The fifth and sixth trumpets symbolize demonic powers. They terrorize unbelievers with spiritual destruction and pain. These evil beings bring spiritual destitution and famine. They parallel the plague judgments of the Old Testament.
The symbolic nature of the trumpets shows us unseen effects of demonic forces God permitted to punish rebellious sinners. While remaining under God’s sovereign control, these celestial beings torture unbelievers with the consequences of their own sinful actions. Like in the fifth trumpet, God allows Satan to inflict despair to those who remain under his wrath. And in the sixth trumpet, God attacks the reprobates with death and destruction as judgement for their own greed for power.
Yet despite of these woe-warnings from God, unbelievers will not repent. Instead, they continue to harden their hearts before God. Reprobates deserve the punishment due them because they refuse the gospel preached to them and continue to persecute those who brings them God message of reconciliation.
So let us continue of our sermon series this morning about the Seven Seals. But before we begin, let us pray.
The Fifth Trumpet
Verses 1-12: “And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them. In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon. The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come.”
There several details we need to understand from this section. First, who is the star who fell? Second, what is his purpose? Third, what effect did he bring to unbelievers?
Satan is the star who fell from heaven. Jesus directly referred to him in Luke 10 where he said:
And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven. (verses 18-20)
Jesus was talking to his disciple who reports that even demons are subjecting themselves under the rule and authority of Jesus. We can read here that Jesus wants them to understand how he gave Satan the authority to bring punishment to those who oppose him. Yet his power is limited only to reprobates and not to the elect. The purpose of Satan’s presiding power over the keys of hell is bring God’s judgement to rebellious sinners.
The method Satan uses to inflict pain and death to unbelievers is symbolized here by serpents and scorpions. These poisonous animals give their victims painful and paralyzing stings that last for minutes and even hours. They sometimes lead to deaths.
This picture of death by pain from Luke 10 when combined the locust plague judgement of Egypt completes the symbol portrays by John in Revelation 9. Going back to our fifth trumpet, we now know the fallen star is Satan, the scorpions represents painful death, and the swarming locust symbolizes judgement against God’s enemies. So what effect then did Satan and cohorts bring to these heart-hardened people?
Modern interpretation of these passages are often described as high tech military helicopters, tanks, and planes. John allegedly foresaw the future, our technologically advanced future, and uses agricultural language to communicate what he saw because it was the only way he can best illustrate what they were. But that is not true. Instead, John uses Old Testament symbolic language to explain the demonic nature of God’s punishment towards these rebellious sinners. The locust plague explains the spiritual destruction evil brings and the scorpion symbol picture spiritual despair. The last apostle wants us understand that while God protects his elect, Satan brings suffering to his loyal subjects. That while God is our good shepherd, Satan is like a thief who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10)”. This is what the name Apollyon means and represents.
Before, we leave this point, I would like us to again understand how good our shepherd to his sheep. Compared to Satan who victimized his own followers. Jesus, on the other hand, “came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10)”. It is more than material prosperity as some teaches. John wants us to reflect here the protecting nature of God as our good shepherd. Jesus said:
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep (John 10:11-15).”
John admits that even the disciples did not understand these words Jesus spoke to them while he was still with them then (verse 6). Yet surely, the weight of these words suddenly was felt when their remember the importance of God’s protection over evil. God personally takes care of his people he does not delegate it to some hired hands. No, he protects us by his own life and we live in peace in the midst of dying world knowing our Savior died for sake and continually protects us and leads us away from harm.
The Sixth Trumpet
Verses 13-21: “Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths. By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound. The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.”
We come now to our sixth trumpet and for this section I would like us to focus on three things. First, what is the symbolism of Euphrates. Second, what are these twice ten thousand times then thousand? Lastly, what effect did they bring to unbelievers?
The beyond the east of the Euphrates rivers is a place for exile for the Jews and a threat to the Roman Empire. In the Old Testament, it is place where Babylon, Assyria, and Persia reside. For a time, the surviving tribe of Judah settle there during their exile away from Jerusalem. And for Romans, that place is often besieged with attacks from barbaric Parthians that continued to disrupt the “peace” of the empire. And according to John, from this place comes a great multitude of attacking army numbering to twice ten thousand times ten thousand. If we do the math on these numbers, we come up with two hundred million. What does it symbolize? Well, the ten thousand times ten thousand spans from generation to generation and it portrays a multitude. The number two is often one short to becoming three and far from perfect seven so they are not the people of God.
Modern interpretation says is the great army from China because of the reference towards east and only in China now is possible to come up with that megaton kind of army. But generally it means any war driven by a leader drunk with power and greed and controlled by the demonic powers of Satan. Our generation is not exempted from wars that leads to the destruction of multitudes. We have two World Wars in our most recent past and we may have another one in the future. As long as sinful men are left to their own devices, without the restraining power from God, they will eventually bring destruction to all living creatures.
So unbelievers perish under the tyranny of their own sinful desire and it resulted to their own death and destruction but what effect does it bring?
Wars, famines, and even death reign and we expect all these punishing effects of God’s wrath will bring repentance to rebellious sinners but the opposite is true. These events only hardened their hearts before God. As described in verses 20-21, “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.”
Six months under this pandemic, I realize that the “spiritual” behavior of people did not change. Their apathy towards spiritual things remain unchanged. Yes, I noticed some are more prayerful now compared before but I cannot help but think it is primarily because of the fear of death due to this pandemic. They have no peace and the thought of perishing because of this pandemic tortures them to death. Instead of hungering and thirsting after the righteousness of God, most people easily gave up church and even satisfied with “online services”. Instead of longing to gather with the saints, several choose to simply survive and continue living without God and without the grace and peace the Gospel brings. A dead heart is dead to the things of God and only the regenerating work of God can change it from a hard heart of stone to a soft heart of flesh.
May we continue to examine ourselves in the midst of this pandemic. May the Lord continue to regenerate and convert his people.
ZCRC(Imus), as God’s people, it is our Great Shepherd who protects us and brings judgment to those who oppose his rule. Let us remember how God takes care of his own and soberly understand how the devil brings despair, pain, slaughter, and death to his own followers. May we continue to be “more diligent to confirm our calling and election (2 Peter 1:10).” Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.