Dr. Richard L. Strauss
February 18, 1979
After the fourth trumpet of judgment sounded in Revelation 8:12, an announcement is made with grave significance for the inhabitants of the earth. "Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!" (Revelation 8:13).
The last three trumpets are designated "woes," a word that indicates, pain, displeasure, and calamity. It indicates that the awfulness of God's judgment on sin is going to increase, and that the consequences for sinners will be more dreadful than previously imaginable.
While the first four trumpets produced great suffering to humanity, they were directed primarily against physical nature, the material world: the trees, the grass, the oceans, the sun, the moon, the stars, the rivers and the springs of water. But when the fifth trumpet blows, events are going to occur that will produce unparalleled suffering for the people of earth. The restraint which God has place upon the demonic host through the centuries is going to be removed, and they will be released to inflict misery and torture to a degree the world has never known.
Satan will use his millions of evil spirits in an effort to subdue the whole earth to his complete control by tyranny, oppression, cruelty, violence and agonizing torments. But above it all will be the hand of God, permitting Satan this freedom, guiding every detail to the accomplishment of His purposes: the ultimate defeat of Satan, the destruction of sin, the establishment of His kingdom of righteousness and peace, and the release of creation from its bondage to corruption.
We must understand the fifth and sixth trumpets in the light of God's eternal purposes as part of the Great Tribulation He promised. The fifth brings a loathsome plague of demon locusts and the sixth initiates a hellish army of horsemen.
1. The Fifth Trumpet: The Loathsome Locusts
a. The Leader of the Locusts
When the fifth angel sounds his trumpet, John sees a star "having fallen from heaven" (perfect tense). Twice before in this book we have noted stars falling from the heavens, once in the sixth seal (Revelation 6:13) and once in the third trumpet (Revelation 8:10). In both those cases we concluded that it was a literal disturbance in the stellar heavens. But this one seems to be different.
"Then the fifth angel sounded: And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth." Having fallen is what it literally says. When John sees the star, it had already fallen. "To him"--the star--"was given the key to the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. So the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit. Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power" (Revelation 9:1-3).
Now in the first two verses we see the leader of this demonic locust band. He's called a star. Personal pronouns are applied to this star, indicating that the word "star" is used in a symbolical way here. You see in verse 1, "to him" was given the key to the abyss. Again in verse 2, "and he opened" the abyss.
Now what kind of personages do stars symbolize? In Job 38:7, the stars are used symbolically of the angels. Again in Revelation 1:20 we find the same figure: "The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches." We conclude then that the star of Revelation 9:1 is an angelic being of some kind. But who?
Listen to the words of the Lord Jesus in Luke 10:18: "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven." The Lord seems to be referring to the fall of Lucifer in Isaiah 14:12-15, and when we see him in Revelation 9:1 he was already fallen. There is other evidence that this fallen angel is Satan. If you will skip down to verse 11 you will read, "And they (that is, the locusts) had a king over them, who is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Agaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon."
Both these names, the Hebrew and the Greek, mean "destroyer." This angel of the bottomless pit, or pit of the abyss, is called the destroyer, and who could that term fit more perfectly than Satan himself? Some have tried to identify this angel of the bottomless pin with the angel of Revelation 20:1-3. Granted, that angel does have the key on that occasion, but he uses the key and a chain to confine Satan in that abyss for 1000 years. We could hardly believe that the same angel who binds Satan is also called "the destroyer" who rules over a legion of demonic locusts. The Biblical evidence favors the interpretation which acknowledges Satan in Revelation 9.
The fact that the key to the bottomless pit changes hands is really no problem. The Lord Jesus Christ has all authority over every sphere of the spirit world. In Matthew 16:19, He has the keys to the kingdom of heaven. In Revelation 1:18, He has the keys to Hades and death. He can give those keys to anyone He chooses, and in Revelation 9 he chooses to give them to Satan because that is what fits His own eternal sovereign purposes and His own perfect plan for the future. And so "to him (that is, Satan) was given the key of the bottomless pit."
The next question we must answer is, "What is this bottomless pit?" A more accurate translation would be "pit of the abyss." The word abyss means "extremely deep" and that is where our translators derived the idea of being "bottomless."
