God’s Sovereignty: The Key and the Book

Scholars disagree over the interpretation of certain prophecies. But none can deny that Scripture affirms God’s sovereignty over everything in the cosmos.

Zechariah 10-12; Revelation 20

Selected Verses

For behold, I am raising up in the land a shepherd who does not care for those being destroyed, or seek the young or heal the maimed or nourish the healthy, but devours the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hoofs.

Woe to my worthless shepherd,
who deserts the flock!
May the sword strike his arm
and his right eye!
Let his arm be wholly withered,
his right eye utterly blinded!—Zechariah 11:16-17

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain.—Revelation 20:1

Reflections

When the Bible addresses the final events of time, not every detail is clear, but what is clear is that God reigns over all and that every person will stand in judgment before Him. 

Zechariah shows us that God is the One raising up leaders, even evil ones. He is the One who is also judging them and putting them down. God doesn’t merely permit some wicked to gain power. He actually controls their ascendance and uses it for His purposes, in some cases to discipline His own people. In the end, He brings judgment on these ungodly powers.

In Revelation 20, the key and the book depict God’s control of the cosmos. The key, entrusted to an angel, opens the bottomless pit where the Lord holds Satan confined and impotent. Although he is completely wicked, he is not in control, not even of his own actions and destiny. We also see a book of life with the names of those chosen to live and not suffer the lake of fire.

Think about it

We can have only one of two possible responses to these passages: belief or unbelief.  For believers in the Triune God, there is great reassurance that, for us, all will be well.

Unbelievers may dismiss the assertions with ridicule or ponder with terror the possibility that they may be true. Without a Holy God who rules absolutely over all things and Who will judge us in the end, the universe is out of control and life is meaningless. This alternative is unacceptable. 

But praise God! He reigns in sovereignty and wisdom. He holds the key and the book. Let us believe Him. 

Repent: Some do; others don’t

How do you explain the widely differing responses of people to God’s judgment? Why do some repent and others do not? The answer is clear in Scripture.

Today’s Reading

Haggai 1-2; Revelation 16

Selected Verses

And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God.  Haggai 1:14

The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire.They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.

Revelation 16:8-9

Reflections

During Haggai’s time, the people of Judah in captivity in Babylon had been allowed to return to Jerusalem. They settled down and began to build their comfortable and fashionable homes. Then God sent Haggai to tell them that He was not pleased with their wrong priorities. They had left the temple in ruins while they focused on their own houses. God sent them drought. The crops failed.

The message of Haggai and the failure of the crops got their attention. But in the case of the people living under the outpouring of God’s wrath by the seven angels of Revelation 15-16, there is a completely different reaction. No matter what bowl of wrath is poured out the people do not repent and give God glory. They do not recognize His power and their sin. Their response is completely irrational. The only exception is the voice coming from the altar which gives God the praise for His display of justice and power (Revelation 6:9-11).

Adversity, in and of itself, does not produce repentance. As the bowls are poured out and one judgment is piled upon another, the cursing of God continues without diminishing. How do we explain this insane attitude toward the Sovereign and Holy God? Why did the people in Haggai’s day repent after a crop failure while the people of John’s vision dig in and curse God? The difference is that “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people.” This turned them to obedience and service to rebuild the temple.

Think about it

Do not expect repentance and praise to God to come from rebellious sinners unless the Lord stirs up their hearts. Pray that God may show mercy to those who are under His wrath by not only sending adversity and a messenger with the gospel, but by also stirring up their hearts. That is why some repent and others do not.

Choosing Sides in the War

Satan is at war with the children of the woman. We are faced with the choice: whose side will we serve? God’s or the dragon’s?

Today’s Reading

 Micah 6-7; Revelation 12

Selected Verses

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.  Revelation 12:17

Reflections

Every human being is born into a war. In that war we are naturally born on the side of Satan. By grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we are transferred to His kingdom, and with that transfer we become enemy combatants to the dragon. [John 8:39-47; Colossians 1:12-14].

