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Secrets

“When the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write. But I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Keep secret what the seven thunders said, and do not write it down.””
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭10:4‬ ‭NLT

“But you, Daniel, keep this prophecy a secret; seal up the book until the time of the end, when many will rush here and there, and knowledge will increase.” 
“But he said, “Go now, Daniel, for what I have said is kept secret and sealed until the time of the end. Many will be purified, cleansed, and refined by these trials. But the wicked will continue in their wickedness, and none of them will understand. Only those who are wise will know what it means.””
Daniel‬ ‭12:4, 9-10‬ ‭NLT

The Apostle John was about to write down what the “seven thunders” were saying when he was told that he had to keep them secret. Keeping something secret happened once before, when the prophet Daniel was in discussion with an angel, though for him he was told to seal up the book about what he knew “until the time of the end”. In both cases, there was something that God wanted kept out of the public domain until the time was right to reveal it, if at all. And the secrets died with the person who was privileged to receive them, John or Daniel. Why did God even allow mention of the fact that these secrets existed? And what was so secret that it had to be kept hidden?

Before we think further about the secrets disclosed by the “seven thunders” perhaps we should pause and ask what or who they wereIn the Bible thunder is often associated with God, and His judgements. For example in Psalm 18:13 we read, ” The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded amid the hail and burning coals.” In Exodus 9:23 we read, “So Moses lifted his staff toward the sky, and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed toward the earth…”. But why “seven thunders” and not just one? Apart from the fact that seven is a number representing completion and perfection in the Bible, we don’t have a specific answer.

But back to our questions about the secrets and what they were. I must confess that I don’t really have a clue, and neither does anyone else, as far as I can see. If anyone knew what the secret was, then it wouldn’t be a secret anymore. There has been speculation of course, but nothing that can be supported by Scripture. The only hint I can see from the verses today as to why these secrets existed is that the knowledge needed to understand them doesn’t yet exist. The words themselves were obviously able to be recorded, but what they meant was to be a secret. There is always the possibility that the words of the “seven thunders” was kept secret because they were too terrible to be disclosed.

Usually secrets exist because they hide information about someone or something that is embarrassing or illegal or to protect a national interest. Technology companies have gone to great lengths in recent years to provide ways to protect data, such as pictures, videos or conversations, from public scrutiny. For example, we have WhatsApp with its “end to end” encryption that is unable to be read by anyone other than the originator and the recipient. Over previous years, before modern encryption methods had been invented, people stayed awake at night dreaming up ways to make messages secure. And we have the much publicised efforts of the code breaking team and their successes at Bletchley Park in the Second World War. But it begs the question as to why such extremes should be followed for the average person having a conversation with a relative or friend. Paranoia? But then I don’t live in a Marxist environment where the authorities wish to control the very actions of their peoples. Where a wrong word, or phrase can lead to a knock on the door.

So what do we pilgrims make of John’s and Daniel’s secrets? We know that one day all will be revealed – I don’t believe that there will be any secrets in Heaven. Until that day we are in a position where we must trust and have faith in our wonderful Creator God. Only He knows the beginning from the end. From the writings in the Bible we have been given a glimpse of what is to come at “the time of the end”. But that is all that it is – a glimpse.

Father God. We rest in Your grace and love today, secure in the knowledge that You know what is best for each one of us. We put our faith and trust in You today and every day. Amen.

Power and Imagination

“Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, surrounded by a cloud, with a rainbow over his head. His face shone like the sun, and his feet were like pillars of fire. And in his hand was a small scroll that had been opened. He stood with his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land. And he gave a great shout like the roar of a lion. And when he shouted, the seven thunders answered.
Revelation‬ ‭10:1-3‬ ‭NLT

The Apostle John’s eschatological vision continues with the appearance of another angel. A mighty angel. This angel was surrounded by a cloud and had a rainbow positioned over his head. And John was struck by the brightness of the angel’s face and he also noticed that the angel’s feet were like pillars of fire. The angel obviously had something to say, related to the scroll he was carrying. And he must have been huge, to be able to stand astride on sea and land. He gave a “great shout like the roar of a lion”  and received a response from the seven thunders.

