Great God in heaven, we ask for Your help as we come to Your Word. Give us ears to hear, minds to understand, hearts to believe, and wills to obey. In Christ we pray. Amen.
The book of Revelation is structured around a series of sevens. In chapter 1 we’re introduced to seven stars and seven lampstands, which lead us into Revelation 2 and 3, which are letters to seven churches, and then we see the One who is seated on the throne and the Lamb, before them the seven spirits of God. That leads to the question who is worthy to open the scroll and to break its seven seals.
So we’ve been looking in chapter 6 and interlude in chapter 7 and then chapter 8, and one by one the breaking of the seven seals, which now this morning are leading right into the sounding of seven trumpets and then a few weeks from now the seven bowls.
So the bulk of Revelation is churning through these cycles of sevens – seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls. And as you’ve heard me say many times, this is the same basic story looked at from different camera angles, or it’s the same musical melody or theme played again and again but with a different variation, something different is happening even though it’s the same basic scene, that’s what we find. So the seals, the trumpets and the bowls, are really signifying the same kinds of things.
But those are not used simply interchangeably. They each speak to something. So the seals are on a scroll because as each seal is broken, it’s like the revealing of God’s plan for the world. Seven trumpets are there because each trumpet blast is to issue a warning that God is coming in judgment, and then the seven bowls because they will pour out the plagues of God’s wrath.
This morning we come to the seven trumpets. We’re going to look at trumpets one through five – the first four go together and then the next three go together – and we’ll look at just the first of those, the fifth trumpet.
In the Old Testament, a trumpet, which of course was not a brass instrument like this but probably a shofar, some kind of ram’s horn, the sounding of the trumpet could signal any number of things. It could be the enthronement of the king, the gathering of God’s people, a summon for battle, a warning of an enemy, a signal to repent, but it’s really this warning element that is here, that God is arriving and with God His judgment upon His people in part, but much more so upon the wicked.
As we’ll see, just like with the seals, some of what’s happening here is going to affect everyone, good and bad, and then there are some aspects that are really a particular judgment upon the wicked and the unbelieving.
So follow along as I read, hopefully you’re there, the last book in the Bible, Revelation chapter 8, the middle of this chapter beginning at verse 6.
“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.”
“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. 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.”
“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.”
“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!””
“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. He opened 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 any 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 like 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.”
“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.”
“The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come.”
This sermon is entitled “Doom and Gloom,” and there is much frightening visions of doom and gloom.
Both the seals and the trumpets are grouped into four and then three. You recall the first four seals were a unit, the four horsemen of the apocalypse, so-called, and then the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh were their own kind of unit, the martyrs pray beneath the altar and the fifth seal and then their prayers are answered, and the sixth and the seventh seals, so there’s four and then three.
Likewise, the first four trumpets form a unit, which as we’ll see in just a moment are reminiscent of the plagues of Egypt, and then the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh form a unit, three woes. We will just look at the first of those this morning.
Both the seals and the trumpets rely heavily on Old Testament imagery. The four horsemen, if you were here, you may recall they are drawn from the prophet Zechariah and then these first four trumpets are drawn from the ten plagues in Egypt.
So let’s look first at these first four trumpets and what we’ll see with each of these trumpet judgments, there’s an Old Testament counterpart, there’s a possible natural explanation, and then there is a more likely spiritual or metaphorical explanation. So let’s just quickly move through these first four trumpets.
So trumpet number one, you can look there beginning at verse 7, this is the judgment of hail and fire. So here’s the Old Testament counterpart, the seventh plague from Exodus 9 – so the Lord reigned hail on the land of Egypt, hail fell, and lightning flashed back and forth, it was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation.
So this is an obvious allusion to that plague, which befell Egypt. Now you could try to make, as some commentators do, a natural explanation for each of these trumpets, so that hail is going to fall with some sort of cataclysmic thunderstorm, or perhaps fire is a reference to a real human army, which would often burn cities with fire, so that this hail falls and then fire falls, and it affects a part of the vegetation. You see a third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees, and all of the green grass. So it’s possible that we’re meant to think this is literally going to happen.
But I think a more likely explanation is that this is spiritual more than physical in nature. So hail destroying vegetation is a metaphor for, well, what’s the result of that? Famine? Trees and grass are burnt up, so this is similar to the four horsemen where one of them was scarcity. This is a picture of what happens, especially in the ancient world, an agrarian society, when grass and trees and vegetation are being destroyed and burnt up, you are going to have scarcity and famine.
