You might be wondering what I did to be assigned this particular passage. Actually, Pastor Troy did not choose this passage for me, but I chose it myself. You now might be asking yourself: Why would you do that to yourself, Pastor Kristine, and to us?
My hope is that after covering Revelation chapter 8 we will have a better understanding of God’s grace through Jesus Christ because that is what this passage is actually about. Which I know doesn’t make sense a the moment as there is so much death and destruction in this passage. This sermon series isn’t called “Stranger Things” for nothing.
We need to treat the book of Revelation like a mosaic. A mosaic is a piece of art made up of many smaller pieces. If you were to take only one of those smaller pieces you don’t see the big picture, the finished product of what that Mosaic is supposed to be. In a similar fashion, instead of fixating on the small pieces of Revelation, such as the hail and fire mixed with blood brought about by the first trumpet, we need to stay focused on the big picture that these smaller details put together are trying to convey about the character of God.
So what is the big picture of chapter 8? It’s about what God could do to those who persecute God’s people and live a life that is not in line with the Kingdom of God.
I’m a huge Marvel fan. There’s a great Marvel show called “What if?” It’s about what the Marvel universe would look like if different people became the Marvel superheroes. What if Peggy Carter instead of Steve Rodgers was injected with the superhuman serum? Captain America would instead be British and a woman. What if Thor never grew out of his party-boy antics? This would all change the Marvel universe we’ve grown to love thorough the comics and the blockbuster movies.
So what if God unleashed even just a bit of his powerful wrath upon those who actively work against God and God’s people? What would that look like? This is what chapter 8 is about.
Everything that happens in Chapter 8 is done in response to the prayers of those who were killed for being followers of Jesus Christ. Let’s take a look back in chapter 6:
- Revelation 6:10” they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?”
- Revelation 8:4: And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.
Each trumpet unleashes disaster and death in the world to punish those who refuse to repent for their actions against God and God’s people. The vision that God gives John is about what if God answered the prayers of the martyrs by inflicting disaster upon those who are actively working against God’s purposes. What happens in chapter 8 indirectly affects humanity, but nonetheless many die. The disasters unleashed are reminiscent of the plagues God sent down upon Egypt in order to free Israel from slavery.
The first trumpet unleashes hail and fire burning up a ⅓ of the earth.
The second trumpet results in the sea becoming blood killing a ⅓ of all sea creatures and all ships at sea.
The third results in a ⅓ of the rivers becoming contaminated with a poisonous wormwood making the water undrinkable.
The fourth trumpet results in a third of the sun, moon and stars being struck down resulting in the loss of a third of daylight we are accustomed to having.
Remember this is a vision of “what if” God were to unleash his full wrath. It’s not a prediction of what is to come. We see proof of this in Revelation itself.
For example, If we go back to Revelation 6:12 it says: “When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and there came a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood”
But notice what it says in Revelation 8:12: “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 was darkened; a third of the day was kept from shining, and likewise the night.”
So if the sun became black and the moon like blood in chapter 6, God would have to revive the sun and moon in order to strike them down again in chapter 8. The words of Revelation itself reveal that we can’t read it as events that will happen in the future and that will happen in a particular order. Revelation itself reveals that these events don’t happen in a linear fashion supporting the fact that we aren’t meant to read Revelation as events that will take place in the future.
This is where Biblical Scholar Bruce Metzger emphasizes that we need to read Revelation with “disciplined imagination.” We need discipline in remembering that much of Revelation is a vision of what could be not what is to come.
While this is not a prediction of what is to come it is still God’s hope that people would repent. That people would turn back to God. And that is the purpose of the events of chapter 8. That the horrors unleashed will bring people to their knees and admit how they have gone against God’s people and God’s own self.
We see, however in Revelation 9:20 this does not happen: “The rest of humankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands or give up worshipping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk”
This should come as no surprise. Even when Jesus was physically present no one, not even the disciples, fully grasped who he was and his mission on earth. Even when God is standing right in front of us we have trouble believing in God. So it should come as no surprise that even if God were to unleash environmental disasters where many lost their lives it would still not result in people turning back to Christ.
In addition, Revelation 9:20 also shows what all of humanity, not just those who are actively working against God’s will such as the Roman Empire, are guilty of and need to repent. We are shown in this verse that at the end of the day, we all have the tendency to work against God’s will. This is due to our tendency toward idolatry. We are all guilty of looking to other people, other powers, and other things that give us instant gratification and security instead of going to God. We are all guilty about only being for ourselves instead of others. We are all guilty of not trusting God’s goodness and work in our lives.
This is why we can’t read Revelation as “us” v “them” as many tend to do. As revelation 9:20 reveals that we all need to repent of our idol worship as we all have our chosen idols.
So why does God give John a vision of what God could do if all of God’s wrath was unleashed on earth? It’s to show that even if God did it wouldn’t make a difference. Destruction isn’t the answer. God also isn’t a coercive God who wishes to use violence and death to force people to turn back to God. God is not abusive or manipulative. What God does know is that it is the faithful witness of God’s people, not destruction that brings people to Jesus Christ.
And this is where the church comes in: “Revelation 10:11:Then they said to me, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.’
Our call as a church is to help people enter into a relationship with Christ. We do this through our relationships with others. Whether it’s through service or just sharing life with others in order to point people to Jesus Christ.
In summary, God could reign down fire, but God doesn’t.
God doesn’t because God is merciful and loving. God is not a coercive or a manipulative or abusive God. God does not wish to use death, destruction, and violence to manipulate us into returning back to God. But God who loves us so much that God values our freedom of choice. Even if it may mean people who choose not to turn toward Christ.
Pastor Troy and I had the opportunity earlier this week to meet with a pastor who is new to the area. He shared about his love for preaching and shared the most meaningful compliment he’s ever received after preaching. After worship, an older woman came up to him and said: “The God you preached about is a God of love. The God I grew up was a God of anger, fear and wrath. I want to get to know the God you preached about better.”
This saddens me as this woman spent most of her live believing in an angry and fierce god. Not the God who held nothing back – not even God’s own son on the cross. If you still believe like the older woman in this story that God is an angry God to be feared, I hope you become more acquainted with who God really is. And my hope and prayer is that our sermon series on Revelation helps you to see God as a God of love, not a God of fear, destruction, and violence.