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. 

PP19: The Historical Events Leading Up to 70 AD (Part 3)


This is now the nineteenth post in our series on “A Partial-Preterist Perspective on the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.” This is the same title as a term paper I recently submitted to Northwestern College. All the previous posts can be found here, and it’s recommended that they be read in order before reading this post:

[1] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/brief-explanation-of-partial-preterism/
[2] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/pp2-references/
[3] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/pp3-external-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation/
[4] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp4-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-1/
[5] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp5-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-2/
[6] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp6-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-3/
[7] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp7-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-4/
[8] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp8-daniels-70-week-prophecy-part-1/
[9] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/15/pp9-daniels-70-week-prophecy-part-2/
[10] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/15/pp10-jerusalems-destruction-foretold-in-the-olivet-discourse/
[11] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/15/pp11-did-jesus-come-in-70-ad-part-1/
[12] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/15/pp12-did-jesus-come-in-70-ad-part-2/
[13] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/16/pp13-signs-of-the-close-of-the-age/
[14] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/16/pp14-abomination-of-desolation/
[15] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/16/pp15-the-man-of-lawlessness-ii-thess-2-part-1/
[16] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/16/pp16-the-man-of-lawlessness-ii-thess-2-part-2/
[17] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/16/pp17-the-historical-events-leading-up-to-70-ad-part-1/
[18] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/22/pp18-the-historical-events-leading-up-to-70-ad-part-2/

In the previous two posts we have been discussing the historical events which led up to Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD. In the first post we saw a timeline of these events, and in the last post we examined some of these historical events in more detail. In this present post we will speak of Rome’s burning of the temple and the city of Jerusalem.

For further details regarding the final five-month siege on Jerusalem (April-September 70 AD), and the crushing of all remaining Jewish resistance in the nation of Israel (Sept. 70 – May 73 AD), please refer back to the timeline which is laid out in part 1 (PP17).

Adam Maarschalk

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G. The Historical Events Leading Up to 70 AD (Part 3)

Titus, the son of Vespasian, had determined to spare the temple as an ornament to the Roman Empire. In a speech to the Jews defending the city, he had said, “I appeal to my own army, and the Jews that are now with me, and even to you yourselves, that I do not force you to defile this sanctuary; and if you will but change the place whereon you will fight, no Roman shall either come near your sanctuary, or offer any affront to it; nay, I will endeavor to preserve you your holy house, whether you will or not” (The Wars of The Jews, 6:2:4).

However, a Roman soldier, ignoring his words because he was urged on by a “divine impulse,” threw a flaming stick into a window of the temple, setting it on fire. The Jews instantly rushed in and tried in vain to extinguish the flames. Titus also shouted for help in stopping the fire, but his own men helped only to spread them wider. Writes Holford,

They rushed furiously upon [the Jews], slaying some with the sword, trampling others under their feet, or crushing them to death against the walls. Many, falling amongst the smoking ruins of the porches and galleries, were suffocated. The unarmed poor, and even sick persons, were slaughtered without mercy. Of these unhappy people numbers were left weltering in their gore. Multitudes of the dead and dying were heaped round about the altar, to which they had formerly fled for protection, while the steps that led from it into the outer court were literally deluged with their blood… The Romans, exasperated to the highest pitch against the Jews, seized every person whom they could find, and, without the least regard to sex, age or quality, first plundered and then slew them. The old and the young, the common people and the priests, those who surrendered and those who resisted, were equally involved in this horrible and indiscriminate carnage. Meanwhile the Temple continued burning, until at length, vast as was its size, the flames completely enveloped the whole building; which, from the extent of the conflagration, impressed the distant spectator with an idea that the whole city was now on fire. The tumult and disorder which ensued upon this event, it is impossible (says Josephus) for language to describe. The Roman legions made the most horrid outcries; the rebels, finding themselves exposed to the fury of both fire and sword, screamed dreadfully; while the unhappy people who were pent up between the enemy and the flames, deplored their situation in the most pitiable complaints. Those on the hill and those in the city seemed mutually to return the groans of each other. Such as were expiring through famine, were revived by this hideous scene, and seemed to acquire new spirits to deplore their misfortunes. The lamentations from the city were re-echoed from the adjacent mountains, and places beyond Jordan. The flames which enveloped the Temple were so violent and impetuous, that the lofty hill on which it stood appeared, even from its deep foundations, as one large body of fire. The blood of the sufferers flowed in proportion to the rage of this destructive element; and the number of the slain exceeded all calculation. The ground could not be seen for the dead bodies, over which the Romans trampled in pursuit of the fugitives; while the crackling noise of the devouring flames mingled with the clamor of arms, the groans of the dying and the shrieks of despair, augmented the tremendous horror of a scene, to which the pages of history can furnish no parallel.

The smoke of Jerusalem’s burning was indeed seen by those who stood afar off and who were out at sea (Revelation 18:17-18). Ivan Lewis writes (Todd Dennis [24], 2009), “No one believed that God would permit His Temple to be destroyed, and when this finally did happen, everyone within the city, men and women, young and old, were crazed with despair. Thousands cast themselves into the fire while others fell on their own swords.”

The Romans then hoisted their own idol-covered banners at every key point of the temple area, and plundered and burned the houses in the city. They murdered by the sword every Jew they could find, man, woman, and child. Their only compassion was for the dead, whom they encountered in mass numbers in many of the houses, mostly victims of the famine. Josephus writes, “But although they had this commiseration for such as were destroyed in that manner, yet had they not the same for those that were still alive, but they ran every one through whom they met with, and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many houses was quenched with these men’s blood” (The Wars Of The Jews, 6:8:5).

