The Red, Blue, and Yellow Plague (Revelation 9:13-21)
The people of John’s day would have done well to have remembered that above them was another Ruler. Yet, they forgot that God was the ultimate Ruler, and they paid a great price for their forgetfulness.
Tonight, we want to examine this text—the punishment God sent against the world in John’s day—to see what lessons we can learn.
The Releasing of the Angels, vv 13-15
When the sixth angel sounded, John heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which was before God.
Since this altar is placed before God, the voice coming from the altar does not appear to be God’s—this is probably a personification of the altar.
The four horns here symbolize the strength of God, and that the altar is involved here shows that this trumpet blast is a response to the saints’ prayers in 8:3-5. In other words, God has enough power to answer the prayers of his people. “He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him” (Ps 91:15). “I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Lk 11:9).
The voice coming from the altar said to the angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” John then tells us that the angels “had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year . . . to kill a third of mankind.”
These angels were bound at the River Euphrates. This is an important river in biblical history. The River Euphrates served as the eastern border of the Roman Empire. The Euphrates also marked the boundary between Israel and her enemies.
The angels “had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year.” God had waited until just the right time to release these angels. This demonstrates that God does not just unleash punishment, but he does so at the right time. God’s executing judgment at just the right time shows that God punishes rightly, justly. God does not just go about dispensing judgment, rather he does so justly. When God dispenses judgment at the end of this age, he will do it properly—there will not be a single person in hell who shouldn’t be there.
The Releasing of the Plague, vv 16-19
The number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million; John heard the number of them. John is not focusing on the exact number of horsemen. Rather, he is emphasizing that a great, great number of horsemen are going to execute judgment.
The description of the horses.
The riders had breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue and sulfur yellow. It is not at all clear whether each breastplate had these three colors or whether different riders wore breastplates of different colors. The colors of the breastplates match the plagues, the fire, the smoke, and brimstone, by which a third of mankind was killed. The heads of the horses were like the heads of lions—this obviously depicts fierceness. Out of the mouths of the horses came fire, smoke, and brimstone—the plagues by which a third of mankind was killed came from the mouths of the horses; this corresponds with the fierceness of the horses’ faces.
The fire, smoke, and brimstone killed a third of mankind.
The fire, smoke, and brimstone correspond to eternal punishment. Hell is described as “the lake which burns with fire and brimstone” (Rev 21:8). “And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night” (Rev 14:11). I wonder if it’s any coincidence that fire, smoke, and brimstone are associated with hell and with punishment here. The killing of only one third of mankind probably signifies that—although this is severe punishment—the punishment of God is not yet ended.
The power of the horses is in their mouth and in their tails.
The power is in their mouth, for the fire, smoke, and brimstone, which kill a third of mankind, come from their mouths. The power is in their tails for the reasons that John here makes clear—Their tails are like serpents, having heads; and with them they do harm. Their tails inflict the same torture as serpents do.
The Releasing of Repentance, vv 20-21
Those who did not die from the plagues administered by the horses released themselves from repentance; they refused to repent.
Those who were not killed by the plagues did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk.
Two-thirds of mankind did not repent of the works of their hands—“the works of their hands” is a Semitic euphemism referring to idolatry; these people did not repent of their idolatry.
These people refused to repent of their worship of demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. The syntax of this sentence connects demons and idols as the same thing—the meaning is that the people refused to repent of their worship of demons, which are idols. Satan, through his demonic forces, had convinced much of humanity to worship idols. In pledging allegiance to these idols, men were actually pledging allegiance to demons and worshiping them.
These idols are made of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. John is showing how the worship of idols makes no sense. Instead of being powerful to help—as is the true God—these idols could neither see nor hear nor walk. These idols were impotent, powerless to save. These idols were just dead pieces of stone and wood. Juxtapose that to the true God, the Creator of the universe, the One who has unmeasurable power.
These people did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.
These people had many sins for which they refused to repent. This demonstrates that the purpose of these plagues is not only to answer the prayers of the saints; the purpose is also to encourage repentance. Repentance is vital to salvation; one cannot be saved without repentance “I tell you nay; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Lk 13:3). “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19). This mass of humanity refused to give up their sin, but they hanged onto it.
If we are to avoid God’s wrath, we must repent. Have you repented of your sins?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.