What is all that about, was my first thought. Do we accept the picture that is forming in our minds at face value or do we try and make sense of it, interpreting the vision in a way that imparts a meaning? Firstly, this episode takes place between the sixth and seventh trumpets. An interlude perhaps? Did the people still alive see this angel – something that big wouldn’t have been hard to miss – or was this a spiritual event portrayed for John’s benefit, and ultimately ours as well?

We can draw some associations between what we see and what has been written in the Bible. For example, we remember that God led the Israelite slaves through the wilderness during their exodus from Egypt from within a cloud. And Psalm 104:3 reads, “You lay out the rafters of Your home in the rain clouds. You make the clouds Your chariot; You ride upon the wings of the wind.” So the angel’s message from a cloud perhaps means that it has God’s backing, His seal of approval. Also we know about rainbows. In Genesis 9:13, God said, “I have placed My rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of My covenant with you and with all the earth.” We also have a Biblical precedent for a bright face. When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, we read in Matthew 17:2 that “His face shone like the sun”. Regarding the “feet … like pillars of fire” we remember that God led the Israelites at night in the wilderness with a pillar of fire. So we, at the very least, can assume this “mighty angel” was someone of great importance. In fact, some have even suggested that He was Jesus Himself.

Regarding the mighty shout, we read in Hosea 11:10. “For someday the people will follow me. I, the Lord, will roar like a lion. And when I roar, my people will return trembling from the west.” In Joel 3:16 we read, “The Lord’s voice will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth will shake. But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a strong fortress for the people of Israel.” John didn’t record in his vision what the great angel shout was about, and neither do we really know what the seven thunders represent. But we do know that when God responded to Jesus’s prayer in John 12, some people thought it had thundered. But, everything considered, this event in Revelation was a momentous event. God was about to say something very important and significant through the mighty angel.

Is there a message in this vision for us pilgrims today? Not many of us, if any at all, will have received such a vision as John did that day. But that is not to say that God has overlooked us and has failed to deliver an important word, tailor-made just for us. Over the years I have received several important messages from God – one of them delivered with His audible voice. Something intensely personal and encouraging. God is always listening to our prayers, to our petitions, to the anguished cries from our hearts, and He will graciously and lovingly always provide the answers and encouragement that we need. 

Jesus said that when He left this earth, He would send the Holy Spirit as His representative. And through Him we will have access to the same power that Jesus had. In Acts 1:8 He said to His disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you…”. Today we pilgrims are Jesus’s disciples with the potential to be powerful for God through His Spirit. I know that many claim that the power of the Holy Spirit was just for the original disciples and their generation and that it disappeared when they all died. But that is not my experience, and neither can I find any Scriptures that explicitly say that this is what happened. 

I have always been challenged with what Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:20, “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Paul wrote that to a church fellowship located in the city of Ephesus. He didn’t pick out the apostles and the favoured few who knew them. This was written to all those in the fellowship of Ephesian believers. And I firmly believe today that it applies to us as well, and we all have that accessible power deep within us. Just waiting to be tapped. In the power of this Spirit, we can dream. We can allow our imaginations to be led by the Holy Spirit. There is no limit to what can be achieved through the power that is within us. So there may be a pilgrim reading this today who feels inadequate and is lacking confidence in who they are. They might be feeling inferior and incapable. But God wants to encourage us all today. In Ephesians 1:19-20 we read, “I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honour at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.” So let’s press in today, flexing our spiritual faith muscles, believing God for more of that Holy Spirit power to touch us and touch those around us. In Jesus there is no limit to what we can achieve, if we only believe.

Dear Father God. We confess that we feel most of the time like fragile clay jars. But we declare today our confidence in You, the One who uses such ordinary vessels as us to do great things for You. Thank You. Amen.

Mounted Troops

“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.

The Gold Altar

“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

A speaking altar. John’s vision clearly described it as being made of gold, with four horns, and positioned right there in God’s presence. There must have been something sacred and holy about it. And a voice came from it with an instruction that became the second terror, or woe. But what was the significance of the altar? To answer that question we have to look back into the Old Testament, where altar-building instructions can be found.

