Sermon: How Long, O Lord?
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 05-Sep-13; 78 minutes
All of God’s festivals are intended to be days of rejoicing, but despite all of the carnage that is associated with the day of Trumpets, the overall result is going to be something good. If our mind is, as we heard in the sermonette, like God’s, then it is going to be one of those associations we can make where on the one hand there is an element of sadness to it, that it even has to be done.
Of course there is also some rejoicing, because what comes out on the other end will, in many, many cases, ultimately result in the repentance of a lot of people, even as it is going on and as it begins to settle down. And then when the Great White Throne Judgment comes, there is going to be a great deal of repentance, because all that carnage people went through is going to be brought to their minds, and it will make them very, very sad that it even had to occur.
Even the Day of Atonement has a large measure of joy in it if only because of its wonderful significance. Today is a day of great significance too. Like Atonement, it has its measure of sorrow as well.
Trumpets has been a significant day all through its recorded history. The Jews say that it was the first day of creation. I do not know whether they are right, but it certainly seems logical, and that is pretty significant. Psalm 81 suggests that it was the day that Joseph was released from his imprisonment and placed in the governmental rank second only to the pharaoh.
Trumpets ranks supreme among of all of the new moons of each year. In fact, it is the only new moon the Christian church celebrates. Its significance was also noted in the Old Testament by being the only holy day on which the shofar was specifically assigned to be blown to announce its arrival, but today it has virtually no significance to the overwhelming majority of the seven billion people on earth. It is simply another work day, or school day, in which people go through their normal routine.
It has significantly more meaning to the Jews who still pay some attention to the holy day, because it is Rosh Hashanah and begins the 5,774th year on their calendar. Undoubtedly, many Jews are attending synagogue this day, but I am sure that not very many of them really truly understand this day’s prophetic significance. It has even more significance to us because we know that it is holy time—a commandment of God to observe a memorial of what is surely going to be the most significant and spectacular event ever to occur on earth at that time. Its fulfillment will change the course of history from that time forward.
Jude 14-15 Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”
This lets us know that God has been prophesying about this day for a long, long time. Enoch was born some 700 years after Adam’s creation, and so God has been prophesying about this day for around 5,300 years. That is a round figure, and only Passover was prophesied earlier than the day of Trumpets; however, Passover was also fulfilled much earlier, so mankind did not have as long to wait as it has for the literal fulfillment of this day. But as much as the Christian world seems to know about Christ’s atoning death in our stead, it knows almost nothing about the significance of Trumpets.
If you would look up [the Feast of] Trumpets in commentaries, Bible dictionaries, and encyclopedias, you will find that they are unable to get much further in understanding than that it is the first day of the Jewish year.
Once in awhile you will run across a brief comment or two, and I copied one from the Matthew Henry Commentary, because he is one of the few that made a comment of any spiritual significance for the day. He said,
Jews say the shofar trumpets were blown to awaken the Jews from their spiritual drowsiness so as to search and amend their ways, and thus were awakened to prepare for the Day of Atonement through sincere and serious repentance.
You see, in the larger picture, that is pretty close to right, because the Day of Atonement is going to awaken people to repentance; not just the Jews, but certainly many other Israelites besides, and others maybe of the Gentile world as well. That does pretty much catch the essence of what Trumpets is about and why the terrible things associated with Christ’s return are going to happen.
You got that? They are going to bring about repentance because people are going to be brought, as it were, “face to face” with their Creator in regard to what they have committed against Him directly, against His way, and against His people. If it were not for this, they would never repent, and so this pain associated with this day, with all of its destruction, is in the long run going to bring about something that will be eternally good for them.
However, the commentators did not identify when the things that Trumpets memorializes will occur (that is, in relation to Christ’s return), and thus their application is strictly for the present order of things. Their understanding of prophecy goes no further than this present order of things.
We are going to go back to the book of Leviticus and we are going to begin where Richard did, in Leviticus 23.
Leviticus 23:23-24 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation.
It is a memorial of Trumpets. I want to emphasize here that Trumpets is plural—Trumpets. We saw some of this both in Richard’s sermon this morning and in David’s sermonette as well, but I want to emphasize that Trumpets is plural. It signifies more than just “the last Trumpet.”
