The Fifth and Sixth Trumpets: Satan's Hordes Unleashed (Revelation Sermon 16 of 49)
August 06, 2017 | Andy Davis
Repentance, Satan, Judgment, Demons
Turn in your Bibles to Revelation 9. As we continue in our study in the Book of Revelation, I come to this chapter, which is one of the most dreadful chapters in the entire Book of Revelation, and therefore, I think, in the entire Bible. We come to it with a sense of seriousness and weightiness of what is in this chapter, as I believe it is a prophecy of the future. Many people wonder constantly why the world is as bad it is — the level of human suffering in an average day is incalculable. The hospitals are filled with emergencies and terminal patients. The nursing homes contain countless lonely people who are living out their final days in isolation and misery. Every day CNN and other news outlets report things like terrorist bombings, beheadings, saber-rattling actions of rogue states like North Korea with missile capability, and more. Several times a year, natural disasters such as an earthquake, a hurricane, a tidal wave, a flood, or a tsunami rock some part of the globe with death and destruction, which we are able to see by means of technology and thus able to understand the kind of suffering that these disasters bring.
Beyond those things that make it up onto the news feeds, we are aware that millions of normal people are utterly miserable with their private struggles — addictions to drugs and alcohol, marriages foundering on the rocks of adultery and abuse, teens wandering off into rebellion in predictable, recognizable patterns. Hundreds of millions of people live below the poverty line and struggle every day to scrape out an existence, earning dollars a day, trying not to starve to death.
Biblically trained, spiritually sensitive people are aware that behind all of this human misery and suffering is an intelligent, deeply malevolent force — personal, devious, powerful, invisible. It goes by many names: Satan, the devil, that ancient dragon, that serpent, the king of darkness, the god of this age, the prince of the power of the air. His invisible empire dominates the human story in ways we can hardly calculate or fully appreciate.
Satan and his fallen angels, or demons, roam freely throughout this world and allure people toward sin, deceiving people and moving them to do utterly despicable things. He is a liar and a murderer. He masquerades as an angel of light. Several key passages in the book of Daniel imply that Satan is actually ruling the minds of non-Christian heads of state around the world. He was the secret power behind the throne of the Persian empire and, by extension, since he claims in the temptation of Christ that all the kingdoms of the world have been given to him and he can give them to anyone he wants, that he actually rules in some way, with dark power. His dark hatred for the human race is immeasurable; his implacable desire is to see every last human being, all of us who are created in the image of God, suffering incalculable torment. His commitment to the misery and destruction of the human race is unshakable. It is greater than we can possibly imagine.
If this is true, we begin to realize that the real question about this present age is not the one I posed at the beginning: Why are things as bad as they are? Rather, the question is: Why are things not infinitely worse than they are? Why do the average human beings around the world on an average day enjoy so much happiness, laughter and pleasure? How can we find joy in natural beauty — sunrises and sunsets and mountains and rivers and ocean, soothing breezes, refreshing rains in season that guarantee another fruitful crop and enough food for another year? Why are there so many happy times — joys and delights of family life, special occasions like weddings and other celebrations with dancing, laughter and joy? Why is there actually so little war? Why do the overwhelming majority of people go through the overwhelming majority of their days without experiencing violent crime or bodily harm? Why are there, statistically, so few people murdered, tortured, tormented? Why is there relatively so little pain and suffering if Satan is that powerful and hates us that much?
It cannot be because Satan is showing us some kind of mercy, that he has some kind of pity, that he somehow feels sorry for the human race and is letting up just a little bit. Nor can it be that his power is waning in any way, that he is losing his grip. Not at all. The answer that comes from the Bible is actually very soothing and comforting. And that is that Almighty God is restricting Satan’s malevolent actions — every day, every minute — restraining his powers to inflict harm on the human race, restraining Satan and his demons from doing all that they could and would like to do to us. This is not limited to godly people, though God does do that in reference to the godly. In the Book of Job, Satan complains to God concerning Job: “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?” [Job 1:10], implying, “I would get at him, but you won’t let me. You have been a wall, a barrier between me and what I’d like to do to Job.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear.” He is limiting Satan’s ability to tempt the godly.