What is the pit of the abyss? The word occurs in Luke 8:31. Do you remember the story of the demoniac of Gadara? When that legion of demons were confronted by the Lord Jesus Christ, they begged Him not to send them into the abyss. Immediately we know that the abyss is the place of confinement for evil spirits. It is probably the same place spoken of by the apostle Jude in the sixth verse of his letter: "And the angels who kept not their first estate, but left their own habitations, he has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day" (Jude 6). It is probably the same place referred to in 2 Peter 2:4, "For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness to be reserved unto judgment...." The abyss of Revelation 9 is the abode of confined demons, when Satan himself shall someday be confined (Revelation 20:1-3).
But for a brief time during the Great Tribulation, Satan himself shall have the power to release some of these demons who are confined, to assist him in his despotic subjection of the earth. One commentator has suggested that the judgment in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 does not refer to the judgment of the confined demons, but rather the judgment that they themselves bring upon the earth (Tenney, Scripture Press Quarterly, July 1959). Other commentators think they are confined until this day of judgment in Revelation 9. The language of the verse could be understood that they are being confined until their release as instruments of judgment. That is exactly what is before us in verse 2. "And he opened the bottomless pit, and there arose a smoke out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit."
Can you imagine the stench and pollution that will cover the earth when the entrance to this demonic abyss is opened for a short time? We think we have a problem with air pollution now. We haven't seen anything like the ugly, black, sooty smoke that shall rise from the abyss at that day, blackening the sun and the air.
b. The Loosing of the Locusts
"Then the fifth angel sounded: And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. So the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit. Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months. Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man. In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them" (Revelation 9:3-6).
The darkness from hell is only the beginning of this judgment, however, for from that smoke there come locusts upon the earth. Locusts are an insect of the grasshopper or cricket family. They were a serious threat to the people of Palestine through their history, sweeping through in great droves, sometimes so thick that they would blot out the light of the sun. When they would land, they might cover every inch of ground and they would eat every green plant or tree in the area. God sent a plague of locusts upon the Egyptians that brought the Pharaoh to submission, crying out for mercy (Exodus 10:16-17).
The inhabitants of earth during the Great Tribulation are going to experience a plague of locusts as well. But these locust are not of the ordinary kind. They are specially prepared locusts that provide the hoards of recently released demons with bodies, specifically designed to inflict torment upon the people of the earth. For one thing, they sting like a scorpion. Now I lived in Texas where scorpions are plentiful. Fortunately, I never got stung by one but I knew people who did. People say that it is the most severe of all insect stings of any kind. A scorpion sting, in fact, can kill a baby. And these locust who can sting like a scorpion will be flooding the earth and will be inflicting torment on all the people--all the people except the 144,000 who have been sealed by God (verse 4).
The scourge is to last for five months, a period of time John evidently meant for us to understand literally, since the normal period of time which locusts posed a threat was five months in the Old Testament. The people of the earth will wish they could die, but death will not come. They will try to take their own lives to escape the agony inflicted by these demonic locusts, but will find their efforts thwarted at every turn. Just as the demon possessed maniacs in the Gospels have no control over their own lives, so these demon afflicted earth dwellers of the Great Tribulation will not even be able to take their own lives (verse 6). God will supernaturally keep them from dying and He will allow them to be tormented.
c. The Likeness of the Locust
The strange appearance of these locust is described in the verses that follow. Rather than the shape we might expect, they were shaped like little horses prepared for battle. On their heads were crowns like gold, and their faces looked like men (verse 7). They had long flowing hair like a woman, and teeth like the teeth of a lion (verse 8). Now put that together and you have a weird-looking thing, I tell you!
"And they had breastplates, as it were breastplate of iron; and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle" (verse 9). What a terrifying sight and sound they must present. Furthermore, they have tails like a scorpion, and their sting is in the tail (verse 10). The human characteristics are probably intended to picture intelligence, while the animal characteristics are probably intended to picture war-like ferociousness.
Again we say, these are no ordinary locusts. They are intelligent, demonically-directed bodies, and they have a king, a ruler, a commander--something ordinary locusts do not have. The Bible says that in Proverbs 30:27--a verse you should write here in Revelation if your Bible doesn't already have that reference in the margin. This king is Satan. And while he disguises himself today as an angel of light, his true nature will be exposed at that day. He is the destroyer and his purpose is to destroy.
What a contrast is he with the blessed Son of God who came not to destroy, but to deliver. "For the Son of God is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). Won't you let Him save you from present aimlessness and future agony? Won't you accept Him as your personal Savior from sin? He promises to deliver you from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9), wrath that has not yet reached its peak by Revelation 9:12, which says, "One woe is past and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter."
