Revelation: The Time is Near
Last week we listened as, in heaven, four angels blew four trumpets at Jesus Christ’s command unleashing intensifying judgments on the earth. The worshiping assembly around Christ’s throne hears the trumpets.
Those on earth hear an eagle crying “Woe.” The eagle’s lament sounds in the last verse of chapter 8. Three times the bird cries “Woe,” one “Woe” for each of the three remaining trumpet judgments.
In Chapter 9, John, standing in heaven, hears two more trumpet blasts (5 and 6). He watches as two more symbolic scenes of judgment on Earth roll across a great screen.
And he learns a disturbing truth about God’s judgment.
Revelation 9:1 And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I [John] saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. 2He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft.
3Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. 4They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. 6And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.
7In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, 8their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; 9they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. 10They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. 11They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.
12The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come.
13Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, 14saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.”
15So 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. 16The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. 17And 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.
18By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. 19For 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.
20The 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, 21nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.
The disturbing truth that plays out in these visions is that Jesus Christ allows his most vicious enemy, Satan, along with his demons, to work horrendous evil as part of divine judgment. In the visions of chapter 9 are two demonic invasions.
In vv. 1-11, we watch a locust invasion. Grasshoppers, like battle horses, cover the Earth. Normally, grasshoppers devour vegetation. These insects torment people but do not kill them (v. 4). These creatures are symbolic representations of demons. They swarm out of the bottomless pit, meaning hell.
And who leads them? V. 11 identifies their king as Abaddon (Hebrew) or Apollyon (Greek). In v. 1 he is the star that falls from heaven and opens the bottomless pit to release the locusts.
This reflects the biblical teaching that Satan was once a holy angel attending God’s throne in heaven but who rebelled against God. He led a mutiny sometime after God completed his good creation and before Satan tempted Eve in the garden. He has fallen from heaven to earth as v. 1 says. Angels who followed him are called demons, fallen creatures who work his evil will in the world.
In vv. 13-19, a second vision pictures an invasion of 200 million mounted horses led by four evil angels. This swarm breathes out smoke, fire, and sulfur and stings with serpent tails. It kills a third of people on Earth.
These visions make visible the world of demons that is largely invisible to us. They picture a vast and vicious army determined to destroy God’s creation. Seeing it forces us to consider our response to the reality and danger of demons. Consider these three responses:
Considering the Danger Demons Pose, Be Careful
First response: be careful. Satan and demons are not the projection of our imaginations. They are real. They are active in this world. And they are dangerous. The fact that they are invisible does not make them rare or distant. The unseen spiritual world surrounds us continually. Be careful because:
Smoke, especially in vv. 2-3 but also in vv. 17-18, symbolizes darkness and deception. Demons work for Satan who deceived Eve (Genesis 3:1-7; 2 Corinthians 11:3). Jesus describes him in John 8:44,
[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
In Revelation 12:9 Satan is “the deceiver of the whole world.” He blinds people to the truth of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4). Paul warns that:
In later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons (1 Timothy 4:1).
Those who follow such teaching have lost their senses (2 Timothy 2:24-26). Christians are called to stand against Satan’s schemes, a word that refers to his plans that involve deceptive strategies (Ephesians 6:11). Since Satan cannot be everywhere at once, he employs demons to carry out his deceptions. He rules a vast horde.
We must be careful about demonic deception. Peter insists that we be sober-minded when it comes to Satan (1 Peter 5:8). Spectacular demonic manifestations like the ones seen in the gospels get a lot of attention. People go into convulsions. A demon will speak from a person but in a different voice. This does happen. However, the Bible makes it clear that:
Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:14–15)
The immediate reference here is to false human teachers. But the truth applies to demons too. We should be more concerned about being deceived by false teaching or sin than by encountering some weird occult practice. Consider one biblical example.
Ephesians 4:27 commands believers not to give an opportunity to the devil. How would a Christian give Satan an opportunity? Use a Ouija board? Hold a séance? Watch a horror movie? Take drugs? All of these have demonic connections. But what does Paul warn will give the devil an opportunity? According to 4:26, it’s unresolved anger. Holding a grudge. Refusing to reconcile.
Demons deceive. Be careful. Don’t let unresolved anger simmer on the stove of your heart. Students, be careful. There is spiritual significance in everything you learn at school. Stay alert to the way that social media breeds conflict and unrighteous anger. Parents, be aware that everything your child watches on a streaming service or in a video game reflects a worldview that is loyal to one of two kings.
It is interesting that, in v. 20, those who continue to worship demons do not repent of the “works of their hands.” The specific reference is to making idols. But the phrase more broadly refers to what people produce in their strength and creativity. Pride in their accomplishments for their glory is, in essence, demonic.
Demons not only deceive, but they also destroy. They torment and kill according to Revelation 9. Their deceptions result in destruction. One of Satan’s names according to v. 11 is Abaddon or Apollyon. The words in Hebrew and Greek mean “destroyer.”
Demonic worship fosters a culture of death. This has always been true of idolatry. The testimony about ancient Israel reads:
They served their idols, which became a snare to them. 37They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; 38they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, Psalm 106:36–38
A demonic smokescreen has convinced our culture that killing an unborn child is a form of health care. We legalize destructive pleasures regardless of their impact on children because of a demonic smokescreen. Economic freedom is a smokescreen for greed. In Canada, the right to die is quickly becoming the duty to die to save money or make life more convenient for family members. Christians must oppose every manifestation of the culture of death.
