“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 16:33; 14:27 NIV
Can we have peace in the middle of our troubles? Can our minds and hearts be at peace in the center of a storm, whatever kind of storm it is? Peace in stress? Peace in problems? Peace amid fear and worry?
I believe the answer is Yes. Because someone named Jesus can give us that peace. Because it is a supernatural peace. Because God has power to give it.
In both verses above; in each instance, Jesus was speaking about fear, separation, and trouble. And He was offering peace in the middle of it.
In the first verse, John 16:33, He has just told His followers that the time is coming shortly when they will be scattered to their own homes, like frightened sheep chased by a wolf. And they will leave Jesus alone. He is predicting His arrest and crucifixion, and the disciples’ failure to keep faith in that traumatic moment.
In the face of that reality, as frightening and discomforting as it will be, He is promising to give them peace.
Jesus is saying that experience is symbolic of what life will be like for them going forward, as His followers. “In this world you will have trouble; but I have told you ahead of time, so that in me you may have peace.”
Jesus pulls no punches. It is going to be hard. There will be trouble. But “in Me you may have peace.”
Jesus is the Peace Giver. He stilled the storm on Galilee by saying, “Peace, be still.” He stilled the demon possessed men by speaking the word of deliverance.
He can still our hearts and give us His peace. Because He has overcome the world.
His mission was to reveal the Father’s character and to do what humans failed to do. To trust, to obey His Father whatever the personal cost. To reveal self-sacrificing love. He did it perfectly by surrendering to and depending on God. Even to the cross.
So, He has the right to forgive us, the right to help us, the right to sustain us in our storms.
In the other verse, John 14:27, Jesus is telling His closest followers that He is going to leave them and go back to heaven (verse 28).
This was not at all what they were expecting. Not in their plans at all. In Jewish theology of the day, the Messiah would come as a super-human being, defeat all foes, and take the throne of David to reign forever. This left out the suffering servant teachings of the Old Testament, the dying for sin and resurrection of Isaiah 53.
So, a dying and leaving Messiah was not in their cards. No way!
Anxiety producing without question! But this was the reality, the truth of what they would experience.
So Jesus promises two things in John 14. He is going to send them a Helper, a Person very much like them–the Holy Spirit who will be with them forever. He will comfort them, teach them, bring Jesus’ words back to their minds when they need them, and more.
And He is going to give them His peace, a calmness, an assurance that is beyond anything the world can give. Look at His promise again. It is for you.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27 NIV
It is from Him. To summarize, Jesus offers us to give us peace in a world filled with trouble, whether personal or in our world. It will be a peace HE gives us. Not something we concoct or think up ourselves. A peace from Him.
It is supernatural. It will be a supernatural peace, a peace that only He as God can give us. He IS the Peacespeaker, the Calm Maker, as this old song beautifully says.
It will calm your mind. And it will be a peace of mind because the Spirit will bring back Jesus’ teachings and promises.
It will be peace in your Storm. All this doesn’t mean your storm will go away, always. But it means He will give you peace in the middle of your storm.
Tell the Peace Giver
Do you need peace, friend? Do you need it especially now? I want to encourage you to tell Jesus directly. He died for the right to help us, and He is faithful to His promises. He has helped me so many times in this. He is the Peace Giver.
I am writing this morning out of great sadness. . .and yet hope. I want to offer you a gift–the knowing that God loves you and is with you in what you are going through.
This week a leading emergency room doctor, Dr. Lorna Breen, took her own life in the face of this Epidemic. I don’t know the whole story, but one report said health care workers in New York are feeling very defeated by this disease.
They have trained and given their lives to help people get well, but so many there are dying, despite their heroic efforts. The best medicine can provide is has often not been enough. Bone tired fatigue, lack of resources, failure despite best efforts, frustration of family members, the pressure and stress of overwhelming odds, and more, can lead to a loss of hope.
Even if you are not a front line worker, you may be feeling some of this too.
Where is God?
Many ask at a time like this, “Where is God? If He is a God of love, why does He allow things like this?” It is an ancient question I would like to give an answer to–one that has satisfied me and given me hope.
I have had more than one devastating loss in my life, but what I am sharing with you held me up and filled me with hope in the middle of despair. God’s love sustained me and carried me through.
Here is the summary. Read on if it interests you.
God is love. He is all powerful; Creator, Savior, Friend.
But His hands are somewhat tied.What He can do is limited. But He is not stopped. And in His love and power He never gives up–being present, helping, comforting, fighting back evil, sometimes working miracles.
Perfection and love was what what He created. But the old story, retold and confirmed, is that the first humans were seduced and deceived; an angel created perfect by God, but with free will. Love cannot thrive absent freedom.
Lucifer, leader of angels, began his rebellion in heaven. It started with pride, then self worship, followed by criticism and questioning everything about God, His love, His ways. Many angels were deceived.
Finally, open revolution. War. And they were sent away from heaven (Revelation 12:7-9). War in heaven? Yes, but probably not like ours.
Lucifer (Light Bearer) who became Satan (The Accuser), came to this world in an infuriated, jealousy-driven attempt to take over a world God had just created. To make it is own kingdom, a place where He could rule and reign like he wanted.
The first humans were created “in God’s image,” with free will. They were intelligent. They had been warned, but the devil deceived them. Led them to question God’s love, doubt His words, and disobey His instructions for happiness.
It is called “The Fall.” It happened. It opened Pandora’s box. Disease, death, human trouble of every kind.
You might be thinking, this story is a myth. It is too old to be believed. In the class of every other ancient religious legend. Let me offer an answer.
Jesus. He was born, lived, died, and rose from the dead. Over 500 people saw him after His resurrection and traveled the world to tell about it.
Saul of Tarsus, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin (ruling council), thought Jesus was a Jewish false messiah. He went everywhere imprisoning, torturing, and killing Christians. Until the risen Jesus appeared to him as he neared Damascus on a mission of death.
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
“Who are you, Lord?”
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9)
In an instant everything changed. Clarified. Scriptures understood. Life mission altered. From martyr maker to missionary, to authoring much of the New Testament.
