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Section 7. Living The Faith... The Biblical Christian /
Christian Growth/ God’s Tests

 

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Tests And Trials Part II
 Who's in Control Here?

©2002 by David Servant

Please Note: Each coloured link within the article will lead you to a related topic on a different page of this site. However while the text is part of the original article, the links are not. The author of this article may, or may not, agree with the views expressed on those pages.

Part I:  All About Tests

Part II: Who's in Control Here? [This Page]
Two Views
God's Sovereignty and Our Authority
God's Restraining Power Over Satan
Satan - Tool of God's Judgment
The God of this World
Understanding the Judgment of God

Part III: Tried and Found True

Part IV: Wrapping it Up

 

 

Two Views
Who is ultimately running the world? Is it God? Is it the devil? Is God truly sovereign? Has God turned everything over to chance and human choice?

Those are important questions, and if we are to understand much about God’s tests, we’ll have to understand the answers.

To obtain those answers, we can’t simply skim over the surface of the Scriptures. On the contrary, we must plunge to deeper depths than many Christians are accustomed.

Let me assure you, however, that as we study the subject of God’s sovereignty, we will not swim so deep as to drown. So take a deep breath. Let’s stay under for a while as we explore some beautiful revelations from Scripture.


Diving In

Scripture affirms that God is indeed sovereign: “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens; and His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps. 103:19, emphasis added). Paul refers to God as “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” in 1 Timothy 6:15.

Although God is sovereign, we would be wrong to conclude that He has never given limited authority to other persons in the universe, or that He has not granted His creatures the privilege of making their own decisions. The Bible tells us that He has done both. Some to whom He has granted authority have abused their authority. Many whom He has allowed to make their own choice have made the wrong choices. Consequently, not all that happens on earth is God’s perfect will. Yet everything that happens must be within His permissive will, or else He is not supremely sovereign.

We must understand that anyone who has authority anywhere in the universe, including human beings or Satan, only has it because it has been granted to him by God. There is no other way for anyone to obtain authority. If there were, we must conclude that God is not all-powerful and all-knowing as the Bible tells us He is.

If authority was taken by force from God by one of His creatures, then that creature was more powerful than its Creator, and the Creator is not all-powerful. If authority was swindled from God by one of His creatures, then that creature was smarter than its Creator, and the Creator is not all-knowing because He was fooled. Thus, anyone who has any authority is under God’s authority and is operating with His permission, whether he realizes it or not. For example, Pilate said to Jesus, “‘You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above’” (John 19:10-11). Likewise, Paul wrote that “there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Rom. 13:1).
 

Hyper and Non-Sovereignists
As I mentioned in a previous chapter, there seem to be two extreme camps of believers when the subject of God’s sovereignty is discussed: the “hyper-sovereignists” and the “non-sovereignists.”

The hyper-sovereignist has taken God’s sovereignty to an unbiblical extreme, having concluded that God is the one who causes everything that happens. The hyper-sovereignist totally ignores Satan and, in many cases, the wills of rebellious humans. The hyper-sovereignist makes statements such as, “We can never be certain of what God will do because, you know, God is sovereign; He can do anything He desires.” This person leaves the impression that God is sovereign to the extent that He will actually transgress His own Word and fail to keep His promises. That, of course, is entirely incorrect. God will never break His Word. God always keeps His promises. If God tells you what He will do, you can be sure He’ll do it. [Also See What a Sovereign God Cannot Do]

On the other extreme, the non-sovereignist thinks that God has very little or no control over what is occurring on this earth. Things went so wrong in the garden of Eden that ever since then, God has been up in heaven watching the world from a distance, waiting patiently for the Millennium when He will finally be able to control the earth again—once Satan is bound. Some non-sovereignists think that if God does do something on the earth in this age, it is only when He is given the right by someone on earth who prays. This view, also, is entirely incorrect according to the Bible.

As we study the Scriptures, we’ll see how both hyper-sovereignists and non-sovereignists need to learn something from each other.


Back to the Boat on Galilee
Let’s consider again the story of when Jesus and His disciples faced a fierce gale as they were crossing the Sea of Galilee. We’ll view the scene from both standpoints—the hyper and non-sovereignist’s.

A hyper-sovereignist in the boat that day would have stated thus: “We know that God is in control, and so we trust that He has a purpose for sending this storm. Let us not question Him. It seems strange to us that God would want all of us to drown here today, but we know that ‘God’s ways are higher than our ways.’ Let us humbly accept His will for us.”

The non-sovereignist in the boat would retort, “I’m sorry, but your theology is all wrong. You see, God is good, and He would never send a storm to cause us all to drown here in this lake. God has nothing to do with this situation. This storm must be from Satan; so let us rebuke the devil and overcome this circumstance.”

Who’s theology is correct? Actually, both are partially right and partially wrong.

Was it God’s will for Jesus and His twelve disciples to drown that evening on the Sea of Galilee? The hyper-sovereignist thought so. The non-sovereignist, however, disagreed, and he was correct, as all of us who have read the end of the story know. It was not God’s will for Jesus and His twelve disciples to drown that evening on the Sea of Galilee. No one can intelligently argue against the non-sovereignist on that one.

Who caused the storm? The hyper-sovereignist thought it was the sovereign God; the non-sovereignist thought it was the devil. One of them must be correct.

Some might object, saying that severe weather is just a “naturally occurring phenomena in our fallen world full of sin.” That is, however, an explanation that is not really an explanation at all. What do people mean when they make such statements? Certainly they can’t mean that severe weather occurs just because of the presence of sin. If that is the case, then severe weather is man-made. They must be saying that severe weather is a result of God’s judgment upon this sinful world. If that is what they mean, then they are really saying God is responsible for severe weather. If it is a manifestation of His judgment, then it occurs because of His decree.

Some would argue that severe storms are “just the forces of nature at work,” but that is a similar explanation that is no explanation at all. Who created the forces of nature? It was God. Even if those forces act randomly, it was God who determined that those forces would act randomly, and so He is responsible.

So, either God, the creator of all nature, still has control over the forces of nature, or Satan now does. Only two possibilities exist: Either God or Satan was responsible for the storm on the Sea of Galilee that evening. So who was it? [Also See Do Natural Disasters Negate Divine Benevolence? ]


Does Satan Have Control of the Wind?
Does Satan have the power and authority to send a storm over the Sea of Galilee? Interestingly, the Bible most often gives God credit for control of such things, not the devil. When credit for wind is given, only once is Satan given credit, and he first had to receive permission from God to send it (see Job. 1:12,19). All other times, God is given the credit (see, for example Gen. 8:1; Ex. 10:13,19; 14:21; 15:10; Num. 11;31; Ps. 48:7; 78:26; 135:7; 147:18; 148:8; Jer. 4:11-12; 10:13; 51:16; Ez. 13:13; Amos 4:9,13; Jon. 4:8; Hag. 2:17; Rev. 7:1). Here are a few scriptures I didn’t list that you can read for yourself:

    Thou dost rule the swelling of the sea; When its waves rise, Thou dost still them (Ps. 89:9, emphasis added).

    Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters; they have seen the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths; their soul melted away in their misery....Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distresses. He caused the storm to be still, so that the waves of the sea were hushed (Ps. 107:23-29, emphasis added).

    Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day, and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; the Lord of hosts is His name (Jer. 31:35, emphasis added).

    And the Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea...(Jonah 1:4, emphasis added).

From looking at all of Scripture, we can only conclude that God caused the storm, or perhaps Satan caused it with God’s permission. Therefore, the hyper-sovereignist is certainly correct in saying that ultimately, God was in control of the situation that evening on the Sea of Galilee.

On the other hand, the non-sovereignist is correct in asserting that God wants us to use our faith to overcome trying circumstances. That’s a lot different than just accepting them as God’s final and ordained will—as the hyper-sovereignist thinks.

Yet the non-sovereignist has perhaps missed something that the hyper-sovereignist has at least partially understood: The non-sovereignist doesn’t see any divine purpose in His circumstances. In the boat that day with Jesus, the non-sovereignist didn’t take into consideration that it was God who was leading them across the Sea of Galilee. He didn’t recognize God’s foreknowledge of the gale or the fact that God will use adversity to cause our faith to grow.


Arriving at a Balanced Understanding
As a young Christian, I was greatly influenced by the hyper-sovereignist viewpoint. Anything and everything that happened to me was supposedly God’s ordained will, and my job was to learn and grow through the difficulties that God allegedly sent my way. I read their books on being “fully surrendered to the Lord.” They didn’t realize it, but to some degree, they were actually teaching me to surrender to Satan’s attacks that God wanted me to resist.

Later I became influenced by the non-sovereignist view and was swayed to believe that there was absolutely no divine purpose in any circumstance that seemed negative. It was just me versus Satan.

Both viewpoints are unbalanced and will lead to extremes.

Because the hyper-sovereignist often does not recognize Satan’s attacks, he is an easy target. Satan can send adversity his way and laugh as the hyper-sovereignist humbly accepts his difficulties as being sent from God. He is a person who is “destroyed for his lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6). (Hyper-sovereignists, however, do tend to be much more developed in the graces of patience, longsuffering, and kindness than the non-sovereignist. No wonder; they are always trying to learn from their hardships.)

On the other hand, the non-sovereignist, who laughs at how deceived the hyper-sovereignist is, is a little deceived himself. He rejects the idea that God might lead someone into a place where he will experience difficulties as He did the Israelites. He laughs at the idea of learning lessons from God when difficulties strike. He ignores scriptures that talk about spiritual growth stemming from hardship.


The Theological Pitfalls of the Non-Sovereignist
The non-sovereignist’s theology may lead him to extremes in understanding God’s judgment or discipline upon wrongdoing. In his mind, if a Christian sins and then sickness strikes as a result (a biblical concept; see 1 Cor. 11:28-32), God played no sovereign role in the difficulty—that person “opened the door to the devil” or “got out on the devil’s territory.”

