Jesus Wins! – Part 18: The Gates of Hell

// Jesus Wins! – Part 18: The Gates of Hell

 Jesus Wins! – Part 18: The Gates of Hell

Rev. 9

13 Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”

9 And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. He 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. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. 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. They 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. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.

In 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, their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. 10 They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. 11 They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.

12 The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come.

13 Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, 14 saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15 So 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. 16 The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. 17 And 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. 18 By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. 19 For 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.

20 The 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, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. [1]

So far in our walk through Revelation, we have read 7 prophecies focusing on 7 churches encouraging them to pursue the whole Christ rather than seeking to mimic some of the benefits he freely gives (love, security, doctrinal purity, perseverance in witness and worship, etc.). We entered with John through heaven’s open door and saw the freshly-slaughtered-but-living Lion-Lamb break open 7 seals on God’s Last Will and Testament for creation, his great covenant plan of blessing and judgment.

We saw how the broken seals reflected God’s ongoing judgment of sin from the perspective of Christians on earth who, though they suffer along with (and at the hands of) the earth-dwellers, never lose their heavenly citizenship. We are sealed, numbered, and arrayed for holy war which we fight through corporate worship as God’s Word is preached, prayed, sung, and portrayed in the sacraments. We don’t fight through political maneuvering. We put on the whole armor of God: belts of truth, breastplates of righteousness, the gospel of peace as combat boots, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the Bible as the sword of the Spirit, and prayer always. Then we stand against the schemes of the devil.[2]

The four trumpets we heard last week gave us a picture of the same judgment as the seals, but from a different camera angle. The 7 seals focused more on believers’ trials and tribulations at the hands of the earth-dwellers. The 7 trumpets focus on the same judgments of God, but now show them to be events that harden the hearts of unbelievers just like the plagues upon Egypt hardened the hearts of Pharaoh and his demon-idol worshipping countrymen. The emphasis of the 7 trumpets is on God’s victory over demon-idols and idol worshippers. The first 4 trumpets focused on God’s use of environmental disasters as judgments: droughts, famines, and storms that bring destruction on earthly superpowers – the City of Man that opposes and oppresses the City of God.

Then, there is a short break in the sounding of the trumpets as John sees an eagle (vulture) hovering over its prey in the City of Man. The eagle pronounces the 3-fold prophetic curse of God. “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth….”[3] It is the announcement that the earth-dwellers (those who dwell on the earth: 3:10; 6:10; 13:8, 12, 14; 14:6-11; 17:2, 8) are to be fully and completely judged for their sins. The lost are truly lost and completely doomed since they are given over to their hard hearts and their stubborn pursuit of their idol of personal happiness.

THE FIRST WOE (9:1-12)

There is no disagreement among students of Revelation chapter 9 contains some strange imagery. We must remember this letter was originally sent out to the saints of Roman Asia at the turn of the 1st century A.D. and it must have relevance to them as well as to us. So, interpretations that the 5th trumpet describes military attack helicopters deployed by present-day China against the modern nation-state of Israel would have little value to oppressed believers in John’s day.[4] I would argue it has little value for modern American believers as well. As technologically advanced as they are, it’s highly doubtful the Chinese will discover a way to build military weapons in the bottomless pit of the Abyss where demons are kept.

As we have noted repeatedly, John paints with colors from the Old Testament and he uses two sources to explain the 5th trumpet. He’s not describing literal features of the demons because he uses the word “like” eight times. The first color is Exodus 10:13-15 where God sent a plague of locust upon Egypt. Remember, this vision of judgment by trumpets is drawn primarily from the plagues God poured out on Egypt to harden the hearts of Pharaoh and his people. The other OT color comes from Joel 2:1-11 where God sent locusts to devastate Israel for their idol worship. Joel described the locusts:

…like war horses they run. / As with the rumbling of chariots, / they leap on the tops of the mountains, / like the crackling of a flame of fire / devouring the stubble, / like a powerful army /drawn up for battle. [5]

The difference between those OT passages of literal locust plagues and Revelation 9 is that John is describing a demonic invasion unleashed by God through the agency of Satan, to whom John refers as a star fallen from heaven to earth (Lk. 10:17-20; 12:9). [6] The gates of the hell are opened in these two trumpet blasts. John devotes five substantial and highly-descriptive paragraphs to these visions – far more than the previous four trumpets combined. Why? He devotes so much attention to these events because he is trying to convey the inconceivable severity of these dangerous and destructive demonic plagues unleashed on the world.[7]

The 5th and 6th trumpets explain why Roman authorities long to torture Jesus followers. They explain why so many unbelievers hate God and his people. They explain why people give themselves over to destructive addictions and dangerous, even murderous, activities. The angel of the Abyss is called Destroyer because his and his army’s passion is to destroy God’s image bearers, saved and unsaved alike. Remember, just like in the 7 Seals, believers suffer both alongside and at the hands of unbelievers. But, they are sealed with heavenly citizenship so that demonic forces cannot destroy their salvation. In that sense, “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.”[8]

These demons pour out of the gates of hell with impenetrable armor and the power to cause pain like scorpions. Five months is the life cycle of a locust and it emphasizes that these demons, unlike the actual insects, are fully active and fully destructive during the entire time God allows them out of the Abyss. There is no buildup to their swarm, like actual locusts. There is no letup to their swarm. It does not come in waves like the plant-devouring grasshoppers. It is unrelenting.

In verse 7 John says these demons were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces.[9] These creatures have an air of importance and majesty with their golden crowns. They offer the idol of “somebody-ness” to those who long for their own importance and their own idea of “the good life.” They offer the illusion of control to the helpless. They have human faces because they offer us rationalizations for our ungodly desires. “We’re just like you. Your desires are perfectly human, perfectly natural. Seek your own happiness. Follow your bliss. It’s a perfectly ordinary thing to do. Eat this fruit and control your own destiny.

In verse 8 John sees “their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth….”[10] Demons offer up sin as an alluring, glorious beauty:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.[11]

The demons appear victorious, important, and alluring. They are not the spooky, scratchy shadows and whispers of some ghost hunting TV show. Their influence seems as natural, as human, as reasonable as choosing a pretty, healthy-looking fruit. But the demon’s teeth are predator’s teeth that devour their prey:

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And …the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.[12]

Believers in the early Church were not nearly as alarmed at the thought of bearing witness for Jesus through their deaths as they were alarmed at the thought of being deceived by the wisdom of this world that pours out of the mouth of the evil one and his vast demon army. “Make your own choices. Pursue your own happiness. Seek your own bliss. Follow your heart. Find your own truth within. You need to take care of you. Take control of your circumstances. Solve your own problems your own way.

THE SECOND WOE

When the 6th trumpet blows, John sees in the second woe of the eagle, a great demon army charging across the Euphrates river. They come from the plains of Shinar, the place of the Tower of Babel and the city of Babylon. The plains of Shinar are the OT symbol of worldly power aligned against God and his people. John sees what is behind the national idols of political and military might and world domination in the City of Man. Behind the idolatry of national power and nation-building is an army of demons greater than any human armed forces ever assembled. And these demons don’t bring mere spiritual torment. They bring the death and destruction of body and soul. This is unbridled demonic activity on a worldwide scale.

Something Paul saw in his years of ministry was that behind every idol humans pursued were demons promising personal happiness and control of our own destinies and the gaining of our desires. But he taught that idolatry was not confined to worshipping the stars, the universe, statues, or the Roman pantheon. He wrote in Col. 3:5 that “covetousness …is idolatry.” In other words, whatever we covet/desire to make us happy is an idol. What is an idol? An idol is ANYTHING I want, ANYTHING I do, ANYTHING I acquire, ANYTHING I pursue to bring me a sense of personal happiness, personal control over my situation, or the supposed ability to manipulate my world for my desired outcome. An idol is anything that steals away our dependence upon Christ and his benefits. It is a false religion because it is the religion of me. It is devil worship disguised as self-worship.

