Last week we learnt about the first four trumpets in Revelation 8 that brought judgment which destroyed a third of the plants in the land, a third of the sea creatures in the oceans, a third of the fresh water in rivers and springs, and a third of the celestial bodies like the moon and the stars will be darkened. When the first four trumpets were blown in heaven, people were only discomforted by judgments upon the world of nature. But from the fifth trumpet onward, humanity will be directly subjected to torments that arise from the underworld.
1) The Fifth Trumpet (First Woe): Plague of Locust Demons
In the First Woe in verse 9, John saw a star that falls from the sky to the earth. This star, represents a person, and this divine agent who carries out the will of God receives a key and with it opens the shaft of the Abyss. He is probably the same angel who comes down from heaven with the key of Abyss in Rev 20:1. The Abyss in the underworld of the Bible is a place of prison for fallen angels.
In Luke 8:31, when Jesus rebuked the evil spirits in Gerasenes, “And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss.” It is described as a place of torment for the spirits against God. Later we will notice that Satan will also be imprisoned there during the thousand-years reign of Christ. When the angel opened the Abyss, the pit under the earth, the smoke came out. The sun and the sky are darkened, signs of the terrors that come from the pit. Then John saw a horde of demonic locusts come out from the Abyss and they spread out over the land to torment everyone who is not marked with the seal of God. Your seal from God is the Holy Spirit. You receive the mark of true Christians when you first give your life to Jesus to be the King of your life. But without this seal of God in their foreheads, the Lord allows the locusts from the Abyss to torment the non-believers only for five months, a limited period. And these locust demons are compared to scorpions of the earth. If a scorpion’s sting in its tail beats you, it will inflect extreme pain. The pain and distress are so great that even people seek death in their agony; they are unable to find it. But what is worst, is that they refuse to repent of sin and turn back to God, as you can see in verse 21, like the Pharaoh in the days of Moses. Their hearts are hardened.
Then Apostle John zoom-in at these locust demons from another angle, they look like war horses prepared for battle. They are like warriors rather than torturers. They wear crowns, indicating that they are victorious, and their mission will succeed. They also have human faces, suggesting that they are highly intelligent, cunning and cruelty of demonic beings. They look unnatural and diabolical. They were covered with long hair, and their jaws are like lions, emphasising the strength and brutality of the locusts. They are also protected with breastplates of iron, which indicates that there is no possible way of striking back at them. In flights, they are like chariots rushing into war. They have tails of the scorpions to punish and inflict pain to the victims. But they do not kill but torment. Their purpose is to bring people to repentance.
These locusts have a demonic king called the Destroyer, or Abaddon in Hebrew. Like in the Book of Job 31:12, it is a personification of destruction. Some bible scholars also think that John might be attacking the pagan religion of Greek deity Apollo, whose name is spelled almost like Apollyon. In the Roman Empire, emperor Domitian liked to be regarded as Apollo incarnate, but it was, in reality, a manifestation of the powers of the underworld.
Then in verse 12, John says this is only the first woe, to more woes to come. As the end draws near, the plagues will be intensified.
2) The Sixth Trumpet (Second Woe): A Third of Humans Killed
When the sixth trumpet is blown, four fallen angels who are bound at the Euphrates River are released under God’s command. These four unidentified demons will be exceedingly evil and destructive. They couldn’t do evil on earth but held back by God – until they are released at a specific time, doing only what God allows them to do. That is, to kill one-third of the world’s population. The first woe gives way to the widespread massacre of the second woe. This assault is directed against of those who against God. This unbelievably large cavalry force will invade the land, and John numbered that to be two hundred million, which is a symbolic number of an incalculable number. It is a supernatural number of large army size, not of a human multitude. Both the riders and their horses wear breastplates in red, blue and yellow, representing the colour of the substances coming out from their mouths: fire, smoke and sulphur. They are three separate plagues, and as a result, a third of humankind will be killed. These horses had tails like snakes, emphasising their demonic origin and evil.
But even a third of all humankind’s has been killed; people are still refuse to repent from their sins. People may choose either to repent and turn to God when they are confronted with God’s judgment on their sins or else they can refuse to repent. It is way too often that people have been so hardened by sin and so much and enslaved by the evil that they refuse to repent. In verse 20, John wrote, “The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshipping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. 21 Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.”
The world of the first century was full of idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood. Idolatry violates the Second Commandment of the Law and offends God Almighty. But in many parts of the world today, idolatry persists. In more developed countries, idols have been replaced by material success and power, just as much the work of their hands as idols. Whatever is more important in people’s lives than their relationship with God has become an idol and requires repentance. Murders and sexual immoralities violate the Sixth and the Seventh commandments; thefts are a violation of the Eighth and Tenth commandments. All these things multiply wherever people are out of a right relationship with God. So if we find that we are tempted in these areas, we must repent and turn back to God. Jesus came into this world to save us, not to condemn us. So do not join those unrepented in this world and arouse God’s anger in our land. John wants us to know that human sin may be summarised as refusing to worship God rightly and refusing to love others. Their hearts are hardened by sin, so they refuse to repent even when they are given the warning. But as the followers of Christ, we are being warned that we have to be aware of the furious power of the demonic. We should also rejoice that God always limits the power of the demonic. What God is asking us to do is to respect and obey his commandments. We need to keep our hearts resting in God’s protective power.
