Revelation 9 Commentary

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vv. 1-2 “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.”[1]

“It is not known whether this ‘star’ that fell from heaven is Satan, a fallen angel, Christ, or a good angel…This being, whoever he may be, is still under God’s control and authority.”[2]

“The ‘Abyss’… 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).”[3]

Abyss.  Conceived of as the subterranean abode of demonic hordes (see 20:1; Lk 8:31).  The Greek word means ‘very deep’ or ‘bottomless’.”[4]

“Dense smoke arises from the abyss when the angel opens it.  The smoke darkens both the sun and the air.  Darkening of the sun and other parts of the cosmos has already been seen to connote judgment…Consequently, the picture in v.2 indicates that the judgment formerly limited to the demonic realm is being extended to the earthly realm.”[5]

vv. 3-11 “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).”[6]

“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’ … in Hebrew and ‘Apollyon’ … 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.”[7]

“The monstrosities from the Abyss may represent angels of judgment, as some scholars suggest.  This suggests a purely supernatural judgment; elsewhere God accomplished such judgment through his angels (Ezek. 9:1-7), but here apparently he unleashes evil forces to wreak their havoc.  That God sets limits on their destructiveness, both in intensity (Rev. 9:6) and duration (9:10), may suggest his mercy and again underlines his sovereignty.  Five months is approximately a normal locust’s life span, and God does not choose to extend it.  Scorpion stings usually bring terrible pain but not death to humans, although these are not purely literal scorpions.  By preventing their death God augments the pain of those who would rather be out of it (9:6), so one can read this limitation as an increase in the judgment’s intensity, which fits the context of fierce judgment.  Other writers spoke of troubles so intense that sufferers simply wished to die… But the purpose of such judgments is to turn people to repentance, so even this limitation may also serve to allow repentance (9:20-21).  Five months’ of torment (9:5), like 1,260 days of torment (cf. 11;10), thus contrasts with eternal torment (14:10-11; 20:10).”[8]

vv. 12-15 “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).”[9]

“The golden altar represents the incense altar (Ex. 30:1-3; Heb. 9:4) rather than the sacrificial altar (Ex. 35:16), hence implying that this judgment represents a further response to the prayers of the saints (8:4-6)…That bowl also involves ‘kings from the East’ from across the Euphrates; as here, an audience in the eastern Mediterranean would think especially of the Parthians…Parthians were the archrivals of the Roman empire, far more feared than the Germanic barbarians on the northern frontier…Whether the vision focuses on a demonic army portrayed with features of Parthians, or Parthians portrayed as a hideous symbolic army alters the final effect only slightly: in either case, the images evoke terror.”[10]

“The voice from the altar commands the sixth trumpet angel to ‘release’ four angels who have been ‘bound.’  These angels have apparently been restrained against their will, like the demons confined to the abyss in 9:1-3….That they have been held at ‘the great river Euphrates’ evokes the OT prophecy of an army from beyond the Euphrates (from ‘the north’) whom God will bring to judge sinful Israel…and other ungodly nations around Israel.”[11]

“The word angels here means fallen angels or demons.  These four unidentified demons will be exceedingly evil and destructive.  But note that they do not have the power to release themselves and do their evil work on earth.  Instead, they are held back by God and will be released at a specific time, doing only what he allows them to do.”[12

“The killing of one-third of the world’s population (9:15, 18) is unparalleled catastrophe.  At the same time, it is less than many other apocalyptic traditions…Often in Revelation God’s judgments strike only one-third (Rev. 8:7-12; cf. 12:4) or even a tenth (11:13), indicating that he strikes a remnant rather than the majority, hoping that others will come to repentance (9:20-21).  The death of one-third of the world is judgment, but it is also mercy.”[13]

“John hears the voice say that the time has now come.  The angels are released according to God’s sovereign timetable.  The time that these angels are to be released is specified down to the hour to emphasize that ‘all the forces of history are under the sovereign control of God.  He is the Almighty One’.”[14]

vv. 16-19 “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).”[15]

“The three plagues ‘harm’… the ungodly, but this harm may be broader than just physical death.  It could include forms of suffering similar to the ‘harm’ brought by the fifth trumpet plague.”[16]

“In contrast to the fifth trumpet, the sixth includes death together with deception.  Therefore, the sixth trumpet intensifies and develops further the woe of the fifth…these demons both torment, at least partly by deception, and then make certain the spiritual fate of their victims by imposing physical death.  The smoke and resulting darkness are metaphorical for a punishment of deception,…and the fire is metaphorical for lethal judgment (see on 9:18 and below).  Again, there is still emphasis on the powerful mouths of these evil creatures as the source of judgment:  ‘for the power of the horses is in their mouths.’  The metaphorical focus on the mouth in vv 17-19 connotes not only death but a judgment of deception.  This deception is an essential aspect of the torment…”[17]

“The essence of the saints’ seal is not immunity from physical death but protection against being deceived and losing the covenantal relationship with God.”[18]

vv. 20-21 “God’s first purpose for the plagues is judgment on the human race for their willful choice of idolatry and the corrupt practices that go with it (v.21). John had earlier called the churches to ‘repent’ of their faithless tendencies lest they too share in God’s judgment (2:5, 16, 21-22; 3:19). In these verses we see the end result of refusing to turn to God. This stubbornness leads to worship of demons as well as worship of cultic objects made by human hands (gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood…. ‘Demons’ may mean either pagan deities (Dt 32:17; Ps 106:37) or malign spirits (1Co 10:20-21; 1Ti 4:1) ”[19]

“The climax of the account comes in 9:20-21.  God allows one-third of humanity to die and spares the remaining two-thirds to invite their repentance.  Like Pharaoh during the plagues on Egypt, however, the world refuses to repent (Ex. 7:22-23).  They worship and probably seek help from false gods rather than the true God, frustrating his powerful designs to offer them repentance and explaining why God’s patience with them will ultimately justly run out (cf. Rom. 2:4; 9:22).”[20]


[1] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) notes for Revelation 9:1-11.

[2] The Life Application Study Bible, New American Standard Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2000) 2256.

[3] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) notes for Revelation 9:1-11.

[4] The NIV Study Bible, study notes  (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985)  1934.

[5] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 493-494.

[6] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) notes for Revelation 9:1-11.

[7] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) notes for Revelation 9:1-11.

[8] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 268-269.

[9] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) notes for Revelation 9:13-19.

[10] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 270-272.

[11] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 506.

[12] The Life Application Study Bible, New American Standard Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2000) 2257.

[13] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 272.

[14] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 508.

[15] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) notes for Revelation 9:13-19.

[16] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 512.

[17] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 513.

[18] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 515.

[19] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) notes for Revelation 9:20-21.

[20].Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 273.

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