Posted: 24 Dec 2010 11:00 PM PST
THE SEVEN BOWLS OF GOD'S WRATH (Rev. 16), containing the seven last plagues (see also Rev. 15), are poured out on the earth. Doubtless much of the language is symbol-laden; some of it is transparent, some of it more difficult to understand. Here I wish to focus on one clause that is repeated. When the fourth angel poured out his bowl, the people "cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him" (Rev. 16:9, italics added). Similarly after the fifth bowl: people "gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done" (Rev. 16:11, italics added).
We must reflect on these somber passages.
(1) They occur immediately after the semi-poetical lines of the previous verses: "You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and have given them blood to drink as they deserve.… Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments" (Rev. 16:5–7). We have come upon this theme before. If God ignores the persistent attacks on his covenant people, if he pretends that the massive evils that have been perpetrated in the world never happened, he himself is diminished: he is at best amoral, perhaps immoral.
(2) In some ways, the terrible words of Revelation 16:9, 11 explain something of hell itself. Hell is not filled with people who have learned their lesson. It is filled with people who still refuse to repent. Like those who suffer from these plagues, they suffer and curse God because of their suffering, but they refuse to repent of what they have done. That is what hell is like: an ongoing cycle of sin, rebellion, judgment, sin, rebellion, judgment, world without end.
(3) These passages of horrible judgment must be seen in the framework of the entire book of Revelation. Already Revelation 5 has drawn attention to the Lion/Lamb whose triumphant suffering has rescued men and women from every tribe and language and people and nation. Revelation ends with an invitation: the Spirit and the Bride (another word for the church, the people of God) still cry "Come!" (Rev. 22:17). "And let him who hears say, 'Come!' Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life" (Rev. 22:17).
It is written: "Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy" (Rev. 22:11).
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