The Seven Trumpets - Part II
The Trumpet Judgments (2)
Revelation 8:6-9:21; 11:14-19
The Fifth Trumpet (9:1-11)
That the “star” in v. 1 is a personal being of some sort is evident from the fact that the key to the bottomless pit is given to “him” (9:1) and “he” (9:2) opens it. Most believe that the “star” is symbolic of an angel (as was the case in 8:10; cf. 1:20), but is it good or evil? Satan’s judgment is described by Jesus in terms of his fall from heaven like lightning (Luke 10:18). The Dragon, most likely Satan, is portrayed as sweeping a third of “the stars of heaven” (12:4) and throwing them “to the earth”. There seems to be good reason, then, for identifying this “star” as a demonic being, perhaps even Satan.
Good/righteous angels are portrayed in Revelation as “descending” or “coming down” from heaven to the earth (10:1; 18:1; 20:1), but that is significantly different from being “cast down” or having “fallen down” to the earth. The latter phrases are always used of evil angels (both in the OT/NT, and extra-biblical Jewish writings).
It would appear that the “angel of the abyss” in v. 11, that being who exercises authority over the demonic hordes that dwell there (he is called their “king”), the one called “Abaddon” and “Apollyon”, is certainly evil and is most likely identical with the “star/angel” of v. 1. Clearly, then, the “angel” of 9:1,11 is different from the one in 20:1,3. The latter is a good angel carrying out the command of God to bind the Devil. Note also that the angel of 20:1,3 does not “fall” nor is he “cast down” but rather “descends” on a divine mission. That his mission is from Christ is seen in the fact that he has “the key of the abyss” (20:1) which he could only have received from the risen Lord (cf. 1:18).
The Greek word translated “abyss” (abussos) is used 9x in the NT, 7 of which are in Revelation (9:1,2,11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1,3). The word literally means “without depth,” i.e., boundless or bottomless. Here the shaft of the abyss is portrayed as blocked by a door to which God alone has the key. The demons whom Jesus expelled from the Gadarene entreated him “not to command them to depart into the abyss” (Luke 8:31). In Romans 10:7 it is a reference to the abode of the dead. The abyss is the origin of the beast (11:7; 17:8) and the place of Satan’s temporary incarceration. Here in Rev. 9:1,2,11 it appears to be the abode of the demonic hosts. The idea of a “pit” with a “shaft” that is “opened” or “locked shut” (“sealed”) by a “key” held by an angel is obviously figurative language.
“Smoke” (v. 2) emerges from the abyss when it is opened so that the sun and air are darkened by it (cf. Joel 2:10,31; 3:15; cf. Exod. 10:15; in these texts such darkening is a sign of judgment). The “smoke” of a furnace is also linked to judgment in the OT (Gen. 19:28; Exod. 19:18), as is the case later in Revelation (see 9:17-20; 14:11; 18:9,18; 19:3). The element of darkness in v. 2 may point to the spiritual deception or blindness that is so prominent in the remainder of the fifth and sixth trumpets.
Demonic beings are here (v. 3) portrayed as “locusts” to whom “authority” or “power” “was given”. This use of the passive voice is typical both in Revelation and in the rest of the NT. We see it again in v. 4 (“they were told”) and in v. 5 (“it was given to them”). These verbs “are in the passive of divine activity, which is a circumlocution used for avoiding the direct mention of the activity of God” (Aune, 2:527). In other words, it is God (or the risen Christ) who has commissioned and authorized them. This authority is likened to that possessed by “scorpions”, which Aune describes as “the ‘respect’ and the leeway people and animals give to scorpions because they fear their venomous sting, which is extremely painful and sometimes lethal. The ‘authority’ scorpions have, then, is the inherent ability to intimidate and tyrannize and, in the case of the demonic hosts, to terrorize” (2:527).
The literal plague of locusts in Exodus 10:12-15 (eighth) also brought darkness on the land and “they ate every plant of the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Thus nothing green was left on tree or plant of the field through all the land of Egypt” (v. 15). This is typical of locust plagues in the OT (see Deut. 28:38; 1 Kings 8:37; 2 Chron. 6:28; 7:13; Pss. 78:46; 105:34-35; Joel 1:4; 2:25; Amos 4:9; 7:2; Nahum 3:15). But here (v. 4) the locusts are commanded not to hurt the “grass . . . nor any green thing, nor any tree.” They are commanded only to hurt unbelievers, i.e., those who don’t have the seal of God by which one might be protected from such a plague.
Here in v. 5 there is an additional two-fold limitation on their activity. First, they are not allowed to kill anyone (in contrast with vv. 15-20), but only to “torment” them (which sounds similar to what God allowed Satan to do to Job). Second, the torment will last for only “five months”. There are three possible interpretations of this time period:
·Some take it literally, but then have no explanation for why such an odd number should be chosen.·Others believe the five months alludes to the “five-month life cycle of the locust [they are hatched in the spring and die at the end of the summer] or the dry season, also about five months, during which locusts could strike. If so, this is a severe locust plague, since these locusts do not strike occasionally, like literal locusts, but unceasingly throughout the five months” (Beale, 497).
