Pastor Scott Andrews | October 16, 2022
I mentioned when we began the book of Revelation that our interpretations and understandings of this book are formed or challenged by modern and popular conceptions or misconceptions. I told you I grew up in the heyday of prophecy sermon series and conferences and literature and charts and movies and songs. Much of which, frankly, was misguided and poor at best, and speculative and wrong at worst.
Much of prophecy’s speculative popularity was grounded in the number 1 selling book of the 70’s by Hal Lindsey – published in 1970, The Late Great Planet Earth. Of course, Lindsey wrote many other works, most focusing on prophecy. In addition to the wildly popular The Late Great Planet Earth, he also wrote There’s a New World Coming, Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth, The Apocalypse Code, and Countdown to Armageddon, and dozens of others. In one book, he quoted a friend – a Vietnam veteran – who had read the book of Revelation. Here’s what Lindsey wrote in one of those aforementioned books:
“The Locusts described in this chapter are unlike any known to man today. It’s very difficult to fully understand everything about these unnatural creatures, but we can make certain observations about them. They are possessed by the especially malignant demon who have just been released from the abyss.… These ‘locusts’ have a scorpion like [sic] stinger in their tails with which they relentlessly torment men for five months.… There are diverse opinions among Bible teachers as to whether these creatures are actually going to be a supernatural, mutant locust especially created for this judgment or whether they symbolize some modern device of warfare.”
Don’t miss that…some modern device of warfare. He goes on:
“I have a Christian friend who was a Green Beret in Viet Nam. When he first read this chapter he said, ‘I know what those are. I’ve seen hundreds of them in Viet Nam. They’re Cobra helicopters!’ That may just be conjecture, but it does give you something to think about! A cobra helicopter does fit the composite description very well. They also make the sound of ‘many chariots.’ My friend believes that the means of torment will be a kind of nerve gas sprayed from its tail.”
I always heard it was the machine gun in the tail of the helicopter – I’m so disappointed to discover I had it all wrong. Here’s my point. For most in the 70’s and 80’s in prophecy conferences and movies, the locusts indeed had become attack helicopters. Pictures or depictions like this on prophecy websites have become quite common.
We have begun the trumpet judgments – not a lot of fun. And we arrive today to this fifth trumpet, one of the most challenging and strange passages in the book. It has caused more confusion, or at least fanciful attempts at modern connections have caused more confusion than perhaps any other passage. It has made for good fiction and movies. And yet, it’s really not that difficult to interpret. But indeed, it is difficult to swallow. It’s a challenging text. I’m talking, of course, about the demonic locust horde of Revelation 9. Let’s read the text and see if you agree, the army’s cobra helicopters are coming. Revelation 8:13-9:12.
I’m not trying to make fun of modern interpretations of the text – okay, maybe a little – but I am trying to get us back to the text. This is hideous, this is horrible, this is a terrible judgment.
We began Revelation 6-16 several weeks ago – which contains three septets, that is, three sets of seven judgments – the seals, the trumpets and the bowls. While some see these as happening early in church history or throughout church history getting worse and worse, if you’ve been with us, you know I believe these to be yet future in the time right before the second coming of Christ. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we don’t see persecution against the church until then – of course we do. Writers of the NT and Jesus Himself promised we would be opposed for our faith. And I have been suggesting it will get worse and worse. But Revelation includes not only persecution toward believers, but God’s clear wrath poured out on earth dwellers – those who have rejected His Son and His gospel and persecuted His followers.
Further, I believe that these are successive judgments – seven seals followed by seven trumpets followed by seven bowls/plagues – with the seven trumpets found in the seventh seal, and the seven bowls found in the seventh trumpet. It’s called a telescoping effect. While some good and faithful scholars see these as each telling the same story from a different perspective – it’s called progressive parallelism or recapitulation – I see them as successive judgments.
Again, don’t miss the word judgments. These are God’s actions through direct activity of His angels, or permission granted to fallen angels. There are many divine passives where God grants power or permission to demons to carry out their destruction – under God’s sovereign control. God is sitting on His throne in this book, superintending all that happens.
But stop right there a moment. This is a stunning truth. I just suggested God grants demons permission and power to carry out their destruction. Against whom are these demonic, hideous forces of evil carrying out their destructive ends? What did we just read? Woe to those who dwell on the earth – the earth dwellers, which we’ve seen are unbelievers. This locust horde is given power to torment men/people who do not have the seal of God – from chapter 7 – the 144,000 representing God’s people – on their foreheads. Don’t miss it – they are not given permission to torment God’s people. Rather, don’t miss it, they torment those who worship them. One of my commentators writes, “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.”
