“The Wrath of God and the Lamb” – Revelations – Day 17

A Theodicy of Evil – Lenten Season 2023

“So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals!  You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.  And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.”

To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children.  Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, “you must not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:14-19 NIV).

Revelations – Day 17 “The Wrath of God and the Lamb”

One of the greatest American theologians was Jonathan Edwards, famous for his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.  He was a pastor in New England and led, together with George Whitefield, the Great Awakening of the early 1700s.  He attended Yale at 13 years of age, graduated by age 17, and ended his career as the President of Princeton University.

He combined religious intensity with intellectual rigor and moral earnestness.  He contributed intellectually and theologically to the budding American evangelicalism that was then being defined.  Even today, he is still considered one of the greatest American theologians of all time. 

And yet…

He was dismissed from his position as pastor by his board because he insisted that people who participated in the Lord’s Supper actually be believers.  You heard that right.  On the one hand, the Great Awakening was happening all around him and his own church was experiencing “conversions” even by long-standing members of the church. 

On the other, was tradition and tradition is usually deeply rooted and difficult to change, especially when it is rooted in sin and disbelief.  After all, it is embarrassing to admit that you aren’t even a Christian even though you are a long-standing member of the church.  And in that community, at that time, your church standing was important for your business to flourish and your family to be respected. 

One thing was for someone else to admit, in heartfelt humility, that they needed the Lord and to reject their “false” spirituality up to that point in their lives.  It was another thing altogether for the Pastor to point it out.  It was standard procedure to include all churchgoers in the Lord’s Supper whether they were true Christians or not. 

Many churches do the same thing today and leave it up to the individual to decide whether or not they should participate.  However, Jonathan Edwards felt that he had to challenge the status quo on this issue and lost his position as the Pastor as a result.  He began to minister to the native Indian population but then was called to become the President of the prestigious Princeton University.  Obviously, not everyone agreed with what happened to him in his church.

But something happened to him during the transition from missionary work with the Indians to becoming the President of Princeton University.  In an effort to show his native Indian congregation that taking a vaccine against smallpox was safe, he took it himself, not realizing that he shouldn’t do so when he was fighting a cold. 

He contracted smallpox and died a year or so into his presidency of Princeton University, cutting short a remarkable career and life all because of the corporate sin of a church board that was more concerned with their social status than with their spiritual leadership and responsibility to support their pastor, who was so obviously a man of God. 

Do you think that God might be a little bit angry about that?  You can count on it.  And it wasn’t like they didn’t understand the wrath of God upon sinners since Jonathan Edwards had written and preached the most famous sermon on the topic.  They just didn’t see themselves as “sinners.”  And that is at the heart of the matter.

Jonathan Edward’s sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, is not easy reading.  It is often considered the catalyst for the First Great Awakening and is clearly rooted in a “fear of hell.”  Preachers who use this approach in their evangelistic efforts are often called “hellfire and brimstone” preachers and the practice is often frowned upon in our day and age.  But should it be?

The Bible claims that the “fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10 NIV) but we try to change the meaning to something like “respect.”   But I think most of us miss the point entirely.  Jonathan Edwards believed that sermons, sacraments, and even the fear of Hell can be used by the Holy Spirit to bring about conversion.  Don’t forget that the context of much of the “revivalist” preaching was directed toward the unbelieving masses in the church.

The key is what we said earlier about the church board members who didn’t see themselves as “sinners.”  After all, they were spiritual leaders, weren’t they?  Jonathan Edwards would not agree, and their actions would not bear witness to their confession of faith.  The thing to remember is what Jonathan Edwards pointed out, that the “fear of God” or the “fear of hell” is already a work of the Spirit.  One does not have “fear” unless they believe it to be applicable to them and they have a prior “conviction of guilt” for their sin.  In other words, they see themselves as “sinners.”

