Broadcasting now. Watch Live.

The Seventh Seal & the First Six Trumpets - Part 4

Tom Pennington • Revelation 8-9

  • 2022-04-10 PM
  • Revelation
  • Sermons

PDF

Well, I invite you to turn with me tonight to Revelation chapter 9 and, as you're turning, let me just admit to you that as we study this chapter - and here we discover, as we did last time, that God will, in the future, use demons to judge this planet - it raises a question in our minds. And it should raise a question. And that question is a legitimate one but one the scripture answers and that is: how can God do that without Himself being in some way tainted with evil? It really invites the question of how God interacts with evil. Before we get into our text tonight, I just want to briefly deal with that. I want to give you several Biblical propositions about evil so that you understand how what we're going to study together fits into the larger context of what the scripture has to say.

First of all, it's important to know that God is not the source of evil. As Isaiah 6 tells us, those beings - those perfect beings - around the throne constantly shout forth, "'holy, holy, holy!" God is not the source of the evil so, the question is: what is the source of evil? And the answer is that evil began by spontaneous combustion in the heart of one of God's greatest angelic creations. From all appearances, he was the Prime Minister of Heaven. He's called the cherub who covers. He was an angelic being like no other. Ezekiel 28 describes how evil began in his heart. Go back there with me for just a moment. Ezekiel 28. In this chapter, Ezekiel is writing about the king of Tyre in verses 11 and 12 but it's clear that he quickly transitions from a human king, an evil earthly king, to Satan, the one who inspired him and empowered him, because immediately we hear a description that doesn't fit an earthly king. Verse 12 says,

Thus says the Lord GOD:

'You had the seal of perfection,

Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.

You were in Eden, the garden of God;

Every precious stone was your covering:

The ruby, the topaz and the diamond;

The beryl, the onyx and the jasper;

The lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald;

And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets,

Was in you.

On the day that you were created

They were prepared.

You were the anointed cherub who covers,

And I placed you there.

You were on the holy mountain of God;

You walked in the midst of the stones of fire.

You were blameless in your ways

From the day you were created.'

In other words, God created. We're talking, obviously, about Satan here who inspired and energized the earthly king of Tyre, From the day he was created, he was blameless. Verse 15, "until unrighteousness was found in you." There's the beginning of evil in the universe. How did happen? Go down to verse 17. "Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor. I cast you to the ground."

So, understand then, that carried away in his own pride, Satan refused to glorify God, rejected God's rule, and evil was born in the heart of this majestic angelic being. And without God, when God is pushed out of the heart, all of the qualities that are the opposite of God's character thrive. And that is evil.

In fact, that brings me to a second proposition and that is: evil doesn't exist as a separate entity. In other words, evil is simply the absence of all that is God and all that is good just as darkness is not a thing in and of itself but rather the absence of light. Evil isn't something that was created because evil isn't a thing, it is the absence of God and good. And that's what happened in the heart of Satan as he pushed God, and the goodness of God, and the character of God, from his heart in rebellion.

Number three: God doesn't tempt anyone to do evil. James 1:13 is clear. "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I've been tempted by God'; because God cannot be tempted with evil, neither does He tempt any man."

Number four: God doesn't force anyone to do evil. It goes on to say, "everyone is tempted when he is carried away by his own lust and enticed." God doesn't cause someone to sin any more than He tempts them to sin.

Number five: God holds the sinner responsible for his sin. Exodus 34:7, "He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished." God holds the sinner responsible and God Himself is completely untainted by the sin.

Number six: God decreed in His eternal wisdom to allow evil and He uses it for His own purposes. It's not that God has nothing to do with it. Obviously, God could have decided there would be no evil in the universe. God decreed that He would allow it for His own purposes.

