Revelation 8 has revealed devastating images of judgment as God unleashes his wrath because of the sins of the Jewish nation. These were partial judgments intended to bring about their repentance (a point that is made clear in Revelation 9). Revelation 9 is going to reveal where these judgments are coming. That is, we are going to learn who is doing the destroying against the Jewish nation.
The Fifth Trumpet (9:1-12)
The fallen star (9:1-2).
The fifth trumpet sounds and John sees a star fallen from heaven to earth. This star that falls was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. The pit is literally the abyss (see HCSB, NIV, and NET). We immediately want to know who is this star that has fall from heaven (notice that the star is called a “he”). A single star falling from the sky to the earth is a common picture in scriptures of a mighty king or ruler.
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! (Isaiah 14:12 ESV) Isaiah 14:4 tells us that Isaiah was prophesying against the king of Babylon. Revelation uses similar imagery in Revelation 12:7-9 shows Satan and his angels being thrown down to the earth. In Luke 10:17-18 we see Jesus using the same imagery also.
The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. (Luke 10:17–18 ESV) In all of these cases the imagery symbolizes a mighty king or ruler losing his power to some degree, if not completely. We will learn who this king is in verse 11. Before we get to the description of who is causing this trouble, we are going to learn the devastation that comes from this judgment.
The fallen star opens the shaft of the abyss and billows of smoke come out of the shaft and darken the sun. The darkening of the sun represents the doom and destruction of a nation. The end is coming for a nation. Smoke also represents divine judgment. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah used the same language. And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace. (Genesis 19:28 ESV)
With the abyss open and the smoke rising John sees locusts coming from the smoke. We know these locusts are symbolic for something because the locusts are told not to harm the grass, any green plant or tree, or those who have the seal of God on their foreheads. True locusts destroy plants, grass, and trees. The locusts are symbolic and locusts are used as a symbol in the Old Testament. In Joel 1:4-7 we read Joel describing a locust invasion that had struck the land of Israel. Based on this event, Joel describes a nation that will come against Israel like a locust invasion.
Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming; it is near, 2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations. 3 Fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns. The land is like the garden of Eden before them, but behind them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them. 4 Their appearance is like the appearance of horses, and like war horses they run. 5 As with the rumbling of chariots, they leap on the tops of the mountains, like the crackling of a flame of fire devouring the stubble, like a powerful army drawn up for battle. (Joel 2:1–5 ESV)
Notice that the locusts sound like a powerful army coming against the nation of Israel. Verses 4-5 make the connection that the locusts are an army very clear. The locusts have the appearance of horses and they leap like the rumbling of chariots. Locusts were the curse promised by God for Israel’s disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:38-42). The torment of the locusts is allowed for five months. The lifespan of locusts is five months and the duration season when locusts would attack is five months. This seems to be the reason for using this number of months for the duration of the torment. The suffering and torment will not be for a few days but for the duration of the life of the locusts. This attack will only end when the attackers have completed their devastation. The torment is as painful as the sting of a scorpion and the suffering will be so severe that people will want to die. They will seek death but not find it. I believe this suffering represents the Roman siege against Jerusalem from 66-70 AD. I will give an explanation why shortly.
Characteristics of the locusts (9:7-11).
The locusts are described as a powerful army. Many of the descriptions in these verses are similar to what we read in Joel 1:4-7 and Joel 2:1-5. Revelation is showing us that this is not a literal locust attack. Rather the locust represent a terrifying ruling army. Notice that the locusts are wearing gold crowns showing that they have authority over the earth. This is another reason to see the locusts as the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire in the first century is the world power that dominates and rules over the earth. Verses 8-10 simply enhance the imagery of fierceness with which this attack will come. This invasion will be terrible and destructive. In Jeremiah 51:27 the prophet describes the coming of horses in war as locusts.
Identifying The Locusts
The locusts represent the Roman Empire and its invasion against Judea and Jerusalem. In Revelation 11:7 we see a parallel image. The abyss is open and we see the beast rising up from the abyss. Revelation 17:8 again reveals that the beast is what is rising up from the abyss. We will see in Revelation 13 that the beast represents the Roman Empire, a point where all scholars agree. We will see when we get to Revelation 11 and 13 why the book uses the image of beast for the Roman Empire. What we need to see at this point is that the locusts and the beast represent the same entity. Both are unleashed from the abyss.
To validate this point, it is the same entity that is unleashing the locusts/beast. In Revelation 12 and 13 we see the dragon unleashing the beast for war. The dragon is identified as Satan (Revelation 12:9) and the beast is the Roman Empire (Revelation 13:1-8; 17:7-11). In Revelation 9:11 we are told who this fallen star is. His name is Abaddon in Hebrew and Apollyon in Greek. The word Abaddon means destruction and the word Apollyon means destroyer. He is the one who has unleashed the locusts in this judgment. I believe there is no doubt that the destroyer refers to Satan. Satan is the ruler who has fallen to earth. Revelation 12:7-9 confirm the meaning of this image. Further, the Qumran community spoke of Abaddon fifteen times in their writings. Abaddon is spoken of with Sheol (the place of the dead in Hebrew) and is tied to Belial. Belial is the name the Qumran community used to refer to Satan (cf. 1QM 15:18; 18:17). Even the apostle Paul used the name Belial to refer to Satan and a fellowship with darkness. What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthians 6:15 ESV) Satan is shown unleashing the locusts in Revelation 9. Satan is shown as unleashing the beast in Revelation 13. In Revelation 9 Satan is called Abaddon and Apollyon. In Revelation 12 Satan is called the dragon. In Revelation 9 the Roman Empire is described as locusts. In Revelation 13 the Roman Empire is described as the beast.
The weight of this interpretation has become unavoidable. In Revelation 6:8 we observed that the method of the killing was the way God promised to judge Israel for disobedience (Leviticus 26:18-33; Ezekiel 14:21; Jeremiah 15:2-4). In Revelation 7:14 we are told that the servants of God are those who have come through the great tribulation. The phrase, “great tribulation,” is only used in one place outside of the book of Revelation. That one place is in Matthew 24:21 where Jesus is predicting the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies (cf. Luke 21:20). Revelation 9 has revealed destroying locusts, an image used of a world power. Since the locusts represent the Roman Empire because the locusts and the beast are synonymous images (Revelation 11:7), then the object of God’s wrath is the nation of Israel. More proofs of this will be seen in chapters 10 and 11 of Revelation.
Verse 12 tells us that this is only one woe. As terrible as that fifth trumpet sounded there are two more woes to come.
The Sixth Trumpet (9:13-21)
When the sixth trumpet sounds, the angels that were holding back the four winds (which we saw in Revelation 7:1) are released. Cataclysmic judgments are unleashed against Judea and Jerusalem. The information that we read about in the six seals found in Revelation 6 takes place. A third of mankind are killed. Terrible suffering and death occurs. The Euphrates River is used as the image because this was the typical direction of the invasions against Israel. The Euphrates is where Israel’s enemies came from. When Assyria attacked the northern nation of Israel in 722 BC they came from the Euphrates. When Babylon attacked the southern nation of Judah beginning in 606 BC they came from the Euphrates. Verse 14 shows that this judgment is a world power coming against Israel. The troops are numerous. The math given in verse 16 adds up to 200 million troops on horses. This number is not to be understood literal just as none of the previous numbers are literal. To hear that 200 million troops riding on horses are coming against you shows that the nation will be decimated. You are going to lose and be devastated. This is your end. The horses are also described with terrifying imagery (9:17-19). It is their doom.
We noted since chapter 6 that God is bringing these judgments to bring the nation back from its sins. God was calling for the nation to repent. Verses 20-21 reveal that the partial judgments did not have their intended effect. No one repents. We noted in Revelation 6 that God brings judgment on a nation not only to bring about their repentance but also to bring about repentance for the rest of the nations. Recall these prophecies by Isaiah.
Draw near, O nations, to hear, and give attention, O peoples! Let the earth hear, and all that fills it; the world, and all that comes from it. 2 For the LORD is enraged against all the nations, and furious against all their host; he has devoted them to destruction, has given them over for slaughter. 3 Their slain shall be cast out, and the stench of their corpses shall rise; the mountains shall flow with their blood. 4 All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree. 5 For my sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; behold, it descends for judgment upon Edom, upon the people I have devoted to destruction. (Isaiah 34:1–5 ESV)
And people shall enter the caves of the rocks and the holes of the ground, from before the terror of the LORD, and from the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth. 20 In that day mankind will cast away their idols of silver and their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship, to the moles and to the bats, 21 to enter the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs, from before the terror of the LORD, and from the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth. (Isaiah 2:19–21 ESV)
In Isaiah 34 Edom is the object of God’s wrath but God calls for the nations to pay attention and change. In Isaiah 2 Judah and Jerusalem are the objects of God’s wrath but mankind was to cast away their idols and sinful ways. But they do not. Therefore, judgments must continue because they are deserving of God’s wrath due to their sins.
- God’s mercy is revealed. God has the right to destroy us for our sins immediately. Look at what God keeps doing to bring back his creation.
- God’s wrath is revealed. God will not ignore our sins forever. Justice and judgment must come.
- Repent while there is still time. Turn back to God before it is too late.