Don’t Go to Sleep

Discussion Guide for Revelation 16

Just this morning I have been listening to a new song from my favorite Christian hip-hop artist. He very straightforwardly makes his view known in calling out other Christian hip-hop artists for de-emphasizing the Gospel as they have gained a wider audience and acceptance in the pop culture of America. Many of these artists state that they have been fulfilling a call to take Gospel themes to a wider audience in the hopes of influencing non-believers toward the Gospel. Shai Linne’s critique is that you have shied away from the preaching of the Gospel if anything in your message is emphasized more than the Gospel.

What strikes me about this discussion, which takes place in public through the media of YouTube and Twitter, is that it is a discussion as old as the church itself. How can the church be a lampstand pointing the world to Christ while not standing in unity with a world that is in full-on rebellion against its Creator.

The rules for engagement are very seldom black-and-white. We must be students of the Word as well as students of the culture so that we can effectively know which elements of the culture to embrace and which elements from which to remain separated. We then have to understand the best way to communicate our separation so that people can see us pointing them to Jesus.

I am very encouraged to see this age-old dialogue taking place in the realm of Christian hip-hop. But, you don’t have to be a hip-hop fan to understand that the issue in the dialogue is the same exhortation that John gives in Revelation 16:15.

STAY AWAKE! THIS WORLD IS CURSED BY GOD BEYOND IMAGINATION. BE VIGILANT IN POINTING A LOST WORLD TO CHRIST LEST YOU BE DECEIVED INTO BELIEVING YOU ARE PART OF THIS WORLD.

I don’t know how to deal with seven bowls of wrath in Revelation 16 and not feel anything other than terror at the extent of the wrath of God. If you didn’t listen to Steven Lawson’s sermon on the wrath of God last week, I highly recommend it for getting a sense of how completely consistent these bowls are with the nature of the Person of God.

One important thing to note is that the bowls of wrath are not God’s discipline. We often encounter limited aspects of the judgment of God in our own lives in order for God to call us to repentance and to live in glad submission to Him. None of this is happening in Revelation 16. Those who already belong to Christ rejoice at his justice. Those who are experiencing the full brunt of His wrath are further hardened in their opposition.

This pretty well illustrates the two camps into which all of humanity fall both now and into eternity: one camp is indwelled with hearts of worship toward the God of justice while the other camp rages against His wrath or attempts to conquer it without acknowledging its justice. These realities will be the difference between eternal heaven and eternal hell. Doug Wilson ascribes two statements to atheists: “There is no God; and I hate him.”

Bowls 1-4 are biological and ecological disasters poured out on the earth in measures never seen. Judging by the responses of people today to natural disasters we can surmise what their responses will be to the bowl wraths.

As Christians, we understand that God in creation gave man and woman a place of dominion over the earth to care for it. Creation is not God, Man is not God. Man’s job is to follow God’s design for the earth and to trust that he will provide for mankind the same way that He provides for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.

The modern environmental movement has taken some dark twists that place man as the ultimate arbiter for the success or failure of the environment and place the environment as the ultimate reality rather than God. This is philosophically nothing more than old-school pantheism (think Greek mythology or Hinduism). It’s easy to imagine people vainly calling on the EPA for salvation rather than the God who is the source of the bowl judgments.

Bowls 4-7 represent God’s wrath attacking the very institutions of human political power. Much more will be said in the coming weeks about the fall of Babylon. This city has been the representative for the sinful pride of human civilization unified in defiance of God since the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Just as God brought the civilization of Babel down to spectacular chaos, so will he suddenly and spectacularly lay low the unified forces of the world’s superpowers that are arrayed against Him.

As with all of the Book of Revelation, this is not simply a story to sit back and enjoy. This unveiling is a message to spur the Church on to greater faithfulness to Christ. The exhortation in verse 15 is to tell us there is a blessing in staying awake and ready for action in the midst of a cosmic battle between God and the pride of mankind.

It’s very easy for us in the church to look around at the sinful aspects of the system of the World and believe that we are part of that system. There is a clear line drawn in the sand and the people of God are called to stand firmly on His side, which is the side of justice.

Discussion Questions

  • How do you struggle with being a witness to the world while remaining separate from the world?
  • How do you recognize the difference between God’s punitive judgment and his disciplinary judgment?
  • Why do you think repentance does not result from the bowl judgments?
  • Do recent disasters make people think about the bowl judgments?
  • What does it mean to fall asleep spiritually?
  • Why is spiritual sleep such an easy trap?
  • How are some of these bowl judgments reflected in the world today?
  • How will these judgments be worse in the future?
  • Do you grieve over the condition of the lost world?

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Jonathan Pugh

Associate Pastor: Life Groups & Church Partnership

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