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.

From a Cloud to a Kingdom

No fallen human being is able to merit favor with God, but He, by the work of His Son, changed His elect people from a cloud to a kingdom.

Today’s Reading

Hosea 5-8; Revelation 1

Selected Verses

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:4-6

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Revelation 1: 5-6

Reflections

Hosea expresses God’s view of His people. He laments their instability. Their unstable love is like a morning cloud or dew. It melts away rapidly. Their sacrifices and burnt offerings were unacceptable for they were not done out of steadfast love or from knowledge of God. They went through the motions. What? Did they think God could be fooled? So the Lord, through Hosea, says “What shall I do with you?”

God Himself answered the question. What He did was to send His Son to free us from our sins by His blood. Why? Because He loves us. His love is unchangeable and unstoppable. Not only that, He desired a kingdom for His glory. His purposes are wise and good. Although Israel failed to become what He called them to be, through Jesus Christ, all the nations have been called to be a kingdom and priests to Him. And He is glorified and has dominion forever and ever.

Think about it

Unregenerate man attempts to please God with fleeting love and phony sacrifices, but God graciously acts to redeem a people who know God, who are freed from their sins and made a kingdom. A cloud vs. a kingdom, what a contrast! Give praise to God for His love and wisdom

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

Overcoming Faith        

Believers in Jesus Christ will not achieve sinless perfection in this life. but they should expect changed lives and faith which overcomes the world.

Today’s Reading

Daniel 7-8; First John 5

Selected Verses

And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.  Daniel 7:14

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? First John 5:3-5

Reflections

Daniel recorded here his visions of what was to come.  He found them troubling because they were not easy to understand.  We have the advantage of history and can draw some lines between the things he saw and what later occurred.  The vision of the beasts seems to refer to the kingdoms of Nebuchadnezzar (Babylonia), Medo Persia, and Alexander the Great.  The fourth is not so clear, but some believe it to be the Roman Empire.

What was clear was that none of these kingdoms would endure.  The Ancient of Days gives the everlasting kingdom to the son of man, which points to Jesus Christ.  His kingdom will not pass away.

John the Apostle knew the Son of Man, his and our Lord Jesus Christ.  John wrote that He was the propitiation for our sins (First John 2:2; 4:10).  In Him we are given light and have fellowship with God and with all His people who also walk in the light with God (First John 1:7).  This fellowship with God results in a changed life.  This changed life includes: faith in Jesus Christ, love for God, and obedience to His commandments.  Those changes demonstrate a new birth and results in victory over the world.

Think about it

Should we settle for a hum-drum spiritual life?  No.  Not according to John.  We should expect substantial changes.  No, not sinless perfection.  We will always be going to Him to confess our sins and to be cleansed (First John 1:9).  If you do not see evidence in yourself of a new birth, call upon Him for mercy and grace to grant you overcoming faith.

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.

Fellowship with God

Whatever else we may say about salvation and the eternal state of believers, it centers on fellowship with God. What glory it will be!

Today’s Reading

 Ezekiel 47-48; First John 1

Selected Verses

And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The Lord Is There. Ezekiel 48:35

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. First John 1:3

Reflections

Ezekiel concludes the long description of the temple, the city, and the land with redistributed territories for the twelve tribes with the simple words, “And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The Lord Is There.” What more can anyone desire than that the Lord should be there? Knowing that God is with us gives confidence in the face of huge danger and the threat of death itself (Deuteronomy 31:6-8; Joshua 1:4-6; Psalm 23). Several Old Testament figures learned the devastating impact of being abandoned by God (Exodus 33:3, 15; First Samuel 4:21-22; Judges 16:20). Not that they could actually ever be totally away from His presence, but they could be, and sometimes were, under His wrath and judgment and without His blessing and favor (Psalm 139:7-12).

The Apostle John also refers to the blessing of fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. God came to dwell among us, he says, and we saw Him. We touched Him. He came to give us eternal life and fellowship with the Father and the Son. [See also John 1:14-17;17:3].

Think about it

To know Him in truth and to be forgiven and accepted, that is what eternal life is about. The city which Ezekiel described points to that heavenly city, the New Jerusalem where God dwells and where His people live with Him. As John would write later: ” And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3).

So whatever else we may say about the eternal state of believers, it will be unclouded, undiminished fellowship with God. Be faithful as you wait for His coming.

Keeping the Tension between Equality and Calling

The New Covenant brought a wonderful equality and calling in the Church unknown under the Old Covenant but created a tension we must maintain.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 41-42; Second Peter 1

Selected Verses

When the priests enter the Holy Place, they shall not go out of it into the outer court without laying there the garments in which they minister, for these are holy. They shall put on other garments before they go near to that which is for the people.  Ezekiel 42:14

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. Second Peter 1:1-2

Reflections

In the new temple of Ezekiel’s vision, God specified the priestly functions and designated the places for those functions.  The priests took great care in the ordering of the ministry.  They wore holy garments for their service and they were not to leave the Holy Place and mix with the people in those vestments.  God was teaching them to respect His holiness and the service that they offered to Him.

