This is a continuation of Applying Revelation 7: The 144,000.
As you’re reading through Revelation, picture yourself sitting in a large opera theater watching some dramatic production unfold on the stage down below. Most theatrical plays have multiple acts. Revelation has multiple acts. Act 1 was Jesus’ letters to the seven churches. Act 2 began with a massive set change. Now we’re in Heaven. Jesus has changed costumes for this second act—He’s now in the form of a bloodied lamb instead of a man. After a grand introduction of the magnificent Yahweh sitting on His throne and Lamb Jesus, we started working our way through seven seals.
Well, we’re on the last seal now, and Act 2 is suddenly going to come to an end.
When the Lamb broke the seventh seal on the scroll, there was silence throughout Heaven for about half an hour. (Rev. 8:1)
This silence indicates that Act 2 is done and Act 3 is about to begin.
Now this whole theatrical production is being put on for ancient Jews—a people who love repetition. Picture driving a car for 100 yards, then stopping, throwing it in reverse, driving backwards to the point where you started, and then driving forward over the same ground again. This is what we’re going to be doing here. Act 3 isn’t moving us forward in the plot, it’s backing up and filling in more details. If Act 2 was skimming through a chapter of a book, Act 3 is when you go back and read it more slowly, noticing things that you didn’t notice before.
This routine of “Let Me say it all again but this time I’ll say it a little differently,” is something Yahweh does over and over again in the Old Testament. Repetition is a form of emphasis for these Jews.
Now during the sixth seal in Act 2, the whole world was displayed as being in a major crisis. It ended with all the people hiding in caves and crying out to the mountains,
“Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of Their wrath has come, and who is able to survive?” (Rev. 6:16-17)
As Jesus kicks off Act 3, He’s going to back up and once again show the Jews the whole world getting spanked, only this time He’ll drag the process out more. It’s like He’s going to explain to them what motivated those people to hide out in those caves and say what they did about the wrath of Jesus and Yahweh.
Now as the acts change, different characters come and go from the stage. In Act 2, we had the two choirs that sang back and forth at each other. One was composed of twenty-four men, the other was our group of four freaky beasts. In Act 2, Jesus used a theme of wax seals. He would dramatically break one seal at a time, and with each break, some glimpse into God’s future plans for the world would be unveiled.
Well, now we’re in Act 3, and suddenly new characters appear on the stage.
I saw the seven angels who stand before Yahweh, and they were given seven trumpets. (Rev. 8:2)
Notice those sevens. The number 7 is associated with great power, the Creation, and blessing in the superstitious minds of ancient Jews.
Then another angel with a gold incense burner came and stood at the altar. And a great amount of incense was given to him to mix with the prayers of God’s people as an offering on the gold altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, mixed with the prayers of God’s holy people, ascended up to Yahweh from the altar where the angel had poured them out. (Rev. 8:3-4)
This angel is performing a task which Jewish priests performed in the Holy Place of the Temple every day. Burning incense was a matter of taking oil that had been mixed with certain fragrant ingredients, and pouring it over some hot coals. It’s the same concept as you using some scented plug-in today. When you plug the plastic apparatus into an outlet, it heats up a fragrant liquid inside, and a strong aroma fills your house. Way back in Moses’ day, Yahweh came up with His own special recipe for the perfumed oil that He wanted to be used on His golden incense altar. That recipe was sacred—anyone who was using it for unauthorized things got in big trouble. One time two of Aaron’s priest sons got sloppy and thought they could just toss any old incense onto Yahweh’s special altar. How did God respond to this impertinence?
Fire came out from the Presence of Yahweh and consumed them, and they died before Yahweh. (Lev. 10:2)
Don’t be messing around with Yahweh’s sacred incense.
Now in real life, the incense altar had to be kept burning 24/7. That meant that every day and night, the priests had to put fresh fuel on the altar. This also meant that the Holy Place and The Most Holy Place were some very fragrant rooms. If you personally didn’t like the scent that Yahweh chose, it could make things rather unpleasant.
