Tuesday, September 14, 2021

39: The Revelation: The Little Book and the Two Great Witnesses - Part 1 (Revelation 10:1–11:14)



Before the seventh trumpet sounds there will be an interlude, which stretches from Revelation 10:1 to 11:14, allowing John to pause and assimilate the startling truths that have just been revealed to him. The interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets parallels similar interludes in the seal and bowl judgments. These interludes encourage God’s people in the midst of the fury and horror of divine judgment. During the interludes God comforts His people with the knowledge that He has not forgotten them, and that they will ultimately be victorious.

That is especially true in the longest of the three interludes, this one between the sixth and seventh trumpets. Believers alive during that time will endure the unimaginable horrors of a sin-infected world. God will comfort and reassure them that He has not forgotten them and that He still controls events and protects His own.

THE INTERLUDE’S FIRST HALF: FIVE UNUSUAL EVENTS

Revelation Chapter 10 describes the opening events of this interlude preparing for the final trumpet blast by highlighting five unusual occurrences: an unusual angel, an unusual act, an unusual answer, an unusual announcement, and an unusual assignment.

An Unusual Angel

"I saw another strong angel coming down out of heaven, clothed with a cloud; and the rainbow was upon his head, and his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire; and he had in his hand a little book which was open." (Rev. 10:1–2a)

As it does throughout Revelation, John’s words “I saw” mark the beginning of a new vision. Following his vision of the first six trumpets, John saw a vision of someone new. This strong angel is distinct from the seven angels who sound the seven trumpets. Noting the similarities between his description and that of Christ in 1:12–17, and that he, like Christ, descends in a cloud (1:7), some identify this angel as Jesus Christ. However, this is very unlikely. First, the Greek word for “another” indicates another of the same kind, like the previously mentioned trumpet angels. Second, whenever Jesus Christ appears in Revelation, John gives Him an unmistakable title. Third, other strong angels appear in Revelation (5:2; 18:21). Fourth, Christ could not take the action of verses 5 and 6, raising “his right hand to heaven, and [swearing] by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it, and the sea and the things in it.” Since He is God, the risen, Jesus Christ would swear by Himself (cf. Hebrews 6:13). Finally, this angel came down out of heaven to the earth. To identify him as Christ is to add another coming of Christ to the earth.

Having introduced this powerful angel, John describes his spectacular attire. He was clothed with a cloud, wearing the drapery of the sky over his mighty shoulders. That symbolizes his power and the fact that he comes bringing judgment. Clouds are elsewhere associated with the second coming of Christ in judgment (1:7; 14:14–16; Matthew 24:30; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 21:27).

John also saw a “rainbow upon his head.” Iris (rainbow) was the Greek goddess who personified the rainbow and served as a messenger of the gods. In classical Greek iris was used to describe any bright halo surrounding another object, such as the circle surrounding the eyes on a peacock’s tail, or the iris of an eye. Here it describes the brilliant, many-colored rainbow around the angel’s head, which reflects his glorious splendor.

While the cloud symbolizes judgment, the rainbow represents God’s covenant mercy in the midst of judgment (4:3). After the flood, God gave the rainbow as the sign of His promise never again to destroy the world by water (Genesis 9:12–16). The rainbow with which the angel is crowned will reassure God’s people of His mercy in the midst of coming judgments.

Moving on to describe the angel’s appearance, John notes first that “his face was like the sun.” His brilliant, radiant glory lit up the earth like the blazing sun. John next described the angel’s feet and legs as being like firm, stable, immovable pillars of fire. That symbolizes his unbending holiness in stamping out his judgment on the earth, pictured here as fire that consumes the ungodly.

The angel held “in his hand a little book which was open.” This is probably the same book described in Revelation 5:1, “sealed up with seven seals” and then opened in Revelation 6. Some argue that the use of the diminuitive “little” in 10:2 distinguishes this book from the book of 5:1. Rather than distinguishing this book from the one in chapter 5, the diminutive form merely adds a further description of it in this vision. The book needed to be made smaller for the sake of the symbolism of this vision, since John was to eat it (10:9–10). Further, the use of the perfect participle form—“which was open”—emphasizes the idea of the scroll being open; having been opened, it is to remain open. That further identifies it with the fully unrolled scroll of 6:1ff as seal after seal is broken. The little book lying open in this unusual angel’s hand unveils all the terrors of divine judgment yet to come.

