Who should we listen to?: The trumpets and the witnesses (Rev. 8-11)

Publié le 13 octobre 2021 dans Traductions

Sermon preached by Vincent Bourrel on 26th September 2021

In chapter 6 we saw Christ open the first of the 7 sealed scrolls containing the judgments of God, and we saw how this and all the subsequent judgments ravaged the whole earth. In chapter 7 we saw that only those who are marked with the seal of God, who have placed their trust in the blood of the Lamb shed for them, escape the judgments and are kept by the Lord forever.

In chapter 8 it is the 7th seal that is opened, which triggers 7 judgments that are the 7 trumpets. 

Now let’s read Revelation 8.1-12

1 When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. 3 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. 5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings,[a] flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

6 Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.

7 The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.

8 The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. 9 A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

10 The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11 The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.

12 The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.

The opening of the first 4 seals had been accompanied by the voice of thunder, saying « Come. » The opening of the 5th seal was the cry of the martyrs calling for the justice of God, the opening of the 6th seal was the rumble of a great earthquake. Then in chapter 7 came  the cry of the redeemed heard with a loud voice (7:10).

But now, when the Lamb opens the 7th seal and a new series of God’s judgments fall on the earth, it is a half-hour silence that is heard. It is the calm before the storm. The sky stops, the angels do not make a sound, not even the slightest flapping of wings. The redeemed are stunned by the judgments that are about to fall.  It is the moment of God’s final judgment, the hour when the martyrs are avenged, sins are punished, Satan is defeated and Christ is exalted. 

The silence is broken by the answering of the prayers of the saints (v.3-5) which bring about the judgment of the earth. When we pray « hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come », we ask the Lord to judge the idols of the nations and to manifest himself to the world. When we pray « Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven », we beg him to show his royal power and to remind the nations that he is on the throne. 

WHO IS LISTENING WHEN JUDGMENTS SHAKE THE WORLD? 

Every first Wednesday of the month at 12:00, a siren sounds in our neighborhood. This is a test. 

But if this siren sounds outside of the first Wednesday of the month at 12:00, it is a warning of imminent danger, you must leave the premises immediately and go to a safe zone. Those who lived through the AZF explosion just 20 years ago will not take this alarm lightly, I hope. The trumpets of the Apocalypse are alarms that should provoke a reaction in us. If you hear the alarm and do not react you will perish. 

The angels sound the trumpet. Trumpets are frequently mentioned in the Bible, always to warn the people of a momentous event. A gathering (Num. 10:2), a battle (Num. 10:9), a feast (Num. 10:10), the coronation of a new king (1 Kings 1:34,39), a time to worship (1Ch. 16:6,42; 2Ch. 5:12-13). Zephaniah associates the silence and the trumpets with the day of the Lord (Zeph 1:7, 14-16).

The first four trumpets (8:6-12) sound, and the judgments strike the earth, the sea, the waters (rivers), and the sun and moon in that order. So that 1/3 of the earth is burned, 1/3 of the sea becomes blood, 1/3 of the sea animals die, 1/3 of the ships perish, 1/3 of the waters become bitter, and 1/3 of the brightness of the sun and the moon is lost.

-> The damage caused on the earth is limited to « one third ». God holds back his anger. A third is enormous but the judgment is still partial, the judgment serves as a warning, to shake the hardened hearts of unbelieving men. It is in fact still an opportunity to listen, to pay attention to God.

-> It is the creation that is struck. Terrible news for the ecologists who are fighting to save the planet, to purify the air, clean the waters, clean the earth and save the fauna and flora. God himself is going to strike his creation. Why? Because men have worshipped the creation instead of the creator. Without a doubt man has failed in his mandate to care for creation and today many voices are being heard to return to a healthier stewardship of the planet. But there is no call to return to the Creator who made all these things for our pleasure and for his glory. It is rebellion against God that has perverted man in his management of the planet. Of course these plagues remind us of the plagues that struck Egypt in the time of Moses. Each of the plagues targeted an Egyptian deity (often represented by animals (frogs, locusts, the Nile, the sun and of course Pharaoh struck in the last plague of the elder sons). God wanted to show that these deities were unable to save them, and that on the contrary their worship caused additional torments.

It is the same when we worship and serve the creature or the creation, instead of the Creator.   

After these 4 trumpets one might think that we have hit rock bottom. But look at John v.13. It’s not over, the worst is yet to come. Three more trumpets will sound, they are called « woes ».

The 5th trumpet sounds 9:1-11 (the first woe) 9:1-5

Most commentators recognize Satan in the star that falls from heaven and opens the abyss from which comes a cloud of « locusts », demons whose description in v.9:7-11 is terrifying and has nothing in common with the insects we know. They do not eat vegetation v.4 but attack men. But not to those who have the seal of God on their foreheads (= believers). They do not have the power to kill the inhabitants of the earth v.5 but they torment them for 5 months. These 2 clarifications remind us that the limits of the judgments remain under God’s control. v.12 

The 6th trumpet (9:13-21)

This time it is the return of death. Four destructive angels are released and kill 1/3 of men v.15 by means of a mind-boggling army of 200 million demons. 

Do you think men will listen? Will they let themselves be warned? 

In front of all these terrors men did not repent Rev 9:20-21. 

The unbelieving world rejected Christ when He came, rejects the gospel message now, and will continue to reject the truth even during the coming wrath of God. Just as Pharaoh’s heart hardened despite the successive plagues that ruined his entire country and people, so men become insensitive to God’s calls to repentance. They no longer hear. Is there a greater distress than this? To be deaf to God’s calls, to be blind to the vision of the end. We do not turn a deaf ear without hardening our hearts. 

