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!

Trumpets Three and Four

“Then the third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from the sky, burning like a torch. It fell on one-third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star was Bitterness. It made one-third of the water bitter, and many people died from drinking the bitter water. Then the fourth angel blew his trumpet, and one-third of the sun was struck, and one-third of the moon, and one-third of the stars, and they became dark. And one-third of the day was dark, and also one-third of the night.”
Revelation 8:10-12 NLT

The third angel put the trumpet to his lips and took a deep breath. He paused, perhaps deeply touched with thoughts of sadness and dismay, because he knew what would happen once he sounded the note. What an awesome responsibility it is, to be an instrument of God’s judgement. He finally expelled the air in his lungs, and the trumpet blast rang true and pure through the Heavenly realms. 

People on earth looked up and fear gripped them as a huge bright object appeared, quickly growing larger and larger as it entered the earth’s atmosphere. It was burning, like a torch according to John’s vision. That meant that it would have had a wake of fire spewing out behind it. Finally it reached earth, falling “on one-third of the rivers and on the springs of water”. John was told it was a star with the name “Wormwood” or “Bitterness”. And it made one third of the earth’s rivers and the springs of water too toxic to safely drink. And we are told that “many people died from drinking the bitter water”. Today nearly ten percent of the world’s population do not have access to a clean and reliable water supply. Perhaps a picture of what is to come.

Then, in his vision, John saw another angel step up and put the trumpet to his lips. I wonder what he was thinking about as he took a deep breath? Perhaps he too had a feeling of trepidation, even horror, about what was to come.  The impact of this trumpet blast on the celestial objects we are so familiar with was stark. Just imagine the consequences of seeing a third of the sun disappear? There would instantly have been a reduction in warmth. But the celestial devastation didn’t end there, because John saw a chunk disappear from the moon and many familiar stars couldn’t be seen anymore. John also saw that darkness for the day and for the night increased by a third. 

We can only speculate on what would have caused such an event. Those on earth at the time would have been worried and even sick with fear, and perhaps those marked with God’s seal were working overtime explaining why all these things were happening. And they would have implored those around them to turn from their wicked ways and reach out in repentance to God.

This apocalyptic picture, so factually and unemotionally laid out in John’s vision, nevertheless perhaps instils within us pilgrims feelings of fear and trepidation as well. Perhaps we try and rationalise things and say that the events portrayed will never happen in our lifetimes. Some might even try and interpret John’s vision in a spiritual way, somehow reducing its impact and relevance. But we have to accept the end times events as written – why else would Jesus have given His friend John so many details of what was to come?

In Matthew 24:13, Jesus said, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved”. And that is really the message that we pilgrims must grasp. If we are still alive when the mayhem set out after the trumpets sound, then we call upon our faith, our trust in God, and stand firm, enduring what comes our way until the end. Sadly, Jesus also said in Matthew 24:10, “And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other”. Let’s not be counted in that number. 

Dear Father God. We confess that we experience much fear and trepidation when we read about John’s vision and try and picture in our minds what will happen. But in all that we pray for the strength to be obedient to Your call to endure to the end. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The End Times

“Then the seven angels with the seven trumpets prepared to blow their mighty blasts.” 
Revelation 8:6 NLT

At this point in John’s vision, the humans on earth had been through famines and earthquakes. Wars and slaughter. All the woes delivered through the breaking of the seals were behind them. There were also 144,000 of God’s people, the Jews, present on earth and marked out with a seal that clearly denoted them as belonging to God. And here we are about to embark on the seven trumpet judgements. 

This was clearly the “End Times”, an event, or series of events, during which the earth and its inhabitants would be destroyed. Note that we are not aware from John’s vision about any reference to time. We do not know if all these judgements were to take place quickly, or whether they were to be drawn out over hundreds or even thousands of years. Was a judgement to be delivered followed by a long gap before the next one or was there to be one after another in quick succession? And it also begs the question – why didn’t God apply His judgement on the wickedness of mankind all in one go?

The obvious answer is down to God’s infinite patience, grace and compassion. We saw this time and again in the Old Testament accounts of when His people, the Israelites, lapsed into sin and wickedness. Sometimes generations passed away before God brought about a judgement dealing with their wickedness and evil ways, using nations such as the Philistines or the Assyrians as His judgement tools. Perhaps in the End Times in John’s vision, God was still patiently and graciously applying His judgements a bit at a time, in the process giving everyone, even generations, an opportunity to turn from their wicked ways and embrace Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

There are some today who believe that the End Time judgements have already started. Certainly, we hear reports of wars and strife, with the last century seeing two wars of unprecedented scale. There are global famines. Tsunamis. Earthquakes. All signs that appear both in Jesus’ accounts in Matthew, and in John’s vision here in Revelation. And there was a great expectation in the early church that Jesus would return “soon”. In reality we don’t know when the End Times will start, but we do know that one day there will come a time of judgement. Jesus’s disciples asked Him about when the world will end, and He gave them some clear answers in Matthew 24. But Jesus also said that no-one knows when it will be.

Today’s pilgrims know what is coming. And we look around at the wickedness that is infecting our world like a cancer, spreading out of control, threatening to consume us all in a maelstrom of evil. Our politicians have adopted anti-God ways and attitudes. Oh, if only they would read Psalm 2, and turn towards the One who has all wisdom and whose heart is breaking with pain over what they are doing. So we pilgrims pray for all those in government. All those who have rejected God and His ways. We pray for our friends, families and communities. And patiently wait for the Creator of the Universe, our loving Heavenly Father, to work out His ways in the souls of mankind.

Father God. I pray with my fellow brothers and sisters for our governments, our families, and friends, our communities, that Your Kingdom will come and Your will be done, today and forever. Amen.