Revelation 8:12-9:21: “Woe, Woe, Woe.”

13] And I looked, and I heard an angel flying though the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!”

9:1] 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.  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. 4] They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green things, 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.  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.

7] The shapes of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle.  On their heads were crown of something like gold, and their faces 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.  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.

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

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

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.  (NKJV)

Chapter 8 gives us the sounding of the first four trumpets, which themselves are part of the judgment of the seventh seal, 8:1, 2.  These trumpets herald what might be called “natural” catastrophes, as they deal with physical things happening to the earth and in some way we can’t understand, things also happen to heavenly bodies: sun, moon and stars.

8:13 introduces a new perspective, things which aren’t “natural” at all, at least as we understand it, but which come from the spirit world.  Science tells us there is no such thing; everything is natural and material, “spirit” doesn’t exist.  Now it’s true that the angel doesn’t specifically say “spirit world,” only that there are some things coming which will bring “woe” to humanity.  Chapter 9 gives us the first two “woes”.

1. Fifth Trumpet:  Locusts from the bottomless pit, 9:1-12.

The chapter starts out with a “star” having fallen from heaven to earth.  Unlike the “star” mentioned in 8:10, this one is an angelic being, whose only activity in the book seems to be the opening of “the bottomless pit.”  This pit is also mentioned in Revelation 20:1, 3 as the place where Satan will be imprisoned for the 1000-year reign of Christ and the saints.  We’ll have more to say about it when we get to that chapter.  One thing:  how can it be “bottomless”?  May I suggest that it doesn’t go straight down, like a well, but follows the curvature of the earth.  In this way, it could truly be “bottomless.”

Once opened, this pit emits a huge billow of smoke, and out of the smoke, a horde of what John calls, “locusts,” though they’re unlike any locusts this earth will have seen before.  John specifically says that these locusts were commanded not to harm the grass, or any green thing, or any tree, but only certain men, Revelation 8:4.  This is in stark contrast to the locust plague described in Exodus 10:15, which decimated the land of Egypt:  For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left:  and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt. Perhaps Joel refers to them in Joel 2:1-11, where their destruction is described like this:  The land is like the Garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness, v. 3b.

Further, their ability to harm men will be limited to torment like the torment of a scorpion, and that only for five months, vs. 5, 10.  This torment will be so severe that those afflicted will want to die, but will not be able to, vs. 5, 6.  John describes them as fearsome creatures, with stings in their tails like scorpions, and with an angelic leader with a Greek name of Apollyon and a Hebrew name of Abaddon.  Both names mean “destruction.”

2. Sixth Trumpet:  The Angels from the Euphrates, 9:13-21.

This trumpet heralds the release of four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, to kill a third of mankind.  Note, these angels were prepared for this specific time and activity.  As difficult as it might be for us to accept the idea, all the things Revelation describes don’t catch God by surprise, but are part of the outworking of His eternal purpose.  He will demonstrate once and for all that sin brings His judgment.  And apparently these angels will be accompanied by an “army” of fearsome horsemen numbering 200 million.

The interesting thing is that the rest of mankind, those who are left, refuse to repent of their attitudes, but willfully continue in their wickedness and rebellion, vs. 20, 21.  According to John, the root of all this is the fact that they are idolaters and, in fact, are worshiping demons.

Daniel 5:23 has something to say about this as well.  Confronting Belshazzar after the appearance of a hand writing on the wall stopped a drunken orgy in its tracks, Daniel said to this wicked king, “And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven.  They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them.  And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified.”

Daniel told Belshazzar that his actions were a great insult to the very God who held his life and all its activities in His hand.  The word “owns” doesn’t mean that God approved of these things, but rather that the breath which enabled Belshazzar to do them came from the God he was insulting.  That’s true of every single person alive today, regardless of what they do or why.  The breath that gives them the life to do things comes from God – every single breath.

Not every idol men worship is stone or wood.  Whatever keeps them from worshiping and serving God is an idol.  Position, possessions, family, things in general: if these get in the way between us and God, they are idols.  Our Lord put it like this:  “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’  He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of me.  And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.  He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for Me sake will find it,” Matthew 10:34-39.  We can’t serve God and something else at the same time.

