After the first six seals were broken there was an interlude. In fact all of chapter seven is the first of three interludes in the Book of Revelation. They serve to define the place of God’s holy people and to give perspective on the previous scenes. In chapter seven there are two visions that communicate how God protects His people and assures them of His calling. The visions are of the 144,000 servants of God and the innumerable multitude in heaven. The four angels seem to be God’s divine agents associated with judgement and the four winds represent destructive forces from every direction. Keep in mind that some of these angels we see have been created for very specific purposes. These four angels were created just to hold back the winds. Remember, angels are created beings just like us although they have been created for very different purposes and they serve in very different places. Before the judgements are unleashed God prepared to seal 144,000 of His servants on their foreheads. Seals are the sign of ownership or authority that in ancient times were stamped onto a document by pressing a signet or cylinder into a lump of clay at the point where the document was opened and closed. God called for a temporary halt by the four angels of destruction until the angel carrying the seal could finish his job. The $64,000 question here is who exactly are the 144,000. John listed the twelve tribes of Israel but that doesn’t necessarily correlate with the twelve tribes. Instead it communicates that God knows exactly which people on earth belong to Him. By the time John wrote in the 90’s AD Israel’s twelve tribes no longer existed. The ten tribes of the northern kingdom were dispersed in 722 BC when Assyria conquered them. The early Christian church regarded itself symbolically as the Israel of God. Often in the Book of Revelation numbers are symbolic. Keep that in mind. It is quite possible that the 144,000 represents all faithful Christians. It is a number that symbolizes completeness (12X12X1000), a reference to all who will be saved. There are traditions who firmly believe that there will only be 144,000 in heaven. That is an erroneous assumption. The list of tribes begins appropriately with the tribe of Judah which is the royal tribe of Jesus but you will notice that the tribe of Dan is omitted and Manasseh, one of Joseph’s two sons is in their place. The tribe of Dan fell into idolatry and early Christians looked at that tribe as the epitome of evil. Ephraim is also omitted for the same reason. But Joseph and Levi are added.
The second vision shows heaven with an innumerable crowd rejoicing because they are secure in Christ and all tears and sorrows have ended. This crowd of believers is too vast to count, fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham of descendants too numerous to count. This great multitude, in addition to praising God and the Lamb will later glorify God for judging Babylon. They will also proclaim the marriage of the Lamb. White robes and palm branches are ancient symbols of victory and success, adding to the celebration that occurs after God ends the hostile world. White robes are the garments of overcoming believers or martyrs. And people waved palm branches at victory celebrations. Ancient victory parades, heralded the accomplishments of conquerors, and included loud chants and shouts. The angels, elders, and four living creatures all prostrated themselves before God and responded together in a sevenfold, which means complete and extensive, doxology that recognized God’s eternal nature. This Doxology is book ended by the word Amen. Amen word means “yes, it shall be so”. Here it is a powerful affirmation of God’s resounding victory. It is interesting that one of the 24 elders asked John who the ones clad in white were and John’s response is revealing. It seemed to be an almost rhetorical question, you sir are the one who knows. Verse 14 tells us. This vast multitude has come out of the tribulation, a reference to the hour of trial that will come upon the whole world. In view of the great loss of life here martyrdom was most likely their means of escape. There was tribulation in John’s day but nothing like he great tribulation will bring. This will be a time of horrible and distressing events. Having their robes washed in the blood of the Lamb signifies Christ’s redeeming death for all of us. It may also imply martyrdom. Making them white speaks to their victory over sin and death and their acceptance by God into eternal life. Serving God day and night shows that we are called to serve Him as a continual duty. The great multitude will serve the Lamb day and night. The 144,000 are later described as the ones who follow the lamb wherever He goes. To serve here indicates priestly service before the Lord. The priesthood of Christians will enter a new phase in the presence of God in heaven. God’s temple symbolizes His presence and it refers to the inner sanctuary of the temple rather than the outer courts. Dwelling here can be translated as to live in a tent or “to tabernacle”. This verse echoes John 1:14. Believers who didn’t see Christ when He lived on this earth in His first coming, will go to heaven where He will dwell among them. For desert dwellers, life giving water and relief from scorching heat would represent paradise. This is an amazing picture of God’s provision for His people. And the Lord who is the shepherd from Psalm 23 is equated with the Lamb here. Both King David and the multitude will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Christ’s designation as the Good Shepherd of God’s people means that He protects and provides for the sheep, bringing hope and salvation to His people. The water of life is freely available for all those who choose to come to Christ.
