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Announcing God's Plagues (6)

Revelation 9:17-19
The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulphur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulphur. A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulphur that came out of their mouths. The power of the horses was in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails were like snakes, having heads with which they inflict injury. (NIVUK)

The sixth trumpet call, from the sixth angel, started a scene of destruction in which a third of the people remaining on earth after other 'plagues' would die through catastrophic military conflict. Today's reading enlarges John's description of what he saw (Revelation 9:13-16). It is easy for us to jump to specific conclusions as to what and how the future tribulations will unfold, in the same way in which previous generations have tried to match the apocalyptic description with their contemporary knowledge of military hardware, but whose conclusions are now clearly deficient.

In every age there have been wars and rumours of wars (Matthew 24:6). In John's day the Parthians provided a threat to the margins of the Roman Empire. They had skilled horsemen and used flaming arrows to burn their way in battle. But if we are to let the text shape our understanding of how we should live in the light of this revelation, we need to move from thoughts of burning arrows, WW1 tanks or even intercontinental ballistic missiles. Although these were all terrifying objects in their day, the reality of God's permission to four demonic agents to engulf a third of the world's population is beyond any concept of conventional warfare (Revelation 9:14-15). The normal human desire, to control or mitigate any known threat (Jeremiah 6:14), will not have any effect when the Lord releases His judgement. Indeed, the church's only resource is that the Lord Jesus is in command, and that those who are sealed by Him are safe (Revelation 7:3).

As Revelation progresses, it is difficult for some believers to grasp that the good and holy God will bring destruction to the earth He has made. But the earth is spoiled, and everything in it; including the people who continue to spoil it, and themselves. The only future is in a Saviour who will rescue the faithful and establish a new creation (Romans 8:20-23). Until then, He does not make this sinful world comfortable for sinners: in His kindness He allows distresses of various kinds to remind them of their weakness and need for His salvation (Romans 2:4). It was the story of rebellious Pharaoh who had enslaved God's people. It was the story of those liberated people, but whose rebellion in the wilderness brought plagues of judgement. It was the story, repeated thirteen times through the time of the Judges: the cycles of prosperity, wickedness, judgement and deliverance. It was Israel's rebellion that precipitated God allowing them to be taken as captives into exile. Jeremiah 19:15 describes God's thoughts in all those situations: "This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: "Listen! I am going to bring on this city and all the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to my words.""

It is all too often our story too. Isaiah 55:6-7 sums up God's graciousness towards sinners: "Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon." If the Lord is speaking to you, obey!

Gracious Lord. Thank You for Your long-suffering in patiently waiting for people to repent before You release Your judgement. Forgive me when I have failed to obey Your promptings, and have not turned from error and turned to You in faith. Please give me the grace to repent, so that I might know Your favour and not incur Your wrath. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams