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Interpreting Revelation - The Book of Revelation
Week 28, 2017
Now we come to
And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound them.
The first sounded, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were thrown to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.
The second angel sounded, and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood,
and a third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed.
The third angel sounded, and a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of waters.
The name of the star is called Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter.
The fourth angel sounded, and a third of the sun and a third of the moon and a third of the stars were struck, so that a third of them would be darkened and the day would not shine for a third of it, and the night in the same way.
Then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in mid-heaven, saying with a loud voice, "Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!"
Scholars that hold to the traditional Protestant view of Revelation, such as Smith, Gibbon, and Barnes, seem united in seeing the above unfolding in the plight of the Roman Empire over the few centuries after John received this vision. This seems plausible after reading their explanations using the established metaphors of mountains as governments, and stars representing leaders of the church, etc.
The attacks by the Vandals seem to fit the first part of this narrative. They considered Attila the Hun, leader of a tribal empire of Huns, Ostrogoths, and others, as “Wormwood.” He began by crossing the Alps and used the source of many of Europe’s rivers to transport his forces. His hordes poured over the land everywhere that they went. Before Attila, to be near a river was a great blessing, but during his scourge on the land, to live near a river was a curse. Historians have compared Attila to a meteor that burned brightly across the sky and then suddenly disappeared.
The Roman Empire was split into three parts after Constantine, and a third of it was devastated in ways that could very well fit this narrative if metaphorical. This was no doubt one of the darkest times for Western Civilization, and it would lead to even darker ones over the next few centuries, as described by the following verses in Revelation 9:1-12. This is generally believed to be a prophecy of the rise of Islam—its onslaught and threat to the West and to Christianity:
Then the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth; and the key of the bottomless pit was given to him.
He opened the bottomless pit, and smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit.
Then out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power.
They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.
And they were not permitted to kill anyone, but to torment for five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings a man.
And in those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them.
The appearance of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle; and on their heads appeared to be crowns like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men.
They had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions.
They had breastplates like breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to battle.
They have tails like scorpions, and stings; and in their tails is their power to hurt men for five months.
They have as king over them, the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek he has the name Apollyon.
The first woe is past; behold, two woes are still coming after these things.
What could be worse than the onslaught described above, and “two woes are coming after these things”? Some speculate that these next two “woes” were fascism and communism. Both forms of government made the people’s purpose to support and promote the state, rather than the state existing for the people. Communism refuted the existence of God. It elevated the state as the god of the people and made the people dependent on the state for their existence. Neither of these forms of government can be maintained without totalitarian control, which came in the most cruel and oppressive forms. So these were certainly great scourges on the earth.
The world has been under unrelenting crises and troubles since John received Revelation. However, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “Through many tribulations shall we enter the kingdom of God” (see Acts 14:22). In the darkness of each crisis, the light of God was revealed in a deeper and greater way, and many did enter His kingdom. Each trouble helped to prepare for His day, the coming of His kingdom, which would surely dawn over mankind.
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