Seeing the Invisible
We are currently in the 2nd portion of Revelation ch. 9. As we saw last time, a pretty challenging chapter due to the nature of its imagery.
Once again, we are approaching this structure of Jesus addressing the 7 churches in Asia as they were in John’s day; moving on to Jesus opening the 7 seals of the scroll which lays out and begins God’s final program for judging sin and rewarding His saints; and now the sounding of the 7 trumpets which appear to be warnings and enlargements on the way God’s judgments will take place; and then on to the 7 bowls which seem to be the actual final events being accomplished.
And just as John reminds us in his own 1st letter, 1 John 2:18 “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” – All the way through this book of Revelation we have this dynamic of the very final things yet to come, but in some capacity we’re are already experiencing some of those things now. I believe this 9th chapter gives us a real sense of that.
This of course is fully in keeping with Jesus’ words to John in Rev. 1:19 “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.”
Because Jesus reveals Himself several times as: Rev. 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” We should expect this back and forth between things which are already history, some things contemporaneous with ourselves and some things yet to come. Trying to slice these too thinly may be not really be possible with much certainty. Though there are places where the timeframe is more evident.
So, at the sounding of the 5th trumpet, we were introduced to the reality that not only is God in Heaven and doing things, and that we are on earth doing things, but also there is the unseen realm of the demonic and that also has to factor into how we understand what is going on around us. And we saw that the chief work of Satan and his demons is to perpetuate deceptions to keep people from knowing God as He truly his, our own sinful, fallen condition and its implications, and especially our need of salvation and how that has been provided for in the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus – especially His substitutionary death on the cross and salvation by faith in it.
Now, at the sounding of the 6th trumpet, a voice comes from the altar in Heaven – an indication this would be the voice of God Himself – issuing a command that has further massive implications on earth.
- (13-15) “Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind.”
The command is to set free 4 angels, who had apparently been kept bound by God – most likely in judgment. That would be in keeping with what we saw last time – how the angels who rebelled against God earlier were consigned to chains of darkness. (2 Pet., Jude 6)
These particular angels are bound at the river Euphrates. And they are released according to a divine time table of some sort.
What we are probably looking at here is not so much a geographical reference, as it is what the geography represents.
Looking back at the whole Old Testament and especially the passage we had read for us in Daniel, we recall the Euphrates basin was where Babylon was located. And the figure of Babylon always represented 2 things to the Jewish mind Biblically. We’ll see this developed more later in the book. But the 2 things Babylon most often represented to John and his 1st readers are these:
- Babylon was used as symbol of the contrast between human government and the World system, as opposed to God’s Reign and His people. This will be developed more in Revelation later.
- Babylon represented global conquest. The great Babylonian empire which conquered and destroyed Israel gave way to the Medo-Persian empire, then the Greek and the finally the Roman empire. And as the prophecy in Daniel demonstrates, there will NOT be another world empire like those – for in the days the Roman empire, Christ came and began to establish His empire, before which all other world empires had to crumble.
There will never again be a world empire the likes of those previous ones. But that does not mean the idea behind those empires is gone.
When prophecy mavens look for a one-world government politically or militarily, they are probably barking up the wrong tree. From what we see here, the “one-world government” is spiritual in nature. We are being exposed to the global deception of it even now; which is keeping people from the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and bound in the deception of human religion, material wealth, cultural morality and personal autonomy.
The world is captive to this system. This is the global empire of darkness as we saw last time. All the more insidious because of its seeming invisibility.
It is this invisible empire that is being exposed in this chapter as we began to see last time – and which is now expanded upon in the 6th warning, announcement or trumpet.
There is no bondage as great as that of the invisible chains of deception.
- (16-17) “The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths.”
Once again, we’re being confronted with images that are surreal, but communicate important ideas.
The number is simply meant to communicate immensity – 200 million. Just like the picture of the vast number of “locusts” in vs. 3 that darken the sky.
Breastplates clearly speak of war or battle of some sort. They are referred to as “troops” – the same way the locusts above were, both here, Joel and elsewhere.
Lion’s heads indicate ferocity.
Fire, sulfur and smoke are common images of judgment lumped together which we can trace throughout Scripture: (Gen. 19:24, 28; Deut. 29:23; Isa. 34:9–10; Ezek. 38:22 etc.).
But the most important feature is that “fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths.” Again, images like this one on the screen completely miss the point.
We’re already familiar with this kind of imagery, aren’t we?
Remember what we saw back in Ch.1 and the vision of the risen Jesus John saw there? Revelation 1:16 “In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.”
Do we imagine Jesus actually has a sword coming out of His mouth? Or do we instantly recognize that what is being depicted is the power and action of His word?
The same here. What is dangerous and devastating about these demonic entities is what they communicate! How they lie against the truth of God and spread deception that blinds people to the Gospel, so that they die in their sins.
- (18-19) “By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.”
By the lies these demons propagate, and what ensues or follows from those lies (the picture of their tails biting like serpents) – 1/3 of mankind dies.
And immediately our minds run to a picture of either some biological disaster or perhaps war – especially with the idea of 200,000,000 mounted troops. A specific event or battle.
But I am not so sure those interpretations fit with how this is all the result of darkness and deception.
Note first of all that earlier in the chapter, we’re told those sealed with the mark of God are spared from this. But in all human wars Christians have always suffered and died along with unbelievers. Something else is happening here.
