Overwhelmed

Jim Cymbala, the pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle – a multiracial church in New York City that now numbers over 16,000 in members – went through a very difficult couple of years with his daughter Chrissy. She had been the model child, but then when she was sixteen years old she began to stray away.  He had tried to control her with all that he could say and do, with what would seem to have been well intentioned attempts to keep her on the straight-and-narrow, but he just kept on driving her further away, until finally she did not come home one night. And then God told him that he would only be allowed to speak to him about her.

But then, after some months, a note was passed to him in one of the prayer meetings of the church: “Pastor Cymbala, I feel impressed that we should stop the meeting and all pray for your daughter.”

That prayer meeting became an intense spiritual battle for the soul of his daughter. Nothing happened right then in the meeting other then intense prayer. But 36 hours later she came back, and she gave this confession: “Daddy, I’ve sinned against God. I’ve sinned against myself. I’ve sinned against you and Mommy, please forgive me.”

Even more, she wanted to know: “Daddy, who was praying for me? On Tuesday night, who was praying? In the middle of the night, God woke me up and showed me I was heading toward this abyss. There was no bottom to it – I was scared to death. I realized how hard I’ve been, how rebellious and w wrong. But at the same time, it was like God wrapped his arms around me and held me tight. He kept me from sliding any farther and he said, ‘I still love you.’”

Overwhelmed – and finally driven to pray, and pray to God only, trust in God the Father only – this describes many of the situations which may come upon God’s people in this world, such as happened to Jim and Carol Cymbala. These situations are the Gethsemanes that come upon God’s people throughout the ages. And wherever there is a place of Gethsemane for them, they – we – were long ago preceded into those situations by the one true Gethsemane in which Jesus prayed so long ago by himself as he went alone, to that place of prayer, to trust in God the Father only in that time.

The garden of Gethsemane was where Jesus went to pray after he had finished his final instructions to his disciples, the last Supper. And it would be the place where he met the betrayer and the place where he would be arrested and taken into custody for civil and political crimes which he did not commit. It was, moreover,  the place where the series of events would be set into motion that would culminate in his crucifixion, burial and resurrection. That night and then on that day to follow, the weight of the world was on his shoulders. That night the one who made and held together the world found out what it was to be overwhelmed.

Gethsemane was the place where the Lord spent his darkest night, where the weight of the world was on his shoulders. It was the place which marked the beginning of the suffering of the Messiah, the time that he face what it would mean to bear the sins of the world in the next few hours. And as well it was the beginning of the battle and the ultimate victory that the Son of God would achieve over the forces of sin and death on the cross. His experience of unprecedented agony there is a guide to us of something of the price of our redemption, in what Jesus faced during the next sixteen or so hours. And, moreover, the experience of Jesus in Gethsemane guides us to what we are to do when we face our own Gethsemanes, when we face the greatest challenges that we face in following the will of God in our own lives, and we find ourselves in the times when we ourselves are overwhelmed, not because of anything that we have done wrong but because we face the will of God in a world of sin.

“And they come to a place which had the name Gethsemane, and he [Jesus] says to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I am praying.’ And he takes Peter and James and John with him, and he began to be overwhelmed and in deep distress, and he says to them, ‘My soul is extremely pained, to the point of death; stay here and keep watch.’ And he went on a little further and he fell on the ground, and he was praying that it is were possible the hour would pass from him. And he was saying, ‘Abba, Father! All things are possible with you. Take this cup from me – but not what I decide but what you decide.’ And he comes and finds them sleeping, and he says to Peter, ‘Simon, are you sleeping? Couldn’t you (meaning all the disciples) keep awake for one hour? (Again addressed to all the disciples)Wake up and pray that you don’t come into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.’ And again, he went away and prayed as he said the same thing. And again coming back he found them sleeping, since their eyes couldn’t stay open and they did not know how to answer him. And he comes back the third time, and and he tells them, ‘Are you going to sleep the rest of the time and then have enough rest? It’s over! Look! The Son of Man has been betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up! Let’s go! Look! The one who has sold me out has just arrived!’” (Mark 14:32-42, Dale’s sight translation)

The will of God often places his people in situations which overwhelm them. But Jesus was there first. For him, the night in Gethsemane was a night of sorrow and distress. There was not only physical darkness around them, but also on that night mental and emotional darkness started to close in on him as well. Here we see Jesus, as the “ . . .  man of sorrows and acquainted with grief . . .” on the night where he would enter into being, ‘’ . . . despised and rejected by men . . .” (Isaiah 53:3).  And on that night, Jesus was overwhelmed. And because he was overwhelmed then, he went before us to show us what to do when we are overwhelmed.

The night of Gethsemane overwhelmed Jesus with a holy dread of what was to come upon him. His experience was a holy revulsion at the coming ordeal of the cross when he would bear the sin of the world. Someone once described this experience as the ‘presentation of the bill of salvation.’  This is how the gospel of Mark describes it in verses 32-24, in its strong, colloquial, blue collar, everyman style of Greek: “And they come to a place which had the name Gethsemane, and he [Jesus] says to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I am praying.’ And he takes Peter and James and John with him, and he began to be overwhelmed and in deep distress, and he says to them, ‘My soul is extremely pained, to the point of death; stay here and keep watch.’”

The garden of Gethsemane is still there on the side of Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem. In that time it was a private garden, and the owner probably permitted Jesus and the disciples to gather there when they were in Jerusalem. Only the gospel of Mark gives the name of the garden. But that was where Jesus came to pray on that night. He separated the disciples into two groups. The group that was closer to him physically were the group of the e inner three witnesses, Peter, James and John. They were earlier the witnesses to the Transfiguration, the Olivet Discourse, and the raising of Jairus’s daughter. And here they heard a little more from him, as he described his overwhelming emotional state to the disciples there.

On that night he was not a teacher discouraged over ignorance of the world, since the problem he came to solve was not good natured ignorance of a lot of well meaning but misguided people. He knew better; on that night he was seeing clearly the defiance and depravity of the sin of the world that he would bear in his suffering. He was not seeing the sins of the series of the any supposed past lives of the people but the sins of humanity, of each individual over the course of a single lifetime but over the course of all time since the sin of Adam.  And he was experiencing the start of the full mental and emotional anguish that would be part of his sufferings. This overpowering mental and emotional distress that was apparently a new experience for his human nature, and indeed, it was a unique experience among all humanity. It was the utterly pure sadness on the one hand, with none of the things that accompany human sadness and make it destructive, the sight of sin and judgment. As the holy Son of God, he was seeing the moral insanity, utter darkness and depravity of sin, as well as the intensity of the wrath of God against sin. His reaction was the perfect reaction of sinless human nature against the horror of the sin of the world. And so that night was the Lord’s darkest night. He was overwhelmed with the weight of the world that was set before him, and that would be on his shoulders as he went to the cross. So this is how Charles Spurgeon described it: “Our blessed Lord saw sin in all its blackness. He had a most distinct perception of its treasonable assault upon his God, its murderous hatred toward himself, and its destructive influence upon mankind. Well might horror take hold of him, for a sight of sin must be far more hideous than a sight of hell, which is but its offspring.”

And so, the promise of the scriptures is not that we would never be overwhelmed ourselves. But note that what Jesus faced here has always been an encouragement to believers in all ages, that he has not undergone anything that we have not undergone before. Being overwhelmed by what happens in a fallen world is not an indication of weakness, but quite the contrary. And yet his reaction of horror at the weight of the sin of this world found far too little in those who claim to be his followers – but more on that later. And being overwhelmed far more often than not a large part of the experience of those who are actually following Christ and who are suffering for Christ in this world, and who may be bearing the suffering of others in this world for the sake of Christ. Just as there was no blame to the sinless Son of God, so also there should be no blame either to believers who are also experiencing being overwhelmed in this world as the weight of this world comes upon our shoulders. And as we follow Jesus in this world, we may well come to see more of what it means to bear more than just the weight of a single prodigal son or daughter, but the weight of a prodigal world.

Being overwhelmed, then, drove Jesus to pray. His perfect example thus provides clear guidance for his people in all ages on what to do when they are overwhelmed as well. There is no better alternative to anyone who has called him Lord and who is standing for Jesus in this world. The experience of being overwhelmed drove him to the one who could strengthen him to bear the weight of the world upon his shoulders. And make no mistake about it, our own eternal destinies, the eternal destinies of everyone around us and who has ever lived, and the fate of the entire universe depended on what would happen in these hours when Jesus was overwhelmed.

In verses 35-36 we understand how the sorrow drove Jesus to pray: “And he went on a little further and he fell on the ground, and he was praying that it is were possible the hour would pass from him. And he was saying, ‘Abba, Father! All things are possible with you. Take this cup from me – but not what I decide but what you decide.’”

This was one of the occasions where his word in prayer to the Father were overheard and recorded. The actual Aramaic word for Father included with the words that he was using, these simple yet deep and profound words. The time had arrived, but now he was asking that it would pass away. The cup was being offered, but he was asking that it be taken from him. The cup was his description of his suffering and death. It was the based on the Old Testament metaphor of a cup that held the wrath of God that was the judgment of God against sin. But there was to be no ransom for the sins of the world except through his drinking the cup in that hour. There would not be any ransom through passing through millions of reincarnations from anyone’s past lives. The redemption of the world, the atonement for the sins of humanity, each one over the course of a single lifetime could only come in one cup of the wrath of God that would be accepted in that hour. The price for salvation of the world  would be paid through the wrath of God freely accepted by the Son of God drinking the cup, and on that night he freely accepted the bill for the salvation of the world.  He accepted the culmination of his mission, in his own words, “ . . .  to give his life as a ransom for many . . .” (Mark 10:45) so that he would become, “ . . . the propitiation for our sins, and not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world . . .” (I John 2:2).

I don’t think that we can see Jesus here in any way to be shrinking from the physical suffering of the cross. He was a man of such physical bravery that he could walk right through a crowd which was intent on throwing him off a cliff. Rather, this was the realization of all that that the cross would mean to him of separation from God during that time through his suffering in his human nature, to the point where he would utter the cry of dereliction: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

So Jesus asked for the cup and the hour to pass from him. He was acting and speaking within the limits of his human knowledge but at the same time he was submitting to the will of God with his unfallen human will also. His brief prayer as recorded was probably a summary of a more protracted struggle of continued, heartfelt prayer that he had before God the Father. And yet he followed with a perfect faith before God the Father and a perfect perception of the Father in this time of crisis. And so he then continued on in prayer with the full submission to the will of the Father.

Again, Jesus guides us what to do when we are overwhelmed. What he was experiencing then may have been and may have often been what believers have been doing the nights in prisons before their executions for following Jesus throughout the ages, and that which is still something that believers are called to do. But even more, if there are no experiences of being overwhelmed and driven to prayer among us there will be no growth and expansion of his kingdom on this world. The further call then is to the place of prayer and submission wherever we may be. This includes the need for prayer beyond the prodigals in our families to the prodigals outside our families — something that seems to happen far too little among us any more.

I would put it that these are the Gethsemanes that believers around us are entering far too little any more – the Gethsemanes of intercession for the world around us rather more than just a continued and perhaps even obsessive supplication for a loved one who may be rebellious and straying – and often enough, this rebellion is the rejection of the overcontrol of obsessive parents who use Christianity to try to control their children. This intercession, where we can pour out our heart for those who are around us who are lost who may not be a part of our family is where our heart reflects more and more the heart of God for the world. And often, isn’t one of the underlying motives about the prodigal often include our family and our reputation?

So where we make the Gethsemane of our lives to be about the prodigal world rather than the prodigal child we declare before God, the world and the prodigal child that our love for God and the prodigal world is more than about our family and our reputation. We send a message to prodigal that it really isn’t about them, they don’t get control with their rebellion, and that it’s up to them to stand before God as a responsible adult who has reached the age of accountability before God. An intercessory and surrendering prayer will often be a part of this, where we seek God and entrust them to God and stop trying to overwhelm them with our obsessive and often deceitful and selfish attempts to control. And when we do so, we will find tremendous opportunities for ministry.

I can’t recall where, but I do remember a story of two Christian parents whose child started ‘hanging with the wrong crowd.’ They were upset and discouraged, but then they saw this as an opportunity to minister to the adolescents from the wrong crowd; after all, the circumstances were bringing them right into their own home. They ended up winning several of their child’s friends ‘from the wrong crowd’ to Christ as they prayed for them, invited them to dinner and to evenings with the family. And lo and behold, their child came back to Christ when that child saw that those whom that child thought had the answers wanted what that child had had all along. So I would leave you with these words from a song from Billy Joel. I don’t like most of what the song  says, but these words should be extremely disturbing to the church and should awaken the church to its responsibility toward the lost and winnable individuals from ‘the wrong crowd’: “You say your mother told you all that I could give you was a reputation / She never cared for me / But did she ever say a prayer for me?”

Unfortunately, though, not everyone will respond to the experience of being overwhelmed by prayer. These are the disciples of Jesus who are not careful to respond to the hour of trial and temptation without placing themselves squarely in the will of God and receive the power of God through prayer. They will then still face defeat in this world, because they are living with less than God is ready and willing to give them in their situation.

So here’s what we see in verses 37-40: “And he comes and finds them sleeping, and he says to Peter, ‘Simon, are you sleeping? Couldn’t you (meaning all the disciples) keep awake for one hour? (Again addressed to all the disciples)Wake up and pray that you don’t come into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.’ And again, he went away and prayed as he said the same thing. And again coming back he found them sleeping, since their eyes couldn’t stay open and they did not know how to answer him.” The Lord continued in prayer even though he could not rouse the disciples to continue with him. They also were overwhelmed. Their distress seems to have come from their anticipation of the departure of Jesus. That would be the loss that they did not understand and still could not grasp. They had heard ominous warnings over the course of the ministry of Jesus which they could not square with their understanding of how the Messiah would act, and that evening they heard the predictions of betrayal and the predictions of their abandoning him in the hour of crisis. And when that time of crisis came they could not even keep their eyes open despite all Jesus tried to do to arouse them.  

The disciples were overwhelmed beyond their spiritual ability and beyond their own strength and understanding even to pray in that time – but that made it more necessary to pray. They were unable to get what was going on with Jesus and that situation, and they surrendered to the weakness of their human nature in that time. Even so, the situation was far more overwhelming to Jesus himself, and the situation did not stop Jesus from continuing in prayer. And note that Jesus was not asking them to pray for him. Rather, he was seeking to have them do what praying that they could in that time to be able to stand on their own when he was led away in chains. While it is true that here we see Jesus seeking to rouse his closest friends to stand with him, I think that we can also see him as a king seeking to rouse his troops to seek the strength stand their ground in the conflict that he knew they would face. And three times Jesus rebuked them, and both the second and final rebuke very ironic and show his extreme disappointment. But eventually the lesson did come home to them, much later and here is the lesson that was recorded by Peter: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring ion looking for someone to devour.” (I Peter 5:8 ).

Likewise, being overwhelmed to the point of exhaustion, to being unable even to pray has often been the experience of believers throughout this world and often in the face of all the weight of the world seemingly coming against them. Yet they may still not seek God in prayer, so that they are still unable to face the weight of the world coming down around them with the strength that God is ready and willing to give if they simply come to him in prayer. These believers  may then be those who fail others in the time of trial, when they themselves cannot really get what is going on with the situation that is overwhelming them and overwhelming others. So they have become lost in the overwhelming experience and  do not get to the place where they can find the way out, even if they are trying with all their own might to be tough and self-reliant in the face of all this world brings against them. And once again the London preacher Charles Spurgeon has a pungent word to speak to this situation: “Temptation lets us known how weak we are, and drives us to our knees. It tests our faith and tries our love, and lets us see whether our graces are genuine or not.”

Being overwhelmed, then,  is not a mark of something wrong with us, but of the world that we live in. Nowadays many of us may experience too much of the wrong kind of being overwhelmed from the times that we may be of trying to play God ourselves and in the lives of others in this world. The lesson of Gethsemane, of the horror of the sin of the world, is too little realized among us nowadays. Our own lack of a clear understanding of the horror of the sin of this world leaves us too often too ready to take the side of the sinner against the holy, perfect God who says that sin must be atoned for and points to the cross as the remedy. And too often our concerns center more in the wayward family member than the wayward world around us. And thus there remains too little regard for the seriousness of sin, too little appreciation for the love of God who gave his Son, and too little awe at the utter submission of the Son of God to the will of the God the Father.

Being overwhelmed is the place where we may find ourselves in this world. But it does not have to be a long term or permanent state of our lives. It can be the place which leads to the beginning of a victory that glorifies God to all eternity. Through persistence in prayer the overwhelming situation concludes in victory. For Jesus, the night in Gethsemane ended in victory. The battle which he began there as a part of his war against the forces of darkness continued to its ultimate culmination. He was victorious then and there in Gethsemane so that he could continue in victory to the end on the cross.  The conflict within gave way to his standing up to the beginning of his suffering with the betrayal. So being overwhelmed gave way to standing up and standing firm in the face of what would happen to him over the rest of the night and the next day to the final victory on the cross.

The crushing weight which overwhelmed Jesus became bearable to the point of facing the road to the cross. This was the starting point of the final series of events for which he came began with the acceptance of the cup from God the Father and the victory for which he came.

Here is what verses 41-42 say: “And again coming back he found them sleeping, since their eyes couldn’t stay open and they did not know how to answer him. And he comes back the third time, and and he tells them, ‘Are you going to sleep the rest of the time and then have enough rest? It’s over! Look! The Son of Man has been betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up! Let’s go! Look! The one who has sold me out has just arrived!’”  These were the last words of Jesus before the betrayal and arrest. That was then not something that he faced unwillingly but with the full submission of his will. He knew that the time had come, and he went forth to meet the betrayer, the betrayal and the arrest by an armed mob of hired political flunkeys.

There is some dispute over the meaning of v. 41: “‘Are you going to sleep the rest of the time and then have enough rest?” This was most likely an ironic question that was probably put quite gently to the disciples. After this question he announces the next event in the series of events that would happened over the rest of the night and the next day: his betrayal into the hands of sinners. The words of Jesus recall his own predictions of his death and resurrection which he gave to the disciples earlier during his ministry, which are recorded in Mark 8:31, 9:31,10:33-32.  He was now fully willing to get up  and to  enter into the events that would happen. He had now entered into the full acceptance of the cup of the judgment of God upon himself for the sin of the world and all that would mean to him. The time of prayer has made the change in him now to face his mission clearly, as he rises up from this time of prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. He rises from the place of prayer to the path of submission and obedience to the will of the Father to the uttermost. And, just as well, the failure of the apostles then may have been a later victory themselves once the lesson of Gethsemane came through to them years later when they faced their own suffering and martyrdoms.

Being overwhelmed, then, does not have to end that way. That experience does not have to be the permanent experience of the believer. Though we are living in a world which may often beat us down and always, seeks to beat us down does not mean that that being overwhelmed has to be the last word on us and our experience. The path to victory after being overwhelmed comes in getting up and going forward after spending as much time on the knees before God as it takes. So most certainly today there is far too little realization that the victory is won first in the place of prayer. There is the place where we come into the embrace of the will of God there and receive his power, then to the path of submission and obedience.

THE NIGHT OF DISTRESS AND SORROW IN THE GARDEN LED TO THE PATH TO THE CROSS, AND THEN THE CROSS BECAME THE VICTORY FOR ALL WHO HAVE COME TO JESUS IN FAITH FOR THEIR ETERNAL SALVATION. THE CUP OF THE WRATH OF GOD ON THE CROSS FOR US MEANT THE REMOVAL OF THE PENALTY AND PUNISHMENT OF SIN FOR EACH ONE OF US SO THE VICTORY IN THE GARDEN WAS THE PREPARATION FOR THE VICTORY OF THE CROSS AND THE EMPTY TOMB, AND THE VICTORY WAS NOT FOR HIM PERSONALLY, BUT THE VICTORY OF SALVATION FOR HIS PEOPLE, THE VICTORY TO THE GLORY OF GOD TO ALL ETERNITY, FOR ALL THE UNIVERSE. HE HAS ALREADY TAKEN CARE OF THE MOST OVERWHELMING SITUATION FOR US ON THE CROSS – THE SIN OF A LOST AND DYING WORLD. AND HIS VICTORY IS THE REASON WHY THE SITUATIONS WHICH OVERWHELM US NOW DO NOT HAVE TO KEEP US DOWN, BUT CAN LIKEWISE BECOME VICTORIES WHICH GLORIFY GOD TO ALL ETERNITY.

The gospel of salvation is therefore the invitation to participate in the victory of Jesus Christ. The whole point of his death and resurrection to provide the salvation which is received by repentance and faith in him alone. The whole reason why he suffered and died is so that you might come to the place where you  receive his death as the price for your salvation, for the forgiveness of your sins. This calls for the conscious decision from you, for the conscious reception by faith, the saving faith which is the basis of entering and standing in the salvation which Jesus has brought, since without him our sin is overwhelming to us from now to all eternity.

Dark hours and overwhelming situations still come upon us in this world. Some will come unexpectedly, and some will come simply by taking the next step in following the will of God in this world. But his victory makes possible our victories in our darkest and most overwhelming hours. He has shown us the place to find the victory if we find ourselves in our darkest nights, so for us the place to be in the hardest times and in the times of greatest temptation is in the place of prayer. There we can find his power to help us and his presence to guide and strengthen us. There is no need to be thrown into dependence on our own strength and wisdom, but in the place of our own Gethsemane we can receive his strength and wisdom for the next steps on the path of the will of God. And his victory also makes it certain that the earthly troubles will finally end and that finally there will be nothing but eternal, infinite love and joy in the presence of God. And often enough, the overwhelming situation may also have nothing to do with our own sin, but with the sins and follies of others around us. So there remains among us to the end of the world the need to go into the place of persistent prayer, to a Gethsemane of intercession for this world, for not only for the wayward family members but for the people of the prodigal, wayward world around us.

Gathering

One of the distinctive emphases of the Christian and Missionary Alliance from the beginning was that of “Christ the Coming King.” It was fourfold gospel as presented by Albert Benjamin Simpson. He saw it as part of the truth of the gospel for all times and all places until Jesus returns. He wrote, “The Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is a distinct and important part of the apostolic gospel. The truth and hope of the Lord’s return is the church’s great and blessed hope.”

The literal, physical and visible return of Jesus Christ to this world has been a part of the hope of believers in Christ for over two thousand years now. It is something that is to be expected and longed for, as we grow in Christ. Yet I fear that the reality and impetus of this hope has waned in the church over the past generation in the lives of many. So there is still a need for renewed preaching and teaching on the return of Jesus to the church today, lest our hearts grow lukewarm and comfortable here and our hopes are turned to things that are second best rather than the best that is yet to come. And I give what follows from an unabashedly premillennial and posttribulational perspective, as a part of ethical disclosure of what is to come. If you come from a different perspective, please read this with a willingness to understand the perspective I put forth.

Jesus himself gave strong and clear predictions as to what would happen before his coming in glory. What he has said has been written down, passed down and preserved for us today, so that we would not become distracted and deceived as to the true hope for our broken and fallen world. In the week that preceded his death on the cross and resurrection he spoke to Peter, James and John of his return in glory to this world. This teaching session happened on the slope of the Mount of Olives facing Jerusalem and the Temple, probably around March or April of A.D. 30. Three men heard these words, and the account of Mark is probably mostly that of the apostle Peter, who was there to hear these things. So here is what he had to say:

“But when you see ‘The Abomination of Desolation’ standing where it ought not to be! Let the reader understand – then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the roof of the house not come down nor go back into the house to take anything from the house. Let no one who has gone into the field turn around and go back to grab a coat. Alas for those who are pregnant and nursing in those days! Pray that it will not be in the time of winter, because those will be days of catastrophe such as have not happened from the beginning of creation when God created until now and will not be again. And except the Lord had cut short those days, nothing living would have survived. But on account of the chosen people he has chosen he will cut short those days. And if anyone then says to you, ‘Look the Messiah is here!’, do not believe that person, because false Messiahs and false prophets will arise and give out signs and wonders so that, if it were possible, to deceive God’s very own people. But you watch! I have already told you everything.”

“But in those days after that catastrophe,

‘The sun will be darkened,
And the moon will not give out its light,
And the stars will be falling from the sky,
And the powers in heaven will be shaken.’

And then they will see the Son of Man as he comes in the clouds with much power and glory. And then he will send out his angels, and he will gather together his chosen people from the four winds, from the farthest point of the land to the farthest point of the sky.” (Mark 13:14-27, Dale’s sight translation.)

Before the return of Jesus Christ there will be unparalleled religious deception in the person of the Antichrist. Make no mistake, he is a real person who is yet to be definitely and openly revealed to this world. His appearance will then foment the great persecution of believers that will come before the end. This will be the time of the the Antichrist who is to come. This will be the worldwide worship of a single wicked man, and it will be imposed worldwide by deception and by military power. There will then be a particular blatant attempt to set up this worship of the Antichrist in Jerusalem itself.

Jesus starts out this part of the prophecy with a statement that would be strange if it stood alone: ““But when you see ‘The Abomination of Desolation’ standing where it ought not to be! Let the reader understand . . .” ‘The Abomination of Desolation’ is an allusion to the previous prophecy of Daniel 9:27. It is considered to have been fulfilled by many in 168 BCE when the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes caused the regular Jewish sacrifice to cease in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and set up pagan worship there. But Jesus brought this up again many years afterward, and he evidently didn’t believe that it was completely fulfilled at that time. Rather, he points to a fulfillment that was yet to come in the future. And the early church definitely believed that there was a fulfillment in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, when the pagan standards,which in themselves were idols, were raised over the Holy City.

But there would be one that would be yet to come, a final appearance in the coming of the Antichrist. The ‘Abomination of Desolation’ seems to be the description of when an idol is raised on the Temple Mount in contradiction to the worship of the one true God in Jerusalem. It is something that is an utter and destructive abomination and affront to the one true God. So Jesus is predicting that this would happen yet again in the future before his return. And the parallel passage in II Thessalonians 2:3 seems to point to this as well. This is where the apostle Paul wrote, “[the day of the Lord] will not come unless the falling away comes first and the Man of Lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who will stand against and lift himself up over everything that is called God or something to be worshipped, so that he sits himself down in the Temple of God and sets himself up to be God.” In fact, much of II Thessalonians 2:1-12 can be considered to be parallel to Mark 13:14-23. It’s not unreasonable to see the apostle Paul in II Thessalonians 2:1-12 expanding on and applying these very statements of Jesus from the Olivet Discourse, and indeed, providing us with an apostolic commentary on this part of the Olivet Discourse.

Jesus
Mark 13:14-23
Paul
I Thessalonians 2:1-12
Abomination of desolation – 13:14 Antichrist setting himself up in Temple – 2:3
False, deceiving miracles / signs and wonders from the antichrists and false prophets to come
13:22
False, deceiving miracles / signs and wonders from the Antichrist to come
2:9-12

So then, it’s possible also to see, as many do, that the Antichrist will be the ultimate example of many antichrists who have come throughout history. I’ve heard others say that it seems like there have been candidates for the post throughout history, and that Satan seems to have had someone eligible for the post throughout history. It’s reasonable to think so, when you consider

  • Adolf Hitler: He proclaimed himself the emissary of the Almighty and the Founder of the Reich. Nazi soldiers died invoking his name.
  • Joseph Stalin: His propaganda was that he was the wisest, most beloved and genial man of the world, and that he was the only one who was caring for the poor and protecting the oppressed.
  • Mao Tse Tung: He proclaimed himself the ultimate power and accepted worship as people bowed before him, and there was a widespread belief that he healed.

And so on. It’s reasonable from scripture to see that the last great counterfeit of Satan, his great masterpiece of cunning, will use demonic power to deceive people into believing his self deification. And at any time the question must come to believers to consider whether the stage is being set for the appearance of the Antichrist. But then Jesus goes on to give more explicit instructions on what to do when this happens. The appearance of the Antichrist will then mean the beginning of a worldwide wave of persecution, beginning at Jerusalem. This will be the start of the period of worldwide catastrophes, otherwise known as the Great Tribulation. So these are the directions that Jesus gave: “ . . . then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the roof of the house not come down nor go back into the house to take anything from the house. Let no one who has gone into the field turn around and go back to grab a coat. Alas for those who are pregnant and nursing in those days! Pray that it will not be in the time of winter, because those will be days of catastrophe such as have not happened from the beginning of creation when God created until now and will not be again. And except the Lord had cut short those days, nothing living would have survived. But on account of the chosen people he has chosen he will cut short those days.”

The sign to flee will simply be the appearance of the Antichrist in Jerusalem as he sets himself up as God. It looks like it will be on a restored Temple, but it may well be that in the place of the Holy of Holies on the Temple Mount, without necessarily being a physical Temple there may be sufficient to trigger fulfillment of the prophecies. But this prophecy was taken by the Christians in Jerusalem in AD 70 as the sign to flee to the town of Pella, but that doesn’t seem to be the complete fulfillment of the prophecy. The flight from Jerusalem come in a situation where no hesitancy is possible. The prayer for that not to happen on a Sabbath is a real recognition of the restriction of services to travellers in that time, such as the current lack of activity in modern Israel on the Sabbath.  And the horrors of that time will make the blessings of motherhood seem like a liability. These statements of Jesus show that the tremendous difficulty, brutality and horror of what was to come. The escape from persecution was not an end in itself, though, but rather itself a determination not to be caught in a compromising position.

The promise of Jesus is that God will cut short those days of persecution and the series of catastrophes to come. The Ruler of history will intervene to end history at its lowest depth of human depravity under Satanic direction. The period will be allowed to show what happens when God allows people to choose freely, and the refusal of mankind to receive his truth will erupt in depravity, deceit and violence without parallel. But God will not allow this time of evil to continue forever.  It will happen only for a short time and then the end will be final. Though from our perspective these words may not be comforting, for the people suffering in that time there will be great comfort in the knowledge that God is cutting it short.

Jesus went on, though, to tack on strong commands not to believe the false Messiahs and prophets to come. It’s noteworthy that he changed to the plural here instead of zeroing in on the singular Antichrist and false prophet that are in the book of Revelation: “And if anyone then says to you, ‘Look the Messiah is here!’, do not believe that person, because false Messiahs and false prophets will arise and give out signs and wonders so that, if it were possible, to deceive God’s very own people. But you watch! I have already told you everything.”

So why did Jesus speak in the plural of false Messiahs and false prophets rather than in the singular, like in the book of Revelation, where there is one Beast (the Antichrist) and False Prophet? I think that it comes down to simply this: his warning not to believe a person who points out that the Messiah is a particular person and in a particular place until his visible return before the whole world applies to all false Messiahs and false prophets until his visible return before the whole world. And his warning not to believe them no matter what apparent miracles they might do applies to all false Messiahs and false prophets until his visible return. This would be consistent with the apostolic guidance here, from the apostle John himself – one of the eyewitnesses to what Jesus was saying here, and the author of I John and the book of Revelation. “Children, it is the last hour, and just as you have heart that the Antichrist is coming, and now many antichrists have come to pass. From that we know that it is the last hour . . .” (I John 2:18). “Every spirit which does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the Antichrist, who you have heard is coming, and now is already in the world.” I John 4:3

So at that time, when everything seems to be going toward the worst, the very best will happen. Jesus Christ himself will return gather together his people for himself. It’s understated here that this will cut short the apparent triumph of the false Messiah, but the emphasis is that the time of evil will end for the people of God. He will come to end the rule of evil and set up his kingdom over all the earth. They will be gathered together to be with him forever, and I understand this to be what is normally termed the post-tribulation rapture, though my preferred term is the Final Gathering, or the Gathering.

There will be unprecedented signs in the heavens before the Gathering takes place. The ignorance of the cosmic signs in the common preaching and teaching of the end times that are throughout scripture and which Jesus himself mentioned is amazing to me. But this thread of prophecy continues from the Old Testament prophets clear through to the end of the New Testament, and, with the emphasis that Jesus himself gave it, it deserves renewed scrutiny. I think that the reason it has been underemphasized in the past was the desire, with the emphasis on the pre-tribulation rapture, to define the word imminent in regard to the coming as ‘with no preceding signs.’ But, with the following verses, I think that imminent needs to be defined as ‘impending’ and as the next major event in God’s plan of salvation for his people.

