We are living in between two parentheses. We are living in the middle of a particular time – a brief interlude – but a critical era. We are living between the ascension of the God-Man to Heaven and the return of Him back to this broken world.
Picture, if you will, all of history from Adam and Eve to the resurrection of Jesus as one, messy timeline. At the end of that line, put a parenthesis. Then, in your mind, leave a space and put the second parenthesis. After that mark, begin another timeline. It will start when Jesus returns, and that line will continue infinitely, as the New Heaven and New Earth under the perfect reign of Jesus Christ. Meanwhile, we live in that space – the one right between the parentheses.
I often ask myself why Jesus just doesn’t come back right now? Why won’t He break into human history and show Himself to be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Why won’t He come back today to destroy all powers of evil and make things right?
There is a reason for the parentheses, and it is given clearly in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” We see here that the reason Jesus is waiting to come back is that He wants as many people as will be saved to be saved. God patiently waits to bring about His eternal plan because He wants the maximum number of people to be a part of that glorious kingdom. It’s that simple.
But wait. While it may be straightforward; it is also convicting. If the one reason that Jesus is waiting to return is that He wants every last person who will respond to the Gospel to be brought in, then that should be the reason I live! My time in the parentheses – though difficult – has a purpose. God is not keeping us in the parentheses era just to have fun, be entertained, achieve selfish goals, or build up an earthly kingdom of our own; we are in the parentheses to help see as many souls come to salvation as possible. We should desire – as God does – that people in the parentheses will live eternally after we exit the second parenthesis mark. We should be praying, living, working, and interacting in such a way that as many as possible are made aware of the reality of Jesus, His Word, and His salvation, so that they are spared eternal judgment beyond the second parenthesis.
I guess that’s why Jesus described a “wicked servant” as one who says in his heart, “My master is delayed” (Matthew 24:48). Wickedness begins with the thought that the return of Jesus is not near and not a priority. 2 Peter 3: 3-4 declares, “Knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For … all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’” Wicked servants do the same as scoffers; they give little credence to the promise of the imminent return of Jesus. This disbelief results in sinful behavior. Matthew 24:49 informs us that the wicked servant – after declaring that the coming of Jesus is delayed – “begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards.” Living for the glory of God and spreading His Gospel are not anymore the priority for this mocker. Instead, he lives selfishly – even brutally – towards God and others.
We are in the parentheses … for a reason! We are to live expectantly. We are to be wide awake. We are to be waiting – and working – until He comes. God has an infinitely good reason for allowing this season between the comings of Jesus. Is that your reason for living, too?
– Shelli S. Prindle
At the end of this world and the beginning of the next, we will all stand before our Creator. He will judge each one of us. Of that fact, there is no doubt. The question is, what’s the difference with the damned? Why will some be forever cast into what God has termed “the lake of fire”? For that matter, why will some be spared such condemnation? There exists near the end of the book of Revelation a short passage that brings the essence of the difference into sharp focus. Let’s read it first:
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:11-15, ESV)
Here we have a summary of the judgment of people who will be forever damned. We notice first that not even the earth or sky itself can stand in the presence of God’s holiness as He begins the final judgment. There is, therefore, no refuge for anyone to escape or to have eased the devastation of what is about to take place. Notice, secondly, that all of the dead – both the great and the small – must stand before the throne. Your soul’s destiny depends not on how influential or wealthy you were in this life, and your status of seeming insignificance or poverty does not excuse you from judgment; all must stand before the throne.
The key component on which we want to focus here is the books that are opened. First, the Holy Spirit through the Apostle John tells us in this passage that “books were opened.” Then he adds that “another book was opened, which is the book of life” (verse 12). We clearly understand, then, that this one book of life stands out from the other books. There is a group of books which are unnamed, and there is the book of life.
We are informed that the dead – the “spiritually dead” that is – are judged by what is written in the unspecified books. The contents of these books must be the sinful acts of the damned, because we are told simultaneously that these people were judged “according to what they had done” (verse 12). And no one escapes; the sea (the troubled and sinful world, as I understand it) and all of Death and Hades had to give up the dead in their possession. In other words, no matter when these people had died, no matter if their spirits and bodies had long been separated from God or only shortly, no matter if their bodies had been in the ground for thousands of years or just a few moments, no matter where they had died, and no matter from where they came, death had to yield to God its power over people so that God could make His final, sovereign, and irrevocable judgment.