After the sixth trumpet sounds, John has switched to focus on a mighty angel, who told John that he must prophesy about the end days. This chapter plays like an interlude before the final scene of the Seventh Trumpet. This holy angel’s clothing and appearance point us to other parts of the Scripture. He is “robed in a cloud”, suggesting the cloud of God’s glorious presence as in Exodus 16:10. He has “a rainbow above his head” that reminds us of the rainbow around the heavenly throne of God in Revelation 4:3. He has a face like a sun, like Jesus, when he first appeared to John in Revelation 1:16. His legs were like fiery pillars like the firey pillars that accompanied the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 13:21). He has the right foot on the sea and left foot on the land, symbolising this angel is gigantic. This angel shouted, and the voices of the seven thunders spoke, but God told John not to write it down. Not everything in God’s plan has to be revealed, and God has his right to let us know what we need to know to live for him and keep the rest in his mystery. All we need to know is has been revealed to us, so when we read Revelation, we must not place more emphasis on speculation about what will happen next, rather, living for God while we wait. We need to be content not to know everything there is to know about the end of the world. When the time comes, as the angel says in verse 6, “There will be no more delay!” God’s mysterious plan will be fulfilled as he has told his prophets.
The mighty angel has a little scroll lay open in his hand. And he gives the little scroll to John and tells him to eat it. Like prophet Ezekiel has experienced in his vision (Ezekiel 3:3) The scroll tastes sweet like honey in the mouth but turned sour in the stomach because the scroll’s contents bring destruction. God’s Word is sweet to us as believers because it brings encouragement. God will bring justice to the unjust world. But it sours our stomach because of the coming judgment we must pronounce on unbelievers. When we share the gospel to unbelievers, we must tell them of God’s coming wrath on earth like the faithful prophets of the past. Without judgment, there is nothing to save from in God’s salvation plan. So judgment and salvation come together: While the unbelievers will receive judgment because God is just, the believers will be saved through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The salvation of Christ is the joy and sweet part of the scroll. But t will also sour our stomachs because it is a message of judgment. This sweet-and-sour message is what we must proclaim to the others. Like prophet Ezekiel’s message, John’s small scroll is God’s special message about the future pain and suffering for God’s people in the end days. We must proclaim God’s Word that we are entrusted with, knowing that it will be both a blessing and a burden to us. The little scroll is open, not sealed. John is to reflect on and understand its message, eat it and digest it. The prophets of God must prophesy. They have a responsibility to give out the word they have received from God.
3) The Two Witnesses Who Prophesy
Then in chapter 11, The angel gave John a measuring rod to measure the temple of God and the altar with its worshipers, but he was told not to measure the outer court because it has been given to the Gentiles, that is, the nations of the world. And they will trample on the holy city for 42 months.
The temple and the outer court represent the church from two different perspectives that during the difficult period ahead, the people of God will be kept safe from demonic assault, but they will suffer at the hands of the unbelieving world, that is, the Gentiles. The message in chapter 11 is a bitter-sweet experience awaiting the Christian believers, as also symbolised by the ministry and fate of the two witnesses. The protection of believers symbolised by the measuring of the temple is not security against physical suffering and death, but divine protection against spiritual danger, ensuring the entrance of believers into God’s kingdom in heaven. 1 Peter 2:5 teaches that as the believers of Jesus Christ, we are part of a royal priesthood. We will stay safe in faith in God’s spiritual temple. But the outer temple court in another perspective, the church is given over to persecution of unbelieving world for a limited time, symbolised by 42 months of trampling in the great tribulation. John points out here that there will be a temporary triumph of evil before the end of the age. As Jesus has prophesied in Luke 21:24, “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”During this period, God will appoint two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1260 days in sackcloth, which is the same as 42 months. These two witnesses seem modelled after Moses and Elijah: They have the power, like Elijah, to consume their enemies with fire (2 Kings 1:10ff), and to shut up the sky so that it will not rain (1 Kings 17:1). And like Moses, they can turn the waters into blood (Exodus 7:14-18), and strike the earth with plagues. As prophet Malachi had prophesied, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.” (Malachi 4:5)
Some bible scholars identify them as two literal prophetic figures who will arise in the ending days. But others identify them as a symbol of the witnessing church in the last days of the Great Tribulation before the end of the age or the portion of the church which will suffer martyrdom for the gospel of Christ. Their message is a call to repentance. And they wear sackcloth, which is a garment in the Old Testament period symbolising mourning and remorse. Like Prophet Jeremiah proclaimed in Jeremiah 4:8 “So put on sackcloth, lament and wail, for the fierce anger of the LORD has not turned away from us.”
