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The "Hallelujah Chorus" of Handel's Messiah is probably the most powerful and moving musical composition ever written. Music historian Cesar Saerchinger once observed that hearing a performance of the "Hallelujah Chorus" inspires "a spiritual elevation that can never be surpassed."

During the London premiere of the Messiah in 1743, King George II was seated in his box as the first rolling strains of "Hallelujah" cascaded forth from the orchestra and chorus. The king was so deeply moved that he spontaneously rose to his feet and stood for the remainder of the performance, his eyes glistening with emotion. The rest of the audience, seeing the king reverently standing as the music swelled, also rose to its feet a tradition that remains to this day whenever the "Hallelujah Chorus" is performed.

You know this magnificent chorus well. I'm sure you remember that at its climax, wave after wave of Hallelujahs sweep over you. It is difficult to experience this music without your heart pounding and your eyes filling with tears. And then

The orchestra and the chorus suddenly stop!

And there is silence!

It is a thundering silence, full of awe and intense anticipation. The echoes of the last Hallelujah still reverberate in your ear and in your heart, fading gradually until the silence at last becomes complete. There is a sense of drama, of suspense, of mystery. We know it is not over. The last Hallelujah is yet to sound.

Suddenly the silence shatters under the triumphant blow of the final majestic Hallelujah. The victory of the Messiah is accomplished.

In the eighth chapter of Revelation, we witness the very moment which is symbolized in the climactic pause of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus."

8:1-2 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.

The silence described here reminds us of the doxology penned by the prophet Habakkuk: "But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him." The half hour of silence in Revelation 8 comes as a dramatic contrast to the shouts of praise and the playing of harps we have heard up to this point. Suddenly, everything all activity and all sound throughout heaven ceases with the dramatic opening of the seventh seal.

Revelation 8

8:1 WHEN HE [the Lamb] broke open the seventh seal, there was silence for about half an hour in heaven.

2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.

3 And another angel came and stood over the altar. He had a golden censer, and he was given very much incense (fragrant spices and gums which exhale perfume when burned), that he might mingle it with the prayers of all the people of God (the saints) upon the golden altar before the throne. [Psalms 141:2.]

4 And the smoke of the incense (the perfume) arose in the presence of God, with the prayers of the people of God (the saints), from the hand of the angel.

5 So the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and cast it upon the earth. Then there followed peals of thunder and loud rumblings and blasts and noises, and flashes of lightning and an earthquake. [Leviticus 16:12; Ezekiel 10:2.]

6 Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.

7 The first angel blew [his] trumpet, and there was a storm of hail and fire mingled with blood cast upon the earth. And a third part of the earth was burned up and a third of the trees was burned up and all the green grass was burned up. [Exodus 9:23-25.]

8 The second angel blew [his] trumpet, and something resembling a great mountain, blazing with fire, was hurled into the sea. [Jeremiah 51:25.]

9 And a third of the sea was turned to blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea perished, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

10 The third angel blew [his] trumpet, and a huge star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it dropped on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water

11 And the name of the star is Wormwood. A third part of the waters was changed into wormwood, and many people died from using the water, because it had become bitter.

12 Then the fourth angel blew [his] trumpet, and a third of the sun was smitten, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that [the light of] a third of them was darkened, and a third of the daylight [itself] was withdrawn, and likewise a third [of the light] of the night was kept from shining.

13 Then I [looked and I] saw a solitary eagle flying in midheaven, and as it flew I heard it crying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the rest of the trumpet blasts which the three angels are about to sound! AMP

As Earl Palmer observes,

It is the silence of mystery and intense waiting. . . . There is communicated in a very dramatic way in this quietness the full and awesome authority of God. Everything must wait for his kingly move.

That dramatic, kingly move begins, as this account tells us, with seven angels who are given seven trumpets to sound. These seven trumpets are all part of the consummate event which is the opening of the seventh seal. These seven angels are impressive indeed. We are told that they are the angels who stand before God a reference which calls to mind the story in Luke 1 of the angel who visited Zechariah to announce the birth of John the Baptist.

Luke 1

1:1 SINCE [as is well known] many have undertaken to put in order and draw up a [thorough] narrative of the surely established deeds which have been accomplished and fulfilled in and among us,

2 Exactly as they were handed down to us by those who from the [official] beginning [of Jesus' ministry] were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word [that is, of the doctrine concerning the attainment through Christ of salvation in the kingdom of God],

3 It seemed good and desirable to me, [and so I have determined] also after having searched out diligently and followed all things closely and traced accurately the course from the highest to the minutest detail from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, [Acts 1:1.]

4[My purpose is] that you may know the full truth and understand with certainty and security against error the accounts (histories) and doctrines of the faith of which you have been informed and in which you have been orally instructed.

5 In the days when Herod was king of Judea there was a certain priest whose name was Zachariah, of the daily service (the division) of Abia; and his wife was also a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.

6 And they both were righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.

7 But they had no child, for Elizabeth was barren; and both were far advanced in years.
8 Now while on duty, serving as priest before God in the order of his division,

9 As was the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter [the sanctuary of] the temple of the Lord and burn incense. [Exodus 30:7.]

10 And all the throng of people were praying outside [in the court] at the hour of incense [burning].

11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.

12 And when Zachariah saw him, he was troubled, and fear took possession of him.

13 But the angel said to him, Do not be afraid, Zachariah, because your petition was heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you must call his name John [God is favorable].

14 And you shall have joy and exultant delight, and many will rejoice over his birth,

15 For he will be great and distinguished in the sight of the Lord. And he must drink no wine nor strong drink, and he will be filled with and controlled by the Holy Spirit even in and from his mother's womb. [Numbers 6:3.]

16 And he will turn back and cause to return many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God,

17 And he will [himself] go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn back the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient and incredulous and unpersuadable to the wisdom of the upright [which is the knowledge and holy love of the will of God] in order to make ready for the Lord a people [perfectly] prepared [in spirit, adjusted and disposed and placed in the right moral state]. [Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 4:5,6.]

18 And Zachariah said to the angel, By what shall I know and be sure of this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.

19 And the angel replied to him, I am Gabriel. I stand in the [very] presence of God, and I have been sent to talk to you and to bring you this good news. [Daniel 8:16; 9:21.]

20 Now behold, you will be and will continue to be silent and not able to speak till the day when these things take place, because you have not believed what I told you; but my words are of a kind which will be fulfilled in the appointed and proper time.

21 Now the people kept waiting for Zachariah, and they wondered at his delaying [so long] in the sanctuary.

22 But when he did come out, he was unable to speak to them; and they [clearly] perceived that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary; and he kept making signs to them, still he remained dumb.

23 And when his time of performing priestly functions was ended, he returned to his [own] house.

24 Now after this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant, and for five months she secluded herself entirely, saying, [I have hid myself]

25 Because thus the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He deigned to look on me to take away my reproach among men. [Genesis 30:23; Isaiah 4:1.]

26 Now in the sixth month [after that], the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth,

27 To a girl never having been married and a virgin engaged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, a descendant of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.

28 And he came to her and said, Hail, O favored one [endued with grace]! The Lord is with you!Blessed (favored of God) are you before all other women!

29 But when she saw him, she was greatly troubled and disturbed and confused at what he said and kept revolving in her mind what such a greeting might mean.

30 And the angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found grace ( free, spontaneous, absolute favor and loving-kindness) with God.

31 And listen! You will become pregnant and will give birth to a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus.

32 He will be great (eminent) and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His forefather David,

33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob throughout the ages; and of His reign there will be no end. [Isaiah 9:6,7; Daniel 2:44.]

34 And Mary said to the angel, How can this be, since I have no [intimacy with any man as a] husband?

35 Then the angel said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you [like a shining cloud]; and so the holy (pure, sinless) Thing (Offspring) which shall be born of you will be called the Son of God. [Exodus 40:34; Isaiah 7:14.]

36 And listen! Your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is now the sixth month with her who was called barren.

37 For with God nothing is ever impossible and no word from God shall be without power or impossible of fulfillment.

38 Then Mary said, Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be done to me according to what you have said. And the angel left her.

39 And at that time Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country to a town of Judah,

40 And she went to the house of Zachariah and, entering it, saluted Elizabeth.

41 And it occurred that when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with and controlled by the Holy Spirit.

42 And she cried out with a loud cry, and then exclaimed, Blessed (favored of God) above all other women are you! And blessed (favored of God) is the Fruit of your womb!

43 And how [have I deserved that this honor should] be granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

44 For behold, the instant the sound of your salutation reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.

45 And blessed (happy, to be envied) is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of the things that were spoken to her from the Lord.

46 And Mary said, My soul magnifies and extols the Lord,

47 And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48 For He has looked upon the low station and humiliation of His handmaiden. For behold, from now on all generations [of all ages] will call me blessed and declare me happy and to be envied!

49 For He Who is almighty has done great things for me and holy is His name [to be venerated in His purity, majesty and glory]!

50 And His mercy (His compassion and kindness toward the miserable and afflicted) is on those who fear Him with godly reverence, from generation to generation and age to age. [Psalms 103:17.]

51 He has shown strength and made might with His arm; He has scattered the proud and haughty in and by the imagination and purpose and designs of their hearts.

52 He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low degree.

53 He has filled and satisfied the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty-handed [without a gift].

54 He has laid hold on His servant Israel [to help him, to espouse his cause], in remembrance of His mercy,

55 Even as He promised to our forefathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever. [Genesis 17:7; 18:18; 22:17; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Micah 7:20.]

56 And Mary remained with her [Elizabeth] for about three months and [then] returned to her [own] home.

57 Now the time that Elizabeth should be delivered came, and she gave birth to a son.

58 And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy on her, and they rejoiced with her.

59 And it occurred that on the eighth day, when they came to circumcise the child, they were intending to call him Zachariah after his father, [Genesis 17:12; Leviticus 12:3.]

