Last week in Chapters 6-7, Pastor Dave covered a lot of important ground. Particularly, we were introduced to this heavenly scene where God Almighty is seated on his throne, and before him comes a Lamb. This is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Lamb begins removing the seven seals that seal this sacred, glorious scroll or book. Apparently it is a book of judgment on the earth. With each of the seven seals on this book being broken, we are introduced to some events or scenes.
But chapter 6 ends with the breaking of the sixth seal. And then chapter 7 is an entirely different scene, an interlude, that is inserted between the sixth and the seventh seal. It’s another heavenly scene of two groups of people. A group of 144,000 with the seal of God on them. And then a vast multitude from every nation and tribe and language worshiping the Lamb.
The larger point of that chapter seems to be that, in spite of God’s wrath poured out on the earth, he will keep his people—genuine Christians— safe from eternal destruction. They are his, and his will protect them in the eternal sense. They might endure great hardship and persecution, but they are safe, for they belong to the Lamb of God.
This morning we are going to pick up the story in Chapter 8 and 9. Immediately we will see the vision for the Lamb breaking the seventh seal on the scroll. The scroll is never actually opened in Revelation. But some more remarkable details are given to us through John’s extraordinary vision.
Revelation 8:1-6: 7th Seal and 7 trumpets
1 (CSB) When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand in the presence of God; seven trumpets were given to them.
3 Another angel, with a golden incense burner, came and stood at the altar. He was given a large amount of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar in front of the throne.
4 The smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up in the presence of God from the angel’s hand.
5 The angel took the incense burner, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it to the earth; there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
6 And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.
So after the interlude of Chapter 7, here in Chapter 8, the 7th seal is finally opened. And when it is, what happens? Silence! Silence in heaven. What is that about? As in hundreds of places in Revelation, there is allusion here to the OT. I found at least three places in the OT where there was silence in the presence of the Lord, and it is typically associated with the holy presence of God and his coming judgment. So I believe this silence is indicating that something very serious and holy is happening: the announcement of God’s judgments on the world. His wrath.
Then vs. 2 introduces us to the seven trumpets. Again we look to the OT to help uncover the meaning. I could find only two places in the OT where seven trumpets are mentioned, and one of them has extraordinary similarities to Revelation’s trumpets. In the Book of Joshua, when Israel was just beginning to take the Promised Land and were at Jericho with its mighty, fortified walls of defense, God commanded seven priests with seven trumpets to blow them for seven days as they marched around the city. And as they finished the seven day march, the walls collapsed, judgment was issued against an idolatrous city, and God claimed the victory in the Promised Land for the sake of his name and for the love for his people. This is essentially what we will find here in Revelation with the seven trumpets: They are announcing judgement.
Let’s look at a third thing here in these six verses. And it sets the stage for the entire discourse of the seven trumpets. Vs. 3-5 are critical to our understanding of the trumpets. We see incense. Then we see the prayers of the saints. What is that about? It refers back to Chapter 5 from two weeks ago and Chapter 6 from last week. Let’s read some of it.
Revelation 6:9–11 CSB When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the word of God and the testimony they had given. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, the one who is holy and true, how long until you judge those who live on the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 So they were each given a white robe, and they were told to rest a little while longer until the number would be completed of their fellow servants and their brothers and sisters, who were going to be killed just as they had been.
These followers of Jesus have been martyred, and they are in the presence of God. And they are conversing—we could say, “praying”— with the Lord. What do they ask? They ask, “Where is justice, Lord? How long until you avenge our unjust murders?” That’s fascinating. They’re not asking for God to save the ones who murdered them. They’re not crying out for mercy to the perpetrators. They want justice. Does that surprise us? We’ll talk more about this later on, but a heart of justice springs out of the very heart of God. So to yearn for justice is to imitate God. We’ve been made in his image, so it’s right to want justice on the earth and in heaven.
So back to Chapter 8:3-5, the incense and the prayers of the saints for justice are a pleasing aroma to the Lord. He notices. Then what happens?
Vs. 5-6. Judgment begins. God is bringing justice on the earth. This scene in chapter 8 tells us that justice will be brought on the earth. That is what the seven trumpets are about.
And this strikes at a main theme in Revelation: God is vindicating and defending his own children and bringing justice for their sake and for the sake of his holy name.
Revelation 8:7-13 Trumpets #1 thru #4
Now let’s read about the first four trumpets.
7 The first angel blew his trumpet, and hail and fire, mixed with blood, were hurled to the earth. So a third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.
8 The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain ablaze with fire was hurled into the sea. So a third of the sea became blood,
9 a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
10 The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from heaven. It fell on a third of the rivers and springs of water.
11 The name of the star is Wormwood, and a third of the waters became wormwood. So, many of the people died from the waters, because they had been made bitter.
12 The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day was without light and also a third of the night.
13 I looked and heard an eagle flying high overhead, crying out in a loud voice, “Woe! Woe! Woe to those who live on the earth, because of the remaining trumpet blasts that the three angels are about to sound!”
First, we again must look back to the OT to find connections there. Many students of Revelation have noticed the similarities between the judgments here and the 10 plagues of judgment issued against Egypt in Moses’ day. At least 5 of those 10 plagues to Egypt are referred to in the trumpets. E.g., hail, blood, and darkness. And what was the purpose of the 10 plagues against Egypt? To rescue and vindicate God’s people by judging Pharaoh and his nation. To bring justice for the sake of God’s holy name. That sounds to me just like the purpose of the trumpets.
Then we have to ask, as we do throughout Revelation, are these trumpet judgments past, present, or future? And we ask, are they literal or symbolic? In other words, is the sun literally dimmed 33%? Does the water actually become blood? Or do these descriptions represent some form of God’s judgment? I lean towards the symbolic view, but I have respect for a more literal approach.
Regardless of the view, the purpose of the trumpets still stands: God is vindicating his people and his holy name.
Revelation 9:1-12 Trumpet #5
Now to Chapter 9. The description of the fifth trumpet is noticeably longer. And much wilder. The imagery here is startling. And we will see that in Trumpets 5, 6 and 7 the judgments are much more severe.
1 The fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to earth. The key for the shaft to the abyss was given to him.
2 He opened the shaft to the abyss, and smoke came up out of the shaft like smoke from a great furnace so that the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke from the shaft.
3 Then locusts came out of the smoke on to the earth, and power was given to them like the power that scorpions have on the earth.
4 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 God’s seal on their foreheads.
5 They were not permitted to kill them but were to torment them for five months; their torment is like the torment caused by a scorpion when it stings someone.
6 In those days people will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.
7 The appearance of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle. Something like golden crowns was on their heads; their faces were like human faces;
8 they had hair like women’s hair; their teeth were like lions’ teeth;
9 they had chests like iron breastplates; the sound of their wings was like the sound of many chariots with horses rushing into battle;
10 and they had tails with stingers like scorpions, so that with their tails they had the power to harm people for five months.
11 They had as their king the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he has the name Apollyon.
12 The first woe has passed. There are still two more woes to come after this.
That’s like reading a sci-fi book. This type of imagery and graphic language is typical of apocalyptic writings in some OT prophetic books like Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. And in this first century, there are other apocalyptic type writings that John’s readers may have been aware of as a style of literature. Common to apocalyptic literature is a very rich, metaphor-driven language somewhat like poetry. The metaphors teach us by representing something. So I don’t believe the locusts here in vs. 7 are actual insects. Is there real suffering and judgment? I believe yes. But not from insects.
So this is one of the greatest interpretive challenges of Revelation: Where does the analogy from the metaphor start and stop? This issue is central to the debates of understanding this unusual book. Maybe we agree that the locusts symbolize something. But what about the Abyss? Is that literal or symbolic? II am unaware of anyone who takes everything in Revelation as literal. I am unaware of anyone who takes everything in Revelation as symbolic. So the great challenge is deciding which is which. Does this make sense? It’s why we have to patiently and humbly study Revelation. More on that in a few minutes.
Now let’s look at a few specifics here in Chapter 9.
Vs. 1 The star that had fallen from heaven to earth.
Because of the context and because in chapter 1 stars represented angels, I think this is a fallen angel. Perhaps Satan. Was he given an actual key? I suspect not. But he is allowed by God to do something. Then what is this “shaft to the abyss”? The word “abyss” literally means, “bottomless,” or “the bottomless pit.” It typically refers to the abode of demons and the dead.
Vs. 3 What about the locusts?
Again, I see this as very graphic symbolic language. I believe these locusts represent demons who are coming out like an army to bring destruction, even being used by God to bring his judgment on the earth.
Once again, we look to the OT. The Book of Joel, the prophet, is well known for its mention of locusts. It seems the locusts in Joel may refer to actual plagues of locusts as judgment, but it also seems to speak of future judgment with human armies sent by God to bring judgment on rebellious Israel. And the symbol of the locusts connects that.
So whatever is happening here in this 5th trumpet, it seems demonic activity is being allowed by God to bring judgment on the world. Has this already occurred? Has it been happening in this Church Age since the resurrection? Is it still future? Or perhaps a combination? Honestly, I’m unsure. But the overall purpose for the trumpets remains: God is vindicating his people and his holy name.
Vs. 4. Those who do not have God’s seal on their foreheads
God does not permit these demons to harm his own people in this wrathful judgment. We saw in Chapter 7 God seals his people. Ephesians 1 tells us that God has sealed us with his Holy Spirit. And the OT has several examples of God sealing or “marking” his people. Even the Passover, at the end of the 10th plague on Egypt, Israel was to “mark” their doorposts so that God’s judgment would pass over them.