Death obeys … and gives them up. The solemn words of verse thirteen demonstrate the complete power of almighty God, as Death and Hades give up the dead and “they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done” (verse 13). We observe here the repeating of the same phrase we saw in verse twelve. We read twice that the damned are judged by the things that they did. Their wrong, ungodly, and rebellious actions and words – their sins – are here resulting in an eternal destiny. On the basis of their own sins, they are forever damned to the lake of fire.
Verse fifteen adds one specific emphasis; those who end up in the lake of fire also did not have their names placed in the book of life. Not only do the condemned find themselves paying finally for their sinfulness, but their doom is doubly sealed, for their names are not recorded in the one book that stands alone – the book of life. Clearly, the one difference between the damned and the saved – between those who are put in the lake of fire and those who are not – is one factor. Is his or her name written in this book of life? If a name is not written in that one book, then all of his sins are heaped upon him at the end of time.
I want to make this point unequivocally plain: you will either be judged by your sins or judged by your inclusion in the book of life. You will either one day have the culmination of all the guilt and punishment for rebelling against God heaped on you as your sins are read from many books, or you will stand before the throne and hear only one thing called out to you – your name from the one book of life. All the sins that I have ever committed brought to me for damnation, or hearing God read my name from a book that ensures my safety and everlasting delight – those are the choices.
So how do we get our name in the book of life? We need to know the Owner of the book! We need to have a relationship with the Person to whom that book belongs! He is Jesus. Revelation 21:27 calls that one book “the Lamb’s book of life.” Revelation 13:8 labels it “the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” There is only one Lamb with a capital “L.” There is only one slain Lamb that ultimately matters when it comes to my sin and my destiny. John the Baptist said it best, as recorded in the Gospel of John, chapter one, verse 29, “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” The Apostle Peter corroborates John the Baptist’s statement in 1 Peter 1:18-19, “…knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”
Jesus was the Lamb who was put to death for our sins. He spilled His own blood on the Cross of Calvary to pay for your sinfulness. When He gave up His life that day outside the gates of Jerusalem, He took your sin upon His own shoulders – IF you believe in Him. If you truly believe in the Jesus of the Cross, the Jesus of the Bible, the Jesus who invaded earthly history to die and rise again, the Jesus who is coming back one day, the Jesus who is the ONLY ONE who can pay for your sin and put your name in the wonderful book of life – if you believe in Him, you are safe from eternal condemnation and the lake of fire. This belief in Him must be real and applied. You have to believe in Jesus to the point that it changes your reality. To truly believe in Him means to accept all of His Word as revealed in the Bible. It means to completely change your mind about your sin and know in the deepest place of your heart that you need His blood and His forgiveness. It means to live with Him and for Him each day. It is a relationship.
If your name is in the Lamb’s book of life, then never will your sins be brought up to condemn you at the end of time. While the sins of the damned are reiterated as the evidence of their rightful judgment, the only thing you will hear is your name – called lovingly from the Lamb’s book. Why will you not hear your sins proclaimed? Because your sins were judged on the Cross with Jesus when He suffered and died. Your sins have been paid for – never to condemn you before God!
Oh, Jesus, how we love You! Dear Jesus, how we thank You! As the Apostle Paul put it in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And we can joyfully add to this glorious statement the truth of the book of Revelation and know that there is no damnation and lake of fire for those whose names are written in Jesus’ book of life!
– Shelli S. Prindle
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The apostle Paul stood before the Roman governor, Festus, and proclaimed the truth of Jesus from the Old Testament scripture. Paul emphasized Jesus rising from the dead in order to be the light of the world. The response of Festus is not unfamiliar to many of us; the governor accused Paul of being “out of his mind” (Acts 26:24). Paul quickly replied that rather than being insane, his words were true and rational. Then, in a winsome turn to King Herod Agrippa I, who was listening to Paul alongside the governor, the great apostle declared, “For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner” (Acts 26:26).