An Unusual Act

"He placed his right foot on the sea and his left on the land; and he cried out with a loud voice, as when a lion roars; and when he had cried out, the seven peals of thunder uttered their voices." (Rev. 10:2b–3)

That the angel put one foot on the sea and the other on the land shows his massive size from the perspective of John’s vision. This action of the angel demonstrates God’s sovereign authority to judge the entire earth (cf. 7:2; Exodus 20:11; 1 Corinthians 10:26), which He will soon take back from Satan. The angel’s act also symbolically anticipates the coming judgments of the seventh trumpet and the seven bowls on the whole earth.

In keeping with his huge size, the angel “cried out with a loud voice, as when a lion roars.” His loud cry reflects the power and authority of God. The Old Testament prophets also connect a loud, lionlike roaring voice with judgment (Jeremiah 25:30; Hosea 11:10; Joel 3:16; Amos 1:2; 3:8).

After the angel cried out, an amazing thing happened—“the seven peals of thunder uttered their voices.” “Seven” speaks of completeness and perfection. “Thunder” is often a mark of judgment in Scripture (8:5; 11:19; 16:18; 1 Samuel 2:10; 2 Samuel 22:14). These seven loud, powerful voices cry out for vengeance and judgment upon the sinful earth. The thunder was separate from the angel’s voice and may have represented the voice of God (1 Samuel 7:10; Psalm 18:13). The text does not reveal what the thunder said, but hearing it certainly would have added to the terror of the scene of judgment (see also 8:5; 11:19; 16:18).

An Unusual Answer

"When the seven peals of thunder had spoken, I was about to write; and I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up the things which the seven peals of thunder have spoken and do not write them.” (Rev. 10:4)

The seven peals of thunder did not merely make a loud noise, but communicated information that John was about to write. In obedience to God’s commands, John had already written much of what he saw in his visions. Later in Revelation, John would once again be commanded to write what he saw in his visions (14:13; 19:9; 21:5).

But before John could record the message of the seven peals of thunder, he heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up the things which the seven peals of thunder have spoken and do not write them.” Whether the voice was that of the Father, Jesus Christ, or an angel is not revealed. The command, however, clearly originated with God. The reason John was forbidden to record the message is not revealed. It may be that the judgment is simply too terrifying to be recorded. Any speculation as to the specific content of their message is pointless. If God had wanted it to be known, He would not have forbidden John to write it. They are the only words in the book of Revelation that are sealed.

An Unusual Announcement

"Then the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land lifted up his right hand to heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it, and the sea and the things in it, that there will be delay no longer, but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then the mystery of God is finished, as He preached to His servants the prophets." (Rev. 10:5–7)

In a solemn act, the angel whom John “saw standing on the sea and on the land” (verse 2) “lifted up his right hand to heaven”—the standard gesture for taking a solemn vow (Deuteronomy 32:40; Daniel 12:7). To take such a vow is to affirm before God that one is going to speak the truth. That vow indicated that what the angel was about to say was of the utmost importance and truthfulness.

The angel took his vow in the name of “Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it, and the sea and the things in it.” That designation of God stresses His eternity and sovereign power in and over all creation. This identification of God as Creator echoes the praise song of the twenty-four elders recorded in 4:11: “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

The specific content of the angel’s oath was that there will be delay no longer, answering the question of the martyrs, “How long?” (6:10), and the prayers of the saints in 8:3–5. The phrase “but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound” indicates that the judgment of the seventh trumpet is about to come and that it is not a single event, but covers days, indicating a period of time. This period includes the seven bowl judgments (16:1–21), which would appear to require some weeks or months to unfold. The sounding of the seventh trumpet brings the final judgment depicted in the bowls of fury poured out on the earth. The time of God’s patience is seen as having ended. The time for the final acts of judgment is seen as being at hand. The time anticipated in the disciples’ questions recorded in Matthew 24:3 and Acts 1:6 has come.

At that time “the mystery of God is finished.” Mystery in Scripture refers to truths God has hidden and will reveal in His time. Mysteries hidden in the past that the New Testament reveals include the “mysteries of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:11), the mystery of Israel’s blindness (Romans 11:25), the mystery of the rapture (1 Corinthians 15:51), the “mystery of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:7), the “mystery of Christ” and of “Christ and the church” (Ephesians 3:4; 5:32), the mystery of Christ in the believer (Colossians 1:26–27), and the mystery of the incarnation (1 Timothy 3:16). Paul saw himself as a “steward” or guardian of these great mysteries (1 Corinthians 4:1), to “bring to light” these mysteries “which for ages [have] been hidden in God” (Ephesians 3:9).

The mystery of God of which the angel spoke is that of “the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth” (Ephesians 1:10). It is the consummation of God’s plan in bringing His glorious kingdom in Christ to fulfillment. It involves the salvation of the elect and their place in His glorious kingdom and all that goes with that. It includes the judgment of men and demons. The mystery previously hidden refers to all the unknown details that are revealed from this point to the end of Revelation, when the new heavens and new earth are created. To believers living at that time in a world overrun by demons and unparalleled natural disasters, the realization that God’s glorious plan is on schedule will bring great comfort and hope in the midst of judgment.

