|By: Dr. Robert Thomas; ©2001|
|Dr. Thomas looks at the fifth and sixth trumpet judgments described in Revelation 9:1-21 to show what will be involved in these events during the great tribulation period.|
THE GREAT TRIBULATION CONTINUED
Revelation 9 continues the sequence of trumpet judgments that will transpire during the Great Tribulation just before Jesus’ second coming. Last month we reviewed the first four trumpets in Revelation 8:7-13. Chapter 9 contains descriptions of the next two trumpets, 9:1-12 detailing the fifth trumpet and 9:13-21 the sixth trumpet. The fifth will afflict the earth and mankind with a demonic locust plague, and the sixth will bring death to one-third of the earth’s population.
The Fifth Trumpet (9:1-12)
When the fifth angel sounded his trumpet, John saw a star that had fallen from heaven. Of the various identifications that have been assigned to the star the most probable is that it is a symbol for an unfallen angel. The star’s symbolic nature is evident when the star receives a key to use. This indicates that the star represents an intelligent being. Since only an angel could have a heavenly origin and since stars at times represent angels (cf. Judg. 5:20; Job 38:7), the star in Revelation 9:1 denotes an angel who had descended from heaven on a divine mission.
The angel had the key to the pit of the abyss, a subterranean cavern connected to earth’s surface by a “shaft” or “well.” Among those who inhabit this abyss are the demonic prince of 9:11 and the beast from the abyss mentioned in 11:7; 17:8, not to mention the fallen angels who are about to be released as a part of this trumpet judgment (9:3). John saw a swarm of locusts emerge from the smoke that ascended when the angel opened the pit of the abyss. One perspective has been that the locusts represent human armies, following the parallel of Joel 2:1 ff., but characteristics of these locusts differentiate them from the ordinary locusts in Joel’s vision. Factors that argue for identifying these locusts as demons include the fact that they have an angel as their leader and the fact that they come from the abyss where evil spirits are imprisoned. Demons have the ability to assume an assortment of material forms as illustrated in Revelation 16:13 where three demons appear as frogs.
This horde of supernatural creatures comes from their place of imprisonment bent on spreading as much misery as possible. By divine permission they have the stinging power of scorpions in their tails (9:5, 10) to impose their agony. The demons can go only so far as God permits, however. They cannot damage any vegetation or afflict any people who have the seal of God on their foreheads (9:4), in other words, the 144,000 who were sealed earlier according to Revelation 7:4-8. The remaining population, those in rebellion against God will be the victims of the demonic, scorpionlike, painful sting. The demonic locusts will not have power to kill people, but will have power to inflict an unbearable torment on them over a five-month period (9:5). The physical pain will be so severe that people will try suicide to escape it, but somehow they will be denied that opportunity of relief from the torment (9:6)
John’s description of the locusts likens them to horses prepared for battle with golden crowns on their heads, faces like human faces, hair like that of women, and teeth like lions’ teeth (9:7-8). These agents of misery will have breastplates of iron and wings that sound like chariots of many horses running into battle (9:9). As awful and fearful as their appearance will be, the misery they inflict will come through the stings inflicted by their tails, by which they torture men for five months (9:10). The commander who will coordinate the battle plan of this gruesome army will be an angel whose name is given in Hebrew, “Abaddon,” and in Greek, “Apollyon.” Both names mean “destroyer.” Some have identified this angel as Satan, but the fact that Satan is “the prince of demons” (Matt. 12:24) does not necessarily make him king over the demons confined in the abyss. He appears to have no connection with the abyss until later, when he is confined there for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-3).
With completion of the fifth trumpet comes also the completion of the first woe, with two more woes remaining (9:12; cf. 8:13).
The Sixth Trumpet (9:13-21)
As action under the sixth trumpet begins, severity of the judgments increases, even more than with the fifth. In addition to blowing the trumpet, the angel assumes an active role in imposing the visitation. A voice from the golden altar, probably the voice of the angel of the altar spoken of in 8:3, instructs the angel with the sixth trumpet to release the four angels bound on the great River Euphrates (9:14). The Euphrates is one of the borders of the land promised to Abraham (Gen. 15:18) and is the river that the enemies of God will cross prior to the last conflict before the Millennium (Rev. 16:12).
The four angels—quite evidently fallen angels or demons—will be prepared for their nefarious task, to perform it at a precise hour of a fixed day of a fixed month of a fixed year (9:15). This is a time set by God since all the forces of history are under His sovereign control. The goal of this angelic mission is to kill one-third of earth’s inhabitants. The fifth trumpet brings torture in a physical sense; the sixth will bring death in a physical sense to a larger portion than even the fourth seal that ended the lives of one-quarter of the world’s people. God’s sealed servants were explicitly excluded from the consequences of the fifth trumpet (see 9:4) and may be assumed to be so under the sixth’s widespread bloodshed.
Quite abruptly, the armies of cavalry charged with bring large-scale death appear on the scene in the shockingly large number of 200,000,000 (9:16). This force will apparently be demonic like the army of locusts under the fifth trumpet. The unusual description of the horses with breastplates of fire, hyacinth, and brimstone and heads like lions with fire, smoke and brimstone issuing from their mouths (9:17) is a good indication that this army is composed of demons. The fire, smoke, and brimstone will be the means for slaughtering a third of mankind (9:18). Their tails will have an additional power to harm people because they will function like serpents (9:19).
RESPONSE OF THE SURVIVORS
The most tragic part of the account of Revelation 9 is the failure of two-thirds of the population to repent of their deeds of worshiping demons and idols made of various substances such as gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood (9:20). They survived the fire, smoke, and brimstone onslaught that took the lives of so many others. One would think that the perishing of so many would awaken the rest to their need of turning to God, but they will not. Worshiping idols, a longstanding problem for earthlings, will continue into the future. The problem will be so great that the deaths of a significant portion of the earth’s populations will not suffice to deter men from the practice.
Worship of other gods violates the first table of the Mosaic law, but that will not exhaust the catalog of mankind’s continuing sin. They will also disregard the cardinal principles of that moral code by not repenting of their murders, sorceries, fornication, and thefts (9:21). They will be no less unwilling to repent of their social sins than of their idolatries. The sixth, seventh, and eighth of the Ten Commandments explicitly forbid murder, fornication, and theft as does the New Testament (see Luke 18:20; Rom. 13:9). In spite of God’s conspicuous judgment against the sins of their fellow humans, the survivors will persist in their own sinful ways.
During the days before the Great Tribulation, God’s judgment of sin is not as conspicuous as it will come to be when that period begins. Now as then repentance—turning away from sin toward God—is the God-appointed way of escaping punishment, both temporal and eternal punishment. Our prayer is that people today who read these accounts of what God will do in the future during very troublesome times will realize their need to turn to Jesus Christ in faith and accept the provision for forgiveness of our sin that He made when He died at Calvary.
Note: For more details about the fifth and sixth trumpets, see my discussion in Revelation 8–22 (Moody Press, 1995), pages 26-55. To order this volume, you may contact Grace Books International at (800) GRACE15 or www.gbibooks.com.