How did Paul describe perilous times? We might expect him to reference such things as a worldwide pandemic, the war in Ukraine, or an increase in violent crime. But Paul never focuses on specific incidents in his writings. Instead, he points to the dissolution of human character as evidence of the last days (II Timothy 3:2). It is what human beings have become (“for people shall be”), that is the most dangerous aspect of the last days.
In the first blog of this series, we looked at Paul’s description of the last days as being a time of extreme peril or difficulty (II Timothy 3:1). We saw that his description of the peril awaiting this period is not what we would have expected. In a sense, it is similar to the days just prior to the Flood. In Genesis chapter six, Moses describes the world as human depravity reached its climax (read Genesis 6). In the same way that human depravity reached its climax before the Flood issuing in divine judgment, so also the time leading up to the return of Messiah will be characterized by an increase in depravity as well.
But God always provides a way for his people to survive and thrive during times characterizing the last days, and that provision is found in the Gospel. At the end of Part 1, I briefly mentioned four specific things God has given us through the Gospel which are critical to our well-being during perilous times. These things have always been important, but it seems the Holy Spirit is highlighting them these days. They are sovereignty, community, humility, and prayer. Here in Part 2, we focus entirely on the necessity of having a good understanding of the sovereignty of God in order to navigate through perilous times.
Let me begin by asking this question: As things unfold on the earth, are we absolutely convinced who is in control? Without such certainty, we will be tossed about easily by ever-changing circumstances and difficulties. In the book of Revelation, after dictating his word to the seven churches, God gives John a vision of the throne and of the Lamb. Before things are released on the earth (the Seal Vision of chapters 6 and 7), God wants John and the churches to have absolute assurance of who is in control. You see, it is soon going to look as if things are spinning out of control, but things are not as they appear: God is on his throne and the Lamb reigns! Even the beast and the evil powers must get permission from the Lord to act (“it was given to him to make war on the saints”).
This truth about God’s sovereignty is essential in these last days. But what do we mean when we say God is sovereign? Listen to theologian John Frame describe it:
“The term sovereignty is rarely found in recent translations of Scripture, but it represents an important biblical concept. A sovereign is a ruler, a king, a lord, and Scripture often refers to God as the one who rules over all. His most common proper name, Yahweh (see Ex. 3:14) is regularly translated Lord in the English Bible. And Lord, in turn, is found there over 7,000 times as a name of God and specifically as a name of Jesus Christ. So, to discuss the sovereignty of God is to discuss the lordship of God—that is, to discuss the Godness of God, the qualities that make him to be God. The major components of the biblical concept of divine sovereignty or lordship are God’s control, authority, and presence (see John Frame).
A major theme of the book of Job is that God is absolutely sovereign in his control of the universe. After Job was smitten so that he lost all of his possessions (including his children) he said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Job had no idea of the heavenly council in which Satan challenged God to allow him to take everything from him. But what is clear is that the devil needed permission from God to touch Job. But even though he was not privy to the heavenly council, Job had solid confidence that nothing could touch his life without God allowing it.
A friend of mine once told of browsing in a Christian bookstore one day when opening a book his eyes fell on this statement: “God’s not through with the devil; you still need him.” Yes, there is a devil but he’s God’s devil whom God uses to test his servants. That does not mean that we should be passive when it comes to our attitude towards him. No; we are told in the clearest language possible to “resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). But still, we must ensure that our faith is solidly established in the sovereignty of our God and Father “who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).
David knew the sovereignty of God, especially when his son Absalom forced him out of Jerusalem, seeking to kill him and inherit his throne. While he was fleeing for his life, a descendant of Saul named Shimei cursed him. One of David’s generals told David he would take his head off, but David restrained him, reminding him that the Lord had allowed (in this case even caused him to curse David). Amazingly, David wrote a Psalm at that time we know as Psalm 3:
“O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, “There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah. But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah. I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.”
David is careful to record the fruit of his trust in God’s sovereignty: peace: “I lay down and slept, I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around” (Psalm 3:5-6).
Jesus demonstrated the same peace as he peacefully slept in the boat in the midst of the storm (Mark 4:38). While the disciples were terrified, Jesus calmly trusted his Father, enabling him to get some needed rest.
Peace is essential in the perilous times ahead. Peace comes as a result of unshakeable confidence in a sovereign God who works all things to his glory for the perfection of his people.