Demons Demand Devotion
V. 20 insists that not repenting of sin is the equivalent of worshiping demons. They demand devotion. Satan knows that the stakes are high. We all worship. We are either worshiping God or Satan. Satan worship is not limited to weird occult practices. Whatever is not to the glory of God is the worship of his enemies. There is no middle ground.
The apostle who relates these visions to us in Revelation writes in his letter, 1 John 3:8
Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
One theologian concludes,
“Demonic activity is probably a factor in almost all sin and almost all destructive activity that opposes the work of God in the world today.”
The threat we face is serious. Be careful.
Considering the Danger Demons Pose, Be Clear
And yet, acknowledging this demonic threat tempts people to blame demons for their sins. So, we must, secondly, be clear. The Bible does not allow us to excuse sin as if we are helpless victims under the power of demons. We acknowledge that demonic oppression is significant. The visions of Revelation 9 illustrate what John writes at the close of 1 John.
The whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 1 John 5:19
But at the end of chapter 9, John makes clear that the rest of mankind remains under God’s judgment because they refuse to repent. God holds them responsible for their sin.
They are guilty (according to v. 21) of murders, sorceries (using drugs as magic potions), sexual immorality, and theft. In v. 6, instead of repenting, they want to die. Rather than turn to God to find life, they long for death. They are making a conscious choice. They are following their strongest desire. They are not helpless slaves to demonic oppression.
We must also be clear that the answer to all demonic oppression is the gospel. Jesus Christ came to destroy the works of the devil. The greatest evil Satan can inflict is holding you in your sin so that, like him, you face God’s final judgment. The only thing that frees you from a final judgment is the news that God has come in Jesus Christ to take sin’s punishment on the cross so that sinners can be set fully free. Listen to this summary of the gospel in Colossians 2:13–15.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses[sin] and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands [judgment]. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities [Satan and demons] and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Jesus Christ shames Satan and his demons by taking from them the one weapon by which they could eternally harm his people. He canceled sin’s debt at the cross.
But for whom? Revelation 9 also makes clear that there is a distinction between people in general and those who belong to Jesus Christ. Look at vv. 3-4.
Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.
We have seen in earlier messages that those who have God’s seal are those who have the Holy Spirit. They repent of sin and trust Jesus Christ in the gospel. The demon’s torment cannot reach these people because the guilt of their sin has been removed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
If you, today, know torment over the wrong you have done before a holy God, do not remain captive to it. Do not choose death. You cannot blame demons for your condition. There is life and peace in Jesus Christ even in the turmoil and chaos that grips this world.
Let me be clear about the gospel. God created each of us to live with joy in his kingdom. But we gave our loyalty to a rebel prince who wants to be king. We willingly serve him in our self-centered sin. But Jesus Christ came to show us that being truly human means living in perfect harmony with God’s will. He died as the only sinless sacrifice that would satisfy God’s wrath against our sins. Through his resurrection, he completely rescues his people from eternal hell. But this rescue is only enjoyed by those who turn from sin and trust in King Jesus and his saving victory.
If you have never come to Christ in this way, you remain a part of the rest of mankind: Still alive but headed for eternal death. I ask you the prophet Ezekiel’s question, “Why will you die?” Repent and believe the gospel.
Considering the Danger Demons Pose, Be Courageous
Those who have responded this way to the gospel, belong to Jesus Christ. They are set apart from the rest of mankind. Demons can harass and trouble Christians but not torment them under God’s judgment. When we consider the threat of demons, we add a third response for believers: be courageous.
We can preach Revelation 9 honestly, acknowledging the power that demons possess and, at the same time, call Christians to be courageous. Demons have greater power than any of us on our own or even all of us put together, except that we have God’s seal (v. 4). We have the Holy Spirit. John who watches the horrors of Revelation 9 writes in his letter, 1 John 4:3–4
Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
As we saw last week, passive verbs remind us that God is ultimately in control. V. 1 Satan “was given” the key to release his demons. In v. 3 the demons “were given power” and “were told” exactly whom they could harm and whom to leave alone. They operate only under Christ’s permission just like Satan Job 1. V. 5 restricts their activity to five months.
The killing demons in vv. 13-19 are not released until Christ directs the angel to blow the sixth trumpet. A voice (probably Christ’s voice) commands the release of the four evil angels. Until this point, He has bound them (passive). V. 15 specifies that they “have been prepared” (another passive) by Christ for the exact moment when they will accomplish his purposes in judgment.
As we see in the gospels, demons must obey Jesus. He is in control. And we have his authority through the gospel over demons. We also have his promise, 1 John 5:18:
We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God [Jesus Christ] protects him, and the evil one does not touch him [to destroy him].
Christians must be aware of the pervasive power of demons but not be obsessed with them. We are careful without being paranoid. When they confront us, we meet them in the name of Christ and the power of the gospel. We remain prayed-up and Bible-ready every day. The NT does not instruct us to use special rituals or engage in long, drawn-out encounters with demons. Jesus promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against His church (Matthew 16: 18).
When the seventh trumpet blows in 11:15, we will hear loud voices in heaven singing the song which proclaims what is already true: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”