Summary: The purpose of these judgments is: 1. To bring people to repentance. 2. To demonstrate the patience of God. 3. To establish God’s justice.
In the book of Revelation there are three major judgments that come to the earth. The first wave is called the seal judgments. They unfold as the Lamb breaks the seals of the scroll. As each seal is broken, it unleashes a new barrage of God’s judgment against an evil and Christ-rejecting world. Then, in chapter 8, another round begins as the angels blow the seven trumpets. Finally, the bowl judgments begin in chapter 16, as the final measure of God’s wrath is poured out on a world which refuses to budge from its position of willful unbelief. Each series of judgments is worse than the other, and the bowls complete the work during the great Tribulation, just prior to the return of Christ.
It is not pleasant to read about the carrying out of God’s judgment on the world. There are plagues, famine, war, and death. There is great suffering in the world as a result of what God is doing. There are many questions surrounding God’s activity and his purpose in all this. It all seems so terrible. Why would God do these things which cause such misery and pain?
Let me make several points today, and the first is that the purpose of these judgments is: To bring people to repentance. The purpose of these judgments is redemptive. It is an effort to get people to turn from their sin and turn to God — so that they might live. We need to remember that the Lord has said, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die. . . ?” (Ezekiel 33:11). The call to this kind of redemptive repentance is found throughout the book of Revelation. Jesus warned the churches in the beginning of the book, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent” (Revelation 3:19).
As these judgments are being carried out, it is the express purpose of the judgments to turn people from their sin so that God can turn from carrying out from his judgment against their sin and forgive them. He wants to save, not to harm. The purpose of the judgments is redemptive, not punitive. God seeks through these measures to correct, not merely to punish. God desires reconciliation, not retribution. In fact, the word for punish if found only one time in the entire book of Revelation (17:1), and then it is speaking about the punishment of the great prostitute who represents the evil, one-world government of the end times.
What is interesting is that there is a sense of wonder on the part of the inhabitants of heaven that the people of earth are experiencing all these judgments and still remain willfully and stubbornly rebellious. It says in chapter nine: “The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood — idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts” (Revelation 9:20-21). There is a sense of amazement that the judgments did not produce the intended effect. In fact, the people only seem to harden their hearts further. We read later where it says, “They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him” (Revelation 16:9). Their willful rebellion and stubborn refusal to submit their hearts to the God who gave them life, and acknowledge that he is King of the Universe, demonstrated their appropriateness of God’s judgment.
Our stubbornness in regard to surrendering our wills to the will of God is a major problem of the human family. Listen to the warning of Scripture: “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God ‘will give to each person according to what he has done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger” (Romans 2:5-8). It is interesting that the word for stubbornness in the original language comes from the root word skleros. Skleros means callous, or hard. We use it in the word “arteriosclerosis,” which is the medical term for the thickening and hardening of the arteries which blocks circulation. Stubbornness is when we have callous hearts. We harden our hearts toward God and we find no room for repentance. The circulation of the Spirit in our lives is blocked.