That is also true when listening to sermons or participating in the Lord’s Supper (which by its very nature is exclusively for believers and requires that we “test” ourselves before we partake).  Sermons fall on deaf ears when the Holy Spirit is not at work in the hearts of the listeners.  As the Book of Revelations points out repeatedly, “he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 3:6 NIV).

In fact, the Bible and the Book of Revelations go much further than Jonathan Edwards ever did.  It isn’t just the preaching of hell but the foretaste of hell in this life that is used by God to incite repentance in people.  Over and over again, it says that the people, the leaders, the evildoers who were experiencing plagues and wars and famine “did not repent” (Rev. 16:9b NIV). 

We often say that “love is its own reward” and “evil is its own punishment.”  And there is a lot of truth to that.  Oftentimes, God removes his hand and allows evil to flourish in order to demonstrate the “harvest” that one reaps when they sow evil into their lives and the lives of the people around them.  These temporal judgments are a foretaste of what hell will be like (and worse) but still give people the opportunity to repent and turn to God.

So why don’t we preach sermons like that anymore?  Good question.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God was a catalyst for the First Great Awakening when Jonathan Edwards preached it in his own church in Northhampton, Massachusetts but when he dared to touch the sacraments and require true conversion in order to participate, they turned on him. 

The sermon combined vivid imagery of hell with practical observations of the church and the world around them together with many Biblical citations.  Although people were consigned to hell by God, what happened there was the work of the Devil and his demons.  In this life, it is only God that keeps these “greedy, hungry lions” at bay but, in hell, there is no restraint. 

To be clear, Jonathan Edwards says that God is angry with sinners right now, even during this age of grace when people have an opportunity to repent.  He is as angry with “sinners” right now as he will be when he casts them into hell.  We are in the hands of that “angry” God at the present moment and throughout our lives, as well as during the final judgment and sentencing to eternal damnation.  Strong words indeed.

We struggle not only to understand God’s justice but to understand his anger and “wrath” towards sin.  We understand that his judgment and “wrath” towards the whole world has been put off until the end of time, but he allows us to experience evil in this life as a foretaste of what will happen later on for all eternity.  In the Book of Revelations, the day of the wrath of God and the wrath of the lamb is coming but is not here yet (Rev. 6:16.17 NIV).

Paul is also clear that the wrath of God is the basis for our eternal punishment in hell.  But “wrath” seems to be an emotional response that far outweighs the facts of the case. 

After all, our human system of justice tries to keep emotion out of the process so that we all are subject only to the law.  Of course, we forget that the reason we keep “human” emotion out of the equation is that we often allow our human emotions to motivate us to even greater evil.  We are not God after all, even though we often act like it. 

Obviously, in the case of divine justice, God’s “divine emotion” will not cause him to do something he will regret or that is not entirely and completely appropriate.  In fact, in the case of the divine response to sin and evil, love compels God to be truly and completely angry with us.  We call that “wrath” but only because we don’t have a stronger term to use. 

Imagine for a moment that you are a father who has just found out that his daughter has been kidnapped, raped, and murdered.  I suppose that you would keep your cool, right?  Wrong.  You would be truly and appropriately angry beyond measure.  Why?  Because you hate your daughter or because you love her?  Because of love, of course. 

Is it because you hate the perpetrator?  No, you don’t even know who the perpetrator is at this point.  Your wrath is based on the evil done to your daughter whom you love with all your heart. 

Now multiply that by infinity and you might come close to understanding why God is so angry.  We can talk about the incredible events on Oct 7, 2023, when Hamas walked out of the Gaza Strip and started killing and torturing people on the streets of Israel indiscriminately, filming the event and celebrating their victory.  Parents were killed and children were taken hostage.  Old people, pregnant women, and a number of children were abducted.  Babies were killed in their mother’s arms, and people sitting at a bus stop were shot dead.  Evil walking openly in the streets. 

And I am not unaware of the suffering of the Palestinian people.  My heart goes out to them.  In fact, I am somewhat ashamed of how the people of Israel have treated them.  But that isn’t the issue.  There is no excuse, none whatsoever, for whatever reason, for the kind of behavior we witnessed on that fateful day. 

Perhaps that is an example of how bad evil can get and we can all sympathize with what happened there.  But what about the other end of the spectrum, where the mundane nature of our daily evil affects, influences, and often destroys the relationships around us?

I am not immune to that charge against me.  My life is a train wreck of broken relationships, divorce, rejection by my own children, leaving my position as a pastor, rejected by every pastor I have ever tried to help, and the list goes on.  Not all of it was my fault of course, but in every case, I was also guilty of pride, willfulness, and sin. 

No doubt. 

What I fail to take into account is that incredible “wrath” of God that is being stored up against me because of the “perfect love” of God for those I have hurt over the years.  We often want to think more about the “perfect love” of God for us, but we would be wise to start with the “perfect love” of God for those who are our victims in life.  Then we might begin to understand why the wrath of God must be “poured out on the cross” for our salvation. 

The thing that we cannot ignore is that the wrath of God is the normal and appropriate response of a loving God and Father who grieves and weeps at the sin and evil that we have unleashed on this world.  The fact that we cannot handle the “perfect love” of God as the standard for the judgment against us, doesn’t change the fact that it is the only appropriate measure that can be used.  Just because our love is no longer “perfect” because we have been corrupted by evil by our own choice, does not change the fact that “perfect love,” respect, and care for all people without discrimination is the only solution to the sin and evil in this world. 

And you don’t have to be a Christian to believe that truth.  Almost every major philosopher and theologian from any religion would agree.  That isn’t the problem.  Rather how to get there, how to overcome the evil within, how to embrace the only solution that actually works, that is the question. 

And we have some limited experience in our efforts on earth, but we ignore that the source of the problem is in our broken relationship with our creator.  Until that is dealt with, all of the rest of our efforts are temporary at best. 

Let’s pause for a moment to get to the heart of the matter.

One of the great truths of our lives is that we have all gotten used to this uneasy truce that God has created in the world.  We have become accustomed to sin and evil.  We have accepted that everyone dies, that most die in pain and suffering, from plagues, from disease, from war.  We are not surprised by the corruption of the human heart or the fact that we, ourselves, are prone to selfishness and are willing to do almost anything to survive, to flourish, to get what we want.

No, we aren’t all alike and we aren’t all as evil as we could be.  True enough.

But what the Bible points out is that whatever good exists in this world is due to the intervention of God not because we are essentially good people or are capable of greatness.  The truth is far more somber, and we have difficulty in accepting it.  We are not as evil as we could be simply and only because God restrains us, not because we have a core of goodness in us. 

Accept it or not, that is the biblical interpretation of reality. 

And you don’t have to be a Christian to see the truth of it.  “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”  Do you believe that?  Are you aware of the fact that you and I are capable of great evil in the right circumstances?  Whether or not you agree with the writers of the TV Series, Criminal Minds, or not, I find it interesting that they believe that everyone and anyone is capable of great evil given the right situation, traumatic background, or opportunity. 

If that is true, it puts a different spin on things, doesn’t it?

In fact, I call it the Great Deception that the Devil continues to inflict on humankind, the belief that this world is normal, that we are essentially good, and that God is overreacting with all this “hellfire and brimstone” talk.  How does God break through this deception?  By allowing evil to experience its own “nature and consequences.”  If evil is its own punishment, it makes sense that the problem with hell is the people you share it with.  Exactly so.

But that is also true in this world.  The existence and experience of evil should motivate us to find a solution in God but not until we accept that the evil is within.  That is one of the greatest proofs of the truth of Christianity.  To accept the Biblical worldview and interpretation of reality is to break the great deception and repent and come to God for salvation. 

But like the board members in Jonathan Edward’s church, you must first believe that you, yourself, are a “sinner in the hands of an angry God.”  Otherwise, your pride and arrogance will keep you from the salvation that you so desperately need.  And that “conviction of sin” is the work of the Holy Spirit and the result of much prayer. 