Most Christians who use such expressions are trying to help others see that God is a God of love, and that we, not God, are responsible for the consequences of our sin. However, when such expressions are accepted apart from a scriptural balance (which they have been), they can lead to serious doctrinal error.

Let’s take a Christian who sins, and then sickness attacks his body. Someone tells him that his sickness is the work of the devil and that God has played no sovereign part in his sickness. God is not sovereignly or even remotely involved in his circumstance.

If that is the case, then God’s discipline upon sin has been annulled. Suddenly, we have a God who doesn’t punish sin, and we’ve created a devil who does punish sin. The non-sovereignist who is trying to defend God’s character has actually defamed it, detracting from His holiness. Additionally, he has actually made Satan look somewhat holy (the devil is now punishing wrongdoing).

So what is the truth of the matter? The truth is that God may sovereignly permit Satan to afflict with sickness one of His children who has persisted in disobedience. God’s objective is to bring His disobedient child to a place of repentance. God can permit Satan to act or restrain him to any degree. Satan can do nothing except what God permits.

I realize that some readers may object to what I have just stated. Allow me to explain.


Has God No Authority Over the Devil?
Some readers may say, “But God has given us responsibility to resist the devil, and we must not wait for God to do something about the devil—we must resist him ourselves.” I agree. God has given the church responsibility and authority to resist the devil, and we should resist him.

That fact, however, does not detract from the point I am making, that Satan can do nothing except what God permits him to do. Such readers are referring to us taking our God-given responsibility to resist the devil; I am referring to God using His authority over Satan, which He has not given us.

God certainly has authority over Satan that He has never given to the church. God has given us limited authority.

Again, some will immediately object: “God has given us all authority over Satan, not just some authority!” But think about that for a moment. If you have all authority over Satan, why don’t you banish him from the face of the earth? Why don’t you cast him into the abyss for one thousand years, just as we are told God will do during the Millennium? Why don’t you? You know exactly why—because you can’t—because your authority over Satan is limited.

God has given us responsibility and authority over Satan as far as our own lives are concerned. Notice that every scripture in the New Testament epistles that mentions or implies our authority over Satan is talking about our authority over Satan as far as our own personal lives are concerned (see Eph. 6:10-17; Jas. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8-9). In all these scriptures we are told that we should resist Satan. That is a part of God’s sovereign plan. It’s our responsibility to use our God-given authority to resist the devil. God will permit Satan to dominate us if we will permit Satan to dominate us.

So here is the balance: Satan can do nothing except what God permits him to do. God, in His sovereignty, has given us limited (but sufficient) authority over Satan. Therefore, God will not do our job for us—He won’t restrain Satan from dominating us if we allow it. That principle, however, doesn’t detract from the fact that God is sovereign.

If you believe what the Bible says about our authority over Satan and our responsibility to resist him, be careful that you don’t take those truths to an extreme. We are entirely wrong if we conclude that God no longer has any authority over Satan because He has supposedly given all His authority to the church.

Some who have made this very error go on to teach that “God’s hands are tied,” and that He is now powerless to do anything about the devil! The real truth is this: God has all authority in the universe. Some of that authority He has given to us. Now it is our responsibility to use our God-given authority, not God’s. But God still has plenty of authority that we don’t have.

An example would be if I had a million dollars and gave one hundred dollars to you. Now it’s your money. I can’t spend it for you because now it’s yours, not mine. If you want to waste it, that’s your business, not mine. Likewise, God has given us some of His authority, and now it’s ours to use—not God’s. That doesn’t mean, however, that God no longer has any authority over Satan.

God is exercising His authority over Satan and restraining him every day. He is sovereign just as the Bible says He is.


Scriptural Proof of God’s Sovereignty Over Satan
Allow me to prove what I’m saying from Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we read:

    No temptation has overtaken you but such is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide a way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it (1 Cor. 10:13, emphasis added).

This scripture promises that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able. Of course, we know that Satan is the tempter, not God (see Jas. 1:13). God, however, restrains Satan to the degree that He “will not allow” Satan to tempt us beyond what we are able. Satan can do no more than what God permits.

This one verse in 1 Corinthians gives us an idea of where our authority ends and where God’s begins. We have no authority to control the degree of temptation that Satan sends, but God does. In fact, we have no authority to stop any temptation from Satan. If we had unlimited authority, then we could command Satan never to tempt us again. We don’t have that much authority, however, only God does. We do have authority to resist temptation and not be overcome by the devil.


What is Satan Doing Here Anyway?
Have you ever wondered why God has even permitted Satan to be on this earth, or why God permits Satan to tempt anyone? When God cast Satan out of heaven, why didn’t He banish him to some other galaxy? Why this planet? Or, if there was some reason that Satan had to be banished to the earth, then why did God place humanity on the same planet? Couldn’t God have arranged things so we didn’t have to share space with the devil?

To gain a glimpse of at least part of the answer, let’s look at Deuteronomy 13:1-3. There Moses said:

    If a prophet or dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, “Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,” you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut. 13:1-3, emphasis added).

I don’t think any serious Bible student would say that God was the one who inspired that false prophet or gave him the ability to work a false sign or wonder. It must have been Satan’s power that was behind it, not God’s. Yet God permitted that Satan-empowered, false prophet to arise for a reason. What was that reason? To test His people, as we have just read.

Here is at least a partial answer to the question of why Satan is on the same planet and why God permits Satan to tempt us: in order that He (God) might know what is in our hearts. God is testing all of us. Do we love God enough to obey Him and resist Satan’s temptations?

We have already examined numerous examples of God’s tests in the Bible, so this should come as no surprise to us. God uses Satan’s temptations to test men. This agrees perfectly with what we have already studied in Judges 2 and 3, where God used Satan’s temptations as a test. In addition, this principle agrees perfectly with the incident when Jesus was also tested through Satan’s temptations.

A true-blue non-sovereignist never sees God’s hand in anything other than the blessings he receives. A “biblically-balanced sovereignist” sees God’s sovereignty in all things. Even Satan’s temptations are more than just temptations—they serve a higher purpose—they are also tests from God.

Now please don’t misquote me. I have never said that God and Satan are working together or that they are on the same team. I just stated that God will use Satan’s temptations as His own tests, and that is quite plain from the scripture we just read in Deuteronomy.

hy would God do such a thing? In part, because God wants to bless us and wants to make us a greater blessing to others. He promotes those whom He can trust. If we can’t resist the small temptations that come with small blessings and small responsibilities, how can God trust us with bigger blessings and greater responsibilities?

Take money for example. If God entrusts us with a little money, and we yield to Satan’s temptation to share none, how can God trust us with more money? He can’t, because we failed to pass His small test, administered via Satan’s temptation.

It is a sobering thought indeed to realize that our reaction to temptation reveals our love, or lack of love, for God.

We’ve only begun to study the subject of God’s sovereignty and His restraining power over Satan. If you’re not convinced of what I’m saying, keep reading because there are many more scriptures we’ll examine. You may want to re-read this chapter again so that your objections are clear in your mind. Then you’ll be better prepared for the next chapters, where I hope to answer any objection you have.
 

God’s Sovereignty and Our Authority
Let’s look further into the concept of God’s restraining power over the devil. This is a subject that has been greatly misunderstood in some circles of the Church. Until we see that God is sovereign, we will never grow to our full stature in Christ. If we think, for example, that God’s hands are tied and that He no longer can do anything because He has given all His authority to the church, then we will fail to see His hand in our daily lives. His training process will go unnoticed by us.

Let’s go back to the beginning, even before humanity was created. I don’t think anyone would argue that God had all power and authority at that time. We know that, on at least one occasion, someone tried to usurp God’s authority, but he was quickly dealt with—Jesus said he saw Satan “fall from heaven like lightning” (Luke 10:18).

Then God created the earth and placed Adam on it. He gave Adam certain authority, but we learn from the Bible that Adam’s authority was limited. God told him, “fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Adam received authority from God, but he obviously never received absolute sovereignty over the earth. He couldn’t control the weather, for example. Essentially, God only gave Adam authority to rule over the fish, birds, and animals. He still had to answer to God. Adam was God’s under-ruler, as plainly indicated by the fact that God judged him when he sinned. Adam couldn’t rule over God and kick Him out of the garden.

The reason I make that point is because some erroneously think that when Adam sinned, somehow Satan was able to usurp the authority with which Adam originally was entrusted. (We’ll examine the validity of that idea later on.) Some have even gone so far to say that God has no authority here, and therefore, He can’t do anything on the earth unless we “give Him permission” by asking Him. Supposedly, they say, God’s hands are completely tied because Adam gave his authority to Satan.

The Bible never states, however, that God gave Adam all authority or sovereignty over the earth. Therefore, if Satan did actually gain what Adam had, then Satan has never had all authority or sovereignty either. If Satan has Adam’s authority, then, just as Adam was under God’s authority, so too, Satan is under God’s authority.


An Old Question Answered
This should help us to better answer the age-old theological question: “If God knows what we need even before we ask Him, why does He require that we ask Him; why doesn’t He just give us what we need?”

To some non-sovereignists, the answer is, “Because when Adam fell, he gave his authority to Satan, and God has no authority to act on this earth unless someone on this earth asks Him to do so.” The non-sovereignist views God as dependent upon man.

One who is biblically balanced, however, has a different answer. He understands, as we learned previously, that the primary lesson God was trying to teach Israel during all their trials in the wilderness was that “man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Deut. 8:3). In other words, God was trying to teach His people to look to Him for everything, that He was their source, that they needed Him desperately. God is trying to teach us that same lesson.