So here is what Jesus had to say in that passage about the coming signs in the heavens:

“But in those days after that catastrophe,

‘The sun will be darkened,
And the moon will not give out its light,
And the stars will be falling from the sky,
And the powers in heaven will be shaken.’”

There can be no question that Jesus is not making a scientific cosmological statement here, but taking up the Old Testament language from the book of Joel and elsewhere to describe what will happen at the close of the time of the final catastrophes, or, what we may call the Great Tribulation. Here are the places in the Old Testament where the signs are predicted: Isaiah 13:10, Ezekiel 32:7-8, and Joel 3:15. All are signs of the wrath of God, and they are also repeated in the sixth seal of Revelation 6:12-17. The language that scripture uses here and elsewhere is simply describing, in metaphorical fashion, how these events will appear to someone who is standing on earth. It’s hard to tell exactly what the signs will be in scientific terms, since Jesus is not here giving a scientific explanation. The implication is that these phenomena will be divinely caused, and that they will be objective, visible phenomena that an earthly observer will be able to recognize them from their description. These signs, in addition to what Jesus has already described, will be visible signs that the end is near. 

After the coming signs, Jesus will return visibly to the earth as the Lord of glory. The entire earth will see him in his unveiled majesty and glory, and there will be no mistaking that it is him returning just as he said. This is his simple statement: “And then they will see the Son of Man as he comes in the clouds with much power and glory.”

This will be the same return that was just as the angels predicted at his ascension into heaven:   This will be the same Jesus of Nazareth, who walked our earth, lived with us and taught in our towns and cities. This will be the same person who was crucified, resurrected and seen by the apostles for forty days after his resurrection. He will not then be coming in the humble circumstances as he did, but with the kingly, eternal glory that he received at this exaltation. It will be impossible for anyone on the earth not to recognize who it really is, and he will be visible to everyone on the earth as he is returning. Here is the fuller description of his visible appearance from the gospel of Matthew, from his parallel account of the Olivet discourse:

“And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will wail, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30).

At his visible return Jesus Christ will receive his people left on earth to himself. There will definitely be a rapture at his visible, worldwide return! And we have the word of Jesus himself about it:

“And then he will send out his angels, and he will gather together his chosen people from the four winds, from the farthest point of the land to the farthest point of the sky.”

Personally, I’m not fond of the term ‘rapture’ for this part of the return of Jesus. The term describes the action of being caught up, but the term that I prefer for his aspect of his return is ‘The Gathering.’ And I think if we consider the scriptures on his coming, there are a number of other scriptures that place the gathering of his people together here, at his visible appearance. And it’s noteworthy that Jesus’s emphasis here on the gathering of his people to himself, not on judgment. In several other passages the two aspects of gathering of Christ’s people together to him and judgment of the unbelieving world in opposition to the return of Jesus are joined together. It’s noteworthy that the metaphor of harvest and threshing is applied to the Gathering and pressing wine is applied to the judgment of the wicked opposing the return of Jesus in these passages elsewhere in scripture.

The first passage where I think that you can find the prophetic thread about the Gathering is an Old Testament passage, in the book of Isaiah. I’ve never seen this passage cited in any previous discussion of the rapture, though I’ve seen it mentioned in the side references to the New Testament passages that mention the rapture. I was definitely surprised one day years ago when I was working my way through the book of Isaiah in the Hebrew and then the Greek from Alfred Rahlfs’s version of the Septuagint (the common Greek Old Testament in the first century AD). Here’s what Isaiah 27:12-13 had to say (Dale’s sight translation):

“In that day the LORD will thresh from the torrents of the Euphrates to the Wadi of Egypt,
And you will be gathered up one by one, sons of Israel!
And on that day a great trumpet will be sounded,
And those who were as good as dead will come from the land of Assyria and the outcasts from the land of Egypt,
And they will worship the LORD on the holy mountain, in Jerusalem!”

Here, in this passage, we find the common elements of the Gathering that are later mentioned throughout the New Testament. These may be omitted or underemphasized due to what emphasis the speaker or author had at the time, but they are common themes:

  • Judgment of the wicked depicted as pressing wine in a winepress 
  • The sounding of a great trumpet
  • Gathering of the people of God to Jerusalem out of great distress and affliction depicted as a harvest

I don’t think that it’s too much at all to see this passage as the passage where Jesus was taking up, explaining and expanding the Old Testament promises to his people for all ages. It’s also noteworthy that the word used for ‘gather’ here in the Septuagint is the same verb as Jesus used in the passage in Matthew and Mark and in the noun form in I Thessalonians 2:1, where the apostle Paul discusses “ . . .  the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to him . . .” The word itself is not either terribly common or uncommon but I think that it is significant that it carries through in these passages.

Then there is the similarity of the I Thessalonians 4 passage, which is often cited as the authority for a pre-tribulation rapture, but is notably similar to the passages in the Olivet discourse where Jesus describes his appearance before the world. There are some common elements, especially between the Matthew 24 and Mark 13 descriptions of the visible appearance of the Lord from heaven.

“We don’t want you to be unaware, brothers, concerning those who have fallen asleep, that you would be pained as those who have no hope. Because if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also God will bring those who have fallen asleep in Jesus with him.”

“For I have this to say to you – based on an utterance of the Lord – that we who are alive who are left until the coming of the Lord will not get ahead of those who have fallen asleep, because the Lord himself, in a cloud, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven. And the dead in Christ will rise first, then those of us who are alive and left around will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort each other with these words!” I Thessalonians 4:13-18

So Paul emphasis on gathering and on resurrection is more detailed about those who have died in Christ being resurrected as the same time as living believers are caught up and gathered together from the earth. Here are the similarities in the three passages. These s

Jesus
speaking personally as the Lord
Paul
basing his explanation on a direct utterance of the Lord
Lord coming in clouds Lord coming in a cloud
People who are alive are caught up by angels to be with the Lord People who are alive are caught up to be with the Lord (agency not explained)
Emphasis on rescue of living believers Emphasis on resurrection of living believers with believers who have died
Great trumpet (Matthew 24:31) Great trumpet

There have been a number of attempts to find a pre-tribulation rapture in the book of Revelation, but, in light of the previous passages, it’s easy enough to find the post-tribulation rapture:

“And I looked, and see there, a white clouds, and sitting on the cloud someone who was like a Son of Man, who had a golden crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. And another angel came out of the Temple and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Put forth your sickle and reap, because the hour has come to reap, since the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ And the one who was sitting on the cloud put forth his sickle on the earth, and the earth was harvested.” (Revelation 14:14-17).

Then, immediately following that, there comes the emphasis on judgment that is also a part of the return of Jesus:

“And another angel came out of the Temple which is in heaven who also carried a sharp sickle. And another angel came from the altar who had charge of the fire, and he cried out with a great voice to the angle with the sharp sickle, ‘Put forth your sharp sickle, and gather the grapes from the vine of the earth, because the bunches of grapes have come to fruition. And the angel put forth his sickle on the earth, and he gathered up from the vine of the earth and he threw them into the winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was stomped down outside the city, and the blood of the winepress flowed up to the horses’ bridles for about 300 kilometers!” (Revelation 14:17-20).

And it’s not too much at all to see this as then pointing to the climax of the book of Revelation, to the description of the Lord’s visible coming with his people and the judgment upon the world which opposes him:

“And I saw heaven opened, and see there! A white horse! and the person who was sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and he judges and makes war with righteousness. And his eyes are like a flame of fire, and many crowns are upon his head.  He has a name written down which no one but he himself knows,, and he is dressed with a tunic dipped in blood, and his name is called, ‘The Word of God.’ And his armies in heaven follow him on white horses and are clothed in clean white linen. And a sharp sword comes from his mouth, so that he strikes down the nations, and he shepherds them with a rod of iron.  And he stomps down the winepress of the wine of the wrath of the almighty God. And he has on his tunic and on thigh a name written: ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’” Revelation 19:11-16 emphasis on judgment

Just by way of passing – there are some scriptures, such as Revelation 3:10, outside the normal passages which cited as evidence for the pre-tribulation rapture. The thing is that they do not demand the interpretation that they apply to a pre-tribulation rapture. Rather, it’s a circular form of exegesis to apply them to a pre-tribulation rapture, since it’s necessary to assume a pre-tribulation rapture to see them as applying to a pre-tribulation rapture.

So then, the goal of our hope in Christ is coming closer every and every day. The Lord’s return is nearer now than it was a moment ago, a day ago or a year ago. The real future of the believer in Christ is there with him. With the return of the Lord Jesus coming nearer and nearer, it is crucial for each one of us to settle the issues of salvation and Lordship. So if you have never made a heart commitment to Jesus Christ, now is the time to do so! And if you have, make sure that he remains as the Lord of your life until the end. Don’t waver from the hope that will bring such unspeakable and unimaginable joy and reward. And as that day comes closer, if you have made certain that Jesus is your Lord and Savior, live each day in love and holiness, in the image of Jesus himself. That will demonstrate to him and before all the world that you believe with all your heart that Jesus is returning!

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I was first persuaded that the post-tribulation rapture was the scriptural teaching by the exposition of J. Sidlow Baxter in his volume Explore the Book. Later I became aware of these more scholarly works:

George Eldon Ladd, The Blessed Hope: A Biblical Study of the Second Advent and the Rapture.

Robert H. Gundry, Church and the Tribulation: A Biblical Examination of Posttribulationism.

The Wikipedia article gives a reasonable summary: Post-tribulation rapture.

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One thing that many people may not be aware of: there is a great hymn on the return of Jesus which is thoroughly post-tribulation and co-authored by none other than Charles Wesley himself! Unfortunately, I think that the emphasis on the pre-tribulation rapture in the past century and a half has often deprived the church of this great hymn of the Second Coming of Jesus. The hymn “Lo! He comes with clouds descending,” is decidedly post-tribulation in its outlook. Charles Wesley himself reworked the lyrics to the present form. Here the Cambridge Singer perform Lo! he comes with clouds descending. And here are the lyrics and history.

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Amen, come, Lord Jesus!

A Preview of Coming Contractions

A. B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, once wrote, “The Second  Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is a distinct and important part of the apostolic gospel. The truth and blessed hope of the Lord’s return is the church’s great and blessed hope.”

During the 1970s through the early 1980s there was widespread discussion of the events that would lead to the return of the Lord Jesus, but it seemed to have waned since then. Much of the discussion of the end times then seem to try too hard to identify contemporary events with scriptural statements, and the speculation tended to try too hard to set a specific date or year. Yet the point of scripture is not to try to work out the time too precisely and exactly, but rather to live according to the promise of his return. Despite what tendencies to date setting and controversy over differences of understanding of the end time, the believer in Jesus Christ can continue with unshaken faith in the word of the Lord who promised his return. There is no reason to be distracted or dismayed by the circumstances which lead up to that time, to be concerned how others are thinking about it, but to continue in complete and utter confidence that he is returning. The point is that we are not to try to find our exact spot on the timeline of the last days, but rather to live each day as if we anticipated Jesus’s return that very day.

The Lord Jesus himself provided a long explanation of what would happen in the days that would lead up to his return from heaven to take up his dominion over the whole world. It is in the passage known as the Olivet discourse, the passage which is the bridge between the prophecies of the Old Testament that apply to the second coming and the prophetic passages in the New Testament epistles and the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John, the culmination of Biblical prophecy. In this teaching session shortly before the grand events of his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, the culmination of his first coming, he gave the preview of what would happen in his second coming in glory. He gathered together strands of Old Testament prophecy and brought them together, to explain what would happen with events in history that would happened up to and after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and even more to the final intensification and domination of evil before the actual visible appearance of the Lord Jesus in glory before the entire world in his return.

Going back to what Jesus was actually saying will take us beyond ‘chart based’ eschatalogical teaching of a previous age, where there were too many attempts to plot out our moment in time on a map of history made from some rather iffy interpretations of some scriptures. We rather need to look to what all the scriptures say on the subject, not to try to pinpoint our place on a timeline on a chart. Rather, no matter in which age we life, no matter where we find ourselves on the timeline before his return, we can find in his teaching that Jesus left not so much as a set of special instructions for those who were to remain here until the last minute, but rather an abiding attitude of expectation for believers in all ages and in all places of looking forward to his return. And with that all those who truly believe in him and look forward to his return can agree that his expectation for us was not having right opinions about the order of events and the timeline, but rather a continuous faithfulness. The clear expectation of the Lord Jesus as for the believer who may live in the last few years, months and days before his return would be as faithful as any believer as in the years before, and that any believer who would die without seeing his return during his or her lifetime would remain as faithful during his or her life regardless of whether he or she lived until that moment. So with the realization of that expectation, let us turn to the first part of the Olivet discourse in Mark 13:3-13.

“And while he was seated on the Mount of Olives facing the Temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew privately privately asked him, ‘Tell us when these things will happen, and what the sign will be when all these things are about to come to their conclusion.’ And Jesus began to tell them, ‘See to it that no one leads you into error. Many will come in my name and say that, ‘I am the one!’, and they will deceive many. When you hear about wars and the rumors of wars, do not be disturbed. These things are destined to come about, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom upon kingdom, and there will be earthquakes in many places, and there will be famines. These things are the beginning of the excruciating labor contractions. But watch out for yourselves. They will deliver you to councils and synagogues; you will be physically assaulted and you will stand before governors and kings for a witness to them – and it is destined that the gospel will be proclaimed to all the nations first. And when they drag you out and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand what you will say, but in that very hour it will be given to you as to what to say, because it will not be you speaking but the Holy Spirit. And brother will betray brother to execution, and a father his child, and children will rise up against their parents and have them executed. And you will be hated by everyone because of my name. But whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.”

So Jesus started out to speak about what would happen, and his first caution is this: The believer in Jesus Christ must take guard not to be led into error away from the truth of Jesus Christ. The sane appraisal of  truth according to the scriptures will be the only guide through the confusion and deception that will come up0n the entire earth. But again, this is simply the same kind of steadfastness and discernment that Jesus has always expected of all believers everywhere and in every time.

The first warning Jesus gave was against false Messiahs who would arise. He warned his followers first of all neither to believe nor to follow them. They are counterfeits of the true Lord, and with this saying he lets his people know that there will be a series of pretenders who would come in the months and years to come. His warning was not to scare or intimidate but to give his people the information that they needed to avoid being taken in by the counterfeits.

Note the strong warning that Jesus gave first in verse 5: “See to it that no one leads you into error. Many will come in my name and say that, ‘I am the one!’, and they will deceive many.”  This was a warning that began to come true in the years after he first gave it. In Jerusalem before its destruction by the Romans in A.D. 70, there were two deceivers mentioned in the book of Acts, Judas of Galilee and the Egyptian for whom the Roman centurion mistook the apostle Paul. Josephus, the historian who chronicled the fall of Jerusalem, reported the other false Messiahs that popped up as the Roman legions under Vespasian and Titus ravaged Palestine and burned and sacked Jerusalem itself. The apostle John could then write a few years later, “ . . . just as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have popped up . . .” (I John 4:18). And throughout the years since there have been many, many false prophets and false Messiahs who have arisen, so the warning of Jesus has been relevant for every age in which his people have lived.

The thing that we need to remain aware of, then, if we are the followers of Jesus Christ today, is that such deceivers still pop up all over the place, in many times and places. There are so many names of leaders of cults who could be put here, but the truth is that there will still be false Messiahs and false prophets coming until the day comes when the ultimate false Messiah, the Antichrist, makes himself known. Over history, there have been many political false Messiahs, such as Adolf Hitler and Kim Jong Il. But there have been also many religious leaders who have been unmasked as false Messiahs such as David Koresh, Jim Jones and Father Divine, and where there are the trappings of the personality cult within a church we can find that some of them will come from within the ranks of the professing church itself. They may start out as leaders who seem to have a solid grasp of the gospel and compassion and insight to help many, even out of poverty and the gutter, but eventually they begin to abandon the truth of scripture and arrogate to themselves the personal power and authority over the lives of their followers and demand the worship of others even as they claim Messianic titles for themselves. All these pretenders, though, are only foreshadows of the ultimate false Messiah, the Antichrist, and we can see him pretty clearly to be the first horseman of the Apocalypse, the final lie and counterfeit for which the entire unbelieving world will fall.

So then, the first consideration for the believer in Jesus Christ is to take these sobering words of Jesus to heart. He has already warned us that there will be false Messiahs, and that we are not to follow them. And in a world where the discernment of truth and error among believers seems to be getting lower, when people may throw up their hands in frustration and say, “How can I tell what’s what in this situation? Who am I to judge?”, the expectation of Jesus is still that his followers will not allow false Messiahs to deceive them. The false Messiahs of our age may hold up false hopes, false visions, false and grandiose visions and delusions of changing the world and bringing about a utopia on this earth – and each false Messiah also shares his own false eschatology – the false view of the coming kingdom – what it will be and how it will come. But certainly the expectation of Jesus remains that his people will not allow these false Messiahs to deceive them. And for this he provides his own Word and the opportunity to remain steadfast with him: “So then, as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, conduct your life in him, as you are rooted and built up in him and are made stable in the faith just as you were taught and as you overflow with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7, Dale’s sight translation).

But even after Jesus gave his warning against the the false Messiahs, he gave another warning. He warned us that the upheaval and turmoil of this world is not to alarm us unduly as it continues onward. This world will continue to experience catastrophes in various times and places, and indeed these may be expected to accelerate as the end approaches. But the direction of Jesus is that what we see happening around us is not to give us undue alarm. Here is what he said again: “When you hear about wars and the rumors of wars, do not be disturbed. These things are destined to come about, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom upon kingdom, and there will be earthquakes in many places, and there will be famines. These things are the beginning of the excruciating labor contractions.”

So after Jesus gave the warning not to be deceived by false Messiahs, and then he gave the warning not to take the turmoil of national conflicts and strife and natural disasters in themselves to be an indication that the end has come at that moment. Certainly his words mean, with the use of the metaphor of a woman beginning to experience the first painful contractions of labor, that these events are moving forward to the end, but not that they are themselves the indication that that moment is the moment of the end. The labor contractions themselves foretell the birth, but they are not themselves the birth.

This warning was well suited for the generation of believers in Christ which lived in the years following his crucifixion and resurrection in Jerusalem and its surroundings. There was certainly an application to them, since they saw famines, earthquakes and political conflicts in the days before the destruction of the Holy City and the Second Temple. Yet the witness of history is that they continued steadfast to Christ and their witness to him despite what they were seeing around them, and that they continued to win others to Christ in those times where it appeared that the end might happen at any minute if they looked just at the conflicts and disasters around them.

This warning also applies to our generation as well. There have been devastating earthquakes and famines in the days since I first came to Christ in 1974, as well as wars and revolutions around the globe. But even though we might wish that they were themselves the coming of the end when we were in their midst, we can know that Jesus does not want us to view them as an indication that the moment of the end has come. But certainly all these upheavals will give way to the final upheavals to take place after the appearance of the Antichrist – the other three horsemen of the Apocalypse, of war, famine and death. The indication is rather that there will the a clear intensification and acceleration of these upheavals which will follow the appearance of the Antichrist. And I think that this is very clear that there is nothing that we can do to prevent war and disasters entirely until Jesus returns – so while there might be particular wars and disasters that could be prevented, we must recognize that the elimination of war and other disasters as a fantasy. And in the meantime, we are not to be misled by the troubles in this world, since they will occur, but these conflicts and catastrophes are not in themselves the irrefutable signs of the end. Rather, we need to hold off any identification of the end until the Antichrist is openly unveiled to the world – and I think that as we go on in this passage and throughout the scriptures, we will find that for the discerning believer the Antichrist will be hard to misidentify.

Therefore, from what Jesus has already said, the knowledge of the truth is our firm safeguard against being deceived and against being fearful as the times wind down toward the end. The truth of Jesus and his Word will guard us against false hopes and fear and despair as history comes to its culmination.

First of all, the knowledge of the truth requires a heart commitment to the truth of Christ in the Word of God above all, above all human tradition and the rumor and rush of the crowd. The attitude of wise and discerning faith comes from the trust in the Word of God, the written scriptures of the God of the Bible, and all other attitudes, ideas, teachings, opinion pieces and blog posts must be tested by that – and I do fear that many professed believers are too shallow or superficial in their own knowledge of the scriptures to have wisdom and discernment in this age.  Anything less will be shaky and unsure as the times become worse and the deceptions grow more seductive and severe. This heart commitment to the truth calls for us not to have a critical attitude toward our faith – that’s the wicked and arrogant advice that those who called themselves ‘Higher Critics’ (scare quotes intended) gave to undiscerning believers back in the nineteenth century. Rather, a person growing in his or her knowledge of the scriptures will find himself or herself looking at everything else in life with their mental and moral evaluative capabilities guided by the Word of God.

Just as much, the knowledge of the truth requires the constant prayer for the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to lead us and keep on leading us into the truth of Christ. The humble prayer for the Spirit of truth to open the Word of God to us and show us the Christ of the scriptures will certainly be answered. And just as much, we need to seek for him to guide us away from the character flaws which keep us from receiving the truth of Christ. Like the ancient prayer, let us ask  —

“From cowardice, which shrinks from new truth,
From laziness, which is content with half truth,
From arrogance, that thinks it knows all truth —
O God of truth, deliver.”

And so, the knowledge of the truth will keep us from falsehood as we learn, follow and hold to the truth of Jesus. While the truth ignored leads to enslavement to falsehood, the knowledge of the true Jesus will keep us from caving to the falsehoods that may come.  As we learn the truth of God in the scriptures, it will enable us to recognize false teachers and Messiahs as they may come. And the truth of the scriptures will also keep us from being deceived by or attaching undue importance to the events of this world. Evil times will grow to their worst, to unparalleled depths, but they will only precede the arrival of the best of times, the unparalleled good that will arrive when Jesus Christ returns in glory to this earth.

So with all the warnings that Jesus has given of the turbulent times to come in this world, he has also given directions to his people as to what they are to do in the face of the difficulties and wickedness. In all situation the believer in Christ must stand firm for Christ. In all ages perseverance to the end is what he expects. In all ages he expects his people to remain firm and forthright in their confession of him as Lord and Savior before this world as it goes through its pangs of apparent death and contractions of coming life.

Even if the whole world goes in the direction of open and naked rejection of Jesus Christ, the believer in Christ must remain firm in commitment to Christ. Times of great unpopularity and outright persecution and martyrdom will come and go before the final, ultimate persecution and widespread martyrdom. The steadfast commitment to Christ in the midst of resistance to and suppression of the truth by a world which has been rejecting Jesus will mark the true, faithful disciple to Jesus, the one that Jesus chooses and accepts as part of his people for all eternity.

Jesus himself warned that there will be persecution throughout this world, but that the world will eventually be reached with the gospel. He said, “But watch out for yourselves. They will deliver you to councils and synagogues; you will be physically assaulted and you will stand before governors and kings for a witness to them – and it is destined that the gospel will be proclaimed to all the nations first.” We know upon his own word that the evangelization of this world will eventually be completed to God’s satisfaction. There will finally be no longer a time when anyone in the world can have the excuse of ignorance of the gospel.

So here by the word of Jesus himself we know that his church will finally succeed in the mission that he gave it. I’ve heard several rants by young pastors, where they’ve berated their helpless congregations sitting before them that ‘the church hasn’t reached the world,’ or changed and transformed the world. I’m not sure what convictions that they had about eschatology, though they were serving in a denomination that is supposed to be premillenial and believes in the literal coming of the Lord Jesus. But the word of Jesus here is not that one congregation, but that the entire church would eventually reach the world with the gospel. And his expectation is not that the world would be changed or transformed. Mark this carefully!! Jesus does not here give any assurance that his church will ever change or transform the world when the world has heard the gospel. Quite the opposite!

What will happen after the world has heard the gospel of Jesus is that the world will finally reject the truth of the gospel. The world will not be transformed or changed finally, but the world will reject the gospel finally. And then the world will give in to the final deception of the Antichrist. This will be the natural result of the rejection of the truth of the gospel – the world will foolishly come to the acceptance of the ultimate falsehood that Satan concocts for them. Jesus says more about this in this same discourse, but here is how the apostle Paul described what would happen at that time:  “The lawless one will come with the empowerment of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders and with the deceitfulness of iniquity for those who are perishing, because they did not receive the love of the truth so that they would be saved. And because of this God sends them the working of error so that they would believe the live, so that all would be judged who did not believe in the truth but when it came to iniquity – they were perfectly fine with that!” (II Thessalonians 2:9-12).

In all times, though, God will use the times of rejection to continue the witness to the truth of his gospel, in the face of the worst opposition possible, both legal and illegal under the law of man. In those times witness will become the greater priority than survival – but in the times of crisis the people of God will not be left alone, to their own strength and wisdom. In those times God will give his people the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to them.

Jesus gave this promise and direction to his people as to how they were to approach the times of witness before the world during the times of persecution: “And when they drag you out and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand what you will say, but in that very hour it will be given to you as to what to say, because it will not be you speaking but the Holy Spirit.”

This promise can be seen as it worked itself out in the times in the book of Acts when authorities tried to clamp down on the apostles of God and the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For Peter and John, Stephen and Paul, the times that they were brought before the civil courts and officials and religious courts and judges became platforms for their witness to Jesus, and the people who had them on trial found themselves in the awkward position of being on trial themselves. They were enabled by the Holy Spirit to witness to the gospel with forthrightness, yet without hate and disrespect, and to show love and the utmost courtesy and graciousness as they themselves displayed the countenances of angels.

This promise of Jesus continued throughout the ages, from the days after the apostles, during the many persecutions and martyrdoms in the Roman empire and elsewhere, as the gospel went forth from Jerusalem. Persecutions and martyrdoms continue, as they had behind the Iron Curtain, in Islamic countries, in India under the ideology of Hindutva, and in Nepal and Bhutan under militant Buddhism, but unshaken witnesses still continue for Jesus when they are brought before the bar of human justice. And the scripture does indicate that the persecution will become worldwide during the last years before the return of Jesus. Make no mistake about it – holding a view that the rapture will happen before the tribulation will never be any kind of insurance for any believer in Christ against having to stand for Christ in the face of earthly persecution and possible martyrdom. It has been said that many who held the view of the pre-tribulation rapture fell away in China after the Communist revolution because they believed that they would never have to suffer for Christ. Corrie ten Boom herself is reported to have said that she held the view of the pre-tribulation rapture before her imprisonment and the martyrdom of her sister and father under Nazi rule, but she came out warning against taking that view as any kind of personal comfort or insurance against suffering and dying for Christ, and indeed, she became a convinced believer in the rapture taking place at the end of the tribulation. Now certainly the issue of when the rapture takes place must always come down to what the scriptures say in themselves about the issue. So the warning here is against using this view as any kind of expectation that the future will not hold possible suffering and death if I follow Jesus with all my heart, and that a particular view of the rapture is not to be held because a person does not want to stand for Jesus and be faithful until death.

It’s noteworthy, then, that in the next several verses Jesus hits at three specific things about which I believe that many believers today have very little clarity.These things are what believers need to have clarity so that they can stand for Christ in the midst of this world, both in the present and as the coming contractions continue and deepen until the Lord returns.

The first thing that Jesus hits at is the need for a proper perspective on family loyalty in the time of persecution. He specifically predicts that betrayal to the pagan, God rejecting and Antichrist exalting state will come from family members and will result in the execution of innocent believing family members. Make no mistake about what he said: “ And brother will betray brother to execution, and a father his child, and children will rise up against their parents and have them executed.” While there has been a real concern for the salvation of and harmony among marriages and families

for the past generation, I’ve stated that there has been a real tendency among many professing believers and Christian leader to the idolatry of family and often to the idolatry of their own family. And betrayal will come from family members whom they may have pampered and idolized and for whom they may have made a number of little compromises of love and obedience to Christ.

So let’s consider what Jesus  says in Matthew 10: 37:  “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and the one who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (See also a parallel passage in Luke 14:25-27). So when I witness the little compromises that Christian parents and leaders make for their children – how they tell a lie here to make that child look better than he or she is, or how they poison the well for a supposed rival to their children, or they ignore the blatant and growing selfishness and character flaws of their children – it makes me wonder how will they stand in the end if they have become habituated to putting their family above Christ and scripture by little and hidden compromises.

The second thing that Jesus says deals with our reception by the world as a whole, and it deals with the worldwide hatred that there will be toward believers before Jesus returns. Jesus gives the exact motive of the hatred of the world toward believers here, and make no mistake about why it will come upon believers: “And you will be hated by everyone because of my name.”  And this also touches upon another tendency in our day and age: the  idolatry of reputation among many professing believers. We tend far, far too much to think that there’s something wrong with us and what we may say if we displease the world without Christ. While this is sometimes the case with believers who are obnoxious or unnecessarily offensive with the way that they may express or live out their faith, I think that there are far fewer of these kinds of believers than there were in years past. I think that we have reacted far too much to the other extreme, to an oversensitivity to the slightest negative reaction to our faith from the world without Christ. Jesus has already made his expectation clear: “Whoever, then, acknowledges me before other people – I will acknowledge that person before my Father in heaven. And whoever denies me before other people – I will deny that person before my Father in heaven,” (Matthew 10:32-33).  So this makes me wonder – how will anyone stand before the world that hates those who trust in Christ if they put avoidance of any negative reaction by the world without Christ above the open confession of Christ in their daily lives.

The third thing which Jesus clarifies is the issue of perseverance in staying loyal to the Lord Jesus. He said, “But whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.” Again, make no mistake about what Jesus expected from those who were expecting the salvation that he came to bring. He expected perseverance to the end. This does not mean that he did not anticipate that there would be failures, cowardice and outright betrayals, such as Peter, but that there would be perseverance to the end despite these failings of human nature. And with this statement Jesus touches upon something else that has been an issue in this day: idolatry of going through the motions of a set prayer to receive salvation. I have written elsewhere that there is definitely the need to receive salvation by telling God about it in prayer. There can be no mistake about it from scripture, that the first person to tell about one’s repenting of one’s sins and putting one’s faith in Jesus Christ for salvation is God himself! And that will take the form of some kind of prayer, whether someone gives out the words to someone who is ignorant and stumbling or that person has come to know enough to let the words flow from his or her heart to God! But, the idea of ‘Once saved, always saved’ has become for too many the idea that you are eternally safe if you simply repeat the prayer, regardless of how you live your life afterwards or even whether you continue to have a testimony to continued faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior. I believe that, on the one hand, many believers are not taking the time to deal with family members and friends who have simply repeated the prayer but living outside the transforming grace of God and faith in Christ as if that person was as assured of salvation as a believer who was abiding in Christ and bearing fruit for Christ all one’s life. And, on the other hand, the idea that it’s just repeating the prayer that receives salvation has become so repugnant to so many who have seen so many have false hopes for themselves and for others who may have repeated a prayer but afterwards show little to no understanding of the scriptural gospel and no desire to follow Christ and live in his transforming power.

But I think that this simple statement of Jesus turns the emphasis around for us, that the final profession of Christ, especially in the face of a hateful world that may reward that profession with capital punishment, matters as much as the first profession of faith in Christ. The same Jesus who said, “He who comes to me I will not by any means cast out” (John 6:37) also said, “ . . . whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.” He obviously meant them both and never intended either statement be pitted against each other. So here’s what I think it comes down to. Of course Jesus will receive every one who comes to him in repentance and faith. And he expects those who comes to him in repentance and faith to persevere to the end in that profession of repentance and faith. That one statement from Jesus about perseverance to the end matters more from than a stubborn grasping of ‘once saved, always saved’ applied to a repeated prayer rather than a lifelong perseverance in the grace of God and faith in Jesus Christ. Just as much, we need to understand that perseverance to the end also means that Jesus expects falls along the way; after all, one of those he was speaking to was Peter. But I think that as we draw closer to the end that may be more of those who made shallow professions and cherished false hopes fall away from Jesus before a hateful world and those who have found the Savior continue with him to the end.

Whatever view of the tribulation a believer has, still a settled commitment to Christ and a consistent witness for Christ are binding upon all believers in all ages. The need will always be for a resilient life in Christ before the watching and often hostile world around us. If we are now in a time of relative ease, the time is now to continue with Christ, to be able to withstand the pressure of growing unpopularity and hatefulness from the world when it comes. And in whatever time or place we live in, there will be people and cultures which will be hostile and even murderous toward Christians. So the key is not to build and hide in our Christian enclaves and ghettoes and hope that the storms at the end pass us by, but to seek steadfastness in Christ now. Seek to be a solid witness now and not to remain lukewarm and silent. If Jesus is worth dying for before this world, he is worth living for now before this world!

