Monday, February 10, 2014


Do you still remember how, in the vision of Chapter 5, John was in tears because there was no one to open the scroll and to break open its seals? And then John saw Jesus, the Lamb that was slain, stepping forward to take hold of the scroll with the 7 seals which no one else could open? And do you remember how He opens the first six seals in chapter 6, which are a revelation of the history and of the future of the world? Do you remember how that vision was interrupted by the events of chapter 7, when John receives a glorious glimpse of how God keeps His people in the midst of these distressing times that have come upon the world in these last days? And then finally, do you remember the opening of the seventh seal in chapter 8:1 followed by a half an hour of SILENCE, as all heavenly worship ceases in exchange for a quiet hush as the final revelation is contemplated? 

We now come to the next vision of the 7 trumpets, but before this vision is given, John receives a remarkable insight concerning the prayers of the saints – the prayers of true believers. We saw last week that the biblical prayers [1] of the saints are received by God, and we saw that these prayers will form the basis of God’s judgment against a rebellious world. They are also an answer to the prayers of the martyrs who cry out in Rev. 6:10-11 : “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?

The angel then takes the censer, filled with incense and with the prayers of the saints, and now he also fills it with fire from the altar of God, throwing it on the earth, thereby unleashing the wrath of God upon the earth. This leads us to the next cycle in the Revelation to John : 

The Seven Trumpets[2]

The first six trumpets are now blown in sequence. The seventh trumpet blow (as in the case of the seventh seal) shall be delayed until 11:15. As is the case of the vision of the seven seals, the vision of the seven trumpets is a series of announcements of judgment upon the earth. One thing is however different. The intensity of the judgment has now increased. In understanding the book of Revelation we need to understand its rhythm and the pattern of progressive parallelism: “…the trumpets, like the seals, relate to God’s constant and continuing operations in the world that He has made and rules, while the judgments represented by them become more emphatic and more severe as the time draws near for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The language… reminds us of the 10 plagues in Egypt… “ [3].

The first four trumpet judgments strike the four major areas of creation: land, sea, fresh water and sky. The history of the world in these last 2000 years has seen such forces of destruction in creation in terms of hurricanes, torrential rains and flooding , engulfing mudslides in central America , surging volcanic lava in the Pacific rim, fierce bush fires in Australia, tsunamis in Japan …

If you had asked the people of the Philippines about their recent experience of super typhoon ‘Haiyan’ in November 2013 in which over 6000 people were killed and where nearly 2000 are still missing - one of the strongest storms ever to hit land with winds reaching 315 kph - if you had asked them whether things could have been worse, they would have told you that this experience had reached apocalyptic proportions. It was to them as if the end of the world had come! And for many the end of their worldly existence had indeed come.

Note that the first 4 judgments as well as the 6th judgment are not total. They are partial judgments. Only a third is affected. To put that into perspective – many, but not the majority is affected. The trumpet judgments are not the final judgments. They relate to the temporal judgments of God within history. The ultimate end has not yet come, but it all points to the wrath of the Lamb (6:16) to be completely revealed at the end of history. In all of this we see the patience of God, giving wayward mankind a foretaste - a chance to see, understand and repent. 

The next three trumpet calls (trumpets 5-7) have very direct consequences for mankind. They are introduced by a flying eagle (8:13) pronouncing a threefold ‘woe’ (i.e. the next three judgments) upon ‘those who dwell on the earth’. 

The first woe is the 5th trumpet call (9:1-12). Here we find a description of the spiritual, mental, emotional torture of the non- Christian world … of ’those who do not have the seal of God on their forehead’ (9:4).[4]

The source of their suffering is Satan who is said to be the king of the bottomless pit. He is called the destroyer (Hebr. Abaddon and Gr. Apollyon) (9:11). He is unleashed by a fallen star from heaven … who was given the key to the bottomless pit (see Rev 20:1). The bottomless pit is opened as thick smoke rises and darkens the sun, such as happens for instance when there is volcanic activity. From the smoke came the locusts (9:3)- bizarre looking creatures (9:7-10) with the sting akin to that of a scorpion, painful- but not painful enough to induce death. 

