Blessed Are the Forgiven: Psalm 32 and Revelation 13–16
To this day, I find myself thinking from time to time about something my teacher did in my second-grade class at my elementary school when she was fed up with the lack of social graces we country kids exhibited. She gave us a long talk about politeness and virtue and pointed to a little metal tree with many branches that was sitting prominently on her desk. From now on, she announced, whenever she witnessed a student showing good manners and kindness, she was going to hang a little paper apple on the tree bearing that student’s initials. At the end of the week, the student with the most fruit on the tree would win a prize.
Well, for me, that was “game on.” I was a pastor’s kid. I knew what goodness was supposed to look like. And I was competitive. I could be as good as gold. I could imagine that tree loaded with little apples with “GS” written on them.
Yet, success for me was frustratingly elusive. I said “please” and “thank you” all day long, and would look for things to do that showed how well-mannered I could be, but to little avail. My teacher barely noticed me. At the end of one week I remember having only two apples on the little tree. But as for the rowdy (and generally meaner) kids, the tree was laden with their fruit. How could this be, I wondered.
But looking back with an adult mind, I can see now that the game was psychologically rigged. My teacher’s real goal was to bring the more boisterous students into submission by offering incentives. So those of us who were shier or naturally quieter were overlooked. But I can remember my abject disappointment, trying hard to be “good” while the authority in my life I hoped to impress paid hardly any attention.
This grade school incident may seem trite. Yet events like this in the mind of a child are life-shaping as well as indicative. For isn’t this the way we often go through life? We want to impress certain people with the idea that we are not all that bad. We want them to think well of us. We actively strive to be noticed for our virtues. Or we try to make up for our failings.
What a wonderful truth we discover, therefore, when we learn through the gospel that the only authority whose opinion really matters is the God who made us and sent his Son to redeem us. And when we place our faith in him, we are declared completely and irrevocably righteous in God’s sight (Rom 5:1).
Psalm 32 assures us,
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
Lord counts no iniquity,
There will be no more urgent time when this truth matters to the Lord’s people than during the time of great tribulation on the earth. Those who come to Christ during this period will be persecuted by the beast, who will be allowed by God to overcome them. Revelation 13:10 says that this must be a time for great endurance for believers, for they will be pressured to worship the image of the beast and to take his mark in their right hand or forehead (Rev 13:15, 17; 14:11).
In stark contrast to those who accept the mark of the beast, however, the 144,000 saints have the name of the Lamb and his Father’s name written on their foreheads (14:1). These saints of God are pure and faithfully follow the Lamb. They have been “redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless” (14:4b–5). Those who “keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (14:12), who are told to endure, even if they die as martyrs in this time they “die in the Lord” and “rest from their labors” (14:13).
Those who have rejected the Lamb, however, are judged with a cataclysmic judgment such as the world has never seen. The violent, earth-shaking, horrifying wrath poured out in Revelation 16 is depicted as God’s forcing the kingdom of darkness and its citizens to “drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath” (16:19). And in the end, those who worship the beast are ultimately and sadly condemned to the lake of fire (14:9–13).
Never before that day will Psalm 32:10 ring truer:
Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
Reading through Revelation encourages us with the truth that we are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb (Rev 1:5; 5:9) and that, on the basis of his work, we stand before the Lord blameless, our sins forgiven, our iniquity covered. Reading about these unimaginable judgments causes us to rejoice in God’s grace to us. And it gives us perspective on our present trials. As Psalm 32:11 calls out,
Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,