A trio of terror

In chapter eight, the seventh (and last) seal of judgement was opened, whereupon seven angels stepped forward and were each given a trumpet with which to announce seven further judgements. The rest of chapter eight included the first four of these judgements, which were as follows:




1 Hail and fire, mixed with blood, are hurled down on the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees was burned up and all the green grass was burned up.
2 Something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea became blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and one in three of all ships was destroyed.
3 A great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky. (It was called ‘Wormwood.’) A third of the waters became bitter and a third of the people died from the waters that had become bitter.
4 A third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day and night became dark.


These early judgements, whilst being frightening in their own right, are as nothing compared to the final three. As John watches from heaven in awe, he sees a solitary eagle flying in mid-air and calling out in a loud voice: “Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!” (Revelation 8:13) The eagle - a messenger that can see clearly over a long distance - emphasises to John that these final three judgements will be significantly worse than the first four. As we shall see, whilst the initial four judgements targeted nature and the environment, the last judgements are all directed on people.

If we think back for a moment to the golden censer in the previous chapter, we saw that, during the half an hour of silence following the opening of the seventh seal, incense and "the prayers of God's people" were being offered to God. These prayers were for justice and judgement and what is now about to happen may, in part, be God's answer to those prayers. Truly, this time will be terrible for anyone left on the earth at this point. If we take these warnings seriously ourselves, we shall not only want to live our own lives as though each day might be our last, but we shall want to warn our family, friends, colleagues and neighbours about the dangers of ignoring the message of Revelation concerning the coming day of judgement.

The opening of hell

Various words are used in the Bible for the place of the dead. In the Old Testament, the most common Hebrew word is "Sheol" meaning "the place of departed souls or spirits". In the New Testament, a Greek word ("Hades") is used to translate "Sheol". Jesus used another Greek word ("Gehenna") when He talked about a place of punishment for those who have died. This word is taken from the Hebrew word for a valley outside Jerusalem ("ge-hinnom") where refuse was burned. (Matthew 5:29; Matthew 23:33) All of these words can be translated into English as "hell". Yet another word is used in the account of Jesus casting a "legion" of demons (unclean spirits) from a man in the region of the Gerasenes. The demons beg Jesus not to order them to go to the "Abyss". (Luke 8:30-31) This is the same word that we see here in chapter nine of Revelation. It links to the dungeon - "Abyss" or pit - where Satan is later bound for one thousand years. (Revelation 20:1-3) The "Abyss" may be a separate place to "Sheol / Hades / Gehenna" or simply another way of referring to the general area of "Hell".

Whatever (or wherever) it may be, we know that Jesus now has control over it. As the only one to live an entirely sinless life on earth, on giving up His life and submitting to death by crucifixion, Jesus conquered death and hell. Before His resurrection, He preached to those who had lived, died and were now confined in "Hades" - the place of shadows. On the third day, He rose again and the Bible tells us that He ascended with many who had been held captive until His resurrection. (Ephesians 4:8-10 - The quotation is from Psalm 68:18)

Angel #5

The sounding of the fifth angel’s trumpet signals the first of the three "woes". (Revelation 9:1-2) In the previous study, we saw "a great star, blazing like a torch" falling from the sky onto a third of the rivers and springs of water. This star was called "Wormwood". (Revelation 8:10-11) At the sound of the fifth trumpet, another star falls to the earth but this is not the same star as the one in chapter eight. We don’t know for certain whether this "star" represents Satan or one of his followers, or even an angel in God’s service. It may well be the latter because we saw, right at the beginning of Revelation, that Jesus had the keys to Death and "Hades". (Revelation 1:17-18)

Now the keys are given to this angel and the abyss is opened. Immediately, smoke pours forth from the pit, "like the smoke from a gigantic furnace". The sun and moon, already darkened from the effects of the earlier judgement that followed the fourth angel's trumpet blast, grow still darker. Smoke, especially in a confined space, can be as dangerous as the fire from which it is generated. It also serves to obscure and hide what is really going on. Indeed, in modern warfare, smoke grenades are used regularly to conceal advancing troops from the enemy. We also talk about "smokescreens" in a metaphorical sense, meaning that certain words or actions can be used to divert peoples' attention from what is really happening. So much of our attention in our daily lives is taken up with "distractions" - entertainments, leisure pursuits, hobbies, political causes, fashions and even religious enthusiasms. Jesus warned that some of the seed of the "message about the kingdom" (of heaven) would be scattered among "thorns" that would choke it and prevent it bearing fruit. (Matthew 13:22)