There are some today who believe that all that is needed to convince men and women to turn to Christ is enough “evidence.”  This is not to say that there isn’t “evidence;” the Lord Jesus and the early church didn’t happen in a vacuum, but may I suggest that the sixth trumpet demonstrates this idea to be untrue. These men see the hand of God against their wickedness, but refuse to let go of it.

For that matter, who had more “evidence” than those who saw the Lord Jesus and witnessed what He did and what He said?  True, many did follow Him as long as He fed them, but when He began to impress spiritual truth on them, most deserted Him, John 6.  Even the leaders of the nation, who should have been first to receive Him, for the most part rejected Him and demanded His crucifixion, because He didn’t fit their ideas of the Messiah.  More is needed than mere “evidence.”  Our Lord is not on trial.  We are.  Actually, the verdict is already in and, apart from saving faith in the Lord Jesus, just like these men we all stand condemned in His sight.

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Hebrews 2:17, 18: “A Merciful and Faithful High Priest”.

[17]Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  [18]For in that He himself has suffered being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted. (NKJV)

Having shown the superiority of the Lord Jesus over angels, and that He isn’t just another angel, the writer has turned his attention to the reason why the Lord Jesus entered humanity in the Incarnation, namely, to be a sacrifice for sins.  And not just a sacrifice, but the sacrifice for sin.

This sacrifice wasn’t just to be a willy-nilly, haphazard affair, dependent on sinful men for its “success,” but had in mind a definite people – the brethren, the children God had given Him, the seed of Abraham – and a definite purpose – to destroy the devil and to release those who are under bondage to him.

Our text for today begins with the word, “therefore.”  As someone has said, “When you see the word ‘therefore,’ you need to find out what it’s there for.”  In this case, it introduces the current place the Lord Jesus holds for His people, namely, that of a merciful and faithful High Priest.  In order to be able to become that,

He had to be made like His brethren.

The writer’s already mentioned that the Lord “took part” (KJV) in the flesh and blood of those for whom He came to be the Sacrifice.  Though miraculously conceived, His was a real body, truly flesh and blood, as human as anyone has ever been, as human as you and I.  There was only one exception:  He was without sin.  This is the only way He could be a suitable sacrifice, acceptable to God.

As you read through all the regulations in Leviticus, you see over and over again the requirement that both the sacrifice and the priest who officiated had to be “perfect.”  No blemish was permissible.  This was one of the complaints God had against Israel all through their history.  In Malachi 1:8, God rebuked His people with this, “When you offer the blind [animal] as a sacrifice, is it not evil?  And when you offer the lame and the sick, is it not evil?  Offer it then to your governor!  Would he be pleased with you?”  See also v. 12.  He says, “You wouldn’t offer this to those who rule over you!  Why do you offer it to Me??”

This is why it is impossible for us to atone for our own sins.   Neither we nor what we can do is “perfect.”  In speaking of Israel, Isaiah 64:6 says, But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.  The word translated “filthy rags” refers to a menstrual cloth or to a rag a leper might use to care for or bandage his sores.  Not very pretty, is it?  And it’s used of our righteousnesses – those good things we do that we think so highly of.  What must our unrighteousnesses be like in His sight?  If it’s objected that this refers to Israel, and it does, yet Romans 3:22, 23 says, there is no difference [between Jew and Gentile]; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

“No difference.”

Our “ethnicity” doesn’t matter.  We all stand in abject depravity and sinfulness in the sight of God.  Apart from faith in the Lord Jesus, we all stand condemned already before Him, John 3:18.  It’s too late for good works or reformation or “religion.”

Too late.

Too late.

Too late….

THAT is why Jesus had to be born into this world.  He’s the only One Who could ever do anything about our sins.

in things pertaining to God.

Life isn’t just about family, or work, or getting ahead, or having a good time or any of the thousands of other things life may involve.  Many of these, like family, have their important place, but, too often, we get wrapped up in things which are temporary, and forget the things which are eternal.

