The Great Deliverance

“When these things are beginning to occur, raise yourselves, and lift up your heads; for your deliverance is drawing near.” —Luke 21:28, Diaglott

GOD’S people of all ages have been aliens and strangers in the pleasure-mad and sinful world around them, and have been persecuted by the devotees of false gods. However, the truly faithful have always been encouraged by God’s promise to care for them and to help them in their every time of need. “God is our refuge,” wrote the psalmist, “a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains he carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.”—Ps. 46:1-3

God has not promised to deliver his people from their troubles in this life—although he often does—but he has promised to give them strength to endure their trials while they learn the important lesson of putting their trust in him. We should cast all our care upon the Lord, knowing that he will permit only those difficulties to come into our lives as will best serve to test our faith and confidence in him. Only those who learn this lesson of faith can be at peace and truly pleasing to the Lord, for those who come to him must believe that he is, and is the rewarder of them who diligently seek him.—Heb. 11:6

Wonderful examples of faith are brought to our attention in both the Old and New Testaments. Sometimes, in these examples, faith was openly and visibly rewarded by deliverance from trying situations, but at other times it was not. This was true of the Ancient Worthy class, and it is also true of the little flock class of the present Gospel Age. As individual servants of the Lord we can often see the hand of God in our affairs and can sense his lifting of the burden of trial which, without his help, might well crush us; yet at other times we do not have this rewarding experience, and can hold onto the Lord only through faith in his promises. It is through these experiences that we need to be convinced that while we may not be able to discern the providences of the Lord in our hands, he is still dealing with us, and his tender mercy is over all our affairs, even when all we can see are threatening and dark clouds of trouble.

The important thing is to realize that the Lord is the light of our lives, and that in the final analysis he will not permit us to be tested above that which we are able to bear. “Faithful is he that promised,” Paul wrote, and we know that none of his promises go unfulfilled. (Heb. 10:23) Paul also wrote, “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward.” (Heb. 10:35) Yes, God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him, even though at times his rewards are not outwardly demonstrated.

Among the Israelites who had been taken captive to Babylon were many faithful servants of the Lord, such as Daniel and his three friends, Ezekiel, and others. To these Jeremiah wrote, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.”—Lam. 3:22-26

For a long time the people of Israel, especially their kings, had for the most part been unfaithful to the Lord. They had worshiped false gods, and in other ways were disobedient to Jehovah, and according to the Law they could have justly been put to death. But as Jeremiah explains, God showed his compassion and mercy, and instead of consuming them in death, permitted them to be taken captives into Babylon.

While the nation as a whole had been disobedient unto the Lord, there were noble exceptions among them, notably Daniel and his three friends. And these remained loyal to the Lord while in Babylon, even at the risk of their lives. Paul, evidently speaking of Daniel, said that he “stopped the mouths of lions.” Daniel was courageous in his loyalty to God, and from this comes the expression, “Dare to be a Daniel.”

Because of the wonderful manner in which the Lord enabled Daniel to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the great image, he was highly exalted in the government by the king. He continued thus to be honored by the rulers of Babylon, and was very highly placed in the kingdom of Darius. We read that “the presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him.”—Dan. 6:4

Because of Daniel’s faithfulness to his trust, those who were plotting against him said, “We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God.” (Dan. 6:5) Surely this is a wonderful testimony concerning Daniel’s loyalty to Jehovah, the God of Israel. His enemies then prevailed upon King Darius to “establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any god or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions.”—Dan. 6:7

The king was not aware that this was a plot against the life of Daniel, whom he loved and trusted, so he made and signed the decree. Since the laws of the Medes and the Persians could not be changed, when he discovered the intent of his advisers it was too late to do anything about it. He could only hope that Daniel’s God would deliver him; for the king knew that Daniel would continue to worship his God even though it did result in his death.

Daniel continued openly to pray to God, was “discovered” by his enemies, and consequently, much against the king’s desire, was cast into a den of lions. “Then the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting: neither were instruments of music brought before him: and his sleep went from him. Then the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste unto the den of lions. And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?”—Dan. 6:18-20

Daniel’s reply to the king was, “O king, live forever. My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocence was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt.” (Dan. 6:21,22) Psalm 34:7 reads, “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.” How wonderfully true this was with Daniel in the lions’ den! How Daniel must have rejoiced, and what a witness it turned out to be to the king concerning Daniel’s God!

