This section begins with one of the loveliest pictures of prayer in the New Testament.
1. CHAPTERS 8 AND 9
With the opening of the seventh seal there was silence even in heaven itself for about half an hour, silent reverence and awe. What the prophets had desired for the earth John is seeing fulfilled amongst the inhabitants of heaven: Habakkuk had cried: “the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him” (Hab. 2:20), and Zechariah had commanded, “Be still before the LORD, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling” (Zech. 2:13). Perhaps heaven is silent for prayer. It may be as simple as that. Or heaven is silent as it prepares itself for the strange work which God is about to do. The time of great judgment is at hand, but that is not the entire future; judgment itself will run its course and end, but for a moment – for half-hour or so – let heaven itself be silent at what is going to happen when the trumpets of heaven sound.
Then something happens before the first trumpet of wrath sounds. We are told that before the throne of God John sees an altar, and an angel comes towards it carrying a censer full of incense. The censer is poured out on that altar before the throne of God and rising up before God John sees clouds of fragrant smoke – these are a symbol of the prayers of God’s people. Remember where the book begins with Christ the glorious King surveying seven little congregations, pinpricks of light in a sea of dark paganism. What can such assemblies do against the might of Greece and Rome? How can they survive, let alone conquer?
They can pray, and all such prayers go up before the God who listens to them. He considers them and acts upon them. Those prayers are right before his face. In other words there is no such thing as an unheard, unanswered prayer. When we teach our children to pray it is not in order that they develop good character, but because the Maker of the Universe is the inspirer and hearer of their prayers. When we say grace before meals God hears. When we set out on a long journey and pray that God will keep us God hears. So it has always been; the people of God were slaves in Egypt, their prayers ascended to Jehovah and he could see their pain. They as it were hit him right between the eyes with the severity of their afflictions. When Peter is in prison and the church prays about it God hears. Now John is on Patmos and the prayers of the people rise up before Almighty God.
You say, “But these New Testament Christians and churches were special heavenly and revival congregations and God hears people like them.” No they were not. Read the letters and see the falls into sin some of those assemblies had known. They had left their first love; others were lukewarm like much of the professing church today; others fell into scandalous behaviour, nevertheless their prayers were considered by God. John is encouraging the persecuted and martyred people of God to pray on, that our Prayer Meetings are not in vain.
The picture John sees is the very reverse of our doubts. God’s people pray; their prayers ascend right up to the nostrils of God and then mighty things happen in the world; “Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake” (v.5). Earthquakes shake prisons, angels open locked doors, chains fall off, a whole building shakes where people are gathered for prayer, proud kings are smitten down, storms howl in the Mediterranean but none of the passengers on a boat are lost. All that happens as people pray. We imagine our praying is in vain, but John tells us rumblings and earthquakes come in response to prayer. So let the trumpets sound God will hear our prayers. The power behind the world is our prayer answering God.
What are these seven trumpets? We have already had the seven seals being opened. Both the seals and the trumpets show us the same great reality from different perspectives. Both show us God’s will for the age in which the church lives, the period between the ascension of Christ and his return in glory – our age. The seven seals have shown us that period from the perspective of Christian people sealed with the Holy Spirit of God. The trumpets will show us that period from the perspective of the unsealed unbelieving world. So the opening of the seals brings comfort to God’s people, and you enjoyed reading the previous chapters, while the sounding of the trumpets announces great woes on those who are not God’s people. The seals are our consolation; the trumpets are our warning. When trumpets once sounded in Israel it was to announce an alarm; judgment was about to fall upon the people. So six of the trumpets announce a series of happenings that will characterise our age, while the seventh is the prelude for the end of the age. The trumpets, in other words, are like an opera elaborating Mark chapter 13 and Matthew chapter 24.