2. The Sixth Trumpet: The Hellish Horsemen
The next woe is also an invasion. It's a hellish invasion; hell breaks loose on earth.
a. The Commanders of the Invasion
When the sixth trumpet blows, John hears a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before the throne of God (verse 13). What is about to happen is again associated with the prayers of God's people throughout the ages, which the golden altar of incense symbolizes (Revelation 8:3). Our supplications for God to vindicate His holy name and judge sin are being answered during the Great Tribulation.
The voice John hears instructs the sixth angel to loose four angels who are bound in the great river Euphrates. Immediately we expect another invasion from hell, another facet of hell's fury to break loose upon the inhabitants of the earth. Good angels are never spoken of as being bound. But wicked angels are, as we have already noted. These four angels are emissaries of hell--evil spirits who are loosed to provide leadership for the next invading hoards of tormentors.
We wonder, of course, why these angels have been bound in the Euphrates River. The Scripture gives no reason, and we are left to make an intelligent guess at best. We do know that this part of the world was the cradle of civilization. The garden of Eden was very likely there. Satan began his program of corrupting the human race there by tempting Adam and Eve to sin. The first great organized opposition to God was found there at the tower of Babel. The religion of Babylon was in direct antagonism to the revealed will of God, so much so that God uses it to epitomize the false religious system of the world in this very book of Revelation (17:5). Now as the plagues of this period are reaching toward their apex, and the sixth trumpet blows, the source of the next judgment is the very seat of Satan's empire.
There are some who believe this invasion of horsemen is identical to the invasion of the kings of the east in Revelation 16:12. That is entirely possible. When we read about the bowl judgments in Revelation 16:12, we read that the angel poured out his bowl upon the river Euphrates. Its waters were dried up that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared so those armies for their march on the Holy Land. If this be true, then we have an invasion of 200 million men lead by the kings of the east. Of course, if that is the case--if the sixth trumpet is to be put with that bowl judgment--then we know that this judgment doesn't end before the seventh trumpet blows, but it continues as we suggested in the last message, to the very end of the Great Tribulation. One judgment piling on top of another to great intensity to the point when Jesus returns to the earth.
Look at the extent of this persecution. "So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind" (Revelation 9:15). God planned this very moment, even though it's an invasion from hell, and He prepared it to kill a third part of the inhabitants of the earth.
Under the fourth seal (Revelation 6:8), a fourth part of the earth's population was killed. Now a third of those that are left are exterminated. This accounts for about half of the earth's population. When we reach the sixth trumpet judgment, one half of the earth's population will have been destroyed. It's the worst destruction since the flood of Noah's day, which wiped out all the people of the earth except for Noah and his family. Yet is all permitted by God toward the ultimate accomplishment of His purposes on earth.
b. The Combatants of the Invasion
It is not until verse 16 that we are introduced to the means by which they shall carry out their bloody purposes. They lead an army of horsemen, 200 million in number. The riders on the horses wear breastplates of fire and Jacinth (a reference seemingly to a dark purple color) and brimstone (burning molten sulfur which gives off suffocating fumes). Furthermore, the horses had heads like lions with fire and smoke and brimstone issuing out of their mouths (verse 17). In addition to this capability for producing torment were the tails of the horses, which were like serpents (verse 19).
Now as I read Revelation 9:16-19, I have no idea what John actually saw. He described it in the best terms he could and it is amazing to me--when we ask ourselves what John could have seen that he described in the language and images known to him in his day--that he seems to describe some kind of modern weaponry. Only God knows. I'm certainly not going to claim I know what it is. But the similarities are amazing, and this could well be the intention of the passage. In any case, the four wicked angels lead their hellish horsemen to slaughter a third of the world's population that remains. What a horrible place the earth will be when hell is loosed during the Great Tribulation.
c. The Consequences of the Invasion
But with all this horror, will you note the reaction of those who escape death?
"But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk" (Revelation 9:20).
All this wrath. All this torment. You would think that men would repent of their sins and turn to God, but the Scripture says they won't. The consequences are just exactly what Satan intended them to be. Although the suffering they are experiencing is directly attributable to Satan and his demons, they keep right on worshipping demons and their material representations: idols of gold, and silver, and bronze, and stone, and wood, which neither can see, not hear, nor walk (verse 20). Like the uncivilized pagans of our own day, they worship the very spirits they fear will do them harm, and the material representations of those spirits. They are enslaved by fear, intimidation, and superstition.
