The Seventh Seal and the Beginning of the Trumpets (Revelation Sermon 15 of 49)
July 30, 2017 | Andy Davis
Martyrdom, End Times, Judgment
Open your Bibles to Revelation 8. This is a very sober chapter. The wrath of God, as we see here poured out on the earth, is one of the most terrifying and unsettling aspects of His character. The overpowering aspect of it — the sheer scope and magnitude of the destruction that flows out from the sovereign actions of God here — are deeply disturbing to our mindset, even for those who have been Christians for a long time. As we begin to see these seven trumpet blasts from Heaven and see the devastating effects on Planet Earth of these judgments, it is not unusual for even the most mature Christians to shrink back in some sense, to recoil with horror, and perhaps cry out, as Moses did in Exodus 32:12, “Turn from your fierce anger, O Lord.”
We need to keep something constantly in our minds as we embark on twelve chapters of this kind of destruction, laid out in detail, chapter after chapter, explaining what God will do to Planet Earth because of human sinfulness. We live now in the era of Gospel grace. This is the time in which God is willing to be gracious to sinners and give them amnesty and welcome them back, forgiving all of their sins. In this era, we are commanded to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to cry out to God for the forgiveness of even the most bitter opponent of the Gospel, even for those who viciously persecute us. We must be willing even, as Paul was, to trade our own salvation that they might be saved.
Many verses teach this. 2 Corinthians 6:2 says, “For he says, ‘In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.” That refers to our current era. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:39-41, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” In verses 44-45, he says, “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” From the cross Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Acts 7:59-60 says, “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” When he had said this, he fell asleep. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Paul encountered unbelieving Jews, to whom he wanted to preach in the synagogues, who rejected and persecuted him in every town and village that he visited. These were his consistent sworn enemies, some of whom even fasted until they could assassinate him. In Romans 9:2-4, he said, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.”
All of these verses show us the proper attitude to have right now toward the enemies of the Gospel. In this present era of grace, when there is still time for sinners to repent and find forgiveness in Christ, no sinner is beyond redemption. No sins are too great for the ocean of God’s grace to cover. We are filled with hope as we preach the Gospel in all of these settings.
However, looming above all of the grace we are to show to our enemies, we have this statement, very well known, in Romans 12:19: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” A deep desire for vengeance, an outcry for justice, is depicted in the book of Revelation — this attitude is right as well. We see in Revelation 6:9-ll, when the fifth seal is broken by Christ, the souls of those who have been martyred for their faith in Christ dwelling under the altar in Heaven,. They have taken refuge at that heavenly altar and cry out for vengeance in Heaven. Though they are told to wait a while, they are not told that such a cry is inappropriate. They are instructed to wait until the full number of the martyrs comes in.
In this chapter, we will begin to see the outpouring of God’s wrath through the first four of the seven trumpet judgments, followed by the seven bowls judgments. These will come in direct answer to the prayers of the anguished people of God for justice against their enemies. As their prayers ascend to Heaven, God hears them. His wrath is flung like a fire ball to the surface of the earth in answer to those prayers. In this present era of the Gospel, we are restrained from taking vengeance, for we are not God. It is not our place. We leave room for the grace of God to have effect, for we know that His grace is able to transform anyone. The bitterest enemy can in one day repent under the sovereign influence of the grace of God and become a precious brother or sister in Christ. Such grace worked on Saul of Tarsus, who woke up that morning breathing out murderous threats, dragging people to prison, but by that evening was believing in Christ and loving Him and his new brothers and sisters, no longer an enemy but an eternal friend. This can happen at any point — we trust and hope and pray for it.
But God has said, “Vengeance is mine. I will repay.” When the wrath of God is poured out with unremitting fury on the surface of the earth through the seven trumpets and the seven bowls, millions — possibly billions — of people will die. This is called the “strange work of God” in Isaiah 28:21: “The LORD will rise up as he did at Mount Perazim, he will rouse himself as in the Valley of Gibeon-- to do his work, his strange work, and perform his task, his alien task.”
We should not imagine that God is squeamish or embarrassed about this or will in the end somehow feel ashamed of it. Not at all. He is telling us plainly what He will do. He is not hiding this — He will do it in full view of all His children. But as we go carefully through these upcoming chapters, do not be surprised if it is too much for you. It is overwhelming to try to grasp what will happen, like a circuit breaker that trips when overloaded. We are commanded to be gracious to our enemies and to believe in the power of the Gospel to convert them, but we must not shrink back from this careful, meticulous display of the wrath of God that is coming on the earth. We need to understand it. When all is said and done, we will drink from a river of the water of life that will flow down through the center of the New Jerusalem from the throne of God. But before we experience that, there will be, based on Daniel 7, a river of fire flowing from that same throne. We need to embrace both because they are openly taught in Scripture.
Silence in Heaven
This chapter begins with silence. Look at Revelation 8:1: “When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” To review, the seal that is broken is on a scroll that has been in the right hand of the one seated on the throne, Almighty God, the Ruler of the Universe. John has been transported through a doorway to this throne room. Christ, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Lamb that was slain for our sins, is the only one who has the right to take the scroll.
In Revelation 6, He takes the scroll and begins to break open the seals. The first four seals unleash what is known commonly as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The fifth seal reveals the martyrs in Heaven crying for vengeance. The sixth seal depicts the beginning of the end of the physical universe: every mountain and island is removed from its place; there is a massive earthquake; stars fall from the heavens. Everyone on earth flees, looking for some refuge. They cry out to the mountains and the hills, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”
Revelation 7 brings an answer to that question: 144,000 sealed from all the tribes of the sons of Israel, along with a multitude greater than anyone could count from every tribe, language, people and nation standing before the throne in front of the Lamb, wearing white robes, holding palm branches and saying, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” They are able to stand in the great day of the wrath of God.
The Seventh Seal Opened: The Significance of Heavenly Silence
Revelation 8 and subsequent chapters will depict and unfold what the great day of the wrath of God is, what it will be like. It begins with silence in Heaven. What is the significance of this heavenly silence? Heaven is ordinarily a place of ceaseless praise — a joyfully noisy place of continuous thunderous praise, day and night. The inhabitants never stop praising the One who sits on the throne, never stop casting their crowns and crying out “Salvation belongs to God!” They celebrate all the time.
But here at the beginning of the seven trumpets, the seventh seal instigates this silence in Heaven for half an hour. It is stunning. It continues for a very long time, too. (If I were to stand silent at the pulpit, how long would it be before it would feel uncomfortable?) Heaven is a timeless place, but there is a sense that John felt the passage of time as he was observing.
What did it signify? Other silences in Scripture happen in reference to God, even at His command, in light of His eternal power and divine nature, and His plan as it moves forward to highlight the infinite gap between God the Creator and what He has created. Habakkuk 2:20 says, “The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” The whole earth is commanded to silence when God rouses Himself to execute judgments on the earth. Zechariah 2:13 says, “Be still before the LORD, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.”
Silence also implies submission to God’s judgments, that we cannot answer Him back. We could not answer back one charge in a thousand. Romans 3:19 says, “…so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.” Even Job, a godly man, says after encountering God in the whirlwind, “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.” It is like a dramatic calm before the storm, which can be effective, like in music: first a climax, then a pause, then a crescendo. The pause signals and initiates the drama that ensues.
A silence IN HEAVEN
Yet, this is not an earthly silence. This is silence in Heaven. The heavenly worshippers, the angels who are watching the events, long to look into these things. They are interested in the unfolding plan of God. They are rendered silent for what is about to be unleashed on the earth.
Following the silence, verse 2 says, “And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.” These seem to be special angels. All of the angels who serve God in Heaven are holy and glorious, but they are not all equally radiant or equally powerful. They do not all have equal positions, just as star differs from star in glory. Some are called archangels or ruler angels. There are two named angels in the Bible, Michael and Gabriel, but these seven also have special access to the throne of God. Each of these receives a trumpet.
The Prayers of the Saints and the Golden Censer
But first, another angel comes to connect the wrath of God to the intercessory prayers that have gone up to God throughout twenty centuries of church history. Look at verses 3-5: “Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.”
The Heavenly Altar
These verses depict a heavenly altar. Moses was commanded in the Old Covenant to make a tabernacle with an altar, but it was only a type, a shadow, of the heavenly reality. This is the heavenly reality, the true tabernacle with the true altar. This is the very place revealed in Revelation 6 where the martyrs, when Christ breaks open the fifth seal, cry out for vengeance; they are told to wait until the full number of martyrs, who were to die as they had, is completed.