This was a quite a strategic move by Paul. He appeals to the actual historical account of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Certainly the king of Judea knows of all that has happened in his time and in his region. When God acts, He acts in real history and real geography. Having brought the true account of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection to the forefront, Paul makes a critical connection. For, what a person does with facts concerning God’s working in this world of ours is of a life-or-death nature. King Agrippa must acknowledge the reality of the existence, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Now, what He does with these facts will determine his eternal destiny.
Paul goes for the jugular next, so to speak, in the hope of the king’s conversion. Having established the historicity of Jesus’ life, the apostle now looks directly at the king and asks, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe” (Acts 26:27). Paul is able to ask this question because he knows of the king’s loose connection with Judaism. As the Bible commentator Matthew Henry once wrote, “For everyone knew that Agrippa professed the Jews’ religion, as his fathers had done, and therefore both knew the writings of the prophets and gave credit to them.” The apostle appeals to Agrippa’s background and professed religious beliefs. As a Jew, how could the king discount the Old Testament prophets? Of course King Agrippa held to the tenets of the Old Testament scriptures; he could not deny the reality of Paul’s statement from a purely mental standpoint.
It catches us off guard that Paul says to an unsaved man, “I know that you believe.” Certainly, Agrippa was not a Christian. Despite the fact that he was in the line of wicked Herod’s and also was married to his own sister, Agrippa could have come to salvation. But he did not. He only believed.
What? Yes … he only believed. He only gave mental ascent to the facts of Jesus Christ and all the prophecies of the Old Testament that the Son of God had fulfilled. He only held these beliefs in his mind, as they could not be denied. He only read and knew the Bible verses to the point of head knowledge; never did he lay his life on the truth of Jesus.
We read in the very next verse of this “AGRIPPing” account (you can laugh there) these scary words, “And Agrippa said to Paul, ‘In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28) There you have it. The king, although given a concise opportunity to connect the dots of true Christian faith, decided to reject honest salvation. He was willing to believe the facts with his mind, but He was not willing to give his life as a follower of Christ and be called – in the most genuine sense of the word – a “CHRISTian.”
Do you know the facts of the Bible and the life of Jesus? So do the demons and Satan. Read Matthew 8:29 and realize that demons acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God and even understand that He has an appointed time in the future when he will torment them for their wickedness. I guess that is why James says in chapter 2, verse 19, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder!” But then James goes on to tell us that faith without works is dead. Head knowledge without life application is pointless in terms of our safety. We are damned if we only give mental ascent to the things of Jesus and His Word but do not stake our very lives on Him. To believe with your brain is one thing, to live with your heart is another.
Let the account of Paul and King Agrippa be an intense reminder for us. Answering the question, “Do you believe?” is not just a “yes” or “no” task. The answer needs to be more like, “I believe both with my mind AND my life.”
– By Shelli S. Prindle
What do you think of when you think of love? Do you think of wishy-washy feelings? Do you think of something conditional – based on right behavior? Do you think of something hopeful, but not really grounded on hard facts? Do you think of an emotion instead of an action? When it comes to actual love, here’s a phrase from the Bible for you: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Rev. 1:5).
The Apostle John is writing here about the love of Jesus Christ. By the inspiration of the Spirit of God, he tells us that Christ’s love for us is inextricably tied to Christ’s action for us; and that, my friends, is the crux of the matter. The love of God is given by the action of God – and not just any action. This is the most critical and paradoxical measure of which we can conceive. God moves to make spiritually dead people alive by shedding the blood of His altogether perfect Son. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…” (Ephesians 2:4-5)
The love of God is not some feeble emotion that makes everyone feel that they are safe when, in fact, they are not. The love of God is not without activity – life or death activity. The love of God is not without immeasurable sacrifice. Most importantly, the love of God cannot be properly applied to a person’s life without also administering the blood of Jesus Christ. In all honesty, if you have not agreed to God’s covering of your sinful heart with the sacrifice of the blood of His Son, then you have not been made alive with the love of God. God loves you, but His love cannot save you or quicken you to real life until you apply the only thing that can free you from sin and death – the blood of Jesus.
