10 Jul 2022
Passage Revelation 8-9
Speaker Chris Haley
There was once a man who thought his wife was going deaf. He decided on day to test it. He stood in the kitchen and shouted to his wife in living room, “Can you hear me dear?” No reply. He moved a bit closer, “Can you hear me dear?” No reply. He went inside the living room, “Can you hear me dear” “Yes, for the third time yes!” she said. Sometimes it can be tempting to think God is deaf to us: “Why are you doing this?” “What is going on?” When actually it’s us who are deaf- God is telling us things, but we’re not listening!
Revelation is a book that reveals things- the clue is in the name! A book that reveals what God is doing, what God is saying in our time. We’ve been seeing over the past few weeks that some parts of the book are about the future, but a lot of it is talking about the time we live in now, the time before Jesus comes back. We’ve seen our time displayed as a scroll sealed with seven seals. Six of them were opened in chapter six and it ended with the sun disappearing, the stars falling out of the sky, the mountains and islands fleeing and the sky being rolled up like a scroll- the day of the wrath of the lamb- the end.
Chapter seven was a flashback looking at who would be saved on that day- those who have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb- gathered around the throne from every tribe tongue and nation, those who have trusted in Jesus’ death on the cross to make them clean before God. So what now? We’ve basically reached the end and it’s only chapter seven! Well we go round again, but this time instead of seven seals, unlocking God’s plan, the same events are viewed as seven trumpets warning, forewarning of the end to come. Like the seven seals there’s a four, then a two, then a break then one by itself.
The Four Warnings of De-Creation ch8
When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. (Revelation 8:1-5 ESV)
The passage begins, not with the first trumpet, but the seventh seal! Chapter seven was the break and now this is the one on its own, completing what went on before. The seventh seal brings silence in heaven. Like the silence before the walls of Jericho were torn down, and then the wrath spoken about at the end of chapter six is finally poured out on the Earth. The prayers of the saints in chapter 6 who were calling out for judgement and justice are finally answered. So what now? Seven trumpets.
Trumpets had many functions in the Old Testament, but here it would seem to be an announcement of coming judgement. Again think Jericho in Joshua 6 where seven priests carried seven trumpets, and on the seventh day, they went round seven times blowing the trumpet, until the final shout when the walls came down and Jericho was destroyed, except this time it’s not Jericho, it’s the whole world!
The first four trumpets are a group and form four fore-warnings of de-creation, destruction.
The first trumpet affects the Earth. The trumpet is blown and fire, hail and blood rain down from the skies. This is a combination of two of the judgement plagues on Egypt in Exodus. The plague destroys a third of the trees, a third of the earth (probably meant by that the land really), and all of the grass. A third is not everything, but it’s a significant portion. It’s more than the quarter destructions we saw in chapter 6, but it’s not everything.
The second trumpet affects the seas. A burning mountain is thrown into the sea and turns a third of it to blood again reminiscent of the judgement plagues of Egypt, especially the first one where the Nile is turned to blood, and all the fish die. Here though only a third of all sea creatures die, and also a third of all ships are destroyed- this affects the human world too as part of creation. Things linked with the sea are partly undone by this.
Lakes and Rivers
The third trumpet affects rivers and lakes. A star falls from heaven and makes a third of the drinking water bitter, poisonous, polluted. The star’s name is wormwood which is a bitter herb used to make absinthe and vermouth, and certain insecticides! In the Bible it’s associated with bitterness.
If there were anything in Revelation that would make me consider changing my view to specific historical events- this would be it! Chernobyl is Ukrainian for “black herb” and is the name sometimes used for wormwood or mugwart. Chernobyl was the site of a Nuclear disaster in 1986- there’s even a plaque in the city commemorating with a trumpet on it, harking back to this passage. Just on the other side of the argument though it’s not usually translated like that. So in Ukrainian Bibles it has here the star’s name as “Polin” (Полин) not Chernobyl.
What we do see is a third of all drinking water affected and as a result many people die.
