F. Revelation Chap. 8 & 9

Revelation Chapter 8 & 9

Rev. 8.1 When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

NIV – What is the relationship among the seals, trumpets, and bowls? Many scholars consider them to be sequential, just as they appear in the book (see Fig. 1). Others hold that these three conclude at precisely the same point in time, so that each group of seven steps back from the end of the preceding sequence (see Fig. 2). Still others read the seven trumpets as describing the missing judgments of the seventh seal, and the seven bowls as describing the missing judgments of the seventh trumpet (see Fig. 3). These charts are taken by permission from The NIV Compact Bible Commentary by John Sailhammer (Zondervan, 1994).

B. The Seven Trumpets (8:2-11:19)

ESV – An interlude promising the sealing and safety of God’s servants (7:1–17) has delayed the opening of the final seal. The silence in heaven that ensues when the Lamb breaks the seventh seal further sustains the suspense. Yet God’s patience in delaying judgment should not be mistaken for indifferent slowness (cf. Luke 18:1–8; 2 Pet. 3:4–13). The brief period of silence—about half an hour—displaces ceaseless praises by living creatures (Rev. 4:8), elders (5:9), angels (5:11–12), and the church triumphant (7:9–10). Silence is appropriate in anticipation of the Lord’s coming judgment (Zeph. 1:7–10; Zech. 2:13).

Rev. 8.2 And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.

  • Seven angels stand ready to sound seven trumpets, initiating limited judgments that warn of coming destruction (cf. Ezek. 33:1–6; Joel 2:1) and summon rebels to repent (Rev. 9:21).
  • While the seven seals were opened by the Lamb himself, the judgments of the seven trumpets and the seven bowls (15:1) are executed by seven angels. Before the trumpet judgments are executed, another angel enacts a symbolic scene in heaven. He takes a golden censer filled with incense and offers the incense on the altar in behalf of the prayers of all God’s people. Earlier, John mentioned the altar that was near God’s presence (6:9). A strong assurance is here given to the suffering followers of Christ that their prayers for vindication are not forgotten because God will speedily vindicate them from their enemies’ assaults. So close is the altar to God that the incense cloud of the saints’ prayers rises into his presence and cannot escape his notice (cf. Ps 141:2).

NIV – While the seven seals were opened by the Lamb himself, the judgments of the seven trumpets and the seven bowls (15:1) are executed by seven angels. Before the trumpet judgments are executed, another angel enacts a symbolic scene in heaven. He takes a golden censer filled with incense and offers the incense on the altar in behalf of the prayers of all God’s people. Earlier, John mentioned the altar that was near God’s presence (6:9). A strong assurance is here given to the suffering followers of Christ that their prayers for vindication are not forgotten because God will speedily vindicate them from their enemies’ assaults. So close is the altar to God that the incense cloud of the saints’ prayers rises into his presence and cannot escape his notice (cf. Ps 141:2).

Rev. 8.3 Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne.  4 The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.  5 Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.

NIV – The censer or firepan is now used to take some of the burning coals from the altar and cast them to the earth. Symbolically, this represents the answer to the prayers of the saints through the visitation on earth of God’s righteous judgments. God next appears on earth in a theophany. The language, reminiscent of Sinai with its thunder, lightning, and earthquake, indicates that God has come to vindicate his saints (Ex 19:16-19; Rev 4:5; 11:19; 16:18).

2. Sounding of the first six trumpets (8:6-9:21)

  • ESV – The earthly OT sanctuary had two altars, one for bloody sacrifice in the courtyard and the other for smoky incense inside, adjacent to the veil into the Most Holy Place (Ex. 27:1–8; 30:1–10). John sees only one altar in heaven, fulfilling both functions (Rev. 6:9; 8:3). As incense was associated with the prayers of the saints in the earthly sanctuary (see Ps. 141:2; Luke 1:9–11), so it is in John’s visions (see Rev. 5:8). Not only martyrs under the heavenly altar (6:9–10) but also suffering saints on earth cry out for justice. Therefore fire from the altar, from which the saints’ prayers rise, will be flung to earth in judgment, indicating that the judgments to follow answer the prayers of the saints.

Rev. 8.6 Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.  7 The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.

  • NIV – Two questions confront the interpreter at this point:
    • (1) What is the relationship of the trumpets to the preceding seals and the following bowls?
    • (2) Are the events described symbolic or literal?
  • In answer to the first question, there are two options: either the series are parallel and simultaneous or they are sequential. It is not possible to decide with certainty for either view, for each contains elements of truth. This commentary has already argued for the chronological priority of the first five seals to the events of the trumpets and bowls (see comment on 6:1). But the sixth seal seems to take us into the period of the outpouring of God’s wrath that is enacted in the trumpet and bowl judgments (6:12-17).
  • The sequential factors are as follows: (1) There is a rise in the intensity of the judgments (only a part of earth and humankind is affected in the trumpets, but all are affected under the bowls). (2) There is a difference in sequence and content of the events described in each series. (3) The reference to those not sealed in 9:4 (fifth trumpet) presupposes the sealing of 7:1-8. (4) The explicit statement in 8:12 implies a sequence between seals and trumpets—“When he opened the seventh seal . . . I saw the seven angels . . . to them were given seven trumpets.” (5) The bowl judgments are directly called the “last plagues” because with them God’s wrath is “completed” (15:1), implying the prior trumpet judgments. When the seventh bowl is poured out, the words “It is done” are spoken (16:17).
  • On the other hand, there are parallelisms. The sixth-seventh seal (6:12ff.), the seventh trumpet (11:15ff.), and the seventh bowl (16:17ff.) all seem to depict events associated with the second coming of Christ. This last event parallelism may indicate that all these series (seals, trumpets, bowls) are parallel in their entirety or that there is a partial recapitulation or overlap in the three series. The text seems to demand some type of sequential understanding and hence rules out a complete parallelism.
  • The main question is whether the parallelism indicates that the events described under the sixth-seventh seal, seventh trumpet, and seventh bowl are identical or merely similar and hence really sequential. Here the following points are relevant: (1) The sixth seal brings us into the period of God’s wrath on the beast worshipers but does not actually advance beyond that event to refer to the coming of Christ (6:12-17). (2) The seventh seal introduces the trumpet judgments, which run their course, and the seventh trumpet seems to bring us into the kingdom of Christ (11:15-18). (3) The seventh bowl likewise brings us to the consummation and return of Christ, that is, if we keep in mind that the incident of Babylon’s destruction is an elaboration of events under the seventh bowl (16:17ff.; 19:11ff.).
  • But are all three series parallel in their last events or only parallel in the last trumpet and last bowl? It seems apparent that the “third woe” (9:12; 11:14) is never fulfilled by the seventh trumpet, unless the content of the seventh trumpet is the seven bowls, which is also the “third woe.” This is another way of saying that there is some limited recapitulation or overlap with the seventh seal and the first trumpets and in the seventh trumpet with the first bowls. This might be called a telescopic view of the seals, bowls, and trumpets. Further support for this view is also found in observing that interludes come between the sixth and seventh seals and between the sixth and seventh trumpets but not between the sixth and seventh bowls, which would be expected if the trumpets were strictly parallel to the bowls.
  • The second problem concerns the literalness of the events described under each trumpet. The important but hard question is not literal versus nonliteral but what John intended. Some things may need to be understood more literally and others symbolically. For example, the reference to the army of 200 million (9:16-19) can hardly be literal (cf. comment on 9:16). Either the number is figurative or the army refers to demonic powers rather than human soldiers. It is also difficult to handle literally the reference to the eagle that speaks human words (8:13). While there is no way to settle this problem finally, this exposition will attempt to steer between a literal approach and a totally symbolic one.
  • As in the seals, there is a discernible literary pattern in the unfolding of the trumpets. The first four trumpets are separated from the last three, which are called “woes” (8:13; 9:12; 11:14), and are generally reminiscent of the plagues in Exodus. While John refers in 15:3 to the Song of Moses (Ex 15:1-18), he does not follow out the plague parallelism precisely, and the connections should not always be pressed.
  • Shofar “trumpets” (GK G4894; made of a ram’s horn) were used in Jewish life as signaling instruments. They sounded alarms for war or danger as well as for peace and announced the new moon, the beginning of the Sabbath, or the death of a notable. Trumpets were also used to throw enemies into panic (Jdg 7:19-20). Their use as eschatological signals of the day of the Lord or the return of Christ is well established in the OT and NT (Isa 27:13; Joel 2:1; Zep 1:16; Mt 24:31; 1Co 15:52; 1Th 4:16).