Trumpet number two. Look at verse 8. A mountain is thrown into the sea which turns to blood. Again, there is an Old Testament counterpart. Think of the first plague of Egypt, Exodus 7 – Moses raised his staff in the presence of Pharaoh and his officials and struck the water of the Nile and all the water was changed into blood. The fish in the Nile died, the river smelled so bad the Egyptians could not drink its water, blood was everywhere in Egypt.
Now the natural explanation there was a dramatic, massive volcanic eruption in 79. Mount Vesuvius, which covered Pompeii, you remember that trivia question from your history class, so maybe John is seeing a vision of some volcanic eruption on the earth and maybe that’s the picture they had in mind, but again I think a spiritual, metaphorical meaning is more to the point, that the great mountain thrown into the sea is common apocalyptic language for a kingdom being thrown down.
Revelation 18 – a might angel picked up a boulder the size of large millstone, threw it into the sea with such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down.
So mountains being thrown into the sea, mountains representing strength and dominion, this is likely a picture of earthly kingdoms being cast down.
Jeremiah 51 – I am against you, O destroying mountain, you who destroy the whole earth.
So this second trumpet is a picture of God judging the kingdoms of the earth so that again notice partial, why do have these thirds? It’s not to present to you your enemy fractions, but to say the judgment is not total. This is not the end. This is partial. So it’s a third.
So we’ve moved from a plague upon the earth to now being thrown into the sea so that the sea creatures and the ships are destroyed, the third trumpet is a fallen star and bitter water. Again, the Old Testament counterpart, you might think of the first plague when the water turned to blood and they were unable to drink it, or even the bitter water at Mara in the Exodus in chapter 15. They need to make the water suitable to drink. So again maybe there’s a natural explanation that this is foretelling water becoming polluted and poisonous to drink, wormwood is a bitter herb that can make water deadly if you drink enough of it.
But even more than that, I think there’s a spiritual explanation that because of these judgments on the earth, people will experience the bitterness of suffering. The prophets sometimes speak of the wormwood and the gall. That phrase is actually in one our hymns, the wormwood and the gall, to speak to the bitter experience of human suffering.
Then the fourth trumpet, look at verse 12. So we’ve had a trumpet that affects the earth and then the sea and then the sky, and now the firmament in the heavens, darkness. The Old Testament counterpart is obvious, Exodus 10 – then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt,” darkness that can be felt and maybe in real time they experienced this kind of darkness, a dark foreboding storm. Or sometimes when the battle would be so fierce and there would be siege works laid against and fire smoldering that the smoke would cover the sky and it would be as if the sky itself became dark and the sun and the moon and the stars were blotted out.
But once again I think the imagery is mainly to talk about our spiritual darkness, spiritual blindness, people deluded, led astray.
There’s a Jewish book called “The Wisdom of Solomon” which makes this connection. It says, “For when lawless people suppose that they held the holy nation in their power, they themselves lay as captives of darkness and prisoners of long night, shut under their roofs, exiles from eternal providence.”
Did you catch the irony? Saying that when the enemies of God’s people thought that they had them captive, so think about Egypt, this Jewish source is saying you know who the real captives were? You know who the real people in bondage were? It wasn’t Israel. They were in physical bondage. But the real slaves, the real people imprisoned, were the Egyptians because they were enslaved in their own sin and they were exiles from God’s eternal providence, groping around, blinded by idolatry, their hearts hardened against the Lord.
So these first four trumpet blasts are meant to tell us something. Two things. One, notice as God judges the earth He’s executing a pattern of de-creation. Each trumpet affects a third of three parts of the created order. First trumpet affects a third of the earth, a third of the trees and a third of the grass, well, it says all the green grass was burned up, a third of the rest. The second affects a third of the sea, the living creatures, the ships. The third, a third of the rivers, the springs, the waters. The fourth, a third of the sun, the moon, the stars.
There’s an obvious pattern. It’s a pattern of continuing de-creation. Just like when Noah’s flood. You can compare Noah’s flood in Genesis 6, 7, 8, 9 with creation in chapters 1 and 2 and creation is being unraveled in the flood. Everything that God did to create the world and to separate the waters, there in Noah’s flood He’s opening the restraining gate so that the flood from below and the floods from above, it’s the de-creation of God’s cosmos.
