Rev. 13:8 – All those who live on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slaughtered. (HCSB)
The sovereignty of God and the freedom of human beings are two seemingly irreconcilable biblical truths. Just as Satan acts freely to empower a beast who acts freely, those who worship these evil beings act freely as well. They make choices for which they are held accountable, and unbelievers will join Satan, the beast and the false prophet in the lake of fire. At the same time, their deeds are known to God and always have been known by Him, just as the willful acts of believers always have been in God’s view.
While some argue that God merely foresees the faith of the righteous and the rebellion of the unrighteous, and others contend that God has determined all things (without becoming the Author of sin or the Creator of a fixed game), it appears the ways of God are beyond human understanding. If God can allow Satan and his minions to slaughter countless Christians for no other reason than their staunch faith in His Son, and through these sinful acts enable believers to conquer the dragon by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, can He not also allow unbelievers to worship a false Messiah and vindicate Himself in their judgment?
We do God a disservice when we accuse Him either of dispassionate sovereignty or spineless foreknowledge. He is sovereign. He knows all things. He has all power and authority. And in the midst of this mind-boggling transcendence, He created people in His image and entrusted them with the ability to make choices for which they are held responsible. Though the beast-worshiping unbelievers of Revelation 13 are excluded from the Lamb’s book of life, they would never have signed their names anyway – even if the Son of God opened the pages Himself and offered them a pen.
Previously: The seventh seal – Revelation 8:1-6
Rev. 8:7 – The first [angel] blew his trumpet, and hail and fire, mixed with blood, were hurled to the earth. So a third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up (HCSB).
The four angels standing at the four corners of the earth are prevented from harming “the earth or the sea or the trees” until the 144,000 are sealed (Rev. 7:2-3). But now, with the sounding of the first and second trumpets, a third of the earth and trees are burned up, and a third of the sea becomes blood. The hiatus is over and massive destruction of the sin-cursed world begins to take place.
Are we to believe that hail, fire and blood are literally mixed and hurled to the earth? What’s the significance of “a third,” a recurring fraction in the first four trumpet judgments? How can “all” the green grass be burned in the first trumpet judgment if the “locusts” that ascend out of the abyss are prevented from harming the grass in the fifth judgment? And do the trumpet judgments follow the seal judgments chronologically or run concurrently with them? Let’s take a closer look.
The first angel blew his trumpet
The trumpet employed by each angel in this series of judgments is the shofar, or ram’s horn, and is translated so in the Complete Jewish Bible. This horn has special significance for Israel. Loud blasts of the shofar accompany the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai and cause the people to tremble (Ex. 20:18). The shofar is incorporated into the Jewish feasts of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, or Atonement. Some Bible commentators believe the coming rapture of the church will be associated with Rosh Hashanah and the trumpets described in 1 Cor. 15:52 and 1 Thess. 4:16. They also believe the trumpets of Yom Kippur will herald national judgment on Israel, leading many Jews to receive Jesus as Messiah during the Tribulation.
David H. Stern writes, “The idea that the Great Judgment of the Last Days is heralded by blasts on the shofar has its roots in the Tanakh [Old Testament]. ‘YHVH [Yahweh; God] will be seen over them, his arrow will go forth like lightning, and Adonai YHVH will sound the shofar and will move in the storm winds of the south…. And YHVH their God will save them on that day as the flock of his people (Zech. 9:14, 16)” (Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 814).
Additionally, the shofar is to be sounded on the Day of Atonement in the Year of Jubilee, every 50th year, to signal the release of slaves and debt. For Christians, this may be seen as symbolic of Christ’s work on our behalf, redeeming us from the slave market of sin and paying our sin debt with His blood. His finished work on the cross frees us from the debtor’s prison of sin.
Whatever the significance of the shofar in the case of the trumpet judgments, its sounding precedes unprecedented acts of God upon the earth (the first four trumpet judgments) and its wicked people (the last three trumpet judgments).
