THE CHURCH IN THE WORLD – [1] Revelation 8-9: The Church in Prayer

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015

In the vision in Revelation 5 each of the twenty-four elders surrounding the throne hold golden bowls full of incense, ‘which are the prayers of the saints’.  In the vision in Revelation 6:9,10 the souls of the martyrs are ‘under the altar’, crying out to the Lord. Now in Revelation 8 and 9 John sees a vision of what happens to these prayers.

Again, as previously, what is revealed to John takes him back in time. Back before the consummation of all things described in Revelation 7. Back before the ‘the great day of …wrath’ revealed by the sixth seal. Back to the time when the saints are still crying, still waiting ‘a little longer’ for God to act in justice. Back to the time when the wicked appear to be prospering unchecked. Back even to the reality that began in Genesis. And even as he does so he focuses our attention once again on Jesus Christ and what he has already accomplished through his life, death and resurrection.


When the Lamb opened the seventh seal [8:1], there was silence in heaven, for about half an hour. But this silence does not mean inactivity or inattentiveness. It is not the silence of sleep, nor the silence of ignorance, nor the silence of unconcern.  Here in these verses the suffering church is told: never say that God does not respond to your prayers; there is more going on than what you will ever realize; there is more power and significance in the prayers of the redeemed than you will ever know!

A.1 The apparent silence of God
The saints have always been bothered by the apparent ‘silence’ of God, by his apparent inaction and unconcern in the presence of their distress and suffering. The wicked appear to prosper, while the righteous suffer. The enemies of God seem to go unpunished, while the people of God are persecuted. It is easy to think that the whole world is characterized by injustice, and that God by his apparent silence seems unmoved and undisturbed by this.

Suggested reading:
Job 13:24; 23; 30:20 [or read the whole book if you have time]
Psalm 13
Psalm 28:1-9
Psalm 35
Psalm 83

In the context of this seeming silence of God the concept of ‘waiting’ on the Lord is very relevant. It speaks of trust. Yes. God seems to be silent. God seems to be doing nothing. But trust knows that this silence is not all that there is. God is there. And God is not silent. God is there, and God is not inactive. God is there. And God is not impotent.  And it speaks of hope – of a quiet confidence that God will indeed act. That God will indeed do, and is indeed doing, his work.

Suggested reading:
Psalm 27:14
Psalm 37:5-13,34
Psalm 123
Isaiah 8:17
Isaiah 30:18
Lamentations 3:25,26
Micah 7:7
Zephaniah 3:8
1Peter 2:23b

In Revelation 8:2, during the silence in heaven, seven angels who stand before God are given seven trumpets. Trumpets are symbolic of judgment, and indeed that is what these trumpets are about to bring on. But for the moment, in the vision, they are silent. There they stand, ready, waiting.

A.2 The prayers of the saints
In this vision: In the ‘silence’ of heaven, while the angels waited with their trumpets of judgment, something of great significance and solemnity, something very holy, took place.

The setting of this vision is again ‘the throne’, but the focus is not on the one who sits on the throne, nor is it on ‘the Lamb’. The Lamb has just opened the seventh seal, and the focus switches to an ‘angel’ with a golden censer. Here again we find an angel doing what we would have expected Jesus Christ to do. For this reason, I believe that this ‘angel’, while indeed an angel in John’s vision, is representative of Jesus Christ. [If Jesus can be seen in a vision as a sacrificial ‘Lamb’ and a ‘rider’ on a horse, he can certainly also be seen in a vision as an ‘angel’.]

The vision is furnished with items from the Tabernacle, items deemed holy to the Lord, and ‘the angel’ performs functions that only the high priest was permitted to do.

The Old Testament prescribes the offering of incense on the golden altar as the work of Aaron, the high priest [Exodus 30:7,8]. So holy was this task, so holy was golden incense altar and the incense prescribed by the Law of Moses, that any unauthorised use of either attracted the most severe penalties [Exodus 30:34-38; Numbers 16].

