The Sounding of the Sixth Trumpet
Scripture Reading: Matthew 24:1-14
Text: Revelation 9:13-21
Suggested Songs: 479:1-5; 29:4,5; 221:1-3; 370:1-4; 124:6
Sermon by Rev. Harry Van Dyken
Minister in the Orthodox Christian Reformed Churches
© Burlington United Reformed Church; The Preacher, Vol. 21, No. 5
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Congregation, beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ:
The angels of God continue to sound the trumpets. And the trumpets they sound are trumpets of warning.
The fifth trumpet was a rather striking trumpet in that there was no permission to bring death, but only to bring such intense suffering that death was to be desired and could not be found. Yet there is an identity in these last three trumpets. We read in verse 12, "The first woe is past; behold, there come yet two woes hereafter." The last three trumpets are identified with three particular woes. Yet, in contrast to the fifth trumpet, with the sounding of trumpet we see a return to the destruction of one third of mankind.
The sixth angel sounded and I heard a voice from the horns of the golden altar which is before God. It is "The Sounding of the Sixth Trumpet." Notice with me:
1. The voice from the horns;
2. The four angels and their armies; and
3. The outcome among men.
The sounding of the sixth trumpet: "And I heard a voice from the horns of the golden altar that is before God, one saying to the sixth angel that had the trumpet, ‘Loose the four angels that are bound at the great river Euphrates.’" When God told Moses to build the altar of incense and the altar of burnt offering, these altars were to have horns. It is striking to note that there were times in the history of God’s people when men had sinned against God and were coming under the judgment of men, that they took hold of the horns of the altar so that they would not be slain. This is striking because it demonstrated that they would rather fall into the hands of God than into the hands of men.
Horns are used for pushing, for destroying. They are a symbol of power. The altars of God had these horns and they symbolized the power of God. Now from the seat of that power comes the voice of God, as the sixth angel sounds. And this voice brings the warning of war. It is a warning of the complete folly of the self-destruction of man. Men from time immemorial have been busy destroying themselves. The empires that men have built have always been built on death. That is, of course the total and complete difference between the rider on the white horse and all the other riders that have appeared in history. The great ones in history that appear only to disappear — the Nebuchadnezzars, the Cyruses, the Alexanders, the Caesars, the Charlemagnes, the Napoleons, the Hitlers, the Stalins, and all the rest. Always they build their empires on death and then they die and it is all gone.
But here is One — a voice in history that comes as a warning trumpet that is being sounded — a very clear voice. The original stresses that it is one voice that sounds. And that voice proceeds from that place where the prayers of the saints have been heard. It proceeds from the place where the coals have been taken from the altar and the incense has been added— the incense of the perfect sacrifice and the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ — added to the prayers of the saints. And from the throne there proceeded the lightnings, and the thunders, and an earthquake. This takes you back to chapter 8 and the introduction of the angels with the trumpets.
The voice speaks from that place of the power of God and says, "Loose the angels that are bound." They are wicked angels; four angels corresponding to the four corners of the earth, the four winds of heaven. Their work covers the earth. And they were bound there at the river Euphrates — there at the border of Canaan. The Lord had promised that the river Euphrates would be the border of Canaan. God told Abraham in Genesis 15:18, "Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates." This promise is reaffirmed to Israel shortly before they enter Canaan. We read in Deuteronomy 11:24, "Every place whereon the sole of your foot shall tread shall be yours: from the wilderness, and Lebanon, from the river the river Euphrates, even unto the hinder sea shall be your border." The angels appear there at the border of the land which has been the seat of worldly power. It is the focal point of the entrance of the great armies that will be engaged in the battle of Armegeddon. There at the edge of Assyria, there at the edge of Babylon, there at the place where Cyrus conquered, there where Alexander was victorious, there the angels were bound who controlled the power to destroy.
But there is One who is far greater than these angels. Christ wants His church to know that. He wants us to know that the trumpet of warning can sound, bringing war and destruction, constantly destroying a third of mankind in history, only when that voice first sounds from the horns of the altar. It is only possible when that voice speaks from where the power of God is. It is only possible when that voice speaks from where the power of God has been brought together with the prayers of men, there where the power of God has been brought together with the sacrifice that is all-sufficient. That voice sounds there in the place where the power of God has been brought into relation with the above in such a way that the voice of sinners, saved by His power, can be heard.
Over and over again, as we read it in Matthew 24, the temple of God comes into the picture. We will see this again in Revelation 10. In Matthew 24 the disciples begin to talk about the temple and Jesus uses that to talk about the end of time. The temple plays a very large part in that. In fact, when the disciples introduce the subject in Matthew 24, Jesus immediately speaks about its destruction. But that is the old temple, the temple built with hands.
The true temple is always in the midst. Matthew 24 speaks about the false prophets that are joined with the powers of this world, and with the four angels and the dragon. But the Lord wants His church to remember as the true temple of God, that even though it be small in number, that this is not an exception. That is almost always true. There is very little exception to that.
But remember that the voice, the one voice that speaks from beside the horns of the golden altar is the voice of the One that controls all of history. It is this that the book of Revelation is emphasizing over and over again. And so the real, the true, the glorious living temple of God need never be afraid of destruction. "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again." That is spoken of the true temple of God. I’ll speak more about that true temple when we consider the last part of Revelation 10 and chapter 11. We will see how the temple of God in history fits in with the proclamation of the Word and the judgment of God that comes on the world.
But here that one voice that sounds comes from the temple — there where the altar of God is, there where the horns of the altar are, there where the sacrifice is brought, there where the holy of holies is, the very throne room of God. And we see and hear this in the wondrous knowledge that now the veil of temple has been torn apart and the way is constantly open. From here the power of God goes forth and there are wars, great wars.
Notice these four angels and their army. "And the four angels were loosed for an hour and a day and a month and a year to slay the third part of men. And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand. And I heard the number of them." Then you get the picture of the horses prepared for battle. They fit the times, the whole New Testament times in which we live. They are prepared to fit the time — notice it; it is for an hour and a day and a month and a year. They are prepared to fit every time or situation that appears in history, prepared to work in history in such a way that the Lord says concerning them and their work that, were it not for the fact that those days will be shortened, the very elect would perish.
Their preparation is such that men declare that here is the answer to the riddle of history. Men say, "Look, here is the answer, or there." Have you noted it? Have you noticed that men keep saying, "Here," and then, "There," or "There." In these things are the answers to the problems of the world. And so man shifts from the one thing to the other; they come and go in cycles, moving from one answer to the other. Education is declared to be the great redemptive force in history. Then, when education fails, it is power and might that are claimed as the new redeeming phenomenon. Then arises a sort of religious fervor to which men turn. Then some philosophy will save and will show the way. And finally some great man will arise as dictator to fill the vacuum. He will save mankind. And so it moves. So it has been moving since the dawn of history. And always people say, "That fits our time!" It matches to the hour, the day, the month and the year. It is prepared in such a way that men will claim that it is dated for them for us today. And it always brings death!
The army of these angels is so big that John has to be told the number of it. The number of the army is two hundred thousand thousand — two hundred million men! Not that this is necessarily an exact figure — it represents an almost innumerable multitude. It tells us of the amazing greatness of the armies of this world as they move in history from the time of Christ’s ascension to the time of His return. And a third of mankind dies. They die through war, through the constancy of war, something this world has never been without. Always these armies are moving. Remember this, church of Christ, as we go a little further and read the awesome description of these horses. As you read it you must think of the awful instruments of war which man has invented. That is what it pictures, these terrible heads and tails with their horrible destructive power. The whole description speaks of death, of power, and of destruction which is inescapable. It makes no difference whether you meet them head on, or whether you come upon them from the rear. Whether you face the head or the tail you face killing, destructive power, power that seems to be invincible.
But these four angels, reaching into the four corners of the earth with the power of their armies, cannot even start until the voice first sounds from the altar of God’s power. God wants His church to know that with all this demonstration of power, the altar with its horns is there. The power of the altar horns is determining completely the administration of the power of these armies. It guides them. It directs them. History is not happening by chance.
The preparation of these angels as that which fits history is not really a true picture. It is the devil’s preparation. It is not really dated to fit the times — it is dated to fit hell’s definition of history, which is man’s definition of history. There is really no difference. That is why, when you really face the issues and ask, "What is history really all about?" and when you press that question on men, there is nothing to answer that speaks of life. It seems that a great number of two-legged ants have appeared on this planet and they mill about for a while. And then they disappear again, some sooner, some later. And really, what is the difference? What is the difference whether they live for fifty years, for ten years, or for a hundred years? What is the difference? What is the difference if the powers of history have been prepared for an hour and a day and a month and a year to trample on these ants as they move and one third of them lie dead? Really, what is the difference? They are all moving to death anyway. That is what history is all about!
And then maybe someday the great cataclysm that produced it all in history will be reenacted and it will all disappear. And that’s it. Or maybe somewhere, sometime, chance will produce something like it again. Who knows as the stars and the planets moves in their paths into the endlessness of nothing?
Into such a situation the voice speaks and says, "Let the angels loose. Let them loose and it will expose the folly of such thinking, of which we have just spoken." Yet men will look to them and say, "This is what brings life." And all it can bring is death.
Beloved, the Lord wants you to stand with John and hear the number of the army, to see those horses. "And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates as of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouth proceedeth fire and smoke and brimstone. By these three plagues was the third part of men killed, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which proceedeth out of their mouths. For the power of these horses is in their mouth, and in their tails, for their tails are like unto serpents and have heads, and with them they hurt." Those of you who went through suffering in World War II know that there was really no place to hide from the destructive power of the Nazis. And how long will it be before God brings the same to this continent? We do not know. But we do know that the number of them is two hundred million. It is a movement that covers the earth, that keeps waging war, that keeps on building greater instruments of death and destruction. There is no place to go! There is no way of escape!
