Look: “The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. 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.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 agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.” (Revelation 16:8-11)
This imagery of people facing God’s righteous wrath for their sin is chilling. It shows people so hardened to God that neither the Law nor the Gospel gives them pause. They worship at what Carolyn Arends called “the altar of ego.”
The people here in Revelation are the opposite of those martyrs in history who refused to renounce the God ultimately revealed in Christ on pain of losing their earthly lives. When Paul looked at all the earthly things he had lost and likely would lose--including his life--because of his refusal to turn from the God he knew in Christ, he wrote:
“...I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ…” (Philippians 3:8)
Listen: It’s difficult to see what those in John’s Revelation image think they will gain by enduring their deserved punishments and refusing to receive the grace God would still make available to them in Christ.
Like Adam and Eve, they’re mired in their desire to “be like God.” They’ll be their own bosses even if it means eternal punishment, eternal separation from God.
This is tragic and unnecessary. It’s not what God desires; Jesus’ death and resurrection prove that. But God doesn’t force salvation, grace, hope, peace, and joy on anyone. He offers His hand; He doesn’t take us by force.
Respond: God, forgive me when I harden myself to You and to what You desire. Forgive me for hardening myself to grace and to love. Thaw my icy heart. Break down my iron will. Penetrate and overcome my self-centered thinking. Help me to trust in Jesus as my Sovereign. Make my trust in Your more complete. I yield control of today and how I live it to You. Re-form me more in the image of Jesus. Today, set me free from myself so that I can move toward becoming my better self. In Jesus’ name I pray. Von Staupitz taught Luther a prayer based on Psalm 119: “I am Yours; save me.” That’s my prayer too, Lord, today and in all circumstances. Amen[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]