Time to think

The Little Book of the Revelation - Eighth in a series

Chapter 8 begins with the breaking of the seventh seal followed by one-half hour of silence. Seven angels standing before God’s throne are given seven trumpets, and another angel comes near to the golden altar that is before His throne. This angel has a vessel full of incense, a censer (like a bowl), and the incense is combined with the prayers of God’s people. These are mixed with fire from the altar and cast upon the earth.

Why are the prayers of the saints mixed with ‘much’ incense? (Rev 8:3) Would it be because our prayers are so often unguided by the Holy Spirit and in need of purification from self interest— a bad smell?

The first four trumpets sound, heralding destructions far, wide, high and low.

  1. The first angel sounds his trumpet and a third of the earth and trees and all the green grass are burned up. (Rev 8:7)
  2. The second angel sounds and a great, blazing mountain-like object is thrown into the sea which becomes blood, destroying marine life and ships. (Rev 8:8-9)
  3. The third angel sounds and a great star, ‘Wormwood,’ falls on a third of the rivers and springs, turning them bitter so that people are poisoned. (Rev 8:10-11)
  4. The fourth angel sounds and a third of the sun, moon and stars are darkened, so that a third of the day and the night are without light. (Rev 8:12)

There will be three more trumpets associated with three woes.

At the start of Chapter 9 the fifth angel sounds. John sees a star fall from heaven to earth “and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.” The ‘star’ angel opens the pit and smoke and strange locusts emerge. Their role is not to further hurt the earth but only to torment those men who are not marked by God’s seal in their foreheads, for five months. This is the first woe.

  • And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven fallen unto the earth: and there was given to him the key of the pit of the abyss.
  • And he opened the pit of the abyss; and there went up a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.
  • And out of the smoke came forth locusts upon the earth; and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power.
  • And it was said unto them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree, but only such men as have not the seal of God on their foreheads.
  • And it was given them that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when it striketh a man.
  • And in those days men shall seek death, and shall in no wise find it; and they shall desire to die, and death fleeth from them.
  • And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared for war; and upon their heads as it were crowns like unto gold, and their faces were as men’s faces.
  • And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions… (Rev 9:1-12)

Who or what are the locusts?

Here, let us consider the rich symbolism in the Revelation. Across the centuries, its readers and preachers have struggled to discern whether certain figures are men or symbols. Reading commentaries is a way to travel across time and gain perspectives on historic movements which seemed to fit the events described by John.

In Chapter 1, we saw golden candlesticks and stars which Christ identifies as churches and their angels.

‘That woman Jezebel’ of the church of Thyatira (Rev 2:20) was not a woman named Jezebel but one who modeled the behavior of Ahab’s wife who cut off the prophets of Israel and frightened Elijah out of his wits. (Books of Kings)

Whom do the riders on the four horses represent? Are they not forces of evil led by the one on the white horse who is the Antichrist? Which antichrist? Is he a spirit or a real man? And, more pertinent to this study, is he the beast or the false prophet?

We are clear on the person of Jesus who is seen by John throughout the book, but in one verse (Rev 5:6) he is seen as a lamb, and some have written that the angel of Revelation 10 is Christ.

The Revelation and its unique symbolism challenge the mind to understand what is being said. All agree that no one can fully understand the many descriptions and visions of the people, creatures and events in the book.

Thus it is when we read of locusts emerging from a pit, we see them as demons; but is their torture of men physical or might it be a mental torture? Are they military drones on a mission? Or could they picture the truth that Shakespeare presented in MacBeth— that remorse which isn’t true repentance is a far worse taskmaster than any actual, cruel overseer? They do have the familiar markings of men and of beasts that speak of vanity, aggression, biting and devouring.

C.S. Lewis wrote in the Screwtape Letters, “There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.”

In his book, the Enemy is God, who wants us to consider our ways and make decisions to follow in his footsteps. Satan instead draws our thoughts away from deciding and doing, to questions about potential consequences and whether they will be so terrible.

One thing is very plain in the Revelation: the consequences for those who hate God and his ways will be beyond grim or devastating. They will be indescribably horrifying. Make no mistake.

Perhaps the machinations of remorse, grief, regret, anger, hatred, self-loathing (temporary) and other such mental tortures are the provocations of the locusts of Chapter 9. If so, God is reaching out to fallen man. There is no statement here that none repented.

