The Justice of God’s Wrath

The first entry in this series can be found here.
The previous entry can be found here.

A common charge against Christianity is, “If God is all-powerful and all-loving, why do bad things happen to good people? If God is all-powerful, then He could stop the bad things before they happened, and if He is all-loving, then He would want to. Since He doesn’t, Christianity is false.”

And look, I get it. It’s a clever argument. It even convinced me against Christianity at one point.

You see, when I was two years old, I had a stroke. It affected the left side of my body and it ruined my dream of being a professional baseball player. And I hated God for a long time because of this. I couldn’t understand why people were healed in the Bible when I’d prayed for healing for twelve years of my life with no change. I decided the Bible had to be false.

Luckily, God didn’t let me stay in that mode of thinking for long. I’ll try to give an answer toward the end of today’s post.

However, in our passage today, John proves that God’s wrath toward sinners is fully justified, and no one will be able to claim, “This isn’t fair!”:

Then I saw another great and awe-inspiring sign in heaven: seven angels with the seven last plagues, for with them, God’s wrath will be completed. I also saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had won the victory over the beast, his image, and the number of his name, were standing on the sea of glass with harps from God. They sang the song of God’s servant Moses and the song of the Lamb:

Great and awe-inspiring are Your works,
Lord God, the Almighty;
righteous and true are Your ways,
King of the Nations.
Lord, who will not fear
and glorify Your name?
Because You alone are holy,
for all the nations will come
and worship before You
because Your righteous acts
have been revealed.

After this I looked, and the heavenly sanctuary—the tabernacle of testimony—was opened. Out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, dressed in clean, bright linen, with gold sashes wrapped around their chests. One of the four living creatures gave the seven angels seven gold bowls filled with the wrath of God who lives forever and ever. Then the sanctuary was filled with smoke from God’s glory and from His power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed.

Revelation 15:1-8

The first thing to note about this text is that we’ve gone back in time again. Last time, it was clear that the end of the world had arrived. But this time, it looks as though the reaping has not yet occurred. The grapes of wrath have not yet been gathered.

However, the connection between this text and the previous text is clear. They are connected by the idea of wrath. The seven plagues these seven angels hold contain the final outpouring of God’s wrath.

But the differences between this week and last week are also crystal clear. Last time, there were six angels and one like the Son of Man. This time there are seven angels. These are very likely the same seven angels that are mentioned in 8:2. Other clues in the text today would indicate that this is relatively synonymous with Revelation 8:1-6, but whereas the point there was that Christ is in control of history, the point here is that God is just and righteous to pour out wrath on those who fail to believe. Eventually, their time to believe will run out and they will be damned.

It is worth noting that here, the saints are already safely standing in front of God, worshipping and praising Him. This means that this text takes place between Revelation 14:14-16 and 14:17-20. The wheat was reaped; the saints are safe. What follows in the next three chapters (16:1-19:21) is the wrath of God being poured out on the world (which is synonymous with 14:17-20).

But the emphasis here is not the judgment. The emphasis here is the justice of God. This is what the saints praise Him for.

They sang the song of God’s servant Moses and the song of the Lamb:

Great and awe-inspiring are Your works,
Lord God, the Almighty;
righteous and true are Your ways,
King of the Nations.
Lord, who will not fear
and glorify Your name?
Because You alone are holy,
for all the nations will come
and worship before You
because Your righteous acts
have been revealed.

Before diving into the content of their song, it is worth pointing out the title of their song. “The Song of God’s Servant Moses” and “The Song of the Lamb.”

The first one is a clear reference to Exodus 15. Here, Israel has just crossed the Red Sea safely–and the Egyptians drowned. As a result, they praise God for delivering them, and also add,

You overthrew Your adversaries
by Your great majesty.
You unleashed Your burning wrath;
it consumed them like stubble.

When the peoples hear, they will shudder;
anguish will seize the inhabitants of Philistia.
Then the chiefs of Edom will be terrified;
trembling will seize the leaders of Moab;
the inhabitants of Canaan will panic;
and terror and dread will fall on them.
They will be as still as a stone
because of Your powerful arm
until Your people pass by, Lord,
until the people whom You purchased pass by.

Exodus 15:7, 14-16

It is worth noting here the reference to God unleashing “His burning wrath,” because this connects quite nicely to the overall theme of the section of Revelation in which we are now entering. But it is also worth noting that Moses describes the potential enemies of Israel as “still as a stone” due to “terror and dread . . . until the people [God] purchased pass by.” We’ll come back to this before the end of the post, but the song of Moses is fitting for this portion of Revelation.

