Yesterday, we read Revelation 6 – a chapter full of seals being broken which usher in various horrific judgements. And we saw how it might be describing the calamities that befell Jerusalem in the leadup to her destruction by Rome in AD70. Today, we’re asking why. What’s the point of all this judgement?
Remember that in chapter 4, God was depicted as being seated on his throne, in control of his world. OK, but what’s he doing about all of the bad stuff – particularly those who continue to rebel against him, and mistreat his people? Chapter 5 reminded us that the slain-yet-risen lamb has already done something about it. But in the meantime, what’s God doing? Anything?
God is already at work, judging his world
The message of chapter 6 – both to us and to John’s original readers – is this: God is already at work, bringing some measure of judgement against a world that continues to reject him. A world that continues to commit injustices against God and against his people. And he exercises his judgment through the natural world and in the events of human history.
This, of course, is nothing new. The Old Testament is full of stories of God exercising his judgement through nature and through people. The 10 plagues. The foreign armies who attacked and then exiled his people. And the Persian king – described as God’s anointed – who restored them again. So it should come as no surprise that God can exercise his judgment through the Roman army in AD70.
Nor should it come as a surprise that God continues to exercise his judgement through nature and through people today. Sometimes it may be a specific judgement – like that of Jerusalem in the first century. Other times – possibly more often – it’s simply his general judgement upon a sinful world.
This is only a foretaste of the judgement to come
Now it’s important to realise that this is only a measure of God’s judgement that Jerusalem experienced in the first century at the hands of Rome; only a measure of judgement that Rome itself underwent centuries later; and only a measure that we experience now. We see this in how the scope of God’s judgement intensifies throughout Revelation: in chapter 6 “death” is given power over a quarter of the land. In chapter 8 the judgments affect a third of everything. By chapter 16 it’s all of creation. God is bringing a measure of his judgement; a foretaste of what’s in store for those who persist in their rebellion; a hint of what’s to come.
Why is he doing this? What’s the point of it all?
It’s to get our attention. To make us think about where we’re heading. To “play the movie forward.”
Henry Cloud, a Christian psychologist, talks about a strategy he uses to help people make changes in their lives. He calls it playing the movie forward. He gets them to write out the movie script of their life, key-scene by key-scene, if they continue on the path they are on. Do they like how it ends? If they don’t like it, then something earlier in the movie has to change in order for the closing scene to be different. In sending a measure of judgement on the world, God is inviting us to play the movie forward.
The Boxing Day Tsunami of 2005. The current violence in Syria. Our nation’s holiday road toll. Your relative battling cancer. The petty injustices done to you every day. All of this is the judgment of God on a sinful world, through the natural order and through other human beings.
Now I don’t want to give you a picture of God sitting up on his throne aiming lightning bolts at particular individuals or cities or nations. Some preachers, unfortunately, try to link specific catastrophes with specific sins. That may happen sometimes, I suppose. But in general, God has decreed that the whole world will suffer because of sin, simply by giving us over to the consequences of our choices.
And God does this not in a mean, capricious manner like people often describe it. But in a measured, almost parental way, God gives us over to our choice to do life without him. Ever since the Fall – where we told God we’d rather not have him around or live life the way he intended it – God has been standing with one foot out the door. Leaving us to our own devices. Letting us reap the consequences of our decision to go it alone. Giving us a taste of what it will be like when he leaves the room for good. “Do you really want me to leave if this is how the world is with you guys in charge?” He’s playing the movie forward.
In hope that we would see how bad it is. That we would understand that our decision to reject God and do things our way was utterly foolish. And that we and everyone else in our world would see that if we continue down that path, a far worse reality awaits us: eternity without God. We have a measure of judgement now – a taste of hell on earth – in the hope that we’ll choose not to experience it for eternity. In the hope that we’ll do something to change the script now.
(Spoiler alert: for most, it didn’t work. The judgements of chapters 6-9 conclude with the following observation: Rev 9:20 “Revelation 9:20 The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent…” But this shows us that the judgements were intended as an act of grace, giving humanity the opportunity to see where they were heading, and repent.)
The message of Revelation 6, then, is that those who oppose God are running out of time. God won’t tolerate their rebellion, he won’t tolerate injustice forever. As the martyrs cried out from under the altar:6:10 ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’
What’s God doing about the state of the world? Plenty. God will judge this rebellious world; a process which has already begun.