Now we will see the sixth warning trumpet and the second woe trumpet sound. With this trumpet comes, not the shadow of death, but, death itself. The one third of things rears itself again as a theme of the trumpets. Further, as the fifth trumpet introduced a small taste of the power of hell to this earth, this trumpet releases the fuller power of hell; not an army of locusts but a 200,000,000 strong army of demon horseman. The gates of hell could not prevail against the church when the churches were hindering it; however the gates of hell here prevail over a churchless earth. Where does it end? When men see all the power of hell unleashed on earth do they turn from darkness to light in repentance? No it ends with them cementing their agreement with death and hell in the worship of their devils and idols. The darkness of the human heart is revealed here; even when they see the end of satanic rule they still desire more of it.
The first point that we need to see is from where this judgment comes. Our text says “And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God….” The first point of interest here is the golden altar. This is the not the brazen altar of sacrifice but the golden altar of incense that was in the holy place before the veil of the of the tabernacle or temple (Exodus 39:38). It answers to the same golden altar which mixed the incense of Christ with the prayers of all saints in the last chapter prior to the sounding of the first trumpet. So we immediately again see the power of prayer as the catalyst for this trumpet as well. Prayer is constantly playing a role in the unfolding of prophecy (see the fifth seal in chapter 6). John Gill explains the altar in this manner: “the allusion is not to the altar of burnt offering, which was covered with brass, but to the altar of incense covered with gold; and hence here, and elsewhere, it is called “the golden altar”, and was a figure of the intercession of Christ; for on this altar incense was offered, which was typical of the prayers of the saints offered by Christ, through his mediation: the matter of this altar was shittim wood, a wood that is incorruptible, and of long duration, denoting the perpetuity of Christ’s intercession; and its being covered with gold expresses the glory and excellency of it; its form was foursquare, as is the city of the new Jerusalem, and shows that Christ’s intercession avails for all his people in the four parts of the world: and on it were “four horns”, which some think represent the four evangelists, or the Gospel sent into the four parts of the world, and which is the power of God unto salvation…. This altar is said to be “before God”, in a visionary way, as the altar of incense was before the vail, and the mercy seat, and by the ark of the testimony, (Exodus 30:1-3 Exodus 30:6 ) ; suggesting that Christ continually appears in the presence of God for all the saints”
The voice in our text could be the voice of the mighty angel from the golden altar in the eighth chapter. However, it appears that it is the voice of God or rather the voice of the mediator between God and men the Lamb. Again Gill stated this: “Now from hence was a “voice heard” by John, and which seems to be the voice of Christ, the advocate and intercessor. In the Greek text it is, “one voice”; not the voice of many angels round about the throne, nor of the souls under the altar, but of the one and only Mediator between God and man, the Lord Jesus Christ; and this was a voice, not supplicating, but commanding, being addressed to one of his ministering spirits.” So it becomes clear in our text that this judgment comes from Christ the mediator between God and men and it is the direct result of the prayer of the saints. We cannot say this enough, Prayer changes thing.
Next we see the identity of four angels. Our text goes on to say the voice spoke “Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates.” Now, how we look at these four angels will affect the way we view this trumpet judgment. There are two valid ways to look at the text. The first way is to take the angels as actual angels as we did in the seventh chapter (7:1). In that text the four angels were actual angels that God used to withhold the judgment until the servants of God were sealed. If we look this way we would see the four angels not as angels of God but as fallen angels who have left their first estate (Jude: 6, they were reserved in chains – for what reason God knows) for our text declares that they were bound much the same way the three Hebrew children were bound and thrown into the furnace (Dan. 3:24). In this sense all that proceeds from here would be demonic activity led by these four angels. God would allow those angels to be loosed and to terrorize the world.
Another way to look at the four angels is to see them as representative leaders of something just was we rightly saw the angels of the seven churches to be the bishops of those churches. The location of the angels leads one to believe that this may be true; they were bound in the great river Euphrates. This lends credence to the idea that these are physical realities that arise from a physical location. This river has always had an important place in Scriptures. It was connected with the garden of Eden before the fall and was to be part of the border of the promised land after the flood (Gen. 2:14, Joshua 1:4). The sixth bowl (vial) judgment will also deal with the Euphrates so there appears to be a connection between the two. If one looks at angels as diplomatic leaders then one could see all that proceeds as (what some have called) the beginning of a Tribulation war in which four specific countries surrounding the Euphrates will be catalyst to that war. Robertson stated this: “At the great river Euphrates (epi twi potamwi twi megalwi Euprath). A regular epithet of the Euphrates ( Acts 16:12 ; Genesis 15:18 ; Deuteronomy 1:7 ). It rises in Armenia and joins the Tigris in lower Babylonia, a total length of nearly 1800 miles, the eastern boundary of the Roman Empire next to Parthia.” Also, in this sense we could say that God had bound these angels from making war until this point in history. The declaration to “loose” those angels would be seen as permitting them to declare or wage war. The exact identity of these leaders and the nations that they represent is not declared but it would not be a stretch to consider the four kingdoms mentioned in Daniel 2 and 7: Babylon (modern Iraq), Persia (modern Iran), Greece (answering to most of modern Syria) and Rome (the Roman Church is still a major player in the Middle East). This is would describe the Middle East affairs of which Israel is still a key part of, which is ready to overflow into war even now (over Israel or over oil).
Regardless of which view of the angels we take the result is still the same. Our text declares this: “And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.” The power of those angels will be loosed at the sound of the sixth trumpet. Their power has been bound or restrained by the power of God until the time of His choosing. God is still in control. Both demons and nations only move by His permissive will. He has an hour on a specific day in a specific month in a specific year that He will loose their power on the earth. We run again to this one third ratio in the trumpet judgments. This time it is one third of the human population left on the earth. Whatever power is here unleashed the end result will be devastation to humanity. If you are keeping score one fourth of humanity (at least – probably more when considering famine and war) died during the opening of the seals. So far many have died during the trumpets. Now one third more die. It is conceivable to believe that the world population today as it nears 8 trillion (if all events were to occur at this point in time) would be reduce to well under 4 trillion maybe far lower in a matter of a two or three years’ time.
The next question about this judgment would be the identity of the horsemen. These horsemen are the ones that accomplish the tasks of killing one third of mankind. Our text says that “the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them.” There are 200,000,000 of them. Now, we can consider one of the two possible interpretations just was we did with the angels. We can consider these to be demonic spiritual beings or we can consider them to be physical armies of men. The description of them seems to excite the imagination for both possible interpretations. If we consider them to be demonic the description of John would be the description of hideous demons. If it is the description of physical armies then it would be the description of some kind of modern warfare armament that John struggled to describe. Even if it a description of modern armies it would not preclude them from being demonically led by the angels. Habakkuk wrote of the first Babylonian invasion but what he said may be a dual reference to refer to our text: “Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously: for I will work a work in your days which ye will not believe, though it be told you. For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful: their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves. Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves: and their horsemen shall spread themselves, and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat. They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand. And they shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn unto them: they shall deride every strong hold; for they shall heap dust, and take it. Then shall his mind change, and he shall pass over, and offend, imputing this his power unto his god” (Hab. 1:5-11). It would seem that the term horsemen better lends itself to a human army. Any cursory search of the term horsemen in the Bible will find it connected with chariots and other armaments. It is not beyond imagination to believe that 200,000,000 men can engage in battle. Even today China boasts of 100,000,000 man army alone.
Let us consider the description of this army or rather the horses and the horsemen. There is a fourfold description; their breastplates, their head, their mouths, and their tails. First, their breastplates were described. “And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone….” In the Old Testament the breastplate was that which was worn by the priest as they represented others before God but the idea of armament is also found as the breastplate is listed among the Christian armor in the New Testament. It would appear that the breastplates here seem to be a symbol of what they represent as it was with the breastplate of the priest that stood before God. What is it that they represent? This is where the demonic and the human meet. They represent fire and brimstone. They represent Hell itself. These are the colors of its standard; fire, jacinth, and brimstone. Jamieson et al stated this: “of fire—the fiery color of the breastplates answering to the fire which issued out of their mouths. Of jacinth—literally, “of hyacinth color,” the hyacinth of the ancients answering to our dark blue iris: thus, their dark, dull-colored breastplates correspond to the smoke out of their mouths. Brimstone—sulphur-colored: answering to the brimstone or sulphur out of their mouths.” So it is not a stretch to say that these horses and horsemen represent the agreement with Hell that mankind has now aligned with. At one point armies would march under the banner of the cross; now they march under the banner of hell.
