We have to understand the seduction of sin, the power of Satan to deceive, and the incredible hardness of man’s heart. Sin is overwhelmingly enticing. The force it generates on our minds and affections can be almost impossible to resist.
During the civil war the Confederate Army had a policy that if any black Union soldiers were captured they were to be executed. It was born out of the dilemma the South was facing where many blacks wanted to join the Union and fight the South. What to do with black POW’s? They could not be treated equally with whites. Otherwise slave rebellions were feared. And you can’t legitimize the black man as being equal with the white man, so, he can’t be treated as well as white POW’s and he can’t be used in prisoner exchanges with the Union. So they were to be executed.
That is until Lincoln responded with Order No. 252, which meant that any mistreatment of black Union POW’s would be reciprocated in the North with a white Confederate POW receiving the same treatment. Even execution.
Lincoln was setting an example and deterring the mistreatment of black Union soldiers by the South.
Examples. Sometimes you need them. They need to be set. It’s a corrective. The group is starting to stray. It’s not a good sign. Then one person does something that pretty much shows you where the group is at. Or, at least heading towards. Unless something is done. So, an example has to be set. You can correct the rest of the group with just the one. It hurts. It’s not fun. But the alternative is far worse: the whole group is lost. So it’s necessary. An example.
Parents with more than one kid know what I’m talking about. You know how the younger follows the older. Many times you correct the older, the younger sees and learns. Anywhere there are groups where discipline is needed. Schools with unruly students (unless you’re Berkley). The military. Societies. Governments. Israel.
God has made examples before. Israel’s propensity to rebel against God has been met, mercifully, with examples. I say mercifully because God wanting to give the whole nation a chance to get right with Him and get back on track sought to avoid consequences on a national level. So, either with an individual, or a group, God would deal with them severely for their persistent sin. This was done in front of the rest of the nation to show them that if they continued this is the kind of results they can expect. God was giving them time, the chance, the opportunity to turn away from their evil and turn back to Him. Merciful, I say.
Miriam’s leprosy. The Northern Kingdom swept away by Assyria and the Southern Kingdom didn’t learn from it. The NT is full of this. Turn to 1 Corinthians 10:6-11 with me.
Is this part of your conception of what God is like? We’re saturated with teachings on God’s love and tolerance and grace and permissiveness but there is the other side of God we don’t allow ourselves to think about much. It’s His fierceness and sternness against sin. And even in the midst of judging He is working His mercy into the mix as well. Yes, He has and does and will come down hard on sinners, but, what is missed so often is this: not on all sinners. Some will get what they’ve got coming to them. But many won’t. Why? Because those few serve as examples to the rest in an effort to motivate them to change their course. And aim it back towards God. Mercy.
In Revelation 9 there are 2 verses we’re going to drill down on. The 6th Trumpet Judgment has ended. Remember that the 5th, 6th and 7th Trumpet Judgments are called the 3 Woes. So the 6th Trumpet is the 2nd Woe. When this judgment is finished, the outcome will be that one-third of earth’s human population will have died. What about the remaining two-thirds of the population? Do they look at what happened and turn to God? In the aftermath do they seek the Living One? Do they see the example God set with one-third of the population and repent before a similar fate overcomes them? Verses 20 and 21 tell us what their response is.
The Stubbornness of the Survivors
These two verses give me the impression that God’s purpose in the judgment of 1/3rd of the population was meant to motivate the other 2/3rds to repent. But they don’t. Notice the language, the rest of mankind that survived “still did not repent”, “they did not stop”, “Nor did they repent”. Three times John states that these survivors stubbornly kept on sinning. They refused to repent. They weren’t about to give it up.
Why wouldn’t they? We have to understand the seduction of sin, the power of Satan to deceive, and the incredible hardness of man’s heart. Sin is overwhelmingly enticing. The force it generates on our minds and affections can be almost impossible to resist. And it seems so gratifying when we’re faced with it. Lash out in that anger. Indulge that lust. Look with haughty eyes. Listen in on that gossip, or, even throw in some of your own. Go ahead and grumble and complain. Blame others – blame God! Tell the lie. Take advantage of someone, steal, cheat, get ahead at the cost of your integrity. Go on, doubt God. He’s doesn’t care, He can’t do anything about it. Sin is so appealing in the moment. And our hearts the Bible says are desperately wicked, unknowable to ourselves. Our hearts are so quickly lunging after our sins, especially the ones we’ve indulged for so long and justified. Beware of a hard heart – that is one of the worst conditions to have.
