CDPCKL · The Collapse of Civilizations (Revelation 8:1-13)

The Collapse of Civilizations (Revelation 8:1-13)

In the beginning, Moses says, God created the heavens and the earth: God created our universe. 

Now, ancient people thought that the primordial universe was a massive ocean. And they believed that this universal ocean was an extremely violent place, a universal storm of chaos and darkness. 

But then, as Moses kept writing, he went in a very different direction from the scientists and philosophers of his time. Oh, he admits that the primordial universe was a terrifying place, he admits that the earth was formless and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the deep. But then he goes on to say that the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 

And later Jewish writers, as they explored the implications of Moses’ words here, pointed out that the Spirit of God is also the Breath of God, which is also the Wind of God — it is the same word in Hebrew. And they explained that, as the Wind of God moved powerfully over the surface of the universe, the raging waters were rebuked, the storm subsided, and a vast silence came over the cosmos. The ocean became as flat and smooth as a mirror, like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. 

And then, Moses says, the silence was broken by a voice saying: “Let there be light,” and there was light. 

And the ancient Jewish thinkers who came after Moses understood that this light was a visible manifestation of God’s living Word, and that — therefore — this spoken light was the source of all life in our universe. And those ancient Jewish writers also say that, in this moment, the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy. 

And that Word of Life worked its way down through the layers of the universe, shaping the chaos, putting every element into proper order so that biological life and biological worship could be created and sustained on earth: 

First there was the sky, later filled with lights: the sun, moon, and stars, placed there as a guide for mankind, a calendar designed to mark out the proper times for planting and harvesting and the proper times for worship. 

Then there was the sea and the air, filled with living creatures; after that the land, with its living creatures; and finally mankind, a living creature designed to lead the other living creatures into worship of the One who was the Source of all life. 

And at the foundation of this whole ecological system: vegetation, seed-bearing plants and trees that bear fruit, to serve as food. 

But instead of teaching creation to worship the Source of life, mankind decided to worship created things as if they were the source of life. And so the human race was enslaved to the fear that creation might turn against them if they did not keep the ”nature gods” happy. Interestingly enough, however, creation itself was also enslaved: instead of being led by a self-sacrificing mankind into ever more life-giving worship, living creatures were forced to sacrifice their lives to save the lives of mankind from the gods that supposedly inhabited those living creatures…! 

And so God activated a plan to redeem mankind and creation from slavery to this all-consuming system of false worship. His idea was to rescue one chosen nation from slavery, turn them back into a nation of true priest — true worship leaders — who would then lead the rest of the nations back into true worship so that, in the end, creation itself might be set free to worship God instead of being worshiped as gods. 

So God sent Moses to redeem the nation of Israel from their slavery to the Egyptian empire and the Egyptian gods. They left in the middle of the night, guided and protected by a billowing pillar of smoke and fire. The Egyptian army pursued them, and trapped them on the shores of a sea. But once again the Wind of God moved powerfully over the surface of the waters, parted them so that his people could escape, and closed them upon the Egyptian army, swallowing men and gods alike. 

And ancient Jewish writers say that, after the disaster, as God’s chosen people stood there safe upon the shore, a great silence filled the land. The sea became as flat and smooth as a mirror, like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. And as they looked into the waters, the people saw the depths glowing with fire as the judgement of God consumed the enslavers of his creation and his people. And in that moment, the ancient writers tell us, the people of Israel became a new creation. 

After that, God led his people to a mountain in Arabia, where they camped for more than a year. During that year, God counted them tribe by tribe, and then organized them. Basically, he was preparing them for the tribulations they would face during their long journey home across the wilderness. 

And right at the end of those preparations, God told Moses to make a set of silver trumpets. One kind of trumpet blast would assemble the community. Another kind of blast would be the signal to march. Yet another kind of blast would serve as the call to battle. But, best of all, those silver trumpets would also be used in worship, on their special days of sacrifice: 

First, the priests would slaughter the animals in silence, while the whole nation watched and waited without movement, without sound. 

And then, as the smoke from the sacrifices began to billow up from the altar, the trumpets would call out, and the entire congregation would burst into song while the priests collected burning coals from the altar of sacrifice outside, piled them in bowls, covered them with sprinkled incense, and then carried those censers into the temple to pour out upon the smaller altar inside, officially presenting the purified prayers and praises of the people before God’s throne. 