An Unusual Assignment

"Then the voice which I heard from heaven, I heard again speaking with me, and saying, “Go, take the book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel, telling him to give me the little book. And he said to me, “Take it and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and in my mouth it was sweet as honey; and when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter. And they said to me, “You must prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.” (Rev. 10:8–11)

The voice John had earlier heard from heaven (verse 4) forbidding him to record the words of the seven peals of thunder spoke to him again. As he had earlier (1:17; 4:1; 5:4–5; 7:13–14), John again became an active participant in this vision. He left the place of an observer to become an actor in the drama. The voice said to him, “Go, take the book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the land.” This third reference to the location of the angel emphasizes strongly the unusual authority he has over the earth. Then, in a graphic illustration of what a proper response on the part of believers to God’s impending judgment should be, John was told, “Take it and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” The angel knew what John’s reaction to this truth would be. Obediently, like Ezekiel before him (Ezekiel 2:9–3:3), John in the vision symbolically took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it.

The act of eating the scroll symbolized the absorbing and assimilating of God’s Word (cf. Psalm 19:10; Jeremiah 15:16; Ezekiel 3:1–3). When John took in the divine words concerning the remaining judgments as the Lord took possession of the universe, he found them both “sweet as honey” and “bitter.” Sweet because John, like all believers, wanted the Lord to act in judgment to take back the earth that is rightfully His and be exalted and glorified as He deserved. Yet the realization of the terrible doom awaiting unbelievers turned that initial sweet taste into bitterness.

All who love Jesus Christ can relate to John’s ambivalence. Believers long for Christ to return in glory, for Satan to be destroyed, and the glorious kingdom of our Lord to be set up on earth, in which He will rule in glory while establishing in the world righteousness, truth, and peace. But they, like Paul (Romans 9:1–3), mourn bitterly over the judgment of the ungodly.

In keeping with his bittersweet experience, John was told, “You must prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.” The use of “again” indicates John was being commissioned a second time (1:19) to write the rest of the prophecies God was going to give him. What he was about to learn would be more devastating than anything yet revealed—and more glorious. He was to be faithful to his duty to record all the truth he had seen and would soon see. The prophecies John would receive would relate to everyone everywhere. John is to warn of all the bitter judgments coming in the seventh trumpet and the seven bowls.

As an exile on Patmos (1:9), he had no opportunity to preach to all nations, but he was to write the prophecies and distribute them, so as to warn all people of the bitterness of judgment to come, and of death and hell. Sinners everywhere may know because John recorded these prophecies that, while judgment is presently restrained, a future day is coming when the seventh angel will sound his trumpet and sin’s dominion will be broken, the freedom of Satan and his demons will come to an end, godless men will be judged, and believers will be glorified.

Monday, September 13, 2021

38. The Revelation: The Sixth Trumpet Judgment (Revelation 9:13-21)

 


THE SIXTH TRUMPET

Like the fifth trumpet, the sounding of the sixth trumpet heralds another, more severe demonic attack on sinful mankind. This attack, unlike the previous one, brings death.

The Release of Demons

"Then the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, one saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” (Rev. 9:13–14)

The sixth angel sounded his mighty trumpet. Immediately, John “heard a voice.” The Greek text literally reads “one voice.” The voice is not identified, but it is possibly that of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. He was pictured earlier standing near the throne (5:6), when He took the seven-sealed scroll from the Father’s hand (5:7) and broke its seals (6:1). This could also be the voice of the angel whom John had seen standing near the golden altar of incense (8:3).

While identifying the source of the voice is not possible, its location came from the four horns of the golden altar before God. John had seen this altar twice before in his visions. In the tabernacle and temple, this altar was a place where incense was burnt, symbolizing the peoples’ prayers for mercy rising to God. But in John’s vision the golden altar became an altar of intercession, as the martyred saints pleaded with God for vengeance on their murderers (6:9–11).

The voice coming from the surface of the altar between the four protruding corners commanded the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” That the four angels are bound indicates that they are demons (20:1ff.; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6), since holy angels are nowhere in Scripture said to be bound.

Because holy angels always perfectly carry out God’s will, there is no need for Him to restrain them from opposing His will. God’s control over demonic forces is complete—they are bound or loosed at His command. The perfect tense of the participle translated “bound” implies that these four angels were bound in the past with continuing results; they were in a state or condition of bondage until God’s determined time came for them to be released to execute their function as instruments of divine judgment.

The use of the definite article “the” suggests that these four angels form a specific group. Their precise identity is not revealed, but they may be the demons that controlled the four major world empires of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Daniel 10 provides insight into the warfare between holy angels and the demons that influence individual nations. Whoever they are, these four powerful fallen angels control a huge demonic army set to wage war against fallen mankind when God releases them to do so.

The Return of Death

"And the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released, so that they would kill a third of mankind. The number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. And this is how I saw in the vision the horses and those who sat on them: the riders had breastplates the color of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone; and the heads of the horses are like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceed fire and smoke and brimstone. A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which proceeded out of their mouths. For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails;for their tails are like serpents and have heads, and with them they do harm." (Rev. 9:15–19)

Death, which had taken a holiday under the fifth trumpet (9:5–6), now returns with a vengeance. The shocking purpose for the release of these four demon leaders and their hordes was so that they would kill a third of mankind. The judgment of the fourth seal killed one quarter of the earth’s population (6:8). This additional third brings the death toll from these two judgments alone to more than half the earth’s pretribulation population. That staggering total does not include those who died in the other seal and trumpet judgments.

The terrible slaughter will completely disrupt human society. The problem of disposing of the dead bodies alone will be inconceivable. The sickly stench of decaying corpses will permeate the world, and it will take an enormous effort on the part of the survivors to bury them in mass graves or burn them.

To slaughter well over a billion people will require an unimaginably powerful force. John reported that the number of the armies of the horsemen was an astonishing two hundred million. This is likely an exact number, or more general specifications, such as those used in 5:11 and 7:9, would have been used. Then, as if anticipating that some skeptical readers would doubt that huge number, John emphatically insisted, “I heard the number of them.” The use of the plural “armies” may imply that the attacking force will be divided into four armies, each commanded by one of the formerly bound demons.

Some have suggested that this is the human army referred to in 16:12 and led by “the kings from the east,” noting that the Red Chinese army reportedly numbered two hundred million during the 1970s. But no reference is made to the size of the army led by the kings of the East. Further, that army arrives on the scene during the sixth bowl judgment, which takes place during the seventh trumpet, not the sixth. Though there may be at that time an existing standing army of two hundred million, the impossibility of marshaling, supplying, and transporting such a vast human force all over the globe also argues against this army being a human army. The figurative language used to describe this army’s horses suggests that this is a supernatural rather than human force.

John briefly described those who sat on the horses. “The riders had breastplates the color of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone.” The color of fire is red; that of hyacinth, dark blue or black like smoke; that of brimstone, a sulfurous yellow, describing the rock which, when ignited, produces a burning flame and suffocating gas. Those are the very colors and features of hell (14:10; 19:20; 20:10; 21:8).

Horses are frequently associated with warfare in Scripture, but it is clear that these are not actual horses. Using the descriptive language of his vision, John noted that the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions. John noted three ways that the demon horses killed their victims, all of which picture the violent, devastating fury of hell. They incinerated them with fire, and asphyxiated them with smoke and the gas given off by the heated brimstone.

John saw that the devastating result of this deadly demonic assault was that “a third of all people were killed by these three plagues.”

It may be noted that the word “plagues” will appear frequently in the remainder of Revelation (11:6; 15:1, 6, 8; 16:9, 21; 18:4, 8; 21:9; 22:18) as a term for the destructive final judgments. As if the description he has already given were not frightening enough, John sees more about the deadly power of the demons. He is made aware that not only is the power of the horses in their mouths, but also in their tails. Having likened the horses’ heads to savage lions, John notes that “their tails are like [deadly, venomous] serpents and have heads, and with them they do harm.” These images describe the supernatural deadliness of this demon force in terms that are commonly understood in the natural realm. Unlike the scorpion stings inflicted during the previous demonic assault (9:5), the snakebites inflicted by this host will be fatal.

The Reaction of Defiance

"And the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts." (Rev. 9:20–21)

The death of one-third of the earth’s remaining population will be the most catastrophic disaster to strike the earth since the flood. Yet in an amazing display of hardness of heart, the rest of mankind not killed by these plagues still refuses to repent. Tragically, those remaining will choose to worship the dragon and the beast (Antichrist) instead of the Lamb (13:4–8).

As he concludes his account of this amazing vision, John lists five sins representative of the defiance of those who refused to repent. First, they “did not repent of the works of their hands,” worshiping other gods and demons. Second, violent crimes like “murders” will be rampant. Without any sense of morality, unrepentant people will imitate the demon horde’s murderous blood lust.