So, what is the “wrath of the Lamb” all about?

This is specific to the rejection of the gospel and the wrath that it generates.  Again, it is rooted in the love of God for us but focused on the rejection of the gospel.  The Book of Hebrews warns us, “How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3,4 NIV).  This “wrath of the Lamb” is not focused on mankind in general but on the church in specific.  And not just anyone in the church but, rather, those who are playing games with God. 

Jesus pointed out that hypocrisy would get special attention in hell (Matt. 7:1-5 NIV) and there is no greater hypocrisy than those who claim to follow Christ but, in their hearts, are far from him.  They may be church leaders, like in Jonathan Edward’s church, or even pastors and ministers themselves.  Jesus points out in Matthew 7:21-23 that “many” will say “Lord, lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and, in your name, perform many miracles?” And Jesus will reply, “I never knew you, away from me, you evildoers!”

It isn’t enough to call yourself a Christian but, rather, to test yourself (II Corinthians 13:5 NIV) to see if you have the Holy Spirit within as the only guarantee of your salvation.  And it’s bad enough that we have an epidemic of “cultural Christianity” already infecting our churches and, even our so-called leadership, is at risk. 

Perhaps it’s time to take the warnings of the Book of Hebrews more seriously.  There are six warning passages directed towards people who call themselves “Christians” but are, in fact, “chaff” and not “wheat.”

Listen to the first one.

“We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?  This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.  God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Hebrews 2:1-4 NIV).

The message is clear.  Radical discipleship is expected and nothing less.  There is no room for a passive “cultural” Christianity focused only on morality.  We must be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1,2 NIV) and ready to die as martyrs (Rev. 2:26 NIV).  We cannot afford to “drift away” or “fall asleep” or “ignore such a great salvation” that calls us to a significant role in the redemptive plan of God.

Listen to the second warning.

“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.  We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first” (Hebrews 3:12-14 NIV).

The author puts this in the context of the Israelites who saw God save them from the Egyptians with the plagues, open the Red Sea to escape Pharoah’s army, follow the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, and experience the daily providence of God in the desert with manna and water as a daily miraculous occurrence.  And yet, they still died in the desert and never entered the promised land. 

There is some debate as to whether this warning refers to losing your salvation because you did not “hold firmly till the end” or whether it refers to losing your reward as a Christian.  Perhaps only God knows the truth of it for you, but the warning still stands.  That is not a risk that you should take.  Those who are true believers will continue to believe and act on their faith until their dying breath. 

Paul makes this point clear when he says, “if any person’s work is burned up (by the test), he will suffer the loss (of his reward), yet he himself will be saved, but only as (one who has barely escaped) through fire” (I Corinthians 3:15 AMP).

Listen to the third warning for those who claim to be Christians but are not. 

“Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.  For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did, but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.  Now we who have believed enter that rest….it still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go into it, because of their disobedience…. let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.  For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4: 1-3a, 6,11-13 NIV).

Again, the context is still the disobedience of the Israelites in the desert who had the “gospel” preached to them with signs and wonders following but, in their disobedience and unbelief, did not enter into the “rest” of the Promised Land.  That entire generation died in the desert except for Caleb and Josuah.  They did not combine what they saw and heard with “faith”, so it was of no value to them.  The “thoughts and attitudes of our hearts” are open to God even if they are hidden from others in the church.  And God will not forgive such hypocrisy. 

But the warnings are getting stronger each time.  Listen to the fourth warning in the Book of Hebrews.

“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.  Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.  But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed.  In the end, it will be burned” (Hebrews 6:4-8 NIV).

Difficult words to say the least.  The key is to understand what is meant by the words “if they fall away.”  Obviously, in the context of the book (and the Bible) as a whole, it cannot refer to committing a sin or even living in sin for a time since there is always an opportunity to repent (I John 2:19 NIV). 

But, if we take the Book of Revelations as the context of the early church with the Jewish persecution at first and then the Roman persecution later, it seems likely that the concept of “falling away” is what we would call “apostasy.”

