Adam Maarschalk: September 24, 2009
Scripture text for this study: Revelation 9
Quick review: In our study of Revelation 8, we read of a scene in heaven in which seven angels were given seven trumpets which they were to sound. The prayers of the saints were offered upon the golden altar before the throne, and this seemed to be directly related to the judgments which were about to follow. Chapter 8 covered the first four trumpets:  the burning up of a third of the trees and grass  the destruction of a third of the sea creatures and ships  a third of the water becoming lethally bitter  a third of the sun, moon, and stars struck and darkened.
A. Fifth Trumpet: Locusts from the Bottomless Pit (Rev. 9:1-12)
Verse 1: The one who was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit was “a star [that had] fallen from heaven to earth.” Might this have anything to do with the great star that fell from heaven in Rev. 8:10? Another possibility for the identity of this star, clearly a person or entity, would be that it is Lucifer (See Luke 10:18 and Rev. 12:9-10). David Chilton notes that “the bottomless pit,” referenced in verse 1, is referred to a total of seven times in Revelation (9:1, 2, 11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1, 3). He adds,
In Biblical symbolism, the Abyss is the farthest extreme from heaven (Genesis 49:25; Deuteronomy 33:13) and from the high mountains (Psalm 36:6). It is used in Scripture as a reference to the deepest parts of the sea (Job 28:14; 38:16; Psalm 33:7) and to subterranean rivers and vaults of water (Deuteronomy 8:7; Job 36:16), whence the waters of the Flood came (Genesis 7:11; 8:2; Proverbs 3:20; 8:24), and which nourished the kingdom of Assyria (Ezekiel 31:4, 15). The Red Sea crossing of the covenant people is repeatedly likened to a passage through the Abyss (Psalm 77:16; 106:9; Isaiah 44:27; 51:10; 63:13). The prophet Ezekiel threatened Tyre with a great desolation of the land, in which God would bring up the Abyss to cover the city with a new Flood, bringing its people down to the pit in the lower parts of the earth (Ezekiel 26:19-21), and Jonah spoke of the Abyss in terms of excommunication from God’s presence, a banishment from the Temple (Jonah 2:5-6). The domain of the Dragon (Job 41:31; Psalm 148:7; Revelation 11:7; 17:8), the prison of the demons (Luke 8:31; Revelation 20:1-3; cf. 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6), and the realm of the dead (Romans 10:7) are all called by the name Abyss.
St. John is thus warning his readers that hell is about to break loose upon the Land of Israel; as with Tyre of old, the Abyss is being dredged up to cover the Land with its unclean spirits. Apostate Israel is to be cast out of God’s presence, excommunicated from the Temple, and filled with demons. One of the central messages of Revelation is that the Church tabernacles in heaven (see Revelation 7:15; 12:12; 13:6); the corollary of this is that the false church tabernacles in hell (David Chilton, Days of Vengeance, 1987).
That the land of Israel is indicated here is further seen in the references to “the earth” (also properly translated as “the land”) in verses 3-4. In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subjectbeginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case (See, for example, the post on Revelation 1, where we examined the phrase “tribes of the earth” in verse 7, which is often thought to be worldwide in scope. When this prophecy is compared, though, to its counterpart in Zechariah 12:10-14, it’s clear that every one of those tribes belonged to the land of Israel).
Q: In verse 4, we see that the locusts are told not to harm the grass, green plants, or trees, but only those without the seal of God on their foreheads. Where have we seen this before?
A: We saw it in Revelation 7:1-4, with the sealing of the 144,000 Jewish believers before the destruction began.
Chilton notes that in Judea it was typical for locusts to appear in the land anytime between May and September, a period of five months. In this case they were to remain and attack relentlessly for five months. Regarding verse 4, Chilton reminds us that “[t]he vegetation of the earth is specifically exempted from the destruction caused by the ‘locusts.’ This is a curse on disobedient men.”
Q: What is the likely significance of the five month period cited in verse 5?
A: The siege of Jerusalem by the Roman armies in 70 AD lasted five months. It covered the time span of May to September, the exact time of the year when locusts normally would appear in Judea.
