THE FIFTH TRUMPET RELEASES FEARSOME DEMONIC LOCUSTS THAT TORMENT UNBELIEVERS FOR FIVE MONTHS
Grant Osborne: The two trumpet judgments of chapter 9 are three times as long as the first four trumpets (8:6–12) put together. Part of the reason is that they add an important clarification to the themes of the seals, trumpets, and bowls. They prove to the earth-dwellers that the false “gods” they have followed are demonic forces and that these evil powers are not their friends. Indeed, they hate the very ones who worship them. In the Gospels demons possess people for one basic reason, to torture and kill all who are made in the image of God (note the Gadarene demoniac [Mark 5:1–20] or the demon-possessed child [Mark 9:14–29]). This is exactly the pattern with the locust plague (Rev. 9:1–11) and the demonic cavalry (9:12–19). The locusts torture the earth-dwellers for five months so terribly that people long for death. Then the horsemen give them the death they have sought, and one-third of humankind dies. Yet the tragedy of sin continues. In spite of absolute proof of both the omnipotence of God and the hatred of the false gods for their own followers, evil people do not repent but reject God’s offer and return again to worship the very evil powers that had just tortured and killed so many of them (9:20–21). . .
There are two emphases [in 9:1-11]:
(1) the demons turn on the very people who follow them and show their utter contempt and incomparable cruelty by torturing their worshipers;
(2) God is in control and directs the entire event.
David Thompson: As bad as this judgment is, this is only the first of the three “woe” judgments and these judgments, like all judgment in the book of Revelation, go from bad to worse.
By identifying these as “woe” (ουαι) judgments we know that these final three judgments will be especially severe. It seems that one reason why it is called a “woe” judgment is because it brings terrible calamity at an unusual level against people. In other words, people become the specific targets or objects of the wrath of God.
As Kiddle (1940: 158) says, “by exhausting every attempt to bring them [the nations] to a better mind, God demonstrates His sovereignty, vindicates His holiness, and justifies His final sentence of doom.”
William Barclay: These things are not to be taken literally. The point is that, in this terrible time of devastation which the seer sees coming to the earth, the terrors are not natural but demonic; the powers of evil are being given their last chance to work their dreadful work.
Daniel Akin: In carrying out judgment on unrepentant humanity, the sovereign Lord will use Satan and his forces, but He will always remain in control over them.
I. (:1-2) ORIGIN OF DEMONIC LOCUSTS — THE BOTTOMLESS PIT
A. (:1a) Sounding of the Trumpet
“And the fifth angel sounded,”
B. (:1b) Star from Heaven
“and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth;”
Buist Fanning: A parallel that supports taking this “star” as an angel is 20:1–3, where a being John explicitly calls “an angel” comes down from heaven with the key to the bottomless pit so that he can lock Satan away in it for a thousand years. This parallel provides evidence also that the angel in 9:1 is not “fallen” in a spiritual sense despite possible parallels with the “fall” of Satan or his demons from heaven (e.g., Luke 10:18, “fall”; Rev 12:8–9, “was thrown”; possibly Isa 14:12; cf. also Jude 13, “erring stars”). In this verse, “fall” (πίπτω) denotes movement to a lower level (as in 6:13, 16; 8:10), not spiritual ruin or lapse into sin or rebellion (e.g., 2:5). Likewise the “star” (angel) in v. 1 should not be identified with the angel named in v. 11 as king over the creatures of the bottomless pit.
Charles Swindoll: The star is often used symbolically in Scripture to refer to a prominent person (Num. 24:17), to Satan (Isa. 14:12-17), to angelic beings (Job 38:7), to human leaders of churches (Rev. 1:20), or even to Christ, the “bright morning star” (22:16). Some understand the star in this passage to be Satan falling from heaven. However, it could simply be a high-ranking angel given authority over the abyss.
Scott Duvall: although falling stars can represent demons or even Satan (e.g., Jude 13; Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:9), here the descending star is an angelic messenger sent from God as an agent of judgment (See for example, the parallel figure in Revelation 20:1). God stands in sovereign control over the entire universe, the underworld included, and he gives this angel-star the key to the opening of the prison called the “Abyss.”
C. (:1c-2a) Opening of the Bottomless Pit
- (:1c) Authority to Open the Bottomless Pit
“and the key of the bottomless pit was given to him.”
Richard Phillips: The term “abyss” or “bottomless pit” is used throughout the Bible for the dark prison where demons are held. Jesus once found a man who was inhabited by a host of demons who called themselves “Legion.” Before Jesus cast them out, the demons “begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss” (Luke 8:31). This suggests the torment of demons in the pit as they await final judgment. This idea is reinforced by the smoke that came forth from the pit, “like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft” (Rev. 9:2). Hendriksen comments: “It is the smoke of deception and delusion, of sin and sorrow, of moral darkness and degradation that is constantly belching up out of hell.”
- (:2a) Action of Opening the Bottomless Pit
“And he opened the bottomless pit;”
John MacArthur: Scripture teaches that God has sovereignly chosen to incarcerate certain demons in that pit of punishment. Second Peter 2:4 says that “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment.” The phrase “cast them into hell” is a participle derived from the Greek noun Tartarus. Just as Jesus used a term for hell derived from the Jewish vernacular (Gehenna; cf. Matt. 5:22), so Peter chose a term from Greek mythology with which his readers would be familiar. Tartarus was the name used in Greek literature for the place where the worst sinners, those who had offended the gods personally, went after death and were punished. The place where God keeps demons imprisoned is actually different from the imaginary place of Greek mythology. Yet the use of the term Tartarus does seem to convey the idea that because of the heinousness of their sin, God has imprisoned certain fallen angels in such a place of severest torment and isolation. They remain in that place, awaiting their sentencing to final punishment in the eternal lake of fire (Rev. 20:10, 13–14).
D. (:2b) Smoke Released from the Bottomless Pit
- Picture of the Released Smoke
“and smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace;”
Kendell Easley: To follow John’s imagery, you must imagine the Abyss as something like a huge underground cavern, perhaps like an old California gold mine. Then imagine a narrow shaft going up to the surface, with a locked door at the top. Finally, picture the cavern filled with choking blue smoke created by a sulfurous, crude-oil burning furnace. What would be the first thing to happen when the angel opened the Abyss with his key? Obviously, smoke would belch up from the shaft, like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. In this instance, the sun and sky were darkened by the smoke, an ominous precursor of the real terrors that come from the pit.
John MacArthur: The smoke polluting the sky symbolizes the corruption of hell belched forth from the abyss to pollute the world.
- Pollution of the Released Smoke
“and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit.”
II. (:3-6) MISSION OF THE DEMONIC LOCUSTS — OPPRESSIVE TORMENT
A. (:3) Destructive Power – Compared to Scorpions
- Pervasiveness of Locusts on the Earth
“And out of the smoke came forth locusts upon the earth;”
Robert Mounce: Throughout the OT the locust is a symbol of destruction (Deut 28:42; 1 Kgs 8:37; Ps 78:46). Bred in the desert, they invade cultivated areas in search of food. They may travel in a column a hundred feet deep and up to four miles in length, leaving the land stripped bare of all vegetation. The cloud of smoke is not the swarm of locusts, for the locusts come out of the smoke.
John MacArthur: But these were not ordinary locusts, but demons, who, like locusts, bring swarming destruction. Describing them in the form of locusts symbolizes their uncountable numbers and massive destructive capabilities. The fact that three times in the passage (vv. 3, 5, 10) their power to inflict pain is compared to that of scorpions indicates they are not actual locusts, since locusts have no stinging tail as scorpions do. Scorpions are a species of arachnid, inhabiting warm, dry regions, and having an erect tail tipped with a venomous stinger. The stings of many species of scorpions are excruciatingly painful, and about two dozen species are capable of killing humans. The symptoms of a sting from one of the deadly species, including severe convulsions and paralysis, resemble those of demon-possessed individuals (cf. Mark 1:23–27; 9:20, 26). Combining in the description of the demons both locusts and scorpions emphasizes the deadliness of the demon invasion. But the devastating pain inflicted by these demons will be far worse than that of actual scorpions. In this judgment God brings demons into direct contact with the unrepentant people with whom they will spend forever in the lake of fire. The fact that these locust and scorpion-like creatures come from the pit and that their leader is the “angel of the abyss” (9:11) indicates that demons must be in view in this scene.
S. Lewis Johnson: They were malicious, they are mysterious, they are malignant and evidently embodied spirits, what we might call infernal cherubim in the form of supernatural locusts to torment for five months. . . they are not normal locusts, they are super insects. They are locusts that have complete immunity from any of the insecticides of that particular time. And incidentally, John the Baptist, of course, thought that locusts were delicacies. John would not find these so tasty, you can be sure of that. They are locusts then that represent demonic beings. They have powerful scorpion-like stings.
