Trumpets of Chaos & Destruction audio (6MB)
Do you feel secure? What sort of thing shakes your sense of security? What do you think of when you see reports of disasters like the earthquakes we’ve just seen in New Zealand and Japan? Or the civil uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya? What does it make you think of? Do you worry about your own security here in Australia? Or friends who may be living somewhere equally unsafe? Or does it make you realise your own mortality, your own frailty before the power of nature, your own dependence on God if you’re to survive in this world? Was this God’s work or just a random event of nature? If it is God at work, what is he doing? What’s he trying to achieve?
As we’ve read through Revelation thus far we’ve seen the 7 seals being opened and now the final seal is broken - and suddenly there’s silence. We’re left in suspense. What does the scroll say? What is this message that’s been sealed up until the last day? Do the things that have happened as each seal has been slit constitute the contents of the scroll, or is there more?
But then in the silence 7 angels appear, standing before God. 7 trumpets are given to them. An angel with a golden censer appears - with a great quantity of incense. What’s this all about? It’s the prayers of the saints which rise before God. And what do you think these prayers are about? About their trials and tribulations perhaps? Asking for help in the face of opposition? And what’s God’s response?
The censer is thrown on the earth with fire from the altar - there’s thunder and lightning and earthquakes - all images that are used commonly to describe God’s anger or judgement.
Then the seven trumpets begin to sound. Trumpets were used to proclaim victory or as a call to battle or as a warning of impending doom, and it seems the latter is the case here.
The first trumpet sounds and hail and fire mixed with blood are hurled to the earth and a third of the earth is burned up. The second trumpet sounds and this time it’s the sea that receives the brunt of God’s anger. A third of the sea becomes blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea die, a third of the ships are destroyed. Then it’s the turn of the rivers and springs, a third of which are turned bitter by wormwood so that many people die. Then it’s the heavens that have a third of their light darkened.
What’s happening here? What’s the significance of these disasters that come as the first four trumpets sound?
Well, it might be an allusion to Genesis 1. Remember how God made the world? He made the seas and the sky on the 2nd day, the dry land with it’s plants on the 3rd day, he put the sun moon and stars in the sky on the 4th day, and he made the sea and water creatures on the 5th day. And each time he declared it was good. But here we see those same elements experiencing chaos rather than the serenity of the creation story.
And what about Exodus: the plagues that God sent on the land of Egypt were similar to these judgements - water turned to blood, hail and lightning, the sun blotted out.
What we see here is God acting in judgement on a fallen creation. His fury is seen in fire, earthquake, poison, darkness.
But at the same time, notice that it’s only a third that’s destroyed. The damage is severe but it’s limited. God’s hand of judgement is restrained. As we’ll see in a moment these disasters are meant as a warning as much as a judgement. God’s anger is poured out on a world that’s rejected him, but he holds back in the hope that people might yet turn away from their rebellion and repent. Ezek 18:23: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live?” We read 2 Peter 3:9 last time: “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” In Luke 13:4-5, Jesus says: “4those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them -- do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Here we have a picture of the last days, as God’s anger is expressed, to a limited degree, but as a warning to us, in the hope that more people will repent.
But then we hear a cry from above. An eagle is flying above, looking down at the earth. He gets a panoramic view of what’s coming. Have you seen the last part of ‘Lord of the Rings’? As the camera pans high into the air suddenly you see the sheer scale of the army that the city of Gondor is facing. Here the eagle sees what’s coming and cries out ‘Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth because of the trumpets that are about to be sounded.’ If you thought what came from the first four trumpets was bad, just wait, there’s more!
This time it isn’t destruction they face. In fact it’s far worse than destruction. The abyss is opened, invoking the idea of hell opened and out pour locusts with unimagined power to torture those they sting. They sting like scorpions, but are shaped like horses, covered in armour, with the faces of men, hair like women, teeth like lions, and their wings make a noise like a cavalry charge. The abyss is opened, notice, by a star who’s fallen from heaven to the earth. Presumably this is a reference to Satan himself. We’ll read of Satan’s fall from heaven a couple of other times as we read on but at this stage he’s given the key to the abyss. And notice who it is that his agents attack. Not Christians, not those with the seal of God on their foreheads. They’re protected. No, they attack Satan’s own followers. And they have power to afflict them for 5 months; again, a finite time. It’s not forever, unlike the eternal punishment we find in the last few chapters of the book. So here’s a strange thing. Satan has opened the abyss, but it’s only his own people who are attacked.
Then the 6th trumpet sounds and the 4 angels who have been held back at the river Euphrates are set free to carry out the judgement they’ve been reserved for.
These 4 angels come to carry out God’s judgement on evildoers. But they turn out to be 200 million mounted troops. An unbelievable number; impossible to imagine. And again the picture is one of fantastic beasts able to wreak havoc on the earth, yet again it’s only a 3rd of humanity that are killed.
Well I want to just stop and ask, if you were there, watching what’s happening, if you were one of the 2 thirds who survived these disasters, how would you react? How would you expect the survivors to respond? They’ve seen God’s judgment being poured out in the form of disasters, plague, illness, suffering, etc. But what happens? Look at v20: “20The rest of humankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands or give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk. 21And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their fornication or their thefts.”
