The judgment consisted of a plague of what are called “locusts”, but they are totally unlike any locusts ever seen on earth. The probability is that a locust was the closest thing to what John had ever seen. However, he proceeds to describe them in detail so nobody will think they are regular locusts. Before speculating as to what these things really are, let’s note where they come from – namely from the bottomless pit. In the Greek the word is abyss. We recognize this immediately as the place where Satan will be imprisoned during the Tribulation. But let’s consider Jude 6-7:
“6 And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day; 7 as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”
All of the commentators I’ve read say that v.6 describes the fall of the angels from heaven for allying themselves with Satan. This just will not do for two reasons. The first is that the angels who were cast out with Satan are not confined in chains. They are free to do their evil work on earth today. The second reason it will not do is that it requires great verbal gymnastics to reconcile this view to the parallel set forth in v.7. The sins of Sodom and Gomorrah were sexual. In particular, they were sexually pursuing those they were never intended to have sex with. This was exactly the sins of the angels who mated with women in Gen. 6. Thus they are the ones confined in chains. So the next question is “Where are they confined?” The Bible never says so we can’t be dogmatic about this, but I believe they are confined in the abyss. The alternative to their being confined there is that God has one place to imprison them and another to imprison Satan for 1000 years. These “locusts” also come from the bottomless pit. The phrase occurs 7 times in Revelation. It is clearly a holding facility of some sort.
Who releases them? I endured a great deal of frustration in attempting to answer this. The problem turned out to be a mistranslation of Rev. 9:1 in both the KJV and the NKJV. What these translations render as “falling” should be “fallen”. The difference is that “falling” would imply that it was another of the future events which John was being allowed to view, whereas “fallen” would refer to something that had happened before John ever saw the vision. This would immediately suggest that this fallen “star” is Satan himself – in complete agreement with his being called by that name in Isa 14:13. He unlocks the abyss and the “locusts” come forth. There have been numerous conjectures as to what these “locusts” are.
It has been speculated that they are demonic spirits. I see this as the most probable of the possibilities, but their uniformity of appearance is problematical. Are we to believe that this is the normal appearance of a demon or do all the demons assume this form?
A second possibility is that these are not living insects at all, but are robotic devices that have been engineered by the fallen angels in their captivity. This would account for their being unlike anything else that has ever lived. Production of such devices is now within the capability of men, although their flying range is low – how much more would it be within the capability of angels?
There is a third possibility. Since Satan releases these “locusts” it is possible that they are his creation and he is releasing them because he hates people. Since the Tribulation is God’s judgment on the earth Satan could only do this with God’s assent.
Revelation devotes more words to this judgment than to any other to this point. Joel describes it in great detail also, figuratively speaking of the creatures as an army of “people” in Joel 2:2-11.
A day of darkness and gloominess,
A day of clouds and thick darkness,
Like the morning clouds spread over the mountains.
A people come, great and strong,
The like of whom has never been;
Nor will there ever be any such after them,
Even for many successive generations.
3 A fire devours before them,
And behind them a flame burns;
The land is like the Garden of Eden before them,
And behind them a desolate wilderness;
Surely nothing shall escape them.
4 Their appearance is like the appearance of horses;
And like swift steeds, so they run.
5 With a noise like chariots
Over mountaintops they leap,
Like the noise of a flaming fire that devours the stubble,
Like a strong people set in battle array.
6 Before them the people writhe in pain;
All faces are drained of color.
7 They run like mighty men,
They climb the wall like men of war;
Every one marches in formation,
And they do not break ranks.
8 They do not push one another;
Every one marches in his own column.
Though they lunge between the weapons,
They are not cut down.
9 They run to and fro in the city,
They run on the wall;
They climb into the houses,
They enter at the windows like a thief.
10 The earth quakes before them,
The heavens tremble;
The sun and moon grow dark,
And the stars diminish their brightness.
11 The Lord gives voice before His army,
For His camp is very great;
For strong is the One who executes His word.
For the day of the Lord is great and very terrible;
Who can endure it?
If you can’t perceive that Joel is talking about locusts in this passage, perhaps the following from Joel 1:4 will help convince you: “What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten.”
Thayer’s Lexicon defines the word translated as “locusts” in this way: “a locust, particularly that species which especially infests oriental countries, stripping fields and trees.” We thus see that the restriction that God laid on them in Rev. 9:4 was very contrary to the nature of true locusts: “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.” This is only one of the un-locust-like aspects of their behavior and appearance. The most prominent difference is the stingers in their tails – stingers that administer a sting like that of a scorpion. Faces like men, hair like women and teeth like lions don’t exactly fit the locust image either, nor do the golden crowns and breastplates of iron.
