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The Wrath of God Is Complete

May 28th, 2015

Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete.

Revelation 15:1

In the drama of the end of this age Chapter 15 serves as a solemn lull in the action, a final pause before the end comes. The scene shifts to heaven. Seven angels appear with seven plagues, which are the final seven judgments against a rebellious world (15:1). The faithful redeemed in heaven also appear singing the “song of Moses” and “of the Lamb.” And then the heavenly temple was opened and the seven angels emerge, one of the “four living creatures” (Rev. 4:6-9) gives the angels seven bowls “full of the wrath of God.” The temple is filled with smoke from the glory of God and no one could enter, meaning no one could make intercession for the world, until the final plagues are completed.

The scene reveals the sovereignty of God, His holiness and power. He is the One who decides when the end will come and what will be the form of it. That the angels, the redeemed saints, and the living creatures are all part of the judgment affirms the righteousness of His judgment against the world.

Today His heart is open to intercession, and as in times past, when God’s judgment was postponed due to intercession. Such as when God told Moses that He would destroy the nation of Israel, and Moses prayed for the people and God relented from His plans to destroy them (Exodus 32:9-14,30-35). Moses prayed that if God would not forgive the sin of Israel “blot me out of Your book which You have written” (Exodus 32:32). God’s judgment against Nineveh was postponed in Jonah’s day due to the people’s repentance (Jon 3:10). Paul also pleaded for Israel with the same passion as Moses, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3).

Today, in fact, He often marvels that there is not more intercession. “He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor” (Isaiah 59:16). Christ commanded us to pray for “the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:38). We are weak in prayer and forget that God listens to His people, that He wants us to be involved in the salvation of the world not only through going and telling, but also through praying and interceding. Evangelism is not only speaking to people about God, it is also speaking to God about people.

But in the final judgments against the world system, God’s ear will be closed to intercession. The time will come when His righteous wrath will be released, and the whole of the heavenly host will testify that He acts with justice.

General Douglas MacArthur in his farewell speech to the congress of the United States (April 19, 1951), made these salient points: “Once war is forced upon us, there is no other alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a swift end. War’s very objective is victory, not prolonged indecision.”  In the speech he also quoted himself in a speech he made in September, 1945, on the Battleship Missouri at the formal peace signing of World War II.

Men since the beginning of time have sought peace. Various methods through the ages have been attempted to devise an international process to prevent or settle disputes between nations. From the very start workable methods were found in so far as individual citizens were concerned, but the mechanics of an instrumentality of larger international scope have never been successful. Military alliances, balances of power, Leagues of Nations, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war. The utter  destructiveness of war now blocks out this alternative. We have had our last chance. If we will not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature, and all material and cultural developments of the past 2000 years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.

His points were well made, and should be also well taken by the world. But an inevitability also hangs in the air. At the close of one bloody war, another one begins. After victory on the battlefield, the demoralization of the victors begins. No one should question God’s patience and His long standing offer of salvation to the world. This “prolonged indecision” that is life today on planet earth, will end one day, and it exists still out of God’s desire that none “should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). But the human race has largely rejected God’s grace and His moral precepts, and will continue to reject them until the inevitable end comes.

The solution of God to the problems of the world is ultimately to destroy the world through righteous judgment and to start again with a new and redeemed humanity. He will ultimately remove the tempter, and judge the unrepentant, and bring this world “to a swift end,” to quote MacArthur. His judgment, in that sense, is good news, in that it prepares for true life.

One cannot study this without some profound sense of solemnity. Today marks the birth of our fourth grandchild, a beautiful little girl, we received news last night, yet we must wonder what type of world are we leaving for her. There is still much hope and joy and goodness in the world. Yet there are also many social movements that will push us further into chaos and decline. Today 40% of American children are raised without fathers in the home. The first institution of human society was the home – husband and wife and children – and it has been proven repeatedly, “As goes marriage, so goes society.” Yet we are now foolish enough as to try and re-engineer this foundational institution, accepting homosexual marriage in many nations and states. There is no way that such an outcome will be positive – neither in the short run not in the long run.

We are reached the day when we act no differently than the inhabitants of Sodom who pleaded that angels would be given over to them as sex objects (Gen. 19:5). Our violence against one another constantly increases, and we are again acting in the spirit that brought the Great Flood, “the earth was filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11).

There is an unerring moral scale that comes from the heart of God. Justice is an integral element in His nature, and it is woven into the universe as an indispensable principle. It was God’s justice that demanded a sacrifice for our sin, and Christ paid that price. He died for us. And only through repentance and faith in Him is our sin atoned for, and we are forgiven. But none of us will ever escape having to deal with the moral recompense for our actions. We either repent now and trust in Christ, and later still answer to Him in His Judgment Seat (2 Cor. 5:10), or we stand before the judgment of Almighty God, defenseless and guilty. His judgment will be just, as it always is, and the very nature of justice should frighten us.

In His judgment He also must condemn and judge this immoral world. The pause of Revelation 15 prepares us for the final judgment. Judgment comes as a pathway to the new world and the new hope that He has created for us. We have hope in Christ, eternal life and eternal peace. The old and corrupt must go to make room for the new and beautiful and pure.

There is good news in this passage because it promises and end to the misery of fallen humanity’s world and even to the judgments of God against it. There will come a time when God says, “Enough.” Just as Christ cried from the cross, “It is finished!” so will one day God cry out that His judgments are completed.  After the storm comes the peace and calm of a new beginning.

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The Time of Harvest

May 27th, 2015

Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.

