In reading through the Book of Revelation recently, by the time I got to the end of chapter 19, the wars, rebellion, suffering, death and judgments were almost overwhelming. Oh how I wanted Jesus to wrap everything up and fully bring his kingdom of righteousness and justice and peace.
Finally, in the first three verses of chapter 20, Satan is bound with a chain and tossed into the pit so that he might not deceive the nations any longer.
I wanted to jump out of my seat and cheer with the saints!
And then I read the end of verse three:
After [the thousand years] he must be released for a little while.
Oh no. The worst murderer, liar, and ravager to ever exist must be released? Why? Hasn’t he wreaked enough destruction and sorrow and pain in the universe?
The context of this verse leaves no room for doubt as to who has authority to bind or loose Satan. God does. So this “must” is God’s must.
Now, there is not some law outside of God dictating to him what he must do. If something “must” take place it is something he determines in the secret counsels of his own will.
So here we have a must that we don’t understand: the release of Satan. And God gives us no explanation for why it must be. He just tells us. Which leaves us to either trust him or not.
So how do we know we can trust God’s goodness when he decrees a horrible must, something beyond our ability to comprehend, something that might appear to us capricious or even evil?
The best place to look is the cross.
Anyone who has ever wrestled, even agonized, over God’s musts has a sympathetic High Priest. Three times in Gethsemane Jesus pleaded with his Father, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
Listen to the Son: Father, must these things take place? If they must, I will trust you.
The Father had decreed a must. And in the intensity of the pain the Son pleads to be delivered from it. But the cross must be endured for all righteousness to be fulfilled and for the maximum glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to be seen, as well as for the joy of the saints to be experienced.
So the Son endures the Father’s must for the joy that was set before him—and all of us (Hebrews 12:2).
In Gethsemane, we see that God does not subject us to a pain he is unwilling to bear himself. But on the cross we see our God willing to bear a pain that he is unwilling for us to bear, though it is what we deserve.
The Son bore the full wrath of the Father against our sin so that we will never experience it. We will experience profound sorrow in this life, but we will never know the depths that the Man of Sorrows experienced.
John Piper said it beautifully to me recently,
[In the cross] is where the worst that God ever ordained and the best that God ever ordained meet and become one.
If you are tempted to wonder how any good could possibly redeem the evil you see in the musts that you endure or see in the world or see in the Bible, take a long, lingering look at the cross. It is the best picture of how God can use the worst evil to bring about inexpressible joy for his people.
The musts of God, even allowing Satan to ravage, are actually invitations for us to take great comfort in the colossal sovereignty behind them. Profound comfort comes when we learn to trust that, when God’s ways are inscrutable (Romans 11:33), the Judge of all the earth will do what is just (Genesis 18:25) and will work all things together for our good and everlasting joy (Romans 8:28).
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Recommended resource: Called to Suffer and Rejoice: For an Eternal Weight of Glory.