Refusing to Repent

Posted: January 16, 2011 in Revelation

Revelation 9:1-21, “Refusing to Repent”

Reading the words of Revelation 9 can be a sobering experience.  There’s so much death & so much terror that it’s hard not to be shaken somewhat.  Yet this is the righteous judgment of God.  In the midst of what will be (almost literally) Hell on earth, God is still in control.  And not only is God in control, His actions are shown to be completely justified as He continues to make His grace & forgiveness available through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Remember our context of the trumpet judgments: Christ Jesus had been handed a scroll (unnamed to us – perhaps God’s determinative plan for the world), and Jesus had opened 7 seals – each of which had given a foretaste of the judgment to come.  The 7th seal included the 7 trumpet judgments, and Ch. 8 looked at the 1st 4 trumpets.  Trumpet #1 brought forth fiery hail that destroyed a third of vegetation.  Trumpet #2 brought an asteroid of some sort (perhaps a comet) that turned the sea to blood & destroyed a third of sea life & shipping.  Trumpet #3 brought another comet (or some other object from space) that infected the fresh water rivers & a third of the rivers became bitter to the point of being poisonous.  Trumpet #4 saw the heavens darkened somehow (perhaps through supernatural eclipses) & a third of all the light (sun, moon, stars) were darkened.  By this point, there’s been much death on top of economic disaster as God shakes people to their core in judgment, giving them much opportunity to repent & humble themselves before Jesus in faith.

But it’s not over yet.  Three more trumpets have yet to sound, and these have been set apart from the others as being “woes” – something to be especially dreaded.  The 5th & 6th trumpets are what sound in Ch. 9 as God moves from supernaturally caused natural disasters to the purely supernatural – unleashing demonic forces all over the world that bring death to millions upon millions.

Revelation 9 (NKJV)
1 Then the fifth angel sounded: And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit.

  1. A “star” fell – is this another meteor or comet?  Not likely.  Note that the star has a personality…addressed as “him” & not “it.”  Likely this is a reference to Satan (the very word “Lucifer” means “morning star) – the once-glorious angel who rebelled against God & was cast from Heaven to earth. (Lk 10:18)
  2. What happens to Satan?  He’s given a “key to the bottomless pit.”  This seems to be the same as the “Abyss” – the holding cell for demons that they absolutely hate.  (The demon Legion pleaded with Jesus not to be sent there – Lk 8:31)  It’s important to understand that Satan does not already HAVE this key; he must be GIVEN this key.  Satan is indeed a powerful being, but we tend to give him far too much credit at times. …  God is infinitely more powerful than Satan – not just in might, but in authority.  GOD has the key, and at the appropriate time, He allows that key to be given to Satan.
    1. There’s a bit of irony in all of this.  Satan is given the key to a place in which he’ll end up being imprisoned for 1000 years. (Rev 20:1-2)  He may have the key during the 5th trumpet, but he won’t keep it for long! 
  3. It’s interesting that Satan seems to be directly used by God in His righteous judgment.  We always think of Satan rebelling against God (and he does!), but Satan is still under the authority & power of God.  If God wills Satan to do something, Satan must do it. [Ex: When Jesus commanded that Satan leave after the temptation, Satan did – Mt 4:10-11. Demons fleeing at Jesus’ command, etc.] At the same time, it’s hard not to think that Satan at this point in the Tribulation will probably feel like he’s got the upper hand.  He will have been given more authority & he’ll be commanding vast armies of demons, being allowed to inflict great harm upon mankind.  Regardless of what he does, we need to remember that God is ALWAYS in control.  Satan can only do what he is allowed to do & no more.  God restrained the hand of Satan in the affliction of Job, and God will continue to restrain the hand of Satan during the affliction of the earth.

2 And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. So the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit. 3 Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.