The atheist or unbeliever will tell us that this life, this world, is all there is.  There is no God.  There is no heaven or hell.  This is it.  When you’re dead, you’re dead.  “Religion” is for the weak, the ignorant.

But I think life itself tells us that there has to be more than this.  Years ago, a singer named Peggy Lee had a song in which, after going through all the various good things in life, she asked, “Is that all?”

“Is that all?”

Certainly, Scripture tells us that this life isn’t all there is.

it is appointed for man once to die, but after this the judgment…, Hebrews 9:27. (NKJV)

We will yet stand before God and give an account of our lives.  The faithful believer, the atheist, the agnostic, the followers of “the world’s religions,” the important, the insignificant, all of us will stand before God.  And woe to us if we don’t have an Advocate there with us , cf. 1 John 2:2.  I know that verse refers to the present, but I think it might apply to the future, as well.

And woe to us if we don’t have “propitiation.”

There are several words used of what Christ did on the Cross.  This particular word means, “appeasement.”  A poor example might be the bouquet of flowers a husband brings home to soothe an offended wife.

Romans 1:24-27 tells us that God gave early man over to his depravity.  I believe this is the background to the story of the call of Abraham.  God had given mankind over to judgment, but He called one man through whom He would eventually reclaim the human race to Himself.  Not every member of that race will be redeemed, but the race itself will be saved.  Had God not so intervened, had Christ not come, that would not happen, could not happen, cf. Romans 9:29.  There would be no salvation, only richly-deserved judgment.  In the OT, God chose only to reveal Himself to one nation.  Though Israel was to be a witness to other nations, they had to come to her to find the truth.  Judgment was still on them.

But when Christ died, He “appeased,” as it were, that wrath and judgment, so that, now, the Gospel is to be preached to every nation.  We are to go to them; they don’t have to come to us.

But life isn’t just about what happens after death, it’s about “now.”  So the writer concludes,

For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted, v, 18.

Some people object that, since the Lord Jesus couldn’t be tempted by sin, He really can’t understand our being tempted.  But may I suggest that the Lord was more bothered by sin than any of us ever will be.  He was absolutely holy and sinless in the midst of a people who were anything but.  Further, He knew the realities of heaven and hell in the midst of a people who often didn’t seem to care.  After all, they were God’s chosen people, weren’t they?  We read in the Scripture that He groaned and wept, but we never read that He laughed.  This doesn’t mean that He was a miserable spoil-sport.  He just knew the differences.

The word translated, “tempted,” means “tested.”  It doesn’t necessarily mean “tempted to sin”.  There are many “tests” in life which have nothing to do with sin.  Every day brings tests of one kind or another.  Just because He never used a computer or drove a Chevy doesn’t mean the Lord doesn’t know what goes on in our lives.  After all, Isaiah 53:3 describes Him as A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  In speaking of Israel in the OT, Isaiah 63:9 says, In all their afflictions He was afflicted.  Though we cannot “humanize” the God of Scripture, He is not the unfeeling monster the atheist and skeptic would have us to believe.

And through the Lord Jesus, God has, in a manner of speaking, been “humanized.”  He brought Himself down to our level, so that He might, as it were, bring us up to His level. We’ll never be God, but we will one day be perfect.  Writing to believers, the Apostle John said, Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when he is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

 

“…You Have Not Passed This Way Before,” Joshua 3:4.

At long last, Israel was ready to cross over the Jordan River and possess the land which God had promised her ancestors so long ago.

There’s a lot we could say about all this, but wish to focus on only one thing.

The verse in our title was the instruction for the people to watch for and follow the ark of the covenant.  Granted, they could not see the actual ark for that was covered when being moved and was not simply to be an object to be looked at, Numbers 4:5, 6.  It was the place where God met with His people under very strict conditions, indeed, only one man was permitted once a year on the Day of Atonement to enter the Holy of Holies to sprinkle the blood of a specific sacrifice on it.

We no longer have an actual piece of furniture called an ark.  All the things the Old Testament tabernacle and Temple foreshadowed are found in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We no longer are forbidden to enter His presence except on one day of the year.  We have freedom to come into His presence and seek His blessing and aid at any time, Hebrews 4:14-16.

