Why Do People Refuse to Repent? Revelation 9:20-21

Sins of Jezebel (1953)After the devastation of the first six of the trumpets, the people of the earth do not repent of their idolatry (Revelation 9:20-21). This description of idolatry is consistent with the Old Testament, idols are things crafted by men that cannot do anything (Ps 115:5-7; 1 Cor 10:20). Standing on the foundation of texts like Deuteronomy 32:17, Revelation 9:20 says the worship of idols is the worship of demons. This is certainly the same view of idolatry as other Second Temple Jewish literature:

1 Enoch 99.6–7 “Again I swear to you, you sinners, for sin has been prepared for the day of unceasing blood. 7 (And those) who worship stones, and those who carve images of gold and of silver and of wood and of clay, and those who worship evil spirits and demons, and all kinds of idols not according to knowledge, they shall get no manner of help in them.

Testament of Judah 23.1 “My grief is great, my children, on account of the licentiousness and witchcraft and idolatry that you practice contrary to the kingship, following ventriloquists, omen dispensers, and demons of deceit.

The people of the earth do not repent of any of their offenses: murders, magic arts, sexual immorality, and thefts.” Three of these four are in the ten commandments (murder, adultery, and theft). The fourth, “magical arts” is sometimes translated “sorcery” (φάρμακον). Although this particular offense seems out of place alongside three of the Ten Commandments, the related φάρμακος describes the Egyptian magicians in the Septuagint (Exod 7:11; 9:11). Sorcerers or magicians are among those consigned to the Lake of Fire in Revelation 21:8 and 22:15.

The Old Testament often associated sorcery and idolatry. For example, 2 Kings 9:22, Jehu says there can be no peace in Israel because of the many “the whorings and the sorceries of your mother Jezebel.” Magicians are associated with sexual immorality in some Second Temple literature. For example, in the Testament of Reuben 4.9 Egyptian woman used magicians and potions for him to entrap Joseph sexually.

In the Temple Scroll idolatry and magic are abominations which will result in exile:

11Q19 Col. lx:17-20 Among you there should not be found anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass 18 through fire, anyone who practices divination, astrologers, sorcerers, wizards, anyone who performs incantations, anyone who consults a spirit 19 or oracles or anyone who questions the dead; because all those who do these things are an abomination to me. 20 And owing to these abominations I shall dispossess them before you.

I suggest the immediate context of idolatry and sexual immorality is participation in festivals and banquets honoring Roman gods, perhaps even the imperial cult. The letters to the seven churches often warned believers to repent (2:5 (2x); 2:16; 2:21, 22; 3:3; 3:19). In the case of Thyatira (2:18-28), the use of Jezebel clearly associates idolatry and immorality, as in 2 Kings 9:22, “the whorings and the sorceries of your mother Jezebel.”

That the people of the earth refuse to repent after the sixth trumpet is consistent with the sixth seal. Rather than repent, the people of the earth call on the rocks and mountains to hide them from the wrath of the Lamb. Greg Beale draws a parallel to the conclusion of the plagues in Egypt, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh (Revelation, 517). He argues there is a “theological purpose” to these warnings, God is providing sufficient opportunities for repentance so that he may demonstrate his sovereignty and justice when he finally judges those who are not sealed by God when the seventh trumpet sounds (11:18).

Like the plagues on the Egyptians in Exodus, the plagues in Revelation 7-9 are not evangelistic. They are fair warnings by the sovereign God that final judgment is coming soon even if the ones who are warned are have no interested in repenting.

13 thoughts on “Why Do People Refuse to Repent? Revelation 9:20-21

  1. they don’t know how…have hardened hard against goodness of God and don’t believe …can’t change mind…don’t believe they are forgiven…/accept forgiveness..

  2. There are many people today who refuse to repent. Is that because they do not properly know how? Or do they not want grace? I feel like this answer varies across the board. It is also common for people to avoid repenting as they think they can fix the sin on their own. They think they can become righteous at their own attempt when we know it is only God who can make it right. If we repent, God will forgive us. This is the only answer. Repenting cannot be avoided. Repenting is not always easy. Many prideful people struggle with it. It is hard for people to admit that they were wrong and to have to ask God for forgiveness. It is essential for our salvation though as Christians. Oftentimes, repenting is not a time for cheer and praise. It is time to admit your wrongdoings and lay it all out in front of God. He already knows what you did, but it is up to you to ask for forgiveness. Many people like to avoid their problems which results in being dishonest with yourself and with God. The only person that it affects is yourself. What if God will not forgive us? He does. Time and time again, God forgives us. God is so gracious and so kind. He is a loving and forgiving God. I also once read an interesting article about how our identity is within our sin. I cannot remember where it came from but it talked about how sometimes people see themselves and categorize themselves with their sin. For example, if you drink, then it get associated with being an alcoholic. People struggle with this. That is why confrontation and repenting does not come easy. Some people do not know who they are within sin. That is sad to say but very true. The last idea that came to mind was that some of our sins may not be seen as a sin. What we think is right and wrong is different from what others believe and what God tells us is right and wrong. Ultimately, we do know that God’s way and law is the only right way and we must obey Him at all costs. God loves us no matter what. He loves and forgives. Simply, just go to God and lay it all out and just ask Him to forgive you. It will work. You just have to have patience, time, and faith.

