A Call to the Unconverted

Series: Behold, A Throne

Sermon by David Strain on Sep 18, 2016

Revelation 8:6-10:11

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If you were with us last Lord’s Day Evening, you will remember that we dealt with a portion of the book of Revelation in which seven seals on a scroll held in the hand of God were opened. The scroll, we saw, is the great symbol of God’s plans for judgment and salvation. And Jesus is the one who opens the scroll, one seal at a time, and with each seal being opened we were given a glimpse into some aspect of reality, of life between the first and the final coming of Jesus Christ. And in chapter 8 verses 1 to 5, the last seal was opened and as it was opened seven angels took up position, each equipped with a trumpet ready to sound. And the sounding of each trumpet signals the beginning as we’re going to see tonight, of yet another major section of the book. One of the keys to rightly interpreting the book of Revelation is to notice that it is structured actually around cycles of sevens – seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets; as we’ll see in the days to come, seven bowls. And it’s important to understand these are not chronological, sequential cycles with each new vision of seven things following on the next in order, one after another. But rather the message of each cycle of seven recapitulates the same message covering the same period of time from yet another vantage point, teasing out still more of the details of the message that Christ has for His Church between His comings.

And so tonight as we move into the next major division of the book of Revelation dealing with the seven angels who blow the seven trumpets, we are being shown new facets of the same message; more details about the same realities. A fuller picture of what it will mean, what it does mean to live in the world from the days of the resurrection of Christ until He comes back to judge the living and the dead. And this new section begins, notice, in chapter 8 verse 6 and runs all the way through verse 18 of chapter 11. And tonight we’re only going to deal with the first six of the seven trumpets; that’s chapters 8 through 10. So if you haven’t done so already, do put your hands on a copy of God’s Word, you’ll find copies in the pew racks in front of you, and turn with me to the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, chapter 8, on page 1032. Before we read the passage, would you bow your heads with me as we pray?

O God, we ask that You would give to us clarity and understanding by the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Help us not to distort the text of Your Word nor to ignore its message, but hearing Your voice addressing us in it, help us to come in repentance and faith to bend the knee to King Jesus? For we ask it in His holy name, amen.

Revelation chapter 8, at the sixth verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:

“Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.

 

The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.

 

The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

 

The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water because it had been made bitter.

 

The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.

 

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!’

 

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.

 

The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come.

 

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.

 

Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun and his legs like pillars of fire. He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.’ And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.

 

Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, ‘Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.’ So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, ‘Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth, it will be sweet as honey.’ And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. And I was told, ‘You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.’”

Amen, and we give thanks to God who has spoken to us in His holy, inerrant Word.

Richard Bewes, in his brilliant little commentary on the book of Revelation, tells the story of a trip he made to Sweden. He was traveling from the mainland to the islands of Tjorn and Orust. “To get there,” he said, “you have to pass over the famous and very beautiful, Tjorn Bridge. On this occasion, however, I was unable to use the bridge; it was down. A tanker, some weeks earlier, had run into one of the bridge supports and it brought the whole immense structure down into the water. On that dreadful night, car after car had plunged over the broken bridge, headlights blazing, into the sea below to the terrible distress of those still on the tanker who could do nothing to warn the drivers.”

The section of the book to which we turn this evening is very solemn indeed. It does for us what the drivers of that tanker wish they could have done for the traffic seeking to cross the Tjorn Bridge that night. It offers us warning! It is a dramatic call to repentance before it is too late. The warning call comes in two parts. If you’ll look at the passage with me, you’ll see it. In verses 6 of chapter 8 through verse 19 of chapter 9, God calls to us, He warns us by His providence. God calls in providence. Then in chapter 10:1-11 God calls to us in preaching. God calls in providence and He calls in preaching. And the aim of this whole part of the book really is to help us hear those calls clearly for ourselves and to respond to them immediately before it’s too late.

God Calls in Providence

Think about how God calls to us in providence first. In chapter 8 verses 6 to 12, the first four angels blow their trumpets. The first in verse 7 brings fire and blood down from heaven that results in a third of the earth and the trees and the green grass being burned with fire. The second in verses 8 and 9 brings a burning mountain down into the sea, poisoning a third of the sea and a third of marine life and ending a third of the shipping trading on the oceans. The third trumpet blast, verses 10 and 11, causes a blazing star, we see as identified as Wormwood, to fall into the fresh waters, the rivers and streams, polluting a third of the fresh water and killing many people as a result. And then the fourth angel blows his trumpet and this time a third of the sun and of the moon and the stars are struck. The night would be a third darker and the day a third dimmer. The first four trumpets are judgments from God in the natural realm. These are natural judgments. Notice how they touch all four areas of the world – the earth, the sea, the fresh water, the sky. These are natural judgments – pollution, algal blooms, rouge weather, human error – whatever the cause, earth and sea, streams, and skies are directly stricken by the judgments of God on human wickedness.

Natural Judgments

Then the last three of the seven trumpets are given a special name, a special designation. Do you see that in verse 13 of chapter 8? “Then I looked and 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!’” The next three trumpets are the three woes, three judgments that are especially grievous. We’re only dealing with the first two of them tonight which are found in chapter 9. And so the fifth trumpet sounds in 9:1-11. If trumpets one to four deal with natural judgments, judgments in the natural world, the fifth trumpet blast deals with demonic judgment. Natural judgments, now demonic judgments.

Demonic Judgments

Look at the passage. In verses 1 and 2 of chapter 9, John sees a star that had fallen from heaven. He opens the bottomless pit. Now notice that the star is a “he” not an “it.” A number of uninspired Jewish writings from around the time John was writing and the New Testament was being composed use language very like this – the metaphor of a star or stars falling from heaven as a reference to demonic powers. But the decisive factor for us in identifying the person that John sees here is the words of Jesus Himself. Luke chapter 10 verses 17 through 20, Jesus is speaking about the process that had already begun during His earthly ministry of the triumph of His kingdom over the kingdom of Satan. And He says to His disciples, “I saw Satan fall like lightning,” or more literally, “like a star from heaven.” So here is the devil himself. He is identified later in chapter 9 verse 11 as “the king of the bottomless pit.” His name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek, Apollyon. Abaddon is Hebrew for “destruction,” Apollyon for “the destroyer.” And in verse 2, Satan causes, do you see, smoke to rise out of the pit to hide the light of the sun. Isn’t that a perfect description of his customary work? He hides the light with a smokescreen of lies. His intent is to deceive.

The Swarm of Locusts

And out of the smoke comes a swarm of locusts. You see that in the text, the swarm of locusts? And these are not natural locusts, are they? They have no mandate to devour the natural world of green vegetation, verse 4. No, their targets are human beings. These are demonic powers and in verses 7 to 10 John gives us a perverse and terrifying description of them. Look at verses 7 to 10. They are, he says, “like horses preparing for battle” – strong, swift, deadly. They have crowns of gold on their heads. Their faces are like people; their hair like a woman’s hair. There’s a twisted, seductive beauty to them. But it is a thoroughly deceptive beauty. Notice as you get closer they have teeth like lions, breastplates of iron, wings that drown out every other sound; scorpion stings in their tails and their purpose is only to wound and inflict pain. In 2 Corinthians 11 and 14, you’ll remember how Satan himself is described as masquerading like an angel of light. That is his common strategy. The adversary, the devil, however, is also in fact “a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” And that is something very like what John sees here. At first, their faces appear beautiful, but as you get closer you see their malicious and wicked intent.

Preservation

And they are told, verse 4, “not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree but only the people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” Pause there and drink in the comfort of those words. Those who have the seal of God, that is to say, those who have been born again and inhabited by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, children of God, believers in Jesus, are secure, kept from the deceptions and the torments of the evil one and his armies. You are being preserved and kept by the power of God and though Satan would seek to deceive, yet the Lord Himself who prays for us protects and cares for us. You remember how Jesus told Peter that Satan wished to sift him like wheat but He has prayed for him. That is how our Savior stands towards every one of us. He prays and intercedes for us and keeps us secure. But these demonic forces, however, are allowed to torment those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads for five months but not to kill them. Their torment, we are told, was “like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. In those days people will seek death and not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.”

Torment

Satan and the demonic forces he deploys are the first woe, the fifth trumpet blast. His purpose and theirs is to deceive and wound the unconverted people of the world, those who do not have God’s seal. John’s word for it is torment. That’s what they produce in people’s lives – torment. We may find Satan’s temptations so alluring, so seductive, so compelling, but what for example is addiction, say, but a banquet in the grave? What is lust or adultery but the siren song of the deceiver? “Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol. She does not ponder the path of life. Her ways wander and she does not know it,” Proverbs 5 at verse 5. What is idolatry but an empty lie? “Those who make idols become like them, so do all who trust in them,” Psalm 115 at verse 8. Demonic deception is real and alluring and enticing, fascinating, fun even. And there are few torments more piercing, more like scorpion’s sting than the realization of the bankruptcy and the misery into which such seductive sin leads us.

But you may find the Law of God narrow and restrictive. You may believe that living in obedience to God’s commandments is the enemy of your pleasure and the theft of your joy. But the message of our text, the warning call of God that will begin to sound in your experience is that the further you wander from life on God’s terms, the more you chase the pleasures of the world, the further into the grip of the star who fell from heaven and the locusts he deploys for your torment you will fall. There are natural judgments here, there are demonic judgments here.

