He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground … Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark (Genesis 7:23).
The worldwide Flood is sobering to consider. In Noah’s day, at a real point in time in actual history, every person on earth was drowned except the eight who were in the Ark. This is the greatest catastrophe in history, and no other event — tsunami, earthquake, hurricane, or volcanic eruption — even comes close.
This was not a “natural” or normal kind of catastrophe. God himself sent this flood, for the purpose of judging the wickedness that at filled the earth in Noah’s day. “And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (Genesis 6:13). The realization, then, that the Flood is not only catastrophe, but is judgment, makes the Flood even more sobering to consider. The Flood, gigantic as it was, was merely a shadow of God’s final judgment upon all sin.
The Flood, gigantic as it was, was merely a shadow of God’s final judgment upon all sin.
Some might mistakenly see in this Flood only a temporal judgment by God. In other words, this judgment destroys people all over the world for their wickedness, but this destruction of their bodies does not mean God is judging their souls eternally. In other words, one might say, “That is a really tragic story, but it really doesn’t say anything about eternity, and so therefore really doesn’t apply to me in any practical way today.”
However, that is not at all how the Bible views such judgment events! Notice how Jesus himself sees the Flood, and the destruction of Sodom, as pointing to his own second coming and the final judgment:
Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed (Luke 17:26-30).
When God sends such total temporal destruction as drowning the whole world with a great flood, or as raining fire and sulfur down on an entire city, we are not meant to think: “Wow, that is a really severe response to sin, but at least it is only a temporary, physical destruction.” No, we are clearly meant to see in such catastrophic judgments the eternal implications of the final judgment that is coming on every person who is not submitting to God through Jesus Christ.
God’s saving Noah while destroying the rest of the world is meant to serve as a lesson to every ungodly person who comes after them.
This why Jude writes explicitly in Jude 7, “Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”
The physical, temporal fire that fell on Sodom was a pointer to the fact that those who suffered this destruction were ultimately suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
Similarly, Peter connects the Flood, and the judgment of Sodom, with the eternal judgment of demons and all ungodly:
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked … then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment (2 Peter 2:4-9).
God’s saving Noah while destroying the rest of the world, and saving Lot while overthrowing Sodom and Gomorrah, is meant — the apostle Peter says — to serve as a lesson to every ungodly person who comes after them. God knows how to deliver the godly, and God knows how to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished!
If God did not even spare the angels who fell, Peter says, but cast them into hell, it is utterly presumptuous and misguided to think you or I can remain in rebellion against God and escape the judgment of God.
When God comes to judge the world, the only one who can save us from God is God himself.
When God’s judgment came in the days of Noah, we are told over and over again, no one who was walking in rebellion against God escaped. It staggers our imagination to consider every breathing creature on earth dying in one day. But then, as we stare in horror at the immeasurable wreckage and carnage of the Flood, we read this precious reminder: “Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.”
We are reminded of this crucial, gospel truth: when God comes to judge the world, the only one who can save us from God is God himself.
It was God’s plan to judge the world for sin, it was God’s idea for Noah to build an ark, it was God’s grace which enabled Noah to believe and to build, and it was God who closed the door securely to preserve Noah and his family from his unspeakable judgment. And in the final day of judgment, Jesus himself reminds us, it will be no different. Either we will be trusting in God and thus safe in the ark of his Son, or we will suffer the just wrath of God for the sins we have all committed.