This is the fourth sermon in our series on the Revelation of John. We ended last week at the end of chapter 8 with four of seven trumpets having been blown bringing about the destruction of 1/3 of the earth and sky after the last of seven seals were broken.
Chapter nine begins with the blowing of the fifth trumpet. John sees a “star that had fallen from heaven to earth”. (Rev 9:1) In Luke 10:17-19 Jesus tells the seventy that he sends out to minister in the surrounding towns that, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightening. See I have given you authority to tread upon snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.” John is describing this very image of Satan falling and unleashing locust (one of the plagues on Egypt) like scorpions who look like “horses equipped for battle” – the Roman cavalry.
With the next blow of the trumpet four angels of death “who are bound at the great river Euphrates “ are released. (Rev 9:14) The Euphrates was the natural border of northern Israel and a barrier to their enemies from the north. This barrier is now to be breached and the angels are released who kill 1/3 of the population of earth through troops of cavalry that number two hundred million and the horses are described as serpents – again a reference to Luke 10 which speaks to the faithful being protected against serpents. These serpents are an unimaginably large military force (Rome being the one present in John’s time) which God allows to do its worst in the hope that people will repent and turn back to God. Unfortunately, it does not work.
Verse 20 says, “The rest of humankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands or give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their fornication or their thefts.” (Rev 9: 20-21)
There is a repeating pattern throughout scripture. God created humans with free will so that they would love God by their own choice. Instead we abused that free will, we turned to “not God” – pagan idols, political systems, money and sex and worshiped that instead. The result was pain and suffering for the innocent as well as the guilty. Disaster (Noah’s flood, slavery in Egypt, defeat in battle – Jerusalem) often brought the people back to God for a short period of time and then we were off seeking “not God” again. This time, even disaster does not turn the people back to God.
Just as we reach this great climax in our story, we get a break for station identification. In chapter 10, John sees a heavenly being coming down from heaven, not plummeting like Satan did like a meteor hitting the earth, but gently descending in a cloud. We realize from the words used to describe him, especially his voice like a lion roaring, that this is Christ. He commands John to eat his small scroll – John must take into himself Christ’s words which like most prophesy is both sweet, filled with hope and bitter, filled with warnings of judgement. John is then commanded to prophesy about “many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”
Don’t expect Revelation to be chronologically linear. It is as if all these things are happening pretty much at once and John keeps circling back giving additional details and observing different aspects of the vision.
Chapter 11 zooms in for a close up. John is given a measuring rod and told to “Come and measure the temple of God.” (Rev 11:1) The temple is the place where God resides. N T Wright, in Revelation for Everyone notes that John’s community would probably have seen that as the Christian community at that time. He is measuring the inner courts, the place where God and humans are in close communion, but he is to skip the outer court where the “nations” were allowed. John is told that this area will be “trampled” for forty-two months, 3 ½ years (half of the number 7 so not complete) and that two witnesses will be given authority to prophesy for the same time period. They are described much like Elijah and Moses as to their powers. And we are told when their time is completed, the beast will come up from the bottomless pit and kill them. Their bodies will lie in the street of a city prophetically called Sodom and Egypt – two wicked cities in the Old Testament, but John is talking about the city of Rome. He will make this clearer later on. The people will celebrate because the prophets are dead and they will disrespect their corpses, but in 3 ½ days they will be resurrected and ascend into heaven. Being a witness to Christ may cause you to experience suffering, abuse, perhaps even death, but we are still called to be faithful and to witness to “the nations”. But even if the nations do their worst to us that is not the end. This is the promise of resurrection to the faithful.
We are told at that moment there will be a great earthquake, ten thousand will die, but the remainder give glory to God. It has been a long hard journey, but God is victorious in the end.
The seventh and final trumpet blows and the angel announces , “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.” (Rev 11: 15) We end chapter 11 with the twenty four elders praising God. The nations (the enemy) has done their worst, but God has judged the nations and had rewarded the faithful. God is seen to be in the temple in heaven, the ark of the covenant is visible (it disappeared during the Babylonian exile) and God’s presence is visible in thunder and lightning.
The end. Well, no, John shares more aspects of his vision in later chapters, but we will stop here for today.
Short summary so far. John is speaking to a community who are suffering persecution because of their faith. Some are holding fast while others are beginning to drift away. John’s vision emphasizes God’s right to worship because he is the creator of all things and Jesus’ role in our salvation through his self-sacrifice. He is both the Lion of Judah – a symbol of strength and the Lamb of God – as symbol of God’s redemption and mercy through sacrificial love. It may appear to people that the empires have the upper hand(Rome for John’s audience), but they are deceptive and are agents of Satan that God has allowed a free hand for the purpose of bringing about their own self destruction and drawing others back to God. God will protect and reward those who remain faithful and God will win in the end. It is already written in time.