The Missing Seal

Rev. 9:1-9:21

Once again, have text before us that has been used to promote all sorts of wild interpretations. For example: “star fallen from heaven” – Pope Boniface III (7th c.), Martin Luther (16th c.), the Antichrist, and Muhammad. Similar speculations about the army: must be China because of size (200 mil.) and coming from east, bringing their helicopter gunships spraying nerve gas from their tails. Those are the sorts of conclusions well-meaning Christians can reach when fail to follow essential principle of biblical interpretation – the Bible is its own interpreter.To rightly understand God’s word, must begin with context of God’s word and historical setting of the human author, not today’s newspaper. Revelation was relevant and understandable in 1st century, same is true today. And… it has the same meaning, although specific application may vary.

Certainly frightening, even horrific images that come to our minds as we read – I’m sure was also true for 1st century readers. But don’t lose sight of purpose of this revelation – is to encourage the church! The people of God are to not be afraid. Is to give us accurate insight into real high-stakes warfare going on around us, to prepare and equip us to live pleasing to God in midst of tribulation.

Here for first time in John’s letter true nature of present life is being uncovered – begin to understand most significant battle now going on is battle for souls of men, women, boys and girls. War was declared in the Garden – Gen. 3:15And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” We know the final outcome, the Lamb wins. Meanwhile, we have work to do.

Just as judgment gets more intense as turn pages of Revelation, God’s judgment on evildoers gets more intense as pages of history turn. The suffering portrayed here, the mass of resources thrown into the conflict will only increase as we approach Christ’s coming.

A. the locusts v.1-11

like to think / have been conditioned to think of God in warm friendly terms – God is love, is best Father can imagine, has good of his kids in mind

like to think in similar way about Gospel message – if unsaved friend/family member/neighbor/co-worker just heard Gospel or heard it in way they could understand, would get saved

reality is: God is love, etc. and much more than that – “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished” (Ex. 34:6-7)

and also: “we are a sweet aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing – to the latter an odor from death to death, but to the former a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Cor. 2:15-16)

in our text and in our neighborhoods, see more of the unpleasant realities of sin-corrupted world and how God deals with it – smoke from bottomless pit has brought spiritual darkness, working to extinguish light of Gospel in the world

not real locusts (4)

sin-plagued spiritual darkness has power to cause real hurt – pictured by John using powerful imagery of locusts and scorpions – would have conveyed sense of profound suffering and hardship, even death to 1st century readers

e.g., locusts plague, 1866, Algeria – 3 provinces of country = 3x Texas, 200,000 dead; Russia, 2016: “Officials say at least 10% of the south’s farmland has been destroyed – with aircraft used in an attempt to disrupt them. The Russian Ministry of Agriculture has declared a state of emergency but seem powerless to combat the locusts. One farmer: ‘There is nothing left of the corn, he said.’ ‘The locusts ate it all, from the leaves to the cobs.'”

The venom of the death stalker scorpion produces a number of severe symptoms. These are fever, coma, convulsion, increased heart rate, high blood pressure and increased fluid secretion into the lungs.”

real locusts strip landscape of anything green: grass, leaves, corncobs; remember devastation by locusts in ten plagues

these locusts under strict orders from God limiting / focusing their devastation – just like in Egypt, did not harm people of God

targets those without the seal (4)

locusts, symbols of God’s judgment, forbidden to harm anything other than one class of people – those with missing seal

God in his providential care guards those who are his, have his seal (indwelling Holy Spirit) – they do not endure suffering God brings on his enemies

Church does not escape unscathed – lost people incited to more evil deeds will make life difficult for Christians; however…. God uses that for our good, our growth in holiness and likeness to Jesus

torment without relief (5-6)

no escape for the lost – at least mental and spiritual, maybe physical too, anguish that drives people to desperate measures

think God wouldn’t do that? Deut. 28:15, 27-29, 34, 65-66 “if you ignore the LORD your God and are not careful to keep all his commandments and statutes I am giving you today, then all these curses will come upon you in full force: …The LORD will afflict you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors, eczema, and scabies, all of which cannot be healed.The LORD will also subject you to madness, blindness, and confusion of mind.You will feel your way along at noon like the blind person does in darkness… You will go insane from seeing all this. …the LORD will give you an anxious heart, failing eyesight, and a spirit of despair.Your life will hang in doubt before you; you will be terrified by night and day and will have no certainty of surviving from one day to the next.”

