Chapter 6

A Theology of Suffering

The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (Romans 8:16-23).

Because of corruption, God has subjected His creation to futility. But that is not the end of His plan. Out of futility comes redemption and transformation. The process is likened to a birthing. It was mentioned that a baby, given a choice, would probably not opt for the birthing process, even though that is the only path that leads to life. Pressure, discomfort, and being kicked out of a warm and comfortable place are initiations into this transformation/birthing process.

It is no accident that Jesus likened the events at the end of this age to birth pains. Wars, famines, and plagues are not our idea of transforming processes, but they are servants in God’s plan to restore His fallen creation to glory. And if the wars, rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes of Matthew 24:8 are merely the beginning of birth pangs, will not the delivering to tribulation and the killing of the disciples described immediately following in Matthew 24:9 be more advanced labor pains? And will not the object of all of these labor pains be a birth?

"Shall I bring to the point of birth, and not give delivery?" says the LORD. "Or shall I who gives delivery shut the womb?" says your God (Isaiah 66:9).

And will not that birth be the birth of the sons of God for which all of creation eagerly awaits while groaning in the pains of childbirth?

The Redemptive Nature of Suffering

The above Scriptures indicate that God has set things up so that the suffering of His creation is redemptive. The whole creation is said to be groaning as in the pains of childbirth, straining toward the purposes for which God has designed it. It is not just the elect/chosen of creation who suffer redemptively; the whole creation suffers redemptively. The judgments of God are clearly redemptive up to and including the outpouring of the sixth bowl of Revelation 16:15.

How can the terrifying judgments and wrath of the trumpets and bowls be redemptive judgments from the hand of a loving God? Because at the sixth trumpet, the fourth bowl, and the fifth bowl are found the words, "and they did not repent." God’s judgments even up until the seventh bowl are therefore clearly redemptive, for God has continued to leave open the door of repentance up until the last minute. God has answered the prayer of Habakkuk.

LORD, I have heard the report about Thee and I fear. O LORD, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy (Habakkuk 3:2).

All judgments of God up to the last bowl of wrath are redemptive, for He is long-suffering and not willing that any should perish. In wrath, He has remembered mercy.

. . . for when the earth experiences Thy judgments the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness (Isaiah 26:9).

However, God will not contend with man forever. There is a terrible and final day of judgment awaiting those who do not repent. Sodom and Gomorrah are witnesses of that. And even the final judgment is redemptive in that creation is at last purged of unredeemable evil.

Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example, in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire (Jude 1:7).

I believe Scripture indicates the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah matches the final judgment of the seventh bowl. Up until that point, God’s wrath is tempered and mixed with mercy. Up until that point, there continues to be an offer of salvation through repentance. Beyond that point, there is no longer an offer of repentance. Every last soul to be saved has been wrung from the earth, and the remnant is doomed to fiery destruction, having turned away from His final offer of salvation.

The staggering description of the severity of God’s judgments up until the seventh bowl, still redemptive in nature, should give us some inkling of the horror and reality of what is reserved for those who choose to turn away from the living God. Indeed, it would have been better for these if they had never been born. The terrors of the trumpet and bowl judgments are merely the kindness of God relative to the horror which awaits those who do not repent.

Behold then the kindness and severity of God . . . (Romans 11:22).

Perhaps with this sobering perspective, we can now begin to understand that the sufferings of creation, up until the time of final judgment, are redemptive. There will be wrath without mercy for those who ultimately choose not to repent, but the clear intent of the seals, trumpets, and bowls is to lead men to repentance. We have been too quick to prescribe wrath without mercy to the seals, trumpets, and bowl judgments. Consequently, we tend to remove the Church from amidst them, for we know that the Church is not appointed to wrath. But she is appointed to judgment and tribulation.

Tribulation or Wrath?

It is a huge mistake to confuse wrath and tribulation and to mistakenly ascribe one to the other. For instance, if we ascribe wrath to the final seven years of the age and then find ourselves amidst it, our faith will be shaken. We need to correctly distinguish between wrath and tribulation so that we do not find ourselves entering tribulation thinking it is wrath.

The problem lies in our lack of understanding of the differences in purpose between tribulation and wrath and evidences our lack of understanding of the way of the cross to which we are called. Jesus said that on earth we would have tribulation, but that we are not appointed to wrath. Tribulation and wrath are mutually exclusive in nature and of vastly different intents.

