Denial of the obvious
There seems to be a much more aggressive atheism in the UK these days. Scientists present themselves as dispassionate and unbiased observers of the universe and declare that there is no god.
John Lennox has pointed out that the current debates about our origins are not so much about science but more about the assumptions that underlie science: naturalism and theism. When I listen or read Richard Dawkins I seem to see someone who has decided before the debate has begun that there is no god and that naturalism has the answer. It’s interesting to speculate what Prof Dawkins and his atheist colleagues would say if they were confronted with undeniable evidence of the existence of God. An Irish TV interviewer asked that very question of Stephen Fry. I was rather interested to hear Stephen Fry’s answer to the specific question as to whether God would let him into heaven with his strident anti-God opinions: ‘I wouldn’t want to get in on his terms.’
As we work our way through the book of Revelation we see a series of astonishing and frightening judgements of God visited upon this planet. One would have thought that any sensible and rational human being would not hesitate to acknowledge who God is and his position in creation. We will see at the end of chapter 9 what sort of response men and women make to the devastating judgements foreseen by John in these next two chapters.
1. The first four trumpets
We have seen that there is a scroll bearing 7 seals. The scroll seems to be related to the rights to rule, occupy and possess the earth. Various judgements have resulted from the opening of the first 6 seals and now the seventh seal is opened. What follows is about half an hour of silence in heaven. We had a power cut in our office a few weeks ago, the ‘white noise’ of the air conditioning suddenly ceased and there was a deafening silence. Up until this point, it was certainly not silent in heaven with the four creatures, 24 elders, 10,000 times 10,000 angels and the innumerable people in white garments praising God, but now there is a prolonged silence. John must have realised that this was a signal for a new chapter of important revelation. The opening of the seventh seal will bring about 7 trumpet judgements and the sounding of the final trumpet will bring about 7 bowl judgements. Each final seal, trumpet and bowl bring the coming of God’s righteous kingdom a step nearer and the war against the forces of evil a step closer to final resolution.
Seven angels now stand before God and each is handed a trumpet. An additional angel is then observed to stand before the alter bearing a censer: a container for incense. This angel is given ‘much incense’ as well as the ‘prayers of all God’s people.’ You will doubtless remember the prayer that the Lord taught his disciples to pray, the prayer says ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ This angel stands before the alter and the smoke of the incense and the prayers go up before God from the angel’s hand. The angel then filled the censer with burning coals from the alter and hurled it on the earth. The result is peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightening and an earthquake. Taking these together it seems that the prayers for God’s will to be done on earth are to be realised, accompanied by God’s judgement on earth.
The first angel sounded his trumpet: hail and fire mixed with blood were thrown to the earth. The result was that a third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up and a third of the grass was burned up. It seems best to understand these events through the eyes of John. Remember that we must not mess with the words of this revelation: not adding to them or taking from them. In view of this one may ask whether real blood is rained on the earth. It seems to me that John is describing what he saw and we can at least be sure that something resembling blood was thrown down. The effect of all of this was significant damage to the earth: one third of the land mass rendered unproductive and destroyed.
The second angel’s trumpet blast resulted in effects on the sea. Something resembling a ‘huge mountain’ was thrown into the sea. One third of the sea was affected and ‘turned to blood’ – interestingly reports of blood red waterways are not unknown (due to algal growth: blood red sea). In Revelation whatever this is, it completely kills sea life. We are informed too that a third of the ships in sea are destroyed. The effect of these first two trumpets is of huge significance for life on this planet and massive disruption of trade and supply would inevitably result.
The third angel sounded his trumpet. This time John saw a large star ‘blazing like a torch’ fall to the earth. The star had a name: Wormwood. This herb is always related to bitterness in the Old Testament and here John describes how one third of the rivers are turned bitter. The water is not just rendered bitter to taste but poisonous with the result that many people die.
The fourth trumpet is sounded and this time the sun, moon and stars are affected: one third of the light of each is turned to darkness. John says that ‘a third of the day was without light and a third of the night.’ It’s not certain what this actually means, but it could mean that the intensity of the sun could be reduced by one third or that the number of daylight hours is reduced by one third. Either way this is another hugely damaging effect on the ability of this planet to support life.
These events will be utterly intolerable for the people on this earth at the time. Don’t forget that believers in the present age will already have been caught him to heaven to be with the Lord – we were not appointed to wrath. John’s description of these days is an incentive for men and women to place their faith in ‘the lamb’ and for us to do all we can to sound a warning just as Noah did in his day.
But worse, much worse is to come. An eagle cries out, ‘woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts that are about to be sounded by the other three angels.’ Three woes are to be visited on this planet.
2. Two more trumpets
In this chapter we will see that John really struggles to describe what he is seeing. You will see the use of many words such as ‘looked like’, ‘resembled’ and ‘something like’. John describes what he sees as best as his vocabulary and experience permits. We should therefore understand this chapter with this in mind.
As the fifth angel sounds his trumpet John saw a star fall from the sky to the earth. In the subsequent verses we learn that this star is some sort of person, most likely an angel. This individual is given a key, to the ‘shaft of the Abyss.’ The Abyss seems to be a sort of prison for Satan and his fallen angels. As the Abyss is opened John describes how the sun and sky become darkened with a thick smoke. From this spoke locusts emerge. John first describes the ability of these creatures before describing their appearance. They were given similar to that of scorpions to inflict pain on human beings. Their target was anyone not bearing God’s seal of protection (see the 144,000 of chapter 7). These creatures could not kill, but they could cause great suffering and agony. People were to be affected for a period of five months. The experience would be truly horrible and ‘people would seek death but not find it: they will long to die but death will elude them.’
So what do these creatures look like? I’m not a fan of large flying insects at the best of times! but not only do these creatures cause immense harm, but they are in appearance truly terrifying. John does his best to describe them. They will make a massively loud noise: John says like the sound of many horses and chariots going into battle. They are creatures set up with functionality for battle as they looked like horses prepared for a battle with teeth like a lion’s teeth and breastplates that looked like iron. These things will not be repelled easily. They are further described as having faces like human faces, hair like a woman’s hair and looking as though they had crowns of gold. They were organised with a king leading them and the name of that king was given to John in Hebrew (Abaddon) and in Greek (Apollyon) which means destroyer. Much of chapter 8 and 9 reminds us of the 10 plagues visited upon Egypt in the time of Moses. At the time of the Passover the blood was necessary to signal to God to hover (or pass over) the doorways and prevent destroyer to enter the house and kill. These locusts had the same leader: the destroyer.
Chapter 9 records a second woe: the sixth angel sounds his horn and John hears a sound coming from the alter before God. This voices calls to the angel to “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” These angels have been kept for this very hour – perhaps they are wicked angels who have been in rebellion and now they are released. Their release signals also the assembling of an army of 200 million men on horses – this army will be the means of killing one third of the population of the earth. Here’s what John records (verse 17): The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulphur. These soldiers killed by means of the fire, the smoke and the sulphur. The horses inflicted death by their tails which John describes as being like snakes and by their mouths.
The period of earth’s history just described by John is truly awful and it appears that for those experiencing these terrible times there will be no doubt that God is at work. The debates about the existence of God will be over – at this time all doubt will be gone. Men and women will realise that the atheists were totally wrong and that the theories of evolution were inventions of men who erased God from their thinking. What will be the response of those who survive these terrible times? We can hazard a guess from the experience of Pharaoh who experienced similar judgements. The bible tells us that Pharaoh ‘hardened his heart’. He knew the truth but was having none of it. Pharaoh had every opportunity to see sense and accept God’s place, but he did not. Eventually God himself hardened Pharaoh’s heart in judgement.
Those people who survive the first 6 trumpet blasts have now a chance to repent and turn to God so what do they do? John says the following: The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood--idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts. If you are hardening your heart to God’s call as you read this – don’t! Right now is the time to make your peace with God. I pray that Stephen Fry will see sense and bow his knee to the king of kings and Lord of Lords while the opportunity remains open.