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The Sovereignty of God in the Last Days

God's hand touches earth

by Dennis Pollock

One Christian writer once said that what the church really needs is a great big dose of the sovereignty of God. I cannot help but agree. We don’t hear too much about God’s sovereignty these days. It seems that sound theology, or really any kind of theology has gone out of fashion in many parts of the church, particularly in the United States. We live in the days of pop singers and pop Christianity. We often get more clever sound bites and humor than any attempts from the pulpit to feed the sheep of Jesus with solid food – a knowledge of the ways of God and a systematic laying down of His redemptive work through Christ. Some of the pastors of our largest churches are more eager to tell their listeners: “You can make it, you can do it, you can be it, and you can achieve it,” than they are to tell them the nature of the triune God who upholds all things by the word of His power.

Sovereignty can be taken to extremes of course, but few Americans ever do that. I once heard about a Muslim man who, in the days of horses and carriages, drove wildly through the streets of a city in one of the Middle East nations. He ran over and killed a pregnant woman who could not get out of his way fast enough. A crowd quickly gathered at the accident scene and looked angrily at the reckless driver. The man was not about to shoulder the blame for this. Shrugging his shoulders, he declared: “It was the will of Allah,” and then went on his way. We cannot blame God nor appeal to His sovereign will to defend our own foolishness or recklessness. If we are lazy and sloppy and cannot hold a job, we must not say that God just doesn’t seem to want us to work. If we are constantly angry and irritable and discover that our spouse is leaving us, we cannot simply attribute this to the will of a sovereign God.

But while it is possible to push God’s sovereignty too far, it is also very easy to dismiss it altogether. Deism, a belief which used to be quite popular, suggests that, while there is a Creator, He doesn’t really like to get involved in His creation. He has sort of wound the world up and then set it into motion. He now sits from his vantage point in heaven observing the course of our world without ever lifting a finger to change, direct, or intervene in the events that go on and the lives of the people He has created. Today, few people call themselves Deists, but many, many people are essentially Deists in a practical sense. The essence of their theology is that “God helps those who help themselves,” by which they mean if you don’t save yourself, don’t expect some invisible God to come and assist you.

The Bible avoids both these extremes. We are clearly held accountable for our sins and foolishness, but we are also encouraged to pray without ceasing, and given assurance that the God who made us is more than eager to jump into our lives and situations and transform our situations for the better. Askers become receivers, seekers become finders, and knockers find doors mysteriously opening for them again and again.

Sovereignty of God in the Tribulation

Those who study the doctrine of the return of Christ and the last days cannot help but discover a large measure of the sovereignty of God as they read about these, the most tumultuous times the earth has ever seen. There has been a doctrine arise in the church which says that any positive thing that happens is from God but any negative event, i.e., a sickness, a tragedy, an earthquake, a loss of our job or reversal of our financial state must surely be directly from the devil. This can be helpful at times. After all, the Bible says that Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, which surely suggests that the devil has something to do with sickness and God has a lot to do with healing.

But this model does not work when we make it a catch-all for every event that ever happens in our lives or in the world. There are clearly times when God is directly behind events and circumstances which we do not consider at all pleasant or positive. God told Israel, for example, that when they entered the promised land of Canaan if it failed to rain and they experienced long drought, it was because they had sinned and God was holding back the rain as a means of disciplining His people to bring them back to Him. It would have been futile for the Israelites, in time of drought, to encourage everybody to “rebuke the devil” for the lack of rain and continually confess that God was going to send the rain. What they would need to do in such cases was repent, ask God’s forgiveness, and then expect God to heal their land and send the rain.

God and Job

Even though some have tried to twist the Scriptures and suggest differently, the Book of Job clearly reveals that God was behind Job’s misery and, although the devil had a hand in it, ultimately it was God’s permission and direction that caused the godly man to lose nearly everything he had. We praise God that Job was restored twice as much at the end, but we do find that during the time of Job’s incredible losses God was not a helpless spectator wringing his hands and wishing Job would use more faith and rebuke the devil a little bit harder.

When we read the book of Revelation, the bulk of the book is taken up with a terrible period of time on the earth which Jesus referred to as the great tribulation. This season is filled with death, destruction, and misery. Jesus said that things will get so bad that if God did not step in and shorten the days, no flesh would survive. Many people don’t take Revelation literally and insist that it is virtually all symbolic and serves as a rather long and detailed parable with one main point which is that in the end good will triumph over evil. I have never seen it that way. If Revelation is nothing more than a parable, it is surely the strangest parable in the Bible. The parables of Jesus were all short and did not deal much with terrible judgments and huge numbers of people being slaughtered! If Revelation is at least partly to be taken literally it is surely predicting a time which is horrific beyond measure.

Throughout this time of tribulation, we find judgments coming on the earth as a result of directives given by angels in heaven. An angel blows a trumpet and the earth’s fresh water is poisoned. Another angel blows a trumpet and a third of the earth’s vegetation is burned up. An angel pours out a bowl of the wrath of God and the sun begins to burn so brightly that men are scorched with intense heat, and they begin to blaspheme God. Actually, the verse says this: “…They blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues…” (Revelation 16:9). In case you are still of the “every-negative-event-is-from-the-devil-and-God-has nothing-to-do-with-it” mindset, this verse surely blows your theology out of the water. We are told by the inspired Scriptures that “God has control over these plagues.” That is so significant I need to repeat it one more time: “God has control over these plagues.”

Fallen, Bound Angels

At one point in the book we find that at the blowing of one particular trumpet by an angel there are four fallen angels who have been bound, having been prepared for a particular “hour and day and month and year” who are released from their chains and go forth to kill one third of all humanity – that’s right, these four spirits are so malevolent and so powerful that they bring about the death of a third of all people on the earth! But this is all done at the direction of God. No one is acting apart from God’s permission.

When you attend a symphony concert the most prominent person in the orchestra is the conductor. He stands while the musicians sit. And without question he controls what music is played, how fast or slow it is played, and the volume at which it is played. No music starts until he raises his baton and indicates that the instrumentalists must begin to play. If he wants more volume he raises one hand in a motion that tells the musicians to play louder. If he wants them to pick up the tempo he moves his baton in a quicker motion, and if he wants to slow things down he moves it more slowly and exaggerates the motion of his baton so that all will see his specific directions. Not only this, but he has practiced and rehearsed the music with his musicians countless times until they all know exactly how he wants each piece played.

This is precisely what we see happening in the Bible’s description of the final days of judgment which will come on our earth just prior to the glorious second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. God Almighty will be the conductor of a great symphony of judgment. He will tell each angel and even the demons when it is their time to “come in” and play their part. No one will act without His direction, control, and assent. And when the last judgment has fallen, and the nations of the earth have been allowed and directed to destroy one another and spoil the earth until God’s accumulated wrath has been satisfied, Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords shall return and bring peace to our troubled, shaken planet.

Sovereignty & Sparrows

Some may suppose that God’s sovereignty only applies to nations and huge world events such as we have been discussing, but it is important we realize that His sovereignty very much plays a role in each of our lives. Jesus wants us to recognize that the sovereign control of the Almighty goes beyond international events and even extends to… little sparrows. He says:

Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. (Matthew 10:29)

So even the destinies, lives, and deaths of little birds are entirely in the hands of God. But Jesus doesn’t just leave it there. He goes on to say: “Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31). The same orchestra leader who controls the awesome and fearful events of the final days before Jesus Christ splits the skies and returns to earth as King also controls even the most humdrum, ordinary events of your daily life. The old hymn says: “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” But just as importantly, He has your whole world in His hands. When you get blindsided by sudden and fearful circumstances that nearly scare you to death, do not fear. God saw this coming from eternity and has had a good long time to prepare a way of escape and a solution to this challenge.

Divine Filter

Nothing that appears in our lives, good or bad, has arrived without first going through the filter of the sovereign purposes of God. He may not be behind everything in a direct sense, but He is surely involved and He has all the wisdom, all the strength, all the courage, and all the “lucky breaks” you need to carry you through this time and bring you out smelling like a rose. And similarly, when happy circumstances break into your life, you must know that you have a kind, generous, and compassionate Father to thank for them. Sometimes these blessings are coming our way because we asked for them, and sometimes we never even thought to ask, yet God still sends them out of His great love for us.

It turns out life is not nearly as random as we supposed. The God who upholds the planets and the galaxies, sending them hurtling through space on their prescribed orbits is just as surely ordaining, directing, and controlling all the smaller events of our lives, making sure that every single thing that comes our way works for our ultimate good – that is, if we are among those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

As Jesus discussed this amazing God who orchestrates the destinies of sparrows as well as nations, He gives us the heart of the matter: “Do not fear.” We are often tempted to fear; we want to give in to sheer terror at times. But knowing that the God who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead and made Him the Good Shepherd to all who believe on Him tells you not to fear. In His eyes we are exceeding valuable. And He is more than sovereign enough to take excellent care of us!

 

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