So then, the warning of the prophecy of the Word of God, from the mouth of Jesus Christ himself, declares that there will be dark and difficult times up until the time that he returns. He is coming back! And that calls us to have our hope and joy in him now, and to become prepared now.

The first issue of preparation for the return of Jesus Christ is to have the issue of one’s own salvation in Jesus Christ settled completely. Be sure in your own heart that you have truly repented and believed in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and that you have been born again of his Spirit. Seal your commitment to him in public baptism, and follow him in a life of faith, love and obedience.

Then, be prepared by keeping the truth of the Word of God alive in your own heart. That’s the surest defense against the false Messiahs that are here now and the ones who are to come. Depth and stability in the truth of Jesus Christ and an unswerving devotion to the Lord Jesus now means that you will not be taken for a fool by the c0unterfeits that are here now and later to come.

Finally, be prepared to stand for Christ as things get worse and worse for believers by standing as a witness for Christ now. Show no shame of him now and he will show no shame for you when he returns. Let it be known who you will serve, now and forever.

Authority Over Spiritual Darkness in This World

Updated!

In World War II, in 1942, General Jonathan Wainwright became a prisoner of war when the fortress island of Corregidor fell to the Japanese. As he was held in a concentration camp, he became a broken, crushed, hopeless and starving man. But in August 1945, a Japanese colonel told him that the war was over, he was free and he was in command. So, as he returned to his living quarters, he met the same old guards who attempted to mistreat him again. But he met them with a completely unexpected reaction, as he declared with authority, “No, I am in command here! These are my orders!” And so he used his now legitimate authority as he was released from cruelty and bondage to command those who had previously tormented him.

This is part of the good news for believers in Jesus Christ: they are in the winning side, with the victory that has come for them through Jesus Christ. And so Jesus himself has delegated authority to us by which our own former deceivers and tormentors must yield.

In the depiction of spiritual warfare in the gospels, Jesus exercised his own rightful sovereign authority as the Son of God over every kind of demonic manifestation. But when he ascended into heaven after his resurrection, he left us his authority as well, an authority which continues today the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ and his people continues in warfare against the kingdom of this world under Satan and his minions. It’s not always as blatant as it is in the gospels, with demonic possession and demons speaking openly through the mouths of the possessed, but the same terrible issues remain in this conflict. The lives and eternal destinies of real men and women remain in the balance, whether to remain in sin and death by the deceit and oppression of the determined and cunning enemy of our souls, or to come to life and liberation by the power of God in Jesus Christ.

What Jesus has to say is the reason for believers in Jesus to be confident in this warfare. We are in possession of an authority which has been delegated us from the Son of God himself, Jesus Christ, the Lord of all. But even more, the exercise of this authority is also assurance of an even greater fact, that we have received and possess the greater gift of salvation from sin and death to eternal life through the Son of God. And yet as we approach spiritual warfare, it calls us to a wise and serious consideration of what the scripture has to say, not only because of the subtlety, power and deception of the enemy, but also for the quiet confidence that comes to us in the power of Jesus to conquer through us. So even in this world, the way is open for the believer in Jesus Christ to share and enforce the victory which Jesus gives through his death for sin and his resurrection and through his endless and unchallengeable sovereignty. So in Jesus, by the authority of his name, by the possession of eternal life through faith in him, there is the victory for us to be received, possessed, shared and won.

So here is what Jesus had to say to us about the authority which he has given to us: “And the seventy two came back with joy as they said, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And Jesus said to them, ‘I was watching Satan as he had fallen from heaven like lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and by no means will anything hurt you. Only don’t rejoice because the demons are subject to you, but rejoice because your names have been written down in heaven.’” (Luke 10:17-20)

Jesus has given his people the authority to defeat the enemy. The use of the authority of the Son of God in the name of Jesus is delegated to the believer to conquer the wicked deeds of the enemy. So the genuine, born again believer is assured the victory in Christ on that basis. The same authority which was delegated in the past is still effective today.

So this is where this authority was first demonstrated beyond just Jesus and the apostles: “And the seventy two came back with joy as they said, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And Jesus said to them, ‘I was watching Satan as he had fallen from heaven like lightning.’” The seventy two were a group of disciples of Jesus from his earthly ministry that did not include the apostles. The number that he had chosen is significant, since it was the same number as the elders of Israel under Moses. And Jesus had earlier given this group  a short term missions project, and for that project he gave them practically the same authority and directions that he had given to the apostles when he gave them the same kind of mission to the villages of Galilee. So they returned beaming over their success, and their experience of success stood out to them especially in their authority over demons n the name of Jesus only. So they had experienced an unprecedented authority in their lives which had not been available to anyone beyond Jesus and then the apostles. Moreover, Jesus recognized their victory on the spiritual plane as it was happening. What he said about “ . . . watching Satan as he had fallen from heaven like lightning . . .” was probably describing the defeat of the enemy as they exercised the authority Jesus had given them on their mission.

So, the reality of this authority over the power of the enemy has been a part of the demonstration of the reality of the gospel throughout this world. Wherever those sent out by Jesus on his mission to communicate the gospel, they have also often had to exercise his authority. This has happened whenever and wherever believers in Christ have encountered such works of the enemy, and very often – in fact, almost invariably – wherever the gospel of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed in a place and among a people for the first time.

This authority is then delegated from Jesus to those whose faith is in him for their eternal salvation. It’s there for the continued exercise by believers in Christ when they still face conflicts in this world with the spiritual agents of darkness and evil. And understanding this authority in the light of the scriptures is crucial for it to be properly and wisely wielded under the guidance and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In verse 19, Jesus goes on to say, “See, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and by no means will anything hurt you.” There are no textual difficulties in this verse. There are no historical or exegetical difficulties in extending this to the entire church and especially to the eldership of the church, because otherwise all promises that Jesus made during his earthly ministry to his disciples would have expired at the end of his earthly ministry. The ‘you’ here needs to be understood in the light of the promises that Jesus gave to his disciples during his earthly ministry as applying to all his disciples in all places at all times until his return. It cannot be understood as applying to the world at large, or even to a merely nominal Christian, but to those who have truly repented of their sins, trusted in Jesus Christ for their eternal salvation, and who have been born again of the Spirit of God. In other words, those who truly have the right to use his name in prayer (John 14:13-14) are the same ones who have the right to use his name in authority over the forces of spiritual darkness in this world.

In support of this point, that believers in Christ only have the right to use the name of Jesus with authority over the demonic, we need only see what happened in scripture when a couple of people who did not have the right tried to use it. This is what happened during the time of the ministry of the apostle Paul, in the Greek city of Ephesus, on the west coast of what is now Turkey: (Acts 19:13-16): “Some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had wicked spirits as they said, ‘I exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.’ These were ‘The Seven Sons of the Jewish High Priest Sceva.’ But the wicked spirit replied, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but WHO ARE YOU?’ And the man who had the wicked spirit in him jumped on them, overpowered them and sent them running from the house stripped and beaten.’” We may contrast this with the time in Philippi when the apostle Paul clearly commanded the girl with the evil spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus to come out of her!” (Acts 16:18), and it came out of her at that moment.

Moreover, we need to see the great extent of this authority: it is over all the dominion of Satan and over all his malicious spiritual emissaries, in whatever works that they may do. The metaphor of serpents and scorpions are the fallen angels who already met with defeat and who will be continually defeated by the authority which Jesus has delegated until the time when they meet their final defeat in the hell which has been prepared for them.

And Jesus also has given us this great assurance with the delegation of his authority: this authority can be exercised without any fear of personal counterattacks by the enemy while the disciple wields this authority. There is no need to fear immediate demonic vengeance that may try to come against the believer, so that the faithful have no need to be fearful and intimidated when they see the power of the spiritual enemy when they may face them openly. This is no small assurance whatsoever: while the demons themselves may stir up human opposition to the gospel and the servants of God, yet the believers in Christ have no need to be intimidated if they face the naked power of a wicked fallen angel during the time of their ministry. The enemy may gibber and threaten, but the promise of Jesus himself is that none of the demons may use the power that they possess fallen angels against his servants.

But even more, we need to see that there is a special meaning to the fact that this was given to the apostles and then to a group which corresponded numerically and most likely symbolically to the elders of Israel in the Old Testament. I think that we can see a special level of delegation to those in the body of Christ who have truly the levels of spiritual character, experience and discernment to wield this authority. We need to recognize that this will not come to a person who has merely managed to get the votes to be elected an elder in a local church nor to a person of such spiritual pride to arrogate to himself or herself the position of an elder. Rather, I think we need to see that the character qualifications of I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 are also qualifications for those who are to wield this authority with the greatest spiritual confidence in Jesus and capability through Jesus as well as the greatest humility and servantlike heart as possible. And so as well, this also is a stark reminder that spiritual authority in the body has responsibilities and capabilities far beyond discussions about financial statements and church infrastructure. It’s not going to come to someone who has strong opinions and a vocal, argumentative and overconfident personality. Rather, that person would be probably among the most vulnerable when faced with the most severe cases of demonization (see I Timothy 3:6). The ministering elders of the church should rather be those of such deep humility, Christlikeness and faith that they can deal with the most severe cases of demonization with unity of spirit, deep prayerfulness and spiritual confidence.

Yet still we must also see this promise as applying to every believer in Christ, from the most recent convert, to the youngest child, and to the elderly and infirm. The ‘you’ of Jesus generally applies to believers as a whole throughout the scriptures where it is a promise that came first to the apostles and the first century disciples and then to the church for all ages. So this is also a promise that can also be used against the common, everyday onslaughts of the enemy that all believers in Christ usually face throughout their lives on a regular basis. Many times there are those times when someone of greater or even average spiritual experience are not physically available when the enemy unleashes a spiritual onslaught against a believer. Many times believers may find themselves in situations where they are unwittingly isolated or even alienated by a sudden onslaught of human opposition, but still the believer has this authority from Jesus available. In fact Tertullian, one of the leaders of the early church who lived a little over a hundred years after this promise was given, thought that it was so important in his day, where there was naked paganism and occultism, that any Christian who did not know how to exercise this authority in the name of Jesus should be put to death! Doubtless that was hyperbole, but it does show that there were those in other ages that thought much, much more of this authority than so many in our day.

One thing to note: in our day there have been reports in the popular culture about “alien abductions.” One thing which Timothy Dailey brings out in his book The Paranormal Conspiracy: The Truth about Ghosts, Aliens and Mysterious Beings is something that you do not see reported in the popular culture about these situations. When a believer in Jesus Christ exercises the authority in the name of Jesus against these experiences when they come upon him or her, they stop immediately! So the demonic connection to these experiences has been noted at different times, and that they stop immediately at the name of Jesus shows that the origin of those that cannot be attributed to the power of suggestion must be from the demonic realm.

So understanding this authority which has been delegated by the Lord Jesus is essential to gaining and sustaining victory over the works of the enemy around us. It is necessary to understand it and to use it when necessary. It is necessary to be able to use it in a wise and mature way, as it was advised in the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization some years ago: “Never go looking for demons, but if one appears under your feet, step on it!”

Since this authority is delegated and effective in Christ, it calls us to be submissive and obedient to Christ and to be full of the Holy Spirit and walking in the Spirit. This is the key to be someone who is properly serious and discerning yet cautious, to be assured and confident through faith in Christ and trusting in his Word. And it calls us to use the authority which he has given us when we face different aspects and degrees of the work of the enemy, from deception to temptation to influence to oppression to possession. And certainly the most serious cases are then to be referred to those who are the most spiritually mature, to be faced with fasting and prayer (Mark 9:29). In our own lives as we know the authority that Jesus has given to us, we need to face the enemy with determined resistance, as determined as an eight year old girl once showed when a short, stocky man attempted to grab her: “I bit him, then I stomped on his feet. I hit him twice with my knuckles. I gave him a bloody nose.”

So then , Jesus has given us this great authority to use in this world, but that is by no means the full impact of this passage. Being able to use the authority of Jesus over the enemy is a sign of the even greater blessing of salvation in one’s life. The use of the authority is not as important in any way as much as whether a person has the presence and assurance of salvation in this life. The infinitely greater benefit is simply salvation in Jesus.

Salvation is greater than the authority over the enemy, and therefore it is something that believers need to consider as a greater reason for joy and celebration. This is what Jesus himself did, to redirect to the joy of the seventy two to the greater reality in their lives: “Only don’t rejoice because the demons are subject to you, but rejoice because your names have been written down in heaven.”

Take another look at how Jesus describes salvation here, as their names have been written down in heaven. They have been recorded as God’s own through faith in Jesus. They were already in possession of salvation. They would learn even more of what it was they possessed: they had passed from darkness to light, from sin and death to eternal life and glory. This was what they were to take joy in. And we can take this also as part of a greater principle: that salvation from sin to eternal life in Jesus is a greater good and blessing than any outward manifestation in this world. There will be healings and miracles of provision also, but the new birth is always more important, and more to be a center of our joy than the outward blessings. Jesus told us this so that we would keep the authority he has given us in proper perspective, that it is a benefit of having received salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

So with what Jesus has said, we can avoid brazenness and undue fascination with the authority that he has given us. I’ve heard some of our Pentecostal brothers and sisters in Christ describe this as “ . . .  seeing a demon behind every rock.” In this world we neither need to go looking for trouble nor to try to  use it when the situation may be merely inconvenient or uncomfortable and not a definitely demonic work of evil in this world. There is a greater reason for joy, the joy of salvation, the joy of the knowledge and assurance of eternal life in Christ. There is the reason for gratitude and joy in the Lord, in being in fellowship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, in the security of his presence and love for all eternity.

So, for us now, so many years later, we can also recognize that the decisive victory for us has already come for us through Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection has already brought the conquest of sin, death and Satan, and first of all, we can have through Jesus pardon for our sins and acceptance with God, eternal life, namely, salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. And this also assures us now of victory in spiritual conflict with the forces of darkness.

Soberly take the authority which Jesus has given us for our present battles and struggles where we meet spiritual evil. Keep it in remembrance for all that we may yet have to face, and keep a clean heart before God and man for the purity and spiritual stamina necessary for the proper use of the authority. But again, remember that salvation in Jesus Christ is a far greater reason for joy than authority over the enemy.

Living Confidently in the Sick Society

The following photograph is one that I took at the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at the Cincinnati Museum Center in February 2013 with their permission to display it on a blog for personal use. This is a series of small idols which were found in the outlying towns of Israel and Judah during the time of the Old Testament prophets, and it corroborates their declarations about what was happening in their times. In their day it was literally a ‘build your own god’ movement out of wood, stone and clay, and their choices were for a Yahweh with the characteristics of a pagan god and only the name of the one true God. Or the idols show that they would make their preferences for one or more of the pagan gods around them who wasn’t as picky on matters of personal morality and integrity as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

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The prevalence of idolatry in ancient Israel and Judah during the time of the Old Testament prophets is a factor which is often rightly mentioned in current preaching and teaching as the reason for the judgment of ancient Israel and Judah. This judgment of God culminated in the destruction by the Assyrians of the northern kingdom of Israel, centered in the city of Samaria, in 722 B.C.E., then in the destruction of Judah in two phases, in the judgment from the Assyrian emperor Sennacherib which destroyed the outlying cities and towns but which God stopped short of Jerusalem in 701 B.C.E., and then in the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians under their emperor Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E. And certainly idolatry was at the heart of God’s indictment against Israel and Judah during these years.

There was, though, another count in the indictment which often goes overlooked: the decline in personal honesty and trustworthiness and the pervasive cheating and deceit in business matters and personal matters among his people. These were indications of how far they had departed from the one true God, and their society became more and more sick as a consequence.