Scripture indicates that God uses Satan’s fury toward mankind both in tribulation and in wrath. The degree of Satan’s fury that God allows to be released in tribulation of the saints is much less than that He allows to be released in wrath against the unrepentant world. I read somewhere that Satan is like an angry dog tethered on a rope. He is only allowed as much rope as God gives him. The story of Job comes to mind. Satan is not in charge. He is God’s devil!

Tribulation is God’s loving and disciplinary provision to form us into the image of His Son. Wrath is His judgment on an unbelieving and unrepentant world. This is clearly pointed out by Paul to the Thessalonians when he said that although they have been destined for affliction (1 Thessalonians 3:3), they are not destined for wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9). He explained that the very purpose of persecution and affliction was to make them worthy for the Kingdom of God (2 Thessalonians 1:5). That’s about as clear as it can get.

Persecutions and Afflictions Make Us Worthy . . .

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater; therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering (2 Thessalonians 1:2-5).

Have we ever considered that our persecutions and afflictions make us worthy of the Kingdom of God? That’s what the Bible says. They are literally then more precious than gold.

I confess that I write this better than I live it. May the Lord establish it in my heart as well as my head. May He do the same for you.

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ . . . (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).

For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10).

If persecution and affliction are designed to make us worthy for the Kingdom of God, we need to eagerly take that medicine, even though the initial taste may be bitter. Teachings that the final seven years of the age are God’s wrath are setting the Church up for a shaking when the Church realizes that she has entered the final seven years of the age unraptured. How encouraging will be the explanation that this is a time of refining and testing to make one worthy of the Kingdom of God.

For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God (1 Peter 4:17)?

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation (1 Peter 4:12-13).

And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you (1 Peter 5:10).

. . . so that no man may be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know (1 Thessalonians 3:3-4).

For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps . . . (1 Peter 2:19-21).

For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong (1 Peter 3:17).

Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose . . . (1 Peter 4:1).

Purged, Purified and Refined

God disciplines those He loves. The purpose of our tribulations is to make us worthy of the Kingdom of God.

And some of those who have insight will fall, in order to refine, purge, and make them pure, until the end time; because it is still to come at the appointed time (Daniel 11:35).

And he said, "Go your way, Daniel, for these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time. Many will be purged, purified and refined; but the wicked will act wickedly, and none of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight will understand" (Daniel 12:9-10).

And I gave her time to repent; and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will cast her upon a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence; and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds (Revelation 2:21-23).

A solemn message to each of us is contained here. There is a destiny undeniably referred to as "great tribulation" into which it is possible to be cast. And by observation, all the Churches will know during this time of great tribulation that Jesus gives to each one according to one’s deeds.

This is a sobering thought which implies that the Churches will be on earth during this time of testing. The nature of our deeds, our unrepented and perhaps even unaware individual sins, determine what we will receive during this time. This sounds much like the Scriptures of Daniel in which many will be purged, purified and refined for the purposes of making them pure. Isn’t this the purity that Jesus is seeking in His bride?

. . . that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:27).

Peter had to stumble so that he could be purged, purified and refined. He was the one who would never deny Jesus, even though the others might. But Peter did not know his own heart even as we do not know our own hearts. Sober reflection on the process that Peter had to be taken through should prepare us for whatever it takes to refine us into the Bride of Christ. Notice that Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail, but He did not pray that Peter would not stumble. For Peter had to stumble in order to be purged, purified and refined. And it was only then that Jesus could say to him, "Feed my sheep."

"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." And he said to Him, "Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!" And He said, "I say to you, Peter, the cock will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me" (Luke 22:31-34).

We know how this happened, and how when the cock crowed Peter went out and "wept bitterly." Peter experienced the cross. To the extent we have not yet experienced the cross in the details of our lives, so will we find ourselves eventually in situations of stumbling and bitter weeping. The cross must be applied to all the details of our lives for how else will we be purified? We can take our medicine now or we can take it later. God will not be mocked. We will receive as we have sown. And all the Churches will know that our individual hearts and minds are searched and that we are given according to our deeds.

Notice that Satan demanded permission, as if he had a right to sift Peter. And indeed he did, for sin in our lives allows Satan’s access, but not without redemptive purposes. Jesus will have His glorious Church in spite of our kicking and squealing. We need to grow up and embrace this birthing process instead of fighting against it. Pray that we might gain insight and vision in order to not fall away.

