Lectionary Calendar
Monday, May 20th, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
Tired of seeing ads while studying? Now you can enjoy an "Ads Free" version of the site for as little as 10¢ a day and support a great cause!
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries
Revelation 9

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors


The seven seals were divided into two groups (4 and 3); and the same is true with the trumpets, the division being marked by the insertion of Revelation 8:13"(F1) where the last three trumpets are designated as "woes." These last three "woes" contrast with the first four trumpets in that their judgments fall directly upon man; whereas, in the four, the judgments fell upon the environment, with their effect being felt indirectly by man. Both here and there, however, the heavenly limitation is clearly visible. The torment of the locusts is for "five months" only (Revelation 9:5; Revelation 9:10); only the "third part" of man may be killed under the sixth trumpet (Revelation 9:15); the fallen angel (Revelation 9:1) could not open the abyss until "there was given him" the key; the four angels bound at the Euphrates could not act independently, but only upon orders from God himself (Revelation 9:13-14); and in the fifth trumpet (first woe), the tormentors could only inflict punishment, but could not kill.

This chapter relates the fifth trumpet (Revelation 9:1-12) and the sixth trumpet (Revelation 9:13-21), which are the first two woes; and here there is a dramatic progression beyond the environmental judgments of the first four trumpets recorded in Revelation 8.

The picture of terror mounts in its awful intensity. Here the terrors coming upon the earth are beyond nature; they are demonic. The abyss is opened, and the superhuman terrors are being dispatched upon the world.(F2)

This fundamental change in the character of the visions from environmental dislocations to the type of terrors in the woes forbids the interpretation that makes the successive trumpets prophecies of sequential historical events; and exactly the same change is seen in the first two woes. For example, Barnes’ view that the fifth trumpet represents Muslim conquests, and that the sixth refers to the rise of the Turkish power, takes no account whatever of the fact that the fifth trumpet was not fatal, and that the sixth resulted in the slaughter of a third of the human race. This is a distinction that cannot pertain to the successive conquests of the Muslims and the Turks.

In fact, it is likely that the fifth trumpet does not symbolize military operations at all. Taken together, and there is an obvious connection, the two woes represent such things as wicked philosophies, false theories, satanic delusions, vain imaginations, humanistic assumptions, perverted religious systems, evil patterns of human thought, etc., which turn people’s thoughts away from God and betray the whole world into the hands of Satan, with a result, of course, that plunges the whole world repeatedly into destructive wars and revolutions, producing a lifestyle radically contrary to the will of God.

Verse 1

And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven fallen upon the earth: and there was given to him the key of the pit of the abyss.

This heralds the appearance of the first woe.

A star from heaven fallen upon the earth … The fallen star must be Satan himself(F3) The fallen star is apparently Satan, his power to open and close being exercised by divine permission.(F4) The star fallen represents the devil’s present condition. Having rebelled against God, he has lost his position in heaven … When we read that Satan had power to open the abyss, it means that he receives power to incite men to evil.(F5) Isaiah said of Satan, "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning" (Isaiah 14:12). It seems therefore that Satan himself is here referred to under this symbol.(F6) The star is Satan(F7) The pit is opened by one who is a fallen star — no doubt Satan.(F8)

The only "fallen star" in the sense of this passage in the entire Bible is Satan. Jesus said, "I beheld Satan fallen as lightning from heaven" (Luke 10:18). Lenski objected to this interpretation on the basis that Satan fell "like lightning," but not "out of heaven to the earth."(F9) However, Lenski failed to show any difference in falling "from" heaven and "out of’ heaven. Compare this verse with Luke 10:18. Others also have shown great reluctance to accept this fallen star as Satan:

He is obviously an angel of God carrying out the divine will.(F10) (Would such an angel be called "fallen"?) He depicts the corporate life of men in its opposition to God..(F11) "Fallen" is used because that is the way stars come down out of the sky. It represents some angelic figure, not Satan.(F12)

Such objections are arbitrary and unsupported by any solid logic. It appears that much of the reluctance to admit what appears to this writer as a certainty derives from an erroneous identification of this being with the angel with the key in Revelation 20:1 who bound Satan and locked him up; but that angel was the true possessor of the key. Here the fallen angel used it only by permission. As Caird observed:

There is all the difference in the world between this fallen angel who was given the key, and the angel of Revelation 20:1 whom John saw descending from heaven with the key. The difference is not just that one releases and the other locks up. One is an evil agent acting with divine permission, and the other is a good agent carrying out God’s will.(F13)

We do not hesitate to identify what takes place under these trumpet woes with the "loosing of Satan," detailed later in the prophecy.

And there was given to him the key of the pit of the abyss … Jesus’ encounter with the demons of Gadara (Luke 8:31) revealed the "abyss" as "the abode of the devil and demons."(F14) When people serve Satan rather than Christ, the Lord permits Satan to torment them (the fifth trumpet) and to slay them (the sixth trumpet). Fallen in this verse therefore refers to what took place long before this vision; "the proper translation is star which had fallen."(F15) Having the key of the abyss, with limitations, shows that Satan is free to deceive and even to cause the death of the wicked, and has special reference here to his inciting them to rebel]ion against God. Beckwith objected that, "Satan nowhere appears as a divine agent of God to carry out a divine ordering, such as the sending of these plagues upon the world";(F16) but the Scriptures teach that Satan blinds the ungodly (2 Corinthians 4:4), and practically all of Romans 1:18-32 is a vivid description of God’s use of Satan in just such a capacity. It is clearly satanic activity which is in view in these verses.

Verse 2

And he opened the pit of the abyss; and there went up a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.

The smoke here, and the locusts, are the hellish teachings, influences, thought styles, intellectual delusions, etc., that darken the true light of Christ in the world. The perverted minds of sinful men mislead the whole world, promising happiness, but giving instead wretched and miserable torment.

This obscuration (by the smoke) is surely the diffusion on earth of evil thoughts and ideas, the spirit of falsehood and hate, hostility to truth, and enmity against God and man.(F17)

The very air men breathe in their education, managing, governing, etc., is black murk. Hell spreads its pall over them. The light of truth shines, but men live in this hellish atmosphere.(F18)

Now it is evident that this is a description of the way it is now, in this present dispensation of God’s grace; and this awful blindness and debauchery of people is not natural. "It is demonically inspired."(F19) "The picture taken as a whole symbolizes a very grievous moral and spiritual darkening by the forces of evil."(F20) "The smoke is the evil influence of Satan which darkens men’s minds."(F21) The "sun" which is darkened thus is Jesus Christ, the only true light of our world. God uses even the work of the devil as warning and punishment for the wicked; but the blame for the torments which people suffer is not upon God; rather, it is upon the wicked themselves and upon Satan whom they follow.

Verse 3

And out of the smoke came forth locusts upon the earth; and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power.

Out of the smoke came forth locusts … The evil influence of Satan has results, and the locusts are that result. The locust is an organized entity of evil, supported, induced, and held together by the satanic influence which produced it. Some scholars are very busy here with descriptions of plagues of locusts mentioned in the Old Testament, but the language here is figurative. No swarm of locusts ever had a king over them, or the power to inflict a sting lasting for five months. Furthermore these locusts did not even touch earth’s vegetation such as the grass (Revelation 9:4). It is a spiritual plague which is depicted here. "Such a spiritual malignity is, in truth, the source of the forces that are chewing up our world."(F22) "The locusts are symbols of wild ideas and false doctrines, which becloud men’s mental faculties."(F23)

Barclay described a literal plague of locusts in Algiers in 1886, which was so destructive that, "Over 200,000 people died of the famine that followed."(F24) This only shows the aptitude of the metaphor here employed by the Holy Spirit. Such damage as that in Algiers, however, is nothing compared to that of 1939-1945, when the Germans lost their minds through accepting the "locust" doctrine of Aryan supremacy, or that they were a "master race." Ten million Jews alone were destroyed, to say nothing of forty million others. Such a "locust" doctrine, like the locusts of this fifth trumpet, at first only tormented the people who received it. Early observants of it merely smiled at it, not realizing what the second phase of the swarm of locusts would be. Just as, in these fifth and sixth trumpets, the locusts of the fifth changed into the hellish horsemen of the sixth, in exactly the same manner, Hitler’s "locust" doctrines of Nazi nonsense, in a later phase, became a roaring tornado of worldwide destruction. The locust metaphor is peculiarly applicable here; for, in the great destructive plagues of locusts, the physical appearance of these creatures actually changes, the insects taking on a different coloring, becoming far stronger, and manifesting an incredibly greater destructive power. Of course, we are using the Nazis here merely as an example. There have been many such examples in history. The destructive horsemen always follow the locusts. In Germany, the whole dreadful experience developed when men burned the Bibles at Nuremberg, denied the Scriptural truth of the brotherhood of all races (Acts 17:26), renounced the Biblical doctrine of the supreme value of the individual, and drowned a third of mankind in blood. There are a million other "locusts" pouring out of the pit of the abyss continually, and the wicked are easily deceived by them.

Plummer pointed out that "some scholars apply the symbol (the locusts) to the Muslims";(F25) and the prophecy surely fits that part of history; however, it misses the true identity of the "locust." That was the hell-born idea that Mohammed was a prophet of God! They even had to get a new Bible to go with such a falsehood. As Lenski said, "All that is presented here is only one hellish curse to let loose on the earth."(F26) Every generation has its own variety of "locust." It will be seen from these observations that the apparent mildness of the fifth trumpet locusts, in that they were not to "kill" people, but could merely torment them, is applicable only to their first phase. These two trumpets deal with exactly the same phenomenon in successive periods of its development. Note the resemblance of the hellish horsemen to the locusts; they are the "locusts" come of age!

Such locust-lies continually dominate the minds of the wicked. As these lines are being written (December, 1978), the news media are relating the saga of Jim Jones (recommended by the Vice President of the United States), who passed himself off as a Messiah, ending in the suicide-murder massacre of over 900 of his followers in Guyana, South America. The dupes who fell for Jones’ lie were indeed deceived by Satan; but before they could swallow his "locust," they had to renounce and deny their Bibles.

"Various kinds of "locusts" are today tormenting people all over the world. Think of Communism, the words of Mao Tse-tung, the emperor cult in Japan, etc. In America, we have our own "locust," which is the falsehood that Uncle Sam can take care of everybody from the cradle to the grave, and that he is also the godfather, benefactor, and policeman of the whole world!

It will be noted that in this interpretation, death follows the locusts, even though they did not have the power to kill, but only to hurt. This truth is inherent in the close proximity of these woes which follow each other: first the locusts, then the death.

Verse 4

And it was said unto them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree, but only such men as have not the seal of God on their foreheads.

Should not hurt the grass … Locusts which do not eat grass and other green vegetation cannot possibly be literal locusts; a figurative meaning is demanded.

But only such men as have not the seal of God … Our studies in Revelation 7 revealed this "seal" as the blessed Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s people. If the German nation had been following their New Testament, they would have found it impossible to buy the locust of "Aryan supremacy"; and if Jim Jones’ congregation had possessed the slightest knowledge of the Bible, they would have recognized him from the first as a fraud and a deceiver. The locusts of this fifth trumpet are presented as being able to hurt "only such men" as those who are walking without God and contrary to the truth. All evil, unscriptural "locusts" have the power to hurt. The "locust" doctrine of the transmigration of souls made it a sin to kill rats; and a bubonic plague wiped out half of Europe; the "locust" doctrine that land, air, water, and fire are "sacred" blocked Hans Victor Reisser’s efforts to wipe out malaria in the Orient. He was prohibited from treating the ponds and water courses with kerosene to kill the larvae of mosquitoes. One of the great seductive elements in all "locust" lies is that people imagine that they are safe in believing anything!

Ladd’s deduction in this verse that "the plague falls only upon the wicked, and that Christians exempt from it,"(F27) is only partly true. Christians are indeed exempt from accepting ideas and slogans contrary to the word of God; but, when some monstrous error has worked itself into a massive world upheaval, as in the Nazi terror, Christians are in no sense physically exempt from the debacle that follows, even though they are spiritually exempt in the sense of Luke 21:16-19. "A plague from which those whose way is through tribulation are exempt can hardly be a physical one."(F28) Thus the plague of locusts is a plague of lies, false theories, evil philosophies, selfish proverbs elevated to the status of law, etc. Both of the woes in this chapter are primarily against the world; "but it is true that the church also suffers, but not in judgment."(F29)

Verse 5

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 striketh a man.

The "torment" of people who have swallowed some false idea is as amazing as it is pitiful. This writer was living in Washington, D.C., when the atom bomb spies who delivered nuclear weapons to the Russians were executed. People who had swallowed the locust-lie of Communism traveled long distances to march in front of the White House in protest; and it was pathetic to see old ladies, some of them in their 70’s, marching in a freezing rain in 16 degree weather, hobbling along, shouting until they were hoarse, and dragging placards and banners with them. They were people clearly tormented by an idea. One sees similar dupes screaming, protesting, demonstrating, and snarling in almost every presentation of news media coverage of world events. There are a lot of "tormented" people today; and it should be kept in mind that this is only Phase I of the locust saga.