The fourth trumpet affects the Heavens- heavens as in sky and space, not the spiritual dimension. It’s a throwback to the plague of Darkness in Egypt- the plague before the great and final one. It’s also a scaled back version of what happened at the end of chapter 6- when the sky was rolled up like a scroll and all the stars fell. Here again it’s just a third of the Sun, a third of the moon, a third of the stars. A third of the Sun is struck- “flattened”, “pummelled” literally. It seems to suggest that the Sun would not shine for a third of its normal time, nor the moon. The very structure of day and night is broken.
What we see throughout here is de-creation- the very fabric of the world is breaking apart. The first three days of creation from Genesis which provide the building blocks of our world are being undone- not totally, but partially. Creation is groaning and creaking under God’s judgement. As with the four horsemen in chapter 6 God is withdrawing his blessings from the realm of men, here we see God withdrawing his blessings in the realm of creation- not totally, but partially.
And isn’t this what we see in the world? A broken planet. You can hardly ignore it with people gluing themselves to everything! The surprise here is that it is God who is breaking it! And if God is breaking it, we will not be able to fix it. As much as we recycle, or reuse, or stop using CFCs, or stop burning fossil fuels, we will never finally fully fix our world. Please, please, please don’t hear me wrong there is nothing wrong with doing those things. It is good for us to look after our planet- we are stewards of this world, but we mustn’t imagine that by doing these things we will somehow permanently fix our world. Our world is broken for a reason- it points to the brokenness of our relationship with God.
If this is sounding similar to the message as a couple of weeks ago, it’s because it basically is, but from a different angle. Here the brokenness is presented as warning trumpets. They are a global warning of what is to come, but it’s not just the brokenness of creation that points to this, and so our second point…
The Deceptive Torment of the Devil ch9v1-19
As I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying in mid-air call out in a loud voice: ‘Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!’ The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them. (Revelation 8:13-9:6 ESV)
An eagle flies by and pronounces woe on the earth. Eagles in the Bible function much like vultures in our thinking- it’s not a good sign! Like a bird of prey circling over a body! In chapter four the angels sang, “holy, holy, holy” to God- emphasising the holiness of God, but here the bird of prey sings, “woe, woe, woe” to the Earth, emphasising the doom of the Earth.
The fifth angel blows his trumpet and John sees a star fallen to Earth. It’s unclear whether this is the same star as trumpet three or not. Here the star though is treated as a person. He is given the key to the bottomless pit and he opens it. Smoke arises from the bottomless pit and the smoke blackens the sun and then turns into locusts who are given scorpion-like stings! At this point it’s sounding more like a horror film isn’t it! And it should do- because when we read the rest of Revelation and the passages they allude to we discover that this is none other than the devil himself- called in v11 “the angel of the abyss”, Apollyon, Abaddon, the destroyer. It is he who is thrown down to Earth in Revelation and in the rest of the Bible
And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:9 ESV)
In that same passage he wipes out a third of the stars- just like in the fourth trumpet. Or listen to Jesus’ description of what his disciples have done in Luke 10.
The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!" And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. (Luke 10:17 ESV)
Scorpions and serpents there associated with the power of Satan. Stars in the Bible and Revelation are also associated with angels, good and bad. Just one example:
…The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches… (Revelation 1:20 ESV)
He also holds the power of death (Hebrews 2:14)
Ok, so the fallen star here is the devil. He is given the keys to the abyss, but what are the things that come out of the abyss? The weird smoke, locust things.
They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them. (Revelation 9:4-6 ESV)
Well they are reminiscent of the eight plague on Egypt, the plague of locusts, but here they are his fallen angels- demons, minions, evil spirits who torment people. Now that may sound strange and weird to us, but it’s not strange and weird in the New Testament As we’ve said right from the start- the book of Revelation is telling us New Testament truths in Old Testament language. In the Gospels evil spirits cause people immense torment: they make people throw themselves into fires, they cause them to cut themselves, they cause sickness and disease. When Jesus casts them out in the New Testament they beg not be thrown into the abyss- the bottomless pit- a reminder of where they come from!