Well, Moses did as he was told: a set of silver trumpets was made. And in the very next passage God gave the signal to march, and the people set out upon their great journey home. 

Well, if you were with us last week, then you know that most of that generation did not complete the journey: in the end, they decided they would rather return to their slavery under the Egyptian gods. So it was the next generation that arrived and inherited the land. But that generation also had a tendency to worship creation rather than God, and the generations after that just went gradually from bad to worse. 

And so, much later, God sent his people a warning about what would happen to them if they did not repent of their false worship: the prophet Ezekiel received a rather nightmarish vision in which he saw the elders of his nation burning incense to all kinds of crawling things and unclean animals, while others were praying to the rising sun. As Ezekiel watched, God called a set of warrior angels to kill every idolatrous creation-worshiper in the city. But before he released those angels of judgement, God told yet another angel to go out first, with a pen, and mark the foreheads of every person in the city who had remained faithful. Then God told the warrior angels, “Go! — but do not touch anyone who has the mark.” And they went. Death filled the city. 

Now, we talked about all that last week. However, Ezekiel’s vision does not actually end there. After the angel with the pen comes back and says, “It’s done,” God tells that angel to come forward and fill his hands with burning coals from the altar of incense before his throne…and then go out and scatter the coals over the city. The creation-worshipers — the creation enslavers and consumers — have been judged, convicted, and executed, but as a final step even the city they have defiled must be purified by fire — thus making way for a new city, a new land, a new creation. 

And it all happened just as Ezekiel saw it would: a few years later the armies and the gods of Babylon arrived to execute God’s judgement upon Jerusalem. Death filled the city. One third died when the walls fell; one third were struck down trying to escape; and one third were marched away into slavery while the city burned behind them, smoke billowing up from it like the smoke from a gigantic altar, a smoke so thick that the sun and sky were darkened. 


Now, again, if you were with us last week, then you already know that the vision John is experiencing right now in the Book of Revelation is actually the final fulfillment of the original Exodus and Ezekiel’s vision. All of the elements are there, in Chapter 7: the angels poised to go and pass judgment upon the earth, the angel with the seal sent to put a mark on the foreheads of all God’s people, who were counted and named in preparation for their final journey home… 

So today it should be no surprise to us when John’s vision continues to follow those same ancient patterns of judgement and redemption. 

This is what John describes next: [1] When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 

Okay, let’s set the scene: there is the throne, with the Lamb seated upon it. 

There, before the throne, stands the uncounted multitude of God’s people; watching, waiting without movement, without sound, for what must happen next. 

There, between the multitude and the throne stands the golden altar of incense, smoking quietly. 

And there, behind the multitude, lies the shore of the sea, the great heavenly washbasin that actually contains the universal “ocean” of our universe. And as John pointed out way back in Chapter 4, it looks like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. And if we were to look down into the water, we would see the earth there, every mountain shattered by the sixth seal back at the end of Chapter 6, every valley filled with rubble, every city burning, deserted, populated only by the corpses of men and fallen gods… 

This is where we are supposed to remember that, in the language of the Old Testament, when ”times” are cut in half — as in a time, times, and half a time — it symbolizes the suddenness of God’s judgement and his mercy in cutting something short. This is also where we are supposed to remember that, in the liturgy of the Old Testament, silence marks the turning point between sacrifice and redemption, between death and new creation. 

So we wait in silence. But as we wait, we see some movement. And apparently John also noticed it, because this is what he wrote: [2] And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. 

Now, back in Chapter 1 we saw seven stars in Jesus’ right hand, which were actually seven angels, whose job was to give spiritual life and fire to the seven churches. And the seven churches were all of us: this same multitude that is now standing before the throne! 

So, since we are now standing in God’s direct presence, does this mean these seven angels have completed their work? 

Well, apparently not, because they are being given trumpets. And we know, from the Old Testament, that when these trumpets are sounded, they will be calling God’s people to assemble, to march, to war, or to worship. 

Which means, apparently, there must be something more for us to do as well. 

So we continue in silence. 

And then [3] another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. [4] The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. 

These are the prayers of all God’s people: these are our prayers! purified by the blood of the sacrificed Lamb, being officially presented before God’s throne. 