All people are creations of God, but not all people are children of God. To be a child implies a relationship. A relationship with God can only happen when our sinfulness is covered and paid for by the blood of Jesus and God’s wrath against us satisfied by Christ’s suffering and death. We must believe in that sacrifice and apply it to our own life. Once our spiritually “dead” condition has been resolved, we are free to “live” as children of God. (Gal. 3:26, 4:4-5)
God’s love is massive and unconditional (no matter what you have done or where you have been), but it must be genuinely received in its reality and entirety in order to be effective for your salvation. Here is the reality: His love frees us from our sins by his blood. The greatest freedom that exists is the freedom from our sins and their guilt and penalty. Sin disrupts our relationship with God. It simply must be dealt with or we remain spiritually lost and outside of a relationship with our Creator.
Have you honestly received God’s love? It is expressed in the sacrifice of the blood of Jesus Christ. When you go to God by the way of Jesus, you can be saved by the love of God. You can be set free to be a child of God – in full relationship with Him!
– By Shelli S. Prindle
Suicide is both a delicate and a critical subject. It involves the taking of life, which is the most precious thing God has entrusted to humans. (Gen. 2:7) In fact, it was the life of God’s Son that had to be given to pay the price for our redemption and escape from eternal death. Life is invaluable, therefore murder is a sin (Ex. 20:13). Moreover, God has given us a way to a living hope – a substantive hope that never dies, despite the worst trials and temptations. (1 Pet. 1:3, 6-7). He does this through the resurrection of His Son over sin and death, the ultimate proof that life is the way of God.
When it comes to the ultimate outcome of someone committing suicide, the two options are the same as for any other person: eternal life or eternal damnation (John 3:36). Those are the only two existing categories for a person who leaves this temporary world and enters the next. When we try to contemplate how the sin of suicide plays into God’s judgment, we need to remember that all sin is covered by the blood of Jesus Christ for the one who truly believes in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Although the Bible does not explicitly spell out the eternal destiny of those who commit suicide, we know, indeed, that some among us who have committed murder are in Heaven. We need only to think of Moses and David (Ex. 2:12, 2 Sam. 11:15). Both these men of God murdered at one point, but neither of them made the pattern of murderous sin the way of their lives. The difference between a Christian who sins and an unsaved person who sins is that the true believer repents of his sin and hates it, while the unbeliever thinks not much of his sin and would do it again without any strain against her conscience toward Her Creator. Revelation 21:8 clearly explains of murderers that “their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” However, it is also there said of liars and idolaters, for example, that they will be in the same eternal fire. Every one of us has lied and put other people or things ahead of God (idolatry). We, nonetheless, do not conclude that our place will be in the lake of fire if we are trusting in Jesus Christ and hate what hurts Him and His kingdom rather than embracing such iniquity (1 Pet. 2:24). It is our salvation by Jesus that ensures our eternal destiny. (John 5:24)
The ultimate question here, then, is whether or not a follower of Jesus Christ can commit suicide. For, only followers of Jesus are safe in His presence subsequent to earthly death. This is an inquiry that cannot be unequivocally answered by mortals – even with full appeal to the Word of God. I think immediately of Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” How eloquently here does the Spirit express that there are things that only God can know, especially when it comes to issues of His judgment and mercy – as in the context of this verse. What we should point out, though, is that while some things are secret, the things that are revealed are to be known and obeyed. We have enough of God’s Word to understand that He gives to His people what is necessary to overcome in all predispositions, circumstances, and temptations. 1 Cor. 10:13 proclaims, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Also, 2 Pet. 2:9 declares that “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials.” With these two verses alone, I am compelled to believe that I can have victory over sin and the most terrible of trials.
However, the Bible undeniably reveals a grace, a help, and a forgiveness that meets the Christian at his point of failure. “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2). These words bring boundless comforts, because we know that Jesus is our Defense. He took the hit in His body and His death for all our sin. “Propitiation” means appeasement. Jesus appeases the wrath of God on behalf of all who sincerely are trusting in Christ as their Savior. Nowhere does the Bible say that the sin of suicide is excluded from the practical reaches of this Scripture. However, nowhere does the Bible say that suicide is excluded from the incontrovertible promise of God’s sustaining grace in trials and provision for victory over sin in the aforementioned verses. Therefore, it seems that the question of whether or not a heaven-bound Christian can commit suicide is ultimately one of the secrets of God, but general parameters for the topic have been made known. As Matthew Henry (1662-1714), the great Bible commentator said, “We are forbidden curiously to inquire into the secret counsels of God, and to determine concerning them. But we are directed and encouraged, diligently to seek into that which God has made known. He has kept back nothing that is profitable for us, but only that of which it is good for us to be ignorant. The end of all Divine revelation is, not to furnish curious subjects of speculation and discourse, but that we may do all the words of this law, and be blessed in our deed. This, the Bible plainly reveals; further than this, man cannot profitably go. By this light he may live and die comfortably, and be happy forever.”