The prophet Micah saw the decay of devotion to God around him and the decay of his society, and spoke strongly to the people in his day about the consequences that would come because of it. He lived about seven hundred years before Christ, and he spoke to the people of Jerusalem, in the southern kingdom of Judah, which had become a house divided and a society at war with itself. The root was that they had neglected and then abandoned God. The consequence was that sins against God had infiltrated into all aspects of their lives, and this was defiling and destroying civil institutions and families. And to those in the midst of this situation, Micah gave them guidance on the need for godly wisdom that their circumstances made more necessary than ever. Their times were difficult, and growing more difficult, but the times were certainly not hopeless. The greatest reason for hope always remained, in the almighty, all loving and all wise God of Israel, the God of the Bible. So in all that they were experiencing as their society started to crumble around them, what was called for was not despair and despondency but rather a continued faith and a confident expectation of the mighty intervention of God himself.

These words of Micah still speak to us today, because we see the same kinds of conflict happening, and the same kinds of sins still infiltrating our society and causing decay and rot throughout. While many cast off restraints in their self centered definition of freedom, there is still the same hope in the God of the Bible for each one who has been born again of the Spirit of God through faith in God, and that means that there is always good reason to remain steadfast in faith in God. Even though scripture does indicate that society will become sicker to the point of terminal illness as the end approaches, there is still every reason to remain confident in God. This is the direction for the attitude and actions of the people of God in all ages, from the encouragement of the prophet of God to remain faithful to god, and from the personal declaration of the prophet himself of his own abiding faith and expectation in the God of the Bible.

“How much heartbreak is mine!
I am like someone gathering fruit in summer, like someone picking the last few grapes of this year’s vintage,
There are no grapes to eat, no early figs for the longings of my soul.
The people who were serious about God have been obliterated from the land, and there is no one left with a modicum of honesty.
Everyone left waits in murderous ambush, each one waits for his brother with a net. The highest bureaucrat expects favors,
The judge wants bribes, and the political bosses dictate their own whims,
They all make their little plots and schemes together. The best one among them is like a briar, the most honest one like a prickly hedge.
The day your watchmen predicted, the time of God’s judgment, has come, now is the time that they all get lost in their own confusion.
Do not put your trust in a neighbor, do not even trust someone that you may know well.
Even with the wife who is in your close embrace watch your words.
Because a son shows contempt for his father, and a daughter places herself above her mother
And a daughter in law places herself above her mother in law, and so a man’s enemies are the people in his own dwelling.
And so I am looking for the LORD, I am waiting for God my Savior!
My God will hear me!”

(Micah 7:1-7, Dale’s translation).

The people of God must live wisely in the midst of the sick society. Dissatisfaction with the circumstances can mean an honest lament over where things have deteriorated, but still there is wisdom from God available, even when there is disappointment and disillusionment with other people as we live our lives in the middle of the sick society. The people of God can look out upon all the deterioration and depravity and yet find that there is a path of wisdom from God for them in the midst of all that. The circumstances are heartbreaking, though, to the person who knows God.

The deterioration of society to become the sick society is one where even the institutions intended to restrain evil and wrongdoing become accessories to the performance of evil. Rampant sin means the perversion of justice in those offices which were intended to preserve justice. While there has always been some injustice in human society, something can happen where someone realizes that he or she is living in the sick society, and this realization breaks the heart when it comes. All that is left is a lament for civil society as it is. 

The prophet begins with a lament, about how it seems like all the good stuff is all used up and all the good times are gone, and that he is left with nothing around him that gives him hope:

 “How much heartbreak is mine!
I am like someone gathering fruit in summer, like someone picking the last few grapes of this year’s vintage,
There are no grapes to eat, no early figs for the longings of my soul.”

The prophet is feeling like everything good has been sucked out of life. His ministry began in the time of Jotham, one of the godly kings of Judah who reigned in Jerusalem as his capital city, continued during the long reign of Ahaz, who was one of the most ungodly and incompetent kings from the line of David to reign in Jerusalem, and concluded during the time of Hezekiah, who was one of the most godly kings from the line of David. He seems to lived and prophesied roughly about the same time as Isaiah, but may not have lived until the time of the invasion of the Assyrian king Sennacherib that Isaiah 36-39 describes, and which happened in 701 BCE. This description of his disappointment may reflect the realization that the good times for the kingdom which happened in the early years of Hezekiah were going to come to an end, that the restoration and revival which had come with Hezekiah would give way to the judgment on the outlying cities and towns of the nation of Judah.

This description is of his emotional reaction to the sin of his people and the coming judgment of his people. He expresses this with the traditional poetic form known as lament. Earlier he had begun this book of prophecy with a lament and the lament in this current passage is reminiscent of lament of 1:8-16. Though his lament was a traditional poetic form, it is nevertheless heartfelt, and with it the prophet shows the scriptural response to heartbreaking circumstances that he was seeing. In his own society he was seeing a sick defiance of God which was daring God to take action and do something. In fact he shows us that for a godly person, witnessing a decline in personal morality throughout one’s own society is something well worth mourning over, and it is something that is worth giving one’s own heart into grieving over the evils that must provoke the holy God of the Bible as well.

We always want the joy and happiness in life, but if we look at the world and our times with the lens of scripture, we may find great reasons for sadness and sorrow. That’s why there is such a strong current of lament in the Old Testament Psalms and prophets, and why you also see lament in the New Testament also. It’s the appropriate emotional and spiritual reaction when a godly person looks out and sees a decline in godliness around himself or herself. And certainly there will be times when churches and societies increase and decrease, prosper and decline, as time goes on. So the reaction of disappointment and grief to the decline and impending judgment of God is as appropriate to godly people as satisfaction, peace and joy when the gospel spreads, people come to Christ and the church is built up. Somewhere some people get the idea that following Christ means nothing but joy, peace and happiness and that there’s something wrong with us if we experience disappointment and grief in this world. But that’s looking for the cause in the wrong place often enough – for a godly person looking out at this world the disappointment and grief may well be the sign of something really right with himself or herself – the growth in personal holiness and being able to look out at this world with a focus based on and guided by the absolute holiness and righteousness of God himself.

”The people who were serious about God have been obliterated from the land, and there is no one left with a modicum of honesty.
Everyone left waits in murderous ambush, each one waits for his brother with a net.”

Micah lamented the loss of the people who were serious about God from those who were supposed to be the people of God. His contemporary Isaiah lamented the same thing (Isaiah 57:1-2 59:1-12 for the lament). They may have been thinking about the loss of faithful, believing Israelites such as Barzillai the Gileadite (II Samuel 17:27-29, 19:31-39). What they were seeing were that the generation which had remained faithful from the days of Jotham through the reign of Ahaz to the reign of Hezekiah were dying off, and the generation which had grown up during the reign of Ahaz were gaining ascendancy. They were seeing the generation which had known previous security was giving way to a much more self concerned, self seeking and rapacious generation – those who were the children by relation shared little of the faith of their fathers. While there will always be such individuals in families who do not follow the faith of their parents, the prophets of God realized that some kind of line had been crossed in Israel and Judah during their lifetimes. And soon the judgment of God fell upon Israel and Judah: first upon Israel in the days of Hezekiah, in 722 BCE, and then upon Judah through the Assyrians later in the reign of Hezekiah, in 701 BCE.

The tripwire for the coming judgment was given as the withering of personal morality and trustworthiness in comparison to the standards of God which were held up in the Word of God. The judgment would come not just for the rampant idolatry and the attendant sexual immorality which had grown in the past generation (the connection in the ancient world between idolatry and sexual immorality was well known throughout the Old and New Testaments). The judgment would come for the cheating lifestyle: the person who is trying to cheat God out of his due glory under the Word of God that “You shall have no other gods before me,” his family out of their due honor and loyalty under “You shall not commit adultery”, and fellow human beings out of due honesty and fairness under, “You shall not murder . . .  you shall not steal . . . you shall not bear false witness . . . you shall not covet.” It would not be too much to say that one of the greatest generations had become the cheating generation.

This is a common and pernicious delusion that can take hold of a person, a family, a generation, a nation: that God doesn’t care about my personal integrity. From this delusion even the people who may claim to know the holy and righteous God of the Bible may descend to taking unfair and immoral advantage of others and using others for one’s own benefit at their expense. Yet this does come from idea that a person can build your own God. The people of Israel and Judah had come to the point where they thought that they could building a God for their own tastes from bits of the God of the Bible and the pagan gods from the people around them. So they came up with a God who looks the other way and doesn’t care about sin – not a holy God who cares about the holiness of his people. And unfortunately, this has been the same delusion that has infected believers throughout the ages, from professed believers in the USA around the late 1800s and early 1900s, to the late 1960s to the late 1970s, and now since the past decade as well.

The prophet then went on to expose how the decline in personal morality among those who were to be the people of God in Israel and Judah was corrupting the institutions of civil justice. The corrupt ruling class would lead the way for the nations which were heading insanely into the judgment of God.

“The highest bureaucrat expects favors,
The judge wants bribes, and the political bosses dictate their own whims,
They all make their little plots and schemes together. The best one among them is like a briar, the most honest one like a prickly hedge.
The day your watchmen predicted, the time of God’s judgment, has come, now is the time that they all get lost in their own confusion.”

Micah was describing what was happening with corrupt ruling class over the people of God and how they were daring the judgment of God. Isaiah also decried this, and and spoke about the coming time of judgment from God (1:23, 10:1-4). Micah’s words echo of his more graphic indictment of the predatory leaders earlier in his prophecies, in 3:1-12.

“And he says,
“’Hear now, you leaders of Jacob, and you judges of the house of Israel,
isn’t it proper for you to know justice,
you who hate what is good and love what is evil?’
. . .
‘Hear this, heads of the house of Jacob and judges of the house of Israel,
who detest justice and pervert all that is right,
who build Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with injustice?
Her leaders render judgments for a bribe, and her priests pontificate for profit,
her prophets read tea leaves for money.
Yet they still rely on the LORD as they say,
‘Isn’t the LORD in our midst? Nothing bad will come upon us.’””

(Micah 3: 1-2, 9-11, Dale’s translation)

The ruling class of ancient Israel and Judah, the corrupt officials whom Micah and Isaiah addressed, did not have just a secular responsibility to the nation. While in the Old Testament there is some sense of the consent of the governed, but also the ultimate responsibility of the government and the ruling class in particular was their responsibility to God and the Word of God. In the most real sense the only true theocracy the world has ever seen as was ancient Israel, especially under the godly kings, and the times of godliness were the times that the nation looked back to as the golden ages, especially the times of David and Solomon. What happened was their sense of responsibility to God and their people gave way to a cynical ‘What’s In It For Me?’ mentality, where doing anything at all in connection with their responsibilities for honesty, fairness, justice and mercy under the Law of God gave way to not doing anything except what was in their own personal advantage. But the judgment of God would come upon them, and the mark of the judgment would be their own cluelessness and their own confusion as things started to turn against them.

This abuse of human institutions meant to protect the weaker from the stronger came through the disappearance of godly and honest people from the ruling class as it became more and more corrupt. Those who were in the place of judgment and enforcement of justice themselves were falling into the deceit and greed of the society as a whole, of the society which had neglected, disregarded and disdained the God of the Bible. The corrupt ruling class were using their positions for the pursuit of personal gain and cashing in, and as such were a bitter disappointment to those who were still around who still trusted and followed the God of the Bible.

The injustice in the sick society is very much the responsibility of those in authority, of the corrupt ruling class: the responsibilities of the office are discharged no better than the personal morality of the officeholder. Too often men and women even within the people who claim to know and follow the God of the Bible have shown far too little concern over the moral convictions and personal morality of public officials, whether those officials were elected or appointed. Yet the personal moral compass of those officials has a great bearing on whether the execution of the office becomes the enforcement of genuine Biblical justice and mercy in line with the God of the Bible or the enforcement of the whims, pipe dreams, folly and immorality of others. Yet compare the reason why Governeur Morris encouraged George Washington to become accept the presidency of the United States during its infancy: “The exercise of authority depends upon personal character. Your cool, steady temper is indispensably necessary to give firm and manly tone to the new government.”

This shows very much the corrupting power of sin. Sin can turn the people in the institutions, both religious and secular, intended by God to restrain sin, into the weapons of its own warfare. And this infection of sin in the cheating generation can weaponize the civil and even the religious leaders and institutions to speak and act contrary to the righteousness and holiness of the God they claim to serve. So then, even within the professing church of Jesus Christ, within the vocational ministry and denominational hierarchy, the infiltration of this subtle idolatry, to make the generation following a faithful generation the cheating generation, can defile the ministry of church leaders. This same kind of ‘What’s In It For Me?’ mentality can infect the church as an institution as well within the vocational ministry and a denominational hierarchy. And the cheating infects the professing church as well when its leaders start to follow the idolatries and follies of the cheating generation. And the decline begins as the presence of the holy and righteous God begins to withdraw from ministries, churches and denominations which once reflected his character and experienced his power to save to the uttermost.

This shows, then, another pernicious delusion that often takes hold of those who seek and attain political power: that God doesn’t care about how I deal with others in the conduct of my civic responsibilities. It is the delusion that my personal morality and integrity in the execution of my office do not matter before God. The ruling elite becomes influenced by the behavior of others in the ruling elite – they can see others of the cheating generation doing what God has condemned, and they then eagerly follow them to make sure that they get their own pieces of the pie. And indeed so many times this abuse of political power for personal gain becomes rampant simply because  those in power and part of the ruling elite see others ‘getting away with it’ and they simply want to do what they can to get their part of the undisclosed benefits. Giving and receiving bribes and working to keep on funneling benefits to myself and my family at the expense of others becomes a normal way of life among the ruling elites.

So this build your own God mentality  can come up with a God who looks the other way and who does not care about the integrity and justice of those who pursue and receive political power. It can change within one generation, when a faithful generation gives way to the cheating generation. But this politics for personal profit will ultimately be exposed, according to the words of Jesus himself in Luke 12:2: “For there is nothing which has been concealed which will not be brought out into the open, and hidden which shall not become known.”

But this is not the whole story yet — the prophet of God then went to describe how deeply the decline in personal morality was infecting the family of the cheating generation. What was happening was horrible betrayals, with family members ratting out each other, so that no one could ever be certain of the loyalty even of a spouse. In the sick society, even family and friends are of little or no support. When the loss of truthfulness and integrity penetrates a nation and a generation, it means the loss of trustworthiness, and so within the family itself there is rampant betrayal and conflict.

“Do not put your trust in a neighbor, do not even trust someone that you may know well.
Even with the wife who is in your close embrace watch your words.
Because a son shows contempt for his father, and a daughter places herself above her mother
And a daughter in law places herself above her mother in law, and so a man’s enemies are the people in his own dwelling.”

The infiltration of the trend of society into the family circle makes the family a prime area of conflict in the cheating generation. Where there should rather have been mutual love and respect, disrespect and conflict are rampant among the cheating generation. What the prophet is describing is role reversal –  where personal arrogance results in contempt and disdain for family members and ultimately the betrayal of family members. And as far as what would be expected to be normal and praiseworthy behavior – go to the book of Ruth and contrast the humility and respect of Ruth for  her mother in law Naomi with the behavior that the prophet describes here.

Yet there would be betrayal rather than support for family members among the depredations of the cheating generation against their neighbors, even to their closest earthly neighbors. Even more, the repeating pattern of deceit and aggression among the cheating generation means that family life itself becomes a bitter disappointment. The moral that the prophet drew was that even among one’s own family members the person who seeks to follow the God of the Bible must watch his or her words and be careful of what he or she says. Thus the godly person must watch his or her back even while he or she is standing for God in the middle of the cheating generation. It is a situation where love and fidelity are sacrificed, and anything you say can and will be used against you.

So this highlights another pernicious delusion that can come from the build your own God mentality: that God doesn’t care about my loyalty to my family members and how I treat them. I can still pursue my dreams and fantasies of plenty and power and personal glory despite what it means to my family members, my closest neighbors in this world. In fact, this drive to plenty and power and personal glory often builds greater disruption and conflict within families as ambitious and ruthless family members build unholy and unrighteous internal alliances for and against other family members with those who are outside the family circle. Instead of mutual love and respect within the family, having to deal with the repeated pattern of deceit and aggression means that family life itself, intended from the beginning by God to be a blessing, a source of enjoyment and happiness, becomes instead bitter disappointment and disillusionment.