But now we have to ask: what exactly would we be praying for here, in this moment? Aren’t we already in God’s presence? Don’t we already have everything we could ever want? 

Well, apparently not. We are still praying for something more. And we can actually tell what we are praying for by how God answers our prayers next: 

[5] Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. 

Okay. Apparently we were praying for the final purification of the earth by fire, just as the angel purified the city of Jerusalem in Ezekiel’s vision. The creation-worshiping citizens of the earth have already been judged and removed, but Judgement Day is not actually over until the earth itself has been removed, renovated, and reinstalled as a new creation. 

So this is where we are supposed to realize that this half an hour of silence symbolizes God’s sudden and merciful cutting short of the old creation, and his preparation for the new. The smoke of sacrifice is billowing up from the altar of the earth; the prayers of all God’s people rise from the incense altar in heaven, and now everything is ready for the next great movement of worship. 


All right! 

The final seal has been removed from the scroll of the Lamb’s inheritance. 

Now, we already know what this scroll contains: this is the original Book of the Covenant, the original Book of Blessings and Judgements. It also contains the original plans for God’s eternal kingdom, the blueprints for the new heavens and the new earth! So, now that the old earth has been removed, a space cleared for the new earth to be revealed…let’s read on and watch the whole thing come together! 

[6] Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them. 

Is this going to be a call for God’s people to assemble? — but we are already assembled in God’s presence here. 

Perhaps this will be our call to march to our new home on the new earth? 

It cannot be a call to war, can it? — since there is no one left to fight. 

Or might this be our final call to worship? 

[7] The first angel sounded his trumpetand there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down on the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up. 

Ohhhh no. This does not sound like a new creation at all! 

Maybe it will make more sense as we go on: 

[8] The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, [9] a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. 

[10] The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— [11] the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter. 

[12] The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night. 

[13] As I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying in midair call out in a loud voice: “Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!” 

Clearly these are not blueprints for a new creation! Apparently the Lamb is not yet reading from the scroll of his inheritance — hopefully he will get to that later on in Revelation, we are very interested in what that scroll contains! 

But in the meantime, it seems as if these first four trumpets are actually continuing the themes of judgement that we saw during the first four seals back in Chapter 6. 

But perhaps what we are seeing here is actually a slow-motion instant replay of the angel pouring out his bucket of burning coals upon the earth. Could it be that, from heaven’s perspective, the final cleansing of the earth looks like one single judgement by fire, while from earth’s perspective it looks like four separate fiery judgements, dismantling the earth layer by layer? 

That could make sense. After all, in the beginning creation was assembled layer by layer: beginning with Light, followed by the sky with its stars, the sea with its creatures, the land with its creatures and vegetation. Here, these fiery judgements seem to be destroying each of those elements in reverse order, ending with darkness. If Genesis is the story of creation, this could be the story of un-creation! 

Okay. But hang on a second: 

Back at the end of Chapter 6 we witnessed earthquakes so strong that mountains collapsed and islands sank. Are we supposed to believe that those disasters somehow left the trees and grass and seas mostly untouched until this moment? 

Also, back in Chapter 6 the whole sun turned black, the whole moon turned red, and all — or at least, most — of the stars fell to earth. But here only one third of the sun and moon are darkened, and somehow the stars are back in their proper places again so that only one third can be struck? 

Besides, didn’t the silence of the seventh seal just now signal the end of the deserted earth, and the beginning of the new creation? If that is the case, why does this eagle flying in midair here talk about “inhabitants of the earth,” and how they are going to suffer even more now from the next three trumpet blasts? 

Apparently, John’s visions have once again been reset, back to some earlier point in history, before the earth was removed for its purification by fire. Apparently, these four fiery trumpet judgements mark the start of a new narrative cycle — perhaps parallel to the four deadly horsemen of the first cycle? 

And, sure enough, when we look back we do find the four horsemen related to these four fiery judgements in an interesting way: the four deadly horsemen were allowed to kill one fourth of the earth; these four fiery judgements are allowed to damage one third of the earth. In other words, these judgements are more intense than the previous ones. 

Soooo…here is a question: does that mean these fiery judgements come after the four horsemen — or at the same time? 

Actually, let’s just ask the question that is really on our minds: are Christians going to be gone before these events get started? — or are we destined to experience these four fiery judgements in the same way we have been experiencing the four deadly horsemen? 

