The Tormenting Locusts (Revelation 9:1-12)
This earth has seen many natural disasters. A hurricane killed 1,000,000 in Bangladesh in November 1970. A flood killed 900,000 in China in October 1887. A landslide killed 180,000 in China in December 1920. An earthquake killed 830,000 in China in February 1556. Because we live in a fallen world, natural disasters will continue to plague man until the Lord comes again.
Revelation 9 uses imagery from a natural disaster, a locust plague, but make no mistake: Revelation 9 does not depict a natural disaster. This trumpet blast continues the theme presented by the other trumpet blasts: judgment upon Rome. Let’s examine this text to see what we can learn about the locusts.
Their Abode, vv 1-2
When the fifth angel sounded, John saw a star which had fallen from heaven.
It is important to note that the perfect tense is used in Greek; this means that John did not see star fall, but he saw it when it had already fallen. He saw this star in a fallen state. That this star fell from heaven probably indicates that he received his authority from God—He had to receive authority from God, for he opens the bottomless pit, a place of torment for wickedness. His opening the bottomless pit causes us to picture the pit as securely locked. In the Ancient Near East, well shafts were often covered and locked.
When he opened the pit, smoke rose from the pit; the sun and sky were darkened because of the smoke.
This smoke’s arising from the pit causes us, quite frankly, to think of the texts on hell where a great fire is pictured. Thinking of hell is appropriate, for this bottomless pit seems to be a place of punishment. When Jesus cast demons out of a man, “they begged Him that He would not command them to go out into the abyss” (Lk 8:31). Satan was bound in the bottomless pit for a thousand years (Rev 20:1-3).
The locusts about to be unleashed upon the world seem to be some type of demonic beings: demons, Satan’s angels, or the like. Although demons do not possess people today, we still struggle against demons (Eph 6:12)—they aid Satan in his work. But notice that since God empowered the star who unleased these demons on the world, they are subject to him. They cannot do whatever they want.
Their Mission, vv 3-6
Locusts came upon the earth from the smoke.
The idea of this plague comes from the eighth plague against Egypt (Ex 10:14-15). In the Old Testament, locusts are a sign of destruction. Take, for example, Moses’ promise for Israel if they were disobedient: “Locusts shall consume all your trees and the produce of your land” (Deut 28:42). These locusts are going as a destructive force about the earth. In the ancient world, a locust plague was viewed as the wrath of the gods. Locusts in the Middle East are quite unlike locusts here. Locusts there are bred int eh desert, and they then invade cultivated areas in search of food.
These locusts were given power as the scorpions of the earth have power. These locusts neither look like scorpions nor are they scorpions. They were given the power of scorpions—to torment people.
These locusts only have the power to torment those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. This refers back to the sealing of God’s servants in Revelation 7:1-8. Again, the idea is that God protects his servants—he was protecting the early church from the calamities about to befall the Roman Empire and he will protect us from his wrath at the end of the age.
The locusts were given authority, not to kill men, but to torment them for five months; their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man.
The locusts could torment for five months—five months is the lifespan of a locust. The torment was like that of a scorpion when it strikes a man. The sting of a scorpion is extremely painful. An ancient writer said that the poisonous wound of a scorpion is a slow, tortuous death—he said the sting was almost always fatal to women and children, but only occasionally to men.
In the days of this torment, men would want to die. We see people who are so best by disease or injury that they actually wish to die—those in our text wish to die. Aeschylus said, “Not justly do mortals hate death, since it is the greatest deliverance from their many woes.” Herodotus relates the address of Artabanus to Xerxes, “There is no man, whether it be here among the multitude or elsewhere, who is so happy as not to have felt the wish—I will not say once, but full many a time—that he were dead rather than alive. Calamities fall upon us, sicknesses vex and harass us, and make life, short though it be, to appear long. So death, through the wretchedness of our life, is a most sweet refuge to our race.”
Did you notice the mission of these locusts? To torment men so much so that they desire to die rather than to live.
Their Appearance, vv 7-10
The shape of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle—this probably refers to the swiftness of the locusts, but it could refer to the fact that they do battle against the enemies of God.
On their heads were crowns of something like gold and their faces were like the faces of men. The crowns probably show that they receive authority from their king to execute this vengeance.
Their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ death. Their long hair refers to their strength. Samson’s strength resided in his hair (Judges 16). Their teeth being like lions’ teeth would depict their fierceness of these locusts.
They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and they sounded like chariots with many horses running into battle. Their breastplates being irons depict their invincibility; they have no vulnerable spot. Their sounding like chariots with many horses running into battle depicts them as if they were a vast army.
They had tails like scorpions, and there were stings in their tails. This goes back to their tormenting men as the scorpions torment men.
Notice that this picture of their appearance is a frightening one. This picture is intended to be frightening, for their mission of tormenting men is frightening.
Their King, v 11
These demons have a king over them; they are not acting on their own.
Their king is the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and his name in Greek is Apollyon. Abaddon means “destruction,” and Apollyon means “destroyer.” These names hep us identify this angel of the bottomless pit as Satan. It is he who wants to destroy mankind: “Your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet 5:8). It is he who is bound in the bottomless pit (Rev 20:2-3)—from Revelation 20:2-3, we deduce that Satan belongs in the bottomless pit.
Who better to be king over the demons from the bottomless pit besides Satan?
What can we learn from this text that aids us in this modern world?
- Demons are active in this world—While they do not possess people today, they do aid Satan in his work.
- God protects his people—The demons were only permitted to torment those who did not have God’s seal on their foreheads.
- Life can become so unbearable that men desire death over living.
- Satan reigns over the demons; they serve at his command.
This is the first woe, but two are yet to come. God’s judgment came upon the Roman Empire—that judgment has come. God’s judgment will come upon the world at the end of the age—that judgment is yet to come. Are you ready for that judgment?