In Exodus 30, God gave Moses a blueprint for the golden altar, that was to be used for burning incense. We read, “Then make another altar of acacia wood for burning incense. Make it 18 inches square and 36 inches high, with horns at the corners carved from the same piece of wood as the altar itself. Overlay the top, sides, and horns of the altar with pure gold, and run a gold moulding around the entire altar.” (‭‭Exodus‬ ‭30:1-3). God continued with instructions about what the altar was to be used for. “Every morning when Aaron maintains the lamps, he must burn fragrant incense on the altar. And each evening when he lights the lamps, he must again burn incense in the Lord’s presence. This must be done from generation to generation. Once a year Aaron must purify the altar by smearing its horns with blood from the offering made to purify the people from their sin. This will be a regular, annual event from generation to generation, for this is the Lord’s most holy altar.” (‭‭Exodus‬ ‭30:7-8, 10‬ ‭NLT).

So the golden altar in John’s vision was probably the same as the altar we read about in Revelation 8, “Then another angel with a gold incense burner came and stood at the altar. And a great amount of incense was given to him to mix with the prayers of God’s people as an offering on the gold altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, mixed with the prayers of God’s holy people, ascended up to God from the altar where the angel had poured them out.” (‭‭Revelation‬ ‭8:3-4‬ ‭NLT). Some theologians think that the golden altar with its horns was a “type” of Christ because His prayers of intercession are constantly rising up to God like incense.

 Altars played a very important role in ancient Jewish worship. But what about today, in our Western churches? Pilgrims from a Catholic or Anglican background, and visitors to churches in these denominations, will be aware of a cloth covered table located at the front of a church building. The decorations and ornaments are beautifully ornate, with extensive use of gold and even precious stones, and someone like myself, brought up in an Anglican Church, feel a sense of reverence when approaching this object, what is referred to as an “altar”. From an early age I grew up with the thought that somehow God lives there. In Anglican liturgy it is at the altar that the priest undertakes various duties during a church service, with congregants looking on. Bodily responses such as genuflection or bowing are performed when passing in front of the altar, reflecting the reverence and awe afforded to this item of furniture.

A modern application of an altar is in the wayside shrines that crop up today. Perhaps where some unfortunate person was killed in a road accident, or, as in my local community, where a young man, apparently high on drugs, committed suicide. The person’s loved ones have erected an “altar” in their memory and regularly place flowers there. Another example of this is with the inclusion of plaques of remembrance being affixed to park benches. But an altar is nothing more than a place of consecration. A place where a memory can be immortalised.

But whatever our liturgy or upbringing, is an altar of any real relevance in our pilgrim lives? I would suggest there is great importance in an altar, but a personal one. In Jewish worship it was on the altar that animals were sacrificed as an act of worship to God. But in a personal way we develop an altar to commemorate our commitment to God. In my morning prayer walks, I have way points where I pause to offer up to God thanks and praise for something or someone in my life that has been significant. We all need something to associate our loving Heavenly Father and our relationships with Him. so we develop our own personal altars, where we praise and worship our God. Where we offer up our thanks with grateful hearts for His provision. Where we pray for petitionary prayers for our loved ones and even national issues. In our hearts we have a ready made home for our altars, a place far more precious than any cloth covered man-made edifice located at the front of a dusty old mausoleum.

Dear Father. Where else can we find You than on the altars of our hearts. We praise and thank You for dwelling there by Your Holy Spirit. We pray that You never leave us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Big “Why”

“The first terror is past, but look, two more terrors are coming!”
Revelation‬ ‭9:12‬ ‭NLT

We floated the question in a previous blog post, “Why does God allow disasters to happen?” The implication in the question is that God isn’t all-powerful. Or God doesn’t really care about us. But nothing is further from the truth. The root cause of all the bad things that happen on this planet is sin. The natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and so on, are the effects of sin on God’s perfect creation. In Romans 8:19-22 the Apostle Paul wrote, “For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time“.  I sometimes look around me during my morning prayer walks and try and imagine what all the trees, the flowers and greenery, the wild raspberries and strawberries, will look like when the curse of sin has been removed. I’m sure Heaven is going to be one big Wow!

Because of sin, the world is now in the grip of the devil. Jesus made this clear, as we read in John 14:30, “I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me“. However, the devil will not always have control of the earth – in 2 Corinthians 4:4 we read “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God“. One day the current “age” will come to an end, and that is what we are seeing in the End Time vision in Revelation. 

God can certainly intervene in the affairs of mankind and our earthly home. We probably don’t know the extent to which God has already intervened, reducing or even stopping certain events. However, we don’t know why God doesn’t do more to stop the catastrophes. God allows people to behave in wicked ways because He has allowed us free choice. He didn’t create robotic human beings, with a pre-defined behaviour acceptable to God, programmed in accordance with His perfect and holy laws. And in the same way perhaps He allows creation to groan along, taking its natural, sin-blighted, course. But what we do know is that often good things happen as a consequence of natural and man-made disasters. For example, the Kindertransport initiative was instrumental in saving many Jewish children from the horrors of the Holocaust. The aid response to the 2004 tsunami totalled an unprecedented $6.25 Billion. At a time of a natural disaster there is something within mankind that wants to help those who are less fortunate. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them“. 

But we can’t leave this dilemma of why we experience natural and man-made disasters without adding the concept of eternity. God deliberately chose to send a solution to the woes of the world in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Not to sort out or prevent disasters, but instead, to offer mankind an escape route out of a sinful and wicked world into His wonderful presence. God’s love and compassion knows no bounds. His mercy endures eternally (Lamentations 3:22). While we continue to live our earthly lives, God is always available to encourage and help, to pick us up when we fall, and forgive our sinful lapses. And one day He will welcome us into our eternal home. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “…….I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” So today, if there is anyone reading this who wants to know more about our wonderful Saviour, Jesus, and how He, and He only, can show us the way to spend eternity with Him in Heaven, please get in touch.

Dear Father God. We thank You that there is a time to come when we will be with You in Heaven. We pray for Your strength to help us hold firm in our faith to the end. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

More Terrors to Come

“The first terror is past, but look, two more terrors are coming!”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭9:12‬ ‭NLT

There is a pause implied after the five months had elapsed. Our verse today records that the first of the terrors, that corresponded to the sounding of the fifth trumpet, is past. Can you imaging the relief flooding over the earth’s inhabitants as the locusts started to die off. Were there piles of dead locusts with their strange appearances lying in heaps around the nations? Or if the locusts were symbols of a terrible and fearsome army, did they withdraw back to where they came from? We don’t know, but in his vision John was told that this was not a time for complacency because there were more “terrors”, or “woes” as translated in other Bible versions, coming. We also don’t know how much time was to elapse before the next trumpet blew.

This might be an opportunity to float the question, particularly in the context of the End Times as portrayed in John’s vision, “Why does God allow disasters to happen?” A difficult question to answer, but the reality is that since history started to be recorded there have been accounts of many events similar to those recorded in the Apostle John’s Revelation. There have been earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, famines, wars, diseases and so on. Why didn’t God intervene to stop them? One question often asked is where God is when times of distress and devastation happen. One memorable event still in living memory was the Holocaust that saw the murder of millions of God’s own people, the Jews. And the cry for God to intervene must have reverberated around the heavens on countless occasions during those dark and evil times. The Covid virus has inflicted much in the way of death and distress on mankind during the past two or three years, and I’m sure many prayers were offered up for God to intervene, but He apparently hasn’t, and it is still wreaking havoc on mankind as I write.

The reality that we observe is that God has occasionally intervened in the affairs of mankind and the natural events in the world around us, but most of the time He doesn’t. The Old Testament recorded occasions when His intervention brought about victories in battle (for example we read in 2 Chronicles 20:22, “At the very moment they began to sing and give praise, the Lord caused the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir to start fighting among themselves.”) And there was the occasion recorded in Joshua 10:13-14, “So the sun stood still and the moon stayed in place until the nation of Israel had defeated its enemies. Is this event not recorded in The Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the middle of the sky, and it did not set as on a normal day. There has never been a day like this one before or since, when the Lord answered such a prayer. Surely the Lord fought for Israel that day!” But on other occasions, the prayers of the Israelites went unheeded. There is an answer to God’s apparent intransigence in the face of disasters is puzzling but in the meantime we’ll leave the question hanging.

We pilgrims keep praying regardless of the circumstances, because prayer changes things. We might not see a result straight away, but God always answers prayers, should we choose to listen. He has three answers – “Yes”, “No”, and “Not Yet”. Often we say that God doesn’t answer prayers because His response is not what we wanted to hear. But over the years God, by His grace and mercy, has answered my prayers. For example, in answer to my prayers and the prayers of many of His people, He miraculously healed my daughter of a viral attack on her brain. And there have been many other times when an answer to my prayers popped up, often in a way I didn’t expect. Many people over the years have prayed for me as well, and I am so grateful for their faithfulness. 