Well, this is sort of a…good news/bad news situation. 

Let’s just get the bad news out of the way first: Christians will still be on earth when these events get started. 

In fact, these events actually got started a long time ago… 

Allow me to explain: last week, in Chapter 7, we saw four angels holding back the four winds of judgement. And we realized those four “wind” angels were another manifestation of the four horsemen from Chapter 6. 

But, if you recall, at that time those four “wind” angels were told, very specifically, “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we have sealed everybody properly.” And what has just been very specifically harmed here in Chapter 8? The land, the sea, and the trees. 

Apparently there is some kind of connection between the four deadly horsemen of Chapter 6, the four deadly winds of Chapter 7, and these four deadly trumpets in Chapter 8. Are they all exactly the same thing? No… But are they all released upon the earth during the same period of history: right after Jesus Christ took his throne and God’s people were all properly counted and sealed? Yes. 

Okay. But wait a minute: how did we miss disasters on this level? When, during the last 2000 years, did one third of the trees and all the grass on earth catch fire? How did we miss a mountain falling into the sea and turning one third of it to blood? Where in history do we find a record of how one third of the fresh water on earth turned bitter? 

…but this is where we remember that the Book of Revelation is in fact a book of signs, symbols that only begin to make sense when we approach Christ and ask him to explain. 

So, let’s do that now: Lord, please help us out here! What do these images mean? 

And, as he always used to do for his 12 disciples, Jesus directs us back into his ancient scriptures, the Living Word of God. He also connects us with the wisdom of the many generations of brothers and sisters who have studied God’s Word before us. 

And our ancient brothers and sisters are quick to point out that these judgements here strongly resemble the plagues that struck ancient Egypt while the nation of Israel was still living there, before they received their command to march.  

Just like these four trumpet judgements, the plagues God directed against Egypt were also “un-creation” events: hail destroying grass and trees, waters turning to blood, animals dying, darkness blotting out the sun. Each plague deliberately targeted at a different element of creation.

Why? Because the Egyptians worshiped those elements of creation as gods, and God was proving that he alone is God. 

So, when we look back, we realize those original plagues had three main purposes: first, to crash the Egyptian economy, physically punishing the empire for its abuse of God’s people. Second, to shatter the Egyptian religion, spiritually punishing them for their abusive worship of creation. Third, to wake God’s people up, and get them ready for the call to march. 

In essence, the story of the plagues on Egypt is the story of the ecological, economic, political, and spiritual collapse of an immensely powerful empire, and the story of how God drew his people out from under the smoking ruins, resurrected them as a new creation, and led them home. 

So this is where we are supposed to realize that John is witnessing, in symbolic imagery, the ecological, economic, political, and spiritual collapse of an immensely powerful empire, a civilization that rules over one third of the land and the seas, a civilization that consumes one third of the earth’s resources. 

Now, this empire does have a name. But that name is only revealed later on in this book, so we will come back to that at the proper time. 

So this is the story of the collapse of this Yet-To-Be-Named empire, this is how John sees it happen: 

It begins with hail and fire. Hail was especially feared by ancient people, because it comes without warning and can wipe out a farmer’s entire fortune in fifteen minutes. Fire is almost as terrible. The simple point is this: the first trumpet launches some kind of attack on this unnamed empire’s food supplies. A famine results, which turns into an economic crisis that sweeps across the whole third of the earth that this empire rules. 

After the economic collapse comes the political collapse: the government falls…like a huge mountain thrown into the sea: suddenly the merchants and fishermen and all the other people who depend on ocean-going trade with this empire for their survival find themselves out of business. Basically, as the empire’s economy sinks, it drags all of its trading partners down with it. 

And, by the way, we can tell that this mountain is meant to symbolize a collapsing empire because, when the Old Testament prophets talked about mountains falling into seas, they would explicitly say things like, “This mountain symbolizes Babylon” or “this mountain symbolizes Egypt.” So this falling mountain is definitely a metaphor for political collapse. 

Well, quite naturally this social crisis leads to a religious crisis. The nations ruled by the empire were happy to worship the central ”god“ of that empire as long as he kept the money flowing. But now that the empire is sinking, people abandon ship economically and spiritually: they start changing gods along with their underwear, trying desperately to find some other god somewhere that will save them from the tsunami caused by the government’s collapse. And as a result the great demonic prince who ruled this empire is dethroned and comes crashing down from his high position — like a great star. 