The world here is pictured as being tormented by demons. Many of them here become so hopeless in their torment that they long for death, yet it eludes them: suicidal, yet alive. Now I do believe that demons are real. I don’t think possession by evil spirits is anything like as common as it was in the New Testament, and we mustn’t blame every sickness or torment on demon possession. The description given here helps us: some of it borrowed from Joel 2 where it’s either describing an army as locusts or locusts as an army
Here and there they are like horses prepared for battle- they are there to attack, with teeth like lions, again an image from Joel- fierce. Breastplates of iron- impenetrable. Hair like women – all like Samson in strength. They are vicious and merciless, yet they have human faces- it’s not saying demons have human faces, but that they work in the normal human systems. So this torment doesn’t present itself like some weird horror movie with half locust/half horse things attacking your brain, but in the normal passage of everyday human life. The demons remain unseen, only their effect is felt: utter torment and hopelessness.
The devil is still at work through his minions in the world today. In the west we live in an anti-supernatural society- to go around possessing people all the time would give the game away, but the devil does still torment: his influences are felt in despair and hopelessness, in damaging and abusive relationships, in destructive addiction and sin. Tormented souls abound.
Whether through demonic influence or not, we live in a tormented world. Suicide is a bigger killer for men of my age than cancer, in fact it’s the leading cause of death for men in their 20s, 30s & 40s. It is for women in their 20s and 30s too, though at less than half the rate of men. Last year there were nearly a million recorded domestic abuse-related crimes in England and Wales- that’s the recorded ones! Alcohol killed nearly 8,000 people last year, mostly long term and dependence related. To put that in perspective that’s about 6 times as many as road accidents. Drugs killed another 4,500. The devil doesn’t need his minions to possess people, his lies are at work deceiving people. The world is already dancing to his tormenting tune that ends in death, and that’s where this section ends too…
The sixth angel blows his trumpet and four angels who had been held back are released. They were standing by the river Euphrates- the river Israel’s enemies would cross to attack in the Old Testament. Think about them being stood on the other side of the English Channel for us These four angels unleash an army of “twice ten thousand times ten thousand” Now John could have written 200 million in Greek- the Greeks virtually invented maths! They had a number system that could cope! But his point is just how great a number it is- if 10 is a lot, 100 even more, 1,000 an awful lot, 10,000 an incredible number. Then twice ten thousand times ten thousand is unheard of! There weren’t even that many people in the world at that point!
You might think this is some great end time battle, but it only kills a third of humanity. I say only a third- the black death killed half it’s reckoned! And again a third here means just a portion, a chunk- a significant portion, but not all!
The instrument of death is the horse, with breastplates of fire and sulphur, and breath of fire and smoke and sulphur, and they kill by fire and smoke and sulphur! Their power is in their heads and their tails. Their heads are lions heads and their tails are snakes with heads. Lions and snakes, fire and sulphur: again we’re supposed to be attaching these to the demonic.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8 ESV)
And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan (Revelation 12:9 ESV)
The devil doesn’t just bring torment by his minions, he brings death! It’s an escalation of the fifth trumpet. There’s smoke with trumpet five, but here there’s fire. The hordes of hell are unleashed on the world to bring death and torment to people.
One of the characteristics of the age we live is death and suffering- demonically produced affliction for no apparent reason except to torment and kill. As a loud voice from heaven will proclaim later in Revelation:
…But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Revelation 12:12 ESV)
And yet there is protection promised for God’s people from this:
4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. (Revelation 9:4 ESV)
This does not mean we are exempt from suffering and death, but it does mean we are exempt from pointless suffering and death. In this life God uses our suffering for his good purposes- to make us more like Christ- and ultimately the devil can do us no ultimate harm. 1 John 5 speaks of the devil not being able to touch us- he cannot snatch us from God’s hand- like the plagues in Egypt, his people are protected.
