The silence and the sound - Revelation 8:1 - 9:21
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
One of the questions that Christians fear being asked by their non-Christian friends is, why is there so much suffering in the world? The question is often asked in slightly different ways but at the core of all the different ways of phrasing it there is a question mark about the existence and the goodness of God in the face of overwhelming tragedy.
The reason why many Christians are fearful of being asked it is because we haven’t really worked out the answer for ourselves. We too often struggle to reconcile God’s existence and goodness with the pain, the violence and the disasters that keep on happening day by day.
How should we be thinking properly? How we think determines what we say, how we feel and how we act.
What is the reason for our pain?
The reason for our pain (8:1-5)
Look at verse 1. Read verses 1-5. Notice the connecting word at the start of verse 5.
Something goes up and something comes down. Christian prayers go up and God’s judgement comes down.
How are we to make sense of this?
Let me remind you of what we were told in Revelation 6:9-10, “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”
This prayer is for God to judge the world.
Why does God need to judge the inhabitants of the earth? You only cry for justice to be done when wrong has been done. This is the case here. The inhabitants of the earth are not seen as nice and good and cuddly but as rebels against the Sovereign Rule of God.
What is the assumption behind the many questions people ask us about suffering? Listen to how the questions are often phrased, why do bad things happen to good people? Or, why would a loving God allow bad things to happen to good people? The assumption is that God is good and that we are good.
But, according to the Bible and according to our experience, we are not good. We are rebels against the loving rule of our Creator and are passionate defenders of our right to run our lives our way.
And because of this understanding of people, the Christians in Revelation 6 pray for God to glorify his name by judging those who rebel against his Sovereign Rule.
How will he respond? We discover at the beginning of Revelation chapter 8 that his answer is yes. In answer to those prayers, divine fire is hurled at the earth.
When is this done?
When will God judge the world? Two answers - in the future and during the present. We are most familiar with the final judgement when Jesus returns. But the bible also speaks about an ongoing judgement of God on a rebellious world.
Listen to what the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:18, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”
What is the reason for our pain? We live in a world under God’s judgement. The conditions we experience are exactly what we should expect is not all is well in our relationship with our Maker.
A caution at this point. Not everything that we experience is a direct result of our personal sin. We must resist the temptation to draw the cause and effect lines between our particular pain and our particular sins.
But all of us are sinners. The Bible says that in this life we will experience God’s judgement on human rebellion.
Do you think we deserve any of this? A sign of maturity is when we are amazed that we don’t suffer more than we do!
What form will that judgement take? What exactly will cause our pain?
I want to show you a few examples from the rest of Revelation chapter 8 and from most of chapter 9.
A few comments before we dive into these verses.
- These are not the only causes.
This list is not exhaustive. It doesn’t include everything.
- The importance of cycles in Revelation.
Just because it happens next in the text doesn’t mean it happens next in history.
Action replays in sport. Suppose a goal is scored in football. One commentator might like to speak of what happened from an offensive point of view. Another might want to focus on the defensive mistakes.
The action replay button has been pressed at the beginning of Revelation chapter 8. After the silence we start the sequence again.
In each sequence we discover what the world will be like before Christ returns. Sometimes there is a focus on what it will be like near the very end but normally we discover what life will be like for every generation before Jesus returns.
- This is vision not video
This is not a description of what you would see if we recorded it on your smartphone camera.
- Lots of the imagery is taken from the Old Testament but reapplied
For example, in chapters 8 and 9, lots of the imagery is taken from the book of Exodus and the book of Joel.
The cause of our pain (8:6-9:19)
The first four trumpets focus on God’s judgement on the created universe and the pain that is caused to us from that.
The first trumpet speaks of God’s judgement on the ground. The second on the sea. The third on the rivers. And the fourth describes God’s judgement on the universe above the earth.
When you read these verses one of the things that jumped out is the use of fractions. A third of this and a third of that. This is a symbolic way of talking about God’s partial judgement. We are not supposed to start measuring stuff in a literal way. No, we are supposed to realise that the judgement described here is partial. And so therefore this is a description of judgement that is happening now - before the final and full judgment promised at the return of Jesus.
We often talk about natural disasters. We mustn’t think they just happen when God’s back is turned. Remember he sits on the throne. He is in control of every detail. Our rebellion impacts the creation around us - God judges us by judging it.