Here was Saul’s and the others’ message: God came to earth as one of us. He entered our darkness, our suffering. He invaded Satan’s kingdom as a Baby. Weak, vulnerable, out of love for a lost and suffering planet. He learned to depend on God, was filled with power; went everywhere teaching and healing. But He was killed. No, He gave His life as a remedy for our sin. To give us options: the option to believe, trust, follow again. The most sinful can be forgiven; the most questioning receives patience; the weakest can get all the help needed–to be a child of God again. To believe, to love, to serve.
The Jesus who died and rose again had confirmed the story. There was a devil, a fall, a history of God’s beach head of love in an occupied world. The story of a God who has never given up. All through history. Pursuing, helping, loving. God wouldn’t resurrect a liar, would He? What Jesus said can be believed. If there are things we don’t understand; well, we can trust.
God could have taken it all back by force. But force is not His way. His way is love, reason. “Come let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are as scarlet, they can be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they can be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18).
In France and other countries, during World War 2, resistance movements formed–to spread the truth, to empower, to free where possible. Resistance in the face of tyranny. Love for truth and freedom and human dignity in the face of evil.
Since humans turned away, God has been mounting a resistance of love and truth. He invades quietly. Jesus came as a helpless Babe. He sends His Spirit, angels, changed people. He does everything in His power to change hearts and minds through love and reason.
When a mind opens, He has the right to work a miracle. Change a heart, replace fear and doubt with love and certainty.
So yes, God is love. God is powerful. But He is limited in only this world until Jesus comes again.
In Tragedy, Love
Jeremiah lived through the destruction of his nation. He saw death in the streets. He witnessed cruelty and evil on a massive scale. But he didn’t give up His faith in a God of love. Here is his witness.
“So, I say, ‘My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.’ I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: It is because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore, I will wait for him.’”
So friend, I have an invitation.
Believe God is real. Believe He loves you. Believe He loves this world and is doing all He can. Believe in the middle of this devastation and loss.
Trust Him. Become part of the resistance. Fight for a higher purpose. We may lose some in this life, but there is a kingdom of love to restore. Serve in love, in His strength. If you choose this, He will help you. Everything inside will change. You will have hope, peace, purpose, strength to keep going. Believe the story. There is love. There is hope. There is a Kingdom. It is here, and it’s coming.
How does prayer bring peace in the middle of a crisis like the COVID-19 Pandemic? How does prayer work? How can we pray to find relief and help?
Sometimes we are so worried, we find it hard to pray. I’ve had more than one concern like that recently. The what ifs and worries buzz around in our heads like infuriating flies. We find it hard to pray without anxious thoughts interrupting.
As I write, scientists say the COVID infection curve is flattening in many states, but many uncertainties remain, both nationally and personally. So, we worry.
Will my job or business survive? Am I safe? What about my vulnerable loved ones? Will there be a second wave of the virus? When will school open again? How will my children do with dropped months of learning? Will the economy bounce back, along with my retirement account? Are our leaders handling this correctly to keep us protected and save businesses and jobs?
We worry especially when things seem beyond our control, or our resources are limited.
So, how can we find peace in a crisis? Philippians 4 gives us the answer. Seriously, it is the solution. It is God’s spiritual guide for peace through prayer. It tells us how to pray when we are anxious and why prayer works to calm us.
“The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:5b-7 NIV
You may have heard this before. You could repeat it by memory, flying through the words without thinking. Or its wisdom may be new to you. Either way, I want to invite you to work slowly through it with me, so we can unpack its treasure and find the peace it promises.
The Lord Is Near
First, Paul reminds us that Jesus is very close to us. As we start to pray, we should remember His promises: “I will be with you always, even to the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20); “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. . .My Father will love you, and we will come and make our home with you.” (John 14:18, 23)
Those are amazing promises when you stop to think about it. God is with us; Jesus is with us. They are not far away, unaware of what we are going through. They are close. This has always been true, but is even more true now that Jesus came as one of us, to share our lives.
“For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.'”
Isaiah 57:15 NIV
Yes, Jesus is in heaven, but through his Spirit, He is also very much with us. Jesus is near. He is close enough to know our circumstances and our thoughts. He is close enough to care for and comfort us in trouble or tragedy. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1 NIV)
Did you notice, Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything.” It is almost like a command, but probably more like a strong statement of permission. We don’t have to worry. We can stop worrying because Jesus is near. Remember those stories from the New Testament? He is the storm-stiller, the disease-defeater, our protector and provider. He did all those things when here on earth, and He still does.
So don’t worry. Pray.
Have you heard the phrase, “turn your worries into prayers.” That’s what Paul is inviting us to do. Don’t worry; instead pray. Then, he tells us how.
“In every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (v. 6)
In Every Situation
We face lots of situations in life, right? Relationship situations, financial situations, life circumstance situations, situations beyond our influence and control.
What do we do with those situations? I’ll admit what I do, all too often. I turn it over and over in my mind, like a slow-cooking pancake. I try to figure it out on my own. I toss and turn over it in bed. Then I remember. “Pray.” In any “situation,” pray. If I can worry, I can pray.
By Prayer and Petition
Interesting Paul would divide prayer into two aspects. Sometimes we think prayer is all about asking.
Perhaps we have an incomplete picture of prayer. Prayer is remembering who God is to us, what He is like. Prayer is a relationship. It is talking things over with God as we would with a friend of close relative. Not because He doesn’t know, but to open up to Him. He wants to know us. He welcomes our heartfelt conversation about everything important or trivial in our lives.
I love this; a little long, but really good:
“Keep your wants, your joys, your sorrows, your cares, and your fears, before God. You cannot burden Him; you cannot weary Him. He who numbers the hairs of your head is not indifferent to the wants of His children. . . . Take to Him everything that perplexes the mind. Nothing is too great for Him to bear, for He holds up worlds, He rules over all the affairs of the universe. Nothing that in any way concerns our peace is too small for Him to notice. There is no chapter in our experience too dark for Him to read; there is no perplexity too difficult for Him to unravel. No calamity can befall the least of His children, no anxiety harass the soul, no joy cheer, no sincere prayer escape the lips, of which our heavenly Father is unobservant, or in which He takes no immediate interest. ‘He heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds’ (Psalm 147:3). The relationship between God and each person are as distinct and full as though there were not another soul upon earth to share His watch care, not another soul for whom He gave His beloved Son.”
