Session 11

Revelation Study – Session 11

 

Ray Summers points out that running like a thread throughout Edward Gibbon’s classic work The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is the truth that three great things combined to overthrow Rome:

  • Natural disaster (floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions)
  • Internal rottenness (long line of corrupt leaders)
  • External invasion (from old and new enemies)

Those three things combined to bring down an empire that once appeared to be invincible.

 

In the later part of the 1st century the beginnings of the destruction of Rome could be seen, especially by those who, like John, interpreted such events through eyes of faith.  John saw that the great enemy and persecutor of Christians was not invincible and would not escape the judgment of God.  And throughout Revelation, using graphic symbolic language, natural disasters, internal rottenness, and external invasion are portrayed as instruments used by God to vindicate his oppressed, persecuted people.

 

These three great instruments of judgment can clearly be seen in the series of seven trumpets in Revelation 8 & 9.  As we progress in this study, it is important to keep in mind the structure of Revelation.  This great drama of redemption in presented in seven acts. 

Introduction introducing the writer/director/audience (chapters 1:1 – 3:22)

Act 1 – Vision of God on His throne and the Lamb of God (chapters 4:1 – 5:14)

Act 2 – The breaking of the seven seals revealing the judgments of God (chapters 6:1 – 8:5)

Act 3 – The sounding of the seven trumpets showing additional features of the judgments of God (chapters 8:6 – 11:19)

Act 4 – The revelation of seven significant signs revealing the identity of the

combatants in the conflict between good and evil (chapters 12:1 – 14:20)

Act 5 – The pouring out of the seven bowls of wrath revealing the totality of God’s judgment (15:1 – 16:21)

Act 6 – The revealing of seven scenes of celebration of God’s victory over evil (chapters 17:1 – 20:10)

Act 7 – The revealing of the destiny of unbelievers and believers, of unredeemed and redeemed (chapters 20:11-22:5)

Conclusion (chapter 22:6-21)

 

I agree with those scholars who contend that the series of sevens in the heart of this drama deal essentially with the same thing:  The judgment of God upon those who are His enemies and the enemies of His people.  While the judgments focus primarily on events in the 1st century, they are indicative of God’s activity in every century.  And they certainly are reminders and predictors of a more intense time of judgment to come just before the Lord returns to earth.

 

The seven trumpets symbolize in graphic form the three major contributors to the fall of Rome:

  • Trumpets 1-4 – God’s judgment through natural disaster.

(1)   Trumpet 1 – Judgment on land/vegetation...

(2)   Trumpet 2 – Judgment on sea

(3)   Trumpet 3 – Judgment on fresh water

(4)   Trumpet 4 – Judgment on heavenly bodies

Natural disasters played a significant role in Rome’s demise.

  • Trumpet 5 – God’s judgment through internal rottenness.
  • Trumpet 6 – God’s judgment through external invasion.
  • Trumpet 7 – After an interlude in chapters 10 & 11, 7th trumpet sounds which then leads to the seven signs in chapters 12 – 15.

 

In this session we are going to focus on chapter 9 in which the angels sound the 5th and 6th of the 7 trumpets.

 

THE FIFTH TRUMPET (9:1-12) – Before read want share with you a statement from Worthy is the Lamb by Ray Summers:  “It must be understood that this is symbolical language.  It must also be understood that this is pageantry, and the details are used to make the play more impressive.  One is not to become so interested in the details of appearance that he misses the actor’s ‘lines.’  Many attempts have been made to determine the exact meaning of each detail in this picture.  Such efforts have been unprofitable.” [p.158]

 

Want to say a brief word about some of the specific symbols in this vision, and then look at some possible ways to interpret this.

“star ... fallen to the earth” – Ancient people often related stars to angels/messengers of God...this star is personified and releases terrible destruction upon the earth...scholars dispute whether should be viewed as “good” angel, simply following God’s orders, or “evil” angel working against the will of God...

 

“bottomless pit” – A three tiered universe was the standard world-view of ancient people...heaven above, earth in the middle, the places of evil beneath...this concept appears time and time again in Revelation...on numerous occasions John speaks of “the abyss” which is the abode of evil spirits and Satan, himself...

 

“locusts” - Swarms of locusts were common in the Middle East.  They breed in the desert and then invade cultivated lands for food supply.

·         Coming from the same family as the grasshopper and cricket, they reach a length of ca.1” and a wingspan of ca.5”

·         Sometimes travel in columns 100’ deep and as much as 4 miles long

·         In just a few minutes can completely strip an area of all living vegetation

Because of their destructive nature and because they were such a common sight, all through O.T. they are used as a symbol of judgment and destruction.

·         In EX 10 they form the eighth plague sent on the Egyptians

·         In Joel they form the backdrop for the book.  John drew much of this material from Joel 1 & 2

Were not ordinary locusts...differed in what they did...ordinary locusts do not harm people directly...these stung like scorpions...certainly differed in appearance...cf. vv.7-9...while all kinds of while speculation about the meanings of those details, I think given simply to magnify the horror of this judgment...not a light thing... terrifying...

 

“hurt ... only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads” – Refers back to chapter 7...this judgment not directed toward all people...directed toward those not protected by God...

 

“to hurt men for five months” – Two  interpretations have been offered

·         One writer says that is normal life span of locusts...saying their time would not be shortened...the judgment caused by them would run its complete course...

