Revelation 8:6-13

Revelation

Revelation 8

Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them. The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. 10 The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11 The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter. 12 The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night. 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!”

In 2003 a recording of Johnny Cash’s rendition of the song “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” was released. It has since become very popular. The song itself predates Cash’s version of it and was first recorded in 1937. It is a fascinating song that simply depicts the judgment of God coming upon the world. Here are the lyrics of the Cash version:

… Oh my God

… You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down

… Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down

… Well my goodness gracious let me tell you the news
My head’s been wet with the midnight dew
I’ve been down on bended knee
Talkin’ to the man from Galilee

… He spoke to me in the voice so sweet
I thought I heard the shuffle of the angel’s feet
He called my name and my heart stood still
When he said, “John, go do my will!”

chorus

… Well you may throw your rock and hide your hand
Workin’ in the dark against your fellow man
But as sure as God made black and white
What’s down in the dark will be brought to the light

… You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down

… Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut you down
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut you down
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut you down

… Oh yeah
Cut him down
Cut him down
Cut him down

It strikes me that this kind of talk about God is increasingly unpopular. Maybe, at some points in the past, the church overemphasized judgment to the exclusion of God’s mercy. The opposite is probably the case in our day. Of course, the correct approach is to emphasize both. God is perfect in all of His attributes, which includes both His judgment and His mercy. But as we progress through Revelation we are likely going to experience a jolt at the course correction it offers a lot of modern theology, for Revelation does indeed depict the wrath of God coming upon the earth. With the blowing of the trumpets, we begin to see this in chilling detail.

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Revelation 8:1-5

Revelation

Revelation 8

1 When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

There is one very famous piano piece that I can play and I can play it just as well and as powerfully as the one who wrote it. John Cage composed the piece in 1952. It is entitled 4’33”.

Please understand that I am not exaggerating. I really can play 4’33” as well as John Cage. This piece has been performed with either just a piano or with a full orchestra and it has been performed in music halls over the years both large and small.

And I can play it. Perfectly. I mean that literally.

4’33” is 4 minutes and 33 seconds of…silence. Here is a description of the premier of the piece.

The premiere of the three-movement 4′33″ was given by David Tudor on August 29, 1952, in Maverick Concert Hall, Woodstock, New York, as part of a recital of contemporary piano music. The audience saw him sit at the piano and, to mark the beginning of the piece, close the keyboard lid. Some time later he opened it briefly, to mark the end of the first movement. This process was repeated for the second and third movements.[1]

You can see various renditions of Cage’s 4’33” on YouTube. In all of them, if they are faithful to Cage’s instructions, the pianist sits in silence before his or her instrument for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. Then the piece is over.

It is an interesting idea and very much in line with the odd person that was John Cage. But there may be some truth in it. The Christian musician John Michael Talbot has argued that the space between the notes is as important as the notes in a song, that the silence is as important as the sounds. That too is likely the case.

Regardless, the fact remains that people by and large do not know what to do with silence, especially when they expect sound. To watch an entire performance of Cage’s 4’33” is to prove that point. It is a strange and uncomfortable experience and I would encourage you to do it!

It is said that 4’33” was Cage’s most controversial piece. I can imagine why! But this much is certain: it is not the most controversial example of silence ever. That might go to the first verse of Revelation 8 which depicts silence in Heaven….for around 30 minutes!

What can this mean? Why does Heaven sit silently for thirty minutes when so much (a) has happened leading up to this moment and (b) is about to happen after it?

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Matthew 13:10-17

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Matthew 13

10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “‘“You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” 15 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

In the middle of Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seeds—right between the parable itself and His explanation of it—Jesus offers an explanation of why He tells parables at all. His words are fascinating and illuminating and, in many ways, just as enigmatic as some of the parables He tells. Yet, they shed valuable light on the nature of the Kingdom and of salvation and how some hearts have receptive soil and others are just rocky ground.

In His explanation, Jesus speaks of two groups, one of which is blind and deaf to spiritual things and the other of which can see and hear what He is saying. These two groups will form our two points of consideration.

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Revelation 7:9-17

Revelation

Revelation 7

9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

I still chuckle when I think about something my brother Condy told me thirty years ago. It was after a high school football game. Our team, the mighty fighting Thomas Sumter Academy Generals of Dalzell, SC, had just finished a tight game that came down to the last second. The game ended and Condy and one his friends were walking to his car behind the school when he heard a noise coming from the bushes. He stopped and looked and there was one of our star players sitting in the bushes crying. My brother said (and I will change his name here because if this guy is as big now as he was then, I do not want him to know that I talked about this!), “Bob, what is wrong? Why are you crying, man?” Bob, sitting in his football pads, his head in his hands, crying, said, “We lost! We lost! I can’t believe we lost!”

My brother said, “What?”

He said, “We lost! We lost the game!”