But this is not true for the rest of humanity. The devil can inflict pointless suffering through his minions. He can hold them in bondage and affliction just because he feels like it, but he is not all powerful, nor is he without boundaries. God limits his control- a third, no more- a chunk, but not all. It’s like the devil is in some way bound (more of this in chapter 20!) He has power, but not full power, even with an army of 200 million! And even this suffering and death inflicted by the devil’s minions functions as a trumpet call to the world- a warning sign, a portent of impending doom, a flashing light on the dashboard, but the shock is humanity is so stubborn it doesn’t listen. So lastly…
The Sting in the Tail ch9v20-21
The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshipping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood – idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.(Revelation 9:20-21 ESV)
The big surprise in all these trumpets is that even humanity is forewarned, even though there is not a place in the globe where this de-creation is not present, even though this demonic torment and destruction is happening across the world, humanity continues on its course! Worse than that- the course we’re involves worshipping the very things that are destroying us! Humanity carries on with its idols and its immorality as though nothing has happened- as though everything is fine. We’ve become so accustomed to this world, we’ve almost forgotten that it’s not supposed to be like this.
These two verses are put at the end of this section here to show us what this has all been about. If humankind really were the reasonable, rational, unbiased people we try to make ourselves out to be, then really we would have repented long ago, we would have seen the destruction and devastation and turned to God in repentance, “We surrender Lord, please take us back!”, but instead we’re pig-headed stubborn rebels who insist on going our own way even if it destroys us! If this section is supposed to remind us of the plagues of Egypt, then humanity is Pharaoh, who persecutes God’s people and hardens his heart when God begins to de-create his kingdom, who refuses to repent even as he watches his world crumble at the hands of God, who would continue to worship statues of falcons and cats and jackals rather than bow to the living God, and that’s still where we’re at! Thousands of years later we’re no better!
We see our creation is broken, and instead of bowing the knee to our creator, we proudly think can fix it! We cast ourselves as heroes and remake a morality that makes us look like the good people: Where recycling is more important than righteousness, where littering is worse than lying, where fossil fuels are bad, but flings are fine! We just repeat the mistakes of the past in creating our own religion that makes us look good! We see creation is broken, and we don’t repent.
We see, not just the futility, but the destructiveness of worshipping idols- the hopelessness and torment that it brings, and yet we continue to chase after things less than God. We see the damage that violence and infidelity, perversion and deception, scams and emblements can do, and yet we continue on unabated. Rather than repent mankind is pictured here as blindly following the same path it has always gone- and yet! The trumpets are sounding! The horns are beeping! “Turn around! Go back!” It’s like that scene on Bruce Almighty where he says ‘God show me a sign’, and right in front of him is this: (STOP! TURN BACK! DEAD END!)
People ask for signs from God, but the signs are all around us! At points in our life they’re almost deafening in our ears! We think God is deaf to our pleas for evidence and signs, when in fact we are blind to what he is showing us- the signs are everywhere, the trumpets are sounding across the world- as our planet breaks, as people cry out in torment, as people suffer and die for their idols. CS Lewis wrote “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” or in Revelation language, it is his trumpet.
So the question is will you repent? To repent is to stop what you’re doing and turn to God, to turn around, do an about turn, give up on your idols- be they wooden or otherwise- in the end they’ll only destroy you anyway! Give up on your sin- whether it be immorality, impatience, injustice or just ignoring God- again, it’s not like those things do you any good! Turn away from sin and trust in Jesus to make you clean. As chapter seven put it- wash your robes in the blood of the lamb- put all you trust in Jesus. Put all your eggs in his basket!
And if you have done that then remember that the clock is ticking, the trumpets are sounding, the end is coming! I’m not saying go round with a billboard “the end is nigh”, but are you ready for the end? Are you ready for Jesus to return? Are you living in the light of the reality that is to come? What might that look like? A life lived in worship to the lamb on the throne: speaking of his greatness with our words, speaking of his worthiness with our lives, speaking to our world with his Gospel. Let’s not be deaf to what Jesus is telling us, but let’s live for him and speak for him even as the trumpets sound all around us.