And what of the symbolism of ‘five months’—the length of time that the locusts torture the rebellious people? It is one month short of a half year, and this brings to mind the three and a half year period that defines the time of:

  • the antichrist’s reign (Dan 7:25; Rev 13:5)
  • the protection of Israel by God (Rev 12:6, 14)
  • the gentiles trampling on the holy city (Rev 11:2)
  • the testimony of the two witnesses (Rev 11:3)

Could there be a time for remorse, an opportunity for reflection, mental self examination, also at times called ‘prayer,’ and for repentance, before the beginning of the three and a half years? Or, is this approximate half year within the time of the Great Tribulation?

Would one month elapse before the start of a new phase of judgment beginning with the sixth trumpet? Let’s not get lost in speculation over times and seasons when more concerning matters call us to reflect.

Prev | Next

God will help us

The Little Book of the Revelation - Seventh in a series

In the previous post we looked at passages of Scripture that describe persecution of Christians in the last days. We were exhorted to have patience in the tribulations. We were warned not to take the mark of the beast which will be an I.D. to enable buying and selling.

Reviewing the warnings in Revelation 13 and 14 took us away from the chapter by chapter lead up to Revelation 11, but were viewed as relevant to the focus of this blog series– the contents of the Little Book. Before taking up Chapter 8 when the seventh seal is opened, let’s look at a final warning and consider its relevance in the context of Chapter 16.

In Revelation 16:15, before Armageddon (Rev 16:16), there is a warning, presumably to believers: “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.” (Rev 16:15 ASV)

In some versions of the Bible, this verse is enclosed with parentheses and in some, by quotation marks. These are the words of Jesus Christ.

My opinion is, that warning is not timely, that is, possible to have effect at that point in the end-days timetable, since the judgments of Revelation 16 are unrelenting and final. Perhaps it is instead a strong reminder to the reader that the time to commit your life to Christ is NOW. Delaying can only lead to that moment when time is collapsing at a rate that exceeds your capacity to decide or act. (Ps 32:6)

Be forewarned, by watching and remaining covered by God’s armor (Eph 6:10-17), one will keep his standing and will not be in the company of the ones who will confront the thief in the night as those caught off guard.

Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 5, instructs the congregation:

  • But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief:
  • for ye are all sons of light, and sons of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness;
  • so then let us not sleep, as do the rest, but let us watch and be sober.
  • For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that are drunken are drunken in the night.
  • But let us, since we are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation.
  • For God appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
  • who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. (1 Th 5:4-10 ASV)

This passage encourages us not to worry that we will ‘miss the boat.’ Christians are ‘of the day’; we stand firm by the armor of Christ, and we will know when the events of the end are materializing. We will not take the mark of the beast and be caught up in the rush toward Armageddon.

Some believe that following a ‘rapture’ of believers there will yet be a time on the earth when people can come into the kingdom, finding salvation in Christ. Thus, this warning (in Rev 16:15) could be timely in the midst of the Chapter 16 judgments to those latecomers to the faith. In this view, the rapture is a separate event from the resurrection.

A belief in the rapture is in part based on the Lord’s words in Matthew 24 and Luke 17, that some will be at the wheel grinding or in bed or in the field when others are taken at His Coming—

  • …and they knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall be the coming of the Son of man. Then shall two men be in the field; one is taken, and one is left: two women shall be grinding at the mill; one is taken, and one is left… (Mat 24:39-41)

Those who believe in a Rapture do not associate the ‘taking’ of some people with Paul’s prophetic words that after the dead in Christ rise first, those who are alive are ‘caught up’ with them, (1 Th 4:16, 17) but would regard that as the time of resurrection. They also point out that it is not reasonable to think that the ‘distress of nations’ and shaking of the powers in heaven described in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 would occur simultaneously with the people sleeping, grinding at the mill or farming.

We might say that it is a reasonable assumption that even those in captivity could be among those asleep or grinding at a mill or farming, as prisoners. For some it may seem to be a relatively normal time up to the last moment, but not for all. These matters are difficult to discern, but all would agree that the return of the Lord will be preceded by unusual disturbances in nature and that the second coming will catch many by surprise. We also know that the Son of Man will come after the darkening of the sun and moon and the final shaking of the heavens, and that after that time he will come to ‘gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.’ (Mat 24:31)

Important to note: The saints are then gathered from the four winds and from the heavens, not from the earth. So, are they in the air, the winds, by a rapture or because they were resurrected? Are they, including the dead, at that time clothed in their new bodies or are they only spirits? The apostle John wrote:

  • Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

This verse tells us that those being gathered from the four winds will be clothed in their resurrection bodies, for we shall then see him as he is, and that is the proof that we shall be like him.

