Read Revelation 15.
Verse 1 of today’s chapter celebrates the end of God’s wrath but, before it is completed, there are seven bowls of wrath that will be poured out on earth in the form of plagues. The end is in sight but many horrors would come before the end did.
In verses 3-4, however, the believers who “had been been victorious over the beast” (v. 2b) sang stanzas from Old Testament songs. Why? To remind us and all the world that these expressions of God’s judgment are not acts of cruelty inflicted on innocent people. Instead, “just and true are your ways, King of the nations” (v. 3b). The painful, destructive acts of God are the just payment for disobedience against him.
We need to be reminded of this again and again. When we recoil from the destruction described in these chapters, it is because we are too familiar with sin and too used to excusing it in ourselves and others. While compassion for sinners is always a godly characteristic, so also is a firm commitment to the holiness and justice of God. God’s judgment, then, is something to rejoice over—not because of the pain it brings people but because it points to God’s glory and calls everyone to worship him.
Read Revelation 11.
In this portion of John’s vision, God appointed and empowered two witnesses who prophesied. We are not told what they said but verse 10 tells us that they “had tormented those who live on the earth” so it was probably a whole lot of warning about God’s punishment. Their message was not received and they were killed then raised from the dead and received into heaven. Following this, seven thousand people died in an earthquake in Jerusalem. Those who survived the earthquake “were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.” That’s what happened on earth in this chapter.
In heaven, however, voices in cheered the coming of Christ’s kingdom (v. 15) and thanked God for beginning his rule (v. 17). What were they so thankful for? The judgment of God: “The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small—and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”
The idea that God judges sinners and rewards the righteous has never been popular. In our culture however, it is construed as a black mark on God’s name, something that Christians try to explain apologetically. I understand that as a fellow-human; nobody wants to see people suffer.
But those who are judged and suffer for it do so because of their own moral choices, not because God is looking for excuses to torture his creation. If we condemn God for not being merciful to someone, we are actually condemning ourselves for not loving his holiness and longing for his justice. Of course we want God to be merciful to other sinners like we are but, if he chooses not to show mercy, the people who die outside of Christ are receiving the just penalty for their sins.
Do you love the justice of God? It was God’s justice that caused Christ to die as our substitute in order to rescue us from God’s judgment. By punishing Christ for our sins, God was able to be both just in the way he dealt with our sins as well as merciful and loving in forgiving us. We should give thanks and praise God for his justice–not because we want to see anyone perish but because we love God and want his glory to be fully shown. Take some time today and give thanks for God’s justice; then ask him to show mercy to other sinners that you know.
Read Revelation 4.
After addressing the churches on earth in Revelation 2 and 3, John’s vision of the Lord causes him to be transported to heaven to see what is happening there (v. 1). The purpose of this vision was to convey to John and to us the greatness and holiness of God. Despite all the problems his churches on earth were dealing with, God was not worried. He was sitting on a magnificent throne (v. 3) surrounded by worship (vv. 4-8). And what was the content of that worship? It was to proclaim the holiness of God (vv. 8) and his worthiness for worship (v. 11).
cThe word “holy” means “set apart.” It is used elsewhere in the Bible of God’s moral purity, his freedom from sin, in the sense that he is set apart from ungodliness. But the word “holiness” is also used just to describe how different God is from us and everything else that exists. The creatures worshipped God for his holiness, for his uniqueness in all things (v. 8). And why was God so different, so distinct? Because he “created all things” (v. 11). God is the only one who understands reality as the Creator–the one who planned and caused it. Even if we could understand everything God knows (we can’t, but go with me here), we still wouldn’t know AS God’s knows because he knows all things as the Creator. We only ever know anything as created beings. This means that:
- God is infinite; we are finite.
- God is independent; we are dependent on him.
- God knows everything because he planned and made everything; we know anything only because he gave us the ability to observe and learn as well as create tools and instruments to help us.
God’s greatness–his holiness–is an inexhaustible truth. This is why living creatures (v. 8) glorify him and why spiritual leaders fall down before him in worship (vv. 9-11).
Before Jesus revealed anything to John about the last days, he reveled to John the power and majesty of himself. This is so that he and we would develop an awe for him that causes us to worship him as the twenty-four elders did.
Did this passage strike you, giving you a new vision of God’s power, greatness and holiness? The spend some time worshiping the Lord for his holiness just as the elders did here in 4:9-11.