The witnessing church may physically be demolished like the two witnesses are killed in verse 7. But the opponents of God cannot touch the church’s real source of life, as the witnesses are raised and ascend to heaven. God will send his witnesses to prophesy despite oppression. And the period of their ministry is the same as the time of the trampling of the holy city. These two witnesses are the two olive trees and two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. Prophet Zachariah saw two olive trees, one representing the King and the other the High Priest, and they give lights of Christ to the nations. The protection of the two witnesses shows that God will keep his people safe from physical harm until their witness has been completed.
But as soon as their ministry has been fulfilled, the demonic beast of the Abyss will come out, attacks and kills them. This scene is the last epic struggle between the kingdoms of earth and the witnessing church. The bodies of the martyred witnesses are left unburied on the broad street of the great city in shame. John codenamed the city as the spiritual Sodom and Egypt, symbolising it is a city of immorality, oppression and slavery. So the witnesses meet their death at the hands of the antichrist, whose universal dominion in John’s day characterised by the power of Rome, and the church martyred in the hands of the wicked. When the beast realised that those who have tormented their consciences are dead, they are overjoyed, declaring holiday, celebrate and exchange gifts to each other. But three and a half-day later, God’s breath of life will enter their bodies, and they will rise up again like their Lord Jesus. And God will call them out to heaven, just like Jesus did. As the representative of every believer who has witnessed for Jesus Christ, the two faithful witnesses are the role models that we should follow. They win, they lose, and they win again, meeting with God in heaven at the end.
As I reflect our lives comparing to the two faithful witnesses, I notice that hardly ever we face the possibility of death when we share our faith. Why should Satan threaten our lives when fear of embarrassment or rejection is enough to keep us silent? But if Jesus has truly changed our lives, we will find a way to let others know about Christ and God’s salvation. Not to witness represents more than just fear; it also reveals selfishness. Have those near you heard what Jesus has done for you? If not, be brave and tell them about Jesus, so that they will know him. Before Christ’s coming, the ungodly world will silence the witnesses of Christ for a short time. But then the angelic blowing of the seventh trumpet will bring the consummation of all things.
4) The Seventh Trumpet (Third Woe): Consummation Announced
Finally, in Revelation 11:15, “The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” Instead of seeing another plague, we hear the angels declaring the eternal sovereignty of God and his Christ. The twenty-four elders we have seen in chapter 4 now join the celebration falling down before God in worship, and praise for God’s eternal reign with Christ begins. The time has come for the final triumph of the kingdom of God, and God will pour out his wrath on the destroyers of the earth. As Prophet Daniel prophesied long time ago, “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.”
The reign of Christ begins with the time of judgment both for God’s saints and for those who are depraved. As the seventh trumpet has sounded and it will eventually call up seven bowl judgments. So the seven bowls we will look at next week are all contained within this seventh trumpet, as the seven trumpets were all contained in the scroll that opened when the last seal was broken.
And the twenty-four elders speak, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.” (Revelation 11:17b) Giving thanks to God is our right response to God’s eternal reign. In God’s redemptive schedule, it has reached the time for the final judgment of the wicked, reward to the faithful, and destruction of evil.
The emphasis in this passage is that as Christians, our lives are set apart for God. Those who will be rewarded are those whose lives have demonstrated that they love and trust God with all that they are. And God will destroy those who destroy the earth, the word destroy in Greek can mean “to destroy completely” or “to corrupt morally”. So God’s judgment on those who have led the earth into moral depravity is that they will be condemned to eternal destruction.
When evil is finally destroyed, the barrier of sin is destroyed between man and God. So, John wrote at the end of chapter 11, “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm”. Here we can see the ark, symbolising God’s covenant with us, without the curtain which symbolise our barrier of sins. All of the believers can have access to God, and they saw the scene of what Moses had seen on Mt Sinai when he received the law. With lightning, thunder, earthquake.
So in summary, today we learnt that:
- God calls his people to be his witnesses.
- The world always seeks to reject and silence the prophetic witness of the churches.
- One day the kingdom of the world will be transferred to Christ gloriously.
- When the seventh trumpet blows, that time has at last arrived. The reign of Christ involves his judging all people, both great and small.
- God’s covenant with humanity is the basis from which his final judgment will proceed.
In response, we should:
- Live a lifestyle of worship worthy to be part of God’s temple.
- Ask God to raise up powerful prophetic voices to the truth in our day.
- Thank God that in due time he will reward his saints who put their trusts in Him.
- Suppose that a third of the world’s population were to die within the next month from some deadly medical scourge, say germ warfare released by a renegade government. Do you think the survivors would continue in their own sinful ways, or would there be a worldwide turning to God?
- How do you face the real but limited power of the demonic today? Should you change the way you face demonic powers? Why or why not?
- Give some examples from your own life of the sweet effect of the Word of God. Can you give examples—from your life or from the lives of others—of its sour effect?
- Suppose you knew absolutely that the return of Christ and the end of the age would happen in the next ten years. How would that be sweet to you? How would it be sour?
- How can the churches be protected and severely persecuted at the same time?
- Why does the heavenly “ark of the covenant” appear only here in Revelation? What does the ark’s appearance here mean?