Now no regular Jew ever got to see what went on inside those two sacred rooms of the Temple because that was a no trespassing zone. Only priests got to go inside—regular Jews like John could only imagine. But of course they did imagine, and no doubt the priests described what things were like inside those sacred rooms. So when John sees this angel stoking the heavenly incense altar, he immediately gets what’s going on. It also seems perfectly right and natural to him that someone’s burning perfume in Heaven right in front of the magnificent Yahweh, because in real life, the incense altar was just one curtain away from the Ark of the Covenant—Yahweh’s earthly throne. In the Jewish mind, Yahweh has always been sitting in front of some perfume producing item, so this heavenly set up feels very right to the Jews.
Now Yahweh talks a lot about His sense of smell in the Old Testament. When the Jews burned sacrifices and incense for God, they could see plumes of smoke rising up. Yahweh taught them to picture Him breathing in the aroma of the smoke and finding it either pleasant or unpleasant, depending on the attitude of the one who was doing the offering. For example, if you were sincerely repentant for some sin or if you were simply trying to express your deep love for God by bringing some offering for a priest to burn on your behalf, then Yahweh wanted you to picture Him breathing in the smoke of your offering with a big smile on His face. But when people were being rebellious towards God and getting off on defying Him, then He rejected their offerings. In Leviticus 26, we find Yahweh warning the Jews of how aggressively He will respond to them if they do not stay faithful to Him in the future.
“And if in spite of this you do not obey Me but act with hostility toward Me, I will act with furious hostility toward you… I will reduce your cities to ruins and devastate your sanctuaries. I will not smell the pleasing aroma of your sacrifices.” (Lev. 26:27-28, 31)
Now once Yahweh taught His people to view the smoke of their offerings as a way of personally communicating with Him, it was only natural that they should start associating that smoke with their prayers. Here in Heaven, we’re seeing an angel mixing the prayers of God’s people in with the usual perfumed oil, and pouring that on the hot coals of the incense altar that’s sitting near Yahweh’s throne.
“The smoke of the incense, mixed with the prayers of God’s holy people, ascended up to Yahweh from the altar where the angel had poured them out.” (Rev. 8:4)
This is a metaphorical picture of Yahweh receiving the prayers of His people. Notice the reference to “God’s holy people”—these are the prayers of Jews who considered themselves to be quite righteous in God’s eyes, therefore He ought to listen to them. These are the prayers of our persecuted Jewish Christians who feel so terribly picked on by the Romans.
Now what do you think these particular prayers are about? The Jews want revenge, of course. They are crying out for Yahweh to come to earth and aggressively defend them against their earthly enemies. They want Yahweh to give Rome the mother of all spankings. Let’s see what the angel will do next.
Then the angel filled the incense burner with fire from the altar and threw it down upon the earth; and thunder crashed, lightning flashed, and there was a terrible earthquake. (Rev. 8:5)
Fire, thunder, lightning, and a great earthquake: this is Yahweh’s signature combination which He introduced during His famous Mt. Sinai appearance way back in Moses’ day. This is a picture of Yahweh’s Presence showing up on earth. He’s mad. He’s heard tell that some bullies are picking on His kids. Now Big Daddy is going to beat some heads. The Romans are about to get spanked. The Jews are loving this moment.
Then the seven angels with the seven trumpets prepared to blow their mighty blasts. (Rev. 8:6)
That powerful number seven shows up twice, underscoring the “wow” of this moment. And notice the reference to “mighty blasts.” These aren’t some cheesy plastic toy trumpets. These are Yahweh’s trumpets, and that means the volume needs to be cranked up to deafening levels, because every Jew knows that God is LOUD. They learned that way back during the Mt. Sinai appearance when some freaky trumpet sound started blasting from the mountain that Yahweh’s Presence was descending on. That supernatural sound kept growing louder and louder until God finally spoke. Everyone was scared out of their wits at the time. Now, many centuries later, the Jews relish that story.
On the third day, when morning came, there was thunder and lightning, a thick cloud on the mountain, and a loud trumpet sound, so that all the people in the camp shuddered. (Ex. 19:16)
As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him in the thunder. (Ex. 19:19)
Now in Act 2, every time Lamb Jesus cracked a wax seal, something crazy happened on earth. Here in Act 3, we’ll see a similar pattern. Every time a trumpet blows, it’s going to be all bad for earth in some new way.
