The Three Woes (Revelation 9)

What sacrifice am I counting on to be right with God?

In recent weeks the world has had its eye on North Korea.  With Napolean-esque bravado, the tiny country’s leader, Kim Jong-un is following a long history of bold rhetoric, this time with ongoing threats against the U.S. Almost every day we hear of how the US is going to be brought to its knees by the military might and nuclear arsenal of the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).  There’s a street-fight philosophy that says knock the biggest guy out first and you’ve established your reputation.  But does the country mean it this time?  Do they really mean to follow through on their intimidations?  Does the world need to brace itself for the promised woes that will be brought down on the US by Kim Jong-un?   

Who knows?  But, in other news, when it comes to the promises in the final trumpet judgments we can be sure of their prescribed destruction.  In other words, the 3 final Trumpets, numbers 5, 6 and 7, also known as the Three Woes, are not empty threats.  These are assured destruction.  

 

The First Woe (9:1-12)

With the sound of the 5th Trumpet the first woe occurs:  the release of the demon locusts.

An angel descends from the skies to the earth.  Some believe this angel is Satan.  He could be, but, I don’t think we can be sure.  Remember God is employing many many angels during this time so it could be an angel other than Satan who is assigned this role.  

Regardless, this angel is given a key and therefore the authority to open a place called the Abyss.  In the Greek “Abyss” literally means “bottomless pit”.  Woe to anyone who is in the Abyss, and woe to the world if the evil things in it are ever let out.  The Abyss is an unimaginable place of horror.  When Jesus confronted the demoniac in Luke 8 the thousands of demons possessing the one man shrieked and begged Jesus over and over again not to sent them to the Abyss.  Peter says in his second letter that there are some demons who rebelled with Satan against God and have been held in dungeons ever since – quite possibly referring to the Abyss.  These are a class of demons of an especially nasty sort.  

So the shaft is unlocked.  And an enormous plume of smoke belches up into the sky, like a massive volcanic eruption, or like a mushroom cloud from a Mother of All Nuclear Bombs.  There is so much smoke that the sky turns dark and the light of the sun doesn’t penetrate anywhere on the earth.  Ominous and foreboding are the words that come to mind.  And they should because of what happens next.  

While people will be gazing up at the sight out of that skyscraper of smoke menacing demon locusts will materialize.  Run and hide.  We learn four things about these demon locusts.

First, they are sent to torture.  Read verses 3, 5 and 10.  They are given power to torture people with the pain from their scorpion like tails.  But, they are not given power to kill.  For five months they will race around the earth chasing every person to sting them with their scorpion tails.  Pandemonium.  It reminds me of movie scenes where villages are raided and you see some people lying on the ground in agony and others fleeing.  

As if this is not bad enough, God will not permit anyone to die from this pain for those five months.  California legislators are proposing a $200M net to be built along the Golden Gate Bridge.  The purpose:  to catch those who don’t want to live and keep them from dying.  The giant net would catch those leaping the 200’ height to end their life.  

During the 5th Trumpet judgment, people will want death, but it will be kept from them.  They will see it as the only escape from the suffering.  We might say, they will be dying to die.  But, in cold, matter of fact language that seem to actually cause more fear just reading it, the text says, “they will seek death, but death will elude them.”  God will put death on vacation for 5 months.  He will not be allowed to visit anyone on earth.  

Second, certain people they cannot touch.  Read verse 4.  Those with the seal of God on their foreheads will be off limits to these demon-locusts.  Who has the seal of God on their foreheads?  We learned in chapter 7 that 144,000 Jews will be sealed on their foreheads with the seal of the living God.  These Jews – 12,000 from the 12 Tribes of Israel – will be sealed.

Will anyone else?  It seems there will be others as well who will turn to Jesus during the Tribulation.  We saw also in Revelation 7 the great multitudes from every nation around the world.  It doesn’t say they were sealed, but, since this judgment is meant for those who reject Jesus, it seems logical to say they would be exempt from the stinging power of these demon-locusts.

Those who are sealed, suffering already at the hands of the antichrist and his followers, will be exempt from the suffering inflicted by these creatures.  For five months they will be bystanders watching everyone else’s agony.  

Third, they look like nothing you’ve ever seen before.  The appearance of these demon-locusts is described to us and we can only try to put the picture together in our minds.  Read verses 7-10.  

They seem composed of different parts of creatures we’re familiar with, but, their final assembled appearance is foreign.  And frightening.  As if to maximize fear the sight of these locust-creatures alone is terrorizing enough.  And that is what they are:  inter-dimensional terrorists, released from their world into ours to terrorize mankind.

Fourth, they are a kingdom.   Read verse 11.  These demon-locusts are a kingdom of demons with a king over them.  Just as in our world we have many nations and each has its own leader, so in the other world there are kingdoms and each with its own leader.  This is what is meant when the Bible says there are powers, thrones, dominions, principalities in the heavenly realms.  Groups of angelic beings are governed by angelic kings.  Over all demonic kings is Satan.  One such mighty demonic king is Abaddon, or Apollyon.  He is the ruler of the Abyss.  He and his kingdom have been banished to the Abyss ever since they rebelled against God along with Satan.  Think about that, I suggest that he was the king over these creatures before they rebelled.  That means that God took that whole nation of demon-locusts with their leader Abaddon and immediately threw them into the Abyss.  Not some, but all of them.  They must have rebelled in an especially despicable way.

For five months people will suffer at the hands of this demonic kingdom.  

 

The Second Woe (9:13-21)

For five months during the first woe – the 5th Trumpet – man will seek desperately for death and not find it.  But his wish will be granted when the 6th trumpet blasts and the 2nd woe is executed.  This 2nd Woe, this 6th Trumpet Judgment will marshal another army against the world.  What do we learn of this army?

First, it is led by 4 angelic generals.  Notice verses 13-15a.  The army of demon-locusts were led by Abaddon.  This army of horses and riders during the 2nd Woe will be led by 4 specific angels.  

Their location is their holding cell “in the Euphrates river”.  

Their time is “this very hour and day and month and year” during the 6th Trumpet Judgment.  

Their purpose will be to kill many on the earth.  

Their authority comes from God in heaven.  You will notice that their release is authorized by the voice coming out of the golden altar in heaven.  This golden altar is once again involved in the judgments.  The martyred saints prayed under this altar for God to judge the people on earth (6:10).  Fire was taken from this altar and hurled on the earth causing terrible lightning, thunder and earthquakes (8:5).  And here a voice coming from this altar is authorizing the freedom of these 4 angels from the Euphrates river so they can go and kill many on the earth.

Why would this altar be in such a central role to what’s going on?  Well think for a moment of what an altar is and the purpose it serves.  It is where sacrifices are made to God and it is how man appeases God.  Man has aroused God’s wrath by his sin and God demands justice.  Death is the penalty for sinning against God because God is holy and must be treated holy and He expects man to act holy.  If not, then man must die.  But God is merciful and the idea of a sacrifice, a substitute for man is wrapped up in the altar.  Give something else over to die for you – in your place.  In Israel lambs, goats, doves, bulls and so on were offered.  

It all started actually in the garden, something we might have missed.  Adam and Eve sinned and afterwards God determined that the coverings they made for themselves were insufficient.  So he made them clothing from an animal skin.  They felt shame after their sin and felt the need to cover themselves.  God provided coverings (clothing) for them that was sufficient in His judgment.  What is not stated but was necessary to provide that covering for their shame was the killing of some animal in order to get that clothing He gave to them.  The first sacrifice for the sin of man.  The first time the death of another was made to atone for the sin of man.  Thus the institution of sacrifice to God, altars and so on began.  

Now lets ask ourselves the question today:  how are my sins atoned for today?  What sacrifice am I counting on to be right with God?  Are you counting on the sacrificial way you live your life to make you right with God?  Like – giving your time, your energy and your money to church or charities?  Are you giving up a lot to be religious, spiritual, and moral?  That takes sacrifice for sure, but, its not the sacrifice God accepts to remove your sin.  There is only one sacrifice where you can be made right with God.  There is only one offering that can take your sins away from you forever.  It’s the offering Jesus made for you.  It’s the sacrifice He made when He gave His own life for your sins.  His cross was the altar and His death was His offering.  For you.  You must be counting on that sacrifice so your sins will not be counted against you.

Are these holy angels or demonic angels?  It doesn’t say they are demonic but it seems to make the most sense.  For one reason, it says they are “bound” in the Euphrates river.  Holy angels are not incarcerated.  

It may seem strange to think God would employ demons for His purposes but its not.  We’ve seen Him do it in Biblical history.  We just saw Him use the demon-locusts from the Abyss.  He allowed Satan to torment Job, to tempt Peter and possess Judas.  All of these were for God’s ultimate purposes He was working out.  He judged King Saul in Israel by sending an evil spirit to torment him after Saul had rebelled against God.  God used evil nations to punish Israel when Israel rejected God and turned to wickedness.  

Here we are now, watching a world gone wild, spitting in the Creator’s face, and so, God will use one evil creature against another evil creature.  Perfectly just.  

Point:  those who are evil can expect no protection from other evil agents.  This evil world has no right to kind treatment from God or any right to be exempt from the assaults of demonic forces.  

Second, these angels are going to kill one-third of the population on earth (v15b, 18).  With the successful campaign of this massive demonic army the death toll since the Tribulation began will have added up to more than half of the population on earth.  During the 4th Seal judgment we were told that one-fourth (25%) of the earth’s population was going to be killed.  Now a third will be killed.  That doesn’t even count the deaths from other famines, wars and diseases mentioned so far.  

Third, these angels will lead an army of 200M soldiers (Read v16).  Combining the 10 largest armies in the world today there are only a little over 15 million soldiers total on earth.  If you combined all the armies in the world today this angelic army would be about 10 times bigger!  The power and the size will dwarf human might.

Fourth, the army led by these angels will be ferocious (Read v17-19).  Look at their appearance.  Again, I believe it is best to understand these creatures as they are described.  Some teachers go to great lengths to say these are references to modern day or futuristic soldiers, equipment and weapons.  But these are are supernatural creatures, not from this realm – although they will invade it during the 6th trumpet.  We are seeing many strange beings in this book (the 4 Living Creatures and the Demon-Locusts for instance.  Later we’ll be seeing some Demon Frogs).  Again, God is judging this earth, and He is leveraging angelic powers to carry out His judgments.

Notice we are told how one-third of the people on the earth will die:  by fire, smoke and sulfur.  Those three will come from the mouths of the horses, the horses with lion-like heads.  

 

The Third Woe (11:15-19)

Why is this a woe?  Because the world has rejected Jesus and rebelled against God’s authority and here is the reign and authority of Jesus descending from heaven down on the earth and crushing all those who hated Him.  

The details of which we will cover several weeks from now.

 

Conclusion

Discussing all this can be quite despairing.  Let us close with hope.  The Bible says that you can escape this horrible Tribulation that is coming on the world someday.  You can escape it by belonging to Jesus.  Anyone who belongs to Him He will come and take away from the earth before all this happens.

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