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. 

Final Victory

God will bring final victory over all the forces of evil, therefore He calls His people to separate themselves from those who are doomed.

Today’s Reading

Zechariah 4-6; Revelation 18

Selected Verses

Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” —Zechariah 4:6-7

Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,
lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues;
for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
and God has remembered her iniquities.”—Revelation 18:4-5

Reflections

There have been many moments in history when it appeared that God’s people had no hope of final victory. The Lord always sent messengers to reassure the Church that she would not be ultimately defeated.

In Zechariah’s day, the temple was in ruins and God commanded its rebuilding. It seemed impossible and, in fact, it was. But it did not depend on the strength or might of human beings, even of those who loved the Lord and longed to see worship restored. Through the vision, the prophet understood that it would be successful through the Spirit of the Lord of hosts. God commands all the armies of angels and He does His will which no one can thwart.

John was permitted to see the fall of Babylon. She had commanded the world, economically and culturally, and seemed invincible. All who dealt with her enjoyed wealth and pleasure. But her end is assured. She will be brought down to nothing. Her ruin will be mourned by those who depended on her. God called His people to come out and not to go down with her in judgment.

Think about it

What is your view of the dominant culture of our day? Are you optimistic that God’s truth will ultimately triumph? If you are one who has been bought by the blood of the Lamb, flee both pessimism and compromise. Final victory is assured.

Judgment: Does God Delay?

Beware of confusing God’s apparent slowness to anger with any weakness or ambivalence. He will bring judgment sure and final in His time. [1]

Today’s Reading

Nahum 1-3; Revelation 13

Selected Verses

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.  Nahum 1:2, 3

Also [the beast] was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. Revelation 13:7-8

Reflections

The Bible from start to finish shows us that God is firmly in control of  human history.  Nothing escapes His knowledge, His presence, or His power.  That does not mean that He watches human history as a disinterested bystander.  He will act in His time to reward faithfulness and punish evil.

In Nahum’s day, the nation of Assyria was imposing her power on the surrounding nations.  Israel had already fallen to her and Judah, under King Manasseh, was a vassal state. Nahum proclaimed the power of God in the midst of this difficult situation.   Assyria would fall, he assured them.  God is slow to anger but not weak in power.  He would pour out His wrath.  Meanwhile, Nahum, whose name means comfort, reminded Judah that “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him” (1:7).

John sees two beasts, one from the sea and one from the earth.  These united with the dragon wreak havoc on God’s people, who do not take the mark of the beast which gives access to commerce.  It seems like a hopeless situation, yet God limits the time allotted to these beasts.  God reassures all who refuse to worship the beast–their names were recorded before time in the Lamb’s book of life.

Think about it

Let this bring comfort to us who believe but warning to all who confuse God’s patience with any kind of weakness.  His judgment will come in His time, not ours.

[1] The Reformation Study Bible, introductory notes to Nahum, p. 1587

 

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.

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.

Restoration after Tribulation

Tribulation is real, but it is not the end for God’s people. He promises a final and ultimate restoration for all His elect.

Today’s Reading

Amos 7-9; Revelation 7

Selected Verses

 I will plant them on their land,
and they shall never again be uprooted
out of the land that I have given them,”
says the Lord your God. Amos 9:15

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Revelation 7:13-14

Reflections

The prophet Amos had a gloomy message for Israel. God’s words through him moved the prophet himself. “O Lord God, please forgive! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” he cries out again and again (7:2). But God relents and promises that all these dire warnings will not be final. There is a day of restoration and joy ahead. It will be permanent. There will be lasting prosperity and security.

Given the depth of sin and failure on the part of Israel, how is this blessing possible?

The gospel of Jesus Christ holds the answer. He is the Lamb of God whose blood atones for the sin of God’s elect. They wash their robes in it. Those filthy robes are made white. They endure the pain and suffering of the great tribulation and though, as Amos admitted, they are small, yet they stand.

Think about it

Do not wonder if you suffer for a time. Some of it, we bring on ourselves by our sin and stupidity and some of it is the sufferings of Christ that His people must bear because of their identity with Him. In the end, there is restoration. Be strong in the Lord, because tribulation is real but it is not the end.

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.

There’s a War On        

Since the Fall, the cosmic war has been going. Satan and his minions deceive and oppose God’s people, but they triumph through His truth and power.

Today’s Reading

Daniel 9-10; Second John 1

Selected Verses

The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come. Daniel 10:13-14

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.

Second John 1:7

Reflections

Daniel was in a time of deep mourning for three weeks. He fasted and prayed. God sent an angel to him, but, at first, he was more frightened than strengthened. The angel addressed him kindly and called him a man greatly loved. Daniel’s prayers had been heard from the first day of that three-week period, but the angel had been opposed by the prince of the kingdom of Persia.

John, in this second epistle, warns his readers about the deceivers in the world. They are identified as those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. The Reformation Study Bible [1] notes explain that a heresy called Docetism taught that Jesus did not have a real human body but was some sort of phantom who only appeared to be human. John declared these false teachers to be of the Antichrist.

Think about it

Once again in these passages, we see the very real nature of the spiritual war going on around us. Satan and his forces wield a certain amount of power, but God does hear His children when they pray. He does send aid. He will judge all the hosts of wickedness and deliver His own safely to glory (Isaiah 24:21; Ephesians 6:11-12; Second Peter 2:4; Revelation 17:8; 20:10).

There’s a war on, but God has all things under His control. Trust Him and obey His truth. As we saw yesterday, His children will be victorious over the world through Jesus Christ.

[1] The Reformation Study Bible, Sanford, FL, Reformation Trust, 2015, p. 2279

This World–It’s All Gonna Burn

Christ’s disciples must live in this world but never forget that this world will ultimately pass away. And do you know what will last? Read on to find out.

Today’s Reading

Daniel 1-2; First John 2

Selected Verses

And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.

Daniel 2:44

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. First John 2:17

Reflections

Daniel, a young Jew in the time of the Babylonian Captivity, was taken to Nebuchadnezzar’s palace and given special training to assist the king. He was not among the “starting lineup” on the royal advisory team so he heard about his death sentence without knowing the reason. By God’s grace and mercy, Daniel was able to save his life and that of other wise men by telling the king what his dream was and what it meant. No one else could do that. As a result, Nebuchadnezzar learned that his kingdom would one day be replaced by another, and that one by still another. Ultimately, none of those kingdoms would last because the God of heaven would set up an indestructible kingdom and crush all the opposing kingdoms of the earth.

To his credit, Nebuchadnezzar accepted the interpretation and honored Daniel with gifts and a promotion.  Most importantly, he recognized the God of gods and Lord of kings of which Daniel had informed him.  Even the most powerful king of Daniel’s day bowed to the sovereign God of Israel.

John in writing his letter urges his readers to reject the love of this world and the things of this world.  He tells them plainly that the world is passing away along with its desires.  It’s all gonna burn!  What will last?  “Whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

Think about it

To abide forever we must do the will of God.   But how do we know the will of God?  We need to know God’s word to know His will.  Once a crowd asked the Lord, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29).  Our first duty is to believe in the One God sent to reveal the Father to us and to be the propitiation (sacrificial offering to satisfy the wrath of God) for our sins.  God looks for faith in His Son.  That is what pleases Him (Hebrews 11:6). Be sure you are trusting Him and nothing in this world. It’s all gonna burn.