Why does God require us to ask for that which He already knows we need? Simply because we need to learn what Israel learned—to look to God as our source for everything. Self-sufficiency is nothing but pride, and God hates pride.

Can you see the danger in the “God’s hands are tied, and unless we ask Him, He can do nothing” theology? It leaves us with the impression that God is dependent upon us, rather than with the understanding of what God is actually trying to teach us—that we are dependent upon Him. One view makes us proud, the other makes us humble. [See Section on Prayer]


God’s Self-Limitation
It is true that God is somewhat limited, but only because He has limited Himself. For example, can God save a person—even if that person has no faith? No God can’t—or else He would violate His own Word.

Here then is the balance. Some have observed that God, in His sovereignty, has to some degree limited Himself by the faith of human beings. That concept, however, needs to be balanced with a biblical understanding of God’s sovereignty.

Unfortunately some have taken the concept of God’s self-limitation to an extreme, propagating the idea that poor God can no longer do anything unless someone uses his faith. God is supposedly helpless without us. Each time God does something apart from a response to faith, however, that theory is disproved.

The theory that God’s hands are tied from doing anything because of Adam’s fall is really an insult to the Lord. It is equivalent to saying that before God created humanity, He was too stupid to see what was going to happen, and so He got Himself into a big mess. The Bible, however, plainly teaches that God knew humanity would fall, and that He, in fact, planned for the redemption of humanity even before He created us (see Matt. 25:34; Acts 2:2-23; 4:27-28; 1 Cor. 2:7-8; Eph. 3:8-11; 2 Tim. 1:8-10; Rev. 13:8).

We must have a biblically-balanced understanding of the subject of God’s sovereignty and how it relates to our God-given authority over Satan. Unless God was and is sovereign over the devil, how could He ever have given us authority over the devil in our own lives?

Some claim that Jesus could only give people authority over Satan after His resurrection —when He “got back what Adam lost.” Jesus, however, gave His disciples authority over Satan and demons before His resurrection:

    And He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons....And He said to them...“Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall injure you” (Luke 9:1; 10:18-19, emphasis added).

Quite obviously, Jesus was sovereign over Satan before the fall, after the fall, before the cross, and after the cross. God has shared some of His authority with the church, and the church should be exercising its God-given authority over Satan. Even if the church fails to exercise its authority, however, God will continue to exercise the portion of His authority which He has not given to the church. You can count on that!


God’s Sovereignty Over Human Government
Let’s consider a few scriptures that will give us some insight into the subject of God’s sovereignty over the earth. First, we’ll deal with the area of human government. Some have erroneously thought that the devil has control over every earthly government and that God has no influence whatsoever, but that is entirely untrue.

The first two scriptures we will examine are prime examples from the book of Acts. The setting for the first scripture occurs shortly after Peter and John had been tried and threatened by the Sanhedrin. They returned to the other believers, and along with the entire church prayed,

    “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur”(Acts 4:27-28, emphasis added).

Surely the disciples didn’t believe that God inspired Herod, Pilate, and the Jews to play their particular parts in the events that led to the crucifixion of Jesus. They could, however, see that God permitted each one to do what he did in order to fulfill God’s preordained plan for the sacrifice of Christ. Jesus Himself acknowledged this fact when He was questioned by Pilate. When Pilate asked Him, “Do you not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” Jesus replied, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above...” (John 19:10-11). Pilate was governor only because God had sovereignly permitted him to be governor.

The apostle Paul, in his sermon on Mars Hill in Athens, endorsed God’s sovereignty over human governments when he said: “And He [God] made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God” (Acts 17:26-27, emphasis added). God predetermined the histories of the nations at least to some degree.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Daniel said of God, “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan 2:21).

Daniel later informed Nebuchadnezzar, proud king of Babylon, that he would lose his mind until he recognized “that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes” (Dan. 4:25, emphasis added).

Clearly, God’s sovereign hand plays a part in the rise and fall of earthly rulers and kings. Notice Daniel said that God was “ruler over the realm of mankind,” not Satan.


Further Proof
In Acts 12:20-23, we find Herod delivering an address to the people of Tyre and Sidon. His enthusiastic audience continually cried out during his speech, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” What happened next? “And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died” (Acts 12:23). Thus ended Herod’s reign, and I don’t think anyone would say that it was the devil who killed him because the Bible plainly stated it was an angel of the Lord. Another king had fallen at the decree of God.

Without apology, Paul declared in Romans 13:1-2, “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God” (Rom. 13:1-2, emphasis added). From studying other scriptures we know that there is a valid place for civil disobedience, but my main point here is that no government on the earth exists apart from God’s permission. In fact, Paul goes further than that and says that every government is “established by God.” That means even evil governments. It is abundantly clear from numerous scriptures that God sometimes uses corrupt and evil leaders as a means of His discipline or judgment upon deserving people. If you’ve ever read the Old Testament you know that.

Am I saying that God motivates evil rulers to be evil? Certainly not. It is Satan who motivates evil rulers. On the other hand, God permits evil rulers to arise, and He will use them to fulfill His divine purposes. God used evil Pharaoh, evil Herod, and evil Pilate to fulfill His divine plans, and the Bible is replete with further proofs of this same truth. God is using evil rulers even today.

Some years ago, I ministered in a pastors’ seminar in Nicaragua. At that time, the South American nation was experiencing civil war as the U.S.-backed contras were trying to overthrow the Marxist Sandanista government. I remember asking a pastor who had lived in Nicaragua all his life if he would rather live under the former government, or under the Sandanista government. He expressed that under the former government, the economy had been doing well and times were much better. When I questioned him about the present situation, I learned that inflation was running at an incredible 22,000 percent, and hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans had fled their homeland to look for a better life elsewhere.

Then this Nicaraguan pastor made an incredible statement. He said he would rather live under the Sandanista government because, in his words, “Before the Sandanistas, nobody was coming to the Lord. Since the Sandanistas have come into power, everything has gotten worse, but now many people have opened their hearts to the Lord and the churches are growing!”

You can see that God can use even ungodly leaders to bring people to repentance. Isn’t that essentially the story of the history of the nation of Israel? A cursory reading of the book of Judges makes that clear.

Isn’t God a God of love? Yes He is, and if He sees that a nation is heading for hell, He may allow temporal troubles in order to get people’s attention so they will wake up to their need for God, repent, and seek Him.

God may permit small calamities in hopes that sinful people will escape eternal destruction. That is love! God is also a God of judgment (as when Herod was eaten by worms and when Pharaoh’s army was drowned in the Red Sea). When God’s mercy is repeatedly spurned, eventually His judgment comes. Down through the ages, God has brought judgment by means of evil kings and leaders to numerous nations who have spurned His mercy—including Israel.

Read what God Himself said through Jeremiah concerning how He personally deals with nations:

    “At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it. If that nation which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it, if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it” (Jer. 18:7-10).

You can see that when someone argues against the sovereignty of God, He is arguing against God Himself, because God believes it.

We need a balanced understanding of what God is permitting and accomplishing and what Satan is doing. We must have a balanced understanding of God’s love and His holiness. The Bible says that God is love but it also says He is a consuming fire (see 1 John 4:8; Heb. 12:29). Paul wrote, “Behold then the kindness and severity of God” (Rom 11:22, emphasis added).

Because God is sovereignly in control of human governments, does that mean we should just sit back and assume that whatever happens in our government is God’s ordained will? No, in both Old and New Testaments, we are admonished to pray for our leaders (see Jer. 29:7; 1 Tim. 2:1-4). Once again, this teaches us to look to God for everything—even for good government. God will do things in our government because we ask Him. That’s why we should be praying for our leaders. In addition, we can ask for God’s mercy upon our ungodly nation, and God will give everyone more time to repent. Our prayers can forestall His judgment. \


God’s Sovereignty and Natural Disasters
What about natural disasters? Are they the work of God or the devil?

Before the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, I traveled into Romania for a ten day ministry-trip. In studying about that country in preparation for my trip, I came across a statement concerning Romania in the popular prayer guide, Operation World, by Patrick Johnstone. He stated: “The rate of conversions has noticeably increased since the severe earthquake in 1977.”

Now think about that. Romanians had become more receptive to the gospel since an earthquake. Was it God or the devil who caused that earthquake?

At one time I would have said that it was undoubtedly the work of Satan, and God had no sovereign part in it at all. What gave Satan the right to cause an earthquake? I had the answer: Because Adam gave Satan his authority as god of this world.

That, however, doesn’t answer nearly as many questions as it raises. If it was the exclusive work of Satan because he has authority over the earth, then why doesn’t Satan cause earthquakes all over the world, in every city? Why doesn’t he kill us all by earthquakes? If it was the exclusive work of Satan (apart from God’s sovereignty), why wouldn’t Satan target cities full of people who are serving the Lord rather than cities full of people who are atheists? (If you answer that last question with, “Because God won’t permit Satan to send earthquakes to cities where people are serving the Lord,” then you’ve just admitted to believing in God’s restraining power over Satan.)

What does the Bible say? Scripture records several incidents when God caused earthquakes because He was judging wicked people. Isaiah warned Jerusalem’s enemies: “From the Lord of hosts you will be punished with thunder and earthquake and loud noise” (Isaiah 29:6, emphasis added). During the rebellion of Korah recorded in Numbers 16, the earth opened up and swallowed an entire group of sinful people. In the book of Revelation, at least five different earthquakes are attributed to God’s judgment. In fact, the last one will be the greatest earthquake the world has ever seen (see Rev. 16:18-20).

God is a God of judgment as well as a God of love. In fact, because God is love, He must also be a God of judgment, simply because love is fair and just. God must react when sinful, selfish acts are committed, or else He is not loving at all.

