The crowd are singing noisily “Going up, going up, going up.” Then against the break of play, the opposition striker gets through, one on one against the keeper, he calmly slots the ball into the bottom left corner.”
Silence falls on the ground. Then the away fans begin to chant “You’re not singing anymore” and “You only sing when you’re winning.”
It’s Sunday morning. We stand to sing. You open your mouth and nothing comes out. You are just too overwhelmed, crushed, weary. How can you sing this morning when there’s so much trouble and uncertainty in the World? How can you sing after the week you’ve had, after your neighbour said what they did to you …and after what you said back? How can you sing when you think about what is coming up this week -another one of your colleagues is going to be bullied out of their job because they are too old, senior and therefore too expensive? You’ve seen it coming for a while and you know it won’t be long before they come for you. How can you sing when you’ve watched the news and seen a Christian politician bullied by an angry interviewer demanding that they own up to believing something in the Bible that our world considers offensive? There’s another 7 weeks to come of politicians parading their self-interest?
How do we respond to persecution and opposition?
In the first scene, those who have overcome the beast sing “The song of Moses -and the Song of the lamb” (15: 1-4). They are gathered on a “glassy sea” or crystal pavement. The imagery is of the people of Israel gathered on the other side of the Red Sea.
These are the ones who have won or overcome against the beast. In John’s immediate context would be those who would resist the pressure to reject Christ and bow down to the imperial emperor cult. The bigger picture is of all those who throughout the ages withstand pressure to conform to this World and its ways.
The Temple is wide open but not to welcome in. In fact people cannot enter in until judgement is completed (15: 5-8).
There are 7 angels with gold bowls that ae filled with plagues representing God’s wrath (15:7). The bowls of wrath are poured out as judgement (16:1). These are:
– Painful sores on people on those who have the mark of the beast and worship his statue (16:2)
– The sea becomes like blood -everything dies (16:3)
– Rivers and springs become blood -everything dies (16:4)
– The Sun scorches everything with fire (16: 8-9)
– Darkness falls on the Beast’s kingdom (16:10-11)
– The Euphrates dries up so the Eastern kings can invade
– Hailstorm (16:17-21)
The imagery is from Exodus and the plagues on Egypt again, blood, boils, darkness and even a reference to Frogs. It includes natural disasters, sickness and human conflict. The sense is of a world that is under judgement but that these judgements also anticipate the final judgement (Fee links the heat from the sun to the eventual heat of the Lake of fire).
It is important to stop and pause here. There is a message about how we respond to those who persecute us and who oppose the work of the Gospel. How do we respond to gossip, slander and accusation? What do we do when we have been let down or treated unjustly? God tells us that vengeance belongs to him. He is the one who will judge sin, punish evil and defeat his enemies.
As much as our experiences may at times cause great anger and an understandable desire to “get even.” We should leave those things that belong to God with God. We can do that knowing that he will bring true justice.
This means that we don’t duck the difficult doctrine of God’s wrath. It is very clearly revealed here. Biblically, God’s wrath is expressed in three contexts
– A Creation that is already under judgement where sin has entered
– The final judgement where those who continue to rebel against God will face eternal separation from his loving presence and eternal punishment in Hell.
– On the Cross.
How does this help us? Well, let me just stop and take an extreme example that I hope none of us have to face in the future. Many years back, friends of our family were visiting Eastern Europe on mission. They were attacked and beaten in their campervan and the husband died. The wife when she recovered was interviewed by a national newspaper and insisted that she forgave their attackers. How was she able to do this?
Our society expects and understands vengeance. I found this out first hand many years later when we got the shock news that my Great Aunt had been mugged, knocked to the ground unconscious and left for dead. She didn’t come out of the coma but died in intensive care the next day. Several people at work expressed their feelings as they empathised with me. They were very clear the attackers should be punished in the most painful (and unrepeatable manner). Yet whilst it was right that they were arrested and brought to justice, this extreme vengeance was not what we as a family wanted.
I believe that it comes back to those points about wrath. We have to keep reminded ourselves that God is the one who brings justice. Those attackers already live in a world where sin brings its painful consequences but more than that, there will be justice. That justice will either be served on them at the end of time or has already been served on Christ who has stood in their place. I need to remember that. Furthermore, if I find it difficult to accept that God might declare them innocent and say that Chris has died in their place then I need to remind myself of the seriousness of my own sin and rebellion. Though I stood against God’s goodness and rejected and despised His Son, he has forgiven me.
So, how will I face, trials, persecution and trouble this week? I will do so by reminding myself of the Gospel:
– By looking back to what Christ has already done for me on the Cross (past grace)
– By finding safety and security in knowing He is with me now through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Present Grace)
– By looking forward to what Christ will done on that day when we are raised (present grace)
How do we respond to God’s justice?
Satan, Demonic forces and the powers of this world
Note the context of the final plague is the final battle
Demons that look like frogs, come from the beast. Their aim is to encourage the kings of the earth to fight against God.
Armies gather at Armageddon or Har Meggido. This was a City on a plain in the north of Israel guarding a pass through the mountain country where great battles had been fought. This place represented/became synonymous with the great battle for Israel’s survival. So, here the focus is on a great attack against God and his people. However, God will win.
Humans who are in sinful rebellion
The people who stand against God and who worship the beast
– Do not repent (16:9)
– Curse God (16:11)
God’s Servants -people and angels
Praise God and recognise his goodness and justice (15:3-4; 16:5; 16:7)
In 15:3-4 we have those who have been kept safe singing “the song of Moses…and of the lamb). The imagery here is from Exodus 14-155. The people of Israel have been delivered through the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army has been destroyed. They sing a song of praise to God their deliverer who has rescued them from slavery, exile and death.
This song is now linked with “The Song of the Lamb.” A greater rescue has been accomplished. Jesus, through his death and resurrection has saved us from the slavery, exile and death that sin brings. He has rescued us from Satan’s Kingdom. He has restored us as God’s people. He has promised us that he will take us safely through to the New Creation.
Our response should be joy and praise. Praise now is an expression of hope as we look forward to the day when we will all sing together in his presence.
A Last Word
As the last plague is delivered, a voice from the throne declares “It is finished (16:17)” Then there is a might storm. The city of Babylon is destroyed. Babylon in Revelation is often used as another name for Rome. It represents those who have rebelled against God and taken pride in their strength throughout history. Babylon starts with the tower of Babel as people try to defy God and make a name for themselves. Then the Babylonian empire crushes God’s people and takes them into Exile. Here, it is now represented by Rome, but Rome one day would fall. All “empires, powers and structures that resist God and oppress his people will one day fail and fall. Eventually God will bring final judgement.
“It is finished” is a phrase declared in two places. Here it is at the end of judgement God’s wrath is satisfied as those who oppose him are judged.
Note the warning in verse 15. The final judgement will come at a time we least expect. Christ will come “Like a thief in the night.” God’s people are to be watchful and ready “fully dressed.”
“It is finished” was also said at another time.
“On that cross where Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.”
This is a vital challenge. We all live in a world that is suffering because of judgement. However not everyone is under judgement. The big question is this. “Will you experience God’s wrath, his righteous judgement against evil on the final day when he says “It is finished?” Or has that judgement already been satisfied on the day when Jesus said “It is finished.”
This is a message with a warning. To those who continue to resist God’s call of mercy. Judgement is coming.
However, it is a message of hope and encouragement. If you belong to Jesus, then good will triumph because God has dealt with sin. Look forward with hope, knowing that Christ is coming back. One day we will be safe on the other side and we will sing with joy. In the meantime, we can sing, even in the midst of suffering. We sing in hope, looking forward to that day.
And by the way, we sing when we gather, not to work ourselves up and not to enjoy a temporary escape from reality but because we are going to take that song back with us into our homes, communities and workplaces. Metaphorically we will sing this week. We will sing
-By staying patient, loving and joyful under pressure
-By using the opportunities God gives us to tell others the good news that “The Lamb” can deliver them too.