Revelation 9:20–21(2)

Sermon preached on February 3, 2013 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

A few years ago I thought the kitchen garbage bags we were buying were too expensive and I assumed that cheaper ones would do the job just as well. So the next time I went to the store I bought the cheapest garbage bags I could find. When I went to use the first one I opened the top of it and gave it a good shake to open it up completely. But when it did, the air inside it caused it to burst. It split wide open all down one side. It was so thin that it broke even before I put any garbage in it. The bags were so cheap to be of no use at all. They shouldn't even have been called garbage bags. They were like counterfeit garbage bags. It was a mistake buying them. I think I threw all the rest in the garbage.

A couple of years ago I bought my daughter Patricia a nice case for her iPhone. It was called the Book-book. It was leather and inside, besides a place to put your iPhone, it also had a place to put your license and a credit card or two. When it was closed it, it looked like a small book. Patricia loved it and she's still using it. I liked it too and thought about getting myself one, but it cost 50 or 60 dollars and I didn't like it that much. But about 6 months later I was on eBay and noticed that someone advertised one for $17. They claimed that it was brand new and was the genuine article. So I ordered it. When it arrived I didn't think it was the same as the one I got for Patricia. The quality wasn't the same. There were strands of leather, like threads that were coming off it. It had the same company logo on it but I suspected that it was a fake. Sure enough, about three weeks later I got an email from eBay saying that they had removed the seller for selling counterfeit articles and that the wallet I got was a cheap counterfeit.

About a month ago I saw a picture of a fake Chinese iPhone. It had the name 'iPhone' on it and it had the Apple logo there too—but it wasn't made by Apple. In fact, it didn't look anything like an iPhone. It was a flip phone and like one of the ones that Motorola made a few years ago. When you opened it up the bottom half had physical buttons and the top had a very tiny screen. It was ridiculous to call that an iPhone. But that's what they did, hoping to get unsuspecting buyers to buy it.

Last year I heard of a woman who bought an iPad from an outdoor vendor. Actually, I should say that she thought she was buying an iPad. Jalonta Freeman was approached at an Arlington, Texas gas station parking lot by a man selling laptops and tablets at a discount. He offered to sell her an $800 Apple iPad for $200. The box looked genuine so she thought it was something she couldn't pass up. But when she opened the box she found that it contained a mirror instead of an iPad. The seller was long gone by that time.

Cheap, counterfeit, fake items just don't measure up to the real thing. They leave buyers poorer, disappointed and disillusioned. They leave them empty.

The same is true in the spiritual realm. There's nothing like knowing the real God and the enjoyment that comes from being close to Him. Only knowing Him gives true contentment and satisfaction. Only knowing Him gives lasting joy. So He is the one that we must seek and worship. Those close to Him are the ones that are blessed. As David said in Psalm 119:2

"Blessed are they who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart."

If we seek happiness in anything else we will be disappointed. Everything else is counterfeit. Everything else is fake. Everything else it is idolatry.

When I was growing up I thought that idolatry had to do with making idols and bowing down and worshiping them. I thought that it was an ancient sin that was far removed from today's society and something that we didn't have to worry about. But as I grew older and learned a little bit more about what the Bible said about idolatry—I realized that idolatry is alive and well and that it is something that we really have to guard against. Colossians 3:5 tells us to put to death whatever belongs to our earthly nature—

"sexual immorality, impurity, lust,
evil desires and greed,
which is idolatry."

Greed is idolatry. We see the same thing in Ephesians 5:5. It reads,

"For of this you can be sure:
No immoral, impure or greedy person—
such a man is an idolater—
has any inheritance
in the kingdom of Christ and of God."

Greed is basically self-worship. But greed and self-worship is just one manifestation of it. In his larger catechism Martin Luther said,

"whatever your heard clings to and relies upon, that is your God…"

Grant Osborne tells us that idolatry is, (Revelation, BECNT; p. 388)

"turning an earthly thing into a god and worshiping it rather than the God of creation."

Worshiping something doesn't mean that doesn't have to mean that we bow down and consciously pay homage to it. Osborne says,

"Whatever we place ahead of God in our lives is our idol. Therefore, the modern world is replete with idols: money, possessions, power, pleasure, sex, success, fame, drugs."

In our society most people have rejected God and replaced Him with something else. Besides the things that Osborne mentions, idols can be things that we usually think of as being good. The pursuit of intellectual knowledge is an idol for some people. Their intelligence in their god. Physical exercise can be an idol. Family can be an idol. I know people that have made an idol out of their families. The most important thing to them is their family. Your spouse can be an idol. I'm not speaking so much to wives here. I've talked to enough wives to realize that most of them have not had a problem seeing the faults of their husbands. Perhaps sometimes early in a relationship a woman can make an idol out of her boyfriend, but that's about it. But there's a greater danger with men. Adam placed Eve before God. He chose her rather than God. He made an idol of her. Good things, gifts from God, can be made into idols.

We really have to beware of idolatry. Our text warns us against it. It shows

how deeply idolatry is embedded in the human heart.

We read, (Revelation 9:20–21)

"The rest of mankind that were not killed
by these plagues still did not repent
of the work of their hands;
they did not stop worshiping demons,
and idols of gold, silver, bronze,
stone and wood—
idols that cannot see or hear or walk.
Nor did they repent of their murders,
their magic arts,
their sexual immorality or their thefts."

Even after all these punishments—torture and the death of one-third of mankind, the remaining people persist in their idolatry.

It's absolutely incredible that they worship demons after the demons what the demons have done to them.

Yet that's the thing about idolatry. It's irrational. It doesn't make any sense at all.

Many people in our society make the case that Christians are irrational, stupid and ignorant. In 2 Peter 1 the apostle Peter said that we do not follow 'cleverly devised fables'. Well, people in our society won't even give us that. They don't think they're cleverly devised fables. They think the stories aren't that clever. It's foolishness to them. They tell us that we shouldn't believe the Bible, that we shouldn't believe that God created everything. They tell us that we're foolish to believe that Jesus even existed. They tell us that it's all a myth. They look on us as being weak and foolish for believing the Bible. They look on religion as being a crutch for the weak.

The truth is quite different. It is idolatry that is irrational and nonsensical. Anyone who doesn't believe in Jesus is foolish and irrational. How irrational is idolatry? At the beginning of Revelation 9 we read that the locusts come up out of the Abyss. They were given power to harm people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. In verses 5 and 6 we read about the power of the locusts.

"They were not given power to kill them,
but only to torture them for five months.
And the agony they suffered
was like that of the sting of a scorpion
when it strikes a man.
During those days men will seek death,
but will not find it;
they will long to die,
but death will elude them."

Verse 11 tells us that these locusts have a king over them, 'the angel of the Abyss, who name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon'. The Hebrew name means, "Destruction" and the Greek name means "Destroyer". David E. Aune writes, (Revelation 6–16 (WBC p. 527)

"These are demons in the guise of locusts, for their king is Abaddon, the angel of the abyss (v 11)."

Yet, even after all the evil that demons have done to mankind, people still worship them.

How deeply idolatry is embedded in the human heart. Yet that's the thing about idolatry. It's incredibly stupid. Idolatry blinds people. It makes them hard.

Why do they still worship demons? I believe that part of it has to do with the fact that

people become what they worship.

In his book, "We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Worship", G. K. Beale writes,

"A number of biblical passages… express the idea that instead of worshiping and resembling the true God, idolaters resemble the idols they worship."

For instance, in Psalm 115:4–8 the Holy Spirit tells us about idols and the effects of idolatry. It says,

"But their idols are silver and gold,
made by the hands of men.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but they cannot see;
they have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but they cannot smell;
they have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but they cannot walk;
nor can they utter a sound
with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them."

Beale continues,

"These worshipers become as spiritually void and lifeless as the idols they committed themselves to."

How could men still worship demons after demons have so tormented them? It's because men themselves have become like the demons—so hardened in their sin that they cannot do otherwise. They have taken on the characteristics of demons. There's no repentance for demons. They can't repent.

It's no wonder that they continue to worship the demons who have harmed them so much. They have become unrepentant like the demons they worship.

The second thing we should understand from these idolaters in our text is that

idolatry brings misery.

The primary theme of G. K. Beale's book is that,

"we resemble what we revere, either for ruin or restoration."

If you worship an idol it will mean your ruin. It destroys.

Consider the description of the people here. How do you feel about them? They were punished. They were tortured. They saw others killed for the same idolatry—and yet they did not turn from their idolatry and their sin. These people are to be pitied. They are in the grip of sin and it is so obvious that it is going to be their ruin. It is going to destroy them.

In his book G. K. Beale notes that idolaters and idols are often described the same way. He writes,

"the purpose of the identical description is to indicate mockingly that the worshiper, rather than experiencing an expected life-giving blessing, has received a curse by becoming as spiritual inanimate, empty, rebellious or shameful as the idol is depicted to be."

Idolatry is based on a lie. Jeremiah 14:22 says,

"Do any of the worthless idols
of the nations bring rain?
Do the skies themselves send down showers?
No, it is you, O Lord our God.
Therefore our hope is in you,
for you are the one who does all this."

Idolatry is counterfeit. Idolatry doesn't satisfy. How could it? God gives us everything that is good. James 1 tells us that every good and perfect gifts comes down from above.

It's interesting that in many places in the Old Testament where idolatry is condemned, God compares Himself and His blessings to idols and their lack of blessing and shows the irrationality of idolatry. We see this in Isaiah 46:5–7. God says,

"To whom will you compare me
or count me equal?
To whom will you liken me
that we may be compared?
Some pour out gold from their bags
and weigh out silver on the scales;
they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god,
and they bow down and worship it.
They lift it to their shoulders and carry it;
they set it up in its place,
and there it stands.
From that spot it cannot move.
Though one cries out to it,
it does not answer;
it cannot save him from his troubles."