The first four trumpets (in verses 7, 8, 10 and 12) sound their alarms and various cosmic catastrophes occur. They don’t proclaim the total devastation of the earth, just a ‘third’ is affected (that word ‘a third’ occurs 14 times in this section). In other words the judgments that come on the world are constant but they are partial. All the world is judged, the land, the sea and the sky. All the created order is groaning, but the judgments are only a foretaste of the final judgment of the whole universe. You think of a young criminal and he is given a series of short sharp shocks as punishment. This is aimed at warning him, turning him from his self-destruction, and giving him a taste of what lies before him if he continues to act lawlessly. Or think of the judgments that came upon Egypt; “Let my people go!” God said to Pharaoh, and when he refused a judgment came upon them, and as he hardened his heart a worse one, and a worse one still, until finally the firstborn were slain and then the people were delivered. That is the picture you must keep in mind as you read chapters 8 and 9.
The people persecuting the church worshipped trees, and these are destroyed (8:7); they worshipped the seas and sought to placate the ocean so that they could carry on with their commerce, and sea and commerce are chastened (v.9). They worshipped the stars and these fall from the sky (v.10); they worship rivers like the Nile and the waters become bitter poison (v.11). They worshipped the sun and the moon and when the trumpet sounds these are extinguished (v.12). God shows his power over the idols men worship by switching them off.
Then the fifth trumpet sounds at the beginning of chapter 9 and God’s judgment falls upon sinners in the whole unbelieving world, all those who do not have the seal of God upon them. Out of the Abyss, that is out of hell, come all its inhabitants. They are pictured as monstrous locusts. The description is intended to bring our emotions to bear on the subject of the pit and our battle against principalities and powers. So we are told in Revelation 9:7-11, “The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. Their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. They had tails and stings like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months. They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon.” When our brave young Saviour hung on the cross it was with these forces he battled. Hell emptied itself of all its dark demonic hosts. They all settled themselves upon Jesus nailed naked to the cross seeking to destroy him, but the Lord Sabaoth’s son triumphed over them all. He is the only one who can conquer them, and the only one by whom his sealed people can be more than conquerors.
“And were this world all devils o’er
And watching to devour us,
We lay it not to heart so sore;
Not they can overpower us.
And let the prince of ill
Look grim as e’er he will,
He harms us not a whit;
For why? His doom is writ;
A word shall quickly slay him.” (Martin Luther. 1483-1546).
When we think of the plight of men and women today then let our concern for them be commensurate with their true condition. Neither the Marxist diagnosis, nor the Freudian diagnosis, nor the medical diagnosis does more that touch the surface of men’s problems. The god of this world is subtly and relentlessly waging war against them. His name is Apollyon (v.11) and he will conquer them and take them into the pit with him for ever. People’s anguish and depression, their restlessness and gullibility, the way they run from one false religion to another is all a reflection of the success of these hidden hosts of demonic locusts who constantly destroy mankind’s peace and joy.
Then a sixth trumpet sounds (v.14), and the primitive hosts on the other side of the Euphrates led by four messengers are let loose on mankind. Let me explain that symbol to you. The Roman Empire stretched all the way to the great river Euphrates and within the empire there was law and justice, but outside it there were the forces of primitive chaos, brutality, stone-age darkness. The people in the Empire always feared what would happen if their world were invaded by lawless unconquered hordes outside their boundaries. John is telling them here that their worst fears are going to be realised. One day their cozy world is going to be invaded from outside, but the savage forces which will accomplish this are far worst than their nightmares. Yes, any world not built on Jesus Christ is eventually going to be a ruined world. Beyond the thin borders we have erected, and invading your world will come a mighty army, and see how immense this is – two hundred million strong (v.16)! What a force! “The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur. A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths. The power of the horses was in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails were like snakes, having heads with which they inflict injury” (vv. 17-19). They are led by four mighty messengers, the rulers of the darkness of this world (v.14).
Please seek to understand the big picture and do not be consumed with little details. On whom do these judgments from hell fall? John tells us very clearly, those who “still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshipping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood – idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts” (vv.20&21). On people like us they fall; on our neighbours and family members and the people of our own communities. We are going to be destroyed for our unrepentant hearts and because of the idols we cling to. This chapter is simply a vivid elaboration in picture language of the sober words of the Lord Jesus at the end of John chapter 3, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (Jn.3:36). What will it be like to have the wrath of God coming and remaining on you? It will be like being in the company of these locust like powers and these horses and their riders, spending your eternity with Apollyon. Who will be saved? Those sealed by the one in the midst of the throne to whom their prayers daily ascend, “Oh deliver us from the evil one.”