Amazing Grace, p. 116
Petitions are another kind of prayer. Petition means asking. Lodging a request. “Ask,” Jesus said in Luke 11:9-11. Ask for what you need. If you can get anxious, you can ask.
Asking involves trust. God is a loving and good Father, and He will do what is best. He knows everything about us and what would be the finest for us in the long run. He invites us to keep our wants and needs before Him. Whenever we are anxious, or have a need, we can ask. . .and trust.
My sister, who has faced her share of trials, but has a great attitude of gratitude, reminded me of an old song last night as we were texting. The words to “Trust His Heart,” say beautifully that we can trust Him, even if we can’t understand what is happening to us. You can listen by clicking the underlined song title.
With Gratitude, Say Thank You
Have you ever left out an ingredient while cooking or baking something, only to have it turn out flat or taste wrong? The next ingredient in prayer that brings peace is crucially important. You can’t leave it out and have a good result.
When we pray, Paul says, we should always remember to be grateful and thank God for what He has already done for us. Blessings received, guidance given, requests responded to.
A story from Jesus’ life has always impressed me about gratitude. Ten lepers came asking Jesus for healing one day. Dr. Luke tells us, “They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!'” (Luke 17:12)
Lepers were banned from society, and had to live alone or in groups. The fear of contagion led society to set up fear-based restrictions. Ill-informed medical and religious ideology taught that all leprosy was a curse from God and the result of sin.
Lepers who traveled around had to cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” as they got near people. From all this, lepers had a deep sense of isolation and shame. People who live in Hawaii and know the dark history of Kalaupapa, an old leper colony on the Island of Molokai, understand this experience.
Jesus told the ten lepers to “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed by God’s power.
“One of them,” Luke says, “when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.”
“Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.'”
When I first heard this as a child, it impressed me deeply about the importance of gratitude, especially to God.
If you know God, or have heard the stories of those who know Him, you know He does a lot for us. Many times we don’t even realize what He is doing. But as we remember, it strengthens our faith and hope. “We don’t have anything to fear for the future unless we forget how God has led us in the past,” an old saint once wrote. I have found this is true.
When when you pray, thank God for His past help and blessings. For all the times He has been with you and the things He has done.
Supernatural Peace Will Come
Prayer is a conversation with God. We are not just launching our requests into the “vaposphere.” God is listening. Remember, “the Lord is near.”
So, when we pray like this, in trust, thanking Him for His love and care in the past, and leaving our requests at His heart, He promises to give us His peace. Here is the promise in Paul’s words:
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:7 NIV
“Transcends all understanding.” It is a supernatural peace that God gives. “Peace will guard your heart.”
Peace will guard your heart, because He will guard your heart. He is with you, helping you.
This is the core of what God is saying about how to find peace through prayer in Philippians 4. However, I left the bread off this tasty sandwich filling.
Sandwich filling is great, but it’s not complete without the bread. A while back my wife came home with some delicious herb bread. It made wonderful sandwiches. So now I want to show you how Paul begins and ends his teaching on prayer and peace.
The Top Slice – “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident to all.” (Phil. 4:4-5a)
We can rejoice, which means to overflow with joy, because God is near; He hears our prayers; He will give us peace. Having a personal God who hears and helps us brings deep joy. Someone once said, happiness is based on circumstances. Joy comes from something much deeper–knowing a God who cares and is there for us in our lives.
Bottom Slice – “Finally, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or worthy of praise–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8-9).
Peace comes through prayer, but it remains with us because of a well-managed mental environment. There is a lot we can watch, read, or think about that really doesn’t promote peace. If we fill our minds with good, uplifting, ennobling things, peace will flourish there too.
So, Paul encourages his readers to remember all the things he taught them and fill their hearts and minds with it. Those things are found in Scripture. Reading, understanding, and taking in the words of Scripture will promote and grow peace.
God’s recipe for peace is: Be joyful, be aware of Jesus’ presence, don’t be anxious; rather, pray and ask for what you need; be thankful; and fill your heart with good.
Are you hungry for peace? That is a recipe that will always work.
It was a time not unlike ours, though it was long ago. Circumstances were different, but we can draw so much hope from it.
God’s people had been attacked and devastated by their archenemy, Babylon. Families had lost loved ones, the economy was devastated, farms and businesses ruined. Many had been carried off into captivity, socially distanced by many hundreds of miles with no way to communicate. Fear, uncertainty, and despair were ravaged their hearts. The future looked very bleak.
It was then God sent a message of explanation and hope to His people.
“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.
God said He still had plans for them. He wanted to prosper, not harm them. He had plans to give them a home and a future. Really? After all they had been through? Yes, God still cared. In fact, He loved them all along. Even though they had turned away for years, and trouble had come to them. He still had plans for them.
He wanted to restore hope to their hearts, by letting them know He knew exactly what they were going through. It hadn’t caught Him off guard. He had good plans for their future. They could hope again.
You may be wondering, Does God know what I am going through? Does He care? Does He still have a plan for my life? I can tell you He does, friend. No matter what losses you have experienced, or what fears you have now. God knows each of us. We are all precious to Him. He made us, and He died for us.
In the Bible, He often sent angels or messengers to an exact address. He knows where you live and what you are going through.
“The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”
2 Chronicles 16:9 NIV
What may be different in this story in Jeremiah 29 is that God was in a direct relationship with Israel at that time. He had taken them into a covenant as a nation. He promised to protect and bless them when they were faithful, but told them He could not when they turned to other Gods or became faithless (see Deuteronomy 27-30).
They had rebelled and turned away. God patiently sent messengers to call them back. For hundreds of years. Finally, he honored their choices and let them go.