We will see clearly in this chapter of Revelation that God has been restraining Satan from doing all the wickedness he would do even toward unbelievers and rebels and sinners, not only the godly. God is actually holding Satan back from harming them as well, and reserving the full disclosure of Satan’s power and wickedness for the end of the world. But friends, it is coming, as we will see in this chapter.
God does this restraining work out of mercy, even to the rebels who actively serve Satan, though they do not know it, who are called in scripture, “sons of the devil.” God does this so that some of them may eventually be rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought over into the Kingdom of the Beloved Son, the Kingdom of Light. God restrains Satan and his demons from all the violence they would do, in order to rescue some from his dark kingdom.
Throughout history, God has allowed a little more freedom to Satan and his demons from time to time. It is hard to know when they were, but you can imagine some of the events of the 20th century — the cataclysms of World War I & II, for instance. I zero in on the German invasion of the Soviet Union, when the Nazi army went up against the Red Communist army — there was so much godlessness on both sides of the equation, resulting in a death machine that killed millions of people.
Truly, that shows Satan’s hatred for both the Germans and the Russians. Neither side was righteous in their cause — not saying that there were not any saved people in either of those armies; I am referring to the cataclysmic death and destruction. Honestly, though, that was a mere dress rehearsal, for Revelation 9 depicts the sounding of the fifth and sixth trumpets by the angels, unleashing a level of demonic terror and destruction and death that we can scarcely imagine even in our deepest, darkest nightmares.
Let us step back and get some context. The Book of Revelation, the Apocalypse, is so called because it pulls a veil back. It unveils things that are hidden from our physical eyes, things that we would not be able to see — the invisible spiritual realm that surrounds us all the time, of God on His throne, of Christ at the right hand of Almighty God, of the Holy Spirit active throughout the world, of angels and godly people surrounding the throne in constant worship up in Heaven. It also reveals in a powerful way the existence, the reality, of the power of Satan and his demons with their wicked plans and actions.
Beyond this, the Book of Revelation also unveils the mystery of the future, something we cannot see with our own physical eyes, something we would have no way of knowing was coming if God did not tell us. James 4:14 says, “… you do not know what tomorrow will bring…” except that God reveals it. The Apostle John, who was the human author of the Book of Revelation, was in exile on the island of Patmos for his ministry in the name of Christ. He was invited on an amazing spiritual journey to ascend by the power of the Holy Spirit, up from that rocky, tiny island off the coast of modern-day Turkey, to ascend through a doorway in the heavenly realms, to see Almighty God on His throne, and to see the future. It says in Revelation 4:1-2, “After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.” He was given a clear revelation, not only of the immediate spiritual world that we cannot see with our eyes, but of the future.
That scene in Heaven is essential to everything that follows. Revelation 4 depicts the incessant worship of heavenly beings, in concentric circles around the throne of Almighty God, praising Him for being God, the Creator, giving Him worship for creating and sustaining all things.
Revelation 5 depicts, in the right hand of the one who is seated on the throne, a scroll with writing on both sides, sealed with seven seals. A mighty angel cries out, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” but no one is found worthy. Then Jesus Christ comes, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, a Lamb, looking as if He had been slain. He has the right and the responsibility to take the scroll from the right hand of Him who sits on the throne. When He takes it, there is tremendous praise and worship. Revelation 4 is about praise for God the Creator and Revelation 5 for Christ the Redeemer.
In Revelation 6, the Lamb, Jesus Christ, begins to break open the seven seals. In so doing, He unleashes judgments from Heaven on to earth — the first six seals bring the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, a river of martyrs’ blood, and the shaking of the physical universe. Then comes a break, an interruption, between the sixth and seventh seal.
Revelation 7 gives a vision of the the redeemed from every tribe, language, people and nation, standing before the throne with white robes and palm branches in their hands. They are celebrating their final salvation. They are there in answer to the question that is asked at the end of Revelation 6, “The great day of [the] wrath [of Almighty God] has come, and who can stand?” Revelation 7 gives the answer — the redeemed from every tribe, language, people, and nation will be able to stand when God’s wrath is poured out on the earth.
Revelation 8 begins with the prayers of the saints rising to the altar and to the throne of God. The prayers in context are clearly for justice and vengeance against their enemies, who have shed their blood, and have treated them so shamefully. An angel places the coals from the altar together with the prayers that have ascended to God for deliverance and justice into a censer and hurls it to the earth. That is a picture of God’s wrath pouring out in answer to what these people have done and what the demons have done to God’s own chosen people. The things that follow the seven trumpets are clearly portrayed, then, as the wrath of God protecting His beloved bride, His people.
The seventh seal is broken and seven angels emerge, just as we will see later with the seventh trumpet, the seven bowls emerge. There is a telescoping effect. The seventh seal gives way to the seven trumpets. The seven angels with seven trumpets come and prepare to sound them. In Revelation 8, the first four angels sound their trumpets in succession. With each trumpet, stunning judgments flow from Heaven to earth, ripping apart the ecology and the natural order of the earth. They include judgments on one third of the trees, the growing plants, and all the green grass; judgments on the sea, resulting in a third of the living creatures in the sea dying; the sea turning to blood; judgments on the fresh water, the rivers, and the streams, and the ponds, turning one third of them into poison so that if anybody drank them, they died; judgments even on the celestial lights — the sun, moon, and stars — so that a third of their light is struck.
This one-third language of the four trumpets reveals the restraint God is showing to planet earth. He could do far worse than that. These are the greatest ecological cataclysms that have ever come on earth, but God can do far worse. God stated to Pharaoh in the midst of the plagues, in Exodus 9:15, “For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth.” The one-third language is God saying, “I am restraining myself. I could do more.”
At the end of Revelation 8, after the first four trumpets have sounded, we have this awesome event. Look at it in Revelation 8:13, “As I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying in midair call out in a loud voice: ‘Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!’” It is as though with all of the disaster of the first four trumpets, the eagle is warning the people of the earth, saying, “You haven’t seen anything yet. It will get vastly worse.”
Today we will learn what that eagle meant. I feel to some degree that we as Christians are to play that eagle role. I am not saying there will not be a literal eagle doing this, but through this text we are aware of what the Bible says is coming on the earth, and our job is to make others aware by proclaiming the woes that are coming on the earth. We should not begin our evangelistic encounter with the fifth and sixth trumpets, but if we believe that the scripture is true, and is, as Revelation 4:1 says, a prediction of what is yet to come on the earth, we need to warn people of the judgments that are coming.
The Fifth Trumpet: Demonic Hell on Earth
Let us look at the fifth trumpet, depicted in 9:1-12. Look at verses 1-2: “The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss.” We see the same thing with the seven bowls that we saw with the seven seals and will see with the seven trumpets: Heaven always initiates everything and then events happen on earth. Here the fifth angel sounds his trumpet. The suffering, therefore, that is about to be unleashed is a display of the just wrath of God. God is not passively amazed that this is happening. The angel is summoning these things to happen by the trumpet, by God’s authority.
We need to try to understand who or what is this star that fell from Heaven to earth that unlocks the shaft to the abyss with a key. There are many interpretations of this mystery. Some commentators do not try to determine what the star is. Other commentators, like John Calvin, do not even try to do anything with the Book of Revelation but avoid it entirely. Some pastors say, “That is wise, so why are you going verse by verse through Revelation?” But all scripture is God-breathed and useful for us. And though I cannot understand all of the details, it is still valuable to try. The star clearly has intelligent powers; it is not an inanimate object. The star unlocks a lock with a specific key, with a specific purpose in mind, showing that this is a personal, intelligent being.
In the Bible, often stars represent angels, as in the Book of Job when God speaks of creation and the laying of the foundation of the earth. He says in Job 38:7, “while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy…” The morning stars are singing, indicating that they are personal and worshipping along with the angels. But this star is depicted as having fallen from the sky to the earth. The Greek verb tense is perfect: a completed action in the past. This is the star that had fallen in the past. Now this star unlocks the abyss, allowing a demonic horde to billow out like smoke from its shaft.