When we focus on end-time events there is a very strong pull for us to focus on “the last trumpet.” That of course is because of the resurrection of the dead, and that is something we really look forward to. This is not wrong, but trumpets have a long and varied use in Scripture, and we are going to take a brief look at them as we begin. I am not going to go through any detail, but I want you to turn first to the book of Numbers. As you are turning there, I want you to understand something that you know well but maybe do not think about it all that often.
At the time this was written, and during the period of time in which the trumpets played a large part in peoples’ lives, there was no telephone. There were no automobiles to run back and forth. There was “shoe-leather express,” and there were things they could give signals with, like trumpets. No telephone. No Internet. Nothing of that nature, and so they communicated in the very best way that they could, and that was with sound. Sometimes it was a voice, but very often it was a trumpet.
Numbers 10:2-3 “Make two silver trumpets for yourself; you shall make them of hammered work; you shall use them for calling the congregation and for directing the movement of the camps. When they blow both of them, all the congregation shall gather before you at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.
The number one use as listed in the Bible here is for calling the people to assemble, probably at the Tabernacle, when meetings needed to be heard on some occasion.
Numbers 10:4-6 But if they blow only one, then the leaders, the heads of the divisions of Israel, shall gather to you. When you sound the advance, the camps that lie on the east side shall then begin their journey. When you sound the advance the second time, then the camps that lie on the south side shall begin their journey; they shall sound the call for them to begin their journeys.
The number one use was to call the people to assemble at the Tabernacle. The second use was to call the leaders of the various divisions of Israel to meeting, and number three was to signal the various tribes to move out on their marches. Remember, it even said that as they left Egypt, everything was done in order. They did not all run out of Egypt like a big gang going over the border. Everything was organized, and they marched out in file like an army. Anytime they moved in the wilderness they did it in the same way, in a very orderly fashion, and they used trumpets to give the signal of who was to do what.
Number four is they also used trumpets as an alarm to go to war, and number 5 was they blew the trumpet every new moon—the first day of each and every month. That was a time-telling factor, and so it kept everybody on track as to how time was moving through the year. There are two other uses included with that number 5, and that is they also blew trumpets whenever peace offerings were made, and part of that same responsibility when the holy day arrived.
So far we have five uses for trumpets, but in Exodus 19 is a very significant one. Verse 13 says:
Exodus 19:13 Not a hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow; whether man or beast, he shall not live. . . .
He is talking about them assembling before God at the foot of Mount Sinai. They were not allowed to even touch the mountain. Even if a dog ran up there it had to be killed. Just an indication of holiness there.
Exodus 19:13 . . . When the trumpet sounds long, they shall come near the mountain.”
They could approach the mountain, but they could not go on the mountain.
Exodus 19:16 Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.
Exodus 19:19-20 And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice. Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.
That must have been a terrifying experience because of the shrill sound of the trumpet vibrating through the body, and these people were just about ready to cash in their chips. They wanted the thing to stop.
We have a sixth use of the trumpet. First, the trumpet was used to call the people to assembly, and then it was used to manifest a particle of God’s power of an almost unbearable evidence of His being. So I think that we can conclude correctly that a trumpet is used to announce the arrival of ruler—in this case the Ruler. Of course, the return of Jesus Christ is going to be accompanied by a trumpet.
Now back to the book of Leviticus. This is the seventh use of trumpets.
Leviticus 25:9-10 Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family.
Trumpets were used to announce the arrival of the Jubilee—the 50th year—and its accompanying liberty. So we have seven of them there. We will get back to a couple of them in just a moment.
Let us go to II Chronicles 5. What is happening in this context is that the Temple is being furbished with the furniture. The actual structure itself is complete, and in verse 12 we have this:
II Chronicles 5:12-13 And the Levites who were the singers, all those of Asaph and Heman and Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, stood at the east end of the altar, clothed in white linen, having cymbals, stringed instruments and harps, and with them one hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets—indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord.
Do you know what was happening here? They were carrying in the Ark of the Covenant, and that was the same as opening up the door for God to come in, because that was the major symbol of Him within the Temple. This was akin to number six when God came down on Mount Sinai, and in this case you might say God was arriving at the Tabernacle, so that was very similar to the arrival of a ruler.
There are many other occasions in which trumpets played a part in what was going on, and this first one we are going to look at is one that you are very familiar with. It is the falling down of the walls of Jericho.
Turn to Joshua, chapter 6, beginning in verse 15. We will cut everything short here and only talk about the last day that they marched around the city of Jericho.
Joshua 6:15-20 But it came to pass on the seventh day that they rose early, about the dawning of the day, and marched around the city seven times in the same manner. On that day only they marched around the city seven times. And the seventh time it happened, when the priests blew the trumpets, that Joshua said to the people: “Shout, for the Lord has given you the city! Now the city shall be doomed by the Lord to destruction, it and all who are in it. Only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all who are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent. And you, by all means abstain from the accursed things [The accursed things were those things that were dedicated to God before the attack even took place. Remember the story of Achan. He stole the accursed things. He stole what was dedicated to God.], lest you become accursed when you take of the accursed things, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. But all the silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are consecrated to the Lord; they shall come into the treasury of the Lord.” So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.
There are many more examples we could pull from Scripture, but they always seem to pop up in the midst of a significant event, and those significant events almost invariably are a part of God’s purpose being worked out, and the trumpets are used to draw the focus of God’s people’s attention either to what is occurring at the moment, or what is going to occur. But whatever it is, with God’s involvement, and the trumpets blow, it always means something good for God’s people and something bad for their opponents, or God’s enemy.
With the 7th Trumpet we think of so frequently, it might be compared to a combination of several of the trumpets. One is the call to assembly to the battle of “that great day,” and we are the ones who will assemble. And at the same time it will announce the arrival of a ruler, that is, Christ at His return. What we have in that 7th Trumpet Day is a combination of number one, number four, and number six: (Number 1) to assemble; (Number 4) a call to go into battle; and (Number 6) the arrival of the King.
Let us go now to the book of Revelation.
Revelation 8:7-8 The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth. And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. Then the second angel sounded: And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood.
Revelation 8:10 Then the third angel sounded: And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water.
Revelation 9:13-14 Then the sixth angel sounded: And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.”
Again, in each case, blowing of the trumpets always announces something that is either in process of occurring already, or it is announcing that something is about to occur. So each event, as John saw them unfold, was announced by the blowing of a trumpet.
To the best of my knowledge, there is no mention in Scripture that they will be literally heard. Rather, the event itself is the trumpet to those who understand and believe God’s Word. That last phrase that I gave you basically said this: The only ones who know what is going on are those to whom God has already revealed it.
If you just want to think back to the walls of Jericho falling down, the people in Jericho saw the people going around their city, but that is all they knew. They did not know that their walls were going to fall down on the seventh day after the Israelites marched seven times around the city. The same thing is true in regard to you and me. We are living this with a certain amount of revelation that God has given to us, and as we see them unfold, we recognize what is happening. It may take awhile for it to sink in, but we only recognize it because God Himself has already instructed us that this is going to occur.
What you see here is God instructing John, who in turn is instructing you and me, because God has opened our minds to be able to believe it and be warned. And so if we are warned, then we can do something during this period of time in which these horrible things are taking place. Richard devoted much of his sermon this morning as to what we are to do. We are not out fighting battles and wars and getting up on horses and flying airplanes, or whatever, but we are doing what God requires us to be doing, motivated by the fact that we see these things occurring, and we understand.
There is a bit of this in the book of Amos, chapters 4 and 5. At the end of the chapter He told the Israelites, “Prepare to meet your God.” But just prior to that He told them what He already had done to plague them, so He revealed it to them, in a sense, after it was already accomplished. But He has a great deal more mercy for you and me in that He tells us beforehand, so that when it happens we are prepared and doing what He wants us to do.
Now if you think that this is not important, then I want you to think about the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-14. They were warned beforehand. Five were wise. Five were not. Five did what they were supposed to do. The other five did not, and when the cry went out—“Behold, the bridegroom comes!”—they were caught dead to rights. You got the point. These things are in there for us.
There is a possibility that we will be in a place of safety. So whether we are in a place of safety, or whether we are not in a place of safety, nonetheless, the instruction remains the same. Those in the place of safety are supposed to increase their efforts to do with themselves during that period of time what needs to be done within the congregation of the people that are there. Those who are not in the place of safety need to do what God has assigned them to do with understanding that time is moving on, God is completing His work, and we are this far along.
You got that now? The trumpets are for our benefit. Are we not Israel? Are we not the Israel of God? Were not the trumpets used back there in Leviticus and Numbers and so forth? Was it not given to the Israelitish people so that they would understand what they were supposed to do? Same principle. God never changes His pattern, so you know I am telling you the truth. The trumpets are for us, and so when we see these things breaking forth on earth, we can get going.
I mentioned earlier another significant principle so that we can be encouraged by a knowledge that God has made available to us. When trumpets are blown, they are blown right before something is getting ready to occur, or they are warning that it is now occurring. It is a warning to us. Just a little bit before that, I said that when trumpets are blown, it is almost always one of two things, and usually the two things are being worked at the same time: (1) A tremendous victory for God and His people is in works. It is operating. (2) It is a very painful judgment on those who are the enemy of God. Both occur at the same time.
Let's go to Revelation 14. Revelation 14 follows Revelation 8. We have the blowing of all the trumpets there, and more which we did not read. Now here is the deliverance, the blessing that came upon God’s people because they took the trumpet warnings, did the right things with them, and it was a great victory for them that God worked.
Revelation 14:1-5 Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth. These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God.
They are, in this case, already saved. Great victory! You hear a trumpet blow, something good is going to happen for God’s people. You hear a trumpet blow, something bad in the way of judgment is going to occur on others.
We are still on Revelation 14. Drop down to verse 13. Same basic time.
Revelation 14:13-20 Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.” Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped. Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.” So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.
For those who have not submitted to God, it will be the worst of times. For those who did submit to God, it was the best of times.
Here at the tail-end of this chapter, the word-pictures portray a harvest. Jesus mentioned this harvest in His Parable of the Wheat and the Tares in Matthew 13. The harvest is not the salvation, but a grinding and painful judgment on these people for their failure to repent.
We are eventually going to get back to Revelation, but it is going to be a little while, and I want us to go back to Isaiah 63. Remember, the picture there in Revelation is one of a harvest.
Isaiah 63:1-6 Who is this who comes from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah, this One [Jesus Christ] who is glorious in His apparel, traveling in the greatness of His strength?—“I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.” Why is Your apparel red, and Your garments like one who treads in the winepress? “I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with Me. For I have trodden them in My anger, and trampled them in My fury; their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, and I have stained all My robes. For the day of vengeance is in My heart, and the year of My redeemed has come. I looked, but there was no one to help, and I wondered that there was no one to uphold; therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me; and My own fury, it sustained Me. I have trodden down the peoples in My anger, made them drunk in My fury, and brought down their strength to the earth.”
That shows to me a pretty angry Jesus Christ about what men have done to one another, what men have done to the creation. In the book of Revelation, He says He is going to kill those who destroy the earth, and it is happening at a very rapid pace. So this prophecy here in Isaiah is very similar to what we just read in Revelation 14. The major concern seems to be that there is going to be a cataclysmic destruction of mankind, and that is why His garments are shown with blood all over them, and He has been treading the winepress—a destruction that is so great, Jesus said, that unless God intervenes, no flesh would be saved alive. So great is the destruction that the spilled blood is pictured as being up to a horse’s chest. That is hard to imagine.
A winepress is a symbol of great pressure. Are you aware that is what the word “tribulation” means? It really means pressure. A winepress presses the grapes using pressure in order to get out the most of the juice that is within the grapes. Here we see a winepress being used to crush people, as it were. It is not literally going to happen. The picture though is at least symbolizing what is going to happen.
The winepress is a symbol of great pressure being applied in order to gather every last drop from the grapes, or from the blood. So the metaphors that are being used for this period of time that we just read in Revelation 14 are extremely vivid, so it impresses one with the horrors of the time. You do not want to be in there, do you?
We heard this morning what we need to do to avoid this. Richard gave you the instruction on this. I am giving you the picture of what is coming, and we need to do what we can to please God, and in His mercy He will make sure that we do not have to go through that.
Let us read another familiar area of Scripture. We are going to go to the book of Joel, so that we get a pretty clear picture. Notice in verse 1 where the alarm is going. It is going to God’s holy mountain. Mountain is a symbol of a nation. Originally this prophecy was given to Israel, so let us be aware, because we can certainly learn from it.
Joel 2:1-2 Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the Lord is coming, for it is at hand: A day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, like the morning clouds spread over the mountains. A people come, great and strong, the like of whom has never been; nor will there ever be any such after them, even for many successive generations.
It is very possible that what is being described here is the tumultuous coming on the Middle East, and of course to Israel there directly, of that 200-million-man army coming from the east, across the Euphrates, across Iran, Iraq, and down into the area of Jerusalem. From there they will spread north mostly in that direction to gather for the great Day of Armageddon.
Joel 2:3 A fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns. The land is like the Garden of Eden before them, . . .
That is really interesting. Have you ever seen any aerial photograph of Israel today? Beautiful! I am talking about the Israelis—they turned that desert into like a Garden of Eden. When you compare those lands like you see of the areas of Iraq and Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, they are nothing but rugged mountains and desert and poppies. Then you look at Israel—productive, green, beautiful.
Joel 2:3-10 . . . And behind them a desolate wilderness; surely nothing shall escape them. Their appearance is like the appearance of horses; and like swift steeds, so they run. With a noise like chariots over mountaintops they leap, like the noise of a flaming fire that devours the stubble, like a strong people set in battle array. Before them the people writhe in pain; all faces are drained of color. They run like mighty men, they climb the wall like men of war; every one marches in formation, and they do not break ranks. They do not push one another; every one marches in his own column. Though they lunge between the weapons, they are not cut down. They run to and fro in the city, they run on the wall; they climb into the houses, they enter at the windows like a thief. The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble; the sun and moon grow dark, and the stars diminish their brightness.
Can you imagine that 200 million-man army with all of the things like the tanks that they are going to bring with them coming across the land? Everything is going to shake. And so it looks like the Garden of Eden in front of them, and after them it is nothing but desert.
The things that we are reading of here in Isaiah 63 and Joel 2 and in some more that we are going to go to, we can find then in the book of Revelation from the trumpet plagues and so forth that those things are not going to occur all at once. They are spread out over a period of time. In fact, it is very interesting that in Isaiah 63:4 it first calls it “the day of God’s Vengeance,” and then it changes it to “a year.” I forget exactly what the scripture is, but it is a year of something, and so just from that verse alone we find that we are dealing with at least a year’s time. It is very possible that the amount of time that the Tribulation will last is the same length of time as the Two Witnesses will be preaching in Jerusalem—1,260 days. That may be the Tribulation plus The Day of the Lord. I am not real certain at this time, but that comes out to 42 months. That comes out to 3-1/2 years in prophecy.
Again though, Joel, like John, and like Isaiah, all paint a vivid picture of the impossibility of the enemies of God to virtually escape the pain and destruction, and unfortunately, those enemies include the Israelitish people—the people who have the least reason on earth to do what we have done.
Let us keep going forward. We are going to go to the book of Zephaniah, chapter 1.
Zephaniah 1:14-18 The great day of the Lord is near; it is near and hastens quickly. The noise of the day of the Lord is bitter; there the mighty men shall cry out. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and alarm against the fortified cities and against the high towers. “I will bring distress upon men, and they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like refuse.” Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of His jealousy, for He will make speedy riddance of all those who dwell in the land.
Pay attention to the terminology in these verses: great, bitter, wrath, trouble, distress, devastation, desolation, darkness, trumpet, blind, alarm, blood, and refuse. That day is hanging over the head of the disobedient like the Sword of Damocles. It is coming.
I know that I am no prophet. I know that I do not know very much. Evelyn and I listened to the news the other night before going to bed. I turned off the news. There was nothing worth listening to. I told her that I do not have any hope whatever at this time that the United States is going to repent. I just cannot see it. I wish we would, but each day seems to be progress in the wrong direction.
Now I want to go on into chapter 2. Let us read the first two or three verses and take from it what might be there.
Zephaniah 2:1-3 Gather yourselves together, yes, gather together, O undesirable nation, before the decree is issued, or the day passes like chaff, before the Lord’s fierce anger comes upon you, before the day of the Lord’s anger comes upon you! Seek the Lord, all you meek of the earth, who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger.
Is that a note to you and me, or what? He is giving us an opportunity to escape, and in this case our responsibility is to follow through with that and do what we can. We are not going to save ourselves, but we can certainly turn to Him in submission, in obedience, and appeal to Him to straighten out our way, to give us an opportunity to please Him and to glorify Him, and then just leave that choice to Him as to what He will do with us. But you see, the offer is there to not get caught in it.
In the book of Zechariah we can begin to see really some elements of change. We are still going to see a great deal of destruction, but when we compare this destruction with what we see in the book of Revelation, then we begin to see that there is a bit of a change.
