In Revelation 8, we read of seven angels sounding off trumpets. These mighty horn-blasts warn all of humankind about awesome calamities coming upon the earth.
The first four blasts warn of incredible pollution that poisons the trees, grass, rivers and seas, as well as the air. Waters become bitter, and skies darken over one-third of the earth.
Then, in chapter 9, a fifth warning comes. It describes a worldwide invasion of locusts:
"There came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power" (Revelation 9:3).
Who is behind this terrifying swarm of locusts? It's Satan himself: "The fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit" (9:1).
Satan is the star who falls from heaven. And he is allowed to open hell's gates and release an army of demonic locusts.
As soon as the devil opens the door to this bottomless pit, huge billows of smoke pour out. The smoke is so thick and pervasive, it hides the sun, making the sky black and oppressive.
Of course, these locusts aren't real insects. They're demon-possessed, Satan-controlled men: "Their faces were as the faces of men" (9:7). We're told they have long hair: "They had hair as the hair of women" (9:8). And they wear headdresses, or turbans: "On their heads were as it were crowns" (9:7).
These demonic locusts strike suddenly, like scorpions. And they bring awful torment to their victims: "Their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man" (9:5).
The Greek word for scorpion here means "poisoner, one who poisons." The locusts also are described as men of war: "They had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle" (9:9).
The image here is of an army of demonic tormentors, prancing like horses anxious to fight. Their "wings" imply they can sting from the air. And there is deadly power in their sting:
"They had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months" (9:10). In short, each of these demon-possessed men has the ability to sting, or poison, from the ground or air.
In the last days, Satan's turbaned army of tormentors will be released upon the earth. And these demon-driven fanatics will bring destruction and fear to all of mankind.
Theologians from the 17th century, including many Puritans, believed this army of locusts to be Mohammedans. They saw the locust invasion as a worldwide Islamic jihad, or holy war.
Years ago, a well-known writer named Dr. Wordsworth depicted this scenario in a book he wrote on Islam and Mohammed. He saw the billowing smoke in Revelation 9 as the doctrine of Islam. Like a thick cloud, Islam blinded people's eyes, shutting out truth and darkening their minds. It even had power to blind entire nations.
Wordsworth taught that out of this doctrinal smoke would come a locust-like army. Like others of his time, he believed this to be a Moslem army. It would be made up of vicious, long-haired, turbaned soldiers. And they would rampage through nation after nation, enforcing the Islamic religion.
This actually happened, at the birth of Islam. Mohammed appeared in the sixth century, founding the Islamic religion. And, leading a great army of horsemen, he swept over much of the earth.
These Mohammedans warred against Roman Catholics, Greek Catholics and Jews. They overtook all of Asia, from the Euphrates River in the Middle East to Constantinople, the site of present-day Istanbul, Turkey. They captured the Holy Land, all of Asia Minor (including the territory of the seven churches in Asia), Greece, all of the eastern Mediterranean islands, and northern Africa. Then they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar into Spain, where they founded a Moslem kingdom.
Finally, they entered France, but the Mohammedans suffered a devastating defeat at Tours. At that point, the mighty Islamic flood sweeping over Europe was stopped.
Today, leaders and diplomats are claiming, "Islam is a religion of peace." But everything in Islam's history cries out against this. Most wars taking place right now are between Moslems and some other group or nation.
The truth is, Islam was born in violence, and it has been a religion of the sword ever since. Mullahs and ayatollahs enforce Islam's laws by flogging people and by chopping off their fingers, limbs or heads. Such brutal practices are commonplace in many Moslem nations, including Afghanistan.
Moreover, in virtually every Moslem's bosom there is an inbred hatred for Jews. It's almost impossible to find an Islamic anywhere who believes Israel has a right to exist.
Moslems may denounce the terrorist acts against America, but in the same breath they cry, "Destroy Israel." They see terrorism against Israel as a righteous jihad, a holy war sanctioned by their faith. That's why millions of Moslems worldwide have openly praised Osama bin Laden as a hero.
We're also told that few Moslems are terrorists. But isn't a terrorist someone who believes another people have no right to exist? If such a person believes it's acceptable to terrorize another people, he's a terrorist at heart, even though he never lifts a finger of harm. He doesn't have to slam a jet into an office building. He's already a terrorist, by rejoicing when a Jew is attacked or killed. So much for Islam being a religion of peace.
Make no mistake, this isn't a racist message. God loves every Moslem as much as he loves every Jew and Gentile. But the Lord has a serious problem with the doctrine of Islam. And he has called us to pray for Moslems.
We need to petition God to save many Islamic leaders, just as he saved Saul of Tarsus and made him a missionary to the world. Moslems have been blinded to the truth by a satanic veil. But God can remove that veil, and open their eyes to the gospel of love that is Christ.
"To them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months" (Revelation 9:5). These locusts can't destroy nations. They can only terrorize them. And the "five months" mentioned here signifies a limited, circumscribed time for them to do their demonic work.
I believe this warning tells us two things:
Already, America has been stung by the scorpion's tail, through the World Trade Center and Pentagon tragedies. And now we're feeling its poison through the attacks of anthrax.
We know also that Iraq has been stockpiling chemical killers for years. No doubt, deadly supplies are being smuggled in and out of other Moslem nations as well. Islamic "soldiers" worldwide are merely awaiting the word to begin their attacks.
Simply put, Satan's locusts are swarming, and the threat we face is real. But we must remember, these devil-controlled men are limited in the damage God will allow them to do. They can't destroy America or any other nation.
You may wonder, "Why would God permit these locusts to spread terror even for a limited time?"
Jesus answers this question: "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth" (Revelation 3:10).
Jesus is referring to an event that will come upon all humankind. In Greek, the phrase "hour of temptation" means a time of examination, of trial, of proving. And the word "try" here means to put on trial, to test. Christ is describing an hour of trial for the whole world.
What does this hour of testing mean for non-believers? It is a time when God will ask every person, "When the locusts are swarming, terrorizing your nation, will you acknowledge me? Will you turn to me to deliver you? Government leaders, will you admit your need of my help? Will you trust me to protect you?"
"Or, will you turn in pride to your own might, relying on your arms and weapons? Will you even consider the thought that, without me, you can't prosper, whether in war or peace?"
Of course, I believe we need to pray fervently for our nation's soldiers. Yet, sadly, I see no evidence that America has turned its heart toward God. With a few exceptions, our leaders are merely giving lip service to the Lord. And they're putting their confidence instead in our nation's generals, strategists, technology and allies.
Yet the terrorists are also being tested. The Lord is asking them, as well as all Islamics, "Will you touch Israel? Don't talk about peace while you hate Jews. If you continue your bloody ways of terrorism, I'll expose Islam as the violent religion it is. Then you'll be condemned by your fellow man here on earth, as well as at the Judgment."
No other people are going to be tried as severely as God's saints. So, what will our test be? What exam is the church facing? Our test will involve trusting God and his Word. It will be a test of whether we'll choose to walk before him in faith.
Very soon, we're going to see Satan's locusts terrorizing everyone around us. There will be fear on all sides. The economy will quake, and our nation's situation will worsen. Many jobs and livelihoods will end, careers will derail.
The evil reports heard in America will frighten the rest of the world. When that time comes, a single question will arise for the church of Jesus Christ: "Will the Lord's people be at rest?"
In short, will we trust in his promises to keep us? Will we be confident in him, knowing we're wrapped in his arms? Will we be unafraid, no matter how dark things get?
Jesus asks this very question: "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). Tragically, many Christians trust God only to a certain point. As hardships and darkness exceed that point, their faith suddenly begins to wane.
I ask you: when everything seems to be collapsing, and everyone around you is fearful, will you be able to sing, "It is well with my soul"?
God's focus in these trying times isn't terrorism or the Islamic world. He scoffs at the threats of radical Moslems. They can't hinder his work. Nothing can stop his purpose of reaching the world with his gospel. The Lord's only concern with Islam right now is his use of it as a rod of judgment on backslidden nations in this hour of testing.
No, God's focus right now is his own people. He's concerned with his church body here on earth. And the question he's preoccupied with is this: are his people becoming more peaceful and at rest, even as the locusts rage on? When the end comes, will he find us growing in our faith, or wavering?
We know the locusts are restrained in their ability to destroy nations. And they're limited in the amount of time they have to terrorize the world. Yet God has also placed another restriction on this demonic army:
"It was commanded them that they should not hurt...any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads" (Revelation 9:4).
As I prepared this message, I sought the Lord for a word of hope. I wanted his saints to know he'll care for us while the whole world is being shaken. I wanted to build up people's faith in God's promise to keep us during hard times.
Then I realized I'd already written a lot on this subject. In fact, I counted eleven such messages (each of which appeared in my book, God's Plan to Protect His People in the Coming Depression).
Finally, I was led to Revelation 9, the chapter on the locusts. As I read verse 4, about God's command to them not to destroy anything green, a thought leaped out at me.
I realized that here was the key to remaining safe in any time of terror: "stay green."
David wrote, "I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever" (Psalm 52:8).
The "green" David refers to here signifies spiritual health. It means to flourish, grow, be fruitful. David is telling us, "My health comes from trusting God. I flourish because I turn to him. My trust in him produces spiritual life in me."
"Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited" (Jeremiah 17:5-6).
The Lord is warning, "Don't trust in man. If you put your faith in human power rather than in me, you'll be cursed." This is true for any nation or people.
On September 11, 2001, when Mohammedans plunged their poisoned stingers into the World Trade Towers, our nation was given a wake-up call. America had an opportunity to humble herself and call on the Lord. It was a chance to acknowledge our need for God, to admit we can't win any war or make any progress without him.
We've already expressed this basic need on our coins: "In God We Trust." But, deep in our hearts, we won't admit our need for the Lord. After September 11, America didn't turn to God. Instead, pride took over. We quickly put our trust in advanced technology, military might, intelligence gathering, commando teams.
I believe we're seeing a sad repeat of what happened with the Gulf War. On the night American troops invaded Iraq, the senior President Bush spent the night on his knees. God blessed America with victory in that conflict.
Afterward, a ticker-tape parade was held, to honor and praise our military leaders. But not one word was mentioned about the Lord.
God help us now if we put our trust in smart bombs and advanced weapons. His Word has warned us, "Cursed be the man that trusteth in man."
What is this curse? Jeremiah says we'll be reduced to a "heath in the desert" (17:6). In other words, we won't be a tall, green tree like the others in the forest. Instead, we'll be like an isolated scrub in a wasteland, humbled and tarnished, with nothing to boast about.
America's good times, prosperity and blessing will be taken away. All the power and might we trusted in previously will be diminished to nothing. And we'll be abandoned by other nations, left to ourselves.
On a smaller scale, we see this curse at work in the lives of some Christians. Long ago, they put their trust in financial security, material possessions, worldly pleasures. Now their spirits are completely dried up. They've become isolated, abandoned, lost in a wilderness of fear and confusion.
Yet, if we put our trust in the Lord, here is what our faith will produce:
"Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit" (17:7-8).
Blessed is every servant, church and nation that puts its trust in the living God. And blessed is he who allows no evil report to remove him from his place of rest in the Lord.
As we trust wholly in the Father, we put down roots in his river of health. And his divine strength — luscious, green, spiritual health — flows in us and through us.
While everything around us is decaying, we'll flourish as green trees, healthy and strong. And when the hour of trial comes, we won't languish or wilt. Instead, our faith will be growing.
We see a picture of this in Hosea 14. Ephraim (Israel) repented of their backsliding, renounced their idolatry and turned to the Lord with renewed trust. In turn, God said of them, "I have heard him...I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found" (Hosea 14:8).
Suddenly, Ephraim flourished again. Their faith, demonstrated by their repentance, produced spiritual health. And soon they were bearing fruit, because of God's green flow in them.
Remember, the locusts are commanded not to touch anything green. Simply put, they can't hurt anybody who's walking in faith.
So, even at the height of their attacks, those who place their trust in God will stand tall, like solid, green trees. They won't be harmed by locusts of any kind, including terrorists.
The best defense against every kind of hellish attack, every scorpion-like sting, is spiritual health. And this kind of health comes only as we turn to the Lord and trust in his promises.
Let me ask you:
Life has changed drastically since the events of September 11. Before that, the average Christian was preoccupied with job satisfaction, finding good counseling, having friends who understood him. Now, things are different. Another path is being required of us. And to survive, we're going to have to rely wholly on God's covenant promises.
We must be convinced, "I've repented and confessed my sins. And now they're under Christ's blood. So, I know I'm forgiven."
"The devil can do what he wants to society, but he can't touch my soul. I won't heed any thought of guilt or fear. I'm going to trust God's Word alone. And he says I'm clean and precious in his sight."
Our Lord doesn't cut us off every time we fail. He doesn't constantly look over our shoulder, demanding we get it right. He simply asks that we come to him, confessing, "I believe your Word, Lord. Forgive me, wash me, hold me in your arms."
God's desire for us is that we live all our days without fear. Therefore, we don't dare allow Satan to accuse us with a failure from the past. If we've repented of it, then we're covered by Christ's precious, cleansing blood.
Not long ago, I was walking near our home in New Jersey, praying and singing, "It is well with my soul." I asked the Father, "Lord, do you have a word for me?"
The Holy Spirit whispered to me, "Yes, I do, David. You trust in my Son's cleansing blood. And you accept my promise of forgiveness. Because of this, all of heaven is singing along with you. They're singing, 'Yes, it is well, it is well with David's soul.'"
Peace flooded my heart. In that moment, I knew what it meant to feel "green" with spiritual health. I sang inside, "I'm a green tree in the house of God. And no weapon formed against me in hell can touch me."
Right now, the whole world is shrouded in a pall of fear. People are being paralyzed on all sides. Sadly, it's going to get worse for them. Satan's locusts are going to bring destruction on all who "have not the seal of God in their foreheads" (Revelation 9:4).
According to Scripture, people will respond to the increasing calamities in one of two ways:
1. Those who reject God, refusing to repent, will be hardened by the terrors they see.
Revelation 9 tells us a 200-million-man army will destroy a full third of the earth's population. No doubt, this refers to a nuclear war. We can't begin to imagine the worldwide devastation and plagues that will result. Yet, we're told, "The rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues...repented not" (Revelation 9:21).
Those who harden themselves to God now will be numbed by the awful disasters ahead. If a people or nation under judgment don't repent after repeated wake-up calls, they'll never do so. They'll simply harden their necks.
2. Those who trust in God will rejoice.
Indeed, at the very height of devastation, these servants will shout for joy. "Let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy" (Psalm 5:11).
Why would they shout for joy? "Because thou defendest them...with favour wilt thou compass him as with a shield" (5:11-12).
Here is God's promise to all who place their trust in him:
"The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee; send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion..."
"Now know I that the Lord saveth his anointed; he will hear him from his holy heaven with the saving strength of his right hand."
"Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God. They are brought down and fallen: but we are risen, and stand upright" (Psalm 20:1-2, 6-8).
Some people have put their trust in America's military forces. But all who trust in the Lord will find true rest.
We don't need bomb shelters, gas masks or hiding places. We have a God who is our peace. And he will hear us when we call.