When asked my humble opinion on the matter, I lean toward believing that I will meet a few people in Heaven who are now truly repentant after having committed the sin of self-murder. In the Lord’s presence, they now see clearly the purpose their pain could have served, and the sustaining grace the Lord could have shown them. But is not that true of all of us, for all our mistrust and sin? I would caution, however, that judgment for Christians is real. Though we make Heaven despite our sins because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we can lose eternal reward. If one cuts short his life by committing suicide, one forfeits untold reward for the days not lived on earth that had a purpose in Jesus. So much pain will have been caused, so much confusion will have been disseminated, and so many of the good plans of God will have gone unfulfilled. We simply cannot deny 2 Cor. 5:10 or 1 Cor. 3:13-15, “Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”
Finally, we must treat this subject as we should carefully treat many others – with thoughtfulness and a heart full of mercy toward others and humility toward the Lord. This is a mysterious area on which we tread. Only God Himself sees through to the core of who we are. “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13). I think of the way the winsome C.S. Lewis put it, “We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it. Most of the man’s psychological makeup is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or worst out of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us: all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises.”
Here is the bottom line, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). Until then, let us live according to what God has given us with every ounce of strength we have. And let us hold out all hope that the blood of Jesus Christ is fully sufficient for the sin we so awfully commit.
When most of us think of Satanic activity, we may think of Ouija boards, poltergeists, sorcery, etc. But what about the subtler ways the devil operates – even through us? After all, he is by nature a master deceiver. Jesus said that he “has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him” and that “he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). What if, as Christians, we are neglecting to realize the very damaging and sly things that Satan is doing each day, because we are focused only on the obvious. The Apostle Paul highlighted this concept when he warned fellow believers about false apostles and deceitful workmen in the church itself. He tells us not to be surprised by this because “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). Based on solid biblical truth, we have reason to be wary of Satan’s cunning modes of operation. He wants to catch us off guard.
Let me bring to your attention a reasonably well-known, but highly undervalued verse in the Bible. This Scripture makes obvious the hideous ways the devil works to damage God’s kingdom, and it is through God’s own people! The setting is that our Lord Jesus is explaining to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer, be killed, and then be raised to life. He is, in a nutshell, laying out the purpose for which He came to earth. Without this ultimate plan, none of us can be saved. But, as Jesus expounds the coming days of His death and resurrection, Peter pipes up with an incredible statement. The Bible specifically says, “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord!’ This shall never happen to you’ (Matthew 16:22).
In a crazy turn of events, Jesus then looks at His dear friend, His disciple, and declares to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23). Wow! Jesus looks at Peter and tells Satan what to do! What is going on here? We know that Peter is not possessed by Satan, for Peter clearly was a follower of Jesus Christ, even despite his failure. Why then is Jesus addressing Satan when he looks at Peter? Because the apostle in this moment is allowing the thoughts and ways of the devil to be his guide in attitude and behavior. Peter is allowing Satan to control him in this instance. He is giving the devil a strong foothold in his life and, by doing so, is moving to stop the most important plan of God. Peter becomes a momentary enemy to God with this declaration motivated by the ways of Satan (whose name, in fact, means “adversary”). No wonder the Apostle Paul instructs us in Ephesians 4:27, “give no opportunity to the devil.” So, is it possible that committed followers of Jesus Christ can be involved in Satanic activity? Absolutely! Let’s explore how and be on guard.
