The Blast of Heat

“Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, causing it to scorch everyone with its fire. Everyone was burned by this blast of heat, and they cursed the name of God, who had control over all these plagues. They did not repent of their sins and turn to God and give him glory.”
Revelation‬ ‭16:8-9‬ ‭NLT

The fourth angel appears in John’s vision. And his bowl contains a substance that causes the sun to generate more heat than it would normally, with devastating consequences affecting the remaining  people present on Planet Earth. We occasionally experience solar flares from the sun, but this will be far greater. It will be as though someone has poured a flammable substance on a fire that is already burning, causing an immediate increase in flames and heat. Mankind experienced scorching and burning, and responded in an interesting way – “they cursed the name of God”. In the outpouring of this plague of burning, people acknowledge God as the initiator of all the plagues and suffering they were experiencing. And they cursed Him. But then the thought occurred to me this morning – people are very good at acknowledging and cursing God in today’s society as well. They blaspheme Him. Insurance companies refer to natural disasters as “Acts of God”. But a repentant response to a natural disaster is not the norm. A more usual response is anger and defiance, or just a plain lack of concern. And things haven’t changed in these times of John’s vision.

We have here an enigma. God’s judgements are being meted out on the world. People everywhere know God is the Initiator. And yet they fail to make the connection between God’s judgement for wickedness and sin, and their culpability. They fail to realise, or choose to ignore the fact, that if they repented, they would assure themselves a place in Heaven, secure in God’s presence.

Here in the UK, the purchase of cigarettes involves a cardboard container printed with images of what will happen to a smoker’s body, if they continue with their habit. Graphic pictures of dirty teeth and receding gums. Illustrations showing what a smoker’s lungs look like. Yet, such warnings seem to have little effect on most smokers, who continue to puff away. Is there a mindset here that is convinced that the events described by the pictures will not happen to them? Or is there a “can’t be bothered” attitude prevailing? Perhaps in these End Times, people know who God is, they know why the judgements are being dispensed, they know what they can do to assure their post-first death future, and yet they refuse, instead responding with anger and defiance. They prefer to live their lives of sin.

But before we pilgrims adopt the moral high ground, we should pause. Are we not just the same? Don’t we still behave in similar ways? Just one more glass won’t hurt. Nobody will know if I’m speeding. It won’t really matter if I visit that website. It’s called sin. Pure and simple. When we compromise our behaviour, there can then be a “slippery slope effect” where what we do and think starts off in small ways but then leads to stuff that’s way bigger. Before we get caught in this trap, we must soften our hearts and ask ourselves the time-honoured question – “What Would Jesus Do”? And fall to our knees once again, before our merciful and loving Heavenly Father.

Father God. We thank You for Your forgiveness and love. Such grace is freely available to those who turn to You. Amen.

The Seven Last Plagues

“Then I saw in heaven another marvellous event of great significance. Seven angels were holding the seven last plagues, which would bring God’s wrath to completion.”
Revelation‬ ‭15:1‬ ‭NLT

John’s vision moved on to “another marvellous event of great significance”. Why should even more misery in the form of plagues be marvellous? Hadn’t the occupants on earth had enough? But in John’s vision, he saw another seven angels and they were holding these plagues. But these plagues were about to bring an end to God’s wrath. No more after this.

One thing we don’t know in all these End Times events is how long a period of time occurred as they were rolled out. I have always been under the impression that these days haven’t yet started, but as I dig further and further into John’s revelation, I am increasingly aware that the End Times epoch commenced some time ago, probably not long after Jesus returned to Heaven. And ever since then bits of John’s vision have appeared, working their way through global events. For example, was the recent Covid pandemic, global in its reach, one of the End Times plagues? Will we see a requirement for global ID’s in our lifetimes? Don’t we already have the technology? But in these days, however they occur in the history of Planet Earth, we displace any feelings of fear with those of faith. Faith in our wonderful Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus, who is preparing a place for us in Heaven.

John saw “another marvellous event of great significance”. What was that? Perhaps the beauty of the angels, all the seven who appeared at once? Or the nature of the bowls containing the plagues? Or the introduction to this last episode of torment for the global population? We don’t really know, but one thing I do know. As a pilgrim myself, I also experienced a “marvellous event of great significance”. There was a day when I moved from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light. I became a Christian. Nothing can be more significant in a person’s life than receiving the assurance that one day that person will live in God’s presence for all eternity. 

I have met many people over the years who do not believe that there is an afterlife. Or that there is going to be a time of judgement. I share my faith with them, warning them in the process that they are walking a dangerous path. The 17th Century philosopher, Blaise Pascal, a Catholic theologian, came up with this quote, “If I believe in God and life after death and you do not, and if there is no God, we both lose when we die. However, if there is a God, you still lose and I gain everything”. But ultimately, reason and logic are poor substitutes for the love and grace of God. There was that day when I discovered that God was, and is, real. His love for mankind is real. His presence is real. Jesus is real. The Apostle Paul, writing in Romans 8, said this, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” To me, and in my experience, that is not just “another” event, but the “marvellous event of great significance”. I

Father God, we pilgrims are so grateful that You graciously performed a significant event in our lives. You accepted our stumbling and stammering words of repentance and in turn declared us righteous before You through the Blood of Jesus. No words can describe our thanks. We worship You today. 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.