Have you heard the warning trumpets? Did you hear the first, and the second, and the third, and the fourth, and the fifth, and the sixth? One or two was not enough. God gives us many warnings. These trumpets are like seven fire alarms going off one after another saying, “This is not a drill; this is not a false alarm. Get away from your idols and demons now before it is too late, because the great day of his wrath is coming, and who will be able to stand? Flee to the Son of God now.”
2. CHAPTER 10.
There are three features about this chapter;
i] A GREAT AND GLORIOUS FIGURE CALLS JOHN.
He is a messenger down from heaven and in many respects he is like the Son of Man of chapter one. He is like the angel of the covenant who comes to Joshua before Jericho. He is robed in a cloud as he was when he came down upon Mount Sinai. He has a rainbow upon his head – that is his crown, in other words, his sovereignty is the power of grace, a merciful and kindly sovereignty. His face was like the sun, as Saul of Tarsus saw him on the road to Damascus – he is the brightness of the Father’s glory. His feet were as pillars of fire and on them he stands like a vast Colossus straddling land and sea, one foot on the ocean and the other on the land. He dominates the whole of mankind; he overshadows all the earth. He is high and lifted up, absolutely awesome. When he speaks it is like the roaring defiance of a great beast. When he shouts it is like seven peals of thunder all rolling across heaven in harmony. John is seeing the Lord of glory, Jesus Christ. The head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now. He is the supreme governor of the universe. He is the one with whom all men must deal. It is a fearful thing to fall into his hands. He is the one who told us, “Fear not those who can destroy your body. Fear God who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”
ii] THIS GLORIOUS ONE COMMISSIONS JOHN.
John was about to write what the seven thunders had uttered (v.4), but a voice from heaven forbade him. “Do not write it down,” he says. Jesus can prevent those who wrote Scripture from making mistakes and writing error in the Word of God. This Lord announces the end of the world, that everything the Father has planned for the world as we know it has been accomplished – just as he has said to us in the Bible (v.7). Then Christ speaks again to John. “Go,” he says, and he tells John to take the scroll (v.8), and he speaks again and tells him to take it and eat it (v.9), but he had not finished commissioning John; he had one more thing to say to him, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings” (v.11).
Why am I emphasising this? Because at every stage John is guided. There is little room for improvisation or for any freelance ideas. God structures his whole course of action. What John does is done because God has told him. He undertakes his whole ministry directly at the commandment of God. He doesn’t act on his own initiative or by his own desires but at a particular moment God intervened in his life and gave him authority and a ministry. He was told exactly what to say and what not to write.
Even more graphically John is told to take the little scroll and eat it up (v.9). He is to digest it and make it a part of himself, he is to feed upon the word and live on it. This is a particular vocation which John has. He is being given the entire book of Revelation and he absorbs it entirely so that what he later writes down for us in this last book of the New Testament God has put into him and made a part of him. Its first taste is sweet, the message of the Lamb in the midst of the throne and all his achievements. But then when he had eaten it his stomach turned sour because the book of Revelation also contains such warnings and judgments, but what can John do? He can’t be selective. What can we do about the word of God? Pick’n’mix the bits we like? Construct a revelation from God in our own image? This food of the divine revelation to man is not like a cafeteria in which you choose the meals you like and reject the rest. This meal is more like soup where everything has been put in together according to the choice of the chef, and you have to eat it all. The 66 ingredients of the book from heaven are all given by God, and the entire message of the book of Revelation is put in John’s mouth. God gives his whole word to us, and he reminds us, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Feed on it; take it and eat it.
“My Lord, who in the desert fed
On soul-sustaining heavenly bread,
Words that were meat and drink to Thee –
O let them daily nourish me! (Frank Houghton, 1894-1972).
Then we can do what John is told to do, “You must prophesy” (v.11). You must make disciples of all nations. All of you must be ready to give a reason for the hope that you have to anyone who asks. Since Pentecost all God’s people have been prophets and priests and kings. We are to show to the nations all the wonderful works of God, but to do that the word of God must be in us. You must come here twice a Sunday and listen intently to the message. You must go to the website and read it and download it. You must read the Bible, and books about the Bible so that the Word of God really becomes a part of you, so that when we stick a pin in you your very blood is bibline.
iii] THE SCOPE OF THE COMMISSION IS ALL EMBRACIVE.
