Things seem to be heating up
Revelation 9, translated in ESV; arranged by RussellP:
“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
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.
the locusts were like horses
prepared for battle:
on their heads
were what looked like
crowns of gold;
were like human faces,
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,
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
which cannot see
nor did they repent of their murders
or their sorceries
or their sexual immorality
or their thefts.”
First things first; this is not exactly how it originally was “waltz-written” because of translation, time, etc. However, it does give us the idea and beauty of how it was originally written. It’s some beautiful gloom and doom.
I usually hate to work backwards but the last few “stanzas” should still be fresh in our mind. Also, it can be very helpful to those who are removed from the text by two millenia, to see the conclusion and work backwards to better understand the imagery in the text. Notice the conclusion:
“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.”
We must not forget that Revelation was written specifically to the first century church and preserved for us. Just as the Old Testament was written to specific peoples at specific times but preserved for the first century church and us. They would have understood the imagery used in Revelation that harkens back to the Old Testament. When we look at John’s conclusion at the end of chapter nine, we understand more about the previous “stanzas.” In the same way, we remember other things we’ve read in Revelation. Such as, God uses persecution and poverty, death and destruction, to bring people to himself. Again, I will refer to the fact that in our present day, the devotion of those of us in relative prosperity and liberty, pales to the people suffering persecution. Why is the church growing in leaps and bounds in places like China and Iran, but is declining in America? Yes, that’s a rhetorical question, we know the answer because the Bible and the epistles in Revelation tell us. Consider what Paul wrote to Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Are we truly persecuted or are we the ones persecuting? Yet this passage in Revelation goes way beyond persecution.
The four horsemen remind us that the earth experiences conquests, famines, wars and all kinds of death. Inasmuch as many have tried to create a Utopia, death, war and famine prevail. Even so, that wasn’t enough for the world to turn to the Lord, yet some do. What is God’s loving response? He turns up the proverbial heat. Yes, it’s loving–God loves his creation. Has he cursed it? Absolutely, the text confirms it–it’s going down. His just wrath is poured out in daily doses–it’s going down. Nevertheless, in his great love he is dealing out small doses to wake people up to his presence. However, those without the mark of God will be tormented for five months–which represents a short time. God is love but he is also just. Notice again the conclusion: “They did not repent.”
When we read chapter nine in Revelation, we see that the small doses are getting larger–and they still don’t repent. It reminds me of the Kingdom of Israel. It also reminds me of the divided kingdoms of Israel (the northern tribes) and of Judah (the southern tribes). It does not however, remind me of the modern State of Israel–for a few reasons. Foremost, the Euphrates–mentioned in verse 14 of chapter 9–was intended to be the eastern border of the nation of Israel. In chapter 16 we will read about how it dries up so that the king from the east can advance on Israel. At present, Israel’s eastern border is hundreds of miles from the Euphrates river. Does this mean current Israel has a right to that land? By no means! Deuteronomy 28 states:
“But l if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field…The LORD will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. The LORD will make the pestilence stick to you until he has consumed you off the land that you are entering to take possession of it. The LORD will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish. And the heavens over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you shall be iron. The LORD will make the rain of your land powder. From heaven dust shall come down on you until you are destroyed. The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them…The LORD will strike you with the boils of Egypt, and with tumors and scabs and itch, of which you cannot be healed. The LORD will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind…The LORD will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone.” It gets worse.
“And as the LORD took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the LORD will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it…“And the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. And among these nations you shall find no respite, and there shall be no resting place for the sole of your foot, but the LORD will give you there a trembling heart and failing eyes and a languishing soul.”
The Lord said to Joshua: “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.”
Before his death, Joshua once again warned the Israelites: “Be very careful, therefore, to love the LORD your God. For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know for certain that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the LORD your God has given you.” We know what happens. The people do what was right in their own eyes, according to the book of Judges. They then demanded an earthly king in Samuel. They intermix with other nations, the kingdom is divided, the north–Israel–in particularly, abandons the Lord and worships dumb idols; though the south was not far behind in their idol worship. God Fulfilled his promises in the likes of Assyria and Babylon…And eventually and ultimately, Rome. Deuteronomy 28 and Joshua 23 came to pass. I know what you are thinking–God’s promises to Israel have not been completely fulfilled. Present day Israel is the continuation of God’s promises. No, Jesus is the continuation of God’s promises. Paul writes to the Galatians; The promises we’re spoken to Abraham and to his seed…Jesus.
Consider the remainder of Joshua’s death bead proclamation; “I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed. But just as all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you have been fulfilled for you, so the LORD will bring upon you all the evil things, until he has destroyed you from off this good land that the LORD your God has given you, if you transgress the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them. Then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to you.”
What does any of this have to do with Revelation 9? The words, the themes, the descriptions and the sheer shock value leave the reader in either reverence or rebellion to God. Does Revelation 9 refer only to a remnant of Israel, left behind after a rapture of the church? I don’t think so. Remember to whom Revelation was written–seven first century churches–five of which were called to repentance, from: eating food sacrificed to idols, sexual immorality, being asleep and being self-reliant–like Israel. Remember, it is not all Israel that are descended from Israel. And; there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, and; He made the two groups into one.
Therefore we must apply what the Bible has stated, in its entirety, to begin to understand the concepts in Revelation. Who are the four angels. What is the symbolism of the golden altar? What do locusts symbolize? Should we take iron breastplates literally? Are the four angels four fallen angels? From what country does the large army come?
I used the ESV translation for one reason–it better describes the number of the army. Remember, numbers have great symbolism in Revelation. Even if we use the sum of the numbers as the NASB does–200,000,000– when we place ourselves in the shoes of the first century church, we don’t think, what country? On the contrary, we would think of an army so large that no one could stand. But some can and will. Those with the mark of God.
I do believe that the four angels are four fallen angels; here’s why: God, in Revelation, is attempting to bring people to himself, while at the same time pouring out his wrath. Like he did to ancient Israel, Paul explains, in plain words, how God does this. Consider Romans 1: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth…Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”
Don’t miss this–I think we’ve answered many mysteries here. Who is the fallen-star angel? Satan. Who is the leader of the army? Satan. Are the four angels fallen angels? Yes. How can we know? Because God gives “them up.” Like the warlords that kill their own people, like drug dealers dealing laced drugs that kill their customers, like Hitler killing the Jews and the impaired and all non Aryans and Aryans that opposed him but eventually took his own life, evil swallows up evil. The attackers of 9-11 aren’t enjoying their virgins, they are paying an eternal price because God is just to those that do evil. Either in death or by the way of the cross.
Revelation 9 maybe difficult to comprehend or even understand, the good news is that God is just and he has peeled back the layer between our world and his to demonstrate this.