An Exegetical Commentary
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 29 May 2011; Revised 23 April 2016
Scripture: The Scripture text of Revelation used below is prepared by Blaine Robison with consideration given to the American Standard Version (which is in the public domain) and the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. The essentially literal translation seeks to reflect the Jewish character of the author and writing. See my web article The Jewish New Testament. Other Bible versions are also quoted. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Most versions can be accessed on the Internet. Messianic Jewish versions are CJB, DHE, GNC, HNV, MW, OJB, & TLV.
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the chapter commentary. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. The LXX with English translation may be found here. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. For works by early church fathers go to Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
Syntax: Unless otherwise noted the definitions of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009). See the Greek Guide for the meaning of grammar abbreviations. Definitions of Hebrew words are from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981). The numbering system of the Strong's Exhaustive Concordance is identified with "SH" (Strong's Hebrew number) and "SG" (Strong's Greek number). Strong's Online.
Vocabulary: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Torah (Law), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
The Fifth Trumpet Sounds (9:1-12)
1― And the fifth angel sounded a trumpet, and I saw a star from heaven having fallen to the earth; and the key of the bottomless pit was given to him.
And the fifth angel sounded a trumpet: Grk. salpizō, aor., to blow or sound a trumpet. The fifth of the seven angels signaled the next woe to befall earth. and I saw a star: Grk. astēr, generally of a luminous heavenly body other than the sun, whether in a fixed position such as Venus (Rev 2:28; 22:16), or moving such as a comet, meteor or asteroid (Jude 1:13; Rev 8:10). Astēr is also used fig. of angelic beings (Jude 1:13; Rev 12:4) and congregational overseers (Rev 1:16, 20; 3:1). In the LXX astēr renders the Heb. kokab (SH-3556), star or heavenly body, first occurring in the creation narrative (Gen 1:16). In the Tanakh the term is generally literal but also fig. of the Messiah (Num 24:7), the people of Israel (Ex 32:13; Deut 1:10; 10:22; 28:62; 1Chr 27:23), and angels (Jdg 5:20; Job 38:7; Isa 14:13; Dan 8:10).
from heaven: Grk. ouranos, the area above the earth that encompasses the sky, interstellar space and associated phenomena or the transcendent dwelling-place of God (Danker). See the note on 3:12. having fallen: Grk. piptō, perf. part., means to fall (down) from a higher point and includes the idea of falling to pieces, falling to the ground and falling down violently. The perfect tense depicts action as complete and occurring in past time with continuing results to the present. A few versions translate the verb as present tense as if John personally witnessed the event (CEV, DRA, KJV, MSG, NCV). John is certainly emphasizing the dramatic impact of the descent, but the significance of the perfect tense should not be dismissed.
and the key: Grk. kleis, anything used for locking, especially a key. While the use of kleis in previous verses of Revelation (1:18; 3:7) are clearly figurative, here the word has a physical function along with a fig. meaning of the power or authority to open the bottomless pit, and, of course, this "key" can only be obtained from Yeshua (1:18). of the bottomless: Grk. abussos means bottomless or abyss, which Rienecker refers to as unfathomably deep and the place of imprisonment for demons (Luke 8:31). Abussos occurs seven times in Revelation (9:1, 2, 11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1, 3). The abyss is the place of origin of the beast (11:7; 17:8) and the prison of Satan during the millennium (20:1, 3).
pit: Grk. phrear from a root meaning 'fountain' with the idea of restless movement or agitation, 'an extended hole in the ground' (Danker). BAG defines as a a well purposely dug (cf. Gen 26:32), and here as a pit or shaft leading down into the depths of Hades. "Bottomless pit" would be literally translated "shaft of the abyss" (Marshall). Morris speculates that somewhere on earth is a great shaft through the crust and mantle, down to the core of the earth, all the way to the Pit itself. This shaft must be blocked or man would have discovered it. Following this same line of reasoning, an urban legend circulated in 1990 claiming that Russian scientists had discovered the shaft, lowered microphones into it and heard the screams of the damned (Rich Buhler, "Scientists Discover Hell in Siberia," Christianity Today, July 16, 1990, 28f).
However, this story is entirely false because microphones would melt from the intense heat long before any recording could be made and there is no human technology that can "hear" what goes on in Hades. The Pit lies deep in the interior of the earth at its center and could be deemed bottomless because every direction would be a ceiling (Morris). The early Jewish work Sibylline Oracles says, "For he [God] the earth established, placing it round about Tartarus" (Book I, 10). Tartarus was a synonym for the Pit or Hades (2Pet 2:4). The Pit is a place where demonic beings are imprisoned (vv. 2-11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:2-3; cf. Luke 8:31) and the place to which Yeshua descended after His death (Eph 4:9; cf. 1Pet 3:19).
was given: Grk. didōmi, aor. pass., to give, often with the focus on generosity. In the LXX didōmi generally renders Heb. natan, SH-5414, to give, used in one of three settings (1) by men one to another; (2) by men to God; and (3) by God to men (DNTT 2:41). to him: Grk. autos, masc. pers. pron., dative case. Identification of the "star" is not completely certain. Gregg points out that historicist and preterist writers interpret the star as a human (174). Taking a straightforward approach there are three possibilities. First, the "star" could refers to a heavenly body, such as an asteroid, which impacts the earth (as in 8:10f) at the precise point needed to open the fissure described in the next verse. Such a collision may also be the first in a chain of ecological events that lead to the great cataclysmic earthquake of 16:18f. The pronoun autos is interpreted to be neuter, "it." The dative case can be used of things personified, but the dative is primarily the case of personal relations (DM 84). This interpretation also strains the meaning of "key" and the verb "given."