Now, we get more specific. In what ways does God use it for His own purposes? How does God's providence intersect with human sin? Well, scripture teaches that when it comes to human sinful actions, God does – or, not just humans, but demonic as well with sinful actions. First of all, God prevents sin. Sometimes He simply keeps it from happening. You see that in the first part of Revelation 9 when the demons are kept by God from hurting believers. You see it in Genesis 26 when God says to Abimelech, "I kept you from sinning against Me." In Luke 22:31, Jesus said Satan has demanded Peter, "to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you. I'm not going to let the destruction of your faith happen." So, God sometimes chooses to prevent sin. In other times, God chooses to permit sin and that is, He permits people to cherish and to manifest their evil disposition - people and demons. You see that in Revelation 9. We'll see it again tonight. You see it in Romans 1 where three times you read, "God gave them over." "God, gave them over." "He gave them over." A third way that God interacts with sinful actions is that He limits sin. That is, He determines the bounds reached by sinful actions and the extent of the effects of those sinful actions. For example, again here in Revelation 9, He says only a third will be affected. He limits the sin of the demons. Left to themselves, they would kill far more than that but God limits their evil. In 2 Thessalonians 2:7, we read about the Holy Spirit restraining, holding back sin. And finally, we can say that God directs sin. That is, He directs evil acts to an end unforeseen and unintended by the sinner. For example, with what happens with the demons in Revelation 9, God has a purpose in mind that is not the same purpose as the demons' but He uses them to accomplish His purpose. You see it in Genesis 50:20 when Joseph says to his brothers who sold him into slavery, "you meant it for evil, but" – what? – "God meant it for good." God directs evil acts to an end unforeseen and intended by the sinner.

So, sinful acts are under God's control and occur only by His permission and according to His ultimate purpose. But God is untainted by the evil, He in no way sanctions the evil, and God will punish that evil someday. Calvin compares God's providence over sin to the sun shining on a rotting corpse. Think about that for a moment. The sun's rays, as it falls on a rotting corpse intensify the decay and odor but the sun is not responsible for the decay. It's inherent within what the sun falls on. Nor are it's rays in any way tainted by its contact with that rotting corpse. The same is true for God's providence as it intersects with evil. So, when people or demons sin, they're responsible for their sin and God will judge all of that - outside of Christ - but God choses to permit sin, to limit its evil, and God directs sin for the good of His people and for His ultimate glory.

Tonight, we see that in definition because we're going to see real evil when God allows Satan and his demons to show their true character on this planet. We're looking, then, at Revelation 8 and 9, and in these chapters the Lamb breaks the seventh seal on the scroll, the title deed to the Earth, and that initiates the seven trumpet judgments, and ultimately the seven bowl judgments - all of those in response to the prayers of God's people. So far, we have studied the seventh seal. We studied the saints' prayers in verses 3 through 5, and we've begun to look at the first six trumpets, beginning in verse 6 of chapter 8 and running through the end of chapter 9. So far, we have studied the first five of the trumpet judgments.

Tonight, we come to the sixth trumpet which is a genocidal, demonic cavalry. It is unthinkable and yet, this is exactly what John saw. Let's read it together. Begin with me in Revelation 9:12.

The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still coming after these things. Then the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, one saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, "Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates." And the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released, so that they would kill a third of mankind. The number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. And this is how I saw in my vision the horses and those who sat on them: the riders had breastplates the color of fire, of hyacinth, and of brimstone; and the heads of the horses are like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceed fire and smoke and brimstone. A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire, the smoke, and the brimstone which proceeded out of their mouths. For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents and have heads, and with them they do harm. The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands so as not to worship demons and the idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their immorality, nor of their thefts.

Here, we are introduced to the sixth trumpet but before the sixth trumpet is sounded, before the sixth angel blows there is first a solemn warning about the last two woes. You remember back in 8:13 we're told about three woes yet to come. Here we're told in verse 12 of chapter 9, "the first woe has passed." That refers to the fifth trumpet, the swarm of demonic locusts we just we studied last time, at the beginning of chapter 9. And, of course, you can only imagine after those five horrific months of suffering that the entire world in knowing that that's come to an end breathed a collective sigh of relief but their relief is short-lived because verse 12 goes on to say, "behold two woes are still coming after these things."

