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Apr 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Revelation Chapter 9

Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning, RefleXion!    Grace and Peace to you!

Jesus died and was resurrected, and he appeared to others for 40 days after that before he ascended to heaven.  And we learn that he still had his scars.  He shows them to his disciples to prove his identity, and his humanity.

Have you heard of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of embracing imperfection?  It is the art of taking a shattered piece of pottery and mending every crack with gold, which creates a piece that is even more beautiful than the first by embracing the beauty of the flaw.  A few weeks ago, on 60 Minutes—maybe you saw it—there was a story of a woman (her name is Jennifer Thompson)  who brings together wrongly convicted prisoners and victims who have wrongly identified criminals.  All these lives have been shattered.  In these healing workshops, you know what she does?  She gives them each a bowl and asks them to take a hammer and shatter it.  This represents their shattered lives.  Then she gives them gold lacquer and asks them to mend their bowl with gold.  But before they can mend the cracks representing their wounds, they must look hard at the breaks that need repair, each one and how it connects to another. And that takes time.  Exonerees had been freed and there is still much brokenness, just like us.  Victims had seen justice, and they were shattered with shame and guilt as well as the original injury.  Everyone was a victim; everyone had wounds.

The risen Christ has scars, being raised from the dead does not erase them.  We have scars; becoming free from sin doesn’t mean we don’t still need healing.  In 2 Corinthians, Paul says that he will boast of the things that show his weakness that the power of Christ may rest upon him.  He said that he bore the marks of Jesus on his body.  The gold veins of Jesus’ redeeming, restoring, and healing work in our lives represent our marks of Jesus’. Can we see it this way?  Let his power be made perfect in our weakness.      Will you join me to pray?

Jesus, you bought back our shattered lives. We have wounds, open and unhealed injuries.  Thank you for your continued work in mending our lives.  May each scar—a wound healed—be considered the gold that makes us human, and beautiful.  May each scar represent the glory of resurrection.  Be with us now as we gather in your name. Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.
And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them Revelation 9:1-6

Intro: When my children were small, I’d read to them every night

First from a book of fairytales, then from a Bible storybook
– we would pray, say goodnight, and turn off the lights
• we were careful about the last thing that entered their minds before bed
• I doubt we can prevent our kids from having nightmares
◦ but we can do things to help them sleep well
◦ and we can comfort them after a nightmare
– I certainly would have never read from Revelation the last thing before bed!
• this makes me wonder why God gives us this nightmare stuff
• anyway, we know that God can make good use of anything

Somehow in all of this strangeness, we’re given a new view of Jesus
– not the same perspective we as we find in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John’s previous book
• those relate to us the earthly life of Jesus; their stories are human and historical
◦ they tell of his ministry of healing, his teaching, and especially his death and resurrection
• this book, after all, is “The revelation of Jesus Christ” – Rev. 1:1
◦ it begins with a vision of Jesus, and following that letters from Jesus, and then Jesus is revealed as the Lamb
– in Revelation, Jesus appears in a world of pictures and strange forms
• a realm outside of the space-time dimensions of our experience
◦ and we’ve no rational or realistic way to perceive that realm
◦ John must resort to symbols, images, and exaggerated detail
Jacque Ellul, “At issue is a relation between that which has happened upon earth with and around Jesus, and then the celestial domain, the world of powers, thrones, dominions, angels and demons, but above all the secret of God.”
• we do not need to be surprised at the monsters and devils in the Revelation
◦ we may not see these things in our everyday world, but we can’t avoid them either:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ep. 6:12)

Where we left off: seven angels with seven trumpets

As each angel sounds a trumpet, a new scene unfolds
– after the first four trumpet blasts, there was a warning: Woe, woe, woe . . . (Rev. 8:13)
• now, the fifth trumpet blast and the first of the three “woes”
• this is not an encrypted message we have to decipher!
◦ for instance: “The scorpions must refer to modern combat helicopters”
◦ we take the information as it comes and let it work within deep recesses of our minds, hearts, bodies, and spirits

The first scene: The sixth trumpet sounds and a star plummets to the earth
– in this alternate reality, the star isn’t a mere object
• it’s a living agent – a “he” who has been given a key
◦ what his key opens is the abyss, or “bottomless pit”
• here are two dimensions: heaven above the earth and the abyss in the underworld
◦ the same Greek word translates into English as heaven or sky
◦ as the sky, it stretches endlessly into space, or as God’s domain it exists in another, infinite, dimension
◦ below is the bottomless pit, and it sinks to an endless depth
– best way I’ve ever heard the bottomless pit was how Charles Spurgeon described it
• as small boy, he was allowed to read the Scripture during his family’s morning prayer time
◦ one morning, he came to “the bottomless pit” and asked grandfather what it meant
◦ he was told to go on reading, but he came back to the same passage every morning
Spurgeon, “The process was successful, for it is by no means the most edifying thing to hear the Mother of Harlots, and the beast with seven heads, every morning in the week.”
◦ his grandfather allowed him to continue doing this (perhaps the child would get the point if he had to endless read the same passage day after day)
But one morning Spurgeon’s grandfather asked, “What is it that puzzles you?”
Spurgeon, “I can remember the horror of my mind when my dear grandfather told me what his idea of ‘the bottomless pit’ was. There is a deep pit, and the soul is falling down . . . The last ray of light at the top has disappeared, and it falls on–on–on, and so it goes on falling–on–on–on for a thousand years! Is it not getting near the bottom yet? No, you are no nearer the bottom yet; it is the bottomless pit. It is on–on–on, and so the soul goes falling perpetually into a deeper depth still, falling forever into ‘the bottomless pit’–on–on–on–into the pit that has no bottom! Woe, without termination, without hope of its coming to a conclusion!”

