The fifth and sixth trumpets are the first and second (of three) woes to be poured out on the earth. Even more than the trumpets and seals that came before them, these woes seem to be little more than a senseless raking of creation across the coals. The first woe involves the unleashing of an army of monstrous locusts with human faces and scorpion tails. They are empowered to torture--the divine permutation of "enhanced interrogation techniques"--all of creation for five months, such that "in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them." When the five months of unrelenting torture are complete, God is kind enough to oblige the wishes of humanity. The sixth trumpet blows, and the second woe comes in the form of two hundred million chimera-esque warriors tasked with killing one third of the world's population. In the course of a few lines of text, we have a level of carnage that would put Saving Private Ryan to shame.
Yet while so much of the text thus far has focused on revealing truths about the nature of God, John is clearly using this narrative to teach the reader something about the nature of humanity. The moral of the story, tact deftly on to the tail of all the bloodshed is this little revelation: "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, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts." That thought, arriving as it does so rapidly on the heels of that awesome display of divine might, justifiably boggles the mind. The foolishness of the lost who pray to the mountains to protect them from their creator has already been highlighted, but with this scene they are shown to truly scale the heights of folly. God reveals Himself in power, in a way which is so patently undeniable that one would assume that humanity could not but turn to God and plead for mercy. That assumption would be incorrect.
With brutal clarity, John displays for the reader the human penchant for obstinacy. Like a divine reversal of the paradisial garden in which Adam and Eve were given every opportunity to avoid sin and found a way to sin anyway, at the end of the world God gives His creation the most powerful motivation imaginable to repent of its evil and turn to its creator. Still, it clings to its idols of murder and theft and sexual licentiousness, not to mention more tangible idols. With two sentences, John challenges the "if only" rhetoric still in use today. "If only God would still speak to us." "If only we had some proof that Jesus rose from the dead." "If only He would give us a sign." The fact of the matter is that even if someone where to be raised from the dead in their midst, they would not believe.
Contemporary Christians can take away from this a comfort that we have been specifically blessed for having believed without having seen. More importantly, however, it is a cautionary tale meant to keep us from wandering into the pitfalls of wanting just a little more proof than we have. We cannot be too often reminded that faith requires...well, faith. It is not about proof, whatever proofs may exist. It is not about well-reasoned arguments, whatever reasoned arguments we can make. It is about belief in and trust of a self-revealing God. It matters little whether we are hard pressed on every side by an oppressive Roman government or by the onslaught of evangelistic atheism. We must remember in whom we have faith and how paramount that faith is. I cannot help but recall the old hymn and concur that I know not why God's wondrous grace to me He has made known, but I know whom I have believed. That should be, for me, enough.
For a full list of "Re-reading Revelation" posts, see Re-reading Revelation: Statement of Purpose.