Hail and fire, mixed with blood
After the angel sounds the first trumpet, John sees hail and fire, mixed with blood, hurled to the earth. R. Jamieson, A.R. Fausset and D. Brown note there is a common feature in the first four trumpets; the judgments affect natural objects – the earth, trees, grass, the sea, rivers, fountains, the light of the sun, moon and stars. But the last three trumpet judgments affect men’s lives with pain, death and hell (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Re 8:7).
Further, the language used to describe these judgments is drawn from the plagues of Egypt, with five or six out of the 10 plagues corresponding to trumpet judgments: hail, fire (Ex. 9:24), water turning to blood (Ex. 7:19), darkness (Ex. 10:21), locusts (Ex. 10:12), and perhaps death (Rev. 9:18).
If we step back a little, we can see a pattern in all three sets of judgments – the seals, trumpets, and bowls. As the Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times notes, “In all three series of seven, the first four judgments focus on the earth, while the last three are more cosmic in nature. The seals and trumpets follow a 4+2+1 pattern, while the bowls follow a 4+3 pattern. There is an interlude between the sixth and seventh seals and the sixth and seventh trumpets, but no interlude between the sixth and seventh bowls as the pace becomes too intense” (p. 405).
It’s also important to note that some commentators see these three sets of judgments playing out in chronological order – the seals first, followed by the trumpets and, finally, the bowls – while others see them as repeating and overlapping, especially since each series culminates at the end of time with a storm-earthquake. One’s view of the end times (historical, for example, or futurist) no doubt influences a belief in either consecutive or overlapping series of judgments, or perhaps it’s the other way around. In any case, it is difficult to overlook the similarities between the three sets of judgments.
Grant Osborne, in his book Revelation, identifies seven major themes in the three judgment series:
- These judgments are poured out on unbelievers, while believers are protected (Rev. 3:10; 7:1-8; 9:4; 16:2).
- These judgments are God’s response to the prayers of the saints for justice and vengeance (5:8; 6:9-11; 8:3-5).
- The sovereignty of God is emphasized throughout.
- God does not command evil to do His will; He simply allows it to operate.
- Unbelievers respond by refusing to repent and by cursing God, thus demonstrating depravity (9:20-21; 16:9, 11).
- These judgments are acts of mercy, providing a final opportunity to repent (9:20; 14:6-7; 16:9, 11).
- There is a progressive dismantling of creation, preparing for the final consummation.
As for the first trumpet, it no doubt ushers in a terrible storm, but commentators are divided as to what that storm symbolizes. Some argue this is a symbolic storm of heresies; others, a mixture of doctrinal errors such as the Arian heresy that denied the deity of Christ; or a tempest of war falling on the state. In any case, the hail and fire, mingled with blood, remind us of the seventh plague God sends against Egypt (Ex. 9:18-26). The prophet Joel also promises blood and fire in the last days (Joel 2:30).
Although it’s difficult to picture hail and fire mixed with blood, imagine the apostle John, from his first-century perspective, trying to describe events that are perhaps centuries in the future. If the futurist perspective is correct, for example, how is John to describe 21st century (or later) warfare and weapons? Could the locusts be attack helicopters, and the burning mountain falling into the sea a nuclear warhead? We simply do not know.
As we read these descriptions of hail and fire mixed with blood, strange-looking locusts, and blazing mountains falling from the sky, we are well advised to cling to the clear teachings of each passage and be willing to be proven wrong on our assumptions about apocalyptic details. For example, it is clear that God is bringing judgment to bear upon the earth; that much suffering ensues; that the wicked refuse to repent; that the Lamb is in control; that His people are protected; and that the earth is being prepared for what Jesus called “the regeneration” (Matt. 19:28 KJV) and what Peter referred to as “new heavens and a new earth” (2 Peter 3:13).
Next: A third of the earth was burned up (first trumpet continued): Rev. 8:7
Rev. 4:2-3 — Immediately I was in the Spirit, and there in heaven a throne was set. One was seated on the throne, and the One seated looked like jasper and carnelian stone. A rainbow that looked like an emerald surrounded the throne (HCSB).
