A Biblical Theology of Repentance, part 9

A couple of weeks ago, I began posting portions of a paper I wrote for my Biblical Theology course titled, “That Times of Refreshing May Come: A Biblical Theology of Repentance.” This is the ninth installment of a multi-post series. The previous parts can be found at the following: parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and eight.


The closing book of the Bible has a glorious vision of the resurrected Jesus to an exiled John on Patmos. The opening chapters include an apocalyptic vision of Jesus (ch. 1). This is followed by Jesus’ instruction to seven churches in Asia minor (Rev 2–3). The instructions to the church follow a seven-fold structure which includes, with a few exceptions, a rebuke/reproof and a command (or commands) to correct their situation.[1] Of the five churches that receive a rebuke from the resurrected Christ, four of them are commanded to “repent” (Grk. metanoeson) of various transgressions.

In the middle of John’s vision the restrained judgment of God on the wicked is revealed through a series of seven trumpet blasts (Rev 8:2–11:18). These are warnings of the coming wrath of God. Between the sixth and seventh trumpet blast is the sad description of mankind’s refusal to return to God:

“The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 20 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts” (Rev 9:20–21, emphasis mine).

These warning judgments are followed by another set of “sevens”. This time it is the seven bowls of God’s unrestrained wrath (Rev 16:1–21). Yet even in the midst of this devastating judgment of God on wickedness and evil, some remained in stubborn resistance. As the fourth bowl was poured out by the angel, the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire and fierce heat (Rev 16:8). Despite this, “they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory” (Rev 16:9).

Likewise, after the fifth bowl of wrath was poured out, the people “cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds” (Rev 16:11). This rejection of God remained until the seventh and final bowl was poured out where the people continued to “curse God” (cf. Rev 16:21). These are the last mentions of repentance in the Bible, and they are tragically used for those who refused to repent and turn to God even to the very end. The fact that it is mentioned that failed repent assumes that repentance was a possibility even to the pouring of the last bowl. There is a finality to this narrative that leaves no indication whatsoever in the remainder of Revelation that another opportunity to repent is offered. This sad description at the close of the biblical canon depicts an

…unrepentant mass of humankind as God’s climactic wrath is poured out on the earth… Instead of turning to the Lord in repentant faith through his longstanding patience (2 Pet 3:9) or to escape his righteous judgment, these sinners continued with their abominable acts (9:20, 21) and cursed God instead of glorifying him (16:9, 11).[2]

[1] The seven-fold pattern is as follows: 1. The Church Addressed (“To the angel of the church in…”); 2. Description of Christ (“The words of [him who]…”); 3. Commendation (“I know your deeds…”); 4. Reproof/Rebuke (“I have this against you…”); 5. Proposed Solution (identified with several Greek imperative verbs); 6. Consequence of Disobedience (e.g. remove their lamp stand, make war with them, spit them out of his mouth, etc.); 7. Promise of Reward for Conquerors (e.g. tree of life, crowns, manna from heaven, etc.).Smyrna and Philadelphia do not receive a rebuke or a consequence of disobedience, while Sardis and Laodicea do not receive a commendation.

[2] A. Boyd Luter, Jr., “Repentance,” in David Noel Freedman, ed. The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. Accordance electronic ed., version 3.0. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008, 5:674.

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