It is a humbling, encouraging experience to worship our God with you. If you need an outline, and I would encourage you to get one so you can follow along, we’re going to be looking at Revelation 8 and 9. Revelation 8 and 9.
Last week Hurricane Dorian hit the Abaco Islands with 185 mph winds and gusts up to 220 mph, which is staggering when you think of the fact that that’s getting close to tornado speed. Imagine 100 tornadoes creating a wall next to each other and just rushing across, destroying everything in its wake. The death toll is officially still, I think around 50, but there are still thousands of people who have been registered as missing. The human loss, the financial need, the environmental contamination is staggeringly high. How do we think about calamities like this as Christians? And of course, there were many more islands and many along our coast that were affected. How do we how do we think about this? How do we respond?
Number 1, we weep with those who weep. We mourn with them. We don’t rush in with platitudes. Secondly, we pray for and continue to lament with those who suffer. We also try to help. There are times where our country has experienced and other countries have experienced calamity like this, and we have sent teams to help. There are times where teams actually are unhelpful, especially when you’re on a little island, for example. And so, we just want you to know that because of your generous giving the elders approved a pretty significant gift to ministries that are helping people on the Island and elsewhere as well as some churches that are in need.
But I want to suggest another response that it is important for us never to forget. In Luke 13 some people talked with Jesus about two disasters. One was a natural disaster; one was a human disaster. And their minds, as we are prone to do as well, were trying to make sense of the carnage. And one of the ideas they came up with was possibly judgment. Perhaps these disasters occurred because of their sin, and they were being judged for their sin.
And Jesus answered them in Luke 13:2, we’ll put it on the screen.
“Do you think that these Galileans [these are the Galileans that died] were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
He was making two massive points. One, sin and suffering are not necessarily directly related. We often, like the people in Luke 13, can try to create these predictable categories. For example, when you see a headline: “Bank robber crashes and dies while fleeing the scene,” our hearts are still broken, but our brains do better with that. Mentally we can say, “Oh, well, you shouldn’t rob a bank, or you’re going to crash.” Mentally we can we can process that better. But what we tend to struggle with is when the opposite happens, right? You do the right thing and you suffer, and then you hear of someone who did the wrong thing and they flourish. The math doesn’t work. And so, what Jesus is doing is breaking this tight connection that many have when they assume that there’s a one-to-one relationship between “You do this, and this is going to happen.” Jesus is saying you can’t automatically assume that. In doing this, Jesus is not minimizing the fact that sin has consequences. He is globalizing it. Let me say that again. Jesus is not minimizing the fact that sin has consequences. He is globalizing it.
That leads to the second point. All suffering, all suffering, is a universal call to repentance. This is what he says in verse 5, “Unless you repent.” What does he mean, repent? Stop thinking the way you’re thinking and turn around and head in the opposite direction. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” His point was not that some specific sin caused a specific suffering. But rather to Jesus, every speck of suffering is a billboard warning all of us that we are living in a broken, fallen world caused ultimately by sin.
Do you see the difference? There’s not a one-to-one — you sin, this automatically happens every time. But yet ultimately all the suffering flows from sin. And because we have never experienced living anywhere else, we tend to miss this. We just assume that the world is the way it is, and you’ve got to get over it. And you can complain. But we don’t know what it’s like to live in a world without hurricanes or cancer or child abuse or car crashes or gossip or hypocrisy or the New York Yankees. We don’t know what it’s like (sorry, Robert) to live in that world. And so, we tend to blame people, especially the opposing political party or God. But Jesus knew what that was like. Imagine that. He knew what it was like to come from a sinless, sufferingless existence, and he longs for all of us to join him in that.
And this is why C.S. Lewis, who definitely knew pain. He had lost his mother when he was a boy. His father sent him off to boarding school. He had respiratory struggles throughout his teen years. He was injured in World War I. He saw the horrors of World War II. He buried his precious wife. He knew what pain was, and he wrote in The Problem of Pain,
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Here Lewis uses a metaphor, megaphone, to communicate how God is trying to wake us up to what is going on.
In Revelation 8 and 9 a metaphor is used as well, a different one, a different instrument, a trumpet. But the purpose is the same. God is seeking to wake us up to what is going on in our world. A trumpet is used to wake up or arouse or mobilize the sleeping or the stationary. Picture soldiers being aroused and preparing to charge. Picture a sleeping city, sinful city, coming under the judgment of God; trumpets around the city of Jericho calling out a warning of judgment.
