There is a time for everything, we are told in God’s Word (Eccl. 3:1). What many tend to forget is that everything means every thing, including evil. Yes, according to Scripture, there is a time when God allows even evil to hold sway.
“The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble” (Prov. 16:4 RSV).
“‘The kings of the earth stood together, and the rulers assembled together, against the Lord and against his Christ.’ For indeed both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together in this city against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do as much as your power and your plan had decided beforehand would happen” (Acts 4:26-28 NET).
Even Jesus, the very Son of God, did not escape the time appointed for him to suffer at the hands of evil people. In fact, as we well know from Scripture, that was the very reason he came to this earth, so that by his death at the hands of evil people, much good would come–even to the very ones who killed him.
“They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son” (Zech. 12:10 NIV).
“Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be!” (Rev. 1:7 NIV).
So shall it be. It shall be because God has set a time for every act in his great plan for this world and the people in it, including a time for evil. Nevertheless, because of our human proclivity for wanting to escape all suffering, when that suffering comes, we question why God allows it.
“Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps. 10:1 NIV).
Being human, I am not immune to this questioning of why evil and suffering must follow us in this world. But when I do this, I remember these two things that are illustrated in the Scriptures quoted so far: (1) God allows evil to exist for his purposes; (2) He limits evil, both in extent and time. It is this second that is focused upon here, especially the limiting of evil by God only to a restricted time period. Scripture is full of references to this truth.
When Jesus confronted the two Gadarene demoniacs,”‘What do you want with us, Son of God?’ they shouted. ‘Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?'” (Mt. 8:29 NIV).
The demons in the two men knew that there was an appointed time for judging them for the evil they inflicted upon human beings. They also knew that until that time, they were allowed by God to do so–unless God himself, in the person of Jesus, changed that appointed time.
That is what we want when we suffer, is it not? We want God to deliver us right away. And it does not even have to be in a time of evil when we want God to act, but also in times of happiness, such as a wedding in which the wine has run out. Wherever there is a need, we want God to act and act immediately. But perhaps that time of need, whether it be deliverance from evil or from want, belongs to those times appointed by the Father. Therefore, when we bring to him our need, he might reply as Jesus did to his mother at the wedding, when she requested his help in alleviating a need for wine, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (Jn. 2:4 ESV).
In both cases, the Gadarene demoniacs and the wedding short of wine, mention is made of an appointed time when God will act (or possibly not act). If left there, it might depress us and discourage us. What is the use of coming to God with our pleas for help if everything is set beforehand in God’s plan and nothing can be changed? We have a need and we come to God to help us. But Jesus told even his own mother, “What does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”
Nevertheless, though the time for Jesus to make himself known and act to help meet the need had not yet come, he did do so anyway. The wine was furnished, the need met. Surely this should lift us up and greatly encourage us to present our petitions to God in prayer. Perhaps our situation is not so set and unchangeable as we first thought. On the other hand, we must also realize that there are indeed some unchangeable times set by God. But we do not know which it is for us, open to altering by prayer or unalterably set by God; only God knows.
Jesus himself experienced such a situation, on the night before he was killed, in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will'” (Mt. 26:39 NIV).
Could not Jesus have prayed to escape the whole situation? Yes, in fact he did pray that. But that prayer included two conditions: He wanted this only if it were possible and only if it was the Father’s will. Jesus knew that there are times for evil to be expressed that must come. That is why he said, “if it is possible.” Sometimes it is not possible. Then it all comes down to whether or not we are willing to submit to the Father’s will that this evil be allowed.
We are not always willing to go so far as to submit to this. Jesus was. The passage quoted above says that Jesus “went further.” This was in a physical sense, his location in the Garden. But it also applies to him spiritually. He went farther than we often do, all the way to perfect submission to the Father and his will for his life, even if that will meant suffering on the cross for us. That is why he came to this earth, even as the Scriptures had foretold long before he was born. Jesus was willing to submit to the plan of God revealed in Scripture for himself, no matter what the cost. His disciples, however, were not all so submissive.
“One of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. ‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him. . . . Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?'” (Mt. 26:51-54 NIV).
In this incident, Jesus shows the right way to deal with our inescapable confrontations with evil in this world. Jesus knew full well that it is possible to change certain situations through prayer to the Father, but he was so committed to doing the Father’s will that he refused to offer up that prayer except that change be in accord with the Father’s will for his life. He knew ahead of time that this moment of evil would come and he was fully submitted to taking his place in the events that would proceed from it. We know that he was aware of the two types of unalterable times in life because he told those who came to arrest him, “When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness (Lk. 22:53 RSV).
