Let me drop back and very briefly try to explain what we understand Revelation to be saying to this point. Back in the first chapter of Revelation we saw Jesus walking among his churches. In Chapters two and three we saw seven typical churches with their problems and their difficulties and their victories. It is obvious that, in the world then, the church struggled against sin and against Satan. And sometimes the struggles would become so overwhelming as to cause Christians to almost give up.
In chapter four, we are taken into heaven itself to the throne of God to be reminded that God is on His throne. God is in charge in our world and His people, therefore, can have hope. They can conquer and can ultimately gain victory. In chapter five we see the beautiful scene where the Lamb of God, slain for the sins of the world, ascends to the very throne of God and joins the Father at the throne. There He receives the same worship as the Father. And then in chapter six we see the Lamb of God going forth conquering and to conquer, having been slain, crucified, resurrected and ascended to the throne of God.
He then through the means of His people begins to evangelize and to conquer the minds of men throughout the world. The result of that is that Satan tries to destroy the works of God.
As the world is being evangelized, Satan is also doing his best to destroy the people of God. As the second seal is opened we see religious persecution coming. We see another seal opened and we see the economic hardship that comes to God's people, especially as they are attempting to serve God and are encountering the injustices of our world. Then we see death, which is the common lot of mankind, to the believer and to the unbeliever. Death does not harm God's people for they are seen next in the very presence of God.
And then, finally, we see the destruction God brings on mankind. But we also see again that those who are the people of God are sealed and spared from the final destruction that befalls the wicked. And we find the people of God rejoicing at His throne forever and ever.
Then we come to chapter 8 of Revelation and we see, as the seventh seal is opened, a series of angels bearing trumpets, trumpets of warning to those who would harm God's people. We see trumpet after trumpet sounding. At the very beginning we see the prayers of God's people ascending to His throne and we see God responding to the prayers of His people by casting fire upon the earth. As we look at the series of trumpets of warning that follow the seals of persecution, we are able to see that God is trying to warn the wicked, those who are unbelievers, those who even may have been tormenting and persecuting God's people. God is trying to warn them to repent and turn to Him. In the previous section, where we saw the seals being unloosed, we saw God's people and unbelievers alike suffering the hardships and the difficulties of this life. As we see the trumpets of judgment and of warning, we are seeing specifically that God does bring upon the unbeliever His judgment and His warnings.
When we saw the first four trumpets sound in Revelation 8, we saw the natural calamities of the world that come upon mankind, and that should serve as a warning from God. That should cause men to consider the fact that life is very fragile and that death is something that is the lot of mankind. Therefore, we need to think beyond death, beyond this life, to realize that God is One before whom we will give an account of our lives.
As we come to the ninth chapter of Revelation we read: “Then the fifth angel sounded: And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit” (Revelation 9:1). What is this “star fallen from heaven to the earth?” We would initially think in terms of a heavenly body. But the verse speaks of the star as him. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit. So the star is merely a symbol, and John is speaking about a person to whom is given the key to the bottomless pit. It was given to him. It was not something that he rightfully had nor something whose authority was of himself, but, at least for a limited time, he was given certain power.
Who was this person? I believe it has reference to Satan. In Luke 10:18, Jesus Christ said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” Satan is the only one who “fell like lightning from heaven,” and here we see the star falling from heaven, and to
him was given the key to the bottomless pit. And then when we see the horrible things that come out of the bottomless pit, we see surely satanic powers and influences at work. Then Revelation 12:9 says, “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth and his angels were cast out with him.” So, if we allow the Bible to interpret itself I believe we must understand the fallen star as being Satan. “To him was given the key to the bottomless pit.” We need to understand that Satan's power is limited, that he is checked, that he can only go so far, that whatever power he has it permitted him by God.
Verse 2 says, “And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. And the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit” What is the significance of the darkening of the sun and the air? I believe it is a symbol of the deception and spiritual blindness Satan inflicts on men. Let us allow the scriptures to provide the clues for understanding. Go back to II Corinthians 4:3–4. Paul said, “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.”
Satan is one who causes spiritual blindness that the gospel of Christ might not penetrate the hearts of men. I believe Romans provides the closest thing to a parallel to what we have seen in Revelation 9. In Romans 1:21, Paul spoke of those who had rejected what knowledge of God had been provided them. “Because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Satan deludes and deceives mankind and he darkens the soul of those who reject the knowledge of God.