·Aune believes “five” is symbolic and is a number “frequently used in contexts in which it obviously functions as a round number meaning ‘a few’” (2:530). He cites as examples, 1 Cor. 14:19; Mark 6:38-41; Luke 12:6,52.
The “torment” they inflict is likened to that of a scorpion when it stings a man. Scorpions are a metaphor for punishment in 1 Kings 12:11,14. The word “torment” is used in Revelation for spiritual, emotional, or psychological pain (see 11:10; and perhaps 18:7,10,15). It is used in 14:10-11 and 20:10 for the “pain” or “torment” of eternal punishment. The meaning of this torment is perhaps best explained by v. 6.
The anguish of those tormented by the demonic hordes (v. 6) is any form of psychological or emotional suffering (physical too?) that provoked in them a desire for death. Yet they are unwilling actually to commit suicide, for surely if someone truly wants to die they can find the means to end their life. John appears to be describing that emotional and psychological depression and frustration and anger and bitterness and sense of futility and meaninglessness and lack of value, etc. that drives people to the point of utter despair. They prefer death to life but lack the courage to take their own lives, perhaps for fear of the unknown beyond the grave. All of this, says John, is the result of demonic activity (cf. Heb. 2:14-15), like unto that of a plague of locusts unleashed into the earth!
Perhaps John is describing the horrid realization in the human heart that one’s belief system is false, that one’s philosophy is vain, that one’s values are empty, that one’s destiny is bleak, and thus that one lacks purpose in living, that one is thus helpless and hopeless. Contrast this with the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:8) granted unto believers who bring their burdens and anxieties to God in prayer!
People without Jesus are desperate to find meaning and dignity and happiness in any number of ways: complex philosophies, a self-indulgent hedonism, the New Age movement with its endless remedies for what ails the human soul, reincarnation, radical feminism, political agendas, homosexuality, drugs, sexual immorality, spirituality, the current angel craze, psychology, materialism, selfism, etc. Demonic “locusts” lead them into such pursuits, all of which are, at the end of the day, empty and lifeless.
The description in vv. 7-11 of these demonic spirits is bizarre, and obviously symbolic. Note John’s repeated use of the words “likeness” and “like”. The material here reflects what we see in Joel 1-2 where a plague of locusts devastates Israel’s land. There, as here, a trumpet is sounded to herald their arrival (Joel 2:1,15). There, as here, the locusts are said to have “the appearance of horses” (Joel 2:4) prepared for battle. This judgment in Joel is itself based on the plague of locusts in Exodus 10. However, whereas the locusts in Exodus were literal (though they certainly symbolized something beyond themselves), and perhaps also in Joel (although there it may be a literal army that is compared to a swarm of locusts), here in Revelation they symbolize demonic spirits unleashed throughout the earth.
In both Exodus and Joel the plague of locusts is the cause of famine. But here in Revelation 9 the locusts are not permitted to damage the earth’s vegetation (9:4). “Nevertheless,” as Beale notes, “the idea of famine from Joel is still present, but is spiritualized, as are the locusts, and the damage envisioned is now that of a famine of the soul (the prophets sometimes spiritualized famine, as in, e.g., Amos 8:11-14). This suggests that actual famine conditions observed in the first three trumpets ultimately point to punishments coming on sinners because of the spiritual famine and barrenness of their souls. The locusts cause and reveal to the wicked the hunger and emptiness of their hearts” (500; emphasis mine).
Let’s take each element one at a time.
·Their appearance “was like horses prepared for battle” (9:7; cf. Jer. 51:27).
·On their “heads, as it were, crowns like gold” (9:7). Does this hint at their invincibility (cf. Aune, 2:532)?
·“Their faces were like the faces of men” (9:7), perhaps pointing to their intelligence.
·They “had hair like the hair of women” (9:8). This could be a reference to the antennae of actual locusts. In the OT, long and disheveled hair had at least three meanings: (1) it was a sign of uncleanness for people with leprosy (Lev. 13:45); (2) it was a sign of mourning (Lev. 10:6; 21:10); and (3) it was part of the sacrificial protocol for a woman accused of adultery (Num. 5:18). Aune points out that occasionally “the Jewish demon lilith is depicted with loose, disheveled hair in crude pictures on Aramaic incantation bowls” (2:532).
·Their “teeth were like the teeth of lions” (9:8). On this, see Joel 1:6. The “teeth of a lion” is a proverbial expression “for something irresistibly and fatally destructive” (cf. Job 4:10; Ps. 58:6).
·They had “breastplates like breastplates of iron” (9:9). These breastplates may well resemble the actual armor-like scales on their thoraxes.
·The sound of their wings “was like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to battle” (9:9). This is strikingly similar to Joel 2:4-5.
·They have “tails like scorpions, and stings” (9:10).
·They have a “king” over them, “the angel of the abyss” (9:11). This is either the Devil himself or his representative.
To be continued . . .