The Seven Trumpets of 8:7–11:19

Restrained judgments from heaven are sent in response to the saints’ prayers.

Trumpet            Reference            Result

Trumpet 1            8:7            hail, fire, and blood cast on land—one-third burned

Trumpet 2            8:8–9            burning mountain cast into sea—one-third bloodied

Trumpet 3            8:10–11            burning stars fall on rivers and springs— one-third embittered

Trumpet 4            8:12            sun, moon, and stars—one-third darkened

Trumpet 5 (1st Woe)            9:1–11            demons from the Abyss

Trumpet 6 (2nd Woe)            9:13–21            invasion from the east—one-third of mankind killed

Trumpet 7 (3rd Woe)            11:15–19            kingdom of world becomes kingdom of God

  • ESV – Angels Sound Seven Trumpets. Revelation’s third sevenfold series (with a second interlude in 10:1–11:14) portrays judgments sent from heaven in response to the saints’ prayers. Judgments revealed by the first four trumpets harm the same spheres that will be destroyed when the first four bowls are poured out (16:1–9): earth, sea, rivers and springs, and sky. The damage done with the trumpets is limited to “a third”: God restrains his wrath, while giving foretastes of total devastation to come if rebels ignore his warnings. “Woes” introduced by the last three trumpets are increasingly severe (8:13; 9:12; 11:14). Futurists (see Introduction: Schools of Interpretation) generally see these trumpets and plagues as signifying actual calamities to be suffered by unrepentant unbelievers during the great tribulation. They may be either supernatural judgments or symbols for events caused by man (such as nuclear, biological, or chemical warfare). See note on 6:1–8 for the “four-plus-three” format of the judgments.
  • At the first trumpet blast hail and fire, mixed with blood, are thrown from the heavenly altar to earth, consuming a third of the earth and its trees, and all green grass. This reproduces the seventh plague on Egypt (Ex. 9:24). The first four seals (Rev. 6:1–8) signified the Lamb’s power to use human aggressors to punish persecutors of his people. Here God’s providential rule makes use of human combatants’ military strategy of ruthless defoliation (cf. Deut. 20:19–20) to call rebellious nations to repentance.

Rev. 8.8 The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood,  9 a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

  • The second trumpet reveals a great mountain, burning with fire, thrown into the sea, turning a third of it to blood and destroying a third of its creatures and ships. Volcanic eruptions such as Vesuvius and bloody battles on the Mediterranean show the Lamb’s sovereignty over another sphere of human life. The first plague on Egypt turned the Nile to blood (Ex. 7:20–21). The imagery echoes Jer. 51:25, 42, where God announced that he would make Babylon, Zion’s destroyer, a “burnt mountain” and cover it with the sea.

Rev. 8.10 The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water—  11 the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.

  • At the third trumpet, fire falls from heaven as a blazing star named Wormwood (see note on Amos 5:7), which embitters and poisons a third of the rivers and springs (sources of drinking water) just as the Nile’s bloodied waters became undrinkable (Ex. 7:24). Besieged cities could be driven to surrender by sheer thirst (see 2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chron. 32:30; Ps. 46:4). If Rev. 8:10 is understood literally, it may represent a great meteorite falling to earth.

Rev. 8.12 The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night.

Rev. 8.13 As I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying in midair call out in a loud voice: “Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!”

  • NIV –  Before the last three trumpets sound, John hears a flying eagle call out “woe” (GK G4026) three times. His cry announces the especially grievous nature of the last three plagues, which kill a third part of the population of the earth (9:18). Two of the woes are identified with the fifth and sixth trumpets (9:12; 11:14). (See the comments on 8:6, which argue that the third woe should be seen as the seven bowl judgments in 16:1ff.) The “inhabitants of the earth” distinguishes the Christ rejecters of the world from the true, faithful followers of the Lamb (cf. comment on 3:10). A flying “eagle” announces these words. This must be taken symbolically. In Revelation there are two other references to eagles (4:7; 12:14). Since 4:7 relates to the description of one of the four living beings, it may be that John intends the eagle mentioned here to have the same significance.
  • ESV – The darkening (at the fourth trumpet) of a third of the sun, moon, and stars, obscuring their light for a third of the day and the night, resembles the ninth plague on Egypt (Ex. 10:21–23). Since stars are still in the sky, this judgment apparently precedes the shaking of heaven and earth portrayed with the sixth seal (Rev. 6:12–14; but see note on 6:13 for another view). The means causing this darkness may be billowing smoke from burning cities, but the ultimate source is the Lamb’s reign.
  • 8:13 Woe, woe, woe. The last three trumpets signify escalating judgments on rebellious humanity as the end approaches.

Whereas the star that fell at the third trumpet symbolized the polluting effects of ancient and modern warfare on rivers and springs, the star fallen from heaven to earth (v. 1) when the fifth trumpet sounds is Satan, the angel of the bottomless pit, whose names mean “Destroyer” (see note on v. 11). This vision shows the increase of demonic activity, plunging rebellious humans into desperation, as the era of God’s patient restraint draws to a close.

Rev. 9.1 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.

NIV – The fifth trumpet: The first woe. John now focuses attention on the fifth and sixth trumpets (first and second woes) by giving more than twice the space to their description than he does to the previous four trumpets together. The fifth trumpet releases locusts from the Abyss. For five months these locusts torment the inhabitants of the earth who do not have the seal of God. John sees a “star” that has fallen to the earth. Since this star is given a key to open the Abyss, it is reasonable to understand it as being a symbolic reference to an angel. This is supported by v. 11, where “the angel of the Abyss” is mentioned and named “Abaddon,” as well as 20:1, where reference is also made to “an angel coming down” who has the key to the Abyss, where Satan is thrown.

The “Abyss” (GK G12) is also referred to in 11:7 and 17:8 as the place from which the beast arises. This word refers to the underworld as (1) a prison for certain demons (Lk 8:31; cf. 2Pe 2:4; Jude 6) and (2) the realm of the dead (Ro 10:7). When the Abyss is opened, huge billows of smoke pour out, darken the sky, and release horselike locusts on the earth.

Locust plagues are one of the severest plagues of humankind. The imagery of locusts, appearing like armies, advancing like a cloud, darkening the heavens, and sounding like the rattle of chariots, goes back to Joel’s vision of the locust army that came on Israel as a judgment from God (Joel 1:6; 2:4-10). But the locusts of the Apocalypse inflict agony like scorpion stings (vv. 3, 5, 10). This, together with the fact that they do not eat grass (v. 4), shows that these locusts are something other than ordinary earthly insects. Indeed, they have the special task of inflicting a nonfatal injury only on the beast worshipers, who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads (v. 4; cf. comment on 7:3). This may imply that these locust-like creatures are not simply instruments of a physical plague (as in Moses’ or Joel’s day or under the first four trumpets) but are demonic forces out of the Abyss from whom the true people of God are protected (cf. John’s use of frogs to represent demonic powers in 16:13). The five months of agony (vv. 5, 10) may refer to the life span of the locust (i.e., spring and summer). So severe is the torment they inflict that their victims will seek death (cf. Job 3:21; Jer 8:3; Hos 10:8).

John describes the locusts as an army of mounted troops ready for the attack (v. 7). The heads of the locusts resemble horses’ heads. John does not say that the locusts had crowns of gold on their heads but that they wore “something like crowns of gold” on their heads. This may refer to the yellow green of their breasts. This, combined with their resemblance to human faces, suggests something unnatural, hence demonic. The comparison of their “hair” with that of women may refer to the locusts’ long antennae, while their lionlike teeth suggest the terrible devastation they can bring (cf. Joel 1:6-7). The “breastplates of iron” refers to their scales, which appeared as a cuirass of metal plates across the chest and long flexible bonds of steel over the shoulders. Their sound was like the rushing of war chariots into battle (v. 9; cf. Joel 2:5).