One of my biggest burdens in this series on Revelation is that so many of us get entangled in interpretive questions and battles. And some of those interpretive questions are massive. I’m not minimizing those. But we literally have no idea what Revelation is about. We only know how to debate it. But the purpose, if you think back, for the first readers hearing Revelation 8 and 9, what was their response? They didn’t have any charts, and they weren’t immediately thinking of helicopters as locusts. That wasn’t their response. They were hearing a message that they desperately needed to hear; a trumpet that wakes us up and calls us to do exactly what Jesus said. Let the suffering of the world soften your heart, not harden your heart. Let’s ask him to do that, could we?
Father, we’re listening to your Word, and there’s so much vivid imagery here. It sounds so foreign and at times so disturbing. And we just ask that you would give us ears to hear. Last week you called us to silence so that we could hear. You showed us that the cries of your people trigger the trumpets. And we pray that as you give us ears to hear we would be a people who both repent quickly and give our lives to sharing the message of repentance that leads to life. We thank you, in Jesus name, amen.
Revelation 8:5, last week we saw in response to the cries of the saints,
“The angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.”
So begins the trumpet judgments. You’ll notice today in your notes, I put a summary just so you can get some context as to what’s going on. You will notice the first four trumpets focus on nature. And then there’s this short interlude with three “woes.” And then the next two trumpets focus on humanity. It’s interesting, those two divisions, natural and human disasters, were the two that Jesus addressed in Luke 13. And then you have this massive interlude, which we’re going to look at over the next couple of weeks. And then the seventh trumpet, which is one of the most stunning of many passages in the book of Revelation, where Christ’s kingdom comes, and the destroyers that we hear about today are destroyed. Let’s look at the first four. And I want to warn you, if this is your first time at North Hills, I’m so sorry. Because if you are a lethargic listener, you’ve come to the wrong place. We’re going to move quickly through large sections of scripture with the desire (because we could look at little details and I think we would end up missing the point) with the desire to let the whole message wash over us. And we’re going to end probably with still some questions, but hopefully the message of this passage will be unquestionable. We will hear what he wants us to hear.
Number 1, nature is judged. Chapter 8:7-12, first angel blew his trumpet. Verse 7, and there followed hail, fire, and blood. Now many believe this is a literal rainstorm of hail fire mixed with blood that will happen in the future time of the tribulation. That is quite possible, obviously not difficult at all for God. But it is also possible that Revelation is using apocalyptic language, imagery that paints a picture of the heart of a just, holy God toward a broken world.
Let me give you one other example because these are all over the place in the Bible. King David, rescued from Saul’s hand. He described how he cried out for help, and God responded. I’ll put it on the screen. Psalm 18:7,
“Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. [His people were in trouble.] Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet.”
Now do you notice the anthropomorphic language here? Anthropomorphic simply means using human imagery to convey who God is. He is described as having a mouth, feet, hands. I mean, I’m sorry, nostrils, mouth, feet. God is Spirit. The point is not to create a caricature of who he is at this point, it’s to catch the weight of the imagery. Listen.
“He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water. [He is a divine warrior.] Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds. The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire.”
Now there are many who operate on the assumption that you always try to be as literal as possible. If you do that with this passage, you will be speaking heresy, because it’s clearly conveying an image of who God is and how he responds. And the literal message is, God will move heaven and earth to protect his people. It is quite clear. And the point is not to scientifically analyze: “How can you have fire, hailstones, I’m sorry, ice and fire all at the same time?” No, that’s not the point. The imagery is God responding in anger to the danger of his people. In Revelation 8:7, when John describes a third of the earth, look at verse 7, Revelation 8:7, a third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees, all of the green grass. His point is not simply to be describing forest fires, massive global forest fires, because if you jump forward to 9:4, the grass is unharmed. Now you might say, “Well the grass grew back really fast.” Or, you can see the imagery here. His point is there is both beauty and brokenness in this world. Beauty — two-thirds unaffected. Brokenness — a third damaged.
Second angel blew his trumpet. Verse 8, “a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea.” This is a massive volcanic eruption resulting in a third of the sea becoming blood, a third of living creatures in the sea dying, a third of the ships destroyed.
“The third angel [verse 10] blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The star’s name, Wormwood.”
Wormwood is a bitter tasting shrub. As one scholar points out, if you drop one ounce of wormwood in 524 gallons of water, you can taste the wormwood. It would be interesting to watch that study going on. Not 525 gallons of water, 524 gallons of water. Now what’s confusing about this is wormwood itself is not poisonous. Yet in verse 11, many died. It’s obviously a symbol of toxicity. The very water that should refresh and bring life, pollutes and brings death.
