THE RESTRAINING HAND OF GOD

“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together with Him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.  Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day (the Day of the Lord), will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming Himself to be God . . . And you know what is restraining him (the man of lawlessness; the Antichrist) now so that he may be revealed in his time.  For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.  Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.  And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of His mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of His (Jesus) coming.  The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. ThereforeGod sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.  But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”  2 Thessalonians 2:1-17

We are getting a taste of what’s to come.  With all the hostility and violence; the anarchy and unrest; the delusional thinking, and deceptive practices; the suppression of truth, and the elevation of lies; the control of a few, and censoring of speech and religion, it is just a foretaste of what is to come once God gives the go-ahead for the restrainer to be removed in the last days.  

Currently in China, there is the very real, and ever-increasing, possibility for the Three Gorges Dam, on China’s largest river, the Yangtze, to give way due to the torrential rains China has been experiencing.  The pressure that is being placed on the dam is overstressing its capacity to withstand the inflow from the massive amounts of rain, and flooding.  If the dam were to break, the flood waters would have devastating effects on the urban cities with a population of 4.5-5 million downstream, as well as the city of Najing, which has a population of 8 million people, and Wuhan that is home to over 11 million people. Tragically, it would lead to the death of a staggering number of people, destroy farms, as well as displace millions of other people, increasing disease, as well as affecting the global markets.  

Similarly, the raging waters of a rising tide are slamming against the dam of God’s hand.  It’s not that He is unable to hold back the enemy’s onslaught, He is more than able.  He is Sovereign God who is controlled by no one.  He is the One who tells the sun when to rise and set.  He is the One the oceans and winds obey.  Just take a look at His conversation with Job, in chapters 38-41 in the book of Job and you will see why Job’s response is what it is in chapter 42. 

What is hard to bear, and difficult to watch is also a gracious thing.  I know it seems nonsensical, and ironic, but God is allowing us, in the restraining of the evil one and his fully unleashed fury, an opportunity for the Church to cry out to Him and repent so that we might be a people who are prepared to endure what’s to come, and in doing so point people to the One who is coming.  

“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.  Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” 2 Peter 3:8-18

We need to repent because, as the people of God, we have wandered from God.   Yet, in our wandering, He is pursuing us so that we, as prodigal sons and daughters, might come to our senses and return to Him.  There are times when God steps back and allows the suffering we endure, due to the consequences of our sinful choices, to show us the pain of choosing our ways over His.   He will allow us to taste the bitterness and heartache of the enemy’s fruit and feel the crushing weight of the evil one’s lies, when we go it on our on.   

And there are times when, even in our obedience to Christ, we find ourselves experiencing the wrath of the enemy, that at times leaves us questioning, doubting, broken, and weary.  It is the effect of a sin-marred and broken world.  But God, being rich in mercy, has in Christ given us grace, hope, comfort, peace, certainty, and a faith that is strengthened and endures in the midst of evil’s day, that we might be refined and prepared for Christ’s soon coming return.   

To this point, however, we have only tasted a small portion of what is to come.  Yet, we have much hope as believers in Jesus Christ.  We have nothing to fear, for the Lion of Judah goes before us.  His roar makes the enemy cower and run in fear, and His bite is eternally deadly.  As C.S. Lewis wrote in his Narnia series, “He is not a tame lion.”  

But this taste of a world gone mad, and the suffering we are seeing, is a gift as much as it is a warning.  It is judgment, as much as it is discipline.   The Church must awaken and seek to rescue, by God’s grace, those who are below the dam that is about to burst in the valley of the shadow of death.  It will only be when God, by His sovereign wisdom, removes the restrainer that we will see the things unfold that will ultimately lead to what is to come as revealed in Matthew 24, and Revelation 6.  

So how are we to live today?  

Know the truth and rehearse the truth.    

Throughout the New Testament, specifically Jesus’s teaching to the disciples in Matthew 24, in Paul’s letters, in John’s epistles and the revelation given to him by Jesus, the word “deceived” and the phrase “do not be deceived,” are repeated consistently.   The only way to combat being deceived, and the deception that is here and will continue to increase is to know the truth.  Paul wrote to Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”  2 Timothy 3:13-17

In essence, Paul was saying to Timothy, “continue in the truth that you have learned and put your strong confidence in that which has come from the sacred writings of Scripture which are God-breathed.  These are no mere words you have embraced.  These words are life-giving, full of wisdom, and lead to salvation through Jesus Christ.  So, know the truth, Timothy, and stand firmly on it.”