  3. Amid the people’s refusal to repent in Revelation 9:20-21, we see God’s mercy shine through. It may not seem like it at first, but just by mentioning that they would not repent makes it clear that God was giving them another chance to do so (9:20). Their unrepentance was not out of ignorance, God gave plenty of evidence as we can see in the previous verses. You (P. Long) compare chapters 7-9 with the plagues on Egypt in Exodus. You say that both are warnings “even if the ones who are warned … have no [interest] in repenting”. God’s abundant mercy, even for those who do not wish to repent, is seen in other places in the Bible as well, including the story of Sodom in chapters 18-19 of Genesis. In the story, injustice in the city is abundant, and God has mercy on those who are suffering. However, God says that he will not destroy the city if at least ten righteous people can be found. This, too, displays God’s mercy. Even destroying the city is an act of mercy for those who were suffering, and God is merciful in allowing Lot to escape with his daughters. Even though we may not see it at first, God’s mercy shines through even in passages where he is punishing those who are against him.

  4. Idolatry was a common theme throughout the Bible. The people who were created by God, with the purpose of to serve God on this earth, constantly decided to put other things above God. I believe that this is still a theme to ring true in the world today. People demonstrate the act of serving idols in the world today by putting things such as other people, sports, habits. I believe that really anything that is being put above the Lord is considered idolatry. According to the blog post idols are considered to be things that are crafted by men that cannot do anything, pretty much things that do not have a true purpose. The worship od idols is considered to be the worship of demons according to Deuteronomy 32:17 and Revelation 9:20. In Revelation, it mentions how people do not repent to the following offenses: murders, magical arts, sexual immorality, and thefts. The ironic part about the offenses that are listed is that three of the four are part of the ten commandments and the fourth one is translated to sorcery. The connection with sorcery is that the Old Testament often associated it with idolatry. The letters to the seven churches, which is written about in Revelation 2-3, frequently warned the believers to repent for their sins. Repenting also has a connection to the trumpets that are played in Revelation. By the time of the sixth trumpet, it is warned that people are to repent. God provides opportunity after opportunity throughout the Bible—and throughout our daily lives in the modern world–for people to repent, but there is a time that that chance is no longer open (when the seventh trumpet sounds).

  5. What a coincidence, while I was reading this post, I was thinking about the plagues on the Egyptians in Exodus. It reminded me that Pharaoh would not let the people go. It relates to refusing to repent. I could not understand why Pharaoh did not want to let the people go, it sounded like he owned them like human trafficking but different. I see why God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. The people that refuse to repent are those that don’t allow the Holy Spirit to work on them which leads to feeding their flesh. The antichrist will do anything to deceive the people because he can imitate the Lord. Any miracles that he will do are through Satan. Those who have accepted the Savior in their hearts will not tell the difference. I can think if the person’s conscience had been seared with a hot iron, and no sensitivity toward the Holy One. Men will have pain, feel miserably, they will blaspheme and not repent their evil ways just like Pharaoh did. The last plague in Egypt was the death of the firstborn. Those who refuse salvation, name their own death by taking the mark of the beast by choosing their punishment of worshiping a false god. The plagues are there because mankind refuses the goodness in heaven and what is left for them is punishment. I just have trouble understanding why people refuse to repent and do not want to believe it. I would want to repent and see on the other side of what the Lord has in store for me.

  6. Sometimes revelation can be a hard book to understand if it is not interpreted in the correct context. The imagery throughout the book is a really interesting way of using literary devices in order to make a point. In relation to this the idea that the plagues in Revelation 7-9 and similar to the plagues on the Egyptians is a great comparison to give an even stronger understanding to this section of revelation. I rember learning a lot about the plagues on the Egyptians when I was younger, so the idea that they are similar to what is being referenced and written about in Revelation 7-9 was helpful. In addition to that the issue of repentance is a common theme in society today and something that is easily understandable for the way it is represented among the world. I am curious if the reasons people choose not to repent today are the same as the subjects in the book of revelation? What does this look like and why is it? It would be really interesting to find out the relation between the two.

  7. These judgments are yet another example of the grace and mercy of God which some may perceive as His wrath or anger. Divine punishment in scripture seems to be done like a good parent disciplining their child in order to help them see the truth rather than a bad parent disciplining out of anger. Beale seems correct in his connecting of the plagues of Egypt to the plagues of Revelation and their ultimate outcome. Some who reject God will only be hardened by plagues and suffering, but they have no excuse. The plagues serve as warnings, and if the people’s hearts remain hardened through the warnings, then their rejection of the Lord is final and will result in judgment, as written in Proverbs 28:13-14.

    This is why we should not “follow our hearts” as we are often told to do by secular culture. Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that the heart is desperately wicked. To follow the heart would be to continually fall into sin. However, Ezekiel 36:26 says that the Lord will give us a new heart and a new spirit, and we will be able to follow Him more fully.

  8. I like the point made at the end of this blog post. You stated: ” God is providing sufficient opportunities for repentance so that he may demonstrate his sovereignty and justice when he finally judges those who are not sealed by God when the seventh trumpet sounds.” I like how this reiterates the fact that everything God does is for His own honor and glory. Even when it comes to us and the way God choosing to do the thing He does, it is to reveal characteristics and attributes of Himself. It is never about us at all and completely about His revealing Himself and showing His power through His own plan in His timing. The book of Revelation is all about God showing Himself as all authoritative and Him as King in His glory and power. I think this last statement sums up that even the things that God gives to us (like the opportunity to repent, the resources, talents, etc) is because He will use that for Himself at some point and for His plan.
    It is interesting to see how the Bible also parallels with the hardening of eh hearts in Egypt and the hardening of hearts in Revelation. Like this blog post mentioned, the heart of pharaoh but gave him multiple opportunities to repent first. The people in Revelation are given multiple opportunities as well to repent, but they do not. God uses both situations though to display His power and authority, ultimately bringing glory to His name.

  9. The question of “why do the people not repent” is one that has plagued my mind for a great deal of time? I am not sure that we can come up with a correct universal answer for all mankind. But I am grateful that professor Long took the time to write about this issue because it is something that is on the minds and within discourse amongst many believers. I can second the thoughts of the testament of Judah of the deep grief felt by those who serve idols and other gods and participate in evil and their lack of repentance.
    It is so clear in the word that for us to be saved their needs to be repentance. And in revelation there is such a lack of it. This is also something that makes me think that we are in or near the end of days because there is such a lack of repentance and rather a twisted justification of/for sins in our current day and age. We have to be aware and on the lookout for these signs and prepare our hearts for Christ’s return.
    In revelation it is only confirmed that God is a God of grace and mercy but also of punishment, justice, and consequence. We see God rightly when we see all of him rather than only recognizing the grace and mercy pieces. Seeing God rightly will help us to better prepare and understand for the end of days and for judgement.

  10. In a world where there are so many people who refuse to repent, you wonder what most of the reasons for this are. I wonder if a lot of these people did not want to repent in the time that is talked about in Revelation simply because they did not know better, in a world where it was normal and actually encouraged to mix religions. Thus many of the people who repented in this time may have been mixing their original paganism with this new Christianity because the more gods the better right? But they did not fully understand that to be fully with Christ you have to give up your past life. It is interesting to think about the many people that have not repented today, even hearing the Gospel. A lot of it may have to do with the many controversies surrounding Christianity and the Bible and they do not want to be seen as not accepting and one sided.There are so many people who disagree with the Bible and what it has to say because of what the world says, and they think that all Christians are the TV version that are awful to unbelievers and sinners, but truth is most Christians understand that we are all sinners and that we all need Jesus. To do this we have to change our worldview to that of Christ. But many may not come simply out of spite, they want to believe that they don’t need a god to help them because they are doing fine in life one their own.

  11. The overall question to “Why do people refuse to repent” is a a million dollar question. There are “Christians” that are strong in their faith and from one day to the next they walk away from God. We can make many assumptions as to why but at the end of the day only God knows the answer. I believe that majority of the unbelievers only see the materialistic things like money, cars, houses and other pleasures. They don’t want to believe that there’s a God who created everything including their existence. Revelations 7-9, goes through the seven last plagues that correlate with the plagues in Exodus. The Egyptians were punished because they refused to let the Israelites be freed. There are people that are chained up by their sin and it is not allowing them to be freed. But they will remain chained up until they accept Jesus as their Savior. God has been gracious enough to allow people time to repent. One day that grace will be gone and He will punish those that have not repented.

  12. Why Do People Refuse to Repent? This is not just a question that is limited to Revelation 9:20-21, it is a question that can be found several times throughout the entirety of scripture. The tension between God and man created by sin has been an issue since the fall, all the way back at creation. But in the context of this particular chapter of Revelation, I believe the refusal to repent here has significant implications and is a great question worth answering. Perhaps this is a section that which we as readers can draw parallels with modern-day society. People in America today are more self-centered and self-seeking than ever before in human history, and we as Christians are not immune to this. When there exists a society where people can convince themselves that all their needs can be met by wealth, status, and quality of life, then perhaps that does not exist a need or desire in their hearts to repent. That is why we as believers must strive to fight against the flesh and sinful nature to live into the selfless, wondrous life that Christ has called us to. If we’re wise, we will repent and seek forgiveness from Christ.

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