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Charles Swindoll: When the angels of death are released, their goal will be to kill a third of humanity (Rev. 9:15). Verse 18 reveals that they will be successful in their endeavor. Don’t run past this figure too quickly. A third of humanity today is over two billion people! No wonder God has actively restrained these wicked angels for so many centuries. Second Peter 3:9 declares, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” God’s gracious disposition toward the world staves off the relentless wrath of the forces of evil, but when this present window of opportunity for repentance is shut, a dark cloud of wrath will quickly close in. The next several verses fill in the details of how this hideous holocaust will be accomplished.

Robert Mounce: The intensity of the trumpet sequence continues to mount. From plagues of hail, and fire mixed with blood that scorched the earth (8:7), a burning mountain that fell into sea turning it to blood and leaving death in its wake (8:8), a blazing star from heaven falling into inland waters and causing bitterness and death (8:10–11), and a darkening of the sun and moon that plunged the world into darkness (8:12), we move to a swarm of demonic locusts released from the netherworld to torment unbelievers (9:1–11). The sixth trumpet-plague (the second Woe) is even worse. Now demonic cavalry, two hundred million strong, come charging across the scene of history. From their lionlike heads come fire, smoke, and sulfur, and with their tails they inflict lethal damage. A third of the unbelieving world falls before their murderous assault. Those who remain do not repent of their idolatry and immoral lifestyle but continue their idolatrous worship of gods made by their own hands.

Nowhere will you find a more accurate picture of sinful humanity pressed to the extreme. One would think that the terrors of God’s wrath would bring rebels to their knees. Not so. Past the point of no return, they respond to greater punishment with increased rebellion. Such is sinful nature untouched and unmoved by the mercies of God.

Van Parunak: The judgments of the Revelation emphasize God’s truth, but his mercy is never far away. Even at the end of this sixth trumpet (9:20, 21), we are reminded that those who are destroyed suffer their fate because they “repented not.” God does not pour out his wrath all at once, but slowly turns up the heat, to lead people to recognize that they cannot resist him, and to urge them to repent. As our redeemer, he recognizes that we sin, and offers himself to bear our sin. But if we reject that offering, he as a righteous judge will deal truly with our sin as it deserves.

Kendell Easley: A second multitude of demons will slaughter a third of the human race during the Great Tribulation, but even so the survivors will refuse to repent of their wickedness. . .

The comparison of the fifth and sixth trumpets shows that clearly these ae distinct from each other.  They are not natural disasters but demon disasters. Nothing humanity has yet experienced can compare to the onslaught of terror that these calamities will bring.  Certainly all people will want to have God’s seal on their foreheads.


(:13a)  Sounding of the Sixth Trumpet

And the sixth angel sounded,

A.  (:13b-16) Release of the Demon Angels

  1. (:13b-14)  Command to Release the Four Bound Angels

a.  (:13b)  Voice from Heaven

and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar

which is before God,

John MacArthur: The voice is not identified, but it is possibly that of the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ. He was pictured earlier standing near the throne (5:6), when He took the seven-sealed scroll from the Father’s hand (5:7) and broke its seals (6:1), thus unleashing the series of judgments of which the sixth trumpet is a part. Or this could be the voice of the angel whom John had seen standing near the golden altar of incense (8:3).

John Walvoord: If the horns have significance, they refer to the sovereignty and judicial government of God.

b.  (:14)  Violence Unleashed

one saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet,

‘Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.’

John MacArthur: That the four angels are bound indicates that they are demons (cf. 20:1ff.; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6), since holy angels are nowhere in Scripture said to be bound. Because holy angels always perfectly carry out God’s will, there is no need for Him to restrain them from opposing His will. God’s control over demonic forces is complete–they are bound or loosed at His command. The perfect tense of the participle translated bound implies that these four angels were bound in the past with continuing results; they were in a state or condition of bondage until God’s determined time came for them to be released to execute their function as instruments of divine judgment. . .

