Revelation – the end…or the beginning… Rev 8 – Worst is Yet to Come
I want to start by asking what this is a picture of-glass. Turn to the person next to you-and answer that question. Now this is a tricky! Who said a glass that is half full? Who said a glass that is half empty? Who was wise and said a glass of water? That’s the smart answer because then you’re not revealing whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist! But I’ve always wondered why the question has to be asked concerning water. Why not the pizza box being half empty or half full? That would mean a whole lot more than just a glass of water. Or even a bag of chips or bowl of ice cream? That has important ramifications too. You can always go to the sink and fill up your glass of water-but if you run out of slices of pizza that’s a problem! If I’m looking at that box I’m saying it’s half gone-call me the pizza pessimist! But when you come to more serious things in life do you tend to be more of a glass is half empty or half full person? More of an optimist or a pessimist? And I suppose all the pessimists are doubting whether the optimists are actually optimists! But when we turn to God’s Word, no other book of the Bible forces an optimist or pessimist outlook like the book of Revelation. It’s easy to think that Revelation is all doom and gloom and destruction and the end of the world and forget that it’s also about hope and glory and all things new. As we’ve titled this series-Revelation-the end…or the beginning… we’ve been asking that question each week. And we’ve seen how Revelation does finally reveal what God’s Word has been promising all along that the best is yet to come when He makes all things new. But today we’re also reminded that the worst is yet to come for planet earth in getting there.
Last week we looked at the intermission in heaven that talked about God’s people being sealed-that included both Jews who come to faith in the end times-but also that multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language who’ve come through the great tribulation. And of course this intermission came after the 6th seal of God’s judgement but prior to the 7th seal. This morning as we encounter the 7th seal and what’s to follow we will be going-as they say-from the frying pan, into the fire. And maybe you’ve felt that way in life before-that you took a wrong turn somewhere or made a bad decision and the pessimist in you realized you went from the frying pan into the fire. If you’ve ever read any of Aesop’s Fables he emphasizes this theme in the fable entitled The Stag and The Lion: A Stag was chased by the hounds, and took refuge in a cave, where he hoped to be safe from his pursuers. Unfortunately, the cave contained an immense Lion, to whom he fell an easy prey. “Unhappy that I am,” he cried in his dying breath, “I am saved from the power of the hounds only to fall into the clutches of a Lion.” Out of the frying pan, into the fire. And that’s exactly what we see for planet earth in the opening of the 7th seal and the beginning of chapter 8-the frying pan days are long gone and the fire has just begun!
So open your Bibles to Rev 8-or we’ll have it up on the screen-Rev 8:1. And that sounds all right-not too bad. So far so good. Who doesn’t want a little bit of silence? Unfortunately, it’s the short-lived, 30 minute calm before the storm! The fire is just getting heated up-as one commentator said-The stillness and silence can almost take your breath away in anticipation of what may come. Judgment almost too great to imagine will quickly follow, and when it is finished, one-third of God’s glorious creation will be gone, destroyed by the God who made it.
So before we get into all the destructive details-we need to examine how these judgments fit together. As we’ve just seen this is the opening of the 7th seal. Now many Bible scholars believe that the first 4 seals-the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse occur during the first 3.5 years of the Tribulation. These later seals-including the 7th seal take place during the second 3.5 years of the Tribulation. And we previously mentioned that there’s good Biblical support for a Pre-Trib Rapture in which believers aren’t here for any of it. But there’s also good support for the Mid-Trib Rapture in which believers are here for the first 4 seals-enduring the judgment of the 4 Horsemen-but then delivered by God before the second half of the Tribulation when things really ramp up and get super intense. It’s sort of a mid-hopeful position! Or it’s neither option and believers are here the whole 7 years enduring all the intensity. But either way that intensity is what we’re going to encounter today because the 7th seal releases the blowing of the 7 trumpets of which the 7th trumpet will releases the 7 bowls of God’s wrath. So in the second half of the Tribulation there’s 2 more sets of 7 judgments coming which makes for 3 sets of 7 judgments in total-21 judgments-wow! And quite honestly I think the intensity and severity of these judgements make us want to interpret them more symbolically. Or to somehow think that there’s no way that what we’re about to read could all happen back to back like this, it’s too much-surely it doesn’t literally mean what it says, there has to be another way to interpret it? But when we do that and try to soften the severity of these judgements or spiritualize them in a less than literal way, we’re forgetting the grim warning that Jesus gave about these judgements-Matt 24:21. Jesus is saying that we can’t look back historically to say that we’ve never had something this bad before so why should it happen in the future. He’s flat out telling us this is unprecedented in world history-you can’t compare it to what’s been! And we’ve all seen how 2020 has been unprecedented! Likewise, He’s saying there will never be a time like this again-because these judgements are there to usher in the world’s end. Jesus is saying get ready, buckle up, this is going to be one wild ride! Look at-2 Pet 3:10. That’s a summary of what these judgements are going to do. As we just sang-The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine. Try to visualize what that looks like when the world is dissolving like snow that melts away on a warm day. One moment it’s there, next moment it’s gone. I’m always sad when the snow melts-but that’s what’s going to happen to our planet-and the process got started with the 7 seals but takes a turn for the worst with the 7 trumpets. Out of the frying pan, into the fire!