Following Satan has done them no good, in fact the opposite, Satan himself has unleashed these locusts like scorpions on them, but still they persist in their rebellion. They continue to worship false gods, to commit all sorts of terrible sins and never give a thought to the God who sits enthroned above the heavens.
And so another mighty angel appears towering over John.
When you look at the way things are going on earth it sometimes seems like God’s cause is failing. Christians are weak, the majority continue in their rebellion. It almost seems like we’re fighting a lost cause. But God’s not beaten. God in fact is greater than anything that happens on earth. The angel of God speaks and seven thunders sound. The seven signifies God speaking. But just as John begins to write down what he hears, he’s told to seal it up. These words are not for public hearing. What is for public hearing is the message of the end. The angel swears an oath by God’s name: there will be no more delay. The seventh trumpet is about to sound to herald the accomplishment of the mystery of God. What that final mystery consists of is written in the small scroll that he carries in his hand.
This too is for public hearing. John is told to take the scroll from the angel’s hand. In an echo of Ezekiel 2, he’s told to eat it because it contains a message that he’s to prophesy to many peoples and nations and languages and kings. We’re told that when he ate it, it was as sweet as honey in his mouth but bitter to his stomach. Like Ezekiel, John’s to prophecy God’s message to the nations. But while the prophecy at first seems sweet it isn’t as palatable as it first appears. In fact it gives him indigestion. Like the gospel it has an element of good news, but there’s bad news mixed in.
So what’s the nature of this prophecy? Well, again we’re not told directly are we? Instead we get a picture of John being given a measuring rod. He’s to measure the Temple of God and the altar and to count the worshippers there. The counting has the idea of preservation, shown by the fact that outside the Temple isn’t to be measured. In fact it’s to be handed over to be trampled by the Gentiles, those who are outside of God’s kingdom, for 42 months. But it also has the sense of a preparation for the end. Checking whether the whole number has come in. We saw the 144,000 mentioned in ch7 and they pop up again in ch14. So this counting of the worshippers may be connected to that. This part of the prophecy will end with the final trumpet heralding the end of all things, with God’s temple opened so all of God’s people can access it.
But in the meantime, the work of prophecy is taken up by 2 witnesses who are to prophecy for 1260 days. i.e. 3½ years, or 42 months. In Revelation that signifies a long but finite period of time. And who are these two witnesses? Well they appear to stand for all individuals or churches who prophesy faithfully within their own cities. (Notice the reference to lampstands.) And what happens when Christians testify faithfully? 2 things. First they receive protection and power from God, v5. The word of God is like a 2 edged sword piercing to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to those who believe. When they act it’s like Moses (v6) or Elijah or Elisha whose words both gave them protection and had the power to do miracles. Here’s a word of encouragement to us to have confidence in the proclamation of the gospel.
But secondly when their work of prophecy is finished Satan rises up and makes war on them and kills them.
See, here’s the tale of the church in the last days. We both bear the power of the gospel to change people’s lives and at the same time we’re the target of Satan’s opposition, seeking to stop us, by bloodshed if necessary.
But let’s not fear, because see what happens: yes, they’re killed; left lying in the streets for people to stare at. But then after 3½ days, again a short period of time, they will be raised up again, taken up to heaven as people watch in fear and awe. How often has the world looked at the Christian church floundering, weak and wasting away, and laughed at it, only to see it revive again, reformed by the Spirit of God. How often have Christians bewailed their weakened state without realising that it’s merely temporary.
Then the final trumpet sounds. The end has come. God is triumphant. ‘15The seventh angel blew his trumpet and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.”’ (Hallelujah chorus.) God has begun his reign. For a while it might have seemed like the nations were winning, like this world belonged to Satan, but now we see that God is triumphant. The time of his judgement has come. And then we see the two sides of the gospel once more: God judges those who have opposed him, but at the same time God’s Temple in heaven is opened and everyone is able to see through to the ark of the covenant. The way is now open for God’s people to approach God without fear. No longer is there anything separating us from God’s presence.
Before we finish I want us to see that what’s happening here isn’t a single event in history. This is not a chronological prophecy. It’s actually a picture of what’s been happening for the past 2000 years and will continue to happen until the day that Christ returns. People oppose the Church, persecute Christians when they speak out in God’s name, God sends his judgment on them to warn them but they continue to ignore him. And the judgements he sends are numerous. They depend on the age in which we live. It might be the plague in the middle ages caused by overpopulation of the cities combined with poor sanitation, it might be the series of wars of the last century caused by the desire for increased power by national leaders, it might be AIDS or one of the countless other STIs that are common in our world today resulting from our growing licentiousness. It could be a financial crisis brought on by greed. It could be global warming caused by our neglect of the environment. God uses these natural consequences to warn us of the folly of our behaviour when we ignore him and the way he wants us to live.
And the message of this passage is that people will continue to ignore these warnings. People in fact will fight tooth and nail against anyone who stands up to defend their faith in God or to proclaim his message to the world. But in the end God will triumph. It may not come straight away. That, I think, is the reason that the story starts again in ch12 as another layer of the picture is added, but it is moving to a resolution. Each subsequent layer of the picture brings the whole thing nearer to completion until we get to the final chapter of the book where the new heavens and the new earth finally appear and all is complete.