When Jesus accused Peter of acting in Satanic ways, He made clear the reason. Christ announced directly, “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23). That’s it. Plain and simple. The activity that warranted Jesus to name it “satanic” is the deed of concentrating on things that are of man and not of God. I am sure, then, that I am guilty at times of devilish work. Any time that I decide to put the interest of my humanity above the interest of God and His plan, I am on Satan’s side. This is utterly convicting. How often we are tempted to believe that only unbelievers and “very lost” people are involved in Satanic activity, and how wrong we are! The devil is a most cunning creature, who uses whoever he can to defy the plan of God. As demonstrated in this precise moment with Peter, the main endeavor of God that the devil seeks to destroy is the salvation of humanity. That salvation required the infinite suffering of Jesus, His cruel death, and His miraculous resurrection. Peter had wanted none of it to happen – in Peter’s humanity that is. Poor Peter loved His Lord, and he did not want Him to suffer. Peter had given up his way of living to follow Christ, and he no doubt wanted to keep following, misunderstanding the long-term plan. Peter thought His Lord unworthy of suffering and death – and maybe part of the reason was selfishness – that Peter did not want to suffer and die. In any case, God’s plan was being thwarted.
I think of what would have happened if Peter would have gotten his way and Jesus would not have died. None of us would be forgiven. None of us would ever enter into the kingdom of God. None of us could have true relationship with God. None of us could ever walk in the New Heavens and New Earth. No wonder Jesus called this behavior satanic. The devil wants to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10); he wants none of those good things for you.
We understand that what seems like a harsh reaction by Jesus to his beloved Peter is truly a just reaction. It is honest. Peter was letting Satan have his way in him. That is scary. That is horrible. And we do the same when we put our own selfish or shortsighted plans ahead of God’s ideas. If I take the path of least resistance even though I know it does not honor God’s commands, I am acting in a devilish way. If I do what is best for me even though it is not the best for the witness of Jesus to the world, I am being Satanic. If I exalt my desires above the desires of God as spelled out in His Word, I am joining the devil’s side. If I refuse to stand up for Christ for fear of human consequences, I am aiding Satan. Jesus came to this world, and He suffered. I will suffer, too. Jesus came to this world to die in my place. Now I must die to self. Jesus came to this world to obey His Father and work the plan. I must obey and work the plan, too. When I allow any of my human longings to be more important than my longing to love God and His ways, Jesus rightly says to me, “Get behind me, Satan.”
Let’s us pray and commit to never hear those words said to us. Let us keep setting our minds on the things of God and not the things of man. It’s that simple … and that difficult.
The heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was blown to smithereens in just a few minutes one morning over the airwaves. Just as I turned on the radio, I heard a man of Jewish heritage explain the highlights of the Seder meal that his wife would prepare and his family enjoy during the Passover season. As a part of that description, he was asked by the radio show’s host what exactly was the meaning of the Passover. The gentleman explained that it was a remembrance of the Jewish people “dragging themselves” out of Egypt. Yes. He went on for a few moments letting all the listeners know that back in the days of Moses, God’s people were finally able through much effort, hard work, and persistence, to somehow drag themselves out of Egypt. In all fairness, I must add that after a few sentences about this great human effort, the Jewish man tacked on at the end a brief statement in a lighthearted voice, “Of course, God did help them.”
Wow. The Hebrew people were somehow able to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and manage to limp out of Egypt by their own hard work, though they were so completely bedraggled? I think not! The book of Exodus (part of the Jewish scriptures and, of course, part of the Christian Bible) tells us the reality of the Hebrews’ desperate situation in chapter 2, verses 23-25, “During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel – and God knew.”
Clearly, the Hebrews were downtrodden beyond belief, and they needed rescued by God. This was not a work of human effort. Their miraculous deliverance would be the direct result of God’s keeping His Word. He would keep His covenant that was originally made to Abraham and passed down through the generations. The exodus of God’s people was all the result of Him keeping His promise, and not vice versa. For we, even as His people today, continue to fail Him. It is as the Apostle Paul proclaims in 2 Timothy 2:13 (ESV), “If we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.”
In fact, Exodus 6:6-9 (ESV) really gets to the heart of the matter by letting us know how helpless God’s people were, how mighty God’s salvation is, how lame the enemy is compared to the Savior, and how lacking in faith and hope the Hebrews remained even on the precipice of deliverance. We read God’s Word spoken to Moses, “Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’ Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.” This passage of the Bible makes it abundantly clear that the work of the exodus was all of God. In fact, the Lord tells His people that they would know it was Him who brought them out, because the work would be so miraculous. Despite the reiteration of God’s promise, the people still did not listen. This was definitely not a group of people who were pulling themselves up by the bootstraps and dragging themselves out of a bad situation; rather, this was a nation that was about to be thrown out of Egypt after a series of supernatural interventions by the Lord!