So we see the same thing here. God in the beginning created the sea, living creatures, vegetation. Now suffering under the curse, He’s de-creating the natural world – vegetation, creatures, sea, land, sky. He’s making His way for a final re-creation.
So what we see, and again I think the argument here with the four horsemen and the first four seals, similar to the four trumpet judgments, these are judgments that we should not expect just to be sometime in the future but have been working themselves working out all throughout history, that we see these kinds of judgments on the earth. That the world, in other words, is under a curse and is so often in rebellion against God.
So the first thing we see with these first four trumpets is God judging the earth in a pattern of de-creation.
The second thing to note is that with each trumpet blast the Lord is proclaiming His victory and He is issuing a warning to traitors on the earth that they might repent. So this is the point of when you have in Revelation judgments like this that are limited. Sometimes the duration is limited, sometimes the span of time is limited, here it’s in thirds. Why? A third of the trees and the waters, etc. It’s not a literal percentage that you could go off and you could 33.3 repeating, it’s a way of showing this is not all of God’s wrath.
These judgments, which affect the world from the first century to the final century, are warning blasts so that each trumpet is a way of proclaiming like a herald might, “Hear ye, hear ye. King Jesus is coming. Repent for the time is near.”
It’s one of the explanations for suffering on the earth.
Now there’s lots of ways and lots of things you would want to say about the problem of evil and suffering, but here’s one of, one part of the explanation, is that each occasion of judgment and suffering is at the same time an offer of clemency. Just like the tower of Siloam fell in Jesus’ day and the people said, “Well, why did that fall? Was it because they were wicked?” and Jesus says, “No, it doesn’t always work like that. You can’t just draw a straight line from, well, the tower fell on them, they must have been worse than other people.” It doesn’t work like that.
But, Jesus says, you should repent or you likewise will perish.
Every instance of suffering, every act of temporal and partial judgment, is an opportunity to repent and give God glory before worse calamities come. You say, “Well, I don’t know. This is medieval, or this is puritanical, fire and brimstone.” Well, actually fire and brimstone are in the Bible, that’s what we just read here. This is not the invention of some grotesque medieval imagination or some nasty Puritans. It’s right here, a warning of worse judgment to come.
Look at chapter 9. So there are four trumpets and then three. We’re going to look at just the fifth, so the first of the third. Revelation 4, the four living creatures never stop saying, think about Revelation 4, what do they cry out? Holy, holy, holy. The Trisagion, the threefold holy, sanctus, sanctus, sanctus.
Well, look at verse 13 at the end of chapter 8. This is the diabolical reverse. Instead of all of God’s people, the four living creatures, the 24 elders, crying out “holy, holy, holy,” an eagle is heard with a loud voice crying out, “Doom, doom, doom.” It’s the anti-gospel. Bad news.
You see “woe to those who dwell on the earth,” or the inhabitants of the earth. This is a technical phrase in Revelation. Don’t miss this. The inhabitants of the earth, that phrase, occurs, I’ll let you guess, get the number in your mind, how many times this might occur, it occurs seven times and it always refers to the ungodly and the idolatrous.
So the first four, like the four horsemen, go out and they affect the earth and the people are going to suffer as a result. But now these affect the inhabitants of the earth, the ungodly, the idolatrous. If the saints’ true and everlasting home is in heaven, the wicked and the unbelieving have earth as their dwelling place.
So unlike the other four judgments, these three woes are specifically for the wicked. That’s why the fifth seal, back to the seals, unveil the martyrs. They were killed because of the people on the earth doing evil. Then who can withstand the sixth and seventh seal? It’s the 144,000, the great multitude.
So notice, too, the Lord’s judgment has turned particularly to people. Now with the first four trumpets, I spoke of people suffering, but you’ll notice actually it doesn’t mention people. It mentions the cosmos, it talks about rivers and trees and mountains and light and land and stars and ships. By implication, people are going to suffer. But now, it’s not the just the environment or the natural resources of the earth, but directly the evil and idolatrous people.
Look at chapter 9, verse 1.
“The fifth angel blew his trumpet and I saw a star.” Now we already saw with the third angel in verse 10 a great star fell from heaven, and the name of the star, and it’s capitalized there in the ESV, is Wormwood. Here we have again a prophecy of a star falling from heaven to earth and this fallen star is given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. This fallen star is almost certainly a reference to a fallen angel. The stars are like a fallen angel.
