Because I read through a Bible-in-a-year plan on a regular basis, I often find myself in the book of Revelation as the year closes. Some years I find myself more fascinated with the mysteries. Others I find myself hard pressed to want to again consider what all the symbols might mean. In all instances, I am reminded of the glory of God, the ugliness of sin, and the victory of Christ.
At times, as we study a book like Revelation, it can be an incredibly helpful thing, in the light of such mysterious language, to find something very straight forward, very simple. And something like that hit me in my read through Revelation 9. No, it is not a pleasant passage, but it is surely clear.
The context is the trumpets of Revelation 8 and 9. In those chapters, we have seen some terrifying disasters. And the text has described for us fantastic creatures bringing much death. And while many will debate what those creatures are or what they symbolize, the reaction of humanity to them is telling. And that reaction is not a mystery at all.
20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.
When the people of the earth in the book of Revelation are faced with the horrors of these creatures, when they come face-to-face with their own mortality, the people do not change. One might think that a reminder that we live in a world that is well beyond our control might have an impact. One might think that that a reminder that we die, and that there is a judgment to come, would change the hearts of men and women. But the word of God is clear that it does not. When mankind is set on rebellion, logic and emotion are powerless to change us.
What did the people cling to in the passage? The list is awful. They would not repent of their idolatry—no surprise there. But they also would not repent of murder, sorcery, sexual immorality, or theft. People facing the judgment of God will still kill. People facing the clear evidence of the power of God will still worship false gods or turn to fortune-tellers. People, even in a world that is falling to pieces, will cling to sexual immorality and materialism. Human nature is depraved.
Now, let’s think of three quick things. First, we see in this text that certain sins are a big deal to God. We must not allow our culture to tell us that, since society has moved on to a new consciousness, the old morality no longer applies. God is the one who tells us what is right and what is wrong. Idolatry and sorcery, false religion and the embracing of supposed spiritual energies and powers, are direct assaults on the glory of God. Murder and theft, things we basically still see as criminal, are things God hates. And right there in the list, even in the face of the eye roll and sneer of society, is sexual immorality. God takes these sins seriously. And one way we know they are all significantly evil is that God includes them in the list of sins that man doubles-down on to his own destruction.
Second, just note the basic depravity of humanity. I’m using that word in a technical and theological sense, not as an intended insult or expression of exasperation. Ever since the fall of mankind, humanity has been corrupted by sin. Every aspect of our humanity is fallen. Our nature is to oppose the Lord. By the grace of God, people do not tend to be as evil as we possibly could be. But the fall of man has so impacted us that it is impossible for a human being, apart from the transforming grace of God, to be pure before God. And that depravity is so deep-seeded that, even in the face of genuine judgment, humanity will scratch and claw and fight to keep our sin rather than submit to the God who made us.
And that leads me to my third thought today. How great is the grace of God? I am just like the people in the verses above. I am, by nature, nasty to the core. I would fight God tooth and nail were it not for one simple thing: God saved me. The sovereign God over all the universe and beyond did a work of supernatural power in my soul to bring me to himself. After God transformed my spiritual heart and made me spiritually alive, I repented of sin and believed in Christ for salvation. I have never yet been anything like perfect. Some of the worst things I’ve ever thought or worst impulses I’ve ever acted upon were still in my future. But the Lord had changed me. I could no longer sin without conviction. And, by the grace of God, my desires began to be turned to the Lord and his glory and not toward my natural evil.
God is good, mighty and gracious. He is the only one who can change a human being who would otherwise spit defiance at him with his dying breath. May we allow these moments of clarity in Revelation, these scenes that are not at all difficult to interpret, to remind us of the power and grace of God. Mankind is irreparably fallen. We, by nature, will never turn to the Lord. Sin is significant, no matter what culture thinks. But God is gloriously gracious. He saves sinners, transforming us from what we would naturally be into something that can truly honor him. Let us repent and be amazed at the grace of our God.