And we can tell that this falling star is a symbol for a fallen rebellious angel because, when the Old Testament prophets talked about falling stars, they would explicitly say things like, “How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn, you who tried to raise your throne above the stars of God!” Besides, as we have already noticed today, Jesus himself made a connection between stars and angels right at the very beginning of Revelation, in the very first chapter. 

And the name of this dethroned demonic prince is Wormwood, named after a bitter herb, because apparently he is very bitter about his defeat. And in his bitterness he immediately sets about polluting all the sources of clean spiritual water he can find: if the citizens of the former empire are not going to worship him anymore, well then he is at least going to make damn sure they don’t have access to the pure life-giving Word of God…! 

And so, in the end, as this once mighty empire melts away into a thousand different nations worshiping a thousand different gods, chaos swallows the lands and the seas where once there had been unity and order and commerce. In the end, all that remains of this empire is smoke billowing up from the ruins like the smoke from a gigantic furnace, blotting out sun and moon and stars, shadowing that whole third of the earth’s surface with a dense spiritual darkness. 

We asked Jesus to explain what these images mean. Now we know: 

Just like Egypt once did, the unnamed empire in John’s vision decided to abuse creation by worshiping it. The citizens of this empire put their faith in created things: in the earth’s resources, in their economy, in their political systems, in the sun, the moon, and the demonic stars. Just like the people in Ezekiel’s time, they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like men and birds and animals and reptiles, they worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator. So God uses these four fiery judgements to deconstruct that whole one third of the earth enslaved by that great civilization. The elements of creation that were forced to serve this empire as gods are allowed to turn against those who worshiped them. And just as the first movement of creation was Light, so also the final result of un-creation is Darkness. 

Now, John is witnessing the collapse of one particular empire — which will be named later on — but this particular empire’s collapse is also setting the pattern for every collapse of empire, before John’s time and since. This is just how history works! One or more of the four horsemen attack a civilization; and if it is time for God’s final judgements to fall upon that civilization, then: ecological, economic, political, social disasters ensue and collapse quickly follows.  

And it is very obvious that, over the last 2000 years, as nations and civilizations have collapsed under God’s judgements, Christians have suffered the effects right alongside the citizens of those civilizations. When order is swallowed up by chaos, everyone within reach gets hurt! When the city burns, we also find ourselves trapped beneath the ruins. 


So, as we have already noticed, that is the bad news. Apparently, over the last 2000 years, we have been living through these four fiery judgements, just as we have been suffering the effects of the four deadly horsemen. 

What is the good news? 

Well, as we look back at the plagues that destroyed the Egyptian empire, and as we remember all that they were designed to accomplish, we realize that these trumpet judgements are also designed to wake us up and get us ready for the call to march. 

We have been counted; we have been sealed; we have already been given a glimpse of what it will be like when we finally arrive at that final half an hour of silence on the far side of the sea. But we are not there yet! We are still here, dwarfed by the shadows of earthly empires. Every time a society collapses under the weight of God’s judgements, the consequences are terrifying and costly — even to us! but every disaster is also a trumpet blast drawing us out from under the wreckage, calling us to assemble, to march, to war, to worship. 

This is our good news, friends: every disaster that overtakes our tired old creation is a promise that the new creation is drawing ever nearer. Every judgement upon the empires of this world reminds us that we are actually citizens of a new world — but that before the new can come the old must first be cleared out of the way. 

And so, as citizens of the new creation still living in the old creation, we find ourselves in this tension between what is now and what will take place later: we rejoice over what is to come even as we mourn the loss of the old. We cry out, “How long, Sovereign Lord, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” while at the same time we dread the process. 

And we find this tension expressed most clearly today by this eagle flying in midair at the end of the passage. As John describes it, the eagle proclaims God’s last three judgements in a loud voice: “Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth!” 

And this word “Woe!” is really a cry of frustrated grief. It is the kind of wordless groan parents make when they watch an adult child take that last, stubborn, unrepentant step into disaster and death. 

But we have to ask: why does this eagle care so much about the inhabitants of the earth? 

Because this eagle represents the created order that the inhabitants of the earth have been worshiping. And here’s the thing: the created order represented by this eagle hates being worshiped! 

