We are pulled in two directions. Heaven or hell. Two realms vie for our affections. There's the desire in each one of us to contribute positively to our families…our relationships…our communities. Most of us, most of the time, want to do the right thing. We want to leave our little corner of God's world better than we found it. We are being called to a lofty expression of our better selves. As someone once said:
It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still BE CALM IN YOUR Heart.
We like that. We resonate with thoughts like that. We want more of that in our lives. They are not bad things. We want to envision ourselves as occupying a place of positive influence where we're at. Many of us have committed Paul's list of the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5 to heart - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
That's the spiritual sphere to which Jesus Christ calls us. As we yield our lives to Christ, God works His sovereign purpose through us to bless the world. Being saved in Christ keeps our eyes on heaven while we work so that God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
The second sphere, hell, tries to conform us mightily to its corrupting nature. Hell hounds us to move us away from God. And the voices of hell are alluring. In a famous approach, hell asks, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?'" Hell challenges us to assert our own will. Shouldn't we be in charge of our own destiny? Hell can be loud and alluring enough to seduce the world away from God's grace and mercy.
Wherever we are between these two poles - and, when we're honest with
ourselves, some days we're closer to hell than others - the negative pull is palpable. And the reason why is because we are all sinners in need of salvation. We are not good in and of ourselves. Here's something you might want to remember:
It's not our sins that make us sinners. Our sins are symptoms of our sinful nature.
In other words, sin is the disease. The sinful things we do are the symptoms.
Listen to 1 John 2:16:
For all that is in the world - the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life - is not from the Father but is from the world.
Life is lived between two mightily opposed spheres. They both directly touch our lives. We will either be a companion of God or a friend of the devil. One or the other. That's the way our lives go.
Thus we arrive at these brutal verses of Revelation 9. People have ignored the powerful warnings from previous chapters. They have not repented. They have willingly chosen to remain in the sphere of evil. They have rejected the offers of mercy and grace. Remember…mercy is not getting what we deserve and grace is getting what we don't deserve. Fierce judgment is coming their way. Yet they will continue to curse the God of heaven. They are about to reap the whirlwind.
Here, now, Revelation 9:13-21:
Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions' heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths. By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means
of them they wound.
The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent
of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping 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 or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.
Here's the breakdown. We almost need a scoreboard to keep track. The seventh seal has been broken, revealing seven trumpet-blowing angels. We're now at the sixth trumpet. Within this trumpet is the second woe. Obviously, woes are not good. The first woe, seen with the fifth trumpet at the beginning of chapter nine, revealed a torment of locusts. Not good… not good at all. Those afflicted didn't die. They wished they were dead, but they lived in agony for a period of time. And strangely, they did not repent and turn to the Lord.
If we were to diagram a flow chart, it would sound like this:
Fire mixed with blood that scorched the earth.
Burning mountain falling into the sea.
Said sea turning to blood…much death ensued.
Blazing star falling into fresh waters.
Said fresh waters turning bitter…much death ensued.
Darkening of sun and moon, plunging world into darkness.
Swarming demonic locusts - that's never a good thing.
After all this, the wicked still do not repent and turn to God. Those bearing the mark of the Lamb…their names written in the Lamb's Book of Life… they are saved. But not so for the wicked.
As the sixth angel sounds the trumpet, the woes worsen. And nowhere will you find a more chilling portrayal of sinful people pushed to the extreme than in these verses. One would think that the terrors of God's wrath would drive those committing cosmic treason against Him to the foot of the cross. But no. In a weird expression of sinful willfulness, all too familiar to us, the wicked respond to these woes with increased rebellion. Here's something you might want to write down:
What we have here is a failure to move toward the grace and mercy of God.
We have now arrived at the point where mercy ends. For those who bear the mark of the Lamb, they are vessels of mercy. God's mercy toward believers never ends. As Paul writes in Philippians 4:19, "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus." That's God's promise to believers. So as all kinds of horribleness breaks out around us, we are neither to worry nor be afraid. We have been washed by the Blood of the Lamb. God's mercy never ends.
But here, for those who have rejected every good gift from God, time has run out. And in a big way.
So the four angels, who we know are really demons because they have been bound, are released to pour out God's wrath. Never forget. All the forces of history are under the sovereign control of God. What we know here is that these evil ones have been held in check by the mercy of God. But no more. No more.
What is now unleashed is horrific. It is absolutely terrifying. But remember
the warnings. There have been opportunities to repent. But people ignored
them. There have been warnings, which people have chosen to ignore.
Check this out:
Show warning sign.
How clear is that? If the Book of Revelation were turned into a warning sign, that would come close to capturing it.
Here's another one:
Show Yellowstone warning sign.
The story behind this one is tragically true.
In 2016, a 23-year-old Oregon man and his 21-year-old sister were looking for a place to "hot pot" in Yellowstone National Park. Ignoring the warning sign, he stepped into the danger zone. He immediately cracked through the crusted surface, falling into boiling hot water tainted with sulfur. It did not end well. Mercifully, he died almost immediately. Delayed by lightning storms and approaching darkness, by the time rescuers arrived, his body had been totally dissolved. All that remained were traces of his wallet and melted flip-flops.
Ignore or disregard dire warnings at your own peril.
Verse sixteen begins the description of the demons. Don't get caught up in these descriptions. John's intention if for us to be struck by the horribleness of it all. This is simply symbolism at its most grotesque. And grotesque for a purpose. How bad are things going to get for the unrepentant wicked? Read verses sixteen through nineteen! Their whole purpose is to drive us to the sorrowful reality of verses twenty through twenty-one. Let's read them one last time:
The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping 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 or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.
And there it is. It brings us such sorrow and sadness. The fire and the smoke and the sulfur of verse eighteen are three separate plagues. Boom…Boom…Boom…one after the other, and no repentance. It is heartbreaking. Unbelievers clinging to the mark of the beast.
There are probably people in your life - people you know and love - who have gone through difficulties…who have seen people they know struggle… who have tried to make sense of the evil and wickedness in this world... who have longed for a better world…who are jaded or cynical because of the negativity they have encountered in life…and instead of those challenges driving them to the foot of the cross, they have continued in rebellion against the grace and mercy of God. You struggle with their lack of faith. You worry that their names are not written in the Lamb's Book of Life. Yet no amount of wishful thinking will change God's sovereign plan for history.
It is heartbreaking to see people stubbornly persist in their sin and error. We don't need to break down the wickedness called out in these last two verses. We see it played out 24/7. It seems like our culture has gotten more proficient at normalizing sin and wickedness. And it will lead to catastrophic results for unbelievers.
Meanwhile, the promise of God's Word is that believers will never be
touched by the wrath of God. As Clement of Alexandria, second century
theologian, put it:
"God is near to all who believe, and far from the ungodly if they
do not repent."
The visions of chapter nine do two things.
First, they bring hope and encouragement to the Christian community in the midst turmoil, trauma, and tumult. No matter what we experience or go through in life, all will be well because our names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life.
Second, these visions drive us to share the truth of the gospel up to our last dying breath. No compromise. Unapologetic. I love how Vance Havner, pastor and author from the early 20th century, put it:
"The real test of how much we believe of prophetic truth is what we're doing to warn people to flee from the wrath to come. To believe the solemn truths of prophecy and then make our way complacently through a world of sin and shame is not merely unfortunate. It is criminal."
Salvation is in Christ and Christ alone.
SOLI DEO GLORIA…
To the Glory of God Alone!