Judgment of The
When he opened the
seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I
saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven
trumpets. 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 the
saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense,
together with the prayers of the saints, 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.
As the seventh seal
is opened there is a chilling silence in heaven as God is about to unleash
his temporal judgment for Rome's sins. The scene shifts to seven angels
who are preparing to blow seven trumpets. Another angel with a golden censer
stood at the altar ready to offer up incense as the prayers of the saints
rose to God's throne. Earlier when the fifth seal to the book of man's
destiny had been opened, there were saints standing before the throne of
God crying out in prayer. They cried, "How long, Sovereign Lord . . . until
you judge the inhabitants of the earth . . .? It is here in chapters 8-11
that we see the saints' prayers answered. The angel with the golden censer
in his hand fills it with fire and hurls it to the earth. Then we hear
thunder, rumblings, we see flashes of lightning and then we feel the rumbling
earthquakes all of which signify the judgment of God has come to the inhabitants
of the earth.
As the judgment of God
is about to occur, it is significant to keep in mind that a seal of protection
has been placed upon the foreheads of all the saints on earth. This is
a seal of encouragement to those struggling to keep the faith in such tribulation.
It is a seal of assurance to saints about to undergo persecution from Rome.
John said earlier concerning the wrath of the Lamb, "For the great day
of their wrath has come, and who can stand." (6:17) As we think about such
tribulation it reminds us of Jesus' words. Jesus said, "My sheep listen
to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life,
and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My
Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch
them out of my Father's hand." (John 10:27-29) Of course this promise is
contingent upon Christ's sheep listening to his voice and following him
even through death if necessary.
In the sounding of the
seven trumpets we understand that now the wrath of the Lamb has come and
only those who are sealed by God will be able to stand.
The Sounding of the
Trumpets - God's Temporal Judgment Against Sin
In Jeremiah 51, God's
vengeance upon the ancient Babylonian Empire is pronounced. Babylon is
portrayed as being full of guilt for destroying God's people. Jeremiah
says, "God will stir up the spirit of the destroyer against Babylon . .
. the land will be devastated . . . her armies will be destroyed . . .
his judgment reaches to the skies . . . she will be filled with men [enemies]
as a swarm of locusts . . . Jeremiah calls Babylon a destroying mountain
. . . it will become a burned out mountain . . . God will send armies like
a swarm of locusts . . . to lay waste the land of Babylon . . . her dwellings
are set on fire . . . the marshes are set on fire . . .the sea will be
dried up . . . a horror Babylon will be . . . then heaven and earth . .
. will shout for joy . . . and her slain will all lie fallen within her
. . . the Lord of retribution will pay.
This figurative language
employed by Jeremiah portrays to us in earthly terms how God's spiritual
judgment is dealt to nations. It is indicative of the nature of John's
writing about the destruction of Rome as the trumpets begin to sound. John's
description of Rome is more obscure than Jeremiah's bold mentioning of
Babylon. John is endeavoring to write in a fashion so as not bring more
brutality upon Christians from Roman persecution. So Rome is not mentioned
by name, yet, later she is figuratively spoken of as Babylon. But those
being persecuted had no doubt as to what John was saying.
Historians tell us that
there were three major contributors to the fall of Rome: natural calamity
(earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruption all played a role in Rome's
demise) internal rottenness, and external invasion. All these are figuratively
symbolized in Revelation as instruments ready for God's use to rescue God's
people. They had already begun to work in John's day. John saw them as
the judgment of God.