They do not repent, but continue their crazy idol worship that is powerless to save them. These idolatrous practices lead them to sin: murder, magical practices, immorality, and dishonesty. They sink deeper and deeper into darkness and amass a treasure trove of (ever-increasing) anger. 

The angel is now expected to sound the 7th trumpet. But as at the end of the 6th seal (ch 6), there is a parenthesis in the vision given to John at the end of the 6th trumpet. 10.1-11.14. 

WHO LISTENS WHEN THE WITNESSES OF CHRIST PREACH? 

At the beginning of ch 10 John has a vision of a glorious angel who delivers a solemn warning v.5-7: There will be no more delay, at the sound of the 7th trumpet it will be too late. 

Then a voice commands John to take a small book held open by a glorious angel, and he is invited to take the book and swallow it, it will be sweet as honey in his mouth but bitter to his guts. This is an image found in the Old Testament, in Ezekiel 3. Here again it symbolizes the assimilation of the message of the Bible. John must announce this message v.11.

The message is the 7th trumpet, the glorious return of Christ who establishes his reign of peace, justice and truth forever. The message is sweet because it is right, because then Christ will be exalted and glorified as he should be and all evil will be destroyed, Satan will be destroyed. But all those who refuse to love and follow Christ will be condemned. And this is what is bitter to John. He makes known the judgments of God, he makes known the God who forgives, the God who gave his Son in our place, but the message is also bitter because men who will not listen to him will perish. Our message is a message of life for those who listen and believe but also a message of death for those who refuse to listen, to believe, to repent. 

This is also our message today, we bring a delightfully sweet message for those who believe. But the consequences of rejecting it are bitter. Ezek. 18:23, 32: « Do I desire the wicked to die? » says the Lord GOD, “For I do not desire the death of him who dies, says the Lord GOD. Repent therefore, and live. » 

Then in chapter 11, John is to measure the temple of God, the altar and those who worship there: presumably this is a way of distinguishing between those who worship and belong to God and those who do not. This is a theme that is found in this period of judgments. God distinguishes between his people and the inhabitants of the earth, as he did during the plagues that struck Egypt, he distinguished his people. 

V.3 « I » = God the Father or the Lord Jesus, raises 2 witnesses for this period of 42 months, 1260 days = 3.5 years. The mission of these 2 witnesses is to proclaim that the judgments are God’s last call to repentance before he comes to judge the living and the dead.

Who are they? Some see the church as a witness for Christ, others see them as preachers who will walk before God in the spirit and power of Elijah and Moses as v.5-6 make us think. Elijah and Moses were 2 Old Testament prophets that God used during the judgment of Egypt and Israel to preach repentance and faith in God. As with Elijah and Moses, their message is accompanied by a demonstration of power that should remove any doubt about the veracity of their words. 

You have heard people say « they would believe if they saw miracles ». In this time there will be miracles, but they will not listen. On the contrary, their message is not appreciated and v.7 the « beast » (this is a world leader called the Antichrist who we will hear about frequently in the following chapters) will kill them, their corpses will be exposed in Jerusalem (v.8 « in the same place where their Lord was crucified », it is also symbolically called Sodom and Egypt because it has abandoned God) For 3 1/2 days their corpses will be exposed and v.10 « the inhabitants of the earth » (always an expression that designates the non-believers) will rejoice in their death because they could not bear their message of condemnation for their sins, announcing the imminent judgment of God and inviting them to repent. 

The feast does not last, however, because after these 3 1/2 days, v.11 God brings them back to life and raises them to heaven in the sight of their enemies. At this time an earthquake shakes Jerusalem which is partially destroyed and 7000 people perish and the other inhabitants of Jerusalem are frightened and give glory to the God of Heaven. 

They recognize in the witnesses’ story the One they had refused to believe until then: Jesus, the Son of God, crucified for their sins and resurrected on the third day to offer them a new and eternal life, ascended into Heaven where he is seated at the right hand of the Father and from where he will return to judge the living and the dead.

What patience on the part of the Lord! What he did not do to warn and bring these men to turn from their evil ways and believe in him. But for the unbelieving world, v.14 is the hour of the 3rd woe.

The 7th trumpet (3rd woe) sounds v.15-19. The judgments associated with it (the 7 vials) will be described only from ch 15. This time Christ comes back and judges and there is no question of repentance after that. 

It is the point of view of Heaven that is given to us for the moment. It is the establishment of the reign of Christ. It is this verse and some others of chapter 19 that inspired G F Handel for his Hallelujah. He set to music those loud voices from heaven that said v.15b. Note the words of adoration of the 24 elders v.17 « who are and who were ». This expression has already been used 3 times before, but with the addition « and coming ».

But now it has come and it is the hour of reckoning, of judgment of the unbelievers, of the dead, of those who destroy the earth by their sin, their corruption. And it is the time to reward the believers, the « servants, the prophets, the saints and those who fear his name, the small and the great ». 

WHO IS LISTENING?

When God shakes up lives, turns our world upside down, who listens when Christ’s witnesses proclaim the gospel? Who listens to God’s call to repent? 

Is this the first time you have heard this message? Have you heard it many times? It doesn’t matter. Have you responded to it? Do you take it seriously?  One day it will be too late. 

The promise of the second coming of Jesus should transform your life if you do not follow the Lord Jesus wholeheartedly. When the 7th trumpet sounds, there will be no way for you to change sides. But today you still have the opportunity to bow your knees before him and acknowledge his Lordship, to grasp the forgiveness he offers you in Christ. 

In Hebrews 4:7 it says, « Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart.”

If you have entrusted your life to Christ, the promise of his return should also transform your life. This vision stimulates us to be witnesses for Christ and sustains us in difficult times while we wait for the sound of the last trumpet. Then we will gaze in wonder at what Handel has captured in his music and sing a Hallelujah that is unique in all of history!