The words “throne” or “thrones” are used 13 times in Revelation 4 and more than 40 times throughout the book. Eleven times in this chapter we are told of a single throne upon which “One” sits. This One “lives forever and ever” and is the “Lord God, the Almighty, who was, who is, and who is coming” (vv. 8-9).
A throne signifies authority but it does not necessarily tell us the magnitude or quality of that authority. Throughout scripture we see rulers who are good or evil, strong or weak, benevolent or malevolent. It is not the throne that makes the ruler good or evil; it is the ruler who makes the throne such. In the case of John’s vision, we are assured that the One seated on the throne is the Creator and sovereign Ruler of the universe. He is “worthy to receive glory and honor and power” (v. 11). And He is freely and lovingly worshiped by angelic creatures and humans alike, not fearfully deified like pagan gods.
Warren Wiersbe writes, “No matter what may happen on earth, God is on His throne and is in complete control. Various teachers interpret Revelation in different ways, but all agree that John is emphasizing the glory and sovereignty of God. What an encouragement that would be to the suffering saints of John’s day and of every age in history” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Re 4:1).
We are told in verse 3 that the One seated on the throne looks like “jasper and carnelian stone.” Surrounding the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. John’s description is similar to that of Isaiah (Isa. 6:1-6) and Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:26-28). In Isaiah, we are told of the seraphim, the six-winged angelic beings who appear to be the same as John’s “living creatures.” The Lord is on His throne, high and lifted up. In Ezekiel, we see a throne like sapphire and are given a sketchy description of the Lord who is enthroned in brightness and glory. Both Isaiah and Ezekiel are overwhelmed. Isaiah declares, “Woe is me, for I am ruined” (Isa. 6:5), while Ezekiel falls face down at the appearance of the Lord’s blazing glory.
Interestingly, John does not tell us his reaction to this vision of the throne room, although after His initial encounter with Jesus in Revelation 1 he falls at His feet “like a dead man” (Rev. 1:17). It appears that earthly human encounters with God – whether by vision or personal appearance – often are terrifying experiences, while scenes of angels and the redeemed in heaven show worshipful reverence but an uncanny lack of fear. Maybe this is because God’s holiness exposes our sinfulness – the fallen nature of mankind that ultimately is overcome by the blood of the Lamb and is absent in the throne room of heaven.
We should be clear that the One seated on the throne is God the Father. Jesus, the Lamb, approaches the throne in chapter 5, and the Holy Spirit, depicted as “the seven spirits [or seven-fold spirit] of God” is before the throne in chapter 4. How can John describe God? Like Isaiah and Ezekiel – and later like the apostle Paul – John finds the glory of God difficult to capture in words. So he tells us the One seated on the throne is like jasper, a precious, clear stone. He’s also like carnelian, a translucent red gem. The clearness of the jasper may represent the holiness of God, while the red of the carnelian perhaps depicts His wrath or His provision for sin in the shed blood of His Son. The Lord is robed in light, according to Ps. 104:2 and 1 Tim. 6:16. Imagine the radiance of His glory shining in clarity and color. The jasper and carnelian (or sardius) are stones on the high priest’s breastplate (Ex. 28:17-21).
Around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. This is a full circle, not merely an arc, for in heaven all things are complete and our line of vision is not impeded by the horizon. The rainbow reminds us of God’s covenant with Noah never again to destroy the earth by a flood (Gen. 9:11-17). The Lord will, however, bring fire upon the earth to purge it of sin and usher in new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:10-13). This is God’s new covenant with us. Through the finished work of Christ, the penalty, power and presence of sin are ultimately done away with, and the innocence of creation is restored.