Now, by calling these woes, that's a Biblical word that's very clear. John is saying that these things are judgments from God, one of those horrific judgments, the first woe, the demonic locusts, has passed but two more are coming. This announcement in verse 12 ushers in the sixth trumpet and the divine release of four demons of death. You can see this in verses 13 to 15. Notice verse 13. "Then the sixth angel sounded and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God." So, the six angels sound to announce the next judgment and John hears a voice. Literally, he heard one voice, the Greek text says, or a solitary voice. And this voice is described, you'll notice, as coming from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God. This is the altar we met back in chapter 8. It's the altar of incense which symbolizes the prayers of God's people as the incense rises up into the holy of holies. Exodus 30 describes the actual altar of incense in the Tabernacle and on that square tabletop, there were four horns at the four corners of the square table and those horns represented, as they do throughout scripture, power like the horns of an animal represent its power. In this case, the power of the prayers of God's people or, more specifically, the power of God in answering the prayers of His people. And the voice in verse 13 comes from between those four horns. In other words, from the altar of incense itself. This links the judgment that's about to come to the prayers of God's people as we've seen already. God is dealing out His justice here in response to the prayers of His martyred saints back in 6:10. God's judgment on the people of earth during the tribulation - listen carefully - is not some sort of divine capriciousness or vindictiveness on God's part. It is divine justice. It is exactly what man's sin calls for.

Now, notice the voice, verse 14, was, "saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet." So, the angel of the altar gives a command to the angel who blew the sixth trumpet. By the way, this is the only time that one of the angels blowing the seven trumpets participate in the judgment that they announced, but notice the angel of the altar of incense gives a command to the sixth angel and he says this in verse 14, "'release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.'" Now, the word angels here is most commonly used in Revelation for holy angels and there are commentators who take that interpretation and say these are these are holy angels but I have to agree with the majority and say these are not holy angels. These are fallen angels. These are demons - both because of what they do but also because holy angels in scripture are never presented as bound but rather demons often are, as we saw in 2 Peter and in Jude 6 and 7. So, these four demons, these angelic beings, fallen angels, are bound, notice, "at the great river Euphrates." It's the Euphrates we are familiar with. The source of the Euphrates is near Mount Ararat in Turkey. It flows 1,700 miles to the Persian Gulf. It was one of the rivers that flowed out of the Garden of Eden, according to Genesis 2. In Genesis 15, God promised Abraham that his descendants would possess the land from the Nile in Egypt to the Euphrates. It became the eastern boundary of Israel during the time of David and Solomon. That area of where the Euphrates is is also the region from which most of Israel's enemies came - the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medo-Persians. It was the eastern edge of the Roman empire, as well. It's interesting, later in chapter 16 of Revelation we'll learn that during the sixth bowl, the Euphrates will be dried up in order to make way for the kings of the east and set the stage for the battle of Armageddon. But why are these four demons bound in this region where the Euphrates is? I think it's because it was here that sin began. It was here that the first murder in humanity was committed as Cain slew his brother. It's here that false religion began at Babel. This is the birthplace of all of these evil things at the human level. So, the angel of the altar commands the angel with the sixth trumpet to release the demons who were bound there in the area of the Euphrates.

Verse 15. "And the four angels who had been prepared for the hour and the day and the month and the year were released." God had bound these demons for this exact moment. Again, this passage reeks with divine sovereignty. God sovereignly controls all of history - the good, the bad, the ugly. He is in charge of it all. He will hold all those who are committing evil responsible but He is directing it all to the ends He foresees. These four demons have been bound at God's command. Verse 15 goes on to stress that not only had God bound them but He had prepared them for this exact hour on this exact day and this exact month during this exact year. In other words, they're going to be released at the exact moment in the tribulation that God had determined. And here's the purpose of their planned release. Verse 15 says, "so that they would kill a third of mankind." You remember during the first half of chapter 9 in the swarm of demonic locust there were no deaths. Death took a holiday. After five months of that, death now returns to the planet with a vengeance. Back in the fourth seal, one fourth of the earth's population died. Now in this the sixth trumpet, a third of those who have survived to this point will die. Just to give you some context, if this happened today, two billion of earth's people would die. Together, these two plagues alone - the fourth seal and this sixth trumpet - these two plagues alone account for the death of half of the earth's population prior to the tribulation period. Just think about that even from, sadly, a logistical standpoint. You remember with the increased deaths that we experienced during Covid, morgues, in some cases, struggled to keep up and brought in refrigerated trucks to store the bodies. Can you imagine what it will be like on this planet when billions of people die at the same time?

