Revelation: The Culmination of Scripture – 21 (“The 6th Trumpet – 2nd Woe”)
In today’s teaching we will see that God continues to judge an unbelieving world by allowing evil forces to destroy their own followers. We will also see that God’s judgment is just and that human sinfulness leads to self-deception and self-destruction and it is so ironic and tragic, that those who are hostile towards God, sometimes prefer idolatry and immorality to repentance.
We will also look at the 2nd woe and the releasing of the four angels, but tragically, also at the refusal of people to repent.
2. SCRIPTURE READING:
Rev.9:12-21 ~ “12 The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come. 13 Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, 14 saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15 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. 16 The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. 17 And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the colour of fire and of sapphire and of sulphur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulphur came out of their mouths. 18 By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulphur coming out of their mouths. 19 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. 20 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, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.”
In this closing part of Rev.9, we have a picture of war – not any one particular war but war itself, past, present and future. It is an evil war. It is a war fought by Demons against their own followers – those who rejected Christ’s invitation of salvation. We saw in the previous passage that the heavens were struck with partial darkness, reminiscent (Afrikaans: “herinner aan”) of the ninth plague (Ex.10:21-23). In the Old Testament, the darkening of the heavens is connected with God’s appearing in judgement ~ “For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light.” (Is.13:10). An unusual darkness also attended the crucifixion of Christ ~ “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour” (Matt.27:45).
3. THE 6TH TRUMPET AND 2ND WOE (9:12-21):
Yet again, in this passage, we are reminded of God’s sovereignty in all these events that are shown to John, because everything is ultimately initiated from the heavenly throne.
· The 2nd Woe (9:12): As terrible as the first woe has been, the two remaining woes are still worse. The 5th trumpet described as the first woe, brought torment, but this 1st woe is now to be followed by the two final trumpets (6 and 7) also called “woes” ~ “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!” (Rev.8:13).
The second woe (the judgment of the 6th trumpet) brings the release of a demonic army the likes of which the earth has never seen (Rev.9:13-19; 11:14) and D.V. next time we will see that the third woe (the judgments of the 7th trumpet) brings the seven bowls/vial judgments of God’s wrath (Rev.11:15; 15:7; 16:2-4; 16:8; 16:10; 16:12; 16:17).
• The Troops (9:13-17): When the sixth angel sounded his trumpet, it was followed immediately by a voice coming from the four horns of the Golden Altar that is before God. This reminds us that John is still in the heavenly scene that began with his being “in the spirit” and thus transported so as to be, “before the throne in heaven” (4:2). At the same time the altar that was first introduced into view in 8:3, and without explanation, is now envisioned in its Old Testament expression, including it being made of gold and having four “horns.”
These horns now speak with a single “voice” to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, telling him to release the four angels which are bound at the great river Euphrates. These four angels were pictured in 7:1 as standing at the corners of the earth, holding back the plagues against the earth until God’s people had been sealed. Now four angels are themselves pictured as bound, and are located geographically at the Euphrates River. For Israel this river (and therefore Babylon) was considered “north,” since most foreign invasions came from that direction, coming “down” against Israel along the coastal plain.
The voice comes from the four horns of the one heavenly altar in Revelation (Rev.6:9). As in 14:18 (an angel comes from the altar) and 16:7 (the altar itself speaks), God indirectly gives instructions for carrying out His will.
According to vs.14, the voice from the altar gives divine authorisation for the sixth angel to release four angels who are currently “bound,” suggesting their demonic character. Unlike the four angels of 7:1 who held back the four winds, these four angels appear to be evil in character and they are most probably the four destructive winds themselves. Dan.7:2 supports this suggestion ~ “Daniel declared, ‘I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea.’” These four angels appear to lead the demonic horseman described in Rev.9:16-19, much like the angel of the Abyss leads the army of the demonic locusts in the 5th trumpet judgement.
The torment of the previous trumpet now gives way to death. Whereas the fourth seal brought death to a fourth of the earth (6:8), the demonic army now kills a third of humanity. Again, the context suggests the only people hostile to God are vulnerable to attack ~ “They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” (Rev.6:10; 8:13).
Rev.9:15 is yet again a clear indication of God’s sovereignty over the specific timing of the coming judgment ~ “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.” Why do so many believers fear the coming judgment of God and the hardship that will go along with the days ahead of the coming judgment? We are sealed with God’s mark and He, the sovereign God, is in full control even in control of Satan and his demons.
In Rev.9:16, John hears that the demonic troops will number, “twice ten thousand times ten thousand” (if you do your calculations, you will see that this number amounts to 200 million) – two hundred million demons! Compare this number with the number of angels worshiping in Rev.5:11 ~ “Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands…” The angels in Rev.5:11 or Dan.7:10, were half the number of demons. It is striking to realise how small God’s army seems by comparison, but the Lord always does His most powerful work through human weakness – think of David and Goliath (1 Sam.17), or think of Gideon’s 300 men who defeated the Midianites – Judges 7:12 ~ “And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the East lay along the valley like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance.”