The judgmental aspect of these creatures is that the stings they give don’t even kill. They just make the recipients wish that they did.
We are told in v.11 that the “locusts” have a king over them. If they are the demons or creations of Satan, presumably he is the one over them. Yet it would seem inconsistent to refer to Satan as a star in v.1 and an angel in v.11. Inconsistent, but not impossible. If, on the other hand, they are the creations of the angels who are now confined – possibly in the abyss – then we would expect that the king over them might be one of those fallen angels. There is a third possibility here also. Ordinarily kings went out with their armies and these locusts are certainly an army. Yet, clearly, none of the confined fallen angels could go out with them. So this raises the possibility that the king of the “locusts” is just another like themselves – perhaps bigger or more prominent in some other way.
The Sixth Trumpet – The Second Woe
This judgment begins with John hearing a voice from out of the altar. This is not the altar in the earthly temple, but the one in heaven. The voice bids the commencement of this judgment. The judgment consists of the release of four angels who are bound at the Euphrates River – not in the river as the KJV has it. There are a number of commentators who take these to be good angels who have not been allowed to execute this judgment until this trumpet sounds. I do not agree. In the first place, binding is something we know from elsewhere in scripture happens to evil angels, but we have no precedent for the binding of good ones. In the second place, verse 16 shows the infernal army that these angels will be unleashing and will apparently be leading.
These four evil angels are said in v.15 to have been prepared for an hour and a day and a month and a year. This does not refer to the time during which they were prepared, but to the time they are allotted to perform their grisly work of killing 1/3 of the people on the earth. Actually, they have some help because the four angels apparently transmogrify into 200,000,000 warriors.
Far be it from me to deny that the army of 200,000,000 is to be taken literally. However, here are a couple of thoughts: does it not seem striking that it is said of the “horses” that “out of their mouths came fire, smoke and brimstone” (v.17). The next verse expressly attributes the deaths of 1/3 of the people in the world to these things that are coming out of the mouths of these “horses”. Aren’t these the exact same things that issue from a modern firearm? And isn’t the result of these things large scale killing? Could it be that John is describing things in the best terms that his experience will allow, even though they did not exist during his lifetime? Actually, the description best fits a tank, but there is no way that there are 200,000,000 tanks in the world or ever will be. It could almost equally well refer to a light armored vehicle, but the mind still rebels at the idea that there could be that many armored vehicles. This is true even though either China or India would be capable of fielding an army that size. No other nation in the world could begin to do so, although a multi-nation alliance might.
How about taking the mention of horses literally? Are there 200 million horses in the world? It seems unlikely. That would be equivalent to one out of every 35 people in the world having a horse. But suppose that there really are that many horses. Where would they be found? Most likely in the 10-40 band – that is, the latitudes between 10 and 40 degrees in the eastern hemisphere. What people group predominates in this area? But if actual horses are meant, they certainly would not be breathing out fire and smoke and brimstone. The only way we can take both their number and their exhalations literally is if we understand these “horses” to be totally supernatural creatures.
Here is another thought occasioned by the fact that the Euphrates is pivotal in this judgment: false religion began at Babel. Babylon is still used to represent false religion. Babylon was located on the Euphrates. These evil angels had been blocked at the Euphrates until God’s appointed time. Could the entrance to Hell be in this vicinity?
The scripture says that the 2/3 that did not perish due to this woe still did not repent. Look at the catalog of sins for which they did not repent:
· Idolatry (including demon worship) - I Cor. 10:20
· Sexual sins
We don’t have any of these today, do we? Actually it is because of these sins that God brings the judgments on the world. Notice that pre-eminent among them is idolatry, because it is the root of all the other sins.
By the time we get to Chapter 10 of Revelation, we do not find the Seventh Trumpet, as we might expect. Rather, we see the first of several strange and seemingly disconnected visions. Since we are doing an overview of end-times prophecy we will skip over those that seem to have the least effect on the earth and its people. The most tantalizing of the things John mentions here in Chapter 10 is the Seven Thunders who each utter something that John is not allowed to record. We wonder if these constitute another set of seven judgments that will befall earth.