We do need to be careful when we talk about these things but we must be clear when we speak about these things. I don’t think we are in a position to say that this disaster is a result of this sin. Perhaps it is but we are not given the insight of an Old Testament prophet. However, we can say that the broken world that causes so much pain is a world under the judgement of God, and this is the case because of human rebellion
Can you remember much about the election in 1997 that brought Tony Blair into power? I still associate that election with a pop song, Things can only get better.
This song would be inappropriate to sing at this point in the book of Revelation. Because look at what we’re told in verse 13. Read Revelation 8:13.
The pain will continue but now the cause of the pain changes. The focus of trumpets 5 and 6 is on the pain caused by Satan and his demons.
Trumpet 5 - they cause much distress to non-Christians
Trumpet 6 - they cause many deaths in the world
Let me show you this from the text.
Look at 9:1. Read 9:1-5.
Remember this is vision not video.
It is obvious that these are not literal things but are highly dramatic symbols symbolise of reality. For example, the star is referred to in this verses is called a he and is given a key to use. Moreover, these locusts don’t actually devour the grass but have an ability to harm people - and not just any people but only those not sealed by God, that is non- Christians. Remember this is vision not video.
Who do these things symbolise?
The star is Satan - see Isaiah chapter 14 and Luke chapter 10.
The locusts are probably evil spirits. Why locusts? Language taken from Joel chapter 1. Emphasises their destruction nature.
Everything that is written about these creatures is supposed to convince us that they are wicked, cruel and evil.
What harm can they do? They cause different types of pain.
Trumpet 5 - much distress to non-Christians.
Trumpet 6 - many deaths in the world.
I want to focus on trumpet 5. What do we know about this pain?
- It only applies to non-Christians
- It doesn’t lead to death
- It is painful
- It is limited - the five months
How might Satan and his demons cause this kind of pain?
demon possession or demonic oppression. Be careful what people dabble
in. Don’t mess with the occult! The answer is the gospel!
Melvin Tinker writes, “Bill wasn’t a Christian when I first met him. One day he came to see me in some distress. The reason was that he was having some bad headaches accompanied by dreams which were premonitions of the future. The thing that was really bothering him was that they were all coming true. As we talked it became pretty obvious that he was as sane as you or I. He was a good student, very well-mannered and quite genuine. The next time we met I asked if by any chance he had been involved in any occult practices, such as séances, Ouija boards and the like. He said that although he hadn’t directly, his grandmother was a medium and he had been with her in meetings where she tried to contact the dead. I explained to him why this was both wrong and dangerous and that the only sure was to be freed from all of this was to become a Christian. And so I explained the Gospel to him and he knew what he had to do in order to commit his life to Christ. And so he went away. The next time he came to see me he was a different person altogether- he had embraced the Gospel. And you know what- the premonitions stopped there and then. I continued to disciple him and he grew in Christ. No bell, book or candle stuff, no holy water, just the power of the Gospel prayerfully applied.”
Second, demonic deception.
That is, false teaching.
Listen to what Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:1, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.”
This is harmful teaching which contradicts what God’s word says and which ruins and wrecks lives.
What form might this harmful teaching take?
- Doubt. We can’t know anything. This gets applied to the bible. This kind of belief system keeps people from Jesus and destroys lives.Everything. So can
- Distort. A little bit of bible but twisted.
- Deny. A clear denial that certain parts of God’s word are true.
- Divert. Away from the life of sacrifice.
- Delete. Removal of the cross.
- Delay. You don’t have to do anything now. Keeps many from deciding for Jesus.
However, if you are a Christian then rejoice! We have truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Let’s be careful not to get sucked into devilish falsehood - it is the way of distress.
The response to our pain (9:20-21)
Trumpets have been blown. The pain is not just to punish but to persuade. They are warnings to us.
Horn on the car - it’s a warning. Do something. Get out of the way.
How do many people respond?
Look at 9:20. Read 9:20-21.
Isn’t this what we see again and again? People don’t respond with repentance but with stubbornness
Some will say - it’s a wake up call. So far so good. But a wake up to what? Many will say it’s time to live for the now.
How should we respond?
Unbelievers should repent. The pain should wake us up to our own rebellion and so we should seek reconciliation with our maker.
This is only partial judgement. Make sure you are ready for the final judgement.
Christians. They should wake us up to our continued sinfulness and make us repent again.
They should help us appreciate Jesus and all he has done.
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