Just stop and think about history and how real this has been. On any given year, 200 million people in the world will contract malaria. Wherever you have moisture you have mosquitoes and you have malaria. And at one point it was said, no longer, but half of people who died in the world died of malaria and resulting problems. Even today, waterborne parasites many places on earth result in indescribable physical complications, ultimately leading to death. Just one kind of blood fluke travels in the water each year, infects 230 million people. That’s just one of endless kinds.
By the way, this is one of the reasons why wherever we go preaching the gospel we are hugely burdened to help provide clean water. Because Jesus, as said in 7:17, is the Lamb who guides us to living water in contrast to this kind of water that promises life. You can imagine, in the middle of a desert you’re thirsty, you drink water that you think is going to give you life but brings death.
Fourth angel blew his trumpet, verse 12, darkness descends. A third of the sun, moon, stars, day all darken. These images are taken from Ezekiel 32 and Joel 2 and communicate the fact that every realm of creation has been affected by sin. Creation is groaning. It is in bondage to corruption, Romans 8:21. And imagine the very laws of nature that we count on to exist are unreliable. The very resources … Think of some of the resources he’s just mentioned — sun, water, fire — ultimately this passage is saying will fail you if that’s where your hope and confidence rests. In verse 13, an eagle cries out with a loud voice, three woes. These are the are the inverse of “holy, holy, holy” — “woe, woe, woe.” And they are literary devices communicating the fact that the worst is yet to come.
Before he moves from nature to humans, in 9:1 the fifth angel blew his trumpet. This is the first woe. John saw a star fallen from heaven to earth. The angel was given a key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. And as he opened it, verse 2, the world was darkened, clouded by the presence of (we’ll see in a little bit) demonic activity. For from the smoke came locusts who were given power, verse 3, like scorpions of the earth.
Verse 4, they were told not to harm the green plants or trees, only those who are not sealed in chapter 7. They were allowed to torment five months, not to kill. They tormented like the scorpion when it stings. The number 5 communicates limitation. Their victims long to die but end up experiencing a living death. Their appearance is described in verses 7-10 and notice all the “likes” — “like … like … like … like,” eight times. We’re not talking about literal locusts here. They are “like horses prepared for battle.” Their heads with crowns of gold. Imagine hordes of pseudo-kings. They have “human faces.” These are transdemons who are seeking to exercise dominion that legitimately belongs to human beings.
Verse 8, they have “women’s hair,” communicating the fact that there is a a beauty to them. They are like 2 Corinthians 11:15 where the devil communicates himself as an angel of light. They disguise themselves. And yet if you look in their mouths they have “lions’ teeth.” They are fierce like the devil who is a roaring lion, 1 Peter 5:8. Verse 9, they had “iron breastplates,” communicating they’re seemingly indestructible, and they sound like a loud invading army. In verse 10 their tails sting. They come to you conveying one thing — human faces, beautiful hair — and yet in the end they may promise independence, pleasure, but they will deliver pain and misery. In verse 11 we find out who they really are, their authority. They have a king who is the angel of the bottomless pit. We know they’re not locusts because locusts, according to Proverbs 30:27, have no king. These are demons. And the king’s name is Abaddon, which in Hebrew means “destroyer.” Apollyon, which in Greek means pretty much the same thing. And as we’ll see in 11:18, the kingdom of our Lord will destroy the destroyers. Good news is coming.
The sixth angel blew his trumpet in verse 13. This is the second woe. And in verse 13, “I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar that is before God.” It seems to be an echo of the prayers of the saints. “Release the four angels (7:1) that were bound at the great river Euphrates.” This is the headwater of Eden, the furthest boundary of the land of promise made to Abraham. Imagine 200 million mounted demonic beings prepared to invade the promised land. Such a vivid imagery of our enemy.
Once again, verse 16, John heard their number but saw horses in his vision. The riders, verse 17, wore red, blue, yellow breastplates. The heads of the horses were like lions’ heads and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and sulfur and they wound with their tails. These were plagues that cause disease, virus, pestilence. Probably also referring to false teaching that destroyed. And here a third of mankind is killed.
And then in case we wonder, “why is all this carnage recorded?” He tells us in verse 20.
“The rest of mankind [speaking of unbelievers] who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshipping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders, their sorceries, their sexual immorality, or their thefts.”
Hmm. Despite all the brokenness, all the calamity, all the natural and human disaster, no repentance. Suffering only hardened. Why? Well they would rather, verse 20, worship what they can see — creation, rather than creator — and what they can’t see or hear or walk. And so, they are illustrating what Psalm 115 describes, that we become what we worship. Look at this psalm, it’s a commentary on this, or really this flows out of that. Psalm 115:4,
“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.”
We become what we worship. A couple of observations: Number 1 the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments (we just looked at the middle one), but the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments are woven together. They’re entwined. Some compare them to a spiral staircase; others to Russian nesting dolls, where the next judgment is embedded in the last one. Schreiner calls this “recursive retelling, [each time] from a different perspective.” And that’s why it can be so confusing. If you read the seal, trumpet, bowl judgments chronologically, a lot of this sounds familiar but different. It’s because one is embedded in the other, and they build on each other. That’s why you’re going to see similar stuff coming in chapter 15 and 16 that we saw here in 8 and 9.
Number 2. The seal, trumpet and bowl judgments are intensifying. Even though there’s a repetition, there is a building. The seal, a quarter of the earth was affected, killed; trumpet, a third; and the bowl judgments, all the earth. You see this building to the point leading up to a new heaven, a new earth.
Number 3, the judgments are similar to the Exodus plagues. Let me show you a couple of comparisons of these, the Exodus plagues. If you look at the trumpets in Revelation (trumpet judgments) and the plagues in Egypt, they both had hail, fire, sea to blood/Nile to blood, water undrinkable, darkness, locusts, death angels and firstborn die. What is that telling us? At the time, Egypt was the most powerful nation in the world. If anyone had the resources to dominate and prosper, Egypt did. What did God go after? The resources. What do you do when the things you trust in collapse? Revelation 8 and 9 is showing that, not just in one country but globally, when the things we depend on most are not dependable.
Number 4, the judgments are revolting yet restricted. By revolting, I mean they are disturbing. When you read these images, you’re just like, what?! The stuff of nightmares! And that’s part of the intent. Now remember, when we started this section I said I personally did not understand this section until I could get my head around the metaphor, the ultimate sting operation — that evil is allowed to have its way for a time in order ultimately to be identified, exposed, arrested. That’s what’s happening here. And you see so many examples of that in chapter 9. Let me show you a couple. Verse 3, locusts were “given power.” What is that communicating? Verse 4, “they were told not to harm the grass.” The point is not environmental friendliness. As important as that is, that’s not the point. The point is limitation. Verse 5, they were allowed to torment five months. Verse 10, they hurt people for five months. Verse 15, they “were prepared for the hour, day, month, and year.” What did all that communicate? The name of this series, this part of Revelation, we’ve titled “Controlled Chaos.” What we’re learning about is horrible, but if you think that God is not in control … He is not sinning. He is not wanting people to sin. Don’t misrepresent that. But he is sovereign even in hurricanes, scandals, shootings, disease. What are these then saying to us?
Number 5, where we started, the judgments are a call to repentance. What do trumpets do? Trumpets wake up. They warn. They mobilize. Living in a fallen, broken, cursed world will not automatically point people to repentance. Sometimes it will only harden us. And so, Revelation is saying very clearly, wake up! Do not cling to the resources, the things of this world that you think will provide security. For in verse 20, you have people who are trusting in things that will not last.
On Thursday I had the privilege of speaking at Elly Van Slooten’s homegoing service. What a remarkable sister in Christ! Elly Van Slooten was 98 years old. And Herman had to asked me to speak from Psalm 46. Just imagine soaking in Revelation 8 and 9 and Psalm 46.
“God is our refuge and strength.”
What is a refuge? A source of security. “God is our refuge and strength.” What is strength? A source of energy. He is
“a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear.”
We will not fear! We will not fear! How can you not fear? Because God is our refuge and strength. Well, what if the worst happens? What if everything you trust in falls apart? The psalmist goes there.
“Though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”
In that day, mountains communicated stability, immutability. You can count on it. Sea communicated instability, restlessness, the churning, foaming, roaring, changing. What the psalmist is saying is, what happens when the very thing you count on that gives you stability — your health, your memory, your reason, ability to think critically, your family, your friends, your heritage, whatever it is, your religious performance, your ability to play by the rules, whatever it is — that which provides stability is thrown into that which is unstable and swallowed up by a sea of restlessness. What do you do? Well you do what people do. They fear. They’re terrified. We have panic attacks. The psalmist is saying, “No, worst case scenario, God is my refuge and strength. Therefore, we will not fear.”
“Though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved,”
this is apocalyptic kind of stuff. Though demonic hordes attack, how can you be sustained in that? Look at what he says next.
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved.”
And what’s cool is that word “moved” in the Hebrew, “she shall not be moved,” is the same Hebrew word as “though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.” Everything is moving. You are not moved because God holds everything.
“God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms [move].”
It’s the same Hebrew word, “totter,” same Hebrew word move. Everything’s on the move. Mountains are moving, nations are moving, politics, news, germs.
“He utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth.” [Revelation 8 and 9] “He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’ The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”