In the sounding
of the seven trumpets John portrays the judgment of God against the sins
of man. It is always difficult for me to go back and identify a
particular historical reality with a specific thing mentioned in John's
vision. Although seemingly this may be done with a certain degree of accuracy
by others? I can get the message of Revelation without doing this for John
sums up the meaning of the trumpet scenes. In Revelation 9:20-21 "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 worshipping 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." John leaves no doubt as to what the
calamities befalling mankind are about. They are God's temporal judgment
against sin. They are designed to bring men to repentance. We see very
clearly that John is speaking about the temporal judgment of God against
God's judgment in cataclysmic terms. (8:6-13) The first trumpet
brings a scene of hail and fire mixed with blood hurled to the earth burning
up a third of the earth, trees and green grass. The second trumpet sounds
and a huge mountain, all ablaze, is thrown into the sea. A third of the
sea turns to blood, a third of the living creatures die, and a third of
the ships are destroyed. As the angel sounds the third trumpet a star named
Wormwood falls from the sky and turns the water bitter and many people
die from drinking the water. As the fourth angel sounds his trumpet the
sun was struck and there is a universal upheaval as the sun and moon are
struck, the stars were struck and they turned dark. Then an eagle flies
overhead and pronounces that the worst judgment is yet to come to the inhabitants
of the earth.
Some interpreters believe
we can better understand the message John is communicating if we can understand
what is already firmly fixed in the minds of the readers. In A.D. 79, Mount
Vesuvius erupted pouring forth a fiery flood that engulfed Herculaneum
and Pompeii and many small villages. The ashes from the burning mountain
fell on ships out at sea. The avalanches of fire rolling down the mountainside
rolled into the sea killing fish. Many people were suffocated by the sulfurous
fumes. There were many other natural disasters (famine, earthquakes, floods,
etc) that had already taken place. It was through John's writing's these
Christians understood that these calamitous upheavals caused from natural
disasters were no mere chance happenings of history.
There may be disagreement
over precisely what each individual scene depicts but as we have noted
there is no doubt about the overall meaning of the trumpet scenes.
God is behind them and he is using them to punish and break the wicked
Roman Empire. I think that this makes Revelation so relevant today. God
is still on his throne and his temporal judgment against sin continues
to be meted out through every age. Paul's statement continues to be true:
"Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it
is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord." (Romans
is not a book specifically describing God's judgment for our times, we
can rest assured that God still judges us for our sins on earth today.
As you look from the eruption of Mt St. Helen's in the 80's to the earthquake
in Afghanistan this past week, from hurricane Andrew to El Nino and from
the floods in the midwest to California, you can only wonder if all the
calamities that we have seen in the decades of the 80's and 90's are a
sign of God's judgment? As you look back through history you can only wonder,
is it a prelude to what is coming? It is certainly not something that most
like to think about. But, if it is, faithful Christians can have the same
hope John's readers had. It may be difficult if not impossible for us to
speak about specifically but his judgment is real. We reap what we sow.
Just look around in our society.
the hellish judgment that comes from the bowels of the earth. (9:1-12)
As the worst comes, the fifth trumpet is sounded, a star falls into an
earthly abyss and clouds roll forth from the abyss darkening the sun. Then
one begins to see dimly through the smoke, locusts ascending up out of
the abyss. The locust had men's faces, women's hair, lion's teeth, stingers
like scorpions, armored like horses for battle, the horses had tails, and
stings like scorpions, and the sound of their wings was like the noise
of many chariots. They were to spend five months, the life span of a locust,
tormenting men until they desired to die. There was an angel from the abyss
called Abaddon in Hebrew, or Apollyon in Greek. The name meant "Destroyer."
The Destroyer was leading the ghastly locust in their destruction.
John is describing the
internal decadence of humanity that results from evil human powers. Man's
inhumanity to man is always the worst judgment for our sins. It makes life
on earth hellish. The evil from within poses our greatest threat. It becomes
all consuming as it devours those given to it. Rome became her own worst
enemy through a decaying society, which was the result of the greed of
the aristocrats. At one point in Rome's history after the death of Alexander
Severus, a period ensued during which great confusion prevailed in Rome
and throughout Italy. Of his 12 Successors who ruled in the next 33 years,
nearly all came to a violent death, usually at the hands of soldiers who
had established them on the throne. Such is the judgment of God.
the judgment of God through external difficulties. (9:13-19) The
angel with the sixth trumpet sounds and four angels who have been restrained
at the river Euphrates are released to kill a third of mankind. The number
of mounted troops was two hundred million. The riders had breastplates
of fiery red, dark blue and yellow like sulfur. The horses' heads looked
like heads of lions with smoke and sulfur bellowing from their mouths.