They should be tormented for five months … There is a limitation here; but the more it is studied, the less comforting it is. What happens after the "five months"? Instead of disappearing, the hurt enters Phase II in the sixth trumpet (See under Revelation 9:13). The repetition of this "five months" in Revelation 9:10 "makes it doubly significant."(F30) "The very fact that these monsters are not to kill indicates that this torment is only half of what is to occur."(F31) The other half will appear in the next woe (Revelation 9:13 f). Just as in the first four trumpets, the destruction was limited to "one third," here the restriction of "five months" is imposed. False ideas run their course and are discredited. No one today effectively preaches the doctrine of Aryan supremacy; but there are swarms of locusts, and as soon as one dies, a hundred others take its place. Satan has plenty of them!

Of course, some seek a specific, dated, historical fulfillment of these "five months." They have been viewed as: (1) five years of Gothic rule; (2) 150 years of Saracen control; (3) 79 1/2 natural years (A.D. 510-589); (4) Muslim conquests (A.D. 612-672); and (5) merely a short time, etc.(F32) Lenski’s suggesting that the ten plagues of Egypt are in mind, with the meaning that, "This is only half of what’s going to happen,"(F33) seems reasonable and fits the interpretation advocated here. The locusts of the fifth trumpet are just half of these two woe judgments in Revelation 9, there being a very definite connection between them.

Torment as the torment of a scorpion … All of us have known people who were "stung" by some ridiculous false philosophy! See first paragraph under this verse. The mention of "scorpion" was explained thus by Roberson:

The scorpion takes its place with the snake, and other creatures hostile to man, and with them symbolizes the forces of spiritual evil which are active in the world.(F34)

Verse 6

And in those days men shall seek death, and shall in no wise find it: and they shall desire to die, and death fleeth from them.

Men shall seek death and shall in no wise find it … How often is the life of a man rendered intolerable because of his sins; and he has recourse to the razor, the rope, or the poison.(F35)

The vast multitudes who commit suicide every year are but a small remnant of the millions whose lives have been made wretched through sin, either of themselves or others, and who vainly long for a death that does not come!

When the illusions, fantasies and lies are exposed to the light of reality, men often cry for death rather than face their failure and respond to the grace of God.(F36)

The true Christian cannot be deceived by the lies of Satan, and always retains in his heart that peace of God which passes understanding.

Verse 7

And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared for war; and upon their heads as it were crowns like unto gold, and their faces were as men’s faces.

This description of the locusts seems designed to make them appear as disgusting as possible; but there are significant revelations in these details.

Horses prepared for war … Here is the true prophecy of what the locusts will soon become. For all the prohibitions against their killing anyone, the wicked ideas, doctrines, and philosophies of the devil are embryonic war horses; and, given a little time, the holocaust will arrive! These "horses" point the direction in which the locusts travel. Their thundering wings carry the echo of a cavalry charge.

Crowns like unto gold … These are not genuine, but false. The wicked ideas are always advocated from premises of virtue and benevolence; false ideas promise all kinds of victories and utopias; but, alas, the crowns are not really gold at all, but tinsel.

Faces … as men’s faces … Ah! These locusts are not symbols of invisible demons, but of very evil, visible, and destructive men advocating the delusions of hell itself. Back of every evil on earth, in the last analysis, there looms the face of an evil man. Thus, "Under the symbolism of a locust plague, John describes the power and influence of hell operating in the hearts and lives of wicked men."(F37) "Human agents are denoted by these locusts."(F38)

Fanciful Arabian poets compared locusts: in head to the horse, in breast to the lion, in feet to the camel, in body to the snake, and in antennae to a girl’s long, waving hair.(F39)

Verse 8

And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions.

Hair as of women … The so-called resemblance between the locust antennae and a woman’s hair is non-existent, regardless of Arabian poets! What is meant by this is that letting the hair grow long will mark certain "locusts" who will plague the earth. Whether this is exactly what is prophesied here or not, that is certainly the way it is. We think instantly of Fidel Castro and a host of long-haired agitators and revolutionaries who have appeared in our own times. Any TV broadcast of social uprisings on any part of the earth will also show the predominance of this very characteristic. Despite this long-hair fad being unrecognized for what it is by many thoughtless and relatively innocent persons, it is essentially the marking of the locusts. The vandals and Huns of antiquity exhibited this characteristic exactly in the manner of Fidel Castro and his dirty, long-haired rapists of Cuba.