And it all starts with the calm before the storm-back to Rev 8:1. Just long enough to watch an episode of your favorite sitcom. But that’s not what heaven is doing! This fact of silence for 30 minutes is another reminder of how severe these judgments are going to be. The angels of heaven need a few moments to prepare themselves and gather their breath for what’s about to happen. And if heaven needs to do that-how much more do we? Pt1:Silence in Heaven: Having awe and anticipation for what God’s going to do. And shouldn’t that always be our response? Shouldn’t we always be in a state of hushed anticipation for what God is going to do? Because He’s always doing something. God is never idle, never still, He’s never stepped away from His throne to go on vacation or take a 10-day cruise. Look at Hab 2:20; Ps 46:10. When was the last time you were silent before God, waiting on Him and trusting in His plans? Back to Pt1. And yet I think we find ourselves talking too much, making too much noise complaining to God and grumbling to Him about the state of things. We would do well to learn from heaven’s example. Have you spent more time lately in silent awe before the Lord or more time making noisy complaints to Him? God turned a deaf ear to the grumbling and complaining of His people in the OT-and it’s not any different with us. Silence in God’s presence is often where we need to be. And this passage reveals the perfect combination of silence and supplication-Rev 8:2-4.
If you’ve ever wondered whether God listens to your prayers this verse clearly answers that. If you’ve ever wondered whether your prayers just sort of evaporate into space never to be heard, this verse says they are heard, they don’t evaporate into space but instead make their way right to God on His throne. And what is the nature of these prayers? Obviously God wants us to be praying about all sorts of things-but in this case these are the prayers we saw from Rev 6:10. These are prayers for justice. These are prayers by martyred saints from the Tribulation wondering when God is going to exact His vengeance upon the earth. And while we’re told not to exact our own vengeance-what does God’s Word say-Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord-that doesn’t mean we can’t cry out for justice. We live in a world and a nation that cries out for justice-and all too often we’ve seen people try to obtain their own justice and get their own vengeance, to make others pay on their timetable. But that’s God’s responsibility not ours. And a book like Revelation tells us that God’s justice will occur and He will set things right but it’s according to His timetable-Pt2:Setting Things Right: Keep praying for God’s justice in His timing. Think about the amount of times you fret or stew over the injustices that have happened to you-and your heart sort of plots or dreams about what you wish you could say or do to that person. We’ve all been there! And rarely do we act on those things-but we waste a lot of emotional energy on dreams of getting even with people and setting things right. I’ll show them-they better hope they don’t cross my path again-I can’t wait to give them a piece of my mind. And maybe it’s not just about people-but about the injustices in our nation and world. As we watch the news we get all worked up and angry wanting to set things right and make people pay. Who gets worked up watching the news? And yet when was the last time you prayed to the Lord that He, in His timing, would set things right? When was the last time you prayed for God’s justice to occur, not just your own justice where you feel like you set the record straight?
Praying for God’s justice is how Jesus told us to pray-Matt 6:9-10. We all know that prayer-you probably memorized it years ago-but when was the last time you actually prayed it? When was the last time you prayed for God’s kingdom to come and His will be done-instead of your will to be done and your plans to succeed-which is how we often pray? This kind of prayer-God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven-is exactly how we hear heaven praying. Back to-Rev 8:4-5. Talk about an answer to prayer! I can’t remember the last time my prayers caused some lightning and an earthquake-but this proves the point that the prayers of God’s people do matter-and that He will act according to His perfect timing. In this case, the cries for justice are answered, the prayers for the coming of God’s kingdom are answered as He brings about His long-awaited judgement on the earth that He has so graciously withheld. It’s been famously said-Prayer is not getting man’s will done in heaven, but getting God’s will done on earth. And that’s what’s going on here. God’s will is being accomplished on earth as this next terrible stage of judgements are getting underway. And when it’s time, it’s time! Out of the frying pan and into the fire!