But they won’t repent also because they have rejected the truth in Jesus and so God has done something. Something terrifying. Turn to 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12. He sent them a powerful delusion that they couldn’t resist believing, and, by loving the lie He sent and hating the truth they originally rejected He is going to punish them.
What does it mean to repent? Sometimes we can make it too complicated. Very simply it means you change directions in some manner. Your orientation towards something is reversed. Your course is re-directed. Sometimes it emphasizes the change of mind and heart someone has. Like when they are saved. Their thinking and their attitude towards Jesus changes. They no longer put Him off but receive Him as their Savior. You no longer smirk at the idea you need Him to save you; now you realize that yes you do! Other times we read the word repent and it stresses a change in behavior. Like, when Jesus says “Leave your life of sin” to the woman caught in adultery. Or when Jesus says to the Ephesian Church “Repent and do the things you did at first”.
Repentance is a much disputed word. Some people believe that mental repentance can happen and absolutely no behavioral repentance will follow. This is a very compartmentalized view on one end of the spectrum. On the other end, there is the view that a mental repentance will produce a dramatic repentance in a person’s behavior. Every time. No exceptions. Otherwise that person isn’t saved. In other words, unless a clear behavioral repentance is seen by these folks they cannot believe any true mental or heart repentance could have occurred. Some use the Law as a test. Others use things like reading the Bible going to church, prayer, the quantity of Bible knowledge, or to personally assess the validity of someone else’s salvation. Let me offer 2 cautions here.
Caution #1: We need to be careful not to keep the mental and behavioral repentance unrelated to each other. Saying a change in mind and heart doesn’t effect a change in behavior is absurd. That hyper-compartmentalizing undermines the foundation of Christian living, which is grounded in how we think. Furthermore, for someone to mentally repent from their sins they have to admit that committing those sins has made them guilty before God. Saying that the regenerated person has no new desire to stop sinning, no fresh sensitivity to committing those same sins they’ve been saved from, no cleansed conscience through which the Spirit of God can speak to is tantamount to denying the total qualitative change God performs inside the person when they are saved.
Caution #2: But we also need to be cautious not think the Christian life is so mechanical that a radically sweeping change in behavior always follows a mental change. In real life, as even seen in Scripture, there are disruptions to that connection. The Corinthians were that kind of bunch. Sometimes genuine Christians get caught in sin. Sin is seductive. The world is enticing. Sometimes Christians go without good Biblical teachers to instruct them in the word. They get cotton candy sermons but not even any real milk – let alone meat of the Word. So they get blown around by the winds of worldly things they hear.
And yet God wants them to repent. Ezekiel 18:23, 30-32; 33:11; 2 Pet. 3:9;
We have to keep two things in view here: first, God patiently puts up with obstinate sinners for far longer than we ever would, holding off judgment, giving them much time to repent. Second, we have to keep in mind that while God patiently warns sinners to repent and waits for them to do so, He will not wait forever. Some people think that time is all someone needs to repent. Give me more time. Or, give them more time. But, people who usually appeal to more time often have been given lots of time already. A point has to be reached when He is done waiting. His justice must be served. Its a point where it has been clearly seen that no amount of time will ever lead someone to change.
So here we are in Revelation 9. Verses 20 and 21. Two-thirds of the population have survived the 6th Trumpet Judgment, a.k.a. “The Second Woe”. They are recovering from the fact that every 3rd person on the planet just died. They died for their stubborn persistent sin. But the survivors did the same things. Why didn’t they die? Because of God’s mercy. Those who died were the example. Those who lived have a second chance. They can go from the camp of the rebels to the camp of the redeemed. There’s still time to cross from the path of sinners to the path of the saints. Depart the program of evil and enter the program of eternal life.