Israel’s 5-Month Locust Invasion In 70 AD (Revelation 9:1-11)


Series: “Little Gems from Our Study of the Book of Revelation”

The following study was published yesterday in The Fulfilled Connection (TFC) Magazine, and is adapted from our study of Revelation 9:

In this study of the first half of Revelation 9, we will see that:

  • John’s vision of locusts tormenting men for five months is parallel to the length of time that Israel was prone to locust invasions throughout its history;
  • This also mirrors the length of the Roman siege in Jerusalem in 70 AD, leading to that city’s downfall;
  • The Roman siege even took place during the same months that locusts would typically invade Israel’s land;
  • Josephus spoke of men longing for death, just like John saw in his visions (Rev. 6:16, 9:6) and just like Jesus said would be the case for the “daughters of Jerusalem” and their children (Luke 23:27-30);
  • The name of this locust army’s leader, Apollyon, is remarkably similar to the 15th Roman legion, Apollinarus, that Titus led into Jerusalem in 70 AD (verse 11). This legion was named after the Greek god, Apollo.

In verses 1-2, the key to the bottomless pit was given to “a star [that had] fallen from heaven to earth.” John’s readers are not told explicitly who this star is, but some believe that it was Lucifer (see Luke 10:18 and Rev. 12:9-10). In “Days of Vengeance,” published in 1987David Chilton notes that “the bottomless pit” is referenced a total of seven times in the book Revelation (9:1, 2, 11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1, 3). Chilton adds,

In Biblical symbolism, the Abyss is the farthest extreme from heaven (Genesis 49:25Deuteronomy 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).

In verses 3-4, the locusts are seen coming “upon the earth.” The Greek word for “earth,” ge, can be and sometimes is also translated as “land.” As the Greek Lexicon reveals, this is not necessarily the entire planet, but may rather be just a region. Here in Revelation 9, and in numerous other cases in Revelation, there is good reason to see this term as referring to the land of Israel, i.e. the Promised Land. I have discussed this distinctive pattern in Revelation, particularly the oft-repeated phrase “those who dwell on the earth,” in much greater detail in an earlier 3-part series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).  

Question: 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. Is this seen elsewhere in Revelation?
Answer: It’s also seen in Revelation 7:1-4, where 144,000 believers are sealed before destruction begins.

In verse 5, John’s readers learn that the locusts are given authority to torment men for five months. 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. Here in Revelation 9, these locusts were allowed to attack relentlessly for five months. The Jewish historian, Josephus, as well as Roman historians, recorded that the Roman armies laid a siege upon Jerusalem in 70 AD which lasted for five months. Even more significantly, this siege began in mid-April of that year and lasted until late August/ early September, the very same period when locusts would normally appear in Judea. (It began around 14 April 70 AD, during the Passover Feast, in order to trap as many visitors as possible in Jerusalem).

John’s vision here is full of all kinds of significance for the people of ancient Israel. John’s vision, of course, calls to mind an older vision involving the same imagery. In Joel 1:2-7 and 2:1-11, God’s vine and His fig tree (1:7), Zion (2:1), is stripped bare and thrown away by a destroying army which is likened to locusts, because of Judah’s unfaithfulness (2:12-17, 3:1).

The “Models of Eschatology” site (moderated by a person identified as “wbdjr” for the United Christian Church in Richmond, Virginia) has this to say about 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.”

In verse 6, John’s readers are told that people would “seek death and…not find it” and “long to die, but death [would] flee from them.” Josephus records that during the height of the siege in 70 AD, surviving Jews “poured forth their congratulations on those whom death had hurried away from such heartrending scenes” as were seen during the siege. They were envious of the dead, Josephus says. Thousands were literally starved to death during those months. As I pointed out in a study on Revelation 6, Josephus also 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 is reminiscent of what Jesus said in Luke 23:27-30 would happen to the first century daughters of Jerusalem and their children (see also Revelation 6:16).

Kenneth Gentry sees verses 1-12 as speaking strictly of demonic activity, and verses 13-19 as speaking of the invasion of a physical army. In any case, 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 inMatthew 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” (ibid, pp. 247-248)

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 attacks by a human army, 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 references mixed in here to give 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.

In verse 11, we learn that 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).

