INDEX

 

A brief recap

During our investigations into the book of Revelation, we have discovered the events that will be unfolding in heaven (in chapters four to six) and we have taken a look at what is to happen on the earth: the Gog-Magog War and how God will miraculously deliver His people - the Jewish nation - from invasion and possible annihilation at the hands of unbelieving people, who are out for their own advantage. (Ezekiel, chapters thirty-eight and thirty-nine). We have seen too, that God will not just be sitting back, allowing things to happen outside His control. On the contrary, Jesus will be in total control of everything, including the judgements on the earth. Already, He has inspired prophets to foretell these events, more than two and a half thousand years before they are to occur. But we have also seen (in chapter seven) how twelve thousand Jewish people (from each of the twelve tribes of Israel) will be commissioned to go throughout the earth and to preach the good news, primarily to the Jewish nation, but to anyone else who will listen as well. The results of this worldwide evangelistic crusade are going to be staggering. In a period of just four years, a vast multitude will receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

This multitude of people will come from every tribe, people and tongue, from every nation on the earth, and will be taken up before the throne of God. They will be in the kingdom of heaven for ever, to be with all those (like us) who became believers before the "rapture". We shall all rejoice at such amazing and exceptional deliverance, together with the angels, the elders and all the heavenly host. (Revelation 7:9-17; Zechariah 8:23) What a time this will be! There will be incessant praise for the wonderful things that have been planned for us, even before the foundation of the earth and now brought into being. Jesus, with His great wisdom and mercy, will personally know every single person!

In our studies, we have looked at some of the events (the "rapture" and the Gog-Magog war), that will cause a massive influx of individuals abruptly to change their views; people who previously had cared so little for God. The "rapture" will be an extraordinary milestone in the life of the earth and its inhabitants. From being a planet filled with many godless people, for whom Christians were just "a bunch of do-gooders" or people who challenged those who lived their lives to excess, the earth will have become a place of chaos and uncertainty, a desperate world where governments resort to martial law and curfews to keep control. Some of these lost people will turn to the God of Israel for answers. They will begin to see that He looks after His own people and protects them, whereas their own "gods" have been proven powerless to act. Writing this in 2015, at a time of unprecedented natural disasters (such as earthquakes, floods, climate change and forest fires), we have seen many earthquakes and tsunamis, with resulting deaths, injuries and damage to infrastructure, all within a very short time of each other. Watching the painful recognition on peoples' faces of possessions and all that that they built their security upon being taken away in a flash, gives the church today an exceptional opportunity to show love and care and an alternative lifestyle and values.

The half-way point

The events described in chapter eight occur midway through the "tribulation". Approximately forty-two months (three and a half years) have passed. The crusade begun by the Jewish evangelists is now underway and will continue unabated for the rest of the "tribulation" period. All Israel and millions of gentiles around the world are being saved. The antichrist, Satan’s false messiah, was revealed at the beginning of the first period (represented by the rider of the white horse in chapter six) and will have been working hard to bring his plan to fruition. He will not have had an easy job because, although Satan has been planning this event for some time, the antichrist will have had to put structures in place, requiring all his cunning, resourcefulness and clever strategies, combined with negotiating skills and authority, to pull together a world government that will encompass not only political power, but also financial, commercial, religious and military control. Although this is to be a world government, it will be one that is autocratically controlled by the antichrist in person, who will rule it with an iron fist. It will be a government that has the trappings of democracy but none of its delegated authority. Jurisdiction will be absolute and will be entirely confined to the antichrist himself.

However, all will not be going smoothly. The antichrist will have had three and a half years to consolidate the support from ten nations (possibly from what we know now as Europe) to form an embryonic world government. He will have used the time to expand this group but, even though he rules with an iron fist, will discover that his authority is constantly being challenged. Thus far, the judgements visited upon the earth have been comparatively mild. Ten major events will now occur at the beginning of the second half of the "tribulation". These will take place within a very few days of each other and are as follows:

  1. The antichrist will break his covenant with Israel. (Daniel 9:27)
  2. The believers who have been born again during the first half of the "tribulation" will be martyred. (Revelation 7:9-17)
  3. An earthquake will happen. (Revelation 8:5)
  4. The antichrist will start to wage war on Israel. The remnant of Israel - who have not yet accepted Jesus as their Lord - will be hidden from the antichrist. (Ezekiel 20:35-38; Zechariah 13:7-9; Revelation 12:13-17)
  5. The antichrist will prohibit all established religions and impose a new, world religion. (Revelation 17:16-18)
  6. The antichrist will hold a press conference in Jerusalem, having transferred his headquarters from Babylon to Jerusalem. (2 Thessalonians 2:4)
  7. The false prophet will be appointed as head of the one-world religion - the only one permitted - and will introduce the "mark of the beast". (Revelation 13:16-18)
  8. The two witnesses will begin their ministry. These witnesses are considered by many to be Moses and Elijah. (Revelation 11:3)
  9. The four angels will carry out their judgements. (Revelation 9:15)
  10. The plagues of judgement under the seventh seal will begin. (Revelation 8:6)

The seventh seal

Chapter eight begins with the opening of the seventh seal. The opening of the first six seals has been described in chapter six but, as the seventh seal is opened, there is silence in heaven for half an hour. There are several thoughts about the silence. Conceivably it was awe, related to what was about to happen on the earth. Perhaps there was silence because God always stops to listen to the prayers of His saints? The prayers of all God’s people rise up to Him, so our words reach the heart of God - prayers not based on the one in need, but upon the perfect love of Jesus. The power of prayer does not depend on the virtue of those who pray, but on the unchanging love of the One who hears. Action begins in heaven when we pray, so we need to keep on praying! We know that God holds up the entire process of judgement while He receives and processes the prayers of His own. As His terrified servants pray, God waits. We don’t understand why prayer changes things, but it does. The Holy Spirit energises our prayers and translates them into the powerful force that causes the God of the universe to respond. Prayers are a sweet-smelling aroma to our heavenly Father.

John's attention is drawn to seven angels, who stand in the presence of God. Each has been given a trumpet with which to sound the release of plagues on the earth. Trumpets traditionally announce important events. They can also be used to give warning in time of war and the event they signal here is none other than a crusade against the antichrist and his forces. In other words, they can be said to be announcing the downfall of Satan. (However, as bad as the plagues heralded by the seven angels may be, they are nothing in comparison to the seven "bowls" of God's judgement to follow in chapter sixteen.)

The golden censer

John then sees another angel with a golden censer who comes to stand before the altar. He is given "much incense to offer", combined with "the prayers of God's people". It is interesting to compare notes with the altar of incense that God instructed Moses to make, when he was given the pattern for the tabernacle in the wilderness, as he was leading the children of Israel into the promised land. That was, of course, just a facsimile of the real one that the angel is using in heaven. (Exodus 30:1-9; Revelation 8:1-5)

The prayers in the censer, which have ascended to God, are now purified with the smoke of incense and then filled with fire from the altar to empower them. The prayers that have precipitated such actions must be powerful! It is possible that these are the prayers of the martyrs who cried out to God for justice and judgement when the fifth seal was broken. (See study fourteen.) The angel then throws the censer down to the earth and John hears "peals of thunder, rumblings, flashed of lightning and an earthquake". It is the prelude to the judgement of God being released through the blowing of the trumpets.

The seven trumpets

Angel #1

The first angel blows his trumpet and hail and fire, mixed with blood, are thrown down upon the earth. One-third of the earth is set on fire so that one-third of the trees are burned "and all the green grass". (Revelation 8:7) If this is understood literally, it will constitute an ecological disaster without parallel. If taken symbolically, it could mean that the "grass" represents the mass of people, with the "trees" signifying the prominent leaders, all of whom are deposed or removed from the earth.

The hail and fire reflects the imagery of the seventh plague inflicted by God on Egypt, when Pharaoh refused to let God's people go. (Exodus 9:13-25) We should also remember how God judged those who tried to attack Israel in the Gog-Magog war. (Ezekiel 38:22) We saw that the hurling down of hail and fire on the earth, apart from the physical discomfort it will cause to the inhabitants of that part of the earth, will destroy a third of the vegetation and grass. In fact, it will burn anything that can be burned, including residential and commercial buildings, animals and people living in its path, rendering the land uninhabitable. The Lord spoke to Moses and showed him the reason for these disasters: “For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my Name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Exodus 9:15-16) No doubt, there will be a massive refugee problem for the antichrist’s administration to handle, with his finite and already overstretched resources!