Third, John mentions “sorceries,” a Greek word from which the English words “pharmacy” and “pharmaceuticals” derive. Drugs were and still are believed to induce a higher religious state of communion with deities.1 Fourth, “immorality” will prevail. The Greek word is a general term that can include any sexual sin. Indescribable sexual perversions will be rampant in that day.

Finally, people will refuse to repent of thefts. Like morality, honesty will be nonexistent, as people compete for the increasingly scarce supplies of food, clothing, water, shelter, and medicines.

Under the influence of the massive demon forces, the world will descend into a morass of false religion, murder, sexual perversion, and crime unparalleled in human history. It is sobering to realize that the Lord will one day come “to execute judgment upon all” (Jude 15). In light of that coming judgment, it is the responsibility of all believers to faithfully proclaim the gospel to unbelievers, thereby “snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 23).

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

37. The Revelation: The Fifth Trumpet Judgment (Revelation 9:1-12)

 


Each of the first four trumpet judgments affect the physical universe in some way, but with the sounding of the fifth trumpet the focus will shift from the physical to the spiritual realm.

The Pit Unlocked

"Then the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth; and the key of the bottomless pit was given to him. He opened the bottomless pit, and smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit." (Rev. 9:1–2)

When the fifth angel sounded his trumpet, John saw a star from heaven that had fallen to the earth. In his visions, the apostle had already seen several heavenly bodies plunge to earth (6:13; 8:8, 10). Unlike them, however, this star was not an inanimate piece of celestial matter, but an angelic being (cf. Job 38:7). That he was said to have fallen to the earth suggests that this is a reference to Satan—the leader of all the fallen angels (cf. Isaiah 14:12–15; Ezekiel 28:12–16; Luke 10:18).

The fall of Satan described in 9:1 is not his original rebellion. Though he and the angels who fell with him (12:4) were banished from heaven, Satan retains access to God’s presence, where he constantly accuses believers (Rev. 12:10; Job 1:6). During the tribulation he and his demon hosts will unsuccessfully battle Michael and the holy angels. As a result of their defeat, they will be permanently cast down to the earth (12:7–9). Satan will then seek to marshal all of his demonic hosts—those already on earth, those cast to earth with him, and those incarcerated in the bottomless pit (literally “the pit of the abyss”). Abussos (“bottomless”) appears seven times in Revelation, always in reference to the abode of incarcerated demons (9:2, 11; 11:7; 17:8). Satan himself will be held prisoner there during the millennium, chained and locked up with the other demonic prisoners (20:1, 3).

After Satan received the key to the abyss from its keeper, Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:18), he opened the bottomless pit and released its inmates. When the abyss opened, smoke arose like the smoke of a great furnace. “Smoke” in Revelation may refer to holy things (8:4; 15:8), but is usually associated with judgment (9:17–18; 14:11; 18:9, 18; 19:3). Such a vast volume of smoke issued from the abyss that the sun and the air were darkened by it. The smoke polluting the sky symbolizes the corruption of hell belched forth from the abyss to pollute the world.

The Power Unleashed

"Then out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. And they were not permitted to kill anyone, but to torment for five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings a man. And in those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them." (Rev. 9:3–6)

Out of the vast, billowing, ominous cloud of smoke that darkened the sky and caused panic among earth’s inhabitants, John saw a new terror emerge. Vile demons, taking on a visible form resembling locusts, swarmed out of the abyss to plague the earth. The imagery of smoke is a fitting depiction of a locust plague, since millions of the grasshopper-like insects swarm so thickly that they can darken the sky and blot out the sun, turning day into night. One swarm over the Red Sea in 1889 was reported to have covered 2,000 square miles. The destruction they can cause to crops and other vegetation is staggering (2 Chronicles 7:13).

Yet these were not ordinary locusts, but demons, who, like locusts, bring swarming destruction. Describing them in the form of locusts symbolizes their uncountable numbers and massive destructive capabilities. The fact that three times in the passage (verses 3, 5, 10) their power to inflict pain is compared to that of scorpions indicates they are not actual locusts, since locusts have no stinging tail as scorpions do. But the devastating pain inflicted by these demons will be far worse than that of actual scorpions. In this judgment God brings demons into direct contact with the unrepentant people. The fact that these locust-and scorpion-like creatures come from the pit and that their leader is the “angel of the abyss” (9:11) indicates that demons must be in view in this scene. Sadly, even the horrifying experience of this demon infestation will not cause many to repent (Rev. 9:20–21), if any.

Strict limitations were placed on the activities of this demonic host. This judgment, unlike the first four trumpet judgments, is not on the physical world. God forced the locust horde not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree (Rev. 8:7). That again shows that they were not actual insects, since real locusts devour plant life. The reference to the grass of the earth suggests that some time has passed since the first trumpet judgment scorched all the grass that was then in season (8:7). The damaged grass has grown again and is to remain untouched in this plague, indicating that enough time has elapsed for a partial recovery of the earth’s environment.

Certainly Satan would want to kill all the unregenerate to keep them from repenting. But God, in His mercy, will give people torment for five months (the normal life span of locusts, usually from May to September), during which they cannot die but will be given the opportunity to repent and embrace the gospel. That five-month period will be one of intense spiritual and physical suffering inflicted on unbelievers by the judgment of God. That fearful judgment is likened to the torment inflicted by a scorpion when it stings a man. Unbelievers will also hear the message of salvation in Jesus Christ preached by the 144,000 Jewish evangelists, the two witnesses, and other believers. The five months will be for many people the last opportunity to repent and believe (Rev. 9:20–21; 16:9, 11).

So intense will be the torment inflicted on unbelievers in those days that “people will seek death and will not find it.” The earth people have loved will have been devastated, the land ravaged by earthquakes, fires, and volcanoes, the atmosphere polluted with gases and showers of heavenly debris. The dream of a worldwide utopia under the leadership of Antichrist (the Beast of 13:1ff.) will have died. There will be no escape from the agony inflicted by the demons or from divine judgment.

The Appearance Unveiled

"The appearance of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle; and on their heads appeared to be crowns like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men. They had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to battle. They have tails like scorpions, and stings; and in their tails is their power to hurt men for five months." (Rev. 9:7–10)

These demons are described as locusts because they bring massive, devastating, rapid judgment from God. John can give only an approximation of what this spiritual army looked like, as the repeated use of the terms “like” (used eight times in this passage) and “appeared to be” indicates. To describe the supernatural and unfamiliar demon horde, John chooses natural and familiar analogies.

The general appearance of the locusts was “like horses prepared for battle.” They were warlike, powerful, and defiant, like horses straining at the bit and pawing the ground in their eagerness to charge forward on their mission of death. On their heads John saw what appeared to be crowns like gold. The crowns they wore are victors’ crowns, indicating that the demon host will be invincible. People will have no weapon that can harm them and no cure for the terrible torment they inflict. That their faces were like the faces of men indicates they are rational beings, not actual insects. The description of their hair as being like the hair of women likely emphasizes their seductiveness. The glory or beauty of a woman is her hair, which she may decorate to become more alluring. Having teeth like the teeth of lions, they will be fierce and powerful, tearing apart their victims. Breastplates of iron, designed to protect the vital organs of the soldier, here symbolize the demon horde’s invulnerability. In a further metaphor drawn from the battlefield, John compares the sound of their wings to a moving army, noting that it “was like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to battle.” There will be no escaping their massive, worldwide onslaught. The threefold comparison of the demons to scorpions stresses that their sole mission is to hurt people.

The Prince Unmasked

"They have as king over them, the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek he has the name Apollyon. The first woe is past; behold, two woes are still coming after these things." (9:11–12)

Unlike real locusts, the demons had a king over them. John calls him the angel of the abyss. Some identify this angel as Satan, but his domain is the heavenlies (Ephesians 6:12). He is not associated with the abyss until he is cast into it (20:1–3). This angel is better viewed as a high-ranking demon in Satan’s hierarchy. John notes that “his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek he has the name Apollyon.” John uses both names to emphasize his impact on both ungodly Jews and Gentiles. Both words mean “destroyer,” an apt name for the head of the devastating army of demons that rises from the abyss.

Having described the first woe (Rev. 8:13; the fifth trumpet judgment), John cautions that God’s wrath has not run its course. Two woes (the sixth and seventh trumpet judgments, including all the bowl judgments) are still coming after these things, so there will be nothing more than a brief sigh of relief before still more fearful judgments follow.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

36.The Revelation: The Third and Fourth Trumpet Judgments (Revelation 8:10-13)

THE THIRD TRUMPET

"The third angel sounded, and a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of waters. The name of the star is called Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter." (Rev. 8:10–11)

As the third angel sounded his trumpet, another flaming object hurtled toward the earth. John described it as a great star that fell from heaven. The Greek word here for “star” can refer to any celestial body other than the sun and moon. The massive object that smashed into the ocean remained intact, but this object disintegrated as it reached Earth’s atmosphere. The fact that it is described as burning like a torch supports that it is likely a meteor or comet, since torches were used in ancient times to describe meteors and comets. Its fiery debris fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of waters, polluting the fresh water around the globe.