The “Models of Eschatology” blog site (moderated by a person identified as “wbdjr” for the United Christian Church in Richmond, Virginia) has this to sayabout the five month siege:
Five months is the time period that the Roman siege lasted around Jerusalem. During this time the Romans didn’t try to take the city, but let the work of the siege slowly weaken the city defenders and bring conditions upon them that could fit the definition of a great tribulation. During the siege the Zealots inside Jerusalem set fire to the foodstocks that were stored up thinking that without food the inhabitants would be more compelled to join them in fighting the Romans. As food disappeared people were compelled to eat leather from belts, shoes, and anywhere else it could be found.
Kenneth Gentry (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 248) also states, quoting from F.F. Bruce (New Testament History, p. 382): “Titus began the siege of Jerusalem in April, 70. The defenders held out desperately for five months, but by the end of August the Temple area was occupied and the holy house burned down, and by the end of September all resistance in the city had come to an end.”
Q: Where else in Scripture do we see a similar vision of a destroying army which is likened to locusts?
A: We see it in Joel 1:2-7; 2:1-11.
Verse 6: We are told that people would “seek death and…not find it” and “long to die, but death [would] flee from them.” Did this happen in 70 AD? Josephus records that during the height of the siege surviving Jews “poured forth their congratulations on those whom death had hurried away from such heartrending scenes” as were seen during the siege. Thousands were literally starved to death during this time. As we saw in our study on Revelation 6, Josephus records that when the temple was burned in August 70 AD, many survivors retreated to Upper Jerusalem and longed for death. Josephus said in Wars 6.7.2 that “as they saw the city on fire, they appeared cheerful, and put on joyful countenances, in expectation, as they said, of death to end their miseries.” This longing for death is reminiscent of what Jesus said in Luke 23:27-30 (cf. Rev. 6:16).
Kenneth Gentry (ibid, pp. 247-248) sees verses 1-12 as speaking strictly of demonic activity, and verses 13-19 as speaking of the invasion of a physical army. His reference to Jesus’ words in Matthew is most compelling:
Revelation 9:1-12 clearly seems to speak of demons under the imagery of locusts (perhaps due to their destructive power and the gnawing agony they cause). A great many commentators agree that, stripped of the poetical imagery, the locusts are really demons and their sting is that of the pain and influence of demonic oppression. This seems to be quite clearly the case in light of their origin (the bottomless pit, 9:1-3), their task (they afflict only men, 9:4), and their ruler (“the angel of the abyss,” surely Satan, 9:11). Were this a reference to the Roman army (or some later army), their restriction from killing (Rev. 9:5, 10) would be inexplicable in that the Roman army actually did destroy thousands of Jews in its assault. But if these are demons, and the physical killing is left to the armies (which are seen later, Rev. 9:13ff), the picture begins to come into focus.
If demons are in view in this passage, this fits well with requirements of the early date [for the writing of the book of Revelation, i.e. before 70 AD] and the prophetic expectation of Christ in Matthew 12:38-45. There Christ teaches that during His earthly ministry He had cast out demons in Israel, but because of Israel’s resistance to His message, the demons will return in greater numbers within the “generation.”
While I agree that this text does not speak of literal locusts present during this judgment, I see the possibility that in addition to a picture of demonic activity there are also hints of physical attacks, i.e. both happening concurrently. In verse 7, it is said that they appeared as “horses prepared for battle.” Their faces were “like human faces” (verse 7b), they had “hair like women’s hair,” they had breastplates of iron, and the noise made by their “wings” was “like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle” (verse 9). There are enough literal references mixed in to possibly portray a picture of 1st century-type warfare. Steve Gregg, editor of Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary), has this to say (pp. 182, 184):
Though the locusts themselves are no doubt a portrayal of armies of demons that afflicted the whole society of the Jews during their conflicts with the Romans, the description is perhaps mingled with some features of the demonized zealots who made life so miserable for their fellow Jews during the siege. That they have hair like women’s hair [v. 8] may actually be a reference to their transvestitism, as Josephus describes:
“With their insatiable hunger for loot, they ransacked the houses of the wealthy, murdered men and violated women for sport; they drank their spoils with blood, and from mere satiety and shamelessness gave themselves up to effeminate practices, plaiting their hair and putting on women’s clothes, drenched themselves with perfumes and painting their eyelids to make themselves attractive. They copied not merely the dress, but also the passions of women, devising in their excess of licentiousness unlawful pleasures in which they wallowed as in a brothel. Thus they entirely polluted the city with their foul practices. Yet though they wore women’s faces, their hands were murderous. They would approach with mincing steps, then suddenly become fighting men, and, whipping out their swords from under their dyed cloaks, they would run through every passerby” (Wars, IV:9:10).
