Hell is for Real

In 2014, on Easter, a movie came out about a little boy who purportedly went to heaven and came back. The movie was based on the book by the title Heaven is for Real, and while this is not the place to discuss the faults of either the book or the movie, the point stands: heaven is for real regardless of whether or not some kid actually went there. Equally true, and the side that no one wants to hear about in our post-Christian culture, is the fact that hell is also for real.

Today’s Text

In Revelation 9:1-11,[1] the Apostle John writes, “The fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to earth. The key to the shaft of the abyss was given to him. He opened the shaft of the abyss, and smoke came up out of the shaft like smoke from a great furnace so that the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke from the shaft. Then locusts came out of the smoke on to the earth, and power was given to them like the power that scorpions have on the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green plant, or any tree, but only people who do not have God’s seal on their foreheads. They were not permitted to kill them but were to torment ⌊them⌋ for five months; their torment is like the torment caused by a scorpion when it strikes a man. In those days people will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them. The appearance of the locusts was like horses equipped for battle. Something like gold crowns was on their heads; their faces were like men’s faces; they had hair like women’s hair; their teeth were like lions’ teeth; they had chests like iron breastplates; the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses rushing into battle; and they had tails with stingers like scorpions, so that with their tails they had the power to harm people for five months. They had as their king the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he has the name Apollyon.”

Understanding (this part of) Revelation

As is clear even through reading this lengthy vision, the book of Revelation is full of fantastic imagery that tells a much bigger story.[2] The story that the book describes is the history of the world from Christ’s crucifixion until His return at the end of history. This visually stimulating story describes the struggle that God’s people face in this world from the wicked, Satanic system that is opposed to God. However, the blessing in rightly understanding this book is seen in the fact that every main vision (of which there are 7) starts with a scene in heaven.[3] These heavenly scenes are meant to encourage the people of God with the fact that God is in control and that they need not grow weary in persevering for Christ. The scene that heads this vision is the following from 8:2-6,

Then I saw the seven angels who stand in the presence of God; seven trumpets were given to them. Another angel, with a gold incense burner, came and stood at the altar. He was given a large amount of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the gold altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up in the presence of God from the angel’s hand. The angel took the incense burner, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it to the earth; there were rumblings of thunder, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them. (emphasis added).

This is important to keep in mind, especially when we see that in the prior vision (Revelation 6:9-11),

When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the people slaughtered because of God’s word and the testimony they had. They cried out with a loud voice: “Lord, the One who is holy and true, how long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?” So a white robe was given to each of them, and they were told to rest a little while longer until ⌊the number⌋ would be completed ⌊of⌋ their fellow slaves and their brothers, who were going to be killed just as they had been.

It is important to see, first of all, that this is the fifth seal just like the passage under discussion today is the fifth trumpet. We are seeing the same thing from two different angles. In addition, in the fifth seal the martyred saints are praying for God to avenge their blood; at the beginning of the present vision (8:2-6) we see that the saints’ prayers become a reality on the earth. In our passage today, John sees the penultimate fulfillment of this prayer, and in so doing, he screams to the unbelieving world, “Avoid hell at all costs!”

The fact that the angels are blowing trumpets is meant to be a wake-up call to a sleeping world (and a sleeping church, Revelation 3:14-22): “Truly believe in Christ before it’s too late!” God spoke to the prophet Ezekiel in 33:2-9,

Son of man, speak to your people and tell them: Suppose I bring the sword against a land, and the people of that land select a man from among them, appointing him as their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows his trumpet to warn the people. Then, if anyone hears the sound of the trumpet but ignores the warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood will be on his own head. ⌊Since⌋ he heard the sound of the trumpet but ignored the warning, his blood is on his own hands. If he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. However, if the watchman sees the sword coming but doesn’t blow the trumpet, so that the people aren’t warned, and the sword comes and takes away their lives, then they have been taken away because of their iniquity, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.

As for you, son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. When you hear a word from My mouth, give them a warning from Me. If I say to the wicked, “Wicked one, you will surely die,” but you do not speak out to warn him about his way, that wicked person will die for his iniquity, yet I will hold you responsible for his blood. But if you warn a wicked person to turn from his way and he doesn’t turn from it, he will die for his iniquity, but you will have saved your life.

By John describing angels blowing trumpets, John is telling us that God Himself is warning people of the judgment to come. This is the judgment John describes in Revelation 9:1-11.

Here’s the thing: this plague—in its truest sense—will not occur until the end of history when Satan is released from the abyss (see verses 1-2), so as of right now there is still time to repent and believe the gospel. According to Revelation 9:20-21 when this plague and the one that follows occurs, no one will repent. Rather they will be hardened by sin even more: “The rest of the people, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands to stop worshiping demons and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which are not able to see, hear, or walk. And they did not repent of their murders, their sorceries, their sexual immorality, or their thefts.” So, now is the acceptable time; today is the day of salvation. Please trust Christ today, before it is too late!

“But why should I trust Christ?” the unbeliever asks.

Or, “Why should I sacrifice everything for Christ?” asks the apathetic “believer.”