In other words, and this was hotly debated in the early church, if you deny Christ before the authorities in order to save your own life, can you still repent and continue in the church?  If you were a pastor, can you still preach and give the sacraments?  The answer here is in the negative.  You are not a Christian.  You have been exposed. 

Now here is the thing.  If it was true for martyrdom, it is also true for any other kind of apostasy as well.  Whether you just turn your back on God or deny him before others, Jesus makes it clear that he will not speak on your behalf before the Father and his angels on the Day of Judgment (Rev. 3:5 NIV).

The author uses the imagery of “land” to get his point across.  “Land” in this interpretation refers to the “witness” of the person who fell away.  Their “land” produced “thorns and thistles” and is “worthless.”  That seems clear enough.  What isn’t clear is the idea that they cannot “be brought back to repentance.”  What is that all about?

Some would argue that this is the “sin against the Holy Spirit” that Jesus talked about in John 16:13 (as well as John 14:17 and John 15:26).  Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven because he is “the spirit of truth” and if you reject the truth, obviously you cannot be saved.  We often interpret this to mean that you continue to reject the truth until the day you die and therefore there is no hope of salvation for you.

That isn’t quite the context here in the Book of Hebrews since someone could “repent” of their apostasy and still be saved before they die.  But this isn’t just anyone in the church that the author is talking about.  He goes to great pains to point out that this is a Christian brother or sister.  They have been “enlightened.”  They have “tasted the heavenly gift.”  They have “shared in the Holy Spirit” and “tasted” the goodness and power of God’s word.  How could someone like that turn their back on God at the point when their “witness” mattered the most?

We saw in the letters to the churches that there were a number of attempts to find a way out of martyrdom and Jesus condemns them all.  The point is that people tried to justify and rationalize their way out of the dilemma and even leaders (and someone who called herself a prophetess speaking on behalf of God) tried to lead the people astray.  They didn’t see it that way of course.  They didn’t think of it as “apostasy.”  Evildoers don’t see themselves as “sinners” as we know but their actions prove what is (or isn’t) inside them.

And in this case, with all of the rationalizations and justifications in place, and no repentance even contemplated, there is no hope for them.  There is no other salvation.  The point the author is making is that they cannot “be brought back to repentance” not that they can’t “repent.”  How would they ever be able to admit that they were wrong and should have died a martyr’s death? 

The author also points out that their “land” is “in danger of being cursed.”  He doesn’t say that they are cursed or that their “witness” or “life” is, in fact, cursed but that it is in danger of being cursed.  In the end, it will be burned but, perhaps, as Paul points out, they will be saved “as through fire” (I Cor. 3:15 NIV). In any event, their useful “witness” is at an end. 

Listen to the fifth warning.

“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.  Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge, I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:26-31 NIV).

That last line is obviously where Jonathan Edwards got his title for his sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.  The key question for interpretation of this passage is the meaning of the words “deliberately keep on sinning.”  In general, it seems to indicate that if you consciously and deliberately keep on committing a particular sin, then it would indicate that you are not a Christian.  To claim that you are a Christian but to continue to sin is a contradiction in terms and there is only an “expectation” of judgment and fire. 

But what about those who are “addicted” to one thing or another?  They have a difficult time with this verse, but they really shouldn’t.  The word “deliberately” clearly indicates someone who is not struggling with their sin but rather finding some sort of justification or rationalization for it. 

It is true that all of us, addicts included, try to find ways to continue to sin deliberately but that is clearly “non-Christian” behavior.  Christians struggle with their sin in faith believing that they can overcome with the power of the Holy Spirit.  That doesn’t mean that it is easy.  Far from it.  But one thing is to desire to sin, and another is to desire freedom from sin.  The quality of your struggle makes the difference, not the perfection of your efforts.