Regarding the appearance of this army, David Chilton adds,
The frightening description of the demon-locusts in Revelation 9:7-11 bears many similarities to the invading heathen armies mentioned in the prophets (Jeremiah 51:27; Joel 1:6; 2:4-10; cf. Leviticus 17:7 and 2 Chronicles 11:15, where the Hebrew word for demon is hairy one). This passage may also refer, in part, to the Satanic gangs of murderous Zealots that preyed on the citizens of Jerusalem, ransacking houses and committing murder and rape indiscriminately. Characteristically, these perverts dressed up as harlots in order to seduce unsuspecting men to their deaths. One particularly interesting point about the description of the demon army is St. John’s statement that “the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to battle.” That is the same sound made by the wings of the angels in the Glory-Cloud (Ezekiel 1:24; 3:13; 2 Kings 7:5-7); the difference here is that the noise is made by fallen angels.
Verse 11: The king over this army was named “Abaddon” in Hebrew, but “Apollyon” in Greek. According to Livius, an online ancient history encyclopedia compiled by the Dutch historian, Jona Lendering, “Apollo” was the favorite god of the Roman emperor, Augustus. For this reason, the famous 15th Roman legion was called “Legio XV Apollinaris.” When the Jewish revolt against Rome began in 66 AD, this 15th legion, Apollinaris, was moved from Alexandria, Egypt, and called to advance toward Judea. In 67 AD this legion captured Josephus in Jotapata (in Galilee).
After Vespasian was named emperor in 69 AD, his son, Titus, led the 15th legion, Apollinarus, toward Jerusalem. After a 5-month siege, Titus and his legion overthrew Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and burned the city. It appears that Titus was the Apollyon of Revelation 9:11.
Emblem on the Shields of the Roman 15th Legion (Photo Source)
B. Sixth Trumpet: Angels from the Euphrates (Rev. 9:13-21)
David Chilton remarks: “John’s opening words about the sixth Trumpet (Revelation 9:13) again reminds us that the desolations wrought by God in the earth are on behalf of His people (Psalm 46), in response to their official, covenantal worship: the command to the sixth angel is issued by a voice ‘from the four horns of the golden altar [i.e., the incense altar] which is before God.’ The mention of this point is obviously intended to encourage God’s people in worship and prayer, assuring them that God’s actions in history proceed from his altar, where He has received their prayers.”
Q: How many were to be killed in this plague?
A: One third of mankind (Again, in context, I understand “mankind” to refer to the population of Judea).
We are told that four angels would be released from the river Euphrates where they had been bound in preparation for this very day and hour:
“Then the sixth angel sounded: And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, ‘Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.’ So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind. Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million, and I heard the number of them” (Revelation 9:13-16, NKJV).
During the winter of 67-68 AD, Ananus II, the former high priest in Jerusalem, gave speeches urging the people of Jerusalem to oppose the lawless Jewish Zealots who had taken over the temple as “blood-shedding villains.” John of Gischala pretended to be on the side of Ananus and was invited to be an ambassador to the Zealots (Josephus, Wars 4.3.13). However, John quickly betrayed him and falsely claimed that Ananus had invited the Roman general (and soon-to-be emperor) Vespasian to conquer Jerusalem (Wars 4.3.14).
