The Wrath of God’s Holy Love (T.F. Torrance on Revelation 15)

Revelation 15:1-4

Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished. And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

(The following sermon excerpt comes from T.F. Torrance, 1959. The Apocalypse Today. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp.103-4. Artwork by Chris Koelle, The Book of Revelation)

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After the third interlude comes the last series of seven plagues, called this time the seven vials of wrath…Only when we take [these three series of calamities] together can we see in proper dimension the unfolding of world events as the fierce attempt of pride to gain the mastery over the world, an attempt which shatters itself upon the wrath of God’s holy love. When the seven seals were broken, we found ourselves looking at the course of history, and at first it was difficult to say whether the events were of God or of the devil, but more and more there appeared the contours of planned evil in it all. When the seven trumpets blew, we discovered that behind the outward fashion of history and all its parade of evil powers, the real forces were quite different, the power of the Cross, the Word of God, the prayers of the saints, and the prayers of God’s people. Now we see that, shot through them all, are the judgments of God upon the defiant pride of godlessness. From this angle the history of the world is seen to be the history of God’s judgment upon it.

In order to make that quite clear we are given in the short fifteenth chapter a vision which places us in the right perspective to see the outpouring of divine wrath. It is as though St. John would say: Only from the angle of triumphant thankfulness can we look upon destructive judgment. There is indeed no judgment of divine wrath that is purely destructive in its intention, but lest we should think so, we must get God’s angle of vision, see the wrath from His side, and learn that throughout all is the purpose of love and redemption. That may be difficult for us to do as long as we are earth bound and can only look out with fear and terror upon the judgments that shatter the earth. But this vision is given in order to teach us that while our view is distorted by proximity to the terrible things, that view is the true one which the redeemed have who look down upon it all and burst into thankfulness and praise.

The significant fact here is the sea of glass mingle with fire…: of glass, because the judgments of God are crystal clear and they pierce down to the dark depths of iniquity and nothing is hidden from its searching light: mingled with fire, for our God is a consuming fire in the passion of His holy love, and at last all the sin of humanity that has gone to the making of the anarchy and wickedness that have covered the earth will perish for ever in the heat of the burning. But this is the fire that consumes and yet does not consume away, for ti is the fire of holy love that burns the dross and refines the silver. At last we shall have again the vision of a crystal sea perfectly reflecting in its unsullied transparence the pure love of the heavenly Father.

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