The Plague of the Fifth Trumpet

Revelation 9

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. 2 He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. [ESV]

Image above from Ben Curtis/AP

We should understand from the woes that more severe plagues come upon persecuters of Christians if the warning of lesser plagues is not heeded. 

vs. 3 Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth.

1358px-The_angel_of_death_striking_a_door_during_the_plague_of_Rome_Wellcome_V0010664

The angel of death striking a door during the Antonine plague of Rome: an engraving by Levasseur after Jules-Elie Delaunay (1828-1891). Wikimedia commons image

Some attempt to see armies of men, tanks, etc. in this vision. However, only a demonic invasion does full justice to what is described in this chapter (see Keener, below.)

The background to the locust image

Exodus 10:12-15 records the locust plague on Egypt that led to the liberation of the children of Israel from the land of Egypt. The locusts were literal predatory insects with which we are familiar. 

Joel 1:4 and 2:1-2 record an army invasion compared to a locust infestation. 

Locust_sward_Reuters

Locust swarm in Africa 2020. Image from Reuters News on https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/02/smart-drones-africa-locust-swarms

John uses the images from the two previous passages to depict a demonic invasion. The locusts’ power in Greek is exousia (authority). Their authority is like that of a scorpion sting. The sting of a scorpion usually does not kill. It merely produces an intense burning. This is not a part of the normal make up of locusts. This is a demonic invasion from the spiritual world to the physical world. It is invisible. Yet, its effects are visible. It is probably an intense anxiety and mental anguish. (see Johnson, D. E. below.)

Locusts on a tree

Locusts on a tree that they have stripped. Images from https://www.dw.com/en/east-africa-why-are-locusts-so-destructive/a-52165354

vs. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.

God’s command to the locusts

The passive voice is used without a definite subject indicating an implied divine agent. The speaker himself is not identified. The important detail is not the identity of the speaker, but the fact that demons are under the sovereign control of God.

Prohibition against eating greenery 

These locusts are not literal locusts because they do not do what normal locusts do not eat greenery. They sting humans. They bring torment to unrepentant men. It is not torment physically, but spiritual and mental anguish. Nothing is so excruciating mentally as having a demon tempt you to sin, and then, having him turn around and torment you in your conscience for having done so. Multiply this scenario by a thousandfold and you will see the pangs of the lost who will not come to Christ for cleansing. They are miserable and will not come to Christ the balm of Gilead. See Johnson A. F., below; I have relied heavily on this commentary in the past especially for my notes in 1992-93.)

Harm comes only to the unbelieving, persecuters of God’s people

We are assured that torment is not the lot of the children of God. Over God’s children the demons have no authority. The seal of the living God safeguards his own.

vs. 5 They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. 6 And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.

A Further Prohibition

Death eludes those who are stung. The persons are tormented for five months. The question arises as to the reference of the five months torment. (1) Is the plague of  five months duration? (2) Or, does the sting itself last for five months? It is interesting that the normal life of a locust is five months. The reference is most likely to the short duration of the torment. The locusts are only around for five months. The time is short. If it were not, men would die from the mental anguish of it.

The sting of the Locusts

Scorpions do not as a general rule kill. But, their bite is painful. In any case, these locusts with scorpion bites are spiritual realities, not physical ones.

People are not able to die

Note the double negative ou me — “they will by no means find it.” It is a strong negation. Death will not come as a result of the sting. Men, who are not willing to kill themselves, will often say, “I wish I would just go ahead and die!” But, the sting is not sufficient to threaten life. “Elude” is present tense. Death keeps on fleeing from them.

Sphinx from Spata-570BC

Sphinx from Spata, Attica (570 BCE) – NAMA

The appearance of the locusts

vss. 7 In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, 8 their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; 9 they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. 10 They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails.

Note that he does not say that they had crowns of gold on their heads or that they actually had men’s faces. He said that their likeness (homoios) was like (hos) this. The description defies our ability to even imagine what it would look like. This is a clear indication that John saw spiritual reality and not physical reality. This is a fierce demonic horde that is bringing torment upon the unrepentant. 

Christian and apollyon

Apollyon (top) battling Christian in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. ca. 1850.

vs. 11 They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.

The Destroyer 

The Angel of the Abyss may be the identification of the fallen star in vs. 1. Both Abaddon (in Hebrew = “Destruction”) and Apollyon (in Greek) mean “Destroyer.”

The irony of torment by Satan and demons

Let me quote from Dennis E. Johnson’s commentary on the irony of the demonic attack on those who serve Satan’s purpose — 

This vision discloses the tragic double irony of serving Satan. First, as the angel of the abyss, the fallen star releases these demonic hordes not to afflict his enemies, the servants of God (for he cannot touch those shielded by God’s seal), but rather to afflict his allies “who dwell on the earth,” who receive the beast’s mark and worship his blasphemous image (14:14-17). The devil rewards his loyal subjects with cruel torture. Second, the relief that the tortured think they would attain through death is denied them, for the malevolent spirits that poison their minds are forbidden from taking their lives. (See Johnson, D. E. below.) 

I would add, it doesn’t pay to serve Satan’s purposes for treasures that will not last. He is not grateful, but torments human agents who can have what he can never have — salvation from sin and a life of abundant joy serving God.

On to the Sixth Trumpet next week.

Notes

Beale, G. K. (2015). Revelation: a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.

ESV. (2001). Accessed 24 June 2020 from https://www.biblegateway.com

Johnson, A. F. (1982). Revelation in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Johnson, D. E. (2001). Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Kenner, C. (2000). The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic.

© 2020 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s