In the same way, the smoke from the pit will rise and affect the entire earth, concealing - until the last minute - the terrors that are about to emerge: a plague of locusts. But these "locusts" will be unlike anything ever before seen on earth. Back in Egypt, Pharaoh was subjected to a plague of locusts when God, through His servant, Moses, instructed the king to let His people go. Although those locusts ate everything in sight, they did not harm the inhabitants of Egypt. The entire land was black with them and they were everywhere: in the fields, in the palace and even in the houses of the people. They were a nuisance and a massive disruption to the economy, but they left the people alone. (Exodus 10:1-20)

But that plague was merely the fore-runner of the one that is to be unleashed during the time following the blowing of the fifth trumpet. The prophet, Joel, also foresaw this event and wrote about it. (Joel 2:1–11) His prophecy describes in great detail what John now sees, recalling the the plague of locusts during the exodus from Egypt, but also seeing some future event of absolute terror and great ferocity, bringing an almost mechanical destruction, this time aimed at people who, in the face of such an onslaught, are defenceless. The fortifications of walls and houses, battlements and other deterrents are entirely useless. This army of locusts is disciplined and relentless, causing pain wherever it goes. “The earth shakes, the heavens tremble, the sun and the moon are darkened and the stars no longer shine.” (Joel 2:10) This is an army where God is in control. It is He, who is trying to gain the attention of every last person on this planet, before it is finally and irrevocably too late. If it takes the horror of these creatures to finally get their attention (where love, affection, cajoling and even death have not), then He is even prepared to go to these great lengths!

To these locusts was given the power of scorpions, that have a sting in their tail which can cause extreme pain and even death in a normal, healthy human being. Normal locusts eat grass and vegetation, but these locusts are targeted only at humans and only those who are not marked with God's seal of protection. (Revelation 9:3-5) However, they are not permitted to kill their victims. Indeed, from what John says, it appears that death itself will (temporarily) be suspended. "During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them." (Revelation 9:6) This is the result of people’s determination to live life their own way. In spite of all the warnings, they have ignored God’s love - seen so clearly in Jesus - and closed their ears to the whispers of the Holy Spirit. God has allowed them to go their own way, to follow the path they have chosen for themselves, but it is certainly not His will that any should be lost. (2 Peter 3:9) John is seeing, in graphic detail, the direct result of sin and rebellion.

Hell on earth

What will the world look like without the presence of churches and millions of believers? Imagine if we opened the doors of prisons and let out all the prisoners - including the very worst - allowing them to carry out their most heinous acts against the people of the world. Then consider what it will be like when Satan is permitted to summon to his aid the most diabolical fiends to act as his agents. His whole purpose will be to bring people to worship the "beast". Once the pit is opened, the world will be invaded by a plague more deadly than any we have ever known, yet without the release of death.

The description of the locusts having "hair like womens' hair" suggests something that is possibly seductive. The occult world always uses sexual attraction as a hook to draw men into following demons, without them realising it and often before it is too late. Similarly, they have the teeth of a lion to tear off great chunks of flesh and causing wounds that will never heal. The locusts are equipped with breastplates to make them invulnerable and wings that enable them to move faster than any human can run. Finally, they have tails with the sting of a scorpion to torment people repeatedly. They follow a leader whose name means "Destroyer". (Revelation 9:11) The only relief is that their power will only last for five months.

Angel #6

When the sixth angel sounds his trumpet, a voice is heard from the golden altar before God. It instructs the angel to release four other angels "who are bound at the great river Euphrates". (Revelation 9:14) These four angels must be "fallen angels" who followed Satan's original rebellion and were bound, awaiting God's final judgement day. (Jude 1:6) The river Euphrates had long marked the north-eastern border of Israel in Old Testament times, separating Israel from Assyria and, later, Babylon. In John's day, it was still the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire. John is told that the angels have been kept here throughout history for a specific purpose at this specific time. This highlights God’s total control of all that is going on.