The horsemen are not in themselves important, but they wear brightly coloured breastplates of fiery red, dark blue, and sulphurous yellow, more suggestive of supernatural than natural riders. More important are the horses, which have heads resembling those of lions; they; rather than their riders are the instruments of death by the plagues of fire, smoke, and sulphur, that come from their mouths. Furthermore, these horses have tails like snakes that are able to kill, unlike the locusts’ scorpion like tails that do not inflict death but only injury (9:5).
In many church environments, these 200 million troops are seen as soldiers from different countries involved in a 3rd World War in the Middle East, after which the end of the world will come, but if you listen to experts in military logistics, they will tell you that it is totally impossible to conscript, support and move 200 million troops to the Middle East without disrupting all societal needs and capabilities; God has made men with certain limitations and the actual raising and transporting of an army of the size spoken of in vs.16 completely transcends human capability. All the Allied and Axis (the “Axis powers” formally took the name after the Tripartite Pact was signed by Germany, Italy, and Japan on 27 September 1940, in Berlin. The pact was subsequently joined by Hungary, Romania Slovakia, and Bulgaria) forces at their peak in World War II numbered only about 70 million.
Thus, it seems better to understand the vast numbers and the description of the horses as indicating demonic hordes. Demons who are utterly cruel and determined and manifest themselves in pestilences, epidemic diseases, etc.
· The War (9:18-19): We read in Rev.9:18 ~ “By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and Sulphur coming out of their mouths.” This fire, smoke, and Sulphur had a plague-like effect, killing one-third of mankind and it reminds us of the 5th trumpet, where smoke from the bottomless pit was seen darkening the sky (9:1-2). The language indicates a hellish invasion, accompanied by great destruction. These creatures are not of the earth; “fire and Sulphur” belong to hell (19:20; 21:8), just as smoke is characteristic of the Abyss (9:2).
· The Survivors (9:20-21): It would have been only natural to think that the remainder of all humanity would take warning from this dreadful fate; but they did not, and carried on worshipping their idols and demons and continued in the evil of their ways. It is the conviction of the Biblical writers that the worship of idols was nothing less than devil-worship and that it was bound to result in evil and immorality.
– God’s purpose behind the plagues is first of all a judgment on humanity for wilfully choosing idolatry and the corrupt practices that go with it – vs.21, murders, sorceries, sexual immorality and theft. We must remember that idolatry or an idol is anything that takes God’s place in our lives.
John had earlier called on the churches to “repent” of their faithless tendencies, lest that they too should share in God’s judgement (2:5, 16, 21-22, 3:19). In 9:20-21 we see the end result of refusing to turn to God. This stubbornness leads to worship of demons as well as the worship of cultic objects made by human hands. The problem with this, is that it robs the true God of His glory ~ “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Rom.1:22-23) and worshipping demons and cultic objects leads to consorting (Afrikaans: “omgaan met”) with evil spirits that corrupt man.
This demonic corruption is manifest in the inhuman acts of those who have given up God for idols – acts of murder, sexual immorality, and thefts ~ “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves” (Rom.1:24) and Rom.1:28-31 ~ “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” In general, these are violations of the 10 Commandments. “Magic arts” means “a practice of sorceries” or “witchcraft” (Ex.7:11; 9:11; Gal.5:20; Rev.21:8; 22:15).
– The second purpose of God review in the agonising plaques described in chapters 8 and 9 is to bring societies to repentance ~ “They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory… … and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds” (Rev.16:9, 11). God is not willing that any person should suffer His judgement but that all should repent and turn to Him ~ “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3) and 2 Pet.3:9 ~ “The Lord is not slow to fulfil His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” But when God’s works and words are persistently rejected, only judgement remains ~ “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph.5:6).
4. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:
The passage that we were looking at today, reasserts a theme that runs throughout the entire Bible: God’s justice in the face of human sinfulness. God’s judgements are not handed out arbitrarily (Afrikaans: “willekeurig”) or frivolously but are poured out on those who stubbornly refuse to repent. Such people have repeatedly rejected God’s gracious overtures/offerings (Afrikaans: “aanbieding van iets”) and have preferred instead gods of their own making.
The message of the 6th trumpet also confirms the depths and deadliness of human sin. Any form of Idol worship is, in reality, demon worship, and these evil spirits are intent on destroying their own followers. In spite of repeated invitations to repent and find life, sinful humanity remains hostile to God and His people. Therefore, God’s judgements are just.
To summarise then:
– God is patient and long-suffering, desiring all people to repent and find life.
– God is also holy and righteous and will judge sin when people refuse to repent.
– Believers should be warned not to be deceived by idolatry.