The most significant vision in this chapter is the angel who swore by God that there would be no more time. It is not to be understood that he meant time would cease as of his declaration, but that a time was coming when time would end. We are so bound up in a time environment that we can’t imagine what this will be like, but of this much I’m sure: it will mean the end of entropy. Entropy can be thought of as a scientific measure of disorder. Our bodies are a highly ordered assembly of cells which are themselves highly ordered. When we die those cells disintegrate and become disordered. In the same way, though we build beautiful wood homes, with the passage of time the wood splinters, molds and disintegrates. Even stone monuments disintegrate. Entropy has been called “Time’s Arrow” because if we look a sequence of events and arrange them from the state of most entropy to that of least entropy we have automatically ordered them from oldest to youngest.
There are those who have argued that this phrase should be translated as “there should be no more delay”. I cannot accept this claim. The Greek word is chronos which, according to the lexicon, has the primary meaning of “a space of time”. There are other Greek words that describe more specific times. The idea of “delay” is arrived at only as an implication.
The next verse (Rev. 10:7) says that when the seventh trumpet begins to sound that the mystery of God should be finished. A mystery here means the same as it does elsewhere in the NT. It is the revelation of something that had been previously unrevealed – at least in its entirety. When it says here that the mystery will be finished it suggests that nothing more of the redemptive program of God remains to be revealed. I take this as possibly meaning that there will be no more Tribulation saints. The rest of the judgments will be only for punishment and satisfaction of God’s justice.
Chapter 11 introduces us to the ministry of the two witnesses of God who prophesy from Jerusalem for 42 months. This does not necessarily have to correspond to the latter half of the Tribulation, but I suspect that it does. They are greatly hated by the people of earth for condemning their sin. The leaders of earth have a way to deal with people who annoy them – just kill them! But a shocking recompense awaits those who try. Fire comes out of the mouths of the witnesses and destroys their would-be killers. This makes them even more feared and hated. It is pretty hard to take the fire as literal while maintaining that the witnesses are humans and most commentators don’t even try, immediately dismissing the fire as figurative. There is scriptural basis for doing so in Jer. 5:14 which reads “Wherefore thus saith the LORD God of hosts, Because ye speak this word, behold, I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them.”
Something a little closer to a literal interpretation is found in II Kings 1:10. “And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.” Although the fire does not comes directly out of Elijah’s mouth, the words out of his mouth were what brought on the fire.
There has been much speculation as to the identity of these two witnesses. Most speculators have pegged one of the two men as Elijah – both because he could bring the fire, because he was able to shut off the rain from heaven and because he never died. As to the identity of the other witness, the most popular choices have been Enoch, who never died and Moses, who was able to turn water into blood and smite the earth with plagues as the scripture here says these witnesses can do. Personally, I consider Moses as improbable because Deut. 34:5 says he died.
Since we have a God who in infinitely powerful, we have a couple of other choices too. Perhaps these witnesses are not normal humans at all, but special creations of God that do have the capability of breathing fire. For that matter, God could even give a normal human the ability to do so without destroying himself.
In any case, although others try and fail, finally the beast himself manages to kill these witnesses after they have finished their 1260 day ministry. To express their contempt for the dead witnesses the inhabitants of Jerusalem don’t even bury them, but leave their bodies in the streets for three and a half days. This is a grievous violation of Jewish law, but apparently nobody much worries about such things by this point in time. The people of earth are so excited to be rid of these witnesses that they send gifts to each other to celebrate their being rid of them.
They are all confounded and probably petrified with fear when these witnesses not only stand up from the dead, but they hear God calling the witnesses up to Him and see them rising. In my mind this weighs against their being special creations of God.
Within the next hour after their ascension there is an earthquake that destroys 10% of Jerusalem and kills 7000. And, wonder of wonders, the combined impact of the resurrection and ascension of the witnesses and the earthquake cause the rest of the city to give glory to God.
The Seventh Trumpet – The Third Woe
When the seventh angel sounds we see nothing happening on earth, but rather a celebration or worship and rejoicing in heaven and a declaration that the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ forever and forever. It is seen there as a done deed, even though there are seven more severe judgments to come. This supports my idea that from this point onward there will be no more converts in the Tribulation. Those who just repented in Jerusalem are the lastfruits (to coin a word) of the Lamb. I believe that surviving Jews by this time know the antichrist for who he is and Jesus Christ for who he is. This would naturally make them the enemies of antichrist and that is exactly how he sees them in Rev. 12
Rev. 12:1 begins with these words: “Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars:” That this is Israel becomes apparent in the subsequent verses. But even before we get to them we have to be struck by the similarity of this image to that of Joseph’s dream in Gen. 37:9-10. “And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me. And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?”
