Things Can Get Worse [6-19-22]



Revelation 8 ends with the appearance of a majestic creature:

Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”

I love eagles. There's at least one claiming this part of Lenawee County as its stomping grounds. Or perhaps I should say, for the eagle, we're flyover country. I don't know if it's male or female. I would never assume the gender of an eagle. But I've named it "Sam Eagle." If you're familiar with The Muppet Show, you know what I'm talking about.


Anyway, eagles are awesome. And as you can imagine, they were held in high esteem in Biblical times, as well. Eagles have always represented such qualities as strength and swiftness. Based on verse thirteen, what do we know about the final three trumpet announcements? The huge hint is in the thrice mentioned woe…woe…woe! About these final three woes, here's

something you might want to remember:

THESE FINAL PLAGUES ARE NOT TO FALL UPON THE CHURCH BUT UPON A PAGAN AND WICKED WORLD.


And so the eagle flies. Chapter eight ends on another note of mercy. The eagle is warning people that they still have time to turn, to repent, to believe, and to be saved before the next judgment comes. As Ezekiel 33:11 reminds us, "Say to them, 'As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?'" God is always eager to give the wicked one last chance to repent before the judgment comes.


With that in mind, let's turn to Revelation 9:1-11:

And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.

In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women's hair, and their teeth like lions' teeth; they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.


Now, as we've said before, we don't want to get lost in the fanciful details

of the creatures described here. They're foreboding, to say the least. The

truth they convey is absolute terrifying horribleness. Are you with me

on that?


We really don't need much prompting to visualize these woes. We have enough examples of real-life frightening creatures of nature to prime our imaginations. Check this out:

  • Show Picture of Bat Trapped in Spider Web.

There's some kind of insect in Australia whose sting can linger for an indeterminate amount of time. The physiological effects, in some people, are excruciating. A few victims have been driven to suicide. So what we're reading about here is far from farfetched.


We cannot escape the vivid descriptions of what is going on. When the shaft is opened in verse 2 - what one interpreter calls a "subterranean smokestack" - evil spirits are released whose mission is to torment those who don't have the seal of God on their foreheads. This is reminiscent of the great and terrible day of the Lord described in Joel 2:10:

The earth quakes before them; the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.

There is darkness plaguing the land.


Verse three describes for us the source of that darkness. Locusts. Locusts are like grasshoppers, but they are not. Both are creepy as all get out.


Locusts have been known to travel in a column one hundred feet deep and up to four miles long. They will strip every bit of vegetation in their path.


One summer day, when we lived in Blue Earth, Minnesota, our boys were five going on six and one going on two. We went for an after dinner bike ride. This was a rural community. Lori and I had bikes with child carriers. As we pedaled down a country road, corn fields on both side of us, suddenly things were pinging off our legs. Lori's legs, my legs, and the boy's legs. Moments later I heard screaming. I realized it was me. Those were locusts pinging off our legs. "Why did the locusts cross the road? To make Pastor Richard scream." Take this unleashing in Revelation 9, add stinging that causes people so much torment that they want to die, and

you've got an event that should lead any sane person to repentance.


Nothing good comes from the abyss. As we read in Luke 8:29-31:

For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss.

So there you have it. The abyss is bad. And this first plague, even though demonic, is under the sovereign control of God. That point is driven home by the fact that the elect of God are not to be harmed. "They were only to harm those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads." On top of that, in this round of woes, the destructive power of the locusts is not directed against grass or trees or anything else that grows on the ground. Only wicked people.


Again, here's something we've already talked about but you might want to write down for emphasis:

THE SEALED PEOPLE OF GOD DO NOT EXPERIENCE THE WRATH OF GOD.

That's going to be important to hold on to, because life for the unrepentant will get worse. It's so bad in these early verses of chapter nine that people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.


To set up what these descriptions reveal about human nature, one commentator observes:

Picture what the world would be like if we were to open the doors of all the penitentiaries of earth and set free the world's most vicious and violent criminals, giving them full reign to practice their infamies upon the world. Something worse than that lies in store for the world. Demonic power for evil rises like smoke from the bottomless pit, where those in open rebellion against God are brought to the footstool of the beast.

None of this is good. But note how there are still limits to the destruction. Verse five specifically speaks to a time during which people in torment may yet turn from their wickedness and repent. But many still resist the grace and mercy of God. That is fallen human nature. It shouldn't be a shock to us that people in open rebellion against God think they know best and are free to do as they please. Talk about slavery to sin.


First, God allowed the sinful desires of people's hearts to roam free. It was evil run amok. And yet people continued in their wickedness, running away from God and the cross of their salvation.


Now, hell itself is belching out its corruption upon the earth. The images described are horrific. "In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women's hair, and their teeth like lions' teeth; they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. They have tails and stings like scorpions." These are human and animal qualities combined in one creature that is both unnatural and diabolical.


In 1866, over 200,000 people died in a famine following a plague of locusts

invading Algiers. And still people don't run to the eternal security of the

cross.


The first part of chapter nine describes unrelenting torment for five months. Five months, without relief. Before the events of chapter nine hit, people witnessed the collapse of false world peace, the devastations of war, natural disasters, famines, and plague. Both believers and unbelievers we caught up, to one degree or another, in the horribleness of these torments. No one was immune. As the Bible says, both the righteous and the unrighteous experience the negative effects of drought and the positive effects of rain. That's life.


In chapter nine, though, followers of Jesus Christ are protected from the unnatural and awesome cruelty of the three great and terrible woes. As we read in 2 Timothy 2:19:

Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”

That's what all this is driving at. You would think that by this point, more

people would cry out for redemption. But that is not the practice of sinful

hearts. Those far away from the cross are convinced of their own rightness. They insist on what they think are their freedoms. They are belligerent in their disobedience. They celebrate their cosmic treason against the grace and mercy of God. What is absolutely amazing is that, as verse six tells us, rather than seeking God through repentance, unbelievers will long to die to escape the torment.


We've all wondered that, right? Those who have been truly called by God to walk with Jesus Christ have a higher level of hope, happiness, and confidence in life. Why would anyone reject that? They exude the belief that no matter what they experience or go through in life, all will be well because Jesus Christ is Lord. I love what one woman reminds us to do:

  • {Show Slide} "Streams of mercy NEVER CEASING call for songs of LOUDEST PRAISE! His mercies are unceasing and new every morning! Exuberant praise is the only proper response."


One last point before we close out the first half of chapter nine. Verse eleven says, "They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon." This

is a politically subversive point. It is a sharp jab at Roman authority. It is a derogatory reference to the Greek god Apollo. It is significant because Roman emperors claimed a special relationship to him. Domitian was emperor around this time. And so, John was saying that Domitian was Apollos incarnate as he wielded evil and wicked powers against God's elect. This will not be the last of John's pointed resistance to governing authorities. The Book of Revelation is actually quite spectacular in its critical undermining of Roman culture and rule.


Finally, verse twelve brings us to a logical place to stop. As it says, "The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come." Or as another translation captures the vividness of the scene:

"THE FIRST DISASTER IS NOW PAST, BUT I SEE TWO MORE APPROACHING."


Let's Pray:

Father, we have been shown things that create fear and shaking in our hearts…frightening, terrible, horrible things, prepared for those who reject You, who are alive in the day when You bring judgment. Open the hearts, Lord, of those who do not know the Savior. That is the only escape from the terrors of Your righteous judgment. How joyful it is for those who have not rejected Jesus Christ. Help us to live out of and share that Good News with those facing judgment. May more and more flee to the cross. In Christ's name we pray. Amen.









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