Rev. 9:1 – The fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to earth. The key to the shaft of the abyss was given to him. 2He opened the shaft of the abyss, and smoke came up out of the shaft like smoke from a great furnace so that the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke from the shaft. 3Then out of the smoke locusts came to the earth, and power was given to them like the power that scorpions have on the earth. 4They were told not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green plant, or any tree, but only people who do not have God’s seal on their foreheads. 5They were not permitted to kill them, but were to torment [them] for five months; their torment is like the torment caused by a scorpion when it strikes a man. 6In those days people will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.
7The appearance of the locusts was like horses equipped for battle. On their heads were something like gold crowns; their faces were like men’s faces; 8they had hair like women’s hair; their teeth were like lions’ teeth; 9they had chests like iron breastplates; the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses rushing into battle; 10and they had tails with stingers, like scorpions, so that with their tails they had the power to harm people for five months. 11They had as their king the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he has the name Apollyon. 12The first woe has passed. There are still two more woes to come after this. (HCSB)
John writes that “out of the smoke locusts came to the earth, and power was given them like the power that scorpions have on the earth” (v. 3). Who are these locusts? There are numerous views:
- Some suggest they are Arabs who come from the east. In biblical times, locust plagues often came from Arabia. Also, the Hebrew word for locust (arbeh) and the Arab word (arbi) sound similar. Those who hold this view believe the fifth trumpet judgment describes the Muslim campaigns against the Eastern Roman Empire in the 7th and 8th centuries.
- Others argue that the locusts symbolize the spiritual plague of the last days and cite all sorts of errors including Christian Science, the New Age movement, Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- Still others argue that these are demonic forces released from their prison deep in the heart of the earth to inflict physical or spiritual damage on those who reject the gospel.
- Then, some interpreters see the locusts as an invading army, perhaps the horde with Gog described in Ezekiel 38.
Almost no one contends that these are actual locusts. W.A. Criswell writes, “John is telling us here that they are not actual locusts, for locusts eat green things. Where there is an actual visitation of locusts, nothing is left behind but devastation. Again, the wisest man who ever lived, Solomon, as a keen naturalist and observer, said in the thirtieth chapter of the Book of Proverbs that the locusts have no king over them. But John is careful to tell us that these have a king over them, the angel of the bottomless pit …” (Expository Sermons on Revelation, p. 185).
It seems best to view these locusts as evil spirits who rush to inflict harm on human beings. Demons often do this in scripture, causing physical ailments, mental illness, and personal injury. John records that they are given power – actually, authority is a better translation – like the power that scorpions have. This is curious, for scorpions don’t seem to have authority on earth, but that is the word John uses. They can sting, which leads to pain and sometimes death. Perhaps John is describing a form of spiritual torment that these locusts impose on people who do not know God. It is an excruciating torment because the victims seek death but cannot find it.
Interestingly, locusts are declared “clean” for food by the Lord in the Levitical dietary laws (Lev. 11:21-23). John the Baptist sustained himself on a diet of locusts and wild honey (Matt. 3:1-4). While locusts are important in the pagan superstitions of the Egyptians, the Lord uses a plague of locusts as agents of His wrath (Ex. 10:12-15). He also sends locusts to judge His own disobedient children (2 Chron. 7:12-14). For these reasons, some argue that the locusts described in Revelation 9 could not be demons, for nowhere else in scripture are they identified with the armies of Satan. However, God is perfectly capable of turning the evil actions of demons into righteous acts of judgment. While the action is the same – the torment of unbelievers – the intention behind the action is different; the demons intend evil, and the Lord intends holy wrath.
John describes God’s sovereignty over the locusts:
- “They were told not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green plant, or any tree, but only people who do not have God’s seal on their foreheads” (v. 4). Who placed these restrictions on the locusts? No doubt it is the Lord, either directly or through an angel. Locusts naturally consume vegetation but do no direct harm to humans. These locusts, however, are instructed to torment only those not under the Lord’s protection, further indicating their demonic identity.
- “They were not permitted to kill them, but were to torment [them] for five months; their torment is like the torment caused by a scorpion when it strikes a man” (v. 5). Again, the Lord restricts the locusts’ authority. They may torment, but not kill, the ungodly. God even sets the duration of their activity: five months, which is about the lifespan of the insect. But the number five also could symbolize half of 10, a metaphor for limited judgment.
- “In those days people will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them” (v. 6). Whatever torment the demons inflict on the wicked, it will not be sufficient to kill them, but it will be sufficient to lead them to seek death. The Lord determines the day of a person’s death; no one’s life is taken without His knowledge or permission.
Next: The appearance of the locusts (Rev. 9:1-12)