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30 December 2018

Fifth and Sixth Trumpets (Revelation 8:13–9:12)

Apocalyptic Judgment
The first four trumpets have sounded. Now three “woes” are proclaimed that correspond to the last three trumpets (9:12; 11:14). This is another example of John dividing a series of seven into two segments of four and three.
(Revelation 8:13) – “And I saw and heard an eagle flying in mid heaven, saying with a great voice, Woe, woe, woe, for them that dwell on the earth, by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, who are yet to sound.”
      The verse explicitly identifies the target of the trumpet blasts: the “Inhabitants of the earth.” This group is hostile to the church throughout Revelation (3:10; 6:10; 11:10; 12:12; 13:8-14; 14:6; 17:2; 17:8). The trumpet judgments are a response to that hostility.
      John sees an “eagle flying mid-heaven” to pronounce “woe” on the earth’s inhabitants. The height of the bird is noted to portray the announcement as a warning to all the earth. This is not to be taken literally. Eagles can not talk, and regardless of elevation, its message would only be heard over a limited range. This is symbolic language.
      The repetition of “woe” indicates the severity of the final three judgments or perhaps the severity of the consequent judgment on anyone who does not respond in repentance (9:21). 

The Abyss – Source of Evil
(Revelation 9:1-2) – “And the fifth angel trumpeted, and I saw a star from heaven having fallen to the earth: and there was given to him the key of the Abyss. And he opened the Abyss; and there went up a smoke out of it, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the Abyss.
The Abyss features in several of Revelation’s visions (9:11; 11:7; 17:8; 21:1-7). In each, it is the source of malevolent creatures hostile to the Lamb seen “ascending” from it. John saw the beast that makes war with the Two Witnesses “ascending out of the Abyss” (11:7; 17:8). During the thousand years, the Dragon is bound in the Abyss until released at the period’s end (20:1-3). The Abyss also corresponds to the sea from which the Beast ascends (13:1-2; Daniel 7:1-8).
    John sees smoke ascend out of the Abyss and a horde of locust-like creatures. An angel associated with destruction rules over this horde (9:11). Because of the language of ascent from the Abyss, we ought to consider whether the “ascents” described in Revelation 9:1, 11:7, 13:1 and 20:1 refer to the same set of events.
     The “Beast” is released in chapters 11 and 13 to lead the “war” against the saints, but Revelation paradoxically uses satanic forces to inflict judgment against the church’s persecutors. The “beast” means persecution for the saints but brings with it destruction on the church’s tormentors, in this case, the “inhabitants of the earth.”
     John sees a “star having fallen from heaven” to unlock the Abyss. Elsewhere stars represent “angels” or “messengers” (1:20). Most likely this “star” is identical with the “the angel of the Abyss” named ‘Abaddon’ and ‘Apollyon’ (9:11). “Fallen” is in a perfect tense and sees action as completed in the past. Possibly this description identifies this one as one of the fallen angels who serve the Dragon (12:7, “the Dragon his angels”).
     This angel is “given” a key. The key points to the Lamb’s control over events, including ones undertaken by satanic forces.  The army of locusts is unable to ascend from the Abyss until authorized to do so by the Lamb.
     The darkening of the “sun and the air” alludes to the plague of darkness over Egypt, the ninth plague that followed the plague of locusts: “Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven, and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days…but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings” (Exodus 10:21-23).
     In the background is Isaiah 14:4-15, a judgment dirge against ancient Babylon:  “Take up this parable against the king of Babylon, How has the oppressor ceased, the golden city ceased…You said in thy heart, I will ascend into heaven…I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; yet you will be brought down to Sheol, to the uttermost parts of the pit.”