60 But his mother answered, Not so! But he shall be called John.

61 And they said to her, None of your relatives is called by that name.

62 And they inquired with signs to his father [as to] what he wanted to have him called.

63 Then Zachariah asked for a writing tablet and wrote, His name is John. And they were all astonished.

64 And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak, blessing and praising and thanking God.

65 And awe and reverential fear came on all their neighbors; and all these things were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea.

66 And all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, Whatever will this little boy be then? For the hand of the Lord was [so evidently] with him [protecting and aiding him].

67 Now Zachariah his father was filled with and controlled by the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

68 Blessed (praised and extolled and thanked) be the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come and brought deliverance and redemption to His people!

69 And He has raised up a Horn of salvation [a mighty and valiant Helper, the Author of salvation] for us in the house of David His servant

70 This is as He promised by the mouth of His holy prophets from the most ancient times [in the memory of man]

71 That we should have deliverance and be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who detest and pursue us with hatred;

72 To make true and show the mercy and compassion and kindness [promised] to our forefathers and to remember and carry out His holy covenant [to bless, which is all the more sacred because it is made by God Himself],

73 That covenant He sealed by oath to our forefather Abraham:

74 To grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our foes, might serve Him fearlessly

75 In holiness (divine consecration) and righteousness [in accordance with the everlasting principles of right] within His presence all the days of our lives.

76 And you, little one, shall be called a prophet of the Most High; for you shall go on before the face of the Lord to make ready His ways, [Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 4:5.]

77 To bring and give the knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness and remission of their sins.

78 Because of and through the heart of tender mercy and loving-kindness of our God, a Light from on high will dawn upon us and visit [us] [Malachi 4:2.]

79 To shine upon and give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to direct and guide our feet in a straight line into the way of peace. [Isaiah 9:2.]

80 And the little boy grew and became strong in spirit; and he was in the deserts (wilderness) until the day of his appearing to Israel [the commencement of his public ministry]. AMP

After the angel told Zechariah what he and his wife Elizabeth should name the baby, and the special kind of man this child would one day become, Zechariah asked, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."

And the angel's reply is significant: "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news" (emphasis added). It was this same angel Gabriel who announced the coming birth of Jesus to a virgin named Mary.

In Revelation 8 we are introduced to seven angels who stand in the presence of God. They are probably archangels the highest class of angels for they are given an extremely important task, the sounding of the seven trumpets. Another of these angels is doubtless the archangel Michael, who appears in the book of Daniel.

There is an ancient apocryphal book that contains an interesting detail. It lists the names of the seven high angels: Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Sarakiel, Gabriel, and Phanuel. Notice that their names all end in "el," which is short for Elohim, one of the names of God. These are the seven angels of God, powerful angels who are given apocalyptic trumpets to sound.

Before they blow their trumpets, John records a dramatic scene.

8:3-5 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.

Many Bible scholars identify the angel who holds the golden censer as Jesus Himself. This idea is based on the fact that in the Old Testament, as the people of Israel journeyed through the wilderness, they were led by a great angel called "the Angel of Jehovah [YHWH or Yahweh]." Most evangelical scholars feel this was an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ the Son of God Himself leading His people through the wilderness.

In Revelation the nation of Israel is once again at the forefront of events. So it makes sense that this same "Angel of the Lord" would appear again in connection with the nation of Israel and that this "Angel" may in fact be Jesus Himself.

What is the meaning of the golden censer? A censer is a container in which incense is burned, and it is a symbol of a priestly function. We are told throughout the book of Hebrews and in many other New Testament passages that Jesus is our High Priest. For example, Paul tells us that Jesus, our High Priest, "is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us."

Clearly that is the function we see this angel performing. He takes fire from the altar of brass, adds to it the incense of the prayers of the saints, and offers them on the golden altar of incense before God. It is a beautiful and revealing portrayal of the function of prayer.

Sometimes we feel that our prayers to God go unanswered and even unheard. But in this passage we see that the prayers of the saints especially the intercessory prayers we pray for one another are like a fragrance in the nostrils of God. Our prayers delight God, reminding Him of the prayers and the character of Jesus, who prayed His high priestly prayer for others in John 17, just hours before offering Himself as a sacrifice for our sake.

John 17:1-18:1

17:1 WHEN JESUS had spoken these things, He lifted up His eyes to heaven and said, Father, the hour has come. Glorify and exalt and honor and magnify Your Son, so that Your Son may glorify and extol and honor and magnify You.

2[Just as] You have granted Him power and authority over all flesh (all humankind), [now glorify Him] so that He may give eternal life to all whom You have given Him.

3 And this is eternal life: [it means] to know (to perceive, recognize, become acquainted with, and understand) You, the only true and real God, and [likewise] to know Him, Jesus [as the] Christ (the Anointed One, the Messiah), Whom You have sent.

4 I have glorified You down here on the earth by completing the work that You gave Me to do.

5 And now, Father, glorify Me along with Yourself and restore Me to such majesty and honor in Your presence as I had with You before the world existed.

6 I have manifested Your Name [I have revealed Your very Self, Your real Self] to the people whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, and You gave them to Me, and they have obeyed and kept Your word.

7 Now [at last] they know and understand that all You have given Me belongs to You [is really and truly Yours].

8 For the [uttered] words that You gave Me I have given them; and they have received and accepted [them] and have come to know positively and in reality [to believe with absolute assurance] that I came forth from Your presence, and they have believed and are convinced that You did send Me.

9 I am praying for them. I am not praying (requesting) for the world, but for those You have given Me, for they belong to You.
10 All [things that are] Mine are Yours, and all [things that are] Yours belong to Me; and I am glorified in (through) them. [They have done Me honor; in them My glory is achieved.]

11 And [now] I am no more in the world, but these are [still] in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, keep in Your Name [in the knowledge of Yourself] those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We [are one].

12 While I was with them, I kept and preserved them in Your Name [in the knowledge and worship of You]. Those You have given Me I guarded and protected, and not one of them has perished or is lost except the son of perdition [Judas Iscariot the one who is now doomed to destruction, destined to be lost], that the Scripture might be fulfilled. [Psalms 41:9; John 6:70.]

13 And now I am coming to You; I say these things while I am still in the world, so that My joy may be made full and complete and perfect in them [that they may experience My delight fulfilled in them, that My enjoyment may be perfected in their own souls, that they may have My gladness within them, filling their hearts].

14 I have given and delivered to them Your word (message) and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world [do not belong to the world], just as I am not of the world.

15 I do not ask that You will take them out of the world, but that You will keep and protect them from the evil one.

16 They are not of the world (worldly, belonging to the world), [just] as I am not of the world.

17 Sanctify them [purify, consecrate, separate them for Yourself, make them holy] by the Truth; Your Word is Truth.

18 Just as You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.

19 And so for their sake and on their behalf I sanctify (dedicate, consecrate) Myself, that they also may be sanctified (dedicated, consecrated, made holy) in the Truth.

20 Neither for these alone do I pray [it is not for their sake only that I make this request], but also for all those who will ever come to believe in (trust in, cling to, rely on) Me through their word and teaching,

21 That they all may be one, [just] as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, so that the world may believe and be convinced that You have sent Me.

22 I have given to them the glory and honor which You have given Me, that they may be one [even] as We are one:

23 I in them and You in Me, in order that they may become one and perfectly united, that the world may know and [definitely] recognize that You sent Me and that You have loved them [even] as You have loved Me.

24 Father, I desire that they also whom You have entrusted to Me [as Your gift to Me] may be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory, which You have given Me [Your love gift to Me]; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.

25 O just and righteous Father, although the world has not known You and has failed to recognize You and has never acknowledged You, I have known You [continually]; and these men understand and know that You have sent Me.

26 I have made Your Name known to them and revealed Your character and Your very Self, and I will continue to make [You] known, that the love which You have bestowed upon Me may be in them [felt in their hearts] and that I [Myself] may be in them. AMP

The prayers of the saints are mingled with the incense of the priestly prayers of the great angel himself an angel which may actually represent the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. If the burning incense of this passage is symbolic of the prayers of the saints imploring God to act, then the image of the angel hurling that fiery censer to earth is a symbol of answered prayer. The time has come for God to act.

Thunder! Rumblings! Flashes of lightning! A great earthquake! These are the sights and sounds which mark the close of the age of mankind upon the earth. But they also mark the beginning of God's kingdom upon the earth.

You may recall that when we examined Revelation 4:5 we listened with John to these same cataclysmic sounds: "From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder." In these present verses, an earthquake is added as well.

Revelation 4:5

5 Out from the throne came flashes of lightning and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne seven blazing torches burned, which are the seven Spirits of God [the sevenfold Holy Spirit]; AMP

Later, in Revelation 11, the seventh angel will sound the seventh trumpet and these same sounds will be heard again. At that time the angel will proclaim, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever." With that, the scroll will be fully unrolled.

Revelation 11:1-12:1

11:1 A REED [as a measuring rod] was then given to me, [shaped] like a staff, and I was told: Rise up and measure the sanctuary of God and the altar [of incense], and [number] those who worship there. [Ezekiel 40:3.]

2 But leave out of your measuring the court outside the sanctuary of God; omit that, for it is given over to the Gentiles (the nations), and they will trample the holy city underfoot for 42 months (three and one-half years). [Isaiah 63:18; Zechariah 12:3.]

3 And I will grant the power of prophecy to My two witnesses for 1,260 (42 months; three and one-half years), dressed in sackcloth.

4 These [witnesses] are the two olive trees and the two lampstands which stand before the Lord of the earth. [Zechariah 4:3,11-14.]

