When most people think of the Book of Revelation, they think of strange scary monsters and creative and most unpleasant plagues in the End times. I know I did until recently.
But there is so much more to the Apocalypse of St. John. Above all, there is worship, glorious stirring worship, much of which the church has incorporated into its liturgy.
Yet even if you notice and join the worship, it is easy to miss a key aspect of that worship. It is especially easy for us snowflakey post-moderns to miss.
In the Apocalypse, the justice of God is revealed and praised. Yes, that includes the Lord being worshipped for releasing his wrath upon the earth. The God of the Evangelical Church of What’s Happening Now may not have much wrath (except against “racism”, of course), but the God of the Bible sure does. The Nu Fellowship of Self-Help and Positive Thinking may not invite us to worship the Lord as he unleashes his justice and wrath, but the Apocalypse of St. John certainly does. And – sorry if I am interrupting anyone’s premature Christmas – an important message of the ADVENT season is that Christ shall return to judge.
To be fair, even us obviously and liturgically correct traditional Anglicans often get caught up by the spirits of the age and find the just wrath of God to be unpleasant and not for polite conversation. If this sounds like you, you might want to sit privily in your favorite chair in your den with a stiff gin at ready before reading chapters 15 and 16 of Revelation. For in the midst of the frightful Seven Plagues in which “the wrath of God is finished,” the justice of God is praised.
As these “seven golden vials full of the wrath of God” are prepared, the people of God worship, singing:
Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty;
Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.
Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name?
For thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee;
For thy judgments are made manifest.
We see nothing here asking the Lord to be winsome and go easy on his wrath. Instead, after the Third Plague turns the rivers and springs to blood, we read:
And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say,
“Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was,
for you brought these judgments.
For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
and you have given them blood to drink.
It is what they deserve!”
And I heard the altar saying,
“Yes, Lord God the Almighty,
true and just are your judgments!”
And the rest of chapter 16 keeps reminding us that the people of the world will be getting what they deserve; for instead of repenting, they double down on their evil and curse God. For example, here is the Fifth Plague:
The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.
Therefore, they get “what they deserve.” And God is worshipped and praised for bringing that about with His wrath.
Yes, this is not the sort of thing you will find in children’s story Bibles nor in sermons at Nu Life Fellowship. I do wonder if there is a market for an Angry Man’s Story Bible complete with scenes like this mercilessly illustrated. This angry man would be a buyer. Anyway, I was saying? Oh yes – the Rector at your Anglican church may be too polite to say much about this either. But it’s in there; it’s scripture; it’s part of the package of Advent and of the holiness, justice, and sovereignty of God; and it is to be praised.
Now I confess I have a bit of a mean streak (I’m sure that shocks all readers.) and have no problem thanking and praising God for His justice to come. It even comforts me. I can get quite provoked by injustice – and hasn’t 2020 provided much to provoke us all? So the ultimate justice of God gladdens me even if I am unlikely to see it in full in my lifetime.
The justice of God also keeps me in line. It reminds me of the importance of being on the merciful right side of the justice of God through Jesus Christ and His First Advent. And it helps keep me from responding to current injustice by making things worse with my foolishness. See Psalms 37, 73 and any number of Psalms on that. The Psalms again and again wrestle with the subject of injustice in the world. The remedy is the coming justice of God and not our making bad situations worse either through resigned passivity or unhinged anger.
So I love the Advent message of the coming justice of God. But I understand if you are less mean than I and are in somewhat in a hurry to get past judgement, wrath and justice to the Babe lying in a manger. I, too, usually get Christmasy a bit early in spite of myself. Yes, even me.
The thing is if we try to rush past the message of the Second Advent, with judgement and wrath included much more than batteries when opening the presents, traditional liturgy will not let us get away with that. We are reminded of something on Christmas Day with this collect:
O GOD, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thine only Son Jesus Christ; Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come to be our Judge, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
So not only Advent, but Christmas as well reminds us that the Babe lying in a manger grew up, lived, died, rose again, ascended, all for our redemption and His glory, and shall return to judge the Earth and us. It will be glorious, but it will also be most unpleasant for many. For that is how the justice of God is as we see in the Revelation of St. John. Nonetheless, if we truly worship Jesus Christ, that must include worshipping Him as the just Judge as He is worshipped in the Apocalypse of St. John.
May God grant us grace to be on the right side of His justice so we may greet Jesus at His birth and at His return with confidence – in Him, not in ourselves – with praise and with joy.