“Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice speaking from the four horns of the gold altar that stands in the presence of God. And the voice said to the sixth angel who held the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great Euphrates River.” Then the four angels who had been prepared for this hour and day and month and year were turned loose to kill one-third of all the people on earth. I heard the size of their army, which was 200 million mounted troops.”
Revelation 9:13-16 NLT
The starting gun is fired. The four angels who had been prepared for this very time were “turned loose”. They had a vast army at their disposal, consisting of mounted troops implying they were well equipped. And they killed one third of the people alive on earth at that time. Tragic. John continued his narrative, recorded in Revelation 9:17-19. We read, “And in my vision, I saw the horses and the riders sitting on them. The riders wore armour that was fiery red and dark blue and yellow. The horses had heads like lions, and fire and smoke and burning sulphur billowed from their mouths. One-third of all the people on earth were killed by these three plagues—by the fire and smoke and burning sulphur that came from the mouths of the horses. Their power was in their mouths and in their tails. For their tails had heads like snakes, with the power to injure people.”
Again, in his vision, John was able to zoom in to see more details of the main players. The vast army were identically dressed and armed. Colours of red, blue and yellow. Lion-headed horses. From their mouths was emitted “fire and smoke and burning sulphur”. And they had snake-headed tails. It all sounded like the description of a scene from a fantasy or horror movie.
Did John really see lion-headed horses breathing fire and brimstone? Or was this just a vision displaying something he could relate to? For example, it would have been no good for John to see a modern battle tank, because he wouldn’t have been able to understand what it was. In the same way, if we had the vision, what would have been shown to us would have to be understandable, so that we could receive the message in terms that relate to the knowledge we have. Weapons of war have changed over the centuries, and in particular over the past century or so. What new weapons of descruction are still to come? A scary thought?
The verses describe the “fire and smoke and burning sulphur” as three separate plagues. And for good measure, the snake-tails injured people. And the three plagues killed a third of the population. But we now come to an extremely sad fact. We read about it in Revelation 9:20-21. “But the people who did not die in these plagues still refused to repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. They continued to worship demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood—idols that can neither see nor hear nor walk! And they did not repent of their murders or their witchcraft or their sexual immorality or their thefts.” How sad is that? What is there about people that even when faced with the consequences of their rebellion and sin, “their murders or their witchcraft or their sexual immorality or their thefts”, they still refused to repent and turn to God.
I have had conversations with people and have been struck by the apparent intransigence, even in the face of adversity, of some of them. They hold an angry and almost violent attitude towards anything to do with God. They speak out that they would rather end up in hell than have anything to do with God. Even if He exists, they say. How they can be so angry towards a loving, merciful, compassionate and gracious God totally beats me. But then I remember how I was before my heart melted in the warmth of God’s love. When I realised that Jesus was and is the ultimate loving Saviour. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:1-2, “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God.” But a couple of verses on (Ephesians 2:4-5), there is a description of what happened to me, “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)”.
Those people, the two-thirds, who escaped the killing spree of the vast army, still refused to turn to God. Human nature being what it is, rather than soberly realise that they had had a lucky escape and had better now do something about it, they rationalised that they couldn’t have been so bad after all. Perhaps God had missed what they were up to. Surely He couldn’t have seen their misdemeanours – after all, they think, He can’t be everywhere can He? Perhaps their “demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood” had kept them safe after all. In Isaiah 55:6-7 we read, “Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.” That is the message we pilgrims must propagate through out communities. Because today God is near. Tomorrow He might not be. Our message is focused and urgent. Let’s grab the moment.
Dear Father God. Once again we offer up our thanks for Your grace and mercy. Where would we be without You? Please lead us to those who are worried and harassed, that we can speak words of peace and grace to help them. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.