5 And if anyone attempts to injure them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their enemies; if anyone should attempt to harm them, thus he is doomed to be slain. [2 Kings 1:10; Jeremiah 5:14.]

6 These [two witnesses] have power to shut up the sky, so that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying (their prediction of events relating to Christ's kingdom and its speedy triumph); and they also have power to turn the waters into blood and to smite and scourge the earth with all manner of plagues as often as they choose. [Exodus 7:17,19; 1 Kings 17:1.]

7 But when they have finished their testimony and their evidence is all in, the beast (monster) that comes up out of the Abyss (bottomless pit) will wage war on them, and conquer them and kill them. [Daniel 7:3,7,21.]

8 And their dead bodies [will lie exposed] in the open street ( a public square) of the great city which is in a spiritual sense called [by the mystical and allegorical names of] Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. [Isaiah 1:9.]

9 For three and a half days men from the races and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and will not allow them to be put in a tomb.

10 And those who dwell on the earth will gloat and exult over them and rejoice exceedingly, taking their ease and sending presents [in congratulation] to one another, because these two prophets had been such a vexation and trouble and torment to all the dwellers on the earth.

11 But after three and a half days, by God's gift the breath of life again entered into them, and they rose up on their feet, and great dread and terror fell on those who watched them. [Ezekiel 37:5,10.]

12 Then [the two witnesses] heard a strong voice from heaven calling to them, Come up here! And before the very eyes of their enemies they ascended into heaven in a cloud. [2 Kings 2:11.]

13 And at that [very] hour there was a tremendous earthquake and one tenth of the city was destroyed (fell); seven thousand people perished in the earthquake, and those who remained were filled with dread and terror and were awe-struck, and they glorified the God of heaven.

14 The second woe (calamity) has passed; now the third woe is speedily to come.

15 The seventh angel then blew [his] trumpet, and there were mighty voices in heaven, shouting, The dominion (kingdom, sovereignty, rule) of the world has now come into the possession and become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ (the Messiah), and He shall reign forever and ever (for the eternities of the eternities)! [Psalms 22:28; Daniel 7:13,14,27.]

16 Then the twenty-four elders [of the heavenly Sanhedrin], who sit on their thrones before God, prostrated themselves before Him and worshiped,

17 Exclaiming, To You we give thanks, Lord God Omnipotent, [the One] Who is and [ever] was, for assuming the high sovereignty and the great power that are Yours and for beginning to reign.

18 And the heathen (the nations) raged, but Your wrath (retribution, indignation) came, the time when the dead will be judged and Your servants the prophets and saints rewarded and those who revere (fear) Your name, both low and high and small and great and [the time] for destroying the corrupters of the earth. [Psalms 2:1.]

19 Then the sanctuary of God in heaven was thrown open, and the ark of His covenant was seen standing inside in His sanctuary; and there were flashes of lightning, loud rumblings (blasts, mutterings), peals of thunder, an earthquake, and a terrific hailstorm. [1 Kings 8:1-6.] AMP

These sounds of global upheaval and the violence of nature accompany the end of each of the series of seven the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls of the wrath of God. At the opening of the seventh seal, we learn that when the great Angel casts the fire of God upon the earth, the moment has come when God fully and finally answers the prayers of His people.

The Prayer of the Ages

There is one prayer that the people of God have been praying throughout the ages of history which has not yet been answered. I believe Adam must have prayed this prayer even as he was forced to leave the Garden of Eden. Perhaps Noah prayed this prayer as he came out of the ark and set foot upon a world washed clean by the waters of the flood. Abraham must have prayed this prayer as he looked for a City yet to come. We know that King David prayed this prayer, for we find it in many forms embedded in the Psalms. We know that all the apostles, including Paul, prayed this prayer, for it permeates the New Testament.

This prayer was taught by Jesus to His disciples, and many churches pray this prayer at some point during every worship service. The words of this prayer are, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." From the beginning of human history right up to this very moment as I write these words, this is a prayer that has not been answered. We do not now see God's kingdom visibly on the earth.

Yes, the kingdom is present in invisible form in the church. We see its influence over the affairs of men, and we recognize that God, as King and Creator of the universe, is sovereign over all events in heaven and on the earth. Yet we know that on this earth there are other wills at work than the will of God alone. All around us are the constant reminders of the operation of sinful human wills and also of sinful demonic wills.

But when we come at last to the end of these three series of judgments that are depicted in the book of Revelation, the long centuries of human yearning, our prayers for God's kingdom to come in visible power and authority over the earth will be fulfilled.

The Zenith of Judgment

The seventh trumpet appears to usher in what Jesus calls "the great tribulation" in His Olivet discourse of Matthew 24. There He says, "For then there will be great distress [or tribulation] unequaled from the beginning of the world until now and never to be equaled again." Jesus is describing what we are about to see the very zenith of God's judgment against sin upon the earth.

Matthew 24

24:1 JESUS DEPARTED from the temple area and was going on His way when His disciples came up to Him to call His attention to the buildings of the temple and point them out to Him.

2 But He answered them, Do you see all these? Truly I tell you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.

3 While He was seated on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately and said, Tell us, when will this take place, and what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end (the completion, the consummation) of the age?

4 Jesus answered them, Be careful that no one misleads you [deceiving you and leading you into error].

5 For many will come in (on the strength of) My name [appropriating the name which belongs to Me], saying, I am the Christ (the Messiah), and they will lead many astray.

6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened or troubled, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.

7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in place after place;

8 All this is but the beginning [the early pains] of the birth pangs [of the intolerable anguish].

9 Then they will hand you over to suffer affliction and tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake.

10 And then many will be offended and repelled and will begin to distrust and desert [Him Whom they ought to trust and obey] and will stumble and fall away and betray one another and pursue one another with hatred.

11 And many false prophets will rise up and deceive and lead many into error.

12 And the love of the great body of people will grow cold because of the multiplied lawlessness and iniquity,

13 But he who endures to the end will be saved.

14 And this good news of the kingdom (the Gospel) will be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then will come the end.

15 So when you see the appalling sacrilege [the abomination that astonishes and makes desolate], spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the Holy Place let the reader take notice and ponder and consider and heed [this] [Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11.]

16 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains;

17 Let him who is on the housetop not come down and go into the house to take anything;

18 And let him who is in the field not turn back to get his overcoat.

19 And alas for the women who are pregnant and for those who have nursing babies in those days!

20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.

21 For then there will be great tribulation (affliction, distress, and oppression) such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now no, and never will be [again]. [Daniel 12:1; Joel 2:2.]

22 And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would endure and survive, but for the sake of the elect (God's chosen ones) those days will be shortened.

23 If anyone says to you then, Behold, here is the Christ (the Messiah)! or, There He is! do not believe it.

24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise, and they will show great signs and wonders so as to deceive and lead astray, if possible, even the elect (God's chosen ones).

25 See, I have warned you beforehand.

26 So if they say to you, Behold, He is in the wilderness (desert) do not go out there; if they tell you, Behold, He is in the secret places or inner rooms do not believe it.

27 For just as the lightning flashes from the east and shines and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.

28 Wherever there is a fallen body (a corpse), there the vultures (or eagles) will flock together. [Job 39:30.]

29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not shed its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. [Isaiah 13:10; 34:4; Joel 2:10,11; Zephaniah 1:15.]

30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn and beat their breasts and lament in anguish, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory [in brilliancy and splendor]. [Daniel 7:13; Revelation 1:7.]

31 And He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect (His chosen ones) from the four winds, [even] from one end of the universe to the other. [Isaiah 27:13; Zechariah 9:14.]

32 From the fig tree learn this lesson: as soon as its young shoots become soft and tender and it puts out its leaves, you know of a surety that summer is near.

33 So also when you see these signs, all taken together, coming to pass, you may know of a surety that He is near, at the very doors.

34 Truly I tell you, this generation ( the whole multitude of people living at the same time, in a definite, given period) will not pass away till all these things taken together take place.

35 Sky and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.

36 But of that [exact] day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

37 As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

38 For just as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, [men] marrying and [women] being given in marriage, until the [very] day when Noah went into the ark,

39 And they did not know or understand until the flood came and swept them all away so will be the coming of the Son of Man. [Genesis 6:5-8; 7:6-24.]

40 At that time two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.

41 Two women will be grinding at the hand mill; one will be taken and one will be left.

42 Watch therefore [give strict attention, be cautious and active], for you do not know in what kind of a day [whether a near or remote one] your Lord is coming.

43 But understand this: had the householder known in what [part of the night, whether in a night or a morning] watch the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have allowed his house to be undermined and broken into.

44 You also must be ready therefore, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him.

45 Who then is the faithful, thoughtful, and wise servant, whom his master has put in charge of his household to give to the others the food and supplies at the proper time?

46 Blessed (happy, fortunate, and to be envied) is that servant whom, when his master comes, he will find so doing.

47 I solemnly declare to you, he will set him over all his possessions.

48 But if that servant is wicked and says to himself, My master is delayed and is going to be gone a long time,

49 And begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with the drunken,

50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour of which he is not aware,

51 And will punish him [cut him up by scourging] and put him with the pretenders (hypocrites); there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. AMP

In Revelation 8:6, we come to one of the most difficult sections of the book to interpret.

8:6 Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.

The sevenfold judgment is about to commence. Bible scholars are divided as to whether the seven judgments of the seven trumpets are literal physical judgments or symbols of something else (and perhaps something worse than what is pictured).

My own view, however, is that these seven judgments are both literal and symbolic. This is how God frequently works. He pictures something which is invisible and can't be imagined by means of a literal event.

For instance, the sun is a literal object. It is a great shining star which warms our earth and keeps the entire solar system working. But the sun is also a potent symbol, and is used as such throughout Scripture. We refer to the sun in everyday life as a symbol of light, of knowledge, and of truth.