Revelation 12 gives us a graphic picture of the fury of the dragon that goes out to make war on the offspring of the woman. He rages and will not stop until he finishes or a greater power overcomes him.

How does he recognize these children of the woman? Easy. They “keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” In the midst of battle, it takes true faith to keep obeying and trusting the Lord. Some, in recent days as well as over the centuries, have been so severely tested that they had to choose between faith and death. I can only imagine the unleashed wrath of Satan as God’s people defy him in favor of death with peace. I can only imagine the rejoicing in heaven as the saints and angels welcome the homeward procession of victorious martyrs.

Think about it

What does it mean to keep the commandments? Micah gave a simple three-point summary in Micah 6:8. Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God. In other words, live out your faith in the midst of the war, but remember the dragon is after you and your faith will light you up on his screen. Be ready to incur his wrath as you bring glory to God.

Foolish Presumption

No sin is more heinous than the abuse of power stemming from the presumption that God is always on our side. Heed the warning.

Today’s Reading

Micah 1-3; Revelation 10

Selected Verses

Its heads give judgment for a bribe;
its priests teach for a price;
its prophets practice divination for money;
yet they lean on the Lord and say,
“Is not the Lord in the midst of us?
No disaster shall come upon us.”
Therefore because of you
Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
and the mountain of the house a wooded height. Micah 3:11-12

And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven  and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets. Revelation 10:5-7

Reflections

Through Micah, the Lord indicts the leaders of Israel and Judah for their abuses. Officials take bribes and corruption rules. Priests and prophets disregard God’s word but seek easy money. How do they commit these evils so glibly? Are they oblivious to the presence of the Lord? No! On the contrary, they actually presume on God’s presence, that He is with them and will not touch them no matter what they do. “Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us,” they say in their foolish presumption.

In John’s vision, he sees an angel straddling land and sea. This angel announces that “there would be no more delay” but what God had foretold by the prophets would come to pass. This is a message which is bittersweet. It proclaims the judgment upon all who have lived as if there were no God, or presuming that He is always on our side, but it also brings the end of the long delay that has extended down through human history since the serpent deceived Eve in the Garden.

Think about it

There is still time to flee to Jesus Christ and away from foolish presumption. Do not delay. The bittersweet message will be fulfilled. Seek the Light of the world who illumines our dark and foolish presumption (John 8:12).

Silence in Heaven

Those who boast proudly before God now will someday learn to keep silence before Him. What should be our attitude toward God?

Today’s Reading

Obadiah; Revelation 8

Selected Verses

The pride of your heart has deceived you,
you who live in the clefts of the rock,
in your lofty dwelling,
who say in your heart,
“Who will bring me down to the ground?”
Though you soar aloft like the eagle,
though your nest is set among the stars,
from there I will bring you down,
declares the Lord.  Obadiah 1:3-4

When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.  Revelation 8:1

Reflections

In John’s Revelation, the Lamb opens six of the seven seals.  When He comes to the seventh seal, something unprecedented occurs.  There is silence in heaven.  The saints were lifting up worship and loud praises to God, but now it stops.  The guilty cry out in grief that the mountains should fall upon them to hide them.  Then they all grow silent.  It is as if they wait to see what the Lamb will do next.  Then the judgment falls everywhere.

There was a time when the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, had grown so proud that they thought no one could bring them down.  They vented their arrogance on suffering Israel.  God sent Obadiah to warn them that He would judge them.  That judgment would be more thorough and complete than anything they could imagine.

Think about it

The proud and foolish think that God, if He exists at all, has no interest or knowledge of people on earth.  They see believers dying for their faith and do not know that the Lord receives them and keeps them safe. He reassures them that they will be avenged.  The day of wrath comes.

What should be our attitude toward God?  Prayerful humility behooves us.  Silence before Him is befitting.  Let all boastful pride be eliminated and replaced with prayerful humility and silence.

