Pastor Scott Andrews | November 6, 2022
Our Women’s Bible Study this Fall has covered the first half of the book of Exodus – which tells of the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt. If you’ve watched Charlton Heston or Disney’s Prince of Egypt – even better, if you’ve read Exodus, you probably know the story. Moses, an Israelite raised in Pharoah’s house, had to flee for killing an Egyptian. After forty years in the Midian desert, God called him from the burning bush and sent him back to Egypt to deliver the Israelites from slavery.
Now, God had many purposes in that deliverance. Certainly, to fulfill His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to make them into a great nation and give them the land of promise. You see, God had used the land of Egypt as sort of incubator to grow this family of 70 into a nation of over 2 million. But further, His intent in the deliverance was to punish the Egyptians for their mistreatment of the Israelites and to demonstrate to the Israelites and to the world the He was the true and the living God – vastly superior to any man-made god or idol.
Cue the ten plagues. When I was in my first year of Bible college, one of the best classes was OT survey. It was required for all students, making it a class of hundreds – but it was a lot to memorize. I remember late in the first semester, I walked into my dorm room, and one of my roommates was lying in his bed listening to music. I said, dude, are you ready for the OT exam tomorrow? He said yeah. I said okay, what are the ten plagues? He reeled them off without hesitating. I asked, how’d you do that?
Well, a little further background. We were both freshmen, and he had moved to school from Ohio leaving behind a girlfriend named Laura. But, while he was home for Thanksgiving, he connected with another girl named Debbie Dix. So he was in a quandary – which to choose? So, when I asked, how’d you do that? He said easy, “Will fickle Laura feel crushed because he likes Debbie Dix?” What? Water to blood, frogs, lice, flies, cattle disease, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, death. The next day, half the class was saying, “will fickle Laura feel crushed…” I don’t remember which one he chose – but I did suggest he stick with Laura since Debbie Dix stood for darkness and death.
Those ten plagues were all expressions of Yahweh’s superiority over the false gods of Egypt. Very interestingly, immediately after the deliverance, the Israelites traveled to Mt. Sinai where they received the Ten Commandments written on two tablets of stone. The first tablet contained the first few commandments found in Exodus 20:
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.
5 “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…
I’ve just demonstrated my infinite glory and superiority over the false gods and idols of Egypt. So don’t worship false gods. Then, 40 years later after wandering in the wilderness, Moses is preparing them to go into the land, which by the way, was filled with false gods – horrible gods – with child sacrifice and sexual immorality. In Deuteronomy 4, Moses is warning them: this is what will happen if you decide to worship their false gods:
23 “So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven image in the form of anything against which the Lord your God has commanded you.
24 “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
25 “When you become the father of children and children’s children and have remained long in the land, and act corruptly, and make an idol in the form of anything, and do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord your God so as to provoke Him to anger,
26 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed.
27 “The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord drives you.
28 “There you will serve gods, the work of man’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell.
Quite the warning. Did the Israelites listen and obey? No, they didn’t. Further, has humanity worshiped the true and the living God – the God of the Bible – or have they worshiped gods of their own making? Did you notice – our God is a jealous God – a consuming fire. While He is loving and patient, His patience has its limits. He eventually did send the Israelites into captivity – Assyria and Babylon – as promised. And He will also punish – pour out His wrath on those who refuse to repent and worship false gods – which we will find today, are ultimately demonic.
It’s an incredible irony, actually. That people will choose to pursue, indeed worship, that which will ultimately destroy them – bent on their destruction, in this life, and the life to come. That’s one of the main themes in the book of Revelation. God’s patience has its limits – and His sure and righteous judgment will come. And yet, the very sad truth is, people will still refuse to repent of their idolatry and worship those demonic false gods of destruction.
The purpose of the book is to encourage believers in the face of rising persecution. To remind them that God is sovereign, that He will avenge His children for the evil perpetrated against them, and His wrath will come. You see, we know the end of the book, and we will be vindicated, and God will reign supreme. So hold on, the best is yet to come. But woven throughout the text is a call to unbelievers – earth-dwellers – to repent. Now, in the letters to the seven churches, God called them to repent, too. They were being unduly impacted by their ungodly, polytheistic culture – and God called them to repent from their idolatry. We assume many did.
But this call to earth dwellers to repent seems to fall on deaf ears. Over and over, God will pour out His wrath on unbelievers through the demonic forces they worship – they will know it is God’s wrath, but they will still refuse to repent. That also reminds us of the book of Exodus.
