Abbreviations: ESV = English Standard Version; ESVSB = ESV Study Bible;
NIV = New International Version; NIVSB = NIV Study Bible
Scripture quotations are from ESV unless otherwise noted.
I discussed 9:1-6 in the previous article. Chapter 9 describes the events that are initiated by the fifth and sixth trumpets (simply referred to as “trumpet five” or “trumpet six”). The fifth through the sixth trumpets were introduced by verse 8:13, which described them as woeful to “those who dwell on the earth.” Most commentators consider this expression (which might be shortened to “the earth-dwellers”) to be a technical term that refers to the general mass of human-kind, but not to the people of God.
Verses 9:7-11 continue the description of the demonic “locusts” that are loosed from the Abyss. The first part of the description focuses on the role of these demons, whereas the second part describes in more detail their appearance and their leader.
Verses 9:7-10—the appearance of the locusts:
Verse 9:7: The locusts are like cavalry horses. Joel 2 describes a plague of locusts with the same imagery. This probably is not a far-fetched description of occasional invasions of locusts in the Middle East. Joel is describing the behavior of the locusts, but Revelation emphasizes their appearance. Both Rist (433) and Ladd (132) consider that John used Joel as a source in this description. There is not much else in the description, however, that imitates Joel. The horse/locusts have crowns. Again, Rist (433) and Ladd (132) agree that these crowns are symbols of their conquering power. To add to their bizarre appearance, the locusts have human-like faces.
Verse 9:8: The horse/locusts have hair like women’s hair. Ladd (133) suggests two possibilities for this description. The Parthians, who relied on cavalry, wore their hair long. Also, some ancients believed that a locust’s antennae were like long hair. Joel described the invading locusts as having lion’s teeth, which John also uses to describe the locusts from the Abyss.
Verse 9:9: The cavalry description continues in that the horses have breastplates of iron and they make a sound like the rolling of chariots. The latter echoes Joel 2:5.
Verse 9:10: The description returns to the scorpion-like torment of the locusts of 9:5. This verse explains that torment to be due to tails with stingers like scorpion tails. The reader is reminded that the torment lasts five months.
We may summarize these bizarre creatures in the following way:
· They look like horses with armor like cavalry horses.
· They have human faces with long hair and crowns on their heads.
· They have scorpion-like tails with stingers.
· The buzzing of their wings sounds like the rumbling of chariots.
· They, unlike locusts, do not eat vegetation, but rather sting people and torment them over a period of five months.
· Their victims are those who have not been sealed by God. They are the “earth-dwellers” who constitute evil society and who persecute Christians.
Verse 9:11—The king of the locusts
The locust/demons have a king. He is the “angel of the bottomless pit [Abyss].” Ladd (134) believes this the is the same angel of verses 9:1-2 who opens the shaft of the Abyss. Rist (434) says that is possible but not necessarily true. I agree with Rist for the following reasons. The angel who opens the shaft comes from heaven. The implication is that the king of the locusts comes from the Abyss. The angel from heaven was given a key to open the shaft to release the locusts. It strikes me that the king of the locusts would not simply open the door and let them out. The idea of a “king” is one that leads, so I think the king leads his subjects out of the Abyss. Therefore, I do not think the king is the same as the angel of verses 9:1-2.
The name of the king is given in Hebrew as Abaddon and in Greek as Apollyon. The Hebrew, Abaddon, means “Destruction.” It is linked closely to Sheol in various uses in the Old Testament (Job 26:6, 28:22, 31:12, Psalms 88:11, Proverbs 15:11 and 27:20). The Greek word Apoleia (destruction) is used by the Septuagint to translate Abaddon. Revelation uses a closely related word, Apolluon (or Apollyon) (the participle of the verb for “destroy”). The participle form would be translated “The One Who Destroys” or “The Destroyer.” Though some believe this name is derived from the god Apollos (some emperors believed they were descendants of Apollos), this is probably not true. There may be a passing allusion to Apollos and the emperor.
The king of the locusts is the Destroyer. However, he was not allowed to utterly destroy his victims (see verse 9:5). There is often an implication in Revelation of the “permissive will” of God. God lets loose all sorts of evil, but the evil is always done on God’s terms—in God’s timing, with God’s limitations.
Verse 9:12—the end of the first “woe”:
It is easy to get lost in Revelation, but we are given little helps along the way. Verse 9:12 reminds us that in verse 8:13 we were warned of three woes. Now, with the description of the locust/demons, we have completed the first woe. It would be no comfort to know that two more are to come. We will observe the end of the second woe in 11:14. We never find the end of the third woe. We may speculate on that in another article.
THE BEGINNING OF THE SECOND WOE:
THE SIXTH TRUMPET
Verses 9:13-15—the sixth trumpet and the angels at the Euphrates
The narrative has been framed by the blowing of trumpets, a series of seven (see 8:2 and 6).