The Angel and the Golden Censer
This angel, different than the seven that are about to sound their trumpets, makes his appearance with a golden censer in his hand. As an altar boy in the Roman Catholic church I was raised in, I assisted in some of the ceremonies in which incense was used. The censer is a metal container connected to a chain, with a little door in the side. The priests would put orange crystals of incense on coals that were already burning inside the censer, which would create fragrant smoke. The priest would swing the censer back and forth, and at the apex of its swing, puffs of smoke would come out. In this way, the whole place would be filled with the aroma of this incense.
The Incense and the Prayers of the Saints
This angel offers up the smoke of the incense together with the prayers of all the saints. The martyrs revealed in the fifth seal of Revelation 6 should not be narrowly limited to tribulation martyrs, those who will die in the future in the last seven years of history. I would extend it over all of human history, because of the broad context in Revelation 8 with the use of the word “all”: all of the saints, all of their prayers going up before this altar. Not just the small number of martyrs who will be killed during the great tribulation, but the totality of God’s people who have cried out in every generation against their tormentors, crying out for justice and vengeance, not understanding why — it seems — God does not answer those prayers. The fragrant smoke of these passionate prayers rises up before the throne of God, begging God to do something about these wicked opponents of the Gospel, pleading with God to intervene.
It reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow. The widow goes day after day to a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. (This could be the worst thing ever said about a judge in history, every day breaking the two great commandments.) But he becomes weary of this widow who comes day after day, hoping to wear him down, which she does eventually. So he gives her what she wants. What does she want? Justice against her adversary. The widow represents the Church, as we go to God pleading. Jesus says this in Luke 18:7-8, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. But when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” Jesus’ point is that those who cry out to God for justice will receive it quickly.
Many seemingly unanswered prayers have risen to God’s throne across twenty centuries of church history. Prayers for believers in communist countries in the 20th century behind the Iron Curtain. Prayers now in communist countries for pastors who are arrested and hauled away in the middle of the night, for their release and protection, who instead are tortured and executed. Prayers for missionaries in dangerous jungles in Africa or South America, who, instead of being protected from the hostile ways of the people they were trying to reach, were seized by chieftains or head hunters or cannibals and killed. Prayers for deliverance, for rescue, of those captured by Islamic extremists, who instead are beheaded. Prayers for martyrs during the Roman era, back at the very beginning of the Church, that they would be set free by their Roman captors, but were instead killed in the Colosseum, or burned by Nero to light the garden for his dinner guests. Prayers for Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the final days of World War II, that he would be set free, but instead was killed by a command personally signed by the monster Adolf Hitler in one of his final acts, just days before the end of the war in Europe. All those prayers have been seemingly unanswered throughout the centuries.
You say, “Where is the justice? Why doesn’t God hear our prayers?” The spirit of all those blasphemous tyrants and persecutors will be distilled and, in a wicked way, perfected in the anti-Christ and the final form of human government. It will become much, much worse. This cry for justice will become that much more acute at that time.
The Prayers of the Saints RISE CONTINUALLY Before the Throne of God
So the prayers of the saints rise continually before the throne of God, and He hears every one of them. The angel mixes the prayers of all the saints for justice and vengeance, and fills the golden censer with coals of fire from the altar, then he hurls it down on Planet Earth. These verses send a very clear message, with a clear symbol of the connection between the wrath, which we see in this and following chapters, and the prayers of God's people for deliverance and for justice.
We may wonder why God does not answer those prayers. We are told in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” God is patient, but the very next verse, 2 Peter 3:10, says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” Most opponents of the Gospel do not vigorously, violently oppose the church. They do not have the energy or the concern to do it. They just do not care. Whenever the church might interact with them, they might resist with a snide comment or something similar, but they do not tend to organize any kind of persecution. They are simply against the Gospel. However, there are some people in positions of government, key leaders in communities, who have used their position of influence to do what they can to stop the spread of the Gospel and to make life miserable for Christians.
