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Chapter Nine The First And Second Trumpets Of Woe
This chapter will examine the fifth and sixth trumpets, known respectively as the first and second woes. The added designation of these trumpets implies a solemnity and a fearfulness beyond anything we have previously considered.
The Delusions of the First Woe (Revelation 9:1-12)
Instead of “I saw a star fall from heaven,” a better translation would be, “I saw a star fallen from heaven.” The reference is undoubtedly to that star, symbolizing an apostate leader, referred to under the third trumpet (8:10-11). There we read of a great star that fell from Heaven burning like a lamp. It fell on the third part of the rivers and fountains of waters, poisoning them so that men drinking of them died because the waters were made bitter. Under this fifth trumpet we have the development of the apostasy, of which this leader is evidently the head. He opens the bottomless pit, using a key. In the Gospels, we see the thought of the key when Christ commits to Peter the keys of the kingdom of Heaven; and you will remember our Lord’s words to the lawyers, “Ye have taken away the key of knowledge” (Luke 11:52). From these Scriptures it is clear that a key implies a system of teaching and possibly ritual observances connected with it. With this hint we can readily understand what follows.
This arch-apostate, by a system of erroneous teaching and damnable heresies that deny the Lord, opens up the bottomless pit from whence issues a blinding smoke as the smoke of a great furnace. The smoke of the pit is so intense that the sun and air become darkened. It is the strong delusion to which we have previously referred. While it is said in 2 Thessalonians that “God shall send them strong delusion,” we here learn that He sends it by permitting this Satanic envoy to delude the nations. Darkening of the sun by means of these Stygian fumes implies that the supreme source of light was blotted out from before men’s eyes or minds. Their whole spiritual sky will be made dark by the false system with which they will be deluded. The air is particularly Satan’s realm. He is called “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). The darkening of the air implies the control of this realm by Satanic agencies.
I do not think we will be far wrong if we identify this coming delusion with the occult systems of gnostic origin, so largely prevailing and so rapidly spreading at the present time. These systems, as we have noticed before deny (in any true sense) the personality of God and assert the divinity of humanity. They reproduce, in some form or other, the primeval lie, “Ye shall be as Elohim.” This is the very essence of New Thought, Christian Science, Spiritism, Theosophy, and other offshoots of these evil systems. After the restraining power of the Holy Spirit has been removed, they will spread like locusts over all the earth, having tremendous power over the minds of men. This is what the third verse indicates: “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.” Anyone familiar with the locust plagues of the East will understand at once the figure here used. Travelers have told us how the locusts appear in swarms so vast that they seem like great clouds, actually shutting out the sun and filling the whole air. They devour everything before them. Attacking a green field, within a few minutes they leave it as bare as though no vegetation had been there at all. They are the dread of eastern farmers, who are utterly powerless to combat them. They aptly typify or symbolize the spiritual plague of the last days. The symbol of the locusts is coupled with that of the scorpion, because of the torment these evil teachings eventually bring to those who accept them.
It is evident that we do not have any merely literal plague of locusts in view (4-5). Literal locusts would do the very thing which these are commanded not to do. The grass of the earth, green things, trees of all descriptions, are here distinctly protected from their power. Verses 4-5 seem to be an explanation rather than a continuation of the symbol; otherwise we might think of the grass and trees as representing mankind. But it would appear that the apostle here expounds rather than continues the description of his vision, in order that we may not be misled by a literal application. The locusts’ power is expended on those men who do not have the seal of God in their foreheads. These are tormented by them for five months, a torment like that of a scorpion when he strikes a man. We have already seen that those bearing the seal of God are the remnant of Israel (7:3-8). These alone in Christendom and Judaism will be preserved from the strong delusion of that day. Our Lord Himself limits Satan’s power in the same way; referring to this very period and the plague of false teaching, He says, “If it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:24). Thank God, it is not possible. The seal of the living God in the present dispensation is the indwelling Holy Spirit, given to guide into all truth. In that coming dispensation of judgment the same Holy Spirit will illumine the minds of those who repent in Israel and thus preserve them from this Satanic delusion.
For the rest, so great will be the distress caused by these evil teachings when men fully give themselves up to them, that, “In those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them” (verse 6).
Anyone who has ever sought to give spiritual help to persons awakening in measure from the delusions of any Satanic system will understand at once the condition of mind here depicted. I will never forget the almost insane glare of the eye and the hopeless wail in the voice of one poor woman. After having been under spiritualistic influences for a number of years, she at last began dimly to apprehend the dreadful character of the system that had been enslaving her. It was only through much prayer and earnest holding on to God on her behalf that she was delivered. But she told me on one occasion that she had suffered all the torments of the damned during the year and a half when she was seeking deliverance from demon control.