A third of mankind was killed. The horse's tails were like snakes, which
were inflicting injury.
Rome felt her greatest
vulnerability as a result of the possibility of invading armies that could
invade her from her eastern boundaries. Beyond her eastern boundaries,
which bordered on the Euphrates River, were the Parthians who were Rome's
greatest threat. John may not be speaking of the Parthians in particular
but he is alluding to fierce invaders like them that should be feared and
dreaded. John is no doubt portraying the reality of that threat as two
hundred million troops approach.
Recapping the Panorama
of It All
John is endeavoring
to portray the judgment of God clearly in unimaginable and horrifying terms.
Try placing yourself mentally in a panoramic movie theater as you read
this part of John's vision. As you stand there with all the movie screens
around you, imagine experiencing what occurs at each sound of the trumpet.
Imagine on one screen an angel sounding a trumpet as a huge mountain is
thrown into the sea, the sea turns to blood, and a third of all sea life
washes up on the shores. Then an angel on another screen sounds a trumpet
and destruction of cataclysmic proportions occur as a star comes blazing
from the sky and falls upon the rivers and on the springs of water. You
behold the dying corpses lying around after drinking the water. Imagine
a third of the moon and stars turning black and a third of the day turning
to darkness. Imagine as the background music the sounds of trumpets. It
is a sound of an overwhelming sense of foreboding gloom and doom. Then
an eagle flies over and says the worst is yet to come!
Just as the eagle passes
over pronouncing the worst is yet to come, the trumpets sound. An even
more foreboding trumpet sounds as a star falls from the sky into an earthly
abyss. Smoke rises from the abyss as the smoke from a gigantic furnace.
The sun is darkened. As the smoke begins to clear you begin to see hellish
creatures emerge from the abyss led by a king that is set on destruction.
The creatures look like locust, some of them have crowns of gold on their
head, their faces resemble human faces, they have hair like women, teeth
like lions, breastplates of iron and the sound . . . that awful sound of
invading armies as they ascend up out of the abyss. Their tails sting like
scorpions and they began destroying those who do not have a special seal
their foreheads. Then suddenly an even more foreboding trumpet sounds and
on another screen two hundred million mounted troops ride toward you with
earthshaking momentum. They have fiery red, dark blue and yellow breastplates.
The horse's heads resemble heads of lions, out of their mouths bellow smoke
and sulfur. Their tails are like snakes, which inflict injury as they descend
in destruction. A third of mankind is killed and nothing but corpses is
left in their wake.
In this way the judgment
of God is portrayed figuratively. It leaves you with an overwhelming eerie
feeling of gloom and destruction. Yet, it is the merciful hand of God's
judgment endeavoring to bring sinners to repentance. To us, as Christians,
it is seen as the merciful hand of God's protection, afforded because God
has placed a seal on our foreheads because we have been washed in the blood
of the Lamb.
that Rome has gone too far to be saved. (10:1-11) As chapter ten
opens an angel comes down out of heaven robed in a cloud, with a rainbow
above his head and his face was like the sun and his leg like fiery pillars.
He had a scroll in his hand and his right foot was upon the sea and his
left foot was upon the land and he gave a shout like the roar of a lion.
Then the foreboding voices of seven thunders spoke. John was about to write
what the voices spoke, but a voice from heaven said seal up what the seven
thunders have said, do not write it down. Then the angel standing upon
the land and the sea raised his right hand to heaven and swore by the creator
of all things. "There will be no more delay!" Rome has gone too far to
be saved. The seven thunders no doubt proclaimed God's imminent judgment.
The warning given by the seven trumpets had been sufficient; men refused
to repent; retribution will be visited without further delay. The hearts
of the wicked have become hardened to the point that they are unable to
repent. The judgment of God has come there will be no more warnings. God's
longsuffering is completed. John is forbidden to write down what the seven
thunders said. Now that Rome has passed up her opportunity for repentance,
judgment is sure and punishment will be swift.