Rising from sources near Mount Ararat in Turkey, the Euphrates flows more than seventeen-hundred miles before emptying into the Persian Gulf. It is the longest and most important river in the Middle East, and figures prominently in the Old Testament. It was one of the four rivers into which the river that flowed out of the Garden of Eden divided (Gen. 2:14). It was near the Euphrates that sin began, the first lie was told, the first murder was committed, and the tower of Babel (the origin of an entire complex of false religions that spread across the world) was built. The Euphrates was the eastern boundary of the Promised Land (Gen. 15:18; Ex. 23:31; Deut. 11:24), and Israel’s influence extended to the Euphrates during the reigns of David (1 Chron. 18:3) and Solomon (2 Chron. 9:26). The region near the Euphrates was the central location of three world powers that oppressed Israel: Assyria, Babylon, and Medo-Persia. It was on the banks of the Euphrates that Israel endured seventy long, bitter, wearisome years of captivity (cf. Ps. 137:1–4). It is the river over which the enemies of God will cross to engage in the battle of Armageddon (16:12–16). . .

Whoever they are, these four powerful fallen angels control a huge demonic army set to wage war against fallen mankind when God releases them to do so. Satanic forces, imagining they are doing the work of their leader the devil and aggressively thwarting the purposes of God, are actually God’s servants doing exactly what He wants done.

[Alternative View – taking the four angels to be holy angels]

Buist Fanning: The voice commands him to “release” those four angels because they are currently “bound,” held back from their task of destruction until God’s time for it arrives (cf. v. 15), in the same way that the four angels in 7:1–3 restrained the earth’s destructive winds until the time was right. These are “bound” not because they are fallen, evil angels (i.e., not as Satan will be “bound,” 20:2; cf. Mark 3:27); they are holy angels who visit God’s punishments on the objects of his judgment (cf. Ps 78:49 [“angels who bring calamity,” not “evil angels” as KJV has it]; Ezek 9:1–7; Matt 13:41). . .

John’s assumption is that his readers would associate the Euphrates River with past invasions by vast armies across Israel’s borders as a manifestation of God’s judgment. With that allusion in mind, a reader could understand what “the armies” are: they are the armies of God’s judgment conventionally associated with invasion across the great river.  The role of the overseeing angels is to set these attacking hordes in motion, and so their destructive effects can be attributed to the armies (v. 18a) or to the angels themselves (v. 15c).

Grant Osborne: Many of the terrible invasions of Palestine—by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians—came across the Euphrates. Thus it became not only the eastern boundary first of Israel and then of Rome but also a symbol of foreign invasion. This judgment also prepares for the sixth bowl (16:12), in which the Euphrates is dried up “to prepare the way for the kings of the east,” again built upon the Parthians. As Caird (1966: 122) notes, “All the scriptural warnings about a foe from the north, therefore, find their echo in John’s bloodcurdling vision” (Isa. 14:31; Jer. 1:14–15; 6:1, 22; 10:22; 13:20; 25:9, 26; 46:20, 24; 47:2; Ezek. 26:7; 38:6, 15; 39:2).

  1. (:15-16)  Carnage from the Demonic Assault

a.  (:15)  Death to One Third of Mankind

And the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released, so that they might kill a third of mankind.

J. Hampton Keathley, III: The expression “For the hour and day and month and year” refers not to the duration of their activity, but to the fact this occurs exactly on the hour of God’s appointment, i.e., the exact hour of the day, month, and year that God ordained it. God raises up both men and demons as His instruments to accomplish His purposes in history. Each acts out of their own volition, according to their schemes and nature, but God, knowing them from eternity past, raises them up in history to carry out His purpose even at the exact hour (cf. Isa. 10:5f; Rom. 9:11-18).

John MacArthur: The judgment of the fourth seal killed one quarter of the earth’s population (6:8); this additional third brings the death toll from these two judgments alone to more than half the earth’s pretribulation population. That staggering total does not include those who perished in the other seal and trumpet judgments. The repeated emphasis throughout the trumpet judgments on one-third (cf. 8:7–12) demonstrates convincingly that these are controlled, precise divine judgments and not mere natural disasters.