And where there is lukewarm devotion to God at best among so many with only a vague kind of religiosity – the result seen in the past hundred years in the United States and the result of liberal theology that compromises and explains away Biblical truth and dead orthodoxy which fails to live out Biblical truth – it is no wonder that the restraining influence of the church of Jesus Christ wanes. Then the infiltration of tolerated and indulged sins into the family, the increase of material good without devotion to God, gives way to an onslaught of social evils. The children may only have the bad example of the mistakes, follies and sins of lukewarm parents, and they may fall into drugs, out of wedlock pregnancy, idleness and unemployment and despair and suicide. But the responsibility of each one before God remains, and he is there and he is not silent.

So the people of God who are standing for God in this situation find may this to be the way of wisdom with untrustworthy family members. They need to be extremely careful with what they say. The situation calls for guarded and carefully weighed words – to tell the truth but not necessarily full disclosure – as the shrewdness necessary for someone who has to watch his or her back in one’s own household. And even more, this is also noteworthy as one of the problems of a church that has probably grown too large, or a church which is declining, is that professed believers become untrustworthy as well among themselves. They fall into the habits and practice a lot of petty backstabbing and backbiting, sometimes with vicious little bits of second hand gossip that are decades old. But this becomes necessary in the wake of the build your own God mentality – it calls for extreme caution in dealing with those who can come up with a God who does not care if they bear false witness against and betray the members of one’s own family.

This, then, is also something especially that believers in Jesus Christ need to note. Jesus himself, during his earthly ministry as Prophet and Teacher, referred to these same verses and said that they would continue to be characteristic of times of persecution for his church afterwards:

“Do not think that I came to push peace upon the earth; I came not to push peace but a sword, because I came to divide a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother and the bride against her mother in law, and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household. The person who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and the person who love son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me,  and whoever does not pick up his or her cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. The person who finds his life will end up losing it, and the person who loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 10:34-39).

During the times of the sick society and the cheating generation, there is still one thing left for the person who knows, trust and follows the God of the Bible. Despite the moral insanity of the sick society and the cheating generation, God himself remains an unchangeable and unshakeable source of security. No matter what, continuing in trust and confidence in God will always be appropriate. Only through God can discouragement, despondency and hopelessness be turned to hope, trust and confidence.

The faith that is secure in God looks forward to his intervention in the sick society. The people who follow the God of the Bible can then live with confidence in his wisdom, power, compassion and justice, and they can live with the realization that however bad the situation is and however bad it may become, God is greater than that situation, and he is never at a loss.

The prophet himself held up a lantern of the kind of faith in God that the situation was calling for:

”And so I am looking for the LORD, I am waiting for God my Savior! **
My God will hear me!”

The prophet showed the people of God to look to their God beyond all the circumstances and to wait for his solution, for his salvation in the midst of the sick society. He showed them to look to God, that whatever the wrong being done in the present, that God will judge and overrule that evil. Moreover, that time of waiting will also be the time of God’s patience in offering his mercy and the opportunity for repentance before he imposes his justice upon the unrepentant. The man or woman of God in these circumstances will then imitate the patience of God as he or she waits upon God, with the expectation that God’s wisdom will mean perfect timing for the time that he intervenes in the world that he created, which he rules and for which he takes the ultimate responsibility that justice will be served.

Note that the prophet had no schemes or resources for any changes in himself that he could do for the reformation of the sick society. The situation was so beyond the prophet and the people who followed the God of the Bible that all that they could look for was his solution to the sick society. So the prophet went on with the assurance that his prayers would make a difference since he was going to the God who would make the difference. He could say with confidence, “My God will hear me!”

As the sick society starts to unravel and disintegrate at the fringes and within, the way of the people of God has always been to trust in God and to seek him earnestly and diligently in prayer. No matter how difficult the times become, there is always an immovable basis of security in our God. He is the true and living God, the Almighty and the Eternal, who never changes. So then, he is our source of our confidence and security when we have been placed in the midst of the sick society. And the way of the godly then is to take refuge in prayer, to give full confidence to God in all the troubles of the current times. They turn to the one true God, the God of Israel, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, since he will not betray or disappoint.

And this turning to the God of the Bible will mean turning away from the gods that we try to imagine out for ourselves. The statement of confident faith of the prophet exposes the problem with the ‘Build Your Own God’ mentality: the gods we build out of our own preferences and imagination can’t hear us. They aren’t real and cannot answer us. They bring out God’s continuous taunt to those who try to build their own gods: go ahead and cry out to them and see if they can save you. And those who try to build their own gods find out quite quickly that made up gods cannot save them in the time of trouble.

But the person who turns to the God of the Bible will quickly find that he is not like our imaginary gods at all. That person will find that the God of the Bible is quite willing to be called, “My God” by the people who give themselves entirely to him and seek to live in harmony with him throughout their lives. They will know that know that his presence gives the incentive to pray and the assurance of answered prayer, as they live with him and they grow closer to him in intimacy, love and trust. They will know that the God of the Bible is a God who genuinely hears the prayers of his people, and who trust that, “My God will hear me!” when they pray to him. They will know that there is no deficiency in his ability to intervene in our world and in our lives and in his willingness to hear and answer prayer. All that he was waiting for was the simplicity of faith that trusts him wholeheartedly, to receive his answers for our lives and our world. And this will then mean actual prayer to God who hears, in response to his many invitations to pray. It will mean that our prayers are not vague expressions of hope but the actual expression of our genuine faith and reliance on what God can do and is willing to do and will do. As A. C. Dixon once said, “When we rely upon organization, we get what organization can do; when we rely upon education, we get what education can do; when we rely upon eloquence, we get what eloquence can do; and so on. But when we rely upon prayer, we get what God can do.”

So the times of disintegration in the sick society are the times which simply call for continued confidence in God. Because of the eternal, almighty and faithful God, there is never a reason to give up any hope when we look out at the situation we see in our world. When we experience bitterness and disappointment because of what we see around us, it rather calls us to seek his intervention in our lives and in our world. The need is to continue to  be in prayer to the God who truly hears and answers prayer. No matter how difficult the times become, there is always an immovable source of security in our God. He is the true and living God, the Almighty, the Eternal, who never changes. Therefore he is the source of our confidence and security, and he becomes the one to whom we turn as well to change the sick society around us.

Then let us continue to pray to our God for a revival in our churches, that our generation and the generations to come may come to a full experience of God the Savior through his Son Jesus Christ. Let us ask for the transformation of our sick society through the mighty working of the Holy Spirit, first among the believers in our churches, and then among those who have not received his salvation in our society. Let us have that reliance upon God for his work of conviction, of cleansing and of reconciliation between God and man. Let us seek for the revival of the love of Christ among us to where we see the reconciliation and restoration of families. There are known cases of people who prayed for thirty and forty years for revival, and God did answer them and brought transformation. I would hope that we would not have to wait that long, but still we can persevere with the assurance that our God will hear us.

The God of the Bible remains the same despite whatever happens in the society around us. Thus his people can remain confident in him no matter what occurs, because he is faithful and mightier than every situation. And this calls us in our day, in our sick society, to continue to in faith and prayer in our day, to wait upon God because God will hear us.

So remain in prayer, and in the way of faith in God in the midst of the sick society. Continue to look for change to happen, from the God who know and changes the human heart, hardened and sick as it may be and as it may become in the sick society. Look for his revival and spiritual awakening to come upon our sick society.

And finally, each one of you, make certain that you have taken the most urgent and necessary step to place your deepest confidence and ultimate security in God alone. I mean make certain of your own eternal salvation before God  through Jesus Christ. Enter the reconciled fellowship with him through repenting of your sins and placing your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior now and for all eternity. Make certain that you can stand before God not because of anything that you have done but solely and entirely upon the death of Christ upon the cross for you, for your own eternal salvation. The security in God for all eternity is for those who have been reconciled to him through Jesus Christ. If you don’t know how to do this, simply take every word I have written in this paragraph and address it back to God in prayer, that that is what you want from him – eternal pardon and acceptance with him through faith in Jesus Christ alone – and state to him that you are now, at this very moment, repenting of all your sins and placing your trust in Jesus Christ alone for your eternal salvation.

The Common Delusions of John Bunyan, David Brainerd and John Wesley

It’s possible that you came to read this out of curiosity about what delusions that I would be writing about here that was common to John Bunyan, David Brainerd and John Wesley. It’s not about their faith in Jesus Christ alone as a Savior that they came to in their lives, or their conviction that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, or in the eternal destinies of heaven and hell. Those were all convictions that they came to as a part of their conversions to Christ, and I would not only not consider those delusions but I would concur with these declarations of their faith as I would concur with everything that is a part of our common faith in Christ as based in the Bible.

Rather, the delusions that I speak of are the common delusions that the unconverted John Bunyan, David Brainerd and John Wesley had, and about which they wrote about in their own journals and testimonies. And I think that understanding these delusions that they openly admitted were a part of their lives before they came to Christ will give us a greater insight in how to preach the gospel from the pulpit and how to deal with people when we’re sharing the gospel one on one. The common delusion that they all had was this: that they could do something in their unregenerate state to recommend themselves to God apart from trust in Jesus Christ alone. They became hard religious workers, but had no assurance of salvation in Christ and were not even sure that they had saving faith. In fact, you can find within their testimonies evidence that their hard religious work before their conversion was an attempt to try to find salvation apart from putting their trust in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation – and that they were deeply convicted by the example of ordinary believers who had the assurance of salvation, knew that they had been born again of the Spirit of God and who were living out their faith in Christ.

All three testify to the following process to their coming to a scriptural faith in Christ, a scriptural conversion and a full assurance of regeneration and salvation:

  • Insensitivity to their true state of being unregenerate (see Isaiah 6:10 and Romans 3:10-18).
  • Awakening to the reality of Christ (John 15:26-27, Acts 1:8, 5:32).
  • Conviction of sin and of their utter inadequacy of earning salvation (John 16:8-11).
  • Full trust in Christ alone for salvation (Acts 16:31).

I think that our current lack of understanding of these stages may mean that we are persuading people that they are saved before they have really been awakened to Christ and convicted of sin. None of these stages have to happen over a protracted period of time – a person can pass from death to life through faith in Christ in a very short time from a state of insensitivity, such as Lydia through the personal evangelism of Paul and Silas (Acts 16:13-5) or the 300o who were converted on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:36-41). But I do think that this helps to explain why people may pray a prayer with perfectly orthodox words about repentance and faith and remain substantially unchanged afterwards. They never came to a full sense of their need for Christ alone because we never explained the gospel clearly and fully and we never realized the need for so many to go through these stages to receive salvation through faith in Christ alone. We rushed them to pray a prayer instead of explaining their full need for Christ and how in the gospel Christ satisfies their need fully and eternally.

Up From the Old Life to New Lives in Christ

Albert Benjamin Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, had been raised as a staunch Calvinist Presbyterian, and ministered as a staunch Calvinist Presbyterian pastor. In his poetry, hymns and testimony, though, there’s a longing that’s visible for something more than stumbling and confessing, something more than just ‘continuous repentance.’ Rather, it was a longing after a victory over sin in this life – not sinless perfection – but rather the victory that he saw written and explained in the New Testament. Here’s what he had to say:

“I’m weary of sinning and stumbling,
Repenting and falling again;
I’m tired of resolving and striving,
And finding the struggle so vain.
I long for an arm to uphold me,
A will that is stronger than mine,
A Savior to cleanse me and fill me,
And keep me by power divine.”
(I Want to be Holy, A.B. Simpson)

Is this the desire of your heart? Have you been coming to church for years, and finding that in your heart that before even the opening prayer has begun that you are under conviction for the way that you’ve been living throughout the week and especially on Friday and Saturday evening? Do you sense that y0u’re continually having to try to dig yourself out of a spiritual hole, to try to keep on trying and confessing, to get back some of the joy of salvation that you once experienced?

The answer to this longing is to go back to the scriptures and to grow deeper into the understanding of the gospel, to understand the depth of the provision of the salvation of God for your life through Jesus Christ. So often I think that some of the people who leave off attendance at the public services of our churches do so because they do not find an answer to the conviction that they feel when they come in being beaten down by their own besetting sins. Sometimes they settle for less than the promised victory over sin promised in the salvation of God, and they become accustomed to what we can call ‘cheap grace.’ They come to accept the idea that a person can grow deeper and continue onward in the ways of sin and self-indulgence because of the depth of the free mercy and grace of God.

The scriptures themselves provide the the strongest correction to the dangerous misconception of cheap grace, that the preaching and teaching of freedom from the eternal consequences of sin means a divine permission slip for self-indulgence in more and more sin. This is what we could call ‘antinomian orthodoxy’ – the idea that if you just have faith in Christ you are not responsible to grow in Christlike holiness and love. While there is often today a rightful reproof of legalism, the idea that salvation comes from adding on additional rules and regulations to faith in Christ, there is a tendency also today towards antinomian orthodoxy. This is where some may take the truth of the gospel of grace to a seemingly logical conclusion but in the totally wrong direction. This is the dangerous misconception that the gospel is permission to sin and can even be taken as an encouragement just to sin more and more. Make no mistake, the result of antinomian orthodoxy is that it discredits the gospel as truth from the holy God and leaves professed believers wallowing in rampant hypocrisy.

The key passage for the understanding of victory over sin in this life is Romans 6:1-13 .This passage gives the proper understanding of our position in Christ, our new standing and our new identity in Christ and our special privileges, as those who have been brought from death to life in Christ. This passage is key to understanding the scriptural teaching on sanctification which is so necessary to live for Christ in this world . It is key to growing deeper in what Christ has for us, and to grow beyond spiritual babyhood to maturity in the scriptural truth of who we are in Christ.

“So what then are we saying? Should we remain in sin, so that grace may overflow? Never, never, never! We who have died to sin – how can we live any longer it it? Or don’t you know that as many of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried with him through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also might continue to live in newness of life. For if we were united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection, since we know this, that our old Man was crucified with him, so that the body of sin would be destroyed, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin, because the person who has died has been freed from sin. And if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him, since we know that Christ, once he had been raised from the dead, no longer dies – death no longer is his master. For that death that he died, he died to sin one and for all; that life that he lives, he lives for God. In the same way consider yourselves to be dead to sin but living for God in Christ Jesus.”

“Then don’t let sin have dominion in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, and don’t keep on presenting your bodily members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin. But rather present yourselves to God as if you were alive from the dead and your bodily members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

THE TRUTH OF OUR DEATH WITH CHRIST MEANS FREEDOM FROM THE POWER OF SIN. This  is truth that some believers may have heard at some time and may no longer be part of their awareness, but it is truth for the heart which needs to be regularly remembered, considered, and reviewed before God. It is part of the Emancipation Proclamation for all believers from God through Christ of freedom from the slavery to the power of sin and part our legal standing and privileges in Christ. So then, it is truth which we need to understand well and remember often.

The full message of the gospel means that the free grace of forgiven sins includes freedom from the power of sin through Christ. His death to provide a full pardon from the penalty of our past, present and future sins also means freedom from the power of sin both now and forever. This freedom is made possible by something done outside of us, our past death with Christ, and it already has been completed for us, whether it is part of our personal experience or not.

So, in verses 1-5  — “So what then are we saying? Should we remain in sin, so that grace may overflow? Never, never, never! We who have died to sin – how can we live any longer it it? Or don’t you know that as many of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried with him through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also might continue to live in newness of life. For if we were united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection . . .” Paul confronts antinomian orthodoxy as he anticipates a possible objection to what he has just had written about justification by grace through faith. He understands that someone might consider what he had just written about justification by grace through faith as a license for sin, as the permission slip to do what had been considered impermissible. He meets this possible objection with an extremely indignant rejection of that as an impossibility. It’s hard to represent in English without resorting to profanity (so I won’t). He strongly rejects antinomian orthodoxy, the gospel as a permission slip for sin, as something unnatural for those who have already died to sin in Christ. Incidentally, here he also gives a fuller answer to reported slander of 3:8;

So as Paul starts to explain what it means for believers in Christ to have died to sin in Christ, he assumes that they as believers have been baptized. And likewise he assumes that this significance of baptism has been explained to them as a part of their having been baptized. So he then reminds them of the meaning of water baptism ,as identification with Christ in his death and resurrection, as an enactment after the fact of the believer’s incorporation into Christ, and the legal position of the believer as being acted out before God as they had already submitted to water baptism in obedience to Christ from about the time of their conversion. His explanation is a reminder of the original practice of believer’s baptism by immersion by the early church from the earliest time of the apostles – something which even acknowledged by Roman Catholic commentators on this very passage and on the history of baptism in the church. His explanation here has nothing to do with any kind of assertion of baptismal regeneration but is rather an explanation of the significance of believer’s baptism for believers after they have already been baptized. So what a believer is in Christ through death and resurrection with Christ, what a believer is assumed to have publicly professed through baptism Paul shows to be contrary and unnatural to a life lived in full surrender to sin.

