For centuries there have been those who have found it theologically unbearable to embrace the traditional Christian teaching about hell, divine punishment, and the wrath of God, resorting as a consequence either to universalism or to annihilationism for doctrinal consolation. John himself portrays the judgment of God in inextricable connection with the grace of God, a pairing found throughout biblical prophecy. For this prophet, the grace of the “new heaven and earth” and the joy of the heavenly Jerusalem can only be constructed and imagined as a reflected image of God’s severe punishment and consummate wrath poured upon Babylon (cf. Rev. 15:1, 6; 16:17, 19). The following parallels are too similar to be merely coincidental, especially since there is no obvious explanation why an angel associated with the “seven bowls” and “plagues” would introduce the “bride, the wife of the Lamb.” Except for the incense bowls of Rev. 5:8, every other occurrence of the term “bowl” prior to Rev. 21:9 is used in connection with the outpouring of the wrath of God (15:7; 16:1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 10, 12, 17; 17:1). Prior to Rev. 21:9 the phrase “golden bowl” is associated with the judgment and wrath of God (15:7; 16:1, 17; 17:1). John wants his congregants to see the clear connection between the destruction of the brutal oppressors of the saints and the redemption of the saints. These two sides of God’s character are inseparable for the prophet John. To state succinctly what is clear to John, followers of Christ cannot experience personal, eternal redemption from God’s judgment, if God’s judgment is not eternal.
Rev. 17:1Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great whore who is seated on many waters.”
Rev. 21:9Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
In addition to the intended contrast of the two women contained in the statements, “Come, I will show you the whore” (Rev. 17:1) and “Come, I will show you the bride” (Rev. 21:9), John’s theology of judgment and redemption and their inextricable tie is also seen in the contrasts of capital cities (You may need to click on chart to see details; sorry).
Returning to the literary structure of Revelation chapters 17-22 and its theological emphases, it is clear that John did not flinch or blush at the idea that the reward of the saints was perceived within the same framework as the graphic presentation of the just destruction of God’s enemies. This seems to be a perspective that the modern, western church has extreme difficulty embracing, a difficulty residing especially within the intelligentsia of Christianity.
While this will not satisfy those who flinch at the idea of the wrath of God’s judgment, I am persuaded that there is something to be said for the view that some of the harshest criticisms of other religions preserved in Scripture were not intended for public audiences, at least not most of the time. That is, we can embrace spiritual perspectives derived from Scripture that need not necessarily be put in the church bulletin or the outdoor marquee every week. Accordingly, those Christian leaders, preachers, and evangelists who revel in the public damnation of others and seemingly gloat over the imagined scenes of the unregenerate masses marching into the pits of Hell, hold these attitudes without widespread Scriptural foundation.