God’s promise in Jeremiah 29:11 was originally given to Israel in that setting. He had foretold their captivity hundreds of years earlier if they turned away (Deuteronomy 28:49, 50). Jeremiah 29 explains what has happened in those terms, and what God will do if they would turn back to Him.
I am NOT saying that COVID-19 has come because of our sins, though the world certainly seems ripe for judgment sometimes. My blog on Revelation is looking at signs Jesus told about the last days.
What I am saying is that when we go through loss or trouble, we have a compassionate God Who is more than willing and able to help us when we turn to Him. He is willing to enter a relationship with us now. Jesus died to build a bridge between us and God, because they both loved us.
In all His working with us, God has an overarching purpose–to save us and bring us home to His great heart of love where He can help and bless us as He wants to.
I don’t know what you are facing personally. You may have lost a loved one, or your job. Your business may be in danger of folding. Maybe you feel paralyzed by worry and fear about the future. There is plenty to be concerned about.
God invites us to turn to Him, and bring all our needs and anxieties. He invites us to bring everything. He can comfort us with His love and provide for us. If we have not known Him or wandered away, we can admit our need, or our sins, and ask His forgiveness. Because He loved us, Jesus died to forgive and restore us.
If we know and are trusting Him, we can claim His promises for sure. His heart is always open to us. His answer may seem delayed, but don’t give up. Faith grows stronger in trials. His eye is on you.
Take time to read all of Jeremiah 29. You will see a God who cares, who keeps His promises, who loves. Yes, you will see a holy God who cannot always bless us when we turn away from Him, but is waiting for us to return. He has plans to restore and help us when we do.
Here is a wonderful promise:
“Worry is blind, and cannot discern the future; but Jesus sees the end from the beginning. In every difficulty He has His way prepared to bring relief. Our Heavenly Father has a thousand ways to provide for us, of which we know nothing. Those who accept the one principle of making the service and honor of God supreme will find perplexities vanish, and a plain path before their feet.”
The Desire of Ages, p. 330
I am taking this time to deepen my relationship with God through prayer and reading His word, the Bible. I invite you to set aside time to do this too. Your faith will grow stronger, and you will grow in hope and awareness of His love. Let’s look up and see Him looking at us with hope and love.
Many are asking if the Carona Virus Pandemic is a sign of Planet Earth’s Last Days. Jesus did mention pestilences (pandemics) in his teaching about events that lead to His Second Coming, which is why people are asking this, plus the universal disruption it has caused.
The first two in the series look at Jesus’ teaching about Last Day events in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Part 3 gives keys for understanding the book of Revelation.
In today’s blog, we will look specifically at what Jesus taught about Earth’s Final Events before His Return in the first half of Revelation. This will be an overview. In the next blog, I will unpack the second half of The Apocalypse, as it is sometimes called. That section deals entirely with what Jesus said about events at the End.
Jesus and Revelation
Sixty years after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, He returned in vision to John to show His Church what lay ahead in the centuries to come, and in the Final Events before His Second Coming.
With the passage of time, some Christians had begun to wonder if Jesus’ promise to return was still good. Some were losing their faith. Now Jesus comes to reassure them and teach important things about the future, and what was taking place in the spiritual world, behind the scenes.
Revelation covers the time between Jesus’ Ascension and His Second Coming which, in turn, leads to the restoration of Earth as God’s dwelling place and the eternal home of His people.
Revelation’s Structure and Purpose
Revelation is made up of a series of visions, or vision scenes. The visions move forward in time, but also dip back in history to pick up past events. The visions also move in focus from the earth to heaven where God’s throne is. In this way, God shows that events here on earth are related to what is taking place in heaven. There are spiritual powers and forces at work behind the scenes in this world. Not everything is due to the laws of nature or human choices and actions.
The general purpose of Revelation is to show God’s love and faithfulness, and how He stays connected and involved with what is happening on earth, because of His love for us. A cosmic spiritual battle is raging between God and Satan, a fallen angel. The devil works through those who follow him, including nations and leaders of all kinds, to persecute Jesus’ followers while they, in turn, remain faithful by following God’s word and will. It is an old story, but Revelation describes it in riveting detail.
Revelation may be outlined this way:
Revelation 1-12. The first section is historical. It spans time from the period of the Early Church until the beginning of the Last Days. In Daniel’s book, this is referred to as “The Time of the End,” a period of time before Jesus returns when Earth struggles on its last legs. “But you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.” (The “knowledge” referred to is understanding Bible prophecy, God’s purpose and character, and the End Times. See Dan. 12:4, 9 NIV)
Revelation 13-19 introduces the major characters and describes final signs and events leading up to and including the Second Coming of Jesus. Dramatic symbols and worldwide action show that everyone on the planet will be called to make a decision to follow God or the “Beast” powers.
Revelation 20-22 describe what will happen after Jesus comes, a great final showdown between Satan and his followers and the Ruler of the Universe. This will be a triumph of love, not an exercise of arbitrary power on God’s part. A movie should be made of this. After that, the earth is recreated in pristine beauty and perfection, and the New Jerusalem, God’s dwelling place in heaven, is transported to Earth, where God sets up His eternal capital. The New Earth is briefly described, with a final invitation to accept Jesus and plan for eternity.
Final Events in Revelation’s 7’s
In vision, John sees several series of seven events play out: 7 letters are read to 7 churches; 7 seals are opened and 7 action figures emerge; 7 angels are given 7 trumpets to blow, and when they do, cataclysmic events occur. Later, there are also 7 angelic messages for the world and 7 last plagues before Christ comes.
The first three series of seven, 7 letters to the churches, 7 opening seals, and 7 sounding trumpets, all end with the Second Coming of Christ. So we could expect to see some events and signs of Christ’s coming also listed. In fact, we do, especially in the fifth and sixth items of each series. The seventh is the actual coming of Christ.
The Seven Churches (Revelation 2, 3)
Jesus tells John to write letters to seven different churches. These were literal congregations in Asia Minor. However, it is widely accepted that these churches represents seven periods of time stretching from the Apostolic Age to the Second Coming.
In the letter to the Sixth Church, Jesus seems to be describing a period just prior to the Last Days. He makes this time-related promise that helps us locate where it is in the stream of time:
“Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.”
Revelation 3:10-11 NIV
Jesus promises believers in this sixth period that because they have been so faithful, He will let them pass to their rest without going through earth’s Final Crisis. Believers in the seventh period will go through them. They must take Jesus’ diagnosis and remedy seriously to be ready for His Coming.
The Letter to the Church of Laodicea (the Seventh Church) describes the condition of God’s professed followers near the end of earth’s history. They will be lukewarm says Jesus; spiritually wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. He offers a prescription and a divine remedy that will heal them and prepare them for Jesus’ coming (verses 18-22).
Jesus’ portrayal of Christianity in this final phase is very similar to what Paul and Peter described about the Church in the last days. Read 2 Timothy 3:1-9, 4:1-5, and 2 Peter 3:1-9, and you will see striking similarities. These passages describe a Christianity that, while wealthy in finances and programs, has largely lost its power and fallen into spiritual decay.
The Seven Seals (Revelation 5 – 8:5)
The letters to the seven churches are followed by two wonderful visions where John’s eyes are directed to worship taking place in heaven. In chapter 4, God is worshiped as Creator of all. In chapter 5, Jesus is worshiped as the Savior who died for human sin.
Through these visions, Jesus is gives us the solution for sin and spiritual lethargy. It is to have a renewed realization that God is our Creator, and Jesus is our Savior. We are ushered into heaven with John where we see thousands of angels and heavenly beings overwhelmed with Who God is and the sacrifice He made so sinners could be forgiven and spend eternity with Him.
In Revelation 5, John sees a 7-sealed scroll in God’s hand.
Sealed scrolls like this were often used as title deeds, as evidence of ownership. A powerful angel asks, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” John laments that no one could be found in heaven or on earth who was worthy enough to open the scroll and claim ownership. He says, “he wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.” Then one of the elders said:
“’Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’ Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. . .He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. . .And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.'”
Revelation 5:5-9 NIV
Jesus is this sacrificial lamb because He has taken away the sins of the world by dying in our place (See Isaiah 53 and John 1:29). Because He did this, He can reclaim the world as His own eventually.
Jesus’ act of successively opening the seals pictures how He restores God’s kingdom in this world the teaching of the good news of salvation and inviting people to accept Him. It depicts the experience of the Church as it carries the Gospel to the world through seven ages. Sometimes it goes well; often there is great suffering, and even spiritual failure in the mission.
When the fifth seal is opened, Christian martyrs symbolically ask how long it will be until Christ returns. Jesus gives each of them a white robe and tells them to wait a little longer until more martyrs die. The fifth seal is a time of great martyrdom which corresponds to the Middle Ages.
The sixth seal dramatically portrays the celestial End Time events Jesus predicted as signs of His near coming in Matthew 24:29-31.
“I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?’”
Revelation 6:12-17 NIV
Jesus lists five signs in the heavens that will precede His coming: a great earthquake, blackened sun, the moon turning blood red, and a huge shower of stars, followed by the heavens rolling back to reveal the coming of Jesus, as mountains and islands move out of their places. The first four have already happened, though they may take place again just before Christ’s coming. To read about them, click here.
It is clear in Matthew 24 and Revelation 6, that Jesus predicts these as significant signs of His soon return.
Who Can Stand?
The leaders and people pictured as witnessing Jesus’ Advent, cry out, “The great day of God’s wrath has come; who will be able to stand?” That is the question we might be asking as well. Who will be able to stand before Christ when He comes? Who will be ready for His coming? How can I be ready?
Jesus answers that question in Revelation 7. Four angels are pictured holding back the winds of war and calamity about to devastate the earth. Another angel appears holding the “seal of the living God” which will identify who belongs to Him. This angel travels through the world sealing people for heaven, before the four winds of final trouble are let loose. This is a direct allusion to Ezekiel 9 where God’s people are marked safe before destruction.
What is this seal? I believe it the experience of settling into trusting God and knowing the the truth about Him intellectually and spiritually so we will never turn away. The Bible says we are “sealed” initially when we accept Jesus (Ephesians 4:30), and Paul says:
“Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.’”
2 Timothy 2:19 NIV
I believe now is the time we need to be getting solidly settled into our relationship with God, through the grace and help of Jesus. Only Jesus can help us do that. We cannot do it in our own effort.
When Jesus opens the Seventh Seal, in Revelation 8, three things happen. There is a brief period of silence in heaven. An angel with a golden censer comes to offer incense at the altar with the prayers of God’s people. Then this angel hurls the censer to the earth in judgment.
When Jesus ascended to heaven after his death and resurrection, the Bible says he went there to intercede for us. The book of Hebrews explains this in detail. This intercession, in part, is to claim all He won on the cross, draw people to salvation, defend us against the accusations of Satan (Zechariah 3), forgive our sins (1 John 1:9-2:2), and empower us to live as His people (Ephesians).
Our part is to pray and work with Him, as the “saints” are pictured doing in Revelation 8:3-4. When Jesus finishes His intercession, the door of salvation closes, and judgment takes place in stages. Judgment begins with the Seven Trumpets described in Revelation 8-11 and the Seven Last Plagues of Revelation 15-16.
As you read this, do you get the sense we are living near the end of earth’s history? I believe we are. God is calling us in the book of Revelation to see where we are in the stream of time and realize how important it is to commit our lives to Christ and follow Him. That’s why He has given us these signs.
The Seven Trumpets
In Bible times, trumpets were used in worship, warfare, to announce God’s appearances (theophanies), in the enthronement of a king, and before God’s judgments on the earth.
The Seven Trumpets of Revelation announce calamities which signal God’s approaching enthronement as King of Kings and Judge of Earth.
When the Fifth Trumpet sounded, the catastrophes were told “not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” (Rev. 9:4)
When an angel blew the Sixth Trumpet, a voice from the altar in heaven commanded, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great River Euphrates.” These are the angels who had been holding back the Four Winds in Revelation 7.