Fire, too, is a literal phenomenon. You can warm yourself by it or burn yourself with it. Yet in Scripture fire often appears as a symbol of torment and judgment.

The Old Testament prophecy of Joel opens with a vivid description of a literal plague of locusts that comes upon the land and devours every green thing. But as you continue reading in Joel, this literal and dramatic description of a plague of locusts soon becomes a symbolic prophecy of a military invasion by a vast Babylonian army.

So scriptural events often merge the literal and symbolic into a single profound image. I believe that is the nature of the trumpet judgments which begin in Revelation 8. Throughout its history Israel has used literal trumpets as a blaring public warning of an imminent emergency or event. So, in this series of seven trumpets we hear God's public announcement of imminent judgment.

But there is nothing new or historically unprecedented in God's judgment of mankind through the events of human experience. There are calamitous events going on all around us right at this moment, and these events trumpet the judgment of God against human sin. He is speaking to us, even shouting to us but the human race has turned a deaf ear to God's warning.

One such event is the plague of drug abuse that is ruining millions of lives, particularly young lives, not only in America but around the world. Drugs destroy the mind, burn out the body, drain the economy, and transform human beings into something worse than animals. What is this scourge saying to us as individuals and as a society?

Clearly, the plague of drugs is a literal catastrophe, the consequence of a philosophy of sinful self-indulgence, the lust for pleasure without any consideration of the moral or social or physical implications of the act. It is a consequence of self-centeredness and irresponsibility. Though God did not send the plague of drugs, He is attempting to speak to us through it. He is saying to us, "See the destructive results of sin and selfishness!" Yet our society continues along the same path, willfully blind to the warning God is shouting to us.

Jesus once rebuked the Pharisees because they could interpret the literal signs of approaching bad weather, yet they refused to interpret the signs of the times. As we look at the devastation that drug abuse has brought upon our society, we have to ask ourselves if we are any more discerning than the Pharisees.

The AIDS epidemic is another literal and frightening event taking place in our society. It has already consumed many thousands of lives in many countries worldwide, and it will inevitably swallow many more lives in the years to come. A friend of mine who is a missionary doctor tells me that half of the women and nearly a third of the men in Uganda, a country in central Africa, are afflicted with AIDS. The country faces almost total annihilation because of this incurable and loathsome plague. Though not nearly so widespread in North America, it is nonetheless a fast-spreading epidemic.

The AIDS epidemic is clearly a literal and ongoing event but does it also have a symbolic dimension? I am convinced that it does, and that God is attempting to speak to our society through the means of the AIDS epidemic.

Just as AIDS robs people of their immunity against other infections, so does indulgence in sexual promiscuity rob us of our defense against moral and spiritual errors, according to the Word of God. Many people today are easy targets for strange cults and New Age philosophies because their moral and spiritual defenses have been stripped away by their desire for a sexually promiscuous lifestyle. That is why Paul writes, "No immoral, impure or greedy person such a man is an idolater has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient."

The epidemic of abortion in our society is also a literal and ongoing phenomenon in our society. In America, it means the murder of 1.6 million innocent, unborn lives every year and the vast majority (approximately 98 percent) of these abortions take place not because of rape or incest or a threat to the mother's health, but simply because the conception was unplanned and a baby would be inconvenient. A struggle which has the makings of a virtual civil war is taking place in our nation at this very hour, and the pain and anguish of this crisis should be sending us a message but are we listening?

What does it say to an entire generation of young people when the law of the land permits the destruction of human life for the sake of convenience and so-called "choice"? What lesson are the children of many of our states learning when their teachers are required by law to tell them, as early as the sixth grade, how to go about obtaining an abortion without their parents' knowledge or consent? What are we teaching them about the value of human life?

You can see the answer in the vacancy of their eyes. We are losing the souls of an entire generation. Like the ancient people of apostate Israel, we are tossing our children into the fiery maw of the demon-god Molech, deliberately sacrificing them to our own selfishness. The plague of abortion is the visible expression of our sin and willful brutishness as a society. How can we expect God not to judge the perpetrators of such a monumental social injustice?

The First Angel

Let us now see what the trumpets of the angels signify.

8:7 The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.

This description is reminiscent of the seventh plague that befell Egypt during Moses' confrontation with Pharaoh, when hail and lightning came upon the whole land. In Revelation 8 we see hail and lightning mingled with blood. This is not a new phenomenon. Scientists and historians have recorded other times when red rain fell from the sky.

Camille Flammarion's book The Atmosphere, published in the nineteenth century, documents a number of such occurrences in Europe and elsewhere, such as the red rain which fell on San Pier d'Arena, near Genoa, Italy, in 1744. Flammarion observed that this red rain terrified the people very much because of a bitter war that was then raging in the region. What actually causes red rains? The book concludes that what many witnesses "call a shower of blood is generally a mere fall of vapors tinted with vermilion or red chalk. But when blood actually does fall, which it would be difficult to deny takes place, it is a miracle due to the will of God."

Similar events have been documented in our own century. Though scientists have never explained how a blood-red rain could fall from the sky, such rains have left great puddles of grisly looking water on the ground. Revelation 8 foresees a time when hail and fire, mingled with blood, will descend not on some isolated region of the earth, but over great portions of the land. It will devastate much of our natural world.

Notice that the plagues of the first four trumpets all fall on creation, causing massive environmental damage. It is as though the Lord were saying, "You have taken the natural world for granted, abused it, and plundered it. You want a devastated world? Very well, then. You shall have it." As always, the worst judgment God can mete out to sinful humanity is to give humanity what it demands.

But the destruction that is depicted here doesn't just have a literal dimension. It is also powerfully symbolic. It is designed to teach us a truth of God that is invisible to the eyes of men at that time. As we have already observed, the earth is used in Scripture as a picture of Israel, which God intended as an example to the world of a nation governed by God. I believe this passage depicts a judgment that is directed not only against the natural world and the environment, but upon Israel both its leaders (symbolized by the trees) and its people (symbolized by the grass).

Old Testament prophets pointed to a future time when God would judge His people Israel. For example, Zephaniah records the word of the Lord, who says,

At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, "The LORD will do nothing, either good or bad." Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. They will build houses but not live in them; they will plant vineyards but not drink the wine.

The prophet Jeremiah calls this "the time of Jacob's trouble."

The Second Angel

Next, John describes the judgment brought about by the second angel and the second trumpet:

8:8-9 The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

The first trumpet judgment assaulted the earth. The second attacks the sea. A great blazing mountain-like object falls into the sea. This could be the result of an unimaginably violent volcanic eruption some vulcanologists believe that Sicily's Mount Etna is primed to explode much like Washington state's Mount Saint Helens did in 1980. Or it could be a massive meteor falling out of space and flaming through the atmosphere, landing at last in the sea.

Whatever this mountain-like object is, it will cause the sea to become blood-red. Again, the phenomena called "red tides" have occurred before, caused by tiny red marine organisms that multiply rapidly, giving the water a bloodlike color. What would cause the "red tide" of Revelation 8 to occur in the aftermath of the fall of the blazing object? We don't know. We only know that the resulting havoc will leave a third of all marine life dead and a third of all shipping destroyed.

If these are literal events, there is also a symbolic dimension to them. The image of the great mountain, blazing with fire and tumbling into the sea, symbolizes a great kingdom aflame with revolution. The prophet Jeremiah, for example, records some strikingly similar imagery when he conveys the Lord's judgment against Babylon:

"I am against you, O destroying mountain, you who destroy the whole earth," declares the LORD. "I will stretch out my hand against you, roll you off the cliffs, and make you a burned-out mountain."

As we can gather by comparing this passage with other passages of Scripture, the symbol of the mountain-like object falling into the sea probably symbolizes the influence of what is popularly called "the revived Roman Empire," the ten-kingdom coalition of Western European and Western allied nations that will be prominent, under the leadership of the Antichrist, during the Tribulation period. And as we have discussed before, the sea is frequently used in Scripture as a symbol of the Gentile nations of the earth. So the symbolic image of these verses suggests a time when the Antichrist-led coalition will fall upon the Gentiles of the world like a flaming, destroying mountain, conquering the Gentile nations while destroying many Gentile lives.

As happened in the first trumpet judgment, and as will happen again and again throughout these seven judgments, we see the repetitive use of the term "a third." Under the seals of judgment, the losses were limited to "a fourth," but here we see losses of "a third," again and again. What is the difference between the judgments of the seven seals and the judgments of the seven trumpets?

Four is the number of human government. Under the seal judgments God was indicating that He uses human government to limit the onslaught of the four terrible horsemen of Revelation 6. Human government will still retain some vestige of restraining power during those days.

Revelation 6:1-7:1

6:1 THEN I saw as the Lamb broke open one of the seven seals, and as if in a voice of thunder I heard one of the four living creatures call out, Come!
2 And I looked, and saw there a white horse whose rider carried a bow. And a crown was given him, and he rode forth conquering and to conquer. [Psalms 45:4,5; Zechariah 1:8; 6:1-3.]

3 And when He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature call out, Come!

4 And another horse came out, flaming red. And its rider was empowered to take the peace from the earth, so that men slaughtered one another; and he was given a huge sword.

5 When He broke open the third seal, I heard the third living creature call out, Come and look ! And I saw, and behold, a black horse, and in his hand the rider had a pair of scales (a balance).

6 And I heard what seemed to be a voice from the midst of the four living creatures, saying, A quart of wheat for a denarius [a whole day's wages], and three quarts of barley for a denarius; but do not harm the oil and the wine! [2 Kings 6:25.]