We know those people will receive a personal judgment, standing before God. Romans 2:5-6 says, “… because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God will give to each person according to what he has done.” That passage refers to individuals receiving judgment. In private, God’s wrath is poured out on individuals after they die. We do not see it, though we believe that wicked men like Hitler and Stalin who persecuted Christians are judged and are condemned in hell when they die. There is no public vindication of the justice of God in this present age. But here in the Book of Revelation, we see an open public display of the justice of God, the public vindication at the end of the world of God’s justice.
Thus, the angel takes a golden censer, fills it with coals and hurls it to the earth. And the earth reacts with peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. Now come the actions of God through the angel. Verse 6 says, “Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.”
The First Four Trumpets
The rest of the chapter reveals the first four trumpets. The first three are judgments on the ecology of the earth. The earth was entrusted to the human race as a stewardship. We were put on the planet to serve the earth and see it come to its full fruition, as God commanded in Genesis 2. Instead, man fell into sin, Adam ate the forbidden fruit and the earth was cursed because of him. Genesis 3:17-18 says, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you.” As a result of Adam’s sin, the earth has been groaning under a curse in bondage to decay, we are told in Romans 8:21-22.
Many people in our society are extremely concerned about the environment. Some are fanatically committed to ecology and the careful balance of ecosystems. There is a sense in which, without going over into idolatry, Christians should lead the way in this. We should say, like the hymn, “This is my Father’s world” — this was entrusted to us by God. We should be good stewards of the environment. People talk about global warming due to the destruction of the ozone layer caused by the burning of fossil fuels. People are concerned about landfills and fracking and their effect on groundwater. People worry about air and water pollution. People tell stories about the destruction of the rainforests and the effect that will. have on the future of the world. People focus on the disposal of nuclear waste. People monitor the extinction of specific species like the giant panda, the Sumatran tiger or the Javan rhino.
The First Trumpet:
People are worried about these things, but nothing man has ever done or ever could do to destroy Planet Earth and its ecosystems is anything compared to what God will do before the end of the world. God will rip it to shreds. In Jeremiah 45, God said, “I am about to destroy what I have planted.” Think about that. He loves the earth and He loves the plants and the animals on it more than we can possibly imagine, but this is what He will do to it.
Look at verse 7: “The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.” This brings a powerful reminder of the plague that God brought on Egypt under Moses, the hail that pounded the lushly irrigated fields of that bread basket of the ancient world, Egypt. But this plague also includes fire and blood.
Hail is simply precipitation that starts as little granules of dirt or ice. It happens when turbulence occurs, through which tiny droplets freeze then gain larger and larger layers of ice, like layers of an onion. They can grow fairly large. It is common for them to be up to half an inch in diameter, but they can get a lot bigger than that. They bring terrible destruction on car roofs and windows and crops, especially standing grains like wheat and corn and soybeans. The largest in history was almost eight inches in diameter coming down from the clouds with the force of a missile. But again, this hailstorm in the Book of Revelation is no ordinary one. It is mixed with fire and blood. Perhaps the blood flows because of the injuries caused by massive falling rocks of ice.
The hail alone would beat down all growing things, but the fire seems to do the real damage. The earth is burned up, a third of the trees are burned up, all of the green grass is burned up. I cannot imagine the ecological effects of this. It is staggering. What is the largest forest fire in history? What percentage of the world’s trees burned in that? 0.000 something percent; and you can imagine the smoke billowing for miles around that huge fire. But this is a third of all the trees on Planet Earth.
Repeatedly in this chapter, we see this one third language. What does it mean? It means God is holding Himself back. It is not a full display of everything He could do. He leaves two thirds each time a judgment unfolds. God said to Pharaoh 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.” I think God is saying that to the final generation: “I could do far worse than this; this is effectively your final warning.”
The Second Trumpet: A Fiery Mountain Crashes into the Sea
The second trumpet brings a fiery mountain crashing into the sea. Look at verses 8-9, “The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.” Just as the earth is trying to recover from the staggering impact of the first trumpet, something even more devastating comes down — again and again, these judgments come from Heaven to earth, always from up down. This thing like a massive mountain or a huge chunk of rock, all on fire — maybe a massive meteorite, or some kind of asteroid — comes hurtling down through the earth’s protective shield, through the atmosphere, and ignites. It lands in the ocean with massive force greater than a nuclear bomb.
