Tagged: Revelation 9

Release the four angels: Revelation 9:13-21

Previously: The sixth trumpet — Revelation 9:13-21

The scripture

Rev. 9:13 – The sixth angel blew his trumpet. From the four horns of the gold altar that is before God, I heard a voice 14 say to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15 So the four angels who were prepared for the hour, day, month, and year were released to kill a third of the human race. 16 The number of mounted troops was 200 million; I heard their number. 17 This is how I saw the horses in my vision: The horsemen had breastplates that were fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow. The heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and from their mouths came fire, smoke, and sulfur. 18 A third of the human race was killed by these three plagues—by the fire, the smoke, and the sulfur that came from their mouths. 19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, because their tails, like snakes, have heads, and they inflict injury with them. 20 The rest of the people, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands to stop worshiping demons and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which are not able to see, hear, or walk. 21 And they did not repent of their murders, their sorceries, their sexual immorality, or their thefts. (HCSB)

Release the four angels

The sixth angel is instructed, “Release the four angels bound at the great river Euphrates” (v. 14). No doubt, the four angels are demons, for holy angels are not bound. Together, the demons command a vast army of 200 million mounted riders (some manuscripts read 100 million). The army is held in check until God determines the precise time for a special purpose: to kill one-third of the human race. Since a fourth of mankind already has been killed in the fourth seal judgment (Rev. 6:8), and “many” people have died from the bitter waters in the third trumpet judgment (Rev. 8:11), this means roughly half of the world’s population will be dead by the time the sixth trumpet judgment is completed.

As for the army of 200 million, is this a literal army riding uniquely equipped horses? Or does John’s vision depict modern-day weapons such as tanks, driven by soldiers from a nation, or a coalition of nations, capable of deploying such a vast army? It seems best to see this as an army of demons unleashed to destroy people. While these are wicked men and women who have rejected God’s call to repentance, the demons swiftly destroy them because they are creatures made in God’s image; if the demons cannot fight against God, they can destroy his creatures and mar His creation. Even so, they unwittingly carry out God’s sovereign plan as instruments of His divine judgment.

The timing is interesting here. Just as God sent His Son at “the completion of the time” (Gal. 4:4) and Jesus died “at the appointed moment” (Rom. 5:6), the four angels are “prepared for the hour, day, month, and year … to kill a third of the human race” (Rev. 9:15). From a human perspective, so much of life seems random, chaotic and uncontrollable. Yet God sovereignly directs the real choices of people (and demons) and moves the world toward judgment and, beyond that, its promised redemption.

Whose voice is it that sounds over the four horns of the altar? Some argue that it is none other than the voice of God. Others say that because the four horns represent the four Gospels, they sound in a unified voice so that all those who are about to be judged will hear that their pending destruction is due to their rejection of the Son of God.

At the river Euphrates

The Euphrates River is the most important and, at 1780 miles, the longest river in western Asia. It begins in the Armenian Mountains. It passes through the Taurus Range and the Mesopotamian Valley down to the Persian Gulf. But it is far more significant than just its size. The river is part of the cradle of civilization (Gen. 2:14) and one of Israel’s stated boundaries (Gen. 15:18). The banks of the river are where sin is first known, where the first lie is told, where suffering begins and where human misery originates. It’s also where God’s promise of redemption is made through the seed of woman (Gen. 3:15).

The Euphrates is the backdrop of great apostasies before and after the flood. It is the river from which many of Israel’s greatest and most oppressive enemies drink and water their horses. It is the backdrop of captivity and exile for Israel and Judah. And it is the scene of the rise of the great world empires that oppose God’s people. It is the place from which the Assyrians come to defeat Israel’s northern kingdom and from which the Babylonians, Persians and Medes strike terror in the hearts of their enemies. In the days after Jesus’ ascension, as Israel rebels against the Roman Empire (66 – 70 A.D.), the Euphrates is where some of Rome’s mounted troops are poised to bring swift destruction. Now, in John’s vision, it is the river where four evil angels are unleashed, and an army of 200 million is deployed, as instruments of God’s wrath.

It is important to note that some commentators take a figurative view of the Euphrates and link it to “spiritual Babylon,” or the apostate church. More pointedly, they argue that the Roman Catholic Church is in view here, with its damaging dogmas of Mariology, sacramental salvation, and the buying and selling of indulgences.

In any case, the Euphrates in scripture is both a source and a boundary. It is one of the rivers of Eden; its root word, pehrat, means to break forth and abound. According to Xenophon, the Greek historian, the Euphrates causes the desert to “become a garden of fertility.” While it is a life-giving source of water, the river also sustains wicked people and their murderous schemes. For those who spiritualize the river, it symbolizes the source of idolatry and other false teachings, from Islam to Roman Catholicism to the New Age movement. As a boundary, the Euphrates separates East from West and, in many ways, Judaism and Christianity from competing Eastern religions. And in John’s vision of the sixth trumpet, it is a boundary where evil forces are detained until the sovereign God of the universe decides to unleash them.

 Next: The number of mounted troops was 200 million

The appearance of the locusts: Revelation 9:1-12

Previously: Locusts came to the earth — Revelation 9:1-12

The scripture

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. 2 He 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.   3 Then out of the smoke locusts came to the earth, and power was given to them like the power that scorpions have on the earth. 4 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. 5 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. 6 In those days people will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.

  7 The 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; 8 they had hair like women’s hair; their teeth were like lions’ teeth; 9 they had chests like iron breastplates; the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses rushing into battle; 10 and they had tails with stingers, like scorpions, so that with their tails they had the power to harm people for five months. 11 They had as their king the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he has the name Apollyon. 12 The first woe has passed. There are still two more woes to come after this. (HCSB)

The appearance of the locusts

John describes these locusts in graphic terms in verses 7-11:

  • Their appearance is “like horses equipped for battle.” They are coming to wage war and, like horses, they are swift. Joel 2:4 describes locusts this way: “Their appearance is like that of horses, and they gallop like war horses.”
  • On their heads are “something like gold crowns.” This is one of the only places in the New Testament where the victory crown (stephanos) is worn by anyone other than Christ and the saints. And in this case, they only wear “something like gold crowns,” an imitation of the genuine article. Evil thrives – but never endures – when it counterfeits good.
  • Their faces are “like men’s faces.” They are intelligent and able to discern between those who wear God’s mark of protection and those who don’t.
  • They have “hair like women’s hair.” Perhaps a reference to warriors like Samson, they are granted destructive strength. An Arabic proverb compares the antennae of locusts to the hair of girls. Some commentators believe this phrase describes the hairs on locusts’ legs and bodies.
  • Their teeth are “like lion’s teeth.” Like Satan, they roam the earth, seeking whom they may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Joel 1:6 describes invading locusts as having “the teeth of a lion.”
  • They have “chests like iron breastplates.” They will be difficult to confront and almost impossible to defeat.
  • The sound of their wings is “like the sound of chariots with many horses rushing into battle.” The very sound of their approach strikes fear in the hearts of people.
  • They have “tails with stingers, like scorpions.” We will see this imagery again in the sixth trumpet judgment. In Isaiah 9 the “prophet, the lying teacher” is described as the “tail” of Israel, inflicting damage on the people’s understanding of God’s word.
  • Their tails have “the power to harm people for five months.” Whether this is to be taken literally or figuratively, God controls the length of time these locusts run rampant over the earth.
  • They have as their king “the angel of the abyss.” Abaddon rules over these demonic forces; but remember he does not operate independently of God’s sovereign will.

W.A. Criswell comments: “When people persist in iniquity, when people choose to be vile and blasphemous, God lets it continue. If a man chooses the administration of Satan, God lets that man experience what it is to be a servant of the devil. That is what has happened here in the Book of Revelation. The spirit of iniquity works, and it continues and it goes on, and finally it ends in indescribable torment, hurt, agony and pain. We can always remember this: The man who lives in sin builds his house by the very pit of hell. He is next door. This that we find under the fifth trumpet is nothing other than an out-working of evil when men choose to be servants of Satan and when they wear the livery of the devil. Tormenting judgments inevitably come and inevitably flow” (Expository Sermons on Revelation, p. 188).

Four major views of the fifth trumpet

How do supporters of the four major interpretations of Revelation view the fifth trumpet?

  • Preterists – who see the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the church age – assign the events of the fifth trumpet to the Jewish War of 66-70 A.D. The fallen star is some angel, or some minister of religion like the high priest, and the locusts are the spiritual errors they teach. There is considerable historical evidence that Jewish society in the days before the destruction of Jerusalem is deluded, despotic, and demonic. Jesus’ parable of the unclean spirit in Matt. 12:43-45 warns about the wickedness of this generation and the evil that will befall them when they reject the Messiah and His offer of salvation. The people wish for death, not because the Romans are outside Jerusalem’s gates, but because their own wicked countrymen are inside.
  • Historicists – who view the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history – say the locusts represent the Muslim Arabs in their campaigns against the Eastern Roman Empire from 612 – 763 AD, with Muhammad as the star that has fallen from heaven. In the Koran there is a remarkable parallel with Rev. 9:4; it reads, “Destroy no palm trees, nor any fields of corn, cut down no fruit trees.” Those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads are corrupt and idolatrous Christians, against whom the Muslims chiefly prevail, according to the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. The five months are five prophetic months that, when using the year-for-a-day principle, equal 150 years, almost exactly the length of time the Muslims ravage the Eastern church. Some Roman Catholics have identified the locusts as the Lutherans of the Reformation, with Martin Luther as the fallen star.
  • Futurists – who say the events of Revelation are largely unfulfilled, especially chapters 4-22 – tend to see the fallen star as Satan and the locusts as demonic hordes released against unrepentant sinners at the start of the tribulation. Some futurists equate the fallen star with the pope and the locusts with moral and spiritual errors. A number of futurists believe demonic possession will become widespread in the last days. While many who are possessed will seek death, they are not free to exercise their own wills and are kept alive by the demons who torment them.
  • Some idealists, or spiritualists – who see Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – see the fifth trumpet as the internal decay of the Roman Empire. Others, however, contend that the locusts represent demonic forces unleashed upon the earth, with Satan as the angel of the abyss, and the abyss itself the prison of demons. The description of the locusts inflicting torment like scorpions is similar to the biblical depiction of snakes as creatures hostile to man and therefore apt symbols of demons. Jesus tells his disciples in Luke 10:19, “Look, I have given you the authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy.” As Israel is kept safe from the plagues of Egypt, so God’s people are protected from the locusts. The “five months” are symbolic of a limited period of time, although the demonic torment is so intense its victims wish for death.

The first woe has passed

John ends this segment with a warning: “The first woe has passed. There are still two more woes to come after this” (v. 12). It is an echo of the eagle’s cry in Rev. 8:13: “Woe! Woe! Woe to those who live on the earth, because of the remaining trumpet blasts that the three angels are about to sound!” While the first woe has resulted in unspeakable torment for unbelievers, John hints that things are about to get even worse.

Even so, there is mercy from God and hope for people. If John is reminding readers that two woes remain, it also means there’s still time to repent. Will the wicked turn to Christ? Or have they passed the point of no return, having filled up their measure of sin (1 Thess. 2:16)?

Next: The sixth trumpet — Revelation 9:13-21

Locusts came to the earth — Revelation 9:1-12

Previously: Smoke came up out of the shaft — Revelation 9:1-12

The scripture

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)

Locusts came to the earth

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)

Smoke came up out of the shaft – Revelation 9:1-12

Previously: The key to the shaft of the abyss – Revelation 9:1-12

The scripture

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)

Smoke came up out of the shaft

When Abaddon opens the shaft of the abyss, John records that “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” (v. 2). Some commentators, like Matthew Henry, see the smoke symbolically: “The devils are the powers of darkness; hell is the place of darkness. The devil carries on his designs by blinding the eyes of men, by extinguishing light and knowledge, and promoting ignorance and error. He first deceives men, and then destroys them; wretched souls follow him in the dark, or they durst not follow him” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Rev. Rev. 9:1–12).

Others who take this passage figuratively describe the smoke as heresy, or the obscuring of human civility and common decency. While Satan and his demons are behind these dark deeds, they do their work through human agents, who disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness (see 2 Cor. 11:13-15). Satan works tirelessly to blind the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:3-4). His kingdom is darkness and his citizens follow him blindly. Like the smoke that ascends from the shaft of the abyss, false teachings obscure the light that reveals our sin and leads us to the truth of God’s Word. There is no doubt that the thick smoke rising up from the pit may accurately depict spiritual darkness.

There are some interpreters, however, who see the smoke as a literal judgment, rising up from the earth due to a volcano or an earthquake. Just as the plagues of Egypt impacted earthly elements – water, earth, vegetation and sky – the judgments of Revelation are God’s ways of using His fallen creation to illustrate the depths of human depravity, the heights of His holiness, and the severity of His wrath.

Warren Wiersbe comments: “Jesus compared hell to a furnace of fire (Matt. 13:42, 50), an image that ought to make people stop and think before they jest about it. The smoke polluted the air and darkened the sun, which had already been darkened when the fourth trumpet sounded” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Rev. 9:1).

One final thought: The imagery of thick, dark smoke is used in several ways in the Old Testament to illustrate God’s dealings with sinful people. Smoke accompanies the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:28). It attends God’s judgment of the nations (Isa. 34:10). And it envelopes the Lord on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19:18). In each case, smoke is a visible manifestation of God’s power and divine purpose. He destroys wicked cities with fire and sulfur so the wicked can experience it and the righteous can witness it. He judges the nations in such a way that there can be no mistaking He is angry with sinners who rebel against Him and reject His gracious offer of forgiveness. And He delivers the law to His chosen people in such a way that they respond in terror to His holiness.

To the eye of the unbeliever, there may be no distinguishable difference between the smoke of the abyss and the smoke of Mt. Sinai. Smoke is smoke. But to the one who trusts in God’s Word, there is a distinct difference between the two. Satan uses darkness to hide his evil ways. The Lord uses it to reveal His wrath and keep sinful people from seeing Him directly, which would lead to their instant death (Ex. 33:20).

Next: Locusts came to the earth — Revelation 9:1-12