Zechariah 14:1-7 Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, and your spoil will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; [All those nations combining to battle against Jerusalem is something that is telling you it is late in this period of tribulation.] The city shall be taken, the houses rifled, and the women ravished. Half of the city shall go into captivity, but the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. [Can you see how late this is in all of these events? He is talking about something that takes place on the day that Christ returns.] And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west, making a very large valley; half of the mountain shall move toward the north and half of it toward the south. Then you shall flee through My mountain valley, for the mountain valley shall reach to Azal. Yes, you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. [That is kind of interesting, that despite all of that destruction, there are still people in the city alive.] Thus the Lord my God will come, and all the saints with You. It shall come to pass in that day that there will be no light; the lights will diminish. It shall be one day which is known to the Lord—neither day nor night. But at evening time it shall happen that it will be light.
Revelation 16:17-21 Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth. Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath. Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent. Men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great.
Just out of curiosity I looked up the weight of a talent in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, and they said 75 pounds. You do not want to get hit on the head with that hail.
Richard went through Revelation 19:11-21 very thoroughly this morning, and so I am not going to go through that, but I want to get back to that point I mentioned when we were turning to Zechariah 14. These three sections—(Zechariah 14:1-17; Revelation 16:17-21; and Revelation 19:11-21)—represent a turning point in the series of destruction, but each is seen from a somewhat different perspective, and each contributing to clarify the overall picture. Now taken all together, they show the Lord Himself appearing first to complete the destruction, and then to stop the destruction in order to save man from himself and this destructive course of action. That is when peace begins to be set on earth. Christ will then be here. It is not yet completely peace, but it is right at the doorway, we might say.
We are going to go back to Matthew 24. I do not know whether you are aware of it, and I did not know until recently when I was beginning to prepare this sermon, there are over 500 prophecies in the Bible that pertain to the return of Jesus Christ. Can you imagine that—five hundred prophecies?! They touch on it in some way or another. I do not know that there is another event in the entire Bible that even comes anywhere close to that. It gives you some sort of an idea of what a significant event this is, and from what we see, it is not all that far before us.
This nation, and of course Britain, France, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and all the Israelitish countries have to go down further yet, but they are on their way down, and we can track that in their economic situation. We can track it in their morality situation. We can track it in the way the culture is rotting in every aspect. There is nothing that we can really brag to the world about of how good we are in any way, shape, or form. It is no wonder that so many prophecies touch on the return of Jesus Christ. It is really a major, major event.
Despite all the details that appear in these 500 or so prophecies, there is one significant event that is omitted from every one of them—when will they occur? That is what is missing.
It is right here that my sermons on the book of Ecclesiastes begin to become very important, especially that last one I gave. God is sovereign over time. He is sovereign over time all the time, and this is one way that He is helping us to learn, to understand, to work within the fact that He is sovereign over time and to exercise our confidence, our reliance in Him, that we trust Him regardless of how time looks to us as a result of all of these horrible things that are occurring, and as a result of the fear that might be building up in us, that one of these days this destruction is going to catch me, too! How long can I endure?
Jesus said that those who endure to the end, they will be saved. That is good. That is encouraging, but is my faith sufficient that I am willing to trust God and have hope in Him regardless of how bad it looks to me, as these things close in on me and on my family, my loved ones, and so forth? He has done that on purpose.
Matthew 24:3 Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be?
They are not the only ones who were concerned about time. They were human too. They wanted to know, and you would think Jesus would let them know, but He did not let them know, either. God is not playing favorites. There are things that He will reveal, and other things He will not reveal, and you can be sure that He does not reveal things that are going to be hurtful to you and to His purpose for you. For Him, it is absolutely essential, it is absolutely necessary that He does not tell us the time. You know what we would do. We would sit back and we would relax, and say, “Well, fifteen days yet.” “Seven and one-half days.” “Three days.” Time to get busy!”
That is the way we are, and it is just human nature to wait until the last minute, or maybe next to the last minute, whatever. It takes work, as Richard said this morning, to discipline ourselves to do what needs to be done in order to be making progress in overcoming and growing. The only way we are really going to impress God is that we are growing to be like Him, and if we are growing to be like Him, we are going to be glorifying Him in our lives.