The Locusts – First Woe
(Revelation 9:3-10) – “And out of the smoke came forth locusts upon the earth; and authority was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have authority. And it was said to them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, any green thing or any tree, but only such men as have not the seal of God on their foreheads. And it was given them that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when it strikes a man. And in those days men will seek death, and will certainly not find it; and they will desire to die, and death flees from them. And the shapes of the locusts were like horses prepared for war; and upon their heads as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as men’s faces. And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as teeth of lions. And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to war. And they have tails like scorpions, and stings; and in their tails is their power to hurt men five months.”
     The first four trumpets brought destruction to things necessary to commerce: agriculture, ships and so on. This plague does not harm vegetation but men, not to kill but to torment them.
     The description of the locusts draws imagery from Joel’s vision of a voracious invading army compared to a plague of locusts (Joel 1:15). In Joel, the attack is against Israel. Here the “locusts” target the “inhabitants of the earth.” The “locusts” in Joel are identified as a “nation, strong and without number; his teeth are the teeth of a lion” (Joel 1:6). That day will be “a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness.” This horde has the appearance of horses; “as horsemen, so do they run. Like the noise of chariots on the tops of the mountains do they leap”; before them “the sun and the moon are darkened” (Joel 2:2-5).
     In Joel, this army attacked Israel in the land of Palestine. Israel averted total destruction only through repentance (Joel 2:14-20). In contrast, in Revelation 9 the locusts attack the “inhabitants of the earth” hostile to God’s people all while refusing to repent. The differences caution against viewing this as a straightforward “literal” interpretation of Joel’s prophecy. Revelation weaves this imagery into its narrative along with language from other Old Testament passages to produce a paradoxical picture of judgment against a hostile world. What led Israel to repent causes the earth-dwellers to harden their hearts. Their every action against the church only produces their suffering.
     The picture from Joel is reminiscent of a dirge from Jeremiah against Babylon and the prediction of her destruction by northerly force, a passage already alluded to in the first four trumpets.  “Behold, a people from the north…They lay hold on bow and spear; they are cruel and have no mercy; their voice roars like the sea; and they ride upon horses, every one set in array, as a man to the battle, against thee, O daughter of Babylon” (Jeremiah 50:41-42).
     We are meant to hear echoes of the eighth plague of Egypt, the locusts (Exodus 10:14-15) - “And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt…they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened, and there remained not any green thing in all the land of Egypt.” As with the previous plagues, Pharaoh hardened his heart and did not let Israel go. But it was Yahweh’s intention all along to bring Israel out by means of judgment on Egypt and its gods; to bring forth my people out of the land of Egypt by great judgments, so the Egyptians would get to know that I am Yahweh, when I stretch forth my hand upon Egypt to bring out the children of Israel” (Exodus 7:2-5).
     As with the first four trumpet judgments, Revelation expects us to hear echoes of the Exodus story and past judgments against Babylon in this round of judgment pronouncements (cp. Jeremiah 51:24-25; 51:56).
     The inhabitants of the earth are “tormented” (basanismos) five months. The same Greek noun is used to describe how the Two Witnesses “tormented them that dwell on the earth” by words issuing from their mouths (11:5-6; 11:10).
     Men seeking but do not find death. This is reminiscent of Jeremiah 8:3, a judgment against Judah for idolatry:  “Death shall be chosen rather than life by all the residue that remain of this evil family.” Unlike ancient Judah, the inhabitants of the earth seek death and “in no wise find it.” This parallels the sixth seal in which men from all levels of society “hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and they say, Fall on us and hide us from the wrath of the Lamb” (6:15-16). Death is no way out; there will be no escape from judgment for the “inhabitants of the earth.”
     “Five months.” This figure does not occur elsewhere in Revelation, which makes it difficult to determine its significance. But the number five does and may be connected to Revelation 17:8-10. There John saw the “Beast that is going to ascend out of the Abyss and go into destruction. The inhabitants of the earth will wonder when they behold the Beast…The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings; five are fallen, one is, another is not yet come, and when it comes it must continue a little while.” The terms “fallen,” “five,” “ascent from the Abyss” and “inhabitants of the earth” occur in both passages. The term “destruction” translates apoleia related to the term “destroyer” or ‘Apollyon’ (9:10; 17:8).
     If this proposal is correct, then the “five-month” figure may link to the “five fallen kings” in Revelation 17:8. This proposal is not without problems.