The New Testament affirms that Jesus Christ is the one Mediator between God and man [1Timothy 2:5]. But here is this ‘angel’ in the act of mediation.

The New Testament affirms that Jesus Christ has entered the presence of God as our great High Priest [Hebrews 4:14] who intercedes for us forever [Hebrews 7:24,25]. It is his mediation alone that guarantees our access in prayer to the Father. And here is this ‘angel’, fulfilling this holy high priestly role.

In John’s vision, the ‘angel’ offered ‘much incense … with the prayers of all the saints’ on ‘the golden altar before the throne’.

In the tabernacle, the golden incense altar was positioned in the Holy Place, directly in front of’ the Ark of the Covenant/Mercy Seat, which was in the Most Holy Place directly through the curtain. The incense altar could not be any closer to the Mercy Seat. Only the curtain separated them. So close were these two objects to each other that the incense altar is often referred to as being in the Most Holy Place. In John’s vision, the golden incense altar is ‘before the throne’ – God’s throne, God’s presence, which was symbolised by the Mercy Seat. There is no prohibitive dividing curtain in John’s vision. Because of the blood of ‘the Lamb’ [signified by the ‘altar’ in verse 3], and the mediation of ‘the angel’ – that is, because of the saving work of Jesus Christ - the prayers of the saints, our prayers, have immediate access to God [read Hebrews 10:19-22].

In the Old Testament, the offering of incense was a form of prayer. It was a ‘sweet smelling’ offering to God, the expression of a heart reaching up towards God [Psalm 141:2]. God values very highly the prayers of his people. Conversely: repeatedly in the Old Testament, condemnation of false religion included condemnation of offering incense to idols or to natural objects such as the sun or the stars – that is, prayer, supplication, to these false gods, even as a mere symbol in the offering of incense, was condemned.  To God, and to God alone, are people to pray. It is something he treasures.

This is what happened in John’s vision in the ‘silence’ of heaven: the prayers of the redeemed are being heard and treasured by God. This is what is going on even now, even when our cries seem to get no response from God. All the prayers of all the redeemed are in the presence of God – held in the bowls of the twenty-four elders. The cries of the martyrs are heard by God from under the altar. The presence of Jesus Christ, the Mediator, ensures that they are heard, even though all seems silent. Jesus Christ, the ‘Lamb’, has been slain, ripping away the sin barrier that prevented our prayers reaching God [Isaiah 59:2; Matthew 27:50,51]. Jesus Christ, represented by the ‘angel’ in this vision, has entered the presence of God as our Mediator: God is listening to the prayers of his people.

Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, the Lamb slain before the beginning of time, the High Priest without beginning and without ending [Hebrews 7:3], all the prayers of all the saints, of all the redeemed, ascend to God: The blood of Abel crying out from the ground. The anguish of Job. The tears of Jeremiah. The prayers of Daniel and of all those mentioned in Hebrews 11. And our prayers, our cries, past, present and future, they are all there. In a one-off decisive action [all the verbs in 8:3,4 are Aorist Tense] Jesus Christ entered the presence of God as our great High Priest, as our Mediator. There he ever lives to make intercession for us … not that he is constantly praying for us, but that by his presence on his Father’s throne our prayers have access to and are acceptable to God. Because of him we approach God’s throne – and it is forever for us a ‘throne of mercy’ not a throne of judgment – with confidence, knowing that we will find grace to help us in our time of need [Hebrews 4:16].

Suggested readings: [focused on the delight of God in the prayers of his people]
Psalm 34:15; 1Peter 3:12
Proverbs 15:8b
Jeremiah 2:19 [compare Romans 8:15,16; Galatians 4:6]
Zephaniah 3:17

A.3 The response
The ‘angel’, [or rather we will say Jesus Christ], filled his censer with fire from the altar [fire is a biblical symbol of God’s judgment]. Remember, it is to Jesus Christ that God has entrusted all judgment [John 5:22]. He hurled it down to earth and judgment broke loose – the divine response to the prayers of all the saints.

We may feel that heaven is silent, that our cries to the Lord for rescue, for justice, for the salvation of the lost, for the honour of his name, are having no impact. The ‘silence in heaven’ honours the solemnity with which God views the work of the Mediator; the ‘silence in heaven’ honours the preciousness to God of the prayers of his people. The ‘silence in heaven’, (which is not really silence for at the very same time as all heaven stands in silent awe as ‘the angel’ mediates [8:3,4], every creature in heaven and on earth is praising the Lamb [5:11-13]), is the precursor of God’s judgment, a judgment evoked, in part, by our prayers, by our tears, by our ‘hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done …’, by our ‘deliver us from the evil one’.  

B. THE SIX TRUMPETS – 8:6 – 9:21

In 8:5, when the ‘angel’ hurled the fire from the altar to the earth ‘there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake’. The first three commonly accompany the presence of God, and are warnings of his utter holiness and of imminent danger to humans. All four, along with fire, are associated with judgment. This judgment coming from God is very intentional, and very forceful: ‘the angel’ hurled it on the earth.

The silence in heaven is then broken by the blasts of the trumpets. God is answering the prayers of the redeemed. We must not allow ourselves impose linear time onto these visions. This ‘silence’ in heaven is an on-going reality – the redeemed are always in a state of waiting on the Lord to respond, and Christ is permanently our Mediator and High Priest, ensuring the access of our prayers to the Father. And the first six trumpets of judgment are always sounding, right through the interim age between the first and second coming of Christ. [Indeed, they have been sounding since Genesis 3.]

Note: Although they have some elements in common with the final judgment, these are not the final judgment. That comes with the seventh trumpet.

B.1 The first four trumpets 8:6-13
The first four preliminary judgments each impact a restricted part of the physical world, along with human casualties in at least two of them:

A third of the earth, the trees and the green grass [8:7].
A third of the sea and everything in or on it [8:9].
A third of the fresh water [8:10,11].
A third of the light [8:12].

Various symbols of judgment are used – ‘hail and fire mixed with blood’ [hail and fire are common biblical symbols of judgment], ‘a huge mountain, all ablaze’ [fire again; mountains also are involved in various ways in God’s judgments, but also see the note below], ‘a great star like a torch … Wormwood’ [another, but not so common, symbol of biblical judgment].

Notes: [1] In Matthew 21:19-22 Matthew reports Jesus’ cursing the fig tree. This incident is commonly understood to be an indictment against the failure of the Jews to live for God [evident in their misuse of the Temple and refusal to accept Jesus (Matthew 21:12-17)]. The judgment inflicted upon the fig tree was immediate and impressive. When the disciples expressed their surprise at this, Jesus said ‘you can say to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.’ The context in this passage is the context of judgment. The fig tree incurred Christ’s judgment because it failed to produce an expected crop. The Jews failed to produce the appropriate response to God and to his Christ: the judgment fell on them in AD 70. Here Jesus is not giving the disciples a blank cheque, he is not telling them that they can get anything at all they ask for; rather he is telling them that when their cries go up to God, God will hear: the fiery mountain of God’s judgment will fall. God will establish justice on the earth. God will vindicate his holy Name.

[2] Another point of interest is the similarity between some of the elements of judgment here [and in the fifth and sixth judgments] and the plagues inflicted upon Egypt: hail, blood, undrinkable water, darkness, locusts and death. There the context was the affliction of God’s people; God saw their misery and heard and responded to their cries; the judgments came upon the Egyptians because of their refusal to let God’s people go.

B.2 The fifth and sixth trumpets 9:1-21
As a prelude to next three trumpets, John sees a high-flying eagle announcing the extreme horror of these three judgments [8:13]. Two are reported in Chapter 9; the third not until 11:15-19.

B.2.1 The fifth trumpet
This judgment falls only upon ‘those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads’ [verse 4; see 7:1-7]. The redeemed, that great multitude of 7:9, cannot be touched by this judgment.

Three ‘characters’ are in focus in this vision [and remember it is a symbolic, apocalyptic vision, not the real thing]:

‘A star’
John observes several things about this ‘star’:

It had fallen from ‘the sky to the earth’ [the Greek verb indicates it had already fallen; John did not actually see it fall. The Greek also has ‘heaven’ not ‘sky’].
It was given ‘the key to the shaft of the Abyss’ – literally ‘the bottomless pit’.
It opened the Abyss, out of which a great, dense and pervasive smoke arose that blotted out the sun and the sky.

Just who or what is represented by this ‘star’ is a matter of debate. Its authority and ability to open the Abyss is a ‘given’ authority – it was ‘given the key’. Its action is within the permissive will of God – just as the second, third and fourth horsemen’s actions were limited, and just as the judgments brought on by the first four trumpets were limited. But does this ‘star’ represent something good or something bad? Is it for God or against God? [Regardless of how we answer that, God is in charge and uses the results of this star’s actions as a terrible judgment upon all who have not been sealed.]

Note: Elsewhere in Revelation, where ‘stars’ are used as symbols for living beings, those beings are good, not evil [1:16,20; 2:1,28; 3:1; 22:16].

It would seem a simple matter to conclude that the ‘star’ that had fallen from heaven and was given the key to the Abyss [9:1], and the ‘angel of the Abyss’ [9:11], represent the same ‘person’, that is, the devil. This would tie in with the symbolic use of ‘star’, and the reference to this ‘star’ having ‘fallen’.  It would also tie in with the symbol of the ‘star’, which elsewhere is used only to refer to ‘good’ characters – because the devil was ‘good’ before he fell from heaven. But this does create some difficulty when trying to fit it into the timeframe of other references to the devil and his ‘fall’ or his casting out. We will look at this below. But if we do not allow the star to be Satan, we are left with the question of whom it represents.

One scholar, Torrance, has concluded that this star represents the Word of God, which, when it is proclaimed to the unregenerate who refuse to repent, stirs up a great negative reaction that results in the increase of human evil, and exposes the unregenerate to the influence of demonic spirits. Whether or not the star is the Word, the rest of this conclusion is certainly true: that rejection of God and his Word results in even deeper spiritual darkness and in increased vulnerability to Satan’s deceptions and corrupting influence. Rebellion against the Word of God brings extreme depths of evil and wickedness out of the human heart.

The locusts
They are very obviously not real locusts, but are being used symbolically for some other fearful reality.  About this terrible judgment of ‘locusts’ John states:

They descended from the smoke that came from the Abyss.
They can hurt only unredeemed humans [verse 4].
They inflict extreme pain, so extreme that men seek death, but it eludes them [verse 5,6,10].
Their time is limited [verses 5,20].
They are intent on battle [verse 7].
They give the impression they are invincible, even though they are not [fake victory crowns – verse 7].
They appear attractive and alluring [verse 8].
They are ferocious and destructive [verse 8; compare 1Peter 5:8].
They appear indestructible [verse 9].
They are under Satan’s authority [verse 11].

It seems that the locusts represent the evil influence of Satan in the world – the deception and destruction which is his intent towards humans. Some suggest the locusts represent ‘demons’; others, that they represent the extremes of evil that come out of the human heart unbridled by the Word of God. Both are probably intended.

The ‘angel of the Abyss’

He is king over the ‘locusts’ that came out of the ‘smoke’.
He is ‘the angel of the Abyss’.
His name is Abaddon (in Hebrew) – destruction, and Apollyon (in Greek) – the destroyer.

This seems to be an obvious reference to the devil. What is not obvious is whether or not the ‘star’ that had fallen from the sky [verse1] is the same character as this ‘angel of the Abyss’, and, if it is, what falling from the sky means, when he fell from the sky, and when he opens the Abyss. We need to ask ‘Does the Bible talk about this anywhere else?’ And the answer is that there are other places that use similar language that may or may not be talking about these two things.