  1. When the abyss is opened, smoke comes pouring out.  Whether the smoke is truly smoke (as from a fire – though the pit is different from the lake of fire), or if it’s a picturesque way of describing the swarm of locusts, we don’t know.  If you’ve ever seen a swarm approach, it can look like a cloud of smoke – this was apparently a massive swarm unlike the world had yet seen (outside of the Egyptian plague). [UNT cricket swarm]
  2. Do the locusts have power?  Yes – but notice it must be given to them.  Like Satan who needed to be given the key to the pit, so do the locusts need to be given power to do what they will do.  If power is given to them, power can be taken away.  If power must be given to them, the only power they have is by definition limited.  God has infinite power beyond the locusts.

4 They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months. …

  1. Here we see the limits of the locust’s power.  1st limit: Unlike most locusts that would consume vegetation & crops, these locusts are actually restricted from harming vegetation.  (1/3 of the world’s vegetation has already been destroyed in the 1st trumpet.)
  2. 2nd limit: the locusts were not allowed to harm those who were sealed by God for salvation.  Seems to be a direct reference to the 144K of the tribes of Israel (Rev 7).  Quite possibly this protection extends to all those who have thus far come to faith in Christ, though we’re not explicitly told this.
  3. 3rd limit: the locusts were allowed to harm, but not to kill those outside of Christ.  More is said on this in a moment – but these terrifying creatures are limited in their ability to inflict harm.
  4. 4th limit: their torment was only for 5 months.  Their ability to harm was not only limited in scope, but it was limited in duration.  Either the plague lasted only 5 months (the typical lifespan of a locust), or the pain from their stings only lasted 5 months.  That’s not to say their pain wasn’t tremendous, but it wasn’t as bad as what it might have been if it was unrestrained.

 

…Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man. 6 In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them.

  1. These locusts inflict a terrible pain when they sting men.  How bad is it?  People will want to die, and they won’t be able to.  If you work around a hospital or nursing home much, it’s not uncommon to find people who might wish themselves dead, but cannot die.  The torment from these locusts will put people into a similar state: continual agony (perhaps physical AND spiritual), with no relief outside of those 5 months.
  2. To be in never-ending torment – what does it sound like?  Hell.  This seems to be a foretaste of Hell for those who are stung.  Jesus described the place of Hell in the most graphic of terms: where the worm never dies & the fire is not quenched (Mk 9:44) – a place of outer darkness (Mt 8:12) – a place where there is weeping & gnashing of teeth (Mt 24:51).  Hell is a place where the torment doesn’t merely continue for 5 months, but for eon after eon – a place where the Devil, Antichrist & false prophet will be tormented day & night forever & ever (Rev 20:10).  That same place is the destiny of every man & woman who rejects Christ Jesus & rebels against God.  The sting from the locust/scorpion is a mere foretaste of what awaits those who continue in that rebellion.
    1. Is this awful?  Yes.  Is God being mean?  Absolutely not!  He’s being gracious!  God is allowing people the opportunity to only have a taste of what awaits them if they do not repent & trust Christ.  They don’t HAVE to continue in this.  No one is ever forced to go to Hell.  Hell is the righteous, just response of God upon sin (people’s sin leave them already condemned) – but God has already provided an answer to it through the Cross.  Salvation is available to ALL who turn to Christ in faith…in this 5th Trumpet, God is simply underscoring the need for people to do exactly that.
  3. Objection: “But how do you know God wants people to repent during the time of judgment?”  Because God has always called upon people to repent.  God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek 33:11) & other than this particular judgment, hundreds of millions of people will die.  God would graciously spare them of the greater eternal punishment in Hell that they would face.  Describing a different plague of locusts (that somewhat looks forward to the 5th Trumpet of Rev 9), God gave the same invitation of repentance to the people of Judah: Joel 2:12-13 (12) “Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” (13) So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm. [] The entire purpose behind these judgments could be wrapped up in two thoughts: (1) God will be glorified through His righteous judgment upon sin, & (2) God will be glorified through His grace shown to those who repent & come to Christ through these judgments.  Even in the lives of those who persist in their rebellion, God is glorified in that He still gives them opportunity after opportunity to humble themselves & receive Christ as King.

