Revelation commentary, Chapter 9

 
In chapter nine, the camera lens widens and we see the effect of judgement on the demonic realm being released on those who have bought into the lie which began centuries before, in the Garden of Eden. The fifth trumpet is about to sound and a star falls from heaven, opening a pit out of which locusts appear.  The sixth trumpet then sounds and angelic beings (messengers) are released from chains.
 

Our limited vision.

We are fallen beings and live in a world that we think we know so much about. It is as if, in the eyes of all that is human, the world began with human ability and will continue with human ability alone. However, due to the fall, we are those who see yet do not see, who hear and yet do not hear (Ezek 12:2, Jer 5:21, Mark 4:11-12), and in our arrogance continue to use ourselves as a reference point to what we assume is a full life.

Yet there is another realm; a realm so far removed from this One in regards to life, light and perfection that there really is very little by way of comparison. The distance is immeasurable and beyond all comprehension, yet from this realm extends incredible grace and mercy. We are not left on our own, we are not destroyed and we are not ignored. Instead, the hand of God reaches out to us as an expression of God’s eternal concern for humanity, even in judgement.

Lou is a good friend of mine who was born a Jewess and later in life became a High Priestess in the Occult. She suffered greatly from depression and the oppressive powers that locked her into darkness. Whilst hospitalised in a mental-health ward, she found a New Testament and out of sheer boredom began to read it. She could not stop reading the gospels and found a peace coming over her life as she learnt about Jesus. Light dawned in her heart and she asked Jesus for forgiveness and placed her trust in Him.

After leaving the hospital, she started sharing her faith. Her father was so upset at what she had done that he held a funeral service for her, saying that his daughter had died. Many years later, she held him in her arms as he accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour, whilst on his death- bed.  My friend Lou has now served the Lord for many years and through the way that God works with her, hundreds of men and women have found Jesus Christ and moved from darkness and judgement into light and life. As Lou once said to me, “Life is not easy and at times I wonder what God is doing; but I always know that He is with me.”

In chapter nine, we see the great gulf between unbelievers and those who find their true home with their heavenly Father and worship the Lamb (Rev 7:15-17). Additionally we see the power of evil depicted as creatures from the underworld (Rev 9), a sub-world non-covenant place, with Satan as ‘king’. This is seen after the fifth trumpet sounds and a star falls to earth before being given a key to the shaft of the Abyss.

As mentioned in previous chapters, the image of a star can speak of people. For example, in Isaiah 14 we read of the morning star who had once ‘laid low the nations’ (Isaiah 14:12) being cast down to earth and into the pit. The story carries some similarities with Ancient Near East tales of rebellion amongst the gods, such as the Babylonian Myth of Anzu, (a so-called divine half-demon half-man storm bird, killed for stealing the Tablet of Destinies by which the gods governed the world).

“How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!”
                                                                                                                        Isa 14:12
 
In all likelihood, Isaiah 14:12 refers to the fall of Nebuchadnezzar who worshipped false gods, (eg Marduk and Ninurtam the gods of hunting and war, Sin the moon god and Enlil the sky god) and wanted all life to point to him (Daniel 4:29). Heaven then steps in and Nebuchadnezzar is struck down to the level of an animal. God is always in control.

“It should not surprise us that religious poets and preachers in Israel, as among all other peoples, use mythological concepts as images. No one can contest the fact that we have an example of this in the ancient satires upon the king of Babel:
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north.”
Is 14:12f)
                           T. Boman in, ‘Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek’ page 178

In continuing to focus on Isaiah, we see that the language goes beyond speaking of Nebuchadnezzar as a ‘fallen star’ to the root of the power behind the so-called gods that he worshipped: Satan. In linking Isaiah’s words to the ‘father of lies’ (John 8:44), we see the ‘I wills’ of darkness and pride in a being seeking to take what rightfully belongs to God. The “I wills” speak of ascending into heaven, having a throne above the stars, sitting on the Mount of Assembly,  being above the clouds (possibly referring to the Shekinah glory (note Ps 97:2)) and making  self like the most high.

In Satan’s attempt to pervert the will of God and destroy all that is good, we see how apt the New Testament names and descriptions of Satan are. He is spoken of as the Tempter (Mt 4:5); Beelzebub (Mt 12:24), the Evil One (Mt 13:19, 1 Jn 2:13-14), the Deceiver (Rev 12:9) and the Dragon (Rev 12:3).  Now let’s focus in on John again.

Undoubtedly, John’s readers would have made the connection between a fallen Nebuchadnezzar and the Emperor Domitian, who demanded to be worshipped. They were also reminded of the supernatural powers behind much of what was happening and going to happen, as well as being encouraged to see who was in overall control.
 
As believers, we are called to live a life that is compatible with the instruction and teaching which comes from our heavenly Father (2 Tim 3:16). Yet God still reaches out to those who do not listen. In a world of increasing injustice, God will allow society to reap what it sows as a means of instructing those who are not prepared to learn any other way. A key point to note here is that God has not given up on the world and today there are many that testify to His power and love, even in the midst of very difficult circumstances.

In his book, ‘Too Many to Jail,’ Mark Bradley recounts the story of Iran’s new Christians, sharing reasons for the church growth and testimonies that he has collected. One testimony taken from ‘Iran Magazine’ (Issue 7. 2013, p5-6) is as follows:
 
“A middle-aged Christian lady who shared her faith with many while in prison said, on her release, that she wanted to go back “to finish the job.”

               Christian prisoner Mani was chained to another prisoner, both waiting to go into the court. When the other prisoner found out Mani was a Christian he became very happy and asked about Jesus.

Mani whispered the Gospel into his ear. And then, surrounded by the guards of the Islamic Republic, this prisoner gave his life to Jesus Christ.

Iran’s new Christians have suffered – and continue to suffer. Those who inflict persecution on the Christians want their spirits to break, and their numbers to diminish. But that is not how the story ends. Despite the constant threat of arrest, interrogation, and imprisonment, the spirit of Iran’s new Christians is absolutely not broken…their numbers are most definitely rising – indeed Iran’s church is reckoned to be the fastest-growing in the world.”
 
                                                                  M.Bradley in ‘Too Many to Jail’ pages 202-203.
 
Through the cross, all the accusations of Satan are seen as totally groundless; Christ has defeated Satan and he is cast out of heaven; in Revelation nine we now see him venting his anger and frustration on earth. Yet he is no loose cannon running amok across the earth. Satan is a created being and not the creator. All is within the control of the God who allows man to experience the fruit of his own actions and see the work of the  one who once said,  “Did God really say?” (Gen 3:1). 
 

God in control.

 
God’s control over all powers of darkness is seen in that the ‘locusts’ are only given power to afflict those who don’t have God’s seal on their foreheads (9:5). Apart from this, they were not allowed to touch any of the vegetation of the earth either. So what does this say to us?
 
A locust’s natural diet is vegetation and in locusts being prevented from eating vegetation, we have the underlying truth that God is in control – they cannot act according to their true nature. Think about it: if Satan were allowed to do exactly what he wanted, according to his true nature, the world would already have been enslaved or destroyed along with all that was within it.
 
In continuing to move through chapter nine, we will look at the abyss and the names ‘Abaddon’ (Hebrew) and ‘Apollyon’ (Greek). Before doing so, we focus in on the description of the locusts and what it means.
 

An army of ‘Locusts’.

In the description of the devastating power of a locust army, we have imagery that John’s readers and hearers would clearly understand. In the natural world, locusts can flap their wings non-stop for seventeen hours, whilst flying at a speed of twelve miles per hour. They eat their own weight daily and two million locusts can cover one square mile. An average sized swarm can consume up to 3000 tonnes of food a day.

The locusts look like horses prepared for battle (the horse being a creature of war in the Ancient World) and are wearing crowns of gold, speaking of the desire to conquer and control. Their hair was long, like that of the long-haired barbarian horsemen who attacked the Roman Empire and were the opposite of the short-haired Roman soldiers.

The ‘locusts’ have human faces, speaking of intelligence and ‘teeth like a lion’ conveying strength and power. Breastplates speak of invincibility and the noise of their wings was like the battle charge of horses and chariots. Then we have the ‘tails and stings like scorpions’ which would remind John’s readers of the Parthian horseback bowmen, known for their skill in turning on their horse and shooting a pursuing enemy. In putting the picture together, we have the description of the power of darkness which vents its anger and hatred in the world of man. Man has chosen to live by his own rules and worship as he pleases; God allows man to reap what he sows and encounter what he serves whilst He remains in overall control. The army of darkness causes chaos and suffering, whilst those who serve the Lord look to Him for their strength and well-being.