Angel #2

The second angel blows his trumpet and what appears to be a huge, burning mountain is thrown into the sea. It destroys a third of all shipping; a third of the sea turns to blood and, of all the creatures in the sea, a third is killed. (Revelation 8:8-9) Again, if these events are to be literal, they represent truly cataclysmic disasters. Some believe that the "sea" may symbolise "godless mankind" with a "great mountain" symbolising a "great nation" that causes mayhem and destruction.

This is similar to the first plague against Pharaoh, when the water of the Nile was changed to blood. “The fish will die and the river will stink; the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water.” (Exodus 7:17-18) If the judgement at the second trumpet is literal, not only will this be an ecological disaster, it will have commercial impact with a third of all shipping being destroyed - probably those caught in the area of devastation.

Angel #3

The third angel sounds his trumpet and a "flaming star, blazing like a torch" falls from heaven upon a third of the rivers and springs of water. The star is called "Wormwood" (or "Bitterness") because it poisons a third of all the water on earth and many people die. (Revelation 8:10-11) Once again, this may describe a literal, ecological disaster. The trees, grass and the sea have all been devastated; now the rivers and springs are poisoned. On the other hand, some see the "fallen star" as symbolic of the antichrist or Satan, based on the thought that Satan, bitter from having been cast out of heaven, poisons people with his evil attitude, causing many to die. (Revelation 12:12)

Interestingly, the translation of the Russian word "Chernobyl" is "Wormwood". Chernobyl was the site of a disastrous accident at a nuclear reactor accident in the late nineteen eighties, causing a huge area of devastation and the poisoning of land and water resources. People young and old were badly and permanently hurt; some were deformed and many suffered the on-going side effects of exposure to radiation. This horror is the reverse of the miracle that was performed through Moses, when the "children of Israel" found bitter water at Marah. (Exodus 15:25)

Angel #4

The fourth angel blows his trumpet and, immediately, a third of the sun is blighted and darkened, with a similar effect on the moon and the stars, causing a third of the day and night to be without light. This is followed by ther appearance of another messenger (in the form of a solitary eagle) crying out a warning about the three remaining judgements to be announced. (Revelation 8:12-13)

The fourth and final plague described in this chapter reduces the light on the earth, reminding us of the ninth plague in Egypt, when "thick darkness covered the land for three days". (Exodus 10:21-23) References to the Egyptian plagues suggest that, in the book of Revelation, we have the final exodus of God’s people, from a world where hostile and evil powers are attempting to exert total control. How Satan’s fury and frustration must be growing, as he realises that he and his appointed representatives are powerless!

Conclusion

This will be a time of great darkness on the earth and yet the worst is still to come! Very soon, the "beast" will move to seize power and take over three rulers to achieve complete control. At first, he will seem to be a wonderful person, who knows how to act decisively and has the answers to all the world’s major problems. He will be elevated to the highest position, because people will be so thankful that he can "still the storm" and offer hope. Satan is determined to be applauded and worshipped on the earth, even if God has denied him a place in heaven.

In their own way, each of these four plagues is devastating and has a single main purpose: to point those who are still alive on the earth to God. Each plague has an ecological effect. At this point in history, the world is beginning to focus on the potential dangers of "climate change" and how to save the planet – as if we, by our own efforts, could do any such thing! There are always consequences to actions and I believe firmly that the current problems related to our planet’s pollution are inextricably linked to the fact that people have turned away from God. How can human beings possibly maintain the delicate, ecological balance of the universe through their own cleverness and accumulated knowledge?

Rather than trying to "save the earth", we as believers, should be focused on the real task ahead: saving the people on the planet from eternal, spiritual destruction, not just the temporal annihilation that most people believe we face. We cannot simply work on reducing our "carbon footprints" and ignore the creator of the universe, with His instructions and warnings!

These four trumpet blasts and their associated judgements are as nothing when compared to those about to be unleashed on the earth. The eagle flying in mid-air is horrified by what it knows is about to be released! Today, we see and hear more than ever before about the atrocities and natural disasters that already plague the earth. We see severe persecution, both of the Jewish nation and of Christian believers. We also see increasing numbers of people, even some Christians, who are turning against God and damaging His Name and His character. For all these reasons, let us pray for a real revival in our own hearts of love for Him and for the power of His love to be working through us for our neighbours, so that nobody we know will have to go through this horrific period of "tribulation".


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