Wednesday, September 8, 2021

37. The Revelation: The Fifth Trumpet Judgment (Revelation 9:1-12)


Each of the first four trumpet judgments affect the physical universe in some way, but with the sounding of the fifth trumpet the focus will shift from the physical to the spiritual realm.

The Pit Unlocked

"Then the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth; and the key of the bottomless pit was given to him. He opened the bottomless pit, and smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit." (Rev. 9:1–2)

When the fifth angel sounded his trumpet, John saw a star from heaven that had fallen to the earth. In his visions, the apostle had already seen several heavenly bodies plunge to earth (6:13; 8:8, 10). Unlike them, however, this star was not an inanimate piece of celestial matter, but an angelic being (cf. Job 38:7). That he was said to have fallen to the earth suggests that this is a reference to Satan—the leader of all the fallen angels (cf. Isaiah 14:12–15; Ezekiel 28:12–16; Luke 10:18).

The fall of Satan described in 9:1 is not his original rebellion. Though he and the angels who fell with him (12:4) were banished from heaven, Satan retains access to God’s presence, where he constantly accuses believers (Rev. 12:10; Job 1:6). During the tribulation he and his demon hosts will unsuccessfully battle Michael and the holy angels. As a result of their defeat, they will be permanently cast down to the earth (12:7–9). Satan will then seek to marshal all of his demonic hosts—those already on earth, those cast to earth with him, and those incarcerated in the bottomless pit (literally “the pit of the abyss”). Abussos (“bottomless”) appears seven times in Revelation, always in reference to the abode of incarcerated demons (9:2, 11; 11:7; 17:8). Satan himself will be held prisoner there during the millennium, chained and locked up with the other demonic prisoners (20:1, 3).

After Satan received the key to the abyss from its keeper, Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:18), he opened the bottomless pit and released its inmates. When the abyss opened, smoke arose like the smoke of a great furnace. “Smoke” in Revelation may refer to holy things (8:4; 15:8), but is usually associated with judgment (9:17–18; 14:11; 18:9, 18; 19:3). Such a vast volume of smoke issued from the abyss that the sun and the air were darkened by it. The smoke polluting the sky symbolizes the corruption of hell belched forth from the abyss to pollute the world.

The Power Unleashed

"Then out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. And they were not permitted to kill anyone, but to torment for five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings a man. And in those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them." (Rev. 9:3–6)

Out of the vast, billowing, ominous cloud of smoke that darkened the sky and caused panic among earth’s inhabitants, John saw a new terror emerge. Vile demons, taking on a visible form resembling locusts, swarmed out of the abyss to plague the earth. The imagery of smoke is a fitting depiction of a locust plague, since millions of the grasshopper-like insects swarm so thickly that they can darken the sky and blot out the sun, turning day into night. One swarm over the Red Sea in 1889 was reported to have covered 2,000 square miles. The destruction they can cause to crops and other vegetation is staggering (2 Chronicles 7:13).

Yet these were not ordinary locusts, but demons, who, like locusts, bring swarming destruction. Describing them in the form of locusts symbolizes their uncountable numbers and massive destructive capabilities. The fact that three times in the passage (verses 3, 5, 10) their power to inflict pain is compared to that of scorpions indicates they are not actual locusts, since locusts have no stinging tail as scorpions do. But the devastating pain inflicted by these demons will be far worse than that of actual scorpions. In this judgment God brings demons into direct contact with the unrepentant people. The fact that these locust-and scorpion-like creatures come from the pit and that their leader is the “angel of the abyss” (9:11) indicates that demons must be in view in this scene. Sadly, even the horrifying experience of this demon infestation will not cause many to repent (Rev. 9:20–21), if any.

Strict limitations were placed on the activities of this demonic host. This judgment, unlike the first four trumpet judgments, is not on the physical world. God forced the locust horde not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree (Rev. 8:7). That again shows that they were not actual insects, since real locusts devour plant life. The reference to the grass of the earth suggests that some time has passed since the first trumpet judgment scorched all the grass that was then in season (8:7). The damaged grass has grown again and is to remain untouched in this plague, indicating that enough time has elapsed for a partial recovery of the earth’s environment.

Certainly Satan would want to kill all the unregenerate to keep them from repenting. But God, in His mercy, will give people torment for five months (the normal life span of locusts, usually from May to September), during which they cannot die but will be given the opportunity to repent and embrace the gospel. That five-month period will be one of intense spiritual and physical suffering inflicted on unbelievers by the judgment of God. That fearful judgment is likened to the torment inflicted by a scorpion when it stings a man. Unbelievers will also hear the message of salvation in Jesus Christ preached by the 144,000 Jewish evangelists, the two witnesses, and other believers. The five months will be for many people the last opportunity to repent and believe (Rev. 9:20–21; 16:9, 11).

So intense will be the torment inflicted on unbelievers in those days that “people will seek death and will not find it.” The earth people have loved will have been devastated, the land ravaged by earthquakes, fires, and volcanoes, the atmosphere polluted with gases and showers of heavenly debris. The dream of a worldwide utopia under the leadership of Antichrist (the Beast of 13:1ff.) will have died. There will be no escape from the agony inflicted by the demons or from divine judgment.

The Appearance Unveiled

"The appearance of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle; and on their heads appeared to be crowns like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men. They had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to battle. They have tails like scorpions, and stings; and in their tails is their power to hurt men for five months." (Rev. 9:7–10)

These demons are described as locusts because they bring massive, devastating, rapid judgment from God. John can give only an approximation of what this spiritual army looked like, as the repeated use of the terms “like” (used eight times in this passage) and “appeared to be” indicates. To describe the supernatural and unfamiliar demon horde, John chooses natural and familiar analogies.

The general appearance of the locusts was “like horses prepared for battle.” They were warlike, powerful, and defiant, like horses straining at the bit and pawing the ground in their eagerness to charge forward on their mission of death. On their heads John saw what appeared to be crowns like gold. The crowns they wore are victors’ crowns, indicating that the demon host will be invincible. People will have no weapon that can harm them and no cure for the terrible torment they inflict. That their faces were like the faces of men indicates they are rational beings, not actual insects. The description of their hair as being like the hair of women likely emphasizes their seductiveness. The glory or beauty of a woman is her hair, which she may decorate to become more alluring. Having teeth like the teeth of lions, they will be fierce and powerful, tearing apart their victims. Breastplates of iron, designed to protect the vital organs of the soldier, here symbolize the demon horde’s invulnerability. In a further metaphor drawn from the battlefield, John compares the sound of their wings to a moving army, noting that it “was like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to battle.” There will be no escaping their massive, worldwide onslaught. The threefold comparison of the demons to scorpions stresses that their sole mission is to hurt people.

The Prince Unmasked

"They have as king over them, the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek he has the name Apollyon. The first woe is past; behold, two woes are still coming after these things." (9:11–12)

Unlike real locusts, the demons had a king over them. John calls him the angel of the abyss. Some identify this angel as Satan, but his domain is the heavenlies (Ephesians 6:12). He is not associated with the abyss until he is cast into it (20:1–3). This angel is better viewed as a high-ranking demon in Satan’s hierarchy. John notes that “his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek he has the name Apollyon.” John uses both names to emphasize his impact on both ungodly Jews and Gentiles. Both words mean “destroyer,” an apt name for the head of the devastating army of demons that rises from the abyss.

Having described the first woe (Rev. 8:13; the fifth trumpet judgment), John cautions that God’s wrath has not run its course. Two woes (the sixth and seventh trumpet judgments, including all the bowl judgments) are still coming after these things, so there will be nothing more than a brief sigh of relief before still more fearful judgments follow.