The issue is not only the massive burning mountain, but also the effect it will have on the seas and oceans and therefore on Planet Earth. God created the oceans to be a continual source of blessing to mankind. Through the continual cycle of evaporation, condensation and precipitation, the oceans supply the Earth with the overwhelming majority of its rain water. Also, much of the Earth's oxygen comes from the phytoplankton and the algae that grow abundantly in the oceans. While 28% of the oxygen in the world comes from rainforests, 70% comes from marine plants. Both of these first two trumpets have a profound effect on the things that generate the air that we breathe. Beyond this, the text says, a third of the sea was turned to blood, perhaps from the death of a third of all living creatures in the sea. Ecologists campaign and otherwise work hard to protect marine life. Yet in one moment, in a cataclysm we can hardly imagine, a third of all whales, and squid, and sharks, and mackerels, and orcas, and porpoises, and schools of tropical fish — a third of all of the living creatures in the sea — perish.
In addition, a third of all the ships were destroyed, probably from the massive waves that occur when this mountain ploughs into the ocean. No aircraft carriers, container ships, or huge oil tankers can withstand the force of these waves, so a third of the shipping is taken out. This will cause widespread economic chaos. We cannot imagine the ramifications if a third of shipping were destroyed, or a third of the life in the oceans is killed. And yet God still restrains Himself, with one third rather than all. The earth will recover somewhat and its inhabitants will regain some equilibrium, albeit with a radically a new normal.
The Third Trumpet: A Falling Star Pollutes the Fresh Water
But then the third trumpet comes. This time it is a falling star that pollutes the fresh water. Look at verses 10-11: “The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water-- the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.” Again, we see a falling object coming from Heaven to earth. This time it is something like a large star, again a meteorite or perhaps something that has no name that we have never seen before, like a blazing torch, falling from Heaven to earth to bring judgment from God.
But this time, the judgment is on fresh water, which we absolutely must have in order to survive, and a third of the rivers, ponds, and lakes are turned bitter, poisoned by wormwood. The Greek is “apsinthos”, which is a bitter substance but not usually poisonous. In this case, it will be poisonous, because many people who try to drink the poisoned waters will die from what they drink. It is hard for us to imagine ahead of time what these plagues will do to the human race, the level of social upheaval. Imagine if a third of the population of the earth had no fresh water, but other parts of the world did have fresh water. Imagine the migration of people seeking water — the chaos, the violence that would happen at that particular point; imagine the governments coming together to solve this. It's gonna be incredibly difficult. The suffering and deaths from these judgments are more an indirect effect. The direct attack on human beings happen in the next chapter, Revelation.
The Fourth Trumpet: A Third of the Heavenly Lights Extinguished
With the fourth trumpet, a third of the heavenly lights are extinguished. Look at verse 12: “The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night.” The first three trumpet blasts all strike, as I said, the ecology of the earth. This one, however, goes up into the heavenly realms. It affects the sun, moon, and stars. These were not entrusted to our stewardship. We are not lord or king over the sun, moon, and stars as we were entrusted under God to be kings and queens over Planet Earth. Yet the sun, moon, and stars, we are told in Genesis 1, were created to give light to the earth and to mark seasons and days and years. They have an earthbound purpose. When the events on earth reach their climax and their conclusion, the heavenly beings will be affected. I do not fully understand what it means that a third of the sun was struck and a third of the moon. It may be like a dimmer switch, where the light goes down a certain amount. As I have said many times before, I do not know, when it comes to details.
I do know that the light from the sun, moon and stars will, in some sense, be reduced from the sun, and this will be a terrifying phenomenon to the people on the earth. The prophets of old predicted these effects on celestial beings. We see it in so many prophetic places that it is not just some metaphor or symbol. It will actually happen. Isaiah 13:9-11: “Behold, the day of the LORD is coming--a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger-- to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins.”
Ezekiel 32:7-8: “‘When I snuff you out [what a striking phrase that is], I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you; I will bring darkness over your land,’ declares the Sovereign LORD.” Jesus Christ Himself spoke of these heavenly signs. In Luke 21:25-26, He said, “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” Jesus is talking about the psychological reaction that people will have when these things start to happen. They will have no idea what to think or do about any of it.
Joel said it as well, very plainly, in Joel 2:30-32, “I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls.” Meditate on that and you can see that when these judgments start coming on the earth, some of God's elect will repent and cross over from darkness to light. You can see, therefore, the grace of God and marvel, perhaps, that it took all that to convert them. Even in the midst of all of this suffering, God extends grace and mercy.