“Then I was told, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings'” (v.11). Remember the context, the persecuted church, its evangelism leading to riot, civil unrest and imprisonment? The danger was for the church to say, “Softly, softly. We must mute our outreach. Let’s concentrate on fellowship and body life.” “No,” says the head of the church, “never forget this, ‘you must prophesy again about many people, nations, languages and kings.'” The church is given this primary task of evangelising the world, thought there is opposition, and no universal demand, and little sympathy and in the heart of the people to whom we speak there is no natural comprehension. But your must prophesy ‘again’ to all the world, no matter how inadequate you may feel, and how fierce is the opposition of the world. It is woe to the church if she does not preach the gospel. Our loyalty to the great Commission is being tested. John shows us these horrible pictures of the judgments that come upon the unrepentant and idolatrous world. Are our hearts not stirred at the sight? The Lord Jesus knows of the judgment to come upon Jerusalem and he wept over the city: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! I would have received you to safety and my protection, but you would not.” Before the end comes must the church not prophesy to the nations? The Creator speaks by his messenger, “And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, ‘There will be no more delay!'” (v.6).
Yesterday I had this message from Bob Jennings and I felt I had to quote from it today, or what would be the reality of believing in the God of providence when such notes are sent to you? Was it not God who ultimately sent it to me a preacher? This is what Bob wrote; “This life brings with it no guarantees at all, except that death is certainly coming and after that, the judgment. Are you and those around you ready for that day? None of us have tomorrow. We only have today. The time is now; the opportunity is the present; any other view is presumption and procrastination. The Bible urges one to face this fact: ‘While it’s still called today’, that is, you’re still alive now; you only have right now, you only have the present, not the future; therefore, don’t presume upon it. Presumption has sent many a man, many a woman, many a young person into eternity, not ready to stand before their Creator. ‘Today, if you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.’ God says this to every person three separate times in Hebrews (3:8, 3:15, 4:7).
“About 8 weeks ago the boys and I bought some straw for our strawberries from a farmer northwest of us about 10 miles. He was a nice fellow, about 62, and in good shape, helping us throw the bales on the trailer. When we were loaded, I asked him about his farm and talked to him about his soul – the need of the new birth and the way of salvation in Christ. He replied, ‘No, I’m not a Christian. I’ve heard some of this before, but it just does not seem to be for me, not now anyway.’ We left with a friendly handshake and I told him I hoped I could buy straw again from him next year. Alas, alas, we just heard on the news that they found him trampled to death by his cattle. He is gone out into eternity. Procrastination and presumption are such destroyers. Seek the Lord while He may be found. (Isa. 55.6) Don’t judge yourself unworthy of eternal life. (Acts 13.48) Today – while it’s still called today.
“As for the true Christian, our Lord said, ‘We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night cometh when no man can work.’ (Jn. 9:4) For the unbeliever, the only responsibility they have that will make any difference at all is faith toward Christ: ‘This is the work of God, that you would believe on Him whom the Father has sent.” (John 6:29) Whether saving faith for the unbeliever or the work which the Father has given us as a Christian, the same fact holds true – it is still called today. The night is coming. But right now it is still called today.”
3. CHAPTER 11.
This chapter develops the theme of the witnessing church. How do we measure up to this command to prophesy about many peoples, nations, languages and kings? John was given a measuring rod and he must check the temple and the worshippers, how many are there? Have three thousand been converted? Yes, at Pentecost. Is the church growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ? Two witnesses are commissioned by the Lord (v.3). You will remember that he sent men out in pairs to visit communities with the gospel. Two witnesses were required in a court of law to testify that something was true. We bear witness to Jesus Christ, to his teaching, to his signs, to his resurrection, to his life-transforming power. Two men carried authority with them; two men would encourage and support one another. So Christ sent them out in twos.
These two witnesses of Revelation 11 are not individual personalities like Peter and John, or Calvin and Luther, or Whitefield and Wesley. They represent the witnessing ministry of the Christian community. What do they tell us?
i] THE CHURCH IS A THING OF POWER.