Now it is time to open the seventh seal! This is like the end of the first act and it brings a dramatic silence. This points to the mystery of God in his dealings with His world. It is possible that the silence here mimics the rest of the seventh day of creation. It was silent for about half an hour. It is a brief silence but it preceded the unfolding of the second act of divine judgement when God will answer the prayers of His people. This is also the eerie silence that comes just before the storm. From 8:2-11:19 we see the second cycle of judgement that is structured around seven trumpets, and like the first cycle this one also includes an interlude. It ends with a glimpse of God’s eternal kingdom. The trumpet judgements are similar to the ten plagues in Egypt. They have the same purpose, to show the powerlessness of earthly gods and/or evil powers. They demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt the power and sovereignty of God. Verses 2-6 is a scene of preparation that introduces the seven trumpets, and continues the theme of God’s receiving and answering prayer. The sound of the trumpets is intended to get people’s attention and it signals an approaching end. The sound of the trumpet in the Old Testament had more than one significance. It was used to gather the Lord’s people, assemble the Lord’s army, announce a new king, and proclaim the year of jubilee. In this context the sounding of the trumpet is most likely a declaration of war.
The prayers of God’s people ask for His ultimate judgement and justice. The seven angels standing before the Lord are likely the seven angels of the seven churches. It is interesting that the prayers of the Saints have a part in the judgement of God. The mixture of prayers and incense that reaches God’s presence shows that God hears their prayers and is prepared to act. The golden altar reflects the splendor of the heavenly throne room. Just like incense was added to the offerings and sacrifices to make them acceptable to the Lord in ancient days, so too here incense is added to the prayers to make them acceptable before the throne. The psalmist the in 141:2 “ Let my prayers rise before you as incense, the lifting of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” Our prayers have always come before the Lord. When the silence is broken God responds with thunder, lightning, and an earthquake. These are earthly things that remind us of God’s power, presence, and judgement. After all this the angels with the trumpets prepared to sound them. Each of the first four trumpets affects one third of its intended target. The point here isn’t that this isn’t an exact measurement. This indicates that God’s judgement had begun but it hasn’t reached its full power yet. It is as though God is just warming up. Together the first four trumpets form a unified message of judgement on the entire physical world. Just like the first four seals, the first four trumpets are sounded in rapid succession. However, the effects of the trumpets are much more devastating. One third of all tress and grass, a third of the sea and the ships in the sea, a third of the rivers and springs of water, and evidently a third of all daylight and moonlight are affected.
When the first angel blows his trumpet a torrent of hail, fire, and blood breaks forth. It signals the destruction of plant life, just like the seventh plague in Egypt. Nothing escapes God’s judgement. All of the green grass is burned. Again, we cannot look at this as sequential. Each scene is self contained and communicates its own message.
The second angel blows his trumpet. A great mountain burning suggests a massive inland volcano that erupts explosively over a vast area of the ocean waters. But, the description of the effects on the sea indicates that this is probably more destruction from the wind blown pollution from volcanic ash. The water becoming blood mirrors the first plague in Egypt.
With the blowing of the third trumpet a great star fell from the sky. The name of the star was wormwood, literally bitterness. Wormwood is a shrubby plant that yields a bitter extract. It is not normally poisonous but the plague involves effects far more potent than the taste of the bitter plant. Many men die from the water. The rapid pollution of one third of the world’s drinking water would set off a chaotic crisis. Bitter water is connected with judgement from early in Israel’s national experience. The message: wide scale judgement has begun. Some believe the falling star is symbolic rather than physical. Others believe this is a huge asteroid that falls from heaven to earth, burning like a torch as it enters the atmosphere. It could fall on a third of the rivers and springs by disintegrating as it passes through the earth’s atmosphere.
The fourth trumpet blast caused one third of the sun, moon, and stars to be struck and they became dark. That meant that a third of both the day and the night were totally dark. This is like the ninth plague in Egypt. It is also like the heavenly disturbances involved in Christ’s description of his second coming. It could also be that one third of each day and night was completely dark, or it could be that there was one third less light because of cosmic and atmospheric disturbances.