 “Where the elders in the heavenly throne room cast their crowns before God as they raised a harmonious song of praise 4:10-11, the demonic locusts continue to wear crowns on their heads as they raise a pounding and clanking roar, like chariots going into to battle.”
                                C. Koester in, ‘Revelation and the End of All Things’, page 100

John informs us that the ‘locust-beings’ are set free from the Abyss by the fallen star who is given the key to unlock it. Here we would do well to note that the key being given speaks of power being given. In and of itself, the being has no right to power, but is allowed to have power as God allows fallen man to reap what he has sowed. All power and authority belongs to God who is the Eternal One.
 

The Abyss.

The Abyss speaks of a bottomless pit, originally representing a deep mass of water. In being spoken of as a furnace (9:2), we have a place where judgement has already begun.

In Greek thought, the Abyss is the place where evil creatures were kept and, scripturally speaking, is the place of imprisoned demonic forces (Luke 8:31). Whilst we have a powerful enemy, he is no match for God as we see in the many deliverances occurring during the ministry of Jesus (Matt 8:28, 17:18, Mark 9:5-13 and 20-27; Luke 11:14) and the defeat of Satan at Calvary. Despite the overwhelming power of this army of evil, Satan’s power is limited; he cannot do as he likes.

We will look at that in a moment, but for now and at the risk of a little repetition, we ask the question, “Why are these forces, and other forces of evil released anyway?”
In the Roman world we have, as in any society, those who would live as gods and who deny the reality of Father-God. Many will have heard of God but rejected God and know something about Jesus but rejected Him saying “he is just one amongst many so-called religious paths.”
 

The Abyss opens.

In the opening of the Abyss, God allows forces of evil to reach out across a world which then reaps the true harvest of personal desire and worship of evil, yet is still given the chance to repent (v20). 
This ‘army’ is spoken of as having a leader (the ‘star’ that opened the door to the abyss) and again, this could bring to mind the ruthless Parthians whose monarchs were known to have absolute authority and display great cruelty.  We could also call to mind the Jewish Sibylline Oracles that prophesied (wrongly) that Nero would return, leading Parthian (from Parthia) hordes in vengeance on Rome.
The power of the enemy is symbolised in all this imagery and yet the enemy cannot inflict judgement on those who are Christ’s (sealed by God referring to the presence of the Holy Spirit). This does not mean Christians do not suffer or go through death. What it does mean is that in suffering and death, they are secure in Him. No matter what goes on the enemy cannot destroy the work of Christ.
One person whose story spoke to me recently is that of Yong-Hi, a North Korean woman whose testimony I found in a recent Open Doors magazine.
 
When Yong-Hi’s father died, her family was left destitute. One day, as she slept in a train station, a woman found her and told her that she could take her to China and help her make a lot of money for her family. However, once she arrived in China, she was married off.

Young-Hi was invited to go to a Bible study being held by Open Doors partners. She says, “My Chinese husband was against me going because he feared I’d run off. I still went.”

“He didn’t believe in any religion. In fact, he was an alcoholic and whenever he was drunk he abused me verbally and physically. I was afraid to be with him. I tried to commit suicide. I had no hopes. But my attempt to kill myself failed, and when my husband found me, he confessed his wrongdoings and even cried. That’s when I started to pray for my husband and myself. I cried out to God and realized God was always with me. He wept for me too. I prayed, “Forgive our sins and accept us as your children I also prayed for my husband to stop drinking. After some time, I realised that he does not abuse me anymore, neither physically or verbally. I found out that he reads the Bible and prays to stop drinking himself. Little by little, the family I was forced into is changing. God is really knocking on the door of my husband’s heart. I know that God listens to and answers my prayers. I now pray that God uses me to evangelise to other North Korean women and even North Koreans who still live inside North Korea. I want to go back to my family in North Korea and bring them to our Lord Jesus Christ.”
                                                          Open Door’s Magazine, March 2016.