My brother paused and said. “Bob, we did not lose. We won! We won!”

Bob looked up. “What? We won?!”

Condy said, “Yeah, we won. Bob!” And my brother’s friend added, “You ran in the winning touchdown!”

Bob, God bless him, stood up, his face now transformed into one of joy, picked Condy up and hugged him tight and said, “We won! We won! We won!” And then ran off celebrating into the distance.

As I say, I still laugh about this. Bob was a great football player, but he was not necessarily a…well, anyway, he may hear this after all, so let us just leave it at that.

It is amazing how the knowledge of victory can pull us from sorry to joy, from despair to jubilation, from depression to happiness! I think this is a word we need to hear, and I think that this is one of the great points of the amazing interlude that is Revelation 7.

Church, lift up your heads! Stop weeping! Stop despairing! The Lamb has won! The Lamb will win! And we who are on His team will win through Him!

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Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

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Matthew 13

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

David Platt has mentioned a fascinating little story from the life of the great evangelist of yesteryear, George Whitfield.

George Whitfield, the passionate and powerful preacher of the First Great Awakening, used to preach to massive crowds numbering in the thousands, and people were greatly affected by his evangelistic message. When Whitfield was asked how many people were saved, he would say, “We’ll see in a few years.”[1]

What strikes me about this answer is (1) how very different it is from the very certain announcement of numbers that we get from many of our evangelists today and (2) how wise this response is in light of Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seeds. It is not that we should be skeptical of those who profess Christ. Rather, Whitfield’s response is, in my opinion, a simple affirmation of an abundantly evident truth: sometimes those who profess Christ end up revealing that they never truly took hold of Him.

Again, Jesus said as much in Matthew 13 in words that are sobering and critically important in our day.

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Matthew 12:46-50

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Matthew 12

46 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

In an article entitled “My Family Thinks I’m Crazy,” NSight and Addiction (which “provides inpatient and outpatient treatment options for people struggling with mood disorders”) psychologist Gerald J. Grosso offers the following three pieces of advice to people whose families think they are crazy:

  • Always come from a position of love and respect. Remember that everyone typically has similar goals of compassion and agreement.  That being said, goals may be different but continued conflict is not the solution.
  • Clearly identify and state your needs, here well-developed communication skills are necessary. Ultimately it is up to each individual to get their needs met on their own but good communication and cooperation can help lessen the gap.
  • Accept that individuals are different which may include the perspective in which they see things. Emotions in their true form are not arguable, if I have certain feelings advising me not to have them doesn’t make sense.  For example, if I told you I felt physically ill and I was going to vomit telling me not to feel that way is not going to help.

Work together instead of against each other.  Focus on agreed upon outcomes and acknowledge feelings.  You may think differently but that doesn’t mean you can’t find common ground. Remain supportive with a solution focused mindset and it will bring you closer to the desired result.[1]

It is interesting to read this advice and, for all I know, it is good advice! But what do you do if you are the Son of God sent by God to save the world and your family thinks you are crazy? Well, that article has yet to be written, but we know what Jesus did when His family thought He was crazy!

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Revelation 7:1-8

Revelation

Revelation 7

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:

12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,
12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,
12,000 from the tribe of Gad,
12,000 from the tribe of Asher,
12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,
12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,
12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,
12,000 from the tribe of Levi,
12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,
12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,
12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,
12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.

Roni and I were recently traveling and, during our vacation, we had a lazy day where we did not feel like doing anything in particular. We had had our fill of museums and statues and paintings and, well, history. We were sitting in a restaurant in Washington, D.C., and were talking about how we were very happy to be where we were but we did not really want to walk around anymore that day or do anything per se. But we had some more hours of daylight. I pulled my phone out and said, “Hey, there is a theater 3/10ths of a mile from where we are. Want to see a movie?” And she did. However, the only movie showing at that time was a scary movie called “The Conjuring.”

So I warned Roni: “This is going to be scary. Are you sure you want to see this?” And she said she did. “Why not!” We decided to see the scary movie. And so we went to Regal Gallery Place & 4DX theater in Chinatown in Washington, D.C.

Now, we are movie people, but I must say that I was unprepared for what happened next. I did notice that the ticket seemed more expensive than usual, but I figured that was just because we were in D.C. And then we noticed that the chairs in the theater were really unusual, but we figured it was just a really nice theater with updated chairs. But then the previews started and suddenly it dawned on me what “4DX” meant in “Regal Gallery Place & 4DX.”

The chairs began to move in synchronization with the screen. They would lurch this way and that. Lights flashed around us. Then I saw the nozzles in the plastic bar in front of me and realized, “We are going to be sprayed and wind-blasted and jerked around and jostled and jolted through this whole movie!”

