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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 9

Wallace's Commentary on the Book of RevelationWallace on Revelation

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Verse 1

The smoke of the pit--(the fifth trumpet)--9:1-12.

1. A fallen star: I saw a star fall from heaven”--9:1.

The star, as in previous instances where the symbol is used, denoted a ruler; and heaven in this connection, as also previously shown, denoted the dominion of these powers. When Jesus said in Luk_10:18 , “I beheld Satan fall as lightning from heaven,” he meant the complete defeat of all the personified agents of Satan. By his fall from heaven , Jesus meant that Satan would be dethroned from his exalted dominion; and his downfall would come swiftly as lightning in the shaping conflict.

When the prophet said of a Babylonian ruler, in Isa_14:12 --"How art thou fallen from heaven, 0 Lucifer (brilliant star), son of the morning; how art thou cut down to the ground which didst weaken the nations”--it referred to the downfall of the ruler, personified as Lucifer. The name Lucifer in the Septuagint, is translated “Star,” which was represented as falling from heaven--the wicked king’s exalted place of dominion.

The figure is no different in this Revelation vision. The star is personified in the persecuting ruler. He was designated “a star fallen from heaven” for the wicked character that he exemplified in the descension from his exalted place of rulership to the satanic plane of a perfidious leader of impious forces. The star falling “from heaven unto the earth” merely denoted the descent of the ruler from an exalted dominion to a degenerate place of activity among the powers of men.

2. The key to the bottomless pit: “And to him was given the key to the bottomless pit”--9:1.

The “bottomless” pit is the abyss, the infernal region, the diabolical domain of the devil. This fallen star being an agent of Satan personified, he was given the “key” to the abyss of Satan, that he might unloose the woes announced by the flying angel of chapter 8:13.

Verse 2

The smoke of the pit: “And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened - -9:2.

The pit is the infernal underworld, the dark abode of demons ( Luk_8:31 ). Here the angel has the “key” to open it--unloose it--hence, an evil angel, in contrast with the angel with the “chain” in chapter 20, to bind. The smoke of the pit “as a furnace,” similar to destruction that came upon Sodom and Gomorrah ( Gen_18:28 ), the smoke of a pit sending forth effects of pollution and contamination.

Darkening the sun and the air : This was not the eclipse of the sun as in previous symbols, but the veiling of the sun “by reason of the smoke of the pit.” Here also instead of the sun and the moon being darkened, as before, it is the sun and the air.

As noted under the classification of symbols in the preview, the air is the symbol denoting the sphere of life and influence. As the blackout of the sun symbolized the dark distress that hovered over the land, the blackened air, “by reason of the smoke of the pit,” signifies with the same vividity the corruption of the whole sphere of life by this figure of the complete pollution of the air by the smoke of the infernal pit.

Verse 3

Locusts upon the earth: “And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power"--9:3.

In Bible times the word locust was applied as widely and as loosely, it seems, as the word worm in our various uses. But in scripture apocalypses, both Old and New, the reference is to a large and vile insect of such multiplicity and voracity as to be a dreaded source of scourge. These insects borne by the wind in swift swarms hundreds of miles were known to the people of Palestine as “burners of the land,” a phrase derived from the literal meaning of “locust.” It was their nature to be together, flying in vast numbers, spoiling the grain, infecting the part they did not eat, and poisoning the very air through which they swarmed. A scourge of locusts ended with the decomposition of several millions of the vile things, and resulted in pestilence that afflicted the land, with heavy death toll. ( Joe_2:20 ) One historical example is on record as occurring 125 B.C., when the swarms were driven by strong winds into the sea, and washed back by the tide in such vast numbers as to cause a stench and a plague from which several thousand people died in the countries of Libya, Cyrene and Egypt.

From the time of Moses they were the instruments of divine judgment as in Exo_10:4-15 ; Deu_28:38-42 ; 1Ki_8:37 . The prophet Joel makes this locust the figurative instrument of fearful visitation in his vivid description of the devastating march of the Assyrian armies through the land. ( Joe_2:9-11 .)

It is this symbolic locust, swarming from the smoke of the abyss as a scourge “upon the earth,” that is employed in the vision here, to signify the woe being pronounced by the angel of the fifth trumpet upon Jerusalem and the land of the Jews. By the same symbol Joel described the invading armies of Israel's Old Testament history ( Joe_1:4-6 )--a striking parallel.

Unto them was given power as the scorpions of earth : The scorpion is described as a small venomous reptile ( Deu_8:15 ) having a bladder full of poison. Its anatomical description gives it two eyes in its mid-head, and another two eyes toward its extremity; with two arms like claws, eight legs with six talons each; a long tail like a string of beads, with two stingers full of poison, which it squirts into the object of its sting. This creature is used in the scripture figuratively to denote the wicked who torment the good. ( Eze_2:6 ) Jesus used it as a figure in promising his disciples power over every evil thing or agent that Satan could employ to their hurt ( Luk_10:19 ). In the present vision of chapter 9 the locusts from the abyss were “given” the power of the scorpions of the earth--signifying the affiliation of all the evil forces of the infernal underworld to be personified in the characters of wicked rulers.

Verse 4

Hurt not grass, green thing, tree: “And it commanded them not to hurt the grass, or the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree, but only those men who have not the seal of God in their foreheads”--9:4.

In chapter 8:7 the signal of the first trumpet was in the judgment against the land, symbolized by that which was in nature of it. But this first woe of chapter 9 does not have the destruction of the physical powers as its object, but the spiritual.

But only those who have not the seal : The “sealed of God” were the true disciples whom the scorpion power was commanded not to hurt; and it corresponds with Luk_21:25-28 , “Look up, lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.” Matthew describes in chapter 24:15- 30, the escape of the disciples; and so does Luke in chapter 21:18.

Verse 5

Should not kill: “And to them it was given 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 Prayer of Manasseh--9:5 .

The victims were not put to death--the descriptions of the siege of Jerusalem.

But tormented five months : This referred to the literal period of time for the season of locusts, from spring to autumn (May to September), but here it figuratively denoted the full time, the whole period for the effects described, designating figuratively the period of the siege.

Torment as of a scorpion when he strikes man : The baneful effects of the siege on its victims had figuratively all of the sting of the scorpion’s tail-sorrow, suffering, famine, pestilence, carnage, stench and putrefaction, indescribable. Vivid description of these deadly carriers of the scourge of pestilence and putrefaction are narrated in dictionaries of antiquities and historical works, such as Josephus and Pliny.

Verse 6

Seeking death --“In those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it"--9:6.

For comparison read Luk_21:26 , Mat_24:22 , and Mar_13:12 ; Mar_13:20 -the Lord’s own predictions concerning these events. There could be no fitter application of these symbols than the tragic conditions attending the siege of Jerusalem, as described in the graphic language of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Verse 7

The horse-like locusts. “And the shapes of the locusts were like the shapes of horses prepared for battle"--9:7.

Shapes like horses : The composite appearance of the locusts-shape of horses for battle, heads as gold crowns, faces of men--shows this symbolism to be that of the rulers with their armies of destruction. The locusts were seen as horses “prepared for battle,” as the horses in cavalry battalions.

Heads as crowns : The heads of the locusts were seen as “crowns like gold” signifying that they were the armies of the Roman generals Vespasian and Titus, both of whom were given imperial crowns, in connection with their invasions of Judea and the siege of Jerusalem.

Faces as faces of men : The faces of the locusts, as men, identifies the symbolism with the imperial armies invading “the holy land” as swarms of locusts. It is not a new form of apocalypse at all. The prophetic vision in Joe_1:1-6 ; Joe_2:1-4 was the description of the invasion of the land of Judea by the armies of the north (1:6; 2:20), as a baneful swarm of locusts, having both animal-like and humanlike forms-“The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses; and as horsemen so shall they run.” These visions of Joel, and of other pre-exile prophets, foretold the fall of Jerusalem when Nebuchadnezzar, having besieged the city, shut its inhabitants within the walls, inflicting upon them all the horrors of famine, pestilence and war, eventually burning the temple and its buildings, razing the walls, and reducing the city to rubbish and ruin--all the dreadful horrors of which were depicted by both Jeremiah and Joel.

As the prophet Joel’s apocalypse of the invasion of locusts concerned the Jerusalem of about B. C. 600, this vision of John’s apocalypse concerned the Jerusalem of A. D. 70, when Vespasian and Titus executed the imperial orders of Nero to besiege and destroy the city, the miseries of which exceeded all of its calamitous history before and after.

“And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that desolation is near . . . for these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” Luk_21:20 ; Luk_21:22 .

“For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” Mat_24:22 .

“For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation, which God created unto this time, neither shall be.” Mar_13:19 .

The cumulative evidence is preponderant that John’s visions encompass the invasion of Judea and the fall of Jerusalem described by Jesus in the records of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Verse 8

The locust features: “And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth as the teeth of lions"--9:8.

The hair of women : The kind of insect forming this vision was that of the hairy species referred to in Jer_51:27 as “rough caterpillars,” or the “cankerworm” of the Revised Version, but is admittedly the variety of the devouring locust with a sort of bristling long hair. The comparison with the hair of women is because of the feature that draws attention, as the waving hair, the abundance of which is the woman’s natural glory-- Joh_11:2 ; Joh_12:3 ; 1Co_11:14-15 . It is used as a figure to impress the personality of the locust creatures of this vision.

The teeth of lions : The same figure is used in Joel’s vision of the army of locusts, which signified that “a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek teeth of a great lion.” ( Joe_1:6 ) It is a symbol of strength, as the frequent expression to put teeth in legislation, and is designed to personify the locusts of this vision.

Verse 9

The locusts of war: “And they had breast plates as it were of iron”--9:9.

Breastplates of iron : The breastplate is the armor of war. Its figurative use here is sufficiently obvious, showing the symbolic locusts to be men of war, and the whole scene descriptive of the Vespasian march on Jerusalem. The locusts were seen as haberdashed with breastplates of iron, as if shielded by the Roman soldier’s impenetrable coat of mail, encompassing the vital portions of the body. The figure of “iron” connected with breastplate denotes the irresistible force of the armies of invasion.

Sound of wings as chariots : The whirling of myriad wings of the locusts were in sound as the wheels of bustling chariots and hustling horses racing to battle. Here again John joins Joel in the imagery of war in their respective visions of the locusts. Describing the Chaldean armies as swarms of locusts in their march on Jerusalem B.C. 584, Joel said: “The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses; and as horsemen, so shall they run. Like the noise of chariots on the tops of the mountains shall they leap . . . as a strong people set in battle array.” The locust visions of Joel and John are parallel--the former describing the Old Testament war of Nebuchadnezzar on the Jews, the latter the Neroan war of A. D. 70 on Judea and Jerusalem. Joel referred to the locusts as “people set in battle array,” or battle formation. John referred to the locusts as “chariots running to battle.” The parallels and the applications are unmistakable.

Verse 10

The Power to hurt: “And they had tails like scorpions, and their power was to hurt men five months.” - -9:10.

Tails like scorpions : This is a reemphasis of verse 5 with extended detail. These were unusual locusts, showing that they were figurative, not literal. The locusts had tails like scorpions--unlike the serpent that coils and strikes with the head, the scorpion strikes with its tail. The usual length of the scorpion was about two inches, but large scorpions of the deadly species exceeded six inches. Its sting produced violent convulsions, excruciating pain and death. In this vision it symbolizes the deadly striking power of the invading army.

Power to hurt five months : In verse 5 the expression is “tormented five months”; here it is “power to hurt men five months.” The season of the locust was from late spring to early fall of the year, May to September in our calendar. The expression five months, being the whole season of the locust, figuratively denotes the activity of the persecuting powers through the period of tribulation without surcease.

Verse 11

The king of the pit: “They had a king over them which is the angel of the bottomless pit”--9:11.

A king, angel of bottomless pit : The king “over them” --over this ferocious locust army, was the angel-king of the abyss; he was Satan personified in the persecutor. As in later chapters (12:9-12; 20:2) the dragon-beast, the old serpent, “was called the Devil, and Satan which deceiveth the whole world,” the king of this army of the abyss was Satan himself, represented in the persecuting power. Undoubtedly, Paul has reference to the persecutor when in Rom_16:20 he said, “The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.”

In early chapters reference was made to the “synagogue of Satan” (2:9); “Satan’s seat” (2:13); and the “depths of Satan” (2:24). The epithet itself means adversary, enemy, accuser. It comports fully with the symbolism of these visions that Satan, angel-king of the abyss, should be personified by the persecutors in this vision.

Abaddon , Apollyon : The Hebrew word Abaddon means “destroyer.” The Greek word Apollyon means the same. The word Satan means “adversary,” but in this vision the adversary was given power to destroy. Verse 9 above says the power was “given.” Jesus said to Pilate: “Thou couldest have no power at all against me except it were given thee from above.” ( Joh_20:11 ) By reason of this power of destruction personified, the angel-king Destroyer (Abaddon-Apollyon) was so designated. It was most apropos to so entitle the impious leader of such a monstrous army of horrid creatures of the abyss, to thus liken the literal emperor of the Roman world to the figurative king of the underworld.

The depths of Satan is the boldest delineation, the personification of whom code language alone could allow, as in a later chapter it was again done in the name and number of the beast. And to so label this monarch of oppression a despot; the destroyer in both of the two spoken languages-- Abaddon and Apollyon, the Hebrew and Greek--was a challenge to boldness which must have excited courage and inspired fortitude in all the suffering saints.

Verse 12

The woes: “One woe is past, behold there come two woes more hereafter”--9:12.

In 8:13 the flying angel announced three woes to enhance solemnity. Now, it was John speaking, not the angel, not the eagle, not one of the elders, nor one of the creatures, but John. As if to mark by count the three woes announced by the angel in Rev_8:13 , in recording tones John said: “One woe is past: and, behold there come two woes more hereafter.”

A retrospective comment is in order here on the meaning of the expression “third part” in the beginning of fifth trumpet--verses 7, 8, 10, 12--finds explanation in the three woes, each announcement of the angel representing a third part of the whole realm of the woes.

Verses 13-14

The loosing of four angels--(sixth trumpet)-- 9:13-21.

The symbolism of the sixth trumpet like that of the fifth, is a parallelism of imagery with Joel’s vision of horsemen and chariots surging in battle. The symbolism is the same because the events envisioned are of the same character, the one pertaining to the war of the Chaldeans against the Jerusalem of Joel’s era, the other to the war of the Romans against the Jerusalem of John’s era. The visions carry the same import, and hence present the close similarity in the figures of horses, heads, tails, and of armor and chariots and embattled armies.

The four angels: “A voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God . . . saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, saying, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates”--9:13-14.

A voice from four horns : The voice here is that same voice of authority “in the midst” of the throne of Rev_6:6 . Not the voice of any one of the angels, creatures or beings of the scene, but the voice from within, “in the midst” of them all. It emphasizes the source of all divine revelation, from within the throne itself. Here, in the sixth trumpet vision, the voice came from the four horns of the altar-four horns, but one voice proceeding from them. There were four angels, in chapter 7:1, “holding the four winds of the earth.” The same four angels were in this scene of chapter 9, and there were four horns on the altar --a horn to convey a divine message, an order, to each of the four angels; but the one voice from the four horns signified one message--the same for all. The horns were of the altar “which was before God,” so the voice from the horns was the voice of direct authority from God. The voice was not personified, as of an angel, or any representative, but was simply designated a voice of direct command from the altar “before God” to the angel of the sixth trumpet.