Again, the only way to not be deceived is by knowing the truth.  And if you want to know the truth, then you need to know God’s word.   Jesus, when praying for His disciples, and for us, prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”  John 17:17 God’s word is truth.  Every word He has given us in the Scriptures, and every word He speaks to us by His Spirit is truth.  

Tim Challies, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Canada, after visiting the Bank of Canada to see, if in fact, the illustration often used regarding the best way to detect counterfeit money is by knowing what authentic money looks like, said, “Training in identifying counterfeit currency begins with studying genuine money. There are certain identifying characteristics that are added to each bill printed by the Bank of Canada. These characteristics are necessarily difficult to reproduce. Some are intended to stump the casual counterfeiter, armed with no more than a scanner and color laser printer, and some will stump the more serious counterfeiter, even if armed with expensive, high-tech equipment. The currency expert at the Bank of Canada summarized the approach to distinguishing a genuine bill with the phrase, “touch, tilt, look at, look through.”

Talk about a great grid through which to look at the word of God so as to know the truth.  What if we took time, consistently (which is more than just a Sunday morning) and touched, tilted, looked at, and looked through the word of God?  Without a doubt we would grow in our understanding of God, grow in our knowledge of the truth, and thus be more discerning as to what is counterfeit.  In addition to that, we would be transformed by His word, conformed to the image of Christ, and more effective in our witness to the world because the Word examined, studied, meditated, and obeyed always produces Christ-like character and Christ-exalting awe.

And this world needs followers of Jesus who have been, and are being, shaped by the truth of Scripture and walking in His truth.  What the world doesn’t need is a weak Church that is biblically illiterate, more concerned about optics than obedience, and is fearful of cultural consequences for speaking the truth. 

You are not going to know the truth by scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and reading opinions and rants from others.  Instead of touching, tilting, looking at, and looking through social media (“What do you think he/she meant by that post? Did he/she get a new car?  I wonder how much money they’re making?  They are always on vacation!  Do they look that put together all the time?  She posted that at 7am and she has three kids in diapers!), we need to examine and go deep into the word of God.  

Rehearse the truth by speaking the truth to yourself.  The enemy loves to lie to you, and he will take every opportunity to convince you that his counterfeit currency is real;  that you are not good enough; loved enough; valued enough; smart enough; noticed enough; pretty enough; rich enough; liked enough; accepted enough; strong enough; tough enough.  But Jesus will remind you that, in Christ, you are enough because He is more than enough. 

Make the most of your time by refusing to waste time. 

The apostle Paul gives us wise, God-breathed, counsel when he writes to the believers in Ephesus, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”  Ephesians 5:15-17

The implication is that those who are wise make the best use of the time God graciously gives, because the days are evil.  In 1 Thessalonians 5:11-22, Paul gives us some very practical ways that help us in making the most of our time:

  • Encourage and build up one another; don’t waste your life tearing down others.
  • Be at peace with one another; don’t waste your life at odds with others, only to have relational regrets.
  • Speak the truth in love, as you warn those who are apathetic and lazy in their faith; don’t waste your life seeking to be liked because you never lovingly confronted.
  • Help those who are weak in their faith and do so with patience; don’t waste your life only surrounded by the strong.
  • Do not repay evil with evil; don’t waste your life trying to get even because you never win that game.
  • Always seek to do good to one another (in the faith), and everyone else as well; don’t waste your life looking out only for your interests.
  • Remember you have reason to rejoice in all things; don’t waste your life complaining.
  • Pray continually; don’t waste your life by missing out on conversations with God.
  • Give thanks regardless of the circumstances; don’t waste your life being thankless.
  • Do not restrict the activity or power of the Spirit; don’t waste your life by not welcoming God’s presence in your midst.
  • Do not accept or reject prophecies until you have tested them over and against the truth of Scripture, and the character of God; don’t waste your life being a skeptic because it doesn’t fit your religious narrative or tradition.  
  • Hold on tightly to what is good and true; let go of what is false.
  • Abstain from every form of evil; don’t waste your life trading the treasures of righteousness for the toxic trappings of the flesh.