A few years ago I was laboring among the Mormons in Utah. There I learned of a most pitiable case. A family who had accepted the Mormon delusion and emigrated from Great Britain to Utah had practiced the rites of Joseph Smith’s abominable system for thirty years. They were at last awakened to the untrustworthiness of it all by the perfidious conduct of certain eminent church leaders. As a result they renounced the entire system and were left without religious convictions of any kind. A few months later the wife and mother was dying. She tossed on her bed in the greatest agony of mind, moaning in her distress and despair, afraid to meet God in her sins. A minister of the gospel was urged by some friends to call and see her, though much against the will of the family. Finally he gained admittance to the dying woman’s room. He sought faithfully to present the precious truth of the gospel from God’s holy Word and for a time she seemed to listen eagerly. But she turned from him in the end, crying out, “Oh! sir, after one has been fooled by one religion all her life, it is too late to trust another in the hour of death.” And so in great agony she passed away, so far as he could tell, into a hopeless eternity.
Oh! I wish that I had the power to impress on men and women everywhere the dreadful responsibility they assume when they tamper with these unholy teachings that already have escaped from the bottomless pit and have darkened the air and blotted out the light of the sun for many souls. No torture can be compared to spiritual torment. The only remedy is that perfect love, displayed in Calvary’s cross, which casts out all fear. In the days to which our chapter refers, those who have rejected the grace of God will never again hear that precious gospel. So they are left to cry out in their anguish, seeking death and not finding it.
In verses 7-12 we have a highly symbolic description of this delusion. The shapes of the locusts, we are told, are like horses prepared for battle. This symbolizes their rapid progress and apparently providential irresistibility in obtaining sway over those unprepared to do battle with them. “On their heads were as it were crowns like gold” (9:7)-for apostasy, during that time of delusion, will seem to carry all before it triumphantly, driving from Christendom the last vestige of orthodoxy. Our Lord Jesus asked the solemn question in view of His second advent, “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) The “coming of the Son of man” refers not to the rapture, but to the appearing in glory. At that time it will, for the moment, seem as though all true faith has been driven from the prophetic earth. Nevertheless by the power of God’s Word, a vast company will arise from the distant parts of the world, as we have seen, who will not have bowed the knee to this latter day Baal.
Next we are told “their faces were as the faces of men, And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions” (7-8). Three symbols here intermingle, all of which are very evidently found in the cult systems to which we have referred. Faces as of men would seem to imply intelligence, and these evil teachers make a great appeal to human reason. They ridicule the truth of God as a system of cunningly devised fables, while actually they themselves follow clever but illogical theories. Their appeal is to human intelligence-to the mind rather than to the heart and conscience, as Scripture does. Moreover they are characterized by intense seductiveness and attractive fancies, typified by “the hair of women.” A woman’s hair, we are told in Scripture, is her glory (1 Corinthians 11:15). In the Song of Song of Solomon 7:5 we read, “Thine head upon thee is like Carmel, and the hair of thine head like purple; the king is held in the galleries [tresses].” How many have been turned aside from the path of duty by natural attractions, grossly misused for the purpose of accomplishing unholy ends.
But seductive and apparently rational as these systems are when first presented, they prove at last to have teeth like the teeth of lions, tearing to pieces those who put their trust in them. In the ninth verse we read: “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 running to battle.” These iron breastplates destroy all conscience or make them impervious to the shafts of truth, so that the conscience is never reached. The wings, whose sound is as that of many chariots rushing to battle, would symbolize the swiftness with which they conquer those who have turned from the truth and had pleasure in unrighteousness.
The tenth verse again emphasizes the scorpion-like torment they produce. “And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months.” What a mercy that their power is thus limited. I see no reason why we should not understand the five months literally. For a very limited time this apostate leader and his emissaries will be permitted to dominate those who would not have Christ the Lord to reign over them. In His place, Satan himself is worshiped as Abaddon and Apollyon. “And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon” (11). Satan alone is the angel of the bottomless pit. So it is made evident at last that the “God within,” to which men are turning today, is no other than Satan, the great arch-enemy, who has been plotting man’s destruction from the very beginning. Self-worshipers are devil-worshipers, and in some instances already this has been avowed by the followers of present day apostasy. This then is the first “woe.” “One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter” (12).
