by Roger McCay
18 September 2022
Sermon Passage: Revelation 9:13-21
Link to Audio Version
Around the time that the Jewish War began, in AD 66, something extraordinary happened in the sky above the Land of Israel. Josephus records:
On the twenty-first of the month Artemisium [May], there appeared a miraculous phenomenon, passing belief. Indeed, what I am about to relate would, I imagine, have been deemed a fable, were it not for the narratives of eyewitnesses and for the subsequent calamities which deserved to be so signalized. For before sunset throughout all parts of the country chariots were seen in the air and armed battalions hurtling through the clouds and encompassing the cities.
Tacitus records the same event, of “hosts joining battle in the skies, the fiery gleam of arms.” This phenomenon, witnessed throughout the land, is one of many strange phenomena that occurred—phenomena, which were omens of God’s coming wrath upon the Jews. Warfare, not only civil war and conquest, but warfare that transcended the earthly realm was coming upon the people. Yet, this omen, even with other omens and the horrors of war inflicted upon them (both demonic and human) leading all the way up to the very destruction of their nation, none of it brought the Jews to repentance.
Rather than seeing the obvious signs, graciously given by God, the people of Israel refused to accept the implications. They needed to repent, turning back to God, in the name of Jesus.
But, as we looked at last week, it can be hard to repent. Such is the human heart. For the apostate Jews, of which Josephus speaks, we see this plainly. Having rejected Christ, thus turning away from the living and true God, in effect going after other gods; having turned from the Lord, their hope was put in something else—false gods and false prophets. This history is such a sad thing to study. Yet, their condition was that of the non-believers in any age. The thing is, unless the Spirit of God moves, enabling one to repent, that person cannot repent—such is enabled in the new birth—being born again. But, my friends, let’s be honest. Even born-again believers struggle with repenting. The allure of sin can be so captivating that it causes us to act against common sense, persisting in it, even when faced with or experiencing the consequences for sin. We stubbornly hold onto that sin. We guiltily justify it. We do this knowing we need to repent. We do this, sometimes, even with the Spirit of God within, prodding us to repent. This is why the Scriptures tell us to examine ourselves. Bringing our hard-hearted stubbornness into the light and seeing how foolish it is goes a long way towards repentance.
Now, last week, we took a look at the events that occurred when the sixth trumpet was blown, heralding the second woe. We saw that the underlying reality of the vision John was given can be simply summed up as giving a dramatic and hyperbolic description of the armies (the army of the Roman Empire and its auxiliaries) that were arrayed against the nation of Israel during the Jewish War, and the destruction of war that they brought and left in their wake (culminating in AD 70, with the siege of Jerusalem). Further, we considered how these armies were the instruments of justice that the Lord used in order to bring his wrath down upon the apostate Jews.
Now, come the siege, the armies that were brought against Jerusalem were an overwhelming force, symbolized in Rev. 9:16 by the hyperbolic number of 200,000,000. They were authorized by the Lord to kill a vast number of people (1 in 3), but not all of them (vv. 15-18). And what we know from history, after the Romans had conquered most of the nation, finally coming to surround Jerusalem, the destruction of the city came in stages. Lots of people died in one stage (e.g. the Romans breaking through the outer wall). Lots of people died in the next (the breaking of the second wall), and so forth. When it was all said and done, with the city and the temple burned and destroyed, thousands and thousands were dead. According to Josephus, the number of people who perished in the siege was “eleven hundred thousand” (1,100,000) along with 97,000 taken captive [“throughout the entire war”].
With that in mind, take a look, again, at Rev. 9:20-21:
20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.
Like the case last week (which I explained), in v. 15, “mankind,” here is literally “the men,” and a better translation is probably “the people” due to the context of the passage. So, the people of Israel, the apostate Jews, who were not killed by the plagues of the first six trumpets, did not repent. In the immediate sense, of course, “these plagues” refers to the devastating destruction and death brought upon the Jews by the Roman Army, culminating in the siege. But the reference, from a broader perspective, also includes the devastation of the demonic warfare from the fifth trumpet and the plagues of the first four trumpets, which we took a look at a few weeks ago. Indeed, the Jews had had plenty of time to repent leading up to the siege: from the time the rebellion and civil war took hold, in AD 66; through the Romans conquering the Land of Israel, beginning in AD 67; then, as the Romans advanced leading up to the final siege; and also between each stage of the taking of the city, in AD 70. During all this time, with all the horrors they were experiencing, there was plenty of time for reflection and repentance by the Jews. Even so, the hard-hearted Jews refused to repent, and this is the point of vv. 20-21.
Now, on top of all that there were the omens. And I’ll speak to these here, because you should know about them. The historical record speaks to several omens of doom the Lord provided that indicated his judgment was coming upon the Jews. And these were on top of the plagues of destruction that had swept across the land.
I’ve mentioned how the “chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds,” which took place at the second Passover, in AD 66, as recorded by Josephus (and mentioned in Tacitus). This was one omen of destruction among many, which Josephus has in mind when he laments (concerning the people of Jerusalem at the seige):
The wretched people were deluded at that time by charlatans and pretended messengers of the deity; while they neither heeded nor believed in the manifest portents that foretold the coming desolation, but, as if thunderstruck and bereft of eyes and mind, disregarded the plain warnings of God.
The plain warnings of God, the manifest portents, the omens were signs that his judgment and wrath was coming down upon them, due to their sin. And these warnings were in harmony with Jesus’ Discourse, in Luke 21:11, that before his coming in judgment upon Jerusalem there would be “terrors and great signs from heaven.”
In this vein, Josephus records some events that shortly proceeded the revolt and the Jewish war, in AD 66, during the feast of unleavened bread:
“On the eighth of the month Xanthicus, at the ninth hour of the night [3:00 A.M.], so brilliant a light shone round the altar and the sanctuary that it seemed to be broad daylight; and this continued for half an hour. By the inexperienced this was regarded as a good omen, but by the sacred scribes it was at once interpreted in accordance with after events.”
So, a supernatural light, extremely bright, appeared in the Temple, around the altar and the sanctuary. Tacitus describes it as “the temple illuminated by a sudden radiance from the clouds.” And some people thought it was a good sign, yet the scribes knew better. It was not a good sign, but a bad omen, especially in light of what came shortly after.
Josephus then records: “At that same feast a cow that had been brought by someone for sacrifice gave birth to a lamb in the midst of the court of the temple.” So, with this monstrous birth, there was another supernatural omen.
On top of that, at the same feast, Josephus reports,
Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner court—it was of brass and very massive, and, when closed towards evening, could scarcely be moved by twenty men; fastened with iron-bound bars, it had bolts which were sunk to a great depth into a threshold consisting of a solid block of stone—this gate was observed at the sixth hour of the night to have opened of its own accord.
This again to the uninitiated seemed the best of omens, as they supposed that God had opened to them the gate of blessings; but the learned understood that the security of the temple was dissolving of its own accord and that the opening of the gate meant a present to the enemy, interpreting the portent in their own minds as indicative of coming desolation. 
Later that year, at Pentecost, as Josephus tells it,
The priests on entering the inner court of the temple by night, as their custom was in the discharge of their ministrations, reported that they were conscious, first of a commotion and a din, and after that of a voice as of a host, “We are departing hence.”
Tacitus, from his pagan point of view of these things, likewise records: “The doors of the inner shrine were suddenly thrown open, and a voice of more than mortal tone was heard to cry that the Gods were departing. At the same instant there was a mighty stir as of departure.”
And on top of all that, that year, which was the beginning of the end of the nation of Israel, there were furthers signs that couldn’t be missed. Josephus records, “There was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city [Jerusalem], and a comet, that continued a whole year.”
All this, and a man named “Jesus, the son of Ananus, a plebeian and a husbandman,” had for several years, by that time, fervently been proclaiming in Jerusalem, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!” And he proclaimed woes on Jerusalem and the Temple, as Josephus tells it, for
seven years and five months, without growing hoarse, or being tired therewith, until the very time that he saw his presage in earnest fulfilled in our siege, when it ceased; for as he was going round upon the wall, he cried out with his utmost force, ‘Woe, woe, to the city again, and to the people, and to the holy house!’ And just as he added at the last,—‘Woe, woe, to myself also!’ there came a stone out of one of the engines, and smote him, and killed him immediately; and as he was uttering the very same presages, he gave up the ghost.
So it was that Josephus, who had come to the correct conclusion that Jerusalem was no longer the dwelling place of God, had the opportunity, just prior to Titus’ final siege of Jerusalem, to appeal to those in the city to surrender. Josephus pleaded with them, and, in his final appeal, he told them this:
My belief, therefore, is that the Deity has fled from the holy places and taken His stand on the side of those with whom you are now at war.
Nay, an honourable man will fly from a wanton house and abhor its inmates, and can you persuade yourselves that God still remains with his household in their iniquity—God who sees every secret thing and hears what is buried in silence? And what is there veiled in silence or secrecy among you? Nay, what has not been exposed even to your foes? For you parade your enormities and daily contend who shall be the worst, making an exhibition of vice as though it were virtue.
Yet a way of salvation is still left you, if you will: and the Deity is easily reconciled to such as confess and repent.
Such was Josephus’ call to repentance of the people (and he was a priest and a pharisee, born in Jerusalem). He intimately knew how wicked the people were, their having violated the decalogue (the 10 Commandments) in every way, by their immorality, having forsaken the covenant of the Lord. Thus, he called them to repent. But, Josephus was not a Christian, and while he was on track, in the footsteps of the prophets of old, like Jeremiah, there was much more to it.
The scroll, from Rev. 5:1, had been opened; the divorce decree carried out. What the writer of Hebrews had proclaimed had come to pass, “In speaking of a new covenant, he [Jesus] makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away (Heb. 8:13).” The Old Covenant with the nation of Israel had vanished away and was gone, and judgment for Israel’s unfaithfulness was at hand. The New Covenant was in full effect, and this meant that they needed Jesus.
Indeed, the testimony of the apostles stood as witness against the apostate Jews. The apostles and other believers in their midst had proclaimed the gospel, even unto death. And the gospel of Jesus Christ, which the Jews had heard, was theirs to believe or reject. And there lies the people of the Land’s unrepentance. They would not bow the knee to Jesus; they would not have him as Lord. Unrepentant, their rebellious hearts grasped onto their own ways, and their own gods. For in their rejection of Jesus, they rejected the true and living God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), rejecting him for gods of their own making. The blood of Christ was on their hands, and they embraced that fact. Indeed, that very generation had cried out, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matt. 27:25). And so, they refused to turn to God. Despite everything that pointed to the need, the Jews would not repent.
Now, as for repentance, what does that mean? I’ve touched on it quite a bit already, but the Westminster Larger Catechism lays it out:
Repentance unto life is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and word of God, whereby, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, and upon the apprehension of God’ s mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, he so grieves for and hates his sins, as that he turns from them all to God, purposing and endeavoring constantly to walk with him in all the ways of new obedience. 
That is repentance. Repentance is a work of the Lord in a person’s heart, by the Spirit of God and his Word. The Scriptures informs mankind of our state as sinners, our violations of his law, and our need for forgiveness. And this harmonizes with God’s law that is written upon the tables of our hearts (Rom. 2:15). For those whom the Spirit of God regenerates (causes to be born again from spiritual death to spiritual life), our heart is convicted of the truth of our crime, and the Spirit enables us to repent. Thus, knowing one’s sin and convicted of it, repentance involves grieving and hatred of one’s sin due to its destruction of good and its offense against God. As David laments, in Ps. 51, “Against you and only you have I sinned.” Repentance is an acknowledgement of rebellion against God. And repentance is falling upon the grace of God and his undeserved mercy, in Jesus Christ. At its core, to repent is to turn away from one’s sins and turn to God, following Jesus in obedience of faith.
That was the true call for repentance for the Jews. The message of Jesus and the witness of the Christians over the years, even into the siege had made this clear. “Repent and believe the Gospel!” The Jews were not ignorant. But despite everything, witness, omens, and God’s wrath coming down upon them, they would not repent. Such is the unregenerate heart. What a horror. What a shame.
Now, concerning Rev. 9:20, “Did the Jews really worship ‘demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood?’” Recalling that idolatry is the same as apostasy, which is rejecting God, helps us to understand that they did, indeed. Herbert Schlossberg aptly states, “Idolatry in its larger meaning is properly understood as any substitution of what is created for the creator.” And as David Chilton comments, “By rejecting Jesus Christ, the Jews had inescapably involved themselves in idolatry; they had departed from the faith of Abraham and served gods of their own making.” Something had to fill the void created when the true God was absent. What filled it was idols.
As for demons, the Apostle Paul equates idolatry with the worship of demons, in 1 Cor. 10:20. Also, Jesus had declared that the father of the Jews that opposed him was “the devil,” in John 8:44. Then in Rev. 2:9 and 3:9, Jesus calls the Jewish synagogues the “synagogue of Satan.” Jewish worship had become the worship of demons. And as we saw a few weeks ago, with the fifth trumpet, demons had been released to come upon Israel with force, and they were busy at work among the populace, fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy, from Matt. 12:43.
As for the work of their hands, this seems to allude to the Temple and its trappings, which was a prominent idol for the Jews. As Kenneth Gentry notes:
Jesus rejects the temple as the work of men’s hands in Mark 14:58. Stephen does the same thing in Acts 7:48. And … Paul, in Acts 17:24, talks about idols are the work of men’s hands.
This image of the work of men’s hands speaks of something physical that’s been built, and the idolatry in Israel is that they so love their temple, they’re so proud of their temple, that they forget the God behind the temple. And they therefore are not worshipping God in his temple, they’ve made it their own. They’ve made it effectively into an idol.
John’s words, also, in v. 20, explicitly hearken back to Daniel’s words, in Dan. 5:23, an accusation against Babylon that has now been raised against Israel:
But you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.