Emblem on the Shields of the Roman 15th Legion (Photo Source)

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. 

4 thoughts on “Israel’s 5-Month Locust Invasion In 70 AD (Revelation 9:1-11)

  1. Hi Adam,

    If I remember correctly, you have written somewhere here on your website that you have changed your opinion on the year when this prophecy was fulfilled, but you have not had time to correct it here on this post, apparently. It is actually impossible that this five-month period occur at the very END of the war in AD 70 under the five-month siege by Titus. That is because scripture says in Rev. 9:12 that “…there come TWO MORE WOES HEREAFTER” at the close of the five-month period of torment by these “locusts”. So it is impossible for this to be describing the five months of siege conditions running from April to September under Titus at the close of AD 70, since there would not have been time for “two more woes” to occur after that time.

    Also, the particular restriction on these “locusts” in Rev. 9:4 was that absolutely no vegetation would be harmed by them. “…that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree…” By the end of the siege in April-September of AD 70, the trees had all been cut down within a 10 mile radius to be used by the Roman troops (Wars 5.12.4-523, and Wars 6.1.1.6). So this five-month period HAD to take place BEFORE the devastation of the Judean landscape by the war.

    Also, the particular emphasis in Rev. 9:5 on “torment” instead of killing does not match the wholesale bloodshed taking place in Jerusalem during those last five months of the siege in AD 70. They were literally dying by the cartload at that point in time.

    Instead, I propose that this five month period is a perfect fit for the oppression of the Jews by Gessius Florus from April to September in AD 66. This governor was the most corrupt in a successive series of increasingly corrupt governors in Jerusalem. Gessius Florus deliberately planned to use his delegated authority in such an abusive manner that the Jews would be utterly compelled to revolt in retaliatory defense of their mistreatment, according to Josephus in Wars 2.14.3-283, and Wars 2.15.3-318, and Wars 2.16 1-333, and Wars 2.17.4-420. Example: “…for he expected that, if the peace continued, he should have the Jews for his accusers before Caesar; but that if he could procure them to make a revolt, he should divert their laying lesser crimes to his charge, by a misery that was so much greater; he therefore did every day augment their calamities, in order to induce them to a rebellion.”

    By his repeated attempts to goad the Jews into a defensive revolt against Rome by his offensive and oppressive treatment, Gessius Florus and his troops acted very much like the tormenting “locusts” of Revelation 9. This torment had the desired result that Florus was working towards. At the end of that five months , Eleazar the governor of the temple had “…persuaded those that officiated in the divine service to receive no gift or sacrifice for any foreigner. And this was the true beginning of our war with the Romans; for they rejected the sacrifice of Caesar on this account.” (Wars 2.17.2-409).

    Another piece of evidence that these “locusts” are the Roman troops acting under demonic inspiration is the description given of them in Rev. 9:7-8: “And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were CROWNS LIKE GOLD, and 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” These “crowns like gold” and the “hair as the hair of women” is a precise description of the Roman helmets worn at that particular period. The typical helmets of that mid-first century had horsehair crests of varying lengths called a “crista” mounted on top, and a brass border of trim on the forehead of the helmet’s rim – which looks exactly like a golden crown. Here’s a link to a picture of the Gallic G helmet of that period. We know it was that AD 60ish period because they have found helmets just like this in the rubbish pits of Colchester in Britain dating from Nero’s AD 61 war with Queen Boudica.

    https://www.lawranceordnance.com/default/roman-gallic-g-centurion-s-helmet.html/

    So, the beginning of this five months of torment is noted in Josephus’ Wars 2.14.3, when at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Jews asked the visiting Cestius Gallus (who was making a census of the people at Passover for Nero) to bring them some relief from governor Florus’ treatment. Even though Florus laughed at the Jews, Gallus assured them that he would curb Florus’ calamitous rule. However, once Gallus had left Jerusalem, Florus not only continued to harass the Jews, but he deliberately multiplied his efforts to irritate them, in order to force them into a rebellion to defend themselves.

