************ Sermon on Revelation 9:12-21 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 17, 2008
"The Sixth Trumpet"
Let me remind you where we are at in the Revelation. Jesus is opening the seven seals on the scroll of destiny. With the opening of each seal, there comes judgment. Remember what happens with the opening of the seventh seal? Seven angels are given seven trumpets. The first four angels blow their trumpets and judgment falls from heaven to earth – judgment, we discovered, that is very similar to the plagues visited upon Egypt.
Before the fifth angel blows his trumpet, we are told about three "woes":
(Rev 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!"This tells us that the next three trumpet judgments are worse than the first four trumpet judgments – far, far, far worse. You think to yourself, "What could possibly be worse than the plagues that fell upon Egypt?"
When the fifth angel blows his trumpet, judgment comes from below rather than above. At the command of God, Satan opens the Abyss, the place of devils and demons. Locusts come out of the Abyss but they aren't really locusts – we are told they are like scorpions. But they aren't really scorpions either – they are described in horrible detail and we quickly realize they are devils and demons. These locusts/ scorpions/ demons are given power to attack and harm and torture the inhabitants of the earth. The suffering is so intense that these inhabitants of the earth quickly wish for death.
"The first woe is past; two other woes are yet to come" (Rev 9:12). Today we look at the second woe. This judgment, too, is worse than that of the first four trumpets. Furthermore, this judgment finishes or completes the first woe – because it moves from torture to death, and a third of humankind will die. With the opening of the first four seals, it is depraved humans who go to war against one another; in the sixth trumpet judgment, like the fifth trumpet judgment, it is demonic powers that go to war against depraved humans.
"Woe! Woe! Woe!" Woe to whom? What does Revelation 8:13 say? Do you remember? "Woe to the inhabitants of the earth." This is a technical term in the Revelation. "Inhabitants of the earth" are unbelievers, earth dwellers, those who adopt the vain philosophies of this world, those who have rejected God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, those who live for the world and the things of this world.
"Woe! Woe! Woe!" This is nothing for Christians to fear because they are not earth dwellers; they have accepted God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. "Woe! Woe! Woe!" This is nothing for Christians to fear because they know God is in control. The locusts /scorpions /demons of the fifth trumpet judgment and the four angels of the sixth trumpet judgment are doing the bidding of God, they operate under the providence of God, they follow God's commands. Christians know it is God's plan – not Satan's – that is moving to completion.
"Woe! Woe! Woe!" John's audience loved to hear this. They needed to hear this. Why? Don't forget, many of them are or will be Gospel martyrs. They have lost their jobs, trades, homes, businesses, lives, family – all for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. As they look around the world in which they live, it seems as if wicked Rome is so strong and so triumphant. Now along comes John saying to Rome, "Woe! Woe! Woe!"
I Release of the Four Angels
A The sixth trumpet judgment starts with a voice. Listen to what John writes:
(Rev 9:13) The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the horns of the golden altar that is before God.Is the altar speaking? Is that what John means? No! John has something else in mind. We aren't told this, but it is clear that what John hears is the voice of God – or someone speaking on behalf of God and with the authority of God.
B Do you remember where else we saw this altar? We saw it in Revelation 6:
(Rev 6:9-10) When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. (10) They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?"
We also saw the altar in Revelation 8, after the opening of the seventh seal and before the blowing of the seven trumpets:
(Rev 8:3-4) 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. (4) The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand.
So, below the altar the Gospel martyrs cried out for justice. And, above the altar one of heaven's angels mixed those prayers and cries with the pleasing aroma of incense.
Now, from that same altar a voice says, "Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates." However we are to understand this, we know it has something to do with the cries and prayers of the saints for justice.
C Before I say more about the four angels, let me say something about the Euphrates. As you may know, it is a river, the longest river in west Asia. What is important here is not its geographical location but what it represents.
The Euphrates River marked the East boundary of the Roman Empire. Just across the river were the Parthians. The cavalry of the Parthians were the greatest of the Ancient World. Rome controlled the North, the South, and the West; Rome had no control over the East. Rome's biggest fear was that the Parthian cavalry would cross the Euphrates and invade the Empire.
In the history of God's people in the Old Testament, what came from the East, from the Euphrates and beyond? Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, lay to the East; Nineveh, who conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel and took the people into captivity as God's judgment for their idolatry. Babylon lay to the East; Babylon, who conquered the southern Kingdom of Judah and took the people into captivity as God's judgment for their idolatry.
"Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates" (Rev 9:14). Do you see what the Euphrates represents – whether you are Roman or Jew? The Euphrates represents judgment, it represents conquest, it represents a fierce enemy. Here is a statement that God is about to pour out judgment by a terrifying army. But, remember, this is one of the woes. "Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth" (Rev 8:13). This is nothing for God's people to fear because this is directed – like the previous woe – against the enemies of God. Also, remember, this woe is in response to the prayers and cries of the saints for justice.
D Now, let's take a closer look at the angels. We are told three things about the four angels:
(Rev 9:14-16) "Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates." (15) 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. (16) The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number.
First, we are told the angels are "bound." They are restrained, they are held back against their will. Many mornings a member of the Visalia Police Department is on the back of the church property with a police dog. I sometimes watch the dog being trained. The officer holds the dog and won't let it go. Finally, the dog is released and takes off like a dart. The angels that John sees are similarly bound and restrained. They are panting and straining and aching to begin their work of judgment. We aren't told how long they have been bound but the Greek suggests it has been a continual state of existence.
Do you remember that we met the same angels at the beginning of Revelation 7? There, the four angels who had "power to harm the land and the sea" were restrained "until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God" (Rev 7:3).
Second, we are told the angels have been "released." Going back to Revelation 7, the saints have been sealed, and now it is time to "release" the forces, the angels, of destruction. The leash holding them back has been removed. But, this happens only at the command of the voice from the altar. Finally, they can begin their work of judgment.
Third, we are told the angels have "been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year." Why have they been created? What is the purpose of their existence? What is their calling? All of their existence comes down to this one single moment. The moment has finally come for them to do their work of judgment. What is this moment? We have been saying all along in our study of the Revelation that all the events and judgments we have come across take place between the two comings of Jesus Christ. So, the angels have been kept ready throughout the ages for the time of Christ's ascension into heaven. Once that has happened, then have they been released. And, they will do their work until the time of Christ's return.
E Bound. Released. Kept ready. Who did the bounding? Who did the releasing? Who kept them ready? The Greek uses the passive voice. In the Revelation, we have been calling this the "divine passive." God has bound them. God has released them. God has kept them ready. The four angels come under the authority and control and sovereignty of God. They have been ordained by God and come under the plan of God. The four angels have no freedom to act until the moment God designates has come.
F Bound. Released. Kept ready. Bound from what? Released for what? Kept ready to do what? What is their specific objective? We are told: "to kill a third of mankind." Don't forget, this is a "woe" for unbelieving mankind. It is worse than what has happened before. Remember how the opening of the seals means death for a quarter of the population (Rev 6:8). But the blowing of the sixth trumpet means death for a third of humankind.
How do the "bound," "released," "kept ready" angels do this judgment of killing a third of mankind? What is written on the death certificates? We aren't told. The angels disappear from the scene. Instead of angels, we see horses and riders, an army of mounted troops. John wants us to think of the Parthian cavalry on the other side of the Euphrates. And, then, in the very next scene, the riders also disappear and all we are left with is the horses.
G John also mentions a number – two hundred million mounted troops. A literal translation of the Greek reads "two myriads of myriads." We hear a similar phrase in the heavenly worship scene of Revelation 5; there, the crowd of angels worshiping God is stated as "myriad of myriads." But what John sees in Revelation 9 is double that number: "two myriads of myriads."
How big an army are we talking about? Consider this: the Roman army in the first century was composed of twenty-five legions or about 125,000 soldiers and an army reserve of another 125,000. The army that John sees is a thousand times bigger.
What do you think this said to the average believer of the first century? The army controlled by God is a thousand times bigger than the army controlled by Rome! What comfort and courage and strength this must have given to John's persecuted audience.