Some people want to interpret these words narrowly in the context of the previous verse that talks about continuing to be part of the people of God and remaining in the fellowship.  Although that is true, it is probably also true what we said earlier about an application to all kinds of conscious and deliberate sin.  In fact, Jonathan Edwards points out that there is no “assurance of salvation” for those who deliberately keep on sinning. 

Some theologians point out the difference between conscious sin and the pollution of sin.  It doesn’t take much reflection to realize that we are polluted with sin through and through in all of our thoughts, attitudes, and actions.  No doubt. 

But conscious, deliberate sin can be dealt with in increasing measures of success (but without perfection) leading to some form of spiritual maturity by means of godly “struggle” rooted in faith using the weapons of our warfare (Eph. 6:10-20 NIV) and the help of God (Romans 8). 

The thing to remember is that we need to take our sin seriously, otherwise, we won’t bother to struggle against it.  After all, if we are already saved, what is the point of so much effort?  It is a key element in our “life ministry” and witness and therefore cannot be ignored.  To sin consciously and deliberately as a way of life is to “trample the Son of God underfoot.”  He did not come to save us from hell (or the consequences of our sin) but from sin itself.  To continue to sin deliberately is to treat “as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified” you in the first place.  It is to “insult the Spirit of grace.”

Paul is asked the question, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” And his reply is emphatic and clear.  “By no means!” (Romans 6:1,2 NIV).  We are saved from sin.  How can we consciously and deliberately continue to live in it? 

The final warning to the people who call themselves “believers” in the church comes in the context of the people in the desert standing before the mountain of God and hearing his voice. 

“See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.  If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?  At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”  The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken – that is, created things – so that what cannot be shaken may remain.  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:25-29 NIV).

It is difficult not to read the verses that came before this warning since they are a graphic reminder of what it must have been like to stand before the Mountain of God in the desert and hear his voice.  Moses was terrified, as were the people.  This was no joke. 

And the author of the Book of Hebrews points out that with Jesus it is even more so.  “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom, and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them” (Hebrews 12: 18-20a NIV).

He then contrasts that experience of “fear” with the experience of “faith” when confronted with God in the flesh.  “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.  You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.  You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24 NIV).

The “blood of Abel” cries out for vengeance and epitomizes all of the murders and bloodshed committed on the earth, especially between brothers and family members.  The “sprinkled blood” of Jesus shed on the cross cries out for forgiveness for others who call on his name and therefore “speaks a better word.”  Judgment or grace, those are the two options facing the evil of mankind. 

So, yes, the wrath of the Lamb against the “hypocrites” in the church who claim to be believers but prove with their actions, attitudes, and words that they are not is justified.  We cannot take his death lightly.  We cannot treat our sins lightly.  We cannot ignore our witness and treat it lightly either.  It matters too much.  Not only the wrath of God but also the wrath of the Lamb will be revealed at the end of days.

The final judgment of God upon sin and evil in all of its forms is the major theme of the Book of Revelations but its counterpoint is that God took his wrath upon himself to save those who would be “sealed” with the Holy Spirit of God. 

Whenever the words of the Book of Revelation seem cold and barren to you, my suggestion is that you tune your ears to “hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches” and listen for the love behind those words.  The worship of the angels is not sterile but full of love, the wrath of God against sin and evil is not uncaring or cruel but full of the infinite love of God.  The problem is that our hearts have become so numbed with our own rationalizations and justifications that we have lost sight of what the plan of redemption is really all about. 

God is rescuing his children from the clutches of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet and his heart breaks with the realization that he will not be able to save everyone.  Without that context, we really don’t understand anything we read in this apocalypse, and we simply won’t be ready for our role in the process of saving people from their own sin and evil. 

That would be a sad state of affairs since it means that we would become useless not only to God but to our families, friends, and church colleagues.  The problem is that this situation is true for a great part of the modern church.  We are ashamed of God’s wrath against sin instead of embracing the “perfect love” that it represents.  Perhaps then we would also be willing to make great sacrifices to save as many as possible, just like God did through Christ. 

The Desert Warrior