It’s not G-d who sends human beings to eternal punishment, it's human beings who choose eternal punishment in spite of Him.
Chapter 9 shifts our focus from plagues that affect humanity (non-believers) indirectly to plagues that spare nature while harming humanity. What is unleashed is from a depth of darkness that has sought to usurp G-d’s throne from the beginning.
Due to the symbolic, metaphoric and at times, allegorical representations of Yochanan’s writing; it’s unwise to be dogmatic concerning our interpretation of this chapter. However, there are some supportable interpretations and some foolish conjectures: we must avoid the latter.
Whatever we conclude, regarding the identities of the messengers, locusts and riders of Revelation 9, G-d is Master over them all. G-d is in full control of what is taking place and, even in the midst of these dark events He is working out His purpose.
9:1 Then the fifth messenger sounded (a shofar), and I saw a star from heaven which had descended (fallen) to the earth; and the key of the abyss (Hebrew: “teh-home” the deep, bottomless pit) was given to him.
Unlike the star in Rev. 8:10—which is foremost a cosmic entity and only via extrapolation a personification—this star is a clear personification, “the key of the abyss (Hebrew: “teh-home” the deep, bottomless pit) was given to him.”
It’s of note that this star had fallen to earth and that a key (access and authority) was given to him. However apocryphal Hebrew uses the terms, “fallen” and descending” synonymously, therefore the term, “fallen” does not necessarily denote a, “fallen angel”. The key on the other hand is without doubt, given by G-d to the messenger either directly or indirectly.
Commentary has been made suggesting any number of possibilities for the star’s identity, ranging from Nero (The Roman Emperor) to Satan himself. However, I see nothing in the text that confirms beyond doubt that any of these suggestions is correct.
What is clear is that the star-messenger has no independent authority, he receives his authority from G-d. The key opens the lock to the shaft of the great abyss (the deep Gen 1:2, 6, 7; 7:11; Proverbs 8:28). This abyss is thought to have a narrow shaft-like opening that widens in to a great bottomless chasm beneath both the earth and Sheol.
The abyss (deep unfathomable prison) is often confusing to the reader and even more regularly misunderstood due to its similarity to Gehennah (the temporal place of torment in Sheol, set apart for the enemies of G-d).
The Abyss of Revelation 9 is not Sheol:
It’s important to note that the abyss is the intermediate place of punishment for fallen angels, demons, the beast, the false prophet and Satan (Rev. 9:1, 2, 11; 11:7; 20:1, 3). The place of final punishment, is the lake of fire mentioned in Revelation 20:10, 14, 15).
“And Yeshua (Jesus) asked him, “What is your name?” And the demon said, “I am Legion”; for many demons had entered the man. The demons were imploring Yeshua (Him) not to command them to go away into the abyss.” –Luke 8:30-31
The apocryphal writings of Enoch support the idea that the abyss of Hebrew eschatology is seen as an entirely separate holding place set apart for the fallen angels and demonic beings (Enoch 18:12-16; 21:1-10).
2 He opened the abyss, and smoke went up out of the shaft (of the Abyss/Pit), like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the shaft (of the abyss/Pit).
Once again the reader is reminded of the plagues of Egypt (Exodus 10:22), of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:28), and of the giving of the Torah at Sinai (Exodus 19:18). This speaks of judgement against the inhabitants of the earth (non-believers).
The air (filled with the smoke of the abyss) is understood to be the abode of the demonic forces (Ephesians 2:2): this is consistent with what is about to be unleashed upon the earth.
3 Then out of the smoke came locusts to the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power.
This plague reflects the eighth plague of Egypt (Exodus 10:12-10). They are, “given” power, G-d is in control.
The nation that will be the vehicle of G-d’s judgement described in the prophetic book of Joel, are likened to locusts, even using three of the four key descriptors used in Revelation 9:5-12.
The Hebrew words used to describe the locust are: “arbeh” which comes from the root, “rabbah” meaning great, “gazam” shearer, “arbel” swarmer, “hasil” finisher, “solam” swallower or annihilator, “hagol” galloper, and “tzelatzel” creeker. The terror of the locust is written in its many names, they effect a devastating, all consuming destruction (Hence the name of the one in authority over them Rev. 9:11), leaving their victims desolate.
4 They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the people who do not have the seal of G-d on their foreheads (intellect-Mental assent).
These demonic locusts however, don’t act like the locusts of earth’s natural plagues. They have no authority to, nor do they damage the grass, or any green thing. They’re also kept from harming those who belong to G-d (All who are sealed with Messiah’s name, not just the 144,000 Jews).
The locust’s origin (The abyss), is secure proof that they’re demonic beings. They are described in the same way that Joel the prophet described the army that would come against Israel. Therefore they’re not literal locusts but metaphorical locusts. Demonic forces released into the air to do G-d’s bidding. Notice that they are released, not sent.