“I will give power to my two witnesses” (v.3) Then again in verse 6, “These men have power to shut up the sky so that it does not rain . . . they have power to turn the waters into blood.” What kind of power is this? Not military, nor economic, nor intellectual, nor emotional power. It is not the power of the rabble-rouser or the crowd manipulator. It is not the power caused by spookiness nor by music, but it is the power that comes from their words. See it in verse 5, “fire comes from their mouths.” You understand what John is doing? He is going back to some of the greatest witnesses of the Old Testament, the men who appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration with the Lord Christ, Moses and Elijah, and he is saying that the church today has that same power from God. It can shut heaven – that is what Elijah did. It can turn water into blood – that is what Moses did. These men spoke and it was done. The plagues came to Egypt by the word of Moses; he spoke the situation into being. Elijah too spoke the drought and the famine into being. Their word had this power. Jeremiah was able to build up and pull down and destroy; it was his word that did it.
The church has the power of the word. It has no right to resort to the power of the sword, or to political sanctions, to the rack, or the gibbet, or the stake. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal; they are mighty through God and strongholds are pulled down. That is the only power we have, and it is sufficient for us; it is all-sufficient; it is superabundant. It is all we need for this hour. It is the power of the regenerating and sanctifying Spirit. You see how it is presented here? These two witnesses are called two olive trees (v.4), that is they are full of oil, and they are called two lampstands because the oil burns in them like a light. You shall be my witnesses and you shall be the light of the world. The power they have is of the Holy Spirit through the word, because the word is Spirit and life. The word is the Spirit’s sword. A congregation full of the word is a congregation full of the Spirit. The word transforms the lives of men and women and it keeps them. In other words, if it is strength or wisdom or comfort or guidance or peace they need they will obtain it in the word and nowhere else. It is completely capable of transforming the human soul.
So these two witnesses are meeting these extraordinary gruesome armies from the pit, the locusts with the human faces, the generalship of Apollyon, the four messengers who lead the 200 million strong army from chaos and destruction, and God sends against them two people! This is Goliath confronted by David. Two witnesses are facing 200 million, and they defeat them because the two are armed with the word of God and so they are more than conquerors. All the fortitude of God is there to triumph over them. That ought to be our hope each time we meet. We face today a deeply troubled civilisation with all the addictions, and alcoholism, and depression, and aggression, and paranoia that abounds. What can the church do? What is our answer to every problem? We face it as witnesses to the truth of the word of God.
ii] THE CONDITIONS FOR POWERFUL WITNESS ARE TO STAND BEFORE THE GOD OF THE EARTH CLOTHED IN SACKCLOTH.
You see this at the end of verses three and four. It is only then that the church has power when it stands before the God of the earth, in other words, when it sees God in all his glory. That is what made the prophet Isaiah a witness, he saw the Lord high and lifted up, and it was the same for the apostles as they stood before the risen Christ on the hill of ascension and he sent them into all the world. We stand seeing his majesty and grace, but we stand before him too in order to receive God’s instructions, to learn in the secret place what we cannot learn anywhere else. Almost every week it seems to happen to me on Friday morning as I sit in prayer with the other dozen and hear them pray and as someone speaks. My mind is full after the previous day in the word and the consciousness that the next two days I shall be in the word preparing for Sunday, but then in prayer with my friends such and such a truth and that insight comes to me.
We stand before the God of the earth, and we stand in sackcloth. Nothing in our hands we bring; simply to his cross we cling. We wear the sackcloth of repentance, and contrition, and shame. The real church is always penitential. The church is always fearful of being upbeat and triumphalistic – “Look at us! Let us tell you about us! We really are great because we are full of the Holy Spirit.” No. When the world looks at us the first thing they see is our sackcloth. It is very demoralising. And the first thing they see about our Lord is that he is nailed to a cross. The church in Laodicea had taken off its sackcloth: “We are rich and have got wealthy and don’t need a thing.” God said to them, “You are naked.” It is an indispensable part of a powerful testimony to stand in sackcloth before the God of the earth. All power comes from him. All the glory is his alone.
iii] AT TIMES THE GLORIOUS POWER OF THE CHURCH SEEMS TO BE TOTALLY ECLIPSED.