That purpose is now revealed: the four angels are given authority to kill one third of the remaining population of the earth. The means by which they will accomplish this is an army of two hundred million troops ("twice ten thousand times ten thousand"). (Revelation 9:16) The description of this army (and its size) may well indicate that these are demonic beings - fallen angels, like their four leaders. According to Time magazine (21 May 1965), communist China claimed, at that time, to have two hundred million troops in its army. To give some idea of scale, the total number of troops (Allied and Axis forces) in the second world war amounted to some seventy million. The description of the horses used by the troops as producing "fire, smoke and sulphur" from their mouths could either be John's best attempt to describe some kind of futuristic vehicles and weapons, or it may signify that this will be a demonic army with demonic weapons.

Some have linked this army with the events that occur in chapter sixteen of Revelation but, although the river Euphrates is cited as a location for both, it seems more likely that the campaign outlined in this chapter is distinct from that later on.

A lack of repentance

Despite the appalling pain, loss and destruction caused by this latest judgement, it is clear that the remnant of mankind still refuses to repent of sin or turn to God for help. On the contrary, people sink yet deeper into idolatry and lawlessness. John says: "They did not stop worshipping demons, idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood – idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.” (Revelation 9:20-21)

What characterises our world today? What do people do more and more, not only in their free time, but also during their working hours? The pervasive influence of modern media is everywhere, thanks to the internet, newspapers and television. People are constantly trying to fill the "God-shaped hole" in their lives with things of their own making or endless entertainment (as we mentioned above). So-called "retail therapy" has become an essential activity for so many of us. Others chase after investments or money-making schemes to fund ever-improving lifestyles, both now and in the future. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with preparing for the future or investing in a pension fund, providing that the task does not become all-consuming and an idol in its own right. Sadly, especially in the western world and increasingly in the East, the acquisition of material things is at the heart of what most people covet, even at the expense of running up huge debt on credit cards. How often does it take a natural disaster to remind us that our eternal relationship with the living God and with the people we love is what is really important?

The improvements in worldwide communication mean that we now hear about news and events from all over the globe, almost instantaneously. But our constant exposure to horrific disasters and inhuman situations is making us more and more insensitive to those who are suffering. Increasingly, too, we see that there is scant regard for the sanctity of life. One example is the tens of millions of abortions, which have been (and are being) carried out daily, throughout the world. The real-time televising of terror attacks and wars, with the ensuing mass-migrations to escape famine, disease and hopelessness, have left most of us immune to the tragedies, which these things bring about. When killing is on the increase, we perhaps remark on it for a day or two, before another one occurs and we barely remember what happened a couple of weeks ago.

Magic arts and witchcraft, aided and abetted by drugs and their abuse, is increasingly at the heart of our culture today. As such things escalate and take the place of established religion, it is easy to see the ground being laid for some form of new "world-religion" to become dominant across many different cultures. Séances and mediums, the use of clairvoyants and necromancy, are all specifically spoken against in God’s word and yet, because God is no longer honoured, His word lies forgotten and others words and values prevail. (Leviticus 19:31) If people do not hold to the sanctity of life, the consequence will be that morality is abandoned! Our permissive, liberal life-style of "anything goes" leads to ever greater tolerance of things such as rape, incest and homosexuality, the debasement and abuse of vulnerable people, to the point where people will become no more than animals, or even worse. It is easy to anticipate a situation in the not-too-distant future where people will simply seize property for themselves - exactly what they desire and when they want it. Life will become stressful in the extreme, without any real meaning for most. In fact people will not live, they will merely exist.

The descent of civilisation to the level of "survival of the fittest" may take little more than a few years. Yet people still resist turning to the God who made them, the God who longs for none to perish and who continues to love them. What amazing grace! Are we finding the incentive that we need to motivate us to introduce our friends and family to Jesus? Is this not the time for them to know Him as the Lord of their lives, so that they too might become believers and avoid the horrors, which regrettably, may not be too far away?

Jesus said that He came to this earth with a purpose: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (John 10:10-11) This fullness is a passionate love relationship, moment by moment, with our shepherd. Previously, we have seen that, as the end time draws to a close, “the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12) The only way to avoid this is to follow our shepherd really closely, with Him as our only focus. Then, when trials come - as they will - we shall run towards Jesus and not away from Him.

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