We pilgrims will come up many obstacles on our journeys through life. We may not have encountered the terrors described in John’s vision, but we may have come up against sickness, disease, financial hardship, accidents, and other occasions when God’s intervention didn’t happen. Regardless of what is going on around us, we trust Him and put our hope in Him anyway, because he is our loving Heavenly Father. We only have to read His Book, the Bible, to tap into His amazing grace. How about these Scriptures?

Psalm 147:11, “… the Lord’s delight is in those who fear him, those who put their hope in his unfailing love“. 
Jeremiah 17:7, “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence“. 
Romans 15:13, “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit“. 
Psalms 62:5-6, “Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken“. 

Father God. We thank You for Your loving kindness, and proclaim today the prayer recorded by Your prophet, Habakuk. “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord ! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!” Amen and Amen!

The Locust Army

“The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. They had what looked like gold crowns on their heads, and their faces looked like human faces. They had hair like women’s hair and teeth like the teeth of a lion. They wore armour made of iron, and their wings roared like an army of chariots rushing into battle. They had tails that stung like scorpions, and for five months they had the power to torment people. Their king is the angel from the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon—the Destroyer.”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭9:7-11‬ ‭NLT

John’s vision continues with more information about these pesky locusts. It is almost as though John, in the vision, zoomed in to obtain a close up view of the stingers. And they were scary beasts indeed. John’s description was quite explicit. However, they seemed to be hybrid creatures, so different to ordinary locusts. The description of them had the attributes of a vicious and relentless army, equipped for battle with weapons of war. Their power was such that the people of the day had no defence against them. And what was worse, in a way, was that their weapons were to be used for torment rather than death. In the previous verses we read that the people who were stung wanted to die but couldn’t. 

In Deuteronomy 28 we read about what God said would happen to the Jewish nation if they were disobedient to His commands. Verse 20, “The Lord himself will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in everything you do, until at last you are completely destroyed for doing evil and abandoning me“. Verse 38, “You will plant much but harvest little, for locusts will eat your crops“. So perhaps the infestation of locusts was part of the fulfilment of the Old Testament warning.

John was told that the figure behind the army of locusts was “the angel from the bottomless pit”. Who else could that have been other than the devil himself? So the picture emerges of our enemy, the devil, unleashing a terrible army to attack mankind. Some theologians think that the army represented the Roman Empire, which ruled the nations at that time with a rod of iron. But that doesn’t seem to fit the series of events laid out in John’s vision. But thankfully, Christians, God’s people, were spared, as we read in Revelation 9:4.

A pilgrim’s life in these turbulent times would have been difficult, to say the least. How would we stand firm in our faith in such times of persecution? Paul wrote an exhortation in his first letter to the Corinthians. We read in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless“. Even in our own times of distress, the Lord’s work is there to be done. Being loving and compassionate to those less fortunate around us. Helping practically where we can, looking out for our neighbours and friends, our families and communities. Praying constantly. Encouraging one another. The list is endless.  Seeing God move in our lives, and in the lives of those around us is something that greatly surpasses anything the devil will try and throw at us.

Father God, we thank You that You have a job for us to do. Please bring our way those who need a touch of Your love and compassion, and give us the gracious words we need. Open doors we pray so that Your presence can be introduced into the homes of our friends and neighbours, through what we say and do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Smoky Locusts

“Then locusts came from the smoke and descended on the earth, and they were given power to sting like scorpions. They were told not to harm the grass or plants or trees, but only the people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were told not to kill them but to torture them for five months with pain like the pain of a scorpion sting. In those days people will seek death but will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them!”
Revelation‬ ‭9:3-6‬ ‭NLT

As if the smoke polluting the atmosphere and the darkness was not disaster enough, another problem appeared, bringing more woes to affect the people on earth. Stinging locusts. And they were given specific instructions, that they were only to sting “the people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads”. The effect of the sting was quite specific in that it was to be like the sting of a scorpion, not enough to kill, but enough to cause pain so great that people wanted to die anyway.

The verses today contain quite a lot of information. Firstly, the locusts were biddable – they were given specific instructions about what they could and couldn’t do. They were not sent from Heaven but came out of the abyss in the smoke. It may have been that satan wanted the locusts to wreak total destruction on God’s people, as he has always wanted, but God had other plans. Another indication, perhaps, that God limits the devil’s powers and capabilities? However, on this occasion God’s people were protected from the stinging insects.

John was also told that God’s people had a mark, the seal of God, on their foreheads. Were these people the 144,000 we read about in Revelation 7, or did they include all Christians everywhere? I believe it to be the latter, because God has no favourites when it comes to His love and acceptance. 

Another thought is what this seal or mark looks like. We will read about another mark, the mark of the beast, later in Revelation 13, so it wasn’t that. There has been speculation that these marks might be bar or QR codes. It was possible that this was a tattoo of some kind, but probably unlikely because the Jews in the Old Testament were discouraged from cutting or marking their skin (Leviticus 19:28). We of course don’t know what the mark or seal was, but what we do know is that it will be very distinctive and will declare unambiguously that the person with it belongs to God. And the locusts were not allowed to touch them. As a thought, I suppose that if we today were to carry a mark to say that we are Christians, would that make any difference to who we are and what we do. To what we say or how we behave? Hmmm…

What was the significance of the five months? Apparently locusts only live for five months so perhaps that was the reason, that they were going to be tormentors for their life span. However, to those being stung, it must have seemed like a life time. The non-Christians at that time must have gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid the locusts but I expect to no avail. As a resident of Scotland, I’m reminded of a wee beastie we call the Highland Midge. The female of the species is a very small insect that needs blood to mature the eggs it is carrying. And the effect of its bite is to cause an itch, sometimes painful, that takes some time to recede. Sadly, it does not distinguish between Christians and non-Christians. We have potions and sprays to discourage the midge from coming near us, and there is also an item of head and neck wear made of a very close mesh, that can sometimes help. There are even machines that attract the midgies (plural of midge) and dispose of them into a large tank underneath. But the midgies are relentless in their pursuit of blood. However, I can imagine the sting of the locusts in John’s vision was far worse, and there would have been no remedy or way of avoiding them.

Pilgrims still alive at this point in the End Times would have felt much relief that they were escaping the attentions of the locusts. But I would imagine that those unmarked in the population would have felt very resentful of them and I expect persecution of the Christians would have been severe and increasing. But Jesus said we must stand firm until the end comes. So stand firm we will, won’t we? We read in 1 Peter 5:9-10, “Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are. In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation”.

Dear Father God. We stand firm in our faith, in the knowledge that our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world are experiencing all sorts of persecution. We thank You that you have cut short the days of suffering and that we will one day share Heaven with You. We are so grateful. Amen.

The Fallen Star

“Then the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen to earth from the sky, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. When he opened it, smoke poured out as though from a huge furnace, and the sunlight and air turned dark from the smoke.”

‭‭Revelation‬ ‭9:1-2‬ ‭NLT

After the eagle’s proclamation of more terrors to come, another angel appears. I wonder what he was thinking? He had observed what had happened when his colleagues, his fellow angels, had blown their trumpets, and now it was his turn. Did the angels know in advance what would happen in response to their trumpet blasts? We don’t know, but the fifth angel would have had a good idea that something terrible was about to happen. But he didn’t shirk from his responsibilities; instead he took a deep breath and blew his trumpet. 

John immediately, in his vision, saw a “star that had fallen to earth from the sky”. What else could that have been other than a glimpse of satan? Isaiah prophesied, ”How you are fallen from heaven, O shining star, son of the morning! You have been thrown down to the earth, you who destroyed the nations of the world.” (‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭14:12‬). Jesus also referred to satan’s eviction from Heaven in Luke 17:18, ““Yes,” he told them, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning!”” But whoever it was, “he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit”. 

Notice that satan was given the key to the abyss, the bottomless pit. He didn’t have the key on his own key ring. This is perhaps an indication that satan’s power is limited to only what God permits. But he was allowed to unlock the door to the abyss. And “smoke poured out as though from a huge furnace, and the sunlight and air turned dark from the smoke”. 