The Destroyer
(Revelation 9:11-12) – “They have over them as king the angel of the Abyss: his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he has the name Apollyon. The first Woe is past; behold, yet two Woes remain.”
      Prior to unleashing the first plague against Egypt Yahweh stated that Pharaoh would harden his heart regardless of “signs and wonders.” That highlighted God’s justice; the plagues were “to bring forth my people out of the land of Egypt by great judgments” (Exodus 7:2-5). This allusion becomes clear when the “inhabitants of the earth” refuse to repent despite the horrific fifth trumpet/plague (9:21).
     The final paragraph of the fifth trumpet draws on the story of God’s final or tenth plague against Egypt when He sent the “destroyer” to slay the firstborn of Egypt. Both “Abaddon” and “Apollyon” mean “destroyer.” “For Yahweh will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he sees the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side-posts, Yahweh will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you” (Exodus 12:23).
     Note that Israelites did not suffer this destruction if lamb’s blood was applied to their doorposts. This corresponds to the saints sealed with God’s seal to protect them from destructive forces released by the “winds of heaven” (7:1-3).
     As stated above, the figure named “Abaddon” is probably the same as the “fallen angel” that unleashes the locusts from the Abyss. This name alludes also to Jeremiah 51:24-25 already applied in the first four trumpets (“I will render to Babylon and to all the inhabitants of Chaldea all their evil that they have done in Zionin your sight. I am against you, O destroying mountain, which destroyed all the earth” [cp. Jeremiah 51:56]).

Second Woe – From Beyond the Euphrates
      The sixth trumpet or second “woe” continues with imagery from the ten plagues of Egypt to portray the next judgment on the “inhabitants of the earth” (8:13). But the trumpet plagues are not limited geographically; they target the “inhabitants of the earth” not Pharaoh; it is the “inhabitants of the earth” that harden their hearts in response to the next plague.
      The sixth trumpet prepares for and leads into the final or seventh trumpet that will culminate in the judgment of the dead and final victory declared over the kingdoms of the earth (11:15-19). The “second woe” consists of several sections and does not end until the resurrection of the two witnesses (11:14– “The second Woe is past; the third Woe comes quickly”). The several sections of this “woe” are:
  • The invasion by a horde from beyond the Euphrates (9:13-21).
  • The little scroll (10:1-11).
  • The measuring of the sanctuary (11:1-2).
  • The two witnesses (11:3-13).
  • The end of the “second woe” (11:14). 


     The sections with the little scroll, the measuring of the sanctuary and the two witnesses are often viewed to form an “interlude” between the sixth and seventh trumpets that interrupts this seven-fold series (10:1-11:13). But in the vision, as presented by John all these sections occur during the “second woe.” It consists of more than a destructive plague.
     Structurally, both the seven-fold series of seals and of trumpets are subdivided into groups of four, two and one seal or trumpet, with what appears to be an “interlude” between the sixth and seventh events (7:1-8:1; 10:1-11:13). In both cases, the “interlude” is part of the sixth event. Thus the sixth seal includes cosmic upheaval and the sealing of God’s servants (6:12-7:17).
      The sixth trumpet is also related to the sixth bowl of wrath; both begin with the release of creatures from beyond the Euphrates River and both end with the overthrow of Babylon (16:12-21).