They were intrigued by what Jesus had to say. They wanted to know. People in the church have done some foolish things. They quit their job. They sold their home. They forsook their family. They sequestered themselves in church. They went into the hills or dens, or whatever. They went to the mountain tops. These were not church of God people who were doing most of these things, but were people who called themselves Christian who were doing it.
Matthew 24:34 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.
I think we can understand that we have a right understanding of this verse, and that is that when these things begin to occur, they will take place within the generation that they begin in, and they will be completed by the time it is over. How long that is I do not know. A generation now lives about 70 years.
Matthew 24:35-36 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.
By saying that the way He did, He of course was also saying He did not know either. “My Father only.” He does not know either.
Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, . . .
We are talking now about something that is a secret thing—so secret that Jesus said that even He did not know at that time. Maybe He knows now, but He did not know at that time. He did not lie. He did not know when He was going to return. The Father had not even revealed that even to Him
Deuteronomy 29:29 . . . But those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
God has given a revelation to us of an understanding of many of the prophecies revolving around the return of Jesus Christ. That belongs to us. Why did He reveal those things, but He did not reveal the time? The rest of the verse tells us in general why: that we may do all the words of this law.
God reveals what He does in order to help us to be submissive to Him, to grow in what our responsibilities are, and to begin applying them in our lives, and bringing glory to Him through our obedience. In other words, He has withheld the revelation of the time in order to give us time to concentrate on that which is very important to us being prepared for His Kingdom. That is what verse 29 means. He has revealed things that we might make the best use of what He has revealed in order to be prepared to serve Him.
We just read those things in Matthew 24, and now we are going to Acts 1.
Acts 1:6-8 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. [There is affirmation there that He did not know.] But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
This a confirmation of Deuteronomy 29:29. God has revealed these other things so that we can turn our attention to our responsibilities. He had revealed to them their responsibility of preaching the gospel to the world. So God’s purpose, His work, and our preparation for His Kingdom is best served by us not knowing when the most significant thing that will ever occur will happen. I think that we can see in God’s Word that God had a different purpose in mind for the first century church than being witness to the return of Jesus Christ. He never told them, and they went through their lives recording in the Bible for our admonition that they thought the return of Jesus Christ was just a day, month, year, two years off in the future, and He would be there. He kept them in suspense.
Let us go to Matthew 26:36, because here was an occasion when Peter got caught in something, and it has an important principle within it for you and for me. This took place in the Garden of Gethsemane as the crucifixion was very close to them.
Matthew 26:36-38 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”
Matthew 26:40-41 Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Preparation for the most significant event ever to occur to that time never stops. There is no place in our period of growth that we can ever say that we are the equal of Jesus Christ, that we are perfect. As much as we would like to be perfect, we are not perfect. We are certainly a great deal more mature than we were before, but we are far from the kind of perfection that Jesus Christ had.
Can you see the significance of what Peter did? I am sure that it was deeply etched within his memory. He was given (what would you call it?) a responsibility that was not that big—just to stay awake—and he failed it. He failed his Boss. He failed his Savior. He failed to live up to a responsibility that any one of us would feel was really not all that great, but he was tired and he did not discipline himself enough to keep himself awake for one hour. It did not cost him salvation, but I am sure that it cost him a great deal of humbling feeling about himself, and that worked to his good.
This is a lesson for every one of us, because this is not a time when we should let down. This is a time to just very steadily keep at it. It is not a time that we are desperately busy, if I can put it that way, to make it to the Kingdom of God. It is not going to be our works that do that anyway, but the day-to-day, step-by-step-by-step, just keeping on the trail of the Kingdom of God, one step at a time every day, making God a part of our life, and growing in understanding, growing in responsibility, growing in being one who is trustworthy, growing in faith, trusting confidently that God is going to get us through this regardless of how bad it looks. He is our Savior, and it is He that we have to please, and it is He that we have to grow into the image of, and He is requiring of us that we just diligently keep ourselves on track.
Is it not easy to think about the Israelites, and they failed because they did not keep putting one foot in front of the other. In a sense, that is how simple it was. Nothing complex in the metaphor. That is how they failed. They simply stopped walking, and something else became more important to them.
So we have a world out there that is attractive to human nature and it can cause us, if we allow it, a detour into it that might prove to be very costly. We do not want that to happen. So every day make it a part of your responsibility to satisfy yourself that you have given God a part of that day, every day.