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.

The Fifth Seal

“When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their testimony. They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before You judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters—their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred—had joined them.”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭6:9-11‬ ‭NLT

The fifth seal was broken and John saw an altar in Heaven. It’s not clear what it looked like in detail, but one thing for sure – it was nothing like the altars we find in our churches and other religious buildings. This one had a special place underneath, and here we find the souls of the Christian martyrs. Men and women killed for nothing more than believing in the Word of God and being faithful, holding onto their beliefs and testimony in spite of threats and mistreatment. Quite rightly, they wanted to see justice, and they called out to God for Him to intervene and punish the people who had abused them. In response, they were each supplied with a white robe, but why was that? Note that this happened before the second coming of Jesus, so at this point the martyrs would not yet have received their new bodies. The martyrs would have been disembodied spirits, but because of their mortal sacrifice, they were fast tracked into Heaven. And the robes were supplied to give them substance and parity with the other Heavenly beings. They were encouraged to rest and be patient, because there were more martyrs to come. Notice that in Heaven, they straight away worshipped God, with “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true”. Their focus was on God, as it had been in their lives on earth.

Christians have been martyred almost continuously to the present day, starting with Stephen. We can read the account of his martyrdom in Acts 6 and 7. Today, with better global communications, we can discover where Christians are being killed for their faith. Open Doors, a UK-based organisation founded by Brother Andrew in 1955, regularly reports on Christian persecution, and on-line videos can be found that detail up to date topics for prayer. They reported that in 2021, 5,898 Christians were murdered because of their faith. And that’s the people they know about. 

A passage of Scripture that I find most encouraging is in Acts 4, where the early church prayed for boldness in the face of persecution. We read in verse 29, “And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word…”. This was the early church’s response to persecution, and the boldness they displayed in the face of persecution led to Christianity quickly spreading all over the civilised world at that time.

We pilgrims today must pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters. And together we must stand firm with them, also being a living testimony to our faith. Perhaps one day we will get the opportunity to talk to some of the Heavenly martyrs, finding our more about their sacrifices, but in the meantime we are encouraged by the fact that in our witnessing they are cheering us on, as we know from Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honour beside God’s throne“. 

Dear Heavenly Father, we pray together for our brothers and sisters who are facing persecution in countries like Afghanistan and North Korea, where even having a Bible in their possession can lead to incarceration and murder. Please strengthen their faith, and be with them in their times of trial. For Jesus’ sake. Amen. 

Blasphemy

““I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan.
Revelation‬ ‭2:9‬ ‭NLT

How do we reconcile being poor and being rich at the same time? But John was writing about two different domains – the natural and the spiritual. Just from this short verse, we can glean a picture of a church of faithful Christian people who were suffering persecution that was affecting their daily lives. I envisage a shop-keeper, a member of the church, whose business was suffering because people were avoiding him because of his faith. Perhaps there was a labourer who couldn’t find work because he was blacklisted. But I’m sure it wasn’t just their employment that was being affected. A wife and mother abused in the street as she went about her daily business. Low level anti-social behaviour directed at their properties. The children wouldn’t have escaped the persecution either. And, worse, the attacks were making them poor, financially and socially. Sadly, and depressingly, we see the same sort of persecution directed at Christians today in various parts of the world. Even here in the UK we have seen Christian businesses and individuals targeted and persecuted because they refuse to bend the knee to minority groups who are trying to force their ideologies onto the society around them.

But John commended and encouraged them because they were rich. Spiritually rich. Benefitting from Heavenly resources made available to them without limit. The Smyrnaeans knew that through their relationship with God, through their faith, through their perseverance, they were part of something far bigger and better. They knew that there were hassles to overcome before they would find themselves in a place of comfort and safety, where their persecutors would be unable to reach them anymore. 

Through John, Jesus had some stern words for the Smyrnaean persecutors, the Jews from the local synagogue. He called them blasphemers. This is a very serious charge because it involves and implies a disrespectful attitude against God Himself. Here in Western society, we have become desensitised to the use of phrases and language that used the names for God as expletives. I used to work with a lady who was a self-confessed atheist but who frequently used the phrase “Oh my God” in her conversations. One day I pointed out to her that for someone who didn’t believe in God, she called on His name a lot. I never heard her use that expression again. Sadly, though, this phrase has become ubiquitous in our society, a ploy of the enemy to reduce the name of God down to the conversational gutter. Blasphemy. 

Nothing is hidden from Jesus. He knew where the source of the blasphemers was. And He referred to them as “a synagogue [that] belongs to satan”. Strong words indeed. Enough to send a chill of fear down the spines of God-fearing people. That our enemy, the devil, had infiltrated into that very bastion of Jewishness, a synagogue, was a sad reflection on their spiritual state. It would never happen in our churches today. Or would it? In the early days of the Charismatic revival I experienced at first hand the animosity of other church attenders who accused those experiencing and entering into the new move of the Holy Spirit, of demonic activities. Was it blasphemy? I wouldn’t like to judge anyone, but we need to be careful that we don’t associate any move of God with an activity of the devil. Advice obviously not followed by the Jewish synagogue in Smyrna.

So what do us pilgrims make of this verse? It’s a warning that the Christian faith is counter-cultural and at times we will be persecuted for maintaining the purity of the Word and our faith. Jesus warned us that living in the “world”, the atheistic societies in which we live, will not be easy for God-followers. So, forewarned, we keep our eyes fixed on our Heavenly goal, just over the horizon, but coming closer every day. Each day, we try and bring something of Heaven into our lives and the lives of those around us. We are “salt and light” in our families and communities, standing in the gap, revealing God to a God-less world. And in the process, being aware that although we may end up in suffering and poverty, we are rich in Him who loves us.

Dear Father, thank You for being with us in our every day lives. Encouraging us. Blessing us. Equipping us. Loving us. Leading us. Enriching us. We praise and thank You today. Amen.