The Conflict of the Second Woe (Revelation 9:13-21)
As the sixth angel blew his trumpet a very different sorrow was loosed on the earth. It seems to be the result, however, of the previous affliction. That is, it shows us what the effect on the world will be when Satan-worship becomes prevalent everywhere in what was once called Christendom. It will bring about a tremendous conflict, setting nation against nation and man against man, until the third part of men will be destroyed.
I think we have had a remarkable illustration of this in the great conflict from which we have so lately emerged (World War I). Who can deny that it was the direct result of rationalistic Kultur, and the denial of the authority of the Word of God? If education without Christ could save, Germany should have been the most blest nation on the face of the earth. In that country education seemed to have reached its highest point-but with what dire results, not only to that nation but to a large part of the human race! German philosophy had poisoned the world. The colleges and universities of almost every civilized land drank greedily from the poisoned streams of Teutonic philosophies and infidel hypotheses, and it is only now that we are beginning to awaken to the baleful effects of such folly. I have no doubt that Satan himself would have restrained men from rushing into such bloody conflict had it been possible. What I mean is this: He was seeking to entrap men with his specious theories and unholy philosophies, and World War I was an almost unforeseen result of this. The nations were thrown into confusion by the teachings they had imbibed. The war was like a great explosion which could no longer be prevented.
These considerations will help us, I think, to understand the second woe. In chapter 7 we saw the four angels restrained from letting loose the four winds of the earth on the great sea of the nations. In 9:14 a voice from the four horns of the golden altar that is before God, in response undoubtedly to the angel-priest’s intercession in 8:3, cries out to the angel which had the sixth trumpet, “Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates.” These angels are evidently at the present time restraining the great Asiatic hordes from pouring themselves on the land of Palestine and Europe. The Euphrates formed the eastern limit of the Roman Empire, and thus was the barrier, as it were, between the East and the West.
We are told that the four angels were prepared, not exactly-as the King James version reads-“for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year,” but for “the hour, day, month, and year.” That is, there is a definite moment in the mind of God at which this awful power is to be let loose. Until that hour strikes, not all the evil machinations of men, not all the ambitions of nations, can bring about the conflict here predicted. But when that hour does strike, no astute statesman’s policy, no treaties, no world federation movements can prevent the dire catastrophe predicted. Two hundred thousand horsemen are hurled on the west of Asia and on Europe. They seem like unearthly warriors, with breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone. The horses’ heads appear as the heads of lions, because of the unspeakable ferocity of these Asiatic hordes. Fire, and smoke, and brimstone seem to issue from their mouths, telling of the Satanic character of this terrible invasion. The result will be a third part of men killed by the fire, the smoke, and the brimstone, which issue from their mouths. When we recall the millions who have perished as the direct or indirect result of wars and pestilence, we can see how a greater war in the future may well tend to almost depopulate the earth, destroying one-third of the prophetic earth, which is identical with the limits of the old Roman empire.
In verse 19 we read: “For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt.” Isaiah 9:15 says “The prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail.” This passage helps us to understand both Revelation 9:10 and 19. Whether it be the occult woe of the fifth trumpet or the carnage woe of the sixth trumpet, in each case lying prophets are the leaders in each movement and are responsible for the mental, spiritual, and physical harm accomplished.
It is a solemn thing to realize that even judgments such as these will have no effect in leading men back to God and to repentance. Punishment does not of itself lead men to repentance, so we are told in verses 20-21: “The rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.” This is in accordance with the general testimony of Scripture, which nowhere intimates that punishment produces penitence. The Universalist teachers deny this and insist that all punishment, whether in time or eternity, will result in the final salvation of the delinquent. They teach that eventually all men will learn by judgment if they refused to learn by grace, and will turn to God for salvation. But both here and later in this same book of Revelation we find that the heaviest judgments of God, falling on guilty men, do not soften stony, rebellious hearts. Rather men become hardened in their sins and are more blasphemous and God-defiant when judgment is poured out on them.
In eternity, God will not permit open defiance of His will. Our Lord Jesus tells us that in Hell there will be not only “weeping” because of suffering, but “gnashing of teeth.” This phrase expresses not open opposition but the angry defiance of the heart of man, which will be filled with hatred to God but be powerless to openly oppose His government. If the cross of Christ with its marvelous exhibition of holy love will not reconcile men to God, punishment will never avail to win their hearts.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Revelation 9". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16