7 When the Lamb broke open the fourth seal, I heard the fourth living creature call out, Come!

8 So I looked, and behold, an ashy pale horse [black and blue as if made so by bruising], and its rider's name was Death, and Hades (the realm of the dead) followed him closely. And they were given authority and power over a fourth part of the earth to kill with the sword and with famine and with plague (pestilence, disease) and with wild beasts of the earth. [Ezekiel 5:12; Hosea 13:14.]

9 When the Lamb broke open the fifth seal, I saw at the foot of the altar the souls of those whose lives had been sacrificed for [adhering to] the Word of God and for the testimony they had borne.

10 They cried in a loud voice, O [Sovereign] Lord, holy and true, how long now before You will sit in judgment and avenge our blood upon those who dwell on the earth? [Genesis 4:10; Psalms 79:5; Zechariah 1:12.]

11 Then they were each given a long and flowing and festive white robe and told to rest and wait patiently a little while longer, until the number should be complete of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

12 When He [the Lamb] broke open the sixth seal, I looked, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun grew black as sackcloth of hair, [the full disc of] the moon became like blood. [Joel 2:10,31.]

13 And the stars of the sky dropped to the earth like a fig tree shedding its unripe fruit out of season when shaken by a strong wind. [Isaiah 34:4.]

14 And the sky rolled up like a scroll and vanished, and every mountain and island was dislodged from its place.

15 Then the kings of the earth and their noblemen and their magnates and their military chiefs and the wealthy and the strong and [everyone, whether] slave or free hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, [Isaiah 2:10.]

16 And they called to the mountains and the rocks, Fall on (before) us and hide us from the face of Him Who sits on the throne and from the deep-seated indignation and wrath of the Lamb. [Isaiah 2:19-21; Hosea 10:8.]

17 For the great day of His wrath (vengeance, retribution, indignation) has come, and who is able to stand before it? [Joel 2:11; Malachi 3:2.] AMP

But in Revelation 8, even that limited amount of restraint has been removed. Under the trumpet judgments, God alone restrains. Three is the divine number, the symbol of God's attributes. By the repeated phrase "a third" God is indicating that only His mercy and grace limits these terrible apocalyptic judgments to one-third of the earth.

The Third Angel

Now John describes the judgment brought about by the third angel and the third trumpet.

8:10-11 The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.

This great star which falls into the rivers and the fountains of the earth is very likely a comet or comet-like object which breaks up when it enters the atmosphere and scatters itself throughout the earth, falling into the rivers and springs and poisoning them. It is interesting to speculate that the form of poisoning described in these verses might actually be a form of radiation. In fact, we may have already witnessed a foregleam of such an event when a nuclear reactor experienced a catastrophic meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Soviet Union. I suspect that it is no mere coincidence that the word Chernobyl is actually Russian for "Wormwood"! I believe God was desperately trying to warn us during that terrible nuclear accident but, as usual, humankind refuses to listen.

Again, I believe the destruction depicted has a symbolic as well as a literal dimension. It is designed to teach us God's truth about the invisible realm of man's internal being. Rivers, of course, symbolize great masses of people moving together in one direction entire populations caught up in one idea, one mindset, moving predictably and inexorably like a river toward a single destination. The springs symbolize the sources of moral or philosophical leadership. The star symbolizes a prominent leader.

It appears from these symbols that some great person, widely recognized as a leader, will suddenly reverse his policy. He will, in essence, fall. Many people will be embittered by the turnabout of this influential leader. In the mass struggle that ensues, many will experience moral and spiritual death.

This is exactly the scene that is described for us later in Revelation under the rule of the Beast that comes from the earth. Moreover, in Revelation 9, we will see a similar "star" when we witness the fifth and sixth trumpets of judgment. A more complete discussion of the symbol of the star will appear in the following chapter.

Revelation 9:1-10:1

9:1 THEN THE fifth angel blew [his] trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth; and to the angel was given the key of the shaft of the Abyss (the bottomless pit).

2 He opened the long shaft of the Abyss (the bottomless pit), and smoke like the smoke of a huge furnace puffed out of the long shaft, so that the sun and the atmosphere were darkened by the smoke from the long shaft. [Genesis 19:28; Exodus 19:18; Joel 2:10.]

3 Then out of the smoke locusts came forth on the earth, and such power was granted them as the power the earth's scorpions have. [Exodus 10:12-15.]

4 They were told not to injure the herbage of the earth nor any green thing nor any tree, but only [to attack] such human beings as do not have the seal (mark) of God on their foreheads. [Ezekiel 9:4.]

5 They were not permitted to kill them, but to torment (distress, vex) them for five months; and the pain caused them was like the torture of a scorpion when it stings a person.

6 And in those days people will seek death and will not find it; and they will yearn to die, but death evades and flees from them. [Job 3:21.]

7 The locusts resembled horses equipped for battle. On their heads was something like golden crowns. Their faces resembled the faces of people. [Joel 2:4.]

8 They had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like lions' teeth. [Joel 1:6.]

9 Their breastplates (scales) resembled breastplates made of iron, and the [whirring] noise made by their wings was like the roar of a vast number of horse-drawn chariots going at full speed into battle. [Joel 2:5.]

10 They have tails like scorpions, and they have stings, and in their tails lies their ability to hurt men for [the] five months.

11 Over them as king they have the angel of the Abyss (of the bottomless pit). In Hebrew his name is Abaddon [destruction], but in Greek he is called Apollyon [destroyer].

12 The first woe (calamity) has passed; behold, two others are yet to follow.

13 Then the sixth angel blew [his] trumpet, and from the four horns of the golden altar which stands before God I heard a solitary voice,

14 Saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, Liberate the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.

15 So the four angels who had been in readiness for that hour in the appointed day, month, and year were liberated to destroy a third of mankind.

16 The number of their troops of cavalry was twice ten thousand times ten thousand (200,000,000); I heard what their number was.

17 And in [my] vision the horses and their riders appeared to me like this: the riders wore breastplates the color of fiery red and sapphire blue and sulphur (brimstone) yellow. The heads of the horses looked like lions' heads, and from their mouths there poured fire and smoke and sulphur (brimstone).

18 A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues by the fire and the smoke and the sulphur (brimstone) that poured from the mouths of the horses.

19 For the power of the horses to do harm is in their mouths and also in their tails. Their tails are like serpents, for they have heads, and it is by means of them that they wound people.

20 And the rest of humanity who were not killed by these plagues even then did not repent of [the worship of] the works of their [own] hands, so as to cease paying homage to the demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor move. [Psalms 115:4-7; 135:15-17; Isaiah 17:8.]

21 And they did not repent of their murders or their practice of magic (sorceries) or their sexual vice or their thefts. AMP

The Fourth Angel

Next, John describes the judgment brought about by the fourth angel and the fourth trumpet.

8:12 The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night.

Now compare this verse with the words of the Lord Jesus from His Sermon on the Mount in Luke 21. Jesus says,

There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.

There is no question that Jesus here describes the same event that John relates as the judgment of the fourth trumpet. But not only is this a literal event in which the sun, moon, and stars are darkened or fail for a time to give their light, this is also a powerfully symbolic event.

The sun, moon, and stars are used in various places in Scripture to symbolize earthly authorities. The highest such authorities kings, prime ministers, dictators, and presidents would be portrayed as the sun. Lesser authorities would be portrayed as the moon and stars. Thus, we see depicted here a hierarchy of civil authority authority which somehow is eclipsed under the judgment of the fourth trumpet.

What does the darkening of these heavenly bodies mean in a symbolic sense? It means that these authorities will be morally darkened. The light of truth and reason will be withdrawn from them. Instead of displaying sound moral judgment, their judgment will be darkened and evil. They will display no ethical restraint, no compassion, no justice. People under their government will experience only deceit, cruelty, treachery, oppression, and merciless exploitation.

By the grace of God, this darkening will still be limited to a third. Some restraint of evil will still be possible in those evil times, but only by the sovereign grace of a sovereign God!

The Warning of the Eagle

In verse 13, an eagle appears with a message of warning and lament. If you study Revelation in the King James Version, you will find the word "angel" instead of "eagle," but the more authoritative and reliable Greek manuscripts use the Greek word for "eagle."

8:13 As I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying in midair call out in a loud voice: "Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!"

After the woes that have already befallen the earth, it is difficult to imagine what could follow in the next three trumpet blasts that could be any worse yet as we shall see, the eagle's threefold cry of "Woe!" is well-deserved.

As we examine this passage, we should note that there is a mistranslation in the text. The phrase "Woe to the inhabitants of the earth" would be better translated "Woe to those who make their home on earth." This may seem a small difference at first, but it is actually an extremely important distinction. During the days of the Great Tribulation there will be many new converts, redeemed followers of Christ, who are inhabitants of the earth but who do not make their home on earth. They will live and act as though their citizenship is in heaven.

Those "who make their home on earth" are a moral and spiritual class of people who live only for the present life and care nothing for the things of God and the life to come. Someone has well described such people with a bit of doggerel that reads,

Into this world to eat and to sleep,
And to know no reason why he was born,
Save to consume the corn,
Devour the cattle, flock and fish,
And leave behind an empty dish!

I'm sure you know people like that.

They care only about the present, about their own immediate and self-centered needs, their own pleasures, their own will. They give no thought to others. They give no thought to the purpose of life or the meaning of their own existence. They give no thought to God.

The warning of the eagle is that a terrible doom is coming upon all those who live for the moment, who live for self, who have no larger framework for their lives than today's pleasures. This is the kind of moral decay that will exist in that day. The first four trumpets, which should have been "loud" enough to awaken anyone with ears to hear, appear to have fallen on deaf ears among those "who make their home on earth." The next three trumpets two of which we will examine in the following chapter shall bring unimaginable woe upon those who live only for the moment and for self.

