In case you haven’t figured it out by now, what we’re going to be doing in our remaining days together isn’t a comprehensive study of the book of Revelation. We’re not going to guess at the identity of the Antichrist, nor are we going to settle the Pre-Trib vs. Post-Trib debate. In the little time we have left, I’m just going to pick out a few of my favorite “hidden gems” from Revelation. The material we’re going to delve into won’t be stuff you often find in all the studies out there that focus on the “big picture” subjects. Not that that stuff isn’t important, but I’d like to provide you some material you’re not likely to get elsewhere.
Today’s passage is pretty dark. It’s talking about what most Evangelicals call “The Great Tribulation,” in which the entire world gets battered back and forth by plagues, world wars, economic collapse, literal upheavals of the earth, and other disasters which kill off huge portions of the population. Jesus said that if these days weren’t shortened by God’s sovereign mercy, no one would survive.
Let’s summarize what happens in just today’s passage. Angels are released, and their plagues by themselves kill a third of mankind. If that happened today, it’d be over 2 billion people.
Instead of debating the details of this plague, I want to focus on the peoples’ reaction. What does it say about their response to this in vss. 20-21? The survivors of these plagues, along with everything they’d seen up to that point “still did not repent of the work of their hands.” They’d been indulging in idol worship (which was actually worshiping demons), and after seeing all this, they kept right on doing it. They also refused to give up “their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.”
That’s the main point I want to get from today’s passage, and let’s see how we can apply it. What doesn’t cause repentance, and what does?
· Supernatural phenomena do not bring people to repentance. At least not real repentance. This is a pattern we could’ve noticed back in Moses’ day. As a Study Bible I once read put it, among the people who followed Moses for 40 years, there were no atheists but lots and lots of rebels. Every morning they stepped out of their tents and picked their breakfast up off the ground which was waiting for them. They saw the pillar of cloud by day and the fire by night. They saw water gushing from the rock. They saw all the 10 plagues on Egypt. And when it came to one more test at the very border of the Promised Land, they turned on Moses and demanded to go back to Egypt.
Why do we think that supernatural phenomena will turn rebels into believers? I’m not sure, but I do know in my heart of hearts that the Lord’s given me plenty of evidence that he loves me and will take care of me and that I should implicitly trust him. If I don’t trust him, the problem’s not lack of proof that he’s trustworthy.
· Incredible hardship and pain will not bring about repentance. The survivors of this plague had already gone through a lot before this. And as they watched millions or billions die in front of them, they didn’t take the implicit warning to heart. The Lord wasn’t doing this to humanity because he likes to see people suffer. Quite the opposite: “He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.” But when he does let loose and give sinners just a little bit of what they deserve in this life, that’s supposed to be a warning to everyone else to repent.
The problem is not with the message: That should be coming across loud and clear. The problem is with us. We have a sinful nature that rebels against God, and pain and hardship—by themselves—only make us hate him more.
On a side-note, this touches upon the question of a “second chance” for people in Hell. Someone might ask “Why doesn’t God give them another chance to repent?” My friend--leaving aside the fact that none of us deserve a second chance--after a thousand years in Hell, they’re only going to hate him more than when they first entered it. Pain and suffering, like supernatural phenomena, won’t turn a rebel into a repentant believer.
So what does? The work of the Holy Spirit. He has to come into a person’s heart, and convict them of sin, of righteousness, and judgment. He might use things like pain and suffering or other things to bring us to him: He has lots of tools in his toolbox. But he has to come into a person’s heart to change them and draw them towards the Savior.
How can we apply this? I’ve talked recently with some other believers who have non-Christian family. They’ve talked with their family members, made absolutely no headway, and they’re wondering what to do, or even the best way to pray for them. They’ve even prayed that something will come into their lives to “shake them up.” I’m not against this by any means: Often the Spirit uses hardship in our lives to bring us to himself. But we have to keep in mind that it’s the Holy Spirit who has to change a person from the inside-out, and no amount of arguing, or evidence, or life changes will be able to do that by themselves.
Oh, but when he gets a hold of someone’s heart, what a change it makes!
Lord Jesus, through your Spirit please give me a soft heart and listening ears. That’s the only way change is going to happen inside me. I want to see that happen, and I know that even the wanting comes from you. I guess there’s hope for me yet.