The Warning of Woes Yet to Come
An Eagle in Mid-Flight Warns of Woes to Come
Verse 13 is the warning of woes yet to come: “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!’” A speaking eagle in mid-flight is mind-blowing. This is one of the few talking animals in the Bible, for all of you CS Lewis fans — many talking animals in his stories. Here is this speaking eagle in mid-flight, but what a terrifying message it is entrusted with. “Woe, woe, woe.” He speaks a word of prophetic warning: “What you have just experienced, what you are experiencing, is nothing compared to what is about to be unleashed on you.” We will get to that, God willing, next week in Revelation 9. The most terrifying thing that God has ever done on planet Earth is depicted in Revelation 9.
Take Warning NOW and Flee to Christ!
Let us now look at how to apply these truths to our lives. First, when you leave here in a few moments, it will look normal outside — you will hear the birds, you will see the bright sun, the clouds, the green grass, the trees. Perhaps you will see with new eyes, realizing how temporary it all is, but it will all look essentially the same as always. You must believe by faith that the things I have talked about today will come in the future. I pray that God has brought some here today who are as yet unconverted who will be warned and flee to Christ while you still have time. This is a narrow window of opportunity. This is the day of God's salvation. This is the time of His grace before He starts unleashing these events. Flee to Christ. Believe that God sent His son, born of the Virgin Mary, to live a sinless life. He did great signs and wonders to show His compassion and care for people, but also to show that He is God. He came especially to die a bloody death in our place on the cross as a substitute, to drink in the wrath of God on the cross for us, so we do not have to experience it — that we might have forgiveness of sins. God raised Him from the dead on the third day and if you trust in Him, apart from any good works, just by simple faith, all your sins will be forgiven; you will be able to stand on the day of judgment. I am pleading with you. As you listen to this warning, flee to Christ while there is time.
For you who are Christians, take seriously that this is going to happen. Your non-Christian co-workers and family members are not thinking about this. They do not think it will happen. Our job is to spread this message of the Gospel with its warnings to people who do not believe yet. You may say, “Pastor, that will make me look weird.” Put it on me. Say, “You will not believe what we heard yesterday in the sermon. Now, what do you think about this? It said in Revelation 8… And the pastor seems to think it will actually happen. And so do I.” Start a conversation around the coffee pot during your three minutes’ break. Your co-workers will go back to their cubicles thinking about blood and fire and billows of smoke. It is coming and it is our job to warn people.
See the Connection Between Human Sin and the Destruction of the Earth
Second, see the connection between human sin and ecological disaster. We were put in charge of this planet. See what God will do to His beautiful planet because of human sin. The first great display of the cost of sin is the cross of Christ — see what He did to His only begotten Son. The second is what He will do to this beautiful world that He made. That is how much He hates sin.
Warn Others, Even if they Mock
Third, we are messengers of this, so we must be like Noah in the days when the ark was being built. He was called a preacher of righteousness. We are told in 2 Peter 3, “In the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’ But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” Our job is to be like Noah — preachers of righteousness — to warn people of what is coming.
Live a Holy Life Now as a Clear Show of Repentance
Fourth, the call is on us to live a holy life in light of these things. It is because of the sins that we ourselves commit that the wrath of God is coming. Colossians 3:5-10 says, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” We are told in detail what sins are bringing the judgment that is coming. We must put those sins to death. Do not walk any longer in sin which will bring this kind of judgment on the earth.
Close with me in prayer. Father, we thank you for the warnings that you give us in Scripture. The book of Revelation is filled with detailed warnings of what you will bring in the future on Planet Earth. It is more terrifying, more dreadful, than anything we can imagine. We read about it, but our souls recoil. But Lord, we do not do so in a way that we do not trust you. We know that you are a loving God. We know that you are powerful. We know that you are holy. We know that you are working out a plan of salvation. O God, thank you for Jesus. Thank you for our salvation. Thank you that you have rescued us from darkness and brought us into light. And now, Lord, empower us. Father, I pray that you would pour out your spirit on this church and make us messengers so that we see more and more baptisms. Just like we saw earlier today of people that have been rescued from the coming wrath. In Jesus’ name, Amen.