Revelation 14:15

Harvest is used often in scripture to describe both moral judgments and salvation, and it was a fitting analogy. In a farming community, the harvest was the end of the season, the reaping of all the hard work that had been invested in the planting and growing seasons. It depicts the final outcome of one’s life, whether it resulted in salvation or judgment.

Christ said, “The harvest is truly plentiful, but the laborers are few. therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38), emphasizing salvation. In the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, Christ likened the world situation to a field of wheat in which an enemy planted tares or unproductive wild vines. Rather than rip out the tares and damage the wheat, the farmer said to let them grow together and at the harvest then they will be separated.

He who sows the good sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear let him hear! (Matt. 13:37-43)

The Reaping of the Righteous: Revelation 14:14-20, has two reapings, the first by one “like the Son of Man, having on his head a golden crown” sitting on a “white cloud” (14:14-16). This can be none other than Christ, and is similar to the image of Daniel 7:13, “One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven!” It is an angelic voice that tells Him to reap, but this should not be seen as demeaning the status of Christ, placing Him under angelic authority, rather it is the fulfillment of what Christ said of the end times, that only the Father knows when the end will come (Matthew 24:36). The angel here is merely doing what angels do, carry messages, proclaiming the timing of the harvest of souls. To any argument that an angel should not be necessary to communicate between the Father and the Son, I would say that we should give some leeway here for such things in an apocalyptic book like Revelation. The important matter is that all of heaven is now aware of the timing of the end. The angels that announced to the shepherds His birth, now announce then end of all things.

The Harvesting of the Unrighteous: Revelation 14:17-20 describes the harvesting of the unrighteous still on earth.The time of the end has now come and the full effect of the evil that had been planted by the devil and his demons and by those humans who followed him, is now ready to be harvested. The imagery in this passage is of a grape harvest for the making of wine, and they are cast into a vat or a winepress to be trampled on. In biblical days these were often hewed out of solid rock (Isaiah 5:2).

  • Another angel emerged from the heavenly temple with a sharp sickle (14:17). The word “sickle” is not limited to a wheat sickle but describes any sharp instrument used to harvest crops, such as the long knife-like sickle used for grapes.
  • Another angel came out “from the altar, who had power over fire” (14:18). The heavenly temple, like the earthly replica, has an altar for burnt offerings in front of it, symbolizing the judgment of God against sin. Fire is symbolic of God’s judgment that purifies and burns away what is wrong. John the Baptist said of Christ, using the imagery of a wheat harvest, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:11b-12).
  • “Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe” (14:18). What an incredibly descriptive analogy of the final condition of sin. The judgment comes suddenly, like a harvester thrusting and severing grapes. The unrighteous are unprepared for it, and if they had seen it coming they would repent and believe, but they are caught completely unaware and they have sinned as though they will never be held accountable by God. They have denied His existence, rejected His offer of grace through Christ, laughed at the notion of a final judgment, but now they are forced to face all of these things. “The clusters of the vine” – as grapes grow in clusters so sin is intensified in groups of sinners. The unrighteous take false comfort in the fact that they sin among friends, they encourage one another on into more evil. “Do not be deceived: Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Cor. 15:33), the Apostle Paul wrote. Often there is no hope for people until they are removed from their evil companions and are able to take listen to God’s message of love. Only then do they repent and believe. And the final image here is that these grapes are “fully ripe,” bursting with evil until they can take no more.

It seems very clearly to be the intention of the devil and his angels the absolute destruction of human life. We live today in an era where almost every decent and godly institution is being attacked, and done so in a manner that defies common sense. Forty percent of children in America and Western Europe are growing up in fatherless homes, and statistically this is not good. Children raised without fathers have a much higher (twice as high generally) percentage of emotional problems, poor school records, worse living conditions, poorer job market and earnings, and likelihood for committing crimes and being imprisoned. Yet we are now seeking to redefine marriage even further, making it no more than a living arrangement between two consenting adults, whether heterosexual or homosexual. The sheer insanity of this is staggering and the harm this will cause society is impossible to estimate. Yet in some mad momentum the world moves in this direction, and the grapes of immorality are gathering in clusters and growing until they are almost ready to burst.

  • The grapes are gathered and thrown into the “great winepress of the wrath of God” (14:19). This is built on the imagery of Isaiah 63:1-6 of the Lord Himself trodding the winepress alone. Twice in Isaiah the Lord looked for help and found none. In Isaiah 59:16 He “wondered that there was no intercessor; therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him,” emphasizing our role in interceding with God for the lost of the world, and interceding with the world through the proclamation of the gospel. In Isaiah 63:5 He also “looked but there was no one to help, and I wondered that there was no one to uphold; therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me.” This emphasizes the lifestyle change in salvation and describes a world void of Christian witness – either for the grace of God or for the morality of God. Christians must preach morality right along with preaching the grace of God in Christ.
  • “And blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs” (14:20). It is difficult to imagine this being anything other than figurative – blood three to five feet deep for 200 miles – but it does graphically depict the result of mankind’s sin. The misery that has been compounded and deepened and multiplied until the lives impacted are inestimable by us. Some have sought to make this describe the carnage of the Battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16:16), but it seems most suited to describe the revealing of God of the impact of human sin. All those so-called “social crusaders” for ungodly causes, all those political activists who have helped to corrupt human society, whether they were wealthy and famous or poor and unknown, they shall all be shown for what they are and what they have done.

The following section of Revelation – the bowl judgments of chapters 15 and 16 – are the more detailed descriptions of this judgment and harvesting of unrighteousness described in Revelation 14.

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