What a contrast with the New Covenant!  Peter identifies himself as a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.  Then he tells his readers that they “have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours.”  They, like him, have a standing based on “the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.”  The members of the Church of Jesus Christ enjoyed an equality never known in ancient Israel.  The old covenant people observed sacrifices that could, at best, point to the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (Isaiah 53:7; John 1:29,35,36).  All those who believed in Christ were and are on equal standing before God. As the saying goes, “the ground is level at the cross.”

Of course, this equality is not absolute.  There are differences in gifts and calling within the Church.  Believers will distinguish themselves by their growth in God.  Not everyone will “make every effort to supplement [their] faith with virtue (vs. 5).”   Some will be more or less ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of Christ (vs. 8).  Some, but not all, are called to shepherd the flock (First Peter 5:1-5).  There are a variety of gifts given by the Spirit to the members of the Body (First Corinthians 12:4-31; Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:11-16; First Peter 4:10-11).  The equality is not of gifts and calling but of standing before God based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Think about it

Peter models both a respect for his office and a respect for all other believers who, like him, stand before God because of Christ alone.  In your relationships with fellow believers, be sure to maintain the tension between the equality and calling each one has.

Glory Revealed

History displays the ongoing conflict between Christ and Satan, but do you know how the story ends? It will culminate in glory revealed.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 38-39; First Peter 4

Selected Verses

So I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord.   Ezekiel 38:23

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  First Peter 4:12-14

Reflections

Israel and Judah were casualties in the cosmic battle of good and evil.  As God’s people they suffered for their sin and idolatry, but they would not ultimately be lost because God had chosen them for Himself.  He promised to do a new thing with them, make a new covenant with them, and restore them.  Here Ezekiel warns Gog, the enemy ruler, of the destruction which is coming upon him and his forces.  God will show His greatness and His holiness and make Himself known to them.

In short, God would be glorified before the seemingly invincible forces of evil. What an encouragement to the exiles in the Babylonian captivity, far from Jerusalem.

Peter, too, assures the suffering believers of his day that God is not unaware of their plight.  They suffer with Christ.  They do not suffer as a means of discipline for their sin but rather as a means to show the power and grace of God.  Blessing will be theirs, but, first, there is a time of trial to endure.  While they are not suffering for sin but for Christ, they do have God’s presence with them and assurance that their suffering will produce the purification of their faith (First Peter 1:6-7).

Think about it

There will come a day when God’s glory will be fully revealed and His judgment will be finalized. Those who have suffered and been maligned for Him will be rewarded with vindication and their growth in purity of faith will bring glory to Christ.

Do you suffer for Christ today?  Peter says be sure you suffer for Him and not for your sin.  Meanwhile, entrust your soul to your faithful Creator because the day of glory revealed is coming.

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

The Longed-For Kingdom

The reign of Jesus Christ, unlike that of Zedekiah, is founded on righteousness and will endure forever–the kingdom to which all God’s people belong.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 38-39; Hebrews 1

Selected Verses

The king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah at Riblah before his eyes, and the king of Babylon slaughtered all the nobles of Judah.  He put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him in chains to take him to Babylon. Jeremiah 39:6-7

But of the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” Hebrews 1:8-9

Reflections

As I write this, it is Election Day in the USA, the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November. National Public Radio this morning reported on the rapid decline in religion in this nation. Belief in God is down. Identification with a particular church is down. It appears that hostility and disrespect frequently characterize public conversation about the political, social, and spiritual state of affairs in this country.

But we, reformed, evangelical Christians, do share some common dreams and longings even with those who do not agree with our theology. I think it is fair to say, we all long for a government led by honorable, just leaders, with laws that facilitate the flourishing of every person. Can anyone doubt that, if we somehow could achieve this utopia, we would want it to endure till the end of time?

Israel was not that utopia. The kingdom first established under King Saul benefited from the reigns of David and Solomon, but split in two, under foolish King Rehoboam. Neither the populace nor many of the rulers loved righteousness. Captivity devastated both kingdoms ending with the shameful capture and blinding of King Zedekiah.

But there was a promise. That promise was that a righteous king would rule on an eternal throne. That promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. His kingdom is forever!

Think about it

The readers of the Epistle to the Hebrews were painfully aware of the failure of their nation to establish a permanent, just kingdom. We, too, should know that our nation is not the fulfillment of the promised kingdom. The writer points us to the Only One who could fulfill it, the One who is the Son of God, the radiance of His glory and the exact imprint of his nature. I long for His return and the final fulfillment of the promise. Do you? If so, pray that we will be faithful until that day, and that it may be soon.