Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/Revelation/Chapter 9
The Fifth Trumpet
- 14And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven to the earth, and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.
Commentary: It is commonly accepted that the star falling from this trumpet is actually some sort of being, because of the fact that it is given a key to open the abyss. Many believe that the star could actually be seen as Satan. Part of the reason for viewing the fallen star as Satan can be found in the foreshadowing from Isaiah Chapter 14 verse 12, "How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nations." Ezekiel 28 is also thought to contain a similar reference. It may also be relevant to note that in Revelation chapter 11 Satan is depicted as being thrown down to earth from heaven. The word for abyss would have brought to mind to the readers the original chaotic pre-creation waters in the beginning of Genesis. It was here also that Leviathan, the great sea monster, was thought to live. Although some might argue that the star being that opens this “Pandora’s Box” of torment is evil, John clearly tells us that it receives the key from Heaven. Again, God is in control of the divine judgment. This is not an evenly matched battle between Satan and God, but rather an attempt by God to dramatically call people to repent before the final judgment. 
- 2And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke rose out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit.
Commentary: The bottomless pit is believed to be an abyss. The abyss is the place of residence of Satan and following demons, which are expected to deceive and destroy. The abyss is originally thought to be the flood that once covered the earth and that God confined. It is supposedly the place were evil creatures are kept, such as the sea monster Leviathan. This is a relevant theory considering what is to come out of the smoke, referring to the locusts in verse 3.It is also easy to think of the abyss as a place for the evil creatures and a great furnace for its' closeness to Hell and most peoples images of the underworld. The smoke from the furnace will not only cover and hide the sun's light but in a spiritual sense will hide the Light of God.
The concept of an abyss wherein beasts and monsters and fallen angels are trapped is not unique to Revelation; it can be found in Isiah, Enoch, and Jubilee.
- 3And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth, and to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power, 4and they were commanded to not hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only those who have not the seal of God in their foreheads. 5And 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 strikes a man. 6And in those days people will seek death, but will not find it, and they will desire to die, but death will flee from them.
Commentary: These locusts have been interpreted in different ways. Some say that they are demons, others that they symbolize a huge army.The enemies of the Church of Christ are often noted to be locusts. This is because they come in large numbers and because they have the capability to be very destructive. Regardless, they only have authority to hurt those "who have not the seal of God in their foreheads.” In 14:1, the 144,000 are described as having God's name "written on their foreheads," and 22:4 says that God’s servants "shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads." These are among several figures of speech used in Revelation which appear to refer to the same thing: having the "seal of God" on their foreheads; having the "Father's name" on their foreheads; having access to the "hidden manna"; etc. For more on this fascinating topic, see the commentary on 3:12 .
- 7And the shapes of the locusts were like horses prepared for battle, and on their heads were crowns like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men. 8And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions.
Commentary: A theory exists that the images that John describes as locusts are actually military helicopters. Because of the time of authorship, John would not have had the vocabulary to adequately denote what he was seeing, the theory suggests. However, this theory should certainly be taken with a grain of salt. While it is true that that John would not have possessed the language to describe helicopters, there is otherwise extremely little to suggest that these could be helicopters. For example, this description uses anthropomorphic language, which indicates that these locusts resemble humans in some way. If it is a helicopter, then what are the crowns, faces, hair, and teeth? Perhaps, the teeth of lions shows the sharpness and ability to shred and break things into pieces, exhibiting the great power behind the "locusts."Furthermore, the book of Revelation is packed full of bizarre imagery which leaves countless readers perplexed. It may be the natural tendency to thrust meaning upon the more obscure passages, but these claims should be examined carefully.
- 9And they had breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots and horses running to battle. 10And they had tails like scorpions and there were stings in their tails, and their power was to hurt mankind five months.
Commentary: The breastplates of iron is referring to the animal like characteristics like horses equipped for battle, mentioned in verse 7. The sound of these locusts is to show the tremendous number and power they hold. The very purpose of these creature is to bother, harass, and terrorize mankind. The tails of these insects is also to show the power, authority, and terror that these creatures are have over man. This passage is similar to the plague of locusts in Egypt in Exodus 10:1-18. This verse also can remind the reader of the full armor of God in Paul's letter to Ephesus in Ephesians 6:13-14.
- 11And they had a king over them who is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue is Apollyon.
Commentary: This verse figures a very interesting character, who is portrayed in several different ways. First and foremost, he is a celestrial figure who is given charge of the locusts who plague humanity. While this may appear to make Abaddon/Apollyon a malevolent figure, it is important to remember that God has given Abaddon this appointment as part of the judgments intended to cause humanity to repent. The name Abaddon is Hebrew for destroyer or an idea likened to the Greco-Roman idea of Hades, and Apollyon has ssimiliar connotations, but, according to Witherington, also can be connected with the Greek God, Apollo, whose symbol was the locust, and after whom Emperor Domitian styled himself as.
In extra-canonical texts, Abaddon has been identified as the angel of death, but there are still other who argue that Abaddon is Satan or the anti-Christ.
- 12One woe is past. Behold, there come two woes more hereafter.
Commentary: This verse is simply saying that the fifth trumpet has sounded and sent devastation to the disbelievers on earth. There will be two more to come to come from the sixth and seventh trumpet blasts. This is also an indication that chronology and sequence is important to correctly understand the book of Revelation.
The Sixth Trumpet
- 13And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice, from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, 14saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, “Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates.”
Commentary: The Euphrates River begins in eastern Turkey, then flows through Syria and Iraq to the Persian Gulf. The location of the Garden of Eden was said to be at the junction of the Euphrates with the Tigris, just north of the Persian Gulf. The voice is coming from the trumpets. These trumpets are in praise of God, from the altar of God. God responds to the sixth angel, who has the trumpet. There is a difficulty in this verse, however, because we can't be sure who the four angels are. There were the angels mentioned in verse 7:1, but these are bound, indicating a different set of angels.
Witherington supposes an importance for the location of the Euphrates as a dividing line of civilization. Wicked hordes lived beyond the river -- the oppressing Babylonians and Assyrians, in Jewish histories; and the Parthian hordes in the contemporary Roman era.
- 15And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year to slay a third of mankind.
Commentary: It is suggestive that the time frame is symbolic to mean that these four angels were in a constant preparative state and could inflict pain, pestilence, and kill those in which they were assigned to slay. Some scholars, however, believe that the time specificity are divisions representative of prophetical periods. Some believe that this means that one third of mankind will be slain. These four angels are "demons of death" that are released to kill mankind. This also clearly indicates the predetermined will of God and that He had a specific purpose in mind for these angels and now their time has come.
- 16And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred million, and I heard the number of them.
Commentary: It may be that the large number is just to give the reader a picture of the vastness of the approaching multitude of horsemen and that all the soldiers were employed to fight in this battle. The battle refers to the battle of all the countries. It is possible that the attacking horsemen outnumbered the entire Middle Eastern population at the time of writing. Some conspiracy theorists believe that this number today could be seen as the Chinese who claim to have a standing army of 200 million. However, this is just speculation to try and tie the apocalypse to modern times.
- 17And 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.
Commentary: "Out of their mouths issued fire and brimstone": It is an interesting description, considering that at the time of writing, armies fought with swords and clubs. It is interesting to note the primary color vibrancy of red, blue, and yellow; the first being the color of fire, the second of jacinth, and the third of sulphur. The fire and smoke issued forth from their mouths may be a figurative expression employed to demonstrate the power of destruction, fierceness, and mighty force or it may be a representative statement of the use of gunpowder.
Witherington writes that the feared Parthian horsemen rode horses with brightly colored breastplates, and links this verse with descriptions of Parthians in Horace and Martial.
- 18By these three a third of mankind was killed: by the fire, the smoke, and the brimstone which issued out of their mouths, 19for their power was in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails were like serpents, and had heads, and with them they do harm.
Witherington finds meaning in the image of horses with biting tails in descriptions of mounted Partian archery whereby the riders could shoot arrows facing forward or back.
The fire, smoke, and brimstone appear to be a form of plague, according to John.
- 20And the rest of the people who 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, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk, 21repented not of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornications, nor of their thefts.
Commentary: This verse suggests that the fundamental purpose of these judgments, specifically the trumpets, is to provoke repentance. Even though those without the seal of God are subjected to these horrific woes, they continue in their sinful ways. Most commentaries conclude that humanity actually becomes even more hardened in their wicked ways after these judgments. The Greek word "pharmakon" is translated here as "sorceries." This likely refers to use the of magical spells, charms, and potions in order to achieve some end. This verse has striking similarities to the story of Pharaoh in Exodus. Just like humanity maintains their wicked ways after the trumpets, Pharaoh maintains his hardened heart even after the plagues.
- Witherington, Ben. Revelation. Cambridge University Press, 2003.