    This meant that in the five months of time between the Feast of Unleavened Bread at Passover until August of AD 66, Florus’ Roman troops were encouraged to oppress the Jews freely, which resulted in officially launching the rebellion by the Zealots’ murder of the Romans at the Antonia Fortress and at Masada, as well as Eleazar cutting off the daily sacrifice in the temple for Rome and the emperor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Patricia,

      Yes, you are correct. I no longer believe that this prophecy was fulfilled in the year AD 70, but rather earlier than that. Regrettably, as you said, I haven’t had time to update/correct this post (and also quite a few other posts).

      Thank you for your thoughts and insights concerning Gessius Florus. As I look to update this post at some point, I will definitely keep in mind what you’ve proposed here.

      My tentative thoughts, which I’ve wanted to research further, have been that this prophecy was likely fulfilled in late AD 67 during Vespasian’s campaign against Galilee. I understand that Vespasian made use of the 15th legion, Apollinaris, during that campaign. I have also considered this to fit the working timeline I’ve proposed (at the following link) in which it appears to me that the 1st and 2nd trumpets were fulfilled in the first half of AD 67 and the sixth trumpet was fulfilled around February AD 68:

      https://adammaarschalk.com/2016/11/02/josephus-and-the-book-of-revelation-nine-case-studies/

      Nevertheless, I will keep an open mind and take note of your suggestion here. By the way, do you believe the trumpet judgments occurred in chronological order (meaning that, in light of your proposal here, the first four trumpets would have been fulfilled prior to Gessius Florus’ actions which began around April AD 66)? Please forgive me if you’ve already answered this question elsewhere.

      Like

      • Hi again Adam,

        Thank you for giving this point some further thought. I sympathize with the time constraints of your schedule that probably keeps you from posting as often as you might wish to. Researching these themes is a steady sifting process, and changing one point tends to have a Domino effect on other points related to it.

        I don’t mind considering your proposal of an AD 67 fulfillment during Vespasian’s campaign against Galilee. It’s also a viable interpretation, particularly if you are trying to confine the events of the 7 trumpet judgments to a period of time WITHIN the AD 66-70 “Great Tribulation” era. I would actually prefer to use those same time constraints for all the seal, trumpet, and vial judgments, and have even written this before on your website.

        But after giving it some more thought, is it absolutely necessary to presume that these 7 trumpets MUST occur within those AD 66-70 years? After all, there are other references in Revelation to events occurring BEFORE AD 66. Events such as the “child” caught up to the throne with Christ’s ascension, the past martyrdom of faithful Antipas, the past fulfilled years of the literal millennium from 968/67 BC through AD 33, ending with the “First Resurrection” of Christ the First-fruits, the past 666-year history of the Sea Beast’s existence from 607 BC up until the year AD 59/60 when John was writing Revelation, the war in heaven with Satan cast out into the earth at Christ’s ascension, etc.

        We know that John was told in Rev. 1:19 that he should write about “the things which thou hast seen” (in the past), “the things that are” (in the present as he was writing), “and the things which are about to be hereafter” (in the near future for John’s readers). Also, we have the testimony in Matthew 24 that there would be a “beginning of sorrows” that would afflict that generation PRIOR to the “end” when abominable armies would come to Jerusalem in AD 66. That would include those “Wars, and rumors of war”, many deceivers, nation rising against nation, famines, pestilences, earthquakes in many places, deceptive false prophets, and the gospel preached to all the nations before that AD 66-70 judgment period arrived. This would seem to indicate that Revelation’s seals, trumpets, and vials could also include descriptions of events PRIOR to AD 66 when the war began.

        So, my proposal about Gessius Florus being the fulfillment of the 5th trumpet judgment in AD 66 would necessarily mean that those four earlier trumpet judgments would have taken place in the years leading up to AD 66, just as you have noted, Adam.

        On your post called “Wormwood (Revelation 8): An OT-based Judgment Upon Unfaithful Israel”, I proposed that Simon Magus (with the corrupting “doctrine of Balaam” that he introduced to the first-century church) was the “star fallen from heaven” mentioned in both the 3rd and 5th trumpet judgments. I believe Simon the sorcerer of Acts 8 was responsible for two things: he corrupted the doctrine of the early church (the “fountains of waters”) with his “doctrine of Balaam” (3rd trumpet): and along with that deception of the church, Simon the sorcerer released a horde of deceiving, demonic spirits from the bottomless pit (5th trumpet) who helped instigate the tormenting conditions under Gessius Florus, resulting finally in the Zealot rebellion launched in AD 66. Simon Magus was one of those Matt. 24:12 “false prophets” that would arise and deceive many in the church (just as he had deceived many in Samaria according to Acts 8:9-11).

