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Persecution

Image source: Sweet Publishing/FreeBibleimages.org

How do you respond when someone says, “I have good news and I have bad news”? Several times in today’s Bible reading, Jesus does just that.

He talks about the Last Days and His return. In the way He describes things, it would be very easy to be anxious. But that’s not why He tells His Disciples about the end times. Instead, He gives them this information so they would be encouraged. As they see things happen in the future, instead of being anxious, they should be encouraged, knowing that the end and Jesus’ return is coming soon.

Note: The “End Times” isn’t something that will happen sometime in the future only. When Bible teachers talk about “the End Times”, they’re talking about the time that began when Jesus arrived preaching His good news. In other words, we are in the “End Times” now. Yes, we are closer to the end than when the church was birthed in Acts 2, but we have been in the “End Times” for almost two thousand years. We are in an overlap of this Present Age and the Age to Come. A time of “already, but not yet”. Some of the things Jesus prophesied have already been fulfilled, such as the fall of Jerusalem that occurred in AD 70 and prophesied in today’s reading. (Mark 13:2) But Jesus hasn’t yet returned in all of His glory to take His bride — Believers — to her eternal home with Him. 26-27)

Application

Are you ready for Jesus’ return? What does it mean to be ready? It means to live with an expectancy that Jesus will come soon. It means to live an obedient life, telling other people how they, too can have an eternal hope.

Several times in the Gospels, Jesus tells His Disciples — and us — that we should always be ready because no one knows when He will return. Even He doesn’t know when His Father tells Him to bring His children home. If you’re one of His children, He will come for you, so you want to make sure that you’re always ready.

As we continue reading through the Gospels and Revelation during this year, it’s important to see Jesus’ warnings as both good news and bad news.

Spend some time today thanking God that He has a plan to bring His chidren home to live with Him for eternity.

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dragon

In today’s Bible reading, we see the Beast. Actually, we see two Beasts. One thing that was striking as I read this was the language used of the Dragon and the Beasts. Things like:

It was allowed to exercise authority (v. 5)
It was permitted to wage war against the saints and to conquer them (v. 7)
It was also given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation (v. 7)
It was permitted to give breath to the image of the beast (v. 15)

As I stated before, instead of being distracted by the picturesque language and trying to figure out things, look at what the passage says about God. The Beasts and the Dragon are allowed and permitted to do things. They were given authority.

Application

What this says is that they have no authority in and of themselves; it is given to them. They are passive recipients of these things.

God is the Sovereign One! He is the One in control! Never was there a contest of who would win: God or Satan. Satan is no match for the King of kings and the Lord of lords!

Another thing to note in this chapter: the Beast performs great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in front of the people. it deceives those who live on the earth because of the signs that it is permitted to perform in the presence of the beast. (vv. 13-14)

This reminds us to not be enamored by signs and wonders. Yes, they may be spectacular. Yes, they may be convincing. And yes, they may be counterfeits of the real deal. Just because someone has miraculous gifts doesn’t mean they are the real deal. Look closely at their character. Look at the content of their teachings. If their character and teachings don’t line up with God’s Word, don’t listen to them. Flee from them. And don’t look back! (Matthew 7:15–23)

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In today’s Bible reading, we see a “great fiery red dragon” appear. Michael and his angels war with the dragon and cast it and its angels to the earth. We learn in Revelation 12:9 the dragon’s true identity: Satan, the ancient serpent, the devil, the world’s deceiver, the accuser. All of these names are given elsewhere in the Bible.

A loud voice cries out praises to God because the enemy was cast out of heaven. This is great news for those in heaven. But this is bad news to those on the earth because Satan is here. BUT, he knows his time is limited. That’s a great reminder. As bad as it seems, Satan is on a short leash; his influence is limited. Finally, John tells us that Satan attacks the children of the woman and tries to drown them by spewing a river from his mouth. John reveals that the children are Believers, those who obey God and hold fast to the testimony about Jesus.

Application

Again, don’t get lost in the details and the description of the dragon, the woman and her children. What does this chapter tell us about God? What does it tell us about the people of God?

This chapter reminds us that God is in control. He places limits on His enemy. And He protects His people, even through their torment. God doesn’t remove His people but rather, He sustains and protects them in the midst of their persecution.

Rather than being spooked by what John writes, Believers should be comforted. Although God doesn’t remove His people, He has a purpose of glorifying Himself through all of this. God is all-mighty! God is all-powerful. God is good! And God is worthy of our praise.

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the overlap of This Age and The Age to Come

In today’s Bible reading, we see two witnesses given authority to prophesy/preach against the people’s sins for a period of time. During their allotted time, they are immortal; no one can harm them. At the end of the allotted time, people martyr the witnesses and leave their bodies on the street until the witnesses are resurrected on the third day after they are killed. (Note: The word we use for “witness” is the Greek word “martyr”.)

The witnesses are called home to heaven, and an earthquake on the earth follows. FINALLY, the people are terrified and glorify God. (Revelation 11:13)

Application

How long? How long does it take for God to get your attention? How quickly do you respond? How deeply do you respond?

“Oh, Believers will be raptured before the ‘end times’ begin so we don’t have to worry about the End Times!”

Not according to Jesus!

When Jesus showed up and began ministering two thousand years ago, the “end times” began. (Luke 11:20) In other words, we don’t have to wait for the “end times”. We’re living in it. The Kingdom of God is already here. The Kingdom of God has come, but it hasn’t been consummated. Right now, we’re living in the overlap of This Age and The Age to Come. For now, we live in the tension of “Already, but not yet”.

In other words, eternal life doesn’t begin when we cross over to the other side of eternity. Eternal life begins on this side of eternity. We can know God now! (John 17:3) We get to experience Kingdom of God life now!

Spend some time today thanking God for sending Jesus to initiate The Age to Come. Look for ways you can partner with God to usher in His Kingdom. Seek His Kingdom and His righteousness first. (Matthew 6:33)

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Jonathan Edwards

In today’s Bible reading, following his brief greeting, Paul assures the Thessalonians that God will take care of those who persecute Christians. I’m sure the Thessalonians were on board with Paul’s promise until they read what is now labeled as 2 Thessalonians 1:7, “This will take place at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels, when he takes vengeance with flaming fire on those who don’t know God and on those who don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” (CSB)

Jesus’ Disciples expected Jesus to come in and right all the wrongs by the Romans against the Jews. They expected Jesus to ride in on a white horse and assume His throne. That didn’t happen because it wasn’t His time to do that. It still isn’t. The Disciples were disappointed. The Thessalonians were disappointed. And persecuted Christians today are disappointed.

It’s another reminder that God’s Word is sure and God’s timing is not our timing. “The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 (CSB)

God is gracious, merciful, and patient, giving guilty people time to repent. But a time will come when His patience will run out. He will pour out His wrath on the unrighteous. And that will be a day of wailing and gnashing of teeth. That will not be a good day from the perspective of any human. But it will be a good day for God. His righteousness will be vindicated.

Puritan preacher/theologian Jonathan Edwards, in his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” expressed his perspective in similar ways. Contrary to popular thought about the sermon — and Edwards — the sermon is about God’s mercy, not His wrath. The sermon is about God’s pleasure to restrain His wrath in order to give men a chance to repent and turn to Him.

“There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell’s wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor anything between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.”[1]

Application

God is good to grant time for repentance. It’s in the midst of persecution that Believers must remain faithful to His call, despite how things look. Christian Hedonism makes faithfulness in the face of persecution possible.

And it’s part of being ready for Jesus’ return.

[1] Source: Monergism website

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