Teeth as the teeth of lions … Despite the feminine appearance, the true nature of this horde is seen in the teeth, namely, that of utter destructiveness.

Some will object to the view expressed here, and we respect their right of doing so. Mounce noted that, "The fact that both Samson (Judges 16:13; Judges 16:19) and Absalom (2 Samuel 14:25-26) wore their hair long should show that long hair may be a symbol of vitality rather than femininity";(F40) and while this is true enough, it is also in order to note that Absalom was a traitor and Samson a profligate!

Verse 9

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.

Breastplates . .. chariots . .. horses rushing to war … What is the projected outcome of false teachings, destructive philosophies, etc.? What shall be the ultimate result of these locusts that do not kill, but only hurt? Well, here it is. The battle lines are inevitably drawn, and the whole world is drowned in blood and violence.

Verse 10

And they have tails like unto scorpions, and stings; and in their tails is their power to hurt men five months.

In their tails is their power … The scorpion has a relatively long tail; and the fact of these war-horse like things having power in their tails would appear to symbolize the "final impact" or "the end result" of their influence. The evil of a false theory, like Communism, for example, is seen, not at first, when it glamorized, idealized, and advocated as a cure of all social ills, but later, when the mask is off, and repression, tyranny, death, and destruction are nakedly enthroned above the unhappy peoples who have been deceived. Certainly this view must be accounted as reasonable as that which finds here a reference to Turkish horsemen who fired their arrows over the tails of their horses after turning around to retreat from a cavalry charge!

The scholars who see this fifth trumpet as a "symbol of the forces of decay and corruption which God used to undermine the Roman Empire,"(F41) are not wrong, except in their limitation of the phenomenon described here to a particular period. For example, homosexuality was one of the lifestyles deriving from sensuality and wickedness which figured prominently in the downfall of Rome, as pointed out by many; but the same gross evil has surfaced again and again in several periods of social decline and overthrow of established order. "The motif in these judgments is reflected many times throughout history, but the primary focus is the ultimate conflict between God and Satan which brings history to a close."(F42) That conflict is going on now; and the old locust game is doing a flourishing business on every street in the world.

Verse 11

They have over them as king the angel of the abyss: his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek tongue he hath the name Apollyon.

A king, the angel of the abyss … Who is this, if not Satan? Bruce identified this character, somewhat reluctantly, with "the fallen star of Revelation 9:1."(F43) Caird also did the same thing,(F44) but neither of them recognized him as Satan. Here he is given two names, "both of which mean the Destroyer;(F45) and can this be some other than the devil? We do not think so.

Apollyon … "Both Caligula and Nero aped the pagan God Apollo,(F46) and Beckwith thought the use of this name was "a direct allusion to such a pretending Roman emperor."(F47) If so, it is the same as saying that this Roman emperor Apollo was one and the same as the devil. Plummer identified this king over the locusts as "Satan," adding that, "the height of absurdity is reached by those writers who see in the name Apollyon a reference to Napoleon!"(F48)

Verse 12

The first Woe is past: behold, there come yet two Woes hereafter.

The second woe begins here and runs through the end of the chapter. "This sixth trumpet is the climax beyond which lies the final judgment."(F49) "It is a companion to and the complement of the first woe (the fifth trumpet)just described."(F50) The great feature of this woe is the 200,000,000 hellish horsemen; but the first woe has already made us see in the locusts there the beginnings of these horsemen here. We regard it as a mistake to identify these with events of specific dates in history, of which there are doubtless many valid examples of what is prophesied here. We believe that the locusts are still swarming, and that the evil horsemen are still doing their thing on the earth. Again, we wish to call attention to a quotation from Albertus Pieters under Revelation 8:6.

It should always be remembered that Revelation was written to help Christians of John’s day face the rigors of the actual, evil world in which they lived; and the same truth that helped them can help the Christians of all ages, including our own. These two woes depict a world that is largely controlled by a wicked and malignant ruler of the abyss, who darkens the light of truth itself with the terrible smoke of the infernal world. Conditions will not become progressively better and better, but steadily worse and worse. Evil teachings will set off the rampaging destruction of 200,000,000 diabolical horsemen. Even then, people will not repent. No matter what awful judgments of God fall upon rebellious and wicked men, they will not renounce their wickedness.

But the Christians must not delude themselves. The world that John depicts with wicked men resisting God to the limit, no matter how they hurt themselves in the process, is the world believers must live in. There is no other.(F51)

Verse 13

And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the horns of the golden altar which is before God,

And the sixth angel sounded … Here begins the second woe, actually a development of the first. This is the locust story, Phase II.

This is the last appeal for people to renounce their evil ways and turn their hearts to God. This woe, coming in close proximity to the final judgment, could indicate that far greater sufferings and death than anything previously seen upon earth may come as the immediate prelude to the Second Advent and the final judgment. Significantly, the prophet here did not foretell any wholesale conversion of the Jews or of anyone else, no restoration of fleshly Israel, no millennium (so-called), nor any other of the fanciful utopias which people have sometimes imagined as taking place before the end. No! "They repented not" (Revelation 9:21)! "In each series, there are seven, and yet they are one. Any characteristic thought that appears in one, may be carried through all its members."(F52)

A voice from the horns of the golden altar … Frequently in Revelation we encounter this voice of authority, always indicating the will of God himself. The fact of the voice’s coming in this instance from the horns of the golden altar shows that the prayers of God’s people are an important factor, and that they have a definite relationship to the great events foretold.

Rist was correct in the discernment that "The sixth trumpet seems to be a variation of the fifth."(F53) He also noticed the resemblance to the red horse vision in the seals (Revelation 6:1-8), one of the numerous indications throughout Revelation of recapitulation in the successive series of seals, trumpets, and bowls. The aim of this vision was thus stated by Carpenter:

It is to exhibit the death-working power of false thoughts, false customs, false beliefs, and to arouse men to forsake false worship, worldliness and self-indulgence into which they have fallen.(F54)

Concerning the mysterious words of the last half of this chapter, Barclay said, "No one has ever been able fully to explain its details.(F55) Summers said of the "horses" that, "The combined efforts of P. T. Barnum and Robert Ripley could not produce such an animal";(F56) and Eller said of the locusts, just described, "These are locusts the way Picasso would have painted them."(F57) Despite the mystery of this symbol, however, we believe that the central message comes through loud and clear.

Regarding our interpretation of this sixth trumpet, our own view is stated in the words of Carpenter, above; but other meanings are proposed by various scholars. Summers wrote: "The whole picture presents the Parthian cavalry."(F58) Ellicott, Barnes, and others refer the fifth and sixth trumpets to the two great Muslim invasions culminating in the fall of Constantinople in 1453.(F59) We do not at all despise such interpretations. The events mentioned did fulfill what is here prophesied; but so did the events of two great world wars fought within the lifetime of this writer. Furthermore, it cannot be absolutely ruled out that supernatural events never yet seen on earth may be indicated, an opinion held by Lenski.(F60)

Verse 14

one saying to the sixth angel that had the trumpet, Loose the four angels that are bound at the great river Euphrates.

Loose the four angels … These angels symbolize the control of the horde of incredible monsters about to be released. It is immaterial whether these "four angels" are good, or evil angels. In either case, they operate only with God’s permissive will, and in full accord with God’s order.

The Euphrates … Why this river? Many will agree with Hinds, that, "It seems wholly incredible that such a vision should not represent some great historical movement."(F61) He saw the Muslim invasion here. Caird discovered the Parthian menace to Rome on its eastern boundary (the Euphrates), suggesting that:

The tactics of the Parthian army were to shoot one volley as they charged, and another over their horses’ tails as they withdrew. There was therefore some factual basis for John’s surrealistic picture of horses able to wound with their mouths and with their tails.(F62)

Like other specific fulfillments, however, this does not fit. If the Parthian invasion had been meant, the horsemen would form the principal part of the vision; but they are barely mentioned. No activity in the infliction of the plagues is attributed to them. "There is no allusion to the characteristics of the Parthians."(F63) Beasley-Murray adopted a somewhat different view when he pointed out that, "Without doubt (the mention of the Euphrates here) is due to its being the eastern boundary of the empire."(F64)

Despite many learned opinions pointing in that same direction, we are convinced that another meaning must be sought. The Euphrates valley is the ancient home of mankind on earth. The Garden of Eden was there, long before there was a Rome; and it is likely that the place indicated here by the mention of this great river is man’s homeland, the cradle of his civilization, and the birthplace of his institutions, showing that it is from people themselves, as a product of their own devices, and as a result of their own philosophies, that the monstrous hordes of destroying cavalry really derive. Is not this the truth? It will be remembered that the locusts had men’s faces. Thoughts such as those advanced by Ladd do not contradict this. "The scourge is inflicted by the horses themselves which represent demonic powers."(F65) True enough; but demons are only able to operate through wicked men. See note on "Euphrates" at end of chapter.

