The sixth angel gets his turn to blow his trumpet in today’s reading. This angel had the duty of releasing four other angels, fallen angels, who had been constrained from doing evil by God. Until now. The appointed time had come, and they were allowed to strike dead 1/3 of the earth’s population. These evil ones called upon an army of 200 million to help them. Such a number in John’s day would have been unheard of, but in our world today, an army of this size could be gathered.
Again, it is good for us to remember that the imagery we read here in Revelation is not real. It’s in John’s vision. Prophetic or not, God’s message is not meant to inflict vengeance but bring to repentance. Don’t worry about the symbols but on what they represent. God’s judgment will come in some form, at some appointed time. Will you be ready? Will you have turned to God? The words of Scripture are meant to give us a wake up call so that we are standing ready and helping others to do the same.
Have you ever suffered because of your faith? Maybe you were ridiculed or teased. Maybe you were excluded from certain activities. I’m willing to wager you haven’t spent time in jail because of your faith. Jesus knew the people of the church in Smyrna were truly suffering. It wasn’t going unnoticed. Likewise, we can be confident our own suffering is not unknown to Jesus.
Jesus’ message to the church in Smyrna was to hang on – don’t let your persecution and suffering turn you from God. Sometimes we can feel like that, like we’re hanging on by a thread. We’re feeling uncertainty, disillusionment, loneliness, sadness, etc. It’s the perfect time to lean in to God’s love instead of pushing away. Jesus words of encouragement to the church in Smyrna resonate with us, too.
Moses plays a very big role in the Old Testament and in the history of the Israelite people. I remember thinking when I was a kid going through Confirmation classes that it was such a shame Moses died before entering the promised land. I hadn’t really understood the whole story. Even this time through the story, I dug a little deeper to understand what Moses did, if anything, to end his life before reaching the other side of the Jordan.
In today’s reading, God is predicting Moses’ death. He is allowing Moses to see the promised land from a distance. Bittersweet. But God had told Moses and Aaron that their mistake was going to cost them. The LORD said, “For both of you betrayed me with the Israelites at the waters of Meribah at Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin. You failed to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel there.” God is speaking of Moses and Aaron. The story in question is recalled in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20.
I absolutely love what Moses is saying here in verse 6. “So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” I think that is more than just a message for the Israelites that day, and also to Joshua who would be taking over leadership. It is a promise to us as well.
I often pray for God to go ahead of me to prepare the way. In fact, it’s even one of the affirmations I use to get my day started. I can show up with confidence knowing God has gone ahead of me and prepared the way. There is a peace and assurance that comes with picturing God is already there waiting for me. I’ve used this, for example, before leading worship in church. Why? Because that is such an awesome responsibility. I don’t feel capable on my own strength and want to make sure my priorities are straight when I’m facilitating a group entering the presence of God together.
Do you think this message is just for those stubborn Israelites? When it was delivered it was, but how fitting it is for us even today. It’s a great example of one of those timeless messages the Bible is so full of. In addition to the richness of being a child of God like the Israelites, we, too, have the grace of God and the confidence our sins have been forgiven in Jesus’ name. We should have no excuse but to want to love God with our whole self and obey every word that comes from his mouth.
Just think of how we are positioned for greatness! How can we not want to show our appreciation? Yet, as the Israelites were stubborn, we tend to be selfish. We tend to want more and more, never truly satisfied. I suppose the Israelites had this weakness, too. What God wants from us is pretty simple, and it’s for our own good. Moses said, “He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul. And you must always obey the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good.”