Satan is called in Isaiah 14:12 “morning star, son of the dawn,.” The King James version famously translates that “Lucifer.” “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!”
Revelation 12:9 depicts him as a dragon that was thrown to the earth. “The great dragon was hurled down-- that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.” We will see in Revelation 12 that with his dragon tail, he sweeps a third of the stars from the heavens and throws them to the earth. The stars, then, represent fallen angels, or what we know as demons.
Jesus said in Luke 10:18, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” This language of falling or being cast down is repeated again and again. Later in verse 11, the king over this billowing cloud that wreaks havoc on the earth is called destroyer, Abaddon and Apollyon. It seems clear that the star is Satan.
Satan Unlocks the Pit
The star, Satan, is given a key to unlock the shaft to the abyss, which had been locked before. The smoke has not been allowed to billow out. The word “abyss” in the Greek literally means “bottomless,” a pit so deep it has no bottom at all. This word is used seven times in Revelation to refer to the prison of demons. The word shaft conjures a narrow neck coming up from the pit, somewhat like a mining shaft. This prison for demons is a place where it seems especially corrupt and wicked demons are punished before the end of the world. Unlike other demons, their freedom is restrained. They are not allowed the freedom to roam over the earth like Satan is. God said to Satan in Job, “Where have you come from?” and he answers, “From roaming over the earth.” Other demons wander through arid places seeking rest; they do not find it, but they are restlessly roaming the earth. The demons in the pit seem to be restrained as if they had been thrown in a prison, so they are not able to roam on the earth.
Jesus confronted the demon-possessed man of the Gadarenes. In Matthew 8:29, the demon says, “‘What do you want with us, Son of God? … Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?’” There is a torment that comes on demons before the final end of the world. Luke 8:30-31 describes the same encounter: “Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Legion [6000 Roman soldiers]’ he replied, because many demons had gone into him, and they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.” It seems clear that the abyss is a holding place for demons, gathered and thrown there by the power of Almighty God. Jesus would have that power as well. Their freedom is restrained, but it is not their final judgment. They are being held under restraint for final judgment. 2 Peter 2:4 says, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell [the NIV’s translation of the Greek word “tartarus,” which again is a deep pit], putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment” It appears that some demons were especially bad; not all were equally evil or powerful. These that are especially bad are gathered by the power of God and locked in this pit.
When this fifth trumpet is sounded, Satan unlocks this deep pit. Out billows a cloud of black smoke. It is implied that these are the worst demons possible. They have been locked up until that moment, and now have been released. The effect of this terrifying black cloud of demons is to darken the sky. Imagine if some particularly evil warlord somehow took over power and unlocked all the prisons in the United States, setting free every prisoner to roam the streets at will. Every town and city in America would be infiltrated by people who had been incarcerated — serial murderers, rapists, thieves, arsonists — utterly lawless, godless people roaming free to do whatever they found to do.
If you heard that had happened, what would you do? Where would you run to hide? There would be no refuge. There are presently 2.2 million people behind bars, 1.5 million for violent crimes. In my analogy, however, they are merely human beings. These in Revelation 9 are demons, supernatural and far more powerful than any human being, able to do more damage than we can imagine. They are particularly evil and vicious, locked up in a pit for thousands of years. They are now unleashed with freedom to roam and bring unspeakable misery to planet earth.
The Demons Compared to Locusts and to Scorpions
Verse 3 begins to describe them: “And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth.” There are two natural analogies being given to help us understand what they can do: a combination of a swarming invasion like that of a locust plague and torment through stings as those of scorpions.
The Book of Joel describes a locust invasion unlike any in human history. Locusts are grasshoppers, usually solitary, but under particular circumstances they become gregarious and group together overwhelmingly, with thousands, tens of thousands upon thousands of other grasshoppers. These then swarm and travel over long distances, devouring every green thing in their path. Joel 1:4, 6-7 describes them:“What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten. … A nation has invaded my land, powerful and without number; it has the teeth of a lion, the fangs of a lioness. It has laid waste my vines and ruined my fig trees. It has stripped off their bark and thrown it away, leaving their branches white.”