The point is that even as Israel was to look to the ark as it entered the land, so we must look to the Lord Jesus as we enter a new year.

I’m actually writing this post a few days before Christmas, to be published on New Year’s Day.  I don’t know what will happen next year; I don’t even know what will happen in the few remaining days of this year.

I am very concerned with the direction this country is being taken by its leadership.  I’m very concerned with the direction the organized church, for the most part, is taking.  Wolves have indeed taken over.

Things which were unthinkable just a few years ago, to say nothing of in my youth more than a few years ago, are now commonly accepted and are considered “rights” by many. Considering where this year has taken us, I can’t begin to imagine what might happen this next year.  And I don’t want to.  The tipping point may finally come when this country crashes and burns, to become a smoking ruin on the trash heap of history.

Yes, I am pessimistic.  It will take more than a new Congress or a new President.  The problems in our country aren’t merely political or economic or social.  They are moral and spiritual.  It will take a mighty moving of the Spirit of God.  It’s certainly not beyond His power.  It just may be that we’ve told Him to go away, and He has.  I do not mean this in the sense that we somehow have defeated Him or made it impossible for Him to work.  There are no such foolish limitations on Him as that.  I think it’s just that we’ve told Him to go away, and He’s showing us how that works out.

Not well.

So, this new year, let us reject self-will, self-assurance and self-image and return to the only One Who can really do anything about it.

Because.

We have not passed this way before.

Reflections on the Death of a Sister.

A sister in Christ, that is.  I was an only child.

Her memorial service was this morning.  “Viewing” was Sunday.

The morticians did an admirable job preparing her.  Meaning no disrespect at all, I thought it was a little like fixing up a vacant house.  She doesn’t live there anymore.

But we came together to remember and honor her, not the mortal remains she left behind.

I was thankful the service wasn’t just some rote thing out of some “minister’s manual.”  It was from the heart, both the minister officiating and those who spoke of her.  There were a few tears, but there was a lot of laughter.  That’s the kind of person she was, a joy to be around, and a shining light for the glory of God in this dark world.

She was a shining example of what Paul meant when he wrote, For to me to live is Christ…, 

Jo suffered from Lupus for more than forty years, and came down with ALS just a few months before she died.  Though she was paralyzed and unable to speak at the end, yet someone’s comment during the service said to me that she had more joy in life than most of us who enjoy good health.  My wife and I visited her before she lost the ability to talk, and her cheerful demeanor and spirit blessed us more than we blessed her.  I’m sure of it.

A comment someone made while we were leaving the service struck me.  Like other comments I’ve heard over the years, it showed me how much we’ve been influenced by the thinking of the world.  This person said, “It’s good to be alive.”  My response, “Jo’s more alive now than we are.”

Another comment often heard, especially when someone is very sick:  “Well, that’s better than the alternative.”  No, it’s not, not for the Christian.  The rest of the verse from Paul quoted above is, …and to die is gain, Philippians 1:21.  There’s an interesting nuance in the original language missed in our English translations.  What Paul actually said was, “to have died is gain.”  His is the viewpoint of looking back at death and what’s on the other side of that door, not just at the door itself.

In spite of what the world wants to think, to die is not better than to live if the one dying doesn’t know the Lord Jesus as Savior.  There is no “better place” out there apart from Him.

But Jo was more than ready to go through the door, not because of her own efforts or goodness, as she herself would point out, but by the grace and mercy of God.

So, Jo, as we come to the end of the events of the day, we don’t say “goodbye.”  We just say, “Auf Wiedersehn, dear one.”  ‘Til we meet again.

Miss you.

“Just A Wife”

“One time when Eva inquired about my long-term prognosis, a nurse told her, ‘Honey, you don’t need to know all of that.  You’re just a wife’.”

This is a quote from Don Piper’s book, “90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN,” 10th anniversary edition, p. 147.  If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend that you do.  I picked it up the other day at WalMart while I was waiting for my wife.  I read it through at one sitting.  I’m not ashamed to admit that the tears flowed freely.

The quote comes in the middle of a section in which Don explains what happened when he was finally able to come home after many months of lying immobile in a hospital bed and how those long months had affected his wife.  I’ll not go into all that because you can read it for yourself.

