The Little Book of the Revelation - Eighth in a series
Chapter 8 begins with the breaking of the seventh seal followed by one-half hour of silence. Seven angels standing before God’s throne are given seven trumpets, and another angel comes near to the golden altar that is before His throne. This angel has a vessel full of incense, a censer (like a bowl), and the incense is combined with the prayers of God’s people. These are mixed with fire from the altar and cast upon the earth.
Why are the prayers of the saints mixed with ‘much’ incense? (Rev 8:3) Would it be because our prayers are so often unguided by the Holy Spirit and in need of purification from self interest— a bad smell?
- The first angel sounds his trumpet and a third of the earth and trees and all the green grass are burned up. (Rev 8:7)
- The second angel sounds and a great, blazing mountain-like object is thrown into the sea which becomes blood, destroying marine life and ships. (Rev 8:8-9)
- The third angel sounds and a great star, ‘Wormwood,’ falls on a third of the rivers and springs, turning them bitter so that people are poisoned. (Rev 8:10-11)
- The fourth angel sounds and a third of the sun, moon and stars are darkened, so that a third of the day and the night are without light. (Rev 8:12)
There will be three more trumpets associated with three woes.
At the start of Chapter 9 the fifth angel sounds. John sees a star fall from heaven to earth “and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.” The ‘star’ angel opens the pit and smoke and strange locusts emerge. Their role is not to further hurt the earth but only to torment those men who are not marked by God’s seal in their foreheads, for five months. This is the first woe.
- And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven fallen unto the earth: and there was given to him the key of the pit of the abyss.
- And he opened the pit of the abyss; and there went up a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.
- And out of the smoke came forth locusts upon the earth; and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power.
- And it was said unto them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree, but only such men as have not the seal of God on their foreheads.
- And it was given them that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when it striketh a man.
- And in those days men shall seek death, and shall in no wise find it; and they shall desire to die, and death fleeth from them.
- And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared for war; and upon their heads as it were crowns like unto gold, and their faces were as men’s faces.
- And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions… (Rev 9:1-12)
Who or what are the locusts?
Here, let us consider the rich symbolism in the Revelation. Across the centuries, its readers and preachers have struggled to discern whether certain figures are men or symbols. Reading commentaries is a way to travel across time and gain perspectives on historic movements which seemed to fit the events described by John.
In Chapter 1, we saw golden candlesticks and stars which Christ identifies as churches and their angels.
‘That woman Jezebel’ of the church of Thyatira (Rev 2:20) was not a woman named Jezebel but one who modeled the behavior of Ahab’s wife who cut off the prophets of Israel and frightened Elijah out of his wits. (Books of Kings)
There are the riders on the four horses, but whom do they represent? Are they not forces of evil led by the one on the white horse who is the Antichrist? Which antichrist? Is he a spirit or a real man? And, more pertinent to this study, is he the beast or the false prophet?
We are clear on the person of Jesus who is seen by John throughout the book, but in one verse (Rev 5:6) he is seen as a lamb, and some have written that the angel of Revelation 10 is Christ.
The Revelation and its unique symbolism challenge the mind to understand what is being said. All agree that no one can fully understand the many descriptions and visions of the people, creatures and events in the book.
Thus it is when we read of locusts emerging from a pit, we see them as demons; but is their torture of men physical or might it be a mental torture? Are they military drones on a mission? Or could they picture the truth that Shakespeare presented in MacBeth— that remorse which isn’t true repentance is a far worse taskmaster than any actual, cruel overseer? They do have the familiar markings of men and of beasts that speak of vanity, aggression, biting and devouring.
C.S. Lewis wrote in the Screwtape Letters, “There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.”
In his book, the enemy is God, who wants us to consider our ways and make decisions to follow in his footsteps. Satan instead draws our thoughts away from deciding and doing, to questions about potential consequences and whether they will be so terrible.
One thing is very plain in the Revelation: the consequences for those who hate God and his ways will be beyond grim or devastating. They will be indescribably horrifying. Make no mistake.
Perhaps the machinations of remorse, grief, regret, anger, hatred, self-loathing (temporary) and other such mental tortures are the provocations of the locusts of Chapter 9. If so, God is reaching out to fallen man. There is no statement here that none repented.
And what of the symbolism of ‘five months’—the length of time that the locusts torture the rebellious people? It is one month short of a half year, and this brings to mind the three and a half year period that defines the time of:
- the antichrist’s reign (Dan 7:25; Rev 13:5)
- the protection of Israel by God (Rev 12:6, 14)
- the gentiles trampling on the holy city (Rev 11:2)
- the testimony of the two witnesses (Rev 11:3)
Could there be a time for remorse, an opportunity for reflection, mental self examination, also at times called ‘prayer,’ and for repentance, before the beginning of the three and a half years?
Would there be only a month left before the start of a new phase of judgment beginning with the sixth trumpet?