Perhaps more fitting, and I am only suggesting here, but just perhaps – we’re witnessing something far more insidious. What if through the darkening of people’s eyes from Biblical truth, a doctrine, a pervasive point of view began to spread that justified the murder of untold millions – but all in the name of doing good, supporting human autonomy, in line with economic expediency, with the moral approval of the culture and even justified by those claiming to be religious ? Something like a global capitulation to – abortion?
Population today: 7.4 billion
Total number of abortions worldwide since 1980 – 1.5 billion
We’re not far off from 1/3 of mankind being slaughtered with governmental, cultural and moral approval, in the darkness of demonic deception and all right under our noses in those nations most championed as enlightened and evolved.
I’m not saying that specifically IS what is being referred to here. But it sure makes us realize how it can happen, with nary a hand raised in opposition. Happening, but still not alarming those in the following verses to repentance. For that is precisely what is recorded – they aren’t alarmed. They don’t repent.
- (20-21) “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.”
By virtue of their false teaching – what comes out of their mouths – they will seal the fate of 1/3 of mankind.
What’s happening here? Mankind is being decimated in unimaginable numbers, and the rest of humanity witnesses it, but doesn’t comprehend what’s going on.
The darkness and deception has so clouded their minds, they cannot see the reality of it. And so they don’t repent. They don’t understand that this is judgment for sin and demonically inspired. They just go about their business of serving material goods under the influence of demons. Increasing in their violence against one another in war, abortion, the character assassination that pervades social media, their humanly invented religion and spirituality, their sexual immorality and their greed.
None of it sinks in. They truly have become dumb sheep marching to their own slaughter.
So they do not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk. And for many, their idols of gold are enshrined in their bank accounts, while they live in their temples of stone and wood.
Nor do they repent of their murders (war, abortion, etc.).
Nor their sorceries.
I know it is common today for many to make a connection here between the Greek word “pharmakon” from which we have the English word pharmacy and the prevalent use of drugs in our culture. There is a slight possibility there, but that’s not really how language works. Like no one imagines that a butterfly has anything to do either with butter or flies.
The word as it was used then, had more to do with using means to manipulate reality – or especially manipulate God – or the cosmic or spiritual powers. It is more akin to the idea behind books like The Secret or even some books in Christian circles, like The Prayer of Jabez. More subtly, using rites, rituals, promises or behaviors etc., to get God to do what we want Him to do.
Bargaining with Him. Using obediences as means of bribery or cosmic arm twisting.
All of which is utterly and completely contrary to Biblical truth, and who God is and who we are.
The idea that God can be bought off to give us what we want if we promise to read the Bible more, or pray more, or give more or go to Church more make Him out to be a deity for hire! It is blasphemy.
It demeans Him as God, and we as made in His image.
Deut. 10:17 “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.”
Nor do they repent of their sexual immorality. No indeed. They even justify it – Biblically!
Nor their thefts. Greed governs all.
So we’re reminded in 1 Tim. 4:1–3 “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” Teachings of demons that destroy biblical notions of marriage and even how we eat in the name of a humanly created religion.
2 Tim. 3:1–9 “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”
2 Tim. 4:3–4 “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
All of this resulting in a Cross-less salvation, personal autonomy, invented legalism for salvation (political correctness), license for sin and false Christs.
What if anything then are we to take away from this? Let me suggest just 3.
- Grasping the SPIRITUAL REALITY OF OUR SITUATION. We must remain aware of the demonically influenced BLINDNESS OF MEN.
That even as Christ’s Kingdom is already among us, but not yet fully realized, so this demonic darkness and deception is already at work and increasing.
Hence our need to be aware of, and to live in, the light of this revelation. This will greatly impact what we do.
There are no political solutions to spiritual problems.
There are no legal solutions to spiritual problems.
There are no scientific solutions to spiritual problems.
There are no economic solutions to spiritual problems.
There are no religious solutions to spiritual problems.
We must act responsibly in all of these spheres, but realize that nothing short of true, inward spiritual renewal through the Holy Spirit’s application of the Gospel can change fallen human nature.
Humankind needs Christ!
- Resting in God’s SOVEREIGN SUPERINTENDENCE. Rev. 9:15 “So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind.”
So completely is our God still actively in control, that even these demonic hordes cannot act except He permits them, and that, down to a year, a month, a day and even a specific hour.
How comforting for those sealed with the seal of God in their foreheads – those who are Christ’s!
We are kept by His love and power. In the midst of all of these grizzly things – God still knows His people, and sets the limits on those who seek to do us the most harm – even the very forces of Hell.
- Committing to the MISSION and METHOD OF THE CHURCH. God’s chief method and means of protecting of His people is by sanctifying us, setting us apart by the truth as it is in Jesus Christ.
I wish I could go back this morning and unpack Jesus’ prayer in John 17 as it relates to all of this – because it instructs us by example to face all that is coming. But there is this all important point in that prayer that speaks to the heart of all of this for Believers – the importance of God’s Word as our source of unimpeachable truth.
John 17:17 “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
Beloved, Read, know, meditate on, study God’s Word. It is God’s means to separate His people from those upon whom these plagues are poured out.
Sunday school and preaching and the Bible studies we offer aren’t just to keep people busy or “involved” – they are to keep the truth before our hearts and minds in the face of demonic opposition.
And His Word IS sufficient for all these things, by the power of His indwelling Spirit – come what may.
Christ has died for us, that it might be so.