But again, notice, God in His Mercy limits the destruction that these four demons are allowed to inflict. It's a third, but it's not all. You see God is judging, but as is so often true, at the same time that God is judging, He is making an opportunity for repentance, for those who survived to repent. Leon Morris writes in his commentary, "there is a purpose of love behind the judgments. They are to make plain the seriousness and the ill desert of sin. They are to lead people to repent, to turn to God, and to be saved."

Now, in the fifth trumpet that we studied last time and the message in 8:13, it's explicitly stated that God will protect His own people. Those who are saved during the tribulation, who still are on this planet. He will protect them from these judgments and that will, undoubtedly, continue to be true with this sixth trumpet, although it's not stated explicitly. So, four demons of death will be released and they will lead a demonic army of two hundred million.

John begins in verse 16 with their massive numbers. Notice what he writes, "the number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million." You'll notice armies is plural. So, there's clearly more than one army. There may be four armies led, each one, by one of these four demons. But together, these demonic armies resemble a military force or cavalry. The total number of this demonic cavalry is two hundred million. In Greek, "two myriads of myriad's," or, "two times ten thousand times ten thousand." And the way it's expressed in the original language, likely means it's an exact number. This is not some sort of hyperbole. This is an exact number. Now, put yourself back in the first century. The most powerful army you knew then the was the Roman army. The Roman army of the first century had twenty-five legions, a total of about one hundred twenty-five thousand soldiers and an auxiliary force of that was similar in size. So that means the entire first century Roman army was about two hundred fifty thousand soldiers. Those in the first century who read this letter could not have missed that this demonic cavalry is one thousand times larger than the Roman army. And this army is all cavalry. In the ancient world, chariots and cavalry were an absolute terror to all opposing armies, very hard to overcome and a demonic cavalry of two hundred thousand is incredibly terrifying, a truly irresistible force. Only God can limit the destruction of such a force and thankfully, in His grace, He does. Such a huge number, by the way, seems at first unbelievable. It's caused some to say, "no, this must be an overstatement. This must be a metaphor. He's just saying, there are a lot of them, but not two hundred million." But notice what John says at the end of verse 16. "I heard the number of them." John says, "listen, as unbelievable as this number of two hundred million may sound, I'm not making this up. This was the number that was told to me." Massive numbers.

Notice in verse 17, their menacing appearance. Now, as we work through this description, you're going to notice points of similarity with the demonic locusts in the first half to chapter 9. In both cases, they're clearly demonic. In both cases, they're clearly committed to destroying humanity. And in both cases, they inflict pain with their tails. At the same time, it is also clear that these are two separate judgments, two separate events. The demonic swarm wasn't permitted to kill anyone but only to injure. This demonic cavalry in the second half kills their prey to the tune of a third of earth's population. Not one person dies from the demonic swarm of locusts - even those who try, as we saw last time. Billions died from the demonic cavalry. So, what John describes next, then, is a picture of what he saw and it's so horrific that he begins with a unique expression reminding us that he truly heard and he truly saw these things in a vision that God gave him. Verse 17, "and this is how I saw in the vision the horses and those who sat on them." It can even be translated like this: in my vision, I saw the horses and their riders as follows: this is what I saw." And then he goes on to say the riders had breastplates the color of fire and of hyacinth and a brimstone. Now, let me just say that in in the Greek text, it's not clear if only the riders have breast plates or that both the riders and their horses have breastplates. It was common, certainly, in the ancient world for cavalry for both the rider and the horse to have breast plates. One of the nations, the Parthenians toward the Euphrates and beyond that the Romans feared, their horses and cavalry were both the rider and the horse had breastplates. The other thing that's interesting here is, in Greek, fire, hyacinth, and brimstone could be describing the materials from which the breast plates were made or their color. Likely, it's describing the color and that's why our translation, you'll notice, added the word color, the color. The Greek word for fire describes a fiery, red color, obviously. The word for hyacinth is a dusky blue, like smoke, like sulfur. Sulfuric smoke. And the word for brimstone is a light yellow, like sulfur. So, red, dusky blue, and light yellow. It's possible that the breast plates of each rider and horse have all three of these colors or it's possible that a third of them have red breastplates, a third blue, and the third yellow.