Loose the four angels : As the voice from the altar of this scene is the same voice from within “the midst” in chapter 6, so the four angels here are the same four angels “holding the four winds of the earth” in chapter 7. The four angels there, as explained, were the imperial angels or agents holding the winds that they should not blow: that is, hindering the messengers of the gospel, preventing the spread of Christianity. A heavenly angel, referred to as another angel, countermanded the orders of the imperial angels, restraining them from the performance of their mission “to hurt the earth” by holding back the four winds --the messengers of Christ--and the four imperial angels were commanded by this angel to “hurt not the earth.” Now, the voice from the altar “before God” commanded the angel of the sixth trumpet to “loose the four angels.” The suspension period designated as time to “seal” or to preserve “the holy seed,” the true Israel, the symbolic number of one hundred forty-four thousand, had been accomplished, and it was time for the four angels to proceed.

Again, the scene was comparable to the promise to the faithful disciples of time to escape the siege of Jerusalem, and the flight from the city was described in all three records of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Josephus records that after the siege had begun for some unknown reason Vespasian withdrew his armies to such distance and for such time for the flight of the disciples from the city to the mountains to be accomplished. It is a remarkable parallel to this scene of Rev_7:1-17 , where the angels of destruction were ordered to wait “till we have sealed the servants of our God,” and a suspension was signified in this vision as that recorded in the accounts of Mat_24:1-51 , Mar_13:1-37 and Luk_21:1-38 , the fulfillment of which according to Josephus is historical.

The command to “loose” these angels of destruction was in contrast with the command of chapter 7:2 which restrained, or bound them. That these four angels were bound is further evidence that they were evil angels, the angels or agents of destruction “standing on the four corners of the earth,” poised to blast Jerusalem with destructive horror, and in consequence blight the earth by “holding the four winds,” preventing the promulgation of the gospel to its four corners.

Bound in the great river Euphrates : The Euphrates river is named in Gen_2:13-14 as a fork of the river of Eden. Moses called it “the great river” in Gen_15:18 and Deu_1:7 . It was designated by the Lord to Moses as the eastern boundary of the Promised Land in Deu_11:24 , and restated as a part of the promise to Joshua after the death of Moses ( Jos_1:4 ). It was the border by which David established his dominion ( 1Ch_18:3 ), when he went in conquest to recover that part of Canaan lost to the savage neighbors of enemy nations. ( 2Sa_8:3 )

In Psa_137:1-3 the Psalmist said that by the river Euphrates the Israelites in captivity wept. In no less than two dozen scripture passages it is called “the river,” indicating geographical, historical, and biblical importance. From the regions of this river the Assyrian and Chaldean armies had in the past swept over the land of Israel like an overwhelming flood. ( Isa_7:20 ; Isa_8:7-8 ; Jer_46:10 ; Hab_1:6-11 )

The symbolical allusion to “the great river” in this sixth trumpet scene has a two-fold significance. First, the four angels were said by the voice to be bound in, or at, the river Euphrates. To be bound means to be held at the border of the land. The Euphrates being the border, the four angels of destruction had been countermanded for the time; hence, bound “in the great river Euphrates” at the port of entry to the land doomed to their destruction. Second, the ruler of the Euphrates region was symbolically called the “rod” of wrath and anger, and the “staff” of indignation sent against “an hypocritical nation.” ( Isa_10:5-6 ) The sixth angel was therefore commanded to “loose the four angels which were bound at the great river Euphrates,” as the symbolic allusion to the indignation and destruction poised at the borders to sweep the land and overwhelm its inhabitants. To literalize it serves only to destroy the imagery, and in so doing the apocalypse itself, as is so usually done when literal constructions are placed on symbolical things.

Verses 15-16

The cavalry legion: “The four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, a day, a month, a year, to slay third part of men. And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them”--9:15-16.

The four angels loosed : The voice in verse 14 commanded the angel of the sixth trumpet to loose the four angels. In verse 15 the sixth angel obeyed the voice, “and the four angels were loosed” to go unrestrained to execute the mission suspended in chapter 7:3.

Prepared, hour, day, month, year : It is noted that “an” hour is the article "the"--it is the hour, used with hour only, not with day, month and year. Hence, “the hour and day and month and year” denoted the suspension time, the period of intervention, during which these four agents of evil were "prepared"--their armies massed for attack, waiting for the time of chapter 7:3 to be over, and for the directive, in military parlance, to unleash the armies, the dogs of war.

To slay the third part of men : The sounding of the trumpets was accompanied by the announcement of three woes. With the fifth trumpet, John interposed that “one woe is past, and behold there come two woes hereafter.” (Verse 12) In chapter 11, verse 14, John interrupts the vision again to say “the second woe is past, and behold the third woe cometh quickly.”

In chapter 9 the apocalypse envisioned the armies of the Euphrates under the imagery of swarms of locusts numbering twice ten thousand times ten thousand. It was a figure of overwhelming military might that descended on Judea and Palestine. The apocalypse presented a two-fold catastrophe: 1. the tormenting locusts which brought the demonic plagues; 2. the armies of the Euphrates which brought the demonic wars. The swarms of locusts were said to hurt men; while the armies of the Euphrates were said to kill men. The two-fold vision of destruction symbolized famine and sword. The first part of the vision to hurt men was accomplished in the ravages of pestilence by famine; the second part of the vision to kill men was executed in the devastations of war by the sword. The terrible atrocities of the armies of Titus, Cestius Gallus and Vespasian, were recorded in the historical annals of eye-witnesses, who saw the armies overrun Judea and who witnessed the fall of Jerusalem, such as Josephus and Pliny; and in the works of the near-contemporary historians, Tacitus and others.

Since the judgments contained in the trumpets are divided into three woes, each directive is accordingly applied to “a third part” of the mission, which expression is repeated with each extension of the sixth scene. In the chapter 6, verse 8, where the judgments were symbolized in the opening of the seals, the division was called “the fourth part of the earth” in contrast with “the third part of men,” in chapter 9, verse 15. The division of the parts is made proportionate with the pronouncements of judgments or woes.

The scene consisted of a series of four judgements in chapter 6 and of three woes in chapter 9; hence, “the fourth part of the earth” and " the third part of men” proportionately.

Two hundred thousand thousand : At this point the vision transforms “the four angels standing on the four corners of the earth . . . to whom it was given to hurt the earth” into the immense army of two hundred thousand thousand, or twice ten thousand times ten thousand, which counted literally would compute the figure of two hundred million. This was not a numerical count of the conscripts composing this army, but the symbolic description of immensity so overwhelming as to make human resistance impossible.

And I heard the number of them: The number of this mighty army was proclaimed to John, not in visionary form, but as being audible--"I heard the number." It was another interposed statement, as of verse 12, containing the overtones of an overpowering onslaught.

Verse 17

The apocalyptic horses: “And thus I saw the horses in the vision, having breastplates of fire, jacinth, brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone."--9:17.

Thus I saw . . . in the vision : In the manner of the narrative John “thus” saw these things--that is, not in physical life, not actual or real, but “in the vision”--therefore, it was not a description of fleshly animals, material armor or human riders, but symbolic of the woes to befall the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the land of the Jews.

Breastplates of fire, jacinth, brimstone : In verse 9 the army of locusts had breastplates of iron, to signify an impervious shield. Here “them that sat” on the horses, the horsemen, and “breastplates of fire, jacinth and brimstone” denoted the glittering colors of the bedecked armor.

Jacinth , known also as hyacinth, resembling amethyst ( Exo_28:19 ; Exo_39:12 ), was an opaque stone consisting of crystallized quartz, a gem of dark blue-violet or purple-like color; the oriental amethyst belonging to a variety of sapphire mentioned frequently in the Old Testament; an ancient gem of brilliance and beauty, next to the diamond in lustre and hardness.

Brimstone was a sulphuric mineral substance of inflammable potency and yellowish hue, the fumes of which were odious and suffocating. It is figuratively employed in Job_18:15 ; Isa_36:9 ; and in Revelation to symbolize the terrible condition of suffering and punishment, temporally or spiritually, pertaining to both the present and the future state.

Fire , aside from its natural uses, was variously used in both Old and New Testaments as a metaphor of divine presence, as a purifier of intense emotion either of love, anger or hate, of the execution of penal judgment on men and nations and of the future eternal punishment of the wicked, all of which uses are figurative and carry the full intensity of the word in all of its connotations and applications. The “fire, jacinth and brimstone,” of verse 17, were used to figuratively describe the irredescent glitter of the horsemen’s armor, in the glowing red of fire, the blue-purple hue of the hyacinth, and the smokish yellow of brimstone.

The blending colors signified also the mingled sufferings to be inflicted with the awful intensity of fire and brimstone, as indicated by the corresponding expression in the same verse, that “fire, smoke and brimstone” proceeded from the mouths of the horses. The vision of two hundred million horsemen bedecked in armor of fire, jacinth and brimstone, riding horses with heads “as the heads of lions,” with mouths issuing “fire and smoke and brimstone,” presents a monstrous picture of the approaching speedy execution of judgment on Jerusalem.

The figurative use of these terms as metaphors of misery and woe is unquestionable when compared with the context of the several other passages in which the phrase “fire and brimstone,” and similar expressions occur. In an imprecatory psalm against his enemies David said, “upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone . . . this shall be the portion of their cup.” ( Psa_11:6 )

Prophesying God’s judgments upon Gog, Ezekiel said: “I will rain upon him . . . and upon the many people that are with him . . . an overflowing rain . . . hailstones, fire and brimstone.” ( Eze_38:22 )

Describing similar judgments on wicked nations and their rulers, Isaiah said: “The Lord will come with fire . . . to render his anger with fury and his rebukes with flames of fire . . . for their worm dieth not, neither shall their fire be quenched.” ( Isa_66:24 )

The allusion here is to that accumulation of filth and putrefaction in the valley of Hinnom, near Jerusalem, always alive with worms, and its everburning fires day and night, to consume these sources of pestilence. From "Hinnom” was compounded the word Gehenna, which the Lord used to denote the word “hell.” In the application of the figure to the torments of hell Jesus said: “Where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched”-- Mar_9:44 ; Mar_9:46 ; Mar_9:48 . The use Jesus made of these words cannot be applied literally to the torments of souls in hell any more than the language of David, Ezekiel and Isaiah could be applied literally to the rulers of the nations against whom they were inveighing. As a metaphor of eternal banishment from the presence of God, Jesus used the expression “outer darkness,” like “outer space,” a darkness beyond the physical darkness of this world. In reference to the misery of such banishment he used the phrase, “weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.” An amateur in exegesis should recognize the figurative character of these expressions. So it is in the use of the word “fire” to indicate the intensity of suffering beyond degree: “Where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched”--remorse is the worm and anguish is the fire--where remorse of conscience will never end and anguish of soul will never cease.

In an almost identical association of metaphorical phrases employed in the Psalms of David, in the visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel and in the discourses of Jesus on Jerusalem, the visions of John employ the expressions “fire and smoke and brimstone” to describe the plagues of the four angels turned loose; and the atrocities which attended the invasions of their monstrous army were as smoke ascending from the fire of hell.

Verses 18-19

The deadly plagues: “By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths. For their power is in their mouth and in their tails”--9:18-19.

By these three : The three symbols of three atrocious plagues, fire, smoke and brimstone were a three-fold description of catastrophe and destruction in the terrors of the four angels loosed to hurt the land--“by these three was the third part of men killed.”

Power in mouth and tails : A symbol of spreading destruction before them, “issued out of their mouths,” leaving only devastation behind them, “for their tails were like serpents,” and as the horses had heads like the heads of lions, their tails were not only like serpents, but their tails had heads like serpent heads. “And with them they do hurt” --that is, using their tails to do harm, with devastation from the rear as well as destruction that issued from their mouths. It is the description of the deadly scourge in the path of the invasion before this army and in its wake behind, sweeping everything before, leaving nothing behind ; as a scorched earth and burnt land. It is an extension of the appalling picture of the complete desolation mentioned by Jesus, in Mat_24:15 ; Mar_13:14 ; Luk_21:20 , which followed the siege and destruction of Jerusalem.

The same description is given by Joel of the invasion of Judea by the Chaldeans in the sixth century B.C. “A fire devoureth before them, and behind them a flame burneth; the land is as the garden of Eden before them and behind them a desolate wilderness.” ( Joe_2:2 )

Of this same invasion of Old Testament history, Jeremiah said: “And I will send . . . the king of Babylon . . . and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants . . . and will utterly destroy them . . . and make them an hissing and perpetual desolations . . . and this whole land shall be a desolation; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.” ( Jer_25:9-11 )

Numerous other examples could be cited but these are sufficient to show that when comparison is made between these historical visions concerning Jerusalem of the era of six hundred B.C. with the visions of John concerning the Jerusalem of A.D. 70, their application is not only obvious but unavoidable.

Verses 20-21

The demon worshiper: “The rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues, repented not of the works of their hands--neither repented they of their murders, fornication, sorceries, nor their thefts”--9:20-21.

The rest of the men : This referred to the residual number specified to be survivors of this second woe, pronounced on “the third part of men.” They are described as being guilty of the “worship of devils,” which covered all the idolatrous objects immediately mentioned--“which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk,” classified as “idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood"--all of which declared to be “the works of their hands.” To include all these categories of idolatry under the blanket indictment of “the worship of devils” was in keeping with the law of the Jews, which proscribed all idol worship as homage “unto devils,” and was branded as religious whoredom in the Mosaic law. “They shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute forever unto them throughout their generations.” ( Lev_17:7 ) Again, in the song of Moses it is said: “They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared (worshiped) not.” ( Deu_32:17 )

The apostle Paul upholds the Mosaic statute on that point, having himself lived under it as a Jew: “But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God, and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.” ( 1Co_10:20 )

Those survivors here designated as “the rest of the men” were evidently that residue of Jewish people who were classed as adherents of Jezebel, and as holding the doctrine of Balaam in the letters to the seven churches (chapter 2:14; 2:20)--the apostate Israelites “of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie.” (Chapter 3:9)

Reference to the comments on these verses in chapters two and three will spare further discussion of the symbolic names of Jezebel and Balaam here. Because of her determination to exterminate the prophets of Israel and to sabotage the nation of Israel by idolatrous worship, her name stood for infamy among the people of Israel, and was used in the apocalypse of Revelation to symbolize the Judaizers in the churches. The name Balaam carried a similar symbolic connotation, because of that mongrel prophet’s seductive schemes to destroy the people of Israel by means of heathen practices. Thus the figurative phrases “the doctrine of Balaam" and “that woman Jezebel” originated, as representative of that element in the churches “which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie.”

In the present context the phrase “the rest of the men” apparently referred to that residue classed as adherents of Jezebel, and further identified with “the doctrine of Balaam”--chapter 2:14--"who taught Balak to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication.” The language of this vision describing those Jew--Israelites as practicers of these prohibited things was largely an adaptation of the language of Isaiah in forecasting an extolling allegiance to the Holy One of Israel amid the idolatries of the nations: “At that day shall a man look to his maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel. And he shall not look to the altars, the works of his hands, neither shall respect that which his fingers have made, either the groves or the images. In that day shall his strong cities be as a forsaken bough, and an uppermost branch, which they left because of the children of Israel: and there shall be desolation. Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation.” ( Isa_17:7-10 )

These “men” who avoided the plagues of the second woe were those Jews who were affiliated with those things defined in verse 20, and the parallel passages cited, and “repented not” of these “works of their hands”; but their escape from the tribulations of the woe did not secure immunity from the condemnation of disloyalty to the God who recompensed to all men their evil.

Neither repented . . . murders, sorceries, fornication, thefts: The category of evil things were the flagrant crimes of Jezebel, recorded in 1Ki_21:14-15 and 2Ki_9:22 , and again connects “the rest of the men” of these verses with the Jezebel apostates. While the idolatries of verse 20 and the crimes of verse 21 were all in violation of both tables of the decalogue, they were not to be applied literally in this vision-their idolatries, murders, sorceries and thefts belonged to the spiritual category for which those sensual things stood. Abandoning Christianity for the praise of princes was as idolatry ; deserting Christ to escape malediction was murder of his Cause; turning from the principles of the faith to the arts of magic was a broad definition of sorcery ( Act_13:6 ; Act_19:13 ), of which there seemed to be a rather numerous party. ( Col_2:18-23 ) And theft does not consist only in the violation of the eighth commandment--seducing men was spiritual theft. ( Joh_10:8-10 ; Mat_15:9 ; Jer_23:30 ; 1Ti_1:10 ) That fornication has a figurative as well as physical meaning goes without saying. ( Rev_2:21 ; Rev_19:2 ; 2Ch_21:11 ; Rev_17:5 ) Apostasy is spiritual fornication. Thus “the rest of the men” is a phrase designating apostate Israelites, guilty of the entire category of spiritual crimes, of which they “repented not”--verse 20; “neither repented” --verse 21. This dual emphasis on the impenitence of these apostates was for the four things representative of apostasy both under the decalogue of Moses and the gospel of Christ.

First, murder : This crime exists in fact in the malicious act of taking human life ( 2Sa_13:28 ; 1Ki_21:19 ; Mar_15:7 ; Exo_22:2-3 ; Deu_18:9 ; Num_35:27-31 ) It exists in principle in seeds of wrath, hate, retaliation, oppression, and all of its evil consequences. ( Jam_4:2 ; Jam_5:6 ; Rom_1:29 ; 1Jn_3:15 ) It exists in effect in vicarious sufferings, reproaches, and afflictions. ( Psa_44:22 ; Rom_8:36 ; 1Co_15:30-32 ; 2Co_6:9 ; Joh_8:44 ; Job_5:2 ; Job_24:14 ) It was a flagrant, odious and abominable crime. For intentional murder there was no legal pardon, nor ceremonial remission. ( Deu_19:13 ; Deu_21:9 ; Exo_21:14 ; Exo_21:28-29 ; Num_35:30-34 ) Figuratively, it represented a spiritual degeneracy of the emotions of love and loyalty which leads to betrayal and destruction of righteous causes and men. It is a fitting characterization here.

Second, sorceries or magic : This was a professional part of divination, described in Exo_7:11 ; Deu_18:10 ; Act_8:9 ; and Act_13:6 . It was a system of pseudo-divinity belonging to the dark demon world, as mentioned in Act_16:16-18 . It was an essential element in false religions and was held in opposition to the true religion of the Jews, as in Lev_20:27 ; Deu_18:9-14 ; Jer_14:14 . It was prevalent among Jews, many of whom believed in it and resorted to it, as stated in Samuel 28:3-20. In whatever form it was regarded or practiced it was reproachful to the Mosaic religion and to Christianity, and was reprobated in both the law and the gospel. The writings of the prophets are full of invectives against Israelites who consulted diviners and of the false prophets seducing the people by means of it, examples of which are Jer_14:14 , and Eze_13:6-7 . Again, here was a fitting characterization of the Jewish apostasies.

Third, fornication : This is a term of frequent occurrence in all the sacred writings to denote acts of lewdness and of incontinency. It is used for the sin of impurity in 1Co_6:13 ; 1Co_7:2 and Jude ‘7. It is used for the sin of adultery in Mat_5:28-32 and 1Th_4:3 . It is used for the sin of incest in 1Co_5:1 . It is used for spiritual and religious infidelity, apostasy from truth and right in 2Ch_21:11 and Rev_19:2 . In the spiritual sense it denotes the unfaithfulness of the Israelites because the union between God and Israel was set forth as marriage. ( Jer_3:9 ; Eze_23:37 ; Isa_23:17 ) Jesus upbraided a faithless God-denying and Christ-rejecting age as “an adulterous generation” in Mat_12:39 . The mingling of error and evil with that which was true and pure in teaching, worship and practice was spiritual adultery. It applied to participation in heathenism or affiliation with any false system or practice. ( Jam_4:4 ) It was truly an apt use in this present scene.

