Praise for God's Wrath
In the preceding verses we saw angels preparing to 'harvest the earth' (Revelation 14:14-20), resulting in the trampling of the grape harvest in the 'winepress of God’s wrath' (Revelation 14:20; 19:15), and unleashing judgement on the earth. Now the spotlight is turned on seven angels preparing to pour out the 'bowls of God's wrath' (Revelation 16:1). We have seen such plagues before, with the seven seals (Revelation 6:1-8:5) and the seven trumpets (Revelation 8:6-11:19). However the severity increases in each series, reminding the reader of the inescapable justice of God towards those who reject His Lordship.
John is not despondent, even though the plagues are terrible. He sees the angels, with the plagues in their bowls, as a wonderful sign of hope for God's people. In this last series of judgements, God will totally deal with the wickedness which defies His right to rule the earth. He will vindicate His Own. The finality of three sets of seven judgements would have been obvious to John and the 1stC believers. At the same time, John sees a glassy sea with a deep fiery glow. This may be the sea of separation and judgement, or the still waters of the blood of the martyrs. But John is delighted to see the shoreline filled with those who have not given in to the Beast, the dead and wounded, who are now victorious. They resisted the demands of the Beast to have his number tattooed on their hands or foreheads; they have withstood the persecution including not being able to buy or sell (Revelation 13:16-17). They stayed faithful to Jesus.
Their harps did not belong to angels (Revelation 5:8); God gave them their praise instruments. There is so much to thank Him for. Rather like Jesus on the road to Emmaus who began with Moses and all the Prophets, explaining what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself (Luke 24:27), they sang the song of Moses and of the Lamb. It is one song, not two (Revelation 15:3-4). The salvation song recalls the Law which condemns our sin, and the substitute-sacrifice of Jesus to free us from God's wrath; in both, the greatness, holiness, justice and commanding sovereignty of God are revealed.
It may seem strange to praise God's wrath but it is the product of His holiness (Isaiah 13:3). But His holy character is the only basis by which truth and falsehood is measured. It is the only reference point for knowing what is right and wrong, for knowing what pleases Him, and what to praise Him for. There is no gloating over the judgement of the wicked, but rejoicing that God's sovereignty is no longer ridiculed and His people are vindicated (Ezekiel 36:4-7). God-honouring praise does not start with my feelings of happiness in my circumstances (Habakkuk 3:17-18), but with the confidence that in the Law, He is righteous … and in the Gospel, Christ has paid for my unrighteousness. The song of heaven is focussed on who God is and what He has done (Revelation 5:11-14). Choose to praise God for His holy character and His righteous actions. It will recalibrate your heart, give you a fresh desire for personal holiness, and a godly joy.
© Dr Paul Adams