7 The shape of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle. On their heads were crowns of something like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men. 8 They had hair like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. 9 And they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses running into battle. 10 They had tails like scorpions, and there were stings in their tails. Their power was to hurt men five  months.

  1. What did they look like?  Terrible.  John has a tough time describing them.  Notice the use of “like” over & over again.  These are the best words John has in his vocabulary, but he doesn’t really have words at all to describe what he sees.  The demon locust had something like a crown of gold – but they probably weren’t really crowns; maybe just a gold-colored ring around their heads.  Their faces were human-like & they had hair (or antennae) that looked like hair & a mouth full of sharp teeth.  Some read this description & assume that John must be giving an analogy, speaking of the characteristics of the locusts (the crown being authority, the man-face being intelligent, etc.), yet there’s no reason to assume this.  If we believe that the cherubim of Ch 4 literally looked the way the Bible describes them (many-wings, different faces, etc.), there’s no reason to assume that the demonic creatures wouldn’t have strange features as well.  We may not be able to pinpoint with absolute certainty what they will look like, but we can assume the Bible’s description will be found to be totally accurate.
  2. There was more to them than their heads: they were covered with a breastplate – perhaps a type of scale or armor on their bodies.  They had scorpion-like stinging tails (definitely unlike a natural locust!).  Their wings also made much noise.  These weren’t creatures that would sneak up on someone without their knowing it (like a scorpion today); these were creatures people would absolutely know were coming.  Like a rattlesnake’s shake strikes fear into the hearts of those walking through the desert, so the sound of these wings would cause the people to tremble as they realize what’s coming for them.  Truly this will be a terrifying time.
  3. Obviously these are no ordinary locusts, grasshoppers, or crickets.  These are demonic creatures, if not demons themselves given a physical form for this time.  Question: why does God use demons in the course of His righteous judgment?  We don’t know, other than that we know He can.  God used a distressing spirit with King Saul (1 Sam 18:10) & a lying spirit with King Ahab (1 Kings 22:22).  Apparently God can use demons at His will when it accomplishes His purposes.  The torment that comes as a result of these judgments are not fitting for regular angels (who are ministering spirits to God & us – Heb 1:7,14); this is a job left for the demons.

11 And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon.

  1. As most of the footnotes in your Bibles say, “Abaddon” & “Apollyon” are translated “Destruction/Destroyer.”  There’s little doubt that the king of the demon locusts is the prince of the power of the air, Satan.  Satan’s mission in life is to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10) & “Destroyer” is a fitting name for him.
  2. The locusts may answer to Satan, but always remember that Satan must eventually answer to God.  What looks to be chaos running rampant & the forces of Hell ruling the earth is actually fully supervised by God as the instruments of His judgment upon the world for sin.  When people engage in rebellion, it’s only fitting that they encounter the fierceness of the one who originally rebelled against God: the Devil.

12 One woe is past. Behold, still two more woes are coming after these things.

  1. As bad as the locusts are, there’s more to come.  The eagle/angel of Ch 8 announced 3 woes; only the 1st woe is past.  It was terrible enough, surely THAT would be enough to cause people to fall to their knees in repentance?!  Right?  Wrong.  The judgments go on.  See vs. 13…

13 Then the sixth angel sounded: And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, 14 saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.”