God contrasts this to what His people receive from Him. In Isaiah 44:21–23 He said,

"I have made you,
you are my servant;
O Israel, I will not forget you.
I have swept away your offenses like a cloud,
your sins like the morning mist.
Return to me,
for I have redeemed you.'
Sing for joy, O heavens,
for the LORD has done this;
shout aloud, O earth beneath.
Burst into song, you mountains,
you forests and all your trees,
for the LORD has redeemed Jacob,
he displays his glory in Israel."

Isn't that incredible? God sweeps away our offenses like He sweeps away clouds above us. He sweeps away our sins like the morning mist. Are we going to turn our back on Him and worship something that cannot help us? How foolish.

The end of Isaiah 44 goes on to describe how God, who created and redeemed them will protect them from those who seek to deceive them, how He will establish them in Jerusalem, which He is going to have rebuilt.

Christians, you need to show the world this.

The great task you Christians have is reflect God's character in your lives so that the world will see that true life is in Jesus Christ.

We need to show that idolatry is futile. Idols don't provide what they promise. Romans 1:25 describes idolaters. It says of them,

"They exchanged the truth of God for a lie,
and worshiped and served created things
rather than the Creator—
who is forever praised. Amen."

They are missing the greatest thing in the world. They are following a lie. Sin corrupted the image of God. Idolatry is a great sin. It exchanges the truth of God for a lie.

Idolatry doesn't satisfy. It ruins. Tertullian, a church father, wrote, (On Idolatry)

"The principle crime of the human race, the highest guilt charged upon the world, the whole procuring cause of judgment, is idolatry."

But for those who find Christ, they find the pearl of great price. There is nothing like serving God and reflecting His glory. When we obey His commands we become like Him. God made us in His image and likeness. Adam and Eve were to reflect God's glory and show the whole creation what God was like.

True life is in Christ. God is the only source of goodness, of life, of joy and peace. Christians are the light of the world. Psalm 16:3 refers to them as 'the glorious ones'. Ephesians 4:23-24 tells us that those who believe in Christ are being renewed in righteousness. As such they are able, once again, to reflect God's glory. As the apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 3:18,

"And we, who with unveiled faces
all reflect the Lord's glory,
are being transformed into his likeness
with ever-increasing glory,
which comes from the Lord,
who is the Spirit."

There's nothing greater or more important than that.

We are to show the world how true life in Jesus Christ compares to that of following idols. Through the resurrected power of Jesus you can do that. You can do that in whatever situation God puts you in. From his prison cell Paul told the Philippian Christians to rejoice. He said, (Philippians 4:4)

"Rejoice in the Lord always.
I will say it again: Rejoice!"

In Acts 16 we read that Paul and Silas were arrested in Philippi. They were dragged to the marketplace by the crowd. Then the magistrates ordered that they be stripped and beaten. They were severely flogged and then thrown into prison. Right after that, in verse, we read,

"About midnight Paul and Silas were
praying and singing hymns to God,
and the other prisoners
were listening to them."

Isn't that incredible? We don't like suffering. Yet we know that John's gospel tells us that Jesus predicted Peter's death, telling him the way in which (John 21:19

"Peter would glorify God."

G. K. Beale writes, (A New Testament Biblical Theology, p. 457)

"It is apparent that one of the main ways that Paul sees believers becoming conformed to the last Adam's image in the present stage of the inaugurated eschaton is through suffering in imitation of Jesus."

You can reflect God's glory in suffering and in everything else you do. Christians, reflect God's glory. Be holy. When difficult times come—realize that in those dark and difficult times—you have an opportunity to embrace God's will and praise Him, to rejoice in Him and give Him glory. That's what Job did. That's what the apostle Paul did.

Show the world what our glorious God is like. That's your calling. Show them that you have the pearl of great price. Show them that there's nothing like knowing Jesus.

But in order to do this, we need to be free from idolatry.

How you need to beware of idolatry.

It can capture you if you are not careful. In 1 Corinthians 10:14 Paul said to the Corinthian Christians,

"Therefore, my dear friends,
flee from idolatry."

Are you being led astray from God? What idols are tempting you? Is it your family? Or what about your children—are they indulging in sin and you love them so much that you're tempted to say what they want you to say—that their lifestyle is not sinful. Is it money? Is it your work? Is it your comfortable life?

Christians, you can only be like God if you are devoted to Him with all your heart. The preeminent sin of ancient Israel was idolatry. Don't be like them. Be devoted to God—to Him alone.

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians,

you need to stop loving those vain, empty, worthless things you have set your heart on and you need to turn to the true giver of good gifts—Jesus Christ.

You have exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Think about that—the center of your life, what you are living for, what you are devoting your energy to—is a lie. You're following it because you think that's the best thing to do. (Why else would you do it?) But it's not. It's the worst thing to do. If you keep on that path it's going to destroy you. The one you are serving, the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, 'Destruction', and in Greek, Apollyon', 'Destroyer'. That's what he will do to you.

Only One person can save you from that. Jesus, friend of sinners, who died that they may live. Go to Him. Find true life, life to the full, in Him.