You see what happens to these witnesses after they have testified to their powerful enemies? “Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth” (vv.7-10). What we are being told is that times comes when the whole witness of the church is destroyed and a famine of hearing the word of God comes to a community. This is not for a brief moment but for a time long enough to give the impression to the world that the witness is dead and gone, and they can forget about it, that they have nothing to fear again from the church. The whole testimony of the church and the means of grace is lying like a corpse in the road, as dead as a cadaver with nothing to say. It is inert and mute. You go to places which once shone brightly with the gospel and there is hardly anything there, the seven great centres in Asia Minor in north Turkey today – there is nothing there. Hippo in north Africa where Augustine laboured, and the places where the Calvin and Luther and Knox preached during the Reformation, or where the Puritans laboured so powerfully, or the places the leaders of the evangelical awakening made famous and today there is no light in them at all. The body of evangelical Christianity has lain in the street in those places for three and a half days, and the world is delighted! They hold parties and give gifts to one another because the gospel of Jesus Christ is dead and buried! People from every kind of background rejoice – “They won’t trouble us again with their absolute standards, and their call to repentance telling us we needed to be saved from judgment by the blood of Christ.” If today the light from this pulpit was extinguished and a popular religion replaced it then this town would rejoice. Everybody would feel great. Their tormentors have gone and been silenced. We think at times that things couldn’t get much worse, but I look at this passage and I say to you that they could get much worse! The massacred as many Christians in France as they could on the eve of St. Bartholomew’s Day and France has never recovered. They drove Calvin out of Geneva for a while, and Jonathan Edwards out of Northampton. They drove Gorgi Vins into exile and out of Russia itself. Things could get much worse in Aberystwyth.
iv] GOD REVIVES THE WITNESS.
“But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here.’ And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on” (vv.11&12). You’ll see again that God revives not the individual witnesses but the witness that has become stone cold dead. Did you ever see such a witness? It was a corpse, and all the world was making merry, and you ask, “Will its voice ever be heard again?” The crowd was roaring with merriment. “Biblical Christianity rising again? Impossible.” We are back to the Ezekiel question as to whether these dry bones can live. It seem utterly forlorn. It is not simply that great leaders have died but the witness itself is dead. Where is the hope? There isn’t a spark of life and no one can do anything. No leader can resurrect the dead witness. You cannot organise it into life, or teach it, or educate it, or plead with it to live. It is dead. Only God can give life to the dead.
Then there is this great miracle; “a breath of life from God entered them” (v.11). Just as the spirit revived the dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley and clothed them with flesh and sinews and muscle, and breathed the breath of life into them so God is saying he will not allow the final extinction of his testimony. No matter how low it goes life from God will come and it will breathe into it once again. It is revived. It is filled with life and power, so much so that fear falls on all those who witness it. Its meetings are so filled with heavenly glory that men say, “This is the house of God and the gateway to heaven.”
Remember how the early church prayed when men threatened to destroy them and God shook the building in which they gathered. His power was shown, great fear fell on the multitudes and glory was given to God. That is the picture here in verses 11 and 12. A church considered dead and gone is revived. That is what we have seen in the history of the church time and again. That is what happened at the Reformation and during the Puritan period and in the Evangelical Awakening and in many places in Wales. The God of resurrection power lives. The risen Christ builds his church, and when the final seventh trumpet marks the end of the world’s history the theme of praise in heaven is that the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ (v.15). The whole prayer and praise of the twenty-four elders in heaven is that the mighty God has acted, displayed his great power and judged his enemies. “The time has come . . .” they said (v.18). They were conscious that God was in control, working all things after the counsel of his own will. That is our perspective and our hope. The nations were angry, persecuting the church, killing the witness and then God said, “Enough,” and he arose and put his enemies to flight and revived his work. There came “flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm.” (v.12).