The Seventh Trumpet is blown in Revelation 11, after an interlude of almost two chapters. In chapter 10, an angel announces, “Time has run out. Whenever the days arrive and the seventh messenger sounds his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished just as He announced to His servants, the prophets” (The VOICE). God’s longest time prophecy in Daniel 8, 9 was expiring. The Time of the End was beginning and the mystery of God (giving the good news of salvation to the world) was going to be completed soon.
When the Seventh Trumpet sounds, loud voices in heaven, say:
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign for ever and ever. . .You have taken your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”
Revelation 11:15-18 NIV
The Seventh Trumpet clearly announces the Final Judgment and the Second Coming of Christ. However, the visions are not finished yet. I said in an earlier blog that Revelation is divided into various scenes by Hebrew Sanctuary imagery.
This was the ancient worship center or temple where God’s plan of salvation in history was acted out. The sacrifice of Christ, the Judgment, and the final destruction of Satan was depicted in a yearly sequence. The final service took place on Yom Kippur, or The Day of Judgment, when the high priest went into the Most Holy Room There, before the Ark of the Covenant, the Mercy Seat, and the Law of God, he performed a service of final atonement and judgment for Israel.
In the first half of Revelation, Jesus gives three series of seven. Each of these series cover history and reach to the Second Coming of Christ. The sixth period in each series, Jesus gives signs that precede His coming. In the seventh, He describes some aspect of His return.
So, as we finish Revelation 11 and move into the second section of the book, Jesus indicates in sanctuary imagery that He will now go back and explain in more detail about Earth’s final events and the Judgment. That is the purpose of Revelation 12-19.
“Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm.”
In my next blog I will introduce you to the dramatic characters and major events in Earth’s final period. These are major signposts Jesus gives us about His soon return.
Last night I watched a video about a family in South Africa who owns a lion and tiger reserve. They have rescued and raised many in their own home. It was really special to see the family having fun with a lion or tiger. It reminded me that God has a wonderful future planned for us in heaven. Because Jesus died for us, someday He is going to remove all suffering, conflict, and sin and make Earth new again. Revelation is pointing toward that wonderful time.
“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:19 NIV
As a pastor, I called on an older couple. The husband was going in for surgery, and I had come to pray with them. As often happened, I was also blessed.
As we visited, the wife told me a story from her childhood in England. Her father had become a Christian and decided not to work on God’s rest day, losing his job as a result.
No other employment was available in their town, so father moved the family to a new city hoping for better opportunities.
After securing a place to live, they were out of money and food. They knew no one, and had nowhere to turn but to God.
The father gathered his family for prayer and poured out his heart about their situation, reminding God they had chosen to follow His word, and asking for help.
The next morning there was a knock on the door. When they answered there were bags of groceries on the porch–enough to keep them supplied with food until Dad found work.
Because they knew no one, they believed that God heard their prayer and helped them directly.
I have heard many stories like this; some in my own family. Perhaps you have, as well. Many times God uses other people to meet our needs; sometimes He does so miraculously.
This morning, on a phone prayer line, I heard again about people in need during this Quarantine. Many have lost jobs, or had to close their business.
At times like this, it is reassuring to hear how God promises to hear our prayers, care for us, and meet our needs.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Matthew 6:25-34 NIV
It is Jesus who is speaking here. He is inviting us to a life of trust in a Heavenly Father who knows our needs and will supply them. But notice, the promise is conditional here: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (v. 33)
Those who place themselves under the Father’s care, accepting and seeking His kingdom ways, choosing Him as their Savior and Leader, will be cared for.
But is God stingy with His love? No, our next verse shows that He pours out His blessings on all.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:43-48 NIV
Jesus’ invitation is to be as loving as God is, who pours His natural blessings on all alike.
“I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be a blessing.”
Psalm 37:25-26 NIV
King David is writing as an old man, and he reports that all during his long life, he has never seen a time when God has failed to take care of His followers, those who trust and obey Him. In fact, they are a blessing to others, always looking for opportunities to help others as they have been helped.
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
1 Peter 5:7 NIV
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
Matthew 10:29-30 NIV
God invites us to bring all our needs to Him, because He cares for us. How much does He care?
“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
Yesterday I wrote that Jesus included pandemics (called pestilences in some translations of the Bible) in His list of troubles that would happen before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. He warned His followers at that time not to see these things as signs of His immediate return, as that would occur much later.
However, He went on to say that these troubles would be like “birth pains,” intensifying over many centuries until He came back to get His followers.
Jesus divided his teaching about “signs” and being ready for His coming into three time frames: signs before the destruction of Jerusalem, events during the intervening centuries, and signs pointing directly to His Second Coming. The three chapters that deal with this are divided this way:
Before Jerusalem’s DestructionIntervening Years Signs Before Jesus’ Coming
Matthew 24:1-21 Verses 21-27 Verses 29-35
Mark 13:1-19 Verses 20-23 Verses 24-37
Luke 21:5-23 Verse 24 Verses 25-38
Why did Jesus give His followers this teaching about what would happen in the world in the years ahead?
Out of love and concern. He wanted them to have a realistic faith. They should not look for immediate deliverance because many things had to happen in this world before He could come back. Primarily, the good news about His love and saving power would need to be taken to the whole world. (Matthew 24:14 NIV)
To strengthen faith. He wanted to strengthen their faith in His teachings and His power to know all things. “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He” (John 13:19 NIV). It deepens our trust when we see that Jesus was right. What He predicted happened just the way He said it would.
To strengthen End-Time believers. Looking down through time, Jesus especially wanted to help us who live before His Second Coming. He knew it would be a time of trouble and skepticism and questioning. He said, “When the Son of Man comes to the earth, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8 NIV). He wanted to encourage our faith so He told us many things ahead of time. We call this “prophecy” in the Bible.
Signs before Jesus’ Return
Here is a partial list of predictions and signs Jesus and His followers left us.
