Woe! Woe! Woe!

A sermon on Revelation 8 and 9 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 5/15/2005

How did Jesus teach His disciples to pray? Matthew records that Jesus said,

“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’” Matthew 6:9-10

Today’s text, Revelation 8 and 9, details some of what is necessary before His kingdom comes, before His will is done on earth as in heaven. Here we see angels sound the first six trumpets of judgment. In chapter 11 – when the seventh trumpet sounds – loud voices cry out.

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever." Revelation 11:15

“Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” When the seventh trumpet sounds, your prayers and the prayers of millions of Christians through the ages will be answered. But if the seventh trumpet is to sound, the six trumpets must sound first. That is, the events described in chapters 8 and 9 are necessary prerequisites to God answering your pleas as you pray the Lord’s prayer.

God here lays out His plan of judgment on those who oppose Him.

Instead, the message is: Judgment is coming, prior to the establishment of God’s kingdom.

How will you respond to this message?

We’ll consider these chapters under four headings:

The Setting for the Trumpet Judgments

Remember what has happened immediately prior to chapter 8. The Lamb opens the scroll sealed with seven seals, breaking one seal at a time. After the opening of each of the first four seals, evil forces attack the earth. After the fifth seal, John sees under the altar believers who suffered and were killed at the hands of God’s foes. They cry out,

“O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" Revelation 6:10

God says: Wait a little while longer; the suffering of His people is not yet complete.

When the Lamb opens the sixth seal, it seems as if He has answered their prayers. Stars fall from the sky. Every mountain and every island is removed from its place. This is the end of the world as we know it. Judgment is here.

In Chapter 7, God seals His people, marking them as genuine and protecting them from every evil attack. He does not keep them from suffering. They suffer! There are tears on their faces! But God Himself wipes those tears away. God guarantees that all their suffering will be for His good purposes.

So in chapters 6 and 7, the first six seal judgments bring harm to mankind and to the earth. These judgments of God’s enemies are implicit, though, rather than explicit. There is no explicit statement here that God is judging His enemies through these troubles - just the promise after seal five that He will do so. But God marks His people as His own, protecting them from ultimate (but not immediate) harm.

Today’s text begins with the opening of the seventh seal. But I want to delay our consideration of that verse a bit. Instead, let’s look at verses 2-5. Please turn to these verses:

Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. 3 And another angel came  and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. 5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

Do you see what is happening? John sees seven angels with trumpets, ready to sound. Six of these will be sounded in chapters 8 and 9. Then in John’s vision another angel appears, this time at the altar – the very altar we saw after the Lamb opened the fifth seal, where suffering Christians prayed for God’s vengeance. This angel takes those prayers, combines them with smoke from incense, and has these rise to God. Then angel then throws these prayers and incense to the earth, bringing judgment.

Implication: These judgments we will see in chapters 8 and 9 are, in part, a response to the prayers of God’s people. These judgments are, in part, a response to your prayers, “Your kingdom come!”

Judgments on the Earth

The first four trumpets lead to judgments on the earth: We read of these judgments in 8:7-12:

After the first trumpet (verse 7), hail and fire, mixed with blood, are thrown on to earth. One-third of the earth, the grass, and the trees is burned up.

This recalls one of the plagues against Egypt. Remember, the book of Exodus records how the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. God sent Moses to Pharaoh, King of Egypt, saying, “Let my people go that they may serve me in the desert.” Pharaoh refused. God then sent plague after plague – ten plagues in all, until finally He forced Pharaoh to let the Israelites go.

The seventh plague is described in Exodus 9:23:

Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. And the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt.

So there is a parallel between the first trumpet judgment and the seventh plague.

Let’s go back to the second trumpet now (verse 8-9). Something John can’t describe, rather like a great mountain, is thrown into the sea. One-third of the sea becomes blood, one-third of the creatures in the sea die, and one-third of all ships are destroyed.

The third trumpet has similar effects (verses 10-11), but this time the rivers and springs are affected instead of the sea. A blazing star falls on one-third of the rivers and springs; the water turns so bitter that people can’t drink it, and many die.

Both the second and third trumpet judgments are similar to the first Egyptian plague (Exodus 7:17-21). The water in the Nile turns to blood, killing the fish. But as with the trumpet judgments, not only the large body of water but also small streams are affected. People cannot drink water from any source.

When the fourth trumpet sounds (verse 12), one-third of the sun, the moon, and the stars are struck, and become dark. This is related to fifth plague (Exodus 10:21-23), during which darkness falls on Egypt for three days.

All these trumpet judgments harm the earth. All are in response to the prayers of God’s people for vengeance. And, indeed, men are hurt in consequence of these judgments. Nevertheless, the target in each case is the earth itself, not mankind. Furthermore, note that all are partial: There is no final judgment here. Again and again and again we see that only one-third of each target is harmed. And all these judgments have parallels in the Egyptian plagues.

Judgments on Those who Dwell on the Earth

Verse 13 tells us the focus is about to change:

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!"

Three more trumpets are coming. Each will bring woe. And while the first four trumpets were horrible enough, the next three will have a direct impact on people.

Whom will they affect? “Those who dwell on the earth.”

Who are these people? Us? Don’t we dwell on the earth?

In Revelation, the phrase “those who dwell on the earth” is a technical term for God’s human enemies. These are the people for whom earth is home. As Peter writes, believers don’t have a home here on earth; we are aliens and exiles (1 Peter 2:11).

As we’ve emphasized before – initially, in the introductory sermon to Revelation – this book draws a sharp contrast between two types of people. Indeed, all mankind is of only two types: God’s people, and God’s enemies. God’s people are sealed on their foreheads, marked with God’s Name; later we will see God’s enemies marked with the number of the beast. God’s people dwell around the throne of God, as we saw in Revelation 7; God’s enemies dwell on the earth.

The phrase already has appeared twice in the book: In 3:10, when Jesus speaks of the trial that is to come on those who dwell on earth, and in 6:10 which we read earlier today: Martyred saints below the altar ask for vengeance on those who dwell on the earth.

Let’s now read these judgments. As I read the first 19 verses of Revelation 9, I want you to listen in a particular way. Don’t try to think, “How will this be fulfilled?” Instead, ask: “What is the message here? How do I respond to God’s judgments?” Also, listen for use of the passive voice. Note cases where someone or something “was told”, or “was allowed” to do something. Ask yourself: Who tells? Who allows?

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. 2 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. 3 Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. 4 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. 5 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. 6 And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them. 7 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, 8 their hair like women's hair, and their teeth like lions' teeth; 9 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. 10 They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. 11 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. 12 The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come. 13 Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, 14 saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, "Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates." 15 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. 16 The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. 17 And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore 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. 18 By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. 19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.

Note another parallel with Exodus: the eighth plague (Exodus 10:12-15, of locusts) is like the fifth trumpet.

But did you notice the use of the passive voice? See particularly verses 3-5. There, evil agents, pictured as very strange locusts, are given power; they are given commands concerning whom to harm, and whom not to harm; they are given permission to torment people but not to kill them.

We see something similar in verse 15. Four evil angels who had been bound are now released. They go to kill one-third of mankind. They have been “prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year”.

Who gives these commands? Who grants permission? Who limits the range and extent of their acts? Who prepared the evil angels?

Surely the answer in every case is, “God!”

Furthermore, what is this abyss? It must be hell or Hades. And who has the key to death and Hades? Revelation 1:18 says Jesus has that key. So the key can be given to the fallen star (verse 1) only with Jesus’ permission.

God is using evil agents to accomplish His purposes of ushering in His kingdom.

“His kingdom come, His will be done!” Amen. He uses even the evil deeds of evil agents to bring that about. He is in control. He planned it all. Praise His Name.

The Effects of Judgment

What effects do these judgments have on those who dwell on the earth?

20 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, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. Revelation 9:20-21

God does not arrange for these judgments to take place to bring about repentance. For those who dwell on the earth do not repent! Instead, like Pharaoh in response to the plagues, they become more and more hardened.

Why send these judgments, then? Three reasons:

We’ll look at these in turn:

Effects on those who dwell on the earth

We’ve seen a close parallel between these trumpet judgments and the Egyptian plagues. In Exodus, God tells us why He sent the plagues. So that is a logical place to look for clues as to why He sends these trumpet judgments. Consider:

“But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, 4 Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. 5 The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” Exodus 7:3-5, emphasis added

God sent the plagues so that even His enemies would know that He is God. Despite their lack of repentance, after the plagues there is no dispute: the Lord is God.

Just so with these acts of judgment in Revelation 8 and 9. God’s enemies either think:

Through these judgments God shows that He is God, and there is no other.

So through these judgments God is showing what these, His enemies, are really like. One commentator points out that God exposes their character by the same means He exposed Job’s character. In both cases, God allows an evil power to afflict and torment people. These people experience great pain. In Job’s case, this displays His foundational faith and trust in God (along with some faults). But in Revelation 8 and 9, torment and affliction serve to display their hatred of God, and everything He stands for.

There is no place for hatred of God in His kingdom! So if His kingdom is to come, He must do away with those who hate Him, keeping them away from the new heavens and the new earth.

But before their ultimate punishments, even they must acknowledge that He alone is God.

Effects on God

What effects do these trumpet judgments have on God?