Verse 9:13: The sixth angel sounds his trumpet and there is a “disembodied” voice from the four horns of the altar before God. The Greek specifies that it is “one” voice and four horns. In one other place the altar speaks: Revelation 16:7. Revelation never ceases to amaze us with its almost surreal imagery. (In fact, the surrealists probably would be envious.) So, here we have the horns of the altar speaking. The altar has been the location of the martyred saints (6:9), who pray to God for vindication, and of the prayers of the saints (8:3-4). Thus, it is the locus of consciousness before God of the saints and their concerns, especially for justice.
Verse 9:14-15: The voice gives an order to the angel who blew the trumpet. We see other instances where angels call upon other angels to do things. In one case we even see an angel give an order to Christ (14:15). The Biblical picture of heaven and of the community of angels and of God is a picture of harmony and affirmation. Remember that Jesus told us to pray that the Kingdom would come. That Kingdom He defined as where “Your [God’s] will is done on earth [just like] as it is [done] in heaven.” The earth is a mess of envy and strife where people and demons vie for power and accumulation of things and experiences of pleasure. In heaven, there is a focus on God’s will. As we observe the various events in Revelation from a heavenly perspective, we have the impression that all of heaven is focused on these events.
The order is to release four angels who are bound at the Euphrates River. Metzger (66) reminds us that the eastern border of the Roman Empire was the Euphrates. On the other side were the dreaded Parthians.
The Parthians had been somewhat the nemesis of the Romans from about 60 BC. They would continue to represent an eastern barrier until they would collapse from within in the late second century. They were a highly organized empire with an excellent military. The back-and-forth power struggle between the two empires never led to a decisive victory for either side. It should be noted that the Euphrates was not a hard-and-fast border. The territory held by the two empires varied greatly over the years. (“Invictus”)
Rist (435) speculates that these four angels are the same as the four who are standing at the four corners of the earth in 7:1. In fact he seems to see a relationship of all the fours—four corners, four horsemen, and four angels bound at the Euphrates. Although “four” may have a certain resonance in Revelation, it does not seem to me productive to see any strong relationship among these various “fours.”
The angels have been “prepared” for this particular time (down to the hour). This is considered a reflection of the determinism in Revelation and other apocalypses (Rist, 435); although Ladd (136-137) does not consider it a “rigid” determinism. I do not consider this evidence of determinism. I tend to call it an example of God’s foreknowledge and future planning. To explain my thought, I first must jump ahead in the narrative and note that these are evil angels. The fact that they must be bound is evidence of that, and the fact that they release an enormous army of demons or demon-like horses and riders is definitive evidence of their evil. The fact that these are demon-like creatures means that their evil would not be subject to the whims of human history. I write that to refute that idea that this invasion represents (necessarily) an invasion by a particular political entity (such as the Parthians or the Communist Chinese or the modern-day Iranians). Thus, we do not need to speculate that God has determined a particular geo-political scenario by binding these angels at the Euphrates River. What we might consider is that the “mystery of lawlessness” has been unfolding for centuries (II Thessalonians 2:7). As that evil unfolds, the time will become “ripe” for these angels to be released to do their evil. They will, I believe, take advantage of whatever geo-political situation exists and exploit for their own evil ends.
The mission or, we might say, the limitation on the evil of the four angels is to kill one-third of humankind. They will accomplish this through the release of the army at their disposal.
Verses 9:16-19: The horses
Verse 9:16: The wording of this verse is a little odd. John gives the number of the “mounted troops” as 200 million (twice ten thousand times ten thousand). This would exceed any army that has ever been mustered, that I know of. Some have speculated that only Communist China could raise such an army. That may be true, but it does not necessarily mean that the Chinese are coming.
The oddity of the verse is that, after giving the number, John says, “I heard their number.” It seems to me that this is a somewhat dramatic/poetic wording that adds to the somber picture. It is as though an angel off in the distance cries out: “Here comes this vast horde of mounted troops, two hundred million of them!” Everyone shrinks in horror.
Verse 9:17: The description of this “cavalry” is mostly focused on the horses rather than their riders. The riders have tricolored breastplates or “cuirasses” (Ladd, 137). The three colors match what comes out of the mouths of the horses—red for fire, sapphire for blue smoke, and yellow for sulfur. The horses have heads like lions. The picture is unnatural and, like the locusts, demonic and terror-inspiring (Rist, 435-436, and Ladd, 138).
Verse 9:18: The focus is on the horses because they, not their riders, are deadly (Rist, 435-436). The material which is coming from their mouths represents three separate plagues (Ladd, 138), which altogether kill one-third of humanity.