From Bad to Worse to Worst

There is a clear sense of progression in the judgments we have witnessed thus far in Revelation. We have seen that each series of seven judgments is divided into four and three. In the judgments of the seven seals, the first four seals were represented by the four horsemen. The next three seals then gave us insight into what was going on behind the scenes of judgment.

In this series of trumpet judgments, we first hear the sounding of the first four trumpets, followed by a soaring eagle who announces that even more profound woes await the final three trumpet judgments.

In the seven bowls of wrath we will again see the same division a group of four judgments followed by a group of three.

This pattern seems to suggest the degrees of comparison with which even kindergarten-age children are familiar. If you are comparing size, you can talk about objects being "small," "smaller," and "smallest," or "big," "bigger," "biggest." If you are comparing evil, you can say that this is "bad," that is "worse," and something else is the "worst." That is the pattern we see in the judgments of Revelation a steadily crescendoing series of judgments, inexorably progressing toward a fearsome climax: the bowls of God's wrath, the worst judgments of all.

How do you feel about the judgment of God? Does the idea of God's wrath make you uncomfortable? It does most people, including many pastors and Bible teachers.

We like the idea of God's love and grace and forgiveness, but we often try to skirt the issue of His justice and holiness. It is part of our fallen nature that we do not want to squarely, honestly face the fact that sin has consequences terrible consequences and that righteousness and justice are not matters to be taken lightly. Our sin cost Jesus a trial of suffering and death upon the cross, plus the unimaginable torment of separation from God the Father. The triumph of the Resurrection overshadows but can never erase the horror of those hours upon the cross. In the same way, the triumph of God at the end of Revelation does not erase the horror that will come upon the human race during God's climactic judgment of sin at the end of history.

Because we are bent by sin, our nature is to tolerate and indulge sin. But our God is a holy God. If He were to allow the ever-increasing sin of the world to go unchecked, His holiness would be open to question.

The judgments that we see in Revelation are only unprecedented in degree, not in kind. God has been sending such judgments to the earth throughout the history of mankind. There have been disasters, signs in the heavens, red rain from the skies, poisoned waters, plagues, and horrors too numerous and terrible to recount since the earliest days of the human race. In Revelation, however, these judgments come to an apocalyptic climax. Our task is to seek to understand these judgments and learn the lessons God would teach us through them. It is for our eternal good that God has made us witnesses of these events.

God judges nations and societies and cultures. But God also judges individuals. Sometimes He uses hardships and sufferings to chasten and correct us. This is not to say that everyone who undergoes suffering is being judged by God. There are many reasons why suffering comes into our lives, and into the lives of the most godly and devout saints. But the fact is that some people do experience hardships as a result of God's judgment. So we should learn to understand the role of God's corrective judgment in our lives so that we can become the people He wants us to be.

First, judgment frightens us. It's supposed to. Judgment chills our blood. It alarms us and scares the living daylights out of us but it also arrests our attention. Like children watching a horror movie, we are fascinated by the horror of judgment even while we want to hide our eyes from it. The first effect of judgment is to arouse our fear.

Second, judgment sobers us. It forces us to reassess the way we have been living our lives. It changes our priorities. As C. S. Lewis has said, fear and pain and judgment are "God's megaphone for reaching a deaf world."

Third, judgment corrects us. It forces us to face the unpleasant truth about ourselves. We don't like that. We don't want to hear about our imperfection and our sinfulness. But judgment is like a mirror: it strips away our illusion and restores us to a realistic view of ourselves. It enables us to see clearly, to reason accurately, to plan carefully, to live thoughtfully, and to think the thoughts of God after Him.

Fourth, judgment humbles us. Judgment forces us to recognize that we are not in control of our circumstances. We are not equipped to run our own lives. We are not masters of our own fates, captains of our own souls. We are not autonomous. Stripped of our own delusions of self-godhood, we are able at last to seek God's control and guidance over our lives. We become willing to seek the wisdom of the Word of God rather than leaning on our own limited understanding.

Finally, judgment reassures us. It is one of the beautiful paradoxes of God's Word that judgment actually comforts us. It answers the great prayer of Habakkuk, "LORD . . . in wrath remember mercy." The fact is, God does not relish the idea of judgment anymore than you or I. The prophet Isaiah makes a fascinating statement about God's judgment, saying "The LORD will rise up . . . to do his work, his strange work, and perform his task, his alien task."

Clearly, judgment is not something that God enjoys. He considers it "strange work," an "alien task." You can see that in the way God always gives ample warning before He sends judgment. He sends reminders and attention-getters long before He sends destruction, because He is a loving God, slow to anger and rich in mercy. Just as He gave the evil city of Nineveh an opportunity to change its ways in the days of the prophet Jonah, so He gives you and me and the entire world the chance to wake up, pay attention, and act before our sin gets out of hand.

People who have only a nodding acquaintance with the Bible are fond of saying, "I believe in a loving God. The God I worship is not judgmental." That's a well-intentioned yet fatally flawed point of view. The fact is that it is the very love of God that makes Him a judge! God loves His creation and He loves human beings. He hates sin because sin destroys both us and His creation. God must judge sin to eliminate evil once and for all and to bring about the world of universal blessing which human beings have longed for since the first couple was cast out of Eden.

Thank God we worship a God of both love and judgment! Thank God that even in the severity of His judgments, He remembers mercy! How thankful we are for a God who protects us and watches over us, even when we would rebelliously and ungratefully wish to go our own way.

And how especially thankful are we who have ears to hear, who have listened and learned from what the Spirit says to us through the book of Revelation. We have heard the eagle's cry, "Woe! Woe! Woe to those who make their home on earth!" And we have taken refuge in the Rock of our salvation, where the judgment that is coming upon the rest of the world can't harm us.

Now we await the trumpet blasts of the last three angels.

All Hell Breaks Loose

Revelation 9

We have seen echoes of it before: an entire nation of peace-loving people of all walks of life students, shopkeepers, farmers, teachers, machinists, bankers is whipped into an emotional fervor by the harangues of a demagogue, induced to take up gun and uniform and march blindly into the fires of all-out war. The thirteenth-century Mongols followed Genghis Khan throughout China, India, the Middle East, and Europe, leaving more than 40 million dead. The French followed Napoleon on a binge of conquest that killed 5 million and kept Europe in turmoil for two decades.

In our own century, the German people followed a strange little man with a Charlie Chaplin mustache to unimaginable depths of butchery and inhumanity. Today, when you look at faded newsreel footage of Adolf Hitler giving one of his frenzied speeches before the German throngs, it is hard to imagine that anyone would truly believe what he said and follow his deluded dreams of conquest.

Yet it seems the fate of people to forever allow such wicked leaders to goad them into destroying millions of lives while themselves marching into the blast-furnace of history. And the worst that humanity is capable of has not yet been seen. All of the bloody wars of history are just a foregleam of the final conflict to come.

A day is coming when a great leader will rise up and draw millions to a fiery doom. This leader will be the crowning desecration in a long line of bloody conquerors more terrible by far than Khan or Napoleon or Hitler or Hussein. The doom that was prophesied by the eagle's scream "Woe to those who make their home on earth!" will at last fall upon the human race.

And all hell will break loose.

The Fifth Angel

In chapter 9, we arrive at the judgment of the fifth angel and the fifth trumpet.

9:1-6 The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not given power to kill them, but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes a man. During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.

In the judgment of the third angel with the third trumpet we saw a great star fall into the sea. In this remarkable passage another star falls but this time onto the earth. Here, as in previous depictions of judgment, we are probably witnessing a literal event perhaps the fall of a brilliant meteor from the skies. There have been many times in history that meteors have fallen to earth and created havoc for human beings.

The text makes it clear, however, that this is also a symbolic event. The star represents an individual who is given a key by which he opens up the gateway of hell, which is called here the Abyss.

In Luke 8, when Jesus cast the host of demons named Legion out of a man by the Sea of Galilee, the demons "begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss." The same Greek word for Abyss is used in this passage as in Revelation 9. In this account, Jesus allows the demons to enter into a herd of swine rather than be cast into the Abyss. The swine then run over the edge of a cliff and perish in the water below. This is a strange story and one which raises many interesting questions, yet one thing is clear: demonic beings have an intense dread of being cast into the great Abyss.

By examining other passages of Scripture we can see that demons have already been imprisoned in the Abyss. Jude 6 tells us there are angels which are "kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day." It seems apparent that in these scenes in Revelation 9 we come to that "great Day" referred to in the book of Jude, for in this passage the "star" which falls to earth becomes a being who takes the key to the Abyss and opens it. Out of the Abyss come great clouds of billowing smoke, darkening the daytime sky. Then out of the inky clouds come hordes of locusts, so thick and numerous that they have the appearance of clouds yet another image laden with both literal and figurative meaning.

I vividly remember one summer from my boyhood in Minnesota when the land was visited by a plague of locusts. The remembered image remains vivid in my mind, and it echoes the image John relates in this passage: millions and millions of locusts, swarming like billowing clouds, darkening the daytime sky. They descended onto the fields of standing grain with the sound of a hailstorm. As they munched on the vegetation, they sounded like a rushing river. They destroyed everything in their path, leaving nothing behind but bare earth, stubble, and disillusionment. As horrible as those midwestern locust plagues were, they were just a foreshadowing of what John witnesses when the angel sounds the fifth trumpet of judgment.

At the same time that we see a literal plague of locusts unleashed, we also see the release of demons invisible spirit beings from the pit of hell. The demons are released to go out across the earth like a plague of locusts.

What sort of being is this that falls to earth like a star or a meteor and that is given the power to unleash the destructive powers of hell? There is a clear connection between this judgment and that of the third trumpet, the falling of the other great star into the sea. We identified that first star as a powerful political leader who, after a period of enjoying enthusiastic popularity, would abruptly change his policy and embitter entire classes of people.