Again, allow me to explain: this eagle is actually another manifestation of the fourth living creature that John first saw back in Chapter 4: the one that was like a flying eagle. 

At that time we realized the four living creatures are a bit like the “elders” over four earthly animal kingdoms, and that their great motivation is to fill the earth with life and true worship. Now, the Old Testament tells us that these four living creatures were among those angels who shouted for joy when God first laid the earth’s foundations. So they have known from the beginning how the original design was supposed to work — mankind leading the animal kingdoms into ever more life-giving worship for the glory of God — and these angels were very excited to be a part of that great project! 

Instead they found themselves subjected to frustration, turned into the objects of worship instead of its subjects. And ever since then, the bible tells us, the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth, longing to be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 

The eagle’s three-fold cry of grief here is the sound of creation groaning for its redemption from slavery to this system of false worship perpetrated by mankind. Back in Chapter 4 we saw that the living creatures spend all their time singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Now we find out that they also spend their time saying, “Woe! Woe! Woe!” because the creatures they represent have not yet been taught to sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” as they should. 

Basically, the eagle’s cry is the sound of creation saying, “How long, Sovereign Lord, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and give us some real worship leaders?” As it says in another place: the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 

Back in Chapter 6 we were a bit confused when we saw the four living creatures help unleash the four deadly horsemen. We wondered then why these holy representatives of life would participate in bringing death upon the earth. Now we know: creation also understands — as we do — that before the new creation can come the old must first be cleared out of the way. 

So, to summarize: we have learned that when these four fiery judgements overwhelm our human societies, they are not just previews of God’s final cleasing fire, they are also reminders to us that we do not belong here, that we are destined for a new world, a world that cannot be shaken. Ecological collapse, economic collapse, political and social collapse: these things are not just designed to expose and remove false gods and false religions, they are also the trumpet calls of our Saviour: calls upon us to assemble, to march, to war, to worship. 

This is a matter for rejoicing! It is also reason for grief, because we often have to leave friends and even family members behind in the ruins. But now, at least, we have discovered that we are not alone in our grief: creation itself is also groaning under the weight of death and decay. The only thing that keeps creation going is the Creator’s promise to it that beyond death lies resurrection and new creation and a day when every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea will follow the children of God into perfect, eternal worship. 

That is the deepest longing of the four living creatures around the throne; that is the ultimate purpose of the 24 elders who represent Jesus’ Church before the throne; and — God willing — we will be among those who finally fulfill that purpose during that last, silent half hour upon the shores of the heavenly sea. 


Okay. What are we supposed to do, now, in response to this Good News? What is our practical application? 

Well, to start with, we had better answer these four trumpet calls. 

So if you are here today, and your primary identity is still citizen of some earthly tribe or nation or political idea, then this is what Jesus is calling you to do: 

First, look around the world at what is going on, and understand what it means. Not a day goes by without some natural or man-made disaster taking place, and every single one is letting us know that our creation-worshiping, creation-devouring species cannot go on like this for very much longer: the earth itself is eventually going to take terrible revenge upon all those who have enslaved it through their claims of citizenship and ownership. 

Second, once you understand this message to you: change citizenships. Come with us. Follow us out of the wreckage. Assemble with us here week after week. Journey with us. Join us in our battle against tyranny in all its creation-worshiping, creation-enslaving forms. Worship with us now, because God’s promise is that all who worship with Jesus’ Church now will also worship then. 

Join us, and fulfill your ultimate purpose. Stop being a consumer; instead, be transformed into the self-sacrificing worship-leading source of life you were originally designed to be. 

Now, for the rest of us who already know where our true citizenship lies, let’s do this: let’s keep on assembling, marching, fighting, and worshiping. Our great Exodus is not yet complete. This passage today ends in shadow, and that is where we also end today: we are in the depths of the sea now, a watery universe tormented by four deadly horsemen, swept by four deadly winds, a valley like a furnace flaming — “yet from those flames no light, but rather, darkness visible.” Throughout history, our people — Jesus’ people — have been the victims of ecological disasters, economic collapses, political attacks, social unrest. We have seen the pillars of smoke billowing upward from a thousand burning civilizations — 

But even those pillars stand as reminders that, even in the wilderness, even in the depths of the sea, our God goes before us and behind us in cloud and fire. 

May we always be reminded of these things. 

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