The Sounding or the Fifth and Sixth Trumpets. Rev. 9, 1-21.

The falling of the star: V.1. And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth; and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. V.2. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose 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. V.3. And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth; and unto them was given power as the scorpions of the earth have power. V.4. And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree, but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads. Here is a picture which presents extraordinary convulsions in nature in order to teach the coming of great upheavals in the Church: And the fifth angel sounded his trumpet; and I saw a star fallen out of heaven to the earth, and to him was given the key of the pit of the abyss. John saw this star, not in the course of falling, but as having fallen, as ready to begin his fearful work of destruction. He was given the key to a fearsome cavity, to the pit of the abyss, the abode of the devil and his angels; he received the power to bring men into this abode of darkness and damnation.

John now relates that the fallen angel made use of his power: And he opened the pit of the abyss, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun was darkened, and the air, from the smoke of the pit. The pernicious activity of the wicked fallen star is here shown, by which dark and poisonous vapors from the abyss of hell were unloosed. It was not a small and temporary phenomenon, but one which brought forth such a dense cloud of hellish smoke as to obscure the sun himself and to render the entire air murky. This evil was afterward made still worse: And out of the smoke there came forth locusts upon the earth, and to them was granted power as the power which the scorpions of the earth wield; and it was told them that they must not injure the grass of the earth nor any green thing nor any tree, but only those men that do not bear the seal of God upon their foreheads. So the dense and poisonous vapor resolved itself into a swarm of infernal spirits in the form of locusts, which were rendered more dangerous by the additional power of stinging like scorpions. The enemies of the believers, of the Church of Christ, are often compared to locusts, both on account of their great number and because of their destructive ness, Jer. 46, 23; Amos 7; Joel 1. However, their power was not unlimited, since they were expressly told that they must not injure the vegetation which the Lord had still permitted to stand, and since they were not allowed to harm the elect of the Lord, who bear the seal of the heavenly Father and of the Lamb on their foreheads, chap. 7, 3.

The plague of the locusts: V.5. And to them it was given 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 he striketh a man. V.6. And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them. V.7. And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men. V.8. And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions. V.9. And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle. V.10. And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails; and their power was to hurt men five months. V.11. And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon. Here the devastating spirits are described in detail. It is said of them, first of all: And it was granted to them that they should not kill them, but should torture them five months; and their torture is as the torture of a scorpion when it strikes a man. The scorpion signified a vicious and dangerous opponent, whose attacks were always attended with excruciating pain, and might prove mortal. For a long time, for five months, but incidentally a definite time, fixed by the Lord, beyond which they did not dare to go, the evil hordes were to vex Christendom. The torture was almost unspeakably severe: And in those days men will seek death and will not find it, and they will desire to die, and death will flee from them. The very withholding of death, under this refinement of torture, would result in intensifying its power; the tortured people crave in vain for some surcease of the torment, desiring death itself in preference to this torture. But this boon would be denied them.

The impression of the destructive activity of the hordes is heightened by their appearance: And the appearance of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle, and on their heads what resembled crowns like gold, and their faces like faces of men, and they had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like those of lions; and they had scaly plates like iron coats of mail, and the sound of their wings was like the noise of many chariots rushing to battle; and they had tails and stings like scorpions, and in their tails was their power to injure men five months. This description is partly fanciful, partly realistic, the former being true of the crowns gleaming like gold and of the antennae waving like a girl’s long hair; the latter, of the shape of the head, of the segmented, scaly body, of their omnivorous appetite, and of the whirring noise made by them when in flight. The description is completed by the naming of their leader: They had over them as king the angel of the abyss, whose name is in Hebrew Abaddon, but in Greek he has as his name Apollyon. Surely a fitting name for the ruler and leader of the devastating hordes, for it means Destroyer.

The interpretation of this entire picture, vv. 1-11, in the absence of authentic explanation by the Lord Himself, presents the same difficulties as most of the other pictures in this book of vision and prophecy. So much seems to be certain that the fallen star is an exceptionally great teacher, but one that has fallen away from the pure truth. His doctrine is one that savors of hell and destruction, and the result of its promulgation is that the pure saving knowledge of God is darkened on the earth. Moreover, he will gain many adherents, whose heresy would act as a spiritual plague in the midst of Christendom. For where the precious Word of God is despised and not accepted in true faith, there God will finally take this Word away and permit false and soul-destroying doctrine to be taught. And finally, the fact that the leader of the false believers bore the name Destroyer and had the power to torture apostate Christendom for five months, indicates that he was a mighty ruler and great warrior, whose destructive activity would vex also the true children of God.

This description may be applied to at least two historical movements of great extent. Luther writes: “The first woe, the fifth angel, is the great heretic Arius and his companions, who tormented Christendom so terribly in all the world that the text well says the pious people would rather have died than to have witnessed all of it; and yet they had to see it all, and could not die. He even says that an angel out of hell, called the Destroyer, is their king.... For not only in a spiritual manner, but also bodily, with the sword, they persecuted the true Christians.” 3) Arius was a presbyter of the congregation at Alexandria in Egypt at the beginning of the fourth century, who introduced the terrible doctrine that Christ was not true God with the Father, but a mere creature. In spite of all efforts of faithful teachers to have this doctrine put out of the Church, since it overthrows the very foundations of Christianity, Arianism persisted for several centuries, being spread very rapidly by various Germanic nations that had accepted it, during the so-called migration of nations. It was a truly terrible visitation upon such Christians as were members of the Church in name only, but proved a torture also for the faithful few that clung to the doctrine of Scriptures. Other commentators find in this fallen star and in the hordes that followed him, led by the angel from the abyss, the Pope and his entire hierarchy. And it is true that every detail of the picture as here drawn may well be applied to this antichristian system in all its ramifications, to this day the greatest enemy of the Church of Christ in the whole world. Would that all true Christians had their eyes opened to see and understand this fact and to comport themselves accordingly!