Now many of you know later, we will find those who follow the beast will get his mark on their foreheads. They will declare their allegiance, devotion and worship to him – and yet he will destroy them. That’s what Satan and evil does. Do you see that? People think they can do what they want – that they can live how they want, worship what they want. But in the end, it will be to their destruction. You’ve seen sin bring destruction. Their own sin will bring its repercussions, and the forces of evil will be there to destroy them. That is what they want to do. They are bent on the destruction of God’s image bearers.
Consider the story of the demon-possessed man in Mark 5. You know the story. Jesus and His disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee in a boat. When they got to the east side of the Sea, in the area of the Decapolis – as they got out of the boat, they were met by a man with an unclean spirit – a demon. He lived among the tombs, naked, disfigured, night and day screaming and cutting himself with stones – out of his mind. I told you before, basically what we have here is a nude dude in a rude mood.
The people’s response to his plight? Did they try to help him? No – they couldn’t. They tried to bind him with chains and shackles, but he would simply tear them apart with seeming superhuman strength. No one was able to pass that way since none was strong enough to subdue him. But when Jesus arrived, this man fell at His feet, and the demon cried out with a loud voice, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? [he knew who Jesus was] I implore You by God, do not torment me!”
Interesting, given the fact this man had been tormented day and night for it seems a very long time. Don’t miss it – this man was demon-possessed. Empowered by satanic forces. Was he living in splendor, comfort and ease? Was he enjoying his sin and master? No – because the evil one has come to steal, kill, and destroy. He is bent on the destruction of those created in the image of God. Do not think for a moment that the way of evil is the way to live. It will ultimately destroy you.
Well, you know the rest of the story. Jesus, as He was exorcising the demon, asked the demon his name – who responded, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” The demons asked to be sent into a nearby herd of pigs (Luke – abyss). Jesus granted permission, they entered the pigs, and about 2000 pigs rushed headlong off the cliff into the sea where they drowned. The demons continued their trail of destruction. Next, we see this man clothed and in his right mind – a follower of Jesus. Pardoned by the soon coming blood of the Lamb, and sealed by the Spirit.
Consider the story of the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9. Jesus and His inner circle come down from the Mount of Transfiguration. They are met by a father imploring Jesus to heal his demon-possessed son. The son was mute, and when the demon seized him, he would slam him to the ground in convulsions; cause him to grind his teeth, foam at the mouth. Sometimes the demon would throw the boy into a nearby fire. Because, you see, the forces of evil are bent on destruction – even against those earth dwellers who deny God. Of course, Jesus healed the young boy, delivered him from the demon, and gave him back to his father. That’s what Jesus does – He brings forgiveness, healing, wholeness and spiritual life – and reconciles you to the Father.
People are deceived. They think the way to life, the way to live, is in pursuing their own sin. They joke about it – I’m going to hell because that’s where all my friends are. And there, they will continue in their rebellion, where they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. And they will still not repent. This is a truth of the book of Revelation. Even though they know God’s wrath is being poured out on them, they will still choose to follow the beast – who will destroy them, and who will be destroyed right along with them.
This is a horrible text. Let me outline it for you:
- The Eagle’s Pronouncement (8:13)
- The Fifth Trumpet (1)
- The Demonic Locust Horde (2-6)
- The Description of the Locusts (7-12)
Look at our first point – this eagle flying and proclaiming with a loud voice, woe, woe, woe. The eagle, which could be translated vulture and is elsewhere, speaks of a bird of prey, swift and powerful. It was an emblem of the mighty Roman empire, and this may be a subtle rebuke at the godless empire. Hmm, what other mighty nation with an eagle as its emblem needs a subtle rebuke? The eagle is flying in midheaven – that is, where the sun and moon are – the idea is where he could be seen by all. And he could be heard by all, because he cries with a loud voice, woe, woe, woe – three woes corresponding to the three trumpet blasts which are left.
Remember, the first four trumpets were poured on creation – on nature, if you will. Against grass and trees and seas and rivers and springs – the sun, moon and stars. But now, the fifth and sixth trumpet – and the seventh because it contains the even more terrible bowl judgments – will be poured out directly on rebellious humanity – woe to the earth dwellers.
Bringing us to the first of the three woes – the fifth trumpet in chapter 9, verse 1. The fifth trumpet sounded, and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth; and the key of the bottomless pit or the shaft of the abyss was given to him.
