Revelation 9 – The Fifth and Sixth Seals
“Then the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the abyss. He opened the shaft of the abyss; and smoke rose up from the shaft, like smoke from a huge furnace. The sun and air were darkened by the smoke from the shaft. Then locusts came forth from the smoke and onto the earth. They were given power like the power that scorpions have on the earth. They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree. They could only hurt the people who didn’t have the seal of God on their foreheads. The locusts weren’t allowed to kill them, but only to make them suffer for five months—and the suffering they inflict is like that of a scorpion when it strikes a person. In those days people will seek death, but they won’t find it. They will want to die, but death will run away from them.
“The locusts looked like horses ready for battle. On their heads were what seemed to be gold crowns. Their faces were like human faces, their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. In front they had what seemed to be iron armor upon their chests, and the sound of their wings was like the sound of many chariots and horses racing into battle. They also have tails with stingers, just like scorpions; and in their tails is their power to hurt people for five months. Their king is an angel from the abyss, whose Hebrew name is Abaddon, and whose Greek name is Apollyon. The first horror has passed. Look! Two horrors are still coming after this” (verses 1-12).
The first four seals affect nature directly and pressure humanity. The next two seals directly target humanity specifically. This is a judgment on the world to produce repentance (change of mind and behavior).
The fifth seal is the unleashing of the locusts from hell. These are not man-made, specifically they are described as originating from “the abyss.” Their king is “Abaddon” (Hebrew) or Apollyon (Greek). The name would translate into English as “Destroyer.” According to Jesus, Satan’s “job description” is to “steal, kill, and destroy” [see John 10:10].
Their target and time frame of the locusts are specific. For five months they are given reign to torture but not kill humans. Their power is likened to the scorpion, whose sting is an intense burning sensation. Death will not be possible [9:6] even though it is sought/desired during these five months. The reality is that death would bring an eternity of misery worse than what they are experiencing. Even in wrath, God is showing mercy.
“Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the gold altar that is before God. It said to the sixth angel, who had the trumpet, ‘Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.’ Then the four angels who had been made ready for that hour, day, month, and year were released to kill a third of humankind. The number of cavalry troops was two hundred million. I heard their number. And this is the way I saw the horses and their riders in the vision: they had breastplates that were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The horses’ heads were like lions’ heads, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and sulfur. By these three plagues a third of humankind was killed: by the fire, smoke, and sulfur coming out of their mouths. The horses’ power is in their mouths and their tails, for their tails are like snakes with heads that inflict injuries” (verses 13-19).
The sixth seal releases four angels from the Euphrates River. These have been prepared for this moment. They are given power to kill one third of the world’s population. In Revelation 6:8 one fourth of humanity is killed. This adds up to 58% of the world’s population as of March 1, 2015 and would be about 4.3 billion dead. They command 200 million cavalry troops. A tendency has been to mistakenly identify these as the number of troops at the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:16).
The words translated 200,000,000 is literally “two, myriad, myriad” or “two, ten-thousand, ten-thousand.” The latter translation would be the three numbers multiplied together to equal 200 million. (As of 2010 India had about 600 million people available for military service and a standing military of 1,325,000. China has a standing army of 2.285 million with a reserve of 2.3 million. The largest army in the world is Vietnam with 5.5 million active and reserve. The number could also indicate two separate groups of ten-thousand each. However the Greek understanding of “myriad” was “uncountable.” The point is this number might mean “two infinities times infinity” as a dynamic equivalency.
What are these things? How would John, a first century writer, describe our war machines? He has no language to name them so he describes them in common images. Another idea is that John is describing creatures that we have not yet begun to be able to think could possibly exist.
The rest of humankind, who weren’t killed by these plagues, didn’t change their hearts and lives and turn from their handiwork. They didn’t stop worshipping demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood—idols that can’t see or hear or walk. They didn’t turn away from their murders, their spells and drugs, their sexual immorality, or their stealing (verses 20-21).
The point of the seals comes down to Revelation 9:20 – 21. Humanity will NOT repent. The pressure increases but hearts only harden. Punishment or correction does NOT bring change, repentance, or reformation. At this point the world clings to worshiping demons and idols. A demon, in the Bible, is a fallen angel. An idol is a substitute for God. Yet people stick to the worship of the false gods. They do not turn from murders, sorceries (spells and drugs), sexual immorality, and stealing.
Revelation 10 – “The Mystery”
God does not tell “all.” The only thoughts we can know are revealed by God. There are two types of revelation, general and special. First, “general revelation” involves what can be observed and what can be deduced or known intuitively.
- “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—God’s eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through the things God has made. So humans are without excuse” [Romans 1:20].
