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If I were to begin again, I would act as I have acted

All hell breaks loose with the sounding of the fifth trumpet. Things are about to get worse, much worse. John tells us a star that had fallen to the earth was given a key to the shaft of the Abyss, a bottomless pit, where demons were imprisoned. This star that had fallen most likely is Satan, who had fallen and been cast out of heaven at the beginning. Knowing he has only a little more time to practice his evil before the Lord pronounces sentence on him, Satan is angry. Opening the lock to the Abyss smoke like the smoke from a gigantic furnace rises. And out of the ugly, black smoke that darkens whatever light is left from the sun and moon and stars, come demonic locusts to run rampant on earth. One has to wonder has God lost control? Not at all. In his sovereignty God uses evil forces to destroy other evil forces for his purposes. Hell may break loose, but not without limits and not without purpose.

This swarm of demonic locusts is reminiscent of the eighth Egyptian plague of locusts in Exod. 10:12-20 but also possibly the third plague of gnats in Ex. 8:16 and the fourth plague of flies in Ex. 8:20. Locusts, gnats, and flies were all insects thought to originate in the belly of the earth and could cover the land like a blanket of darkness.

The demonic locusts of Revelation, unlike the locusts that devastated Egypt’s farming lands, are not allowed to damage the grass, trees, or any vegetation in Rev. 9:3. But like the flies and gnats that bit the Egyptians, the locusts are given the power to torment unbelieving humanity for five months. But they cannot kill. Meanwhile, God’s faithful who have his seal of protection are not harmed, just as Israel was spared from certain plagues against Egypt.

So, what are we to make of this nightmarish vision? Certainly, these are no ordinary locusts, since they are described with the combined features of animals, human beings, weapons of war, and other fantastic images from the apocalyptic imagination. The angel of the abyss, whose name is Abaddon (Hebrew for “destruction”; Job 26:6; Prov. 15:11) and Apollyon (Greek for “destroyer”), commands the army.

What we have is a spiritual battle. Deuteronomy 28 warns that in the last days God’s people will suffer through the Egyptian plagues because of their idolatry, but Revelation has applied this text to the world at large and the idolatrous values that Roman society propagates. The pain the demonic locusts inflict is due to the unseen and hidden consequences of sin. Evil and suffering, like the locusts, have a human face. When the veil is lifted on the destiny of rebellious humankind, John sees how those who embrace the fallen values of the secular world are tortured from within by the very greed, corruption, lust, bitterness, anger, loneliness, and inner turmoil that are generated from life apart from God. According to Deuteronomy 28, the plagues cause “madness, blindness and confusion of mind.” Idolaters will have no rest and tremble in despair; they will be filled with constant dread, with life suspended in doubt. The emotional, psychological, and spiritual torment is so great that people seek and long for death but cannot die. Any life that shuts out God, even one as potentially comfortable and luxurious as what Rome had to offer, cannot satisfy, but instead makes people slaves to a much wider evil (cf. Deut. 28:68).

What is God doing through plagues of judgment?

Jewish teachers recognized that God often sent signs or judgments to seek repentance before bringing harsher judgment; some later teachers even declared that those addicted to their sin would not repent even at the gates of hell.

I’m reminded of one man who refused to admit he needed to repent. There was a red brick prison in Germany known as Spandau that once held a Nazi war criminal named Rudolph Hess. Sentence to life in prison, Hess wandered the halls and gardens of Spandau prison waiting his death. Then one summer he strangled himself. In 1987 the old prison was torn down to prevent it from becoming a shrine.

If there is one thing Rudolph Hess should be remembered for, it should be this: He never repented. Guilty of the most atrocious sins a man could commit, he never once felt any remorse. Until the day he died he thought of himself as the deputy fuhrer of the Nazi party. This was Hess’ last public statement at the Nuremberg trials.

I was allowed for many years of my life to work under the greatest son that my people produced in their 1,000 year history. Even if I could I would not want to erase this. I am happy to know that I have done my duty to my people…as a loyal follower of my fuhrer. I regret nothing. “If I were to begin again I would act just as I have acted, even if I knew that in the end I should meet a fiery death at the stake. No matter what men may do to me, some day I shall stand before the judgment seat of the eternal. I shall answer to Him and I know that He will judge me innocent.

Hess saw no need to repent. His stubborn pride would not allow him to admit that he had been guilty of barbarous crimes. The truth is there is a tiny part of each of us that also clings to our pride and self-righteousness, that screams out, “Don’t repent, You have no need to!” In a monster like Hess perhaps we can see a dim reflection the dark side of our own nature. Repentance unaccomplished, whether it festers in an ancient prison or in a quiet suburban backyard, is ugly and offensive. Yes, cringe at Rudolph Hess. But cringe even more at the part of him that lives within each of us. Repentance requires a real change.

Jewish writers sometimes complained about those who refused to repent despite seeing God’s works. They suggest that it was because of the wicked, plagues afflicted the world, causing everyone to suffer. They recognized that God sent plagues in Egypt to invite repentance. He continues to seek repentance through judgments, both for unbelievers and those who are wavering believers, to strengthen their faith.

C.S. Lewis wrote once that all people are on their way to becoming either creatures so loathsome that we meet them now only in nightmares, or creatures so glorious that we would be strongly inclined to worship them if we could see them as they will be. Repentance is a matter of changing directions. Loathsome creature or glorious child of God!

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Rev. Charles Eldredge is pastor of Maitland Church of the Brethren, Lewistown, PA where he is currently serving in his 28th year. He graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in S. Hamilton, MA.

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