Image above Albrecht Dürer “The Angel with the Key to the Abyss,” from: The Apocalypse, circa A.D. 1497.
The First Woe
1 And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit.
I. We should see in the three ‘Woes’ God’s increasing judgment against the persecutors of His people and those who oppose His will.
Structure of the Last Trumpet Blasts
This verse signals the fifth trumpet as the first of three ‘woes.’ The last three trumpets are said to be ‘woes’ because of the increase in severity to mankind. They are designed to bring extreme calamity and suffering upon the “earthdwellers” — that part of mankind that is opposed to God.
The first four trumpets are indirect — affecting only man’s natural environment. The last three trumpets affect man directly by touching his very life.
The Purpose of the Trumpets
God is still warning men. The day of grace is not past at this point. People can still repent and be saved. But, with the rejection of grace extended in the indirect warnings, more severe judgments come in the direct ones.
We do not know whether the judgments of our time are the end of the age itself, but we know they signal the end of our civilization as we know it.
The Asia Minor believers of the first century would have looked upon severe judgments on Rome as means by which God was punishing sin and persecutors of His church. These last four seem to be a reiteration of the last three seals which focus more clearly on the end of the age.
II. We should see that God can use evil to bring His will to pass.
The Position of the Star in the Vision
John did not see the star, actually fall. It had already fallen to the earth when he saw it in the vision. “Fall” (piptô) is in the perfect tense.
The Interpretation of the “Star”
It is obvious that the “star” is used symbolically of a person. Which person is indicated?
(1) A ‘star’ is often used as a symbol for ‘angel’ (compare Job 38:4-7 and Lk. 10:17-18);
(2) Some feel very strongly that the star is a fallen angel — even Satan himself.
(3) Others feel that it is just an angel sent on a mission.
(4) One commentator takes it as an abstract — the gospel (Torrence) .
*(5) There are many suggestions, but a definite identification is impossible. It is safe to say that the fallen star here is a person — a spiritual being — of great magnitude who performs a God-given task. That is all we know about him.
The Shaft of the Abyss
The “shaft of the abyss” is a Hebrew concept. The Greek word abyssos is an adjective meaning ‘bottomless’ or “unfathomable.’
(1) In the LXX, (the Septuagint or Greek translation of the Hebrew OT) , it occurs 25 times translating the Hebrew word tehom — the primal ocean, deep waters, or the place of departed spirits.
(2) It also carried the meaning “prison of fallen spirits” in Rabbinic Judaism.
(3) In the N.T. it means “a prison for demons.” (Colin Brown’s New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. II, p. 205)
The Restraint of Certain Demons
If these demons were not limited in their access to the earth, the earth would be a much more evil place. Demons do not perpetrate all that is upon their hearts to do because the Lord restrains them. However, at a certain point, the Lord relaxes his restraint upon demonic forces. Then, they can perpetrate more of their plans and designs upon their victims. God does this in order to bring men to repentance. The goodness of God is supposed to lead men to repentance, but often they only respond to judgment.
The Key to Evil is in God’s Hands.
The Key “was given” to the angel using the passive voice to indicate an implied divine agent.
Literal doesn’t mean a newspaper account of the future. The Use of “like” and “as” in Chapter 9 is important. It should be noted that the words “like” (homoios) and “as” (hôs) occur more often in this chapter than in any other chapter in the Bible (15 times).
John is not seeing things in their essence — like they really are. He is seeing spiritual realities symbolized in forms he cannot find literal words to describe. That is why he says that “they were like X”. Note carefully, he did not say “they were X”.
© 2020 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved