By Richard D. Draper and Michael D. Rhodes. This is the seventh in a series of articles extracted and edited from The Revelation of John the Apostle, volume fourteen in the Brigham Young University New Testament Commentary Series.
The real horror of the last days is not the locusts with their vicious scorpion tails or the horseman and their deadly mounts so vividly described in Revelation chapter 9. It is that there will be men and women who will live through the evil day and not be humbled, who will continue to cling to their gold and silver as though these lifeless and powerless things were gods. Thus, these people practice the most blatant form of idolatry—knowing the impotence of the works of their hands coupled with a refusal to admit their error and turn to the truth (Rev. 9:20-21).
And all this will “be accomplished after the opening of the seventh seal, before the coming of Christ” (D&C 77:13). The Second Coming does not usher in the millennial era. The woes pronounced by the trumpets in Revelation chapter 8 and 9 do. Let us emphasize, Christ will not appear in glory as the millennial day dawns. Instead, Satan’s inferno-created sadistic hoards and their murderous horses will (v. 18).
How long after the millennium begins will it take for the Lord to come? At the present time, “the hour and the day no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor shall they know until he comes” (D&C 49:7), but it will likely be sometime after the seventh seal is opened. During these last days, the faithful of God are to watch and wait, taking the time to fully prepare for what is to come.
Spiritual preparation is the most important for only in that can we receive the seal of God and its protective power as promised in Revelation 7:3 and Doctrine and Covenants 77:9. However, temporal preparedness must not be far behind. One point the Lord himself stressed to us through the parables he told the New Testament Saints is the need to be fully and continually prepared for all eventualities. As he closed his prophecy dealing with the last days, he told them and us,
“If the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Matt. 24:43–44).
Notice, the man was good and that is where the pinch of the parable lies. His loss was not the result of sinfulness or even laziness, but from a lack of preparation. The ever-popular parable of the ten virgins makes the same point. Once the cry is made, “The bridegroom cometh,” there will be no time, even for the more righteous, to prepare, and the Lord will respond to them as to the wicked, “I know you not” (Matt. 25:1-12).
It is of note that the three weapons of destruction are fire, smoke, and sulfur. These, however, are not associated with Lord’s coming during when “the elements should melt with fervent heat, and the earth should be wrapt together as a scroll, and the heavens and the earth should pass away” (3 Ne. 26:3, compare Morm. 9:2). They precede it. This era has been called the period of the “the Great Over-Burn,” an apt description of the final holocaust of Revelation, and is associated with the last great war before the Second Coming—a war of a special nature. It is not described in the usual term of bloodshed and the work of the sword. It is a war of burning in which “the people shall be as the fuel of the fire” (2 Ne. 19:19).
It would take a miracle for anyone to survive such a general holocaust, but that is exactly the point. The destruction is limited. God sets the boundary of the whole thing. Further, the fire acts as his agent. Its purpose is to protect his people.
For the time soon cometh that the fulness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men; for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous. Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fulness of his wrath must come, and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore, the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet, they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire. Behold, my brethren, I say unto you, that these things must shortly come; yea, even blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke must come; and it must needs be upon the face of this earth; and it cometh unto men according to the flesh if it so be that they will harden their hearts against the Holy One of Israel (1 Ne. 22:16-18).
The Lord is perfectly prepared to allow thousands to die in order to protect his people.
Some may have trouble with this idea, but the Seer has a very realistic understanding about death. From John’s perspective, all must die. The question is when and how. Ultimate destiny is not determined by the moment or manner of death; it is by the manner of life (Caird, Revelation, 113). Those who are destroyed are not annihilated. They have further existence. But for the present they have not been playing the game by God’s rules. They have become mean, and so they are thrown into the penalty box, so to speak, for unnecessary roughness while the game goes on. Some balk at this, but, as one scholar has noted, the idea that mortality is so infallibly precious that,
the death which robs us of it must be the ultimate tragedy is precisely the idolatry that John is trying here to combat. We have already seen that John calls the enemies of the church ‘the inhabiters of earth’, because they have made themselves utterly at home in this transient world order. If all men must die, and if at the end heaven and earth must vanish, along with those whose life is irremediably bounded by worldly horizons, then it is surely in accord with the mercy of God that he should send men from time to time forceful reminders of the insecurity of their tenure. (Caird, Revelation, 113.)
Besides, as already noted, the purpose of the plagues is to open wide the doors of death into the cleansing fires of hell and from there into a kingdom of glory. It should be noted, however, that before that time comes, these wayward souls have contributed to the continual unleashing of the powers of de-creation of which the demonic cavalry (pictured in Rev. 9:7–18) are the final agents. In chapter 8, we saw the sun, moon, sea, and land all struck. In chapter 9, humankind, the last of God’s creation, come under the same force. The chapter ends leaving no hope that the trend can be reversed. Indeed, the very acts which unleashed the powers have now gotten so strong a hold on the wicked that repentance is no longer possible. De-creation has reached its nadir.
The plagues are sure proofs of humankind’s stupidity in placing a religious trust in fragile, impermanent, unconscious, uncaring worldly objects; things that can neither hear nor see nor speak and, therefore, cannot protect. Isaiah foresaw the day and prophesied that:
The loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. And the idols he shall utterly abolish. And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth. In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats; To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth. (Isa. 2:17-21).
If people insist on placing their faith in idols, it cannot be because idols do not see, or hear, or speak, but because they do not have these abilities. The attraction? Such gods cannot say “no.” The result of this misplaced faith is hardness of heart that causes love to wax cold and compassion to freeze. The arctic atmosphere generated by evil humans allows them to move against both innocence and righteousness.
What is more, these rebellious souls have become blind. Their blindness expresses itself in three ways. First, they cannot see the impotence of the gods their own hands have created. Second, they cannot see their own contribution to the problems and so the need to repent. Finally, they cannot see the signs of the times. In doing so, they fulfill a prophecy of the Lord that, “as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matt. 24:37-39). In spite of all the signs and warning, these people continued to perpetuate the very society that was bringing destruction upon them. The end time will see no improvement. Therefore, it is little wonder these wicked and blind souls will “feel the wrath and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations” (D&C 87:6). It is also little wonder that the righteous, living during such a time, will pray, and the heavens respond.