Verse 15

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.

The hour and day and month and year … means the precisely exact date. "This is not to be taken to imply the duration of the plague,"(F66) but applies to the exact historical moment when this development will occur, or perhaps "when the conditions in human thought are exactly right," for such things to happen. Inherent in this is the thought of God’s having an exact timetable and schedule for the accomplishment of all of his purposes. Jesus often referred to "my hour," meaning when the exact moment for God’s will to be done would arrive; and Paul mentioned the same thing in Acts 17:26. Such expressions as "the times of the Gentiles," "the fullness of time," and "the fullness of the Gentiles" are all connected with the thought here. God has a plan and a time schedule for all things; and at the exact moment his plans will be executed. It hardly needs to be said that people do not know this timetable but God does.

Beckwith was incorrect in speaking of this time factor to attribute it to "non-canonical literature."(F67) The whole New Testament has this conception. As Morris said, "It is clear that John is speaking of a divine plan. God has a purpose, and it is worked out. It is a purpose of judgment; and, upon this occasion, the third part of man were to be slain."(F68) There is a vast difference between Revelation and the apocalyptic writings of those approximate times, as pointed out by Mounce:

The latter always envision foreign invasion, an attack against the people of God by pagan hosts, while John sees the invasion as a divine judgment upon a corrupt civilization.(F69)

They should kill the third part of men … The limitation should be stressed. If Satan were completely free to work his wicked plans, the entire populations of earth would not survive for thirty days, but would be utterly and ruthlessly destroyed, the same having been the invariable purpose of the devil from the Garden of Eden until this very instant. When Satan tormented Job, he could go only so far, and no further. The same restraint is operative here.

Verse 16

And the number of the armies of the horsemen was twice ten thousand times ten thousand: I heard the number of them.

The number mentioned here could not possibly have been ascertained by counting, hence the mention of John’s having heard it. Even this vast number appears to be symbolical of an infinitely greater and more overwhelming number.

This martial host signifies war, the great recurring scourge of the human race. When it is time for millions of men to perish, a war is all that is needed to bring it about.

This describes war, not one particular war, but all wars, past, present and future, but especially those frightful wars that shall be waged toward the close of this dispensation.(F70)

Some have taken "myriads of myriads" as the 200,000,000 are enumerated here to symbolize the Turkish cavalry, which were numbered by "myriads." However, the heavenly angels were numbered with the same words in Revelation 5:11. Are God’s angels numbered like Turkish cavalry? Furthermore, this is an army of cavalry; and Constantinople fell to artillery. All specific applications of this prophecy encounter similar difficulties.

Verse 17

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 the horses are as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceedeth fire and smoke and brimstone.

What appropriate comment could possibly be made upon such "horses" as these? No one can even imagine such things. The description is possibly for the purpose of showing how dreadful, destructive, invincible and infernal they really are. Could not many of the devices of modern warfare be similarly described? "It is very doubtful whether these details should be pressed to a particular interpretation."(F71)

Verse 18

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.

By these three plagues … is usually applied to the "fire, smoke and brimstone" mentioned three times in these two verses (once with hyacinth instead of smoke), and which proceeded out of the horses’ mouths. The use of the word "hyacinth" in this connection is interesting. The word has several meanings, and each one of them is suggestive of the terror here described: (1) It is a bulbous plant of the lily family having spike-like flowers, suggesting the weapons of ancient warfare. (2) It is the name of an ancient gem with a bluish-violet color, the color of smoke, which the word replaces in Revelation 9:17. (3) It is a plant frequently alluded to by the Greek poets, fabled to have born on its petals the words of grief. Whatever definition John had in mind, all of its definitions were attended by doleful and melancholy overtones.

Whatever may be symbolized by these terrible beings, "There is no doubting the reality of those demonic forces that thrive on men’s unbelief and are bent on their ruin."(F72)

Verse 19

For the power of the horses is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails are like unto serpents, and have heads; and with them they hurt.

One of the evident purposes of this verse is that of linking this vision with that of the previous fifth trumpet. "The deadliness of the tails links this vision with the preceding."(F73) Thus there appears here the true nature of those false views which are adopted by mankind contrary to the revealed will of God. They are not merely innocent and harmless aberrations, but deadly and destructive errors that issue finally in a vast orgy of bloodshed and death. There are no innocent false doctrines. Lenski believed this woe points to the final judgment of God upon the corrupt human society "in its ultimate stage, delusions of hell overrunning what should be Christian nations."(F74) It is also possible that some phase of the final "loosing of Satan" may be depicted here.