Practicing these are how you make the most of your time, because in doing so you are doing the will of God in Christ Jesus.    

Do not grow weary in doing good by disciplining your life and building spiritual endurance.

“As for you, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing good.”  2 Thessalonians 3:13

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.  So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  Galatians 6:9-10

An athlete’s ability to excel is by having the endurance to push through.  Most of endurance training is through aerobic or cardiovascular fitness.  It allows oxygen to get to the body and the muscles that are using it during exercise.   Orthopedic doctors have reported that when athletes get tired or fatigued, their biomechanics and form can change, which places new stresses on their body.  As their form breaks down, it places new stresses on their tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bones, which can lead to overuse and stress injuries.

It is no different for the life of a follower of Jesus.  Listen to what Paul tells Timothy:  “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it hold promise for the present life and also for the life to come.  The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.  For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”  1 Timothy 4:7-10

The enemy plays the long game.  He is patient and will do his best to wear you down with discouragement, disillusionment, despair, doubt, and defeat.  He is relentless and tenacious. But he is also defeated.  

Knowing that truth gives us the edge.  We can have tangible hope knowing that we are not fighting for victory, but rather from the victory Christ has secured through His death and resurrection.  Regardless of what the enemy throws at you, if you are in Christ, you have all you need to endure.  

When I was in 9th grade, I played basketball for a coach who believed in being in better shape than our opponent.  What that meant was early morning conditioning practices involving drills that pushed us to our physical limits.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t Seals training, but it was intense for us.  Running red lines. Bleachers.  Sprints.  Really anything that involved running, and taking your breath away, our coach took full advantage of it.  And we hated it . . . at least in practice.  But when it came to game time, we saw the effect of being better conditioned than our opponent.  Teams that were a little taller than us, a little more talented than us, most often couldn’t maintain the pace of our play.  We would full-court press almost the entire game, and in doing so it wore down our opponent.  It affected their shooting, their stamina, and eventually their will.  And at the end of our season, our winning record was the reward and result of our relentless conditioning.  At 51, I wish I was in as good of shape now, as I was then.  The only type of conditioning I like these days is air-conditioning.  Thank you very much . . . I’m here all week.  

All joking aside, though, when it comes to living in our present reality where there is a heavy thickness of spiritual darkness, it is clear that Satan, and his demonic bench, are in an all-out, full-court press right now, and his strategy is to wear down his enemy.  He doesn’t rest; doesn’t believe in time outs; and he comes at you in waves.  He is as relentless as a roaring lion in his pursuit to steal, kill, and destroy.  

So, if you desire to not grow weary, then get in better spiritual condition.  Choose to begin and start with where you are.  If you’re going to begin working out physically, you don’t start day one by running a marathon, or bench pressing your weight. In growing spiritually, you don’t have to read the Old Testament by the end of the week;  start with where you are by choosing to spend a few moments every day in the scriptures, and talking with and listening to God. 

Then, persevere in doing the work by committing to give time to growing in spiritual conditioning.  There are no short-cuts to spiritual formation and growth.  In our culture, the mindset is that everything needs to be done with as little effort as possible, and the results need to be quicker than instantaneously.  That’s not how you grow spiritually.  Instead, daily commit to carve out time to the reading of God’s word, conversational prayer, and that which will strengthen your faith; and then stick with it by persevering. 

As you start with where you are, and persevere, over time you will see God do the work of transforming your heart and life.    

Refuse to live in fear, but rest in the comfort and hope of Christ.

“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”  2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

In a fear-laden society that is overwhelmed by much anxiety, for those who have placed their hope in Jesus there really is nothing to fear.  In our humanity, we do face and experience anxious moments, but we are not left with them to carry nor be consumed by them.  We have a Savior who takes all our fear and anxieties and in return gives us His peace that is beyond all comprehension.  

“Do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7

The Message Bible, paraphrases that passage this way:  “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

In the days that are, and those that are to come, we can breathe in grace and mercy; comfort and peace; hope and joy, because Jesus is near, and He is coming for all who have trusted in Him.  

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