John saw in his vision what was most likely the door and shaft leading to hell. And it appears that there was a fire there – John referred to a “huge furnace”. So much smoke came up from the abyss that there was darkness from the smoke, and even the sun was blotted out. I wonder what was burning down there to cause so much smoke? Jesus used the picture of Jerusalem’s rubbish dump, referred to as Gehenna, where fire constantly burned. Some people claim that hell didn’t exist at this point in the end times judgement. Others say hell was created when satan and his fellow rebellious angels were kicked out of Heaven. But whichever it is I believe John received a glimpse of hell in his vision.

Hell is reality. Heaven is reality. We pilgrims have to be diligent in getting across the message about Heaven and hell to our families, our friends, our communities – remember the strap line “Hell is hot, Heaven is real, and Jesus saves”? That must be our message. Sadly these days (in my opinion) nothing much is preached from the pulpit about hell and God’s judgement. Perhaps our ministers and pastor are afraid of putting too much emphasis on hell because they might upset someone. But Jesus Himself spoke a lot about hell; in fact most of what we know about that place came from His lips. In Mark 9:48, Jesus quoted a verse from Isaiah 66 about hell being a place, “where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out“. In Matthew 13:49-50 we read, “That is the way it will be at the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicked people from the righteous, throwing the wicked into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth“. A graphic description of hell. To today’s sophisticated and cynical cultures, the concept of hell seems a bit medieval, so getting across the danger of going to hell to such people is a challenge. We pray for wisdom and the leading and support of the Holy Spirit before we engage in speaking about what many refer to as the “place downstairs”. The man in my village will find out, too late, that there will be no party in hell – just eternal maggots and fire, with the sound of weeping, wailing and the gnashing of teeth.

Father God. Thank You for the opportunities we get to share about Your love and righteous, but also about what will happen at the end of the age. Please help us in our conversations we pray. Amen.

Three Terrors

“Then I looked, and I heard a single eagle crying loudly as it flew through the air, “Terror, terror, terror to all who belong to this world because of what will happen when the last three angels blow their trumpets.””‭‭
Revelation‬ ‭8:13‬ ‭NLT

An eagle with a message appears. It flew across the devastation below crying out a message warning of terrors to come. He said the word “Terror” three times, warning those still alive of that three more judgements were on their way. Each preceded by a trumpet blast.

But note those to whom the eagle’s message was directed. It wasn’t God’s people, but instead it was addressed “to all who belong to this world”. I don’t know about you, but I would like to think that should I have just lived through the first four trumpet judgements and the previous six seal judgements, then by now I would be on my knees before God begging for His forgiveness. But apparently this was not the case for most. We will read in the next chapter of Revelation that wickedness on the earth continued unabated, in spite of all the woes they were experiencing.

I wonder why it was an eagle that brought the message, and not a dove, which is often portrayed as the Holy Spirit? The eagle is a bird of prey, but, particularly in the Old Testament, an eagle is used in descriptions of God, referring to His strength. One of my favourite Scriptures is in Isaiah 40, and verse 31 reads, “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint”. So was it God Himself visiting earth delivering a message of terror?

But coming back to the few words referring to those “who belong to this world”. We pilgrims might suggest that we live here on Planet Earth so we must belong here as well. However, nothing can be further from the truth. Jesus roamed the Palestinian paths preaching about the Kingdom of God. And His message taught that everyone had the opportunity to leave behind the earthly kingdom and instead embrace His Kingdom. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, and the famous prayer includes the line, “May Your Kingdom come“. Before Pilate, Jesus made the incredible statement, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” (Matthew 18:31). 

We pilgrims belong to the Kingdom of God. It says on our spiritual passports that we are citizens of God’s Kingdom. There was a time when we were birthed into God’s Kingdom, and at that time we left behind us the earthly kingdom. So we pilgrims are living as foreigners, temporary residents, in the world around us. In 1 Peter 1:17 we read,  “And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favourites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time here as “temporary residents””. We transitioned from the kingdom of darkness into God’s Kingdom. Colossians 1:13-14 reads, “For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of His dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins“. Yes, through Jesus mankind experienced the greatest rescue mission in all history.

So we look upon the end times events in a kind of detached way. Experiencing the pain and grief, but knowing that there will be a time coming when our exile on Planet Earth will come to an end. 

Dear God. Thank You for Jesus. He paid the price required to rescue us from this dark and wicked kingdom and bring us into Your Kingdom. We are so grateful. Amen.