The power of the horses is in their mouth … Evil propaganda is clearly suggested by this. It is the flood of wicked, irresponsible, inflammatory, deceitful, and violence-oriented rhetoric of all kinds of Pied Pipers screaming for people to follow them which is evident here. His evil mouth is the ruination of man.

Verse 20

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 the rest of mankind … repented not … The benign purpose of God, even in such terrible judgments as this, is seen in this mention of repentance. God does not desire the destruction of men, but their repentance; however, this prophecy indicates that hardened and rebellious men will not repent, no matter what dire judgments may befall them. "There is hidden in this, right here in the midst of what may be John’s most terrible scene, a very positive note."(F75) Although man’s awful wickedness may result in the most terrifying disasters upon the whole world, some may find in such things the incentive and the occasion of their repentance and turning to God. This appears to be the important thing from the standpoint of God.

Demons … gold … silver … brass … stone … wood … Note the progressive downward movement in the objects of false human worship. Exactly the same thing was outlined in Paul’s great discussion of pagan worship in Romans 1:18 ff. People changed the worship of God into the worship of man … birds … four-footed beasts … creeping things. The movement of the human soul is inevitably downward when once the vital link with God is severed.

Worship … idols of gold, … "These words do not restrict the application of this prophecy to those times when pagan idol worship prevailed, with its worship of the physical idols of antiquity. The ancient idols of the pagan temples are now gazing-stocks in museums; but the old gods of gold, wine, power, fame, sex, self, hatred, cruelty, and sensuality are still very much in business; and they are still worshipped by people who reject God and walk after their own lusts and selfish desires.

Verse 21

and they repented not of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.

Murders … sorceries … fornication … thefts … This list, like many other similar lists in the New Testament, is not exhaustive, but typical. Two of these words are particularly interesting:

Sorceries … Vine tells us that the primary meaning of this word ([@farmakeia]), from whence we have pharmacy, "signified the use of medicine, drugs and spells."(F76) The drug culture of current times immediately comes to mind.

Fornication … All the other words in this list are plural, but this is singular. Cox commented that, "Other crimes are perpetrated by men at intervals; but there is one continual fornication within those who do not have purity of heart."(F77)

"When men turn from the knowledge of God, the path leads downward to idolatry and immorality (Romans 1:18-32)."(F78)

And they repented not … This trumpet (the sixth) has revealed the world in its final impenitence."(F79) What comes next? The final judgment of Revelation 11:14-19; but before that is described there will be an interlude as there was before the opening of the seventh seal; and the purpose of the interlude here (Revelation 10) is to show God’s holy purpose of continuing the witness of the truth to people by means of preaching the gospel. Apart from that interlude, "The Apocalypse has now reached the verge of the final catastrophe."(F80)


This mighty river so prominently mentioned in the text which stresses the loosing of "the four angels bound at the great river Euphrates" in Revelation 9:14 is almost invariably stressed by scholars as a reference to the eastern boundary of the Roman empire; but, although true enough, we do not believe that this river’s connection with the empire of the Romans is the important thing here. It is the prior connection of it with the garden of Eden and the fall of mankind which makes the mention of it significant in connection with the awful judgment recorded in this passage. That river, in the midst of the garden of Eden, is where all the woes of mankind originated. That is where the rebellion of people against God began; and this passage depicting the final falling of the cumulative wrath of God upon the human race is actually the fulfillment of God’s truth that, "In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:17). Thus, John T. Hinds’ remarkable pronouncement that the mention of this river demands that it be understood as a reference to "some great historical movement"(F81) is profoundly true. That great historical movement, however, was no obscure invasion of the ancient Roman empire by the Parthians or any other such military incursion against Roman authority, but a far greater historical movement of the whole human race away from their Creator, a movement which began at the Euphrates in the dawn of human creation.

And what about the four angels being "loosed" here, indicating a long restraint previously? They represent the judgment of God upon Adam and Eve for their rebellion, a judgment that was not executed at once, in order not to frustrate God’s purpose of redemption, but a judgment that was not cancelled, merely deferred until the day when the avenging angels would be "loosed" and there would finally fall the promised judgment. A very similar thing is revealed concerning the long deferred judgment against Jerusalem, a judgment which was not cancelled, but only deferred.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Revelation 9". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/revelation-9.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
Ads FreeProfile