The enemy cannot act according to the fullness of his true nature, and his limited time also speaks of who is in ultimate control. The limited length of judgement, along with the time period of five months (desert locusts live for between three and six months), underlines this truth. The creation, in whatever form it takes, natural or supernatural, will only continue for as long as God allows it to and all will bow the knee to the Creator.
 

Abaddon and Apollyon.

In verse eleven, we read of the  ‘star-king’ Satan being  spoken of as the angel of the abyss, with John using both a Hebrew name ‘Abaddon’ and Greek name ‘Apollyon’ to describe him.
The Hebrew word ‘Abaddon’ means ‘ruin’ or being in a ruined state as opposed to being completely destroyed. The king who leads this army is the destroyer, the ruined one who brings destruction (initially, and concerning man. This having   begun in the Garden of Eden).

The Greek word ‘Apollyon’ means ‘to destroy,’ yet there is more to the picture when we look at a possible connection with the god, Apollo, who was associated with truth, prophecy, healing, plagues and ill health. Prof. Beale comments on this in his commentary on Revelation when he says:

“Many commentators have seen the name Apollyon as a reference to the god Apollo who may sometimes have been symbolised by a locust. Apollo’s name originated from the same Greek word that is behind Apollyon. If there is such an allusion in mind here then the point might be to show that the devil himself is behind Domitian and all other rulers who claimed to be an incarnation of Apollo. Augustus enjoyed playing the role of Apollo in private dinner plays and Romans sometimes referred to Apollo as the “Tormentor”.
                                                            G.K. Beale in, ‘The Book of Revelation’ p504

As has already been said, the existence of a supernatural enemy and suffering does not speak of the world being out of control. It speaks of the world being allowed to reap what it sows, whilst limitations are placed as to how far the power of darkness is allowed to go.  If Hitler’s power was not challenged and eventually destroyed by allied forces, then our world would be a very different place today. So how much of this world do we really think would remain if Satan could do exactly as he pleased?
 
God is always in control. If you were to spray scent into a room, God could stop every particle in its tracks at whatever point he wants to; God is always in overall control.
 
In his book, ‘The Insanity of God,’ Dr Nik Ripken recounts the story of Pramana, who lives in a third world country where, in many places, Islam was conflated with superstition. He came to see Dr Ripken having heard that he was collecting testimonies from the persecuted church. This is what he had to say:
 
“Five years ago my life was in ruins. My wife and I were always fighting; I was ready to divorce the woman. My children were disrespectful. My animals were not growing or multiplying. My crops were dying in the fields. So I went to the imam of the nearest mosque for help…  He said go and buy a chicken and I will sacrifice it on your behalf. Then go back to your village to mediate and fast for three days and three nights. On the third day you will receive the answer to all the problems that you are having with your wife, your children your animals and your crops.”

Pramana did as he was told and said he would never forget the third night when, at just after midnight, a voice without a body came to him and said, “Find Jesus; find the gospel.”  Pramana did not know what this meant but the voice also told him to travel to a major town many miles away. Through his dream, vision and obedience he found another believer who explained the gospel and led him to Christ. 
          Taken and adapted from, ‘The Insanity of God’ by Dr Nik Ripkin with Gregg Lewis,
           pages 266-268
 
God is in overall control and although Pramana was not seeking Jesus, we see the grace and compassion of God in how he reached out to this struggling man.
 

 
Grace in judgement.
 

God’s purposes will come about and even in judgement there is the season of grace and opportunity for the covenant-breaker to repent despite man’s continual failings.
 

“The history of man from the very first – and the same is true of the history of every individual man – consisted, not in the keeping but the breaking of the covenant, not in the receiving but the rejecting of the promise, not in the fulfilling but the transgressing of the command, not in the gratitude which corresponds to the grace of God but in a senseless and purposeless rebellion against it, a rebellion which at bottom is quite negative but terribly real even in this negativity.”                                          

                                             Dr Karl Barth, ‘The Doctrine of Reconciliation’, p81.
 
All across the world we have wars, human atrocities such as slavery and also the continuing worship of false gods. In the worship of false gods, or adherence to destructive and delusional belief systems, we see that evil does not simply masquerade itself in a physical war of guns, tanks or nuclear threats and terrorism. It also operates supernaturally on the mind and heart of fallen man and, if unchecked would destroy humanity. The power that false ideology and wrong-thinking has to destroy man is clearly seen in the following true story.

In June 1944, a twenty-four day battle for the island of Saipan began as the Americans launched an attack on the Japanese. As the battle raged, it became obvious to the Japanese that they could not win so they mounted a suicide Banzai charge against heavy opposition and over four thousand Japanese soldiers died. However the horrors of Saipan did not end there.

The Japanese Emperor Hirohito realised that the captured civilians on Saipan would find out that the Americans were not the evil people depicted by Japan. This could then create a propaganda problem which could be used to subvert the fighting spirit of the Japanese army.  In light of this, Hirohito made an official announcement (later denied) to Lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saito who was commander of Saipan. He told the commander to promise all civilians who committed suicide an equal status in the afterlife with soldiers who had died in battle. By the time American Marines had advanced to the northern tip of the island, thousands of civilians had committed suicide by jumping off cliffs (men, women and children) in order to get their so-called privileged place in the afterlife. In its strength, the human mind reveals its weakness. 
 

The sixth trumpet.

The sixth angel blows his trumpet and a voice is heard coming from the horns on the golden altar before God (v13). The altar in the tabernacle and the Temple had four projections, or horns (one at each corner) on which the blood of the sacrificed animals was sprinkled (Ex 29:12).

 In 1 Kings 1:50 and 2:28, we read of Adonijah and Joab grabbing the horns of the altar as a means of protection from Solomon who was seeking their lives. Therefore, in the horns and their position on the altar, we have strength and mercy combined.

 The voice that is heard comes from the place of power and sacrifice which ultimately points to Christ. Judgement is coming, but it is from the One who has done everything possible to help man find forgiveness and reconciliation. In a voice coming from the altar, we see a clear reminder of this with the purpose of controlled judgement, ultimately being to remove evil whilst giving man the opportunity to find safety and repentance in the work of God.

 “Repentance is so radical for us proud and respectable people that we tend to hedge on our guilt, preferring to work off our guilt--feelings by doing penance or by offering sacrifices.”                          
                                                           C. Seerveld in, ‘Voicing God’s Psalms’ page 49.
 
The first woe, an expression of grief and pain, is past and two other woes are still to come. The sixth angel sounds his trumpet and angels bound by the Euphrates are released from bondage to destroy a third of humanity. Judgement is increasing.

In Old Testament times, the Euphrates River was the river of Babylonia and Assyria (Israel’s enemies). At the time of John’s writing, it was the boundary between Rome and their most feared neighbour – the Parthians. As already mentioned, the Parthians were well known for their cavalry and therefore the imagery would not be lost on John’s audience; God is continuing to send a message of judgement.
In total contrast to the sixth day of creation, when life from God was breathed into man, we have death through the sixth trumpet plague, reminiscent of the plague where the Egyptian first-born was slain. The messengers are released and mounted troops go forth. These horsemen have fiery red, dark blue and yellow-as-sulphur breastplates relating to the plagues of fire, smoke and sulphur. The demonic forces continue to inflict judgement and a third of humanity is killed, with the power of the enemy being spoken of as in their mouths and in their tails (9:19). Again, this could refer to the Parthian horsemen who were adept at archery and could shoot behind them as effectively as in front. 

The mounted troops are spoken of as numbering two hundred million, a number used to signify a totally overpowering army that would outnumber anything that Rome, or any other empire, could muster. The whole of chapter nine conveys the idea of overwhelming force, which is still very much under the power of God; it is limited in time and allowed to go only so far. A third of humanity was going to be killed, this is not a literal number but speaks of large numbers, yet by no means the majority.

 
Death.

As already mentioned in previous chapters, Hebrew thought speaks of death in a variety of ways, with eternal death as being the end of that which is dying (the death of death). This may sound strange to us since we tend to think of death as the end of biological existence.

Death is the fruit of transgressing God’s commandment (Gen 2:17) and the wages of sin (Rom 3:23). In this world, death ‘pays’ us as can be seen in a world of increasingly fragmented relationships, oppressive regimes and our inability to recognise evil for what it is. The full ‘wage’ of death is eternal separation from God.