Would the God of judgment who incarcerates people in hell for eternity never judge evil people on earth by means of an earthquake or some other natural disaster? I find that hard to believe, especially when the Bible is full of scriptures that plainly state God sometimes sends judgment through war, famine, and pestilence (e.g. Jer. 14:1-12; 27:8). [See Hell]

Those who deny God’s use of natural calamities have developed an unbalanced view of God. In an attempt to bring the church into a more balanced view of God’s love, some have consequently caused people to misunderstand God’s judgment.

Does Satan cause all earthquakes? The earth quaked when God came down on Mt. Sinai (see Ps. 68:7-8). Surely that wasn’t the work of the devil. There was an earthquake when Jesus cried out from the cross, “It is finished!” (Matt. 27:51). Was that the work of Satan? An earthquake also occurred when Jesus was resurrected (see Matt. 28:2). Did Satan cause that one? I don’t think so.

What about the earthquake in the Philippian jail where Paul and Silas were imprisoned? No one was killed, everyone was released, and a few were saved as a result. Looks like the hand of God to me. (See Acts 16:22-34; Also see 1 Sam. 14:15, Is. 5:25, Jer. 10:10, and Acts 4:31, for a few other examples of earthquakes which God caused.)

If we have an unbalanced understanding of God’s sovereignty and think God can do nothing on the earth because the church has all authority, where does that lead us? To believe that every earthquake and natural disaster is from Satan—when the Bible clearly states they are not. [Also See Do Natural Disasters Negate Divine Benevolence? ]


What Jesus Had to Say on the Subject
Along these same lines, Jesus mentioned two contemporary tragedies in one of His sermons recorded in Luke’s Gospel:

    Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to him about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than the other Galileans, because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5).

Notice that Jesus did not, after citing those two tragedies, say, “Now those things were the work of the devil because God is a God of love.” Rather, Jesus used those two tragedies to remind the survivors that they were no better than the ones who perished, and unless they repented, they would suffer a similar fate. At present they were being warned of God’s judgment. For the time being they were getting by on God’s mercy.

About forty years later, however, judgment did come upon the Jews and Jerusalem in the form of a holocaust by Roman armies in 70 A.D. That event was clearly a result of God’s sovereign judgment upon them (according to Luke 19:41-44; 21:20-24).

I’m not saying that God inspired Pilate to murder those Galileans or that the falling of the tower of Siloam was an act of God. Pilate acted on his own volition, and perhaps human error was to blame for the tower’s collapse. But God obviously permitted both tragedies. Additionally, no one can argue that those who perished weren’t deserving of death, or else he must argue against Jesus.

Furthermore, I’m not saying that every tragedy is permitted by God because He is judging wicked people. I am saying that we are unbalanced when we believe that no tragedy ever occurs because of God’s judgment.

How many modern preachers, if they had lived during Jesus’ time, would have commented differently than Jesus did concerning those two above-mentioned tragedies? How many would have preached, “That was the work of the devil, because God is love”? Many would have, because I’ve heard them say similar words as they explain modern tragedies to their followers.

I recently read about a preacher who ministered to some “angry and confused” hurricane victims who “blamed God for the devastation.” This particular preacher told his confused and angry audience that it was Satan, not God, who caused the hurricane. As a result, some “expressed a desire to learn more about the true nature of God.”

It’s too bad Jesus didn’t know about “God’s true nature” when He warned His confused audience of their need to repent or perish! Had that modern-day preacher studied his Bible, he would have told his confused and angry audience something more like, “You self-righteous people think you deserve better treatment, but God declares you are sinners, and He, whom Jesus said is ‘Lord of heaven and earth,’ is warning you that He is a holy and wrathful God. God loves you so much He sent Jesus to die for you so you could escape His eternal wrath. He is now calling you to repent and receive forgiveness of your sins through the sacrificial death of the Son of God. If you don’t, you will one day experience not just a sampling, but a full dose of God’s eternal wrath in hell. So repent of your wickedness, believe in Him, and He will forgive you of all your sins and receive you as His very own children.”

If we are honest with what the Scriptures say, any person who is not obeying God is worthy of God’s judgment. In the two tragic examples that Jesus mentioned, it is clear that the ones who died got what they deserved, and the ones who survived didn’t get what they deserved—they were mercifully being given more time to repent. No unsaved person has any promise of being shown any more mercy than he has already been granted, and the fact that he has lived as long as he has is a testimony to God’s great mercy.

In the next few chapters, we will look more closely at the subject of God’s judgment.

Incidentally, in the wake of the terrible earthquake in former Soviet Armenia in late 1988, a wonderful revival was reported. Some villages, which formerly had no true Christian witness, now have thriving congregations. As of this writing (1993), that revival continues. As in Romania, there is now a greater receptivity to God in Armenia after an earthquake.

Did you know that the ruthless massacre of demonstrating Chinese students in Tiananmen Square (June 4, 1989) proved to be the catalyst in an unprecedented revival among Chinese students? It has been reported that soon after, thousands openly turned to Christ. The reason? The traditional view that man is basically good, embraced by Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Maoism, was no longer believable to those who witnessed the barbarous slaughter of their peers. If man is basically evil, as the Bible says he is, then he needs a Redeemer, just as the Bible also says. Praise God that so many Chinese students are discovering the Redeemer whom God sent to die for our sins.

Again, I’m not in any way implying that God inspired the Chinese government to order the slaughter of the students in Tiananmen Square, but God did permit it. God used something evil and turned it around for good.

Manmade Suffering
Quite obviously, much of the suffering in the world today is manmade. For example, much of India’s extreme poverty can be blamed on Hinduism. Because the Hindus believe in reincarnation, it is considered immoral to kill any animals, and consequently, rats eat tons of grain annually that could feed multitudes of hungry people. If India would embrace Christianity, fewer of their people would starve because they could eat the cows, chickens, and goats that God intended for them to eat. In addition, the rodents could be exterminated, making more grain available to the people.

Many famines in the world today are a result of political strife, misuse of land, or warped economic systems. Disobedience to God’s laws always brings suffering. Perhaps these situations could be better referred to as God’s passive judgment rather than His active judgment.


When Tragedy Happens to Christians
What about Christians who experience tragedies? The answer to that question is not quite as simple, and, unfortunately, the truth has been clouded by some unscriptural teachings.

To answer that question, we must first determine what kinds of tragedies we are talking about and what kind of Christian is experiencing a tragedy. If we are talking about a Christian who is in disobedience, then we are talking about a Christian who, unless he repents during the time he is being shown mercy, is in danger of experiencing God’s discipline. Paul referred to those Christians in his first letter to the Corinthians, stating that some of them were sick—and some had even died—because of God’s discipline or judgment.

 If you are a disobedient believer, I encourage you to repent. {I use the word “discipline” as meaning “less severe” and the word “judgment” to mean “more severe,” although the Bible really doesn’t make that distinction in 1 Cor. 11:27-32}

If we are talking about tragedy striking an obedient believer, then we need to classify certain kinds of tragedies. Many obedient believers have suffered persecution for their faith to the point of torture and martyrdom. That is certainly a tragedy from a human standpoint, but it is not one from which we are promised deliverance. (The Bible, in fact, promises us that we will be persecuted; see 2 Tim. 3:12.) Church tradition states that every one of the apostles died for his faith. Although the apostle John may be an exception, he was still exiled and severely persecuted.

Millions of Christians have been martyred, and many more have suffered severe persecution. There are times when God has miraculously delivered His people, but many times He has not. That is determined by the sovereign will of God. We will further examine the subject of the persecutions of Christians in a later chapter.

Another kind of tragedy that obedient believers have suffered are long-term sicknesses and diseases. To die of cancer is certainly a tragedy. We have promises in Scripture, however, concerning sickness and disease, and God has promised to heal us if we will obey and believe. I don’t have the space to make a lengthy argument for my controversial claim here, but if you want to study this subject further, I encourage you to read a book I’ve written titled, The Case for Divine Healing. Jesus never turned away anyone who came to Him for healing, and one tenth of all that was written about Him in the four Gospels concerns His healing ministry.
 

Also See Is Physical Healing Included In The Atonement?   Too many good Christians striving to “believe” their sickness away, and finally collapsing into self-condemnation and utter discouragement over their “lack of faith” or the “sin” in their lives.

And Does God Want Us To Be Rich? (Both in the Word Faith Section)
 

It is clear from Scripture that sickness is in a special class all by itself when it comes to suffering. For example, James wrote:

    Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray....Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick (Jas. 5:13-14, emphasis added).

James clearly differentiated between general suffering and suffering sickness. It is unfortunate that some teachers have taken scriptures that apply only to Christians suffering persecution and have erroneously tried to apply them to Christians suffering sickness. Sickness is something that we have a promise for; persecution is a different case.

What about calamities, wars, and natural disasters, as far as the obedient believer is concerned? Certain scriptures encourage us to believe that no calamity, war, or natural disaster that is permitted because of God’s judgment will fall upon an obedient believer. For example, when Jerusalem was destroyed and hundreds of thousands perished during the Roman holocaust of 70 A.D., there was not one obedient believer in the city because Jesus had pre-warned them so they could escape (see Luke 21:20-24). Furthermore, Noah and his family were saved during the great flood, and all the children of Israel were protected in the land of Goshen when God sent the plagues upon Egypt.

The Bible provides other encouraging examples of God’s pre-warning believers of coming calamities in order that they might avoid them. For example, in Acts chapter 11, we have record of a prophecy given by Agabus warning of a soon-coming famine, which took place during the reign of Claudius. Consequently, the brethren in Antioch (where Agabus delivered his prophecy) sent a contribution “for the relief of the brethren living in Judea” (Acts 11:29).

When Paul was on a ship that was transporting him to Rome, God tried to warn the captain of the ship through Paul that they would lose their ship and lives in a great storm, but the sailors didn’t listen. As a result, they suffered the consequences—although God did mercifully protect the lives of everyone on board (see Acts 27:9-26).