The first angel blew his trumpet, and hail and fire mixed with blood were thrown down on the earth. One-third of the earth was set on fire, one-third of the trees were burned, and all the green grass was burned. (Rev. 8:7)
In Act 2, we saw freaky looking horsemen riding out from Heaven. Now we’ve got angels chucking nasty things down onto the planet. Notice the reference here to thirds. This isn’t literal, it’s a picture of restraint. The great sovereignty of our Gods is one of the central themes of the whole Bible, and it’s a critical theme here in Revelation. We’re looking at a picture of devastating destruction, and yet that destruction is being miraculously controlled. It’s displays of awesome power mixed with shocking displays of restraint. It’s all punching home the message that God is KING.
Now in real life, the actual end times are fast approaching. Unless you die soon, you’ll be around for them. When they kick off, we’re going to see the same kind of theme we’re seeing here: God unleashing destructive miracles of jaw-dropping proportion, and yet at the same time tightly controlling the extent of devastation. Picture a whole city block suddenly bursting into a fire that no one can put out, yet that fire doesn’t extend beyond that block. When it finally goes out, a whole block is destroyed, yet the rest of the city can still function. This is the kind of ride we’re in for, only when these isolated incidents of devastation occur, they will begin in such a way that everyone will know it is a supernatural act.
Get these ridiculous theories of terrorism and nuclear warfare out of your head. The real end times aren’t going to be filled with man doing his usual idiotic thing. The real end times are going to be a grand theatrical show in which the Holy Spirit flexes His God power and reminds us all of who is Boss. The real end times will be one jaw-dropping miracle after another. Scores of people suddenly turning into inanimate statues that topple over and smash apart. Swarms of insects suddenly appearing, killing a bunch of people, then vanishing. City streets splitting open, then closing again. Tornadoes and tidal waves suddenly appearing where they don’t belong. Entire cities dissolving into dust that blows away with the wind. Many of these miracles will be very frightening, but does that mean you have to react like these people in Revelation who go hiding in caves? No, it doesn’t.
If you sincerely care about pleasing God, He doesn’t want you to be terrified when these things begin to happen. Instead, He wants you to stay calm and confident that He is with you and that He is for you. It starts by you keeping a tight grip on the fact that GOD IS IN CONTROL. If you learn anything from Revelation, that’s the lesson you need to learn. God is always in control. The second key point is to understand that it is quite possible for you and God to be in a very good place even while God is publicizing His fury towards the general human race.
In our last lesson, we discussed how God never loses track of the souls who sincerely care about pleasing Him. We learned about how Yahweh made a special point of emphasizing how differently He views those who sincerely care about pleasing Him versus those who do not. Which camp are you in? Don’t start scrutinizing your behavior, because a lot of your behaviors are wrong. Look at your heart, because that’s what God cares about. How important is His opinion to you? If you could be anything you wanted, how much would a desire to please God factor into what you’d choose? God is very generous. He gives us credit for what we wish we could do and be for Him, even when we don’t have the ability to follow through on those things. You do not have to be terrified of living in the last days. Instead, you need to see this as the thrilling opportunity that it is.
People have been preaching that the end times are just around the corner for thousands of years. The New Testament Christians all thought that they were living in the last days. If they had been right, you never would have been born. But here you are, and of all people, God has chosen your time in history to start His global shutdown. This is a thrilling time to be alive. Cultivating reverence for God is an essential part of acquiring a closer relationship with Him, and nothing spikes your level of reverence faster than having God flex His awesome power in your face. Excelling in the end times is not a matter of learning to survive nasty torture and persecution from a bunch of Christian haters. It’s simply a matter of knowing where you personally stand with God and keeping a firm grip on a few essential truths. God is in control. God is always with you. God delights in souls who sincerely desire to please Him. You can do this. The Holy Spirit will help you.
Now these pictures we’re seeing in Revelation are extremely unrealistic. If all of the grass on the earth really did die, life on the planet would quickly come to a halt. These pictures aren’t literal, they are symbolic. What’s being displayed here is epic devastation paired with epic restraint.