Secondly, we have a clear reference to several passages we’ve already explored in Revelation: Revelation 5:9-10; Revelation 7:10; Revelation 11:15-18; Revelation 12:10-12. If you look at the titles of each of the linked posts in which these songs are referenced, you will notice an overarching theme of victory. The song of the lamb is the song of victory! And it’s no different today. The saints are victorious, they are safe; now it is time for the enemies of Christ to be drowned in the metaphorical Red Sea.

Great and awe-inspiring are Your works,
Lord God, the Almighty;
righteous and true are Your ways,
King of the Nations.
Lord, who will not fear
and glorify Your name?
Because You alone are holy,
for all the nations will come
and worship before You
because Your righteous acts
have been revealed.

In the first four lines, the saints praise God for His utter worth. It is because of His utter worth that His wrath is perfectly just. His works are great and awe-inspiring. This means that they rightly inspire worship in our hearts. The crescendo of His great and awe-inspiring works is the cross of Christ. We have no excuse to fail to worship God for His gift of Christ.

Not only that, but God’s ways are also said to be “righteous and true.” It is worth noting that righteous is not just a synonym for “holy” (which is a word we find four lines lower). Holy is an attribute of God in and of Himself. God is eternally holy. But God has not been righteous for eternity. This is because righteousness is synonymous with “justice.” Righteousness requires recipients. For God to be referred to as “righteous and true” means that in everything God does, our benefit and blessing are in mind. No one can stand before God and claim, “I wanted to worship You, but because You did x, I couldn’t.”

No. God is righteous and true in all His ways.

This naturally leads to a question: “Who will not fear and glorify Your holy name?”

No one has an excuse for failing to worship God. Especially since we saw in Revelation 14:6-7 that the Gospel has been proclaimed in all the world by the time we reach this point in history. But there will be those who chose not to believe. And that choice lies entirely within their realm of responsibility. But again, we’ll come back to this.

They continue by saying that God is the only one who is holy. This means that all the nations should worship Him, because their gods fall short. Even the beasts and the dragon fail to be holy when compared to God. So even if the nations fail to choose to worship God, the fact of the matter is that they will still end up worshipping God:

at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow —
of those who are in heaven and on earth
and under the earth —
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:10-11

“Every knee” and “every tongue” means every individual to have ever lived. This is a lot more specific than individuals from every nation, tribe, and tongue. No. All people will end up praising Jesus as the rightful King and Savior.

The only question is: Will you praise Him by choice, because He saved you? Or will you praise Him because you’re forced to acknowledge that He was the only Savior before His wrath pours out on you?

I pray that it is the former.

John is clear that the time for repentance will end. The day of salvation (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:2) will come to an end. “Then the sanctuary was filled with smoke from God’s glory and from His power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed” (Revelation 15:8). Ten chapters earlier, we saw that the prayers of the saints are likened to bowls of incense (5:8), which are offered in the presence of God. If no one could enter the sanctuary, then no prayers are being offered. No one can cry out to God in faith if prayers can’t be brought before God. This is no problem for the saints because they are safely at God’s side by this point (14:14-16), but this is a terrible reality for those who fail to believe.

I beg you: Trust Jesus today. He took the wrath of God so that you don’t have to. He suffered on the cross for three hours, taking the wrath of God in His eternal body on the cross so that you could experience eternal life by faith.

And this is the truest and most righteous of God’s ways. Jesus was the only one who could take God’s wrath and survive because He is God. And Jesus was the only one who could substitute for humans because He was human. Jesus suffered in every way we suffer. He experienced the full brunt of “If God is good” questions during His earthly life, but His faith in God never wavered. Because His faith never wavered, we can trust that He will sustain us even if our faith wavers.

And who knows? Maybe if I’d become a professional baseball player, I wouldn’t have cared about the gospel and abandoned the faith. Maybe my stroke was God’s way of pulling me to Himself. Maybe your question of “How can God allow bad things to happen to good people?” is what led you to this post today, and maybe God wants to use this to bring you to Himself, whether bad things have happened to you or to someone you love.

But the fact of the matter is that the cross was the biggest injustice in history. Jesus hadn’t done anything deserving of death, but He was crucified. And He was the best person in history. He never sinned. We sin every hour–at least. The best man in history suffered the greatest injustice in history to give us an answer to the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

This can no longer be your excuse to not believe. Trust Him by faith today!

In this with you.

Soli Deo Gloria
Sola Fide
Solus Christus
Sola Scriptura

Thanks for reading.

The next entry can be found here.


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