Once again, a comparison with the effects of the Egyptian plagues is helpful. In Exodus 9, God speaks to Pharaoh:

I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth.  15 For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth.  16 But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. Exodus 9:14-16 

Do you see what God is saying? He could have zapped Pharaoh immediately upon his refusal to let the people go. He could have had Moses raise his staff, and had Pharaoh dissolve before His eyes. He could have had Moses call out, and dissolved the entire Egyptian army into nothingness. He didn’t need to send plague after plague after plague. The people could have walked out unopposed.

Why didn’t God do away with Pharaoh and his army once and for all?

Exodus 9:16 tells us: To display power, so that His Name might be proclaimed in ALL the earth. God received greater glory by sending all the plagues than He would have received from dissolving Pharaoh and his armies into nothingness as soon as he resisted Moses. Through the plagues, God shows Who He is:

Nothing can resist Him. Those who try will suffer and be destroyed.

Just so with the trumpet judgments. They display to all creation that God is good, God is in control, God is almighty. They serve to glorify Him throughout His creation.

Effects on God’s people

How do these terrible judgments affect you? How should they affect you?

A liberal scholar, a former Episcopalian bishop, writes,

Can we really worship the God found in the Bible who sent the angel of death across the land of Egypt to murder the firstborn males in every Egyptian household?

That’s a good question. And note: These judgments in Revelation 8 and 9 are much worse than the 10th plague!

Can you worship such a God?

What should your response be? Look back at the first verse in today’s text:

When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Revelation 8:1


For some types of events, the appropriate response is wild cheering. For my family, one such event was the Red Sox getting the last out in the final game of the 2004 World Series.

For other types of events, the appropriate response is silence. This is the best response to many sermons. Or to a worshipful performance of Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion. Or to seeing the film, “The Passion of the Christ.”

The final judgment of the world is this type of event. A time will come for praising God loudly for this judgment – we will see that later in Revelation. Silence is not indefinite! But for a period of time, the right response, the best response, the only response to God’s judgment is: Silence.

Why? We are

As Habakkuk writes:

The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him. Habakkuk 2:20

So we respond rightly, temporarily, with silence. But what should be the impact on our hearts? What should be the internal impact on us?

First, knowing that such a judgment is coming, we should be moved to become evangelists. We should be motivated to be used as God’s instruments to move people from the group “not My people” to the group “My people”. Seeing God’s glory and mans’ hopelessness, we should spread a passion for that glory for the joy of all who listen.

Second, seeing such a judgment should humble us.

Those who dwell on the earth are being judged for self-righteousness. So there is no place for self-righteousness in us! We acknowledge, ‘Their end is my end apart from the grace of God!”

Therefore, we won’t approach God like the Pharisee in Luke 18, asking God to notice all the things we are doing for Him. Instead, we’ll be much more like the tax collector, who cries out,

'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'(Luke 8:13)

As James tells us, we will mourn for our sin, we will weep at the sin around us, we will take steps to kill indwelling sin by the Spirit He gives us. We will be willing to give up whatever is necessary to deal with sin, even if that means throwing out the TV, cutting off the internet, changing jobs, or relocating. And we will acknowledge that true joy is found only in God Himself through Jesus Christ.

My friends, we need to hear about these terrible judgments. We need to heed the warning: We need to take heed to ourselves.

For we are tempted to try to keep one foot in the door of the church and one foot in the door of the world. We are tempted to be indecisive, thinking: “Jesus looks attractive; I do want some of Him. Oh, but this idol of mine is attractive too. I can never give this up!”

Greg Beale writes:

The warning to the indecisive is that horrible demons stand behind the idols that they are tempted to worship. They are to know that idols are the tools employed by demons to keep people under the anesthetic effects of spiritual ignorance. The gruesome parabolic description of the demons is intended to shock the true people of God out of their complacent condition, as they realize what spiritual specters really lurk behind the idols.

What are your idols? That is, what are seeking after apart from God?

Do you realize how gruesome these really are?

Do you realize how they have destroyed even kings and presidents and great men?

Do you realize your end if they dominate your heart?

My friends, God’s judgment rests on those who hold on to their idols. Don’t be complacent. These result in death. These result in judgment.

May His Kingdom Come. May His will be done – in your heart – as it is in heaven.

Respond to God’s judgments with awe-filled silence, and humble repentance.

And then: Enter into the joy of your Master.

This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 5/15/05. Greg Beale’s The Book of Revelation (Eerdmans, 1999) was helpful; the quote is taken from page 520. Michael Wilcock, The Message of Revelation, (InterVarsity Press, 1975), is the source for the parallel with Job. The “liberal scholar” is John Spong; the quote comes from his book The Sins of Scripture, as quoted in Nicholas Kristof’s 5/15/05 column in the New York Times..

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