In Revelation, the Jewish nation (signified in Jerusalem) is variously compared to Babylon. So it is here, in their idolatry, that the Jerusalem was like Babylon. The Jews had put their faith in the Temple, and thus it had become a god to them. They had fallen for that which their ancestors succumbed, ignoring the Lord’s Word, which Jeremiah preached. Jer. 7:4: “Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’” Their hope in the temple was idolatry, and the Lord had abandoned it. As Jesus had said, when he left the temple at the end of his earthly ministry, “See, your house is left to you desolate.” (Matt. 23:38). Their temple practices were empty, vain, and worthless, because there was no true repentance.
Further, as Rev. 9:20, speaks to the Jews violation of the first table of the 10 Commandments, so Rev. 9:21 speaks to their violation of the second table. With idolatry comes progressive immorality, here listed as murders, sorceries, sexual immorality, and thefts. And so was the way the apostate Jews went. Various examples and explanations could be given, but we don’t have time to go into it all, today. Nevertheless, Josephus’ words concerning his generation sums it up: “nor did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was, from the beginning of the world.”
My friends, “Repent and believe the gospel.” Such is the call of Jesus.
We can point the finger at the apostate Jews all day long, but their finger points right back at us. Don’t let a stubborn heart cause you to ignore what you know deep down is true. You and I, we all have sinned against the Lord. We all deserve the wrath of his judgment, and we desperately need his grace and his mercy.
Judgment is coming, either when the Lord returns or after you die. It’s inescapable. You don’t want God’s wrath to fall upon you.
If you’re a believer, you are forgiven, and a life of repentance is your way. Don’t stubbornly hold onto your sin, whatever the nature of it. It’s unbecoming for a child of God.
But, if you are not a Christian, you need Jesus. Turn from your sin and turn to the Lord in the repentance of faith, and follow Jesus. The Lord forgives, even though no-one deserves it. Trust in him to save you and receive that free gift of salvation from his wrath that you deserve, due to your sin.
Because God’s justice falls on the unrepentant, we must repent our sins.
 Josephus, The Jewish War: Books 1–7, ed. Jeffrey Henderson et al., trans. H. St. J. Thackeray, vol. 3, Loeb Classical Library (New York: Harvard University Press, 1927–1928), 463. Wars, 6.5.3
 Tacitus, The Annals and The Histories, ed. Mortimer J. Adler, Second Edition., vol. 14, Great Books of the Western World (Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1990), 298.
 Examples of similar exaggeration are found other places in the Scriptures (e.g. Judges 7:12; 1 Sam. 13:5; 2 Sam. 17:11; 1 Kgs 4:20, and so forth).
 Josephus, The Jewish War: Books 1–7, ed. Jeffrey Henderson et al., trans. H. St. J. Thackeray, vol. 3, Loeb Classical Library (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2006), 497. The Jewish War, 6.9.3. Josephus says, “The total number of prisoners taken throughout the entire war amounted to ninety-seven thousand, and of those who perished during the siege, from first to last, to one million one hundred thousand.”
 Josephus, The Jewish War: Books 1–7, 459–461. The Jewish War 6.5.3.
 Tacitus, The Annals and The Histories, ed. Mortimer J. Adler, Second Edition., vol. 14, Great Books of the Western World (Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1990), 298. Histories, 5.13.
 Josephus, The Jewish War: Books 1–7, 461. The Jewish War 6.5.3.
 Ibid., 461–463.
 Ibid., 463. The Jewish War, 6.5.3
 Tacitus, The Annals and The Histories, ed. Mortimer J. Adler, Second Edition., vol. 14, Great Books of the Western World (Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1990), 298. Histories, 5.13.
 Flavius Josephus, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, trans. William Whiston (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 742. The Wars of the Jews, 6.5.3.
 Ibid., 743.
 Josephus [Whiston translation] says, “And now, “O most wretched city, what misery so great as this didst thou suffer from the Romans, when they came to purify thee from thy internecine hatred! For thou couldst be no longer a place fit for God [Thackeray translates “thou wert no longer God’s place”], nor couldst thou longer continue in being, after thou hadst been a sepulchre for the bodies of thine own people, and hadst made the holy house itself a burying-place in this civil war of thine!” Ibid., 697; The Wars of the Jews, 5.1.3.
 Josephus, The Jewish War: Books 1–7, 331. The Jewish War, 5.9.4
 The Westminster Larger Catechism: With Scripture Proofs. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996), Question 76.
 David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance (Fort Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), 256, quoting Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction: Christian Faith and Its Confrontation with American Society (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983), 6.
 Chilton, 256.
 Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Survey of the Book of Revelation, Video Series (Chesnee SC: Victorious Hope Publishing, 2012), DVD 2, lesson 10.
 Josephus, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, 720. The Wars of the Jews, 5.10.5.