What John “Heard” - The Euphrates River
(Revelation 9:13-16) – “And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the horns of the golden altar which is before God, one saying to the sixth angel that had one trumpet, Loose the four angels that are bound at the great river Euphrates. And the four angels were loosed, that had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, that they should kill the third part of men. And the number of the armies of the horsemen was twice ten thousand times ten thousand: I heard the number of them.”
      In this paragraph, John describes what he “heard,” not what he saw. The “golden altar” refers to the altar of incense on which the prayers of the saints were offered as incense (Revelation 8:2-5). The judgments now unleashed are in response to those prayers.
     The second “woe” begins as the first with the release of a malevolent invading force, this one from the “Euphrates River” not the Abyss.  Possibly this represents the same reality in a different form.
     Mesopotamia lay beyond the Euphrates River, the home of Babylon. The river flowed through the center of the city (cp. Jeremiah 51:63). But this is not a reference to a location east of the Euphrates; the judgments released by the “three woes” target the “inhabitants of the earth” (8:13). Any allusion to “Babylon” is to the end-time reality described elsewhere in Revelation.
     The sixth trumpet is related to the sixth bowl of wrath (16:12-16), which dries up the Euphrates Riverto prepare” (hetoimazo) an attack by the ”kings of the east.” This group is identified as “the kings of the whole habitable earth” gathered by demonic spirits to “the battle of the great day of God Almighty in a place called Armageddon” (cp. 19:17-21; 20:8-9).
     The angel is commanded, “to loose four angels bound at the great river Euphrates.” Elsewhere four angels are linked to the four corners of the earth. The number four symbolizes universal. The four angels are probably identical with the four holding back the winds of heaven when God’s servants were sealed (7:1). They are now free to unleash whatever the winds hold.
     The four angels were “prepared for the hour, day, month and year, to kill the third of men.” Elsewhere this is the “hour of trial that is going to come upon the inhabitants of the earth” (3:10), the hour of Babylon’s desolation (18:10; 18:17; 18:19). The verb rendered “prepared” (hetoimazō) occurs in both images (i.e., the four angels were prepared; the sixth bowl prepares the way of the kings).
     The death of a “third” of mankind is not a case of God’s forbearance by limiting the extent of the damage. Neither the inhabitants killed nor the ones still alive at the end of the sixth trumpet escape judgment. The seventh trumpet will mean nothing less than the “time of the dead to be judged and the destruction of them that destroy the earth” (11:18). If anything, the death of a third of humanity is a foretaste of things to come.

What John “Saw” – Horses with Riders
(Revelation 9:17-19) –“And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates as of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone: and the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceeds fire and smoke and brimstone By these three plagues was the third part of men killed, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone, which proceeded out of their mouths. For the power of the horses is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails are like serpents, and have heads, and with them, they hurt.”
      John describes what he actually “saw.” This interpretive technique was previously employed in Revelation 5:5-6; what John saw interprets what he first heard. John heard “lion of the tribe of Judah” but saw a slain Lamb. John “heard” 144,000 men from the twelve tribes of Israel but “saw” an innumerable multitude of men and women from every tribe and nation.
     What John “sees” in the sixth trumpet is not an invading human army but a horde of hideous demonic creatures, but the link to the Euphrates informs us that the source of this demonic horde is “Babylon.”
     The riders have “breastplates like fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone.” This is a simile. It portrays how the breastplates appear to the eye; bright, deep red and blue (“hyacinth”). Elsewhere “brimstone” is linked with the Lake of Fire (14:10; 19:20; 21:8). They have heads like those of lions. This demonstrates they are not human but something unnatural.
     The locusts of the fifth trumpet had “tails with stings like scorpions.” These riders have “tails like snakes” or “serpents” (ophis) with authority to inflict harm. The same term is applied to Satan, “the great dragon and that old serpent” (12:9; 12:14-15; 20:2). This links the “riders” to the Dragon. Their tails “harm” (adikeō) men, the same verb in the promise to overcoming believers: “you will not be harmed of the second death,” which is the Lake of Fire (2:11).
     It is not “might” found in their “tails” but “authority, license” (exousia); “their license is in their mouth and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents, having heads.” This is a verbal link to the vision of the Beast from the sea that has “a mouth like a lion, and the dragon gave it great authority. And I saw one of its heads, as slain to death; and his deadly plague was healed, and all the world wondered after the beast.”
     “Fire, smoke, and brimstone” spew from their mouths, which are three different “plagues” sent to kill a third of mankind (9:17-18). The first four trumpets unleashed fire and the fifth smoke. Now brimstone is added to the mix; all elements connected to the Lake of Fire(14:10-11; 18:9; 19:3; 19:20; 20:10; 21:8).
     John saw fire, smoke and sulfur “issuing” (ekporeuomai) from their mouths. This is a parody of Jesus and the One Sitting on the Throne. In the opening vision, John saw a sharp two-edged sword issuing (ekporeuomai) from the mouth of Jesus (1:16). In his vision of a heavenly rider a sharp sword issued from the mouth of Jesus (ekporeuomai - 19:11-21). And in the heavenly court, he saw “lightning, thunders, and voices issuing from the Throne” (4:5).
     This last feature is a link to the Two Witnesses between the sixth and seventh trumpets. When anyone attempts to harm them “fire issues (ekporeuomai) from their mouth and consumes their enemies; and if any man desires to harm (adikeō)them, in this manner must he be killed.” The Two Witnesses represent churches (11:4; 1:20- “two lamp-stands”).
     The “fire, smoke and sulfur” that issue from the mouth of this demonic horde is set in contrast. What proceeds from the Lamb’s mouth is life; from the mouths of the Dragon and his minions issue death.
     These horses have tails like serpents, “having heads with which they injure.” The inclusion of “heads” in light of the Beast from the sea “having ten horns and seven heads,” one of which appeared “as though slain unto death; and its plague was healed.” The healing of its “plague” causes the inhabitants of the earth amazement, “Who is like unto the beast, and who is able to war with him?”