Notice that in both visions we have the sun, the moon and stars. The difference between the eleven stars of Joseph’s vision and the twelve in Revelation is, of course, that Joseph himself was the twelfth.
Rev. 12:2 says that this woman is in travail to be delivered of a child. The next verse says that a great red dragon appeared in heaven also. By the time we get down to v.9 we have confirmed what we already strongly suspected. This dragon is Satan. We are told that he was responsible for the casting down to earth a third of the angels. These are, of course, the fallen angels. This brands this narrative, though presented as prophecy, as a recounting of something that happened before the first verse of Genesis. We see Satan standing by to devour the child of the woman as soon as he is born.
Rev. 12:5 encapsulates the entire ministry of Jesus in one verse. He is the man child who is to rule all nations according to Psalm 2 and after His resurrection he is caught up to the throne of God. This verse also nails any doubts that one might have as to the identity of the woman. No other woman but Mary can be said to have brought forth Jesus, but the very next verse says that the woman flees into the wilderness to a place that God had prepared for her to spend 1260 days. This certainly never happened to Mary, ruling her out as the woman referred to in this vision. We are clearly in the realm of prophecy here. I marvel at the commentators who profess to see the woman as the church. In no sense can it be said that the church brought forth the man-child. Rather, He brought it forth.
In Rev. 12:7 we are told that there is war in heaven between Michael and the good angels on one hand and the devil and his angels on the other hand. The good guys win and Satan is cast out. I would maintain that this is still prophecy. As of today Satan still has access to heaven as the accuser of the brethren. There will come a time when he is cast out forever in any capacity and I believe that time is in v.8-9 where it says that the devil and his angels are cast out and their place is no longer found in heaven. This conviction is strengthened by v.10 which reports the rejoicing in heaven that the accuser of the brethren has been cast down. At the same time woe is proclaimed to the inhabitants of the earth because Satan has now come down to earth knowing that his time is short and he is going to wreak the most damage he can in the time that remains to him.
The first thing Satan does once he reaches his earthly exile is to strike out at Israel. The scripture says that Israel is given two great wings like an eagle to flee from him into the wilderness. It sounds like an airlift. Satan plots to drown Israel in the wilderness, but v.16 says that the earth helped Israel and swallowed the water that the serpent (Satan) cast out of his mouth. The earth has no intelligence, despite what the new agers think. This is the work of God to protect Israel and foil Satan. Being frustrated in his genocidal design, it says that Satan went off to make war with the remnant of her seed. I suspect that this is a symbolic reference to the church.
The Revelation account continues with the rise of the beast in Chapter 13. That is your preview of near-term coming attractions – next week.
For now, let’s reach out for the applications of this passage:
1. As we’ve said many times before, God is not done with Israel. Up to this point in our study of last things everything has been bad news for Israel except the sealing of the 144,000. In the events we have studied today we finally see the providential protection of the nation. This comes about through the preaching of the two witnesses. I believe it is through their ministry that the nation finally sees antichrist for what he is. So God is not done with Israel for evil or for good. In the meantime we are to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
2. Consider what response God is looking for amid these judgments. We can tell by what the scripture says did not happen. For example Rev. 9:20-21 says those suffering the judgments did not repent of their idolatry, their murders, their drugs, their sexual immorality and their thefts. I hope that none of us is guilty of any of these – particularly in the narrowest sense. In the broadest sense – that given by the New Testament, it is perhaps not so clear. Covetousness is idolatry. (Col. 3:5) Hating a Christian brother is murder. (I John 3:15) Looking at a woman to lust after her is sexual immorality. (Matt. 5:28) Not tithing is theft. (Mal. 3:8). We will not be on earth to experience these judgments, but it behooves us now to repent where repentance is needed. As a dear Christian friend of ours puts it “Keep short accounts with God.”
3. This does not come out of today’s text, but God has laid it on my heart. If the Lord tarries I believe we are going to see Christians betraying Christians. The government will bring false charges against individual Christians and widely publicize them to try to discredit individual Christians as well as Christianity itself. Some Christians who do not recognize the signs of the times will add their accusations against the accused saying that they are giving Christianity a bad name or discrediting the Lord. I’d urge upon you never to accept charges against any Christian until you have confirmed the charges with them. Though Mark 13:11-12 were spoken to the Jews I think they also constitute a solemn warning to the church.
“But when they arrest you, and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you that speak, but the Holy Spirit. Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death.”
I hate to end on so grim a note, so let’s end on this one instead. The Holy Spirit will put words in the mouth of every Christian who is brought before the bar of injustice. Indeed, He has said that He will never leave us or forsake us.