Next is the description of their heads and this is particular to the horses: “and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions….” Is this a description of a demon or of modern armament? I leave that to you. When speaking of the woes of Israel Isaiah spoke of armies that would afflict Israel and said that “their roaring shall be like a lion, they shall roar like young lions: yea, they shall roar…” (Isa. 5:29 – Nahum 2 has a similar description). If we continue with the line of imagery their heads resemble Satan who is as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (I Pet. 5:8).
Further we have a description of their mouths: “and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.” It is thought that the smoke in this part of the text answers to the jacinth in the part of the text above. Hell came out of their mouths. James told us that the tongue is set on fire of hell (James 3:4-7). Our text says that “their power is in their mouth….” Therefore it says that “by these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths.” Words and the ideas that they carry have consequences; See Hitler and Stalin and Moa for instance. Everything that happens in history is the results of words that come out the mouths of people. It is a battle of words and ideas first and foremost. These did not just represent Hell and Satan but they spoke the words of Hell as well. The result was the death of one third of mankind. Be careful how you hear and how you speak.
Last there is a description of their tails. Their power was not just in their mouths but “their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt.” They have snakelike tails. I am sure we cannot fail to see the imagery of the old serpent, the devil, the subtlest creature God ever created, in this image. From head to toe they operate under satanic and demonic power and thus they inflict hurt upon men.
So whether or not we want to view the sixth trumpet as demonic activity or the result of demon influenced tribulation warfare the result is the same. One third of the population of the earth dies and the power of Hell has been felt and demonstrated on the earth.
That brings us to the last point of the sixth trumpet and that is the response of mankind. Let us begin with the following general observation about the ending of this chapter. Whatever the future government looks like it will be one that allows great permissiveness to sin and the trumpet judgment will be known as a direct attack on that and man will refuse to let it go no matter what. These are general observations that are bore out in the text. The future rule of mankind as well as the future morale of mankind itself will be “as it was in the days of Noah” (Matt. 24:37). In the days of Noah before the flood God Himself noted: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them…. The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (Gen. 6:5-7 and 11-13). The whole of mankind was bent on wickedness and sin and violence. It was to such people that Jude tells us that Enoch the grandfather of Noah preached when he declared “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him. These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage (Jude 14-16). Peter echoed this when he said that God spared not the old world which he described as “bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly” (II Pet. 2:5). Our text declares this future world like this: “And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.”
This is the first peak we have actually had in our study of this book into the wickedness of this world. Let us note first of all the universal nature of man’s wickedness will be displayed. Our text begins by saying that this applies to “the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues….” The only possible exception that we can claim within the context of this book will be the 144,000 Israelites that have been sealed of God. They are the Israelites of Goshen that are protected through the plagues. The rest of mankind of are the Egyptians who are subject to the plagues. They are the self-proclaimed gods and pharaohs that harden their hearts in the plagues. Paul proclaimed this when he spoke of the last days: “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way” (II Thess. 2:7). The restraining work of God will have been removed from mankind. This is the restraining work that God used when he scattered man at Babel when he said this: “And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” (Gen. 11:6). In this future God will not restrain man’s wickedness. Paul said that the mystery of iniquity already works now. It is constantly are work as leaven leavening the whole lump. It is doing its work of spiritual decay all around us. We see the mysterious influence of wickedness around in the media, in the schools, in society and what they bend to except and celebrate. What will it be like when there is no more restraint? All that is left of mankind will be fully set to do evil and fully ready to receive all of the judgment.
Next we see the hopeless devotion mankind has to their sins. Again our text says, “And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not….” Despite all the consequences of their sin; the plagues that fell all the people that died. The human population has been reduced to 50% (one fourth died in the seals and one third more died in the trumpets) of what it was before the first seal was loosed; maybe less than that considering the other plagues and consequences of the seals. There has been thirst and famine and wars; all because of their sin. And yet they will not stop and they will not repent. They are like the blinded sodomites of Sodom that still groped for the door after the angels after being blinded for their wickedness (Gen. 19:11). We see the microcosm of this in people around us who sell all to follow the hard master of substance abuse and sexual sins and no matter how bad it gets in their lives they repent not. Such people are indeed ripe for judgment: “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy (Prov. 29:1). As Christ said, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). This is the universal folly of man who forsakes the fountains of living water for the things that cannot satisfy.
Last we see the class of things that they would not repent of. There are five particular things that mankind will not let go of and therefore will not submit to God. First, the will not repent “of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk….” That is they will not give up their idolatry. They will not give up their “right” to worship as they choose. They will not give up their “freedom” to follow that which is not God. Mankind stands completely opposed to the worship of God. “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things (Romans 1:21-23). Did you hear that? Mankind knows God but would rather serve idols. Mankind know the first command that they are to have no other gods before Him and yet they go forward making other gods and graven images. They stand here opposed to the almighty God saying they will worship something else. There are two types of idols mentioned: spiritual and material. Both are related to the work of man’s hands. That is, both determine what man does. We behave in accordance with that which we worship. Tozer rightly said that no man and no society has ever risen any higher than their view (and therefore their worship) of God. Some men proclaim their “spirituality.” That is the term they like to throw around now days. But their sense of “spirituality” does not allow them to fall down and worship the one true God. They instead choose to devote themselves to something that is less than God. And behind every idol is a devil that draws men to it. “But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils (I Cor. 10:20). Any recognition of any power or force (like those recognized in Eastern mysticism, Wicca, or even Catholicism) which leads men to rely on those forces in any means instead of simple trust in God is the worship of devils. And then there are the more shallow forms of worship and that is the worship of material things: “idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk….” These are those that are materialistic. These are the consumers. Their life is no more deep then the latest gadget or devise. The meaning of their life is reduced to the amount of gold they have and the amount of material things they possess. I saw a bumper sticker once with this shallow message: “The one that dies with the most toys wins.” But neither the spiritual nor material gods that men chose can are able to save. They cannot see, hear, nor walk. That is they have no real knowledge or insight above God. They cannot hear our prayers and help in our time of need. They cannot walk much less carry us through. The psalmist said this of mankind’s idols: “The idols of the heathen are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not; eyes have they, but they see not; They have ears, but they hear not; neither is there any breath in their mouths. They that make them are like unto them: so is every one that trusteth in them” (Ps. 135:15-18). These are the things that man would rather have than God. Henry said this: “they would not cast away their images, though they could do them no good, could not see, nor hear, nor walk.”
Secondly, they would not repent of their murders. They would not let go of their hatred and their violence. They held on to their malice. They would not give up their ability to kill and persecute those who do not agree with them. Or we could speak about the devaluing of human life and the culture of death that we see already today. We kill the unborn, the old, and the infirm and undesirable. Hitler was just the tip of the iceberg to the culture which shall be; one permeated with blood guiltiness. Whenever man rejects the glory of God they will also reject the dignity of man who is made in the image of God.
Thirdly, they would not repent of their sorceries. They would not give up in their means of escape. It has been rightly pointed out that the word sorceries has the same meaning of the word pharmacy. They would not repent of those substances which would allow them to alter their state of consciences. They loved their drunkenness, their parties, their happy hours, their reveling and riot. Nothing could get mankind to turn from it.
Fourthly, they would not repent of their fornication. This word takes in all manner of sexual sins. They would not give up their sexual perversions. We see that today in microcosm. Men will follow sin no matter how it ravages the body and destroys lives. Sex is already declared today among sinners to be their freedom. The love of fornication is what is behind all the ills of our society: poverty, abortion, gay “rights,” STDs, etc.
Lastly, they would not repent of their thefts. This is the fruit of their covetousness. Mankind will come to feel that they can take whatever they want. The governments will thieve the property of the citizens, the private citizens will not withhold the lust of their eyes. Here were could stop and talk about the entitlement culture were have already created where systematic and generational theft is considered good and the abolition of private property is almost realized. The love of God will be gone and therefore so will the love of one’s neighbor. This is the world of men that are left. This is the world that is ready for the sounding of the last trumpet and the full wrath of God that is yet to be poured.