The amount of blood that flowed, not only in Jerusalem but also throughout the surrounding region, could possibly bring to mind a passage like Revelation 14:19-20, which says, “So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia [about 184 miles].” This was the understanding of John Wesley (1703-1791) who, in his commentary on this passage, wrote:

And the winepress was trodden – By the Son of God, Rev 19:15. Without [outside] the city – Jerusalem. They to whom St. John writes, when a man said, ‘the city,’ immediately understood this. And blood came out of the winepress, even to the horses’ bridles – So deep at its first flowing from the winepress! One thousand six hundred furlongs – So far! At least two hundred miles, through the whole land of Palestine.

Wesley, like many today, tied this passage (Revelation 14:19-20) to Rev. 19:11-21, and rightly so. This is often referred to as the “Battle of Armageddon,” which Tim Lahaye and other Futurist authors generally say will happen in the plain of Megiddo. Author John Noe, on the other hand, notes that what the Bible refers to as a “battle on the great day of God the Almighty” (Rev. 16:14) would transpire “at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon” (Rev. 16:16). In Hebrew it’s actually “Har-Magedon,” as “har” means mountain in Hebrew (“Armageddon” is based on the Greek rendering, since “h” is silent in Hebrew). Therefore, this battle was to take place primarily on a mountain, not in a valley. Noe adds,

The most likely case is that Revelation’s “Har” is Jerusalem. Geographically, Jerusalem sits on top of a mountain. To get there from any direction one must go “up to Jerusalem” (2 Sam. 19:34; 1 Ki. 12:28; 2 Ki. 18:17; 2 Chron. 2:16; Ezra 1:3; 7:7; Zech. 14:17; Matt. 20:17, 18; Mark 10:32, 33; Luke 18:31; 19:28; John 2:13; 5:1; Acts 11:2; 15:2; 21:12, 15; 24:11; 25:9; Gal. 1:17, 18). Jerusalem is also called God’s “holy mountain” (Psa. 43:3) and the “chief among the mountains” (Isa. 2:2-3; also 14:13; Exod. 15:17; Joel 2:32; 3:16-17)… “Magedon/Megiddo” may also be comparative imagery. A great slaughter once took place in the valley of Megiddo (2 Ki. 9:27; Zech. 12:11). Throughout ancient history, this valley was also a favorite corridor for invading armies and the scene of numerous famous battles (Jud. 4-7; 1 Sam. 29-31; 2 Sam. 4; 1 Ki. 9:15; 2 Ki. 9-10; 22; 2 Chron. 35). So much blood was shed in this valley of Jezreel or Megiddo that it became a synonym for slaughter, violence, bloodshed, and battlefield, as well as a symbol for God’s judgment (Hos. 1:4-5). In our day, Armageddon has also become synonymous with and a symbol for the ultimate in warfare and conflict.

In a similar fashion, the word “Waterloo” has garnered a symbolic use. Back in 1815, this town in Belgium was the battleground and scene of Napoleon’s final defeat. Today, we have a saying that some one or some thing has met their “Waterloo.” We don’t mean they have met that city in Europe. We mean, by way of comparative imagery, that they have met a decisive or crushing defeat, or their demise. I suggest Revelation employs the word Magedon/Megiddo in this same manner. History records that a great slaughter took place on a mountain in Palestine within the lifetime of the original recipients of the book of Revelation. In A.D. 70 the Roman armies of Titus totally destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. According to Eusebius, 1.1million Jews were killed (Todd Dennis [15], 2009).

Josephus goes on to say, “Now as soon as the army had no more people to slay or plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury, Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple but for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited” (The Wars Of The Jews, 7:1:1).

First Jewish Revolt (66-73 AD)

The final siege ended on September 26, 70 AD after a duration of five months. The destruction of Jerusalem, though, was not the end of Rome’s fury. Jews outside of Jerusalem also became victims. Holford continues,

All above the age of seventeen were sent in chains into Egypt, to be employed there as slaves, or distributed throughout the empire to be sacrificed as gladiators in the amphitheatres ; whilst those who were under this age, were exposed to sale. During the time that these things were transacted, eleven thousand Jews, guarded by one of the generals, named Fronto, were literally starved to death. This melancholy occurrence happened partly through the scarcity of provisions, and partly through their own obstinacy, and the negligence of the Romans. Of the Jews destroyed during the siege, Josephus reckons not less than one million and one hundred thousand [1.1 million], to which must be added, above two-hundred and thirty-seven thousand [237,000] who perished in other places, and innumerable multitudes who were swept away by famine, and pestilence, and of which no calculation could be made. Not less than two thousand [2000] laid violent hands upon themselves. Of the captives the whole was about ninety-seven thousand [97,000]… After the destruction of Jerusalem seventeen hundred [1700] Jews who surrendered at Macherus were slain, and of fugitives not less than three thousand [3000] in the wood of Jardes. Titus, having marched his army to Caesarea, he there, with great splendour, celebrated the birthday of his brother Domitian; and according to the barbarous manner of those times, punished many Jews in honour of it. The number who were burnt, and who fell by fighting with wild beasts, and in mutual combats, exceeded two thousand five hundred [2500]. At the siege of Massada [73 AD], Eleazer, the commander, instigated the garrison [of Jews] to burn their stores, and to destroy first the women and children, and then themselves.

In summary, says Josephus, “neither did any other city ever allow such miseries, nor did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was, from the beginning of the world” (Josephus, The Jewish War, Book 5, Chapter 10, Paragraph 5).