A basic principle of Bible interpretation is to understand the difficult passages in light of clearer passages that speak to the same doctrine, duty, or historical event. This helps us immensely when we come to John’s Revelation. Jesus said very distinctly to the Jews of his day, that “upon you will come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zechariah son of Berechiah, whom you slew between the altar and the temple. All these things will come upon this generation” (Matt. 23:35-36). “This generation” does not require linguistic gymnastics or historical gap theories. The Lord defined “this generation” – you, the people to whom he was at that moment speaking.
But why would such horrible judgment as he promised in Matthew 24 fall upon that generation. It was the culmination of centuries of unbelief, idolatry, and immorality. For centuries the Lord has sent “his servants the prophets” to warn them. He sent them into exile. His people did not grow better under his hard discipline, but worse. Then, he sent his beloved Son, and they “crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8). The apostles therefore warned the people after Jesus’ resurrection to turn to the Savior they crucified, for by faith and repentance they would be preserved from the wrath to come (Acts 2:40). The Jews who repented and believed in the Lord Jesus were sealed, as Revelation 7 makes clear. The prayers of many saints and martyrs for vindication were heard, as Revelation 8 sets forth. Now, we see more of the dread of the day of reckoning that fell upon the Jewish nation in the first century, as well as pertinent warnings for our Savior’s church today.
The Fifth and Sixth Trumpet Sound (vv. 1-19)
Locusts from Hell: The Fifth Trumpet (vv. 1-12)
When the fifth trumpets sounds, an unidentified angel, most likely an evil, fallen angel, was sent to earth to open the bottomless pit, the abyss of hell. Remember that these descriptions are visionary, like the Old Testament prophets, and not intended to be taken as a literal pre-reading of history. Hell’s fires rise, and from its smoke an army of locusts emerges – like the Egyptian plague and Joel’s prophecy (1:2-2:11). These locusts, however, are not sent to harm the grass and vegetation but to torment men – not primarily to kill them but to make their lives miserable, for five months. This is the exact length of time that Gessius Florus, the Roman Procurator, tormented the Jews before the siege of Jerusalem began in earnest in the Spring of 66 A.D. The imagery is vivid – the locusts are symbolic of soldiers: faces like men, crowns of gold, hair like women, breastplates. Their king is named “Destroyer.” In effect, the devil is sent to destroy the Jewish nation. The Lord Jesus will avenge all the righteous blood of almost 4,000 years – from Abel to Zechariah – upon the Jewish nation, for it had light and grace, his covenant and sacrifices, but rejected his beloved Son. As he warned the Jewish high priest, “You will see me coming on the clouds of judgment.” It was a dreadful day of reckoning upon the unbelieving Jewish nation. The destruction of Jerusalem and its temple was Jesus Christ giving the public death penalty upon the apostate Levitical order that rejected Him, the heir of the covenant. The elders, scribes, and priests should have knelt in homage to the Mediator of the covenant. Instead, they killed him.
The church would have been destroyed had not our Lord told his people to flee when they saw these signs of his coming to destroy Jerusalem (Luke 21:20). The Lord sealed his little church, and it was preserved from his wrath. This is the reminder in verse 4. God’s sealed (ch. 7) will not be hurt by this army from the pit of hell. Historically, the believing Jews left Jerusalem. They believed the word of the Lord and turned their backs on their beloved city, much as we must do to follow Jesus. We cannot love parents or children or our lives in this world more than our Lord. We cannot be Americans first, Christians second. To be his disciples, we must give up all that is ours, to gain all that is his (John 12:25). But the seal, however, is not what we do to save ourselves but the Lord’s promise to save us. This is his mark, his Spirit, who preserves us. When the wrath of God falls upon men and nations, the Lord is our sure help and hope, not that we shall be preserved from suffering, but that he will be with us in every fire and flood. Nothing will separate us from his love, his presence, and from our home with him. How do we know that we are sealed? We “have a broken and contrite heart, and tremble at his word” (Isa. 66:2). We weep over our sins and the sins of our land (Ezek. 9:4). We have his Spirit who enables us to believe in Jesus Christ and brings forth fruit in us. These marks are always present in the faith and life of those whom God seals for himself.