Then the second angel blew his trumpet, and a great mountain of fire was thrown into the sea. One-third of the water in the sea became blood, one-third of all things living in the sea died, and one-third of all the ships on the sea were destroyed. (Rev. 8:8-9)
Right now it’s about AD 96. Back in AD 79, Mount Vesuvius violently erupted and many ships and sea creatures came to a bloody end. John and his fellow Jews would certainly have heard of this event and been quite astounded by it. The imagery here is no doubt an intentional reminder of that event to help these Jews resonate with the theme of violent, terrifying destruction. But again, notice those thirds. No matter how extreme the destruction is, God is always keeping it confined.
Then the third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from the sky, burning like a torch. It fell on one-third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star was Wormwood. It made one-third of the water become wormwood, and many people died from drinking the bitter water. (Rev. 8:10-11)
Wormwood is a rather nice looking herb from which a bitter extract can be made. Today wormwood extract is used to treat a variety of medical disorders. Wormwood oil is even used as an ingredient in perfumes. It’s also known as absinthe, and it was used in various alcoholic beverages (such as vermouth), until it was discovered that distilling wormwood in alcohol increases the concentration of its natural poisonous element called thujone. Due to the potential dangers of wormwood, it is banned in several countries today, including the U.S..
Now back in Bible times, wormwood was considered a type of poison and it was viewed very negatively. In the Old Testament, we find several incidents of Yahweh threatening to force feed His enemies wormwood, which is the same as saying He’s going to unleash some nasty punishment on them.
Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Yahweh says concerning the false prophets: “I am about to feed them wormwood and give them poisoned water to drink, for from the prophets of Jerusalem ungodliness has spread throughout the land.” (Jer. 23:15)
In Bible times, wormwood wasn’t valued for its medicinal benefits like it is today. It was seen as a threat, a death plant, and something that you wanted to keep far away from you. In describing His disgust with the wickedness of the Jews in the book of Amos, Yahweh says:
You turn justice into wormwood and throw righteousness to the ground. (Amos 5:7)
During his whine fest in the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah is griping about the severity of Yahweh’s destruction of Jerusalem when he says:
He has filled me with bitterness and satiated me with wormwood. (Lam. 3:15)
There’s nothing mysterious about this wormwood imagery in Revelation. When the second trumpet blasted, the water was turned to blood. Now it’s been poisoned. Either way, it’s undrinkable. Since water is critical to sustaining life on earth, we are properly impressed with Yahweh’s power as He flaunts how easy it would be for Him to wipe the whole place out in seconds.
Now when’s the last time you heard a reasonable discussion of wormwood from these end time obsessed idiots in the Church? Today so many fools try to make a big fuss over this star that’s named Wormwood and freak you out about some meteor hitting the earth. It’s all such foolishness. This is nothing more than a dramatic picture of Yahweh flexing His absolute power over Creation. The big statement He is making through all of this drama is this: “I made the earth, and I can destroy it any time I want. No one can stop Me, and no one can rush Me. I do what I want to do when I want to do it. I am not bound by any of the natural laws, because I made those laws, and I can suspend them whenever I want.” In real life, no one could survive on a planet without grass, and we’d all be in serious trouble if two thirds of the global water supply became undrinkable. Yet here in Revelation we see Yahweh making the impossible happen, because Yahweh is awesome.
Then the fourth angel blew his trumpet, and one-third of the sun was struck, and one-third of the moon, and one-third of the stars, and they became dark. And one-third of the day was dark, and also one-third of the night. (Rev. 8:12)
Here we go again with another dramatic assault on the celestial bodies which were such popular targets of worship in these times. The Romans called the moon goddess Luna or Diana; the Greeks called her Artemis. Sol was the Roman name for the sun god; the Greeks called him Helios. Sol was supposed to be all knowing, since he could spy on people all day long from his vantage point in the sky. Well, what is Yahweh saying about Luna and Sol here in Revelation? He’s giving them both a major black eye, along with all of those really annoying star gods that everyone can’t get over.