And They Overcame Him

And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet (Romans 16:20).

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death" (Revelation 12:10-11).

Here we see the purposes for the suffering of the Church. It is the price we agree to pay in order to overcome Satan. Did we think that Jesus already paid the price so that we wouldn’t have to suffer? No, Jesus paid the price so that the Church could suffer in His power and authority, and thus overcome Satan thereby demonstrating God’s wisdom through her to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This is the purpose for the suffering of the Church. Are we willing to pay the price that Paul paid?

. . . he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake (Acts 9:15-16).

Were Paul’s sufferings redemptive? Our own salvation may well attest to it. The salvation of others may one day attest to our willingness as well to suffer so as to fill up the sufferings lacking in the Body of Christ.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Colossians 1:24).

If Paul had a share of suffering to fulfill, we all have a share to fulfill. With a greater call to suffering comes a greater grace to endure. So it will be at the end of the age when the extent of suffering will be exceeded only by the grace to endure. When Jesus said, "It is finished," He had accomplished everything that He had come to do. He had gained the victory over Satan. The provision of gaining this victory is that He has the legal authority to delegate to His Church on earth whatever yet remains to be done in the eternal purpose of God to demonstrate His wisdom through the Church. It is His choice. If He has decided that additional worldly suffering is needed to fill up what He considers lacking in His affliction, so be it. There is nothing the Church has to offer in this but her consent. We can be at best empty and cleansed vessels through which He can demonstrate His life and His death.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake . . .

We glorify God by rejoicing in our sufferings.

So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name (Acts 5:41).

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4-7).

The mystery of the wisdom of the cross will be demonstrated by a Church who lives the beatitudes rather than just recites them. God will be glorified and Satan will be crushed underfoot.

Stephen as a Model of the Last-day Saint . . . A Call to Martyrdom

. . . and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit . . . (Acts 6:5).

Stephen was chosen to wait on tables. Perhaps we would expect and prefer to be at podiums in front of thousands, but Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, was chosen to wait on tables. He was in obedience and position to fulfill that perfect work which God had chosen for him before time began.

We have seen how Stephen’s martyrdom follows the prophetic pattern Jesus taught His disciples on the Mount of Olives. Stephen was falsely accused and brought before the council where he was given utterance and wisdom which none of his opponents could refute. It was not Stephen speaking; it was the Holy Spirit. It was the opportunity for his testimony. He was hated on account of Jesus’ name and he was put to death. And yet not a hair of his head perished. This is exactly what Jesus said His disciples should expect. This should be our expectation of the typical rather than the unusual.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him (John 12:24-26).

And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death (Revelation 12:11).

Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, "Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’ "(Revelation 14:12-13).

Our heels will be bruised, but we will bruise the serpent’s head. We will overcome spiritually by allowing ourselves to be overcome physically. Satan will make the same fatal mistake of killing the saints that he made by putting Jesus on the cross.

Laying down our lives is for a redemptive purpose. A seed brings forth a hundred-fold as it falls to the ground and dies. We are called to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, as sheep to be slaughtered. For precious in God’s sight is the death of His saints. Clinging to our lives will cause us to lose them; laying our lives down will allow us to gain them. In this manner the Church will crush Satan underfoot. We must begin absorbing these truths of God, rather than the things of men, and begin moving toward this glorious destiny.

Jews and Gentiles and Redemptive Suffering

The seeming paradox of the wisdom of the cross advises us to voluntarily lay down our lives for the sake of others. There is also an involuntary loss of one’s life for God’s higher purposes which is clearly redemptive. In the curious history of the Jew and the Gentile, we have seen some of each. At the end of the age, we will witness the ultimate demonstration of redemptive suffering as Jew and Gentile alike will be privileged to lay down their lives for the sake of each other. We have not yet seen the final holocaust, either Jewish or Christian.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me!" And He said, "Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand.’ Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, lest they see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed." Then I said, "Lord, how long?" And He answered, "Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, houses are without people, and the land is utterly desolate, the LORD has removed men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land" (Isaiah 6:8-12).

It may be tempting to consider that this until has been historically accomplished. But has Israel returned to their God? The answer is no. Israel will remain partially blinded by the Hand of God until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

What then? That which Israel is seeking for, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written, "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not, down to this very day" (Romans 11:7-8).