But why the emerald (green) radiance of the rainbow? “Here … the predominating color among the prismatic colors is green, the most refreshing of colors to look upon, and so symbolizing God’s consolatory promises in Christ to His people amidst judgments on His foes…. As the rainbow was first reflected on the waters of the world’s ruin, and continues to be seen only when a cloud is brought over the earth, so another deluge, namely, of fire, shall precede the new heavens and earth…. The heavenly bow speaks of the shipwreck of the world through sin: it speaks also of calm and sunshine after the storm” (R. Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, D. Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Re 4:3, Logos Research Systems).
Next: An overview of Rev. 4:4-11
Where we are:
|Part 1: Judgment||Part 2: Historical Interlude||Part 3: Salvation|
|Chapters 1-35||Chapters 36-39||Chapters 40-66|
When this takes place:
Chapter 41 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance and the worldwide impact on the coming of Messiah. This chapter may have been written late in the prophet’s life.
Isa. 41:11-13 –Be sure that all who are enraged against you will be ashamed and disgraced; those who contend with you will become as nothing and will perish. You will look for those who contend with you, but you will not find them. Those who war against you will become absolutely nothing. For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand and say to you: Do not fear, I will help you.
Isaiah foretells the coming of the Persian king Cyrus as God’s instrument of judgment against Babylon. He encourages God’s people, who will be captives of Babylon when this prophecy is fulfilled, not to fear this warrior from the east because the Lord will use him to defeat Israel’s enemies and restore the nation to its former glory.
Throughout Isaiah, both the nation of Israel and the coming Messiah are called God’s “servant.” The context helps us determine which “servant” is intended. In Isa. 41:8-9, it is the nation of Israel (see also Isa. 44:1-2, 21; 45:4; 48:20; 49:3). In other passages, the Messiah clearly is in view. For example, Isa. 42:1-9 announces the coming of the Lord’s “Chosen One” who will bring justice to the nations. And in Isa. 52:13 – 53:12 we encounter the Suffering Servant who will be “pierced because of our transgressions” and ultimately exalted – a prophecy wonderfully fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, who died for our sins, rose from the grave and ascended into heaven, where today He is seated at the right hand of the Father awaiting His triumphant return to earth.
Source and Strength (Isa. 41:1-7)
This chapter opens with a courtroom scene. The Lord calls Israel and all the nations before Him to “come together for the trial” (v. 1). The Old Testament is replete with courtroom settings in which the Lord presents His case against the wicked and pronounces judgment. Here, the Lord announces the rise of the Persian king Cyrus, whom God will use to judge the Babylonians, and He calls the idols of the nations to testify (vv. 21-24).
This powerful Persian leader “subdues kings” … “makes [them] like dust [with] his sword” and “like wind-driven stubble [with] his bow” (v. 2). However, it is clear that the Jews are not to fear this conquering king because the Lord has given him his strength and will use him to accomplish His purposes. “The Lord hands nations over to him,” Isaiah declares (v. 2). And if there’s any doubt about God’s sovereignty over human affairs, the Lord challenges His listeners: “Who has performed and done [this], calling the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord …” (v. 4). “A great truth is emphasized here. God controls the course of history and the rise and fall of nations. Even the pagan serves God’s purposes, even though unwittingly. However, you and I have the greatest privilege of all. We can serve God knowingly and gladly” (Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 431).
If there is any doubt about the sovereignty of God, He assures His people in verse 4, “I, the Lord, am the first, and with the last – I am He.” His declaration of eternal power and presence is repeated in Isa. 44:6 and Rev. 1:8 and is echoed by Jesus’ claims to deity in Rev. 1:17 and 22:13. Those who argue that Jesus is a lesser god, a created being or only a man who existed for a scant three decades face strong opposition from the Son of God Himself in these and other New Testament passages. To cite but a few other examples, Jesus claims to be eternal and uncreated (John 8:58; 17:5); divine (Mark 14:61-62; John 8:24, 58); and co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 11:25-27; 12:28; Luke 4:18; 23:34, 46; John 8:16-19, 42; 15:26; 16:13-15).
Closing out this section, Isaiah mocks the nations that rush to one another for protection against Cyrus. They delve deeper into their idolatrous practices rather than turn to the Lord of Hosts who directs the Persian army for his own glorious purposes. The craftsman and metalworker who wield their tools, using solder and nails to fasten their idols will not be able to keep them from falling beneath the mighty hand of God.