So Rev 8:6-and this isn’t the trumpet section in jazz band or marching band-this is a call to action-and the action happens in rapid fire succession. Rev 8:7-so forget mowing your grass or watering your grass-it’s gone! No more green yards! But you can see there is a mixture of literal and symbolic language here as it’s hard to understand how blood joins the hail and fire that rains down on the earth-but the event is real and the damage is widespread! Even if you weren’t good at mathematics or struggled understanding fractions in school-this fraction becomes very important in chapter 8. Notice how 1/3 of the earth and trees were burned up. And with the devastating wildfires out west this year or all the wildfires that burned in Australia, a scenario like this isn’t all that hard to imagine. Unfortunately 2020 has given us a vivid glimpse of what Revelation is describing. But look at how it continues-Rev 8:8-9. This brings to mind the plagues God brought on the nation of Egypt in the book of Exodus when He turned the Nile River to blood-but whether this is literal blood or a symbolic description of massive pollution, the effect is still the same, with the same fraction-1/3 of the sea, the fish and the ships were destroyed. Fresh seafood is a lot harder to obtain, and so are the ships that transport it and all the other goods hauled across the sea. As this giant mountain comes crashing down you can picture the tsunami that results. But then Rev 8:10-12. So this crashing meteor affectionately nicknamed Wormwood-which is a bitter poisonous root-impacts and poisons 1/3 of our freshwater supply making clean drinking water a lot harder to obtain. And then if that wasn’t bad enough-Rev 8:12. When I read that it makes me shudder! Because I’ll admit my most disliked day of the year is when daylight savings time ends in the fall and all of a sudden it’s like 5pm and it’s dark out! It’s the worst as the day is cut short-you feel like you go to work when it’s dark out and then return home when it’s dark out. So much for daylight and enjoying the sunshine! But this is talking about a permanent end to daylight savings-your day is shortened, nighttime increases as all the different celestial bodies providing light in the sky are dimmed and the planet becomes a whole lot darker. And again this is reminiscent of the plague of darkness that God brought upon the nation of Egypt. But in this case there’s that important fraction-1/3 of the sun, moon and stars were struck; 1/3 of the day was darkened. And we’ll talk about that fraction in a moment-but here’s the scary truth-Pt3:Sounding the Trumpets: Witnessing 1/3 of the earth, sea and sky being destroyed. And this isn’t just a temporary problem where if everybody comes together afterwards and works hard to conserve energy and recycle and be better stewards of the environment it will all come back. This is God permanently destroying 1/3 of this good earth that He has made. And it’s not coming back. This is the process of the dying days of our planet-the beginning of the end when the earth will dissolve like snow and the sun forbear to shine. And so let this be a strong reminder that this is not your permanent home-this isn’t anybody’s permanent home.
If you had a house along the beach-but you knew that next summer the big hurricane was coming that would wipe it out and flatten it and there wasn’t anything you could do to stop it, you would take measures now to find a new home in a new location. And that’s the hope of the gospel. It promises you a new home that will never be destroyed or dissolved because it’s the home that God is preparing for you. What did Jesus say-John 14:1-3. Jesus is promising to prepare a place for us, He’s promising to return and take us there to that place-our new permanent home. But it’s only possible when we believe in Him. And over and over He gives us opportunity to do that-which is why this fraction keeps reoccurring-Rev 8:12. One-third is not some accidental fraction-as if when all these trumpets sounded they happened to roughly do the same 30% damage. Or that God randomly said let’s go with a 1/3-that’s a good fraction. It’s very intentional. If God is going to destroy the earth in judgement why not do it all at once? He created the world in 7 days-why not wipe it out in 7 days? 1/3 means that His judgement is happening, it’s underway and cannot be stopped, but it’s only partial at this point-meaning that as people see the severity of 1/3 of the earth, sea and sky wiped out-they still have time for their hearts to fully and completely turn to Christ! And that’s Pt4:Seizing our Attention: Surrender your heart fully to Christ while there’s still time. That will be the message then. Planet earth won’t be in good shape-1/3 of the trees are gone, 1/3 of the water and fish are gone, 1/3 of the sun and daylight are gone-but hearts can be fully and completely, 3/3 surrendered to Christ! Who doesn’t love good fractions! Even at the world’s end God is allowing people the chance to repent and surrender to Him. And that’s the message of today. While we’re not missing 1/3 of our good world-we know it’s going to happen, God’s Word is already written, we’re getting glimpses of it in 2020-so let us be a people of full and complete surrender to Christ. Might we not try to give the Lord 1/3 of our hearts or some other partial fraction-which we’re often tempted to do-but all of our hearts! That’s what leads us to communion this morning-especially as we read the ominous warning at the end of the chapter-Rev 8:13. If these first 4 trumpet blasts were bad-just wait until the next 3! Woe, woe, woe. Out of the frying pan, into the fire! Which is why we need to be a people surrendered to Christ who is our only hope! The One preparing a permanent home for us-as this earth dissolves like snow!