Well, I’m glad you asked. Let’s look at what happens when Satan is released from his prison at the end of history.

Consequences of Faithless Living

Verses 2-6 describes the consequence of not trusting Christ. John writes, “He opened the shaft of the abyss, and smoke came up out of the shaft like smoke from a great furnace so that the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke from the shaft. Then locusts came out of the smoke on to the earth, and power was given to them like the power that scorpions have on the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green plant, or any tree, but only people who do not have God’s seal on their foreheads. They were not permitted to kill them but were to torment ⌊them⌋ for five months; their torment is like the torment caused by a scorpion when it strikes a man. In those days people will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.”

When Satan opens the abyss, he will emerge (cf. 9:11) as well as the rest of the contents of the abyss. Their escape from the abyss is said to darken the sun. This is a clear picture of Divine judgment and the last day—the Day of the Lord—except that in this vision God uses demonic powers to carry out His judgments on unbelievers.

You see, there are only two kinds of people in this world. And they are not divided along lines of homosexual or heterosexual. They are not divided along lines of Buddhist or Islamic or Jewish. They are not even divided along lines of atheist or theist. The dividing line between all peoples in this world is this: faith in Christ Jesus or no faith in Christ Jesus. As the text shows, the demons, who are as spiritually destructive as locusts are physically destructive, only attack those who have no faith in Christ Jesus.

Since it specifies that they are not to harm any greenery on earth, and since it says that they will torment unbelievers for five months, it follows that these are not physical locusts—or any other type of physical creature that has to eat to survive.

However, they are literal realities, and in trying to come up with a visual to help us understand their effect on the people they torment, I figured I couldn’t do any better than sharing the following excerpt from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. . . . Get too near a dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself . . . soulless and evil. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.[4]

Maybe it is because I have personally struggled with depression for several good-sized portions of my life and because the dementors are how J. K. Rowling personified her own depression,[5] but when I read John’s words in verses 5-6, I cannot help but to think of depression. “They were not permitted to kill them but were to torment ⌊them⌋ for five months; their torment is like the torment caused by a scorpion when it strikes a man. In those days people will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.”

However, with that said, we must remember that this plague has not yet occurred. While depression may be one form it takes even today, believers are not exempt from depression like believers will be exempt from this judgment. We can’t look at this plague and say, “I must not be a believer because I get depressed.” Even Charles Spurgeon—the “prince of preachers”—struggled with depression. Kent Hughes explains,

On a notable Sunday morning in 1866, the famous Victorian preacher C. H. Spurgeon shocked his five thousand listeners when from the pulpit of London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle he announced, “I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever gets to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.” For some of his audience it was incomprehensible that the world’s greatest preacher could know the valley of despair. Yet it was a regular part of his life because twenty-one years later in 1887 he said from the same pulpit, “Personally I have often passed through this dark valley.”[6]

The point of today’s passage is to say that even the most intense depression any human being has faced over the course of this world’s history will look like joy in comparison to the spiritual torment caused by the demonic creatures that emerge from the pit during the last days of this world’s existence. And while the lesser depression that people face today often results in suicide, John is clear to tell us that suicide will not be a viable option for people during this judgment. (If you struggle with depression, please check out this book and continue reading this post to the end where I have some hope for you!)

You see, just like hell is eternal torment with no relief, so also this judgment (which graciously only lasts for five months) will have no relief. Lest anyone deceive you by saying either that “God won’t send anyone to hell” or that “hell will be less than eternal,” John holds this vision out in front of us to say, “Hell is for eternity, and it is very real.” Throughout the book of Revelation, many people experience the first death—including those who are only tormented here, but who are killed when we read Revelation 9:15, 18, 20. But when we get to Revelation 20:11-15, John explains,

Then I saw a great white throne and One seated on it. Earth and heaven fled from His presence, and no place was found for them.  I also saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged according to their works by what was written in the books.  Then the sea gave up its dead, and Death and Hades gave up their dead; all were judged according to their works.  Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.  And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (emphasis added).

The demonic tormentors give a picture to those persisting in unbelief of their eternal fate if they continue in that course. John records it for us here, and he tells us that those who hear the words of this prophecy are blessed if they keep it (1:3), because every single human being on this earth should want to avoid hell at all costs!

Have you trusted Christ yet?

The Terrible Nature of Demonic Torment

Verses 7-11 describe the appearance of these demonic tormentors to further highlight the consequences of refusing to trust Christ. John writes, “The appearance of the locusts was like horses equipped for battle. Something like gold crowns was on their heads; their faces were like men’s faces; they had hair like women’s hair; their teeth were like lions’ teeth; they had chests like iron breastplates; the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses rushing into battle; and they had tails with stingers like scorpions, so that with their tails they had the power to harm people for five months. They had as their king the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he has the name Apollyon.”

The demonic tormentors that John sees are described by many different understandable pictures so that his readers will fully understand just what they are up against.

First, he points out that they were “like horses equipped for battle” so that we would understand that they will be on a warlike mission. He still refers to them as “locusts” because these creatures will swarm upon sinful humanity driving them to unimaginable levels of depression.

