Summary: Exposition of Rev. 16
Justice for the Unjust
One of the most startling recent statistics is the fact the prison population of the USA is now over 2 million people. A more controversial question though is, “why do we put people in prison?” Law enforcement, district attorneys, judges work hard to bring criminals to justice, but there is a big disagreement about what we hope to accomplish by sending criminals to jail.
Some people say the goal is to rehabilitate the criminal, to help them see the error of their ways, to educate them and prepare them to go back out into society as a law-abiding citizen.
Others say the goal is to punish the criminal, to make them pay for what they’ve done, to deter the inmate and other potential criminals from committing similar crimes.
Still others make the very valid point that putting dangerous criminals in prison keeps all of us on the outside safer.
All of these questions and opinions deal with the area of justice. When a person breaks the law, how should they be treated? How do you bring justice to the unjust?
This is an even more important issue on the higher level of the justice of God. God’s justice is perfect, and it is manifested through His judgment and wrath on the unjust of the world. But is God’s justice on the unjust intended to rehabilitate them, to punish them, or just to get rid of them? How does God bring justice to the unjust? I want to explore this question tonight as we look into Rev. 16, where John sees a vision of God’s wrath and justice.
Vs. 1 reminds us God instigates justice on the unjust. It is His voice calling out from the Temple in heaven, commanding the 7 angels introduced in Rev. 15 to pour out their bowls of His wrath. I want you to notice how in each case, the punishment fits the crime.
In vs. 2, the first bowl brings foul and loathsome sores= ugly, painful (NIV) sores. These sores are on the skin of only certain people—those who have the mark of the beast…The same skin that takes the mark is covered with malignant sores. They get what they deserve. The punishment fits the crime.
In vs. 3-7, the 2nd and 3rd bowls of wrath are poured out on the earth’s waters, with both the seas and rivers becoming blood, killing every animal in them. One of the angels who brings this judgment speaks declares in vs. 5-6 You are righteous, Eternal Lord. It is only fitting that those who spilled the blood of your saints and prophets now have only blood to drink themselves. Other voices chime in from the altar in heaven—the place where the souls of the saints who were killed for Christ- saying amen! Finally! They get what they deserve. The punishment fits the crime.
These first 3 bowls stress the fact that God’s wrath is not arbitrary, but that His judgment connects the sin with the consequences of the sin. This is confirmed by another passage:
Ga 6:7-8 7Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.
Even in our own legal system, there is usually at least an attempt to make the punishment fit the crime. You don’t expect a person who wrote a bad check to get the electric chair (unless you get stuck with the charges!) You don’t expect a person who is guilty of first degree murder to get 90 days in the county jail (though that sometimes happens!) We expect the punishment to fit the crime.
Justice involves a person getting what they deserve for doing what is wrong. If you break the law, justice demands that you get what you deserve, that the punishment fits the crime. That isn’t just a human idea—it is rooted in the character of God. His wrath demands that a person who does wrong gets what they deserve.
Our For What It’s Worth Department hears from Hershey, PA where the woman in the Mercedes had been waiting patiently for a parking place to open up. The shopping mall was crowded.
The woman in the Mercedes zigzagged between rows—then up ahead she saw a man with a load of packages heading for his car. She drove up, parked behind him and waited while he opened his trunk and loaded it with packages. Finally he got in his car and backed out of the stall.
But before the woman in the Mercedes could drive into the parking space, a young man in a shiny new Corvette zipped past and around her and he pulled into the empty space, got out and started walking away.