Revelation 9 – The Fifth and Sixth Trumpets
A. The fifth trumpet brings demonic locusts from the bottomless pit.
1. (1) A star fallen from heaven.
Then the fifth angel sounded: And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit.
a. Then the fifth angel sounded: This is the fifth angel that sounded a trumpet. There were seven seals, followed – thematically if not chronologically – by seven trumpets. In their arranged order, they are similar.
i. The first four seals and trumpets presented judgments directed against the earth. In the first four seals, these were the “four horsemen” bringing tyranny, war, famine, and death on the earth. In the first four trumpets, these were the ecological destruction of the vegetation, seas, fresh waters, and sky.
ii. The last three seals focused upon heaven: the cry of the martyrs, cosmic disturbances, and the heavenly prelude to the seven trumpets. The last three trumpets will speak of hell, in terms of the demonic.
b. I saw a star fallen from heaven: The text clearly shows us that this star is a person (to him), not a literal star. The verb tense (fallen) indicates that he already had fallen.
i. But who is this star? Suggestions have included Nero, a fallen angel, an evil spirit, Satan, the Word of God, a good angel, or even Jesus Himself.
ii. In the context, this star is best seen as an angel; whether he is a good or bad angel depends on his relation to the angel of the bottomless pit in Revelation 9:11. If the angel of Revelation 9:1 is the same as the angel of Revelation 9:11, it is an evil angel – perhaps Satan himself. If it is a different angel, it may be a good angel sent by God to open up this bottomless pit for the purpose of judgment.
c. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit: That this star is fallen makes us associate him with Satan, or another high-ranking evil angelic being. But the fact that he is given the key to the bottomless pit makes us not want to associate him with Satan. The idea that Satan is the master of hell is foreign to the rest of Scripture. He will be hell’s victim, not ruler.
i. At the same time, we notice that the key is given to this being, and that it is given at a specific time and for a specific purpose that furthers God’s plan. This angel – evil or good – serves God’s purpose, even if he does not intend to.
d. The bottomless pit: Some wonder where this is. The most straightforward answer is that it is in the center of the earth, because there, one might say that all is “top” and nothing is “bottom.” However, some think that the bottomless nature of the pit is symbolic.
i. The abyssos is a prison for certain demons (Luke 8:31, 2 Peter 2:4, and Jude 6). This is probably the same place as this bottomless pit. More generally, this place is considered the realm of the dead, the same as Hades (Romans 10:7).
ii. Revelation 9:1 is a good example of how the Book of Revelation is sometimes wrongly spiritualized in its interpretation. Some commentators say that the star is the word of God, the pit is human nature, and the lesson is that if the gospel is rejected, horrors are unleashed. But this is far from the plain meaning of Revelation 9:1.
2. (2-6) Locusts from the bottomless pit.
And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. So the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit. Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months. Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man. In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them.
a. Out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth: These are obviously not natural locusts. They avoid plants and attack men like scorpions attack. They are “A visual representation of the hordes of demons loosed upon the earth.” (Walvoord)
i. The idea is simply that as part of the judgment of the great tribulation, God will allow demonic hordes, previously imprisoned, to descend upon the earth like a swarm of destructive locusts. They are not, as some have suggested, heretics, Muslims, Turks, Saracens, Jesuits, monks, or Protestants!
b. The seal of God on their foreheads: Those who have the seal of God on their foreheads (the 144,000 and perhaps more) are protected, but none other are. This is an inescapable judgment of God.
c. They were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months: Their purpose and period is expressly governed by God, and the purpose of all this is to bring repentance (Revelation 9:20-21).
d. In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them: Death will offer no escape from this prolonged torture. Their power is described like the power of scorpions, and the bite of a scorpion, though extremely painful, is rarely fatal.
i. They will desire to die: The tormented ones want to die as Paul did in Philippians 1:21-23, but for a completely different reason and result than Paul. For Paul, death led to eternal blessing, but for these tormented ones, death is a leap from the frying pan of present torment into eternal fire.
ii. The idea of death as an escape is a demonic deception. The infamous murderers of Littleton, Colorado made chilling home movies before their killing spree. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold left behind a videotaped document spelling out their motivation. In the last segment of tape, shot the morning of the murders, Harris and Klebold were dressed and said they were ready for “our little Judgement Day.” Then Klebold, looking tense, said goodbye to his parents. He concluded, “I didn’t like life too much. Just know I am going to a better place than here.” It is a great and tragic deception to think – on the day you will murder many – that you will go to a better place. There was no escape in death for Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Now is the time of repentance, to escape from sin, and to be restored.
3. (7-10) The appearance of these locusts.
The shape of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle. On their heads were crowns of something like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men. They had hair like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. And they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses running into battle. They had tails like scorpions, and there were stings in their tails. Their power was to hurt men five months.
a. The shape of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle: Many attempts have been made to show that this is an accurate (though poetic) description of natural locusts. This approach misses the obvious demonic connection.
i. Why would God call them locusts if they are not literal locusts, but demonic spirits who swarm and destroy like locusts? Among other reasons, because locusts are agents of God’s judgment. This is a consistent Old Testament figure in passages like Exodus 10:4-14, Deuteronomy 28:38, 1 Kings 8:37, 2 Chronicles 7:13, Joel 1:4, and Amos 4:9.
b. Like horses . . . like gold . . . like the faces of men . . . like women’s hair . . . like lion’s teeth: The repetition of like indicates something other than a literal description is intended. The total impact of this picture is one of unnatural and awesome cruelty.
i. Suggestions that these locusts actually describe something such as the helicopter gunships of the Antichrist or a one-world government are interesting, but purely speculative, and don’t fit all the details.
ii. “There seems to be no alternative to concluding that God, satisfying the age-long desire of those wicked spirits to possess bodies of their own, has created bodies for them, bodies appropriate in demonic appearance to the character of the demonic inhabitants.” (H. Morris)
iii. “There can be no specific answer to the question of exactly who or what is symbolized by the plague of locusts. All we can know for sure is that in the period immediately before the end the wicked will be subjected to a time of unprecedented demonic torment. Exactly how this will take place will remain unknown until disclosed by history itself.” (Mounce)
4. (11) The leader of these locusts.
And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon.
a. And they had as king over them: This is another indication that these creatures are not literal locusts. The Bible tells us that literal locusts have no king: The locusts have no king, yet they all advance in ranks (Proverbs 30:27). Yet these particular locusts do have a king.
b. Whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon: Their king is given a name. Abaddon and Apollyon both have the same thought of destruction or torment (perdition).
c. The angel of the bottomless pit: Since this is the king of these locusts, and since he has the name Abaddon or Apollyon, this is obviously Satan himself or another high-ranking leader of demons.
5. (12) The worst is yet to come.
One woe is past. Behold, still two more woes are coming after these things.
B. The sixth trumpet: an army of destruction.
1. (13) A voice from the altar.
Then the sixth angel sounded: And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God,
a. I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar: In the tabernacle and temple of Israel, the golden altar was the altar of incense, which was a representation of the prayers of God’s people.
b. The four horns of the golden altar: These stood at each corner of the altar. Atoning blood was applied to the horns. From these horns, John heard a voice. In this, John recalled a repeated theme: the prayers of God’s people play a large role in the end-times drama.
2. (14-15) The angels and their mission.
Saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind.
a. Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates: These four angels have no necessary connection with the four angels of Revelation 7:1. They may be the same four angels or they may not be. Whoever they are, they are prepared for the hour and day and month and year of the unleashing of this judgment.
i. Were released: “Most of Satan’s angels are yet free – being the principalities against which we wrestle, but some terrible offenders of high rank have been bound.” (Newell)
ii. This assumes these are “bad” angels; they may or may not be, but they probably are evil angels. No matter what, they are servants of the divine purpose.
b. Were released to kill a third of mankind: The demonic locusts described earlier in the chapter were restricted to tormenting mankind. But these four angels have the authority to kill on a massive scale.
i. These angels have a specific sphere of activity (a third of mankind), and are only activated in God’s timing. They execute God’s will in God’s timing.
c. The great river Euphrates: These angels were connected with the Euphrates River because the Euphrates was a landmark of ancient Babylon. It was the frontier of Israel’s land as fully promised by God (Genesis 15:17-21). It was also the boundary of the old Roman Empire, which will be revived under the Antichrist.
i. The Euphrates is also associated with the first sin (Genesis 2:10-14), the first murder (Genesis 4:16), the first organized revolt against God (Genesis 11:1-9), the first war confederation (Genesis 14:1), and the first dictatorship (Genesis 10:8-10).
3. (16-19) Description of the army led by these angels.
Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. And thus I saw the horses in the vision: those who sat on them had breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone. By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed; by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which came out of their mouths. For their power is in their mouth and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents, having heads; and with them they do harm.
a. The number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million: Is this number literal or symbolic? “It is possible that the number is not to be taken literally, but simply suggests an army that is impossible to count and is greater than anything mankind has ever seen.” (Hocking)
b. Breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone: These horsemen are described in weird, grotesque terms. This is a powerful picture of horror, destruction and demonic association.
c. The army of the horsemen: Does this speak of a natural or a supernatural army? Is this an army of men or an army of demons?
i. If this describes a natural army of men, then the weird description may speak of modern, mechanized warfare. It may be John simply describes modern machinery in the only terms he can, and the result is this weird, grotesque, terrifying account.
ii. But, a human army this size has never been seen. The total size of all armies – on both sides – at the height of the Second World War was only 70 million. In 1965 China claimed to have an army and militia of 200 million, but this claim was doubted by many. Even if such an army was assembled, and marched towards the west, it is hard (but not impossible) to see such an army killing a billion or more people – a third of mankind.
iii. Therefore, perhaps the safest interpretation is to see this as a literal 200 million strong army, but a demonic army invading earth. This continues the idea of the demonic army like locusts described earlier in the chapter.
4. (20-21) The response of man.
But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.
a. But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent: In general, mankind showed no repentance, despite the presence of some pretty overwhelming signs and wonders.
b. That they should not worship demons, and idols: Instead, man continued with his idol worship in a business as usual sort of way. They continued in their worship of demons, whether their worship is witting or unwitting.
i. It is amazing to see how quickly things return to what is thought to be normal after some calamity such as an earthquake. We are quick to forget God’s lessons, even the lessons that come in judgment.
c. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts: This list of sins is a striking accusation against our present age. Certainly, our modern world is characterized by murders, sorceries (associated with the taking of drugs), sexual immorality and thefts.
©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission