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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 9

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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2. The fifth and sixth trumpet judgments ch. 9

John continued to relay the revelation of the trumpet judgments that he had received to clarify God’s future plans for his readers. John was still viewing things happening on the earth.

"In this chapter there are more occurrences of the words ’as’ and ’like’ than in any other chapter in the Bible, which shows how difficult it was for John to describe the scene which he saw in the vision." [Note: Ryrie, p. 61.]

Verse 1

Again John saw a "star" (cf. Revelation 6:13; Revelation 8:10), but this time the "star" was an intelligent being. If "fallen" (Gr. peptokota) has theological connotations, the "star" may refer to Satan (Revelation 9:2; Revelation 9:11; cf. Revelation 1:20; Job 38:7; Luke 10:18) or some other fallen angel. If, on the other hand, "fallen" simply describes his condition as having come to earth from heaven, an unfallen angel is probably in view. Since this angelic being simply carries out God’s instructions faithfully, I tend to think he is an unfallen angel. The "bottomless pit" (lit. shaft of the abyss) is the abode of Satan (Revelation 9:11; Revelation 20:1-3), some demons (cf. Luke 8:31; 2 Peter 2:4; Judges 1:6), and the beast (Revelation 11:7; Revelation 17:8). It is evidently a preliminary prison, not their final abode, which is the lake of fire (i.e., hell, Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10; cf. Matthew 25:41), from which this angel is about to release some of them temporarily. The angel received the key to the door of this pit from a greater authority, possibly God Himself.

Verses 1-6

The impact of the locusts 9:1-6

Verses 1-11

The fifth trumpet (first woe) 9:1-11

"Already introduced by the eagle’s proclamation in Revelation 8:13, the fifth trumpet sets the tone for the last three trumpets through its specificity and independence of the two to follow. This feature marks the last three seals too. The seventh trumpet also resembles the seventh seal in the way it solemnly concludes the whole and contains the next series within in its scope. As with the seals also, two episodes intervene between the sixth and seventh members. In so doing, the episodes set the stage for the seventh trumpet." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 8-22, p. 26.]

Verse 2

John saw smoke rising from the shaft leading to an underground chamber. The smoke probably symbolizes the terribleness of the place from which the locusts emerge (cf. Ephesians 2:2). In Revelation smoke usually relates to judgment, doom, and torment (Revelation 9:17-18; Revelation 18:9; Revelation 19:3), though it also has connections with holy things (Revelation 8:4; Revelation 15:8). The context specifies a negative connotation here (cf. Genesis 19:28; Exodus 19:18). What John saw resembled smoke billowing out of an active volcano.

Verse 3

What he saw was probably literal locusts (cf. Exodus 10:12-20). [Note: Newell, p. 129-32. Cf. Joel 1:6; 2:4-10.] Others have suggested that John saw modern instruments of warfare that looked like locusts. [Note: E.g., Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth.] The Old Testament attests the destructive power of locusts (cf. Deuteronomy 28:38; 2 Chronicles 7:13; Joel 2:25). They often swarmed in apparently limitless numbers (cf. Psalms 105:34; Nahum 3:15). Joel likened what would come on the earth in the day of the Lord to a locust invasion (Joel 1-2). The locust is a symbol of destruction throughout the Old Testament (cf. 1 Kings 8:37; Psalms 78:46). Yet the locusts John saw had the power to hurt people as scorpions can, which normal locusts do not. They also had a leader (Revelation 9:11), which normal locusts do not (Proverbs 30:27). Probably these are demons who assume some of the characteristics of locusts. [Note: Moffatt, 5:406; Mounce, p. 194; Ladd, p. 131.] Spirit beings later appear as frogs (Revelation 16:13). A less literal interpretation has seen these locusts as "the forces of evil which are active in the world" and "memories of the past brought home at times of Divine visitation, which hurt by recalling forgotten sins." [Note: Swete, pp. 116, 118.]

"Should we assume the prophet saw something like a motion picture of the future in his vision and then attempted to explain it in terms of images he understood? Or did he see a picture precisely in the images he gives, images which paint reality rather than describing it? Which description of those options is ’more literal’? Is it the one that focuses on how it might look to us, so we explain what he meant in words and images very different from the prophet’s terms and images? Or should one focus on how it looked to the prophet and how it appears in the ancient text? We would thus attempt to understand his words in their literary character, both by examining the image in context and the Old Testament images and background(s) it evokes." [Note: Darrell L. Bock, "Interpreting the Bible-How Texts Speak to Us," in Progressive Dispensationalism, p. 91.]