When we think of the plagues – the blood, the frogs, the gnats, the flies, the death of livestock, the boils, the hail, the locusts, the darkness, and the death of the firstborn – how can we imagine that the exodus was the result of human endeavor with a little bit of God’s help? The only thing we see in this historical account is the incomprehensible work of a God who never fails to keep His promises. The Israelites could in no way cause any of the plagues of judgment; it was all a work of the Lord.
The most disturbing part of what happened over the airwaves the day this gentleman talked with the radio host is how the reality of the Gospel was distorted by this discussion from the Old Testament. Not only was the truth of the book of Exodus not brought to light accurately, but the message of Jesus Christ as Savior was greatly harmed. You see, the New Testament is built upon the Old Testament. Jesus Christ did not come to destroy the law (of the Old Testament), but to fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17) Jesus made clear that the Bible’s purpose is to point people to Him for eternal life. He said to the Jews in John 5:39 (ESV), “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” The historical account of the exodus, therefore, points to Jesus Christ! It is a beautiful picture of how God saves us. Remember that Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV) declares, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The Israelites in Moses’ day had no reason to brag about their own efforts in the exodus. In the same way, Christians today have no reason to boast about our salvation; it is all God’s work!
When God sent the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn, after wearing the Egyptians down with the other nine, it was a picture of the necessity of the blood of Jesus Christ to forgive our sins. The only way that Hebrew people could be spared death during this plague was to put the blood of a lamb without blemish over the doorposts of their homes. (Exodus 12:1-13) In the same way, we are saved today by applying the blood of Jesus Christ, the sinless One, to our hearts. (1 Peter 1:18-19) In all this narrative and theology, we notice that God is the one bringing deliverance through judgment of Egypt by plagues and that He is the one prescribing the only hope His people have for surviving that judgment.
The final plague struck the heart of Pharaoh and his nation, provoking him to throw the Hebrews out of His country. Exodus 12:30-32 (ESV) explains, “And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead. Then he summoned Moses and Aaron by night and said, ‘Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as you have said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also!’” There you have it. Pharaoh effectively threw out the Hebrews from his land. Why? Because the Lord sent plagues, culminating in the last one that put Pharaoh over the edge. God’s people could not initiate nor carry out their deliverance – except for their calling out to God. The same is true today. The only part we play in our salvation is calling out to God to save us.
The damage done on the radio by a person who was referring to the Bible – but inaccurately so – is devastating. In deemphasizing the work of the Lord and pointing rather to the work of humans, one man gave the impression that human achievement is what saves us. “Every word of God proves true” (Proverbs 30:5, ESV), so we must take into account every detail of every part of the Bible. When any portion is distorted or misrepresented, untold spiritual damage occurs. I am sure that the devil was pleased with this particular instance of the work of Jesus Christ being minimized. The devil cannot create anything of his own, and so he works ardently to pervert what God has already said. This has been the devil’s method of operation from the beginning. He is the “father of lies” (John 8:44), and he is at work all of the time trying to twist God’s Word so that people will not be saved.
Be aware. Be watchful. (1 Peter 5:8) Know God’s Word for yourself. Do not let anyone misdirect your understanding of God’s truth. My experience with an “innocent” radio program is a grand example. The enemy is always at work to distort the message of God’s salvation. There is nothing more important than your eternal life, and there is no other source for understanding the salvation that Jesus Christ provides other than the Bible – exactly as it is written.
The last book of the Bible begins with the curious and inspiring sentence, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants the things that must soon take place” (Rev. 1:1, ESV, emphasis mine). The third sentence includes “for the time is near” (Rev. 1:3). Just as amazing are the last recorded words of Jesus at the end of the book, in Rev. 22:20 (ESV), “Surely I am coming soon.” Jesus instructed all of His followers to be perpetually ready for His return, as in Matt. 24:42 (ESV), “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” God clearly presents the Lord’s return as imminent.
Why then, has He not returned after more than 2,000 years since His visible departure from the Mount of Olives? Jesus said He was coming soon, so what does “soon” mean? (It certainly cannot now mean a total period of time less than two millennia!) I would like to outline two reasons that I believe Jesus told us His reappearance to earth would happen quickly. This, then, is not an exhaustive discussion, but one to help us with our biblical confidence.