Roni looked at me and said, “I do not like this.” Now you must understand that Roni was already on edge because this was a scary movie, but she had determined to watch it. Watching a scary movie is one thing. Actually being in a scary movie is another!

So we left and went into the lobby and asked the lady if we could possibly see “The Conjuring” that started 30 minutes later in a normal theater. I explained to the lady that I was unfamiliar with “4DX” and we did not know it would be such an immersive experience. I finally told her: “Ma’am, we’re from Arkansas. Our chairs don’t move in Arkansas.” We all had a good laugh and we saw the later movie.

It is one thing to know that something scary is coming. It is another thing to think that you are going to be a participant in the scary thing that is coming.

I think this helps us understand what is happening with the reticence that a lot of people feel with the book of Revelation. They know there are some scary things in Revelation. But what really jars people is the thought that they will be forced to be a participant in the scary things, that they might be the victim of the scary things.

I want to show you this morning a wonderful chapter that helps us understand this rightly. Revelation 7 tells us that, yes, we will be in the theater when the scary things happen, and we will go through some difficulties ourselves, but, ultimately, the scary things are not aimed at the people of God and God will protect us and see us through the scary things that are coming! Yes, some scary things will happen in the events leading up to the culmination of all things, but the people of God are driven by an assurance of victory and the presence of God with His people through the darkest moments of tribulation to come.

Revelation 7 is oftentimes referred to as an “interlude.” We are between the breaking of the sixth and seventh seals. Before the seventh seal is broken, however, we are shown a powerful and beautiful image and vision of a truth that we most need to know. G.K. Beal puts it well when he writes of this interlude that “[t]he section stands as a kind of parenthesis explaining how God will keep believers safe during the tribulations of the church age.”[1] In other words, chapter 7 is here to show us how God will be with His people in the tribulation and how the scary things going on around us will not conquer and overwhelm us.

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Some Resources for Further Study on the Historic (Post-Tribulational) Pre-Millennial Position

I unpacked last Sunday why I lean toward this position (while qualifying my support a bit), and thought I might offer a few random resources in no particular order here. Again, I do not want to drink the koolaid on any system: they all have strengths and weaknesses. But I do believe that Historic Premillennialism is a helpful system and makes good sense of the text, overall.

Here are some resources:

Probably the one book to read on this system if you only have time for one. Exhaustive, persuasive, and well-written.

Probably the one book to read on this system if you only have time for one. Exhaustive, persuasive, and well-written.

This book was pretty important in introducing Historic Premillennialism to me and has had a profound impact on my own thinking about these questions.

This book was pretty important in introducing Historic Premillennialism to me and has had a profound impact on my own thinking about these questions.

Blomberg's own essay in this volume is quite helpful.

Blomberg’s own essay in this volume is quite helpful.

Revelation 6:9-17

Revelation

Revelation 6

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. 12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

When we first began our journey through Revelation in February of this year, I made to you all a number of promises. I would like to review those promises again now. They are:

  1. I will preach what Revelation says, not what any system of prophecy says.
  2. I will not forget the original audience who received this book.
  3. I will not engage in forced efforts of identifying prophesied events, people, or entities today, though I will point out where our culture seems to be evidencing what was prophesied.
  4. I will not overly-stress the differences between prophetic systems, though I will mention them for context.
  5. I will refuse to miss the forest for the trees.

I would like to restate my commitment to these promises. That being said, I will take a brief moment and address a question that I believe is utterly unavoidable in our context and that I think you deserve to know.

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Matthew 12:43-45

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Matthew 12

43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”

Roni and I were in Washington, D.C., last month and, while there, decided to go over to Georgetown to look around. I recalled—as a movie-buff nerd—that the “Exorcist steps” were in Georgetown and after having dinner in Georgetown we put it in the maps and made our way to the location to see them. These steps are actually a landmark of the city with a plaque on the wall marking their significance. In the movie “The Exorcist” the priest, Father Karras, gets the demon who is torturing the little girl to come into him instead and then he throws himself out the window and dies on the stairs below, the “Exorcist stairs.” To this day folks go to see these high, steep stairs and, indeed, when we were there, we had to wait for some folks to take pictures of them before we could.

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It was a strange thing for us to do, I grant, but between those stairs and the Rocky steps in Philadelphia, Roni and I had a pretty fun time looking at famous movie steps!

Those stairs in Georgetown were spooky, to be sure. They are tall, narrow, steep, and ominous. Some poor stuntman had to go down those things twice when they filmed that movie in the early 1970s. Today, they stand as an oddity and a curiosity piece, and, in the context of the story, they remind the viewer of the ferocity of the devil and his demons. To be honest, the steps were kind of chilling.

In Matthew 12:43-45 Jesus speaks chilling words as well about the ferocity of the devil and his demons. They are curious words, words of caution, and, as they relate to the Pharisees and those seeking to attack Jesus, they are also a word of rebuke.

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