Because of its deadly effects, the star will be called Wormwood. Wormwood is mentioned only here in the New Testament. It is a shrub whose leaves are used in the manufacture of absinthe, a liqueur so toxic that its manufacture is banned in many countries. Wormwood is mentioned eight times in the Old Testament, where it is associated with bitterness, poison, and death (Deuteronomy 29:18; Proverbs 5:4; Jeremiah 9:15; 23:15; Lamentations 3:15, 19; Amos 5:7; 6:12). In three of those uses, wormwood is connected with poisoned water. Whatever the poison represented by the name Wormwood is, it destroys a third of the fresh waters. The repeated pattern of one-third destruction demonstrates that these are not natural events, but divine judgments.

With the third trumpet judgment, John records that many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter. The rivers will run with deadly poison. The wells will become springs of death. The lakes and reservoirs will be filled with toxic waters. Yet, the worst is yet to come.

THE FOURTH TRUMPET

"The fourth angel sounded, and a third of the sun and a third of the moon and a third of the stars were struck, so that a third of them would be darkened and the day would not shine for a third of it, and the night in the same way. Then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in midheaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!” (Rev. 8:12–13)

As the fourth angel sounded, the focus of divine judgment shifted from the earth to the heavens. The heavenly bodies are hit with a plague from God so that a third of them would be darkened and the day would not shine for a third of it, and the night in the same way. This partial eclipse is temporary, as God will later increase the amount of heat coming from the sun (16:8–9). At this point, the loss of heat from the sun will cause temperatures to plunge drastically all over the world. That will severely disrupt the earth’s weather patterns and the seas’ tides, leading to violent, unpredictable storms and tides, the destruction of crops, and further loss of animal and human lives.

The Old Testament prophets associated such signs in the heavens with the day of the Lord. Speaking through the prophet Ezekiel, God declared, “I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud and the moon will not give its light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you and will set darkness on your land” (Ezekiel 32:7–8). Isaiah, Joel, and Amos also wrote of the sun going dark (Isaiah 13:9–10; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Amos 8:9). The Lord Jesus Christ added His own prediction, warning that “there will be signs in sun and moon and stars” (Luke 21:25; cf. Mark 13:24).

The dimming of the celestial lights sets the stage for a startling and ominous announcement. As John looked, he heard “an eagle flying in midheaven, saying with a loud voice, ‘Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!’ ” The imagery is that of a strong bird of prey rushing to consume its victim. In this case, it refers to the rapid approach of God’s final vengeance. Depicted in the vision as flying in midheaven, the bird would be at the height of the midday sun, visible to all. His loud voice assures that everyone will be able to hear his pronouncements. The eagle’s dire warning is that the last three trumpet judgments will be even more devastating than the first four.

While double woes are used for emphasis (cf. Rev. 18:10, 16, 19; Ezekiel 16:23), the eagle’s triple pronouncement of “woe, woe, woe” introduces one threat for each of the remaining three trumpets about to sound (9:1–21; 11:15ff.). Woe is used throughout Scripture as an expression of judgment, destruction, and condemnation. God’s wrath and judgment will come upon “those who dwell on the earth,” a descriptive phrase used in Revelation for those who reject the gospel (6:10; 11:10; 13:8, 12, 14; 17:2, 8). Although they will acknowledge that the disasters have come from God (6:15–17), they will not repent. They will be destroyed because they fail to listen to the warning God addresses to all sinners (cf. Hebrews 3:7–8).

Monday, September 6, 2021

35. The Revelation: The First and Second Trumpet Judgments (Revelation 8:7-9)

 


People today are very concerned about saving the environment. Fears about the depletion of the ozone layer, pollution, the destruction of the rain forests, and global warming are constantly in the news. There is a passionate concern to save endangered species, everything from whales to spotted owls to California condors, and a host of lesser-known species. For many, protecting the environment has become far more than a concern for health and safety; it has become an issue of idolatry, as they worship “Mother Nature” by trying to protect and perpetuate the earth.

There is no question that fallen man has failed in his responsibility to properly care for God’s creation (cf. Gen. 2:15). But the damage man has done to the earth pales in comparison to what God will one day do to it. The powerful judgments of the future time of tribulation will utterly devastate the earth, causing wholesale, unimaginable destruction of the environment. Eventually, after the Millennium, God will completely destroy (or uncreate) the present heaven and earth (2 Pet. 3:10), and, after the whole universe has gone completely out of existence, He will replace it with a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1ff.).

There is a sense in which the present age is man’s day; he is free to do what he wants within certain limitations. It is also Satan’s day, during which the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) has been granted certain liberties within the parameters of God’s purposeful, sovereign tolerance. But God will not permit the present state of affairs to continue forever. He will end man’s day, overthrow the usurper, Satan, destroy the present evil world system, and establish the earthly kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. That future time of judgment is known, appropriately, as the Day of the Lord (see the discussion in chapter 15 of this volume). That Day involves a complete renovation of the universe and the earth by judgment and restoration.