Furthermore, every sort of Satanic vice will flourish. Even as they are experiencing judgment for their sin, and feeling the very fires of hell all among them, they refuse to repent of their murders, sorceries, fornication or thefts. They will go right on with their ungodly deeds. Look at the list.
"And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts" (Revelation 9:21).
You know, by looking at the world today, we would certainly come to the conclusion that these days could be approaching, which means that the day Christ returns for His church could be very near. We see these very four things multiplying in our day.
First, murders. Crime reports released by the FBI several years ago (i.e., mid 1970s) show that there is a murder, forcible rape, or assault to kill every two minutes in our nation. The latest statistic I read was that there is one murder per every 10,000 population. I just read in the Times Advocate that last year we had five murders in Escondido, and there are about 50,000 people who live here, so we're right at the national average. Some of our Supreme Court rulings in favor of criminals tie the hands of law enforcement agencies, further making the streets of some of our cities an unsafe place to be.
Second, sorceries. This would include the raging of occultism in our land today, the spiritism, fortune telling, and related practices sweeping among our teenagers. Satan worship is multiplying in our land to a fearful degree. The Greek word for sorceries is pharmakeia, from the same Greek root as the word for drugs. Some estimates contend that as many as 25% of our college students have experimented with drugs of some kind or other. Many tell of contact with demonic beings while under the influence of drugs. The two are closely related.
Third, sexual immorality. We live in a sex-saturated society, where sex is glorified beyond all reason. Illicit sexual relations have become the accepted way of life in our culture. Pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry. Movies have continued to lower their standards, and a newspaper article just this week promises ever more illicit wife-swapping sex, sex perversion, nudity, and dirty language. Half of all college girls have sexual relations before marriage. Births to unmarried teenagers have increased 39% in five years. One out of three brides is pregnant at the altar. Venereal diseases have increased 255% among teenagers in six years. Even religious leaders are saying that pre-marital or extra-marital sex is acceptable in some situations.
The last is theft. The FBI reports that there is a robbery every 4-1/2 minutes, an auto theft every minute, a larceny involving $50 or more every 41 seconds, and a burglary every 27 seconds. We find it difficult to believe that is can get much worse, but it will.
What a picture of depravity. Wrath and judgment break loose but men will not repent. And in spite of the fury of judgment against sin in the Great Tribulation, it will continue to increase. What a picture of the utter depravity and degradation of the human heart. Boy, I don't want to be there!
When we hear of things like this we are tempted to despair. We see our world moving closer and closer to this day, what shall we do? Do we just give up and throw in the towel and say, "There's nothing we can do! Let's just quit!" No, no. We can do something. I think God wants us to do everything we can to change the world situation, by sharing with folks everywhere the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. We can see people's lives changed, and we can see whole segments of society change by the redeeming power of the Gospel. We can do something to at least maintain the privilege of preaching the Gospel until Jesus comes.
And what doesn't change, we just commit to God. That's all we can do. We rest in Him.
That's what Paul told the Thessalonians to do. Remember that great passage in 2 Thessalonians 1:7? "And to you who are troubled"--boy, after studying a passage like Revelation 9 you can get a little troubled, can't you? "And to you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power, when He shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe" (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
There is no hope for our troubled day, and there is no hope of deliverance from the trouble to come outside of the Person of Jesus Christ. If you have not received Him as your personal Savior from sin, then my desire and prayer--and the prayer of every believer in this room today--is that this picture of the wrath to come will not necessarily scare you into a commitment, but will so begin to cause you to think, so that you will say to yourself and to the Lord, "I don't want to be here either. I want to know that One who promises deliverance from the wrath to come. I want to know that my sins are forgiven and that heaven is my destiny."
If you have never trusted Christ as your Savior, we invite you to acknowledge your sin and put your faith in Him today. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, thank You for warning us. We pray, Lord, that we may be well warned tonight. And for those who don't know the Savior, God, give them grace right now to turn from their sin and put their trust in Jesus Christ. And for those of us who do, God, help us to take a passage like this and translate it into a desire to share the Gospel with others. Lord, we've been silent too long. Give us courage in our witness--love and grace and tenderness, but boldness--for Jesus' sake. Amen.
Continue to RV-08B: No More Delay