Lots of discussion and actually disagreement on this verse. First, we note that when the third angel sounded his trumpet, a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and fell on the rivers and springs. Obviously not a real star – more likely a comet or a meteorite. Some kind of cosmic disturbance. But this star receives a key, so most agree this is some kind of angelic being. That’s where the agreement ends. Is this a fallen angel – after all, it had fallen to the earth. In fact, some suggest this may be Satan himself since we find him thrown out of heaven and down to the earth in Revelation 12 and fallen to the earth in Luke 10.
That may be, but, we saw in chapter 1, and there are other places in Scripture, where stars refer to good angels. Most go there, and with this I agree. You’ll see why in a moment. Which means something important. This angel will receive the key – from whom? Likely from Jesus who holds the keys of death and Hades – and Hades was the place of the dead, the underworld. So Jesus, or God who sits on the throne, gives this angel the key to the bottomless pit. What in the world is the bottomless pit? It’s more literally, the shaft of the abyss. In the OT, it first referred to the depths of the oceans, but came to mean the bottomless underworld – Hades, Sheol, Gehenna, etc. The word appears 9 times in the NT – 7 of those 9 are in this book, always referring to a place of suffering and confinement. Interestingly, two of the other times the word is used is in Revelation 20:1-3, which reads:
1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand.
2 And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;
3 and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed…
Notice, it is an angel coming down from heaven who has the key, and throws Satan into the abyss. Most agree this is the place of confinement for particularly evil demons where they are chained awaiting future judgment. For example, we read in 2 Peter 2:4, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness.” Jude is more explicit in verse 6, “And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He [God] has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day.”
So again, the bottomless pit holds the worst of fallen angels. This angel has the key given to him by God to open the bottomless pit where they are held. Stop right there – don’t miss that while neither God nor the angel cause this destruction at this point – it is God who gives the key and the instructions to this demonic horde we will see in a moment. It is God, you see, unleashing His wrath on rebellious humanity. God is sovereign, sitting on His throne, and says, enough is enough.
Which brings us to the third point – the demonic locust horde in verses 2-6. The angel opened the bottomless pit, and smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace (Sodom and Gomorrah), and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit. Remember, one third of the sun, moon and stars had already been darkened in the fourth trumpet, which we understood to mean total darkness for a third of the day with no sun shining, and a third of the night with no moon or stars shining. Now, even when they were shining, they are darkened by this great cloud of smoke.
By the way, this description of a locust horde and their destructive power is mentioned in Joel chapters 1 and 2. Joel describes a horde of locusts coming to destroy Israel because of their idolatry and disobedience. He means an actual locust horde, but of course, it was a harbinger or forerunner of the day of the Lord. And we see lots of similar language in Joel 2 and Revelation 9 – an OT allusion:
1 Blow a trumpet in Zion,
And sound an alarm on My holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
For the day of the Lord is coming;
Surely it is near,
2 A day of darkness and gloom,
A day of clouds and thick darkness.
4 Their appearance is like the appearance of horses;
And like war horses, so they run.
5 With a noise as of chariots
They leap on the tops of the mountains,
Like the crackling of a flame of fire consuming the stubble,
Like a mighty people arranged for battle.
6 Before them the people are in anguish;
All faces turn pale.
10 Before them the earth quakes,
The heavens tremble,
The sun and the moon grow dark
And the stars lose their brightness.
11 The Lord utters His voice before His army;
Surely His camp is very great,
For strong is he who carries out His word.
The day of the Lord is indeed great and very awesome,
And who can endure it?
30 “I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth,
Blood, fire and columns of smoke.
31 “The sun will be turned into darkness
And the moon into blood
Before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. [but here’s the good news]
32 “And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Will be delivered;
For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
There will be those who escape,
As the Lord has said,
Even among the survivors whom the Lord calls.
I know that’s a long passage, but we see this actual locust horde coming to judge Israel – but it simply serves as a type of the real devastation to come in Revelation 9 when this demonic locust horde comes and wreaks its havoc.
Of course, just like last week, we find this judgment is like the 8th plague poured out on Egypt in Exodus 10. I don’t have the time to read it – but it’s really good – go back and read it. The point is, God was pouring out His wrath on Egypt and its false gods, as He will do in the tribulation.
We continue, verse 3, out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given to them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. We’ll see that power in a moment, but the power was given to them – a divine passive. God gives them the power to torment people, but there are limits. Further instructions or boundaries are given. Here they are:
Oddly for locusts, in verse 4 they are told not to hurt the grass nor any green thing nor any tree. That’s what locust do. (Phoenix) Locust hordes are awful – devastating to the environment. Remember the locusts in Exodus 10 ate everything, laying waste to Egypt. A swarm in Palestine in 1915 flew overhead for five days, darkening the skies, and totally devastating the land. The same thing happened in Algiers in 1886. The swarm was estimated to be four miles in length and a hundred feet thick. Because of the resulting famine, the next year 200,000 people died.