The sounding of the sixth trumpet: V.12. One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter. V.13. And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, v.14. saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates. V.15. And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour and a day and a month and a year for to slay the third art of men. V.16. And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand; and I heard the number of them. The apostle here inserts a remark which has a deep significance: The first woe has passed; behold, there come still two woes after this. There will never be a time of complete peace and rest for the true Church of God until the end of the world, and all dreams of the Chiliasts, or Millenialists, will come to naught. As disciples of Christ, we must bear His cross, both individually and collectively, until the great day of the revelation of His glory.

The apostle still has the picture of the heavenly temple before him as he describes the sixth trumpet blast: And the sixth angel sounded his trumpet; and I heard a single voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel that had the trumpet, Loosen the four angels that are bound on the great river Euphrates. The Euphrates, at one time the eastern boundary of the Jewish territory and of the people of God, was to be the starting-point of this new woe. It was the single voice of the Lord that sounded forth from the midst of the four horns of the altar of gold. He, to whom all power is given in heaven and in earth, is able to restrain the angels that are about to work destruction, but He is also able to give them leave, if men will not accept the Gospel, and to send terrible woes upon the heretics and their followers.

This quartet of angels brought ruin immeasurable: And there were loosed the four angels that were prepared for that hour and day and month and year to kill the third part of men; and the number of their troops of cavalry was two hundred millions; I heard their number. The four angels of destruction had been kept for just this time, and such was their power that they were able to kill, to bring spiritual death, upon the third part of men. By means of an almost innumerable horde of horsemen the angels worked the ruin of which the seer speaks. This picture is so definite that few believing commentators hesitate about identifying the movement with that of Mohammedanism at the beginning of the seventh century. “The second woe is the sixth angel, the infamous Mohammed with his companions, the Saracens, who with doctrines and with the sword laid great plagues upon Christendom.” 4) This false prophet, a descendant of Ishmael, set himself the task of finding a system of doctrines that would please all men. From the Jews he accepted circumcision and many other ceremonies; to the heathen he catered with his carnal license and polygamy; from the Arians he learned the little he knows about Christ; from other heretics he borrowed the doctrine of works by which men would merit heaven in the sight of God. At first the progress of this false prophet was slow, but after he had once gotten a foothold, his followers, in hordes of fanatics numbering countless thousands, overran large parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe.

The further description of the seer confirms this interpretation: V.17. And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire and of jacinth and of brimstone; and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouth issued fire and smoke and brimstone. V.18. By these three was the third art of men killed, by the fire and by the smoke and by the brimstone which issued out of their mouths. V.19, For their power is in their mouth and in their tails; for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt. V.20. And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues, yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood, which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk; v.21. neither repented they of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their fornication nor of their thefts. The description of the great masses of horsemen enhances the general effect of the passage, to emphasize the terror and destruction of this great plague: And thus I saw the horses in the vision and those that sat upon them, having coats of mail, of fire and jacinth and brimstone; and the heads of the horses resembled heads of lions, and out of their mouth there went forth fire and smoke and sulfur. Here a host of attacking horsemen is described, with their armor gleaming red, dark-blue, and yellow. They were the instruments of divine wrath. No power on earth alone could stop the robbing and the murdering and the burning of these fiends. The heads of lions which the heads of their horses resembled showed the terrible power, the horrible anger which filled the hearts of the Mohammedan hordes, fire and smoke and sulfur issuing out of their mouths: By these three plagues were killed the third part of men, by the fire and the smoke and the sulfur which went forth out of their mouths. It was and is a murderous fanaticism with which the followers of Mohammed wage war, all the abominations of the abyss of hell being employed by them in their attempt to spread their false doctrine.

It is as St. John writes: For the power of the horses lies in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails resemble serpents, having heads, and with them they do injury. That is the secret of the power of this false prophet, the false, alluring doctrine which comes forth from his mouth. The tongues of his teachers are truly inflamed of hell with a disastrous fire, a veritable mystery of iniquity. The old serpent, Satan himself, is their inspiration, and wherever they lift their heads, injury and destruction follows.

And now John makes an almost incredible statement: And the rest of men, that were not killed in these plagues, yet repented not of the works of their hands, not to worship demons and idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they repented not of their murders nor of their magic arts nor of their fornications nor of their thefts. Even as Pharaoh hardened his heart in spite of the many evidences of God’s power performed in his sight, even as the children of Israel in the wilderness refused again and again to turn to the Lord in true repentance, in spite of the many miracles by which He sought to influence them, thus it has ever been in the history of the world. The Lord may send ever so many plagues, wars, pestilences, famines, and yet, as soon as He withdraws His chastening hand, men harden their hearts once more and refuse to repent of the works of their hands, of their idolatry, of their abuse of the name of God, of their murders and adulteries and robberies, bath great and small. Truly, this is a description of the abyss of human depravity, such a picture as we see but rarely in its entirety, although glimpses are seen often enough in these last days before the coming of the Lord in glory.

Summary. The prophet, in the description of the falling star and of the hordes of locusts swarming up from the pit of hell, draws a picture of some of the chief false teachers that have ever vexed Christianity; and, in a Similar manner, in the countless horsemen coming from the Euphrates, foretells the rise of Mohammedanism with its fake doctrines and all its attendant horrors.