But the quote really struck me.  I’ve often made the comment that no woman is ever “just a mother.”  I’m going to have to expand that to say that no woman is ever “just a wife.”

I’m sure the nurse didn’t mean her remark as an insult.  She probably was just trying to spare Eva Piper some of the painful details of her husband’s recovery.

At the same time, though, it’s a reflection of current attitudes towards women and marriage.

“Just a wife.”

How little, sometimes, we clunkers of husbands value the women God has been gracious enough to put into our lives.  Oh, I know they’re not perfect…

Neither are we.

Like Hannah’s husband Elkanah, we’re so often unable to understand the heart needs of the woman who shares our life, 1 Samuel 1:8.

If any man does think he’s perfect, he needs to ask his wife about it.

When Adam was by himself in the Garden, God said that it wasn’t good that he should be alone.  So He did something about it.

He made a wife.

Not simply a woman, though that’s how we think of her, and, indeed, how Scripture describes her.  But she was so much more than that:  she was a wife.

It’s true that things happened we wish wouldn’t have and their perfect harmony and happiness was disrupted.  Paradise was lost and has never been regained.

Nevertheless.

It just occurred to me as I was thinking about what to write next, that marriage (and family) is the one of the few things Adam took with him from the Garden.

He still had Eve.

There’s a lot more that I could write, how Christ’s love for us is pictured in marriage, how that love is the pattern we husbands are supposed to follow as to how we view and treat our own wives.  How Adam was made complete by Eve.  She was in no way “inferior” to him, but he was incomplete without her.

Let me just close with this – a loving wife is the greatest blessing, short of salvation, that God can give a man.

Her worth is far above rubies, Proverbs 31:10.

“Who’s Minding the Store?”

There’s a story told of an old merchant who was nearing the end of his days.  Family were all gathered around his bed to be with him at the last.  Finally, he struggled to raise himself on one elbow and asked, “Who’s minding the store?”

Probably not the best story ever told, but as we look at the chaos surrounding us in this world on all sides, we might be tempted to ask the question, “Who’s minding the store?”

In other words, where’s God in all this?

There are, of course, those who say there is no God – so there’s nothing to worry about there.  It seems to me, however, that if there really is no God, then there’s everything to worry about.  If there’s nothing more to this life than this life, then “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  Paul had something to say about this in 1 Corinthians 15:32.

Then there are those who say that God wants to be involved in things, but we won’t let Him.  Really?  Please!  As well might a grain of sand on the beach tell the ocean that it won’t let the ocean get it wet as for us to think we have to “let” God do something.  I understand our responsibility to do the things needed in order to get something done.  For example, a farmer who wants a harvest without plowing and planting will have an empty barn.  At the same time, hear the words of Mordecai to his niece Esther when she was hesitant to go before the king to plead for her people:  “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance WILL arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish.  Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”  Esther 4:14, emphasis added.

Mordecai was confident that what regardless of what Esther might do, God would deliver His people, but perhaps she was in the King’s palace in order to be the instrument God used to do that.

Scripture says that God works all things according to the counsel of His will, Ephesians 1:11.  In other words, there’s nothing in “the store” that He’s not minding.  This means God is sovereign in the affairs of this world.

The idea of God’s sovereignty raises lots of questions and objections.  A brother recently posted that he believed that the sovereignty of God was the greatest hoax Satan ever put over on the church (!)  So sad.

Yes, there are questions and difficulties, but God is certainly able to work within the context of His own creation to bring about what He wants.

Besides, if God isn’t “in control” in every single situation, how can we be certain that He’s in control of “this” particular situation, whatever “this” may be?

“Yes, but I don’t understand….”

No, we don’t.

My wife and I have a grandson who’s about six weeks old.  He probably “understands” very little of what his Mom and Dad are doing to take care of him.  He has no knowledge of what Dad does when he goes to work.  He has NO IDEA what his mother went through at his birth.

That’s probably about what we’re like in relation to God.

In effect, Mom and Dad are saying, “Trust us,” when they take care of him.

That’s what God says:

“Trust Me.”