Now Revelation 9:3–4 reads: “Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” Here we see locust coming out of the bottomless
pit, but these are most unusual locusts. We are not speaking now about a literal plague of locusts. That this is a symbol is clearly indicated by the further description that is given of the locusts. Nine times language is employed that shows that John is speaking symbolically.
Notice while these were locusts, their torment, according to verse 5, “was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man.” Then, according to verses 7–10, they were like horses. “And the shape of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle; and on their heads were crowns of something like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men. They had hair like women's hair, and their teeth were like lions' teeth. And they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses running into battle. They had tails like scorpions, and there were stings in their tails.” These are not real locusts. This is a symbol.
What is the symbol trying to say to us? These locusts are unlike literal locusts. Literal locusts eat grass and eat all of the green vegetation of the earth, but these locusts were not to hurt the vegetation of the earth, they were not to hurt the grass and they were not to hurt the trees. The only thing these locusts are permitted to hurt are men. Now the point is that here is something that affects men. In what way does it affect men? In verse five we are told: “And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months. Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man.” These locusts were to bring torment to mankind. What kind of torment? I believe the kind of torment that is spoken of is the anguish that comes into the lives of men who have allowed themselves to be dominated by sin.
Let us go back to the prophecy of Joel. In the first chapter of Joel there is a description of a plague of locusts. It is a very graphic description of how the locusts come and strip the land. The plague of locusts was one of the terrors of that ancient world and even today in some parts of the world there is hardly anything as devastating and as terrifying as a plague of locusts. In Joel, we see a description of the judgment of God being brought in the form of a plague of locusts. After the description of what the locust did, notice the conclusion and the significance of it all. He shows the aftermath of the plague: “The vine
has dried up, and the fig tree has withered; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree—all the trees of the field are withered; surely joy has withered away from the sons of men” (Joel 1:12). Here, ultimately, is the significance of what is taking place. Joy is withered away from the sons of men. Here we see the anguish of men who have been rebellious toward God.
As we look at Revelation 9, notice that the people who are being hurt by the locusts are not God's people. They are spared completely. They are not going to be tormented. Why? Because God's people have the joy of God residing in them. They have peace of mind, the peace that passes all understanding. Notice in verse 4, John said: “They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.”
Earlier in Revelation we saw that this seal of God identifies God's people, those who belong to Christ. So the plague of locusts is going to hurt all except God's people. In II Timothy 2:19 we are told: “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His.’ ” God knows His people. He is not going to allow your heart to be overwhelmed so that it is totally crushed. That is not to say there will never be any sorrow in our lives. It is not to say there will never be anguish in our lives. But it is to say that God is going to bring to your lives a satisfaction, and He is going to fill the needs of your lives in a way that those who have refused any relationship to Christ can never know. God's people are in a distinct position.
In II Peter 2:9, Peter said, “Then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment.” God knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation. He is going to spare you the anguish, the terror that so often afflicts the hearts of those who know they are not right with God.
So what we are seeing here is the terrifying description of the awfulness of sin in terms of the ugliness of one of the most terrifying things that bothered people of that time, a plague of locusts.
The description of these grotesque creatures ends with these words in verse 10: “They had tails like scorpions, and there were stings in their tails. And their power was to hurt men five months.” What is the significance of the five months? Verse 5 had already said, “And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months.” I think it is simply a way of saying two things. Number one, this is not the final torment of the wicked being described in Revelation 9. This is not the eternal torment of the fire of hell. What we are seeing is something that is limited, it is just for five months, and it is not the eternal punishment of the wicked. We are seeing that in this lifetime the wicked experience an anguish of soul that eats away at them and never gives them complete satisfaction. There is always the gnawing suspicion that something is wrong. There is a terrifying realization of alienation from God.
But, secondly, I believe the five months is to simply say to us that God is the one who determines how long and how intense the anguish of spirit is going to be within man. God has set boundaries and God knows what man can endure and what he needs to endure for the purpose trying to bring him to his senses. God permits such spiritual torment not to destroy man but to try to warn man. These are trumpets of warning that the angels are sounding to try to cause men to realize the awfulness of the condition they are in.
