Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Redeeming Judgment

My Sunday School lesson for August 16, 2015 …

A few weeks ago in Sabula, Iowa, a bridge over the Mississippi River had to be cleared with a snow plow.

No, it wasn’t snowing in July.

The bridge was impassable because there were too m any bugs. Specifically a swarm of mayflies had taken over.

They were piled so high that any vehicle trying to cross slipped, and you couldn’t even see out the windshield because of the swarm. The Iowa DOT cleared the bridge with snow plows and sprinkled sand for traction.

It's like something out of a horror movie.

Or Revelation chapter 9 as we’ll read today. During today’s study we’re going to look at part of God’s judgment on the world, especially through big nasty demon bugs.

During today's study we're going to look at God's judgment, some of which comes through natural disasters, especially including a lot of big nasty demon bugs.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** Seven seals, then seven trumpets.

--- Revelation chapters 6 through 9 have been so thoroughly picked over by Bible scholars that there is no definite way of knowing what it all means:

The "preterist" view holds that John was describing events of his own time. In this view, the locust plague of Revelation 9 may have referred to an invasion of Parthians from the east, the scourge of the Romans. Parthian warriors were said to have shot poison-tipped arrows and to have worn long flowing locks (see 9:8,10).

The “futurist” view holds that John was describing future events to be fulfilled only during the end time surrounding the glorious return of Jesus Christ. In this view, the locusts are thought of as satanically motivated (demonic) forces that have yet to arise against forces of good and God.

Yet another view—the “historicist” view—interprets these chapters as a forecast of centuries of Christian history, from John’s time until the final consummation, during which God’s people will continually struggle with hostile opposition, although not without the divine promise of ultimate victory.

Finally, some Bible students hold the “idealist” view. This view seeks to avoid looking for single, specific historical events as fulfillment of this part of Revelation. Rather, the imagery is to be understood as symbolic portrayals of the ongoing conflict of God (and His kingdom of righteousness) versus Satan (and his powers of evil). Again, Bible students agree to disagree!

*** The focus should be on what every scholar can agree, that God’s righteous judgment will ultimately be used for redemption of followers of Jesus Christ.

*** The chapter uses images that evoke a sense of dread, panic and destruction.

LOCUSTS UNLEASHED (Rev. 9:1-3)

1 The fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to earth. The key to the shaft of the abyss was given to him. 2 He opened the shaft of the abyss, and smoke came up out of the shaft like smoke from a great furnace so that the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke from the shaft. 3 Then locusts came out of the smoke on to the earth, and power was given to them like the power that scorpions have on the earth.

*** The trumpet sounds.

--- Once the seven seals were opened, starting in chapter 8 the seven angels began blowing trumpets to unleash plagues with images that evoke a sense of dread, panic and destruction:

(1) Vegetation was destroyed (8:7);
(2) Sea creatures were destroyed (8:8-9);
(3) Pollution of fresh water (8:10-11);
(4) Celestial bodies were darkened (8:12).

--- None of these affected people directly. But the fifth trumpet was different. It was about to unleash hell on earth, so to speak.

*** The star from heaven.

--- Is this an angel, or is it Satan? Isaiah chapter 14 refers to Satan as "star of the morning." Luke 10:18, Jesus says, "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning."

--- Either way, someone is given the “key” to open the pits of hell.

--- Even in John’s day people understood God and heaven to be “up there” and hell to be “down there.”

*** The locusts emerge.

--- Think about in "Ghostbusters," when Walter Peck shuts down the reactor and the ghosts burst out of the firehouse. The sky was full of them and they unleashed terror on New York City. That, of course, is just a movie.

--- Like the plague of locusts in Egypt in Exodus 10, only worse, locusts will devour everything in their path. The prophet Joel observed locusts invading Judah. The swarm was so big that it blotted out the sun. God showed Joel that the plague was a harbinger of His wrath that was coming on the Day of the Lord (see Joel 1:2-15).

--- During a locust plague people are not generally attacked. These locusts, however, were given scorpion-like power. Scorpions have venemous stinging tails that can seriously hurt us. They are symbols of evil, and Jesus Himself had used “snakes and scorpions” figuratively to refer to evil spirits that serve the Devil (Luke 10:19).

*** God was in total, complete control of this event.

--- It's important to remember that the angel that fell from heaven was carrying out the express will of God. Whatever judgments come on the earth come by the design of God. Likewise, whatever evils are present operate only by His permission (see Job 1:9-12). As the One on the throne, God always achieves His purposes by His power.

QUESTION - How do these verses assure you that the Devil and his demonic forces are not beyond God’s sovereign rule? How would you explain this truth to a non-Christian?

BELIEVERS PROTECTED (Rev. 9:4)

4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green plant, or any tree, but only people who do not have God’s seal on their foreheads.

*** God's protects His people.

--- In Revelation 7:1-8 God’s believers are marked with a seal on their forehead.

This is another passage about which Bible students have come to differing conclusions. Three points are clear, however:

First, the Old Testament background for this is Ezekiel 9:3-4 - 3 Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the LORD called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side 4 and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”

Second, later on in Revelation, followers of the wicked “beast from the earth” are also marked on the forehead (see 13:16). So in this time you either have God’s mark or the beast’s mark.

Third, the apostle Paul wrote that all believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit (see Eph. 1:13 - When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit; 2 Cor. 1:21-22 - Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.).

--- Similarly, during the fourth plague in Exodus, God promised that the swarms of flies would not affect the part of the land where the Israelites lived. In this way God made a distinction between His people and the Egyptians (see Ex. 8:22-23; see also 9:25-26).

Both Exodus and Revelation affirm God’s saving, protecting power over his people.

*** QUESTION - When should believers expect protection from God’s judgments on others? When should believers expect to experience the same difficulties (and evils) of life as everyone else?

DEATH SOUGHT (Rev. 9:5-6)

5 They were not permitted to kill them but were to torment them for five months; their torment is like the torment caused by a scorpion when it strikes a man. 6 In those days people will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.

*** The locusts could fly freely but were not allowed to kill people.

--- Similar to Job 1:12, God allowed Satan to test Job but not to take his life: The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

--- This is a chilling passage. People are going to wish they were dead. Their hope is gone. Their spirit is broken. Yet they won't be able to kill themselves.

--- This is also a reminder that God is in control of this event. He was calling them to repent. This shows God's grace, He's giving them chance after chance to see the light.

--- QUESTION - What do you think the role of believers should be during the torment of the unbelievers?

JUDGMENT ADMINISTERED (Rev. 9:7-12)

7 The appearance of the locusts was like horses equipped for battle. Something like gold crowns was on their heads; their faces were like men’s faces; 8 they had hair like women’s hair; their teeth were like lions’ teeth; 9 they had chests like iron breastplates; the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses rushing into battle; 10 and they had tails with stingers like scorpions, so that with their tails they had the power to harm people for five months. 11 They had as their king the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he has the name Apollyon. 12 The first woe has passed. There are still two more woes to come after this.

*** Imagery, imagery, everywhere.

--- This is a dreadful picture, full of fear. John sees an army overtake all of humanity and torment them for five months.

--- These are no ordinary locusts. These are locusts from hell. Beyond having stingers like scorpions, they have something “like” (not necessarily literally):

• Like horses—In Joel 2:4, the prophet had described the locust plague of his day as being like battle horses. This army of “locusts” in John’s vision was as well organized as the fearsome Roman cavalry.
• Like gold crowns—The idea of a crown (victor’s wreath, not a royal diadem) represents success at the intended mission.
• Like men’s faces—Perhaps this image represents the intelligence and cunning behind what the “locusts” do.
• Like women’s hair—Some interpreters have suggested that this points to Parthian warriors, who wore long flowing hair. Others suppose the antennae of locusts are behind the image. The picture is certainly not intended as one of weakness.
• Like lions’ teeth—Joel wrote of the locust plague in his day: “its teeth are the teeth of a lion” (Joel 1:6). Lions are fierce and ravenous, and of course devour with tooth and claw.
• Like iron breastplates—The scales on locust bodies can look like iron-plated armor, which in the first century was stronger than the usual Roman breastplate of bronze and leather.
• Like the sound of chariots—Real locust swarms are quite loud. The sound was unmistakable, resembling the rumbling of chariot wheels.

*** QUESTION – Which description is the most ominous to you? What do these verses teach about Satan’s true opinion of humanity and what he wants to do? How can you use these verses to warn others of Satan’s nature and desire to destroy them?

*** The locust leader.

--- This is another one of those times when Bible scholars disagree. “The angel of the abyss” led the locusts, and could be different than the “star angel” in 9:1. This is a title found nowhere else in Scripture. Some think it is Satan because of the name Abaddon (Hebrew)/Apollyon (Greek), both of which refer to destruction. Others say it is not because Satan makes a grand appearance in Revelation 12 where he is identified as a dragon.

*** God’s wrath is intended to move humanity to return to Him.

--- Clearly, to live through this would be a horror no one would be able to endure.

--- Even when it’s over, verse 12 makes clear that this is just the first woe that was warned about in Revelation 8.

--- The second woe would kill a third of mankind, and yet Revelation 9:20-21 makes clear that unbelievers still hardened their hearts: The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.

*** QUESTION - Why won't they believe? Why go through this and continue to reject God? Men love darkness rather than light. They love their sin even to the death.

TAKE AWAY POINTS

There is still time.

This isn’t God’s final judgment. Those being tormented in these verses could still wisely turn to God. Instead, they choose poorly.

Think of the release of the videos showing Planned Parenthood to take pride in cutting up babies and selling off the parts. Even though the horrors of abortion are on display for everyone to see, supporters are more in the bag for PP than ever. They can’t give an inch.

Ezekiel 33:11 says, "God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked." There are over 600 warnings in Scripture about hell. He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

Our study of the woe of the fifth trumpet reminds us that God’s judgment is terrible and sure. Refusing to repent leads to ruin. Yet Jesus rescues from judgment those who belong to Him.

*** God has power over everything for His purpose.

*** Pray for those who are being tormented by Satan now, and ask God to soften their hearts to return to Him.

*** Focus your mind and heart this week on the images of Revelation 9. How can we keep as many people from being affected as possible?

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