In Isaiah 14:12ff the fall from heaven of someone called the ‘morning star’ [‘Lucifer’] is mentioned. This is commonly assumed to be the devil. Such a fall of the devil, along with a number of angels who sided with him, is referred to by Peter and Jude [2Peter 2:4; Jude 6]. The fact that the devil has a range of spirit beings under his authority is inferred or mentioned in various places. By the Jews who opposed Jesus [Matthew 9:34; 12:24]; by Jesus [John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11]; and by Paul [Ephesians 2:2; 6:10; Colossians 2:15]. Satan’s leadership of these evil spirits ties in with Revelation 9:11.

In Luke 10:18 Jesus said: ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’ as a result of the ministry of the seventy-two disciples, during which demons had submitted to them because of the name of Jesus. This does not appear to tie in with Revelation 9. However, it does fit the picture of the redeemed being immune from this horrific judgment.

In John 12:31 Jesus, anticipating the victory of his death and resurrection, said ‘Now … the prince of this world will be driven out’. This is not a falling from heaven, but assumes the presence and power of the devil already on the earth. He was about to be driven out from the earth by the death of Christ.
In the vision in Revelation 12 a ‘dragon’, along with ‘his angels’, is hurled down to the earth. He is identified as ‘that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray’ [verses 8-13].  This takes place in the vision while John is watching. It appears to follow the devil’s attack on the incarnate Christ [verse 5], and is followed by his attacks on the Church. We can say with a degree of confidence that this particular hurling of Satan to the earth is the direct result of the victory of Jesus Christ, by which he was defeated, and by which his authority over those whom Christ redeemed was terminated. [We will look further at this when we come to this text.]

Revelation 20:7 speaks of Satan being ‘released from his prison’ and going out ‘to deceive the nations …’ However, 20:3 indicates that Satan’s ‘prison’ actually is the Abyss. He does not, in Chapter 20, fall from heaven to the earth. So this does not tie in with 9:1-3 if we understand the ‘star’ to be the ‘angel of the Abyss’ and see an immediate chronological sequence in the events described. But, if we discard either [1] the thought that the star of verse 1 and the angel of the Abyss of verse 11 are the same, or [2] the perception that the three things mentioned in 9:1 and 2 follow immediately after each other, it becomes possible that the preliminary judgment of 9:2-11 parallels the events of Revelation 20:7-9. Note the similarities: limited duration, the deception of the nations, and no impact on the redeemed. However, Chapter 9 does not mention an intentional plan to attack the redeemed, as Chapter 20 does.

Let us see if all of this can be tied together into a cohesive summary that honours all the Scriptures involved:

At some point before the events recorded in Genesis 3 one of the most beautiful of the angels rebelled against God and pulled one third of the angels with him in his rebellion [Isaiah 14:12ff; 2Peter 2:4; Jude 6]. He was originally ‘good’, and this is probably why he is symbolised by a ‘star’. The point of his rebellion is the point at which he ‘fell’ from ‘heaven’. [That he still retained a degree of communication with God is obvious in Job 1:9ff; 2:6f; and Revelation 12:10, where he is engaged in accusing believers in the presence of God. This accusing activity is also behind Paul’s questions in Romans 8:31-35.]

Having lost his position in heaven, he continued his rebellion against God by endeavouring to corrupt or destroy anything or anyone counted precious by God. [This includes his accusations against believers.] We have seen this in a previous study. In Genesis 3 he succeeded in deceiving our first ancestors, and thereby leading the whole world astray. From this point on he is ‘the ruler of the kingdom of the air’ and ‘the spirit who is at work in those who are disobedient’ [Ephesians 2:2], ‘the god of this age’ [2Corinthians 4:4], ‘the prince of this world’ [Matthew 12:31]. Associated with him are ‘the rulers … the authorities … the powers of this dark world, and … the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ [Ephesians 6:12]. [Note that the Bible uses the term ‘heaven’ to refer to a number of different things: the place where the birds fly, the place where the stars, moon and sun are, the spiritual realm, the place where God is.] From this point on he has ruled and reigned in the hearts of men, holding them in spiritual darkness and spiritual deception.

