“What is a hyacinth breastplate?” (Revelation 9:17)

This post is part of my upcoming book on the end-times, The Last Act of the Drama, and attempts to answer the question, “Do we need to understand all the details to get the meaning of an end-times passage?”

In this chapter, we examine one of the most mysterious visions in Revelation in the hopes of answering the question, “Must I grasp all the details of a passage to understand the meaning of a passage?”

“Do I need to understand all the details to understand the meaning of a passage?”

Studying eschatology can be intimidating because, in any given end-times passage, there may be terms or expressions which we do not recognize and there may be little in the context to enlighten our understanding. Usually in Scripture, the unknowns in the text can be deduced by looking at the greater context or by considering other biblical passages, but in eschatology, there are times when the entire context is confusing and yields no solid, unambiguous starting point. An example would be something like Revelation 9:16-19:

16 The number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. 17 And this is how I saw in the vision the horses and those who sat on them: the riders had breastplates the color of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone; and the heads of the horses are like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceed fire and smoke and brimstone. 18 A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which proceeded out of their mouths. 19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents and have heads, and with them they do harm.

Two hundred million horsemen? Hyacinth breastplates, and fire and brimstone coming out of the mouths of the horses? Heads like lions and tails like serpents? Is the “third of mankind” literal in 9:18? How are we supposed to make sense of all this?

NO NEED TO UNDERSTAND EVERY DETAIL

In passages like this one in Revelation 9, the student of eschatology can take heart, because understanding every detail of a passage is not necessary for understanding the meaning of the passage. It is not necessary to unpack every single symbol in Revelation or Daniel or any end-times passage to grasp their basic messages. The inspired Scriptures have been written so that God’s main message can be understood, even if some of the supporting details remain obscure. So, not knowing what a hyacinth breastplate is will not prevent you from understanding the message of the sixth trumpet warning in Revelation 9.

THE SUBJECTIVE ASPECT OF UNDERSTANDING SCRIPTURE

More, however, needs to be said about this statement to make it helpful in our study of eschatology. For while it is true that understanding every detail of a passage is not necessary for understanding the meaning of that passage, we still need to discover the meaning of the passage. What I mean is that, even if we do not worry about the hyacinth breastplates or “the tails like serpents with heads,” we are still faced with the task of figuring out what in the world this passage means. “Why has God placed this Scripture in His Word?” That is the question that ever confronts the Bible student. What makes understanding eschatology difficult is that it requires greater exegetical skills and a fuller grasp of the entire sweep of the Bible to confidently make decisions about the meaning of these complex passages. So, while God has breathed into His Scripture everything needed to understand it, there may not be enough there for me to understand it. That is, my current skill in understanding Scripture may be inadequate for me to discover the meaning of this passage. This subjective aspect to understanding Scripture comes into play more frequently in eschatology than in other genres of Scripture, because, again, there is generally more skill required in discovering the meaning of end-times passages.

So, will I ever understand all the mysteries?

MYSTERIES REMAIN HIDDEN

The fact is that it may not be possible for us to understand or explain everything that is happening in John’s visions or in Daniel’s dreams. Those details may be things which the Lord, for His own purposes, has chosen to leave hidden from us. Even Daniel, who was specifically gifted by God to interpret dreams and visions (Daniel 1:17; 4:9; 5:11-12), did not fully understand what he had seen, even after he had been given an explanation by angels (Daniel 7:15-22, 28; 8:15-19, 27; 12:8). Humility would say that, if Daniel and John did not fully understand all they recorded, there is a more than even chance that I, too, will need to accept some degree of mystery. For His glory, God has written mysteries into His Bible that may remain hidden or unexplained until heaven, and we joyfully and humbly bow before these mysteries.

RESIGN OURSELVES TO MYSTERY?            

If we acknowledge that mysteries may remain until heaven, does that mean that we give up trying to understand and interpret eschatology? Absolutely not! Despite the effort involved, the disciple of Jesus continues to explore and pray through these difficult passages because these, too, are breathed out by the God he loves and are profitable for equipping him for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

SDG

Hearing trumpets, they will not understand (Rev. 8-9)

This post on Revelation chapters 8 and 9 is based on material from my upcoming book, The Last Act of the Drama: A disciple’s guide to the end-times. Let me know if you find it interesting. rmb

THE TRUMPETS FOR THE UNRIGHTEOUS

The trumpet warnings blare loudly at the very end of the age, announcing that judgment is coming soon and urging the unrighteous to repent and to turn from their wickedness and to call out to the Lord. This is the scene that we see unfolding in Revelation 8-9, as, through the trumpets, the Lord again demonstrates that He “endures with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Romans 9:22).” The Lord sends out His final warnings to the earth in the form of the trumpets, loudly proclaiming a warning to those who are perishing so that they may see their peril and repent, because “the Lord takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11).” As the LORD spoke to Cain about sin crouching at his door and then spoke through Noah to the ancient world about the soon-coming judgment of the flood; and as He spoke through the Law and the prophets and through His Son Jesus, and as He has spoken through the church for two millennia, so He will speak for a final time at the end of the age through the trumpet warnings with the message that the unrighteous must repent and must call upon the Lord for salvation.

BUT FOR THE RIGHTEOUS?

For the unrighteous, then, the trumpets warn of a coming awful recompense, but for the righteous, these same trumpets are signs which promise a soon-coming reward. The disastrous foretastes of the final judgment on those in the world reveal to believers that the Lord is near (Matthew 24:33; Philippians 4:5), and that soon their faith will be sight, and that their waiting and their perseverance will be over.

The righteous will see and will recognize the trumpet warnings for what they are, but they themselves will largely be unaffected by the trumpets. The disasters will occur almost entirely among the unrighteous, while those who love the Lord Jesus will cry out, “Maranatha (1 Corinthians 16:22)! Come, Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:20).” The trumpets announce to the righteous that the Rider on the white horse (Revelation 19:11-21) will soon mount His steed and will bare His flashing sword and will come to gather all His people to Himself into heaven forever. The glorious day will soon arrive!

HAVE EYES BUT CANNOT SEE, EARS BUT CANNOT HEAR

The unrighteous have eyes to see the same disasters and have ears to hear the same wailings of misery and destruction, but they will not see, and they will not hear (Isaiah 6:9-10). Their sin and their wickedness have rendered their eyes blind and their ears deaf. As the trumpet warnings grow increasingly severe, so the willful blindness and rebellion of the unrighteous increases correspondingly. They will, therefore, ignore and deny the urgings for repentance and will continue in their headlong pursuit of wickedness (Revelation 9:20-21). And with the sounding of the seventh trumpet (Revelation 11:15-18), the opportunity for repentance will forever be lost . Their end is judgment and the lake of fire.

SDG                 rmb                 5/12/2021

The Basics: Understanding all the details in eschatology

This is one of a series of articles on what I am calling “The Basics” of end-times study. These are foundational concepts that help define the geography of eschatology. They are landmarks that help us get our bearings when we are entering an end-times passage.

Studying eschatology can be intimidating because, in any given end-times passage, there may be terms or expressions which we do not recognize and there is little in the context to give us a clue or to point us in a particular direction. In most genres of Scripture, the unknowns in the text can be deduced by looking at the context or by observing how similar words are used elsewhere in the Bible. In eschatology, however, there are times when the entire context is confusing, the words are used only in eschatological passages, and the contents of the passage yield no solid, unambiguous starting point. An example would be Revelation 9:13-19, where we read of four angels and two hundred million horsemen and hyacinth breastplates and fire and brimstone coming out of the mouths of the horses. How are we supposed to make sense of all this? (For the curious, the sixth trumpet is the most severe warning for the unrighteous telling of the fast-approaching final judgment and urging them to repent of their wickedness.)

In passages like the Revelation 9, the student of eschatology can take heart, because understanding every detail of a passage is not necessary for understanding the meaning of the passage. It is not necessary to unpack every single symbol in Revelation or Daniel or any end-times passage to understand their messages, and even to grasp the beauty of the individual visions and passages.

MYSTERIES REMAIN HIDDEN

The fact is that it may not be possible for us to understand or explain everything that is happening in all of John’s visions or Daniel’s dreams. Those details may be things which the Lord, for His own purposes, has chosen to leave hidden from us. Even Daniel, who was specifically gifted by God to interpret dreams and visions (Daniel 1:17; 4:9; 5:11-12), did not fully understand what he had seen, even after he had been given an explanation by angels (Daniel 7:15-22, 28; 8:15-19, 27; 12:8). Humility would say that, if Daniel and John did not fully understand all they recorded, there is a more than even chance that I, too, will need to accept some degree of mystery. For His glory, God has written mysteries into His Bible that may remain hidden or unexplained until heaven, and we joyfully and humbly bow before these mysteries.

RESIGN OURSELVES TO MYSTERY?

            If we acknowledge that mysteries may remain until heaven and that there are details beyond our grasp, does that mean that we give up trying to understand and interpret eschatology? Absolutely not! Despite the effort involved, the disciple of Jesus continues to explore and pray through these difficult passages because these, too, are breathed out by the God he loves and are profitable for equipping him for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

            SDG                 rmb                 3/15/2021