- Power of Locusts Compared to Scorpions
“and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power.”
Grant Osborne: “Scorpions” were widespread in the Mediterranean world. They look like lobsters but belong to the spider family, and their sting is quite severe, fatal to some children. The OT links them with snakes as dangerous denizens of the desert (Deut. 8:15), and the scorpion became a metaphor for terrible punishment (1 Kings 12:11, 14). In Luke 10:19 Jesus uses “snakes and scorpions” as symbols of demonic forces. Thus the scorpion like the locust was a natural symbol for the demonic “powers.” Here the “power” of a scorpion to cause intense pain is given to the locusts. As some have pointed out (Aune 1998a: 527; Beale 1999: 495), the purpose here is to use the locusts/scorpions to intimidate, demoralize, and terrorize the earth-dwellers (so v. 5).
B. (:4-5) Delegated Limitations
- Restricted from Normal Function of Harming Vegetation
“And they were told that they should not hurt the grass of the earth,
nor any green thing,
nor any tree,”
James Hamilton: Note that these locusts “were told” what they could and could not harm. That’s another divine passive, and it tells us that God is in absolute control of what or who gets judged and how severe the judgment will be. The agents of God’s judgment will not go farther than God allows and intends for them to go. Furthermore, the only people protected from these scorpion-like locusts are those with the seal of God on their foreheads, which itself tells us that people cannot by their own power avoid these locusts—only God can shield you from this pain.
- Repurposed to Target Unbelievers
“but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.”
- Restricted from Killing
“And they were not permitted to kill anyone,”
- Redirected to Inflict Torment
a. Limited to Five Months
“but to torment for five months;”
Robert Mounce: Their torment is limited to a period of five months. This period has been variously explained. It may have been determined by the life cycle of the locust, which is of five months’ duration. It corresponds as well to the dry season (spring through late summer) in which the danger of a locust invasion is always present. Whatever the source of the number, it represents a limited period of time (not necessarily a short period of time) during which people in torment may yet turn from their wickedness and repent (cf. vv. 20–21). The plague is not an act of wanton cruelty but a stark indication that wickedness cannot continue indefinitely without divine requital.
b. Like that of a Scorpion
“and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion
when it stings a man.”
Buist Fanning: But these “locusts,” like Joel’s, are even worse than the scourge from a natural plague of locusts who strip the land of everything green but are unable to harm the human population directly. They are more fearful, first of all, because they are equipped (by God) with scorpion-like “power” to inflict excruciating pain (v. 3b–c). Humans seem to have a natural phobia regarding scorpions (as with snakes) wherever they are found because of their punishing stings and ability to hide and then strike from unexpected places (cf. Deut 8:15; 1 Kgs 12:11, 14; Luke 10:19; cf. Sir 39:28–31)—how much worse to have such creatures swarming everywhere.
Grant Osborne: The rest of the verse describes the βασανισμός (basanismos, torment, agony) of the earth-dwellers. This cognate of the verb above is stressed, appearing twice in 9:5b. Louw and Nida (1988: 1.287) see it as one of the strongest terms for pain or suffering, defining it as “severe pain associated with torture and torment.” The term is used in 14:10–11 for “the smoke of the torment” of the unsaved. Thus the pain here is a harbinger of the pain to be experienced in the eternal torment of the lake of fire (cf. 20:10, “tormented day and night forever and ever”). This “intense pain” is caused by the scorpionlike “sting” (actually “torment”; cf. 9:10 below) of the locusts. John here uses the graphic παίω (paiō, strike, sting) that pictures the scorpion “striking” the person with its deadly tail. The pain is intense, but a scorpion sting is rarely deadly to any human except a small infant. This fits the picture of 9:4–6 well, although it is difficult to imagine being stung multiple times over a five-month period and surviving.
David Thompson: Those who are stung by a scorpion experience the following:
1) The place of the sting becomes inflamed;
2) The skin hardens and becomes red;
3) Intense pain follows;
4) People experience chills, a burning sensation that includes sweating and shivering;
5) A sensation of being pricked by needles.
C. (:6) Desperate Desire for Escape Via Death
“And in those days men will seek death and will not find it;
and they will long to die and death flees from them.”
Kendell Easley: Who can imagine the nightmare of the world’s peoples all full of unspeakable physical agony, longing to die, yet remaining alive to experience even worse? Even more terrible, they refuse to repent of sin and turn to God (9:21), just like Pharaoh in the days of Moses.
John MacArthur: So intense will be the torment inflicted on unbelievers that in those days (the five months of v. 5) men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them. All hope is gone; there will be no tomorrow. The earth people have loved and worshiped will have been utterly devastated, the land ravaged by earthquakes, fires, and volcanoes, the sea filled with the putrefying bodies of billions of dead creatures, much of the fresh water supply turned into bitter poison, the atmosphere polluted with gases and showers of heavenly debris. Then, worst of all, will come foul smoke from the pit of hell as the demons are released to spiritually and physically torment wicked people. The dream of a worldwide utopia under the leadership of Antichrist (the beast of 13:1ff.) will have died. Driven mad by the filth and vileness of the demon infestation, people will seek relief in death––only to find that death has taken a holiday. There will be no escape from the agony inflicted by the demons, no escape from divine judgment. All attempts at suicide, whether by gunshot, poison, drowning or leaping from buildings will fail.
III. (:7-10) APPEARANCE OF THE DEMONIC LOCUSTS – WAR-LIKE
Buist Fanning: These descriptions continue to show how fearsome and diabolical these future invaders from the pit will be.
Robert Mounce: The total impact is one of unnatural and awesome cruelty. . . Human and bestial qualities are combined in a figure both unnatural and diabolical.
Richard Phillips: We know that John is not describing literal features because he uses the word like eight times. These are analogies presenting a “frightful and horrible and true picture of the operation of the powers of darkness in the souls of the wicked.”
Grant Osborne: This is certainly one of the more bizarre descriptions of the book, and one dare not take the details too far. It seems that John is combining the locust, the scorpion, and the warriors of an invading army (the Romans were particularly paranoid about the dangers of invasion). These go far beyond a locust or a scorpion in the sense that they seem to be supernaturally large and incredibly fearsome.
J. Hampton Keathley, III: In their description John lists eight things about their appearance. He begins with the head and moves backward to their tails, the source of their power to inflict torment for the five months. Torment is their sole purpose. The description here defies imagination, but remember, these are demonic creatures that have come from the abyss. They are the worst of the demons of Satan. Whether they take on this form as a demonic-like apparition, or just what happens here we are not told. But they will be real and will inflict terrible torment upon mankind. It will be a literal hell on earth.
A. (:7a) Battle Horses
“And the appearance of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle;”
Kendell Easley: Battle horses are bred for strength and equipped with bridle and saddle. This was no slipshod host but was well prepared.
David Thompson: A battle horse is one who charges into war and knows no fear (Job 39:19-25). This demonic force is fearless and well-organized and well-fitted (Proverbs 21:31).
B. (:7b) Crowned Heads
“and on their heads, as it were, crowns like gold,”
Richard Phillips: The crowns foretell victory, and the human faces show that they are guided by a rational cunning.
Kendell Easley: These symbolize victory. They will succeed completely in their appointed mission.
John MacArthur: the demon host will be invincible, unstoppable, and all-conquering. Men will have no weapon that can harm them and no cure for the terrible torment they inflict.
C. (:7c) Human Faces
“and their faces were like the faces of men.”
Buist Fanning: human-like, perhaps representing evil intelligence along with their brute power
D. (:8a) Long Hair
“And they had hair like the hair of women,”
Kendell Easley: This may be their antennae waving in the wind. Some ancient warriors, particularly Parthians, wore long flowing hair as a symbol of fierceness (not effeminacy).
Tony Garland: the hair that John sees appears to be long, like that of a woman.
E. (:8b) Savage Teeth
“and their teeth were like the teeth of lions.
Kendell Easley: Such teeth tear apart their prey. Again, fierceness and strength come to mind with such an image.
David Thompson: they have teeth that are vicious, ready to devour and rip to shreds.
F. (:9a) Impenetrable Breastplates
“And they had breastplates like breastplates of iron;”
Robert Mounce: The locusts were protected with breastplates of iron, indicating that there was no possible way of striking back in a vulnerable spot. The scaly exterior of the locust resembled a coat of mail. In flight they sounded like a great phalanx of horses and chariots rushing into war.
G. (:9b) Intimidating Presence
“and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots,
of many horses rushing to battle.”
Richard Phillips: the sound of wings depicts the speed of their assault.
Daniel Akin: They are intimidating in their coming. The sound of their attack and approach would strike fear in the heart of any opponent who attempted to face them.
Grant Osborne: Many felt that the larger the chariot force, the better—the Ammonites hired 32,000 chariots against Joab’s army (1 Chron. 19:7). The Romans also made chariots an important part of their military. Therefore, this was a particularly fearsome sound, especially since these chariots were “running into battle,” continuing the emphasis on the demonic locusts going to war against the earth-dwellers.
Greg Allen: The sound of their wings was deafening—like the sound of chariots with many horses running into battle. What a dreadful sound! Imagine the terror—to both the eye and the ear—that they would inspire! Imagine the panic they would provoke at their coming!
H. (:10) Venomous Tails
- Sting Like a Scorpion
“And they have tails like scorpions, and stings;”
- Sting for Five Months
“and in their tails is their power to hurt men for five months.”
Grant Osborne: The real message is that the demonic forces are organized, powerful, terrifying, and filled with hatred and contempt for their followers. As soon as God grants them permission, they torture and kill all who have rejected God in order to worship them.
IV. (:11) GOVERNANCE OF THE DEMONIC LOCUSTS = ABADDON / APOLLYON
A. Chief Ruler = the Angel of the Abyss
“They have as king over them, the angel of the abyss;”
Joe Beard: Unlike real locusts, the demons described here have a king over them. John calls him, “the angel of the abyss.” Some say that this is Satan, but Satan is not associated with the abyss until later and up until the point that he was thrown down to the earth he was call the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2). This angel that John is describing I believe is a high-ranking demon in Satan’s hierarchy of power. John gives us the name of this king of the abyss in both Hebrew and Greek. In Hebrew he is called “Abaddon” which means destruction or place of destruction; in Greek he is called “Apollyon” which means destroyer. John uses both of these names to emphasize his impact on both ungodly Jews and Gentiles. The fact that his names mean destruction and destroyer are fitting names for the head of this devastating army of demons that arise from the abyss.
B. Chief Characteristic = Destroyer
“his name in Hebrew is Abaddon,”
“and in the Greek he has the name Apollyon.”
Sola Scriptura: attests to the fact that John also intends a Greek audience among his readers. . . This is the destroyer. Not Satan, but an angelic lieutenant committed to the task of destruction of God’s armies.
Robert Mounce: In the OT Abaddon refers to destruction (Job 31:12) or the place of destruction. The personification of destruction in Job 28:22 could give rise quite naturally to the idea of a prince of the underworld, appropriately named Abaddon. In case the reader did not grasp the significance of the Hebrew name, John adds its Greek equivalent—Apollyon, Destroyer. Many commentators feel that the verse contains a derogatory reference to the Greek god Apollo and those emperors who claimed a special relationship to him. To name the king of the underworld Apollyon would be a cryptic way of saying that an emperor such as Domitian who liked to be regarded as Apollo incarnate was in reality a manifestation of the powers of the underworld. As early as the fifth century B.C., the Greeks had derived the name of Apollo from the same Greek verb as the root of Apollyon. The allusion is strengthened by the observation that the locust was one of the symbols of the god Apollo.
Charles Swindoll: Though some scholars identify this demonic ruler of the abyss as Satan himself, this doesn’t seem likely. Satan’s abode is not in the abyss —at least not until he is cast down into that bottomless pit at the end of the Tribulation (20:1-3). In contrast, this king’s authority seems to be limited to the demonic horde that comes from the abyss itself. So who is this “angel of the abyss”? We can’t be dogmatic, but he’s probably a high-ranking lieutenant of Satan who will do his dark lord’s bidding.
(:12) EPILOGUE – TWO WOES STILL TO COME
“The first woe is past; behold, two woes are still coming after these things.”
Robert Mounce: As the end draws near, there is a marked increase in the intensity and severity of the trumpet-plagues.
Sola Scriptura: designates an essential structural indicator for the whole book of Revelation. That John places this structural indicator at this point and introduces what follows as the result of the sixth trumpet should settle any debate that the fifth and sixth trumpets are two different events. This critical structural mark should settle the debate about the structure of the book of Revelation. Chronology and sequence are mandated.
Tony Garland: John writes behold because, as terrible as this first woe has been, the two remaining woes are still worse. This woe brought torment, but the second woe—the judgment of the sixth trumpet—brings the release of a demonic army the likes of which the earth has never seen (Rev. 9:13-19+, 11:14+) and the third woe—the judgments of the seventh trumpet—brings the seven bowls of God’s wrath (Rev. 11:15+; 15:7+; 16:2-4+, 8+, 10+, 12+, 17+).