April 28, 2020

Revelation 19:1-21

The Book of Revelation is one of the most abused sections of God’s Word. For generations it has been used by charismatic visionaries, cult leaders, and “prophesy experts” in ways that it was never intended. The Book of Revelation is not secret code book by which the truly enlightened may name the Beast or predict the return of Christ. The fact is, the Book of Revelation is a glorious vision of the church’s future and the final defeat of Satan, sin, and death. As such it is a source of Divine comfort for the church in every era.

The Book of Revelation helps us to recalibrate our lives according to God’s timeline of justice. To calibrate means to establish a particular standard of measurement. A typical clock is set to calibrate the passage of time by minutes and hours. A car’s odometer is set to calibrate distance in miles. So, to recalibrate means to change the standard of measurement.

It is not unusual for us to tend toward calibrating our lives in terms of the here and now. And certainly we want to be present each day among the people and within the circumstances God has placed us. But as we suffer in this world which is passing away we can be comforted that the flicker of this present age is giving way to the glory of eternity in God’s presence. And so we live with our eyes fixed toward the future.

As we noted in yesterday’s devotion, Revelation 19 is a vision primarily of God’s wrath upon the wicked in the Day of Judgment. As God pours forth his wrath, John the Apostle depicts the saints in glory shouting their “Hallelujah!”
After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,

Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for his judgments are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”
Once more they cried out,
The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”

And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” [5] And from the throne came a voice saying,

“Praise our God,
all you his servants,
you who fear him,
small and great.” (Vv. 1-5)

Of course the doctrine of God’s judgment is met with a mixture of skepticism, hostility, and denial even among some professing Christians. I am not suggesting that we ought to be gleeful at the thought of the wicked perishing in hell. At the same time we must not be embarrassed by what the Bible teaches us about God’s final justice. Indeed, the pouring out of God’s wrath upon the wicked is part of the final redemption of the created order and the salvation of the righteous.

And it is precisely because of the coming judgment that Christians are free in this life to love their enemies and to pray for those who curse them.

Last year I read the deeply moving book entitled Grace Will Lead Us Home. It is an account of the massacre at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, SC on June 17, 2015. The book focuses especially on the extraordinary mercy shown by the surviving family members of those murdered by Dylan Roof.

When that wicked and twisted young man was brought into court for his first hearing – under heavy guard – various family members of the murdered were given an opportunity to speak. Judge Gosnell who was presiding over the hearing began to read the names of the victims. When he reached the name of the third victim, Ethel Lance, the 70-year old’s youngest daughter Nadine rose to speak.

As she rose Judge Gosnell asked, “And you are whom, ma’am?”

“Her daughter,” came the answer.

The judge repeated: “Her daughter. I’m listening. And you can talk to me.”

Instead Nadine Collier turned to face the man who murdered her mother. And to the stunned silence of everyone present she said, “I just want everybody to know, to you, I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me” – her voice began to tremble and break.

“I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people.”

As Judge Gosnell continued to read the names of victims he reached Myra Thompson. Myra’s now widowed husband Anthony stood. The couple’s now mother-less children watched their father. Anthony faced the man who murdered his wife and said clearly and even loudly – “I forgive you. And my family forgives you. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the One who matters most – Christ – so that he can change it, can change your ways no matter what happens to you.”

As the author of the book reports – “Anthony peered at the screen, trying to catch Roof’s eye, to get him to stop for a minute and think about those words. Redemption. For a quick second, Roof’s glance indeed shifted a bit, and Anthony wondered if he’d caught his eye. As he turned to go back to his seat, he hoped that somewhere deep beneath the vacant gaze, there was hope – hope that Roof would repent and be saved.” (p. 75).

Now, the mercy demonstrated toward this miserable unrepentant murderer did not indicate that the family of the murdered believed Roof should not be dealt with according to the law. Rightly, those merciful Christians did not call for Dylan Roof to be released from prison or that he should avoid the consequences of his wicked deeds.

Rather, what we see in the remarkable mercy of those men and women are hearts that trust that God will exercise justice in his way and in his time. And because of that, they are free – they are free to not hate. They are free to not seek vengeance. They are free to not allow one evil little man to control their lives.

But there’s something more.

God’s coming judgment recalibrates our focus by giving us a proper sense of urgency to make Christ known. Even as Dylan Roof was called upon to repent and turn to Christ by the loved ones of the men and woman he murdered, can we not make our pleas to those we love?

When you experience injustice and you want vengeance, recalibrate your perspective and remember eternity. When you feel as though you will collapse under the weight of this world’s sin, remember the victory of Jesus and that eternal, fully satisfying, and tearless rest that awaits all whose lives are hidden in Christ.