Let me give you an example of God’s protection in my own life. When I was a young Christian many years ago, I had a habit of picking up almost every hitchhiker along the road so I could practice sharing the gospel with a captive audience. One day, however, when I was driving on an interstate highway through a certain city, I heard what seemed to be an audible voice say to me: “Man with a beard—don’t pick him up.” Within a half a minute, I drove around a bend, and there underneath an underpass was a man with his thumb out, and he had a beard. I’ve always wondered what would have happened if I had picked him up. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would “show us things to come” (John 16:13).

Demos Shakarian, founder of the Full Gospel Businessmen International, tells in his biography of how God warned his Armenian grandfather and fellow Christians of a coming holocaust in Armenia by means of an illiterate “boy-prophet.” Many of the Pentecostal Christians fled the country, and in 1914, one and a half million Armenians died at the hand of the Turks. {See The Happiest People on Earth, pp. 20-22}

 No obedient Christian suffered in that tragedy.

If we will be obedient and remain sensitive to God’s guidance, we too can expect to be warned concerning future calamities. God loves His children.

I’m sure I have not answered every question that you might have. As I confessed in the introduction to this book, I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I want to give you as many as I’ve found in the Scriptures. Understanding everything on the subject of God’s sovereignty is beyond our finite comprehension.

Primarily, I want you to see that God is still at work in the earth. His hands are not tied as some have erroneously thought. In addition, I want you to have a balanced understanding of God’s love and His holy judgment, His sovereignty, His restraining power over Satan, Satan’s limited authority, and your authority over Satan. I hope I have succeeded. If not, keep reading; there’s more to come.
 

God’s Restraining Power Over Satan
In this chapter and the next we will further explore the concept of God’s restraining power over Satan. Throughout Scripture, God demonstrates repeatedly that He has plenty of ability to restrain the “god of this world.” If you aren’t yet convinced of that fact, these next two chapters will make a believer out of you.

The first example, a passage familiar to many, is found in Malachi 3. God was reproving His people at a time when they were withholding their tithes and offerings, and He accused them of robbing Him. As a result of their disobedience, they were “cursed with a curse.” The “fruits of the ground” were being destroyed, and the “vine in the field” was “casting its grapes” (Mal. 3:9, 11). If they would repent, however, and begin once again to pay their tithes and offerings, God promised,

    “I will...pour out a blessing until there is no more need. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it may not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes” (Mal. 3:10b-11, emphasis added).

Who was the devourer? Scripture doesn’t say. We are only told the devourer was destroying crops, and that God would rebuke it if Israel repented. If God was speaking of Satan or one of his evil spirits, then we could say that Israel “opened the door to the devil through disobedience.” If, however, we mean that God had no sovereign part in the matter, we are entirely incorrect. We would be much more accurate if we said that the Israelites opened the door to God’s discipline through disobedience, and God consequently disciplined them by permitting Satan to afflict them.

If God played no sovereign part in this particular incident, then suddenly He and Satan had switched roles. Now Satan was punishing disobedient people, and at the same time God was apparently unconcerned because He was doing nothing! That idea is, of course, absurd.


When God Restrained Satan in the Life of Job
Another clear example of God’s restraining power over Satan is found in the story of Job. As we read of the initial heavenly conversation about Job, it becomes abundantly clear that Satan can do nothing to harm Job unless God permits him:

    Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Hast Thou not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Thy hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse Thee to Thy face.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power [literally hand], only do not put forth your hand on him” (Job 1:9-12, emphasis added).

God was the one who had been protecting Job, having placed a hedge about him. God is also the one who permitted Satan to afflict Job, restraining him to the degree that he was not initially permitted to afflict Job’s body.

After Job’s first set of trials, Satan again accused Job before God. This time he claimed that if Job were to lose his health, then he would surely curse God. Consequently, the Lord permitted Satan to afflict Job’s body, yet restrained him from actually killing him (see Job 2:3-6).

Three times we witness God’s restraining power over Satan demonstrated, as He (1) restrained Satan from doing anything, then (2) permitted him to afflict Job in every way except physical sickness, and finally (3) allowed him to steal Job’s health. Satan could do nothing except what God permitted.

Again, notice that Job’s story happened after the fall of Adam; therefore, if Satan usurped Adam’s authority, then he had it during the time of Job. Again this proves that even if Satan gained some authority on the earth through Adam’s fall, he never gained unlimited control and is still completely subject to God.

Some amazingly argue that Job “opened the door to Satan through fear,” based upon Job’s statement in Job 3:25: “For what I fear comes upon me.” Fear, however, was not the reason for Job’s trials as is clearly revealed from an honest examination of the first two chapters of Job. Later in this book, when we look more fully at the life of Job, I’ll prove that Job did not “open the door to Satan through fear” as some have theorized.


God’s Restraining Power over Satan in Peter’s Life
In the New Testament, we have a wonderfully clear example of God’s restraining power over Satan. Found in Luke’s Gospel, this account is somewhat similar to Job’s story. There Jesus said to Peter a short time before He was betrayed:

    “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” (Luke 22:31-32, emphasis added).

A note in the margin of my Bible lists an alternate translation which says, “Satan has obtained by asking to sift you like wheat.” Either translation indicates Satan had to obtain permission before he sifted Peter.

God permitted Satan to sift Peter like wheat for a reason, and you can be certain that God was motivated by love. Those who have not yet learned of the positive results of difficulties or who are blind to God’s divine purposes will scoff at that idea, yet it is completely biblical. My point here is to show, once again, that God is sovereign over Satan. Satan could do nothing to Peter unless he received permission from God, just as in Job’s case. God is sovereign over the devil; His hands are not tied.


An Example From the Book of Revelation
A fourth example, also found in the New Testament, is found in Revelation 20:

    And I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, that he should not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time....And when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth....And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev. 20:1-3, 7-10, emphasis added).

Notice that it will require only one angel to bind Satan and completely stop his work for one thousand years. Under the influence of certain teachers, I at one time thought that God could do this at the beginning of the Millennium because that is when “Adam’s lease on the earth expired.” In other words, God (supposedly) gave Adam authority on the earth for a certain time period. When Adam abdicated his authority, Satan got a “time-limited lease.” Up until the expiration date of that lease, God supposedly couldn’t stop Satan because Satan had a legal right to do anything he wanted.

That kind of logic is faulty, however, for several reasons. Foremost, because we see so many other examples (after Adam’s fall) of how God restrained Satan’s activities on the earth. By the weight of a lot of scriptural evidence, God is quite able to hinder the work of Satan.

The second reason comes from the fact that, after one thousand years, God will release Satan again for a short period. Does this mean that Adam’s lease will once again become operative for a short time after the Millennium, and, therefore, God will be legally forced to loose Satan for a short time? Would God like to keep the devil in prison even beyond the one thousand years, but won’t be able to because Satan has a legal right to come out?

No, what this scripture reveals to us is that God has a divine purpose in permitting Satan to do what He permits him to do. And what is that?

Before Satan is bound, we read that he “deceived the nations” (Rev. 20:3). After he is released from his thousand-year prison term, once again he “deceives the nations” (Rev. 20:8)—this time into thinking that they can overthrow the government of Christ in Jerusalem.

God obviously has a divine purpose in releasing Satan from his prison, and that is to deceive the nations to come against Jerusalem where they will meet with judgment.

Notice I did not say that God wills that people be deceived so that they will be judged. We know that God wants every person to be saved (see 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). God loves every human being, and He sent His Son to pay the price for everyone’s sins (see 1 John 2:2).

However, we also know that God has given every person a free will, and that He has decreed that only those who choose to believe in Jesus will be saved. In order for God to determine who has chosen Jesus, there must be something else for people to choose. Let me say that again. In order for God to determine who has chosen Jesus, there must be something else for people to choose.

If Jesus was the only available choice, then He wouldn’t be someone whom you could choose. What if there were an election in which there was only one candidate? It really wouldn’t be an election, would it? That kind of “election” would be similar to the situation that would exist if there were no choice other than Jesus.

Satan serves a divine purpose in God’s eternal plan, as the alternate choice for humankind. God has permitted Satan to exist on the earth so that He can determine who will be permitted to live in His fellowship for eternity and who must be forever banned to hell. If there were no alternative to Jesus, then there would be no choice for people to make. The Bible makes it clear that if a person is not serving Jesus, then he is serving the devil (see 1 Tim. 5:15; 1 John 3:10).

Both God and Satan are vying for the hearts of men. God is drawing men to Himself in several ways: by His creation (anyone who wants to can see that there must be a Creator), through people’s consciences, and by the witness of the Holy Spirit through His church (see John 15:26-27). Satan is drawing men to himself (away from God) by temptation and deception, and God has permitted Satan to do just that. If there were no alternative to following Jesus, how would God know who truly wanted to serve Jesus?


Why People are Deceived by Satan
Have you ever marveled at unbelievers who go about their lives without regard to God? They take no notice of Him, even though He is seen everywhere through His creation. I’m looking out my window right now, and I can’t help but think of God. When I look at His creation, I am awed. God has amassed evidence in front of us all that reveals His existence, His power, and His character; therefore, every person is without excuse before God, just as Scripture says (see Rom. 1:18-21).

As I am writing this, it is springtime, and the tulips and daffodils are in full bloom. I wonder, How does God turn soil into flowers? How can He get all those beautiful colors out of the ground? Furthermore, how can He make apples from the same soil as he makes tomatoes and bananas? I marvel at people who don’t marvel.

We don’t have to look any further than our own bodies to learn something about God. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). Yet unbelievers go about day to day and never acknowledge God. They seemingly have no concern for how He feels about their words, thoughts, and actions, while eternity is rushing toward them like a freight train without brakes.