Ancients regarded the eagle as a symbolic messenger of God. The three woes would be recognized as a message from God. The woes would sound like an eagles screech and are directed at the humans of this world who were not among God’s faithful people. There are three woes and three remaining trumpet judgements. The third woe is said to be coming quickly.
Chapter nine brings us the fifth and sixth trumpet judgements. Just like the seals, there is an interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets. These two trumpets demonstrate how God’s judgement impacts the people of the world and how futile it is to resist God. While these judgements should lead to repentance, they don’t. Sin has such control over the people that they choose to worship the evil forces that torture and murder them rather than repent and turn to God. The fifth trumpet, the first of the three woes’ sees a star that fell from heaven to earth. Some think this is a demon and others believe it is the evil one himself. It could also be an angel that was serving God. The bottomless pit is the interim jail for some demons. It is also the place of origin of the beast. And, it will be the place where the evil one is imprisoned during Christ’s reign. The key goes to the bottomless pit which is also known as the abyss and the underworld. When this one unlocked the pit thick dark smoke came pouring out. There was so much thick dark smoke the sun and air turned dark because of it. However, this wasn’t just smoke. Out of the smoke came locusts, multitudes of them. But unlike most locusts, these didn’t eat plants. These locusts were given scorpion like power to sting people. There were locusts in the plagues but they ate vegetation. These locusts attacked people and stung them with their tails. However, they didn’t sting everybody. They only went after those people who did not have the seal of God. These are not ordinary locusts. They didn’t kill those who were unmarked; they only tortured them…for five months. First, that is the normal lifespan of a locust. This suggests that their entire purpose was to torture people. Second, five is a symbolically complete number based on the fingers of a hand. In that time people will seek death but it will be nowhere to be found. There will be no escape from them. None. The description of these locusts is somewhat disturbing. In fact, their description is intended to cause revulsion and terror. It seems they had some sort of armor, like a battle horse would wear. They had what looked like gold crowns on their heads. That indicates that their torture dominates much of the earth. It might also mean they had a high rank among the demons but below their king, Abaddon. The king of the locusts is described in three ways: an angel from the bottomless pit who unlocked the pit rather than coming from it, as abaddon whose name means destruction, and Apollyon, the destroyer. John doesn’t make any direct connection between the evil one and this king of the locusts, but the prince of demons is linked with the evil one in the gospels. The evil one is also called the prince of this world and the prince of the power of the air. There is also a connection with the roman emperor Domitian, whose patron god was Apollo, symbolized by the locust.
Having hair like a woman’s teeth may be a reference to their long antennae and teeth like a lion indicates strength and cruelty. Their wings sounded like chariots with many horses who were running into battle. The angel of the bottomless pit is demonic and controls the demonic locusts. If this angel serves God this is one more example of the demons activity and, that of the evil one is under God’s control. This is the end of the first woe.
The sixth trumpet also brings terror. John heard a voice speaking from the four horns of the gold altar. The voice carries the authority of God. This indicates it is the voice of the Lamb who was slain and has redeemed His people. He commands the four angels who are bound at the Euphrates. Because they are bound it suggests these four angels are evil. Their location at the Euphrates points to both Assyria and Babylon, empires that had devastated the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The angels were symbols of destruction. Once again we see that God is in control and the angels are released at the right time…God’s time. Because there was a fourfold time designation; hour, day, month, and year we see even evil forces have to observe God’s timing. They were released to kill one third of the people on the earth. And their army was ginormous, 200 million mounted troops. The four angels relationship to these troops is uncertain. The number, 200 million is innumerable. At its greatest strength the Roman army numbered about 126,000 soldiers. To put this in perspective, the 2020 population of the United States was 329.5 million. One third of the people could number in the billions. Combined with the former destruction of one fourth of humanity, over half of the worlds population will have been killed. There was widespread killing after the opening of the fourth seal and many died during the catastrophes of the first three trumpets.
There were riders on the horses and their armor color matched the plagues of their horses; red for fire, blue for smoke, and yellow for sulfur. All of these are signs of judgement in scripture. Although it is the horsemen for whom the number of 200 million is given, the horses they ride and their killing power are primarily described. There are some similarities between the horses of the sixth trumpet and the locusts shaped like horses of the fifth trumpet. Remember though, the locusts are given power only to torture, not to kill. These horses are given authority to kill one third of mankind. The amazing thing here is that those who were left felt no need or desire to repent. Their unwillingness or desire to repent is like that of pharaoh when the plagues came upon Egypt.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W