Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The Blowing of the Trumpets (Rev. 8-9)

We see from verse 1 that the seventh seal was a period of silence of half an hour in heaven. I would suggest the silence points to two responses. First, it is designed to make us ponder the awfulness of the situations that have been described in the six seals and to prepare ourselves for what is coming next. I think that is what John would have done. Second, there may be an allusion to the practice in the Jerusalem temple of praying silently before God, and there is an obvious connection in the passage with prayer. In the Old Testament, silence was an expression of both repentance and reverence, and was therefore a form of response to God.

The seventh seal is concerned with seven trumpets that seven angels have been appointed to blow. Blowing of trumpets was often a call to battle in the ancient world, and we can see from the details of what was signified by the trumpets that a battle, or series of battles, is about to take place. Before that commences, a description is given of an incident in heaven.

Before the trumpets sound (Rev. 8:1-5)

It looks as if we are invited to consider an august moment in heaven. The most elevated angels are involved because we are told that the seven trumpeters are seven angels who usually stand in the presence of God. We can regard them as the administrators of his will, and when we read later about the contents of the trumpets we will see that their actions are solemn.

Before they blow their trumpets, another angel appears. He also must be very important because the trumpets cannot be blown until he engages in what looks like a priestly activity. Who is this angel? His task is twofold. First, he is to make the prayers of the saints acceptable to God, and second, he is to pour out judgement on the earth. Given those activities, it looks as if this angel is speaking on behalf of the Son of God because he is the One who performs those actions. He alone makes the prayers of his people acceptable and he alone can send judgement on the earth.

We should observe what God’s people are called here, saints. One of the consequences of the influence of the Bible in a culture is that its words can become commonplace and used without a biblical meaning. A sample of this is the word saint and words connected to it such as saintly. If someone does a good deed, he is called a saint. The problem with that is we can lose the meaning of what a saint is. A saint is a word that describes every Christian. It signifies that they belong to God, they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and they have received special privileges from God. One of the privileges is prayer, which is speaking to God about specific matters.

This vision is a reminder that the prayers of saints are made acceptable in heaven. There is not a reason in them why God should listen to them unless he has chosen to do so. We are also told that the prayers need much incense, which is a reminder that their prayers are polluted, and also a reminder that Jesus has a lot of grace to give. Moreover, we are told that it is the prayers of all saints that are made acceptable, which means that the Saviour is able to combine them and to answer them all.

The vision is also a reminder that the authority in heaven functions in a manner that connects divine activities to the prayers of believers. This does not mean that the believers ask Jesus to send the judgements, but it does mean that God regarded judgements as the right way to answer their prayers.

This aspect also reminds us that answering prayer is one of the major ways by which God fulfils his eternal purpose. The prayers are connected to the opening of the book with the seven seals that was given to the Saviour when he ascended to the throne of God. His task is to open this scroll and reveal its contents. Earlier, in chapter 6, we were told that the inhabitants of heaven ask God about the judgements, but their interest is not prayer in the way that we understand prayer. The inclusion of answers to our prayers does point to the dignity we have in access to the presence of God.

When we consider the various pictures that are made in the events caused by the trumpets, we see that they are major events. Such events were not confined to the first century. We are being told here that powerless saints have power because God works always for the benefit of his kingdom.

One author likens prayer to the invisible highway between heaven and earth. Our requests are carried up the highway to God and then he sends down his answers, which may be big or small. The answer may not be what was anticipated by the petitioners, but it is the best answer to their requests.
The seven trumpets (Rev. 8:6–9:20)
The seven trumpets divide into two sections. Trumpets one to four are described in 8:6-12. Then 8:13 contains an introduction to the remaining trumpet, and a lot more happens when they are blown than took place under trumpets one to four. Trumpets five, six and seven are each said to bring woe, and since trumpet seven is concerned with the Day of Judgement (11:15) we should not be surprised that it is connected to a woe.

The first four trumpets describe the outpouring of various divine judgements on the earth, sea, creatures and cosmic bodies, with each of the judgements affecting one third. Although these judgements are serious and affect a lot of people, as well as other daily circumstances, they are not yet the full judgement that will occur when the seventh trumpet is blown. So the trumpets are reminders that greater judgement is coming.

There seems to be a similarity here with the plagues that God sent on Egypt, and since they were the indicators that redemption for Israel was near, so John is being told that signs of divine judgement on the earth are indicators that eternal redemption is about to happen.

The fifth trumpet, one of the woes on humanity, is likened to a war between locusts and humans (9:1-12). The locusts describe demons, the followers of the devil; here he is called by names that mean destroyer. His army is described as travelling rapidly around the earth, inflicting damage everywhere. An unusual perspective is given here in that the targets of the demonic powers are not believers, but everyone else (9:4). So while they are opposing the church, somehow they are being destroyed because they cannot escape from the demonic onslaught.

What is the teaching behind the fifth trumpet? One is that the powers of darkness are under the control of God. He decides when they can be unleashed. A second lesson is that there are times when God lets this happen for the detriment of humanity. It is possible that we are living in such a time because we can see much taking place that indicates evil influences in the world. This was the case when the Book of Revelation was written. The church of Jesus was undergoing opposition and God sent his judgements on the world by not hindering the powers that hate the world.

The sixth trumpet (9:13-19) contains details similar to the fifth in that an army follows four angels who are released for a specific time in order to kill one third of mankind by various plagues. It may be that John is using one of the fears that dominated Roman thinking, which was that the Parthians from the other side of the Euphrates would invade the Empire and destroy it. Their soldiers were regarded as fierce and were a suitable illustration of an army that is far worse.

The soldiers of this army ride on horses that have the power to poison their victims (like scorpions). This looks like another description of the demonic army. Since they are not allowed to commence their activities until God allows, we have here another reminder that he is in control of all creatures, and can use those who oppose him in the outworking of his plans. But it is also a reminder that there is a spiritual conflict taking place. God is working to save his people; the powers of darkness are working to destroy sinners eternally.

What was the response of people to the judgements indicated by the six trumpets? John tells us that they refused to repent of their sinful actions and attitudes towards God or towards one another. Living under circumstances of divine judgement does not change the hearts of sinners. They remain opposed to God and his kingdom.

One would expect the seventh trumpet to sound next. Yet it will not come until Revelation 11:15, when it will announce the Day of Judgement. Before then, John is given more details for his readers to consider, and they are detailed in chapter 10.
The first application is concerned with the matter of prayer. It is obvious from this set of two chapters that a crucial element in the outworking of God’s purpose is the prayers of his people. I think we need to ask ourselves if our prayers are occupied with ourselves or with others. We need to pray for ourselves, yet part of the background to this heavenly vision is the persecution of the church. Believers prayed about that, and God answered those prayers in a global manner. Another background detail is the book in the hands of the King, which I have suggested is the book of life. Our prayers should be for the further opening of the scroll, for more people to come into the kingdom.

Second, in this set of pictures, we are being told what perspective to have on people who live on the earth. John’s readers are informed that in the world there are basically two groups of people. There are those who are saved and there are those who are not. As far as the enemy powers of the bottomless pit are concerned, they plan to kill Christians and end their lives here and they work to destroy eternally everyone else. At the same time, the perspective includes an awareness of divine judgement taking place.

Third, we are told that divine judgements in themselves will not lead to repentance by those who survive them. It is possible for us to consider places where there have been terrible wars and ask how many were converted. We can observe places where there have been earthquakes and famines and ask how many were converted. The fact is, judgements occur every day and very few are affected in a spiritual way. This is a reminder that the gospel must also be declared.
Preached on 3/5/2017

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