How can people be so blind? The answer is that they are deceived by Satan. They are every bit as deceived as the people whom Satan will delude into thinking they can overthrow the government of Jesus at the end of the Millennium. Paul said in 2 Cor. 4:3 that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”

Here, however, is the important point: Why are those people deceived? The answer is because they want to be deceived, because their hearts are so wicked. Read how the apostle Paul described unbelievers in his Ephesian letter:

    The Gentiles...walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness (Eph. 4:17b-19, emphasis added).

The unsaved are willfully ignorant because their hearts are hard. Satan can only deceive those people who will allow him to deceive them. In addition, Satan cannot stop any person from being born again if that person decides to repent and believe in Jesus. So no one can accuse God of unfairness when He permits Satan to deceive people. No one has to remain deceived.

Again, why do people permit Satan to deceive them? Because they don’t want to follow Jesus. They love darkness, just as Jesus told us (see John 3:19).

Why does God permit Satan to deceive and tempt people? Because God is testing humanity. Satan must be permitted to do something or else there would be no test. Suppose God had said to Satan: “Now I’ll permit you to live on the earth, but you can do nothing except exist.” If that were the case, there would be no alternative to serving Jesus. It would be like the garden of Eden without the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There must be an alternative that draws people away from God in order for God to determine who is willfully coming toward Him.

I hope you are grasping this concept. Jesus will be reigning over the whole earth for one thousand years during His millennial reign. During that one thousand years, there will be no alternative to serving Jesus. The Bible says that Jesus will rule with “a rod of iron” (Rev. 19:15). At the end of that thousand-year period, God will release Satan from prison to deceive evil people whose hearts are inclined to hate Jesus yet who probably have feigned obedience toward Him. The true condition of their hearts will be openly manifested when Satan is released.

Satan won’t be able to deceive everyone at that time—only those whose hearts are already inclined toward rebellion. They will be wide open to his deception when he is released and will naturally do what they have been wishing they could do for a long time. The only reason they haven’t tried to overthrow the government of Jesus before Satan’s release is because they know they would never succeed, even though they might love to see it happen. Once Satan deceives those who don’t want to submit to Christ’s rule, however, it will become abundantly clear who loves Jesus and who hates Him. Then God can righteously judge them, which He will do.

The exact scenario is being played out right now on a larger scale. If Satan were not here to deceive the hearts of people who don’t want Christ to rule their lives, those people would outwardly obey God, yet inwardly long for the chance to rebel. Such people are certainly not fit to live forever in God’s kingdom. Because they are deceived, however, the attitude of their hearts is manifested in their daily words and deeds, and they are storing up judgment for themselves. God gives them a lifetime to repent of their rebellion. If they do, He will give them a new nature through Christ along with freedom from bondage to sin and Satan.

Paul affirmed this exact concept in his second letter to the Thessalonians. Writing about the Antichrist during the time of the Tribulation Period, he wrote:

    And then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness (2 Thes. 2:8-12, emphasis added).

In one sentence, Paul stated practically everything I have been trying to explain. Notice that these people already had the opportunity to “receive the love of the truth so as to be saved,” yet they chose not to “believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.” God will allow Satan (through the Antichrist) to work false signs and wonders in order to deceive those who are Christ-rejecters, “in order that they all may be judged.”


God’s Grand Design
No doubt the greatest example of how God used Satan to accomplish His own divine purposes occurred when God permitted Satan to inspire evil men to crucify Jesus:

    Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:6-8, emphasis added).

Who are the “rulers” about whom Paul is writing? Many think that Paul was speaking, not of earthly rulers, but of demonic rulers—the wicked spirits who motivate evil leaders on the earth. Moffat’s translation speaks of these rulers as the “dethroned powers who rule this world.”

My point is that if Satan had known what was going to be accomplished on the cross according to God’s predestined plan, he would never have motivated anyone to crucify Jesus. Satan ignorantly played right into God’s hands, and redemption was accomplished for us through Christ’s sacrifice! Once again, God used Satan, as evil as he is, to help Him accomplish His own divine purpose.

Are you beginning to see that God has a grand design for all that has happened and all that is yet to happen? The fall of humanity was not something that caught God by surprise, requiring Him to form a hastily designed plan to repair what He hadn’t prepared for! God’s purpose and grace have been “granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (2 Tim. 1:9, emphasis added). Some, however, would have us believe that poor God has His hands tied from doing anything on the earth because He was too stupid to foresee what was going to happen!

God has a purpose for allowing Satan to be on this earth. He also has a purpose for everything He allows Satan to do—like permitting Satan to empower the Antichrist (and the false prophet). It is all in accord with God’s divine plan. He has had everything under His sovereign control from before the time of creation.

Hopefully, you’ve passed the initial test of repenting of your sins and turning to Jesus. That was just the first step, however, that you took in becoming more like Jesus. Many more steps must follow, and they all involve God’s tests.


Satan—Tool of God’s Judgment

Let’s take one more look at the subject of God’s restraining power over Satan. Through this chapter I want to help you understand how God uses Satan to bring about His discipline or judgment in the lives of the disobedient.

Let’s first consider two interesting Old Testament examples. The first one is found in Judges 9 and 10.

You perhaps remember the story of Gideon, and how God used him to defeat the Midianites with an army of only three hundred men. You may not remember that Gideon became the father of seventy-two sons by several wives and at least one concubine. After Gideon died, his concubine’s son, named Abimelech, along with the full support of the people of his home town (Shechem), formed a conspiracy and massacred seventy of Gideon’s sons. Only Jotham, Gideon’s youngest, escaped.

God, of course, was not pleased with Abimelech’s and the Shechemite’s treatment of Gideon’s sons, especially since Gideon had fought on their behalf against the Midianites, resulting in forty years of peace for Israel. The Bible says that God is not mocked, and whatever a man sows that shall he also reap (see Gal 6:7). God guarantees it. Read then how God brought His guarantee to pass in this situation:

    Now Abimelech ruled over Israel three years. Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, in order that the violence done to the seventy sons of Jerubball [Gideon] might come, and their blood might be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to kill his brothers (Judg. 9:22-24, emphasis added).

The end of the story is that Abimelech slaughtered all the people of Shechem and shortly thereafter he himself was killed in battle—all because of an “evil spirit,” which “God sent.” The question is, does God have evil spirits to send? No, not from heaven, but He does have sovereign control over Satan and his demons. As a result, He can sovereignly permit an evil spirit to gender strife between two parties in order to bring judgment upon them. Why does Scripture say this evil spirit was sent by God? Because the evil spirit came as a direct result of God’s sovereign will to judge a group of wicked people.


Saul’s Evil Spirit
Another incident illustrating God’s use of Satan as a tool of His judgment had to do with Saul. As the first king of Israel, he was hand-picked by God and assumed his duties with humility and sincerity. Soon, however, Saul committed some serious sins, which disqualified him for having “a kingdom that would endure” (1 Sam. 13:14).

Thereafter, King Saul’s attitude and actions decayed, and he disobeyed God again. When it became clear to him that David, the young giant-slayer, was going to be his replacement, Saul grew jealous. Consequently, the Bible states that “the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and then an evil spirit from God” began to terrorize him (1 Sam. 16:14, emphasis added).

Was that evil spirit actually a spirit from God? In light of the rest of Scripture, it seems more reasonable to conclude that it was one of Satan’s evil spirits, permitted by God to afflict Saul in order to bring him to repentance. God also demonstrated His mercy toward Saul by giving young David an ability to play anointed music that would bring deliverance to Saul’s tormented mind.

Scripture says, “Whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him” (1 Sam. 16:23). God was in effect saying to Saul, “I love you and want you to be free from torment, but you must repent of your selfish jealousy.”

From these two Old Testament examples, we can see how God uses Satan as a tool of His discipline or judgment upon the disobedient.


A New Testament Example
One New Testament example that reveals this same principle is found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In the church in Corinth, a man was living in an immoral relationship with his step-mother. Yet he was still attending church, and nobody was doing anything about it. Paul instructs the Corinthian believers:

    In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus...deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 5:4-5, emphasis added).

Notice that they delivered the man over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh. Satan is often credited as being the one behind sickness (see Acts 10:38). Also notice that the purpose behind the disciplinary action was so that the man’s spirit would “be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” Hopefully, when the man found his body being assailed with sickness, he would come to his senses and repent of his sin. 8

Once more we see God using Satan as a tool of His discipline upon a disobedient person. God is sovereign.

If sickness assails us, should we immediately conclude that God is trying to discipline us? No, sickness can occur for reasons other than God’s judgment. We’ll discuss those other reasons later on. It certainly is wise, however, to do a spiritual examination of our lives any time sickness strikes in order to make sure we have not opened the door to God’s discipline by our disobedience.


Opening the Door to Satan?
Is it scriptural to say that we “open the door to the devil through disobedience”? Is it scriptural to say that “when we disobey, it puts us out in the devil’s territory where the devil can afflict us”? Both of these sayings are frequently used by those who want to emphasize the goodness of God. Unfortunately, they have now been taken to an extreme, to the point where God’s discipline and judgment have been annulled in some people’s minds.

People who take those ideas even further will begin to proclaim that “God doesn’t send anyone to hell—they send themselves.” They will laugh at the idea that a hurricane or a drought might be judgment from God. I hope you can see, from a scriptural standpoint, that such a “hyper-loving” understanding of God at the neglect of His holiness and judgment is unbalanced.

If you have any doubts that the God of the New Testament is every bit a holy Judge as the God of the Old (they are one and the same), just read the book of Revelation. Yes, God is good, merciful, full of compassion, and longsuffering, but when His mercy is repeatedly spurned, ultimately His judgment begins. The Bible says that it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (see Heb. 10:31). The apostle Paul wrote, “Behold then the kindness and severity of God” (Rom. 11:22, emphasis added).

Does God discipline and judge sinful people, or do they “open the door to the devil” (apart from God’s sovereignty)? Let’s look at what the Bible says, and just to pacify those who insist that we only use the New Testament, we will.

    If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy (1 Cor. 3:17, emphasis added).

Nothing is said here about the devil destroying anyone. Paul said, “God will destroy him.” We know from other scriptures that God might destroy that person by allowing the devil to destroy him, but the point is that the destruction comes because of God’s judgment.

Speaking of the wicked woman whom He calls Jezebel, Jesus said in the book of Revelation:

    “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, 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 the hearts; and I will give to each of you according to your deeds” (Rev. 2:21-23, emphasis added).

Once again, notice that Jesus takes the credit for the killing of her children (I assume her “spiritual children,”—her band of disciples).

Speaking of King Herod, which we have mentioned previously, the Scripture says:

    And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died (Acts 12:23, emphasis added).

The devil wasn’t anywhere near this one. It was an angel of the Lord who struck Herod so that he died.

Jesus Himself said,

    “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear; fear the One who after He has killed has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4-5, emphasis added).

Notice it was God who killed and God who might cast someone into hell. The only way to try to wriggle out of this scripture is to say that it refers to the devil—that he is the one who kills and casts into hell. If that’s the case, then we must believe that God wants us to fear the devil, even though we are instructed to resist him by faith, the opposite of fear (see 1 Pet. 5:9). Besides that, the Bible is clear that God is the One who casts people into hell, not the devil (see Rev. 19:20; 20:10,14).

James 4:12 warns:

    There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy... (Jas. 4:12, emphasis added).

Is it possible that some have emphasized the saving mercy of God to the extreme of negating His destroying wrath? From a biblical standpoint, you really can’t believe in one without the other, because God’s wrath is what we are saved from:

    Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him (Rom. 5:9; see also 1 Thes. 1:10).

You may also want to also examine Acts 13:8-12; 2 Thes. 1:6; 1 Tim. 5:24; 2 Tim. 4:14; Heb. 13:4; 2 Pet. 2:1-9 and Jude 5 for further proof that the God of the New Testament actively judges the disobedient.

We could look at hundreds of other scriptures that prove that God is a God of judgment, but I’m sure you’re convinced. Yet there are no scriptures that speak of anyone “opening the door to the devil through disobedience.” The truth is, people can open the door to God’s discipline or judgment through disobedience, and God may use the devil to discipline or judge those persons.

God has used, is using, and will use Satan for His own divine purposes. God is sovereign. I think that you see it! Good!


The God of This World

There is one final objection that we must cover on this subject of God’s sovereignty over Satan. Someone will say, “But what about the scripture that says Satan offered Jesus ‘all the kingdoms of the world’ during His temptation in the wilderness? Doesn’t that prove that Satan, as ‘god of this world,’ is running everything on the earth?”

The answer is that we must consider that scripture within the context of what the rest of the Bible says on the subject.

We have already adequately proved that Satan does not have complete control over the whole world, according to numerous other scriptures. Just because both Jesus and Paul refer to him as “god of this world” does not prove that Satan is ruling everything on the earth. We could just as easily take Jesus’ title of “Lamb of God,” and say that He must have a fleece of wool and walk on all fours. So let’s be careful that we don’t take Satan’s title of “god of this world” to an extreme that contradicts the majority of the Bible.

In what capacity is Satan “god of this world”? The answer is that Satan is reigning in the hearts and lives of the people who are submitted to him, which are those people who are not submitted to Jesus. They are yielding to his temptations and are his slaves. He is their god, and he is ruling them.

Jesus taught us that if a person isn’t born again, he is, spiritually speaking, a child of Satan (see John 8:44). Paul indicated that Satan’s spirit works in those who are unsaved (see Eph. 2:1-3). Satan is ruling only the kingdom of darkness, of which we are no longer part. In Ephesians 6, one of the rankings of demons that falls under the headship of Satan is “the rulers of the darkness of this world” (Eph. 6:12, KJV, emphasis added). Satan is ruling only where people are serving him. That is why he is called in Scripture, “the god of this world.”


Satan’s Claim: Truth or Lie?
Now what about the claim Satan made to Jesus during His temptation? How are we to interpret the following verses?

    And he [Satan] led Him [Jesus] up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish” (Luke 4:5-6).

First of all, we want to be extremely careful about building our theology on the words of someone whom Jesus called “the father of lies” (John 8:44). I think we’d be foolish not to question the veracity of Satan’s claim.

Notice Satan claimed that he could give the domain and glory of the world’s kingdoms to whomever he wished. Is that true? Let us read what the prophet Daniel once said to proud King Nebuchadnezzar:

    “You will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field...until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and He bestows it on whomever He wishes” (Dan. 4:25, emphasis added).

Did you notice any contradiction between what Satan said and what Daniel said? Satan claimed that he could give the domain and the glory of the world’s kingdoms to whomever he wished. Daniel, however, claimed that God was the ruler of mankind and that He bestowed earthly positions upon whomever He wished. So who are you going to believe? Personally, I’m going to stick with Daniel the prophet.

There is one possible way, however, that these two scriptures can be reconciled, if, in fact, Satan was actually telling the truth. God—the sovereign ruler of the universe, humanity, and all earthly governments—has permitted Satan to rule over one kingdom, and that is the kingdom of darkness. Satan was not offering Jesus an earthly, human, governmental position of authority because, according to the Bible, only God has that authority. Rather, Satan was offering Jesus a position of authority over a spiritual kingdom—the kingdom of darkness—if He would submit to him. Such a position Satan could offer. Why? Because the Bible is clear that Satan is ruling over several rankings of evil spirits, through which he administrates his entire dark kingdom as together they hold human rebels in their captivity (see Eph. 6:12).

Satan, to a certain degree, is ruling the kingdoms of this world, but only because the people of the kingdoms of this world are submitted to him. Kingdoms are made up of people.

Satan is ruling governments to a certain degree because many governmental leaders are submitted to him (whether knowingly or unknowingly). Satan, however, is not ruling those who are not serving him—those who have been freed from his power by Jesus Christ.

Stop and think for a moment: What would happen if every person in our country, including government leaders, would repent and submit to the lordship of Christ? Would Satan have any control over our nation? He would have none at all. Satan only has authority over nations inhabited by people who are serving him.

The fact that Satan exercises power in the kingdom of darkness provides no proof that God is not sovereign, or that “God’s hands are tied” from doing anything He wants to do. We have already proved from other scriptures that God is sovereign over the earth, and He is sovereign over Satan’s kingdom as well.

If we are to believe Satan’s offer to Jesus, apparently this wicked ruler was willing to delegate a large portion of his authority to Him as long as Jesus would submit Himself to Satan. If Jesus were to become ruler over the kingdom of darkness, He would have had to become another Satan. Praise God that Jesus didn’t yield to Satan’s offer!


God’s Sovereignty Over Earth and Nature
From all the evidence of Scripture, we must admit that some have given Satan all kinds of power that he doesn’t have. They’ve given him sovereignty over the whole world when the only rule he actually possesses is over those who have chosen to follow him.

Some have even given Satan total power over all of nature. The Bible, however, makes it clear who is ruling nature. Referring to God, not Satan, we read:

    He [God] changes rivers into a wilderness, and springs of water into a thirsty ground; a fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who dwell in it. He changes a wilderness into a pool of water, and a dry land into springs of water; and there He makes the hungry to dwell, so that they may establish a city, and sow fields, and plant vineyards, and gather a fruitful harvest (Ps. 107:33-37).

We also read in Psalm 147:

    Sing to the Lord...who covers the heavens with clouds, who provides rain for the earth, who makes grass to grow on the mountains....He sends forth His command to the earth; His word runs very swiftly. He gives snow like wool; he scatters the hoarfrost like ashes. He casts forth His ice as fragments; who can stand before His cold? He sends forth His word and melts them; He causes His wind to blow and the waters to flow (Ps. 147: 7-8, 15-18).

In both the Old and New Testaments, we find examples of God using the forces of nature as a means of judgment. For example, God is the one who flooded the earth during Noah’s time.

Do you recall the ten plagues that came upon Egypt? God clearly demonstrated then that He is Lord over nature (see Ps. 78:45-49).

When Jonah was running from his mission, sleeping on a Tarshish-bound ship, the Bible says that “the Lord hurled a great wind on the sea so that the ship was about to break up” (Jonah. 1:4, emphasis added). It was God who did it. Some will claim that surely the Hebrew says (although it doesn’t) that God permitted the great wind, and, therefore, the storm was from Satan.

What difference does it make? If God “permitted” Satan to send a storm, then that proves it couldn’t have happened unless God had permitted it! God is sovereign over Satan. And God is sovereign over nature.

In the tenth chapter of Joshua, when Israel defeated five kings, we read these words:

    And it came about as they fled from before Israel, while they were at the descent of Beth-horon, that the Lord threw large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died; there were more who died from the hailstones than those whom the sons of Israel killed with the sword (Josh. 10:11).

For even more proof of God’s sovereignty over nature, see Job 38:22-38; Jer. 5:24; 10:13; 31:35; Ps. 105:16; 135:6-7; Matt. 5:45 and Acts 14:7.

God’s judgment through the forces of nature are clearly evident in the Bible, and God never changes. Why then have some come up with the idea that, when a hurricane or earthquake or flood strikes, it is the work of the devil, and God would like to stop it but He can’t?

When the Bible says that Satan is “the god of this world,” it means that he is the god of this world’s system, but not “god of the earth.” In the Greek, the word for “earth” is ge. The Greek word translated “world” in these instances (i.e. “the god of this world” in John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11 and 2 Cor. 4:4) is either the word kosmos meaning “order or arrangement,” or aion, meaning “age.”

Yes, Satan is ruling the kingdom of darkness, but God is still sovereign over Satan and this world. Our God is, as Jesus said, “Lord of heaven and earth” (Matt. 11:25, emphasis added). Satan can only do that which God permits.


One More Thought
I must address one final misconception about Satan that has been accepted by some Christians. Is it true that Satan received Adam’s authority when Adam sinned?

The plain fact is that there are no references in the Bible that make such a claim or imply it. Nowhere does the Bible say that Satan got Adam’s authority when Adam sinned. The theory that he did is usually based upon Jesus’ encounter with Satan during His temptation in the wilderness, about which we have just been reading. There Satan claimed that his dominion had been handed over to him. Some have thus assumed that it was Adam who handed that dominion over to Satan. That is, however, only a theory.

Actually, every person has handed Satan personal dominion over his life, and thus Satan is his god, which, as we have already said, is why Satan is called “the god of this world.” Adam was the first person to yield to Satan, and all others after him have followed suit. Consequently, Satan’s domain has been handed over to him by the entire human race, with God’s permission.

Furthermore, the Bible never says that Adam lost his authority when he sinned. Man is still subduing the earth, and ruling the fish, fowl, and beasts, which is all the authority Adam ever received in the first place.


The Judgment of God

    He is the Lord our God; His judgments are in all the earth (Ps. 105:7).

    In the Old and New Testaments combined, there are recorded hundreds of occasions when God’s judgment fell.

    The Old Testament begins with an example of God’s judgment, when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Some think that God’s judgment can be found in the Bible even before that, viewing the description of the formless earth in Genesis 1:2 as the result of God’s judgment upon a pre-Adamic creation.

    Although that view has been debated, there is no doubt that there was a judgment that took place before God’s judgment upon Adam and Eve. The story of Satan’s fall can be found in Ezekiel 28:12-19 and perhaps also Isaiah 14:12-17, and it is clear that, as a result of God’s judgment, Satan was cast out of heaven. Jesus Himself said that He saw Satan “fall from heaven like lightning” (Luke 10:18).

    The Bible not only begins with an incident of God’s judgment; the Bible also ends with God’s judgment. The book of Revelation is full of God’s judgments, and its final chapter ends with a warning of the same:

    “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book; if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19).

This passage doesn’t say “they’ll open the door to the devil if they add to this book because God is love and He would never harm anyone.” No, the Word of God said, “God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book”

God is a God of judgment as well as a God of love. In fact, because He is a God of love, He must also be a God who punishes injustice. God cannot remain passive when one of the objects of His love is harmed by another, otherwise, He isn’t loving at all. His love predicates justice.

You’ll never meet anyone more loving, kind, merciful, compassionate, and patient than God. That doesn’t mean, however, that He never punishes iniquity.

Rather than listen to some TV evangelist tell us what God is like, let’s read how God describes Himself in Exodus 34:6-7:

    Then the Lord passed by in front of him [Moses] and proclaimed: “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Ex. 34:6-7, emphasis added).

God loves every evil person to the degree that He gives each wicked individual a long time to repent of his or her sins. When His mercy is refused, however, His wrath must fall. The author of the book of Hebrews wrote, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).


Does God Punish Grandchildren?
We just read from Exodus 34 about God “visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generation.” Does that mean God will punish children for their parents’ sins or grandchildren for their grandparents’ sins?

No, it can’t mean that because God is just. God Himself plainly stated that He would never do such a thing in Ezekiel 18:19-20:

    “Yet you say, ‘Why should the son not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity?’ When a son has practiced justice and righteousness, and has observed all My statutes and done them, he shall surely live. The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, not will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself” (Ezek. 18:19-20, emphasis added).

I encourage you to read the entire 18th chapter of Ezekiel for an even better understanding of what God said. The point is that God will not punish a child (or grandchild) for his parents’ (or grandparents’) sins.

So what did God mean when He said that He would visit the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren? One possibility is that He meant He will hold parents responsible for the sins that they pass down to their children (by their wrong example), who in turn pass them down to their children, and so on. Jesus Himself said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6). That gives us a pretty good idea of what God thinks of those who influence children to sin. God holds them accountable.  [For an indepth article on this subject. See Generational Curses]


The Great Judge
God is merciful, but He is also a Judge. If we wanted to, we could look at hundreds of examples in the Bible of God’s judgment upon people and nations. In addition, we could look at hundreds of warnings of God’s judgment upon people, nations, and the entire world. Of the sixty-six books in the Bible, I can only find five (all very short books) that don’t mention or in some way intimate the judgment of God.

The question I ask is this: Why are so many in the church ignoring the subject of God’s judgment? Is it possible that in an attempt to emphasize God’s love, some are guilty of diminishing His judgment? Surely we’re far from what the Bible teaches when we say that the reason there are earthquakes, famines, plagues, and wars is all because Satan is the god of this world, and God would like to stop him but He can’t. The Bible, in both Old and New Testaments, clearly states that all those things can come as a result of God’s judgment.

God is a God of wrath as well as love. It was the God of love who opened the windows of heaven and flooded the earth until every human being was drowned except Noah and his family. It was the loving God who rained fire and brimstone down upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, wiping out the entire population except Lot and his family. It was the loving God who killed all the first-born in Egypt before the exodus of Israel. It was the loving God who commanded Israel to take Canaan’s land by conquest and kill every man, woman, and child who lived there. It was the loving God who sent an angel who killed 185,000 Assyrian troops in one night as recorded in 2 Kings 19:35. And the list goes on and on and on.

In the New Testament, God is still a God of judgment. Jesus died suffering God’s judgment—not for His sins because He didn’t have any—but as a substitute, bearing God’s wrath in our place. Understanding God’s judgment is essential if we are to understand what Christ did for us on the cross.

    Ananias and Sapphira both fell dead during a church service as a result of God’s judgment upon them for “lying to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3).

    Herod died as a result of God’s judgment, when an angel of the Lord struck him for failing to give God glory (see Acts 12:20-23).

    Paul wrote of God’s judgment that had come upon the Jews who were hindering the spread of the gospel in his first letter to the Thessalonians (see 1 Thes. 2:14-16).

    Peter once wrote that it was “time for judgment to begin with the household of God” (1 Pet. 4:17).

    God’s judgment upon the Jews of Jerusalem and Israel for their rejection of their Messiah fell in the form of a Roman holocaust in 70 A.D. (see Luke 19:41-44; 21:20-24).

    In addition, the book of Revelation is primarily a record of God’s future final judgments—the grand finale that every other previous judgment has only foreshadowed.

In light of the fact that the historical revelation of the Bible is full of clear examples of God’s judgment coming upon nations in the form of enemy invasions, famines, plagues, and natural disasters, what can we conclude? Is it possible that God is still doing the same thing today? Has God changed?

We love to say that God is still the same when it comes to His saving, healing, or delivering mercies, but can we say He is still the same when it comes to His judgments? Is it possible that many Christians are wrongly interpreting events in our world today?

In this regard, I thought you might find it interesting to read what Abraham Lincoln said at his second inaugural address during our nation’s Civil War. His understanding of God’s sovereignty was much more biblical than many preachers of our era:

    Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s [slave’s] two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so it must still be said, “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

I’m not claiming that Abraham Lincoln was infallible, but his understanding of the Bible is certainly more accurate than those who would claim there was no divine principle involved in the Civil War. They believe that God would like to have stopped it because He is love, but He couldn’t because Satan has Adam’s authority! Abraham Lincoln, however, believed God was judging the United States for the sin of slavery. Just the fact that God guarantees we will reap what we sow is enough to prove God is sovereign, and as Abraham Lincoln quoted, “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

The popular theology, which claims every plague, war, and earthquake happens because Satan is ruling the earth, and God would like to stop him yet cannot because Satan has Adam’s lease, is grossly unbalanced from a scriptural standpoint.


God’s Discipline of His Own Children
Furthermore, such an unbalanced understanding of God’s judgment has birthed a faulty understanding of God’s discipline of His own children when they are disobedient. The writer of Hebrews states that “those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.” He goes on to say that, “if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb. 12:6, 8).

In other words, if you’ve never experienced God’s discipline, you’re not a member of His family. Yet some born-again people will laugh at such an idea, stating that God has no part in anything negative—and that God only disciplines us through His Word. In their thinking, God would never afflict a disobedient believer in order to bring him to repentance, even though the New Testament plainly teaches that concept (see 1 Cor. 11:27-32). If we are blind to God’s discipline in our lives, then when God’s discipline occurs, we’ll react by rebuking the devil rather than by repenting of our sins.

Let’s adjust our theology to fit the Bible rather than adjust the Bible to fit our theology. Whenever we find ourselves reading God’s Word and saying, “That can’t mean what it says, because that doesn’t fit what I believe,” then we need help, desperately.


In Conclusion
As we conclude this book’s second section, allow me to summarize the major points of the last six chapters.

(1) God has sovereign control of His universe.

(2) God has given every believer authority over Satan so far as his own life is concerned. It is every believer’s responsibility to use his God-given authority and resist Satan.

(3) God is sovereign over Satan, and Satan can only do what God permits.

(4) God has used and will use Satan as an agent of His wrath.

(5) Satan only has authority to rule over the kingdom of darkness, that is, the domain of all who are not serving Jesus.

(6) God has sovereign control over the forces of nature and over human governments.

With this foundation laid, we can now go on to study the lives of some very important Bible characters who were tested by a loving, holy, sovereign God. Most importantly, we will discover more of how God is working in our lives, so we can fulfill His plan for His glory.

Tests.Back

Tests And Trials Part I

www.inplainsite.org

Tests.Next

Tests And Trials Part III