I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. Now if their transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be (Romans 11:11-12)!

For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, in order that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all (Romans 11:30-32).

Israel as Suffering Servant

JUST AS many were astonished at you, My people, so His appearance was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men (Isaiah 52:14).

Just as indicates a commonality between the nation as suffering servant and Jesus as the suffering servant of Isaiah Chapter 53. Debates have gone on for millennia between Jew and Gentile as to whether Isaiah 53 refers to Jesus the Messiah or Israel the nation. The plain wording of Scripture indicates that both considerations are in view.

Paul develops the foundational nature of Israel in Romans 11 and calls Gentile believers not to be arrogant toward Jews who were as branches broken off for unbelief for the very purpose that the fullness of Gentiles could come in.

Do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you (Romans 11:18).

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in . . . (Romans 11:25).

What is the extent of the debt of gratitude Gentiles owe their Jewish brethren for the price they have paid in history to see the fullness of the Gentiles come in?

Do we fully understand that one people has been blinded in part so that another people could see? A review of Jewish history reveals the price of suffering that this people has paid so that the Gentiles could receive God’s mercy. Neither the Church nor Israel has been able to adequately grasp understanding of this, because it involves such considerations as the holocaust. Our minds are not able to associate such calamity with a loving God Who would allow His own chosen people to go through such distress, to some extent for the sake of the Gentiles.

We must remember that God is first of all judging Israel for their sin. That judgment stands by itself without Gentile consideration. But God works all things according to His purposes and uses the judgment of Israel for the benefit of the Gentiles. He is both kind and severe. Can we receive that Scripture says He has bound all over to disobedience so that He can have mercy on all?

. . . in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:7).

As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we count those blessed who have endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful (James 5:10-11).

Would we consider Job, sitting in the ashes scraping his head-to-foot sores with a piece of broken pottery, having lost all family and possessions except his nagging wife, an object of God’s mercy and compassion? If this happened to us, would we lose ourselves in the misery of it all and consider that God had forsaken us? Have we really processed the story of Job? Job’s condition in the ashes was part of the plan of God to demonstrate His compassion and mercy to Job, not just for the rest of his earthly life, but for eternity. We have a tendency to get caught up in the interim details, because we can’t see the overall picture. God’s compassion and mercy toward each of us is no less than toward Job. In the interim, however, God wants to demonstrate His wisdom through us to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. And this is going to require some suffering, redemptive though it may be.

Our inability to theologically process the past holocaust certainly renders us unable to theologically process the prophesied future holocausts. We are stumbling around in the dark when it comes to understanding the ways of our God. His thoughts are above our thoughts. His ways are above our ways. We are caught up with the significance of this world and our lives in it, and we are unable to evaluate the relative insignificance of our present earthly lives in light of the eternal glory that is promised to those who endure.

God’s Love Amidst Slaughter?

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).

The book of Revelation has been described as a love letter to the Church, because it is a book about overcoming sin and of being conformed to the likeness of Jesus. Many saints do not see it that way. Much of the book is so offensive to the natural mind that the Church is written out of it. Most might have difficulty in ascribing the events of the fourth and fifth seals to God’s love. The pale rider of the fourth seal and his companion are given authority over one-fourth of the earth’s population to kill as they choose. The description of the martyrs of the fifth seal, who have lost their lives because of the word of God and their testimony, suggests that this one-fourth of the world may be largely Christians. And yet they are told to wait a little longer until the full number of their brethren and fellow servants are likewise killed. Apparently one-fourth of the earth is not yet sufficient. Can this be the love of God?

Was the cross of Christ the love of God? You won’t be able to answer the first question unless you can answer this one. Jesus endured the agony and death of the cross for the joy set before Him. Is our call any different from His? The lives of those who choose to follow Jesus closely will most closely parallel His life.

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, "A slave is not greater than his master." If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also . . . These things I have spoken to you, that you may be kept from stumbling. They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. And these things they will do, because they have not known the Father, or Me. But these things I have spoken to you, that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them . . . These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world (John 15:18-20, 16:1-4, 33).

