Since I grew up in Sunday School during the early 2000s, certain Bible stories will always appear in my mind in flannelgraph format. For those of you who don’t know what I’m referring to, a flannelgraph is a board covered with fuzzy fabric to allow other pieces of fuzzy fabric to easily stick to it and be moved around. The result is a G-rated way to teach Bible stories that focuses more on accessibility than contextual accuracy.
As a result of my flannelgraph days, it’s still kind of hard for me to imagine the armor of God from Ephesians 6 in its intended form. I can’t help but picture the flannelgraph armor that appeared more ceremonious and decorative than anything actually meant for battle. I have to constantly remind myself that the armor of God isn’t merely a cute metaphor–it’s a description intended to help us grasp the very real spiritual war we’re engaged in.
Christians cannot live in ignorance of the cosmic battle taking place all around us. It’s a battle that’s tempting to ignore, but also one that can have terrifying effects on the world we live in. How do we know this? Because Revelation 9 reveals that Satan and his demons are not symbols of evil. They are all too real, and the destruction they can cause is soberingly real, too.
The Fifth and Sixth Trumpets
The imagery and consequences of Revelation 9 make it one of the most jarring chapters in all of Scripture as the fifth and sixth trumpets of the apocalypse are blown. To get a glimpse of the terror this chapter contains, we’ll take a look at two passages of it. The first is Revelation 9:13.
“Then the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen to earth from the sky, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. When he opened it, smoke poured out as though from a huge furnace, and the sunlight and air turned dark from the smoke. Then locusts came from the smoke and descended on the earth–”
Even if you don’t understand this imagery on your first read, you can likely still tell this is a passage dripping with evil. And unfortunately, the events within the imagery are worse than they initially appear. Here, John sees Satan being given the keys to Hell, Satan opening Hell, and then demons in the form of locusts begin pouring forth to torture those still alive on Earth. The pain they bring is not metaphorical. The anguish they’ll bring will be very real for anyone who endures it. Unfortunately, it gets even worse in Revelation 9:1415.
“And the voice said to the sixth angel who held the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great Euphrates River.” Then the four angels who had been prepared for this hour and day and month and year were turned loose to kill one-third of all the people on earth.”
The worldwide death toll from this trumpet will be unlike anything the world has ever seen before. This is what happens when Satan and his demons are given more of a leash to do as they please. The only reason we don’t see this happening now is because God’s power and grace limit what the forces of evil are able to do.
Our Real Enemy
Revelation 9 should serve as a warning siren ringing in our minds, reminding us that even today the cosmic battle is all around us. While we need to remember these evil forces have no more power than what God allows, and they’ll be easily and completely defeated by Him later in Revelation, we should also remember not to take spiritual warfare lightly. John Stott reiterates this point in The Message of Ephesians, stating “if we underestimate our spiritual enemy, we shall see no need for God’s armour, we shall go out to the battle unarmed, with no weapons but our own puny strength, and we shall be quickly and ignominiously defeated.”
This passage also reminds us of who are the true enemy is. Our enemy is not the political party we disagree with, it’s not people of other religions, and it’s not the family member that attacks Christianity. Losing sight of the real enemy changes how we see the world because, as Rusell Moore said in his book Onward, “When we don’t oppose demons, we demonize opponents. And without a clear vision of the concrete forces we as the church are supposed to be aligned against, we find it very difficult to differentiate between enemy combatants and their hostages.”
The world we live in is still broken and somewhat held hostage by the principalities and powers we are battling against. The battle rages on all around us, and we are called to fight in it. Yes, in some senses, the battle is already won by God. But until the second coming of Christ and that final victory, as God’s ambassadors on Earth, we must put on the armor of God and do our part in the war that has a very real enemy and very real consequences.