to seek out suffering.” The goal is to arrive at a solid perspective on suffering that makes me more useful to Jesus.

            Problem #1 (January 5) dealt with the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ effectively sought out His own suffering as the necessary means for accomplishing His mission of redemption and atonement. Since Jesus sought suffering, it seems hard to imagine that we do not. In this post we will look at Problem #2.

“Well, of course, the Christian is not called to seek out suffering . . .”

PROBLEM #2

            “That’s really a trivial statement.”

Upon examination, we realize that the declaration above (“Of course, we do not seek suffering”) is somewhat trivial. What I mean is this: Of course, Christians do not seek out suffering! No one in their right mind seeks out suffering as an end in itself, so saying that the Christian is not called to seek suffering is just stating the obvious. Jesus did not call His disciples to seek suffering for suffering’s sake, but He did call us to follow Him wherever He leads regardless of any real or imagined consequences. The consequences of my obedience are the Lord’s responsibility. He determines those, and one of those potential consequences may be suffering. Another consequence could be my physical death. As a disciple of Jesus, I choose to obey regardless. The duty of obedience is my responsibility. I obey because obedience to my Master is my highest aim. I long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

When viewed in this light, the possibility of suffering is irrelevant. It is beside the point. Suffering is just one of the potential consequences of my obedience to the Lord. Why focus on one potential consequence instead of focusing on the goal or the prize of my obedience (Philippians 3:14)? Why highlight this one possible personal consequence instead of bringing all glory to Christ and focusing all my energy on proclaiming the gospel? Why think about a consequence of obedience that might cause me to shrink back from God’s appointed path (Hebrews 10:38-39), instead of running with endurance the race before me and fixing my eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2), which will spur me on?

The bottom line is that the disciple of Jesus does not seek out a path just because it offers an opportunity to suffer, but neither does the disciple of Jesus shrink back from any God-appointed path that requires personal suffering. Suffering is not sought, nor is it required, but neither is it ever avoided.

SDG                 rmb                 1/9/2021

Do we seek suffering? – Part 1 (Phil. 3:10)

            It seems that the statement is made at some point in most conversations about suffering, especially among American Christians. It is usually well intended and sounds like an appropriate thing to say in response to suffering for the name of Jesus. “Well, of course, the Christian is not called to seek suffering. . .” But the more I think about that statement, the more uncomfortable I become. Is that true? Are we not to seek suffering? And if that is the case, then why do so many of my heroes in the Bible and in history suffer for their faith? Why does the Bible have so much to say about suffering if my experience of the Christian life can safely avoid it? Is it normal to be a serious Christian and not suffer? And what do I do if God is calling me to a course that will almost certainly result in my suffering to some degree?

            Because of these questions and because of the importance of the topic of suffering, I am going to spend the next several posts exploring what I see to be problems with this statement. The goal is to arrive at a solid perspective on suffering that makes me more useful to Jesus.

“Well, of course, the Christian is not called to seek out suffering . . .”

PROBLEM #1

“Can you support that statement with Scripture?”

The first reaction to this statement may be to agree with it and let the conversation move on, but as discerning followers of Jesus, we must respond to these types of statements with at least a small challenge.

“That’s an interesting idea. Can you support that statement with Scripture?” Scripture is the place where all disciples of Jesus find a common foundation. Does a given theological position, or a faith practice find solid support in the word of God?

When I think about the fact that Jesus Christ was acutely aware of His appointed suffering on the cross from the beginning of His ministry and had, in fact, been sent to earth for the express purpose of suffering and dying on the cross, I seriously wonder if I can support the statement above. My entire salvation depends upon Jesus seeking suffering. Jesus’ mission could only be accomplished if He suffered and died on the cross. Where does the Lord Jesus tell His disciples that they are not to seek out suffering? Chapter and verse, please.

What about Paul? Paul intentionally did things that provoked persecution and inevitably resulted in his suffering. In Philippi he cast out a demon that ended the merchants’ revenue with the slave girl. He must have known that this was going to result in his being punished and his suffering.

Paul continued his way to Jerusalem knowing that conflict awaited him there (Acts 20-21). His own people pleaded with him to turn back and to change his plans, but Paul steadfastly refused even though he knew that he would suffer. Would Paul agree with the statement that the Christian does not seek out suffering?

And then there is Peter. Peter was warned repeatedly that, if he continued with his preaching about Jesus in Jerusalem, he was going to be severely punished (Acts 4-5), and yet he never even slowed down. If the Jewish or Roman authorities needed to punish someone for preaching about Jesus, Peter was not hard to find. Also, his first epistle has as its central theme the perseverance of the believer in the face of suffering for Christ. Would Peter say that the believer does not seek suffering?

            In the Old Testament, evil kings and false prophets warned the true prophets that, if they did not silence their prophecy or change their message, they would be punished, and the true prophets remained true to the message the LORD had given them to proclaim. For example, more than once, Jeremiah suffered for the message that he preached, but he would rather be punished with the stripes of men than fail to obey the LORD and deliver His message.

            So, while these heroes from Scripture may not have sought suffering, the prospect of suffering was not a factor in their decision-making. They sought to be obedient to the LORD, regardless. That is the view that the Scripture supports.

SDG rmb 1/5/2021

But let’s take a step back for a minute. Maybe the problem with the statement is the statement itself. That is, maybe we are saying what we mean in a clumsy way. My next post will explore that possibility in PROBLEM #2. rmb

The godly will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12)

In his last letter, the letter of 2 Timothy, the apostle Paul is writing to his beloved disciple Timothy his last words about life and ministry. Every verse of this epistle feels the weight of Paul’s urgency and sincerity. There are no words to waste and there is no time to lose. “The executioner awaits, so consider what I say.”

Perhaps the most prominent theme in this letter is the theme of standing firm in the face of opposition and suffering. Paul wants there to be no doubt in Timothy’s mind that, as he presses on in the gospel ministry, there will be pain involved. “Join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God (2 Timothy 1:8).” Paul repeatedly calls Timothy, and by obvious implication, calls all believers to suffer for the cause of the gospel. Toward the end of the main exhortations of the epistle, Paul makes a challenging statement:

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

I want to think about this verse for a moment. I am troubled by this verse, not because it talks about persecution, but because it requires persecution. Paul does not give a warning or admonition that applies only to pastors in hostile countries. He does not declare a fact that only affects a handful of missionaries who sail in uncharted gospel waters. Instead, Paul makes a statement that applies to ALL people in a particular group. “Those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus” is the group he has in mind. That includes me, and I suspect it includes you. Now comes the troubling part. All people in that group will be persecuted. But I am not being persecuted. Why am I not being persecuted?

One possible reason that I am not being persecuted is that I think I meet the conditions, when in fact I do not. That is, I think I live godly in Christ Jesus, but I am really kidding myself. I am just pretending. I am playing games. I do not believe that to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). I am not presenting my body as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). I am not striving to be holy, as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16). I should be nervous if everyone in my spheres of influence, including pagans and the overtly ungodly, speak well of me and are comfortable hanging around with me. If I am not living godly in Christ Jesus, then I will not be persecuted. Satan does not waste his ammunition. Examine yourself (2 Cor. 13:5)! Make an honest assessment and repent if you are being lukewarm or timid or are shrinking back. Ask the Lord to give your faith a fire that merits persecution.

Another possibility is that I am misunderstanding persecution. It could be that I am experiencing persecution, but I do not notice it because my definition of persecution is inaccurate. For example, if I consider only martyrdom or imprisonment to qualify as persecution, then I will miss the more subtle forms of persecution like social rejection, job discrimination, ridicule, being shunned or avoided by others, and things like these. Be alert for more subtle kinds of persecution.

There is a third possibility, and that is that Paul is speaking in hyperbole. What I mean is that Paul is using the word all in the sense that every single disciple of Christ is willing to accept persecution as part of the price to follow Christ. We must accept that being persecuted is normal for the Christian and that others will reject me and hate me solely because I am a Christian.

“Persecution is one of the marks of a converted man.” – J. C. Ryle

SDG                 rmb                 1/4/2021

To fulfill the Scriptures: Thoughts on Christ’s advents

“How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled? But all this has taken place to fulfill the Scriptures of the prophets (Matthew 26:54, 56).”

            When Jesus was being “betrayed into the hands of sinners (Matthew 26:45),” His disciples attempted to defend Him so that His arrest would not happen. But Jesus told them to put their sword back into its place and consciously allowed Himself to be taken away. Why did He do that? This was done because the Scriptures, written centuries before, must be fulfilled. Not the smallest letter or stroke could pass from the prophecies about His passion and His crucifixion until all was accomplished (Matthew 5:18). In a sense, Jesus was not free to conduct His arrest and crucifixion any way He wanted, because these events had already been scripted in the Law and the Prophets, and the Scriptures must be fulfilled. To know the events that lay before Jesus as He gave His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28) we would need only to carefully study the pages of the Old Testament to see what the prophets had written.

            The point that I am making is that the Scriptures, as the Word of God, will certainly be fulfilled. Every prophecy about the Lord Jesus will be accomplished because these prophecies have been etched forever in God’s Word and are, therefore, manifestations of God’s truth. This has direct bearing on our understanding of Christ’s first advent and especially on His second advent.

AS THE FIRST ADVENT, SO THE SECOND COMING

            As all the Scriptures’ prophecies about Christ’s first advent were fulfilled by the Lord Jesus in the events and circumstances of His earthly life, from His conception to His birth to His earthly ministry to His suffering and crucifixion to His death and resurrection and to His ascension into heaven, so all the prophecies about His Second Coming must necessarily be fulfilled before He will return.

            God’s prophets and His faithful people carefully examined the Scriptures to anticipate Christ’s first advent (1 Peter 1:10-12; Simeon in Luke 2:25-35; Anna in Luke 2:36-38). In the same way, Christ’s people rightly examine the Scriptures to anticipate His Second Coming and to wait eagerly for His return (Hebrews 9:28), when He comes to judge the earth (Psalm 96:13; 98:9) and to bring all His people to heaven.

            In this way, we can get a right perspective on the study of “eschatology,” also known as “last things” or “end times.” It is for the purpose of anticipating our Lord’s glorious coming and for the goal of increasing our eagerness that we carefully study the prophecies of the end-times that God has placed in His Scriptures. As we eagerly anticipate Christ’s coming, our strength to persevere is increased. The prophecies of the time before our Lord’s return include severe testing of the church through persecution and trial. A hope that is fixed on heaven and an eager anticipation of our soon-coming King will hold our feet firmly on the Rock.

            In Matthew 24, it is clear that the Lord Jesus expected His disciples to look forward to His return. He tells them of the events of the distant future (“Behold, I have told you in advance.” v. 25) so that they will know that He is the one who will bring these things to pass, and He tells them, “When you see all these things, recognize that He (the Son of Man) is near, right at the door (v. 33).” It seems to me that Jesus wanted us to be excited about His return, and He put all sorts of prophecies into His Word so that we would have a reason to get excited.

            The Lord has given us His Word, the Bible, so that we would know all He has chosen to reveal to us about the future and about the return of our glorious King. All the prophecies concerning Jesus’ return are “the things which must soon take place (Revelation 1:1).” All the Scriptures about our Lord’s coming will certainly be fulfilled, and when we see all these things, we know that He is right at the door. We therefore study the prophecies of the end-times to glorify God and to strengthen our resolve to persevere.

SDG                 rmb                 12/22/2020

Religions hate the Bible

My most recent post was about THE distinguishing mark of “religions,” where I argued that the common trait of all false religions was that they could function and continue to exist if Jesus Christ had never existed. This is true because religions are invented by Satan to prevent people from encountering Jesus Christ and thus being saved.

While intentionally obscuring the Lord Jesus is THE distinguishing mark of religions, another distinction of all religions is that they hate the Bible and therefore do everything in their power to prevent people from reading the Bible, which is the word of the living God.

SATAN’S ATTACK ON THE WORD OF GOD

            We first meet Satan in Genesis 3, where he appears in the Garden as a serpent. The very first thing that the serpent asks Eve is, “Has God said . . ?” As the father of lies (John 8:44), since the beginning Satan has been calling into question the truth of the word of God, and in the Garden his temptation resulted in sin and the fall of man.

            And since Satan hates the word of God, so the false religions he invents hate the word of God, as well. False prophets and false teachers are the primary means that religions use to attack the word of God. Thus, the Bible contains many warnings about false prophets. In Deuteronomy 13:1-5 we read how false prophets lead astray the unsuspecting. In Jeremiah 23, the whole chapter is devoted to warning about false prophets and the judgment that will fall on them. Jesus’ most excoriating words were reserved for the scribes and Pharisees because their teaching distorted the Word of God (Matthew 23). The book of Jude is essentially devoted to a warning about false teachers. To say it again, religions hate the Bible and their first line of attack of the Bible is through false prophets.

THE WORD OF GOD, THE BIBLE, HAS ALWAYS BEEN ATTACKED

            The Bible as the word of God has always been a target of attack for Satan and his false religions. We have already seen that, in Genesis 3, the serpent asked, “Has God said?” In Jeremiah 36:20-26 we read how King Jehoiakim slowly burned the scroll of Jeremiah by cutting it off the scroll and throwing it into the brazier. Ever since it was written, the Bible has been attacked by religions. The Bible has been destroyed by burning and shredding and being outlawed, the Bible has been distorted by twisting its meaning and intentionally misreading and misinterpreting it, and the Bible has been denounced by claims that the stories are myths, and the truths are mere opinions or outright lies.

            False religions have hunted down people who read or preached the Bible to persecute them and kill them. William Tyndale was pursued and tracked down and finally burned at the stake simply because he translated the Bible into the English language. Religions forbid owning or reading Bibles and they kill those who defy their prohibitions. There are 52 countries on the planet today where it is illegal to own a Bible, with varying degrees of penalties.

            Finally, there are several religions which have their own sacred books which are written in an attempt to destroy the uniqueness of the Bible. “You have your holy book, but we have our holy book, too, and your book is no different from ours.” These books are clumsily written musings from one author and are obviously of man-made origin, but they are passed off as being profound. The purpose of these books must be clearly understood. Their purpose is to obscure the Bible, to malign the Bible, to reduce the Bible to the mere musings of an ancient people with no relevance for today, to make sure that no one takes the Bible seriously and thus comes to faith in the Lord Jesus. It is evident, then, that religions hate the Bible.

WHY DO RELIGIONS HATE THE BIBLE?

            We have touched on this already, but we need to answer the question, “Why do religions hate the Bible?” In other words, what is it about the Bible that religions want to silence or leave unknown? Here are some of the reasons that occur to me:

  • Because the Bible is the truth (John 17:17 – “Your Word is truth.”) and Satan and his religions hate the truth.
  • Satan and his religions are liars (John 8:44 – “He (Satan) is the father of lies.”) and are opposed to the truth and love lies (see above).
  • The Bible tells the truth, and the truth sets us free (John 8:32). Religions do not want you to be set free from sin or to be set free from the chains of their religion.
  • The Bible exposes the darkness and people love the darkness of their sin (John 3:19-21; Ephesians 5:12-13). Religions are okay with darkness and allow all kinds of sin, and do not want you to know about the darkness and the Light.
  • The Bible shows us how to be saved from our sins (2 Timothy 3:15).
  • The Bible is the book that tells people about the living God, about the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, about sin and the consequences of sin, about the coming judgment, about the wrath of God, about heaven and hell, about salvation, and about the gospel that declares that through faith in Jesus Christ and belief in His death and resurrection as the means of my salvation, any sinner can be forgiven of their sins and reconciled to God forever. Religions do not want you to know any of these things and they, therefore, do everything in their power to prevent you from reading the Bible and discovering these truths.

APPLICATIONS

            This post and the previous post are intended to keep us alert for the encroachment of false religions, especially as our age becomes more confusing and godless. Jesus warned us to be alert for false prophets (Matthew 7:15-23) and told us that, at the end of the age, false prophets and false Christs will arise and will almost mislead the elect (Matthew 24:24). False prophets are the ministers of false religions whose intent is to obscure Christ and lead people into the broad way of destruction. So, we need to be alert to these things and run away from any so-called church or group that does not love the Bible and the Savior whom the Bible reveals.

            Most importantly, we as believers need to be people of the Bible. At least for now, in America we continue to have the privilege of being able to read our Bibles anywhere and anytime we choose. Many Christians in the world, both today and in the past, have not had this privilege. We must be good stewards of our Bibles and diligently read and memorize them, and we must proclaim the truths of the Bible to others so that God may be glorified.

