Then the fifth angel blew his trumpet….Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet….All the other people, the ones who had not been killed in these plagues, did not repent… ~REVELATION 9:1,13,20
When the fifth trumpet is sounded, an angel with a key opens the shaft of the abyss, or bottomless pit, and smoke pours out; out of the smoke comes demonic beings which John sees as locusts with the power of scorpions tormenting people for five months. This scorpion sting-like torture is so awful, that people are longing to die so that it will just end, but they aren’t be able to find death.
When the sixth trumpet is sounded, a voice from the four horns of the altar in front of God says to release the four angels bound at the Euphrates River. These four lead an army of 200 million riders on horses to kill one-third of the human race by way of fire, smoke, and sulfur coming out of the mouths of the horses’ lion-like heads. Oh, and their tales are like snakes with heads which inflict damage as well.
So the fifth and sixth trumpets bring five grueling months of scorpion torture and then one-third of the entire human race being slaughtered..!!!
Try to let that sink in for a second. It’s nearly impossible to make sense of.
And of all this insanity, here’s the craziest thing that stood out to me: the remaining two-thirds of the earth’s population that was not killed by the demon horses still did not repent.
I mean, what does it take?
Apparently not retribution alone. Is this what John is telling us? That is what one commentator said, which caused me to pause and think, because it’s an angle I’ve not considered before. He said that John is showing the reader what an outpouring of divine wrath would look like, and that the non-repentance shows us that plagues in and of themselves would be ineffectual. (see the extended quote at the bottom for more context if you so desire)
Things in life don’t always work the way we think they will.
I found these words from Henry Blackaby in the margin of his study Bible to be poignant: “As destructive as our sinful habits may be, we may prefer living with the familiar rather than being freed to experience the unknown. Do you fear change more than you fear God?”
Some people say, “If Jesus would just write His name in the sky, everyone would then believe.” Yeah, right. It would just be explained away, somehow. Anything can be explained away if one is not ready or willing to believe, if there is simply no faith. While suffering increases the faith and dependance on God in one person, the same suffering will serve to only harden the heart of another.
God is just too darn smart. Knows us so much better than we realize.
This all reminded me of my friend I quoted in the last Ripple who was having doubts and wanted questions answered, only to find that it wasn’t his questions being answered that satisfied him, but an undeniable encounter with the very presence of God. He said the next week at church in the liturgy there was this line: “We come to you, God, for answers, but you give us deeper questions.” This is so true, isn’t it? Jesus hardly ever answers a question straightforwardly in the Gospel accounts. Most of the time He answers people’s sincere questions with invitations to go deeper. Again, He’s smarter than us, and knows what we really need. We think we want a simple solution, but that’s just not what our soul truly craves. It is difficult to improve upon Augustine’s classic line, “our hearts are restless until they can rest in You.” Perhaps we could add on to the end of that “beyond answers” for our purposes here.
This is not to say that we need no answers at all, and that they do us no good whatsoever. It’s just that it does seem there is something significant to how we get there which should not be overlooked.
It’s like how effective it is for a good therapist, counselor, or pastor to lead us into discovering a truth for ourselves, as opposed to it being simply handed to us. Maybe this has to do with the effort or seeking put into something being proportional to the value we place on that something.
And sometimes God zaps people with His overwhelming presence in an instant when they’re not expecting it or searching for Him.
Hey, don’t ask me, I don’t have all the answers.
The first six trumpets work with a profound irony. The plagues manifest divine wrath in ways that would have been broadly familiar in the Greco-Roman world. Yet this complicates the issue: Given only the plagues, people have no reason to distinguish the wrath of the Jewish and Christian God from the wrath of the Greco-Roman gods. Therefore, since wrath alone does not move people to repent, the pattern of wrath will be interrupted, so that prophetic witness can be given before the seventh trumpet is blown (10:1-11:13). John will emphasize the importance of witness by creating a literary connection between the end of the sixth trumpet vision and the beginning of the seventh. The sixth trumpet shows a third of humanity being killed and “the rest” (hoi loipoi) refusing to repent (9:20-21). Yet after God’s witnesses have finished giving their testimony, the threat of judgment is moderated, and “the rest” (hoi loipoi) of the people come to glorify God (11:13). When change has occurred, then the seventh trumpet can sound, announcing the coming kingdom of God.Craig Koester