With good reason the eagle sounded the warning in 8:13, “And I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in mid-heaven, saying with a loud voice, ‘Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!” The eagle sounds the warning loud and clear: things are going to get worse!
We have heard the trumpet blasts of the first four trumpets, and have taken them as a composite picture of all the natural disasters that have occurred in the world from the time of Christ’s first coming to the time of His return. In other words, the first four trumpets have in view all of the storms, the tornadoes, the hurricanes, the earthquakes, the floods, the monsoons, the fires, as well as all other forms of natural disasters known to man, that have occurred from the time of Christ’s coming until the time of His return.
Revelation 8 makes it abundantly clear: these “natural” disasters issue forth from the throne of God as so many trumpet blasts. The intent of these “natural” disasters—these trumpet blasts—is to warn an unrepentant and unbelieving world. With each storm, each tornado, each hurricane, each earthquake, God is proclaiming loudly and clearly that the Day is coming when the creation shall be undone, when the heavens and the earth shall be shaken and melted in the fire. The Day of the Lord shall be great and fearful indeed!
Now, in Revelation 9:1–12, we move on to the fifth trumpet blast, a trumpet blast that has in view not the created order, but man himself. Whereas the first four trumpet blasts touched creation, even shaking creation itself, the fifth trumpet blast touches man, and is intended to shake him. What we are about to see is terrifying and horrific!
The Fallen Angel
The setting is given in verse 1. “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. And he opened the bottomless pit…”
The fifth angel raises the trumpet to his mouth; he sounds forth his trumpet blast, and John sees a star fall from heaven to earth. In view here is not a natural star in the sky falling to the earth. For notice, to this “star” is given a key. The language suggests a person: “To him was given the key…” This person to whom the key is given is identified as one who has fallen from heaven to earth. This “fallen star” can be none other than Satan himself. Christ once said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:17). Satan is cast down from heaven to earth, and the key to the bottomless pit is given to him. And with the key he opens the bottomless pit.
And now we see the horrors that arise out of that bottomless pit. From hell rise the judgments that lie within. Those judgments that are carried out within the demonic realm, even in hell itself, are now unleashed and are visited upon the inhabitants of the earth. And what horrific judgments they are, as we see in verses 2-11.
We read of smoke, verse 2: “And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. So the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit.” The bottomless pit is opened, and the yawning abyss belches forth its putrid smoke. As that fire of hell is unquenchable, so the smoke from that fire rises forever. The torments of hell stemming from the judgments that lie within, now begin to make themselves felt upon the inhabitants of the earth. They do not see the light of day; the smoke of hell has darkened it. They do not breathe fresh air; the smoke of hell has polluted it.
The smoke is only a cloud to hide for a few moments the terrors that dwell within: “Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power” (v. 3). The hordes of hell are pictured here, and they are pictured in terms of locusts. Here are Satan’s minions. They have power; their power is likened to that of scorpions.
These locusts are no ordinary locusts. While the locusts of earth devour vegetation, the locusts from hell have no interest in vegetation, their interest is man! “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” (9:4).
Here is the harm they bring: “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” (v. 5). These locusts will not kill man, they will only torment man. The torment they bring is likened to that of a scorpion, a sting that causes untold pain and suffering, but not death.
Lest you make light of such torment, rejoicing that these locusts cannot kill, then consider the effect of the torment that they bring: “In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them” (v. 6). Can you imagine a picture so terrible? So terrible is the torment visited upon man by these hordes of hell—so painful the sting of these hellish locusts—man runs to and fro seeking death. He wants to die. He wants to end life here on earth. He desires death. But the one thing he wants flees from him. He looks everywhere for death, but he cannot find it. His desire is not fulfilled. He cannot die!
As terrible and disturbing as the vision has been to this point, it gets worse in verses 7-10. Here the hellish locusts are described for us: “The shape of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle.” Make no mistake; these locusts have come for battle; not physical battle, to be sure, but spiritual battle. They are like horses prepared for battle. They are ready for the charge, ready for the battle.
“On their heads were crowns of something like gold.” So confident are they of victory, they wear crowns before the battle. With these gold-like crowns they intimidate and weaken their victims, for who can stand against an army so confident of victory and triumph? But notice, their crowns are only gold-like. Their golden crowns are a mere imitation at best.
“Their faces were like the faces of men.” What a horrific description! As their victims look upon them, they see, much to their own horror, the faces of men: they see themselves! And these locusts are grotesque beyond description, for while they have the faces of men, they “had hair like women’s hair.” What a sick and disgusting picture of the hordes of hell. And still the description goes on: “Their teeth were like lion’s teeth.” While they have the teeth of the most vicious of beasts, they do not kill! Their teeth are used only to inflict agonizing wounds, terrible wounds, but not mortal wounds.
“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” (v. 9). They appear like an army of chariots—an army that strikes fear in the heart of men. Who can stand before the onslaught of an army of charioteers, not to mention ones that have breastplates of iron?
“They had tails like scorpions, and there were stings in their tails. Their power was to hurt men five months” (v. 10). Here is the way they use their tails: to sting men, and to hurt them for five months. What is the significance of the five months? It is this: an ordinary plague of locusts would devour everything in sight, and then move on after a matter of days. These hellish locusts, however, remain for five months. The number is not literal; it is intended to communicate the severity and length of torment.
Such is the army of hellish locusts sent with the torments and judgments of hell upon the inhabitants of the earth. But we have yet to meet the fiercest of them all: their leader and their king. Note verse 11: “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.” The king of these hellish locusts is the angel of the bottomless pit, the king of the abyss. His name is given in Hebrew and Greek because he is known universally. His name in Hebrew: Abaddon. His name in Greek: Apollyon. His name translated into English: Destroyer. Do you know the identity of their leader? Do you know the identity of their king (who is really no king at all)? Satan.
This, then, is the vision given to you in the fifth trumpet. The hordes of hell are unleashed to inflict the inhabitants of the earth with torment and pain. Yet this is only a warning! We are still dealing with the trumpets, after all. Final judgment is not yet in view. Final torment is not yet in view.That this is only a warning of things to come is evident from verse 12, “One woe is past. Behold, still two more woes are coming after these things.” As hard as it is to imagine, it is going to get worse!
Now, the challenge in all of this is that we do not read these things chronologically, as though the first four trumpets must be brought to completion before the fifth trumpet can sound. No, even as the first four trumpets have been sounding from the time of Christ’s first coming to the time of His return, so the fifth trumpet has been sounding from the time of Christ’s first coming to the time of His return. In other words, even now Satan and his minions are at work; and they are increasingly at work. As the great day of the Lord grows closer in time, the activity of Satan and his hellish hordes grows all the more intense. Even now Satan is prowling about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Even now Satan is masquerading as an angel of light to deceive many and bring them into his realm of darkness. Even now Satan is sending forth his hellish hordes to carry out his devilish tasks.
In Revelation 9:1–12, you are given a picture of Satan’s true intent. Here you are given a picture of the conspiracy that is Satan’s. Note the identity of the ones whom he attacks.
Note the identity of the ones whom his hellish locusts torment. Note the identity of the ones whom his hordes hurt. Verse 4: “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 forehead.” Satan harms not those who are sealed by God. Satan harms his own; he harms the enemies of God, Christ and the church. Satan torments his own.
He enlists them in his service, promising them a place with him. “Better to reign in hell, than to serve in heaven” is Satan’s lie. Remember the picture he painted of God before the woman: “You shall be like God!” In other words, “God is oppressing you; He has it out for you, but I have in view that which is best for you. I am your liberator; I am the one who will bring you true freedom. Listen to my word, and you can reign with me!” This is the promise Satan holds out, and yet what does he ultimately have in view? The torment and the torture of all the damned! He wants you to be like him! That is the lie of Satan!
He is rightly named Abaddon, Apollyon, Destroyer; he is the direct antithesis of Savior. He does not have in view your salvation. He has in view your destruction, eternal destruction. He wants to bring the torments of hell upon you: he wants you with himself, ever dying, but never dead! He wants you in the outer darkness with him! He wants to gnash his teeth against you! He wants you weeping forever! flesh as it is burned with the unquenchable fire! He wants to unleash the gnawing worm upon you! It is with good reason that the Legion of demons begged Jesus that He would not command them to go out into the abyss (Luke 8:31); they knew something of the torments of that place, and they did not want to go there!
Here then is a most solemn warning. Jesus, through His servant John, would have you stand on the brink of the yawning abyss. He would have you stand here at the precipice of the fires of hell. Do you entertain the lies of the Devil? Do you play games with Satan? Do you consider enlistment in his army? Then consider yourself warned!
Revelation 9:1–12 is intended to disturb you; it is intended to terrify you; as a trumpet blast, it is intended to warn you. But there is also comfort here for the saints of God. For even as we stand here on the precipice of the fires of hell, always in view is heaven. And in heaven there is a throne, and there is One who sits on that throne. And the One who sits on that throne holds the keys of Hades and of Death (1:18). The One who sits on that throne is Christ. And please note it is Christ who gives the key to the bottomless pit to Satan. Satan is under the control of Christ. Satan has no authority except that which is given to him by Christ. To be sure, Satan can do much destruction, but only where Christ has allowed it. And where has Christ allowed the Destroyer to do his work? Only upon those who are not sealed by God.
In other words, Satan cannot touch you. His minions cannot touch you. The judgments described here in Revelation 9:1–12 will never fall upon you! And what is your confidence of that?! The judgments of hell will not fall upon you because Christ has stood in your place and summoned those judgments to fall upon Himself in your place! At the cross Christ entered in to the agonies and torments of hell. Hell ascended to meet Him at the cross, bringing upon Him the unquenchable fire, the gnawing worm, the unending tears, the gnashing of teeth. And even as He was enshrouded in darkness on the cross so that no eye could see the torments of hell, so here, in Revelation 9:1–12, the agonies and torments of hell are pictured only in terms of a vision so that no eye can see the true torments of hell. But then consider this: while what has been described to you here is symbolic, the reality is far worse!
Do you begin to understand that from which you have been saved? Do you begin to understand what your Savior has taken in your place? Indeed, as you hear the eagle screech of impending woes and judgment, may you rejoice and find comfort in your Savior, who has borne you up on eagles’ wings, and who has saved you from the terror and agony of hell!
Rev. Brian Vos is the Pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Caledonia, Michigan