Verse 17 goes on to say, "and the heads of the horses are like the heads of lions." This point of comparison makes sense because the lion was the most powerful, ferocious animal known to the Mediterranean world in the first century and that's the point. In fact, John MacArthur writes this, "like lions, these demon forces fiercely, relentlessly, determinately stalk and slaughter their victims." Verse 17 goes on to say, "and out of their mouths proceed fire and smoke and brimstone." Out of there, lion like heads come fire, smoke, and brimstone. These three substances are the same color as the three colors on the breastplates. Fire, burning sulfur, and smoke, you'll remember, are how God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and the other cities of the plain in Genesis 19. And it's very significant that in the rest of the Book of Revelation fire, smoke, and brimstone always refer to the eternal punishment of the wicked. We'll see it in four texts as we walk our way through the rest of this book. In one of history's greatest ironies, these demonic armies will destroy their victims with the very same elements that will be the source of their eternal torment. Here's how chapter 20, verse 10, describes it: "and the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever." So, there's their menacing appearance.

So, we've seen their massive numbers, 200 million, their menacing appearance, thirdly, notice their murderous genocide. Verse 18. A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues. John repeats this. A third of humanity killed by these demonic armies. And then he identifies the means that they'll use to accomplish this these three plagues," by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which proceeded out of their mouths." It's kind of the way he expresses it that somehow each of these play a role in their act of genocide but John doesn't explain how. There are some things God doesn't choose to tell us or to answer. Let me just warn you, by the way, don't get caught up in a sensational approach to prophesy that tries to identify these as modern tanks or bombers or nuclear missiles. Remember these are not human armies. Human armies come later in this book. These are demons. This is a demonic army disguised as cavalry dealing out death to a third of earth's population and, apparently, they will kill many with fire. And it's possible that the poisonous smoke from the sulfuric fire will asphyxiate the rest that they kill. This demonic cavalry declares war on earth's people and commits an unspeakable genocide of a third of humanity.

Verse 19. "For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails." They have power to injure and ultimately to kill in two ways: their mouths - that refers back to the fire smoke and brimstone that pours out of their mouths - and their tails. John goes on to explain what he means. He says, "for their tails are like serpents and have heads and with them they do harm." Now, before you try to draw this - a horse with a head of a lion and a snake tail with a head on the end of the tail - notice he uses the word "like." These demons are not horses but, like horses and riders and their tails are not snakes but like snakes with heads. The most likely meaning here is that their tails are somehow armed to injure people in the same way that a snake's strike injures people. You remember the locust had the tails of scorpions to injure. Here this demonic horde, this genocidal cavalry is armed and the tail was something like a snake strike that kills and destroys. By the way, the snake part of this reminds us that these creatures are inspired by, are motivated by, are loyal to Satan who, in chapter 12, verse 9, is called, "the serpent of old." This demonic horde is filled with bloodlust and they find joy in torturing and killing the people on this planet.