That is, there is no way, no place to escape except in the voice of Him that speaks from the altar of God, because God’s power is there. God’s power, the power of Him who said so simply, "The righteous shall live by faith" — by faith alone. You know that Habakkuk was in the same situation of seeming helplessness and hopelessness when he heard the thunder from the north, when he heard those horses of Nebuchadneazar descending upon them. Where will they go? What will they do? And the Lord said, "The righteous shall live by faith!" The horns of the altar, the altar of sacrifice, of incense, the altar of the peace offering, the sin offering, the wave offering, the trespass offering — the altar that encloses all the glorious work of Jesus Christ for His people. He stands in the midst of it all and says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Learn of Me for I am meek and lowly of heart. And my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
I am sure, children and young people, that as you are growing older, that more and more you begin to feel that everything finally sweeps down into death. As you look at history and view the things that are happening in the hour, the day, the month and the year, as you feel the movement of history, the history of which you are a part, it seems that death will take all. And there is truth in it. In the midst of all that, Jesus Christ wants you to know that there is a temple in this world, children, and that temple is you. That is really something, for that is where the power of God is! That is where Jesus Christ, that one voice in all history speaks. Only when He speaks from the horns of the altar can these angels be loosed. When He speaks again, they will be bound forever, cast into the bottomless pit, into fire that burneth forever, which is the second death. From that death there is no escape.
So you see that their preparation is really deceitful. Their final destination is death. But today in history the angels of war loosed by the sixth trumpet, killing the third part of men, is building up in intensity and constancy. We will have to face that. Beloved, as it builds up in intensity and in constancy that is almost without let-up, then, as we move on in this wonderful book we will hear Christ say, "Measure the temple. Measure it — I want you to see that it is still there and that it is measurable. And its measurements are perfect." And He is going to say, "Put in the sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe." The seventh trumpet is going to introduce the judgment, but before the seventh trumpet sounds there will be an interlude again. In this interlude Christ will show what it means that, when judgment comes, there is a church of Jesus Christ on this earth.
The Lord comes in the midst of all this to say, "This voice from the horns of the altar is not some kind of nice idea by which you can get through all this mess with some measure of equanimity, a little bit of poise, a little bit of self-confidence, that you can get through all this without going under and finally die with dignity." That is folly! Jesus says, "There is an altar which has horns. God put it there and it has a sacrifice. It has incense. And all history proceeds from it, for from it proceeds the voice." This is the one voice that speaks and tells us that there is a dignity that will last. It is the kind of dignity, children and young people, fathers and mothers, that will be ours when Jesus Christ comes to sit in the judgment seat and calls all before Him. And you will be able with dignity to answer His call. You will not have to say to the hills "Cover us," and to the mountains, "Fall on us to hide us from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne and from the Lamb." But with dignity, God-given poise, the poise of perfection, the poise of the temple of God with is perfect proportions, you will be able to answer Jesus Christ, the judge of all the earth and hear Him say, "Your name is written in the book of life. I know you!"
We can read of these things in Revelation 20. The books are opened. And another book is opened which is the book of life. And we read of those whose names are entered in that book, that over them the second death has no power. We read that those who are truly living stones in the temple of God will be there in the new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells. No power of death can touch them. What we read is very profound and yet it can be stated quite simply. God calls you today to see this Christ. He calls you to see that altar and know that that is what it means to believe in Jesus Christ.
To be truly a Christian gives you life forever and reaches into every part of history today. I want to plead with you, church of Christ, as God’s church, not man’s church, but as God’s church, to seek to know God’s will for this church. That does not mean this building, of course, nor any building that you might build. This means you, as church of Jesus Christ. This means every man, woman and child as church of Christ. You know that the church of Christ is being held in the hand of God, that God may be glorified. You must know that the voice that speaks from the altar, from that church which lives by the altar, is here to define history, to transform and give meaning to all history without exception.
Here in history, are the horrors of war. Here, in the midst of that horror of war, Christ is speaking for and from His church, even as the footprints of Mars, the god of war, are seen stamping out the life of these two-legged ants, for the voice had said that these armies "should kill the third part of men."
And what of these men? What of those who witness and experience all this end are yet alive? "They repented not of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts." They repented not of their demon worship and the worship of the creature rather than the Creator.
The trumpets of warning sounded and are sounding! They are awful as we see their unfolding in history. Yet even here is comfort, for the trumpets sound at the command of our covenant God.
Men see the awful answer of death and still insist it will bring life. They refuse to repent. Remember, beloved, that in all the history of the church there have been those, also in the church, of whom God’s Word speaks in I John 2:19, "They went out from us because they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but they went out, that they night be made manifest that they all are not of us." So too today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.
These are trumpets of warning, awful in execution, gracious in purpose, pregnant with promise, filled with comfort. The voice is heard from the horns of the golden altar! Amen.