When Jesus came he over-turned the authority of the evil one during the three years of his teaching and miracles – clearly evident every time he cast out demons. During these three years Jesus invaded the devil’s ‘kingdom’ and rescued people from his authority, bringing them to the safety of his own kingdom [Colossians 1:13]. By his death Jesus removed the right of Satan to accuse believers [Romans 8:31-35]. He did this by bearing the full penalty for their sin and guilt. The validity of this sin-bearing death was confirmed by his resurrection from the dead. Thus by his death and resurrection Jesus disempowered Satan. By the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Satan is cast down from his position as ‘prince’ or ‘god’ of this earth or age [Colossians 2:15] – this casting out of Satan occurs person by person as individuals acknowledge Jesus Christ as God, and more broadly as tribe by tribe, or nation by nation, come under the influence of the Gospel and the darkness of his deceptions is replaced by the light of the Gospel.

The judgment issued in by the fifth trumpet
This judgment brought on by the fifth trumpet appears to impact the souls, minds and hearts of the unredeemed. Its darkness is the darkness of the absence of God and his Word. When God sends this judgment – when God withholds his word and allows the darkness of Satan’s deceptions and evil to again prevail in the world, it is surely one of the most extreme of his preliminary judgments.

Suggested readings:
Isaiah 6:9,10
Jeremiah 23:33
Amos 8:11-12
Micah 3:5-7
Matthew 13:10-15
Romans 1:24,26,28

This terrible judgment occurs in history wherever humans beings become persistently and consistently hardened in their opposition to God. Persistent rejection of truth results in God withdrawing his truth for a season and allowing the darkness of the devil’s deceptions take over. At such times human expressions of evil increase co-relative to the decrease in awareness and acknowledgment of God. In our present time we can observe an expression of this darkness as postmodernism, an offspring of secular humanism, spreads its atheistic and sometimes anti-theistic influence of meaninglessness, hopelessness and despair around the world. In this perceived absence of God human evil thrives, life becomes more and more painful as moral and social standards deteriorate.

The very thing that Satan uses to foster his own agenda of opposition to God, God uses as an extreme instrument of his preliminary judgments.  

A note about the ‘Abyss’:
Where the NIV has ‘the Abyss’ the KJV has ‘the bottomless pit’. The Greek words are abussos, meaning ‘without depth’, that is, its depth cannot be measured, and phrear, meaning a hole [commonly a well or a pit]. What we have here is a great bottomless hole.

About this bottomless hole the Bible teaches:

Darkness issues out of it, and out of that darkness comes evil [Revelation 9:2-10].
Its ‘king’ is called ‘destruction’ and ‘destroyer’ [Revelation 9:11].
A ‘beast’ comes out of it with the intention of destroying the people of God [11:7].
This ‘beast’ will be destroyed [17:8].
‘Satan’, the ‘dragon’, was locked in the ‘Abyss’ for ‘a thousand years’ [20:3].

This ‘Abyss’, this bottomless hole, is not a real physical hole. You cannot confine a spirit being in a physical hole.  Rather, this bottomless hole is the darkness and emptiness of the absence or denial of God. This void is all that God outlawed by his ‘Do not eat …’ in Genesis 2:17. Out of this void issues forth all that is contrary to God.

B.2.2 The sixth trumpet
By the sixth trumpet we are introduced to a further manifestation of evil. A voice from heaven commands the angel with the sixth trumpet to ‘Release the four angels who are bound by the great river Euphrates.’ These are obviously evil angels, associates of Satan. They have at their command ‘200,000,000 mounted troops’.  Like the ‘locusts’ they appear invincible and destructive. But unlike the locusts, they are permitted to kill humans. Here is Satan and his minions, with God’s permission, actively engaged in the physical destruction of human beings. Hendriksen suggests that this sixth trumpet is about war – war waged by men against each other, but inspired to incredible evil by demonic hordes [‘the riders and horses’]. Again, God permits this intense expression of evil as a further extreme instrument of his preliminary judgment. So great is the horror of the final judgment that even these horrific preliminary judgments are let loose by God’s permission with a view to saving some from that final judgment. It is far better to suffer the pains of these preliminary judgments and be brought to repentance, than to be left at peace in this world and have to face the final judgment as an unredeemed sinner.

B.3 A perspective on the six trumpets
The prayers of the redeemed come before God through the mediation of Jesus Christ, our great High Priest. In response, the judgments of God fall upon the earth.

The six preliminary judgments are warnings of the final judgment that is yet to come. God’s intention in these judgments is compound:

[1] to express his condemnation of sin;
[2] to curtail the expression and impact of human sinfulness – necessary in a fallen world;
[3] to demonstrate that humans are both dependent on and accountable to him;
[4] to drive unbelievers to repentance and faith, so that they can escape the final judgment;
[5] to leave the unrepentant without excuse when the final judgment comes; and
[6] to vindicate his people.

Suggested readings:
Jeremiah 5:3
Ezekiel [where over 60 references to God’s judgment are followed by the words ‘then you will know that I am the LORD]
Amos 4:6-13
Matthew 24, where various physical calamities are precursors of the final judgment.
2Peter 3.

God’s judgments on the physical world began in Genesis 3 and will continue right up to the final judgment. Some are global, some are localized. The impact of these judgments is evident all over the world. It is impossible to obtain comprehensive statistics relating to God’s judgments, but it is an interesting fact that approximately one third of the earth’s land surface is currently desert. God has not left himself without witness: not only does creation shout aloud day and night of his glory, it also bears testimony to his judgments. We only have to look at our stricken world to know: God is a God who judges.

Suggested readings:
Genesis 3:17-19
Genesis 4:11-12
Genesis 5:29
Genesis 6-9
Romans 8:19-22

The fifth and sixth preliminary judgments, like the first four, can be traced throughout the history of the world from Genesis 3 onwards: man left to himself, without God and his Word, becomes increasingly dark in his thinking and evil in his actions. When the modifying influence of God’s truth is removed man is confronted with the horrible depths of his own wickedness.

Revelation 9:20-21 sums up the impact of the sixth preliminary judgment, and in doing so sums up the overall impact of the six different kinds of judgments on those who survived them:

[1] The rest of mankind did not stop worshipping demons and idols.
[2] The rest of mankind did not repent of their murders, magic arts, sexual immorality and theft.

In other words, humans still refused to worship God and humans still refused to obey God.

This gives us insight into the element of grace always included in the purpose of these preliminary judgments: they are opportunities for mankind to repent. They are God saying, as he said to rebellious Israel:

‘Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offences; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offences you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!’ [Ezekiel 18:30-32]

Although I have stressed that these preliminary judgments have been on-going since Genesis 3, it is also necessary to point out that, in terms of the fifth and sixth trumpets, there is what we might refer to as a final, ultimate, expression of these two preliminary judgments immediately leading up to the final judgment – a deeper darkness and a more extreme expression of human wickedness than all that have gone before.

Cautionary note: From Revelation 8 and 9 it seems clear that God’s preliminary judgments have been occurring throughout human history and are currently occurring. What we are not permitted to do is to state or infer that because one or the other of these judgments can be observed in a given place or city that place or city is more sinful that other places or cities. That is not what these judgments are about. Our perspective should be that of Jesus Christ recorded in Luke 13:1-5 – that these people on whom a ‘judgment’ falls are not more guilty than everyone else; rather, if strict justice were to be served out by God, everyone would experience the same judgment. All of these preliminary judgments scattered around the earth are warnings to all to repent, to return to God.

Summation to date:
We now have four images of Jesus Christ, which are simultaneously true and simultaneously in operation:

He is the glorious Son of Man present among his churches on earth [1-3].

He is the Lamb with the marks of slaughter upon him, by whom our sins are forgiven, the focus of universal praise [5].

He is the victorious rider on the white horse, conquering and bent on conquest [6].

He is ‘the angel with the golden censor’ – the Mediator, the High Priest – through whom we have permanent, present access to God [8].