That brings us to the shocking response of the survivors in verses 20 and 21. Now remember, the six trumpet judgments have clearly been from God. Each of them have proven God's power. The first four, God's power over this created universe. These last ones, God's power over even the demonic hordes. Each has offered man a gracious opportunity to repent because God didn't destroy everyone. He didn't wipe people off the planet. And the last two of these trumpet judgments have powerfully demonstrated that Satan and his demons have an absolute contempt for humanity and when God, even for a moment, removes His restraining hand, they will inflict torment and death on as many as God will allow. But in the face of all of that, their response is shocking because verse 20 tells us that sinners will not repent of their false gods. Notice, "the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands." Of course, the rest of mankind refers to the survivors of the sixth trumpet and it's demonic cavalry. They literally, the text says, "did not even repent." It's like John is shocked as we should be. "They did not repent of the works of their hands." Throughout scripture that expression, "the works of their hands," refers most often to idols that have been created by man's hands throughout the Old Testament: Deuteronomy 4:28, Deuteronomy 27:15, 2 Kings 19:18, and so forth.

Verse 20 says, they, "did not repent of the works of their hands so, as not to worship demons." Now, you'll notice that expression is connected to idolatry. And the reason is this, the worship of idols is, in fact, the worship of demons. Let me say that again. The worship of idols, the worship of false gods is, in fact, the worship of demons. Listen to Deuteronomy 32:17, "they" - speaking of those who were in false religion – "they sacrifice to demons, who were not God, to gods whom they have not known, new gods who came lately, whom your fathers did not dread." Listen to Psalm 106:37. "They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons" - talking about the gods of Canaan. 1 Corinthians 8:4 says, "therefore, concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one." And then he says this a couple chapters later in 10:20, "no, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God."

Now, what are these passages teaching us? The point of these passages is that idols are not real. The false gods that are worshipped around this planet, they don't exist. They're not gods but every god that people worship other than the true God is demonically inspired, is demonically controlled. To say it a different way, real demons impersonate the false gods on this planet. Behind every lifeless idol there is a powerful demon with frightening, destructive power. The worshippers of idols in our world are not worshiping their gods. They don't exist. Instead, they are unknowingly worshiping the demons who impersonate their gods and these people, facing the judgments that are unveiled in Revelation, refuse to leave their idols.

Notice how John describes these false gods, these idols. First, he describes them by the lifeless, inanimate materials they're typically made of. Verse 20, "and the idols of gold, and of silver, and of brass, and of stone, and of wood." And then he describes them by their complete inability to do anything. Notice he goes on to say, "which can neither see nor hear nor walk." Now, look at that word "can." It's one of my favorite New Testament words. It's the Greek word for can, "dunamis." It's a word, which means to have the ability, the capacity, or power. Idols have no power, no capacity, no ability to see, to hear, or to walk. In this Greek text, John uses the present tense to make the point that they're never seeing, they're never hearing, they're never walking. At no time do they have these powers that are basic characteristics of life. They're not alive. The Old Testament makes such a huge point of this. Turned to one passage with me. Turn back to Isaiah 44. In the first part of Isaiah 44, God talks about Himself. You'll notice in verse 6.

Thus says Yahweh, the king of Israel and his Redeemer, "Yahweh of armies, I am the first and I am the last. And there is no God besides Me. Who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it. Yes, let him confront Me. In order from the time that I established the ancient nation, let them declare to them the things that are coming and the events that are going to take place."

This is what He says: "Listen well at one of your gods tell you what's going to happen and it come true. I'm the only God." He ends verse 8, "is there any God besides Me or is there any other Rock? I know of none." And then notice verse 9. "Those who fashion a graven image are all of them futile and their precious things are of no profit." He goes on to describe it in verse 12.

The man shapes iron into a cutting tool and does his work over the coals, fashioning it with hammers and working it with his strong arm. He also gets hungry and his strength fails; he drinks no water and becomes weary. Another shapes wood, he extends a measuring line; he outlines it with red chalk. He works it with planes and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man, like the beauty of man, so that it may sit in a house. Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, "Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire." But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god." They do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend. No one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, "I have burned half of it in the fire and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat it. Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!" He feeds on ashes; a deceived heart has turned him aside. And he cannot deliver himself, nor say, "Is there not a lie in my right hand?"