In response, the Zealot leaders Eleazar, the son of Simon and Zacharias, the son of Phalek requested help from the Idumeans. They told the Idumeans that “unless they would come immediately to their assistance, they should themselves be soon in the power of Artanus, and the city would be in the power of the Romans.” Josephus described the Idumeans as a “tumultuous and disorderly nation… delighting in mutations” and a people who would “make haste to a battle, as if it were to a feast” (Wars 4.4.1). The Idumeans promptly prepared an army of 20,000 directed by four commanders:
“Now these rulers were greatly surprised at the contents of the letter, and at what those that came with it further told them; whereupon they ran about the nation like madmen, and made proclamation that the people should come to war; so a multitude was suddenly got together, sooner indeed than the time appointed in the proclamation, and every body caught up their arms, in order to maintain the liberty of their metropolis; and twenty thousand of them were put into battle- array, and came to Jerusalem, under four commanders, John, and Jacob the son of Sosas; and besides these were Simon, the son of Cathlas, and Phineas, the son of Clusothus” (Wars 4.4.2).
Says David Chilton,
In verses 14-16, the sixth angel is commissioned to release the four angels who had been “bound at the great river Euphrates”; they then bring against Israel an army consisting of “myriads of myriads.” The Euphrates River to the north formed the boundary between Israel and the fearsome, pagan forces from Assyria, Babylon, and Persia which God used as a scourge against His rebellious people (cf. Genesis 15:18; Deuteronomy 11:24; Joshua 1:4; Jeremiah 6:1, 22; 10:22; 13:20; 25:9, 26; 46:20, 24; 47:2; Ezekiel 26:7; 38:6, 15; 39:2). It should be remembered too that the north was the area of God’s throne (Isaiah 14:13); and both the Glory-Cloud and God’s agents of vengeance are seen coming from the north, i.e., from the Euphrates (cf. Ezekiel 1:4; Isaiah 14:31; Jeremiah 1:14-15). Thus, this great army from the north is ultimately God’s army, and under His control and direction, although it is also plainly demonic and pagan in character (on the “binding” of fallen angels, cf. 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). God is completely sovereign, and uses both demons and the heathen to accomplish His holy purposes (1 Kings 22:20-22; Job 1:12-21.
Jay Adams (Westminster Theological Seminary) is one scholar who points out that Israel’s past conquerors had traditionally crossed the Euphrates before wreaking their destruction. He notes that Josephus (Wars 7:1:3) told of Roman armies stationed along the Euphrates, including the famed 10th Legion, before they made their final advance on Jerusalem in 69-70 AD (Steve Gregg, ibid, p. 186).
Verse 16: The number of mounted troops was 200 million. Or was it? Futurist interpreters often insist that this number is to be taken literally, and some have supposed that this must refer to a future army that will come out of China. Sam Storms says that in the Greek, the expression denotes “a ‘double myriad of myriads,’ a ‘myriad’ typically equivalent to 10,000.” Therefore, it’s very possible that John heard the number 20,000, but that this has often been wrongly translated as 200 million.
Q: What did the survivors of these plagues not repent of?
A: They did not repent of  the works of their hands  worshiping demons  idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood  murders  sorceries  sexual immorality  thefts.
Josephus says this of mid-first century Jerusalem:
…neither did any other city ever suffer such miseries, nor did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was from the beginning of the world… I suppose that had the Romans made any longer delay in coming against those villains, the city would either have been swallowed up by the ground opening upon them, or been overflowed by water, or else been destroyed by such thunder as the country of Sodom perished by, for it had brought forth a generation of men much more atheistical than were those that suffered such punishments; for by their madness it was that all the people came to be destroyed (Kenneth Gentry, ibid, p. 249).
David Chilton notes that Jerusalem (see the reference to the “great city” in Rev. 11:8, and then compare with 16:19, 17:18, 18:10, 18:16-21) is described in Revelation 18 as “a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird” (18:2). He adds:
The entire generation became increasingly demon-possessed; their progressive national insanity is apparent as one reads through the New Testament, and its horrifying final stages are depicted in the pages of Josephus’ The Jewish War: the loss of all ability to reason, the frenzied mobs attacking one another, the deluded multitudes following after the most transparently false prophets, the crazed and desperate chase after food, the mass murders, executions, and suicides, the fathers slaughtering their own families and the mothers eating their own children. Satan and the host of hell simply swarmed throughout the land of Israel and consumed the apostates.
Our study of Revelation 10 can be found here.
All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.