The terrible slaughter will completely disrupt human society. The problem of disposing of the dead bodies alone will be inconceivable. The sickly stench of decaying corpses will permeate the world, and it will take an enormous effort on the part of the survivors to bury them in mass graves or burn them. How these demons inflict death is specifically revealed in v. 18.

Van Parunak: We are reminded constantly that this book’s judgments, as terrible as they are, are all under God’s control. When the verb ἑτοιμάζω (G2090) appears in the perfect tense, as here (Matt. 20:23; 25:34, 41; Mark 10:40; 2 Tim. 2:21; Rev. 9:7, 15; 12:6; 21:2), the agent, where identified, is always the Lord.

b.  (:16)  Demonic Forces Numbering Two Hundred Million

And the number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them.

John MacArthur: The figurative language used to describe this army’s horses suggests that this is a supernatural rather than human force, as does the fact that it is commanded by the four newly released demons.

[Alternate View: Human warriors]

John Walvoord: The most staggering statistic is the fact that the number of the army is declared to be two hundred thousand thousands, or two hundred million. Because the number “ten thousand times ten thousand” is often used of an innumerable company (cf. 5:11), some believe this should not be understood as a literal number, especially since never in the history of the human race has there been an army of this size. The total number of men under arms in World War II on both sides of the conflict was never more than fifty million.

Therefore, many have been tempted to spiritualize the number or to regard the army as demonic rather than human. An army of two hundred million horsemen must have been especially astounding to John, for at that time the total world population did not exceed this number. But John seems to emphasize the accuracy of the number, for he says he heard it, showing that this incredible number was a part of his vision, not something he invented.

And with the advent of the twenty-first century, an army of two hundred million from the East is increasingly possible. If such an army is to be raised up, it would be natural to conclude that it would come from China and possibly India, the great population centers of the world, accounting for over two billion of the earth’s six billion people. It is fascinating that China alone is reported to have over 314,000,000 men ages 16 to 49 who are “fit for military service,” along with over 298,000,000 women in this category!

These staggering numbers make it very feasible that the number revealed in verse 16 should be taken literally. If so, this is an imposing statistic of the power and influence of the armies opposing God in the final world war.

B.  (:17-19) Violence of the Mounted Troops

And this is how I saw in the vision the horses and those who sat on them:

Robert Mounce: It should be noted that the riders play no active part in carrying out the plague. This is accomplished by the horses. Their description in the following verses is grotesque, to say the least.

  1. (:17b)  Graphic Image of Violence

a.  Fearsome Breastplates

the riders had breastplates the color of fire

and of hyacinth

and of brimstone;

Charles Swindoll:





Van Parunak: It’s not clear whether the breastplates are only on the riders, or on the horses as well. The colors anticipate what comes from the mouths of the horses. The horses bring two kinds of judgment: death from their heads, and torment from their tails.

b.  Ferocious Heads

and the heads of the horses are like the heads of lions;

Grant Osborne: While the teeth of the locusts were “like lions’ teeth,” it is the “heads” of the horses that “resembled the heads of lions.” The reason is probably that in 9:19 their “power” is in their “mouths” as well as their “tails,” and it is the mouth of the lion that allows it to tear apart its prey. The majestic and terrible visage of a lion is a natural image for this incredible army, since it was the most vicious beast known to the ancient people of the Mediterranean. The “head” here seems to combine the other metaphoric uses in this central section: their teeth (9:8), their roar (10:3), and their mouth (13:2). All of these produce terror, and that seems to be the emphasis here.

c.  Fiery Mouths

and out of their mouths proceed fire and smoke and brimstone.

Buist Fanning: John adds one more peculiar element to his description of these horses by clarifying (“for”) where their phenomenal power lies (v. 19a).  Their destructive “power” (ἐξουσία) is “in their mouths” from which they breathe out deadly fire, smoke, and sulfur as vv. 17–18 indicated. But to this he adds “and in their tails,” with a further explanation (another “for” [γάρ] clause) quite unexpected from the image of horses and horsemen given previously. These “horses” are like mythical dragons not only because they breathe out fire (v. 17e) but also because they have serpent-like, multiheaded tails.  With these “heads” they are able to “inflict harm” (ἀδικοῦσιν), so presumably the heads are snake-like and deadly to humans just like the fire-breathing mouths of the horses are. This verse reveals the similarities of this cavalry troop to the locusts of vv. 1–11, since they also have “power” (vv. 3, 10) to inflict “harm” (vv. 4, 10) with tails that have a punishing sting (v. 10).

  1. (:18-19)  Gruesome Results of Their Carnage

a.  (:18)  Devastation from Their Killing Plagues

A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues,

by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone,

which proceeded out of their mouths.

Charles Swindoll: This is now the second demon-inspired attack on the human race. The first was by means of a swarm of locusts, but they were not permitted to kill anyone during the five months of their torment (9:5). In contrast, this next wave of demonic attack will be much worse. These attackers will be allowed to kill (9:15). These demons may inflict their plagues directly and supernaturally, or they may use earthly means to do so. They may inspire the military divisions of certain nations. We can’t be absolutely certain about the meaning of these visions. Yet the big picture remains clear: As the Tribulation proceeds, the judgments will increase in severity.

b.  (:19)  Devastation from Their Fearsome Power

For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails;

for their tails are like serpents and have heads;

and with them they do harm.


A.  (:20) Persistence in Devil Worship (Idolatry) Instead of Repentance

  1. Spurned Opportunity

And the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues,

  1. Stubborn Defiance

did not repent of the works of their hands,

  1. Spiritual Folly

so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk;

Charles Swindoll: As difficult as it is to believe, most people living during this awful time of judgment will become even more hardened against God. They will stubbornly hold onto their demon worship and idolatry (9:20). They will refuse to repent from murder, sorcery, immorality, and theft (9:21). In short, the survivors of the first several judgments will close their ears to God’s message of mercy and grace, choosing instead to accept the wrath that will continue to increase in severity. Hard to believe, isn’t it? The great preacher Donald Barnhouse puts Revelation 9:13-21 into painful perspective:

There is no evidence in the Bible; there is no evidence in history; and there is no evidence in prophecy which would indicate that men have ever been brought to God in great numbers through tribulation. One-third of the race may die, but the other two-thirds do not for that reason move toward God. Reluctantly we are forced to accept the verdict, “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:11).

Clearly, the idolatrous addictions to the world’s treasures and pleasures can harden people’s hearts to such a degree that the most extreme judgments will be unable to capture their attention.

Warren Wiersbe: Demon worship, which goes hand-in-hand with idolatry (see 1 Cor. 10:19–21), will be the leading sin. Satan will be at work (always under the permissive will of God), and Satan has always wanted to be worshipped (Isa. 14:12–15; Matt. 4:8–10). A great deal of “religion” will be practiced at this time, but it will be false religion. People will worship the works of their own hands, which could well include the buildings they construct, the machines they make, and the cities they build, as well as their idols.

Here are dead sinners worshipping dead gods (see Ps. 115)! Their gods will not be able to protect or deliver them, yet these people will continue to reject the true God and worship Satan and idols!

B.  (:21) Persistence in Degenerate Wickedness Instead of Repentance

Daniel Akin: Four particular sins are additionally noted in verse 21. These sins, like those in verse 20, have afflicted humanity throughout history. It is possible they will be especially prevalent in the last days. “Murders” is the wanton taking of innocent human life. “Sorceries” is witchcraft, magic arts, occultic activity. It is the Greek word pharmakon and could indicate the use of drugs in divination practices. “Sexual immorality” is the Greek word porneia and refers to all forms of sexual sin that occurs outside the marriage relationship between a man and woman. “Thefts” is simply another word for stealing, taking what is not yours. The sins of verses 20-21 involve a basic violation of the Ten Commandments (Exod 20; Deut 5). Idolatry violates commandments one and two. Murder violates the sixth, immorality the seventh, and theft the eighth. As it was in the days of the judges, it will be a time of unbridled and unrepentant evil, when “everyone did whatever he wanted” (Judg 21:25). Mounce makes a remarkable observation: “Once the heart is set in its hostility toward God, not even the scourge of death will lead people to repentance” (Revelation, 198). Amazingly, it appears it will only spur sinful humanity to sin even more. What an indictment of the depraved human heart!

