Monday, September 13, 2021

38. The Revelation: The Sixth Trumpet Judgment (Revelation 9:13-21)



Like the fifth trumpet, the sounding of the sixth trumpet heralds another, more severe demonic attack on sinful mankind. This attack, unlike the previous one, brings death.

The Release of Demons

"Then the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, one saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” (Rev. 9:13–14)

The sixth angel sounded his mighty trumpet. Immediately, John “heard a voice.” The Greek text literally reads “one voice.” The voice is not identified, but it is possibly that of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. He was pictured earlier standing near the throne (5:6), when He took the seven-sealed scroll from the Father’s hand (5:7) and broke its seals (6:1). This could also be the voice of the angel whom John had seen standing near the golden altar of incense (8:3).

While identifying the source of the voice is not possible, its location came from the four horns of the golden altar before God. John had seen this altar twice before in his visions. In the tabernacle and temple, this altar was a place where incense was burnt, symbolizing the peoples’ prayers for mercy rising to God. But in John’s vision the golden altar became an altar of intercession, as the martyred saints pleaded with God for vengeance on their murderers (6:9–11).

The voice coming from the surface of the altar between the four protruding corners commanded the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” That the four angels are bound indicates that they are demons (20:1ff.; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6), since holy angels are nowhere in Scripture said to be bound.

Because holy angels always perfectly carry out God’s will, there is no need for Him to restrain them from opposing His will. God’s control over demonic forces is complete—they are bound or loosed at His command. The perfect tense of the participle translated “bound” implies that these four angels were bound in the past with continuing results; they were in a state or condition of bondage until God’s determined time came for them to be released to execute their function as instruments of divine judgment.

The use of the definite article “the” suggests that these four angels form a specific group. Their precise identity is not revealed, but they may be the demons that controlled the four major world empires of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Daniel 10 provides insight into the warfare between holy angels and the demons that influence individual nations. Whoever they are, these four powerful fallen angels control a huge demonic army set to wage war against fallen mankind when God releases them to do so.

The Return of Death

"And the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released, so that they would kill a third of mankind. The number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. And this is how I saw in the vision the horses and those who sat on them: the riders had breastplates the color of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone; and the heads of the horses are like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceed fire and smoke and brimstone. A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which proceeded out of their mouths. For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails;for their tails are like serpents and have heads, and with them they do harm." (Rev. 9:15–19)

Death, which had taken a holiday under the fifth trumpet (9:5–6), now returns with a vengeance. The shocking purpose for the release of these four demon leaders and their hordes was so that they would kill a third of mankind. The judgment of the fourth seal killed one quarter of the earth’s population (6:8). This additional third brings the death toll from these two judgments alone to more than half the earth’s pretribulation population. That staggering total does not include those who died in the other seal and trumpet judgments.

The terrible slaughter will completely disrupt human society. The problem of disposing of the dead bodies alone will be inconceivable. The sickly stench of decaying corpses will permeate the world, and it will take an enormous effort on the part of the survivors to bury them in mass graves or burn them.

To slaughter well over a billion people will require an unimaginably powerful force. John reported that the number of the armies of the horsemen was an astonishing two hundred million. This is likely an exact number, or more general specifications, such as those used in 5:11 and 7:9, would have been used. Then, as if anticipating that some skeptical readers would doubt that huge number, John emphatically insisted, “I heard the number of them.” The use of the plural “armies” may imply that the attacking force will be divided into four armies, each commanded by one of the formerly bound demons.

Some have suggested that this is the human army referred to in 16:12 and led by “the kings from the east,” noting that the Red Chinese army reportedly numbered two hundred million during the 1970s. But no reference is made to the size of the army led by the kings of the East. Further, that army arrives on the scene during the sixth bowl judgment, which takes place during the seventh trumpet, not the sixth. Though there may be at that time an existing standing army of two hundred million, the impossibility of marshaling, supplying, and transporting such a vast human force all over the globe also argues against this army being a human army. The figurative language used to describe this army’s horses suggests that this is a supernatural rather than human force.

John briefly described those who sat on the horses. “The riders had breastplates the color of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone.” The color of fire is red; that of hyacinth, dark blue or black like smoke; that of brimstone, a sulfurous yellow, describing the rock which, when ignited, produces a burning flame and suffocating gas. Those are the very colors and features of hell (14:10; 19:20; 20:10; 21:8).

Horses are frequently associated with warfare in Scripture, but it is clear that these are not actual horses. Using the descriptive language of his vision, John noted that the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions. John noted three ways that the demon horses killed their victims, all of which picture the violent, devastating fury of hell. They incinerated them with fire, and asphyxiated them with smoke and the gas given off by the heated brimstone.

John saw that the devastating result of this deadly demonic assault was that “a third of all people were killed by these three plagues.”

It may be noted that the word “plagues” will appear frequently in the remainder of Revelation (11:6; 15:1, 6, 8; 16:9, 21; 18:4, 8; 21:9; 22:18) as a term for the destructive final judgments. As if the description he has already given were not frightening enough, John sees more about the deadly power of the demons. He is made aware that not only is the power of the horses in their mouths, but also in their tails. Having likened the horses’ heads to savage lions, John notes that “their tails are like [deadly, venomous] serpents and have heads, and with them they do harm.” These images describe the supernatural deadliness of this demon force in terms that are commonly understood in the natural realm. Unlike the scorpion stings inflicted during the previous demonic assault (9:5), the snakebites inflicted by this host will be fatal.

The Reaction of Defiance

"And the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts." (Rev. 9:20–21)

The death of one-third of the earth’s remaining population will be the most catastrophic disaster to strike the earth since the flood. Yet in an amazing display of hardness of heart, the rest of mankind not killed by these plagues still refuses to repent. Tragically, those remaining will choose to worship the dragon and the beast (Antichrist) instead of the Lamb (13:4–8).

As he concludes his account of this amazing vision, John lists five sins representative of the defiance of those who refused to repent. First, they “did not repent of the works of their hands,” worshiping other gods and demons. Second, violent crimes like “murders” will be rampant. Without any sense of morality, unrepentant people will imitate the demon horde’s murderous blood lust.

Third, John mentions “sorceries,” a Greek word from which the English words “pharmacy” and “pharmaceuticals” derive. Drugs were and still are believed to induce a higher religious state of communion with deities.1 Fourth, “immorality” will prevail. The Greek word is a general term that can include any sexual sin. Indescribable sexual perversions will be rampant in that day.

Finally, people will refuse to repent of thefts. Like morality, honesty will be nonexistent, as people compete for the increasingly scarce supplies of food, clothing, water, shelter, and medicines.

Under the influence of the massive demon forces, the world will descend into a morass of false religion, murder, sexual perversion, and crime unparalleled in human history. It is sobering to realize that the Lord will one day come “to execute judgment upon all” (Jude 15). In light of that coming judgment, it is the responsibility of all believers to faithfully proclaim the gospel to unbelievers, thereby “snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 23).