The “Rest” of the Inhabitants of the Earth Respond
(9:20-21) – “And the rest of mankind, who were not killed with these plagues, repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not 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; and they repented not of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their fornication nor of their thefts.”
      The described human response is in spite of the plagues, not because of them. They harden the hearts of the earth-dwells and do not produce repentance, despite the deaths of a “third part of men.” Plagues and hardened hearts link the vision to the Exodus story, the plagues of Egypt and the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.
     The “rest” of the inhabitants of the earth refuse to cease from the worship of “demons, and the idols of gold, and of silver, and of brass, and of stone, and of wood.” Their sin is idolatry. Likewise, the False Prophet causes men to make an image of the Beast (13:15-17).
     The “rest” has verbal parallels with several later verses. Just prior to the sounding of the seventh trumpet an earthquake devastates a tenth of the “city,” Babylon, and kills seven thousand of the “inhabitants of the earth.”  This left “the rest fearful.” Unlike the “inhabitants of the earth” at the end of the sixth trumpet, this group “gave glory to the God of heaven” (11:10-13); at the end of the battle of Armageddon “the rest were killed with the sword of him that sat upon the horse” (19:21); and at the start of the thousand years “the rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished” (20:5).
     The death of a “third of mankind” is not a partial or limited judgment, but an example to “the rest” not slain outright, a foretaste of the “second death” that awaits them for their refusal to repent, which demonstrates the justice of God’s judgment on them. “The rest” is comprised of men who hardened their hearts to any appeal from the Lamb or the Throne of God. The demonic horde inflicts the same kind of punishments on some men reserved for “the rest” in the Lake of Fire (14:10-11; 18:9; 19:3; 19:20; 20:10; 21:8).
     The inhabitants of the earth refuse to repent of “murders, sorceries, fornication or thefts,” sins are connected to Babylon and her economic dominion. Thus the nations of the earth were deceived by her “sorceries” (18:23) and “fornication” (2:21; 14:8; 17:2-4; 18:3; 19:2). As for “murders,” Babylon is a woman drunk with the “blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (17:6). In her is found the “blood of prophets, of saints and of all that were slain upon the earth” (18:24).
      The first woe continues to use language and imagery from the Exodus story and Jeremiah’s judgment dirge against Babylon. At the discretion of the Lamb, destructive forces are unleashed against the inhabitants of the earth; forces were held back until the saints were sealed.
     Revelation expects us to continue to read Israel’s exodus story and persecution by Babylon into its vision for the church.  Because of the lamb’s sacrificed life, the churches of Asia have left “Egypt” and are now in transit to the Greater Promised Land, New Jerusalem. Along the way, they endure persecution and even captivity at the hands of “Babylon.” What the Dragon means for the destruction of the church, the Lamb uses to judge his enemies and further along with the exodus of his people.
     In Exodus God used the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart to manifest His might and glory, liberate His people and bring them out of Egypt. The same is about to occur as the Lamb, having freed the saints from Greater Egypt by his shed blood, leads them to the Greater Promised Land.
    Every assault against the church by the Dragon results in victory for the church and defeat for her enemies. However, the ultimate defeat of Satan enemies and the triumph of the Lamb will require more than just destructive plagues.

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