Significantly, we learn here that Satan is afflicting those that belong to him. He is not only the accuser of God’s people; he is also the abuser of his own people. We see that in the graphic pictures of the demon possessed of the New Testament. The man called “legion” lived in torture, being possessed by many demons (Mark 5:1-20). There are many people in our city who live under the devilish torture of Satan’s domain – whether they are physically possessed by demons , whether under the fear of the witchdoctor , whether in abusive relationships, in occultism groups, or under the influence of false teachers , whether held captive by alcohol, drugs, or pornography … many people in our city are living under the horrible bondage and in consequence of the sin that they have heaped upon themselves through yielding their minds and hearts and bodies in various ways to Satan. The only comfort for the wicked is this – they will be tortured for 5 symbolic months – no longer !

The second woe announced by the eagle is contained in the sixth trumpet call : Here we read of 4 angels who were bound at the river Euphrates and who are now released (note the sovereignty of God again!) to kill a third of mankind. Whereas the demonic locusts tortured, the angels killed! The pattern continues - a third of mankind are taken. The first and second world wars inspired by demonically induced mad men alone claimed at least 120 million lives. 

The question now arises: Will the wicked of the earth hear and see? Will they take to heart that the Lord Almighty is indeed judging the earth, and that He ultimately has permitted these things to happen to bring mankind to repentance? Do men understand that these things are but a foretaste of the coming judgment in which the devastation will be complete and final? Will they now turn back to God ? 

The Sad Response !

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.” (Rev. 9:20-21)

Understand that God’s judgment are intended to alert mankind to his plight. “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world”[5]. But there is no response. Europe did not turn to God as a result of two horrific world wars. Africa, despite so much physical suffering is in the icy grip of fear of ancestors, demons and witchcraft – all holding us in bondage. The Middle east and much of North Africa is ruled by the iron grip of Islam, from which few dare to dissociate themselves. Many thoughtful American Christians are writing about the curse of materialism and the quest for the American dream which holds their society from turning to Christ and away from the wrath of the Lamb.

All this confirms that man is dead in his sins and trespasses (Eph. 2:1). It confirms how extensive the results of the fall are. Man cannot and will not save himself apart from intervention by God. 

And so we end on a sad note this morning. Sad, not because God’s grace is lacking, but sad that man will not learn from his suffering. He will not turn to his Maker in and of himself . This is the doctrine of the total depravity of man .

In the midst of this depressing picture there is a silver lining: God’s grace! God could have, if He wished, in His righteousness wiped out the whole of mankind in an instance, consigning us all to the bottomless pit, “ for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Thank God then for His patience with us. “The Lord is … patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” ( 2 Peter 3:9)

We are here today because we have been saved by grace alone – not because of what we have done. We are here this morning because Christ in His mercy has saved us. We have not been consumed…. And that is why the Lord’s table is precious to us . Come to the Lord's table prepared for us now in humble worship! Amen . 

[1] The outline of a biblical prayer ( i.e. how to pray) is given by Jesus in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. Biblical prayer always begins with God’s honour , God’s kingdom and God’s will on earth. Thereafter it moves on to personal petitions ( which incidentally are also God-centred) – our physical needs , our emotional needs and our spiritual needs . We need God’s help in these areas to serve Him well .
[2] This section includes chapters 8:6- 11:19
[3] Richard Brooks : The Book of Revelation , Welwyn Commentaries , p.91
[4] Note , that the two kinds of men in the world , God’s people , and those that walk in darkness (not God’s people) are marked either with the seal of God ( e.g. 7:3; 9:4) or they bear the mark of the beast (13:16,17; 14:9,11; 16:2; 19:20 ; 20:4)
[5] C.S. Lewis : The Problem of Pain

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