The Day of Wrath

The day of wrath is coming, and no one will be spared. Will we prepare to meet our God, as Amos urged? How can we do that?

Today’s Reading

Amos 4-6; Revelation 6

Selected Verses

Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel;
because I will do this to you,
prepare to meet your God, O Israel!

 For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,
and declares to man what is his thought,
who makes the morning darkness,
and treads on the heights of the earth—
the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name! Amos 4:12-13

Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” Revelation 6:15-17

Reflections

If God poured out His terrible judgment on Israel, how much more will He pour out wrath on the whole earth which has rebelled against Him!

Amos continues to lay out for Israel how they have failed God. Repeatedly, he tells them that they ignored all of God’s judgments. “Yet you did not return to me!” he says. Looking at Israel’s history from a distance, it appears inexplicable. How could they not get the message? But they did not. But then, do we?

So Amos tells them to “prepare to meet [their] God.”

John’s vision reveals the contents of the scroll with the seven seals. One by one they are opened. All are frightening, but the sixth drives all the people great and small who are under the condemnation of the wrath of God and the Lamb to cry out for the mountains and rocks to fall upon them. Anything, they think, is better than to experience the full judgment of God.

Think about it

Here we have a picture of what is to come. The day of wrath of the One who is on the throne is before us. Will we prepare to meet our God, as Amos urged? There is a way to prepare. Bow before the Lamb who was slain for sinners and repent of your sins. Ask for His mercy and forgiveness. By His grace, you will stand in the day of wrath.

The Day of the Lord

On the day of the Lord, those who know Him will worship taking refuge in Him, but those who refused Him will tremble in terror. In which group will you be?

Today’s Reading

 Joel 1-3; Revelation 4

Selected Verses

The Lord roars from Zion,
and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
and the heavens and the earth quake.
But the Lord is a refuge to his people,
a stronghold to the people of Israel. Joel 3:16

They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.” Revelation 4:10, 11

Reflections

Joel mentions or alludes to the “day of the Lord” repeatedly (1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:1, 14, 18). He says it is near. It is great and very awesome. “Who can endure it?” the prophet asks. It is a day in which the heavens and earth quake. Should we also quake at the thought of this day?

It depends. Joel says “the Lord is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel.” Those who are His people will find Him a refuge to run to, not a terrifying figure to run from. He is the only safe place for those who trust Him.

John receives a vision of what is to come. The door of heaven is opened and he looks inside. What does he see? He sees the One who is seated on the throne. He sees creatures and elders worshiping Him. These twenty four elders cast their crowns before His throne in an act of adoration which signifies that they have nothing which He has not given them. Nothing they have can be withheld from Him. He is worthy of every possible honor. They cry out to Him of His worthiness, enthralled with His presence. They find Him majestic, glorious, honorable, and powerful.

Think about it

The day of the Lord is coming. Do you long for it or dread it? It depends on whether you will meet Him as your Refuge and Creator or your Judge. Be ready.

A Time to Love; a Time to Hate

To hate what God hates is good, but not if we do not also love what God loves. We need hearts that are in sync with God’s.

Today’s Reading

Hosea 9-11; Revelation 2

Selected Verses

How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
 I will not execute my burning anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath. Hosea 11:8-9

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.  Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Revelation 2:4-6

Reflections

God’s love for His people is relentless, though He reveals in His Word how His heart recoils with the sinfulness of His people. Ultimately, God restrains His justice against His people and does not destroy them.

Hosea was sent to warn Judah and Israel of her impending judgment. This intervention by the Lord was another act of His patience and mercy. He gave them a chance to repent. He showed them through the sad, painful marital relationship of Hosea and Gomer, how God saw the unfaithfulness of His people toward Him. They repaid His goodness and blessing with idolatry and worship of false gods. Even after all that, God’s compassion toward them was aroused. As He said through the prophet Ezekiel, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23).