4. CHAPTER 12.
We have seen the church as a church of martyrs bearing witness to the city of mankind, tormenting the world with her words. Here in this chapter I want you to see five things:
i] THE CHURCH IS PORTRAYED AS A WOMAN
The church is the bride of Christ; the Lamb has a wife. The church is the Lord’s beloved, the unique object of God’s love; the apple of his eye. She is honoured by being pictured in her glorified condition clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, a tiara of stars on her head, galaxied with light because the Lord has said to her, “You are the light of the world,” and this is exactly how the church appears in the eyes of God. She is radiant; she is regal and she is heavenly. Without her the world would be in darkness. The church is not a Cinderella, and it is so easy for us to disparage ourselves and say that we cannot possibly have an influence with our abilities and simple worship. “We simply cannot be the light of this community,” and I think that that kind of self-assessment and the despair into which we lapse is our greatest single enemy. Why shouldn’t we be the light of this town, if our walk is close with God, and our message is the message of the word of God, and if we stand before him in our sackcloth? We ought to face up to the challenge of this vision and hear it saying to our souls, “You are the bride of Christ, and the light of the world.”
What is the church doing? She is gasping in childbirth, travailing and longing to be delivered. She is not sitting back being admired but she is like Paul who travailed again in birth until Christ was formed in favoured sinners. The apostle knew the labour of love, and the pain of evangelism. Are we like him? It is the most elementary challenge, that it is not some special surefire method which men proclaim as the new way ahead, that are going to replace these pangs of childbirth for my friends and young people and my family. I cannot protest, “I don’t want to carry this baby for nine months, living with it 24/7, and then when it arrives it structures all my activities and plans. I don’t want that; I want an easy way of growing.” But Paul had the gifts and the marvellous power, but even he had to labour so that people were begotten by the gospel. There is no other way of evangelism.
ii] THE DEVIL OPPOSES THE GROWTH OF THE CHURCH.
We meet him in the Garden of Eden in the form of a serpent, and here he is the dragon still wishing to destroy the seed of the woman. He was once an angel of light but rebelled against God with many of the angels and they were cast out of heaven to the place of darkness. That fall is described in verse 4 and amplified in verses 7-9; “And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him” (12:7-9). He is now going about the earth seeking whom he may devour. His power is great, and whenever a person comes into the orbit of the gospel Satan is especially active. You will remember how he sought to destroy Simon Peter, sifting him violently like the separating of chaff from wheat.
So as this woman gives birth to a child he is there waiting, ready to pounce, to kill the first signs of life. What we see when God’s holy child was born and Herod sought to destroy him illustrates what every newborn child of God will experience when the king of terrors lusts for his life. The Saviour in the parable of the sower speaks of him catching away that which is sown in the heart. And we tell every seeker that it’s not going to be joy, joy, joy from now on. Be on guard. Remember Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress and the challenges facing him. As soon as he left the City of Destruction he meets the Slouch of Despond. Behind every attack on your faith there is this dragon wanting to destroy you.
iii] THE CHILD IS BORN.
Where is the new born Christian? Immediately he is snatched up to God and to his throne. He is seated in the heavenlies in Christ. He is justified, adopted into the family of God and glorified. Of how many Christians is that true? Some select ones? No, every single Christian kept by the power of God. None able to pluck them from God’s hand. What more helpless and dependent than a newborn babe? Yet the new Christian life is hid with Christ in God. Who weaker than a woman who has just given birth to a child? Yet God has a place of total safety for her, which is called here a desert, a wilderness – like the place Moses and Elijah went to when men sought to kill them.
iv] THE PERSECUTION OF THE WOMAN.
The devil never gives up, and here we see him pursuing the woman, but God is with her. She mounts up with wings as eagles’ (v.14), and escapes out of his reach. When he sends a mini Noah’s flood after her to drown her God’s creation is for her, and it opens up and takes away all the torrent. Whatever Satan does God is determined to keep every one for whom Christ has shed his blood. All of creation God will work for the preservation of his people.
v] THE TRIUMPH OF THE WOMAN.
Who is the church? They are the people of God who “obey God’s commandment and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (v.17) How did they overcome Satan? “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (v.11).
There is no other way; a credible godly life and their hope in the blood of the Lamb and the their testimony to him. For them to die with that testimony was more important than life itself. Who would not give what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose?
27th February 2005 GEOFF THOMAS