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A. In chapter 6-8:1 we read about the opening of the seven seals, the first four of which spoke of the calamities which would be come upon the world during the era between Christ’s coming and His coming again. In the fifth seal we saw the saints in heaven crying out to God, “How long, O Lord, before You take vengeance upon our persecutors?” The sixth seal was about the beginning of the judgment day – with the wicked fleeing from the wrath of the Lamb, and the seventh seal was the half hour of silence which initiated the final chapter of the story.
B. Then we started over again with the seven trumpets, the first four of which paralleled the first four seals by describing the cosmic troubles brought upon the earth during this age. And today we come to the fifth trumpet.
C. Revelation 8:13–9:12 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!” 1 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. 2 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. 3 Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of 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 the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 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. 6 And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them. 7 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, 8 their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; 9 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. 10 They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. 11 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. 12 The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come.
D. It almost sounds like someone describing a nightmare they had.
II. (Summary & explanation) We have four parts here:
A. 8:13 & 9:12 warns us about the severity of the last three trumpets, the first of which is in our passage, the other two following. If you thought trumpets one through four were bad, wait till you hear about five, six and seven!
B. 9:1-6 is the blowing of the fifth trumpet, which yields a vision of a star falling to earth and given the key to a bottomless pit. As he opened it, great smoke arose, darkening the sun and air. Then out of the smoke came locusts on the earth, which were given (by God) power like scorpions. They were told by God not to kill but only torment people who did not have His seal on them, and only for five months. The torment was as intense as a scorpion sting. (Michelle told me that it is said in her part of the world that a scorpion bite is worse than the pain of labor.) The people wanted to die, but couldn’t.
1. From similar passages, we gather that this fallen star is Satan. Jesus uses virtually the same expression in Luke 10:18: “I saw Satan as a star falling from heaven.”
2. One of the 10 plagues was locusts, which were said to destroy “the land & the vegetation & all the fruit of the trees...[and] there was no green thing left on the trees.” Exod.10:15; Ps. 105:33-35
3. But here it’s the opposite. These locusts don’t feed on trees & plants. They feed on human souls, not to kill, but to torment.
4. But not all souls. God gave them the power to feed only on the souls of non-believers, for you remember in Rev.7:2-3 that a protective seal had been put upon believers in Christ.
C. 9:7-10 is a rather bizarre description of these satanic scorpions: crowns of gold, faces like humans, hair like women, teeth like a lions, breastplates of iron, wing noise like the noise of many chariots rushing into battle, and their scorpion sting in their tails.
D. Finally 9:11 tells us that their king was an angel of the bottomless pit named Abaddon/Apollyon.
III. There’s a lot of horrifying details here of terrible torture of unbelievers. But what is it talking about? Where does this fifth trumpet belong on the time line of Biblical eschatology?
A. So far in Revelation, we’ve been presented with a pretty simple picture of the present and future.
B. The present age
1. The age of the Spirit
2. The age of the gospel and world evangelization (the robber is taking His treasures)
3. The age of tribulation and persecution
4. The age of grace
5. The age of loving our enemies
6. First four seals and first four trumpets tell us it’s also an age of turmoil, conflict, tragedy, & death.
C. Then we have the return of Christ and the judgment day which transitions into the age to come, the new heavens and new earth.
1. The age of resurrection
2. The age of justice for the wicked
3. The age of glory for believers
4. The age of the fulness of the presence of God with His people
D. Most commentators associate this fifth trumpet with the present age and just ignore the fact that it is said to last only for five months. But it seems to me that they are trying to cram a puzzle piece into a place where it doesn’t really fit. Five months is too brief a time for this to describe either the present age or the age to come. And there are other reasons as well:
1. The fifth trumpet is clumped with trumpets 6 & 7 as being significantly worse than the first four.
2. We’re told that the fifth trumpet only applies to non-believers.
3. It’s so bad that the people want to die. People don’t usually long to die, though some certainly do.
a. But not only do they want to die, for some reason they can’t.
4. It seems to me that something has changed from the first four seals and the first four trumpets. It seems to me that in the fifth trumpet we’re talking about a different animal.
E. There is another wrinkle in the revelation of what is to come, which we haven’t come across yet in our study, which may be the answer to our dilemma.
1. There is a short time between the present age and the age to come when all hell breaks loose.
2. After the last elect person is converted, the grace of God and the Restrainer of evil (2Thes.2:6) are removed. And it seems to me that this is the only period in which the fifth trumpet really fits.
3. Rev.20:7-10 tells us that at the end of this age, Satan will be unchained and will again deceive the nations and gather them for battle, surrounding the camp of the saints and the beloved city.
4. This culminates a pattern in the Bible of a short time where things will get worse right before Christ intervenes on the last day. The wicked will be in the process of taking out their anger on God’s people when suddenly Christ swoops in to rescue them and win the day. (E.g. Joel 3:2-18; Ezek.38:2-8, 39:2; Zeph.3; Zech.12-14 [esp.14:1-13]; 2Thes.2:1-12; Rev.16:14-21, 19:19.)
F. The life of Jesus reflects this same pattern, of dominion over Satan until one day he’s released.
1. He had a season of effective ministry, in spite of struggles.
2. But at the end of His life there came a day of evil when Satan was unleashed.
a. — Luke 22:53 “This is your hour, and the power of darkness.”
b. — John 16:2–4 “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.”
c. — The very language of being surrounded by enemies is used in several messianic psalms. E.g.
(1) — “Be not far from me, for trouble is near & there is none to help. Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion...For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me.” Ps.22:11-13, 16
(2) All this culminates in the cross, of course, when even the sky turned dark.
3. Then there was divine intervention and final triumph.
G. We are reliving this pattern of Christ. We are enjoying a day of the expansion of the gospel to every people and language, though with struggles and persecutions. But then before the end, things will get worse, just before Christ intervenes.
H. We are not told very much about this brief period of the unleashing of evil before the return of Christ, but we know a few things:
1. We know it will involve the deception of the nations.
a. There will be no more conversions. The door will be closed.
2. We know it will involve a massive assault against the people of Christ.
a. This makes sense, for, as their doom draws nigh, their hatred of God intensifies, their hatred of believers intensifies, as they burn with jealousy toward God and His people.
b. In one sense their eyes are opened: opened to their hopelessness, opened to their imminent doom, opened to the fact that what believers had been saying all along was true.
c. So, unbelievers slip into a rage and the persecution of Christians will soar.
3. This brief unleashing of evil is probably associated also with the coming of the anti-Christ (2Thes.2:1-12).
I. This, it seems to me, is the best place to fit the exceptional suffering unleashed in the fifth trumpet.
1. On that day, not just evil but misery will be unleashed in a fuller & more intense way.
J. It will involve a kind of misery which believers don’t experience. What misery could be as bad as a scorpion bite but not be fatal?
1. Well, whatever happiness non-believers enjoy now is a result of God’s common grace.
2. Listen to what Paul says in Acts 17:25-28: He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we are indeed his offspring.”
3. In this present age God is graciously & generously extending His hand to mankind in the gospel.
4. But when this age ends and His grace is withdrawn, nonbelievers will be stung with the intense pain of unbridled hopelessness and despair, emptiness and futility, fear of divine retribution, the miseries of a Christ-less life untempered by the pleasures and satisfactions of life.
a. Take a walk through the most horrible, putrid, living conditions on earth: the rotting prisons, the insane asylums, the depressing hospital wards, the foul-smelling slums. None of these can compare to the internal conditions that exist in the unbelieving human heart, conditions which will be brought to the surface and experienced without relief and without escape on that day.
b. It’s a form of psychological suffering, similar to the curse God threatened Israel with if they ever turned away from Him: “The LORD will give you a trembling heart and failing eyes and a languishing soul. Your life shall hang in doubt before you. Night and day you shall be in dread and have no assurance of your life. In the morning you shall say, ‘If only it were evening!’ and at evening you shall say, ‘If only it were morning!’ because of the dread that your heart shall feel, and the sights that your eyes shall see.” Deuteronomy 28:65-67
5. It seems to me that this offers the best explanation of what the fifth trumpet is all about.
IV. There is much here to shake us and wake us.
A. Even our worst struggles and pains are small compared to this.
1. If you have Christ, you never need to feel sorry for yourself.
2. The worst kinds of pain you will never experience.
B. We moan and grown about how things are getting worse, but, according to the book of Revelation, we ain’t seen nothing yet.
1. Some day, the Bible tells us, it will get A LOT worse for a short time.
2. Some day there will be a great unleashing of the devil.
3. Somebody is going to live through those days. If it’s not us, it’s our children or grandchildren or future descendants. And we need to help them prepare by being prepared ourselves.
4. If we don’t show them how to trust God in the face of our little trials, they will never learn to trust God in the face of the greater trials to come.
5. We need to build our house on the Rock, knowing that the storm is coming! Matt.7:24-27
6. I have to confess: for much of my Christian life a lot of my hope was built on the fact that it looked like things in the future were going to be OK. It didn’t look like any terrible catastrophes were around the corner.
a. But if our hope is built on this assumption, our hope has no foundation. It is not Christian hope.
C. If in this age we are surrounded by those who hate us because of Christ, this is par for the course.
1. 2Cor.1:8-10 tells us that we will experience deaths frequently – but also resurrections.
2. There is no need for panic, no need for claustrophobia.
3. Remember when Elisha was surrounded by the Syrian army (2Kings 6:11-20)?
a. His servant is in a panic. But Elisha sees something his servant is blind to.
b. 16 “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
D. If you sometimes get overwhelmed by all the terror, brokenness, horror, injustice, corruption, inhumanity and brutality in the world, let this be a reminder that God is on His throne directing everything, and that there is a great reversal of fortune coming, when every valley will be exalted and every hill and mountain made low (Is.40:4, Lk.3:5), when the first shall be last and the last first (Matt.20:16), when God will exalt the humble but scatter the proud, bring down the mighty, and send the rich away empty-handed (Luke 1:51-53).
1. Nonbelievers will scoff at the threat of God’s judgment, but on that day, there will be sheer terror.
E. But maybe you wish for an age of world peace, when mankind would be one. Well, I understand that. It’s natural to long for that. But this very appealing concept is just not Biblical, in spite of many desperate attempts to construe the Bible to agree.
1. The Bible consistently and persistently teaches that in the end, mankind will be two, not one.
2. History is not going to end with a negotiated settlement, where we all lay down our weapons and our arguments and work together as one happy family. Whether we like it or not, history is going to end with Jesus returning and destroying His foes.
3. Jesus said,“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” – Matthew 10:34-36
4. Any observer of humanity can see the human tendency to prize one’s own group above other groups, and set one’s own group over against other groups. And it’s easy for many to view Christianity’s elevation of Christ above other gods as merely part of the same thing. And honestly sometimes it is; sometimes people are Christian not because their eyes have been opened to see the reality of Christ but because they go along with what their group believes.
5. But that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that Jesus is the way, the truth, the life. Jn.14:6
6. And sinful man, left to himself, will never accept Jesus as He is.
F. This shouldn’t frighten true believers in Christ. We are sealed by God Himself.
1. Listen to what the Lord said to the disciples in Lk.10:18-20: “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall harm you...your names are recorded in heaven.”
2. It shouldn’t frighten us, though it might wake us up! And that’s good!
G. Big things are coming, and this calls for big prayers beforehand.
1. Think about the disciples at Gethsemane. Jesus pleaded with them to pray, but they didn’t. They were too relaxed about what was coming in the future, in spite of everything Jesus had said.
2. And because they didn’t pray, they weren’t ready for the coming temptations. And so they fell: they forgot what Jesus had said, they fled in fear, one even denied Jesus.
3. Can we learn from their failure? Jesus tells us that difficult storms are coming, and He urges us to pray, that we might be ready. Are we going to listen?
4. This is the time for desperate prayers of faith, Gethsemane-sized prayers, so that when things get even worse, when the Spirit is withdrawn and the enemy is unleashed, we’ll be ready to stand.
H. One more thing: In this trumpet we see Satan attacking non-believers. Did you think Satan wanted to give people pleasure? That’s what he wants people to think, but the opposite is true! A fisherman may look like he’s trying to feed the fish, by putting delicious looking things into the water, but a fisherman doesn’t want to feed the fish, he wants to catch and eat the fish. Satan wants to use pleasure to lure people away from Christ, but his chief intent is our demise, our misery, our humiliation, not just for believers but for all people. He is seeking to devour (1Pet.5:8).