Does it matter whether a person believes in a rapture or that the rapture is the resurrection of the righteous? Perhaps it could matter if one did not mentally address the prospect of intense suffering by Christians, true Christians. Though we escape the final bowl judgments, a time of the great tribulation is assigned to us, Christians, beloved of the Lord.

How can we prepare for cruel suffering? To answer this, we return to Christ’s admonitions to the seven churches: Hold fast to your first love; pray earnestly to be close to the Lord; love others through deeds, forgive debts; put away all known sin. God will help us.

All will be well, even if the all the waves and billows of God crash over us. (Ps 42:7-8)

Prev | Next

The journey ahead

The Little Book of the Revelation - Sixth in a series

In the previous post, we met two groups of people: the 144,000 Jews, symbolic of the remnant, and the children of the Lord, at eternal rest after enduring great tribulation.

Before John receives the Little Book, the first group is on the earth during the last days, but later on in Revelation 14 they have arrived in heaven. The second group is seen by John in heaven, but we do not know when they arrive there.

This brings up an uncomfortable question. Often as we read or reflect on the Revelation and other Bible passages, we may wonder, When will the Lord return? But there is another question— a more difficult one: How much will Christians endure before the Lord’s return? What is the path ahead?

There are passages that provoke us to anxiety, such as in Revelation 13:

  • And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and there was given to him authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation.
  • And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, every one whose name hath not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain.
  • If any man hath an ear, let him hear.
  • If any man is for captivity, into captivity he goeth: if any man shall kill with the sword, with the sword must he be killed. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints. (Rev 13:7-10 ASV)

These verses seem to portend that in the end, Christians will have two options: assault and be assaulted (killed), or become captives, for they will refuse to worship the beast.

The following verses also foreshadow that all will be commanded to worship the beast, and that we must be discerning, for the command will be issued by a charismatic false prophet, an antichrist:

  • And I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like unto a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.
  • And he exerciseth all the authority of the first beast in his sight.
  • And he maketh the earth and them that dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose death-stroke was healed.
  • And he doeth great signs, that he should even make fire to come down out of heaven upon the earth in the sight of men.
  • And he deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by reason of the signs which it was given him to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast who hath the stroke of the sword and lived.
  • And it was given unto him to give breath to it, even to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as should not worship the image of the beast should be killed. (Rev 13:11-15 ASV)

Worship of the image of the beast is a prerequisite to taking the mark of the beast in order to buy or sell:

  • And he causeth all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that there be given them a mark on their right hand, or upon their forehead;
  • and that no man should be able to buy or to sell, save he that hath the mark, even the name of the beast or the number of his name. (Rev 13:16-17 ASV)

In Revelation 14 we read that worshipping the beast would land us in hell:

  • And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a great voice, If any man worshippeth the beast and his image, and receiveth a mark on his forehead, or upon his hand,
  • he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is prepared unmixed in the cup of his anger; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:
  • and the smoke of their torment goeth up for ever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, they that worship the beast and his image, and whoso receiveth the mark of his name. (Rev 14:9-11 ASV)

And the encouragement to have patience in the face of the terrors, which was stated in Revelation 13:10, is confirmed in Revelation 14:

  • Here is the patience of the saints, they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.
  • And I heard a voice from heaven saying, Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; for their works follow with them. (Rev 14:12-13 ASV)

In a linear view, the warnings and encouragements of Revelation 13 and 14 would not seem pertinent to the message of the Little Book which is in Chapter 11. However, a new series of visions that are relevant to the contents of the seals begins in Chapter 12, following the sounding of the seventh trumpet at the end of Chapter 11 when “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ”. (Rev 11:15 ASV)

Therefore, the passages above have been included or inserted, actually, in the course of our lead up to Chapter 11. In the next post we will look at one more verse that follows Chapter 11 and evaluate in what way it illuminates the contents of the Little Book.

As we stand against the world today and in harsher days to come, we remember the Lord was with Joseph in prison and with Moses in his great trials. He was with David in his battles and with Daniel in the Lion’s Den. These are uplifting Scriptures, but so is this one: Precious in the sight of Jehovah Is the death of his saints. (Ps 116:15)

Prev | Next

Attention Readers

Have you visited the Biotech Blog on this website? Find information and resources to help you think about biotech as a Christian.

During the summer of 2017, I explored the topic of kidney donation. Is it right for a society to permit that? To encourage it? What do you think? Read the Live Kidney Donation Series!

Should you sign your driver’s license to be an organ donor? Is cremation OK with God? Do these practices undermine the Christian doctrine of the Resurrection?

Learn more. The conscience cannot function without facts.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. -Mat 5:14

Hochosterwitz 01052004 04