“Immediately after the distress of those days (the Middle Ages), the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”
Matthew 24:29 NIV (Jesus was describing some celestial sign-events that would usher the world into a period known as “the Time of the End” before Jesus returns. See Daniel 12:4, 9). For more info click here.
Natural Disasters, Famines, Pandemics, Wars, False Messiahs and Prophets
“On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world. . .”
Luke 21:24-26 NIV
“Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ, and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. . . .Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. . . .False Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect. See I have told you ahead of time.”
Matthew 24:4-7, 24 NIV (Even though these are listed in the prophecies leading up to Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 A.D., I include them because Jesus said such things would increase in power and scope until His return, like a pregnant woman’s labor pains grow increasingly strong.
Preoccupation with This Life; Putting Off Attention to Spiritual Things
“As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”
Matthew 24:37-39 NIV
Moral Collapse in Society
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
2 Timothy 3:1-5 NIV (New Testament writers saw themselves as living in the “last days,” the days at the end of the age when Messiah would appear. They believed Jesus was that Messiah. However, their words often also apply prophetically to the End Time last days we live in. It is not hard to see how their words apply today.)
Loss of Faith in the Bible as God’s Reliable Word
“The time will come when men will not put up with sound teaching. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”
2 Timothy 4:3, 4 NIV
“First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation. But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water. . .”
2 Peter 3:3-5 NIV
Large Scale Apostasy in Christianity; the Rise of Antichrist
“Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. . .The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”
2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, 9-10 NIV
Many of the things listed above have been fulfilled historically. Only a few remain.
Jesus and the Revelation (Apocalypse)
Some sixty years after Jesus ascended to heaven, He appeared to His disciple John in a vision on the Greek Island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. John had been one of the youngest disciples of Jesus, probably in his teens or twenties. Now, he is an old man, banished to a government slave quarry because of his Christian faith. Most of the disciples had been martyred by this time, and the church was living under persecution, wondering how long until Jesus would return, as He had promised.
The Revelation, or Apocalypse, was given by Jesus to reassure His Church that He was still with them, watching over them, and to describe what would happen in the centuries ahead until His Second Coming.
Tomorrow, I will write about this amazing prophecy, which is mysterious to so many, and so often misunderstood by others. Revelation adds to our understanding of the events and signs before Christ’s coming. It strengthens our faith and helps us prepare.
When we were small children, our parents carried us. It was natural. Small legs couldn’t keep up. As we became toddlers, we were still carried when we were tired, stressed, or just needed a little love.
As we grew, we became increasingly independent, then autonomous. As adults, we walk on our own, solve our own problems, and now care for others.
But there are times when we sure feel the need of being carried–at least to know that someone cares.
God cares for us and is willing to help us carry our burdens. Sometimes, even carryus.
Here are some wonderful scriptures about this:
“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.”
God is willing to help us carry our burdens every day. We may not see Him lifting the load, but He is there giving us wisdom and strength. We can ask Him for this.
In the Old Testament, the high priest wore an ornate breastplate set with twelve precious stones. Each gem was engraved with the name of one of Israel’s tribes. In this symbol, God was picturing that His people were always on his heart.
“Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever.”
In ancient times is was common to see a shepherd carrying a young or weak lamb. God often likens Himself to a shepherd who carries us. In this scripture He promises to shepherd and carry us forever when we agree to come under His care.
“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Isaiah 46:3
Here God promises to be with us all our life, even into our old age and to tenderly help and care for us. He wants to do this because He gave us life. He has been with us since birth, and He loves us. He knows all about us. He knows the burdens we carry and is willing to help. Nothing escapes His notice. You can trust that about Him.
Even if we have wandered or strayed, He still loves us and longs to bring us under His love and care. Why not thank Him for that now and ask for the help He is so willing to give.
What I am offering is not platitudes. That would be inappropriate in a Pandemic. They would be cheap comfort now.
What I am telling you today is something true and tested. It works for me. It has worked for every person who trusted the words. What words?
“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. . .You will find rest for your souls.”
Jesus, Matthew 11:28-30
Could you use a little support? A little help with your burdens? How about rest for your soul?
I am hearing countless stories about front line workers in healthcare, first-response, nursing homes, education, janitorial services, grocery stores, trucking, parents working while homeschooling, and many more. All burdened, stressed, overwhelmed.
Does what Jesus offer apply? If you understand His point, you will find a strength beyond what you could imagine.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus was using an illustration from ancient farming. Two oxen or cows were joined together with a wooden appliance called a yoke.
To find rest, lift a yoke? To get relief, take another burden? Just the opposite!
You see, Jesus was saying, “Take MY yoke on you. Get in the yoke with Me. You are weak? I am strong; I will help pull your load. You are tired; rest in Me, I will strengthen you. You are fearful and worried; I’ve got this.
A farmer would often yoke a younger ox with an experienced one, a weaker animal with a strong one.
Can you hear the older ox saying to the younger one, “Let me give you some tips; I’ve been at this a while.” Can you hear another saying, “I am afraid. I don’t know what will happen. I am not sure I can handle this.” The strong one says, “When you are stumbling, I will hold you up. When you grow weak, I will pull harder. Trust me.”
Jesus is strong. He stilled at storm, healed the sick, raised the dead. Can you picture Jesus next to you in His yoke? Smiling, helpful, friendly? Yes, friendly. He will not scold you. He’s just glad you came.
I love it that Jesus said, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” (v. 29). He is not arrogant, demanding, a slave driver. We do that to ourselves. He is gentle and humble; easy to be with; a gentleman–and so willing to help.
What did He mean, “My yoke is easy.” The original word is “well-fitting.” Jesus was a carpenter. He made yokes. He knew how to shave the wood to fit each creature just right. He knows your situation exactly. He can smooth your yoke.
So, what do we do?
Come. He is inviting you. Come weary, come tired, come overburdened, come fearful. But come. He will give rest–because He can. He was human, and knows what it is like “to be us.” But now He is God, with “All power in heaven and earth.” (Matthew 28:18 KJV).