As we shall see as we continue to explore this passage, the person represented by this second star is a Jewish religious leader who turns apostate and unleashes demonic forces, like clouds of deadly locusts, upon the earth. I believe this leader is Jewish because of the clues given in the passage.

The locusts/demons were told not to harm "the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads." Clearly grass, trees, and plants represent people, as we have already seen in Revelation 7. More specifically, they represent Israel. Yet there is a certain group of them the 144,000 who have been sealed by God who are guarded and protected from demonic influence and control by the Spirit of God. Those unbelievers upon whom the locusts/demons are unleashed are not destroyed, but are instead tormented for a period of five months.

The being represented by the second star, then, is that person the apostle Paul refers to in 2 Thessalonians as "the Man of Sin," a crucially important individual who arises in the last days. This man sits in the temple of God and claims the worship of Israel and of the entire earth. He is well known, even among casual students of the Bible and biblical prophecy. He is sometimes called the Antichrist.

The Scorpion's Sting

It was a hot, steamy afternoon in Vietnam, 1960. I was in the country to speak to pastors of the Tribal Churches. That afternoon I settled back on a cot in a little wooden building, planning to take a brief nap. Then out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of something scurrying across the top of the doorframe. I jumped off the cot to get a closer look. As I moved closer, it ran down the side of the doorframe, and out onto the floor. It stopped, facing me.

It was a scorpion.

I had seen scorpions before, but I had never seen one like this. It was black and it was big fully six inches long. It actually reared itself up on its hind legs, defiantly staring me in the face with its tiny bead-like eyes. Its segmented, stinger-tipped tail was curled far forward in my direction, ready to strike. Clearly, this was not the kind of scorpion you kill with your shoe. It was the kind that could only be dispatched with a bazooka.

I hastily scanned the room for something with which to smash it preferably something with a very long handle when it darted off and disappeared behind a desk. I never saw that scorpion again but I was never comfortable in that room after that.

I later asked my Vietnamese friends what would have happened to me if the scorpion had stung me. They said that the scorpion's venom causes indescribable anguish for about 24 hours not just at the site of the wound but throughout the body. There is nothing you can take to relieve the pain. In fact, a pain killer would only exacerbate the effect of the venom, making the pain worse. The pain, often accompanied by temporary paralysis and fever, must simply be endured.

That is what the sting of a scorpion is like, and that is the metaphor which appears in Revelation 9:3 and 5, where John writes that the locusts/demons "were given power like that of scorpions of the earth" power not to kill the unbelievers on the earth, but rather "to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes a man." The Antichrist has loosed a horde of demons upon the earth, and these demons afflict the human race with their agonizing "sting." This "sting" is the demonic propaganda of the Antichrist, the hellish lies he uses to ensnare the minds and hearts of those who are naked to demonic attack because they have not been sealed by the Holy Spirit. The metaphor of a scorpion's sting speaks of the lies which the Antichrist inflicts, deceiving and mentally tormenting the world on a massive scale.

A number of years ago, I led a home Bible class in Palo Alto, California. One of our members was a young woman who had recently moved to California from Alaska. The winter nights are very long in Alaska, so to while away the time, she and a friend began amusing themselves with a Ouija board. To them it was nothing but harmless entertainment, an innocent game. They gave no thought to the fact that when they asked questions of the Ouija board, they were actually seeking contact with demonic intelligences. Their "harmless entertainment" soon led them into involvement with horoscopes and astrology.

The first inkling this woman had that she was involved in something wrong came when she was awakened one night by voices in her head. The voices insisted that she get out of bed and write obscene words on a piece of paper. She resisted, but the voices told her she would get no relief, no sleep, until she did as she was told. So she arose, took pen and paper, and filled the sheet of paper with obscenities. Then she went back to bed and fell asleep.

This happened again the following night, and the night after that. The oppression of her spirit grew night by night, and the voices insisted that she write more and more obscenities for longer and longer periods of time. Eventually she found herself sitting up for hours at night, writing and writing, like a secretary taking demonic dictation. Her anguish and her fear became unendurable.

Her nightly sessions continued to worsen after she moved to California. Finally, she brought this problem to me and asked for help. We searched the Scriptures together, particularly those passages which deal with the occult and demonic activity, and we prayed together. I counseled and prayed with her several times, and God delivered her from this terrible obsession. I have had the chance to visit with her since that time, and the problem has never recurred.

The point is that the forces this young woman trifled with are real and deadly. I don't want to contemplate what might have happened to her if she had continued without getting help. Clearly she opened herself to the scorpion's sting of demonic torment. In the last days, the Antichrist will unleash a torrent of occult and demonic ideas, lures, lies, and delusions, and virtually the entire human race will writhe under the spiritual torment of the scorpion's sting.

The Angel of the Abyss

In verses 7 through 11 John goes on to describe, in metaphoric terms, the locusts/demons from the Abyss and the horrible delusion they bring upon the earth.

9:7-11 The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. Their hair was like women's hair, and their teeth were like lions' teeth. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. They had tails and stings like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months. They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon.

In symbolic terms, John relates to us the nature of the propaganda which the Antichrist will unleash upon the earth and the effect of that propaganda upon the human race. At first glance, the symbols in this passage may seem difficult to understand, but they are really not difficult to interpret. They are consistent with symbols used elsewhere in Revelation and other prophetic books of Scripture.

The locusts take on the appearance of war-horses wearing something like crowns of gold, which speak of authority. As people hear the teachings and claims of this magnetic leader, he gives the impression of speaking with authority and power. The locusts wear human-like faces, which suggests intelligence. The teaching of the Antichrist will appear reasoned and appealing to the mind. Hair like women's hair suggests that which is alluring and attractive, which the Antichrist's propaganda will be.

But his propaganda will also be like lions' teeth penetrating, cruel, and frightening. When it is too late, many will find his teachings to be a deadly, devouring force from which there is no escape. Iron breastplates speak of hardness and callousness of heart, for the demonic forces behind the Antichrist's power are the most pitiless, merciless beings in the universe. Once their torment begins, there is no relief and no escape.

The sound of the locusts' wings is like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. The Antichrist's message will appear as an overpowering sound, symbolizing the fact that it will come forcefully and overpoweringly. This speaks of the fact that it will be irresistible to the masses, so that the Antichrist himself will become widely popular.

The stings in the locusts' tails, like the stings of scorpions, speak of the terrible aftermath of the Antichrist's influence: mental, emotional, and spiritual torment inflicted by demonic powers upon all those who opened themselves up to their oppression.

All of this will take place under the leadership of an invisible demonic king, the very angel of the Abyss. And who else could this be but Satan himself! Here we see the terrible infusion of demonic forces that will take place upon the earth in the terrible last days of human history and it will all take place under the leadership of Satan himself.

These terrible events, including the delusion of the entire human race into following after satanic leadership, has been foretold elsewhere in Scripture. As Paul warns his spiritual son Timothy, "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons."

We have already seen in our own culture the warning shocks of the satanic earthquake that will someday shake the world. In the 1960 s we saw a massive outpouring of evil into the world: self-styled messiahs and gurus, bizarre religious cults, UFO cults, drug cults, satanic "churches" and witches' covens, and even mass-murder cults such as the Manson family. Respect for traditions, authority, and moral standards crumbled. Revolutionary movements and terrorists from American radical groups such as the Symbionese Liberation Army (Patricia Hearst's kidnappers) and the Weathermen to West Germany's Baader-Meinhof gang and the Japanese Red Army came to bloody, explosive prominence during those years.

The present New Age movement, which has its attractive and alluring side as well as its overtly demonic practices, had its early stirrings in the decade of the '60 s. The leaders, gurus, and channelers of the New Age tell us that ancient spirit-masters of past ages are able to bring hidden wisdom to us in the twentieth century. I know of many people who have given themselves over to New Age delusion and have ended up in a state of mental torment and despair.

As potent as these demonic powers appeared in the decade of the '60 s and the flowering of the New Age in our own time, they are severely limited and restrained compared with what will come upon the world in the last days. The forces from the Abyss are clearly trying to break through into our own world and they are enjoying some limited success, as the continuing spiritual turmoil in our world demonstrates. But a day will come when all restraints are removed, and the horror of that day will exceed all human imagining.

The Sixth Angel

In verses 12 to 16 we hear the sounding of the sixth trumpet by the sixth angel.

9:12-16 The first woe is past; two other woes are yet to come.
The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the horns of the golden altar that is before God. It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, "Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates." And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number.

John now hears a voice that comes from the horns of the golden altar. We have already seen this altar in Revelation 8 the altar of incense on which was offered before God the prayers of the saints who were then living on the earth. In that passage an angel took fire from the altar and threw it down upon the earth and judgment followed.

Here, in the terrible events of the sixth angel and the sixth trumpet, the prayers of the saints in Revelation 6 are finally answered. Do you remember their prayer? "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" This second woe, the sixth trumpet judgment, is God's specific answer to their prayer.

Notice that God's answer takes the form of releasing four powerful fallen angels who have been bound for centuries at the great river Euphrates. But these evil beings have not been given free reign in the earth. God's control over them is sovereign, and His timing of this event is surgically precise. These fallen angels are released at the "very hour and day and month and year" God had long ago predetermined. No power, human or demonic, could change the timing of that event by as much as a second.

Notice that these events are all linked with the Euphrates River, the ancient boundary between the East and the West. The Euphrates flows out of the mountains of Armenia, down through the present-day lands of Iraq and Iran, and into the Persian Gulf. In the ancient world it formed the eastern boundary of the Roman Empire. The Romans lived in constant fear of the warlike Parthians who lived on the other side of the river. Israel, too, once feared invasion from across the Euphrates, for the great warrior nations of Assyria and Babylonia had previously ventured down from the north, across the river and into Israel.

