REVELATION - CHAPTER 9
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
9:1. “And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.”
In chapter 8:8 we have seen, under the symbol of a great mountain cast into the sea, what seems to be the expulsion of Satan from heaven at the midpoint of the Tribulation, and since a mountain is the Biblical symbol of a king or kingdom, the emphasis is upon his character as the god of this world. Chapter 8:10 portrays the same event under the figure of a star fallen from heaven, but since a star is the Biblical symbol of individual witness connected with leading men to Christ (or, in the case of false teachers, leading them astray), the point being emphasized is that Satan is also the great deceiver whose objective is to lead men to destruction.
In Re 8:8 the scene of the activity was the sea (symbol of the Gentile nations). Satan’s expulsion from heaven, the event which will begin the Great Tribulation (the last three and a half years of the total seven year Tribulation period) will affect the whole world. Chapter nine, however, reminds us that the focal point of Satan’s activity during that time will be the nation of Israel, for here in verse 1 we see again a star fallen from heaven, but here it falls upon the earth (symbol of Israel). The fallen star is still Satan, but in his role as “prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2), the king of the evil spirit hosts whose realm is the air.
His being given the key of the bottomless pit or abyss, reminds us that, powerful as he is, Satan can do only what God permits. He Who makes the wrath of man to praise Him, Ps 76:10, makes also the malignity of demons to serve Him.
9:2. “And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.”
The reference to a furnace confirms that Israel will be the special object of Satan’s hatred in the Great Tribulation, for the furnace is associated with Israel’s affliction in the OT, see e.g., Ge 15:17; Dt 4:20; Dan 3:6.
There can be little doubt that the smoke represents the myriads of evil spirits, now imprisoned in the abyss, but to be released in the Great Tribulation. There is vivid contrast between this smoke ascending out of the abyss, and that which is mentioned in Re 8:4. There it is symbolic of the worship of the redeemed, here it is associated with the malignant activity of the damned. Since the sun is a symbol of Christ, and the air is the realm of spirits, good or evil, the darkening of sun and air declares that demon activity in the Tribulation will result in the partial obscuring of the knowledge of Christ, and in unprecedented opposition to the activity of the Holy Spirit and the holy angels. That this will be permitted by God is assured in 2 Th 2:11, “... God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth ....” Those who will be deluded beyond hope of enlightenment will be they who had refused the Gospel during this present age of grace. There will, however, be multitudes in the Tribulation who will then hear the Gospel for the first time. (Contrary to popular belief, the whole world will not hear the Gospel before the Rapture. If it were otherwise, no one could be saved in the Tribulation). This whole section of Revelation should be studied in the light of 2 Th 2. Since God’s judgments are designed to lead to repentance - destruction falling only when repentance is refused - there is reason to believe that He will permit this demon activity in order to lead some men at least, to repent and turn to Him in their misery.
9:3. “And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.”
These locusts are very obviously not literal. As the locust, by destroying man’s food, brings misery and death, so will these evil spirits, by destroying or corrupting the Word (man’s spiritual food) also bring misery and death, for we are reminded that, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). This is not to imply that the Word will be literally destroyed, but it is “destroyed” for all practical purposes for the man whose mind is blinded to its truth. Such blinding will be part of the work of these demonic hosts.
Since the power of the literal scorpion is to inflict terrible physical pain, so will these evil spirits possess the power to inflict terrible mental anguish. As the Word brings peace to the believer, so will the Word corrupted, bring the mental and spiritual equivalent of the scorpion’s venom to the unbelievers of the Tribulation age. Some idea of the nature of their suffering may be gathered from what is recorded in the Gospels concerning the misery of the demon-possessed.
We should note also the recurring reference to the earth as the scene of their activity. The whole world will be affected, but since the earth is used symbolically to portray the believing remnant of Israel, and believers in general, the truth being taught here is that believers, and especially Jewish believers, will be the special target of Satan’s malignant fury. His activity towards the unconverted will be to blind them to the truth, and to inflict mental anguish.
9:4. “And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.”
Grass and trees are both symbols of humanity: grass representing man in his frailty and transitoriness, while trees represent the different social classes into which men are divided. Keeping in mind, however, that Scripture is first to be interpreted literally; and symbolically, only when the context justifies it, we should note that here a symbolic interpretation does not appear to be justified, for since trees represent men in general, then it would be saying that these evil spirits were not to hurt men, which doesn’t make sense, since clearly that is exactly what they are to do. The literality, then, of the grass, green thing, and trees, normally devoured by the actual locust, but here exempted from the activity of these spiritual “locusts,” may be to emphasize that the locusts themselves are not literal, but symbolic. The necessity to guard against viewing them as literal locusts becomes apparent when it is realized that God’s frequent use of the literal locust to chastise the disobedience of Israel, could very easily lead to the conclusion that these locusts are also literal.