We must see all that comes into our lives as God’s dealings with each of us with the intent of conforming each of us to the likeness of His Son. If we do not, we will be unable to endure that which we are called to endure. We must understand that the end of the age will be a birthing process, not painless, resulting in our ultimate births as the sons of God. We must understand that NOTHING will touch us except by the loving hand of our Father with this focused intent. If we do not see this, our faith will be shaken in the times of trouble ahead, and we will be tempted to fall away, not trusting and understanding a God Who would bring such things to bear on His children. It will indeed be God’s love, although perhaps not our short-term sentimental view of it.

They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 11:37-12:3).

A Christian Holocaust?

Can we theologically appropriate a Christian holocaust when we have not yet appropriated a Jewish one? Have we appropriated the holocaust of Jesus? We don’t know as we ought to know. There is ample scriptural evidence, though we may not eagerly embrace it, that the end of this age will be a time of virtual slaughter of Christians who refuse to bow down to the antichrist system. This will not be a mindless waste of life any more than Jesus’ death was a mindless waste of life. We are as sheep to be slaughtered, seed to be sown, and drink offerings to be poured out. That "they loved not their lives unto death" is one of the acts of witness that overcome Satan at the end of this age by those who believe in Jesus. Precious in the eyes of God is the death of His saints. Redemptive is the death of His saints in demonstrating His wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Any unrest regarding this destiny should fade as the eternal realities of future glory overwhelm the transient realities of our earthly lives. We must see the joy set before us. We must develop eternal perspectives. This world and our physical lives need to fade away in terms of importance and the sense of eternity needs to become our focus. We must see our treasures in heaven rather than on earth. If we don’t change our world-views to heavenly views, how will we endure and overcome what lies ahead? Jesus, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross. Will we have any likelihood of enduring if we do not see the joy set before us? Pray that God would give us heavenly and eternal perspectives. Pray that we will indeed stand during these times. Pray that by the grace of God we will be brought to full stature as sons of God through these times of testing which are our destiny.

God has said that His Church is not appointed to His wrath. God is trustworthy. But it is clear from Scripture that the Church will be subject to Satan’s fury for the ultimate purposes of crushing him underfoot and shaping us into the likeness of Jesus. God isn’t going to miss any assignments in this process. He’s not going to give to you what should have gone to me. God’s touch in each of our lives will be perfect, as it has been perfect up to this point. We need to get it settled in our minds and hearts and spirits that whatever comes to us in this life comes from the hand of God. Satan may sometimes be used as the postman, but God decides what is to be delivered. His deliveries are always perfect and precisely on time. Have you gotten to the point in your Christian walk where you have offered yourself as a living sacrifice, content and at rest as a chick under the wings of a mother hen?

We can grumble as the Israelites did in the desert, or we can settle the issue once and for all. We can decide to totally abandon ourselves to a Father Who has never failed to be trustworthy or deal perfectly for even a micro-second in the lives of one of His children. We need to reread Psalm 91. Let’s resolve to give God the trust He so eagerly longs for and so fully deserves. Let us seek to please Him and glorify Him by our trust.

The Mind-set of Job

God delights in the trust of His saints. The displeasing behavior of the Israelites in the desert is recorded for us so that we do not repeat their mistakes of unbelief. And yet I find myself wavering and often absent of the joy of full trust and rest. And I have yet to go one day in the desert without water. God will find that in each of our lives which requires testing in order to reveal our hearts. Our testings will be individually tailored to bring out the worst to allow opportunity to repent and get rid of it and bring in the best. Have any of us been tested as Job was? And yet it was Job who uttered the standard of trust,

Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him . . . (Job 13:15 KJV).

So must we trust in God as we come to the end of this age. The explicit destiny of many of us in the Church is martyrdom. We must resolve beforehand the issue of whether God is or is not worthy of our trust. Although our resolve may not always be reflected by our daily performance, His record of trustworthiness, nevertheless, in every second of life of each one of His saints, is perfect. With this testimony of trustworthiness and with His word that He will never leave or forsake us, can we settle once and for all the issue of trusting implicitly in our loving heavenly Father, no matter what lies ahead for us and our loved ones? Can we agree to praise Him no matter what, knowing that everything coming from His loving hand is destined to aid in transforming us into the likeness of His perfect Son for eternity?

"Father, I pray for the grace to glorify You with the trust of Job. May we not displease You by shrinking back in times of testing."