“For You have exalted above all things Your name and Your Word (Psalm 138:3).”     

SDG                 rmb                 12/21/2020

The Blessings of Persecution (Matthew 5:10-16)

SUMMARY:

            In Matthew 5:10-16, Jesus declares that those who are persecuted for righteousness and for His name will be blessed. How is the disciple of Jesus to understand these words or how to live in light of them? Jesus also makes clear that our response to potential persecution is not to shrink back and be silent but is to live a distinct life that boldly displays our identification with Him as salt and light in a rotten and dark world.

RECRUITING METHODS

            When a would-be leader is first developing a following, the leader typically recruits followers by emphasizing the benefits to those who join the team and by ignoring or downplaying the costs or the challenges involved in the leader’s vision or agenda. “Get on board with my campaign,” they say, “and I will make you prosperous and your life good, and it will cost you very little.”

            How odd it is, then, when we hear Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 and hear Him teach about what His disciples can expect if they choose to follow Him. I wonder if you have ever considered the cost of His call and realized how counter-productive should have been His recruiting methods.

CALLED TO EMBRACE PERSECUTION

            For the disciple of Jesus, persecution is part of the job description. It is mentioned right along with hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Persecution is not a hidden clause in the small print, but is in the main body of the contract, near the top, in large print.

            Notice that you should expect persecution “for righteousness’ sake (5:10).” Think about this. Why should a person experience persecution because they strive to live a righteous life? But Jesus said it would be so and it has certainly proven to be the case. “The wicked spies upon the righteous and seeks to kill him (Psalm 37:28).”

            Notice also that you should expect that “others will revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of Jesus (5:11).” In other words, because you publicly identify with Jesus, you should expect to be persecuted.

            Some may confuse suffering with persecution, thinking that they are pretty much the same thing. Not so. Suffering is different from persecution. It would be easy to sign up for suffering, because suffering has been guaranteed to all people since the fall of man and the introduction of sin into the world. All people will suffer to some degree. After all, “Man is born for trouble as the sparks fly upward (Job 5:7).” Suffering comes upon us despite all we do to avoid it. It is a part of the human condition that almost no one can escape.

            Persecution is not like that. Persecution for righteousness’ sake (5:10) and for Jesus’ sake (5:11) is entered into voluntarily, based on our commitment to Jesus as Lord. Persecution is avoidable. Be like the world in your behavior and be silent about Jesus and you will avoid persecution. Persecution for Jesus’ sake comes upon His disciples because they willingly choose to do those things that could produce persecution. Persecution occurs when those who hate Jesus can identify and harm those who visibly and publicly love Jesus.

            The prospect of persecution is loathsome to the human soul. All humans naturally recoil from the idea of persecution. There is a natural fear and dread that comes with being hated and harmed and possibly imprisoned or killed, simply because you strive to live a holy life and tell people how to go to heaven when they die.

            But despite this natural revulsion from persecution, Jesus calls His followers to expect it and to “Rejoice and be glad” in the midst of it (5:12). Why? Because “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and because “your reward in heaven is great.”

IS THERE A LOOPHOLE?

            Maybe there’s a loophole here for those who want to follow Jesus and get the benefits of being a Christian but who don’t care for the persecution part. Knowing that some will be tempted to reject persecution, Jesus declares that our lives must taste like the salt of the earth (5:13) and that we must live such that our faith in Jesus shines like a city on a hill or like a lamp in the house (5:14-15). This means that, rather than the disciple of Jesus managing persecution, the disciple is to display Jesus in every part of their life so that they maximize the possibility of receiving the blessing of persecution.

            Follow the logic here. First, Jesus declares that I am blessed if I am persecuted for righteousness’ sake (5:10), and I am blessed when others revile me and persecute me and utter all kinds of evil against me falsely on account of Jesus (5:12). Now, if no one knows about my hunger for righteousness and no one knows that I am a disciple of Jesus, those who hate Jesus will never persecute me, and thus, I will never receive the blessings promised to those who are persecuted. But because He wants me to be blessed, Jesus exhorts me to let my righteousness be a tangible saltiness in the world and He encourages me to let my association with Him be a visible light to the world. That way, my persecutors can easily find me and bless me!