Again, we should note the reference to the earth in this fourth verse. Since the earth is one of the Biblical symbols of Israel, what is written here has primary application to her.
The victims of these evil spirits are to be, “... only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.” Since those who do have this seal appear to be the 144,000 Israelites of chapter 7, and since this section seems to have primary reference to Israel, it may be that those exposed to the depredation of these spiritual “locusts” are also primarily Jews, though this does not by any means limit their evil activity to Jews only. While Israel will be the vortex of the Tribulation judgments, the rest of the world will not escape the castigation of the God they have so long defied.
9:5. “And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man.”
It is significant that this judgment comes at the sounding of the fifth trumpet; and the torment is to last for just five months. Inasmuch as five is the Biblical number of responsibility, the message appears to be that the divinely-permitted activity of the demon hordes is designed by God to awaken men to their responsibility to repent and cast themselves upon His mercy. That repentance of course will be impossible for those who had heard and rejected the Gospel in this present age of grace, see 2 Th 2:1-12. These demons unwittingly will be accomplishing God’s purposes.
9:6. “And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.”
The terrible nature of the misery resulting from the activity of these evil swarms is declared in the complete reversal of what is normal. The strongest human instinct is that of self-preservation, but the activity of the demons will produce in their victims a desire to die, as strong as the normal desire is to live. That release, however, will be denied them, “Death shall flee from them.”
9:7. “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.”
It is clear that each of the descriptive terms is symbolic rather than literal. In Ps 147:10 it is written, “He (God) delighteth not in the strength of the horse....” This, in conjunction with many other OT references to horses, makes it evident that the allusion here is to the great strength of these evil creatures. Puny man is powerless against them. “Prepared unto battle,” tells us, in addition, that their strength is to be used for purposes of destruction.
“... and on their heads were, as it were, crowns like gold.” The crown upon the king’s head is the symbol of his power. It marks him as the one in whom is vested all the might of his kingdom. And so here, these symbolic crowns declare, not only that these fearsome creatures have strength, but that they have in addition the authority to use that power for human ill. The state of the man whom God delivers over to the power of Satan, is terrible beyond description.
“And their faces were as the faces of men.” “As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man” (Pr 27:19). Their faces being “as it were” human, is the symbolic declaration of the fact that they are fully aware of man’s make-up. His weaknesses are fully known to these demons, and being known, facilitate their evil work. There is no reciprocal knowledge however. Man lacks any defence against them. He knows nothing of the nature of his adversary.
The tragedy of this judgment is that it will come upon some who will have refused Christ during this present age, and who will therefore have no hope of deliverance. Having rejected the redemption provided by Him Whose strength was exercised to ransom men’s souls, and Whose omnipotence provides daily for the care and protection of His redeemed, these unbelievers will become the helpless victims of a malignant power exercised for their utter eternal ruin. Having refused to submit to the pardoning and cleansing power of One Whose head was once crowned with thorns, but is now crowned with glory, they will find themselves the prey of malevolent spirits upon whose heads are crowns which declare that their tormenting power is given them by that same Christ Who once, as man’s Substitute, submitted Himself to the destructive power of their king at Calvary.
In the similarity of the demons’ faces to those of men, we perceive another peculiar irony in this judgment. Christ, having been a man, has a perfect knowledge of man’s weakness, and by virtue of that knowledge can “be touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Heb 4:15), and has provided for the believer a throne of grace to which we can come, “to find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). There will be no such refuge in the Tribulation for those who rejected Christ in this present age. That sympathetic ministry that could have been theirs will then be unavailable. The demons’ knowledge of man’s infirmities will simply make their evil power against him all the more effective.
The comparison between the blessing that might have been, and the torment that will be, serves to direct attention to the fact that the transcendent blessing of the redeemed has a corresponding measure of misery for the unbeliever.
9:8. “And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions.”
In 1 Co 11:15 we read that the woman’s hair is given her for a covering (veil). The reference therefore to the hair of these demons seems to point to a characteristic shared by them and evil women, for there can be no thought here of comparison with godly women; and surely the outstanding example of evil women is Jezebel. The murderous cunning with which she plotted the death of Naboth, will characterize also these evil spirits.
“And their teeth were as the teeth of lions.” Inasmuch as Satan, their king is described as “a roaring lion” (1 Pe 5:8), the lesson of the lion-like teeth isn’t difficult to read. As the lion’s teeth are used to rend and devour his prey, so will these demons rend and devour their victims spiritually; and that the rending may be literal as well as spiritual is indicated in such passages as Lk 9:39, where an anguished father describing the condition of his demon-possessed son, said, “And, lo, a spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out; and it teareth him that he foameth again, and bruising him hardly departeth from him.”