5 And they were commanded not to kill anyone, but to torment for five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings a person. 6 And in those days people will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them.
The command not to kill is yet another act of mercy on G-d’s part. He is ever longing for the repentance of His creation. The five month period uses the natural life cycle of the locust as a period of time that denotes a half way point to completion (10). The number five is also said by some to represent grace, a fitting observation given the context. The torment like that of a scorpion is an allusion to intense and continual agony, the kind that if untreated by pain suppressants, will cause any human being to ask for death rather than have to continue to endure it.
The language used, “And in those days people will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them.” Is similar to that of Jeremiah 8:3. These words denote the results of the harshest of judgements, which follow continual and wilful hatred toward G-d (Hosea 10:8; Luke 23:30). But these same physical torments are also experienced by the righteous (Job 3:21). We are not sealed and protected from physical pain, rather it is our eternal security and life everlasting that we are secured for. Paul/Shaul the apostle views life and death quite differently to those being punished in the present text. Shaul says:
“Moreover, I’m hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart (die) and be with Messiah, for that is very much better; 24 yet to remain on in the flesh (live) is more necessary for your sake. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) through my coming to you again.” –Philippians 1:23-26
7 The appearance of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle; and on their heads appeared to be crowns like gold, and their faces were like the faces of human beings. 8 They had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions. 9 They had breastplates like breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to battle.
These words mirror those of Joel 1:4-6; 2:4-5. We note that they are like horses strengthened for battle and that they had what appeared to be crowns like gold. The phrase, “appeared to be” is important because elsewhere Yochanan speaks of actual crowns. These locusts have a sort of authority but it is temporal (only appearing to be), as is their power and that which results from it.
The, “hair like that of women” is said by some to simply refer to the locust’s antennae, however I see in this a symbol of seduction, an ironic element to the demonic workings of these beings. My wife and I have experienced many times, the privilege of seeing people set free from demonic forces that had seduced them through seemingly innocent circumstances but had latter brought great torment into their lives.
This seduction is also represented in many false religions and philosophies of our time which attract adherents with promises of fulfilment and happiness, grooming them for a later stage in their development where they will be manipulated, controlled and used by the leaders of these groups. Islamic terrorist organizations employee similar tactics, luring young men and women with the promise of spiritual reward, only to use them as cannon fodder in a hate filled war against the G-d of Israel.
The, “teeth like lions” denote the unrelenting fierceness of their attack and the breast plates are representative of their resilience in battle. The sound of their coming is the sound of utter terror, chariots thundering, shaking the earth beneath the feet of their victims.
10 They have tails like scorpions, and stings; and in their tails is their power to hurt human beings for five months. 11 They have as king over them, the messenger of the abyss (Hebrew: “teh-home” the deep, bottomless pit); his name in Hebrew is Abaddon (destroyer), and in the Greek he has the name Apollyon (destroyer).
The fact that their tails were like those of scorpions indicates that even after they’ve seemingly passed by, their destructive purpose will lash out behind them. Thus there will be no rest from their destructive course. The five months is an opportunity for repentance, it is not to be seen as a limit to the judgement of the first woe, but as a holding back of the judgement to come, it is an act of mercy on G-d’s part.
Unlike the natural locusts, the demonic locusts have a ruler over them (Proverbs 30:27). This, “Angel of the Abyss” is not an angel from the abyss or in the abyss, rather he is the angel who has been given authority by G-d to rule over the abyss. With regard to Jewish tradition this angel is most like Yeremial, who has authority over the abyss. There is no need to presume that this ruler is an evil fallen angel, after all, G-d himself is the ultimate ruler over Satan and his angels, and this doesn’t mean that G-d is evil.
The name of this messenger is Abaddon (Destroyer), from the Hebrew root meaning destruction (Job 26:6; Psalm 88:11; Proverbs 15:11; 27:20).
In Hebrew thought angelic beings who bring destruction, death and war, are not presumed to be evil. G-d Himself is said to ride like one armed for battle (Isaiah 19:1). The Angel of The L-rd, who some have linked to Messiah Himself, goes out to put to death the enemies of Israel (2 Kings 19:35; Isaiah 37:36).
12 The first woe is past; behold, two woes are still coming after these things.
13 Then the sixth messenger sounded (a shofar), and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar (altar of incense as alluded to in the previous chapters) which is before G-d,
One third of the devastating woes has passed. The two woes that follow will increase humanity’s suffering and effect even greater judgements upon the enemies of G-d.
The voice from the four horns of the altar of incense seems to be the voice of the Lamb (Yeshua) responding to the united prayers of the martyrs (Rev. 6:9-11) and the saints (Rev 8:3-5), who had requested vengeance from G-d. We should note that this voice follows the voice (sounding) of the Ram’s horn (A symbol of Messiah’s voice).
14 One saying to the sixth messenger who had the shofar, “Release the four messengers who are bound at the great river Euphrates (Syria-Iraq).”
It’s difficult to determine who the four messengers are. They can’t be the angels of Rev. 7:1-3 because those angels are the angels of the four winds. These angels are bound, which denotes a form of imprisonment. The angels of Rev. 7:1-3 are instructed to wait, they are angels of HaShem who do His bidding willingly. These four angels on the other hand are bound and are released only to serve the greater purpose of G-d. Therefore these angels should be understood to be the evil spiritual forces who act as motivators to the pursuant armies.
The Euphrates is the historical border of Israel’s promised territory (Genesis 15:18) and spans modern Iraq and Syria. The Euphrates was also the border of the Roman Empire at the time of Revelation’s writing and would have brought to mind images of the Parthian’s for Yochanan’s readers.
15 And the four messengers, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released, so that they would kill a third of humanity.
The fact that these angels are said to have been prepared for, “the hour, day and month” (Num. 1:1; Haggai 2:10) denotes G-d’s precise timing for the events of History, past present and future. He has held back, released and sent out His judgements throughout the history of creation.
These angels, though demonic and previously bound, are more than willing to do what is evil, thus they are allowed (not sent) to kill a third of humanity. The third reminds us that two thirds remain.
16 The number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. 17 And this is how I saw in the vision the horses and those who sat on them: the riders had breast plates the colour of fire (red) and of blue and of sulphur (yellow); and the heads of the horses are like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceed fire and smoke and sulphur.
These armies are not the four angels but are motivated by them. The number two hundred million is meant to be understood as the literal number of riders of a literal army. We interpret it this way because Yochanan adds the phrase, “I heard the number of them.” Meaning that Yochanan wasn’t just approximating them from what he saw or using metaphorical numbers from his traditional Jewish understanding.
The riders of this army are seated on horses (vehicles) that carry plagues in the form of fire, smoke and sulphur. These plagues may be as practical as the destructive bombing and burning of cities, the deaths of residents due to smoke inhalation and pollution and poisoning resulting from sulphur gas.
It’s interesting to note that the riders are attired in primary colours, red, blue and yellow, perhaps signifying the elemental nature of the plagues and the death that results.
18 A third of humanity was killed by these three plagues, by the (1) fire and the (2) smoke and the (3) sulphur which proceeded out of their mouths.19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents and have heads, and with them they do harm.
If we interpret the plagues metaphorically we see them as forces that issue from the vehicles (horses) of this army. The power that brings these plagues comes from before (mouth) and behind (Tail). The hatred in the intent of this army is witnessed both as it approaches and in the aftermath. The tails like serpents (a demonic symbol) attack those who have been wounded and have fallen in the wake of the army.
From a Hebraic perspective this brings to mind the torment which Israel suffered during the snake plague in the desert (Numbers 21). One is reminded that only by looking upon the defeated snake on the pole, that is, the complete work of the cross of Messiah, could Israel be saved.
20 The rest of humanity, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands (actions) (1), they continued to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see (2) nor hear (3) nor walk; 21 and they did not repent of their murders or of their sorceries or of their immorality or of their thefts.
“The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
made by human hands (1).
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see (2).
They have ears, but cannot hear (3),
nor is there breath in their mouths.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.” –Tehilim/Psalm 135:15-18
The idols are:
1.) Made by human effort
2.) Can’t see
3.) Can’t hear.
It’s fitting that a correlation be drawn between the demonic hordes of these verses and the idolatrous pagan worship of inanimate objects, Shaul/Paul explains:
“Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to G-d, and I don’t want you to be participants with demons. You can’t drink the cup of the L-rd and the cup of demons; you can’t have a part in both the L-rd’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the L-rd’s jealousy? Are we stronger than Him?” –1 Corinthians 10:19-22
The tragic irony of these verses can be seen today. We are being destroyed by the very demonic forces we worship. So many reject G-d, even in the most distressing circumstances. People dying of terrible diseases curse G-d rather than cry out to him, those under oppressive regimes curse the G-d of Israel rather than repenting and turning away from their false gods, in particular the false feminine moon deity Allah. Though we witness the deaths of thousands on the nightly news, we continue to look for ways to free ourselves in our own strength, saying, “We don’t need G-d, we have science, medicine, technology, space exploration, other spiritual forces, self-deification, inner power, pride and a new morality. We will rule the universe.”
The present scripture reinforces the sobering truth that it’s not G-d who sends human beings to eternal punishment, it's human beings who choose eternal punishment in spite of Him.
© Alastair Brown 2015