is limited, for now – 5 months, not eternity although will seem like it; as Jesus’ return gets closer, torment will be more profound

deception (7-9)

as you might expect: demonic forces have deception as primary strategy of war – pretend to be something other that reality

appear to be source of help/pleasure/comfort – have as only goal to torment, maim, kill if possible; would definitely take on the Church unless God prevents

power limited to pain and suffering – could not kill (5-6)

how many do you know: experiencing real mental/spiritual/emotional suffering, and choose all wrong ways to dull the pain

more now than in past, will only increase as time passes and… sadly… pain only hardens their resolve to reject only true solution

praise God there are exceptions! those who do turn to Christ; are only small minority of total

B. the army v.12-19

not one army against another, is army against civilians

est. WWII – 60 mil. total casualties, 45 mil. civilian; rise of communism under Stalin – 20 mil. civilian

Euphrates represented boundary between civilization and barbaric uncivilized peoples – source of fear in John’s day

God here lets out the leash, relaxes (doesn’t remove) constraints on Satan and his demonic horde along with all who worship him

picture what is happening in Middle East – ISIS, who are prime objects of their brutality: not opposing armies but uncooperative civilians

what about those committed to distributing illegal drugs – sure, cartels fight among themselves, but it’s the user at end of chain who kills for money, maims others in drug-fueled rampage, ultimately overdoses

is behavior, at least what makes the news, really all that civilized? – bullying, name-calling, abortion, ISIS and al Quaida and Boko Haram and the Taliban and North Korea, assisted suicide and euthanasia, a gorilla worth more than a 4 year old, people marrying their dog

one way or another lost people world over determined to destroy themselves and one another… and don’t realize enormity of what they’re doing

C. the response v.20-21

survivors: refuse to give up demon-worship / idolatry; in fact, only become more persistent in pursuing solution apart from God

obvious in how it’s described what God wanted – repentance

motivation behind these trumpet judgments not just God being mean; not even simply just consequences for rebellion

intended to give incentive to evildoers to repent – normal human reaction to pain is to pull back; not so this kind of suffering

why? everyone without exception knows the alternative – God; lost people may want benefits of knowing God, do not want personal saving relationship with God

D. our task

remember true nature of conflict, who the enemy is

enemy not the culture, Mexicans, Muslims, mad customers, mouthy politicians, mindless people who live next door or ride your bumper – in fact, unless God converts them, they are real casualties in the war

real enemy is Satan, his agents determined to annihilate Christ’s church and ultimately Christ himself; is spiritual war, must be fought with spiritual weapons

yes, need to be good citizens but in both kingdoms – “seek kingdom of God first“, then be good citizen in community… and take Christian identity/principles with you

need to see beneath surface, behind facade, address real problem – who do you worship?

is it “demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk”?

or is it true God who does not take pleasure in death of wicked, who seeks lost

show / lead others to one who will give them the seal

be prepared: you will receive range of responses… from harsh rejection to warm welcome – make sure it’s message, not messenger that gets reaction

God truly does desire men, women, boys and girls to repent and turn to Christ – two things necessary: Holy Spirit and hearing

Often what makes greatest impression on others is personal testimony from credible witness. You say “not an evangelist”, “can’t remember all the Bible verses”, and “what if I get it wrong”. Tell your story – yours and mine and someone else’s stories will all be different. That’s ok, God knows and he is intentional about who he brings to you. God can use your story whether you think it will be effective or not. Be sure and end your story at the cross – don’t need tickets, no preferred seating, ground is level there, was room for you and for every one without exception who will come to Christ in faith. With God’s help we can each be used to bring others to Lord Jesus.

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