The writer just quoted believed John saw locusts.

Verse 4

God commissioned these creatures to inflict severe pain on the earth-dwellers who did not have God’s mark of ownership and protection on their foreheads (cf. Revelation 7:3-8). Normally locusts eat vegetation, but these creatures will afflict human beings. They were not to harm nature but humans.

Verse 5

They could not kill people, and their mission lasted only five months. The wound they caused would be very painful but not fatal.

"The scorpion belongs to the largest and most malignant of all insect tribes. Its general appearance is like a lobster, but much more hideous. Its sting located near the end of its tail is not always fatal, but can be. It ranks with the snake in its hostility toward human beings (cf. Luke 10:19; Luke 11:12)." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 8-22, p. 30.]

Verse 6

Because of the influence of these scorpion-like locusts, people will seek death but will not be able to escape their pain. They long for death rather than repenting.

Since Revelation 4 :1 John had been reporting what he saw, but now he spoke as a prophet predicting the future.

"For the first time the Apostle ceases to be the exponent of what he saw, and becomes the direct organ of the Spirit . . ." [Note: Alford, 4:641.]

This is one of the indications that Revelation is prophetic rather than only apocalyptic in genre.

Verse 7

John proceeded to describe the creatures he saw from head to tail. Some interpreters view these beings as natural locusts while others believe they represent an army of men. Still others interpret them as demons. Locusts resemble horses when viewed through a magnifying glass. However, John’s description of these creatures seems to indicate that they were unusually grotesque and frightening (cf. Joel 2:4). Their crowns (Gr. stephanos) probably symbolize their victory over the objects of their oppression. Their resemblance to men suggests their intelligence, but clearly they are not men (cf. Revelation 9:3-4).

Verses 7-11

The characteristics of the locusts 9:7-11

Verse 8

The antennae of locusts are not hair, and, while they have hair on their legs, the comparison with the hair of women suggests hair on their heads. Perhaps the reference to hair like women’s, presumable long hair, is to convey their wildness.

"An old Arab proverb is often quoted which says that the locust has a head like a horse, a breast like a lion, feet like a camel, a body like a serpent, and antennae like the hair of a maiden." [Note: Ladd, p. 132.]

Long hair in biblical times was a sign of glory, so perhaps they have some glory. Lion-like teeth denote voracity.

Verse 9

Their iron breastplates, which covered the chest and back in John’s day, gave them the appearance of invulnerability (cf. Revelation 9:17). [Note: Robertson, 6:364.] The sound of their activity will be terrifying, like the sound of battle (cf. Joel 2:4-5; 2 Kings 7:6; Jeremiah 47:3). Indeed their sound signifies battle with earth-dwellers.

Verse 10

Their ability and their mission to sting people also suggest abnormal characteristics. This verse reprises Revelation 9:5. The repetition serves to stress the awfulness of their power to hurt people.

Verse 11

Their king is the (leading) angel of the abyss. This is further confirmation that the locusts represent demons. The names "Abaddon" in Hebrew and "Apollyon" in Greek both mean "destroyer." Only the Apostle John supplied information bilingually in the New Testament (cf. John 1:38; John 1:42; John 4:25; John 6:1; John 9:7; John 11:16; John 19:13; John 19:17; John 19:20; John 20:16; Revelation 1:7; Revelation 3:14; Revelation 12:9). The objective of these demons is to destroy people. God grants this lead creature permission here to carry out his objective against unbelievers as part of God’s outpouring of wrath on earth-dwellers (cf. Job 2:6). Probably we should identify this angel as one of the hierarchy of fallen angels that emerges from the abyss with the other demons (cf. Ephesians 6:12). [Note: Thomas, Revelation 8-22, pp. 38-39.] The revelation of his name simply expresses his objective. Identifying him as Satan is tempting. [Note: Walvoord, The Revelation . . ., p. 163; Smith, A Revelation . . ., p. 145.] But the text only calls him an angel. The appearance of Satan later (Revelation 12:3; Revelation 12:9) is much more dramatic than the introduction of this angel.

Verse 12

The announcement of past and coming woes 9:12

This verse is transitional and clarifies that the fifth, sixth, and seventh trumpet judgments are also the first, second, and third woes. It is unclear whether the eagle (Revelation 8:13) or John is the speaker, though John seems to be the more likely candidate. "After these things" indicates that the woes (not just the visions) are consecutive, not simultaneous and recapitulative.

Verse 13

Someone near the four horns (symbolic of power) of the golden altar in heaven, probably the angel identified with it in Revelation 8:3, gave a command after the sixth angel blew the sixth trumpet (cf. Revelation 8:2; Revelation 8:6). Instead of seeing something (cf. Revelation 9:1), John now heard something.

Verses 13-19

A deadly attack 9:13-19

Verses 13-21

The sixth trumpet (second woe) 9:13-21

As will become evident, the severity of these judgments increases as the trumpets (woes) unfold.

Verse 14

This angel instructed the angel who had blown the sixth trumpet to release the four angels who were bound at the Euphrates River. These are evidently four angels that John had not seen before. They must be fallen angels since good angels are not bound (cf. Revelation 20:1-3; 2 Peter 2:4; Judges 1:6). God had a purpose for them to fulfill and ordered their release to accomplish His will (cf. Revelation 9:1-11). Scripture does not record when or why God bound these angels, but evidently He restricted them as punishment. Perhaps He imprisoned them when Satan rebelled against Him. [Note: Cf. Smith, A Revelation . . ., p. 147.]

The Euphrates River undoubtedly refers to just that. This river, including the whole Mesopotamian region that it drains, had been the border between Israel and its enemies to the northeast, namely, Assyria and Babylonia. It was also the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire in John’s day.

"In the first century people would have thought of the Parthians, the world’s most dreaded cavalry, for they came from this region and filled men with foreboding." [Note: Morris, p. 133. Cf. Swete, p. 121.]

The Parthians were the only warriors the Romans could not and did not defeat.

Verse 15

These angels were ready for a specific assignment at a specific hour in history (cf. Revelation 12:6; Revelation 16:12; Matthew 25:34; Matthew 25:41; Mark 10:40; Luke 2:31; 1 Corinthians 2:9).

"One article governing all four nouns shows that duration is not in view, but that the occasion of each one of the time designations is one and the same: the appointed hour occurs on the appointed day in the appointed month and in the appointed year. . . . Once again, this sounds the note of divine providence that recurs so often in this book (e.g., dei in Revelation 1:1, mellei in Revelation 1:19) . . ." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 8-22, p. 44.]

Their task was to put one-third of those who dwell on the earth (i.e., earth-dwellers) to death (cf. Revelation 8:13). This will result in approximately half the population of the earth alive at the beginning of the Tribulation being dead at the end of this judgment. One-fourth died under the fourth seal judgment (Revelation 6:7-8), and many more died as martyrs and for other reasons (cf. Daniel 12:1; Matthew 24:21-22). However, it is only the earth-dwellers, those in rebellion against God, who suffer death as a result of this woe (cf. Revelation 9:20).

Verse 16

The "horsemen" may be humans under the control of these four evil angels (cf. Daniel 11:44), or more likely the horsemen are demons. The description of the horses (Revelation 9:17) argues for an angelic army, as does its leadership, namely, four angels (Revelation 9:14-15). Most interpreters take their number as meaning innumerable, but their number could be literal even if these are human warriors.

"Years ago Red China claimed to have an army of 200 million (cf. Time, May 21, 1965, p. 35)." [Note: Walvoord, "Revelation," p. 953.]

Many interpreters take the number 200 million as symbolic or as representing demonic forces. The combined Allied and Axis forces at their peak in World War II totaled about 70 million. [Note: The World Almanac, 1971, p. 355.] An angelic army of 200,000,000 demons is not hard to imagine. [Note: Recall J. R. R. Tolkien’s army of Orcs in The Lord of the Rings.]

Verse 17

Now John saw what these horsemen looked like. Horses were swift implements of war in ancient times. Red, blue, and yellow breastplates covered both horses and riders. This was apparently their only armor, and it is defensive armor. Hyacinth is a flower that is most commonly blue, and brimstone is sulfur that is yellow. Lion-like horse heads could be very different from those of ordinary horses or just heads of horses that appear exceptionally bold and majestic. Lions are terrifying (cf. Revelation 10:3), fierce (cf. Revelation 9:8), and destructive (cf. Revelation 13:2). Natural horses do not breath fire, smoke, and brimstone. These may be figures describing their prophecies of judgment (cf. Revelation 11:5-6). This verse suggests that this army is probably something other than a human army of cavalry, probably an angelic army (cf. Revelation 9:9). However some interpreters, both premillennial and amillennial, have believed that this will be a human army. [Note: E.g., Walvoord, The Revelation . . ., p. 167; and Hendriksen, p. 148.]

Verse 18

Fire, smoke, and brimstone are natural elements that God used to bring judgment in the past during similar conditions (cf. Genesis 19:24; Genesis 19:28). He may use them again, or they may represent other agents of destruction. "Plagues" recalls the plagues in Egypt (cf. Exodus 11:1 LXX; Revelation 9:20; Revelation 11:6; Revelation 13:3; Revelation 13:12; Revelation 13:14; Revelation 15:1; Revelation 15:6; Revelation 15:8; Revelation 16:9; Revelation 16:21; Revelation 18:4; Revelation 18:8; Revelation 21:9; Revelation 22:18). The repetition of the definite article "the" in the Greek text (tou) indicates that these are three distinct plagues. Together they will be responsible for the largest death toll in human history so far (cf. Revelation 9:15).

Verse 19

This added description of the horses supports the conclusion that they represent angelic instruments of divine judgment other than natural horses. Some interpreters have suggested that what they represent are modern weapons that shoot both forward and backward, such as missiles. The locusts had the power to injure like scorpions with their tails (Revelation 9:10), but these horses have power to kill like serpents with their tails, which is worse (cf. Revelation 9:15).

Verse 20

These three severe judgments (fire, smoke, and brimstone, Revelation 9:17-18) will not move the remaining unbelievers as a whole to repent (cf. Exodus 7:13; Exodus 7:23; Exodus 8:15; Exodus 8:19; Exodus 8:32; Exodus 9:7; Exodus 9:12; Exodus 9:35; Exodus 10:20; Exodus 11:10).

"In all cases in the apocalyptic portion of the book, the word about repentance is negative as here." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 8-22, p. 52. Cf. Revelation 9:21; Revelation 16:9, 11.]

"Metanoeo ek (’I repent of’) in Revelation denotes a change of mind in rejection of something that is anti-God (cf. Revelation 2:21-22; Revelation 9:21; Revelation 16:11)." [Note: Ibid.]

Elsewhere in Scripture the phrase "the works of their hands" refers to idolatry (cf. Deuteronomy 4:28; Deuteronomy 27:15; Deuteronomy 31:29; 2 Kings 19:18; 2 Kings 22:17; 2 Chronicles 32:19; 2 Chronicles 34:25; Psalms 115:4; Psalms 135:15; Isaiah 2:8; Isaiah 17:8; Isaiah 37:19; Jeremiah 1:16; Jeremiah 10:3; Jeremiah 10:9; Jeremiah 25:6-7; Jeremiah 25:14; Jeremiah 32:30; Jeremiah 44:8; Hosea 14:3; Micah 5:13; Haggai 2:14; Acts 7:41). Idolatry is ultimately worship of demons (cf. Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalms 106:37; 1 Corinthians 10:20), an understanding that John reflected here. Ironically, these earth-dwellers refuse to stop worshipping demons who are responsible for their misery under this sixth trumpet judgment. In his day people fashioned idol images out of the materials that John mentioned. Today objects that people venerate made of these same materials can be bought in stores, and materialists idolize them. John reminded his readers of the helplessness of these idols (cf. Deuteronomy 4:28; Psalms 115:5-7; Psalms 135:15-17; Isaiah 44:12-20; Daniel 5:23).

Verses 20-21

The survivors’ response 9:20-21

Verse 21

These unresponsive people will also continue in their moral sins: murders, sorceries, immorality, and stealing (cf. Revelation 21:8; Revelation 22:15). Idolatry violates the first and second commandments, and these sins are violations of the sixth, seventh, and eighth commandments. The Greek word translated "sorceries" (pharmakon) implies the use of drugs. The English word "pharmacy" comes from it. The Greek word can refer to poisons, amulets, charms, magic spells, witchcraft, or any other object or practice that makes someone susceptible to sin (cf. Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:10-12; 1 Samuel 28:7; Acts 8:9; Acts 13:8; Acts 19:13-15).

These trumpet judgments, as the seals, will grow more intense as they proceed. Most people living on the earth during these days will be so hard of heart that they will not turn to God in repentance. Nevertheless some will become believers in Jesus Christ (ch. 7). Perhaps the salvation of most of them will take place in the earlier part of the Tribulation before these more severe judgments fall.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Revelation 9". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/revelation-9.html. 2012.
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