And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.
In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.
The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come.
Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths. By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.
The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.
Understanding And Applying the Text
When the angel blows the fifth trumpet, smoke and locust come from the bottomless pit. Locust torment those God has not sealed as His own. The torment lasts 5 months. People will want to die but won’t.
Some well-known futurists say these locusts are futuristic helicopters. They swarm out of the sky and shoot out of their tails a poison that inflicts great pain. Other noted futurists point to the recent uprising of Islamic terrorists. They believe the locusts are Muslim extremists who will someday attack God’s people. (Eberle, Dr. Harold R.. Victorious Eschatology: A Partial Preterist View p. 119.) Those interpretations are an exercise in missing the point.
The trumpet releases an army of locusts, empowered by demonic sources. The imagery comes from Exodus 10:13-15. There God plagued Egypt with locus. There a literal locust plague. It foreshadowed an even more devastating judgment. These monstrous insects attack only the wicked, not the saints (Revelation 9:4).
These are spiritual realities. It appears clear that this does not refer to a human army. Everything points to the demonic. This is what it reports to be. It is the host of hell swarming upon the cursed land of Israel.
Christ compared His contemporaries to a demon processed person. When the expelled demons came back, they brought with others. And the person was worse than before. (Matthew 12:43-45) This is that demon returning. That generation rejected the Lord of Lords and crucified Him.
Josephus, a Jew himself, wrote of the evil of the Jews at that time. He stated the nation had become corrupt and debased.
“No generation ever existed more prolific in crime. I am of opinion that had the Romans deferred the punishment of these wretches, either the earth would have opened, and swallowed up the city, or it would have been swept away by a deluge, or have shared the thunderbolts of the land of Sodom. For it produced a race far more ungodly than those who were thus visited.”—Josephus, bk. v. chap. Xiii.
The star fallen from heaven is a clear reference to Satan. Christ said, “And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.’” (Luke 10:18). This is also a reference to Isaiah 14:12,
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!”
The reference to the cloud of locusts is a clear reference to demonic spirits. These are emissaries of Satan. They come from the bottomless pit. When Jesus commanded the demons to come out of the man in Luke 8, they begged Christ not to send them back into the abyss. (Luke 8:31) So, the abyss is a reference to the place demons come from.
What about the weird appearance of the locusts? And what about their power limited to five months? The best critics agree. These features are from the habits and appearance of the natural locus. It is said, their ravages are limited to five months of the year. And their appearance to some degree resembles horses. (See Alford, Stuart, De Wette, Ewald, etc.)
The king is ‘the angel of the bottomless pit.’ This king’s name is Abaddon, and Apollyon, the Destroyer. This can only be ‘the ruler of the darkness of this world’. It is ‘the prince of the power of the air’. It is the spirit who works in the sons of disobedience’. Satan established his domination over the doomed nation. Yet his time was short. And his demons had no power to injure the servants of God.
This ought to comfort us. As Christians, Satan and his demons have no power over us. He can and will accuse us. But he cannot harm us. Praise God!
Different interpreters understand the trumpet in different ways. Idealists understand it as the torment of the natural wickedness of man. The attack bypasses saints. Those not sealed in Christ suffer the full effect. Historicists see the vision as the Islamic conquest of a degenerate Western Europe (a.d. 612–762). Futurists understand the vision is a supernatural plague of demonic spirits. These will be set loose on the earth right before the Second Coming.
The name of the king at 9:11, Apollyon, may be a reference to Nero. He saw himself as the Greek god Apollo.
After the fifth trumpet, John says the first woe is over. But two more are coming.
The fifth and sixth trumpets are similar. Both announce a torrent of beings loosed to punish men. Both have creatures that are unlike any physical beings. Both are in the spiritual realm but there is spillage into the natural realm. That is, we find historical verification.
The angel blows the sixth trumpet. There an announcement to, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” To understand this in the natural realm start with what is physical in this vision. That is the river Euphrates.
The four angels are bound at the river. Releasing the angels brings a horde to horsemen. These horsemen have unnatural characteristics.
The locus came from the bottomless pit. A bottomless pit is a physical impossibility. It is unnatural. But these horsemen come from the Euphrates river. It is something very natural.
The Romans feared an attack from the Parthians. They were on the other side of the Euphrates. This was the eastern border of the empire.
The army Titus used to invade sieges and capture Jerusalem came from the region of the Euphrates. Rome kept four legions stationed there. The four angels bound at the river symbolize the four legions station in the region.
‘Loosing of the angels’ is like mobilizing the legions. This is both symbolic and historical. But some may calm the symbolism does not hold Roman legions did not have cavalry. The legionaries who came from the Euphrates came with auxiliary forces. These forces came from the same region.
Antiochus of Commagene ruled over the Euphrates region. According to Tacitus, he was the richest king who submitted to the Roman authority. He sent a contingent to the war. Sohemus was another powerful king. His territory was in the same region. He sent a force as well. These troops were mostly cavalry. So the symbolism holds well.
John described events yet to come in his day. But they are events that have occurred in our day. This should encourage us. It is further evidence that the scripture is trustworthy.