Have considered first four of seven trumpets; now “fun” begins. Present portion of Revelation where speculators begin to have field day, arriving at all sorts of interpretations and predictions. Important to remember: if “ground rules” already established for understanding Revelation are correct, they will keep us from getting weird in our interpretation. If book from 4:1 onward represents series of judgments culminating in Second Coming viewed from different perspectives, then we have parallel framework within which to understand individual details.
Also important to note: there is intense spiritual battle that is ongoing and all around us. We are not fully aware of it and its intensity because it occurs in a dimension beyond our sensory capabilities. We know of its existence because of what Bible tells us: e.g.,
Dan. 10:12-14 “Then he said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words.But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty – one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia.Now I have come to make you understand what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision refers to many days yet to come.”
As time of Second Coming approaches, battle will intensify as Satan recognizes his days are numbered and running out. As preeminent agent of unrestrained evil, Satan will commit evil. To extent he can direct his evil actions against Christ and the church, he will. When that is not possible, he will lash out against any target within reach – picture child having head fit: strikes out against anyone and anything without regard for consequences. Satan does likewise: stealing and killing and destroying the ones already on his side. See John 10:10
In picturing this spiritual battle John uses imagery rooted in the Old Testament and familiar to first-century Christians. Remember also his purpose is to comfort and encourage, not frighten; in fact, we should be less fearful when we more fully understand what is happening around us. Christ, Lord of the church, through his servant John encourages saints by reassuring them he will enable them to persevere through hard times. It is not his purpose to rescue the saints from persecution but rather cause them to be purified and strengthened by means of persecution.
A. historical background
What about locusts & scorpions? No RAID to kill them dead in first century! John would always have checked blankets before going to bed, sandals before putting them on – make sure no scorpions hiding there. According to one source, scorpions more of a problem to Marines than Taliban in Afghanistan. Prior to use of pesticides, etc. for crop protection, swarm of locusts would usually mean famine as they ate everything green in their path. Pain and suffering, death and destruction, scorpions and locusts were ideal symbols.
Exodus 10:15 God sent locusts on Egypt in 8th plague, ate everything in sight. Similar locust army in Joel 2:1-11 using scorched earth tactics, leaving nothing behind but famine and starvation. And in Luke 10:19 Jesus told he had given his disciples “authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy”. Jesus compares demons to serpents and scorpions who have ability to torment if not to kill.
So what is John describing? From perspective of earthly experience, he describes the unleashing of spiritual forces of evil. They are given liberty to torment people on earth who are not under God’s protection. Satan by his very nature, fallen of course, is a thief, liar and destroyer. He directs his minions to behave in similar way and all have as target those who are not sealed with name of Christ.
B. fifth trumpet v.1-12
In fifth seal, then during interlude between sixth and seventh seals, John saw church both on earth and in heaven. They were ones sealed and protected from wrath of God. During fifth trumpet John sees corresponding time period but from different perspective – that of unbelievers on earth during period of tribulation between 2 advents.
Angelic being thrown down from heaven, given permission to release demonic forces from place of confinement. Smoke of judgment rises from the pit, reminiscent of sixth plague (soot from furnace that caused boils). Locust army reminder of eighth plague but with difference: locusts in Egypt could destroy everything, these are given strict boundaries within which to operate. Limited to harming only those not sealed by God; not allowed to kill but only torment for 5 months, normal life span of locust and entire time during which locusts could be around (normally around only a few days, then move on).
Appearance is that of legitimacy, seduction and mockery. Crowns, faces like men – the ones who will prevail, who have right to power and authority, appearing like friendly agents. Women’s hair – allure of the world and its pleasures. Teeth of lions – but not character of Lion of Judah, mockery instead. All in all, a gross caricature of Christ and his church. They are suited well to frighten or coerce, minimizing opposition as they relentlessly harass those who have rejected God’s protecting care.
Torment they are capable of waging: certainly anguish of soul and mind, probably physical suffering as well. Only limitations stated: forbidden to kill. Results of torment: desire to escape pain, prefer death to life but unable to achieve relief. Question: how many attempted suicides? how many unexplained illnesses? how many disorders that defy treatment? are at least partly result of demonic forces that bring spiritual famine and hopelessness.
C. sixth trumpet v.13-19
First woe has passed, two more to come and it gets worse, more intense. Angels who in Rev. 7:1-3 restrained God’s wrath do so no longer. Tenth plague took lives of firstborn in Egypt and was last plague before Exodus. Sixth trumpet takes lives of 1/3 of earth’s inhabitants and is last trumpet before New Exodus of God’s people. Voice of command comes from altar where prayers of God’s people are offered; pouring out of judgment comes in response to prayers of the church.
In Old Testament, Euphrates River represented boundary between security and danger, peace and war, home and exile. Nineveh, Babylon, Medo-Persian empire all beyond Euphrates. Was eastern edge of Roman Empire, from beyond which Parthians repeatedly launched attacks against frontier garrisons.
It’s horses from beyond the River that cause harm, horses representing demonic empowerment of world’s armies to wage war on each other. Those who are enemies of God serve the Beast, representative of any government that oppresses God’s people and attempts to force them to worship someone other than Christ. Enemies of God are also enemies of each other and constantly war with one another over territory or ideology.
Consider mid-20th century. Stalin: 20 million lives for the cause of communism. Hitler: 6 million lives for sake of Third Reich. Islam: countless lives lost in war against Christians in 10/40 window and elsewhere. Underlying cause: demonic activity encouraging fallen man to pursue his fallenness and worship of self, satisfying sinful desires.
D. God’s purpose v.20-21
Even after seeing devastation brought by demonic forces, experiencing torments first-hand, response of remaining two-thirds is continued hardness of heart. They persist in sinful behavior, worshiping demons and idols, pursuit of power and possessions – see Rom. 1:18-32. They do not take opportunity to turn from rebellion against God and cry out to him in repentance.
In dealings with people, it matters that we recognize possibility or likelihood for significant spiritual component in the ills they experience. Earliest course of action should be to address relationship with God, then work on relieving symptoms. If God’s purpose in these judgments is to give opportunity for people to come to repentance, we should do all we can to aid that process. Our job is to point people to Christ first, then a good doctor.
We have no indication where we are on eschatological timeline beyond knowing we’re much closer to the Second Coming than John was. We also know from Scripture that even if the second woe is present, another is coming. Which means we must make most of every opportunity to offer hope to hopeless, Christ to the hurting, that they may not experience even worse torment in the age to come.