Believe. I know, it is hard to believe sometimes. Just admit it to Him. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24). That is a prayer He will always answer. He’ll strengthen your faith and will. Then consciously realize He is beside you, helping you. You are partnering with the once-human, but now risen, all-powerful Christ.
Take His Yoke. Jesus’ yoke is the way He is. He came to serve and help us. Serving others in love is the core principle of God’s character and His kingdom. Jesus’ teachings show the ways of His kingdom. It is not complicated. It is a matter of the heart. Are we willing to get in His yoke and serve with Him, to learn from Him?
You care for patients. Do it with Jesus. You clean nursing homes. Trust Jesus to be beside you. You truck essentials. Jesus is a great team partner. You are trying to save your business and your employees jobs. Jesus is willing to help. You are new to home-schooling your children AND trying to hold down your job. Jesus is available.
He is inviting you now to accept His invitation. It does not hurt to admit we are weak. Of course we are. That we have a need. Of course we do. We’re human. He gets that. That’s why He came.
It’s hard to admit. I get it. All our lives, we felt it was up to us. We have studied hard, worked hard, depended on ourselves (who else was there sometimes?). To admit our need and fear and overwhelmed feelings is hard.
But it is just what we need to do. He loves us and doesn’t mind. Not at all.
Try it. Try Him. He is gentle and humble in heart. . .you will find rest for your soul. And your work will be lighter too, because He is a heavy lifter. He lifted a heavy wooden beam and died for the privilege of helping us.
I have written three blogs about Psalm 91. It is a psalm for times of disaster and trouble, which we are certainly facing now. Loved ones sickened and dying. Our nation shut down except for essential services. The economy staggering; leaders conflicted about what to do.
David certainly faced disasters in his own lifetime, even judgments from God. He often prayed humbly for deliverance, and was spared. He lived Psalm 91. These promises have been claimed by God’s people for centuries, and there are many stories of God’s intervention. But not all who prayed were delivered (See Hebrews 11:35-40).
Yet, when I read Psalm 91, its promises seem quite absolute. Why? There is no question in this psalm they will be fulfilled. Those who trust God WILL be saved from pestilence (pandemic), plagues, harm, and the ravages of war. But not all have been.
This riddle is solved when we realize that Psalm 91 applies ultimately to a future period just before Jesus comes. David often wrote under inspiration about the future. This was one such time. Though God’s promises in Psalm 91 apply to all ages, they ultimately apply to the Time of Trouble spoken of by Daniel (Dan. 12:1-4), Jesus (Luke 21:25, 26), and The Revelation (chapter 15, 16). Psalm 91 is a psalm for the Great Tribulation.
It is during this time–close to the coming of Jesus, after He finishes his work of intercession in heaven, when everyone has made their decision for eternity–that the earth falls apart. Nature collapses, civil society explodes, and evil and judgment are unleashed.
It is then that those who have put their faith and trust in God, will be absolutely protected. There would be no purpose for their witness. Their deaths would no longer bring people to Christ. Then, it will be unequivocally fulfilled:
“You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.”
Now is the time, dear friend, to make our home, our dwelling, in God. Now is the time to make sure of our relationship with Him. “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.” Hebrews 4:7. Jesus’ heart of love longs for you, with eternal desire. And there is never a better time than now.
Psalm 91 has a special place in my heart. My father and mother helped us five children memorize it when we were young. It was our longest “memory verse,” and memorizing it took a while. Then dad would take us to elder care homes and invite us to share it from memory with the residents. I still remember the faith in God and feeling of confidence I felt as I recited this psalm, and the smiles of appreciation from staff and clients.
Psalm 91 is a psalm for times of trouble and especially applies to the final Time of Trouble before Jesus’ return (Dan. 12:1). It lists various kinds of trouble God will help us in, including “pestilences” (v. 5) like the COVID-19 pandemic. It promises God’s special care and protection to those who trust and follow Him. In times of trouble in my life, this psalm has been very precious. It comforted me in tragedy and loss.
In beautiful poetry verse 1 says, “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” The shelter (KJV: “secret place”) of the Most High refers to God’s dwelling place. The worship place of the early Hebrews was modeled on His dwelling place in heaven, and functioned as a teaching device about the plan of salvation. It was called the “Tent of Meeting” (Exod. 33:7-11), seen in the painting below.
This tent of meeting, or sanctuary, had two rooms, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. The Most Holy Place housed the Ark of the Covenant, the agreement God had made with Israel at Mt. Sinai. The Ark was constructed of two golden angels, a “mercy (grace) seat” under their wings, and a box below them which contained God’s Law. This all symbolized God’s throne in heaven which is based on divine law, love, and grace.
The pre-incarnate Christ actually stayed in the Most Holy Place as He led Israel through their wilderness journey (1 Cor. 10:3). Only Israel’s high priest was allowed in there to meet with God. For that reason, it was a “secret” place. Believers could not go in. Instead, they were taught to enter by faith, through the representative function of their high priest, who went in to request forgiveness and help for them from God.
When Jesus went to heaven after his resurrection, Hebrews tells us he “serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.” (Heb. 8:1-2). Hebrews chapter four comforts us that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.” So, it encourages us to “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Heb. 4:15-16 NIV). This pandemic is certainly a time of great need, isn’t it?
When Psalm 91 says “those who dwell in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty,” it means that when we trust in our Mighty Savior and High Priest Jesus, and surrender our lives to His care and keeping, He will be a “shadow” in the heat of life’s troubles. We will come under His personal love and care. We can pray to Him, and He will hear every word.
In Psalm 27:5, David says, “For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of His tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.” (NIV).
I don’t know what you are facing in his pandemic. You might feel very vulnerable to the disease itself. You may be facing financial loss and uncertainty about your employment. Like me, the daily news with its reports of deaths and jobs lost, may really trouble you at times. You might be wondering where all this is taking us as a nation and as a world. Will things ever get back to normal? What will that normal be?
In Psalm 91, Jesus invites us to come under His personal love and care. He is powerful, and He is good. Nothings escapes His notice. I invite you to read all of Psalm 91, and trust the God it describes. I will write about it more in days to come.