“In the Christian view, sin is neither necessary nor natural and normal for man; it stems, rather, from a voluntary act of rebellion that ruptures the original relationship between creature and Creator. To understand man in his present predicament requires the recognition, therefore, that man has freely defied his Maker and deformed his created heritage. As a result he is plagued by consequences that, from the standpoint of his intended dignity, are abnormal and unnatural, consequences that reflect the horrendous spiritual and moral chasm between mankind and God, and that constitute a divine penalty for sin.”                                                                      

 
                                     Prof C. Henry, ‘God, Revelation and Authority’, vol 4 p607.
 
Death is separation from God, the ‘not-good’ of living outside covenant as opposed to covenant relationship (good) with our heavenly Father. Due to separation and a leaning towards living life our own way without God, man now lives death– the weaker end of life. For example, in Psalm 116:3 we read of David struggling and saying, “The cords of death entangled me”.  Death is the weaker end of life as seen in the prodigal son in the pig-pen, dominated by his past decisions and present surroundings. Death is a slow-growing harvest that destroys the very life that fallen man thinks he is protecting. This harvest can be clearly seen right from the beginning. For example, note how it is present in the first genealogical charts in scripture.

In Genesis, we find the genealogical chart from the line of Cain (Gen 5) containing no mention of death. This is because Cain’s mindset had already been passed on and appropriated by others. They were already in death and so there is no mention of dying; it was an ongoing process with an inevitable end. This is why Paul could say, “When you were dead in your sins…” (Col 2:13) because all who do not turn to Christ are already experiencing the fruit of death.

However, in Seth’s genealogical chart, we do find death being mentioned. In Seth’s lineage, death is an interloper yet still present. However this death is turned on its head in that it is the doorway to life through trust in God’s provision of sacrifice, ultimately pointing to Christ.

The ‘life’ of Seth’s lineage and the ‘not-life’ of Cain’s can be seen in the only words spoken by individuals in both lineages, both of whom are named Lamech. In them we see the wage of death and the wage of life.

 The Lamech in Cain’s lineage (seventh in line) says, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.”  (Genesis 4:23).  In total contrast to this, we have the words of Lamech of Seth’s linage (the ‘in-covenant-thinking’ lineage) which speak prophetically of his son Noah with the words, “He will comfort us in the labour and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed.” (Gen 5:29).
 

“Sin is not taken in deadly earnest when it is regarded as something that can be radically overcome by the enthusiasm of ‘‘good intentions’ and then, by and by, can be removed by practical activity. You may cure a wound by such treatment but you cannot restore a dead man to life.”
 

                                   Dr K. Barth in ‘The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life’ p 23.
 
Death is the weaker end of living, speaking of rebellion and existence as opposed to life in the Spirit. Yet, as Paul writes, in Christ and in Christ alone, death will be swallowed up in victory (1 Cor 15:55-7). One of the millions of stories that speak of Christ’s victory is as follows
.
Mahad is a 58-year-old retired Arab businessman who has been a Christian for three years.  Since he has been a Christian, he has led members of seventy families to faith in Jesus. His story, recorded in ‘A Wind in the House of Islam,’ goes like this.

“As a university student I studied business management, but I also studied Islamic apologetics. Though I was a hafez and had memorized the Qur’an, I still had questions. So I studied other religions. I concluded that all religious books were manmade, except for the Injil (New Testament). When I read it, I felt that it was not manmade. Though I did not have a strong faith, I did believe that it was true. I suppose you could say I believed but did not follow.”

Mahad became a successful businessman with one of the largest businesses in his country, but then his wife died. He sank into depression, sold his business and gave up on life. His health started to suffer and after seeing a cardiologist, he was told that one of the arteries in his heart was closed. There was only a five-percent chance of surviving the operation. His story continues like this:
“As I went under the anesthesia, I was afraid. The heavens seemed to open up before me and I started praying, but I didn’t feel any peace. Just as I was losing consciousness, I called out, ‘Jesus’, three times. Immediately I felt the peace that I was going to go into surgery and come out.

While I was under the anesthetic, I had a vision. I saw the most beautiful green meadow I had ever seen, standing in the meadow, I saw Jesus beside my wife holding her hand. They both looked so happy. She smiled when she saw me and motioned me to come to them. It was like I was walking above the ground toward the meadow. I felt such joy. I knew that this was my wife and that she was with Jesus. My wife was always very beautiful, but I’ve never seen her more beautiful than she was in this vision. I also knew that in the real world I must have died but that was alright; I was going to be with them.
When we were just a few meters apart, my progress toward them stopped; I started falling away and they started receding from me. I didn’t want to go back. I knew it meant that the surgery was a success, but I didn’t want it to succeed. I will never forget that vision. When I woke up, my children were all around my hospital bed. I couldn’t speak so I asked my daughter for a pen so I could write down what had happened, I closed my eyes and prayed that I could go back. But later I woke up again in my hospital bed.

The surgery was successful, but since that day, my heart has been tied to Jesus. Before the surgery, I was afraid of dying. But now I know that I will go to be with my wife and with Jesus.”
The village where Mahad and his family lived had always viewed the family as Muslim, so David Garrison who wrote “A Wind in the House of Islam” asked him if his wife had followed Jesus. Mahad replied that she had loved Jesus and many years previously had brought a plaster figurine of the Last Supper which she had always wanted to keep close to her.
Taken from, ‘A Wind in the House of Islam,’ by Dr David Garrison, pages 218-220.
 
Revelation 9:18 shows that many did not repent, yet the very mention of repentance clearly shows us that in all situations God does provide opportunities for people to think about what is going on and turn to Him. It also reveals that there is nothing that can stand in the way of His judgements and in light of this the church could take heart; no power that opposes God will survive.
Life is difficult and incredibly hard for some people because of the world in which we live, yet God knows those who are His – they are marked and set apart through the finished work of the great Shepherd-King, the Life-giver.

“The first Adam became a life-receiver, a “living soul” (psuchen Zosan) – a creature that had received (passive) life. By contrast the second Adam became a life-giver, a “living-giving spirit” (Pneuma zoeopoiun), a life that can be communicated to others. Jesus Christ, then, is the source of resurrection life for us.”                       
                           Spiros Zodhiates in his Exegetical Commentary on 1 Corinthians.
 
Amazingly, when we consider all that fallen man and the power of darkness does, God is still willing to reason with people (Is 1:18) and show the depth of His love (1 John 4:9-10) to fallen man. Throughout Scripture and across history right up to the present day, we see God’s care and concern for the lost and the challenge to turn from sin.
In scripture

"… the stories are about God and the ways of God with the people of God; they show us how God characteristically relates to people like us. They encourage and challenge us not by giving us a clearer picture of what we should or should not be, but by giving us a clearer picture of who God is. The stories in Genesis, for instance, focus more on the way God deals with Abraham and Sarah than on the way Abraham and Sarah relate to God. Their emphasis is on God’s purpose, God’s promise, God’s initiative, God’s blessing, and God’s covenant undertaking. They offer mirrors for identity more than models for morality.”
                                         
                   Prof J. Goldingay, in ‘Models for Interpretation of Scripture’, page 58
 
God is the one who holds this world in His hands and in Scripture we see that on many occasions the prophet is sent to remind wayward people that history does not begin, nor continue with human ability. It begins with God who holds all things together (Gen 1:1, John 1:1).
 

  “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

                                                                                                     2 Peter 1:21                                                                               
 
God challenges people (Acts 9:4), and allows this world to reap what it sows, giving it the opportunity to turn from darkness to light. He holds back the curtain, so to speak, between the physical and the spiritual, so that we can see just what we are really involved in or up against, with the promise of rest to those who turn to Him (Ex 33:14; Matt 11:28).  In total contrast to this amazing offer of forgiveness, reconciliation and freedom, we have idolatry (Rev 9: 19-21), which imprisons and separates man from the love of God.

A few months ago I was reminded of the power of idolatry in reading an article about a few Muslim refugees in France who refused to take food offered by the British Red Cross, purely because of the symbol of the cross. This small group were willing to let their families suffer unnecessarily because of the belief system they followed and their prejudice towards others.
An idol is anything in the created order that takes up our attention and the worship that is due to God alone. Ironically, much of the ‘power’ that idols have is given by those who serve them.
Judgement falls on a world that is lost, yet not given up on, with the opportunity for all to repent. All that is of man will eventually fade away as does the glory of flowers in the field (Is 40:6-7), but the word of God goes on forever (1 Peter 1:24-25).
 
 

Jem Trehern, 28/02/2018