In our own era, the Euphrates River was strategically important during the 1991 Gulf War which liberated Kuwait. During the 100-hour ground campaign of that war, the U.S. Army's 24 th Mechanized and 101 st Airborne Divisions trapped the elite Republican Guard of Iraq with its back pinned against the Euphrates River. Unable to escape, the Iraqi forces were decimated in one of the most lopsided military victories in recorded history.

It is at this ancient and historic river that four evil beings are somehow bound at this very moment, awaiting the very hour and day and month and year that God has foreordained for their release.

The 200-million-man army described in verse 16 has been subject to various interpretations. Many Bible commentators have claimed that this army is composed entirely of soldiers taken from the vast populations of Asian nations such as China, India, Japan, and Indochina. It is certainly true that the reference to the Euphrates River suggests that a barrier has been removed so that armies from the East can cross into the West.

But note the number of angels released at the Euphrates: four. Four is the number of worldwide human government. It symbolizes the four directions of the compass north, south, east, and west. This fact strongly suggests that the 200 million soldiers will come not from any one country or even any one direction, but from all directions.

It would be virtually impossible for any one nation or even a coalition of nations such as NATO to field such a vast army. Using the 1991 Gulf War as a yardstick of comparison, the armies of the thirty-nation U.N. coalition and the opposing army of Iraq added up to a combined total of about one million men and women in uniform one-half of one percent of the 200-million-man army described in Revelation 9. The largest army in the world is that of the Soviet Union with a little over 3 million men, followed by China with 2.3 million and India with 1.1 million. For one nation to field an army of 200 million would be logistically impossible.

The only logical conclusion is that the soldiers described in this passage come not only from the East, but from all directions. And they gather in one place. We find the name of that place in Revelation 16, and it is a name which has become associated with the end of the world:


Armageddon the Hebrew word for the Mount of Megiddo is a place in northern Israel, less than 20 miles southeast of the modern port city of Haifa. Revelation 9 gives us our first glimpse of the terrible forces of death and destruction that will gather in the plain of Megiddo. There the great armies of the earth will assemble from every point of the compass to fight the last and bloodiest war of all of human history.

Monstrous Slaughter

A fascinating mystery surrounds the additional description of this gathering of armies in verses 17 through 19. John recounts the vividly colorful symbols and images of his vision of the final conflict.

9:17-19 The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur. A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths. The power of the horses was in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails were like snakes, having heads with which they inflict injury.

What does this description mean? It hardly seems possible that John himself understood what he was looking at. All he could do was record his impressions of future warriors, armor, and weaponry far beyond his ability to imagine. In fact, the events described in this ancient book of prophecy are still in our own future, and thus may be beyond our ability to imagine as well.

Yet it seems clear that what John envisions for us is the machinery of modern (or future) military destruction translated into the military terminology of his own day. Breastplates of various colors seem to suggest armored chariots that is, tanks, troop carriers, missile launchers, rocket batteries, artillery pieces, and aircraft of various countries bearing the identifying colors of their nations of origin. Since there are so many nations gathered, it would be necessary that each nation's war material be clearly identified.

The lions' mouths which spouted fire and smoke suggest cannons, mortars, rocket launchers, and even missiles killing great masses of people with fire, radiation, and poison gases. The fact that one-third of the human race is destroyed in this conflict strongly suggests that weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, will be used.

Another intriguing image is that of the horses' tails, described as being like snakes, having heads that inflict injury. These words could apply to various kinds of modern armament helicopter gunships with rotors mounted on their long tail assemblies, or perhaps missiles which leave a snake-like trail of smoke in their wake and inflict injury with their warheads. Perhaps it is a description of weapons that are yet to be invented.

Regardless of what the details of these future images mean, the overall picture is clear and frightening. This last and greatest of all military campaigns will result in monstrous slaughter on an unbelievable scale. This scene will become still clearer as future chapters of Revelation return to this horrific scene and fill in additional nuances and details of the total picture.

The Unrepentant Human Race

The final scene under the sixth trumpet judgment is the reaction of mankind to these events of unprecedented calamity and horror.

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 worshiping 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.

Even after all the catastrophes and upheavals that have occurred, both natural and man-made, the human race remains unrepentant and hard-hearted. Notice that the first and foremost sin mentioned by John is that of demon worship. This one sin explains all the rest, as well as mankind's irrational and self-destructive unwillingness to repent.

These people have willingly and completely enwrapped themselves in a satanic delusion. Indeed, they have fallen under the spell of the "powerful delusion" Paul mentions in 2 Thessalonians 2:11. By their own willfulness, they have rendered themselves incapable of repentance, even as the fire of holy judgment begins to rain down all about them. And the ultimate source of their willfulness is the worship of demons. Some, perhaps, began to dabble in demonic things without any real understanding of the consequences, just as my friend from Alaska fooled with a Ouija board and astrology, and just as so many people today flirt with occult rituals or the New Age. Yet, even though they began naively, they paid the ultimate sacrifice for their sin: their eternal souls.

2 Thessalonians 2:11

11 Therefore God sends upon them a misleading influence, a working of error and a strong delusion to make them believe what is false, AMP

I suspect that few people set out to worship demons knowing they are demons. They may seek the advice of a "spirit being" which speaks through a "channeler" or "medium." They may keep a medal, amulet, or figurine as a "good luck charm." They may seek "spiritual power" from a crystal that they keep on their desks or wear around their necks. But the practice is idolatrous nonetheless and the source of the power of such practices is hell itself.

There is a note of sarcasm in John's words when he talks about "idols that cannot see or hear or walk." The superstitious submission of oneself to an idol made of wood or stone or crystal is the ultimate in human folly! How can we, who are created in the likeness of God, make ourselves grovel and pray before inert lumps of dead matter? Yet it is not unusual anymore to encounter well-educated, successful, intelligent men and women in our own culture harboring beliefs and practicing rituals that are scarcely a step removed from pagan tribal rituals of a prior age.

John tells us that the hardened, unrepentant unbelievers of the last days will continue their murders possibly including the killing of the very young through abortion and infanticide and the killing of the very old and infirm through involuntary euthanasia. Abortion is already practiced worldwide with few restrictions, and increasing numbers of legally-sanctioned infanticide and euthanasia cases are already taking place.

John goes on to say that the people in the last days will not repent of their magic arts. The original Greek word for "magic arts" is pharmakeia, from which we get such words as pharmaceutical and pharmacy. This is in fact a reference to the use of illicit mind-altering and mood-altering drugs a practice which is clearly an epidemic in our own culture. Drug abuse is such an obviously self-destructive and irrational form of behavior that it's a wonder people engage in it. It's clear that, once started, a drug habit is hard to stop but why do people start? Because drugs have the "magical" power to alter the way people perceive and experience reality. It is one of the sorceries of our age and the problem will grow worse, not better, as we near the end of this age.

The people of that time will also engage in sexual immorality and theft. Certainly there is no lack of sexual immorality or thievery in our own era, but as the end nears, the extent and the brazenness of such sins will greatly increase. All of these things will take place in the shadow of an unprecedented holocaust in which one-third of the human race is obliterated. On the brink of judgment, human beings will not only refuse to repent, they will actually accelerate the pace of their sinning. It is as though people insisted on carrying on their idolatry, their murders, their drug and sex orgies, and their robberies while the mushroom clouds of nuclear war bloomed all around the horizon. It can only be described as spiritual mass insanity.

Why Judgment?

In the face of humanity's obdurate refusal to turn away from its sin we must ask, "Why judgment? What is judgment for if it is totally ineffectual in producing a change of heart and a change of life?"

Remember, however, that the book of Revelation has already told us that millions will repent. Let us not forget that "great multitude which no man can number," people of every tribe and nation and language who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. They have come out of the Great Tribulation, and they are before the throne of God. They have learned the lesson of the judgments. They have believed. They have received the grace of God.

Here we witness the harshest, most chastening, most all-encompassing judgment ever unleashed upon the earth. Yet the human race is so perverted by its bent to sin, selfishness, and idolatry that millions of people remain completely unaffected. Their hearts are hardened. They have trampled the grace of God underfoot.

God never expected to convert the world through judgment. His plan is to save mankind through grace. But His judgment has the effect of causing us to think soberly and seriously. It causes us to listen to grace. It makes us attentive to the way of escape God has offered. In a time of judgment we see the power, the majesty, and the utter inescapability of God. It forces us to ask, "What can I do to be saved? Is there no way out? What can I do?"

And for those who respond to His judgment, God provides a message of hope and grace. He shows us the suffering love with which He loves us, exemplified by the cross. He shows us His compassionate heart the divine heart that wants nothing more than to bear our pain and our sorrow. The positive effect of judgment is that it melts our pride, silences our excuses, and prepares our hearts to humbly receive His grace.

"How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" asks the writer of Hebrews. How indeed? How can any of us escape if we ignore the gift of God's grace. For if we ignore the grace of God while He is speaking to us and even shouting to us through both His blessings and His chastening, then our end is clear. "Today, if you hear his voice," the writer of Hebrews concludes, "do not harden your hearts."

God does not want to judge the people He has created, the people for whom He has given His only Son to die. But for those who reject the way of escape which God has supplied in His love and His mercy, all that is left is judgment.

You have heard the phrase, "Stop the world, I want to get off!" Many of us feel that way, especially if we read our newspapers alongside the open book of Revelation. It is clear that the world is lumbering inexorably toward global judgment. No one wants to be here when the axe of divine judgment finally falls.

The good news is that we don't have to undergo the judgment that is coming upon the rest of mankind. If we lay hold of the great salvation God freely offers us by His grace, we will be safe in the presence of Jesus when all hell breaks loose on earth.

(from God's Final Word, Copyright 1991 Ray Stedman.)