As the time for the trumpet judgments to begin approaches, the world will have already experienced for years the frightening and relentless reality of God’s wrath. As that seven-year tribulation period unfolds there will be wars, famines, plagues, devastating earthquakes, fiery celestial objects smashing into the earth, and a worldwide reign of terror by Antichrist. But the trumpet judgments will be even worse.

As noted in the previous blog post, Rev. 8:1 depicts a brief, half-hour interlude in heaven in response to the opening of the seventh and final seal. So horrifying are the trumpet and bowl judgments contained within the seventh seal that its opening stuns the heavenly host of angels and redeemed people into silence.

That half hour of silence came to an abrupt end when the angel who stood before the altar flung his censer to the earth. The resulting powerful earthquake (8:5) was the signal for the seven angels who had the seven trumpets, and they prepared themselves to sound them. The serial judgments the trumpets unleash will hit the earth and its wicked people just as they are crawling out of the caves and rocks where they futilely attempted to hide from the fury of God’s wrath during the sixth seal (6:15–17). Thinking that things are returning to normal, they will be hit with the terrifying, rapid-paced trumpet terrors, followed by the bowl judgments. These final judgments are likely the ones held back until the sealing of the 144,000 (7:3).

The first four trumpets are described in a brief and straightforward manner; far more detail is given about the last three. The first four trumpets all deal directly with the earth. They do not symbolize political, social, or economic judgment; those types of judgment come later in Revelation. Nor do they describe any judgment that has ever happened in history in some locale or region. The trumpet judgments are actual, literal, physical events that will affect the whole earth. God will use nature to punish sinners in that day. The partial destruction described by the repeated use of the word “third” in each of the first four trumpet judgments indicates that these are not the final judgments. We will look at the first and second trumpets today, and cover trumpets three and four in my next blog post.

THE FIRST TRUMPET

"The first sounded, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were thrown to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up." (Revelation 8:7)

Hail is frequently associated in Scripture with divine judgment (e.g., Exodus 9:13–25; Job 38:22–23), as is fire (Genesis 19:24; Psalm 11:6; Ezekiel 38:22). The combination of fire mixed with blood is reminiscent of Joel 2:30, which also describes the day of the Lord. The specific cause of the hail and fire is not revealed, but from a scientific standpoint an earthquake of the magnitude and extent of the one in verse 5 would likely trigger worldwide volcanic eruptions. Besides spewing vast quantities of flaming lava (which could be bloodred in appearance) into the atmosphere, the atmospheric disturbances caused by those eruptions could trigger violent thunderstorms that would produce large hail. Such thunderstorms would be in keeping with the imagery of verse 5. The blood may be actual blood, or John may be using descriptive language. Regardless, this deluge of death was thrown to the earth by God with devastating effects. The shocking result was that a third of the earth was burned up, making the soil unusable. Then a third of the trees were burned up, destroying fruit all over the earth. Finally all the green grass was burned up. The effects of such catastrophic fires would be widespread and devastating, including destruction of crops, death of animals on a massive scale, loss of wood for construction, and the destruction of watersheds.

THE SECOND TRUMPET

"The second angel sounded, and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood, and a third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed." (Revelation 8:8–9)

The judgment of the first trumpet fell on the land, that of the second trumpet on the sea. God created the sea to be a blessing to humanity, but people have repaid God’s gracious provision with ingratitude and idolatry, revering the sea as the supposed source of their remotest evolutionary ancestors. As He had devastated the land environment, the true God judges the sea.

The massive object plunging through the sky looked to the terrified observers on earth “like a great mountain burning with fire.” This is evidently a giant meteorite or asteroid, surrounded by flaming gases set ablaze by the friction of the earth’s atmosphere. The current doomsday scenarios about an asteroid hitting the earth will come true with a vengeance. Everyone will see it, either live or on television. As the world’s telescopes see it coming, many predictions will no doubt be made about whether it will hit the earth or not. It will strike somewhere in the world’s oceans with an explosive power far greater than that of an atomic bomb. Because all the world’s oceans are connected, the devastation will spread across one-third of the ocean waters, causing a third of the sea to become blood.

Three catastrophic, supernaturally designed effects result from the collision: (1) one-third of the sea became blood; (2) as a result of that effect one-third of the creatures which were in the sea died; and (3) giant waves will destroy a third of the ships on the world’s oceans, capsizing huge vessels and completely swamping ports. The resulting disruption of commerce and transportation will cause economic chaos.

So the first two trumpets will bring devastating judgment on both the land and the sea, which are the beginning of the final catastrophes God will unleash on a rebellious world.