The Lord gave the Apostle John messages for seven churches of Asia Minor. Most of them contain warnings of impending judgment for their sin. In the letter to the church in Ephesus, He commends them for several qualities including their hatred of a heretical group called the Nicolaitans. While it was good to hate evil, they were also found to have abandoned the love they had shown earlier. Jesus tells them to repent of this attitude lest they lose their standing as a church completely.

Think about it

Let this be a warning to us as well. Do not hate evil without maintaining deep love for God.  There is a time to love and a time to hate. (Ecclesiastes 3:8). Pray for a heart that is tuned to God’s Who both loves and hates perfectly. 

When Shame is Good

To experience shame for sin is a hopeful sign that repentance and faith in God are still possible. Do not fear feeling shame but rather not feeling it.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 43-44; Second Peter 2

Selected Verses

As for you, son of man, describe to the house of Israel the temple, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and they shall measure the plan.  And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the temple, its arrangement, its exits and its entrances, that is, its whole design; and make known to them as well all its statutes and its whole design and all its laws, and write it down in their sight, so that they may observe all its laws and all its statutes and carry them out. Ezekiel 43:10-11

Then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.  Second Peter 2:9-10

Reflections

God gives Ezekiel a detailed description of the temple. Then He tells the prophet to pass these details on to the people of Israel so that they may be ashamed of their iniquities. The temple reflected God’s glory so this description was intended to shame the Jews for their sin. Yet the temple also held a message of hope of salvation. Here, in this place of God’s throne, provision was made for a sacrifice for sin. The gospel of Jesus Christ was portrayed in the temple, if we rightly understand it.

In Peter’s time, there were false prophets and teachers who were completely insensitive to sin. He indicts them for their deceptions and schemes to lead believers astray. Peter shows how God in the past has brought judgment on those who rebelled against Him: evil angels, the wicked society of Noah’s day, and Lot’s neighbors in Sodom and Gomorrah. So God has shown that He is able to rescue the godly, like Noah and Lot, and keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment. In view here in particular are those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and who despise authority.

Think about it

If there is anything which describes our society, it is indulgence in the lust of defiling passion and the despising of authority. Our contemporaries see shame not as a good emotion leading to healthy repentance. Rather it is considered the result of poor self-esteem due often to a severe religious upbringing.

If this world is trying you, trust Him who knows how to rescue the godly from trials in amazing ways. Pray that God may grant our unbelieving loved ones shame for sin that leads to repentance and faith.

God’s Wrath

God’s wrath is coming in judgment. Whom do you think will be found in trouble? The objects of His wrath and judgment might surprise you.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 29-31; James 5

Selected Verses

Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will bring a sword upon you, and will cut off from you man and beast,  and the land of Egypt shall be a desolation and a waste. Then they will know that I am the Lord. Ezekiel 29:8-9

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.  Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten.  Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. James 5:1-3

Reflections

Who will be the target of God’s judgment?

In Ezekiel’s day, the Lord pronounced judgment on Egypt.  What had they done?  It was not so much what they had done or not done, but their arrogant attitude.  They prided themselves in the things that God had done.  They did not glorify Him, but made idiotic statements like “The Nile is mine, and I made it.”  Those who refuse to give God the glory He is due are in special trouble with Him.  He would bring His judgment on them and they would know that He is the Lord.

Another target of judgment will be the fraudulent and heartless rich.  James singled these people out for a stern warning.  In the day of judgment, they would be in misery.  The riches they trusted in would not serve them at all, but be rotted, moth-eaten, and corroded.  There may have been a time when they could buy their way out of trouble but no longer.  And take note, it is not the fact that they are rich but that they cheated their workers to expand their wealth.  Furthermore, they trusted in their wealth and not in the Lord.

Think about it

Pride and autonomy robs God of His glory and brings His judgment.  Beware of any tendency toward these quiet ways of rebelling.  On that coming day of God’s wrath, do not be found among those who have attempted to exalt themselves.  As Isaiah wrote:

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
 let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.  Isaiah 55:6-7