Reversed Thunder, Revelation Chapters 8 and 9
Too many Christians feel they are failures because they fall short of the ideal of faith.
They lose a job and feel anxious; they go through health trouble and are afraid. They are betrayed and they feel angry; a relationship fails and they feel depressed.
Christians often think that faith should keep them from all anxiety, fear, anger and depression.
Isn’t that what the Bible teaches? We aren’t to worry about tomorrow. Matthew 6:25
We know that love destroys fear. I John 4:18
Faithful people are never depresses (except for Elijah in I Kings 19) right?
Of course, faith is not a stoicism that accepts whatever comes without complaint or concern. No, sometimes faith is tying a knot in the rope at the end of hope and just hanging on!
Faith is never easy and it is usually not neat; in fact, faith can get very messy! Just ask the Christians who lived under the Domitian holocaust at the end of the 1st century.
They believed in a God who reigns and in a Christ who died on a cross to save them. That was their story, and they were sticking to it… and it was killing them.
They struggled for their faith in the midst of a messy world. Hear the Martyrs in Revelation 6:10 “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
These early Christians were holding onto faith by their fingernails while they waited for their God to act.
Today we are in Revelation 8 and 9. The seventh seal is opened which means the blowing of the 7 trumpets.
How we are going to work this is to look at the trumpets of chapter 8 and 9 first, and then move back into chapter 8 to understand what God wanted them to know, and for us to know from these symbols.
- The Seven Trumpets: What John Saw
The imagery of trumpets makes us think of other trumpets in the Bible. Remember Jericho in Joshua 6? There were seven priests who blew seven trumpets, and the pagan city fell before the people of God.
Trumpets are found other places in the Bible.
The trumpets called Israel to war and to remind them of God’s deliverance. Numbers 10:9
The trumpets were blown to begin the Year of Jubilee and to announce freedom to captives. Leviticus 25:8.
The “Trumpet call of God” will announce the second coming of Christ. I Thess. 4:16
The trumpets of wrath from heaven here in Revelation pronounce woes upon the earth.
First: hail mixed with fire and blood that burns a third of the earth.
Second: a burning mountain that turns a third of the sea to blood.
Third: a star falls into fresh water and turns a third of the water bitter and deadly.
Fourth: the sun, moon and stars are struck and a third of the earth is darkened.
Fifth: a star falls and opens the Abyss to release a darkening smoke.
Sixth: the sound releases 4 angels that had been restrained at the Euphrates river. They gather up others and kill a third of all mankind.
Seventh: we won’t hear it until chapter 11, but when it blows it is too late to repent.
What does all of this mean?
First, this is symbolic language depicting God’s judgment on the wicked.
Second, only a third of the earth is affected; this suggests that this is all God’s warning, not literal devastation. The partial destruction here indicates God’s warning and a call to repentance.
Third, God’s call to repentance is ignored—Rome does not repent. Read Revelation 9:20-21. **
Do you know of people who refuse to take warnings seriously? Rome did not take these warnings seriously and perished.
A little over 30 years ago Mt. Saint Helens belched gray plumes hundreds of feet into the sky. It was obvious from scientific evidence that the volcano would soon explode. Warnings went out and people began to leave.
Harry though refused to budge. Harry was the caretaker of the Spirit Lake recreation lodge, just five miles north of Mount Saint Helen. The rangers warned him, neighbors begged him to leave with them. Harry’s sister called to try to talk some sense into his head. Harry ignored them all.
On May 18, 1980, as the boiling gases beneath the mountain’s surface bulged and buckled the earth, Harry cooked his eggs and bacon, fed his sixteen cats the scraps, and began to plant petunias around the border of his freshly-mowed lawn. At 8:31 am, the mountain blew up.
The volcano erupted with a force five hundred times greater than the nuclear bomb that leveled Hiroshima. Millions of tons of rock disintegrated and disappeared into a cloud reaching ten miles into the sky. Shock waves flattened everything for 150 square miles. A wall of mud and ash fifty feet high flowed down the mountain side.
In the corner of Washington where he once lived, balladeers now sing about Harry, the stubborn old man who refused to heed the warnings.
- The Seven Trumpets: What We Missed
Let’s backup to get the rest of the story.
In Chapters 4 and 5 we witnessed the dramatic throne room scene where the hosts of heaven were worshipping God. This worship reaches a crescendo when the Lamb takes the scroll to open it.
Read 5:8 “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”
Before the throne of God are bowls of incense that represent Christian prayers. Why is that important?
Look at the rest of the story, or the first of the story in Revelation 8:1-6. (Read)
The importance of preparation is a keynote of Revelation 8:1-6. God uses this section to prepare our minds for the blowing of the seven trumpets; in the same way, we need to prepare for every worthwhile task.
A powerful message on prayer is also imbedded in the passage. This text teaches that when Christians pray, not only does heaven listen, not only is heaven pleased, but heaven responds.
God answers our prayers. Jesus said “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Mt. 7:7). James wrote “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much”. (James 5:16.
Revelation 8:1-6 prompted these comments on prayer by a variety of writers:
(Prayer is the Christian’s) one form of direct participation in the rule of God. (D. T. Niles)
The most powerful influence on earth is that of prayer; and there are no significant events of earth that do not sustain some relationship to Christian prayers, whether observable by men or not.” (Coffman)
(In the battle with evil,) the Christian’s secret weapon (is) the diving response to the prayer of faith. (Hailey)
(When trouble comes,) prayer…is the most practical thing anyone can do. (Peterson)
King David: from Psalm 55:2-6 “Attend to me, and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and I moan, because of the noise of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked. For they drop trouble upon me, and in anger they bear a grudge against me. My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest;”
Have you ever felt like David, completely overwhelmed by life? What was David’s conclusion later in the Psalm? “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”
David understood the basic truths of our text: When God’s people pray, heaven listens, heaven is pleased, and heaven responds.
Accepting these truths will affect our lives. One result will be that we will pray more. Another result should be that we will examine our lives to make sure our relationship with God is right.
This is exactly what they needed to know. This is exactly what we need to know.
Imagine how this war between Caesar and Christ looked to first century historians. It seemed one-sided; Domitian made all the rules and the Christians did all of the dying.
But unseen by human eyes, the prayer of the saints went up to God as sweet incense.
Ok, but what good is prayer against the sword of a gladiator or the fangs of a lion? We don’t read of any miraculous arena rescues; but what we do read about is how calmly Christians faced death!
Prayer was the power to face death. One day, the thunder that was coming down on the saints reversed itself and began to fall on Rome. God mixed the incense of prayer with His fire and poured His thunder upon the earth and Rome was destroyed. .
Revelation is a drama played out in two acts—one is seen by those on earth and the other is seen by those in heaven.
Much of the book contrasts what appears to be true on earth and what is really true in heaven.
These ragged Christians who faced death in the Coliseum looked weak and feeble. But day after day the arena crowds were puzzled over two things even as they cheered the Christians to death.
First, why did Christians face death with not just courage, but peace and joy?
Second, why did these Christians go to their deaths on their knees in prayer?
What looked to the world like a futile and final act was in reality an act of power. Their prayers would mix with God’s power to pour back upon Rome. The Ruins of Rome remind us not to underestimate the power of righteous prayer!
Our lives are also played out in two acts—one seen by earth and the other seen by heaven.
When the world sees our faith, we seem to be puny and powerless. We don’t really have any political power, nor are we necessarily prominent. Our values are devalued; our faith is said to be too narrow and intolerant.
But the rest of the story is still the best of the story. We live and die on our knees.
The prayers of the saints still rise before God to be mixed with His grace, justice and power. And those prayers are hurled back to earth to change things and make things better.
No, God doesn’t do all that we ask—just as He didn’t free the martyrs. But just as He worked through them to change the world, so He can work in us.
Let us not despair that we are not making any difference in the world at all. Maybe we don’t have all of the material resources available to us, maybe we don’t have all the power here on earth.
But when we go down on our knees and humble prayers go up to God, something happens.
God mixes our pleas and our petitions with power, and returns them with reversed thunder.