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A Time to Kill


Revelation 9:13-21
July 5, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins

The sermon starts around 30:30 in the audio file.



Or, Unrepentant and It Feels So Fine

The information age in an election year is apparently like a 24-hour truck-stop kitchen, something is always getting dropped in the fat. Some of the information/data torrent is worthwhile, and I’ve tried to sift and skim and sort through a lot over the last few months, as have many of you. For a few months I got out of my regular reading routine, but a while ago I realized that I needed to add some fruits and fiction back into my diet because consuming so much fried covid was giving me indigestion.

Based on the strong recommendation of Glenn, I started an 1883 story by George MacDonald called, The Princess and Curdie. I’m only about halfway through it so far, and just tasted for myself the meat that Glenn had teased in front of me. But I’ve enjoyed it, and I wonder if Andrew Peterson didn’t get some of his ideas for the Wingfeather Saga from it. Anyway, there’s a part that pictures a reality among mankind that has been sped up among us these past months, and a part that will be even more dramatic in the final days.

all men, if they do not take care, go down the hill to the animals’ country; that many men are actually, all their lives, going to be beasts. … They do not know it of course; for a beast does not know that he is a beast, and the nearer a man gets to being a beast the less he knows it. … To such a person there is in general no insult like the truth. He cannot endure it, not because he is growing a beast, but because he is ceasing to be a man.

Men are turning into what they will be. Some are turning into beasts, and one of the symptoms that cannot be separated is that the more beastly a man becomes, the less aware and sensitive he is to being a beast. Most jerks aren’t lying about being oblivious to their impact on others, the oblivion is part of the Platonic ideal of jerkness.

Sin causes sinners to be satisfied in their sin. Sin causes sinners to be surprised at the idea that their sin could be their problem. Sin, which destroys them, is their “precious.” Like a fool ground in a mortar with a pestle (Proverbs 27:22), the folly won’t be squeezed out no matter how hard you press.

In the sixth trumpet judgment, a multitude of demonic death-dealers come to earth and the ones who don’t die conclude: This is fine. They won’t quit their love of other gods, they won’t quit doing what is gutting their souls. It is part of the second woe, worse than the first, and not fine.

Similar to the locusts straight from the pit in Revelation 9:1-12, we read John’s announcement of judgment, a description of those who cause the destruction, and a summary of the response.

The Moment of Release (verses 13-16)

For the first time, the angel who blows the trumpet initiates further action for himself.

13 Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, 14 saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.”

The voice from the … golden altar is probably the angel we met at the altar in chapter 8 who presented the prayers of the saints to God (8:3-5). The four horns or knobs symbolize strength, like the horns or antlers on a fighting animal. So one angel blows the trumpet, and the altar angel commissions the horn-blowing angel.

”Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” The number of angels is similar to chapter 7 and the four angels who hold back the winds of destruction, though those angels were at the four corners of the earth. Similar to earlier in chapter 9, havoc is released, though the Euphrates River is not a gateway to the abyss. These four angels and the army that follows them are not known in other apocalyptic literature, but they are known to God.

That they are bound indicates that they are not good. Good angels are never described that way in the Bible, though these will be doing God’s work, as we’ll see in verse 15.

As for the river Euphrates, it would bring to mind the boundaries of Abram’s promised property (Genesis 15:18), and later the eastern edge of the Roman Empire. Great enemies were just on the other side, whether Babylonians or Assyrians or Parthians; there was a history of being anxious associated with the Euphrates. The Euphrates is also a part of the sixth bowl judgment (Revelation 16:12), the river crossed by kings from the east for the last war.

Verse 15 tells us about the time for and purpose of these four angels.

15 So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind.

Imagine waiting six-thousand, or eight-thousand, or seventeen-thousand years of earth time to finally get your call to action. Imagine being on lockdown, being stuck in the basement until the exact moment for your part in the script. After all this time, now is the time. It’s always true that seconds tick according to God’s sovereign timeline, but such specificity prepares us for the part these angels play on the global stage. They have one job to do: released to kill a third of mankind. These are the chosen angels of death, chosen for this time, though God also chooses the limits of their massacre. The pale horse, and his rider Death, with Hades behind him, were given authority to kill a quarter of mankind in the fourth seal (Revelation 6:8).

Without any explicit transition, verse 16 connects the four angels with an army.

16 The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number.

Verses 17-19 will describe their appearance, but here their number is key. Twice ten thousand times ten thousand is 200,000,000. According to the Worldometer site, Russia has almost 146 million people. It seems like a crazy high number, even impossible. But it is not the myriads of myriads that “no man could number” (7:9). These could be numbered, even if John got his information from someone else, since he heard their number.

The Horde of Hellish-Horses (verses 17-19)

This is no ordinary army rushing into the scene.