That's the futility of idolatry. It's irrational and makes no sense. It's to worship a god who has never seen, who has never heard, who can never move. This is how people will be even after experiencing the horrors of God's judgment during Revelation. Osborne writes, "the foolish people of this world would rather worship the demons that have so mistreated them than turn to the God of love and repent."

So, sinners will not repent of their false gods and, in verse 21, sinners will not repent of their sinful behavior. Idolatry, in verse 20, is forbidden in the first table of God's law, in the first four Commandments. The sins that follow in verse 21, are addressed in the second table of God's law, the last six of the Ten Commandments - the sixth command against murder, the seventh command against adultery, and the eighth command against theft.

You see, here's how it works. The worship of idols invariably leads their worshipers to copy the sins of their gods. If you've read any of Greek or Roman mythology, if you've read anything about the gods of the Canaanites, of the gods of Greece, or the gods of Rome, you'll find that those gods committed all these sins. And guess what? They lead their followers to do the same, either by ignoring and sort of turning a blind eye to the sins of their people or often - and this is amazingly grotesque - but encouraging those who worship them to practice these things, even in an act of worship. I'll never forget visiting one of them. I think it was my first visit to Israel. We went to Dan in the far north where one of the alternative worship centers were established, one of the "high places" - you read about the "high places" in the Old Testament. It is just that. It's a higher place. It's up on a hill. It's it's a platform, if you will, and they would build a large platform on the top of that hill. And then on the top of that platform, they would commit all kinds of sins - sexual sins and other sins - because their gods were voyeur gods who wanted to watch. That's why God said you've got to get rid of the high places because that's the kind of stuff that went on there. Those who worship them will be like them.

Verse 21 says, "they did not repent of their murders." Even during the tribulation, even while people are dealing with all that we have studied so far, violent crimes will escalate because without a sense of morality, evil and unrepentant people will simply copy the demonic cavalry's taste for blood.

Verse 21, "nor of their sorceries." The Greek word is pharmakon. You recognize it the word from which we get our word pharmacy, pharmaceuticals. Its primary meaning is a drug. It can refer to harmful drugs like poisons. It can refer to healing drugs, such as medicine. But it also refers, as it does here, to drugs and potions used in the religious rites of the Greco-Roman world. You see, drugs were used in the pagan rituals to heighten a sense of ecstasy and awareness of the spiritual world, to put the worshiper in contact with the gods in an emotional, experiential way.

Verse 21 says they also didn't repent of their, "immorality." The Greek word is porneia. It's used, as it often, as as a general word for sexual sin of every kind. Despite the devastating judgments people have experienced, they will continue to indulge themselves in sexual sins like premarital sex, adultery, homosexuality, prostitution, and all manner of sexual deviations.

Verse 21 says, "nor of their thefts." With so much of the world devastated by the seals and the trumpet judgment, necessities like food and clothing will become harder to get. People have always been comfortable taking things which belong to another but in that environment, people will become even more committed and comfortable with stealing that which belongs to another. Under the influence of Satan and his demons, the entire world will plunge with greediness into false religion, violent crime, every kind of sexual perversion and utter disregard for the property of others.

But their sins will not go unnoticed. In fact, these very sins will add to their ultimate damnation. Chapter 21, verse 8. In fact, look at it with me. This is one of the passages the Lord used to save me so many years ago because I saw myself in some of these descriptions. Revelation 21:8. "For the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." You know, when you look at the end of Revelation 9 and the people's unwillingness to repent, I think William Mounts is exactly right when he writes this "nowhere will you find a more accurate picture of sinful humanity pressed to the extreme. One would think that the terrors of God's wrath would bring rebels to their knees. Not so. Past the point of no return, they respond to greater punishment with increased rebellion. Such is sinful nature, untouched and unmoved by the mercies of God." Osborne writes this, "these plagues of destruction of killed a third of humanity, yet they have not affected the repentance that God has sought. The demons have demonstrated their contempt and hatred for the nations, but rather than turn to the God of mercy, unbelievers turn once more to their idols and their sinful practices. There could be no more tragic picture of human depravity."