Second, John says that they wear something “like gold crowns,” which refered to golden wreaths of the kind won at the ancient Olympic games. These demons will be victorious in their attack upon sinful humanity.

Third, John says that they have the faces of men, literally: “peoples’ faces” (not gender specific). This means that the demons will not be brainless creatures; they will be intelligent.

Fourth, John says that they have “hair like women’s hair,” which primarily speaks to the fact that they have long hair, not so much the fact that it is beautiful hair. When a person was ceremonially unclean (specifically a woman), they had to let their hair down and not take care of it (see especially Numbers 5:11-31). The fact that these demonic creatures have long hair is simply proof that they will be unclean demons.

Fifth, John says that their “teeth were like lion’s teeth.” This means that they will be ferocious, especially since their power to torment is in their tails, not their mouths (see verses 3, 5, 10).

Sixth, John says that they had “chests like iron breastplates.” This means that they will be undefeatable. Nothing will be able to stop their attack.

Seventh, John says that their sound was like that of “many horses rushing into battle” which simply goes to show again that they will be a large force rushing into war against sinful humanity.

Eighth, and finally, John says that they “had tails with stingers like scorpions” which describes vividly the fact that while painful, these creatures will not be lethal. Paige Patterson writes, “The language of the text vividly focuses on the numbing, sharp pain, and consequent ache produced in the victims of these particular locusts. Stings from scorpions are most often not fatal, though the red scorpion of India is sufficiently toxic as sometimes to be fatal.”[7] While many of the other plagues throughout the book of Revelation result in death to the victims, the fifth trumpet (along with both the fifth seal and fifth bowl) does not speak of death to its victims.

And the fact that the king of these locusts is described as Apollyon and Abaddon explains very simply that Satan—the Destroyer—is at the head of this army. The book of Revelation pits Satan versus God throughout—though it is clear to prove that Satan is controlled by God—and it is very revealing that all that Satan is able to accomplish here is to torment his own followers. According to Revelation you are either on God’s side—by faith in Jesus Christ—or on Satan’s side—by having no faith in Jesus Christ.

I plead with you today to stop being faithless. Trust Christ! Join a local church. Comment below if you need help finding a local church. The point is that judgment is coming and God is patient towards you (2 Peter 3:9). If you’re one of His, stop resisting and repent. You don’t want to face this judgment one day—or the eternal one that it foreshadows; avoid hell at all costs!

The Faithful ONE!

I’ve spoke about two types of people throughout this post. They are both defined by how they relate to Jesus Christ. I’d like to tell you about Him for a moment.

You see, throughout this passage it says twice, “x was given to y.” Two other times there is solid evidence that these demons are not acting on their own volition. These demons work under the sovereignty of one greater. The greater One is none other than Jesus Christ who sits upon the throne (Revelation 7:17). It is by His sovereignty that these demons are unable to harm those who believe in Him. It is also by His sovereignty that your depression can be relieved if you take it before Him by faith and seek out godly counsel that will point you to His cross and resurrection.

You see, Jesus suffered depression as well (at least on one occurrence). The most depressing words in all of Scripture are found in Matthew 27:46, when Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Jesus was in perfect relationship with His Father from eternity past until that moment. When Jesus humbled Himself to the point of death (Philippians 2:8) and became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), God turned His back on Him because God cannot be in the presence of sin, and sin was exactly what Jesus was in that moment: He became an idolatrous murderer, who practiced sorcery, sexual misconduct, and thievery (see Revelation 9:20-21). God had to turn His back on Jesus in that moment because His own Son was what He hates—SIN.

Jesus died om that cross. And God’s wrath was satisfied. Because His life had been sinless, God raised Him up on the third day so that if you place your faith in Him, you would be seen with the righteousness that Christ earned during His time on this earth. If you refuse to repent and place your faith in Jesus, then God will have to pour His wrath out on you for eternity in hell (pictured in minor in the locust plague of Revelation 9). If we hide in Jesus, He absorbs God’s wrath for us; if we refuse to humbly bow under His wing by faith, we must absorb God’s wrath.

Which side are you on? I pray it is the side that leads to eternal joy and peace. I plead with you to trust Him so that you can flee the misery and the depression of eternal torment in hell.

Hell is real! Please don’t end up there! Avoid it at all costs!

Soli Deo Gloria

 

[1] If you would like all of the exegetical work that went into this blogpost, that paper can be found here: https://www.academia.edu/35714283/The_Sting_of_the_Scorpion.

[2] For more information on my understanding of the book of Revelation as a whole, see this post.

[3] Charles H. Talbert, The Apocalypse (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 7, 12.

[4] J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in Harry Potter: the complete series (New York, NY: Scholastic, 1999), 187.

[5] See https://www.mamamia.com.au/jk-rowling-depression-dementors.

[6] R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word – 2 Corinthians: Power in Weakness, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 147.

[7] Paige Patterson, New American Commentary – Volume 39: Revelation, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2012), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 217.

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