Are we to take this literally? Is God going to unleash a two hundred million strong army upon the earth to kill one-third of mankind? There was a time when some believed the army of two hundred million was the Warsaw Pact – you know, the U.S.S.R. and its allies. Then, as China increased in population, there were those who claimed this was the Chinese. Now that India is the world's most populous country, I am sure there are those who identify the army with India. Just the fact that the identity of the army keeps being changed should tell us to be careful. Also, look at verse 17: "The horses and riders I saw in my vision ..." Did you hear that? John was having a vision. This wasn't real. This was something dream-like – though inspired, of course. This is apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic literature is not meant to be taken literally. It is a vision, a dream, in 3-D color – it is something meant to be seen and imagined.
What is seen is not real. But its message certainly is: "Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth ..." (Rev 8:13). This is a warning for earth-dwellers to repent or else, before it is too late.
II Demonic Warhorses
A John now proceeds to describe for us the mounted troops, the cavalry, that he sees:
(Rev 9:17) 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.
First of all, we notice the breastplates. Remember the breastplates of iron worn by the locusts /scorpions /demons? They can't be stopped; resistence is futile. We need to assume that the mounted riders of the sixth trumpet judgment are as invincible as the demons of the fifth trumpet judgment.
B We also notice the colors of the breastplates. Fiery red – that is the color of fire. Dark blue – that is the color of smoke. Yellow as sulfur – that is the color of sulfur. Any of this sound familiar? Isn't this the description of the judgment at Sodom and Gomorrah?
(Gen 19:24,28) Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah --from the LORD out of the heavens ... (28) He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.Isn't this also a description of hell – the final place of those under the judgment of God?
Do you hear what John is telling us? The consequence of the mounted cavalry is death and hell's destruction for unbelievers. "Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth ..." (Rev 8:13).
Remember, though, this is from God. This is from God in response to the prayers of the Gospel martyrs.
C We also notice the mention of lions: "The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions" (Rev 9:17). The locusts /scorpions /demons of the fifth trumpet were described as lions – "their teeth were like lions' teeth" (Rev 9:8). What does the lion description tell us? Lions devour their prey. Lions are hungry. Lions are ferocious. The mounted cavalry will devour the unbelieving like lions devour their prey so that a third of mankind is killed.
Remember, this happens throughout the time between the two comings of Jesus Christ. So, this leads me to conclude it includes every form of death we see in the world:
-death by warfare, bullets, missiles, bombs, spears, arrows, swords
-death by terrorist assault, drive-by shootings
-death by AIDS, alcoholism, drug abuse
-death by earthquakes, tornadoes, tidal waves, hurricanes
-death by car accidents and plane crashes
-death by cancer, heart attacks, strokes
But Adrian, you might say, don't Christians die from these as well? I thought we were talking about the death of earth dwellers in response to the prayers of the saints?
Yes, we are talking about three woes. Yes, we are talking about God's response to the prayers of the saints. And yes, Christians do die from these things. But, for Christians, this is not judgment. For Christians, this puts an end to sin and marks their entrance into eternal life. On the other hand, for unbelievers, for earth dwellers, think of what this means: not only do they die, but they die without being saved and without the possibility of being saved. Just like that, they lose their body and their soul descends into hell. That is punishment. That is judgment.
D Finally, we also notice the mention of snakes: "their tails were like snakes, having heads with which they inflict injury" (Rev 9:19). Now, what does the Bible tells us about snakes or serpents? Back at the beginning of time, it was Satan, disguised as a snake, who deceived Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In Revelation 12:9, we are told Satan "leads the whole world astray." In Revelation 20:3, Satan is locked and sealed into the Abyss "to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore." Do you hear the common refrain? Serpents deceive.
What is the deception here? Listen to what John says in the last two verses:
(Rev 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. (21) Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.
You would think, wouldn't you, that all the prior judgments – the seven seal judgments, the first five trumpet judgments – would make earth dwellers wake up and repent and believe in Jesus and the Gospel. But they don't. Why not? Because of the deception of the serpent!
Do you know what the serpent says? You don't need to repent – right now; you can wait a while. You can worship someone besides the one only true God. You can continue to murder and steal and commit adultery. Don't worry about it.
"Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!" (Rev 8:13).
If you are not a Christian – repent before it is too late. If you are a Christian, this is God's judgment in response to your prayers.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page