|RPM, Volume 18, Number 19, May 1 to May 7, 2016|
I want you to turn with me first of all to Revelation chapter 9. While you are doing that, I want to tell you something about the various interpretations of the book of Revelation. I am giving you my understanding of the book of Revelation. I can't do anything else but that, of course. There are four main views with regard to the book of Revelation, largely speaking, in Presbyterian and Reformed churches, and that boils down to usually one or two. Usually two of them are fairly quickly dismissed as not being in accord with Scripture, at least one of them anyway.
Then there is an in house debate and discussion between two of the views in regard to Revelation. I'm giving you what is sometimes called the idealist interpretation of Revelation. Somebody came to me at the end of the week before and said, "Can you tell me where this fits into the scheme of things? Is this a pre-millennium understanding or a post-millennium understanding." I didn't actually answer the person, but I really wanted to say, "Actually it's neither." I'm neither pre-millennium nor post millennium, I'm actually what you Americans say, amillennium or amillennial. I'm reluctant, very reluctant to put a schema up there and say, "That's what I believe," until we have opened up the book just a little bit. Otherwise you are in danger of interpreting the book by a scheme. I believe that is dangerous. My problem, and I knew it was a problem, and I have to tell you one of the reasons I am doing this study with you is that I have been commissioned three years ago to write a book for Sunday school on the book of Revelation. My publisher wrote to be very kindly a few weeks ago and emailed me and said, "Is it near publication yet? Are you about to send it to me?" I sent a reply and said, "Absolutely not." So that's why we are studying the book of Revelation together. You are my guinea pigs as we go through this and I will probably have to go through it one more time.
We have been looking together at the seven trumpets. You remember there have been seven seals, the seventh of which has lead us all the way up to the day of judgment itself. Now with the seven trumpets, what we have is a recapitulation, that is, we have the same story all over again, now using a different metaphor. Instead of the metaphor of seals we have now the metaphor of trumpets. Of course trumpets are Old Testament symbols that would have had very considerable significance for the people of God, and particularly for the Jew, and a large number of the people to whom John wrote the book of Revelation were converted Jews who knew their Old Testament.
Trumpets, for example, sounded at the Battle of Jericho. Trumpets summoned the people of God to worship in the sanctuary. Trumpets hailed the inauguration of the year of jubilee. Trumpets in the wilderness period were the signal whereby the people of God were to march forward from one camp to the next. That last illusion to the use of trumpets in the Exodus period for the people of God to march forward to another spot is probably the most significant, because the background to these seven trumpets is very definitely the book of Exodus, especially the plagues that came down upon Egypt. Many of these trumpet judgments reflect in detail those plagues that came down upon the Egyptians.
Now we have looked at the first four trumpets and this morning I want us, time permitting, to look at trumpet five and trumpet six. Let's read together from Revelation 9:1:
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, and out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant, or tree. 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. The agony they suffered was like that of a sting of a scorpion when it strikes a man. During those days man will seek death and will not find it; and they will long to die and death flees from them. And the appearance of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle; and on their heads, as it were, crowns like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men. And they had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions. And they had breastplates like breastplate of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to battle. And they have tails like scorpions, and stings; and in their tails is their power to hurt men for five months. They have as king over them, the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek he has the name Apollyn. The first woes are still coming after these things.
We will pause there in the reading of God's word. That is a very graphic picture isn't it. Did you try to picture that in your heads as we read it together? It's terrifying, it's shrill, it's ghastly, in the original sense of the word. It's like something from a B horror movie. Let's take an issue for a minute, an issue that some of you are struggling with, I know, an issue that some of you are ready to lynch me over. That is the issue of literalism. Do you understand the book of Revelation literally? There is the $64,000 question. Actually I don't think it's worth $64,000 dollars because it is not a very good question. Of course I understand the book of Revelation literally. That is, I understand it according to the rules of literature. That is what that question means. It's not what you think it means, but actually that is what that question means. Do I interpret the book of Revelation according to the rules of understanding literature?
Now, what kind of literature do we have here? Obviously this is not the same kind of literature as one of Paul's letters to Corinth or Ephesus or Thessalonica, it's different isn't it? As soon as you begin to read it you say, "This is very different from Romans or Galatians. It's not like one of the gospels is it? It doesn't read like one of the gospels. Doesn't read like most of the Old Testament, except for some of it." Preachers will very often, young preachers especially in all of their fool hardiness, say to me, "I'm beginning your series of the book of Daniel." "Wonderful," I say, "but you'll be in trouble as soon as you get to Daniel chapter 7." Everyone really loves those first 6 chapters, but the last six chapter, oh my. Big trouble very difficult to preach on. It's a different type of literature. It's what we call apocalyptic literature. Literature in which colors and numbers and extraordinary pictures play a very important part. C.S. Lewis used to say to his children that he wrote to, "Never read a book that doesn't have pictures in it." By which he meant not pictures as you might think he means, but literally pictures, words that convey pictures and here is a piece of writing that conveys an extraordinary picture.
So, let me get back to the question, "Do I understand the book of Revelation literally?" Let me take that in the way you might think that question intends. Is the book of Revelation saying to us here that this will actually happen? That is, that out of the ground will come these locusts? And it will happen in year what ever, 3008, or maybe we should say 2008 and bring that timeline much closer to home because we no not know the day or the hour of the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Now I happen to believe that there are certain things that must be fulfilled before Jesus Returns. One of which is my understanding of Romans 9, 10 and 11 and especially Romans when it speaks of the conversion of the Jews, and that I believe has to happen before the return of Jesus Christ. So that gives me a problem of saying Jesus can return at any moment. I believe in the imminent return of Jesus Christ, but I have a problem in saying it can happen in the next few minutes because something hasn't been fulfilled yet. Now, lay that one aside for a second; don't go down that road just yet; close the door on it; that's for another time, another occasion.
Let's get back to the question. Is this going to literally happen in the current understanding of the word literal? Here, even commentators who believe that the rest of Revelation, and especially that trumpets one through four are to be understood literately, and they look for literal fulfillments of it here, even the most extreme literalist backs off here. You understand why. Because what do we have here? We have locusts. Let me tell you, have never seen a locust like this. A creature that is a locust with a stinger on his tail does not exist because, is a locust or is it a scorpion?
You see, you know when you watch cartoons sometimes, the thing about cartoons is that things get distorted just a little bit don't they? They distort features that are out of all proportion, heads to the rest of their bodies for example, because they want to emphasize something. It's not important that it be literally true. The artist is wanting to convey a particular feature so he exaggerates it a little. Here is a creature that's described as a locust, it looks like a scorpion and behaves like a scorpion, and later on, it looks like a horse and sounds like a horse. It even has human like features with breastplates, and you've got to stand back from this and say to yourself, "Well, this is just a very graphic way of describing something terrible that is going to happen. A judgment of God that is going to befall this world." That gives us, I think, a clue and especially in the language that is used here. Let me just pick out some of them, in verse 8 for example, "Their hair was like woman's hair and their teeth were like a lion's teeth." They were like that. That is to say, that what the writer is wanting to convey here is a very powerful, graphic image of judgment. This judgment is the fifth trumpet.
The problem gets even more complicated if you want think of this in a literal way, because we noticed, in verse 11, they had a king over them who is the angel of the abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abbadon and in Greek is Apollyon, which is both Greek and Hebrew means destroyer. Everything about this king who is over this army tells you that it is personal in nature. You almost instinctively, as you read this, begin to see that the king who is over this army is none other than Satan, or at least if it isn't Satan it's an emissary of Satan. Which gives you a clue in understanding verse one which says, " I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star had given the key to the shaft of the abyss." My understanding of that is that the star who falls, in verse one of chapter 9, is the same on who is described in verse 11 as the angel of the abyss.
Now some commentators don't agree with that, even some commentators I respect and follow, but I personally think that is the understanding of this passage. I believe this is one and the same person. Do you remember, in chapter 8 verse 10, when we have heard of stars falling from the sky before from one of the earlier trumpets? There, also, we said "the fourth angel sounded his trumpet and a great star blazing like a torch fell from the sky." Now, we know, at least this is our interpretation of Revelation 9, that the star that falls from the sky is this character Abbadon or Apollyon, who is either Satan himself or at least one of the chief emissaries of Satan, and for my part, I think that the writer is alluding here to Satan himself.
Do you remember how John Bunyon, in Pilgrims Progress, refers to the work of Satan by this name of Apollyon, the destroyer? That's what Satan does. He wants to destroy everything that is God's and everything that belongs to God. So what we have here is a reference to the fall of Satan from the sky to lead an army against the people of God. In this case, this army goes out. Look here for example in verse 4, they were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. This is a work of destruction and judgment, specifically aimed at those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.
Now, go back in your memory in Revelation, and you remember the question that had been asked at the end of chapter 6, "The great day of their wrath has come and who can stand?" You remember how chapter 7 had answered that question, the ones who are going to be able to stand are the ones who have the seal of God upon their foreheads. They were numbered at 144,00, which was just a Revelation kind of way of saying a very large number.
Now in chapter 9, the specific judgment of the fifth trumpet is aimed at those who do not have the seal of God upon their foreheads. This is a judgment that lasts for a brief time, five months. What is the understanding of this five months? Let me introduce you to one interpretation in the book of Revelation which I personally don't accept. It's a view of Revelation, for example, that R.C. Sproul, a very profound name in our circles holds, too. A well respected view, it's a view that is held by some Presbyterians and some Reformed grouping here in the United States, and it's the preterist view. Now there are varieties. There is an extreme form, and let me be absolutely clear that R.C. Sproul does not hold the strong view, but there is an extreme form of preterism that I think is in denial of fundamental tenets of the gospel.
What is preterism? Preterism is basically a view that says all the prophecies of Revelation, except for the very last few chapters, all of the prophecies of Revelation, and most of what Jesus has been saying, and all that is discussed in Matthew 24 and 25 that we have been studying together on Sunday morning with Dr. Duncan, most of those prophecies are fulfilled in the judgments that came down upon Jerusalem in 70 A.D. You remember what happened in 70 A.D, when the Romans invaded Jerusalem. They surrounded the city and one of the battles lasted five months. Now it's a failing, in my opinion, a stretched piece of evidence to find this one battle that lasted for five months, in which according to Revelation 9, no one died, they wanted to die, but could not die, they couldn't even commit suicide, and that wasn't true of this five month period because some of them certainly did die, thousands of them died. Here is one example of a literal fulfillment. Both preterists and dispensationalists have that in common, that they are looking for literal fulfillment of prophecy. The preterists say that all happened back in 70 A.D. Now, if you have never met a preterist, this may come as a shock to you, but according to them, all these fulfillments in Revelation are already past.
And extreme preterism goes to say that not only have some, or most of the prophecies come true, but all of them, including the second coming. Now, that may shock you, but there are folk out there, and there are some on the very fringes of the PCA, who are now suggesting that the second coming has already happened and it happened in 70 A.D. Now if that doesn't remind you of something in the Jehovah's Witness movement, you don't know your cults, but it's out there folks. It is out there. Now, it's wrong of me to equate preterism with extreme preterism. R.C. Sproul, is a preterist, and in his latest book on the second coming, he believes that most of the prophecies of Revelation, most what is discussed in Matthew 24 and 25 has already been fulfilled in 70 A.D., the destruction of Jerusalem, and especially in the destruction of the temple. He stops there, he doesn't go any further than that.
Now, my understanding of Revelation is more of an idealist understanding of Revelation that sees these judgments, even in this five months, five months is just a Revelation kind of way to say, it was a short period of time. Now whether that is the whole period from the first coming of Christ to the second coming of Christ, which in the entire scheme of things is a short period of time, the life of eternity is a short period of time. Remember that with the Lord a day is as 1,000 years and 1,000 years as a day. So, when the view of cartoon-like pictures, and I don't mean any disrespect by that, but what we have here in this fifth trumpet, and for that matter, the sixth trumpet, is a cartoon like picture which is impossible to picture in a literal way. Even the extreme literalists back off here in Revelation 9 and 10. There is no way that this is literal. Here is a locust, and here is a scorpion, and here is a horse and here is a human-like figure, and actually it's led by someone named Apollyon, who seems to be Satan himself.
Who comes down in a judgment of God, and I want you to notice this because I think this is the most important thing of all to notice in this fifth trumpet, who is it who gives orders to Apollyon and his army? Who is in control here? Those of you who were in church this morning, think about what was said. Who is in control here? It is God. That is absolutely essential for you to see. Think of what John is trying to do here in the broad picture of Revelation? What is he trying to do? He is trying to encourage the people of God, the ones who are sealed, he is trying to encourage them in the face of hostility and opposition and some of them death in the persecutions that were to break out, not just in AD 70, but the persecutions that followed. When one after another, there were these waves of persecution against the Christian church, and John is trying to encourage the people of God. One of the things he is saying is that even in the outbreak of the judgments of God upon this world, God is in absolute control.
Do you remember when Satan meets with God in the book of Job? Who is it that brings Job into consideration? It isn't Satan. It is God. "Have you considered my servant Job?" Do you remember the limits that Satan was given in the first wave of persecution. "You may touch everything that he has, but you can not touch his body." In the second wave, "You may touch his body, but you can not kill him." God sets up boundaries. You may go so far, but remember at every step of the way I have you on a chain and I can yank you back when ever I want. There is a limit to the power of Satan.
Now I have to say, that in some of the books that are out there that are being sold in Kroger and Piggly Wiggly or where ever, in these prophecies of doom and gloom, I don't hear that. The pictures are so terrifying as to what is going to happen that there is absolutely no confidence that there is anybody in control whatsoever. There is a limit to what Satan is allowed to do. There is a limit to the amount of evil that God allows in this world, and He is in absolute control every step of the way.
This fifth trumpet is directed specifically against those who do not have the seal of God upon their foreheads. They are not allowed to touch the people of God. Does that mean that the people of God have been taken away by some sovereign act? Have they been raptured? It that what it means? I don't read it that way. It doesn't seem to me to make sense that God is saying, you're only allowed to touch those who don't have the seal. Well, if those who have the seal aren't there, it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense that He specifically singles out that they are the only ones they are allowed to touch.
What is the fifth trumpet saying? It's saying that there is a judgment of God that does not lead to repentance. You see that especially in the sixth trumpet, because in the sixth trumpet, and I'm going to be very quick with the sixth trumpet, look at it in verse 13, "The sixth angel sounded his trumpet and I heard a voice coming from the horns of the golden alter that is before God. It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, 'release the four angels that are bound at the great river Euphrates.'" You remember the river Euphrates, Babylon in the Old Testament? You remember how important the picture and the symbolism of Babylon is going to be in Revelation? Babylon is everything that is evil. One of the great cries that is going to come towards the end of the book of Revelation is, "Babylon is fallen, Babylon is fallen." When God eventually will route His enemies, but notice this as the four angels who are being kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind, the number of the mounted troops were two hundred million, I heard their number. The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this. Here they are, breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, yellow 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. That's not like any horse you have seen before. This is apocalyptic language. This is a story told in graphic pictures of a judgment that God sends down upon this world, and in my understanding of Revelation, this is a judgment that is seen throughout the whole of history, that may increasingly get more and more violent as history nears the end time in the second coming of Jesus Christ.
But note, note verse 20, "the rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent." They did not repent. Look at verse 21, "nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality, or their thefts." These are the ones who don't have the seal of God upon their foreheads. These are the non-elect, and they don't repent. There is a judgment, the book of Revelation, is saying, there is a judgment that actually does not lead to repentance, but actually confirms them in their sinful depravity.
Now, can we back off from that in a couple of sentences and say, what an extraordinary blessing it is to have that seal? What an extraordinary blessing it is that we are a member of the household and kingdom and the elect of God. How can we know that we are elect? By looking to Jesus Christ, by seeing Him as our Savior and Lord. By knowing that in our hearts dwells the Holy Spirit that has given to us an interest in the things of God, so that we can sing this morning, "Praise my soul the king of Heaven to His feet thy tribute bring, ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, evermore His praises sing."
It is a very powerful picture, it is a terrifying picture, but it's no more terrifying than what is going on in the world all around us this morning. The enemies of God in opposition to God being judged by God and being confirmed in their enmity and in their hostility against Him. Amen.
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