Although we start a new chapter today, we’re still in the middle of the seven trumpet judgements. This is the second set of seven judgements found in Revelation (remember the seals in chapter 6), and it’s a more intense set: God is upping the ante in his bid to give his rebellious world a taste of what it will be like when he leaves for good. We pick it up at the fifth trumpet, which is the first of the three “woes” announced by the eagle. (See Rev 8:13 and yesterday’s post.)
9:1-6 The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.
The star is some kind of angelic being (either a divine agent carrying out judgement, or a fallen angel allowed by God to wreak havoc). The result of his opening the Abyss is smoke, which produces a plague of locusts – again, we remember the plagues in Egypt. And again, we also find similarities in Joel’s prophecy about the coming judgement of God (Joel 2). These locusts – a giant demonic army – inflict pain on those who aren’t sealed with God’s protection (see Rev 7, last week).
Even though God has released these evil forces, he’s still in control of them. They’re told what they’re allowed to do and what they’re not allowed to do: don’t harm the earth, and don’t kill. There’s even a time limit of 5 months (which is about the lifespan of a real locust, and the length of the dry season in Palestine when plagues of locusts normally would have occurred.) The point is: this is a finite, limited judgement.
The imagery describing the locusts is terrifying:
9:7-12 The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. Their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. They had tails with stingers, like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months. They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek is Apollyon (that is, Destroyer).
You can see here how the imagery in Revelation is fluid – a bit like a dream in which people and objects and places can morph into other things without warning. They are locusts, but they look like horses. They wear crowns and their faces look human. Feminine hair, with lion’s teeth. What’s all that about? Was John having a bad trip when he saw all this?
All of this is symbolic, in some way. The horses symbolise war, and the long hair may be a reference to the long-haired Parthian warriors – one of the most feared nations at the time. Their crowns show that they claim authority (that, in context, is not rightfully theirs). And so on. The different aspects of the image are there not only to look frightening and evil, but also to say something about this terrible army: they’re supernatural, evil beings bent on destruction. In fact, their commander’s name, Apollyon, means “destroyer.”
There’s much discussion about who “Apollyon” is. Is he God’s angel of death? Is he Satan? Or is he supposed to make people think of Apollo, the Greek God of war, since one of his symbols was the locust (thus making the point that behind false gods are demonic forces)? Probably all or most of that stuff is in play – it’s an image, rather than a particular character, designed to be a combination of all the most destructive agents and forces known to humans. The point is not in the detail, but in the effect the image has on those who hear it: the immediate need for fresh underpants.
Then right at the end of the fifth trumpet, we get the reminder that there’s plenty more in store:
9:13 The first woe is past; two other woes are yet to come.
But that will have to wait for tomorrow…
To think about
What’s the intended effect of all of this imagery? Not just in the underpants, but what’s it ultimately supposed to achieve?
What kind of destruction have you seen in our world, either at the moment, or in past events? What effect has that had on the world?