The first reason you may find to be less riveting than the second, but it needs to be pointed out. God is timeless. He exists completely independent of time, because He is the Creator of time. To God, as the Bible says, “one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pet. 3:8, ESV). Mathematics enters into the picture. We need to grasp that infinity is not a number, but rather the concept that there is no last number. We can count and count and count, but there is always the possibility to add another number. Maybe we don’t have a name for the number because it is so distant, but the number still exists. This concept of infinity – or boundlessness – helps us understand God. Whether we look backward in time or forward in time, He exists. There is never a point that He didn’t exist, even before creation. Ps. 90:2 (ESV) declares, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
If you tried to tell the number three to imagine what it feels like to be as far away on the number line as five million, “he” could hardly conceive of it. But try asking three to keep traveling forever until he reaches infinity, and he can’t. He will never reach infinity. And neither can we grasp timelessness – the infinite nature of God. For God to tell us that His return is soon may not mean what we take for granted on our timescale. Perhaps that’s exactly why the Bible proclaims, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness” (2 Pet. 3:9, ESV). We tend to perceive His timing from our limited perspective, but God “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9, ESV). God has a divine and timeless perspective, with a heart toward salvation.
Nonetheless, Jesus did tell us finite humans that He is coming soon. With the backdrop of His timelessness, we still seek to understand His reason for using the term, knowing our limited nature. Let’s, then, discuss the second, fascinating reason God may have expressed Himself this way. If an exasperated mom wants her child to get out the door to an appointment for which they are already late because the child has been dilly-dallying for twenty minutes, the mom may exclaim, “Get over here; we must leave soon!” In this case, when the mother says “soon,” she means “right now.”
If a dad wants his teen to get serious about studying for his permit for a driver’s license, the father might firmly remind his son two months before his eligibility date, “You better be preparing for your permit test; you’ll be taking it very soon.” In this case, when the dad says “soon,” he means “in a couple of months.”
If a mother is trying to foster preparedness in her daughter, she might say to her while the teen is still a high school freshman – “Take your classes seriously, because you’ll be going to college soon.” In this case, when the mom says “soon,” she means “in four years.”
“Soon” must be applied in context. In the first scenario with the distracted child, it is interpreted as “in that very minute,” whereas in the second case it implies a more distant time down the road. However, the third college situation is the one in which the most planning is needed. Many years of serious study and responsibility are necessary to reach the goal. In the last case, “soon” calls us to recognize that much preparation must be made, because the coming event is elaborate and weighty.
Jesus tells us that He is coming quickly because His coming is the most important thing in the universe – the one event for which each Christian is aiming. Everything we do and say and are is invested in the eternal future to which He will usher us when He returns. The one event we cannot miss and must not be ill-prepared for is the coming of Jesus Christ to earth again to remake this broken, sinful world into His perfect kingdom.
His reappearance could be immediate – this very minute. It could happen this year. It could also happen in hundreds or thousands of years. In any case, our knowing that it is soon is utterly appropriate, because this is the event to end all events. This is the hope of every believer. This is the one thing for which you want to say, “I am ready!”
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ… (Titus 2:11-13)
After Jesus had been performing miracles and feeding thousands of hungry people, a crowd was about to push an issue in the wrong way, for the wrong reasons, and at the wrong time. “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (John 6:15, ESV).
The restraint displayed here by Jesus amazes me, because at that moment, HE KNOWS HE IS KING! He had every right to come the first time to earth and take over the universe He had created and set up His perfect kingdom. But He didn’t. He waited. He restrained His glory and His rights. He chose a crown of thorns rather than a crown of jewels. He determined to be mocked rather than to take over. Why?
Jesus chose the road of suffering back then for YOU. If He had come the first time to set up His righteous kingdom, we could have never been a part of it. But since He came the first time to suffer for sin in our place, we can join Him when He comes to reign and be truly known as the King of the universe.
Have you trusted in His suffering for your sin? Have you reacted to the love He displayed for you in His divine self-denial? Have you believed in the King who wore a crown of thorns so that you could one day be beside Him when “on His head are many diadems”? (Revelation 19:12, ESV)
“Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15, ESV)