- “Heaven is declaring God’s glory; the sky is proclaiming his handiwork. One day gushes the news to the next, and one night informs another what needs to be known. Of course, there’s no speech, no words— their voices can’t be heard— but their sound extends throughout the world; their words reach the ends of the earth” [Psalm 19:1 – 4].
- “Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt and do evil things; not one of them does anything good” [Psalm 14:1].
- “God has made everything fitting in its time, but has also placed eternity in their hearts, without enabling them to discover what God has done from beginning to end” [Ecclesiastes 3:11].
The second type of revelation is called “special revelation.” Special revelation has three sources: the Bible, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
- Bible: “In the past, God spoke through the prophets to our ancestors in many times and many ways” [Hebrews 1:1].
- Jesus: “In these final days, though, he spoke to us through a Son. God made his Son the heir of everything and created the world through him” [Hebrews 1:2].
- Holy Spirit: “However, when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all truth. He won’t speak on his own, but will say whatever he hears and will proclaim to you what is to come” [John 16:13].
God does NOT tell us everything. John tells us, “When the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and don’t write it down” [Revelation 10:4].
John is invited to heaven to view what was to come from Jesus’ perspective. He records what he sees, as it is happening. To John this is historical, to us it yet to happen (assuming a “futurist” reading is correct).
For whatever reason we are not told; John is prohibited from writing down the seven thunders. From this we see God demonstrating His control over information, the understanding of information, and the application of that information. Either this information would be something misused or completely misunderstood. Either way there are two images from the Old Testament. Daniel is told to “seal up” the information given to him. Ezekiel is told to eat the scroll.
Despite the fact there is much God does not reveal to us, there is much that He does. This information is vital to us. What is God revealing to us in this chapter? In verse six we see that God “lives forever.” God has no beginning or end. The implication is that of absolute power. No one can seriously challenge God. Verse six also claims that God is the creator. In other words, God designed, made, and sustains creation (heavens, earth, sea, “and that is in it/them”). The implication is that of ownership.
Throughout the Bible there is an interesting theme of “mystery.”
- “May the glory be to God who can strengthen you with my good news and the message that I preach about Jesus Christ. He can strengthen you with the announcement of the secret [mystery] that was kept quiet for a long time. Now that secret is revealed through what the prophets wrote. It is made known to the Gentiles in order to lead to their faithful obedience based on the command of the eternal God” [Romans 16:25 – 26].
- “You’ve heard and seen all this—won’t you admit it? From now on I’ll tell you new things, guarded secrets that you don’t know. They are created now, not long ago; before today you hadn’t heard of them, so you won’t say, “’I already knew them’” [Isaiah 48:6 – 7].
- “God showed me his secret plan in a revelation, as I mentioned briefly before (when you read this, you’ll understand my insight into the secret plan about Christ). Earlier generations didn’t know this hidden plan that God has now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets through the Spirit. This plan is that the Gentiles would be coheirs and parts of the same body, and that they would share with the Jews in the promises of God in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I became a servant of the gospel because of the grace that God showed me through the exercise of his power. God gave his grace to me, the least of all God’s people, to preach the good news about the immeasurable riches of Christ to the Gentiles. God sent me to reveal the secret plan that had been hidden since the beginning of time by God, who created everything” [Ephesians 3:3 – 9].
- “I’m completing it with a secret plan that has been hidden for ages and generations but which has now been revealed to his holy people. God wanted to make the glorious riches of this secret plan known among the Gentiles, which is Christ living in you, the hope of glory” [Colossians 1:26 – 27].
- About Jesus: “Without question, the mystery of godliness is great: he was revealed as a human, declared righteous by the Spirit, seen by angels, preached throughout the nations, believed in around the world, and taken up in glory” [1 Timothy 3:16].
God has always an only had one plan: Jesus. That plan had one purpose: holy people. God asks us to do something with what we know (has been revealed to us).
John’s example is twofold. In Revelation 5 the sealed scroll is opened. In Revelation 10 he is told to eat the little scroll (like Ezekiel). The image of eating is an act of taking into the body. The Bible is not just philosophy. It governs what we do with our bodies, or attitudes, and our behaviors. Eating is also an image of fueling, nourishing, and sustaining the body.
After consuming God’s word, John is told to “prophecy.” He is commanded to tell others what he knows. Notice this message is what has been revealed to him, NOT what he wants to say. This message must come from God and be fully processed by the messenger. It has personally affected him. It is sweet to receive but turns the stomach sour. While the Bible is sweet to enjoy, processing it is difficult. Naturally there is a reaction to it. Sometimes our sensitivities war against the Bible’s truth and it make us sick.
What is God offering? God offers mercy and grace to those who accept and eternal hell for those who reject. God offers the cross, a place of death, to those who would follow Jesus or a place of judgment for those who do not die to themselves and their sins. This speaking of God’s word is both of promise and judgment. We have no choice. This is the will of God.