I do not remember a time when I have not been in a church. And in all those years of memories, I have seen and heard many tales of perverse sins, both inside and outside of the church — drug and alcohol abuse, financial misdeeds, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, unbiblical divorce and remarriage, physical assault, abuse and murder, rebellious children — it seems that there should be an end to the kinds of sins and the extent of sins on this list, but there apparently isn’t. The Lord is right — “The heart is more deceitful than all else and it is desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9).
And what is even more astonishing is that all of these sins come with consequences. And the consequences are not small. Jobs are lost, marriages are destroyed, relationships with parents or children end, people go to jail and even death row, others become physically ill and are hospitalized. They endure various punishments and are ostracized for their sins. If in the church, they are disciplined out of the church. And if outside the church, even in a “tolerant” culture, many sins lead to being shamed and rejected. The end of sin is not pretty. It is harsh and tragic. And one would be tempted to think that such difficult results would produce soft hearts — people ready to repent and change and seek the God they have rejected in their sins.
But too often it is not so. Rather than becoming tender under the bitter realities of sin, many times (most times?), people remain entrenched in their sins and even hardened against repentance. And there is a sad prophecy of that reality in Revelation 9.
The world will already have seen the beginnings of God’s wrath against it. In one of God’s judgments alone, one-fourth of the earth’s population will die (Rev. 6:7-8). In today’s numbers, that would mean more than 1.75 billion people dead in one massive event. The logistical and economic effects alone are staggering to consider.
And yet that is not the end of God’s judgment. Revelation 9 tells of the unleashing of Satanic forces against the earth of an unprecedented measure. Since the fall of Satan and his corrupt followers, God has imprisoned some of those rebellious angels so they are currently incapable of acting. And in Revelation 9, some of them are released (vv. 1-3, 11, 15-16). The destruction they leave is incomprehensible — there is torment that leaves men begging to die, yet they are unable and not permitted to die (v. 6).
And then the Lord grants these demonic forces the right to kill, and another third of the earth’s population will be destroyed (v. 15). So in two judgments alone, one-half of the earth’s population will be vanquished. One of every two people is gone. Again, in today’s terms, the earth’s population would decrease from over seven billion to a little over 3.5 billion. Such devastation really is beyond our comprehension.
And one might be tempted to think that such harsh judgment would make men cry out for mercy from God and repent from their sins. It will not be so, as the sobering final verses of Revelation 9 affirm:
“The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts” (Rev 9:20–21).
They didn’t repent? How can that be? Why would they not repent?
This is a revelation of just how hard a hard heart can be. Men love their sin more than they love Christ. They are so blinded by Satan that they would rather have their idolatrous ungodly desires — their financial, sexual, and violent yearnings — with all their horrid consequences than humble themselves under the hand of God and turn to Him and His purposes.
Like yesterday, here is a lesson for us today. The heart of a man is desperately wicked and sick. Sin is deluding. Repentance is not merely hard; it is unnatural for the unredeemed man. He will not do it and he cannot do it, apart from God’s grace. So when you see unrepentance in others, do not be surprised. The natural man has always and will always seek to keep God out of his life. And when you see repentance in others or yourself, bow in worship. For such repentance is a gracious gift from God.