But what is the significance of “five?” I do not think there is any particular significance to that at all except just to suggest the two points that have already been made. It is like asking about the parable of the five wise and foolish virgins, “Why five?” I do not know. I do not think it is particularly significant. He had to choose a number.
Consider the parable of the man who had five talents. Why five? Why not twelve? Why not sixty-three? I do not know. He just chose five. Let us not press details of the picture so that we distort the picture. Some will take the description of the locust and try to give some explanation of the meaning of the teeth on the locust, the meaning of the sting on the tail, the meaning of long hair like a woman and things like that. But I believe there is no particular significance necessary to all the details except they contribute to the picture of the grotesqueness and the awfulness and the ugliness of the forces of Satan.
Verse 11 reads: “And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon.” These names mean “destruction” and “destroyer.” This is a perfect description of Satan. He is the one who would destroy man. He is not out to serve you. He is out to deceive you and delude you and to get you to think that his pleasures are the things that bring real satisfaction in this life.
Yet in the living of life it becomes so apparent that there comes a void and an emptiness that can never be satisfied by the kinds of deceitful pleasures that Satan would set before us. Let us seek to find our joy in those delights that God has prescribed for man's well–being and man's happiness. I believe that as we look at the fifth angel and the trumpet sounding, that we are seeing that God is permitting anguish of spirit in the hearts of unbelievers. This is for the purpose of warning them and trying to make them see that in their very misery their need for God and to cause them to repent and turn to him.
Verse 12 reads: “One woe is past. Behold, still two more woes are coming after these things.” We look at one of these two woes. Read verses 13–19: “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. And thus I saw the horse in the vision: those who sat on them had breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone. By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed—by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which came out of their mouths. For their power is in their mouth and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents, having heads, and with them they do harm.”
But I want you to remember that the ones who are going to be hurt are not God's people; the ones who are going to be hurt are the unbelievers, those who are opposed to and are even
persecuting God's people. Remember that the first five trumpets of warning in chapter eight were the direct consequence of the prayers of God's people going before His throne. Fire was cast on the earth against those who had been tormenting and persecuting God's people.
What we are seeing in chapter nine is a continuation of the same idea. In verse 13, when the sixth angel sounded the trumpet, we were taken back to the altar at the throne of God. There a voice was heard ordering the four angels that had been bound at the great river Euphrates, to be loosed. Again God was the one permitting this to be done. They have been bound, and in God's good time and His appointed hour, He permits Satan to bring devastation to man who is in rebellion against Him and who has opposed and persecuted His people.
I believe what we see when the sixth trumpet sounds is the warfare that occurs in our world, which, in the most vivid and graphic way, should say to the world as a warning: “Your ways are perverted ways. Your ways are corrupt ways that can only bring destruction.” It certainly shows man at his ugliest, man at his worst. It is as though man ought to see, from the warfares that take place on earth, that men need to turn to God.
We see a third part of men killed. As we saw in the case of the first four trumpets, we see the use of the “third,” which is simply to indicate that this is not the final judgment of God on mankind, but only a portion of humanity is being affected. All of this represents the warning judgments of God that come to our earth as war after war affect and plague humanity.
Notice what happens in verses 20–21: “But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.”
Notice, they repented not, they repented not. What is the significance? All of this is to bring mankind to its senses and say, “Give yourself to God. He loves you; He cares about you.” These were judgments of warning on men in the hope of causing them by the awfulness of these things to repent, to turn to God.
Yet we see the hardness and the callousness of the hearts of men, that they would not repent. They would not turn to God. We also see the patience and the long–suffering of God. He continues to warn while there is yet time and say, “Repent.” Yet, man says “I will not repent.”
But what will you say to God, to God who has tried in every way to warn you of the wrath that is to come by the temporary troubles that befall us in this life? Will you reject God and His love? Or will you allow the things that you see in this life to warn you and to bring you to a realization of the fact that God really is on His throne? Will you see that there is no joy in following the ways of Satan, that they only bring destruction? Will you see that the true joys and the true peace of mind are to be found in that relationship with God, who cares for you, who has tried His best to show you the way, and who has loved you so much that He let Jesus die for you? What will you do about all that? Will you not give your life to Jesus, believe in Him, trust Him, repent of your sins, confess your faith in Him who loved you and gave Himself up for you and be baptized into Him and begin to walk with Him?