Military and Violent Judgments

And then thirdly, look at verses 12 to 19, of chapter 9. There are even military and violent judgments here. The sixth trumpet sounds, the second of the three woes. A voice from the altar of God calls on the four angels bound at the Euphrates to be released. The great fear of the Roman Empire in the days when John wrote was an attack by the Parthians from across their eastern border beyond the mighty Euphrates River. And now here’s that great fear realized – military conquest. John says he saw twice ten thousand times ten thousand mounted troops. Greek scholars point out that when the word translated here, “ten thousand,” the word is “μύριο” in Greek, is used without a supporting numerical adjective, the way it is in our text, it always refers to an uncountable multitude rather than simply the specific number ten thousand per say. John’s point, do you see, is this is twice a limitless hoard doubled. That’s what he’s saying – twice a limitless hoard doubled.

It’s an intimidating picture. And if it’s not intimidating enough just simply thinking of the scale of the numbers, look at his description of them in verses 17 to 19. The horses have breastplates, their heads are like lions’ heads; fire and smoke and sulfur issue from them, killing a third of mankind. Their tails are serpents with heads; they bite and sting. Doesn’t that sound rather familiar? Like the description of the demonic locust swarm back in verses 7 to 11? The similarities are striking, even if the correspondence is not precise. I think the point is not that John has a lack of imagination and he has to keep reusing the same sorts of imagery over and over, but rather John’s point is this is the world in the grip of demonic power, violent, debased, and bestial. The supernatural powers of evil that deceive the unconverted leave their mark upon them and people start to look and act devilishly.

The Unfolding Plan of God

Now I want you to notice carefully as we’ve taken in all of that in survey two things about these six trumpet blasts. First, they come as part of the unfolding plan of God. Even Satan and his demons with their scorpion torments ultimately serve the purpose and the design of God. And secondly, I wonder if you notice the notes of mercy that sound at every point throughout this vision? It’s so dark and horrific that it’s easy to miss them. The first four trumpet blasts devastate, did you see, only a third of the earth and the sea and the fresh waters and the skies. Satan and his demons are allowed to torment people only for five months, chapter 9 at verse 5. And though people in the grip of that torment may long to die, death eludes them because God preserves them that their might yet be time for them to repent. Likewise, the military judgments that devastate the world – think ISIS and Al-Qaeda; think Afghanistan and Iraq; think North Korea testing nuclear missiles. Even these military judgments kill only a third of mankind, chapter 9 verse 18.

Restrained Judgments

The numbers, don’t take the numbers too literally; the point is, they are limited. They are not whole numbers, they’re fractions. The judgments are real but restrained. It’s not total! Final, absolute destruction is not yet permitted. Why not? Look at chapter 9:20 through 21. “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues,” here’s the tragedy of it, “did not repent of the works of their hands or give up worshiping demons and idols.” Twenty-one, “Nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.” God’s design in all of this is to give opportunity to repent, to hear in the judgments being played out in His providence across human history - the call, the alarm to turn back before it’s too late. And God in His providence allows natural disasters, everything from the Zika virus to the Louisiana floods. When He allows Satanic deceptions to plague the world and torment its victims with unfulfilled promises and unattainable pleasures. When in His providence war and violence march across the world and strike without warning, even sometimes in our own backyards – 9/11, bullets reigning from a Dallas office block.

God’s Purpose

When God does all this, what is His design and purpose? John tells us that part of it is to call the unconverted to wake up and hear the warnings. There’s a reason these are trumpet blasts. If John were seeing these visions today, I wonder if he might have heard instead fire alarms or police sirens or a tornado warning. What do you do when you hear them? You flee the burning building! You pull over! You take cover! “The bridge is down!” That’s what the tanker drivers, remember, wanted to scream to those drivers that night, oblivious driving across the Tjorn Bridge plummeting to their deaths in the icy waters below. Reverse course before it’s too late. Repent amidst these limited, temporal judgments before the limitless, eternal judgment at last descends. God calls to us in His providence. Are you listening? What trials has He brought into your life and you have not heard His call? Are you listening as He summons you to come back to Him and stop your wandering? God calls to us in His providence.

God Calls in Preaching

Finally, look with me at chapter 10. God also calls in preaching! There’s a kind of hiatus between the sixth and seventh trumpet blasts. We saw the same thing if you will remember, between the sixth and seventh seals being opened. There is a sort of pause, an interlude. In this case, John sees a mighty angel. Noting how he is described, some writers suggest this angel is actually the exalted Christ Himself. The rainbow from chapter 4 that hovers over the thrown of God, notice, hovers over His head. His face is like the sun, His legs pillars of fire, and He stands astride the world as a sovereign King. His voice sounds like lions roaring and with it, there are seven thunders that roll across the heavens. The description echoes descriptions of Christ both in the Old Testament, Daniel 7 comes to mind, and in the book of Revelation itself, Revelation chapter 1 for example.