But here, unusually, they are instructed to not devastate the environment – don’t eat anything green. And we remember the first four trumpets were poured out on the earth – this one and those following will be poured out on rebellious, unrepentant humanity.
Because don’t miss the second part of verse 4 – don’t hurt the environment but only the men/people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. We saw that earlier – God seals His own from His wrath. Yes, believers will be persecuted by unbelievers, but they will protected from God’s wrath. We saw that happen with then ten plagues poured out by God on Egypt – the people of God, the Israelites, living in Goshen were protected.
So, the instructions include don’t hurt the ecology, but only the earth dwellers. But, two more boundaries: first, while they were permitted to torment unbelievers, they were not permitted to kill them. That’s ironic – the unbelievers killed believers, but God would not let them die. But second, their torment would be for a limited time – five months – most agree corresponding to the five-month dry season in the Middle East when most locust plagues appear.
Torment them for five months. But even that is a forerunner of the judgment and torment to come. Because the same word is used in Revelation 20 when the devil and beast and false prophet are thrown into the lake of fire where they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. And a few verses later, we read, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
In Revelation 9 – their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings a man. We saw back in verse 3 the locust was given power as the scorpion. Here, we see that power was to torment people like the sting of a scorpion. A scorpion is part of the arachnid family – the spider family. Their sting is particularly painful, but not normally fatal. They, like snakes, are hostile enemies of human beings, which is why you should not like spiders and snakes.
So great will be the torment that in those days, verse 6, people will seek death and they will not find it – it will continually flee from them. Rather than repent, they will simply seek to die. But they can’t. Death eludes them. This, too, portends the torment to come at the end of time for those who reject the gospel – torment will continue day and night, and death will never come.
Which brings us quickly to our last point – the description of the locusts in verses 7-12. It becomes clear these are not your normal locusts. Not only in what they do – not eating vegetation and stinging men like scorpions – but in how they look. Lots of attempts to give a literal interpretation to these verses, but we remember this is apocalyptic literature. These are images, but images which mean something. Look at the description – they are like – that is, not actually, but like – so don’t see this picture – but see what the description represents:
- Horses prepared for battle. Even real locusts can have the appearance of miniature horses. The meaning here is they are like a ferocious army.
- They have crowns like gold. Notice the use of the word like throughout this description. The crowns are not royal crowns, but stephonos – speaking of the victor’s crown. They will be victorious in what God has granted them to do.
- Their faces are like the faces of men, which likely means they have intelligence.
- Not to be left out, they had hair like women – some suggest this refers to their long antennae – again, likely adding to their humanlike appearance.
- They had teeth like the teeth of lions – just like in Joel 1 – speaking of their powerful ability to tear to their prey to pieces and their voracious appetite.
- They had breastplates like breastplates of iron – speaking of their invincibility. (thorax)
- Their wings were like the sound of chariots and horses rushing into battle – this entire description is meant to instill fear on the earth dwellers.
- They have tails like scorpions – we’ve seen that – by which they torment people for five months.
Again, the idea in the description and in the actual event is to strike terror in the hearts and minds of people – why? Well, certainly it is the outpouring of God’s wrath. But they don’t die, and it is for a limited time. Why? To call them to repentance. To give them reason and time to repent. Do they? We will be reminded next time at the end of chapter 9, that they do not.
Finally, we see they have a king over them, which is interesting – another difference from real locusts because Proverbs 30 tells us that locusts do not have a king. These do – verse 11 – the angel – not the one that had the key who opened the abyss – but the fallen angel of the abyss, whose name is in Hebrew Abaddon and in Greek, Apollyon is their king. They both mean destruction. Whoever this is – Satan himself or one of his chief princes, his name is appropriately destruction, for this is what awaits those who do not repent.
And there is more to come – for this is but the first woe which is past, with two more to come. Let me close with these two thoughts. First, a reminder that God’s patience has its limits. He will call to repentance, but there will come a day when repentance will no longer be available nor offered. But even here, in the midst of the outpouring of wrath, God is still calling to repentance. This is not the stuff of Halloween and Friday the 13th. This is real, it is hideous, awful, awesome wrath. Listen, Satan, the forces of evil, are simply bent on your destruction, which will ultimately never end. But second, God’s offer, through repentance and faith, is to a joy-filled everlasting life.