The angel gives John
the scroll and commands him to eat it. It was as sweet as honey but turned
his stomach sour. John was told that he must prophesy about many peoples,
nations, languages and kings. Eating a scroll in Ezekiel's time was like
taking a book and digesting its contents. It was spoken of as eating the
book. John has a message to digest and upon trying to digest the message
it turns sours in his stomach. The saving message of Jesus Christ has the
same effect. As I try to digest John's message in Revelation it is encouraging
and discouraging. It is encouraging in that Christians have won through
the blood of the Lamb. It is discouraging in that this same message dooms
those who refuse to believe it.
John assures the
saints of the protection of God and their final triumph. (11:1-14) As
the scene opens in chapter eleven, we see John given a reed and he is told
to measure the temple and altar. During the Babylonian captivity Ezekiel
portrays the Jewish temple being rebuilt. He gives the dimensions to which
it is to be built. As he writes, he is in Babylonian captivity and the
temple has been destroyed. But in his vision he sees it rebuilt. This was
a vision of encouragement for the Jews in captivity.It gave them a renewed
hope that God would deliver them from captivity. John is involved in a
similar vision. This time the measuring of the temple is indicative of
God's protection for Christians who are now the temple of God. The outer
courts of the temple are excluded because it has been given to the Gentiles.
The outer courts represent the world, which would be unprotected during
the coming disasters. Yet they would trample the holy city for a period
of time and many Christians would die.
The two witnesses, two
olive trees and two candlesticks represent the church. She will be given
power to prophesy for a period of time, as she is clothed in sackcloth.
The church will be sad and mournful as she is trampled underfoot but she
will remain faithful through the trying circumstances. She will suffer
at the hands of evil men but she remains committed to the Lamb. If anyone
tries to harm her God will destroy them. (11:5-6) She has similar power
to that of Elijah when he prayed that it would not rain for three years.
This signified the power of his message. The church is portrayed as having
power to shut up the skies, turn the water to blood and strike the earth
with every kind of plague.
In other words her testimony
would be powerful and very effective. God seems to be saying, Rest assured
though the world is dominated by evil men, you will be protected and the
gospel will be preached; your testimony will be preserved for all generations.
Yet, when the Church's
powerful testimony is completed the beast will ascend from the Abyss attacking
and killing many Christians. The Church will be all but annihilated. Their
bodies will lie in the streets for three and half days without proper burial.
The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over the sight of their bodies
lying in the street. But then a breath of life comes from God and resurrects
them to their feet. Terror is struck in the hearts of them that beheld
them and the saints are called up into heavens as their enemies looked
But then comes the judgment
of God as a severe earthquake destroys a tenth of the city and seven thousand
people die. The survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
It is amazing how Rome
persecuted Christians and all but destroyed the church. Yet the cause of
Christ came back after that period of persecution stronger than ever. By
the time Constantine became emperor of Rome in the fourth century A.D.,
Christianity had triumphed over Diocletian's attempts to crush it by persecution.
Constantine adopted it as his own religion and made Christianity the official
religion of the Roman Empire, an event of far-reaching significance for
the cause of Christ. And he proclaimed the day of each week that Christians
were in the habit of worshipping a national holiday. Praise be to God that
for over 1600 years since Constantine Christians have been coming together
on that day in a victory celebration, which has been made possible through
the power of God and the blood of the Lamb.
As the seventh angel
sounds his trumpet and angelic chorus burst out in songs of praise.
"The kingdom of the
become the kingdom
Lord and of his Christ,
and he will reign for
ever and ever."
Then the twenty-four
elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces
and worshiped God, saying:
"We give thanks to you,
Lord God Almighty,
the One who is and
because you have taken
your great power
and have begun to reign.
The nations were angry;
and your wrath has
The time has come for
judging the dead,
and for rewarding your
servants the prophets
and your saints and
those who reverence your name,
both small and great--
and for destroying
those who destroy the earth."