Second, "star" is used elsewhere in Scripture and in Revelation to mean an angel so some futurist interpreters as Morris suggests that the star is Satan. Yeshua said to His disciples, "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning" (Luke 10:18), perhaps foreshadowing this event. It should be noted that Yeshua specifically named Satan in Luke 10:18, yet here the starís identity is not revealed. Another text offered to identify this star as Satan is Isaiah 14:12: "How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn!" The Lord uses many of the names of the chief adversary in Revelation, so if this "star" were really Satan, surely the Lord would have made it plain.
An alternative to Satan would an angelic being. Ladd suggests that the star represents some angelic power divinely commissioned to carry out the task and the verb fallen is only used because this is the way stars come from the sky to the earth. Mounce concurs saying that the context does not necessarily imply a nefarious character. However, the verb "fallen" was chosen with purpose. If John had meant that an angel "came down" to earth he would have used either katerchomai or katabainō. The verb "fallen" (piptō) implies a certain force behind the transit. In my view a better candidate would be a fallen angel such as Abaddon, the angel of the abyss (v. 11).
2― And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit.
And he opened: Grk. anoigō, aor., to open, frequently used of doors to make a room accessible. The star-angel carried out the divine commission. and smoke: Grk. kapnos, smoke as produced by a fire. The noun occurs 13 times in the Besekh, 12 of which are in Revelation. went up out of the pit: Grk. phrear. See the previous verse. All have heard the saying that where there is smoke there is fire. When the shaft to the abyss is opened, billows of subterranean smoke pour out and cover the earth with such air pollution as to blot out the sunís light. In order to blot out sunlight the smoke would have to contain a lot of material, the by-product of burning.
and smoke went up out of the pit: All have heard the saying that where there is smoke there is fire. When the shaft to the abyss is opened, billows of subterranean smoke pour out and cover the earth with such air pollution as to blot out the sunís light. In order to blot out sunlight the smoke would have to contain a lot of material, the by-product of burning. like the smoke of a great furnace: Grk. kaminos is an old word for a smelting furnace (Robertson). The smoke is not merely radiating heat or steam, because those effects would not necessarily obscure the sun. God, who created the earth and knows its foundations, reveals here a significant fact about the earthís interior. The core where the Pit is located is a "great furnace." Genesis uses similar language in describing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and says of it, "the smoke of the land ascended like the smoke of a furnace" (Gen 19:28). In this case the smoke comes from below ground and the adjective "great" may refer both to the size of the furnace and amount of heat produced. Moses hints at this great heat in his final song,
"For a fire is kindled in My anger, And burns to the lowest part of Sheol, And consumes the earth with its yield, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains." (Deut 32:22)
Yeshua also mentions the earthís heat in his parable of the rich man, who suffered torment from the flame (Luke 16:24). While scientists have speculated on the interior structure of the earth and estimated its core temperature at 8,130 degrees F (4500 degrees C), they have never been able to penetrate far enough into the earthís surface to confirm their theories. Estimates are based on the fact that the earthís furnace produces sufficient energy to cause volcanism and shape the Earthís surface through plate tectonics. Even this amount of heat is equivalent to only about 0.005 percent of the heat received from the Sun. (Joseph S. Weisberg, "Earth, Heat Flow In," The Academic American Encyclopedia, Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, 1997.)
and the sun: Grk. hēlios (for Heb. shemesh), the sun, the star that is the central body of the solar system, created on the fourth day to "govern the day" (Gen 1:16-19). Its mean distance from the earth is about 93 million miles from the earth. In both the solar system and on the earth "there is nothing hidden from its heat" (Ps 19:6). The sun moves in an orbit through the Milky Way Galaxy (Ps 19:5-6), at a speed that scientists estimate to be 600,000 mph (BBMS 165).
and the air: Grk. aēr occurs seven times in the apostolic writings, primarily as an idiom for the space surrounding an individual (Acts 23:23), but also the place in which demonic spirits live (Eph 2:2). In ancient science aēr was one of four basic elements, the others being the sun, fire and water. were darkened by the smoke of the pit: the immense release of heat vapor and smoke was enough to obscure the sun's visibility.
3― And out of the smoke came locusts into the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power.
And out of the smoke came locusts: pl. of Grk. akris, a grasshopper or locust. John witnessed creatures more terrifying than the imagination can conjure, which he called "locusts," swarming out of the opening to the Pit. Of all the insects the locust is most frequently mentioned in Scripture, which uses nine different Hebrew names for the creature. Upward of forty orthopterous insects have been discovered in the Holy Land. The Acrydium lineola, A. peregrinum, and the Edipoda migratoria are counted among the most destructive, and are therefore the most dreaded (Emil G. Hirsch & I.M. Casanowicz, Locust, JE). Locusts do not always appear in swarms, but under certain conditions of climate and food scarcity, chemical changes take place in the female locust. More eggs are produced, sending millions of locusts into the air at the same time in search of food (NIBD 56). Locust swarms can stretch for miles and strip cultivated land bare, causing agricultural and economic disaster. The first mention of locust in Scripture is in reference to the eighth plague on ancient Egypt, which devastated the field plants and fruit trees except in Goshen (Ex 10:4-19).
as the scorpions: pl. of Grk. skorpios, a scorpion, a large insect, sometimes several inches in length, shaped somewhat like a crab and furnished with a tail terminating in a stinger from which it emits a dangerous poison (MDNT). The scorpion is the largest and the most malignant of all insects (Barnes). The scorpion, like the snake, is a creature hostile to man and so became a symbol of the forces of the evil one (Luke 10:19) (Ladd). People in Bible times were well acquainted with their poisonous sting (Ezek 2:6; Luke 11:12). It should also be noted that the text says that the Pit locust has the power, rather than the appearance, of a scorpion (Rienecker).
of the earth: The obvious fact is that these "locusts" are nothing like land locusts, even though their size, appearance and manner of movement apparently reminded John of the locusts common to the Middle East and Africa. Calling the creatures "locusts" was the best description John could use under the circumstances. Johnís report seems so horrifying that many people simply cannot take this chapter literally. Some who treat the descriptions as symbolic believe the seven trumpets represent people tormented by their sins or increased evil on the earth or even demonic activity during the final days of the earth or even warfare by massive and powerful modern armies.
Other commentators, noting the locust as a symbol of destruction (cf. Joel 1:4; 2:25; Nah 3:15ff), interpret this passage variously as wicked influences let loose on the world or the advance of occultic practices. However, the symbolic interpretations about the locust and scorpion do not seem to do justice to Johnís report. There is no indication from John or an angel that would require taking these descriptions as merely figurative or metaphorical, so the Pit locusts must either be real creatures or demons. Although it is certain that no animal on the surface of the earth could survive the heat of the abyss, there is no reason why these Pit creatures cannot exist.
4― And it was said to them that they will not hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men not having the seal of God on their foreheads.
The Pit locusts are commanded not to injure or harm vegetation, but only those people who do not have the seal of God. (See 7:2 on "seal of God.") The fact the Pit locusts are capable of receiving instruction does not preclude their being creatures, since other creatures in Scripture are mentioned as receiving divine direction, such as the fish that was appointed to swallow Jonah (Jon 1:17), the worm that was appointed to attack the plant that shaded Jonah (Jon 4:7), and the birds that are called to the feast at Armageddon (Rev 19:17). The Pit locusts could also be demonic-controlled, since reports in the apostolic writings of demonic activity finds them possessing either people or animals (cf. Mark 5:1-17). That God uses evil to punish evil is not new (cf. Hab 1).
Those with the seal of God mentioned in 7:4-8 have His protection, as did the Hebrews during the plagues on Egypt. The word of the Lord to Pharaoh seems appropriate to this situation, "But against any of the sons of Israel a dog will not even bark, whether against man or beast, that you may understand how the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel" (Ex 11:7). In ancient Egypt the Israeliteís territory of Goshen did not experience any of the plagues. In the trumpet and bowl judgments depicted in Revelation the protection may be focused on Israel, since the beastís war ravages the Body of Yeshua and most of the saints await the Second Coming in heaven. However, the clear implication of this verse is that God will guard His living saints against the plagues of His wrath regardless of their location on the earth, as the Psalmist prophesied,
"You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day; of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or of the destruction that lays waste at noon. A thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not approach you. You will only look on with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. For you have made the Lord, my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place. No evil will befall you, nor will any plague come near your tent." (Ps 91:5-10)
5― And it was granted to them that they should not kill anyone, but they will torment for five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it might sting a man.
And it was granted to them that they should not kill anyone: The locusts are given the clarifying instruction that while they are to "hurt" those people who do not have the seal of God, no life is to be taken. but they will torment: Grk. basanizō means to torture or torment, which can refer to the torture used in ancient judicial examination. The verb also was used for the effect of any severe physical distress (Matt 8:6), such as disease, or mental strain (2Pet 2:8), and in a general sense to harass someone or some thing, as a boat "harassed by the waves" (Acts 14:24).
for five months: The reference to "five months" is the only information given about the time frame of the trumpet plagues, which indicates that the trumpets occur at least five months before the bowls. However, the straightforward style of the narrative and the mention of five months in this plague reinforce the conclusion that there is no significant amount of time between the plagues. Keith Intrater, a Messianic Jewish writer, suggests that the trumpets of Revelation represent seven Feasts of Shofars (Trumpets) on earth and thus cover a seven-year period (quoted in Juster, 109). However, the trumpets of Revelation do not announce celebration but judgment. In contrast the ten plagues of Exodus probably took no more than a month to complete. While the purpose of the fall Jewish feasts (Rosh-HaShana, Feast of Shofars (Trumpets), Yom Kippur and Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles) may foreshadow end-time events, developing a time-table based on these feasts lacks sufficient biblical support.
Commentators have noted that this period corresponds to the life cycle of the land locust, i.e. May through September (Earle). But, that is where the similarity ends. The text does not explain the reason for the five months nor makes clear whether the shaft to the abyss remains open for the entire period.
and their torment: Grk. basanismos in the active sense means tormenting or torture and in the passive sense the condition of those tortured. was like the torment of a scorpion when it might sting a man: Unopposed and unstoppable, the Pit locusts roam the earth with permission to torture or inflict suffering short of death. The graphic description offers a comparison to the physical discomfort and pain caused by a scorpion sting. The toxic effects of the scorpion venom include extremely high body temperatures, respiratory paralysis, very low or very high blood pressure, and a rapid heartbeat. Nothing is said of what happens to these monsters after the five months. They may die or return to their home in the Pit.
6― And in those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them.
And in those days: This idiom frequently occurs in the Bible and generally has a historianís perspective of a past event. However, the prophets also used the expression to speak about the future. In the Hebrew prophetic writings the futuristic use of "in those days" generally referred to Godís promises of a restored Israel, the coming Messiah, the benefits of Messiahís kingdom and the destruction of the wicked (e.g., Isa 2:11; 4:2; Jer 3:16; 5:18; Ezek 29:21; 38:14; Joel 2:29; Zech 2:11; 3:10). Yeshua also used the expression to prophesy dire events associated with the last days (Matt 7:22; Mark 13:17, 24; Luke 10:12; 17:31). The significance of the idiom is that with God the future is as sure as the past and reminds the reader that the prophecy can be taken literally.
A common experience of life is that a person confronted with intense and prolonged pain will sometimes wish for death if no remedy can be found to relieve the suffering. In the plague of the pit locusts people will use every known medical treatment to heal the poisonous wound, but to no avail, and the afflicted will indeed look upon death as a better alternative. The suffering will also likely be so widespread in the population as to overwhelm medical resources. God, the author of life and death (Cf. Deut 32:39; 1Sam 2:6f; Psalm 68:20; 139:16; John 5:21; Heb 9:27; and Rev 1:18), in His mercy will not permit death (at least caused by this plague) in order to give rebellious mankind an opportunity to repent. No amount of physical pain in this life can compare with the torture of the next life in Hades or Hell.
7― And the appearance of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle; and on their heads crowns like gold, and their faces as the faces of men.
John goes on to describe the Pit locusts in terms of his experience, and he found similarities in features of familiar land animals and humans. There is some resemblance between the shape of a land locustís head and that of the horse, but the likeness John intends may be related to how a horse was outfitted for war or the suitability of horses over other animals for battle (cf. Jer 51:27). Horses can get excited by battle and will charge fearlessly into danger (cf. Jer 8:6). John also notes golden "crowns" on the heads of the creatures. The only other ones mentioned in Revelation with golden crowns are the twenty-four elders (4:14) and the Son of Man (14:14). However, the qualification of "like gold" suggests that John was only describing the color of the crown. Proceeding down from the top of the head John then sees that the creatures have a human-like face rather than the face of the typical insect. Perhaps John also saw intelligent malevolence in the face of this creature.
8― And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions.
the hair of women: John then says that the creatures have hair like women. He is not implying that a womanís hair is different than a manís hair, but the comparison may be to length. By tradition women in ancient times were expected to let their hair grow well past the shoulders as reflecting Godís glory (cf. 1Cor 11:14f), but only under the vow of the Nazirite would a man allow his hair to grow long (Num 6:5). Another possibility is that since the second part of the description makes a comparison to lions, whose manes consist of stiff and wiry hair, the contrast may be the fineness of human hair.
the teeth of lions: Though lions have been extinct in the Land of Israel since the Middle Ages, the lion was the most dangerous wild animal in the area in biblical times and usually hid in forests or thickets near the Jordan River ("Lion," JE). (See 5:5 on "lion.") Many habits and characteristics of the lion are described in Scripture, including allusions to the teeth. References to a lionís teeth often occur in verses referring to judgment from God, victory over enemies or attacks from enemies (Job 4:10; 29:17; Ps 57:4; 58:6; 124:6; Joel 1:6).
A lion's teeth are well designed for killing and eating their prey. The great canine teeth are so spaced that they can slip between the cervical vertebrae of their favorite-sized prey animals, and sever the spinal cord. The back teeth work like scissors cutting pieces of meat. The jaw is not capable of moving side-to-side as a human. This helps keep the back teeth in alignment for cutting. The rest of the teeth are conical, and designed for cutting and tearing (Tim Stoffel, Lion Facts, 20 January 2005). There is no information about Johnís personal experience with lions, although he may have seen the teeth of a dead lion, or his description of the pit locustís teeth may rely on the knowledge of others. In spite of the fact that the creatures are equipped with fearsome canine teeth, they do not tear apart their victims, but inflict pain with their tails.
9― And they had breastplates as breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings as the sound of chariots of many horses rushing into battle.
And they had breastplates: Grk. thorax, a piece of Roman military equipment which covered the body from the neck to the thighs. It was known as a heart-protector. Usually it was made of thick leather or bronze but the more affluent officers wore a coat of chain mail. The front piece was strictly the breastplate, but a back piece was commonly worn as well. as breastplates of iron: Grk. sidērous, "made of iron," one of the most abundant metals on earth. Iron forms much of Earth's outer and inner core, and it is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust. Iron metal has been used since ancient times, though lower-melting copper alloys were used first in history. Pure iron is soft (softer than aluminum). The material is significantly hardened and strengthened by impurities from the smelting process. The scaly chest, backs and flanks of the creatures resembled coats of mail made of iron. The emphasis on the material indicates their protection against any assault.
the sound of their wings as the sound of chariots: Grk. arma, a carriage, traveling chariot or war chariot. Given the mention of "breastplate," John probably makes a comparison to a formidable piece of mobile military hardware. Chariots were used since the earliest empires, some two-wheeled and others four-wheeled, drawn by two to four horses. Chariots served as firing platforms. By referring to the "sound of chariots" John may have intended to give an estimate of the volume or the timbre of the wings beating the air. The metaphor of the "noise as of chariots" may be an allusion to the locusts of Joel, "With a noise as of chariots they leap on the tops of the mountains, like the crackling of a flame of fire consuming the stubble, like a mighty people arranged for battle" (Joel 2:5).
of many horses rushing into battle: The sound refers to the noise made by the hooves of horses hitting the ground. John may have intended the horses that pulled the preceding chariots he mentioned or to horse cavalry. John may have actually witnessed Roman army maneuvers sometime in his life and remembered the thundering sound of hooves and wheels. For those who suffer from the pit locusts, the loud noise would no doubt heighten fear of the creatures and lend to a sense of futility in resisting the onslaught.