What a hard chapter. What an amazing event. What are the lessons for us from these verses?

First of all, we learn the reality that Satan is, by nature, a murderer. Isn't that what Jesus said in John 8:44? "He was a murderer from the beginning." A liar and a murderer. That means that every murder on this planet, beginning with Cain's murder of Abel is from Satan, ultimately. 1 John 3:11, 12 and 15 all make that very clear. Murder and the murderous heart, the anger that wants to harm and hurt, and kill, all of those things are reflections of Satan himself.

Secondly, we learn that God is not the cause of evil, but He does allow it and He does use it for His own purposes, but He will one day destroy it and He will punish every evil act and every evil person. Throughout history, God has seriously restrained and limited both demonic and human evil and when God brings judgment - judgments like these that don't destroy everyone - they are judgments but at the same time they are warnings and they are a tender call from God for those living at that time to repent because, unlike the demons, God has no delight in the death of the wicked - Ezekiel 18:32. Instead, He pleads with them to repent. That's the heart of God.

Number three: man's response to God's judgment on earth reminds us that this will continue to be unregenerate man's response to God's judgment in hell forever. You know, some people struggle with eternal hell for a brief lifetime of sin but understand that that's not what we're really talking about solely because Revelation ends by telling us, "let the filthy be filthy still." Sinners in hell are not going to repent. They are going to live every day of their eternal existence blaspheming God and sinning in whatever ways, even if it's in their mind, that they find it capable to do because they are unchanged. They are who they are and just like these people on the planet described here in Revelation 9 who, in the face of all of God's judgment refused to turn from their sin, the same will be true in hell forever.

And number four: no sinner ever repents and believes unless God initiates salvation in sovereign grace. And here's the good news: He does. The question is: why is it that some people believe and others don't? Ever ask yourself that question? Why is it that some people believe and others don't? There are two answers. First of all, the only reason that some believe is divine election. That is, that God in sovereign grace works to draw them to Himself and if He didn't, no one would ever be saved. The second answer is the only reason most do not believe is their own sinful rebellion and that's Romans 10. So, the answer to those questions: Romans 9, because of God's gracious, sovereign grace drawing sinners to Himself, that's why some believe, and the reason most don't is because they hear the gracious invitation of the gospel and they refuse to repent. Osborne writes this, "we see once more here in chapter 9 the theodicy of the book" - the word theodicy means a justification of God, a defense of God – "Justifying the redemptive love of God" - you see it in His warning people to repent and His giving them room and space to repent – "and, at the same time, the justice of His judgments." And then he writes this, "the Great White Throne judgment and the Lake of Fire are the only just responses in light of such overwhelming depravity." God is just. God will treat no man unfairly. Everybody will get what they deserve except for a few whom God will choose to show grace. No one's treated unfairly. Some get what they don't deserve, grace, everybody else gets exactly what they have earned and deserved for their rebellion against God. God is, as Paul says in Romans 9 and 10, perfectly just. Aren't you glad that God initiated your salvation in sovereign grace and drew you to Himself? Let's pray together.

Father, we admit to you that these are hard things for us to think about. And yet, we affirm, even as I have explained at the end of my message, that You are just, that not a single person in the universe will ever get anything less than justice. But, O God, thank You that You have chosen for nothing in us, for no reason in us, for nothing but Your own eternal love to show grace to us instead of giving us the justice we've earned. You give us the grace we can never learn. Lord, thank You for our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for this week when we remember that grace had a name and grace and mercy met grace and justice met on the hill of Calvary. We thank You, Father, for the fact that You have rescued us from the wrath that's coming and instead look for the grace to be revealed when our Lord returns. We thank You and we praise you in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Revelation