People worshiping celestial beings has been a pet peeve of Yahweh’s for centuries. The Jews were incurably addicted to celestial worship by the time they were rescued from Egypt, and they refused to ever stop. In the book of Amos, we find Yahweh reflecting back on the those forty years of wilderness wandering with these bitter words:
“Did you bring to Me sacrifices and cereal offerings during those forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
No, instead of bringing Me the appointed sacrifices, you carried about the tent of your king Sakkuth and Kaiwan–names for the gods of the planet Saturn–your images of your star-god which you had made for yourselves.” (Amos 5:25-26)
Yahweh is seriously irked by the deification of celestial objects—that’s why we keep seeing Him knock them out of the sky here in Revelation. This is Yahweh setting the record straight about who the real God is, and no one in these times would have missed this message. Today we only miss it because we’re listening to demon obsessed dingdongs who refuse to let go of this idea that Satan is going to rise up and flaunt his power over the globe. Well, no, Satan is just a powerless fleck as far as the real Gods are concerned. He’s a joke. He’s just another star that Yahweh can flick out of the sky.
Our Gods don’t exalt demons, they exalt Themselves. Realize that any end time teacher who is encouraging you to freak out over the power of beings other than God is going to end up in big trouble with God for mangling His messages. If you listen to these clowns, you’re going to crash and burn into a bunch of needless panic and confusion when the real end times begin. God is in control. Satan is one flick away from being permanently locked in Hell, so we shouldn’t sit around trembling over the power of idiot demons. The real Gods are the Ones we need to stay focused on, and the real Gods are flaunting Their supremacy all over this book.
Then I looked, and I heard a single eagle crying loudly as it flew through the air, “Terror, terror, terror to all who belong to this world because of what will happen when the last three angels blow their trumpets!” (Rev. 8:13)
If we were fluent in ancient languages, we would see that the Bible is filled with our Gods putting out clever word puns and sound alike games. The Greek word for “terror” here is ouai [oo-ah-ee] and it is an intentional mimicking of an eagle’s cry that could also be translated “woe” or “alas”.
Even though eagles were on the list of unclean foods for the Jews, the eagle was strongly associated with power, making it a fitting metaphor for one of God’s messengers. Here our screeching eagle builds suspense about what will happen when the next three deafening trumpets sound. It’s effective to insert this pause here, because after seeing everything that’s happened so far, we can’t imagine how the earth is still intact. Yahweh is wowing us on two fronts: we’re shocked by His power and we’re shocked by His ability to preserve life in the midst of such epic devastation.
Now notice how the eagle says “terror” three times. Jews are the target audience of Revelation, and to Jews, repeating the same word three times is like saying the ultimate of that thing. God is holy, holy, holy, and what’s coming next in this vision is terror, terror, terror.
So who is Yahweh mad at? The eagle says “terror to all who belong to this world”. John and his Jewish peers would take this to mean the world they are currently living in, which means the Roman Empire. They’re not aware of very much world beyond Rome’s borders. Well, there are a lot of Christians living in Rome, and they’re not all Jewish. Is Yahweh’s eagle saying that the Christians ought to be terrified along with those who are spitting in God’s face? No. God never tells those who are obeying Him to fear, unless He’s talking about us revering Him. Reverence is a positive respect for God which is driven by fear of His awesome power. The kind of reverence God wants from you is the kind that fills your heart with admiration and awe for Him. It’s not the kind that makes you want to cower in a corner like some worm.
Towards those who are living in alignment with Him, God says “Do not fear.” So when we read about this eagle screeching at everyone to dread what’s coming, we need to realize that this eagle’s warning isn’t being directed at Christians. In real life, when the end times begin, you’re going to see God’s end time prophet shouting out all kinds of threats and warnings into news cameras. In such moments, you need to realize that if you’re living in alignment with God, then He isn’t directing those messages at you. It’s when we start intentionally blowing off God’s convictions and giving Him a bunch of snarky attitude that we get in trouble with Him. God disciplines His kids. He doesn’t smile on bratty behavior. But when you know that you’re not being a brat, realize that God knows this as well, and He isn’t going to go lumping you in with His enemies. It’s very important that you understand how to tell when God is pleased with you so that you can sort out when He’s talking to you and when He isn’t. For help with this, see What it Means to be Aligned with God.
We’re now at the end of Chapter 8, and only four out of seven trumpets have blasted. We’ll learn about trumpets five and six in our next lesson.
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