·         Others say the specific amount of time is to emphasize that the judgment would not be complete...similar to the use of 1/3 in trumpets 1 through 4...

 

“they have as king...Abaddon...Apollyon...” – Both words carry the idea of “destroyer”...some have speculated may be a veiled reference to the Roman Emperor Domitian, who liked to think of himself as Apollo incarnate [BBC, p.297]...god from Greek and Roman mythology who was depicted more in art than any other of the gods...

 

What does this vision mean?  As in the case of all the visions of Revelation, how you interpret it is dependent on your approach to the book.

  • Futurist (Most of Revelation deals with the 7 year tribulation period between the second and third comings of Christ) – The locusts represent an invading army from the east of which Russia will be a key part...some identify this army with that of Gog in Ezekiel 38...Hal Lindsey suggests the description of the locusts may refer to military helicopters...
  • Historical-Background Method (Interprets book in its original setting, looking for the obvious meaning for those who received it in 1st century.  Also sees in Revelation principles that apply to all Christians of all eras who suffer of their faith.  And this method recognizes the clear eschatological implications of Revelation, especially toward the end of the book.) – Views locust coming from within the earth as symbolic of the internal strife and decadence within the Roman Empire.  Not only would judgment come form natural disaster (trumpets 1-4) and external invasion (trumpet 6), it also comes form moral and spiritual decay from within.

 

Want to end discussion of the 5th trumpet on positive note.  I’ve said it to you many times before…will continue to say it.  Revelation is a book of hope and encouragement.   Not meant to frighten God’s people…build them up....message of hope that permeates this fifth trumpet…God is in control.

vs. 1 – “was given to him”

vs. 3 – “power was given them’

vs. 4 – “they were told”

vs. 5 – “they were not permitted”

Nothing happened except as permitted and directed by God, Himself.  God is in control and God takes care of His people. 

 

THE SIXTH TRUMPET (9:13-21)  As in the case of the previous vision, how one interprets this depends on one’s approach to Revelation.  Share in summary fashion the major approaches. 

 

  • Futurist – Some interpret this as a literal army coming from the east.  Hal Lindsey suggests that it would be possible for China to have as many as 200 million soldiers under arms.  He points out that this is the only time in history where an army of that size has could exist.  When John wrote these words, the entire world population was less than 200 million!  He states that the horses with heads like lions which belch out fire, smoke, and brimstone (v.17) may refer to some kind of mobilized ballistic missile launcher which is capable of delivering nuclear weapons to cause the kind of destruction described in this vision.  This view takes a quite literal approach to interpreting this vision, which, it seems to me, misses the point of apocalyptic literature.  Others spiritualize this army, saying it is an army of demons.  Some of pointed out the physical impossibility of putting an army of 200 million in the middle east.  They say to move and supply such an army would be impossible in light of geographical and supply limitations of that area.  Thus, they say this represents demonic forces that God allows to be unleashed on the enemies of His people.

 

  • Historical Background – Sees this as another tool God used in the destruction of Rome...external invasion...most take this to be symbolizing the Parthian army, Rome’s greatly feared enemy to the east...they point out that:
    • Parthians came from the eastern edge of the Empire in the direction of the Euphrates...
    • Dressed their horses and themselves in bright armor...
    • Often used the colors described in v.17

Ray Summers, Worth is the Lamb -   “The whole picture presents the Parthian cavalry from the land of the Euphrates.  This group was Rome’s most dreaded enemy and a constant threat to her eastern boundary.  The description given in this passage is such as to terrorize any opponent.  Feature a horse with a lion’s head, with fire, smoke, and blazing sulphur coming from his mouth, with a poisonous snake in place of a tail.  The combined efforts of P. T. Barnum and Robert Ripley could not produce such an animal!  Now multiply that by 200,000,000 and get the picture of the army marching on Rome.  This whole picture is given to symbolize external invasion, which would serve as an instrument in God’s hand to punish the oppressors of his people.”

 

At first glance vv.20-21 appear depressing.  Those not killed by the invading hordes refused to turn away from their evil.  They continued their worship of evil, idolatry, and immorality.   However, these verses actually contain a word of hope for God’s people.  The point is, this judgment is on those who oppose God.  It is a judgment on those aligned with the world, not with God.  While Christians may experience trial in this world, and while they may even be impacted by God’s judgments on an evil world system, their trial is not judgment.  Those who refuse to repent face only more judgment from God, as the coming parts of Revelation will reveal.

 

In this chapter, which speaks of both internal and external judgment on Rome for its persecution of God’s people, is a word for all nations.  For those who had eyes to see and ears to hear, here is God’s warning to Roman Empire that no nation will stand forever, especially if that nation disregards God. Herschel Hobbs points out that just as human beings have a life cycle (infancy-childhood-adolescence-young adult-middle age-senior adult) so do nations.  The life cycle of nations tends to follow this pattern:

·         hard living & sacrifice

·         conquest & victory

·         prosperity & ease

·         moral & physical decay

·         decline & oblivion

I do not believe that the cycle is inevitable, but it did happen to Rome & has happened to many nations since Rome.  And to me at least, the cycle is apparent in our nation.

·         colonialzation/revolution

·         conquering of continent

·         industrial revolution

·         Now is a time of moral and physical decay

·         Future will be decline and oblivion if we don’t change course

 

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