In a recent WP, Prelude to the Coming I quoted from Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus prophesied some very dire circumstances that would prevail just before His return. There are other similar predictions to be found in both Testaments relating to “the Day of the Lord”, a formula directing us to times of judgment. Revelation is full of vivid picture language that has caused many simple believing souls to be scared of the future, and wonder what their young children might have to endure. For example, the rider on the red horse was given power to take peace from the earth, that men should slay one another. (6:4) The riders on the green horse (Death and Hades) were given power to slay a quarter of mankind. (6:8) When the second trumpet was blown a mountain-sized asteroid fell into the ocean – something similar to Luke’s prophecy mentioned before. (8:8-9) When the fifth angel blew his trumpet a plague of locusts was released from the abyss, together with King Apollyon (whose name means “destruction”). The very presence of this horde inspired such terror in mankind that they sought death, but could not find it. (9:1-11) When the sixth angel blew his trumpet, four malevolent angels were released to kill one third of the world’s population. (9:15-16)
By this time over half the world’s present population of 7.3 billion would be killed, which would mean something like a death toll of 4,000,000,000 men, women and children. Surely this must be far in excess of the death toll during Noah’s Flood? But didn’t the Lord promise that such devastation would never again occur? He said, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, even though the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.” (Gen.8:21) Some have said, as the manner in which God gets round His former promise, that He only promised not to send a Flood again, but instead He’ll send Fire. . . . . such awful subtlety and cunning attributed to the Almighty.
This is not good enough! True Biblical scholars could never accede to such devious tactics, which fly in the face of all we learn of the true character of God liberally recorded in the pages of the Bible. God is not the Author of destruction. His name is not Apollyon. That is the character of Satan who is always ready to destroy. So what are we going to do with all the terrifying imagery in Revelation? Are we going to accept it, shrug our shoulders, and say, “Sorry, old chap, it’s inevitable. God has forecast it, so it’ll have to happen. God has spoken, and He’ll have to keep to the letter of His word.”
Men of God in Biblical times have not had this attitude, indeed, quite the opposite. Abraham courageously approached the Lord time and again about the destruction of Sodom. He couldn’t contemplate wholesale destruction. Moses was told by God that He would destroy all Israel and make a new dynasty through him. But he pleaded with the Lord not to do this, and the Lord heard and relented. Amos was shown in vision two terrible destructions taking place, and he cried to the Lord on behalf of Israel. The Lord heard and relented. Jonah was told that Nineveh would be destroyed after 40 days. But due to the city’s repentance it didn’t happen. It didn’t please Jonah but it warmed the heart of the Lord. Paul had great sorrow and unceasing anguish of heart concerning his people, and said, “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race.”
Therefore, with mounting sorrow and grief in my own heart I cry out to God’s people today that we should behave in the fashion of these men of God, and not take the prophecies as set in stone, but put there by God to see how we would react to them. I am reminded of words by Kenneth Bailey in his wonderful book “Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes”, when referring to some of the sad endings to parables, that to the mind of Middle Eastern people there is never any thought of just accepting disaster. Instead they look upon such pronouncements as the beginning of negotiations. In fact God expects us to negotiate with Him. He looks to us for our response, not blind acceptance of “fate”.
Bailey writes, If a Westerner is told by his employer, ‘You’re fired! Clear out your desk! I want you off the premises by 5 p.m. today!’ he will understand that he is fired and start packing at once in readiness to depart at 5 p.m. But a traditional Middle Easterner would listen to such a speech and conclude, ‘The master is clearly very upset. Hmm – I see I have a long negotiating process ahead of me. I must seek help from my friends. This is a very serious matter that requires immediate attention.’ (Page 406) If this is the way in which the People of the Book understood divine declarations, it behoves us to copy them.
Brethren, it is time to negotiate with the Lord. Are we going to accept the literal fulfilment of judgmental pronouncements? Should we not instead plead for mercy, cry for the people of the world that as with Nineveh a great repentance will come, and tragedy will be averted. To think and act otherwise would mean defiling of the character of the Lord. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
The Lord said to Noah that He would “never again curse the ground because of man,” but to Malachi he promised to send Elijah “before the terrible day of the Lord” in order that He would not have to curse the earth again. We must see the force of these words, and know that God has Himself shown us the way to negotiate for the world, instead of blindly accepting multiple destructions and further curses.
Are you complacent with Apollyon’s destructive activities, or will you fight for your fellow men, even to cry for the return of Elijah? I believe this message to be urgent in the face of escalating violence and corruption in this world. What will it be like in a year’s time?