Again, there is seen in this passage both types of unalterable times, not only that for evil but also that for good. Jesus knew that he was never able to have been arrested previously because it was not his time. He still had much good to perform in this world at the Father’s direction, and he knew that God was not going to allow that mission to be ended until it was time for it to end.
“They tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come” (Jn. 7:30 NIV).
But, again, though he knew this, many in the world did not. They saw only the danger in his situation of confronting the world with its sin.
“Some Pharisees came, saying to him, ‘Get out of here, and go away, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox, “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I complete my mission.”‘” (Lk. 13:31-32 WEB).
The third day of Jesus’ mission was the third day after his crucifixion, the day of his resurrection. We who believe in Jesus and belong to him are like him in this world (1 Jn. 4:17). He was sent to accomplish his God-given mission; we also have a mission from God to accomplish: to tell people about Jesus (Mt. 28:19). Two of the main ways this is done are through the preaching of the gospel and through living holy lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. The church often does the first while neglecting the second. In fact, unless we faithfully pursue the second, the first will ring hollow in the eyes of the world. Unless they see Jesus living in us, his holy temple, they will not believe the gospel. That is why it is so important to be sure that our lives, the temple of God, are clean, holy, and in good repair.
Yet many Christians treat this critical area as of little importance, going to church on Sundays and contributing money to missionaries to spread the gospel, but showing little or no sign of changed living in their personal lives. They have succumbed to the allure of the world, pursuing money and easy living, while paying scant attention to keeping the temple of the Holy Spirit in good repair. They are more concerned with how the homes they live in look than how their inner temple looks to God and the world. They lavish money and attention to making that house look good than making sure the inner house is good. They ignore the admonition of Scripture, “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 1:20 NIV). For this neglect, they are rebuked by God:
“These people have said, ‘The time for rebuilding the Lord’s temple has not yet come.’ So the Lord spoke through the prophet Haggai as follows: ‘Is it right for you to live in richly paneled houses while my temple is in ruins?’ (Hag. 1:2-4 NET).
Now is the appointed time for rebuilding the Lord’s temple, our inner being. Our time on this earth is the time God has given us for this purpose. That time is unalterable. Once it is gone, it is gone forever. Once we die, we shall never again have the opportunity to be like Christ in this world, dying to our sin and being raised again on the third day to new life in him. We may have to struggle against sin and evil, both in the world and in ourselves, even to the point of dying to ourselves. But we have this promise from God:
“After two days he will revive us. On the third day he will raise us up, and we will live before him” (Hos. 6:2 WEB).
We are, at present, in that second-day time period, when God both allows us time to accomplish our mission of spreading the gospel, both through word and through deeds of holy lives, but also the time when he allows evil to attack this effort. We need to be aware of this and remind ourselves of this, so that we do not become discouraged to the point of quitting when so attacked. In fact, we are warned ahead of time in Scripture that God will even allow evil supposedly to win over us, when evil becomes instilled in a beast that will strive to take over the whole world:
“It was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and tongue and nation (Rev. 13:7 RSV).
What? God allows evil to conquer his saints? Only in an outward manner, just as he allowed it to happen to his Son on the cross. Outwardly, evil had won. He who claimed he was the truth was dead. All seemed lost. But then there came that third day. . . .
We are like Christ in this world. We, the church, like him, will seem to be conquered by the coming beast of evil. He will seem to have won and we and God lost. But that is only because it will be in the unalterable second day. The unalterable third day is coming, when the tables are turned, when, as the hymn says, “every foe is vanquished and Christ is Lord indeed.”
So we are not to sink into despair when we find ourselves seeming to lose the battle against evil. We are to remain faithful until the third day. That day is just as inevitable and unalterable as the day of evil. And that time of evil is even less than a day. The Scripture that records Jesus watching the evil mob come for him in the Garden says, “”This is your hour–when darkness reigns” (Lk. 22:53 NIV).
Darkness will reign over this entire world soon–a darkness the likes of which it has never seen. But it will be for only an “hour”. Whatever the actual time will be, it will be brief. therefore, we are not to despair. We have been told beforehand that this will happen. It is one of those times that Scripture foretells and therefore it must come. But we can lessen the impact of that day and rescue many from it by telling them about Jesus. We have been informed ahead of time “in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes”(2 Cor. 2:11 NIV).
Being aware of the coming hour of evil and its seeming victory in the world, let us not lose hope. We can see that day approaching ever more rapidly. But look beyond. Do you not see that glorious light in the distance? It is the return of the Lord, our glorious hope. Let us not focus on the increasing darkness but on that coming light.
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus” (Heb. 12:2 NIV).
“Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16 NIV).