Job is an end-time message to the Church. God elected to demonstrate His wisdom through Job to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places, even as He will demonstrate His wisdom through the Church at the end of the age. The Church needs to come to grips with the fact that God’s wisdom was not primarily demonstrated during the abundant times of Job’s life, but during times of testing. The response of Job amidst that testing needs be our response, for we have even more insight into the faithfulness of God. And it was God Who started it. He said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job?" God desired to demonstrate His wisdom to Satan through Job, and He desires to demonstrate His wisdom to Satan through the Church.

Do you think that in eternity Job will look back on his time of testing and consider that it was not the love of God? Do you think Job will question whether or not God had his best interests in mind? Do you think Job would go back, if he could, and change one thing? Or do you think Job will acknowledge rather the perfect dealings of a Loving Father Who dispenses perfectly in timing and degree?

I confess there is too much lag time between when a trial comes into my life and when I finally acknowledge it to be worth more than gold. My flesh would much rather be pampered than tested by adversity. But the road of transformation is a road necessarily mined with perfect adversities chosen individually by our Loving Father to put the flesh to death and to transform us into the likeness of Jesus.

"Thank You Father for the testimony of Job. May we all be found with the faith of Job when we stand before You."

Beauty for Ashes

God establishes perfection to His glory out of the very substance of our weakness and failure. God chooses to bring life forth out of death. Out of the seemingly unrecoverable God-forsaken ruins of the literal ashes of the Jewish holocaust will arise a resurrected people. Those chosen since before time began to be redeemed by the Blood of His Son will rise from their graves to once again live and play and grow old in the streets of Jerusalem. God’s purposes are never thwarted. His promises and callings are never overruled or revoked. His original purposes for His chosen nation of Israel to be the source of sons for the world were not thwarted by their apostasy. Even their disobedience is redeemable. It was part of His plan from the beginning.

As the pregnant woman approaches the time to give birth, she writhes and cries out in her labor pains, thus were we before Thee, O LORD. We were pregnant, we writhed in labor, we gave birth, as it were, only to wind. We could not accomplish deliverance for the earth nor were inhabitants of the world born (Isaiah 26:17-18).

This is Israel speaking. It is God Who now begins speaking through the prophet:

Your dead will live; their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, for your dew is as the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the departed spirits. (Isaiah 26:19)

Therefore prophesy, and say to them, "Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people. And I will put My Spirit within you, and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it, declares the LORD’ " (Ezekiel 37:12-14).

Israel will be resurrected and she will see the fruits of her labor . . .

Then you will say in your heart, "Who has begotten these for me, since I have been bereaved of my children, and am barren, an exile and a wanderer? And who has reared these? Behold, I was left alone; from where did these come?" (Isaiah 49:21).

Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child; break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud, you who have not travailed; for the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous than the sons of the married woman," says the LORD (Isaiah 54:1).

Now, why do you cry out loudly? Is there no king among you, or has your counselor perished, that agony has gripped you like a woman in childbirth? Writhe and labor to give birth, Daughter of Zion, like a woman in childbirth . . . (Micah 4:9-10).

But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. Therefore, He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren will return to the sons of Israel. And He will arise and shepherd His flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, because at that time He will be great to the ends of the earth. And this One will be our peace (Micah 5:2-5).

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not keep quiet, until her righteousness goes forth like brightness, and her salvation like a torch that is burning. And the nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; and you will be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD will designate. You will also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. It will no longer be said to you, "Forsaken," nor to your land will it any longer be said, "Desolate"; but you will be called, "My delight is in her," and your land, "Married"; for the LORD delights in you, and to Him your land will be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so your sons will marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you. On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; all day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the LORD, take no rest for yourselves; and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth (Isaiah 62:1-7).

All nations will then know that He is God and that He has done this thing. The question of, "How could a loving God allow Auschwitz?" will be forever silenced. Valleys of dry bones and ash heaps will spring to life in the twinkling of an eye. His justice and righteousness will be a banner for all nations. All nations will stand in awe at the majesty and power of the Living God. How His heart must yearn for that day when the price His Son paid will be reimbursed and the Lamb will have gained His reward.

"Hallelujah!! Come quickly, Lord Jesus! Blessed is the One Who comes in the name of the Lord."

Let us choose to please Him now with our trust and praise and thanksgiving for the glory He is about to bring upon the earth.

reset Jan 1, 2002