Isaiah 14 depicts Satan as one fallen from heaven. Ezekiel 28 talks about the king of Tyre and he’s likened to one who was in the garden of Eden, a guardian cherub. Many scholars think that’s a reference to Satan there, who in rebellion and pride was then cast down. 2 Peter 2:4, Jude 6, speak of prior to humans on the earth some kind of angelic rebellion. So at some point in time the angels, presumably led by this one angel, rebelled against God’s authority and were cast down.
Think, too, perhaps you remember a story in the Gospels, Jesus sends out the 72 disciples, some accounts the 70 disciples, and they go out and declare to the towns and villages the kingdom of God is at hand. They heal the sick, they preach the Word, they cast out demons, they perform miracles, and when then return, Luke’s Gospel reports that Jesus, they say to Jesus, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name,” to which Jesus replies, Luke 10:18, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” Jesus says when you were casting out demons in My name, it was as if Satan was falling like lightning from heaven. As you announced the kingdom and ministered in My name, I saw the devil being defeated.
John 12:31 – Jesus says now is the time for judgment on this world, now the prince of this world will be driven out.
John 16:11 – At the cross, the prince of this world now stands condemned.
This is a key point that is going to shape how we understand several key passages in the book of Revelation. So I belabor this point to show, from Jesus’ own lips, He understood that provisionally when the disciples cast out demons, it was like Satan falling from the sky, and then ultimately His death on the cross was that almost, but not quite, final death blow to Satan.
So in the ministry and life and death and resurrection and ascension of Christ, there has been dealt a sentence which will result in the final destruction of the devil. That has already happened. Jesus describes that defeat of the devil as “I saw Satan fall like lightning.”
So I think, as many other commentators do, going back to Revelation 9, the star fallen from heaven is Satan, the devil, Lucifer, is this fallen angel not only who fell in some rebellion long ago, not just fallen, but is fall-ing. He has power, as we’ll see in a moment, but it is a granted power.
Notice this passive language – “he was given.” Scholars call this a divine passive, when we have this language, “it was given,” or “he was given.” This authority that the devil has on the earth is an authority that God allows him to grant. So do not ever think that it’s sort of the devil and then God and they’re almost equal foes. The devil only operates at God’s sovereign allowance. He is given a key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. This authority that the fallen star, who I think is the devil, wields on the earth is a granted authority.
It is power that the slain Lamb of God grants to him for a time, which is why it says “for five months.” Kind of weird. Why five months? Because again, it’s a way of saying it’s limited. There is no real contest between Christ and Satan. Of course, there is, but there’s no real contest where the outcome is in doubt. The picture we have here with the fifth trumpet is of a granted authority that yet the devil is allowed to wreak great havoc on the earth.
Now you may say here, “Now wait a minute. Aren’t we taught to pray in the Lord’s Prayer lead us not into temptation, deliver us from the evil one? I thought we were praying that God would deliver us from the evil one, but here you’re saying that He’s granted the devil to have some power on the earth. Well, which is it?”
I want you to notice very carefully the work of the devil in this passage is not against God’s people – it is against the devil’s own people. “He opened the shaft,” verse 2, of the bottomless pit, the smoke comes out, they were told, verse 4, not to harm the grass.
Parentheses here, here’s another reason why we are meant to take Revelation as an apocalyptic literature and we’re not meant to read it overly literally, because remember what we saw already with the first trumpet? All the green grass was burned up. Well, what happened? Some scholars have to go to amazing lengths to say well, through a miraculous thing, all the grass grew again, so now He can say don’t touch the grass.
No, it’s not a literal picture. These are symbols of things that are happening.
So go back to chapter 9, verse 4. They were told not to harm the grass or any green plant but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.
Now we’ve seen that already. The 144,000. God’s people who are sealed. It’s another reason for understanding that the 144,000 are not a literal Jewish remnant but are God’s people, because there’s two categories – those who are sealed belong to God, and those who don’t have the seal. Later in Revelation we’ll see they have the seal of the beast.
So the people who are afflicted in this first woe are the devil’s own people. Don’t miss this diabolical irony, tragedy. Those who are sealed belong to God. Those who do not have this seal are said elsewhere to be worshipers of the beast, followers of the devil. Yet whom does the devil harm? Those who don’t have the seal of God, which is to say, his own followers. We’ll come back to this in just a moment, explain what I think this means, but don’t miss this tragic irony. Bondage to God is the only freedom, and freedom from God is the worst slavery.
Listen, Satan is not your friend. The devil is not on your side. He makes promises to us. He would like to lead astray the elect if it were possible. He does not want what is best for his followers. You do not want to bargain with the devil. He knows the plans he has for you, plans to harm you, not to prosper you, to give you no hope and no future. And the lie he tells you is that you know where the real freedom is? Leave this God behind, with all of His commands, with His authority, with His rules. Follow me and all will be well.
The last thing you want to do in your life is to give the devil power to do with you what he wants to do, because he is not your friend.
Look at verse 5. They were allowed, this demonic army, to torment them for five months. So it’s not the end, that’s what five months means, but not to kill them. The torment is so bad, verse 6, people will seek death, they will not find it. They will long to die but death will flee from them. This is a picture of total despair. It’s a picture of what being tormented by the devil is like.
So John’s vision draws from Joel 2, which is a locust invasion, and also from the eighth plague in Exodus, which is a locust plague. So it would have been very familiar. It seems strange to us, but in the ancient world what’s one of the worst things that can happen is a plague of millions of locusts come and devour your harvest. It would seem to you like a conquering army was coming your way and there was nothing you could do. No pesticides, there’s no swords, there’s no walls. When the locusts come, you know that famine and death and disaster is upon you.
So verses 7 through 11 were not meant to go through and say, well, what did the lion’s teeth pertain to and what this the breastplate and the whirring. These are like helicopters, it’s some vision of helicopters. No, you’re just supposed to have a terrifying picture where this demonic army is like a locust invasion, grotesque, with soldiers, armor, and faces of men and hair of women. It’s an apocalyptic vision.
So here’s the big question with this first woe. We see there’s torment, and it’s likened to a locust and it’s an army and it’s a scorpion with a tail and a sting. What actually is the torment? What is the punishment that Satan is allowed to inflict on those who do not belong to Christ? What can Satan do to non-Christians that he can’t do to Christians? What’s the torment?
It’s not cancer; Christians get cancer. It’s not car accidents; Christians get into car accidents. It’s not political upheaval or famine; those things fall on Christians as well. It’s not even death. We saw in the fifth seal those who are martyred because of the testimony of Christ.
So what earthly torment do unbelievers face that Christians don’t, or at least that Christians should not face? Here’s what I think is the answer, and we’ll see it in the weeks ahead in Revelation. The answer, I think, guilt and despair. Christians suffer. God has not promised all comfort and ease. But here’s what Christians should not have – we should not wallow in the hopeless abyss of guilt and despair.
You say, “Well, okay, that sounds good. Reformation Sunday. Where do you get this from?”
Well, you see again verse 6. Their despair, the point of it, is a kind of a hopelessness. They want to die. They’ve given up. But they can’t. It’s a perfect description of what it feels like to be in the mire of total and utter despondency. So obvious there’s despair.
What about guilt? Well, I get that from Revelation 12 where Satan is called the accuser of the brethren. We’ll see this again. Satan chiefly has two weapons. He’s not interested in haunting your house, making babies’ heads spin around. He has two weapons – he lies and he accuses. He’s a deceiver and an accuser.
So chapter 12 he’s called an accuser. Here look at verse 11. He’s given two names, one in Hebrew Abaddon, one in Greek Apollyon, and you can look at a footnote there in the ESV, they both mean destruction or destroyer. He seeks to destroy those who do not have the seal of God. He torments them, I think by accusing them, of reminding them of purposelessness, by driving them farther away from God. He brings up to them their dark past. He shows to them a dark future. He speaks to them that their lives are riddled with doubts and fears, hopelessness and guilt, to such a point that the unbeliever would rather die.
Now you say, “Hold on, Pastor. You just described me. I live with doubts and fears and sometimes I feel quite hopeless and I live with the crushing sense of guilt and despair. Are you saying that I’m not a Christian?”
Well, it is good to consider that possibility, and yet if you’re asking that question, likely you are a Christian. Remember, Revelation depicts a battle. In the battle, the cry is constantly nikao, nike, victory, overcome, to the one who conquers. The chief battle in our life is not against flesh and blood, it’s against the lies and it’s against the accusations of the enemy.