  1. At the sounding of the 6th trumpet, a voice from the altar of incense speaks.  Who does the voice belong to?  Possibly the same angel that ministered the golden censer of incense in Ch 8, but more likely this is Christ Jesus.  As our Great High Priest, He helps intercede for us as we offer our prayers to God – He mediates on our behalf between us & God – and as God, He receives & answers those prayers as well.  Here, the prayers have already been offered (through the picture of incense), and the Lord Jesus continues to answer those prayers through His judgment by commanding the 4 angels to be released.
  2. Keep in mind that “angel” is a generic term.  It could refer to either good angels or fallen angels (demons).  Since angels in the service of God have no reason to be bound (imprisoned), it follows that the 4 angels spoken of here are actually demons.  For whatever reason, they were bound at the river Euphrates & were then given the command to be released.
    1. Why the Euphrates?  Much speculation has ensued here.  The Euphrates was (and is) a major river in the Middle East.  It was one of the rivers that flowed through the Garden of Eden & formed one of the boundaries of the land promised to Abraham.  It’s probably best not to speculate beyond what is revealed to us here.  As the Euphrates was an important river, it only makes sense that it would be a location used by God for this purpose.

15 So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind.

  1. These demons had a purpose.  They were prepared specifically for this time: “the hour and day and month and year.”  Note the implication here.  These 4 angels (demons) have been prepared for this task for all of their existence.  Obviously THEY did not know the day or the hour this would happen (not even Jesus had that revealed to Him during His earthly ministry – Mk 13:32).  If they had been specifically prepared for this, it means that they would have had to been specifically prepared from virtually the very beginning of Creation – at least since the Fall in the Garden of Eden.  The point?  God has ALWAYS planned to judge mankind for sin.  This had never been a back-up plan or improvisation along the way – this was God’s plan from the beginning.
    1. There’s some wonderfully good news in all of that.  If God had always planned to judge sin, it also means that God had always planned to give us provision for that sin through Jesus Christ.  There was never any question at all that the Lord Jesus would be nailed to the cross & die for our sin – that was His very purpose in coming to earth & it was part of God’s plan from the very beginning1 Peter 1:20-21 (20) He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you (21) who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. []  God is glorified through the gospel of Jesus Christ in part simply because He’s always planned for it – He saw it through – and He will see it to completion, perfectly working out just according to His glorious will.
  2. If you’re good with math, you may have noticed that by the time the 6th trumpet is completed, HALF of all the earth’s population will have been killed during the time of the Great Tribulation.  One fourth of the earth had died during the 4th seal (Rev 6:8) already.  With another third being taken out – that easily brings the total to over one-half (not to mention the multitudes not numbered that died with the other seals & trumpets).  This is not a pretty time upon the earth.  As Jesus warned, unless the days of the Great Tribulation were shortened, no one would be left alive. (Mt 24:22)
  3. How did these 4 angels (demons) do this?  Through a massive army.  See vs. 16…

16 Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them.

  1. You read that right: 200 million.  This is an absolutely massive army – the likes of which the world has never seen.  For perspective, consider the fact that an estimate of all the world’s standing armies PLUS their advertised reserve (which is surely fake in some cases) is around 88.5 million people.  The army of the 6th trumpet is more than double the size of what currently exists on the planet (not to mention after vast numbers of people are killed during the earlier judgments already).  Although scholars differ on this, it seems the most logical conclusion is that like the demonic locusts, the 200M man army is also demonic at its core.  With the 5th trumpet, there was a swarm of demon insects; with the 6th trumpet there is a swarm of demon soldiers.  John’s description of them also seems to describe other-worldly supernatural beings.  See vs. 17…

17 And thus I saw the horses in the vision: those who sat on them had breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone. 18 By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed—by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which came out of their mouths. 19 For their power is in their mouth and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents, having heads; and with them they do harm.

  1. The focus here isn’t so much on the horsemen as much as it is on the horses themselves, though they can hardly be thought of as actual “horses” in the normal sense of the word.  What John calls “horses” are covered in armor of bright colors, have heads like lions & tails like serpents.  Some scholars believe this to be a description of modern tanks & other military weaponry – but if we’re to take the description of the demon locusts literally, why not the horses?  For consistency in our interpretation, we must assume these are supernatural creatures, just like the locusts.
  2. It’s not the riders that kill off a third of mankind, so much as it is the plagues that come from these horses: fire, smoke, and brimstone.  Whether this describes missiles or simple fire is somewhat irrelevant compared the sheer numbers of people who are killed during this trumpet judgment.  By the time this is over, not a single soul on the planet will be unaffected in some way.  Out of those who are left alive at this point, one out of three will die.  That sort of death rate puts the bubonic plague, the Civil War, WWI, & WWII combined to shame.
  3. People didn’t repent after the locusts, but surely people will repent now, right?!  Surely this would be enough for men & women to fall on their knees & seek the face of God – even if only to beg Him for mercy…right?!  Wrong.  Like Pharaoh of ancient Egypt, their hearts are only further hardened against God.  See vs. 20…

20 But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. 21 And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

  1. This is absolutely dumbfounding.  After all of this that has occurred, by & large there is still no repentance!  We know from Rev 7 that throughout the Tribulation time, there is a great multitude from every nation that is saved – but overall the description of this time isn’t one of repentance & revival, but one of rejection & rebellion.  People will continue in their idolatry (false gods of their making or false gods in their mind) – their murders (physical & emotional violence) – their drug induced witchcraft (“pharmakeia’) – their fornication (sexual perversion of every kind) – their thieving.  The same sins that people engage in right now when they do their best to ignore God’s existence, they’ll continue right on doing when God’s existence literally cannot be ignored.  The depth of mankind’s ability to spit in the face of our Creator is truly astounding.

Conclusion:

All that judgment, and people STILL don’t repent.  Like the rich man in Jesus’ parable, no matter what God has done to graciously reach them, they still persist in their rebellion. Luke 16:27-31 (27) “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, (28) for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ (29) Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ (30) And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ (31) But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ” []  With Jesus’ parable, Someone DID rise from the dead: Christ Himself!  And yet, people still persist in their rebellion against God.  Likewise here in Revelation 9: people ignored the Law – they ignored the Cross – they ignored the Church – they will ignore demonic manifestations…as a result, they’ve left themselves without any excuse before God.  Even before the start of any of these judgments, mankind is without excuse because God has revealed Himself from the creation of the world (Rom 1:19-20).  It is in His pure GRACE that God continues to reveal Himself even in the midst of His judgment, giving everyone every opportunity possible to humble themselves and come to Christ as Lord.

The message for us is obvious: if you need to repent, do it!  Do it now!  Understand that refusing to receive Christ as Lord isn’t merely a different religious preference; it is criminal rebellion against the God who created you & gave you life.  Your sin (along with the rest of us) has rightfully incurred the wrath of God.  The lies we’ve told have rebelled against God’s infinite truth – the murders we’ve committed in our heart have rebelled against God’s gracious giving of life – the idols we’ve created in our mind have usurped the proper place of God, etc.  You desperately need the forgiveness & grace of God…and God graciously offers it to you today.  Recognize Jesus as the Son of God who died on the cross for your sin & rose again…  Repent from your sin, turning to Jesus Christ for forgiveness…  Receive Jesus as your Lord & King…

If you’re already in Christ, there’s another lesson here: we live in a world populated with people who desperately need to be saved.  Jesus didn’t give us the Great Commission merely to say something nice prior to ascending to Heaven; we’re commissioned by God to preach the gospel & make disciples of all the nations because there are multitudes in need of grace & forgiveness, which God freely makes available to His own glory.  Although the world may not realize it, God has revealed to us what awaits those who persist in sinful rebellion – and the Church alone has the news that will bring them salvation.  Loved one: SHARE IT.  May we be done with silly excuses about embarrassment & shyness when it comes to sharing the gospel.  The stakes are far too high for that.  Praise God it is not our job to save them, but it IS our job to proclaim the news of God’s salvation.  May we be about doing the job to which Christ our Lord has called us.

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