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Revelation (scene 3 of 7)

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Scene 3 of 7:   “God’s wrath, seven trumpets.”  (chapter 7-9):  As we begin scene three of Revelation, the focus is shifting from heaven to the earth.  Chapter seven is a parenthetical section where John (and us!) are provided some background information before the action continues.  This vision begins with four angels. 

John notes that these four angels are holding back the fury of God’s wrath, and it is clear that this pause will not last long.  Before Jesus opens the seventh seal, God needs to put HIS seal upon the foreheads of 144,000 servants of God (verse 4).  John takes the time to record the identity of these people in verses 5-8.  There is no need to view this symbolically, this group of "sealed servants" are from the twelve tribes of Israel. 

In verse nine we are introduced to another great multitude, including people from every nation, tribe, people, and language.  In verse 14 we learn that, “these are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

Having identified these two large groups of people in heaven, we return to the action on earth in chapter 8.  Now it is time for the seventh seal to be removed.  Now it is time for the scroll book to be opened.  Now it is time for God to act directly.  In the first few verses of chapter 8 the angels in heaven prepare for what is to come.  Most notably, the prayers of God’s people (incense) rise up before the throne of God.   In Revelation verse 6 the removal of the seventh seal allows the book to be opened AND unleashes the seven trumpets of God’s wrath.  We will consider each of the trumpets individually:   

Trumpet 1 (verse 7, land):  When the first trumpet is sounded, hail and fire, mixed with blood is hurled on the earth.  A third of the earth is burned, a third of the trees are burned, and all of the green grass is burned up.  Some theorize that this hail, fire, and blood is the result of the activity of the angel in verse five.  Others consider this a reference to earthquakes or volcanic activity.  Still others hypothesize solar flares or asteroids.  What we do know is that in a short span of time, one-third of the earth will be burned including the majority of plant life.  Consider the impact that this will have on the remaining human population!     

Trumpet 2 (verse 8, sea):  At the blast of the second trumpet, something like a huge mountain is thrown into the sea and a third of the sea is turned to blood.  A third of the sea creatures die and a third of the sea going ships are destroyed.  Many speculate that this is a reference to a large meteorite striking an ocean.  If this is the cause, those remaining on the earth will suffer from massive disruption in weather patterns, commerce, and transportation.

Trumpet 3 (verse 10, water):  As the third trumpet is sounded, a great blazing star caused one third of the fresh water on the earth to become bitter.  The name of this star is Wormwood.  Wormwood is a bitter tasting and poisonous plant.  It is possible that the earth could intersect with the tail of a comet.  If comprised of some noxious material the fallout from a comet could cause devastation to much of the earth's freshwater.  The connection to Wormwood will be clear at the time of the third trumpet.

Trumpet 4 (verse 12, the heavens):  The fourth trumpet results in a third of the sun, moon, and stars to be darkened.   Some speculate that this is a reference to a (strange) type of eclipse.  Others hypothesize that this is caused by particulate matter in the atmosphere, perhaps the result of the first three Trumpets.  What is clear is that most heavenly bodies will be dimmed significantly as viewed from the earth.   As the earth reels from the devastation of the first four Trumpets, an angel declares, “woe, woe, woe.”  This is because the next three Trumpets focus directly on humanity.  In addition, rather than physical calamities these upcoming three woes include an evil, spiritual component that will be devastating.

Trumpet 5 (verse 9:1-11, evil tormenting locust):  The fifth Trumpet, the first woe, unleashes hordes of demonic locusts.  These locust-like creatures are controlled by Satan and have the power to torment those not sealed by God.   John uses a couple of symbolic descriptors which will be quite clear to those experiencing the fifth Trumpet.  These locust-like creatures have the ability to painfully sting humans as does a scorpion.  Another very locust-like quality is that these creatures only act for five months.  However, five months will seem like an eternity, people will seek death rather than the torture of these demon-creatures.

But we know these creatures are not typical locusts because they do not consume plants.  Beginning in verse 7 John provides addition detail about these locust-creatures:  “... looked like horses prepared for battle.  On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces.  Their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth.  They had breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses…”  Many have speculated on what John is witnessing here and I’m not sure that is wise to do.  As Satan controlled beings they will be deceptive.  They will have a physical nature but more importantly, they have spiritual nature controlled by Satan (verse 11). 

One final note:  Since John specifically mentions that these creatures are only allowed to torment those not sealed by God, we can assume that some of God’s people are on the earth during this period. 

Trumpet 6 (verse  9:13-21, a great battle):  The second woe is released as the sixth Trumpet sounds.  A voice from heaven declares, “Release the four angels who are bound at the river Euphrates.”  As an aside, the Euphrates originates in Turkey, flows through Syria and Iraq, before terminating in the Persian Gulf.  John notes that these four angels have been “kept for this very hour and day and month and year…”  This is a very specific, very exact time.  John continues by declaring that these four “angels” will be responsible for leading a battle that will kill one-third of humanity (billions of people).   In verse 16 John is given another very specific number, 200,000,000.  This is the number of battle-ready infantry troops following the lead of the four “angels.”

Beginning in verse 17 John provides a description of this infantry of 200-million.  Keep in mind that John is using first-century language to symbolically describe future events.   “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 sulfur.  A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths.  The power of the horses was in their mouths and in their tails;  for their tails were like snakes, having heads with which they inflict injury.”    

Some have speculated that this represents tanks, and others nuclear missiles.  I do not think it wise to speculate too specifically;  it will be very clear at the appointed time.  We should note the elements mentioned by John:  red, blue, and yellow.  Fire, smoke, and sulfur.  Power from the mouth (front) and from the tail (rear).  Most importantly, that billions of people will be killed by the triple plagues of fire, smoke, and sulfur that came out of the mouths of these warriors. 

In spite of the fact that billions of people will be killed in this battle, there are still many humans on the earth.  Even after learning about this terrible battle, those remaining continue to sin, continue in idolatry, and continue to ignore God. 

Note:  At this point we come to an interlude, similar to the one that preceded the seventh seal.  Only this break is longer.   Maybe John needed a moment.  In any case, the next few chapters differ substantially from what we have just read.  I am convinced that John (and us) needed some background information to understand the details of the upcoming tribulation.

Revelation (scene 2 of 7)

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Scene 2 of 7:  “Vision from heaven, seven seals.” (chapters 4-6)  In the second scene, Jesus provides John with a perspective from Heaven.   John makes a clear distinction between the previous chapters by beginning with the statement in verse 1, “After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven.”  Jesus has enabled John to break free from the boundaries of time and space.  Can you imagine that opportunity?  John doesn’t have an iPhone and must take in as much as he can.  Then Jesus declares to him, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”  I would love to fly in a fighter jet, maybe even a rocket.  In my wildest imagination, I would get to fly in a rocket with Neil Armstrong.  But that is nothing compared to John.  He gets instantaneously teleported to Heaven with Jesus.  Without a camera.

Not only does John not have any recording devices, but he doesn’t even have the language necessary to adequately explain what he is seeing.  He does the best he can with the words and concepts he knows from the physical world.  Let us carefully read his account beginning in verse two:  “At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby.  A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder.  In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing.

John describes Heaven using the colors of known objects on earth.  This does not mean that Heaven is made of rocks and rainbows and rumblings of thunder.  This is merely the symbolic language that John uses to describe the beauty and holiness of heaven.  We are provided a reminder of our interpretive key at the end of verse five where John writes, “…in front of the throne, seven lamps blazing.”  John immediately continues by noting that these seven lamps refer to seven spirits of God (spirits here is lower case).  The seven spirits of God are mentioned in Isaiah 11:2.  Remember:  Symbols refer to Reality.

John continues in verse 6, “In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’who was, and is, and is to come.”  What are these odd creatures to whom John is referring?  In Ezekiel 1:7-25 these same creatures are described.  In Ezekiel 10 we learn that these creatures are Cherubim, a type of angel. 

John’s symbolic and vivid description referred to the reality of Heavenly Cherubim.  Symbols refer to Reality.  Whenever the Cherubim, continuing in verse 9, give thanks to God, the 24 Elders fall down before God.  So what do we make of these 24 Elders?  Is this symbolic of angels?  I do not think so because God’s Word never uses the term Elders as a reference for angels.  The Bible only uses the term Elders as a descriptor of men.  There are two reasonable thoughts and I will share them both with you.  Some conclude that the 24 Elders are a composite of the 12 Tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles.  Others, including John MacArthur, find the number 24 to be symbolic of representation.  They view the 24 Elders as symbolic representation of the fullness of the body of Christ – the Church.  Both interpretations represent the same idea.

 In chapter 5 we are introduced to the scroll and the Lamb.  We know from verses five and six that the Lamb is Jesus.  “The Lion of Judah, the Root of David, the Lamb who has triumphed.”  But what do we make of the scroll, this book that only Jesus can open?  Some refer to this scroll/book as symbolic of ownership of the earth.  For today it is sufficient to know that only Jesus is worthy to open the seven seals that have closed this book for a long time.

In chapter 6 we are still in heaven as Jesus begins the process of opening the seven seals.  The scene has not changed, but the message is about to change significantly.  The message concerns the tribulation, a seven-year period during which God will Judge the earth.  Each time Jesus removes a seal from the book, something dramatic occurs.  Each of the first four seals results in the release of a symbolic horseman. 

As Jesus breaks the first seal, a horseman riding a white horse is released (verse 2).  Some have thought that this horseman represents Jesus.   While white is often symbolic of Jesus, I do not think this is true for a number of reasons.   First, Jesus is already pictured in the vision – as the bearer of the scroll.  Secondly, Christ is always portrayed bearing a sword rather than a bow.  Third, this rider is “bent on conquest,” Jesus has already won the battle.  Others view this rider as the Anti-Christ – which is certainly a possibility.  Yet the other three riders are identified by their actions and I think this first rider is also symbolic of action.  The white could symbolize a purity or peace (or false purity/peace), while the bow clearly aligns with the concept of conquest.  I am confident that the white horsemen with the bow will be identified as a ruler who appears who speaks of peace but actually brings conquest. 

In verse four we learn that the second horsemen riding a red horse is set free as Jesus opens the second seal.  This symbolism of red, taking peace from the earth, and the large sword clearly identifies war (or war-like actions).

The third horse is black (verse 5), and it is released as Jesus opens the third seal.  In addition to dark color we are provided the symbolism of a pair of scales.  John specifically notes that these scales are a reference to the prices of food.  A days wages are needed for the amount of food needed to sustain a family for one day.  This is a picture of famine, perhaps on a scale never experienced on the earth before. 

As Jesus removes the forth seal (verse 8), we meet the forth horseman.  This rider is not only identified by its pale (pale-green) color but also by name – Death.  Not only is Death the name of this rider but we learn that Hades follows closely behind this rider.  Clearly evil, this rider (and the proceeding three) are given the power to kill over one quarter of the population of the earth via sword, famine, disease, and wild beasts (verse 8).   This could well affect over a billion people – and we are still in the early stages of the tribulation! 

 The fifth seal is different.  Remember we are still in heaven, and when the fifth seal is open those in heaven cry out (verse 10), “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of earth and avenge our blood?”  God is not yet ready to complete His work on earth.  God wants to wait until the every human on earth has had a chance to respond to the Gospel message.  Those in heaven are asked to be patient a bit longer. 

When the sixth seal is opened (verse 12), there was a great earthquake, the sun turned black, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth.  The very foundations of creation are shaking because God is about to take action!  By this time, every government on earth understands what is taking place and they shutter.  But there is no place to hide.