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V. 1. The fifth trumpet sounded and John saw a star fall to the earth; and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. This star is not a literal star; this is symbolism too. Immediately a personal pronoun is applied to that star; "to him" was given the key. This indicates that some personality' was represented by that star. It may have been some angel, or some minister of religion like the high priest, or some body of religious teachers that spread unbelief, heresies, false principles that wrecked men's morals and the safety of society. How disastrously the leader of religious life could do this!
Vs. 2-12. And this personage, whoever he was, opened the bottomless pit, and there came out dense smoke that darkened the sky, and locusts with the power of scorpions. And they were enjoined not to hurt grass or tree but only the men who had not the seal of God in their foreheads. It will be remembered that we have just seen, in the seventh chapter, that the servants of God were sealed in their foreheads to save them from the judgments; and now their exemption is commanded.
I think two things are evident here. As these servants of God were evidently living on earth in John's time, and this judgment exempted them, therefore these judgments fell in John's time and not thousands of years later. Again it seems reasonable to suppose that this flood of locusts that came out of the bottomless pit were moral and spiritual errors. That was doubtless the reason that the servants of God were not hurt by them. They were taught by the Spirit; they were grounded in the truth; they were sealed to God; they were proof against heresies and moral and spiritual perversion. It would be quite true that moral and spiritual perversion would have physical results. And it is also true that in the siege of Jerusalem social and civil safeguards were thrown to the winds; and as if they had gone insane, as if possessed with devils, father was set against son and son against father, brother against brother till the inside of the city was a seething hell, and its deliverance impossible. When men's senses and reason and conscience are taken away, when mental and moral and spiritual aberration seizes men, their ruin is certain and near. The statement in verses five and ten that these locusts were to hurt men five months, may grow out of the fact that the life of a locust is about five months; and from the other fact that this terrible condition was short. It could not last long. Doom was near.
The locusts are further described as being like horses prepared for battle, with faces of men, hair of women, teeth of lions, wings that sounded like chariots, tails like scorpions, and stings in their tails, the very agglomeration of heterogeneous features making the picture more terrible.
And they had a king over them, the angel of the bottomless pit, called in the Hebrew, Abaddon; and in Greek, Apollyon. This is Satan; and so it appears that the Devil himself was the tormentor of those who followed him. But that is his business and such are his methods. The wages of sin is death.
Vs. 13-21. The sixth angel sounded the sixth trumpet, and when the trumpet sounded a voice commanded the sixth angel to loose the four angels that are bound in the great river Euphrates. The river Euphrates was the boundary between Israel and her ancient captors. It was across the Euphrates that Assyria came and carried Israel into captivity. And it was across the Euphrates that Babylon came and carried Judah into captivity. The great conquerors of Palestine and Egypt had come across the Euphrates in ancient times. It might well have an uncanny sound. This was at least a suggestion of conquest. The narrative goes on to say that the four Euphratan angels were loosed, and the number of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand. Thus without any explanation of these four angels a great army of horsemen are introduced and described showing that this symbol meant war.
Now it is not certain whether this great army represented confederates of Rome that came from the east and assisted Rome in this Jewish war, or whether it has a general reference to the Roman armies only. That perhaps is not essential. But the vision portended war; and war in such gigantic proportions as to overwhelm completely the Jewish state. Two hundred thousand thousand horsemen would be of course impossible; but the number is impressive enough and was doubtless meant chiefly for impression.
In this great army, the horses are described, but almost nothing said of the riders. The riders have breastplates of fire, jacinth, and brimstone; but the horses have heads of lions; fire, smoke, and brimstone issue from their mouths, and their tails were like serpents, with heads, that could bite. It has been supposed that this vision of cavalry would be very terrifying to the Jews, because they were not accustomed to use cavalry in warfare and had suffered in times past from this mode of warfare.
The chapter closes by saying that the men who suffered from all these plagues did not repent of their sins, but continued to worship idols and even devils; the most offensive idolatry known to the prophets of God. The apostasy that refuses to repent, after all warnings, after preliminary judgments, has only one end, and that is destruction. And that end will surely come though God bear long with them.
Old Antiochus Epiphanes, the worst persecutor the Jews ever had, whose memory was a nightmare, when afflicted with a dreadful disease, humbled himself and called on God, and declared if God would heal him he would himself become a Jew and proclaim God's mercy before the world. But these apostates of whom John writes did not repent though doom stared them in the face.
This is a warning to all men to be sensitive in regard to their own sins; to heed God's warnings, and to repent and seek God's mercy. It is always a safe thing and a wise thing to repent of sin. The practical lessons of Revelation are many and forcible. With all its symbolism and mysteries, it deals with the vital things of human destiny.
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the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10