        If we are looking at these trumpets in a sort of chronological order (which I agree with you, Adam, is their manner of fulfillment), then the 1st trumpet through the 4th would consequently have to identify with a time period prior to AD 66 (the proposed Gessius Florus five months of torment leading up to the AD 66 Zealot uprising). There is, perhaps, some overlap on the timeline of one trumpet’s episode onto another one, as I think you might also agree.

        One thing I have noticed about the 1st trumpet is that “all green grass was burnt up” at that time; yet in the 5th trumpet, there is a command given NOT to hurt the grass of the earth – which has apparently had enough time to grow back again by then. That means there is at least a sufficient season of time in between the 1st and 5th trumpets for the grass to have recovered.

        Here is one possible early fulfillment for the 1st trumpet:

        If you look in Ussher’s Annals of the World in his comments #6762-6771, he mentions Josephus’ and Tacitus’ records of a “mini-revolt” in Judea that happened in AD 52. The Jews went on attack against the Samaritans when those in that nation had killed many of the Galilean Jews who were passing through Samaria on their way to Jerusalem’s feast. In retribution, the Galilean Jews burned many towns in Samaria, and Samaritans were slaughtered indiscriminately. As Ussher puts it (#6764), “Both countries were always at odds, but much more so at this time, due to the contempt of their governors” (Cumanus of Galilee, and Felix of Samaria). “As a result, they invaded one another and sent thieves and robbers in to plunder. They laid ambushes and sometimes fought battles, from which they brought plunder to the governors. At first the governors were pleased, but when the disorder grew intolerable, they sent soldiers to quell it, who were all killed. The whole province would have been in an uproar, had not Quadratus redressed the matter in time.”

        Even before AD 66, this whole episode could have easily led to the entire nation going into revolt, as Quadratus the governor of Syria feared. To restore order, he executed the Jews responsible for their part in this affair, and sent Cumanus and a group of Samaritans to the emperor Claudius, as well as two high priests Jonathan ben Ananias and Ananias ben Nebedeus, with a number of Jewish and Samaritan nobles. This way, emperor Claudius could hear the case himself and make an imperial decision on the matter.

        In AD 53, Claudius judged the Samaritans to be guilty of starting the AD 52 uprising, and executed them, as well as banishing Cumanus. One exception was Felix, who (due to favoritism) was made governor of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee combined.

        Given the serious nature of this episode of civil war between the Galilean Jews and Samaria, it seems to fit the language of the 1st trumpet: “…hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.” The “fire mingled with blood” would represent the towns of Samaria being burned, as well as the Samaritan citizens being slaughtered by the Jews. The ravages of battle in these regions would account for the effect on 1/3 of those trees and the grass being destroyed. It would match with the Matt. 24:6 “wars and rumors of wars” that Christ predicted would be the “beginning of sorrows” – even before AD 66 when the believers would “flee to the mountains” when they saw Jerusalem surrounded by armies (Matt. 24:15-16).

        For the 2nd trumpet (Rev. 8:8-9) of the “great mountain burning with fire” being cast into the sea with the third part becoming blood, this to me indicates the AD 64 devastating fire at Rome, with loss of life of its citizens affecting 1/3 of that Gentile “sea”. When Nero cast the blame for the fire on Christians, additional death occurred, amounting to 1/3 of the Christian believers at Rome (those creatures in the sea who “had life”) being killed in Nero’s persecution against them. Because of the disaster of the fire, 1/3 of the commerce of “shipping” at Rome was destroyed, and food supplies for Rome’s inhabitants had to be brought in from Ostia and neighboring towns to sustain the city until Nero’s rebuilding program had restored the infrastructure.

        I’ll continue to review first-century history compared with this list of 7 trumpets, (which appears to have possibly started in AD 52) to see if the sequence of 7 trumpets stays in a chronological progression of events. I don’t mind changing my view on this, if someone can spot a problem with it.

        Like

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