  1. and they did not repent of their murders

John MacArthur: At that future point in world history, idolatry, mysticism, spiritism, satanism, and all other forms of false religion will become pandemic, as demons lead people into more wicked and vicious behavior. Unbridled, unrestrained, escalating wickedness will run amuck as never before in human history (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1–5, 13). As a result, in addition to idolatry, violent crimes like murders will be rampant. Bereft of any sense of morality, evil, unrepentant people will imitate the demon horde’s murderous blood lust. Believers in the true God will no doubt be their prime targets, as they lash out seeking revenge for the disasters God has brought on them.

J. Hampton Keathley, III: Murder will be rampant. No one will think anything of killing another human being. The ‘law of the jungle’ will prevail. Unfortunately, we can see the nature of this in our own country today since we have left the absolutes of the Word of God.

  1. nor of their sorceries

Grant Osborne: Φάρμακον (pharmakon, magic) can mean “medicine” or even “poison” in certain contexts but here refers to the use of “magic potions” in religious rites in the Greco-Roman world. It is interesting that John did not use the more general term ϕαρμακεία (pharmakeia) for “sorcery” or “magic” but rather chose the term that describes the potions used in the rites. John wants to condemn not just the general practice of magic but everything involved in it (i.e., the paraphernalia as well as the rite itself).  Magic was a major problem for early Christianity. One of the signs of victory over paganism occurred when the sorcerers at Ephesus burned their magic scrolls in public (Acts 19:19). Paul listed “idolatry and witchcraft” together as “acts of the sinful nature” (Gal. 5:19–20), for most acts of “sorcery” occurred in the atmosphere of idolatrous worship (note again the connection of idolatry and demonic activity). In the Apocalypse, using magic is how Babylon “led the nations astray” (18:23), and all who practice it will be cast into the lake of fire (21:8; cf. 22:15). In the first century magic was based on the belief that both good and evil spirits (called gods) involved themselves in the affairs of people. Using religious rituals involving incantations and “commands” given to the spirit-gods, people would try to get the “gods” to work on their behalf, such as for success in business or athletics, sexual liaisons, or healing (see Arnold, DLNT 701–4). Aune (1987: 481–501) argues that one of the major purposes of John in this book is to counter the prevalence of magic at Ephesus and the province of Asia and to present Jesus as the answer to all such demonic acts.

  1. nor of their immorality
  2. nor of their thefts.

Buist Fanning: The widespread Jewish-Christian conviction was that departure from worship of the true God inevitably leads to false worship and moral debauchery (2 Kgs 17:15–17; Jer 13:22–27; Acts 7:42; Rom 1:21–32; cf. 2 Bar. 54:17–18; 1 En. 99:6–16; Wis 14:22–31). Clinging to sinful acts in the face of such judgment reveals the irresistible power of evil that holds humankind in its grip. But the sure judgment of God will come on all such human evil when the third woe (the seventh trumpet) comes to pass (portrayed after two interludes in 11:14).

J. Hampton Keathley, III: What a horrible and grim picture the Spirit of God has painted for us of these final days!!! Men will hold nothing sacred anymore. Not life, not marriage or the family or sex, not one’s health, nor the property and rights of others. Man will be given over completely to sensual indulgence and he will do anything to satisfy his cravings. Is not this in itself the greatest judgment he will face? It demonstrates the total ruin of all meaning to life.

G.K. Beale: On the perniciousness of idolatry.

John links idolatry here with murders, sorceries, immorality, and thefts. If the OT observation is to be taken seriously, idolaters become as blind and dumb as what they worship. They thus become anesthetized, in the words of the commentary, to all that is good and of God, even as they fall deeper and deeper into the clutches of the forces of darkness, as John portrays so vividly. Is this how idolatry leads to these awful forms of sin and rebellion? How has Satan used idolatry to lead people into further darkness? Is there a point beyond which repentance is impossible? How can we guard ourselves against even the beginnings of idolatrous practices, since we know where these practices inevitably lead?