So here we see the apostolic explanation and scriptural meaning of baptism as something that has been based in the full scriptural meaning of salvation through Jesus Christ. The scriptures do not teach and the apostles did not teach not that baptism leads to salvation, but that salvation by grace through faith, in the full apostolic and scriptural teaching of salvation, leads to baptism. So if we understand baptism in this way from the apostolic teaching and the scriptures, we realize that it is just and outward ceremony without power or meaning for anyone who does not already have faith in Christ and has not already been genuinely born again by the Spirit of God. Rather it is adequate to explain it as a ‘regular procedure of Christian discipleship’ and as a signpost act, of the end of an old life and beginning of a new life in Christ. There is no need for it to be area of controversy but let us leave it in its scriptural significance as part of a new life in Christ and an act of obedience to a new life of fellowship with Christ. And this is what we will see. I know of a church several years ago that made a real attempt to start to evangelize intentionally again, after years of benign neglect. They were then surprised first by seeing a number of people come to Christ – they had forgotten that the gospel works, that it is the power of salvation to those who trust in Christ. But even more, they were surprised when they saw a number of people explicitly asking for water baptism, and that they needed to have a number of baptisms of adults in their worship services.

The general practice of baptism in the Christian and Missionary Alliance simply follows the practice of A.B. Simpson, back in the Gospel Tabernacle in New York City, the grandmommy of all CMA churches. He himself was from a Presbyterian background and had been baptized as an infant, but he came to be baptized as an adult by immersion after he had spent some time studying the scriptures and after he had left his New York Presbyterian pastorate. In the old Gospel Tabernacle, only believers were baptized by immersion. But there was no one who was excluded from membership who was satisfied by infant baptism. But during the ministry A.B. Simpson, he presented the identification of the believer with the Lord Jesus in his crucifixion and resurrection was so clear that many were baptized during the conferences he led once they had accepted his explanation who had no intention of leaving their churches where infant baptism was taught.

So then, baptism shows the change in life that comes for the believer shows the first reason to live a life of newness in Christ. But then, as we understand that the scriptural significance of having died with Christ means freedom from the heritage of enslavement to sin that has been part of the heritage of the entire human race. This long sentence introduces a concept that is difficult to understand at first, since it is something that it is outside our normal ways of thinking and acting, but it is definitely part of the truth of scripture for believers in all ages. The apostle explains further that the freedom from the power of sin for the believers comes from liberation from the inheritance from Adam through the believer having died with Christ.

So, in verses 6-7, the apostle Paul goes on to write, “ . . .since we know this, that our old Man was crucified with him, so that the body of sin would be destroyed, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin, because the person who has died has been freed from sin.”  So consider this, which seems to have been common knowledge among believers in the time of Paul: the incorporation into Christ, into his death and resurrection, cancels the legal authority of the power of sin over the believer. This means no legal authority in the universe can compel the believer to sin. This means that freedom from the consequences of sin in Christ also means freedom from the power and the legal compulsion to sin.

And this was accomplished by the crucifixion of the old Man with Christ – and that requires some further explanation. So we are to understand this term, the old Man, not as being our immediate earthly father, but rather our distant earthly father, our father Adam. So here Paul takes up something from previous context of chapter 5:12-21 when he speaks of the old Man, as the old Mankind as summed up in Adam. So we can understand this term the old Man, as modern commentators on the book of Romans do, as a collective technical term for the old Mankind as summed up in Adam. So Paul is here explaining that the old Mankind has been crucified with Christ, so that the body of sin rendered a useless, incapacitated corpse with no authority to make us sin anymore. He has then presented as a gospel statement not of experience or feeling but of fact, as having already been accomplished once for all in the death of Christ, as part of the truth that the past death and resurrection of Christ included us with Christ, and that is to be the truth that is to rule over our present and future. He describes our position in Christ, and our death with Christ, as an already completed and decisive event, as surely as forgiveness has completely been provided, past present and future through the death of Christ for us. So the apostle explains for us critical benefits of the atonement and resurrection that have been often not very well understood within our churches and less well communicated by Christian leaders among our churches – but still crucial to understand who we are in Christ and how we are to live in Christ.

The death of the old Man means the death of our heritage to sin, and we need to let this sink in to our awareness of who we are in Christ. The death of the old Man means the removal of the legal enslavement of the old Mankind in Adam from the death of Chris, from the heritage of slavery to sin. It means that believers are not legally under the dominion of sin and are not legally obligated to sin by any power in the universe. The past death to sin with Christ is part of the legal standing of the believer, one of the benefits of the atonement, whether we live in it or not. And because of that there is no need for slavery to sin, to the bondage to the old life among believers who have truly been born again and incorporated into the new Mankind as summed up in Christ. And so, as we continue with this passage, as well as the whole of scripture,  will find nothing in scripture to excuse continuation in bondage to sin as a master of our lives, as if we had never come to Christ.

This understanding of our legal freedom in Christ from the power of sin is comparable to the remarkable statement of the former slave Frederick Douglass. He came to the conclusion, after he had carefully read the Constitution of the United States , that it was actually contrary to slavery: “The Constitution will afford slavery no protection.” Slavery, Douglass tells us, “dreads the presence of an advanced civilization. It flourishes best where it meets no reproving frowns, and hears no condemning voices.”  So it is the same where there is careful understanding of the teaching of the apostles and scripture about freedom from slavery to sin. Antinomian orthodoxy can only flourish where there is only a superficial preaching and teaching of scripture, and where there is no one who will stand up and preach and teach the whole gospel of Jesus Christ, which includes freedom from the slavery to sin, to the compulsion to sin.

But wait! There’s even more to what scripture has to say to us about who we are and what we have in Christ. Even more, the death to our heritage of slavery to sin through Christ means the participation in the resurrection life of Christ now and in the future. And the freedom through Christ and with Christ means freedom for the dominion of righteousness, for the will of God in our lives now.

The apostle goes on to explain, in verses 8-10, that the reality of our resurrection with Christ: “And if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him, since we know that Christ, once he had been raised from the dead, no longer dies – death no longer is his master. For that death that he died, he died to sin one and for all; that life that he lives, he lives for God.” So the outcome of our death with Christ means that our life  is then to be ruled by the resurrection of Christ, to live in newness of life rather than in oldness of life  — and we can identify that oldness of life as self-indulgence in sin. In this explanation, the apostle is moving from our legal position in Christ the definition of newness of life. He defines newness of life in Christ as living like Christ in resurrection life and completely for the will of God as Christ lives in his risen life. The explanation is that as the resurrection of Christ was the victory of Christ over sin and death, so our resurrection with him also becomes our victory over sin and death and newness of life now. Make no mistake, this is definitely part of apostolic teaching – see Colossians 3:1-4 and I Peter 2:24. And note now carefully the apostle defines what this means for our life now: newness of life. He does not describe it as complete sinless perfection in in this life – that will wait until glorification, the complete physical resurrection of our bodies to be like Christ. So here we have a comprehensive scriptural explanation of what Christ has done for us, what we have in Christ, how we are to live now in Christ and what we still have awaiting us in Christ). So the scripture asserts that we are not to live as if sin were still our master, but but rather we are to live as those who are living with Christ for the will of God.

The scriptural depiction of the risen life in Christ for us now was common in the past in the preaching and teaching of the church, particularly in the 19th century, but rarely heard today in the preaching and teaching of the church. It is, though, liberating truth, truth for the heart, truth that means that we as believers always have a new beginning, that comes not from ourselves, but from having died with Christ and being given his life, to live in newness of life now. So it is something the calls for regular inclusion in the preaching and teaching of the church, based in careful exegesis of the scriptures, and presented as something for very serious consideration, as basis of our lives as believers now and forever.

The great educator Booker T. Washington recalled  in his autobiography how, as a child, he had heard a stranger made a little speech and then read a rather long paper to a himself and a number of other slaves. That man turned out to be an officer of the Union Army and that paper was the Emancipation Proclamation.  He wrote, “After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing she would never live to see.” And he went on to say that there then scenes of great rejoicing and thanksgiving, but that the next day then realization of the great responsibility of freedom took hold of them: “To some it seemed that, now that they were in actual possession of it, freedom was a more serious thing than they had expected to find it.” And this is what I think that we would find from the scriptures, that the freedom from the power of sin that we have in Christ is a very, very serious thing, something that should change the direction and purpose of our lives on this earth forever, and something that calls for serious understanding of who we are in Christ.

So then, the freedom from the power of sin through Christ is truth that means freedom for the believer in Christ. It means freedom from the life of resolutions to do better, falling and asking forgiveness over and over Freedom from the power of sin in Christ is, moreover, critical to finding freedom from the past, from addictions, bitterness and abuse, to finding newness of life in Christ. And for the believer who may not be caught in spectacular life dominating sins of addiction and abuse, it also means freedom from a double life, from rampant hypocrisy, from rollercoaster Christian life. It means that as believers it is not necessary to to live as if we were spiritually having to dig ourselves out of a ditch again and again and again because of falling into habitual sins, but that we can live in freedom through understanding and embracing who we are in Christ.

The truth of who were are in Christ meant for our heart, to guide us in what newness of life is, but it does not stop there. THE TRUTH OF OUR DEATH AND RESURRECTION WITH CHRIST CALLS US TO ENTIRE CONSECRATION TO GOD THROUGH CHRIST. The truth of who we are in Christ calls for a response from us; the truth of who we are in Christ needs to change our understanding of ourselves and the direction that we follow in life. It calls for a radical change in our lives that often becomes decisive and radical when we realize who we are in Christ.

Our new identity, as those who have died to sin but are alive to God in Christ, is to  be fundamental to our understanding of ourselves. Then this consideration of ourselves as not under the authority or compulsion of sin, as alive to God becomes the basis of our total consecration to the will of God.

The apostle explains and calls for the response to God appropriate to our new standing in Christ in verses 11-13: “In the same way consider yourselves to be dead to sin but living for God in Christ Jesus. Then don’t let sin have dominion in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, and don’t keep on presenting your bodily members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin. But rather present yourselves to God as if you were alive from the dead and your bodily members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

The word ‘consider’ is translated ‘reckon’ in the King James Version, and what it means is the serious and continued consideration and the taking up of the statement of the truth of the gospel concerning who we are in Christ to be who we consider ourselves to be now. It is taking up of the identity and standing into our hearts which God says is true of us now. This is the farthest thing from any kind of psychological self-esteem based on anything that we are in ourselves. Rather, our identification with Christ and our position in Christ is to become the new fundamental understanding of ourselves, all that we have and all that we are. But we need to be careful here – the apostle does not ascribe to our ‘reckoning’ in itself as having any power over sin  or granting us any power over sin – he does not use the phrase ‘make it real’ in our lives as many preachers and teachers in the past have explained it. He will, of course, later explain the source of power in the Holy Spirit in chapter 8 in the progression of scripture, after he has completed his explanation of our legal standing here.

But rather the apostle Paul explains  our standing in Christ, our having died with him and having been raised with him, as the reason for consecration to Christ, as those who are dead to sin but alive to God in Christ. Thus his call is for our position in Christ to lead us to the refusal to surrender to the rule of sin over us. He calls us rather to the presentation of ourselves to God, each one of us,  as someone who is alive from the dead. This is the logical conclusion of our  incorporation into Christ, identification with Christ, the new standing in grace: it is to lead to that once for all consecration of oneself to God through Jesus Christ. The apostle’s teaching this shows how much he thought that this was lacking in the lives of believers in Rome, particularly those who seemed to be drawn into the paths of antinomian orthodoxy. And this was something he wanted to correct, both in a possible misunderstanding of his teaching and of the Christian life in general, now and for all eternity.

So as we approach this scripture, it has called for careful understanding of the scripture, what it says, in the order and manner that it says, and thus we have come to a place where we can avoid the hoary formulas that make it say more or less than what it says and more or less than what is necessary to understand what this means for us to know and do now. What the apostle is calling for is not something that would be called an ‘inward crucifixion’ and it is not a ‘reckoning’ that ‘makes it real’ in our experience. The real point is the continuing realization of who we are now in Christ calls for us to make a complete consecration to God through Christ in this life. Though the King James uses the word ‘yield,’ what the apostle calls for is not a passive ‘surrender’, but rather a positive refusal to let sin rule over us and actually to present ourselves to God. It is a positive, active presentation of ourselves to God, as  conscious act. So the scriptural terminology is crucial to understand and put into practice the new realization, the new direction of the new life in Christ. And the correction of the terminology that we’ve often heard in our songs and some of our holiness literature from the past gives a new appreciation of who we are in Christ and often forms the basis of a fresh consecration (the crisis experience of sanctification) into an new life of holiness (experiential sanctification).

This is what we have often enough sung about in the past, such as in this verse by Isaac Watts:

“Lord, we have long abused thy love,
Our e’en bled to see
What rebels we have been.
No more, ye lusts, shall ye command,
No more will we obey . . .”

The power of identity as determining what a person will live for something is extremely important, and too often far too little understood from the standpoint of scripture. So unscriptural understanding of oneself, even after salvation, will mean surrendering one’s life to the wrong things. But even more, the power of a new identity in Christ, means understanding that Christlikeness is not up to us. Becoming like him and living like him in this life is not about trying harder, learning more rules and regulations. Rather the understanding of what freedom from sin, from careful examination of the explanation of scripture, means freedom to look beyond ourselves, our abilities and liabilities, to consider ourselves as God in scripture has defined us. We are now those who have died to sin and are alive to God in Christ. And the real revolution in this world happens when believers consecrate themselves to god as those who are dead to sin and alive to God and then step out to live in the newness of life which Christ provides for us now.

THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST THEREFORE PROMISES MORE THAN JUST THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS. BY OUR UNION WITH CHRIST IN HIS DEATH AND RESURRECTION THE POWER AND AUTHORITY OF SIN HAS ALREADY BEEN BROKEN FOR US. THIS IS NOT SOMETHING THAT IS BASED IN WHO WE ARE IN OURSELVES BUT ON WHAT CHRIST HAS DONE FOR US AND WHO WE ARE IN HIM. AND THIS MEANS THAT GOD HAS PROVIDED IN CHRIST AN ENTRANCE INTO A SUBSTANTIAL FREEDOM FROM THE POWER OF SIN IN OUR LIVES NOW. A NEW LIFE IN THE WILL OF GOD HAS BEEN MADE AVAILABLE FOR US IN CHRIST; IT IS OUR POSSESSION AND PRIVILEGE IN CHRIST NOW, AND HE CALLS US TO UNDERSTAND IT AND LIVE IT OUT.

So the first step is the freedom from the guilt of sin by his faith and resurrection through faith in him; to receive eternal life in the first place. This message  so far is for believers who have already received eternal life by faith in Christ primarily. And it does answer the question of why some professed believers are hypocrites. It is not a problem with the gospel, but what they have taken the gospel to mean. And it can allay any fear you may have of being a hypocrite if you receive eternal life by faith in Christ. The full gospel of Jesus is that that Christ provides freedom from the consequences and power of sin, so that forgiven people can live with victory over sin in Christ. this means that God has provided the power in Christ for you not to have ever to live as a hypocrite if you turn to Christ.  So then, have you received the forgiveness of sins in Christ, and been born again of his Spirit through faith in Christ?

So, if you have put your faith in Christ for your eternal salvation, have you sealed your commitment to Jesus Christ by water baptism? Look beyond the traditions and opinions of others, but rather to the Word of God, as the only rule of what we believe, what we do as believers. Follow through with whatever the Word calls you to do.

Finally, have you consecrated your entire life to Christ? Make a conscious decision before God against the rule of sin in your life, as the scripture calls you to do. Turn from the dominion of sin and self-indulgence and decide for entire obedience to God Present yourself to God as a conscious act before him, upon the basis of who you are in Jesus Christ – someone who has die to sin and who is alive to God.