And we’ll see later in chapter 13 that this contrasts with Satan who “marks” his people. “The mark of the Beast.”
Are these literal seals or marks on our bodies or symbolic? I lean towards a symbolic view.
But whether the seal on God’s people is literal or symbolic, the main point is powerful: God is wisely and sovereignly ruling over his adopted children, and he will never take his eye off them.
We can take great comfort and strength in this: we may face severe trials, even persecution, but God’s wrath will never come down on those whom he has redeemed by Christ’s blood. Like back in Chapter 8, the prayers of the saints are a fragrant aroma to him. He will never forget us. So we need never fear. God is watching out for us. Nothing escapes his notice.
Vs. 12 The 5th trumpet is the first “woe,” and two more are to come, Trumpets #6 and #7. The word “woe” is always associated with judgment in both the OT and NT. There is something more significant about these last 3 trumpets.
Revelation 9:13-21 Trumpet #6
13 The sixth angel blew his trumpet. From the four horns of the golden altar that is before God, I heard a voice
14 say to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels bound at the great river Euphrates.”
15 So the four angels who were prepared for the hour, day, month, and year were released to kill a third of the human race.
16 The number of mounted troops was two hundred million; I heard their number.
17 This is how I saw the horses and their riders in the vision: They had breastplates that were fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow. The heads of the horses were like the heads of lions, and from their mouths came fire, smoke, and sulfur.
18 A third of the human race was killed by these three plagues—by the fire, the smoke, and the sulfur that came from their mouths.
19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, because their tails, which resemble snakes, have heads that inflict injury.
20 The rest of the people, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands to stop worshiping demons and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which cannot see, hear, or walk.
21 And they did not repent of their murders, their sorceries, their sexual immorality, or their thefts.
Vs. 14 Who are these four angels bound at the Euphrates? There is some debate, but because they are bound and need releasing, I believe these are satanic angels, a.k.a., demons. They are released by God to do their evil, destructive work of killing.
Vs. 16 We see the number “200 million.” Again we have to ask is this literal or symbolic. I take it as symbolic, as do many commentators who take a much more literal view of Revelation than I do.
Vs. 17 The horses and riders are bizarre and graphic.
Vs. 18 One third of the population is killed. If this number is literal, we are left speechless at the magnitude of this judgment on the world that has rejected its Creator.
Vs. 20 & 21 are quite telling and grieving.
In the midst of all this judgment, all this pain and death, those who survived still refused to repent of their immoral behavior and their idolatry. Twice we are told, they did not repent. Perhaps we think that God’s wrath is severe, perhaps too severe. Yet in the midst of their pain and devastation, the people still could have repented. They could have cried out to God for mercy. And God may have shown mercy. But they refused to yield before their God. Perhaps the only thing as amazing as God’s mercy is man’s stubborn defiance.
Before moving on to some application about our text today, next week we will read chapters 10 and 11. That section is mostly another interlude, another break in the vision of the seven trumpets, just like the break in the seven seals. So we won’t read the 7th seal until the end of Chapter 11.
So let’s connect these wild chapters of Revelation to our own lives.
So the first application from today’s text:
Rejoice that God has sealed his followers and declared them as his own.
Chapter 5 says he has purchased us with his blood. Chapters 6 and 8 say he hears the prayers of his saints. Chapters 7 and 8 say he has sealed his followers. And Ephesians 1:13-14 tells us that our security in Christ could not be any better. The divine Holy Spirit has sealed us.
God owns us. He has adopted us. We are his…his treasured possession. Perhaps we were abandoned or neglected growing up. Perhaps someone close to us has forsaken us. God will NEVER do that to one of his own. He is so loyal and protective and devoted to his people that he places a mark, a seal on them.
And he will never pour his wrath out on us.
No condemnation. Only commendation.
Look at those two words. Very similar letters slightly rearranged….with vastly different meaning. These truths of the gospel ought to shape our lives. It ought to stir up our hearts with joy and satisfaction. We belong to our Benevolent, beautiful, holy, glorious, merciful, just Creator God. And no one, not even God, will ever take that from us.
Because we belong to him, he hears our prayers. Those who have suffered unjustly for the name of Jesus will not be forgotten. The guilty will not go free. Justice will be accomplished in the most perfect, satisfying way.
Speaking of justice, a second application is:
We should long for justice on earth and in heaven
To have pure justice is such a beautiful thing. Deep down, everyone in this world wants to see justice accomplished in this life. In fact, injustices can enrage us, rightfully so. We are made in God’s image, and God is the God of justice. What would this world be like without any justice? Two stories:
- An Iowa native was serving as a missionary in Jamaica, and 7 years ago he was killed. The trial for his killer was finally held two weeks ago, the killer was convicted, and the family was satisfied that justice was served. But they had to wait 7 years for justice to be completed.
- A month ago, a man in Memphis, Tennessee, (Tyree Nichols) was killed by 5 police officers, and the man’s family wants justice. Their longing for justice is good and right.
How chaotic this world is when we don’t get justice. How infuriating.
Even you teenagers know this on a small scale when your brother or sister gets an advantage over you. What do you cry out to Mom and Dad? “That’s not ______!” “FAIR.”
So we rightfully long for justice. But you might also be thinking, “Yeah, but I thought we were supposed to love our enemies?” You are exactly right. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 that we are to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.” As we have been shown mercy through the gospel, so we are to show mercy. Even the disciple Stephen in Act 7 as he was being killed!!, prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60). Remarkable. And we know Romans 12 tells us not to seek vengeance, for that belongs to the Lord. God will deal in perfect, holy justice at the end. Until then, we are to love.
But that does not exclude a longing for justice on the earth and in heaven. That is one of the key tasks God himself has given to government in Romans 13:1-6. And we should pray for earthly justice. God will remember our prayers like a fragrant incense going up to heaven.
God has sealed his followers. They belong to him. And he will ensure that justice is done to any who harm his children.
A third application:
All of Jesus’ followers, including us, need not worry or fear about coming suffering.
Genuine Christians can overcome…they will conquer…because Jesus has overcome and is on the Throne. He rules over all. He is the Lamb of God who brought victory through his death and resurrection. And he is the Judge of all the earth who will bring perfect and righteous justice someday very soon.
Let’s go back to the first two weeks of this sermon series. Here’s what we proposed as the main theme of this entire book:
“The central message of Revelation is that believers can overcome the tribulations of life, even persecution and martyrdom, because of the victory won by the Lamb of God.” (Mark Wilson, Victory Through the Lamb)
If this is a good representation of the central message, then this helps us in Chapters 8 and 9. We know from earlier in the book, followers of Jesus have been and will be persecuted. Some of them have died for their faith. He hears their prayers. And he will take action. He is not ignoring our cries. He will never forget us. If you have believed in Jesus Christ, be confident of this: He really loves you.
So as we struggle to understand words and verses, let’s keep at the top of our minds this overarching theme that we will overcome through Jesus. So in any of our trials and hardships, we need not worry or fear.
My final application:
Be patient in Revelation.
Don’t give up on this book. Persevere. We are now in Week 5 of this series on what may be the most difficult book of the Bible to understand. You have all heard so many things. Strange words. Unique visions. And you’re going to hear even more in the weeks to come. This book is challenging. Honestly, it can be like learning a foreign language. Can we possibly ever understand it all? Is it worth it?
Consider the challenges:
We have literalism vs. symbolism.
Also, we find major viewpoints of the end times.
- And then there’s “I-have-no-clue millennial”
And then Dave mentioned last week that there are four common, major approaches to Revelation:
Our heads may be spinning with all these words and approaches and viewpoints.
Because of this complexity, for many years I have avoided doing much deep studying on the topic of end times for many years. I would read here or there. But overall, I thought, “Well, if all these godly, very intelligent students of the Bible can’t agree, who am I to possibly figure it out?”
But even if we’re perplexed about many things in Revelation today (which I suspect the majority of us are), do you remember what Revelation tells us at the outset?
Revelation 1:3 CSB Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep what is written in it, because the time is near.
There is blessing in reading (and studying) this perplexing but glorious book. And there is blessing in obeying what we read and learn. Blessing! Not curses.
Why? Here’s what we all should agree to, no matter our viewpoint on how the End Times play out:
- Jesus Christ has promised to come back to earth again soon.
- He promises to give us eternal, glorious resurrected bodies free from sorrow and pain.
- He tells us to set our ultimate hope and longing for his return and his ushering in the eternal kingdom of God on earth and our resurrected bodies.
- And Jesus promises that justice will be fully satisfied when he returns as Judge of all the earth. Christians will be justly honored and rewarded. All who reject Christ will be justly condemned.
- Until he returns, he calls on us to be ready for him. To live for him. To long for him. To be on mission for him. To speak of him to this world.
These are the things that every Christian can and must agree upon, even if many of the details of the end times are fuzzy to us.
Like the seven churches in Rev 2-3 faced, we will face hardships. Persecution for some of us. The temptations of our world for all. Temptations of false teachings and of immoral behavior. Yet in the face of all that, Jesus promises us the victory in the end. As he has conquered through his death and resurrection, so we will conquer. This is the true hope of the Christian. So be patient as you read and study and obey Revelation. Blessing awaits you.