Pastor Scott Andrews | February 12, 2023
Extreme makeovers are all the rage, whether it’s the body or a house. The idea, of course, is to improve something – to make it better than it was – bigger, stronger, faster, leaner, better looking, nicer. I don’t know if you realize it or not, but God has always been the object of extreme makeovers. Meaning, people have always tried to improve God, make Him better. Because, there’s always something they don’t like about God. So, they embark on a reform program, trying to upgrade, update or improve His image. The new and improved God.
In fact, consider this: I would suggest every religion outside Christianity – that is, the worship of the true God – is a reform program. Extreme makeover, God edition. Trying to make God into something that’s palatable, acceptable, likeable – more like us. Would we really want a God like us? Even within Evangelical Christianity, there are subtle attempts at remaking and improving God. It looks like this:
- I know there’s evil and trouble in the world, but God would never do that.
- God was angry in the Old Testament, but that’s all changed now.
- I believe God loves people – we shouldn’t focus so much on sin and condemnation. People don’t like to be condemned – they want a message of hope and peace. I mean, they’re really turned off by hellfire and brimstone. No one really talks about judgment and hell today – even in churches. That’s not what people want.
- In fact, I believe in God, I just can’t believe a loving God would send people to hell, forever. So, the extreme makeover possibilities are endless: soul annihilation, second chances or universalism.
- In short, I believe in a God of love, just not a God of wrath. This image of a God of wrath died out with the Puritans. There’s no place today for sinners in the hands of an angry God.
Really, have you ever read that sermon by Jonathan Edwards? Most of you have heard of him. He was an 18th Century pastor in Northampton, Massachusetts, who, along with George Whitefield, was largely responsible for the Great Awakening.
Now, for those of you familiar with Edwards, name one of his sermons. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Of course, we all know that one – many of us had to read it in high school. But, name another sermon. You can’t do it. I have two thick volumes in my library, a total of about 2,000 pages, entitled The Works of Jonathan Edwards. This guy was a pastor for over 30 years – he preached more than one sermon. He is undoubtedly one of the greatest theologians this country has ever produced. And yet, all we know is Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. And we remember it well – it was a fiery sermon on the justice and wrath of God. In it, he said:
“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment…Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.
“O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.”
Who preaches like that anymore? No one – that’s the point. We either chuckle, nervously, or dismiss words like that. It is said that as Edwards preached that message, people in the church began to cry for mercy. Today, many would walk out. How do I know? When I first arrived in Boone in 1997, I was asked the very next year to speak at Intervarsity on campus. It was a big group – they were meeting at Legends – hundreds. Now, when I was asked to speak, they were studying through the Attributes of God that semester, and I was assigned a topic – the justice of God. Are you kidding me – my first opportunity to speak at a campus ministry, and I have to speak about the wrath of God? I did. I started by quoting Edwards. Several walked out of my talk? Why? Who wants to hear about the justice and wrath of God?
Some of you are familiar with the famous atheist Bertrand Russell. He wrote a book entitled, Why I Am Not A Christian. In it, he cites this doctrine of eternal punishment as one of his main objections to Christianity. For example, he writes:
“There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching…”
Well, you got that part right, Bertrand. People don’t like a God of wrath. Think about it – if the mythical gods of Greece and Rome were capricious, angry, arbitrary, merciless – filled with petty human emotions and actions; then the God of today is loving, kind, grandfatherly, gracious, endearing, gentle, wrathless, spineless – in a word, a God of our own making. And I would suggest, not the God of the Bible.
You see, that’s the problem with extreme makeovers of God today. If you just present God as a God of love, peace, mercy and grace, which He is, without the corresponding truth of a God of holiness, righteousness, purity and wrath, you have an incomplete picture. A distorted picture. A remade God. And you really have no compelling reason to be saved. Christianity becomes optional, if you want a better life. Isn’t that what’s being marketed today – preached in churches? Try God, He’ll make your life better – He’ll improve your marriage, your finances, your health, your job. He’s like a celestial Santa Claus with lots of gifts. And while there is some truth to some of that, it’s perverted. The truth is, God is a God of wrath, revealing His hatred of sin now, and in massive fashion in the future.
We are finding that in our ongoing study of the book of Revelation. Perhaps some of you, like some of those students at Legends 25 years ago, have felt like walking out, never to return. Can I remind you, there must be bad news before there can be good news. And the bad news is, God’s highest creation, humanity, rebelled against Him. Brought sin, death and eternal punishment into the universe. Because God is entirely consistent with His character – and tolerating sin is something He cannot and will not do. In our saner moments, we would not want Him to.
But the good news of the Bible – the gospel – is that God did something about our deplorable condition. His wrath and justice are balanced with His love and mercy. He sent His own Son to satisfy the demands of justice. Make no mistake about it – God does not overlook your sin. As we noted a couple weeks ago, Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath, so we don’t have to. We deserve it, but by His substitutionary atonement, dying in our place, bearing our sin and God’s divine justice, we don’t have to.
And so consider, if the punishment for sin and rebellion is eternal torment, then deliverance from such deserved wrath should be eternal praise. Not self-focused praise, since the only thing we contribute to our salvation is our need of it, our sin. God-focused eternal praise. We find that in our text today – Revelation 15. Let’s read that together.
I’ve said it several times – we’ve been in the challenging chapters of Revelation 6-20 – fifteen chapters of judgment sprinkled with the goodness of God toward His people. I looked it up, we’ve been in these chapters for almost six months. And after today, we still have five chapters to go. But hang in there – the return of Christ is in chapter 19, and the promised new heaven and the new earth are in chapters 21-22. Bad news before good news. In this chapter, we find the following outline:
- The Introduction of Seven Angels (1)
- The Praise of Heaven (2-4)
- The Introduction of Seven Plagues/Bowl Judgments (5-8)
Chapters 15 and 16 go together. Chapter 15 is simply the prelude, the introduction to chapter 16. There, we will find the final septet of judgments – the seven bowl judgments, leading to the Battle of Armageddon and the Doom of Babylon. But again – hold on, Jesus is coming back in chapter 19, and it will be glorious.
Look at verse 1 with me, Then I saw another sign in heaven – that takes us back to the beginning of chapter 12 – the great sign of the woman pregnant with the Christ, and the other not-so-great sign of the red dragon. It’s an unfolding drama, and we are approaching the end. This sign is great and marvelous – actually, astonishing. Seven angels who had seven plagues. What is astonishing I suppose is that these plagues, to be poured out on the earth, are the last – the culmination, the eschatos leading to the eschaton – because in them the wrath of God is finished.
The word finished is from the word teleo. You may remember the seven sayings of Jesus on the cross. The last one was, it is finished. Same word, teleo. What was finished? Drinking the cup of God’s wrath poured out on His Son – bearing our sins in His body on the cross. Becoming the substitutionary atonement for all who would believe. Here’s the interesting part: when Jesus said it, it was in the perfect tense – my favorite tense in the Greek. It speaks of something that happened in the past – but with ongoing consequence. Jesus’ death on the cross was an historical event – it happened 2000 years ago. But it has ongoing consequence to all those who would believe the gospel – the death, burial and resurrection of Christ for sinners is as consequential today as it was then.
In Revelation 15:1, it’s a different tense – it’s the aorist – also speaking of a definite past action. Here, while the plagues, the bowls of God’s wrath, are about to be poured out, it is so certain, John could speak of it as already happened. So there you go – two things are finished – the work of Christ on His cross for sinners – producing salvation for all those who would repent and believe; and the full measure of God’s wrath – for all those who refuse to repent and believe. I guess the question is, which eternal finish do you want?
Bringing us to our second point – the Praise of Heaven. When you think of what God has done for us through the gift of His Son, what else can be our response but eternal praise? Look at it.
And I saw – by the way, the three points of this chapter begin with those words, And I saw. And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire. We saw this sea of glass back in chapter 4 when John was first transported to heaven – verse 6 said, “and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal…” Notice in both verses, John says I saw something like – it’s his best attempt to describe what he sees. It matches the description of the throne Ezekiel had in Ezekiel 1, “Now over the heads of the living beings there was something like (see, no one can describe it accurately) something like an expanse, like the awesome gleam of crystal, spread out over their heads…Now above the expanse that was over their heads was something resembling a throne…” Ezekiel goes on to describe the One sitting on the throne, much like John describes Him in chapter 4. He’s incredible. It’s all indescribable.
This sea is mixed with fire, likely speaking of the judgment to come. Remember, it was clear as crystal – but now, mixed with fire. And those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, were standing on the sea of glass. Now, the song they’ll sing in a moment references Moses, and several of the plagues to come are similar to the plagues of Egypt. What’s the point? When the children of Israel were delivered from Pharoah and his army, they stood at the shores of the Red Sea – having walked through the midst of the sea and watched as that same sea swallowed up the enemy – and they sang the song of Moses – a song of deliverance. We are supposed to notice the similarities. Here, they are standing on the crystal sea mixed with the fire of judgment soon to be released on their enemies.
The song to be sung is a song of eternal deliverance for believers, and eternal judgment for unbelievers, vindicating believers. Both are true – and make God’s works great and marvelous.
Don’t miss where these victorious ones are standing – before the throne in heaven. You see, they had overcome the dragon – the beast and his image and the number of his name – how? Likely by their deaths, the same way Jesus overcame. This overcoming is a key theme in the book. Remember all the promises to the seven churches – to him who overcomes, that is by faithfulness, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, protection from the second death, hidden manna, names in the book of life, authority over the nations, white robes, a pillar forever in the temple of God, the name of God written on them, the privilege to sit with Christ on His throne.
And then we remember Revelation chapter 12 (11), “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony (about Jesus), and they did not love their life even when faced with death.”
These standing on the crystal sea are likely those who gave their lives in the tribulation – martyrs for the faith. Now, that doesn’t mean other believers will not be present, perhaps even standing there – but John makes special note of those who did not love their lives even when faced with death – they gave up their lives for the sake of Christ. It’s not that their sacrifice is redemptive – it simply points to their allegiance to Christ – come what may. And they had harps of God – like many in the book ready to sing praises to God.
Verse 3, and they sang the song of Moses, the bondservant of God, and the song of the Lamb. Lots of discussion as to whether this was two songs or one – but John goes on to tell us what they sang, so it seems to be one song. But, the song of Moses sung by the people of God after their deliverance is simply a type pointing to the greater deliverance affected by the Lamb for the people of God. And here’s what they said – and there are some similarities between this song of the Lamb and the Song of Moses – in Exodus 15 at their deliverance, and in Deuteronomy 32 when Moses was preparing them to enter the land, forty years later. I won’t take the time to point out all the similarities – but almost every line points to some OT song, psalm, or prophecy (Jeremiah 10). As we look at it, I want you to notice how God-focused it is. See all the second person singular words there are – this is all about our saving God.
Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty. They are singing of the greatness of God and His marvelous works. Yes, on their behalf, as He rescues them and vindicates them through the judgment of the wicked, but the singers fade into the background in the presence of the Lord God, the Almighty. The Almighty appears throughout the OT, but only in a couple books in the NT – in II Corinthians, and 9 times in Revelation. The point we’ve made through the book is, yes, there is a red dragon, Satan, who is the cosmic enemy of God, but there is only one Almighty.
Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations. Yes, in our extreme makeovers, God edition, we have softened God, remade God as if His image needs help. It doesn’t – utterly righteous and true are His ways – to include His works of judgment. Further, we’ve made up all kinds of gods. These nations worship Allah, these worship the Hindu gods or Buddha, thinking to be absorbed into Nirvana or the Brahman, this nation worships God without Jesus. But all of them are false gods, demonically influenced. There is only one King of the nations, which we will find in verse 4, as a result, that all the nations will come and worship.
Since there is only one true and living God, one to whom we must give an account, who is the Lord, who is Almighty, righteous and true, who is King of all nations, Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? Who indeed? We will find the answer to that in the chapter to come, that even in the face of the eternal gospel and divine wrath, they will refuse to repent – and get what they deserve.
Who will not fear, Lord, and glorify – that is, make much of Your name? For You alone are holy. The word holy is not the normal word for holy – this word highlights His separateness, His otherness. You alone, yes are righteous, holy – but as such, that sets You apart from all You have made. There is no one like You, and all remade gods are nothing like You and fall far beneath You.
For all the nations will come and worship before You, for Your righteous acts have been revealed. What righteous acts? In the context, the righteous acts of rescue and judgment which will finish the wrath of God. So that all the nations will come and worship before You. Lots of discussion about this – who are all the nations? Three different options – all the nations, forced and unforced – all people will one day bow the knee, Philippians says – those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. There will come a day when all will confess, voluntarily or forced, that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
That’s possible or, it could be speaking of all those in the Millennium, after the Great Tribulation. Again, forced and unforced as the dragon and his henchmen are chained and cast into the lake of fire. Or, it could refer to people from every tribe, tongue, kindred and nation who will believe and worship the true and living God. I lean toward that one. People from every nation will comprise the people of God. And they will worship – they will sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. And I don’t think, when we understand fully what God has done to redeem us – to rescue us – I don’t the song will ever grow old.
Bringing us quickly to our last point, the introduction of the seven last plagues or bowls to be poured out on unbelieving humanity by seven angels. After these things, I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened. Time after time in this book, we are reminded that the tabernacle and later the temple were built according to specific instructions – a specific pattern God gave to Moses. And we find in the book or Hebrews that the pattern was after the reality in heaven. We won’t take the time, but you can read about that in Hebrews 8-10. But thus far in the book, we’ve seen the altar of incense, the ark of the covenant, the crystal sea which corresponds, many say, to the bronze laver, sometimes called the sea in the OT. And now, we see the temple or the sanctuary of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven is opened. This seems to be referring to the holy of holies where the ark of the covenant was kept, because in the ark were the tablets of stone with the Law given by God to Moses – the tabernacle of testimony.
The point being this sanctuary of the tabernacle of testimony refers to the very presence of God in heaven. And the seven angels introduced in verse 1 who had the seven plagues came out of the temple – that is, from the presence of God. John is making clear, they are under divine command. Further, they’re wearing linen, clean and bright speaking to purity and glory, with a golden sash around their chests, which is quite similar to the description of Jesus in chapter 1. They are not divine, but they represent the divine; they represent God in what they are about to do.
And then we remember the sanitized version of Christianity of which I spoke in my introduction – the new and improved God. God was angry in the OT, but that’s all changed now. I like a God of love, I just can’t accept a God of wrath. Here, these seven angels are about to pour out seven bowls of the wrath which will finish the wrath of God. Maybe the God of the OT and the NT are consistently the same.
We see that in verse 7 – one of the four living creatures – those we’ve found to be closest to the throne, gives the seven angels seven golden bowls (5:8) full to the brim is the idea of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever. This is in contrast to the beast and his image who demands worship – who will be cast into the lake of fire forever and ever. Here, we see our God is the One who alone lives forever and ever. Not so the remade gods of false religions.
Finally, the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power. Over and over through the OT, we find God’s presence is seen in the cloud of His shekinah glory. We find it when He came down to Mt. Sinai to give the Law. We see it when His glory came down and filled the tabernacle and later the temple. We see it in Isaiah 6 when Isaiah receives his vision of God, high and exalted, and the train of His robe filled the temple, and the foundations of the temple shook in His presence, and the temple was filled with smoke.
Interesting, when the glory of His presence in visible smoke filled the tabernacle and temple, no one could enter. When Isaiah received his vision, he cried out, woe is me, for I am undone. And here in our text, when the heavenly temple is filled with smoke as He is about to unleash His ultimate wrath, no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues were finished. What’s that about? It is too awesome to be in such powerful presence, and there will be no intercession, because it is too late, and no being, angelic or human, could stand in the presence of One so mighty.
I’m finished, but consider, John Piper writes, “The love of God provides escape from the wrath of God by sacrificing the Son of God to vindicate the glory of God in forgiving sinners. That’s the gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ – the essence of Christianity – makes no sense at all apart from the wrath of God. If there is no wrath and no judgment to escape, then Christ was sacrificed in vain.” But His sacrifice, planned before the foundation of the world, is most gloriously effective. It accomplished what was planned – for His glory and our eternal good.
It wasn’t that God could or would just forgive based on some paltry payment. No, forgiveness required the death of His own Son. And so, in addition to seeing the magnitude of our rebellion in the death of Christ, we should also see the magnitude of His love for us. Is God a God of wrath and judgment? Yes. But He is also a God of infinite love and mercy.