Fourth, theft : The term here referred to the deceptions of any form of stealing. It was applied physically to the unlawful taking of anything that belongs to another, as in Exo_20:15 ; Job_30:5 and Luk_10:30 . It was applied morally, or ethically, to fraudulence, as in Mat_21:13 . It was applied doctrinally and spiritually to seduction, to seducers of doctrine, as in Jer_7:9 ; Jer_23:30 , Eze_13:10 ; 1Ti_4:1 ; 2Ti_3:13 ; 1Jn_2:26 and Mar_13:22 .

In this sixth trumpet scene these words are employed figuratively, not literally. It was spiritual murder, in the sense of traitors to the Jewish cause, and betrayers of their brethren. It was spiritual sorcery in the magical influence exercised over the Jewish population. It was spiritual fornication in adulterous affiliation with the false systems of deism, pantheism and paganism. It was spiritual theft in the stealing of the truth from men’s hearts and God’s way from their lives.

The correctness of the characterization of the “rest of the men which were not killed by the plagues,” and who “repented not” of the category of figurative crimes, as the residual number of the Jewish people, is supported by the corresponding Jewish history of the same period. The sins listed in the category of verses 20 and 21 were typical of all Jewish apostasies from the law of Moses promulgated from Mount Sinai and which was preached in all the synagogues. “Thou camest down upon Mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments and true laws, good statutes and commandments . . . by the hand of Moses thy servant.” ( Neh_9:13-14 ) “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.” ( Act_15:21 ) But the residue of this nation were those to whom John said, “0 generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come,” ( Mat_3:7 ); and whom Jesus called an “offspring of vipers” ( Mat_23:28-33 ).

These were condemnations of which hypocrisy and iniquity made them deserving. Among them arose a legion of false prophets and seducers to lead them astray, particularly true in the very period of the calamities portrayed in the vision of these trumpet visions and of corresponding description in the records of Matthew, Mark and Luke on the destruction of Jerusalem. “And there shall arise false prophets and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” ( Mat_24:24 ) “And they shall show signs and wonders to seduce.” ( Mar_13:22 ) “And ye shall be betrayed . . . and some of you shall they cause to be put to death.” ( Luk_21:16 ) Later, before these things came to pass that were thus foretold to mark the latter part of that period ending with the fall of Jerusalem, inspired apostles were issuing warnings against all such seducers and their doctrines, with all the resulting wickedness. “Now the spirit speaketh expressly that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.” ( 2Ti_4:1 ) “This know also that in the last days perilous times shall come.” ( 2Ti_3:1 )

These apostolic admonitions correspond with the warnings of the Lord in the discourse on Jerusalem, and are descriptive of the same Jewish apostasies of the residual number in the closing scene of the sixth trumpet vision. The drawing of these parallels was in full accord with the teaching of the passages cited in reference to the times, with the history of that period, and with the purpose of the apocalypse.

The voice from the four horns of the altar commanded the angel of the sixth trumpet to “loose” the four agents which were “bound” in or at “the great river Euphrates” (verse 14) was the ominous announcement of encompassing desolation. It is a geographical fact that the Euphrates river formed the boundary of the Roman empire at the time of the Jewish-Roman war, and their army installations and concentrations were there where the legions of this vision were said to be “bound.” It was therefore in harmony with all the facts, scriptural and historical that the mighty cavalry of the Euphrates portrayed in this trumpet was the immense Roman army which marched against Jerusalem and initiated the terrible siege resulting in all the desolation foretold by Daniel and depicted by the Lord in pointing up the fulfillment.

Matthew’s account reads: “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place, (whoso readeth let him understand), then let them which be in Judea flee."-- Mat_24:15-16 .

Luke’s record reads: “And when ye shall see Jerusalem encompassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Jerusalem flee to the mountains."-- Luk_21:20-21 .

Here Daniel’s vision, in chapters 9 and 12 of his prophecy, were merged with the signs of the Lord’s Jerusalem discourse and with the like symbols of John’s apocalypse. To search the distant future for a fulfillment of these symbolic descriptions, not only reduces both the text and the context of Revelation to confusion, but renders meaningless all of the passages which apply with such clarity and so full of force to that period. The interpretations which remove these events of the symbolic history from the Neroan period of the apostolic century, and assign them to centuries later and yet to come are rank anachronisms. Any attempt to explain these visions by the rise and fall of the successive monarchies, through the centuries from them till now and on to the end of time, would necessarily continue the existence of the armies symbolized in this vision for periods ranging from five to twenty centuries, which not only destroys all practical applications of the symbolic descriptions to the people to whom they were addressed, rendering them impossible to understand, but it furthermore declares an open season for the maneuvering, manipulation and juggling of events of history to fit a manufactured theory. But viewed in the light of the application of the symbols of Revelation to the period of time in which the people lived to whom the visions were addressed, all such anachronisms disappear.

Bibliographical Information
Wallace, Foy E. "Commentary on Revelation 9". "Wallace's Commentary on the Book of Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/foy/revelation-9.html. 1966.
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