Four Angels of the Euphrates Loosed: The Sixth Trumpet (vv. 13-20)
The sixth trumpet blows, and the four angels “bound in the Euphrates” are loosed – for a limited time, for a particular work – to slay one-third of men. Their number is intentionally astronomical – the Jews have absolutely no chance against this “northern foe,” the Euphrates being the real and dreaded boundary between Palestine and unimaginable horrors that lay beyond. Even Josephus noted that in the days immediately before the siege of Jerusalem began, those in the city saw fiery chariots in the sky surrounding Jerusalem. Why should this surprise us? When the Lord fought for his people in the days of Elisha, the city of Dothan was surrounded with fiery chariots to protect it. When the Lord fought against his people for rejecting his Son, those same chariots surrounded Jerusalem to destroy it. Here the Roman armies are pictured as fiery horses, with a sting like serpents, spewing fire and brimstone. The siege of Jerusalem was horrific, and here it is a pictured in some of its horror – pain, death, smoke and fire, hell itself unleashed upon the city in its day of reckoning. No wonder Jesus told the women in Jerusalem to weep not for him, but for themselves, because of the judgment coming (Luke 23:28-31).
Fists in God’s Face (vv. 20-21)
God’s Judgments Do Not Always Lead to Repentance
The full end is not yet. The two-thirds not killed by these plagues “did not repent” of their evil works, devil worship, idolatry, murdering, fornication, stealing, and sorcery. This description of the Jews is much like our Lord’s – “you are of your father, the devil” (John 8:44). Josephus wrote of these men that there was never a more ungodly and vile generation than those that passed through the destruction of Jerusalem. “Devil worship” may seem shocking, but as we are learning in our day, unbelief is Satanic. Not all unbelievers become professing Satanists, but he is the father of mankind that rejects Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (Eph. 2:2; 1 John 3:10). All idolatry is worship given to demons (1 Cor. 10:20-21), including state worship, the worship of science, technology, the reigning biomythology of materialism in physical and mental health, earth worship in the climate change mob, and all the rest. Not all of God’s judgments are intended to bring men to repentance. Some are intended to destroy his enemies. He is at war with them (Gen. 3:15). Our Savior is at war with the devil and his seed, those who are not his children given to him by the Father before the world began (John 6:39; 17:7; 2 Tim. 2:19).
God Takes His Law Seriously
How seriously God takes his law! At least four of the crimes of the unrepentant are direct violations of the Ten Commandments: first, sixth, seventh, eighth. The destruction of Jerusalem and the Levitical order is the Lord’s response to the lawbreaking of his people. One can hear them asking? Why are we running out of food? Why are the armies assembled to burn down God’s city? Why is this happening? We are his people. We are good; they are evil. We have the sacrifices. Ah, but they were lawless, did not love God’s law, and rejected the Lord Jesus when he came. The devil has also worked to deceive the American churches, which is one reason we have such a hard time believing that Revelation is primarily about God’s judgment upon the Jewish nation in A.D. 70. The Jews were simply being true to themselves. God had no right to make them do other than they wanted to do. His law is oppressive. What about grace! We should have the right to express ourselves as we please. Religion should be fun, open-minded, Jesus with a tattoo and a guitar, cracking jokes, asking his disciples for help with his sermons. How easily we have been deceived by wolves!
The Jews broke God’s holy law and trampled upon his majesty, his righteousness, and his covenant right to be loved and served, for he redeemed them. They rejected his warnings from the prophets calling them away from idolatry, sodomy, and all the rest. If we are hardened under God’s chastening, or refuse to repent at his rebuke, we can expect the next chastening to be firmer. This is because he loves us. If we do not listen to him, as the Jews did not, our hearts will become calloused, our consciences seared. Then, we reach the crack of doom, which Jerusalem did – no more mercy, no more chances. The day of reckoning arrived. All the curses of God’s law fell upon them.
Heed These Woes
Be Horrified by Sin (Ps. 119:53)
David once wrote, “Horror has taken hold upon me, because of the wicked who forsake your law” (Ps. 119:53). It is written of Lot that even though he lived in Sodom and Gomorrah, he “vexed his righteous soul” because of their vile perversions (2 Pet. 2:7) – notice against the sodomite interpretation of Sodom’s sin as inhospitality, the Lord uses a very clear noun – aselgia – outrageous, shameless lusts. Joseph earlier was horrified at the thought of satisfying sexual desires with another man’s wife – “How can I do this thing and sin against God?” These examples are clear. Compare them with the church’s modern tolerance of sin and actual intolerance of obedience and rebukes for disobedience. People in the church are offended when sin is directly confronted. And Satan knows this. Those who come offering us peace and joy by indulging our passions, living in artificial worlds of entertainment and fantasy, are the nice people. Of course they are! You and your God are the big meanies, Satan slyly insinuated to Eve. He does not want you to be happy. He is holding out on you. It is the same today, and this is the way our children are seriously wounded or altogether lost to the world and idolatrous versions of Jesus. This is especially true about those desires we think define a person and that everyone has a right to indulge. This is who I am! The Lord says, “Yes, but such were some of you. I deliver my children from sin by the death and resurrection of my Son” (1 Cor. 6:11).