            This is not entirely tongue in cheek. The New Testament is full of exhortations and commandments regarding persecution, making it evident that the disciple of Jesus is not to be surprised by hatred and persecution (1 Peter 4:12, etc.), but is to expect it as part of the call. Consider Romans 12:14; 2 Timothy 3:12; Matthew 5:44-48; 10:16-39. J. C. Ryle said, “Persecution, in short, is like the goldsmith’s stamp on real silver and gold – it is one of the marks of a converted man.” Since that is evident from the pages of Scripture, let us boldly tell of Jesus and live in righteousness and embrace whatever persecution may come as a blessing from the Lord.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Based on how I am living, how quickly could those who hate Jesus find me if they came to persecute someone? (The point of the question is to consider how I am living in light of Matthew 5:10-12. Do I believe Jesus that I am blessed if I am persecuted for His name’s sake? Is that evident in my life?)
  • Have you ever been persecuted for righteousness’ sake or for the name of Jesus?

SDG                 rmb                  10/05/2020

Sharing Abundantly in Christ’s Sufferings? (2 Cor. 1:5)

In 2 Corinthians 1:5 we read, “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort, too.” Paul writes this verse about the suffering of believers as simply a matter of fact, making it clear that the expectation for the disciple of Jesus is to “share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings.” (See also Philippians 3:10; Colossians 1:24)

            Now, we must pause to consider this. Paul, a chosen apostle, says we are to “share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings.” It is a normal part of being a follower of Jesus. Given this clear statement and given the prominence of suffering and affliction by Jesus’ followers throughout the New Testament as an imitation of Christ (“following in His steps” – 1 Peter 2:21), it is amazing to me that the absence of suffering for the cause of Christ in our American Christian experience does not cause us great alarm. Indeed, American Christians (and I am among them) are not only unfamiliar with suffering for Christ, but we have a strong aversion to this sort of thing as though, if we suffer affliction, “something strange is happening to us (1 Peter 4:12).”

            This absence and avoidance of affliction is deeply troubling to me, for almost every book in the New Testament either documents suffering of believers or foretells afflictions that will come to people solely because they are followers of Jesus. The four gospel records give detailed accounts of our Lord Jesus’ conflict and affliction at the hands of His opponents and they carefully document His sufferings on the cross. The book of Acts pictures the spread of the gospel in the face of fierce opposition, and disciples of Jesus suffer and some die. In his epistles (like 2 Corinthians), Paul speaks of suffering and affliction as simply part of his calling as a follower of Christ. The main theme of Peter’s first epistle is suffering for Christ, where enduring unjust suffering for the name of Christ places a stamp of authenticity on your profession of faith. The book of Hebrews is written to persecuted Christians. James tells us to consider it all joy when we encounter trials, and the book of Revelation includes the voices of those who have been beheaded for the cause of Christ and those who are in or who have come out of tribulation. But in America, where is the abundant suffering?

            Since there is a vast chasm between the experience of the gospel community in the New Testament and our own experience as professing followers of Jesus, I think that we need to ask some questions. We need to examine ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5). Why do we not suffer more for the cause of the gospel? Have we sacrificed boldness and Christ-honoring directness at the altar of winsomeness and civility? (Ephesians 6:19-20; Acts 4:24-31; 5:29-33, 40-42) Would we prefer to be thought erudite and clever, or would we preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 1:18-2:6, esp. 2:2)?

            If the world is not threatening us and is not seeking to silence us, is it because the world is unconcerned about our message? Herod did not put John the Baptist in prison and eventually behead him because John was not winsome enough, but because he delivered a direct message to Herod that called his sin, sin. Would I have been so bold?

            Jesus said He was sending us out “as sheep in the midst of wolves (Matthew 10:16)” and that we “will be hated by all for My name’s sake (10:22).” Do we speak and proclaim boldly enough to get the wolves’ attention and to draw the world’s hatred?            

Again, I think it is time to consider our ways (Haggai 1:5, 7) when the Lord’s apostle assumes as completely normal and expected a church context of affliction and suffering, and we have a church context absent of these. Our brothers and sisters in China and Nigeria and Iraq have a normal, expected New Testament church context that includes affliction. What are they doing that we are not?              

SDG                 rmb                 5/21/2020