God pours out ten plagues. And each time, Pharoah seems to throw in the towel – okay, you can go and worship your God. But each time, he changes his mind – he hardens his heart. Well, a few times he hardens his heart. Very interestingly, there are many times we read God hardens Pharoah’s heart. God hardened him in his hardness. Consider:
- Water to blood (7:14-25) – Pharoah’s heart was hardened. Now, the question here is left open – did Pharoah harden his own heart or did God harden it. We don’t know for sure, but it very well could be a divine passive – God hardened his heart. You say, oh no, God would never do that – hold onto your seats.
- Frogs (8:1-15) – Pharoah hardened his own heart.
- Lice/Gnats (8:16-19) – Again, Pharoah’s heart was hardened. Who hardened it?
- Flies/Insects (8:20-32) – Pharoah hardened his heart.
- Cattle/Livestock disease (9:1-7) – Pharoah’s heart was hardened.
- Boils (9:8-12) – it clearly says the Lord hardened Pharoah’s heart.
- Hail (9:13-15) – Pharoah hardened his heart.
- Locusts (10:1-20) – The Lord hardened Pharoah’s heart.
- Darkness (10:21-29) – The Lord hardened Pharoah’s heart.
- Death (11:1-12:36) – finally, Pharoah gives in, but then later, the Lord hardens Pharoah’s heart, and he pursues the Israelites, and is drowned in the Red Sea.
If I’m right, and when Pharoah’s heart was hardened is a divine passive, then seven times the Lord hardened Pharoah’s heart. Even if it was Pharoah who hardened his own heart, about half the time, he was ready to throw in the towel, and God said no, and hardened his heart. Why? Because God’s patience has its limits, and He was not done demonstrating His power and supremacy over the false gods of Egypt. He’s a jealous God, you see.
It’s why Romans 9, in speaking of this event, God says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and then speaking to Pharoah, For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth. In the Exodus account, several times we read God’s purposes in the plagues. We read things like:
Exodus 7:17 (Water to blood) – “By this you shall know that I am the LORD.”
Exodus 8:10 (Frogs) – “that you may know that there is no one like the LORD our God.”
Exodus 8:22 (Flies/Insects) – “in order that you may know that I, the LORD, am in the midst of the land”
Exodus 9:29 (Hail) – “that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth” and “in order to show you My power, and in order to proclaim My name in all the earth.”
Exodus 10:2 (Locusts) – “that you may tell your sons and grandsons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians…that you may know that I am the LORD.”
The point is, God hardened Pharoah’s heart at will to demonstrate to everyone that He alone is God, and there is no other. Further, to demonstrate that God’s patience has its limits – which is why today is the day of repentance and salvation, because there is coming a day when He says enough, and it will be too late. Revelation tells us that.
Revelation chapter 9. We are looking at the seven trumpet judgments in chapters 8 and 9. In the first four, God pours out His wrath on the earth – you’ll remember on the ecology: on trees and grass and seas and rivers and the sun and the moon and the stars. It will be quite inconvenient to people. In fact, when the waters become bitter, we read that many people will die. But the trumpet judgments have just begun.
The last time we were together, we looked at the fifth trumpet. The bottomless pit was opened, smoke poured out, and with it, locusts. Remember, many of these judgments should remind us of the ten plagues poured on Egypt – which ultimately ended in their deaths – so here. These locusts were hideous – they looked like horses prepared for battle, teeth like lions which speaks of their ferocity, faces and hair like people, breastplates of iron. But most terrible – tails like scorpions with which they will sting people for five months. But here’s the kicker – while people pursue death because of such torture, long for death, death will not come. It will elude them in their misery.
Bringing us to our text today – the sixth trumpet, where we move from torture to death. Revelation 9:13ff.
God ups the ante. In the fifth trumpet, they long for death, now, death comes. Not to everyone – not yet. But it will come and incredibly, one third of the earth’s inhabitants will die. In the fourth seal which revealed an ashen horse with Death as it’s rider and Hades following, authority was given them to kill one-fourth of the earth. Now, it is one-third. Let me do some math for you. I suggested with the fourth seal that one-fourth would today be about 2 billion people. Leaving 6 billion on the planet. Now, it’s one-third, which will be another 2 billion people. Meaning, by this time, half the people on planet earth will die. And incredibly, people will know that it is the wrath of God. Will they repent?
After the sixth seal, the people fled to the mountains and caves and called for the rocks to fall on them and hide them from the wrath of God and the Lamb. After that sixth seal, there is an interlude – God is preparing for the seven trumpets and the seven bowls of His wrath to be poured out. But first, the 144,000 – His people are sealed – they receive a mark on their foreheads so that they would be spared from God’s wrath. Meaning, all that we’re reading about now will not inflict the people of God. Oh, they are still persecuted and even killed by the earth dwellers – but they are spared from God’s wrath. You see, just like when God poured out His wrath on the Egyptians, His people – the Israelites in Goshen – were spared, so also here. When I see the blood, the mark on your foreheads, I will pass, I will pass over you.
Well, I’ve just begun page five, so I ought to give you the outline of the text:
- The Sounding of the Sixth Trumpet (13-14)
- The Release of the Four Angels and their Armies (15-16)
- The Description of the Horses and their Riders (17-19)
- The Response of the Remaining Earth Dwellers (20-21)
We’ll make our way quickly through the first three points, leading to our fourth point as a sobering, troubling conclusion.
In verse 13, we see the sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and John then heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God. The four horns are on the corners of the altar and symbolize the power of God. Now, we’ve seen this golden altar twice already – most agree it is the altar of incense which carries the prayers of the saints – to include the prayers of the martyrs in chapter 6, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” How long, Lord, until you vindicate us and avenge us – martyrs of the faith.
You’ll remember they were given white robes and told to rest until the number of martyrs was complete. It seems now – while there will be more martyrs in the book – that now is the time for God’s vengeance. In other words, the voice from the altar – likely the voice of an angel perhaps the angel of 8:3-5 who brought incense to this altar to rise with the prayers of the saints. Perhaps this angel, under God’s direction, likely in response to the prayers of the saints, issues a command. God is bringing the present age and creation to a close, rescuing His people, He ushers in the new heaven and the new earth. But deserved judgment awaits unbelievers.
The voice said to the angel who had just sounded the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” Lots of discussion about who these four angels are. The definite article the seems to indicate these are a specific four angels. Most, with whom I agree, say these are four fallen angels – why? They are bound until this time – only fallen angels are bound. Here, these specific four are released from their bondage to perform a certain task.
Notice further, they are bound in the Euphrates. The Euphrates is a 1700-mile river to the north and east of Israel in modern Iraq. Its headwaters are in the Turkish mountains to the north, and it goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2. It was said to be the furthest northeastern border of Israel and reached that far under Kings David and Solomon. But, and this is important, it became known as the dividing line between Israel and Assyria and later Babylon from which God would mete out His judgment on rebellious Israel. And so, Scripture sometimes speaks of the Euphrates overflowing its banks in judgment. That’s the picture we get here.
Which brings us to the second point, The Release of the Four Angels – again, actually fallen angels or demons, and their armies. And the four angels who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year – stop right there. That’s why the definite article is used of these angels – these had been specifically prepared for this time. And don’t miss – it was a specific time – known perhaps only to God – down to the hour, day, month and year. Meaning, God is sovereignly in control of the work of their hands. Satan is God’s Satan. The demons are God’s demons. They don’t do anything outside of God’s sovereign control. Yes, these fallen angels will pour out death and destruction – all under the control of God – when He says now.
This is troubling to some people – perhaps some of you. “You’re saying that God is the one who releases this evil destruction?” Yes, I am. Because there is a limit to His patience, indeed, His mercy. When the time comes for Him to say enough, it will be enough. For His glory, and for the good of His people. And He will use these pathetic minions to carry out His purposes.
And when the voice comes from the golden altar before His throne, release the angels from the Euphrates, they will be released, and they will kill one-third of mankind. While the text doesn’t say these are only the earth dwellers, we remember God’s people were sealed, and further, verses 20-21 indicate these were the earth dwellers, the ones still in rebellion.
Now suddenly in verse 16, these armies appear, seemingly out of nowhere. Most rightly assume these are the armies of the four fallen angels which indicate how they will kill so many people. Not only that, when we see their description in a moment, it is clear these are armies of demons. What is shocking is the number of the horsemen. The Greek says it is twice myriads of myriads. You may remember from chapter 5 where we saw myriads of myriads of angels surrounding the throne that a myriad was the largest number in the Roman system, and meant ten thousand. So myriads of myriads there meant at least a hundred million, but most agreed there it was meant to describe an uncountable number. So here, the number is twice uncountable.
It’s interesting that many want to say, twice ten thousand times ten thousand is 200 million to come up with a specific number – even my translation did. So, you’ve likely heard, the Chinese army to the east of the Euphrates numbers 200 million. Cue ominous music. Listen, it might be a specific number – after all, John affirms that he heard the number. But what he heard was twice myriads of myriads, and again it could mean – twice an uncountable number.
Besides, it’s not a human army. How do I know that? Look at the description of the riders and horses – this huge calvary of armies – in verses 17-19. John says, “And this is how I saw in the vision the horses and those who sat on them”:
First, the riders had breastplates the color of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone. It’s not clear whether it was the rider or the horses, or perhaps, probably both riders and horses had these breastplates of three colors – fire red, blue hyacinth, and yellow burning sulfur – that’s brimstone. That would be quite the awesome appearance.
Next, the heads of the horses are like the heads of lions – that’s weird, but we remember this is apocalyptic literature. It’s what John saw – he said that – this is what I saw in my vision. But these horses and riders with breastplates and heads like lions mean something. Likely here, they are ferocious, striking terror. For, out of their mouths spew three things corresponding to those colors – fire, smoke and brimstone. The great irony here is that the demons’ own destruction awaits in eternal torment, with the same descriptions of fire and brimstone in Revelation 19, 20.
As a result, one third of humanity was killed by these three plagues – the fire, the smoke, and the brimstone which proceeded from the mouths of the lion-like horses. As I’ve said all along, don’t try to draw this picture – nor try to assign it to some kind of modern warfare or weaponry. These are demonic forces. They don’t need tanks or helicopters. Take the image as a whole, and imagine the terror it would strike in the hearts of people – and the death and destruction as a demonstration of God’s wrath that they will bring.
John adds one final detail to the picture – the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails. The fire, smoke and brimstone coming from their mouths, but their tails are like – don’t miss the word like – are like serpents and have heads, and with them – like the locusts’ scorpion sting – with which they do harm. This is horror. This is God’s wrath poured out through demonic forces unleashed to do what they want to do. They’re bent on destruction. One author calls this the great reversal. In Luke 10, Jesus gives His followers authority to tread on snakes and scorpions – here, snakes and scorpions will torment and kill those who refuse to be His followers.
Bringing us to our fourth point and conclusion in verses 20-21 – The Response of the Remaining two-thirds of the earth dwellers, the unbelievers. Do they repent? The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands. This is incredible irony. They continue to worship the forces of evil which are bent on their destruction. Why will they do that? Paul says God’s kindness leads to repentance – and here, we see, even His wrath will not lead some – most – to repentance.
There are several things here from which they do not repent and in fact continue to pursue:
First is idolatry. They did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons – stop right there. Paul tells us in I Corinthians 10:19-20, “What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God.” This is a stunning statement – both by Paul and John as well as Moses in Deuteronomy 32 – that worship of false gods is ultimately worship of demons. They want to be worshiped, and distract you from the worship of the true God through Jesus – which will bring you to utter ruin.
Further, they worship idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. Moses said that in Deuteronomy 4. Psalm 115 says:
3 But our God is in the heavens;
He does whatever He pleases.
4 Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of man’s hands.
5 They have mouths, but they cannot speak;
They have eyes, but they cannot see;
6 They have ears, but they cannot hear;
They have noses, but they cannot smell;
7 They have hands, but they cannot feel;
They have feet, but they cannot walk;
They cannot make a sound with their throat.
8 Those who make them will become like them,
Everyone who trusts in them.
Their worshipers, too, lose all sensibility and understanding. Not only do they not repent of their idolatry – they continue in it. They pursue it, to their utter destruction. And they do not repent of four other things that go right along with idolatry, three of which are found in the Ten Commandments: they do not repent of their murders, their sorceries (which are all the dark, magic arts and what goes with it), their immorality (because sexual immorality and vice goes with idolatry) and their thefts. It’s all a package deal.
My heart is heavy this morning. Robert Mounce writes of this text:
“Nowhere will you find a more accurate picture of sinful humanity pressed to the extreme. One would think that the terrors of God’s wrath would bring rebels to their knees. No so. Past the point of no return, they respond to great punishment with increased rebellion. Such is sinful nature untouched and unmoved by the mercies of God.”
If this text teaches anything, it teaches that when God’s wrath is poured out on humanity – and they know it’s God’s wrath – they still will not repent. They will choose to worship idols of their own making – demonically inspired. They will choose their sin rather than the forgiveness offered through the work of Christ. There is coming a day when God will say, enough. You say, but we don’t worship idols today – little fat Buddhas. Grant Osborne writes:
“By definition idolatry is turning an earthly thing into a god and worshiping it rather than the God of creation. Whatever we place ahead of God in our lives is an idol. Therefore, the modern world is replete with idols: money, possession, power, pleasure, sex, success, fame, drugs. These are all tools of Satan, and there are countless stories in which these very things have tortured and killed those who pursue them.” And yet many continue to pursue them.
You say, but I don’t believe this, and I choose to live for myself and my sinful choices. We see the word repent several times in chapters 2 and 3 as Jesus calls the church to repent. After those chapters, the word only appears here and twice in chapter 16 – when the earth dwellers refuse to repent and give God glory. Why? It is to your destruction. My heartfelt plea is for you to repent before it is too late.