If you read the passage above silently, go back and read it again out loud, blessing yourself and anyone else in hearing distance (Yes, I am going to mention that every week! – Revelation 1:3).
We used to have this large rock next to our driveway at the house I grew up in. It was large enough to, at the age of 5, feel like it was a bit of an accomplishment to get to the top. More importantly, it was large enough to have an incredible feeling of exhilaration as my brother and I jumped off of it and onto the driveway beside it.
Hours of fun.
And then one day it all changed. Our neighbours had some visiting cousins, so there were six of us, aged around 4-10, taking turns climbing up and jumping off the rock. But then, one of my neighbour’s cousins, a girl aged around 10 (or close to that), cut in front of me and took my turn to jump off the rock. I was furious! With all the might I could muster I clenched my fist and punched her in the stomach, reducing her to tears and sending everyone sprinting towards the nearest adult to share the drama that had unfolded.
I got in a lot of trouble for that. If I remember rightly, I was grounded to my room until I was willing to go over to my neighbours’ house and apologise to their cousin. It took three days of being trapped in my room and the impending doom of the cousin returning to whatever distant city she originated in to get me sprinting out of my room shouting, “I’m sorry!” as they drove out of their driveway.
What I remember most, is why nobody else seemed to understand how serious it was that she had taken my jump. To me, at the time, the action felt completely justified because of how important it was to me. To my parents, brother, neighbours, and their cousins; my actions were unjust, because their perspective suggested it was far more meaningless than I thought it was.
I wonder if your reaction to these four trumpets being sounded is similar to everyone around me that day. Harsh. Unjustified. Violent. Not called for. I wonder if you are left with an opinion that God must be some sort of cosmic bully to allow this sort of violence to come on the earth.
I think God’s answer to us is a bit similar to mine then, “You just don’t understand how serious sin is.”
Do we? Do we truly understand how serious, significant, life-altering, and destructive sin really is?
History would tell us, probably not. Despite having the bloodiest wars in human history in the last 100 years, a massive world-wide sex trade (including children), and so much more; we still think this world is becoming a more pleasant place.
But it isn’t. Take a step back, watch the news. As I write this, a terrorist group called the Islamic State is city by city taking control of parts of Syria and Iraq. As they take control of cities, they are going door to door, demanding that people convert to Islam or be beheaded. A friend of mine has a friend who is a missionary out there, and witnessed this, with the terrorists particularly targeting and killing children who don’t convert.
Nicer? Kinder? More “civilised”? I don’t think so. Our world is corrupted with a wickedness and sinfulness that makes it terminally ill to the core.
So, even before we get to the reality that these trumpets are word pictures and symbolic, not real events that will one day happen; we need to accept that even if God’s reaction to the world’s wickedness was this violent, it would be justified and deserved. We need to grasp just how serious sin is.
But there is more to this story than that. A language is being used that is meant to remind John’s readers of particular truths elsewhere in the Bible.
The first trumpet destroys all the grass of the world (despite it later being protected in chapter 9). Isaiah 40:7 says, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass.” And in a number of other places, grass is used as a symbol for people who refuse to believe in God’s faithfulness.
The second trumpet sees a fiery mountain thrown into the sea. Jesus himself said in Matthew 17:20, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.” As Jesus speaks these words he is standing by a man-made mountain, created to lift up Herod’s palace; as if he is implying that our faith can even see huge oppressive regimes thrown into destruction.
The third trumpet sees a star fall from the sky. This piece of imagery was traditionally used to describe Satan’s fall from glory. However, Isaiah picks it up in 14:12 to describe Babylon’s fall from glory when he says, “How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!” If the mountain of the second trumpet represents the massive oppressive groups and governments that torment us, the star represents our Enemy and the other individuals who oppose the kingdom of God.
The fourth trumpet sees the sun, moon, and stars struck and the world sent into darkness. This imagery of light being turned to darkness is used by many of the Old Testament prophets to describe God’s punishment to the world for its wickedness. Isaiah writes in another of his prophecies against Babylon in 13:10-11, “The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless.”
As we connect these passages to Old Testament passages they could be drawing their symbolism from, we realise that what is being announced is that God is going to answer our prayers (remember the incense and prayers earlier in the chapter), rescue us, and remove the wickedness and evil that is the source of our suffering.
But why all the 1/3s? Probably because John and God want to drive home the point that the wickedness that God is judging has massively corrupted the world. It is major surgery, not a plaster, that the world is in need of, and removing these wicked and sinful human systems will require massive interventions from God.
But even that isn’t the whole picture of what is going on here. This revelation is also meant to remind us and point us towards the ten plagues that freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Hail, fire, the sea turning to blood, the water being undrinkable, and being sunk into darkness all remind us of those original plagues.
So we are being led to ask, what was the original purpose of those original plagues that hit Egypt, and how do they connect with what God is saying here?
The plagues of Egypt were used for two things.
First, to liberate God’s people from their bondage to Egypt. It was God’s response to their cries about the suffering they were experiencing. So too here in Revelation. Remember, these trumpets are a direct response to God hearing all the prayers of God’s people earlier in chapter 8. They are his answer to our prayers about being freed from wickedness and suffering.
Second, to warn the Egyptians about the path they were heading down. The plagues were meant to wake Pharaoh up, not just to release the Israelites, but also to repent. So too, as we continue to journey through Revelation, we will see a desire for God to draw us towards repentance and warn us of what is to come if we don’t.
Think about it. If God’s rescue plan includes judging and removing the sinful and wicked systems that are corrupting our world, what will happen to you if you are a part of that system? Will you too experience the justified wrath of God for watching pornography and supporting the sex trade when that evil system is destroyed? What if you buy clothes made by children in slavery and therefore are funding that evil system? Or give money to an organisation that has made its profits through tearing others down? Or maybe even more challenging to our cultures, engaging without a second thought in the systems that destroy lives more than any others in our settings (like guns in America or alcohol in Britain)?
Whatever the case, these trumpets should wake us up! They should make us look at what we do, what we are involved in, our lifestyle, choices, preferences and challenge the points where we are benefitting from the very systems that God has set himself against because of the suffering they cause. When God finally does liberate us fully from the wickedness of this world, do you want to be a part of what God is liberating people from?
Sin is serious, as anyone who has ever suffered because of the wickedness of another would tell you. But God is hearing our prayers for rescue, and he will judge and remove the wickedness that is corrupting our world. This is no small task, major surgery is needed that will upset the very systems that our world finds itself built on. So we must be careful, not to be a part of those systems, so we can be the ones being freed instead of being removed.
This is a continuation of our series on Revelation at Birchfield Church. So if you want to listen to my talks (and others as we go along), please feel free to visit our website here and do that. Also, Tom Wright’s book, “Revelation for Everyone”, has been a big help in understanding this book; so go and buy it now and then read it.
Grace and peace to you all.