In our reading, it’s not what goes into pit that is terrifying, but what emits from it
– something erupts from a hidden depth–something horrible
• there’s a way that I can read this in which I learn a lesson about myself
◦ something lurks in the darkness of my own mind
◦ I have been unaware of it until it is triggered and released
◦ when it breaks through into the light of day, its force is terrifying
• this is how some people experience Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
– one of the weird twists of this passage is that the locusts were not to harm the vegetation
• that is the precise threat of a locust invasion — the Hebrew prophets perceived it as God’s judgment
Fire devours before them,
and behind them a flame of fire burns.
The land is the garden of Eden before them,
but behind them is a desolate wilderness,
and nothing escapes them (Joel 2:3)
• here in Revelation they harm only the people who are unprotected
◦ those who don’t have God’s mark on their foreheads (cf. Rev. 7:3)
◦ the forehead, especially in the ancient Mediterranean world, was the part of body that was always visible (it’s the part that exposes us, depending on the name that is stamped there)
– the net result of the locusts’ sting is “torment”
• five months is a long time to suffer excruciating pain
◦ have you ever thought about the difference: pain and suffering?
◦ I think of pain as being physical and suffering as mental
• THINK: what has upset you recently?
◦ a neighbor? – a relative? – finances? – your health? – politics?
there are many sources of aggravation, of pain, and of suffering
◦ God offers us his love, his help, his salvation
and I’m sure heaven wonders why we do not allow him to give us his mark

A description of the locust
In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon Revelation 9:7-11

At first, the images are familiar (locust, horse, crown) and we begin to visualize them
– but so many odd and unrelated features are added that we give up
• to even come close to illustrating them would require the surrealism of a Salvador Dali
◦ or the fantasy art of a Boris Vallejo
◦ actually, I’ve seen Artificial Intelligence rendition of these beasts – some of them are certainly scary
• they have a king, whose name is given in two languages
◦ Hebrew: ruin or destruction; Greek: destroyer
◦ their attack is not haphazard – it’s led, organized, and purposeful

There is a break at verse 12
The first woe has passed; behold, two more woes are still to come.

This warning does not bring any relief
– it is just an announcement, like an air raid siren

The sixth trumpet blast brings the next catastrophe
Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” So the four angels who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of mounted troops was twice then thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. And this is how I saw the horses in m vision and those who rode them: they word breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths. By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. For the power of the horses in in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound
Revelation 9:13-19

Just to remind you that “we’re not in Kansas anymore,”
– a voice comes from the altar – specifically, from its “four horns”
• I have thoughts about the significance of the altar, but they’re not profound
• the point is, there’s a disaster that’s been looming over the world
◦ until this specific moment, it has been held back
◦ this is similar to when the sixth seal was opened (four angels restraining four destructive winds)
Robin Robertson, “The Euphrates is the largest river of western Asia, about 1,700 miles in length. It joins with the Tigris river, one of the other great rivers of Asia. Most of the great cities of the ancient Mesopotamian civilization lay within the area bounded by the two rivers, including the greatest of all–fabled Babylon . . . .

In our world, we can be precise when working with numbers
– even when dealing with an enormous magnitude
• commentators try to calculate the numerical references in Revelation to an exact figure
◦ but biblical writers, who did not have access to calculators or computers but make reference to large numbers, are simply saying, “A sum beyond imagination”
◦ we must be careful about taking large sums in scripture literally
(for instance, we may be told that a city’s army had 10,000 soldiers when there were not even 10,000 people who lived in the city or the surrounding area)
• again the description of these troops would be difficult to illustrate in a painting
◦ notice that the horses’ tails “are like serpents”
◦ like scorpions, the very appearance of a snake can frightening — many people have phobias related to scorpions and snakes (and spiders!)
– in verse 19, the power of the horses is in their mouths
• this is reiterated in the Scriptures:
Your tongue plots destruction,
like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit (Ps.52:2)
who whet the tongues like swords,
who aim bitter words like arrows (Ps. 64:3)
(see also the numerous references in Proverbs and chapter 3 of the epistle of James)
• this is the power to spin lies; to ruin a person; to terrify people with threats

The survivors of these catastrophes do not change
The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts Revelation 9:20-21

At first, this stubbornness is difficult for us to comprehend
– but the truth is, we get stuck in what we assume is reality,
• and we then come up with other explanations of what is “really” going on
• it’s important to realize that large-scale threats to society, cause people to retreat into tribes
◦ even people smart enough to know better get drawn in to conspiracy theories
Edward Edinger, “Vast collective [paranoid] moods have immense contagious power.”

Conclusion: So why does God give us this nightmare stuff?

There are many theories regarding dreams and nightmares:
• that they are a way our brains sort things out – fears, anxieties, unfulfilled longings, and so on
• that they provide a release of what roils in our unconscious – repressed urges, resentments, and desires
• that nightmares are a way our brains prepare us for emergencies – a simulation practice in a safe environment
• in scripture, dreams and nightmares are a way that God speaks to us
For God speaks in one way,
and in two, though man does not perceive it.
In a dream, in a vision of the night,
when deep sleep falls on men,
while they slumber on their beds,
then he opens the ears of men
and terrifies them with warnings,
that he may turn man aside from his deed
and conceal pride from a man;
he keeps back his soul from the pit,
his life from perishing by the sword
(Job 33:14-18)

At the end of this chapter, we learn what to do if our wrong actions lead to suffering
We change! This is what “repent” means!
We surrender to God and let him bring us back to the right track
Some were fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction . . . .
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from destruction (Ps. 107:17-20)

Final word: “Pleasant dreams, my friends!”

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