The description continues in Joel 2:2-10, “Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was of old nor ever will be in ages to come. Before them fire devours, behind them a flame blazes. Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, behind them, a desert waste-- nothing escapes them. They have the appearance of horses; they gallop along like cavalry. With a noise like that of chariots they leap over the mountaintops, like a crackling fire consuming stubble, like a mighty army drawn up for battle. At the sight of them, nations are in anguish; every face turns pale. They charge like warriors; they scale walls like soldiers. They all march in line, not swerving from their course. They do not jostle each other; each marches straight ahead. They plunge through defenses without breaking ranks. They rush upon the city; they run along the wall. They climb into the houses; like thieves they enter through the windows. Before them the earth shakes, the sky trembles, the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine.”
Revelation 9 gives a similar image, only now they are told not to touch the green things. Instead, they go after people. They do not miss anybody except those that are sealed with the seal of God on their foreheads. Those are protected by the sovereign power of God, and the demons not allowed to touch them. John reaches for another image as well, that of scorpions — a deadly desert predator with a stinger in its curved tail with poison, usually not enough to kill, but enough to torment.
The Demons Roaming But Still Restricted
This unimaginable demonic horde is roaming but still restricted. Even during this final era of human history, even at the sounding of the fifth trumpet, God is restraining demonic activity.
Verses 4-5 say, “They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not given power to kill them, but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes a man.”
These demons are given four limitations. First, unlike the locusts described by Joel, they are forbidden from harming green and growing things. They attack humans. (Notice that the green grass has recovered from the first trumpet. It may look like a contradiction since all the green grass was previously destroyed. But grass is pretty resilient — within a season, it has grown back, but the the demons are not allowed to touch it.)
Second, these demons are restricted specifically to what people they can attack, They cannot attack all people. They are not allowed to harm the elect, those marked with the seal of God on their foreheads. This hearkens back to the image in Ezekiel 9:4 of an angel sent through the city of Jerusalem to mark everyone who grieves over the wickedness of the city, which protects them from the coming judgment. That mark is the seal of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God on believers, those who have crossed over from death to life, The seal protects them from the demonic attacks.
The third limitation is that the demons cannot kill people but only torment them. The fourth limitation is the timeframe — they are given five months to do their work. These limitations demonstrate God’s sovereignty through great wickedness.
The Terrible Effect: People Longing for Death, But Cannot Die (vs. 6)
Verse 6 depicts a terrible effect: “During those days, men will seek death, but will not find it. They will long to die, but death will elude them.” Some commentators liken it to hell on earth. In hell, people suffer torment but cannot escape through death. Hell is the second death and final death. Mark 9:47-48 speaks of “hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” At the time of the fifth trumpet, when these demons are swarming over the earth stinging the unrighteous with poisonous stingers, the agony will be immeasurable — perhaps the greatest level of cumulative suffering that the human race has ever experienced in history. People long to die, but they will not be able to. They will not even be able to commit suicide to escape the pain. Medical science will not be able to alleviate their suffering; there will be nothing that can be done for them.
The Demons Described
In verses 7-10, the demons are described, as I said, in language that challenges our imaginations. “The locusts 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 like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. They had tails and stings like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months.” Paul says that in Scripture, we “see through a glass darkly…” not yet face to face. Language can only bring us so far. It gives us everything we need for life and godliness, but it is hard to describe what these demons are like. John is trying his best with comparisons and analogies — “look like,” “had something like,” or “resemble”.
The demons are like horses, powerful, mighty, bold, and ready to charge into battle. They have crowns representing their power and authority. They are invincible and all-conquering. They have faces like humans — they are rational rather than mindless. They know exactly what they are doing; they possess intelligence. They have an alluring beauty — woman’s hair. Just as Satan masquerades as an attractive angel of light, so these demons are in some senses attractive or seductive.
They have teeth like lions, ready to rip and shred flesh. They have breast plates like iron, meaning no weapon fashioned against them by humans will prevail. They cannot be killed. They have thundering, deafening wings, indicating mobility to move wherever they want quickly. There will be no escape from them — nowhere to run or hide. They have tails and stings like scorpions. Their sole purpose is to inflict agony on human beings, to torment for five months, the length of time restricted by God’s command. As it is now, so it will be then — the demons are subject to the sovereign control of Almighty God.
Satan’s Power Revealed and a Terrifying Warning of What is to Come
Satan is revealed in Verse 11: “They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon.” These words both mean the same thing — Destroyer.
Satan is invisible; as the prince of the power of the air, he prefers to do his work behind the scenes, but here he is, unveiled, so we can see him and know what he is doing. Amazingly, he will also be thrown into the abyss, beginning the millennium of Revelation 20. In Verse 12, we have a terrifying warning of what is yet to come. The first woe is past and two other woes, worse than the first, are yet to come.
The Sixth Trumpet: Satan’s Armies Slaughter Billions
The Demons Released
Verses 13-14 describe the sixth trumpet: “The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the horns of the golden altar that is before God. It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, ‘Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.’” The sixth angel blows his trumpet and the next woe comes on the earth. The altar in Heaven, the true altar, of which the Mosaic altar or the altar in the temple of Solomon was just a type and a shadow, is the altar from Revelation 8 where the martyrs have fled for refuge. This judgment is coming as a response to the cries of the people of God for deliverance, for vengeance and for justice.
The voice from the altar gives the heavenly command to release four angels who have been bound in chains at the great river Euphrates. Jesus said that hell was made for the devil and the fallen angels. Since these four angels have been bound and restrained, they cannot be good angels; they must be wicked angels. They are chained up for this exact moment in history. The great river Euphrates is a symbol which the Jews would have recognized as the northern boundary of the promised land, beyond which is the land of the Gentiles.
And from that river pours in the invasion of the Assyrians or the Babylonians. Jeremiah likened it to a pot, boiling with water, poured down that crosses the Euphrates. So there's a sense of a boundary, and then they pour over and start to invade.
A Satanic Horde Unleashes a Tidal Wave of Slaughter
A terrifying army will invade, numbered in this text at 200 million warriors. Look at verses 15-19: “And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year” [the timing is perfect because God has planned exactly when it will happen at a set moment in time] “were released to kill a third of mankind.” [One third of the human race killed by this army.] “The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number. 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 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.”
What Does this Army Represent?
What does this army represent? Unlike the previous black cloud of demons that comes billowing up out of the shaft of the abyss, this army of 200 million does have the power to kill. The carnage is immense — a third of mankind dies in the slaughter. This could be a human army under satanic, demonic control, or it could be all the existing demons unleashed at this point to the end that they kill a third of mankind. I see it as a demonic army. The description of the mounted troops is again like demons in the earlier visionary chapter. It stretches language to the breaking point. The colors described — fiery red, dark blue, yellow with sulfur — seem to represent the very suffering of hell itself. Heads like lions show power, with the ability to breathe fire from their mouths; tails like darting vipers, able to lash out with deadly venom.
The ultimate point here is what they do. They are able to kill one-third of mankind. Think about the carnage of World War II, a vanishingly small percentage of the world’s population, which was 60 million at the time, compared to perhaps 3 billion or more living on earth at the future time. This is one third. This morning, my kids asked, “Will Christians have to go through this?” I believe that earlier in this chapter we have a clear sense of protection from the actual judgments, but we are not protected from living through it. We Christians are a merciful and compassionate people. When there is a natural disaster we mobilize to care for those who are hurting and suffering. It will be a horrific time, even if we are protected by the power of God, because we will care about those who are suffering and dying.
The Tragic Outcome: Suffering and Death, But No Repentance
Look at the ultimate tragic outcome here in this chapter in verses 20-21. “The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues…” Stop there.
The Plagues Are Cumulative
“These plagues” means all of them from the beginning until this point are cumulative. The plague on the trees and the vegetations and the grass, the plague on the oceans turning to blood, the plague on the fresh water, the plague on the sun, moon, and stars, the demonic five-month scorpion strike, and now this. It is cumulative. The level of suffering on planet earth will be incalculable. One would think it would be the greatest possible inducement to flee to Christ while there is still time, for no matter how bad things are on earth, hell is infinitely worse.
The Staggering Hardness of Human Hearts
Verses 20-21 say, “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.” They did not repent. All of these judgments were pressing on them to repent and flee to Christ, to flee the wrath to come. Instead, they are worshipping demons, the very ones that are tormenting them.
Repentance is a Gift of Grace
This tells me that repentance is a gift of God’s grace that He gives as He chooses. No physical or circumstantial pressure and inducement automatically brings people over to repentance and faith. It is a gift of God. Isaiah the Prophet was told this when he was sent to Israel about how long he would preach. It says in Isaiah 6:9-10, “Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.' Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
This exact passage in Isaiah 6 was used to explain why the Jews didn't repent at the river of grace and miracles that came through Jesus. So, here you have the opposite extremes, a river of kindness shown through Jesus Christ. Every kind of disease healed. Their empty stomachs filled with the bread of Heaven. He raised the dead, He healed lepers. He showed such a tender grace and kindness, they still didn't repent. They still didn't repent. And now, the other end of the spectrum, we have the most horrific physical trials anybody could ever go through, they still don't repent. God grants repentance and mercy. As it says in Romans 9:15-18. “‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.”
Hell Will Produce No Converts
What that means ultimately, friends, hell itself will produce no converts. Our penal system and its institutions are given hopeful names like reform school or reformatory or correctional facility or penitentiary, where criminals can become penitent — some are converted and saved from those institutions — but none of that will happen from hell. Despite what Rob Bell and other false teachers have said, hell is not a place of reformation.
Flee to Christ While You Can!
What applications can we take from this chapter?
First, flee to Christ while you can. John the Baptist said, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” What we have read in Revelation today is part of the wrath to come. The greater wrath is hell. Flee to Christ. The gospel is that God sent Jesus to die in our place, to drink in this kind of torment in our stead, that we might be free from condemnation and live forever in the peace of God. Not by works but only by simple faith can you be free from all condemnation. You can cross over from death to life, so do that now. Let today be the day of salvation for you.
Turn away from wickedness and sins, from sexual immorality, from darkness and hard heartedness and turn to Christ while there is still time. Right now, these words are only ink on a page (now I must add “or pixels on a screen”). Is it true? You must believe that these words are not merely human words, but are actually the words of God telling you what is to come.
Understand Satan’s Present Limitations... and Thank God for Those Limitations!
Second, understand Satan’s present limitations and the daily protection that God gives to the human race, and thank Him for it. Non-Christians will not thank Him. They will continue asking, “Why are things as bad as they are?” But realize the goodness and kindness of God to His enemies. He causes His rain and sun to fall and shine on the wicked. Every day He protects us from mad, insane regimes in North Korea as they fashion intercontinental ballistic missiles, from terrorist cell groups, from diseases that would spread, from demons. We ought to thank God for His protection every day.
Use The Coming Terror to Proclaim the Gospel
Third, use this account of the coming terror to preach the gospel. Perhaps tomorrow you will have an opportunity to talk to some non-Christians. When they ask you what you did over the weekend, tell them everything you did, that you came to church on Sunday. Allow for conversation about what you heard, at least to say, “We talked about Christ, how He is our Savior from the wrath of God.”
Thank God for His mercy
Fourth, thank God for His mercy to you, a sinner. Do you realize that you deserve to suffer these punishments, these torments? It is hard to us to believe that, but we must. We deserve to be treated far worse than this. Do you not see the grace that God's showing you in Christ? Thank God that He does not treat us as our sins deserve.
Close with me in prayer. Father, thank you for the word of God. Thank you for the things that we have learned today from this sober and staggering chapter, Revelation 9. Help us, O Lord, to be evangelists, to spread the good news of deliverance from the wrath of God. Help us, O Lord, to speak to people who are perishing and tell them that there is life in Christ. In your name, Lord Jesus, we pray. Amen.