Separate from Sin and Unrepentant Sinners (1 Cor. 5:11)
This should be stated as plainly as possible. The only people who will endure God’s judgments are those who keep his law. This is Revelation’s message. “Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12). That little word patience is troubling. It reminds us that the world is not going to applaud us when we say, “No, Jesus Christ is not a hipster or a jokester. He is the Savior of the world. To be his followers and partake of his salvation, you must come to him as he is, not how the wolves proclaim him or how you want him to be. He delivers us from our sins. He does not leave us in them. Jerusalem was destroyed because the Jews were lawbreakers. They worshipped other gods, worshipped God according to their own imaginations rather than his word, broke his Sabbath, dishonored their parents, and indulged their sexual desires.
No wonder Satan wants to deceive the church with heretical notions of grace that ignore and despise God’s law. He hates God. He hates men. He knows that nothing brings down God’s judgments like breaking his commandments. Nothing defines God’s true saints like obedience and faith, patient obedience to God when the world laughs and God’s professing friends join them laughing at these little mean-spirited saints who insist upon obeying God and holding fast to an old book. Who are these people, who think they know so much? Surely God would not want me to go against my desires but affirm them. Therefore, his goal today is to make all this blurry and to turn the tables completely upside down in the church. Now, a Christian’s greatest enemy is the pastor who casts doubt upon God’s law and redefines God’s grace or the very friendly youth leader who affirms you in your sins and paints those who call you to obedience as boring and ungracious. Satan never had a better friend than these wolves. They howl – God wants to befriend you in your sins. He does not like mean people. Mean people tell me “No.” God tells me to be myself. Christ Jesus says to us – Run away from hell’s angels, and abide in my word (John 8:31-32).
Do Not Harden Your Hearts (Heb. 3:13-19)
And do not harden your hearts, like the Jews did. It is hard to keep God’s law patiently when someone you thought was a friend hates you for your stand, perhaps even a family member. It is not easy to be mocked by the world, but it is unbearable when family members and professing members of the church ridicule you for not getting on board with the new morality, the new views of worship, the new views of creation, the new religion of man’s feelings and lusts turned into profiles of courage magnifying sinners for being true to themselves. When we are tempted to confess these new religions, do not forget Jerusalem’s dreadful day of reckoning for breaking God’s law. Hold fast to God’s holy word, child of God. Be rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ, for he is the only foundation that will survive the deceits of Satan and God’s fiery judgments. Do you want to be sealed and assured that the Lord will watch over you? Run from Potiphar’s wife on the internet. Run from Sodom’s missionaries in our society and in many churches. Run from statism but confess patiently that Jesus Christ is King of kings, not man, that only in submission to him can this nation be blessed with prosperity. Reject the sirens of political polytheism.
Do we honestly think that God is now tolerant toward idolatry? That he is fine with the Mormon’s mythical Jesus, the offspring of Adam-God and Mary? That he no longer cares how we worship him, or that we keep his Sabbath, honor our parents, keep ourselves pure virgins, and be content with what we have? Jerusalem was destroyed, one building at a time, one person at a time, because every one of them hardened his heart against the Lord. No, something will happen so that we can hold on to our sins and survive the Romans. They held to this delusion to the end. A hard heart will destroy you. If you have a hard heart against God’s word this morning, if you are demanding a Jesus, a Christianity, a church that will accept you, not one that will tell you the truth about you and thus show you the salvation and friend we have in Jesus, your heart is scabbed over with the world and with sin. We must come to the true Jesus, like the lepers, trusting him to heal and forgive us. He will remove our heart scabs and give us a soft, teachable heart that is willing to bear the cross and brave the wrath of man, if only you may have him, be found in him, and have him own you as his own on the last day.
Prepare to Stand before Christ’s Judgment Seat (Rom. 14:10)
And He is the only way to survive these times. I do not mean a Jesus in your head or even in your heart but the living Jesus Christ, the Son of God, before whom we shall soon stand. He is the foundation upon which the true believer stands. And standing there, we abide in his word, and find it to be our wisdom and light, our sword and shield, our hope and our life. No true believer can ever be embarrassed by Scripture or make fun of it in any way. Regenerate men and women do not make jokes or disparaging remarks about God’s holy word, his Bible. Nor do they ignore it. Why is this? Are we trying to earn our way to heaven? It is impossible to do so. It is because we love the Lord Jesus. It is because we know that we shall soon stand before him and give an account. Did you hold fast to my words when Satan was spewing his lies? Did you deny yourself, when the religion of your age was worship and affirm yourself, and get as many people as possible to follow and like you? Did you honor me, trust me, love me, and obey me, for I loved and gave myself for you. The Christians did not perish in Jerusalem because they came out of the world. Do not make your peace with sin but make your peace with Jesus Christ. Come before him and confess your disobedience. Ask him to wash you and make you righteous. He will. He is the faithful Savior and mighty Lord.