17 And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths.

This is what John saw: horses and riders, though the riders do not do much other than provide color. They are wearing breastplates of red and yellow and blue, or “of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone” (NAS), and all together they would look like an army of fire.

The horses had heads that were like lions’ heads, larger and more ferocious than a warhorse’s head. And fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths.

I forgot to mention last week that some modern commentators wonder if the locusts are helicopters. Ha. The same type of interpreter would see cannons and tanks and rockets here, with explosions in the “mouths” of the weapons. That is fanciful, and wrong. It fits with the military image, but it does not fit with the scene as John describes it.

18 By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths.

The three elements are repeated, and they are called plagues. It reminds us of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) with the same fire and smoke and sulfur. Also repeated is the effect, that a full third of mankind were killed.

Verse 19 is curious.

19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.

We’ve already seen their mouths, now it’s added that they have wounding tails, tails that are like serpents with heads. The locusts had tails to torment, and these horses’ tails wound, whether or not these wounds lead to death, or strike others that won’t die.

What is this about? I mean, it could be Parthian cavalry shooting arrows behind them. The imagery is physical and perhaps spiritual. The bound angels and their fire-breathing horse-horde are demonic, and demons love to deceive (Jesus likens demons to serpents and scorpions in Luke 17:17-19). Serpents and snakes especially have a lying history, starting with the Serpent, and based on John’s summary in verses 20-21, death and deception are left in their trail.

Unrepentant and Undeterred (verses 20-21)

As the venerable theologians of D.C. Talk once said, some people gotta learn the hard way. But we really do underestimate how hard it is to learn anything.

Post-enlightenment progress in science and medicine and technology lull us into a belief that knowledge is the answer. We might not have the knowledge, but we believe it is out there, and that we could Google it if we really needed it. We like to say that those who don’t study history are bound to repeat it, and sure, that is visible, but not obvious.

Even pain, by itself, is not a neutral teacher. Pain is not a teacher at all, pain can be used by God in His grace to teach us, but pain also can be used by God to make a man more of the beast he’s becoming.

The Bible, in Proverbs, talks about sweetness of speech being persuasive and winsome. The Bible, as in Paul, writes at times with sarcastic and bite to shake the self-righteous and complacent. The Bible uses logic, poetic harmony, clear laws, and enough history to show the patterns of blessing and cursing.

But without God’s grace and Spirit no one can see it. Revelation 9 is an argument from the greater to the lesser: if a 200 million horde of hell-horses that kill billions of people do not cause the survivors to rethink their course, don’t put too much pressure on your ability to win a comment war on Facebook. You get how obvious it is, and you should. So sow your truth seeds. But do not be surprised when the seeds fall on the rock of Mt. Rushmore and bounce off and drift away and are lost in a society as welcome as the frozen winter fields of South Dakota.

Twice John says, they … did not repent. It could be said more strongly, “they refused to repent.” Even in these descriptions the futility and ruin is built in, but their eyes are made of bone. The world is burning and their own beliefs and behavior are vain. They are fully deluded. “It is fine.”

20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk,

They made their own gods. Think about that. Behind those gods are demons, the type who destroy and kill. The materials have no life, and, as is the constant theme in Scripture, you become like who or what you worship.

21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

Three out of four are explicitly prohibited in the 10 Commandments. As for murder, they will call it healthcare (as with abortion) and justice (as in riots). As for sorceries, which more specifically refers to potions or drugs (and those who use them are included by Paul among the works of the flesh, Galatians 5:20) or essential oils, or sexual immorality in one night stands and throuples and trans-lives parades, or stealing $980 from the gas station store or legislative socialism and wealth redistribution, they will still say, it is fine.

Conclusion

When we see preludes of this level of apocalyptic unrepentant population, don’t lose heart. First, as Christians, you cannot be lost, you will conquer, by grace. Second, you cannot (and should not want to) stop God’s plan, including when He lets men keep and celebrate the depravity that turns them more and more into beasts. And third, you do not need more than Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). The gospel is the power of God to salvation (Romans 1:16). He grants repentance that leads to the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:25-26), so keep speaking truth. The gospel is for those who refuse to acknowledge God or give Him thanks.


Charge

Once you reach a certain age you realize that the most difficult part is not gaining weight. You see that a building, or significant parts of a city, can burn to the ground in hours. Our society has hit ludicrous speed in the hand-basket of God’s abandoning wrath, like we’ve jumped off the top of the Washington Monument with one of the recently toppled statues tied to our backs. But God has prepared this time, as difficult as it is, and He has prepared you for it. He has delivered you from the world. He has given you the truth. Worship Him, obey Him, and you will be more than fine, you’ll be blessed.

Benediction:

We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:19–21, ESV)