9:9. “And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle.”
In Ep 6:14 believers are exhorted to have on the breastplate of righteousness, which would indicate that the corresponding armor on these malevolent spirits will be, not righteousness, but evil. This declares it to be an evil against which men will be powerless, for iron is one of the Biblical symbols of strength, and it will be exercised by these demons for man’s destruction.
The reference to their wings reminds us that they are evil spirits whose habitat is the air, and Satan, their king, for in Ep 2:2 believers are described as those, who prior to conversion, had “walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.”
The further description of the sound of their wings as being like “the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle,” emphasizes again their terrible power; and the running declares the fiendish eagerness with which they will engage in their destructive activity.
9:10. “And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months.”
In Isa 9:15 it is written, “The ancient and honorable, he is the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail.” This continues to assure us that these are not literal locusts or scorpions, but demons whose activity in the spiritual realm will correspond to the destructive, tormenting activity of the physical creatures which typify them. And it is significant that the locust destroys man’s food, resulting in the pain of hunger, and the diseases which accompany malnourishment.
Putting all of this together, we find that what is being described here is a malignant spiritual activity operating for man’s destruction through corruption of the Word of God, and the substitution of Satan’s lies for the truth of the Gospel. The spurious and very popular “gospel” being preached today is the foreshadowing of what will be in fuller measure in the Tribulation.
For the significance of the “five months” see comments on verse 5.
9:11. “And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.”
Whether in Hebrew or Greek, the meaning of the name of this evil king is the same: it means the destroyer. He is Satan, and as he is, so are his minions. They are bent on the destruction of men.
The mention of Hebrew and Greek reminds us that the whole earth is his realm, for Hebrew points to Israel, as Greek is the general term for the Gentiles, and the character of his rule is amply demonstrated in the wretched condition of the world today. The sinister shadow of the Prince of Darkness lies across every page of history, the ruin found everywhere on earth testifying to the nature of this malevolent spirit. He is indeed the destroyer!
That the Tribulation judgments will embrace the whole world is disclosed in the reference to Hebrew and Greek, but the mention of Hebrew first, reminds us that it will be particularly “the time of Jacob’s trouble.”
9:12. “One woe is past; and behold, there come two woes more hereafter.”
The malignant activity of these demon hordes invests the judgment of the fifth trumpet with the added dread character of “a woe,” that characteristic undoubtedly being derived from the fact that it appears to be directed specifically and exclusively against men’s souls.
Terrible as it is, it is only one of three. Two more woes are yet to follow.
9:13. “And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God.”
9:14. “Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates.”
The blast of the fifth trumpet called forth from the abyss myriads of demons. Now the sixth trumpet calls forth from the Euphrates four angels (spirits), who will muster an army numbering two hundred million, which if composed of men, will be numerically the most colossal human force ever to march across the earth.
This is generally taken to refer to the gathering of a literal great eastern army, and that may very well be, but we can’t dismiss the fact that the reference may also be to something else. Note that it doesn’t say that the army is human, nor can the description of these equestrians be easily applied to men. The focus is on the release of the angels bound in the Euphrates, but since the Euphrates is the river of Babylon, and Babylon is the Biblical symbol of false religion, the river may well be the “river” or “water” of false doctrine which has flowed through the earth for sixty centuries, and which flows today with titanic power. The reference, in fact, may be to the sweep of eastern mysticism into the western world, its present appearance there being but the first wave of the incoming tide. No thoughtful mind, however, will refuse to consider the possibility that the reference may be to a literal Islamic army marching westward to impose the religion of Islam on the rest of the world.
The voice commanding the judgment comes from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God. It is significant that the voice comes from the place which is connected so closely with the prayers of believers. There may be here the assurance that God does answer prayer. In His own time He will avenge the suffering endured by His own.
These four angels bound in the Euphrates, and now released, are clearly evil spirits, for we never read of good angels being bound. And as they will be released by God’s permission, so will they also by that same permission go forth to gather together this vast army for the purpose of destroying one-third of the human race.
9:15. “And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.”
Whatever the chaos on earth, whatever the power of the prince of the air, God is in command. His purposes are beyond the power of men or demons to alter. Man knows not what a day may bring forth. Satan knows that when he is expelled from heaven he will have but a short time left before being confined in the abyss for a thousand years. But God! He knows the end from the beginning. He can declare with absolute precision the events that will occur during a particular second a trillion years from now. The exact month, day, and hour for the unleashing of this vast force, have been appointed by Him. Men, who under His permissive will, have refused mercy, must, under His directive will, suffer wrath.
9:16. “And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them.”
The words “and I heard the number of them” are taken by many to indicate that the number is literal, but whether literal or symbolic, the fact remains that we are being shown the gathering of a vast army.
9:17. “And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.”
Against taking the language literally is this description of both horses and riders, for clearly the description is symbolic. As noted already, horses are Biblical symbols of strength, so that the truth being declared is the phenomenal power of this great army, while the breastplates of fire, jacinth and brimstone worn by the riders, may have reference to their invulnerability. The only other Scriptural reference to jacinth is in Rev 21:10 where it is mentioned as the eleventh precious stone in the foundation of the wall of the heavenly Jerusalem. It is difficult therefore to interpret its meaning in the present context. Since it is generally considered to be sapphire blue in color, and since blue is the color of the heavens, there may be a subtle reference to the truth that God is the Author of the judgment.
Beginning with the mention in Gen 19 of the pouring down of brimstone upon Sodom, there are frequent references to brimstone (sulphur or bitumen) as the expression of divine anger. Undoubtedly it has the same connotation here.
Literally, the fire, jacinth and brimstone may have reference to modern weaponry, including that which is atomic. There is good reason, however, as already noted, to understand the general picture to be of the spiritual evil that will result from man’s acceptance of Satan’s lies, that evil being represented perhaps by the religion of Islam, or some other false system. That the imposition of the religion of Islam will be accompanied by terrible slaughter of all who would oppose, is testified by history. Islam enforces its beliefs with the sword.
The description of the horses’ heads as being like those of lions, seems to indicate kingly power, and inasmuch as the power appears to be that of evil, the picture is clearly of Satanic might, bloodthirsty and cruel, operating against men by God’s permission. He who refuses God’s blessing makes himself heir of His wrath.
The fire, smoke, and brimstone issuing from the mouths of the horses may be descriptive of modern weaponry, or of the destructive power of Satan unleashed against men by a devil become desperate because he knows that he has but a short time left. Ultimately, however, the reference is to the judgments of God that will fall upon those who accept Satan’s lies.
9:18. “By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths.”
While some insist that the language here is literal, and describes modern weapons, the words “which issued out of their mouths” indicate rather, that it is symbolic of false doctrine. Whether literal or symbolic, there is no question as to the result of this destructive activity: a third of the world’s population will die.
9:19. “For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt.”
It is difficult to see how this language can be taken literally, for since the mouth is the organ of speech, and the tail, as noted already, is the Biblical symbol of a false prophet, everything points to the dissemination of false doctrine, that doctrine, then as always, having the power to bring spiritual death.
The word “hurt” means here literally “to do wrong, injustice.” This, combined with the reference to the tails being like serpents having heads, seems to confirm that the symbol is of Satanic doctrine. Those who propagate his poisonous lies have the same serpent characteristics as their master, the subtle, deadly cunning of the “old serpent” himself. That supernatural intelligence is involved may be indicated in the fact that the tails are said to have heads.
9:20. “And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk:”
That the purpose of God’s judgments is to bring men to repentance is plainly declared in this verse, but, like the gods they worship, the Christ-rejecters have neither eyes to see, nor ears to hear. These rebels of the Tribulation era will fail to discern in the judgments devastating the earth, the last resort of a God Who loves sinners, and Who would turn them back from eternal destruction.
That man is spirit, as well as body, and soul, is declared in that no matter how deeply he sinks in evil, he still clings to “religion” even though his “worship” be of devils.
The order of God’s lists is always instructive, and here we note the deteriorating worth of the material of which man’s false gods are made. That deterioration from gold to wood is indicative of man’s ever greater degeneracy. Mercy refused brings a searing of the conscience that eventually renders the man incapable of repentance. Like his gods, he becomes blind, and deaf, and spiritually impotent.
Rebel man who would aspire to be god, will discover at the end that he is but a creature of flesh and blood, mere dust, unfit to enter the kingdom of heaven apart from a new birth through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.
9:21. “Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.”
Apart from any symbolic meaning that may be attached to these evils, the fact remains that all of them are rampant in our society, and are proliferating daily. And it is surely significant that the original word translated “sorceries” is pharmakeia, the same as our word “pharmacy,” and is related also to the idea of magic and witchcraft. It is scarcely necessary to draw attention to the increasing interest in the occult, and to the devastation being wrought in society through the use of drugs. There is every reason to believe that the moral character of society will continue to deteriorate, so that toward the end of the Tribulation morality will have virtually disappeared from the earth.