On the other hand, others point out that nowhere else in the book of Revelation is Jesus called an angel. But whether this is Jesus or not, and I’m rather inclined to think that it is, the key thing to see here is what happens next. John wants to write down what the seven thunders say. He wants to record the voice that sounds from the angel. But verse 4, he is forbidden, isn’t he? There are some things we are not told, some mysteries that are just not revealed. “The secret things belong unto the Lord but what has been revealed belongs to us and to our children.” That’s an important truth to keep in mind when we’ve just watched the devastating judgments of the first six trumpets rolling across human history. Our question in the face of natural disaster or spiritual deception or human violence is, “Why? What are You doing, Lord?” But some things remain hidden. And with John, we must learn to be content to trust God who works all things according to the counsel of His will and governs everything for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

God’s Plan Will Reach its Conclusion

But then notice the angel raises his hand to heaven and he takes an oath. Just as an aside, those of you who think Christians should not swear or make an oath will have a real problem with this part of the text. If this is the Lord Jesus or even the angel, here he is swearing by heaven. And he swears that the seventh trumpet blast that is about to sound will signal the conclusion of the mystery of God. It will be fulfilled! That is to say, God’s plan will reach its conclusion; the end is about to come. But before it does, John is given some instructions. He is told to take the scroll in the angel’s hand, verse 8, and then he’s told to eat it. The allusion is to Ezekiel chapter 2 at verse 8 and following where God tells Ezekiel, “But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Be not rebellious like that rebellious house. Open your mouth and eat what I give you. And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me and behold a scroll of a book was in it and he spread it before me and it had writing on the front and on the back and there were written on it words of lamentation and warning and woe. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll and go and speak to the house of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth and he gave me the scroll to eat and he said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.’ Then I ate it and it was in my mouth as it were, sweet as honey.”

Like Ezekiel, John eats the scroll and like Ezekiel, he says that it is sweet as honey in his mouth, although for him it is bitter in his stomach. Verse 11 of chapter 10 tells us what it all means. “You must again prophecy about many people and nations and languages and kings.” The scroll is the prophetic message; it is the Word of God – sweet to the taste for a child of God. The Word of God sustains and delights and nourishes, but it does have a bitter edge. The message is both sweet and bitter. It contains both hope and judgment. This is what John is sent to do. He is to preach the bittersweet Word to the world. And as we’ll see, God willing next time in chapter 11, that’s also what we are sent to do – to bear witness and proclaim the Word.

Here’s the point! The God who calls, in what C. S. Lewis famously called, “God’s megaphone in our sufferings and providential trials,” personally and globally, the God who calls in our trials calls very specifically and pointedly to you in His Word. He’s calling tonight, isn’t He? It’s been bittersweet. There is a delight for a Christian in the Word of truth, but there is a bitterness to it as well, a sourness that comes from the notes of coming judgment. We hear here. It may be that you’ve heard the trumpet sounding and you haven’t really listened to the warnings they bring and maybe you don’t realize the spiritual danger you are in. God has been calling in His providence and you have misunderstood or flatly ignored His message. But He doesn’t leave it with the general trumpet blasts of sore judgments. He gets specific in His call. He sends Gospel preachers to warn you to flee the wrath to come, to say with the prophet Ezekiel, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked should turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”

The one who sends the angels to blow the warning trumpets of judgment, the one who stands as Lord over the earth and gives John His Word to preach, the Lord Jesus Christ is calling to you to turn back. It might be that you are like a driver of one of those cars on the Tjorn Bridge that dark night, oblivious to your danger. The bridge is down. Turn back. Why will you die? Time is short, eternity is long, and Christ is a perfect Savior to you if you will have Him. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness but is patient toward you, not willing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance.” Won’t you listen to the trumpets sounding? Won’t you listen to the warning sirens and hear the bittersweet Word and turn back? The bridge is down. The road you are on is leading you to destruction, but Jesus Christ can save you. He can save you if only you would turn back to Him.

Let’s pray together!

Lord Jesus, we bow before You. We confess that we have heard the trumpets sounding and we have often put our fingers in our ears. We like our sin. We’ve been seduced by the beautiful faces of that swarm of locusts, not noticing the lion’s teeth nor the scorpion’s sting. Would You have mercy on us and open our ears to hear Your call to us in providence and Your call to us in preaching and to arrest our wandering away and to bring us to repentance, to turn us to Christ who alone may rescue us from the wrath to come. Help us to listen to the temporal and limited judgments that break over our world that we may not be found facing the unlimited, eternal judgment that is yet to come. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

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