Satan has no authority over you if you are a Christian, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get up into your business and tell you things. Through thoughts, through media, he accuses. So it is possible that Christians feel this same sense of despair, but you ought not. God has not granted to the devil any authority over you in your life. We may suffer in most of the same ways that the world suffers, except for this one chief way – we are not meant to suffer from the despondency and the despair of guilt.
No one understood this more vividly than John Bunyan. I’m going to close by just giving a line or two from his famous book, I hope you’ve read it, Pilgrim’s Progress. Let me set the scene for you. Christian, that’s the pilgrim, is on his way from the city of destruction to the celestial city, and there he encounters, do you remember? He encounters this grotesque, fierce, dragon-like figure called Apollyon, this name. Apollyon tries to stop Christian and he makes a claim on his life. Apollyon says to Christian, “You belong to me.” Christian says, “Well, I did belong to you, but now I swear allegiance to the Prince.” Apollyon says, “Well, he’s a rotten prince. Come back to me.” Christian stands fast and says, “I have sworn to him my allegiance.”
There’s this dialogue for two or three pages and then Apollyon tries a different tactic with Christian. He reminds Christian of all of his offenses, all of the ways he’s betrayed his prince, all the ways that Christian has been unfaithful to the prince. He says, “Christian, don’t you remember you almost fainted when you set out and you almost choked and you did things the wrong way and you fell asleep and you lost your precious things and you have not done the right things, and when you’ve done the right things, you’ve done them for vain glory.”
See what Bunyan understands? This is what Apollyon is doing. He’s accusing. Here’s Christian’s reply to Apollyon, Abaddon, the fallen star, the accuser: All this is true, Christian says, all that you say about me is true and much more which thou has left out. But the prince whom I serve and honor is merciful and ready to forgive. But besides these infirmities possess me in thy country, for there I sucked them in and have grown under them, been sorry for them, and have since obtained pardon of my prince.
That’s good biblical psychology there. Bunyan’s telling us, and the Bible is telling us, Christian, you do not need to despair. This torment that the devil is given over his followers in the first woe is not meant to be our woe. The terrible demonic army should not fall on us.
You remember the story of Martin Luther as he made his pilgrimage to Rome. He was there to earn a plenarian indulgence so his sins could be forgiven. Luther was a nervous, anxious wreck. He said in a famous line, “If anyone could have ever been saved by sheer monkery, it was I.” No one was a better monk than he was. So he went and he ascended the Scala Sancta, the holy staircase which was said to be the very steps Christ ascended during His trial with Pontius Pilate; they weren’t, but they were believed to be. That staircase was filled with relics and carved crosses and pilgrims would have an opportunity to procure a plenarian indulgence, their sins forgiven, and maybe some of their loved ones in purgatory. As a young man wracked with guilt, Luther dutifully climbed all 28 steps on his knees, kissing each step, venerating the various icons and crosses, repeating the Lord’s Prayer every step.
When he got to the very top without any relief for his anxiety, Luther looked back down and said to himself, “Who can know if these things are so?” Even then, he thought, “Did that do anything? Who can know if I’ve done enough to earn forgiveness with God?”
It would be in the years ahead that God would show to Luther that there was no hope for forgiveness of sins and that kind of sheer monkery, in procuring plenarian indulgences, but that what he needed and we needed was a righteousness from God, a righteousness outside of ourselves, a righteousness credited to us. None of us are saved through pilgrimages. We’re not saved through indulgences. You are not saved by punishing yourself, by making yourself feel miserable. You are not saved by saying the right prayer enough times. It is only through the finished work of Christ.
I don’t think this is exactly what John’s vision had in mind, but the connection is too rich not to at least make, that the locusts, the locusts have a tail like a scorpion and the pain, the torment, is in the sting of that scorpion. How can we not think of Paul’s famous words in 1 Corinthians 15 – Where, O death, is thy sting?
You might think of it, these locust scorpions are like those wasps that only sting once and then they die. They have one opportunity to release their sting, release their venom, only once.
So Christ, as it were, sucked out all of the venom, took it on His own body and soul, all of that sting, so that we can say with the Apostle Paul, “Where, O death, is thy sting?” For we have the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we lift high the cross and we proclaim to all the world and adore the sacred name of Christ, for only in the name of Christ, our risen and conquering King, can we have true freedom. Only in bondage to this good Prince can we be free from the slavery and the torment of the devil. Set us free, make us Your servants, that we may live forever with You. In Jesus we pray. Amen.