John knew this. He had walked with Jesus and seen the demonic realm torturing poor lost souls in every possible way. He ended his last great sermon to his congregation in Ephesus with this benediction: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” Behind every idol is the demonic realm where fierce and powerful creatures slobber at the chance to rip apart anyone who seeks the benefits of Christ without Christ himself.

In verses 20-21, John writes these sad and chilling words:

20 The 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, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. [13]

Can you see what John is saying? When we worship ourselves, our wants, our demands, our own kingdoms of self and our pursuit of personal happiness apart from Christ, WE ARE WORSHIPPING DEMONS. We covet. Coveting is idolatry. Idolatry is the worship of demons. That which we worship is that with which we fellowship. When you strive to the master of your fate and the captain of your soul, you fellowship with creatures bent on destroying every aspect and area of your life.

When Adam and Eve at the fruit God had forbidden, they ate a sacramental meal of fellowship with Satan and the demonic realm. This is why John preached to his Ephesian congregation, “…the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.[14] If you are trusting into the sacrificial, blood-shedding death and the perfectly-lived life of the resurrected Christ, your citizenship in heaven is sealed. One day you stand with the Lion-Lamb in judgment over the devil and his demons. That’s why they hate you. That’s why they lure you to seek your own happiness at any cost. It’s also why the demonic realm can do nothing to you without the direct authority of your God and Savior.

They cannot have your soul. But when you give yourself over to coveting your own happiness, your own freedom, your own way, to controlling your own destiny and writing your own story, then you are eating a sacramental meal with the enemy and his demons. And they can and will destroy everything but your eternal security if the Lord allows them. And the Lord often turns us over to our own wants and desires. Giving you over to your wants is God’s way of disciplining his children.

Paul saw this as the ultimate means of delivering believers so hard-hearted they made themselves beyond the reach of their church. He counseled the elders at Corinth regarding a man given-over to demon worship through sexual immorality:

deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.[15]

It’s possible for believers to so give themselves over to the hard-hearted worship of idolatrous and demonic things, that their only delivery comes through allowing the devil to completely destroy their earthly lives, so they might come into the eternal protection of the Lamb.

The GOOD NEWS is that every week when you come to worship, God shows up to serve you through his Word preached, prayed, sung, and portrayed in the sacraments. Every week you receive your own free exorcism. Every week you get a re-set, a do-over, an opportunity to re-focus on being Jesus-dependent rather than worshipping yourself as a self-dependent. Every week we confess our sins together. Every week we receive absolution in the words of pardon. Every week we feast on Christ to strengthen our stand against the schemes of the evil one. Every week we fight a holy war together.

The good news is that God restores what he has allowed Satan to destroy. God showed up the devil by raising up Adam from demon-worshipping death to life in the Promised Seed. God destroyed and raised up his own son, Jesus the Promised Seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15). The devil can and will bring harm (see: Stephen, Paul, Sampson, etc.) but you are sealed from losing your salvation. Idol worship ripples through the family, the worksite, the congregation. Everyone around you suffers the consequences of YOUR idol worship. But every week, Messiah Jesus offers to make whole what you and the devil have broken. So, Paul wrote to the Ephesian church John would later pastor:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [16]

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 8:13–9:21.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Eph 6:11.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 8:13.

[4] Phillips, quoting Hal Lindsey’s Apocalypse Code, 286.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Joe 2:4–5.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 9:1.

[7] Kistemaker and Hendriksen, 284.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 9:4.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 9:7.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 9:8.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ge 3:6.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ge 3:7–8.

[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 9:20–21.

[14] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 1 Jn 5:19.

[15] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 1 Co 5:4–5.

[16] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Eph 2:1–10.

By | 2018-03-25T23:12:23+00:00 March 25th, 2018|blog|0 Comments

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