Delivered from Fiery Furnace

Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego likewise had their loyalty to Jehovah tested. It was demanded of them that they worship a great image which the king had erected in order to impress his subjects with the greatness of his authority and power. The penalty for refusal to bow down to this image was death, by being cast into a fiery furnace.

Because of their loyalty to God, Daniel’s three friends refused to obey the decree of the king. Thereupon the king summoned them before him and said, “Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?”—Dan. 3:15

The reply of these three courageous servants of the Lord was direct and to the point. They said to the king, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” (Dan. 3:17,18) The record reads, “Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.” (Dan. 3:21) The fire had been made so hot that those who threw the Hebrews into it were themselves burned to death.

God sent an angel, called in the record, “the son of God,” and delivered the three Hebrews. The king was impressed, and gave commandment that the people of the realm should worship only the God of the Hebrews. As for the three Hebrews themselves, their faith in the ability of their God to deliver them had been strengthened, although they would not have lost their faith had God’s providence for them been that they should perish in the fiery furnace.

There is a vitally important lesson in this well-known experience of the three Hebrews; that lesson being that while God is always abundantly able to deliver his people from physical harm, he does not always do it. His providential care over his people does not mete out the same sort of experiences for all. He may permit some to suffer and die, while others he will deliver from suffering and permit them to continue in his service for a while longer even under difficult circumstances.

“And Others”

This point is enlarged upon in the 11th chapter of Hebrews, verses 33 to 40. Here Paul is speaking of the faithful lives of God’s Ancient Worthies, having named many of them, such as Abraham, Moses, and David. Then he speaks of others who, he said, “through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions [as did Daniel], quenched the violence of fire [as did the three Hebrews], escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again.”

It will be noted that in this listing all the ancient people of faith Paul mentions (up to vs. 35) had their faith visibly rewarded by the protection and deliverance which their God afforded them. Through faith they knew, as did the three Hebrews, that the God whom they served was able to deliver them, and in their case he did.

But this was not true of all the Ancient Worthies. Paul continues, “And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword [unlike those who “escaped the edge of the sword”]; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”—vss. 36-38

These “others” were just as much the objects of God’s care as were those who, no matter what their circumstances, were delivered from prison and from threatened death. These “others” were mocked and scourged, and God did not interfere. They suffered “bonds and imprisonments,” and God did not deliver them; they were “sawn asunder,” as Isaiah is traditionally reputed to have been. They were destitute, and seemingly uncared for, but by faith they realized that the great God of heaven, their God, permitted their trying experiences for some good purpose, although they could not always, perhaps seldom, understand what that purpose was.

They knew, although they may not have expressed it in these words, that their God was too wise to err, and too loving to be unkind. They knew that their privilege and responsibility as his servants was to be loyal to him regardless of what the cost might be; and they knew by faith that in the end he would give his very best to those who left the choice with him.

The Same with Spiritual Israelites

God deals with us of the present age in much the same way as he did with his ancient people. We see this exemplified by Jesus, and in the experiences of those in the Early Church. Jesus was delivered from a calamity near the beginning of his ministry, but the Heavenly Father withdrew his protection at the end and allowed him to be crucified. We can understand why this was in the case of Jesus, for his role in the plan of God was to give his flesh for the life of the world. But we may not always understand why he allows us, the followers of Jesus, to suffer.

Peter explained this, but if our faith is weak his explanation may not suffice to answer the question, Why did God allow this to happen to me? Peter wrote, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”—I Pet. 4:12,13

James Killed

The Early Church was bitterly persecuted by King Herod. He “stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.” (Acts 12:1,2) Herod placed Peter in prison until after the passover thinking that then he would have him put to death, but the Lord in this case intervened by sending an angel to deliver him.—Acts 12:8-11

This seemingly was a surprise to Peter, as well as to his friends who were holding a prayer meeting in the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark. (Acts 12:12-17) After all, why should Peter suppose that God would deliver him from Herod when he had not delivered James? True, the brethren were praying for him, and doubtless they also prayed for James. Since James had been killed, it seems logical that the prayers for Peter simply asked the Lord to give him strength to bear up faithfully during his final hours. This might well be why Peter was able to sleep during the night even though chained to prison guards.

This emphasizes a precious reality which has been true of all the Lord’s faithful people; which is, that God sustains them in their trials, even though he does not always deliver them. The Lord has promised to provide a way of escape when trials are too severe to bear. Many times that escape is through death. This was so of God’s ancient people, and it has been true throughout the present age. Perhaps Stephen could not have endured being pelted with rocks for a great length of time, but God permitted him to fall asleep in death and thus escape the cruel torture being inflicted upon him by his enemies.

Faith Tested

The trials of the Lord’s people are designed to test their faith in him, and their loyalty to his cause and be a witness for him. If, every time we suffered a bit of pain, either of body or of mind, the Lord would at once deliver us from the distress we would probably be very thankful, but our faith in his love, mercy, and compassion would not be tested. This would be walking by sight and not by faith. True faith is a faith that believes in God regardless of the circumstances with which we are surrounded, or the distresses which we suffer. Regardless of any and all circumstances a true faith will continue to believe that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.

True faith is one which will not permit us to shrink from the path of duty no matter how many, or how fierce, the foes we see ahead in that path. Through sickness or other difficult circumstances we may realize that possibly even death may not be far away, but even on the brink of such an experience faith will firmly trust the Lord in the assurance that he knows what is best for us; and we will not permit the pleasures of living, or the threat of dying to separate us from the Lord our God, and we will be able to say from our hearts, “Great is Thy faithfulness.”

Indeed, we will know by faith in the promises of God that our ultimate and glorious deliverance from all enemies and from all our distresses will come through death, and then only if we are faithful even unto death. It was this realization that enabled the ancient people of God to maintain their faith in him and loyalty to him. They endured their afflictions, refusing deliverance upon the terms of their enemies, “that they might obtain a better resurrection.”—Heb. 11:35

It seems clear that those heroes of faith, the Ancient Worthies, did have a hope of the resurrection. In a prayer, Moses said, “Thou [God] turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.” (Ps. 90:3) Job said, “All the days of my appointed time will I wait [in death], till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands.” (Job 14:14,15) Those ancient ones may not have known the details of the divine plan of salvation as we are privileged to know it today, but testified that they had “hope toward God … that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.”—Acts 24:15

The resurrection of the “just” as mentioned by Paul would surely include those who looked for the “better resurrection,” the hope of which inspired the Ancient Worthy class to faithfulness. When Daniel was informed concerning the great “time of trouble” through which we are now passing, he was assured that then his people would be “delivered.” While Daniel’s people here referred to would include all the Lord’s faithful servants in every age who have longed for deliverance, this promise must have been a great source of strength to Daniel himself. And it was made plain to him how this great deliverance would be wrought; that it would be through a resurrection of the dead: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.” (Dan. 12:2) In the 13th verse Daniel was told, “Go thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest [in the sleep of death], and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.”

Deliverance in the First Resurrection

How real has been the hope of spiritual Israel in the resurrection—that “first resurrection” promised to those who are “beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God”! (Rev. 20:4) This hope should be especially real to the Lord’s people today, for we are living in the time when we see the “signs” described by Jesus relative to the time of his presence and the end of the age being fulfilled. And, just as Jesus said in our text, “When these things are beginning to occur, raise yourselves, and lift up your heads; for your deliverance is drawing near.”—Luke 21:28, Diaglott

Yes, this is the time to “raise” ourselves. It is no time to be prostrate and idle, but a time to be active in our “witness for Jesus and for the Word of God.” It is a time also to “lift up our heads” with hope, courage, and rejoicing. The clouds of trouble are hanging low over the peoples of the earth. They are at their wits’ end, and their hearts are filled with fear. We know that the troubles in the world may well bring additional hardships upon us, but this does not cause us to hang our heads in discouragement for we know that “God is in the midst of her [the prospective bride class]; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early,” or (margin), “when the morning appeareth.” Already we see the “Morning Star” heralding the morning, so we know that God’s help in the “first resurrection” for the remaining members of the “bride” is near. For this deliverance let us continue to hope and pray!—Ps. 46:5

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