Verse 9:19: The horses, like the scorpions, have tails that can cause harm, for they are like snakes with heads that can wound. Ladd (138) points out that the fire, smoke, and sulfur kill, but the snakes only torture (or “wound”).
The description of this cavalry of 200 million is frightening all around. The number is overwhelming. The appearance of the horses is a bizarre amalgam of horse, human, and snake. The horses are blowing deadly fire, smoke, and brimstone (sulfur) out their mouths. The snakes are biting people. What is happening here? Several ways of understanding this passage come to mind.
· The cavalry represents a real invading army that will be powerful and frightening. The description is extremely hyperbolic to strike terror (or satisfaction for those seeking justice).
· The cavalry is a dream of an idealist who believes God loves His saints and will vindicate the martyrs in some way. The vision is more the hope of the author than any real future event.
· The cavalry is a real army that will someday come (most likely at the end of the present order of existence or during the mid to late Tribulation period). The bizarre word picture is John’s attempt to describe modern-day warfare, such as tanks and flame-throwers.
· The cavalry is a demonic host that will come during the Tribulation period. The word picture represents their deadly capacity and overwhelming numbers and power. The description is not of their physical appearance, but of their spiritual reality.
I personally favor the last choice. It is possible that the demons will also inspire a human army that will be part of their invasion (see ESVSB).
Verses 9:20-21—the call to repentance
Verse 9:20: The death toll is large—one-third of humankind die because of the horses. Yet, this can also be viewed as merciful (Metzger, 66, and Ladd, 138-139). The purpose is to bring people to repentance. Metzger (67) points out that the central sin is idolatry, especially emperor worship in John’s day. Ladd (139) notes that idols are described in two ways: they are lifeless images of metal and wood but also representations of demons. See I Corinthians 10:18-22.
Verse 9:21: The idolatry is directly connected with other sins. Ladd (139) says that this is the same line of thought as Paul’s description of human degradation in Romans 1:18-32: idolatry and ungodliness results in all sorts of immorality. This certainly is a picture of our day. As our society grows more and more secular, we see the multiplication of every kind of evil.
As a futurist I understand that Revelation has a component of future fulfillment—future from the standpoint of the first century. I do not reject the idea that the situation of the church in the late first century is the “sitz im leben” (the situation in which the book was written), but I do not think it is simply a book for the church of the first century. I believe that it is a description of “those [things] that are to take place after this.” (Revelation 1:19) With this understanding in mind, I must ask myself: What would idolatry look like in the twenty-first century?
The latest sociological study that has created a stir is a Pew Research/PBS study (see Pew Research) that has produced the result that has come to be called “the rise of the ‘nones.’” It found that 20% of adults in the U.S. are religiously unaffiliated—up 5% in five years. Of the adults under 30, 1/3 are unaffiliated. Of these “nones,” 68% believe in God and 37% are spiritual but not religious. The “nones” are not looking for a religion (88% of them are not). They believe religious organizations are too concerned with money, power, politics, and rules.
I noted also that 58% of the “nones” “often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth.” Though the “New Age” as it was framed, say, 20 years ago does not seem to have a lot of traction, it seems like the “nones” are very similar to the New Age.
So, I think a religious expression that had a “New Agey” feel to it and that seemed to avoid a power play might be popular in the current generation. The other overall cultural trend that the devil can use for leverage is the cult of personality. This has always been with us, but it seems like in recent years people have become more and more fascinated with the “rich and famous.” When print journalism was failing, one magazine and its imitators continued to sell big time—People. The rise of the Beast that is described in Revelation 13 is a combination of personality cult (13:3-4) and idolatrous worship (13:14-15).
The central is not really the rise of the “nones.” The central issue is Jesus Christ. Whether people are affiliated with a religion or not, the central question is: Is it true that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except by Him? That truth is assaulted every day in every way. The devil’s central target is Jesus and those who have His testimony (see Revelation 12).
The plagues that are represented by the trumpets represent God’s wrath that will be poured out on the earth-dwellers. The primary purpose of the plagues is not to beat up on people, but to persuade them to come to repentance (9:20-21).
In the next article, I shall discuss the Dispensationalist and Preterist views of the fifth and sixth trumpets.
Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible. Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.
“Invictus.” All Empires. Online History Community. “Rome and Parthia at War.”
Ladd, George Eldon. A Commentary on the Revelation of John. Grand Rapids: William B.
Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1972.
Metzger, Bruce M. Breaking the Code. Understanding the Book of Revelation. Nashville:
Abingdon Press, 1993.
Pew Research. Religion in Public Life Project. “’Nones’ on the Rise.” www.pewforum.org/2012
Rist, Martin. “The Revelation of St. John the Divine” Exegesis. The Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. XII.
Nolan B. Harmon, Ed. New York: Abingdon Press, 1957.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publ., 2002
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