10― And they have tails like scorpions, and stings, and in their tails is their power to hurt men for five months.
tails like scorpions, and stings: Grk. kentron, coming from a verb meaning to prick or to sting, is used of the cock spur, the porcupine quill, and the stings of insects, as well as the goad used for oxen (Robertson). Not only are these creatures like land locusts and chariots, but they are like scorpions in that they possess a tail with venomous stinging power. hurt men for five months: Ironically, the locustís power is limited to five months, which is the only indication of a period of time covered by these trumpet judgments. John must have just been informed of the time period, because it is not likely that this vision lasted five months. The divinely set time limit likely represents Godís grace and His willingness to forgive if repentance is forthcoming. Unfortunately, people rarely view their sufferings as being part of Godís sovereign care in their lives, but God will use extreme measures at times to bring people to repentance.
11― They have a king over them, the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he has the name Apollyon.
They have as king over them: Land locusts have no "king" (Prov 30:27), but the Pit creatures are obedient to an appointed leadership. the angel of the abyss: This title probably refers to functioning as a kind of vice-regent of Satan with authority over those people and fallen angels imprisoned there. Abaddon: Grk. Abaddōn, which transliterates the Heb. abaddŰn, means "destruction" or "ruin" (Job 26:6; Prov 27:20), and more often "the place of ruin" in Sheol (Job 26:6; Prov 15:11; 27:20), or "death" (Job 28:22), or "the grave" (Ps 88:11). In late Jewish apocalyptic texts and Qumran literature, abaddŰn refers to the personification of death (Johnson). and in Greek he has the name Apollyon: Grk. Apolluōn. The Hebrew word for "destruction" is always translated in the LXX by apōleia, with the single exception of Job 31:12. The Hebrew word is rendered here, not by its usual equivalent apōleia, but by a participle, apolluōn, meaning "the destroyer" (Ladd).
Giving information in bilingual terms is unique to Revelation and the fourth Gospel (John 6:1; 19:13, 17, 20; 20:16), which reflects the Hebrew undertext and perhaps Johnís anticipation of having his story read in the congregations with their mixed assemblies of Messianic Jews and Gentile believers. In Jewish synagogues it was customary to read Scripture in Hebrew and then translate into either Aramaic or Greek for those who did not understand Hebrew (Johnson).
There is no indication that the name of the abyss angel is a pseudonym for Satan. The personality of the destroyer is first mentioned in Exodus 12:23 in connection with Israelís deliverance from Egyptian bondage. In the landmark event that created Israel as a nation the destroyer functioned as Godís agent to bring judgment on the firstborn of Egypt. The Passover commemorates Israelís deliverance on that night of terror (cf. 1Cor 10:10 and Heb 11:28). It may be no accident that the Greeks worshipped a deity they named Apollo, one of whose symbols was the locust and who sometimes was thought to cause plagues and destruction on earth. The fallen angel Abaddon/Apollyon may have revealed himself in the occult rituals of Greek worship and the idolatry sprang from fact and not fantasy. The demonic spirit who is described as the beast may be connected in some manner to the king of the abyss because Paul refers to the anti-messiah as the "son of destruction" (2Th 2:3).
12― The first woe is past; behold, two woes are still coming after these things.
The first woe: Grk. ouai. See 8:13 on "woe." A "woe" is a calamity of such proportions that it stretches the mind to think of anything worse. All the trumpet judgments are terrible, but the last three are the worst of the seven. Once the five months of torment from the Pit locusts are concluded, the next woe will begin. It is almost like saying, "you thought the Pit locusts were bad, just wait until you see what comes next."
The Sixth Trumpet Sounds (9:13-19)
13― And the sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard one voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God,
At the trumpeting of the sixth angel, the second woe, John heard a single or solitary voice, which could have been that of the angel of 8:3-5, who presented the prayers of the saints upon the golden altar. The voice may also have been the Lord with the horn serving as a "megaphone" for His command.
14― saying to the sixth angel, the one having the trumpet, "Release the four angels, those having been bound at the great river Euphrates."
Release the four angels: Unlike the previous trumpets that were not accompanied by any verbal command, the sixth angel receives specific instructions. The four angels referred to in this verse are not likely the angels of 7:1 who were restraining the wind. those having been bound: Grk. deō, perf. pass. part., means to bind or to tie. The term is used in the apostolic writings for both tying bundles of something and binding someone for the purposes of restraint or imprisonment, which was often accomplished with chains. Here it is the angels that are being restrained and thus they belong to Satanís army. The perfect tense of the verb "bound" indicates their imprisonment began far in the past, perhaps as a result of the original rebellion, and continued without break up to the moment of release.
at the great river Euphrates: The place of incarceration is identified as at or near the Euphrates River, which is about 1700 miles long and drains an area of about 171,430 square miles. The riverís water originates in the Turkish highlands, travels through Syria and into Iraq. The course of the Euphrates roughly parallels that of the Tigris River and shortly after the rivers enter Iraq they are never more than 100 miles apart. The Euphrates and Tigris rivers join in southeastern Iraq before emptying into the Persian Gulf. In ancient times the Euphrates River was a security perimeter for Israel, as well as the Greek and Roman empires. However, there is no security from the coming assault, unless one has the seal of God.
One of the more imaginative theories is that God meant the antediluvian Euphrates (Gen 2:15) and not the Babylonian Euphrates. The primeval Euphrates was part of a vast underground storage system that watered the earth, but it was presumably lost when the fountains erupted to help produce the worldwide flood (Gen 2:6, 10-14; 7:11). Morris theorizes that the source of Edenís rivers may still be intact and has served as a prison for the angels ("sons of God") who seduced the earth in Noahís day (Gen 6:1-5). Regardless of whether the prison site is the antediluvian or modern Euphrates, the location is still ambiguous to the reader. It may be that the sixth angel needs no further instruction because the location is well known to all the angels.
15― And the four angels were loosed, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, so that they might kill a third of mankind.
And the four angels were loosed: Grk. luō, aor. pass., to loose, to free from restraint. There is no indication that these angels knew when the day or hour would be, any more than Yeshua did or that they knew what their mission was until they received their release order. The detail also illustrates Godís control over these angels since they are kept bound until the exact moment they will be used.
who had been prepared: Grk. etoimazō, perf. pass. part., to put in a state of readiness, used both of things and persons. the hour and day and month and year: The four-fold time references testify to Godís sovereign predestination and preparation in the most specific detail. Paul warned the crowd in Athens that God has "fixed a day in which He will judge the world" (Acts 17:31). The selected day is not decided on the spur of the moment nor serves as a backup plan when other divine plans have failed, but a day reserved on Godís calendar, already set and determined.
so that they might kill: Grk. apokteinō, aor. subj., to kill, to murder, to kill off. a third of mankind: These angels become instruments of divine judgment. A fourth of mankind is killed under the fourth seal. Now a third more (perhaps over one billion people) are killed by this act of judgment. As Messianic Jews (and all believers) were warned by the writer of Hebrews, "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb 10:31). Any believers alive on the earth, however, will not be touched by the invasion.
16― And the number of the armies of the cavalry was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard the number of them.
And the number: Grk. arithmos means "number" and may refer to a specific number, a total number of something or the numerical value assigned to specific letters of the alphabet. of the armies: Grk. strateuma refers specifically to the troops of an army. Marshall translates as "bodies of soldiers." of the cavalry: Grk. hippikon refers to cavalry or troops of cavalry. was twice ten thousand: Grk. dismuriades, derived from dis, "twice" and muriades, "ten thousand." times ten thousand: Grk. muriades, lit. "of ten thousand." In Greek literature muriades was used both literally and of a large undefined number. The phrase implies 20,000 times 10,000. In military terms it could mean 20,000 units of 10,000. In the first century a Roman legion could have as many as 6,000 soldiers. Modern Army divisions average 10,000 soldiers.
The four released angels apparently are given command of a vast army of cavalry. The number is remarkably similar to Davidís praise, "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels" (Ps 68:17, KJV). Yet, no information is offered regarding their point of origin, which may be the bottomless pit as the locusts. The description in the following verses indicates they are demonic forces, not the Red Chinese Army suggested by Hal Lindsey in 1973 (Thereís a New World Coming, 140). Lindsey relied on an Associated Press report dated April 28, 1964, that the Red Chinese Army had an estimated 200 million armed and organized militiamen. Johnson quotes a General William K. Harrison, a logistics expert, who discounts the 200 million as a human army because there would not be the capability to conscript, train, support and move such huge numbers to the Middle East in the time given for this judgment. All the Allied and Axis military forces at their peak in World War II were only 70 million (The World Almanac, 1971, ed. L. H. Long [Newspaper Enterprise Association, 1970], p. 355, quoted in Johnson).
The number of the horsemen was obviously more than John could count in the available time, so the number had to be revealed by the Lord or an angel. Commentators are divided over whether to take the number as hyperbole or the actual size of the demonic army. Mounce agrees with the view that the total number is an "indefinite number of incalculable immensity." He contends that the number wasnít given as a matter of arithmetic, and asks, "who could count such a throng?" However, the text does not say that the quantity was incalculable as in 7:9 and there is no hint or explanation that the number should be taken as symbolic. If there werenít at least 200 million horsemen, what would be the point of saying so? The number probably has a bearing on the ability of the army to conduct an unstoppable campaign over the face of the whole earth and inflict such heavy casualties (verse 18) in a short amount of time.
I heard the number of them: The narrative first declares the number as a simple fact and then John makes a point of saying that he "heard" the number of the armyís strength. Johnís hearing the number probably refers to the noise of their movement, just as he described the noise of the pit locusts. The movement of millions of horsemen would be deafening and frightening.
17― And thus I saw the horses in the vision and the ones sitting on them having fiery breastplates and hyacinthine and sulfurous; and the heads of the horses as heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceed fire and smoke and brimstone.
And thus I saw the horses in the vision: Grk. orasis may mean (1) the organ of sight, the eye, (2) that which is seen or appearance, or (3) a supernatural vision. The noun occurs only four times in the apostolic writings and only here in Revelation. John informs the reader that the revelation of this judgment came through a supernatural vision. A vision is a real wide-awake pictographic image. See A Book of Visions for a discussion of the biblical record of visions. John saw animals that looked like horses, upon which were riders. and the ones sitting on them having fiery breastplates: See the note on "breastplate" in verse 9 above. and hyacinthine: Grk. huakinthinos, of hyacinth, of the color of hyacinth, i. e. of a red color bordering on black (Thayer). and sulfurous: Grk. theion means sulphur or sulphur-colored (Rienecker). The riders are not described in any detail except for a mention of breastplates, a common personal armor used by soldiers in ancient times. The use of breastplates may suggest a vulnerability of the riders, although the creatures being ridden appear to be invincible.
and the heads of the horses as heads of lions: The description of the horses makes them unique creatures in human experience, because they also bore certain similarities to the lion, the fire-breathing dragon and the snake (verse 19). Given the latter two comparisons the only reason John likened the creatures to horses may have been their stature and overall shape. The heads of the horses are likened to a lionís head, but John does not clarify further the points of similarity. A possible similarity may be deduced from the fire blowing, since a regular horseís mouth cannot open very far. A lionís mouth can open really wide to issue a fearsome roar as well as to attack large prey. Or, John may have only had the general shape of the head in mind.
and out of their mouths proceed fire and smoke and brimstone: Unlike the invasion of Pit locusts that just torment, these creatures kill by blowing fire, smoke and brimstone from their mouths. Brimstone refers to sulphur, a highly combustible mineral that burns with a very disagreeable odor. Scripture reports God repeatedly using brimstone in judgment on the wicked (Gen 19:24; Ps 11:6; Ezek 34:8ff; 38:22; Luke 17:29). In Isaiah 30:33 the "breath of the Lord" is likened to brimstone. Of course, the "horse" from Hades is not the first of Godís creatures to have the ability of blowing fire, as there are stories from many ancient cultures of fire-breathing dragons (BBMS 353).
In His rebuke of Job God makes reference to leviathan, which had the ability to blow fire from its mouth (Job 41:18-21). The characteristics of leviathan do not match any creature of which modern man is familiar (even though modern Bible versions identify the animal as a crocodile), but the description of leviathan does correspond to ancient stories of mariners who told of fire-breathing sea monsters. While it would be easy to dismiss the stories of ancient people, modern man is familiar with a small creature that can blow fire from its head, the bombardier beetle. I find no scientific or biblical reason to dismiss Johnís report as mere symbolism.
18― A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone proceeding out of their mouths.
A third of mankind was killed: In this judgment many die from being incinerated by the creaturesí flame throwing. Some die of suffocation because fire consumes available oxygen and others succumb to sulfurous gases (Morris). Verse 15 says that the four angels kill a third of mankind and this verse reports the accomplishment of that task. The current world population estimate is almost 6.4 billion, so a third would be well over 2 billion people. Since no repentance was produced from the five months of suffering from the demonic locusts, God imposes the death penalty as the just punishment for rebellion. While the death toll is large, it is selective.
by these three plagues: Grk. plēgē means a blow or stroke. Its usage in Greek literature and the apostolic writings primarily has the sense of a flogging or a beating (Luke 12:48; Acts 16:23; 2Cor 6:5). The word can also refer to a bruise or wound, even a mortal wound, that results from a beating or other violent act (Acts 16:33; Rev 13:3, 12, 14). Lastly, the word plēgē is used in a figurative sense of any misfortune sent by God, as in the "plagues" depicted in Revelation (9:18, 20; 11:6; 15:1, 6; 16:9, 21; 18:4, 8; 21:9; 22:18; cf. Ex 11:1). Although in common English parlance "plague" means an infectious disease, the term can refer to any kind of affliction, calamity or punishment of a destructive or injurious nature, particularly events seen as divine retribution.
Nevertheless, what is unsettling to the modern mind (including many Christians) is that God would order the massacre of millions of people. However, this is not the first time in history that God will have put to death large populations. According to the biblical record God destroyed the entire world of Noahís day in a cataclysmic global flood because of pervasive violence (Gen 6:11-13), perhaps as many as 3 billion people. This is a conservative estimate based on the present population rate multiplied by the Genesis record of 1,656 years from Adam to the Flood. The actual population rate during the antediluvian period was probably much higher than today (BBMS 421). God also killed the firstborn of Egypt for Pharaohís rebellion (Ex 11), and perhaps to avenge the murder of Hebrew children by Pharaoh. God wiped out the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness (Gen 18:20; 19:24-25) and struck down an Assyrian army of 185,000 men that had threatened Jerusalem (2Kgs 19:35).
There seems to be a continual debate over "why do bad things happen to good people" and many people cast God as an impotent, but loving, grandfather who would not hurt anyone. The solution has been simplistically vulgarized on bumper stickers to the effect that bad things just happen. At worst God is said to "allow" bad things to happen for some esoteric reason that will be understood "bye and bye." It is true that God gives permission to Satan to afflict His people (Job 1:12; 2:6; Luke 22:31-34), and that Christians suffer the same consequences of living in a cursed world as their neighbors (cf. Gen 3:17-19; Matt 5:45), but these result from active decisions of God rather than any disinterested passivity on His part. Moreover, there never has been an exception to Godís judgment that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23). God certainly takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek 33:11), but His justice is not ruled by sentimentalism.
19― For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents having heads, and with them they do harm.
For the power of the horses: Almost as an afterthought, John points out that the ability of the creatures to inflict so much terror and death reside at both ends of the animal. The flame throwing capability of their mouths has already been described and now John adds the second power, venomous tails capable of biting as the head of a poisonous snake. No animals of this nightmarish description have been observed in mankindís history, but God is certainly capable of creating them to do His bidding. Unlike normal land animals that have a fear of man (Gen 9:2), these animals aggressively attack and kill people with a vengeance.
Response of the People (9:20-21)
20― And the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk;
And the rest of mankind Ö did not repent: Grk. metanoeō. See 2:5 on "repent." While those who suffer may disagree, the purpose of the devastating judgment, as are many of Godís punishments, is to bring repentance. For example, the invasion of locusts described in Joel 2:4-17 was intended to bring about a change of heart toward God and a penitential spirit. Yet, man would rather maintain rebellious independence than bend the knee to the Creator. The phrase "did not repent" indicates a willful refusal to change conduct and illustrates the awful grip of sin. In fact, their idolatry seems to increase.
so as not to worship: Grk. proskuneō. See 3:9 and 4:10 on "worship." The use of the term "worship" in connection to demons illustrates the basic meaning of worship. Images of pagan deities themselves are not real, but, in fact, demons are the reality behind the idols (1Cor 8:4, 10:20). Robertson suggests that demonic influence may account for the hideous faces on many idols. Some commentators think the worship of demons is a reference to a Satan-cult, but this description could also include the many expressions of occultism and religions in which people bow to images, such as Buddhism, and even "doctrines of demons," which Paul identifies as including various forms of imposed food abstinence and the prohibition of marriage (1Tim 4:1-5; cf. Col 2:16-23). The Lordís commentary is not so much of a reference to religious meetings devoted to a pagan deity, but the service rendered to them and in their name.
demons: pl. of Grk. daimonion refers to a deity or transcendent being of lesser or subordinate rank. In the Besekh the term only has a negative connotation of an evil spirit hostile toward man and God. Daimonion was historically derived from daiomai, to divide or apportion and may be connected with the idea of the god of the dead as a divider of corpses (DNTT 1:450). and the idols: The list of five materials used in idol production is given in order of value and indicates not only variety, but also the selection of the best for idolatrous worship, as well as making small replicas of idols affordable for individuals to buy for their homes. The obvious fact that idols can neither see nor hear was repeatedly emphasized to Israel (Ps 115:4-8; 135:15-18; Jer 10:3-5). For those opposed to God, idolatry merely serves as a supporting theology to justify their lack of morality.
21― and they repented not of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their harlotry nor of their thefts.
and they repented not: The intransigence of sinners flies in the face of even common sense. Four more offenses are added to the idolatry of the previous verse to complete a catalogue of capital crimes similar to other lists of sin in Revelation that earn Godís condemnation and disqualify a person for entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven (21:8; 21:27; 22:15; cf. 1Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:20-21). of their murders: Grk. phoneuō, to take life, was used of both the legal authorization to execute or killing without legal authorization. This breach of the sixth commandment may refer primarily to the state-sanctioned execution of the saints. However, the word could also refer to the more general violence prevalent in a society that has abandoned Godís standards of morality, whether it is "common" murder or killing the unborn.
nor of their sorceries: Grk. pharmakeia refers to the use of drugs for divination or healing (Rienecker). The CJB translates the word as "misuse of drugs in connection with the occult" in order to focus on the fact that using potions and drugs is an essential part of the wordís meaning. Of interesting note is that pharmakeus, or "pharmacist" in our language, means mixer of poisons or magician. In ancient times a shaman generally used drugs, magic potions or other paraphernalia by for purposes of healing, divination, and control over natural events. Sorcery or divination incorporates various practices, including astrology, palmistry, cartomancy (card-laying), and fortunetelling by other means, all of which date from the most ancient times (Kurt Koch, Occult ABC , 70). Rienecker also points out that the term "sorceries" may also have had the special sense of magic spells to incite illicit lust. Given the pharmaceutical character of the word, "sorceries" in the modern world could also apply to the use of drugs and devices to increase sexual potency and pleasure, to prevent pregnancy, and to treat sexually transmitted diseases, all of which have encouraged sexual promiscuity and abuse. Thus, it is not coincidental that "sorceries" is followed by "immorality" in the list.
nor of their harlotry: Grk. porneia meant to prostitute or practice prostitution, but does incorporate a variety of sexual offenses. See 2:21 on "immorality." While porneia is singular the presence of the plural pronoun would require the noun to be taken as plural as the rest of the sins listed. In the ancient world porneia was the direct result of pagan religion (Ex 34:15f; Lev 19:29; Num 25:1f) and the fact that it follows sorceries indicates its close association. All immorality attacks Godís design for the family, which is the bedrock of a healthy community. The saints are reminded, "marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Heb 13:4). The ancient lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah, destroyed because of their abominable and immoral practices (Gen 18:20; 19:5), will be repeated as Revelation describes in the most horrifying detail.
nor of their thefts: Grk. klemma is an old word from klepto and is used only here in the apostolic writings (Robertson). In the Torah the death penalty was not meted out for theft, and yet here "thefts" (note the plural) receive the same condemnation as murders. Theft is pandemic in every country, whether it is burglary, robbery, shoplifting, copyright infringement, tax evasion, or the many lesser forms of stealing from oneís employer or neighbor. However, the Lord may be referring to the confiscation of property from the saints as they are rounded up and executed by the beastís minions (cf. Heb 10:34).
BAG: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
Barnes: Albert Barnes, New Testament Notes. Baker Book House, 1949. Online.
BBMS: Henry Morris, Biblical Basis for Modern Science. Baker Book House, 1984.
Danker: Frederick William Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. The University of Chicago Press, 2009.
DM: Dana and Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. The Macmillan Company, 1955.
DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 Vols. Colin Brown, ed. Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.
Earle: Ralph Earle, The Book of The Revelation. Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. X. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1967.
Gregg: Steve Gregg, ed., Revelation, Four Views: A Parallel Commentary. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997.
JE: Jewish Encyclopedia (1906), JewishEncyclopedia.com, 2002-2011.
Johnson: Alan F. Johnson, Revelation. Expositorís Bible Commentary. Zondervan Publishing House, 1983. (Zondervan CD-ROM Version 2.6, 1989-1998)
Juster: Daniel Juster, Revelation: The Passover Key. Destiny Image Publishers, 1991.
Ladd: George E. Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972.
Marshall: Alfred Marshall, NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English. Zondervan Pub. House, 1986.
MDNT: William D. Mounce, Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament. 2011. Online.
Morris: Henry M. Morris, The Revelation Record. Tyndale House Publishers, 1987.
NIBD: Nelson's Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible. Herbert Lockyer, ed. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986.
Rienecker: Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. 2 Vols. The Zondervan Corporation, 1980.
Robertson: Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament. 6 Vols. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933. (Parsons CD-ROM Version 2.0, 1997) Online.
Thayer: Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Harper Brothers, 1889.
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