Posted: 17 Dec 2010 11:00 PM PST
WHATEVER THE REFERENTS BEHIND the horrific images of Revelation 9, the visions of mayhem and slaughter are clear enough. In war and plague, countless millions of human beings are slaughtered, one-third of humankind, some in great agony. Today I wish to focus on the closing verses of the chapter, setting this sweeping destruction in a certain framework.
(1) At one level, this destruction is the work of hell—more precisely, of "the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon" (Rev. 9:11), the Destroyer. There is no doubt this is also Satan, the Devil himself (cf. Rev. 12:7–9; 20:10). For all his efforts to entice human beings away from the God who made them and whose image they bear, Satan's long-term goals for human beings are never benign. He may give temporary power or advantage to those who sell themselves to do evil, or to those who enter a Faustian pact with him, but his ultimate goal is the destruction of all human beings, or as many of them as he can harm, as ruthlessly, as painfully, as possible.
(2) For all that Satan himself is behind this destruction, in the larger narrative of the book, God himself has brought about this destruction as part of his righteous judgment. Satan is evil and powerful, but he is not all-powerful. Even at his most virulent he cannot escape God's control—and God is able to use even Satan's evil to bring about his purposes of righteous judgment on those who persist in their rebellion against God.
(3) So perverse are human beings that even the most devastating judgment frequently fails to get their attention or to drive them toward repentance. "The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts" (Rev. 9:20–21).
Few statements are more discouraging. What is God to do? When he maintains order and stable times, his image-bearers drift away from him, indifferent to his blessings. When instead God responds in judgment, his image-bearers charge that God is unfair, or assign these things to blind circumstance, or exclusively to the Devil, or to alien deities who need placating. Apart from the intervention of the convicting work of the Spirit, few reflect deeply on how these disasters are calling to us in prophetic terms.
What disasters has the race of God's image-bearers faced in the twentieth century? What is their message? How have most people responded?
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