This description creates an image of the fearful onslaught of demonic powers in the last days. Therefore, their leader is called “Abaddon” (GK H11 & H13) in Hebrew and “Apollyon” (GK G661) in Greek. The Hebrew term means “destruction” or “ruin” (cf. Job 26:6; Pr 27:20) and more often “the place of ruin” in Sheol (cf. Job 26:6; Pr 15:11; 27:20), “death” (cf. Job 28:22), or “the grave” (cf. Ps 88:11). The Greek term means “exterminator” or “destroyer” and does not occur elsewhere in the Bible. Some understand Apollyon as a separate angel entrusted with authority over the Abyss. Why John names the king of the Abyss in both Hebrew and Greek is open to question. Perhaps his readers’ background in Hebrew, on which John’s names and thoughts seem to turn (cf. 16:16), was so slender that an additional help here and there was necessary. This stylistic trait of giving information in bilingual terms is peculiar to Revelation and John’s Gospel (see Jn 6:1; 19:13, 17, 20; 20:16).

  • The star fallen from heaven to earth is Satan, whom Jesus saw fall like lightning as a result of his disciples’ ministry (Luke 10:18). Three chapters later in Revelation, John will see the “dragon,” whom he identifies as Satan, cast down from heaven to earth (Rev. 12:9). The fact that the key to the shaft of the Abyss was given to him shows that Satan can do nothing apart from God’s permission (cf. “were told,” 9:4). However, many scholars think that this “star” represents a good angel, and that this verse in connection with 20:1 marks the beginning and the end of the middle section of the book.

2 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.  3 And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth.

  • When the fallen star unlocked the bottomless pit, locusts emerged in billowing smoke that darkened the sky. An echo of the eighth plague on Egypt (Ex. 10:14–15), this infestation of locusts also recalls the swarm summoned by trumpet to strip the land bare on the “awesome day of the LORD” (Joel 2:31).

4 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.  5 They were not given power 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 a man.

6 During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.

  • What John sees as locusts are no threat to earth’s vegetation (grass, green plant, or tree), nor can they harm those who bear God’s seal (cf. 3:12; 7:3; 14:1). and their strange composite appearance (9:7–9) gives the impression of symbolism. Therefore, it seems that these invaders are not literal insects but demonic spirits (with Satan as their leader, v. 11), released to torment their own worshipers (v. 20), who serve their king, the “Destroyer” (see note on v. 11). Thus their scorpion-like stings cannot inflict death, which would bring relief to their victims. Others think these locusts represent military forces, and still others consider them to be actual locusts but with their destructive power described in figurative imagery. Five months signifies the divinely imposed brevity of their power to torture even those who oppose the Lamb.

Rev. 9.7 The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces.

  • The locusts’ visible similarities to horses, human faces, lions, and scorpions caution against reading John’s visions as physical descriptions. Rather, these images show demons to be powerful, swift, intelligent, fierce, and capable of inflicting intense mental and spiritual torment.

8 Their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth.  9 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.  10 They had tails and stings like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months.  11 They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon.

  • Abaddon, Apollyon. In Hebrew and Greek, respectively, these words refer to “destruction” and the “one who destroys.” Satan’s demonic hordes wage war against his own human subjects. Later the enemy will be called the “accuser,” as his Hebrew and Greek names, Satan and Devil, signify (12:9–10).

Rev. 9.12 The first woe is past; two other woes are yet to come.

The cavalry revealed with the sixth trumpet resembles the demon swarm of the fifth, like horses and lions, with breastplates and venomous power in their tails. Yet these warriors are authorized to take human life on a massive scale (cf. “but not to kill,” v. 5), showing that Satan is waging war against his own followers. These warriors, with their origin beyond the Euphrates, suggest that John now sees the carnage wrought by military aggression and warfare. Yet, devastating as the bloodshed is, God still imposes limits: a third of mankind was killed (15, 18). This is the last limited judgment and warning blast, for when the seventh, last trumpet sounds, “the mystery of God will be fulfilled” (10:7; cf. 1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:16), and the opportunity to repent will be past (Rev. 9:20–21).

Rev. 9.13 The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the horns of the golden altar that is before God.  14 It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.”

NIV – The sixth trumpet: The second woe. Here we find a description of disasters that reach to the death of a third of humankind (vv. 15, 18; cf. 8:7). “Four angels,” the instruments of God’s judgment, are held at the river Euphrates, whence traditionally the enemies of God’s ancient people advanced on the land of Israel (Jer 2:18; 13:4-5; 51:63; Rev 16:12) and which was recognized as its northeastern extremity (Ge 15:18). John makes use of the ancient geographical terms to depict the fearful character of the coming judgment of God on a rebellious world. While the language is drawn from historical-political events of the OT, it describes realities that far transcend a local geographical event. God’s dealings are not accidental but planned, and they happen at a precise moment in time. By a reference to the “golden altar” of incense, the release of these angels is again connected with the prayers of God’s saints for vindication (6:9; 8:3).

At v. 16 a mounted army of some 200 million horses and riders is rather abruptly introduced. While some argue for a literal human army here, several factors point to their identity as demonic forces. First, the horsemen are not in themselves important but wear brightly colored breastplates of fiery red, dark blue, and sulfurous yellow, more suggestive of supernatural than natural riders. More important are the horses, which not only have heads resembling lions but are, rather than their riders, the instruments of death by the three plagues of fire, smoke, and sulfur that come from their mouths. Furthermore, these horses have tails like snakes that are able to kill (vv. 17-19), unlike the locusts’ scorpionlike tails that do not inflict death but only injury (v. 5). Finally, an army of 200 million could not be conscripted, supported, and moved to the Middle East without totally disrupting all societal needs and capabilities. Thus it seems better to understand the vast numbers and description of the horses as indicating demonic hordes. Such large numbers do occasionally indicate angelic hosts elsewhere in Scripture (Ps 68:17; Rev 5:11; cf. 2Ki 2:11-12; 6:17). This would not eliminate the possibility of human armies of manageable size also being involved. But the emphasis here (vv. 16-19) is on their fully demonic character, utterly cruel and determined, showing no mercy to man, woman, or child. These demons might also be manifest in pestilences, epidemic diseases, or misfortunes as well as in armies. Such would explain the use of “plagues” to describe these hordes (vv. 18, 20; cf. 11:6; 16:9, 21).

  • ESV – the golden altar before God. These woes come in answer to the saints’ prayers, offered as incense on that altar (8:4–5). Ancient Israel’s captors, Assyria and Babylon, had come from the great river Euphrates. In John’s day it also marked the eastern boundary of Rome’s influence, beyond which barbarian powers such as Parthia threatened the empire’s peace. This river represents that which keeps civil chaos and wanton violence at bay. The release of its four destructive angels here, like the drying of its waters in 16:12–16, unleashes unprecedented bloodshed and suffering.

15 And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind.

16 The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number. Rev. 9.17 The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur.  18 A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths.  19 The power of the horses was in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails were like snakes, having heads with which they inflict injury.

  • twice ten thousand times ten thousand. Two hundred million is an incredibly large army but not as great as the countless multitude that worships the Lamb (7:9). This cavalry, like the locusts from the Abyss (9:1–12), consists of demons. Their horses have heads like lions’ heads and tails like serpents. But God’s faithful servant can trample both of these deadly enemies underfoot (cf. Ps. 91:13). (Satan is the “ancient serpent” [Rev. 12:9; see Gen. 3:15].) Red fire, blue smoke (like sapphire), and yellow, rancid sulfur spewing from the horses’ mouths reflect the colors of their riders’ breastplates. What proceeds from the mouth represents the power of words, either to judge justly or to deceive and destroy, as when the Euphrates reappears in Rev. 16:12–14. The demonic horsemen kill by deluding human armies into war. Some think these 200 million troops represent a very large actual human army.

Rev. 9.20 The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk.

21 Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.

  • did not repent. Although those rebelling against God have been tortured by the very demons they worshiped, the survivors will take no warning from these final trumpet blasts. This shows the total depravity of the sinners (also 16:9, 11, 21; 20:7–10). Every time Christ offers them repentance, they reject his offer and prefer to follow Satan. idols … cannot see or hear or walk. Senseless and impotent, images of metal, stone, or wood cannot protect or rescue, as Daniel told King Belshazzar on the night that his life was taken and his kingdom seized (Dan. 5:23; cf. Ps. 115:4–8; 135:15–18; Isa. 44:12–20).
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