The Consolation of Israel (Isa. 41:8-24)
The Lord now turns His attention back to Israel, whom He calls “My servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham, My friend” (v. 8). Even though God is raising the rod of discipline against His chosen ones, He will not forget them or His covenant promises to them. Soon to be exiled in Babylon, they are assured nonetheless that the Lord has chosen them. Like a loving father disciplining an unruly child, He reminds them of His faithful love: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with My righteous right hand” (v. 10).
From the endearing title of “servant,” Judah is then called a “worm” (v. 14). “My servant” is an honorable title given to great leaders like Moses (Num. 12:7), David (2 Sam. 3:18) and the Messiah (Isa. 42:1). So why would the Lord refer to His chosen people using such a degrading word as “worm?” Warren Wiersbe observes: “‘Servant’ defined what they were by God’s grace and calling, but ‘worm’ described what they were in themselves. Imagine a worm getting teeth and threshing mountains into dust like chaff! As the nation marched ahead by faith, every mountain and hill would be made low (40:4); and the Lord would turn mountains into molehills!” (Be Comforted, S. Is 41:1). “See,” the Lord says, “I will make you into a sharp threshing board, new, with many teeth. You will thresh mountains and pulverize [them], and make hills like chaff” (v. 15). And when that day comes, what will be the people’s response? “[Y]ou will rejoice in the Lord; you will boast in the Holy One of Israel” (v. 16).
In verses 17-20 the scene changes to a desert being transformed into a garden. This harkens back to the days of wandering in the wilderness and God’s provision for the people’s every need. Six times in these verses the Lord uses the personal pronoun “I” to assure His people that He will act on their behalf: “I, the Lord, will answer them; I, the God of Israel, do not forsake them. I will open rivers on the barren heights, and springs in the middle of the plains. I will turn the desert into a pool of water and dry land into springs of water. I will plant cedars in the desert, acacias, myrtles, and olive trees. I will put cypress trees in the desert, elms and box trees together …” (vv. 17-19). The reason for God’s action is clear: “so that all may see and know, consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it” (v. 20).
Now the scene changes once again, this time to a courtroom. God challenges the nations’ idols to plead their case before His holy bench. Have any of their predictions come true? What do they know about the future? Are they even able to do anything good or evil to prove their power? Of course not. “Look,” the Lord says, “you are nothing and your work is worthless. Anyone who chooses you is detestable” (v. 24).
The Conquests of Cyrus (Isa. 41:25-29)
Verses 25-29 go back over the ground of verses 2-4 but add detail. The north and east are mentioned together, defining Cyrus’ conquests, which will overarch the Babylonian Empire from the Persian Gulf to the Caspian and Black Seas. North and east also describe Cyrus’ lineage and leadership. His father is a Mede and his mother is a Persian. His army consists of Medes, whose country lay north, and Persians, whose country lay east, from Babylon. The one “who invokes My name” (v. 25) is Cyrus, who credits the God of heaven with his victories (Ezra 1:2-3). This does not necessarily prove that Cyrus is a true believer, for in other inscriptions he diplomatically credits the gods of conquered peoples for his triumphs, among them Marduk in Babylon and Sin (the moon god) in Ur.
In contrast with the idols of verses 21-24, God can and does predict the future. Besides describing Cyrus and his conquests long before his birth, the Lord informs the people that a messenger will come, heralding the news that the Jews will be released from captivity and returned to their homeland. The idols, however, “are a delusion; their works are nonexistent; their images are wind and emptiness” (v. 29).
Matthew Henry comments: “When we are freed from that which hindered our joy, and are blessed with that which is the matter of it, we ought to remember that God is our exceeding joy and in him all our joys must terminate. When we rejoice over our enemies we must rejoice in the Lord, for to him alone we owe our liberties and victories” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 41:10).
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips