THE REVELATION OF CHRIST
Lesson Number 17
THE FIFTH TRUMPET
"Then the fifth angel sounded: And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. So the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit. Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months. Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man. In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them. The shape of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle. On their heads were crowns of something like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men. they had hair like women's hair, and their teeth were like lions' teeth. And they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses running into battle. They had tails like scorpions, and there were stings in their tails. Their power was to hurt men five months. And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon. One woe is past. Behold, still two more woes are coming after these things." (Revelation 9:1-12, NKJV)
We are witnessing the reaction of heaven to earth's rejection of the Lord's Christ, and the persecution of His people. Satan has deluded some into believing such reprisals do not take place. These deceived ones conceive of God as incapable of such things. As Peter would say, they are "willingly ignorant" (2 Pet 3:5). There is no excuse for such a distorted view of the God of heaven. Throughout Scripture, the Holy Spirit has presented the Divine nature with such precision that only a hardened heart can miss the message. The judgment of God upon Adam and Eve, Cain, Noah's world, Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Egypt, Tyre, Sidon, and others speaks too loudly to be ignored. The seven nations expelled from Canaan also provide an example of Divine judgment (Deut 7:1; Acts 13:19), together with the overthrow of Babylon, the Mede/Persian empire, and the Grecian principality. The fearfulness of falling into the hands of the living God is also seen in the judgment of Jerusalem for failing to recognize the day of its "visitation" (Lk 19:42-44). There is such a plentitude of revelation on this subject, there is no excuse to remain in fundamental ignorance of it. Any view of God that accommodates the flesh and makes sinners comfortable is inexcusable. The nurturing of man's sinful nature is inexcusable!
We must also exercise care to avoid a mere academic approach to this book-as though the Lord was just passing information to us. The purpose of this vision is not to hone up on our history, or provide us with some interesting views of earthly chronology. This is a message from Jesus to the churches-a message that is relevant to living by faith. Although it is written to the seven churches of Asia, it is not for them alone. Repeatedly the Lord says, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22). Too, a blessing is pronounced upon every individual who reads, hears, and retains the words of this volume (1:3). Additionally, a dreadful curse is pronounced upon anyone who dares to tamper with its message by adding to it or taking from it (22:18-19). It is difficult to conceive of any message being more relevant!
We Must Be Discerning
It is our business to discern what is being said by Jesus. The language of this book confirms its importance. It is not the language of fantasy, but of great sobriety. Eternal issues are at stake. The wrath of the Almighty is declared. The judgment of the wicked is proclaimed. The protection of the righteous is affirmed. The Sovereign control of the Almighty is revealed in all of these things. How our faith needs to take hold of these realities. They will prove to be a deterrent to sin and an encouragement to righteousness.
A Lamentable Condition
In our country, the fear of God is relatively unknown-even within the professed church. Under the direction of the wicked one, a view of the Lord has been developed and perpetrated that is powerless to keep men from sin or involve them in righteousness. Men appear to think little of infracting the Law of God, going on in sin and unacceptable behavior without a twinge of their conscience. It is a time of appalling apostasy that demands the proclamation of the message of Revelation. Jesus did not countenance godless toleration, indifference and lukewarmness in the churches of Asia, and He will not tolerate it today. He rained down judgment upon His enemies in early centuries, and He will do it today.
Every person does well to allow this book to stir their spirits to the nature of spiritual life, the disposition of God, and the traits of the reign of Jesus. The Lord is favorably disposed toward those living by faith, who have embraced and follow His Son. He will see to it that the world is governed with them in mind. But for those who choose to live with God and His great salvation pushed into the background, He will orchestrate the affairs of this world to work against them, contributing to their final demise and ultimate removal from His presence.
Heresy and Divine Judgment
In this section of the Revelation, we will see that the spread of heresy was nothing less than a judgment from God. The professed church had become so lethargic it had become God's enemy. Not only were true believers oppressed by the heathen, they were also oppressed by those claiming identity with the Lord Jesus-the nominal church. Tradition and empty formality ran roughshod over the Christian community as nominal Christendom took upon itself the character of the world. Thus, judgment came from heaven. If ever there was a time when this message was relevant, it is our time. The enemies of God have become more assertive because the professed church has retreated into the darkness of indifference. The real people of God can scarcely find a place of refuge from Satanic initiatives. Throughout our country there is a remnant who hunger and thirst for righteousness, yet are being limited by powerless preachers and lifeless churches. Like a great thief, institutionalism has arisen to plunder the souls of men. The condition has not gone unnoticed! God in heaven has seen the plight of His people!
THE FIFTH TRUMPET IS BLOWN
"Then the fifth angel sounded: And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit." Earlier, John beheld a star falling from heaven (8:10-11), but this is not what he sees now. This is a star that has already fallen from heaven to the earth. The NASB refers to "a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth." Scripture often uses the word "star" to denote one occupying a lofty position. The Lord Jesus, for example, was prophesied to be a "Star out of Jacob" (Num 24:17). The lofty angels are also referred to as "morning (or, very bright) stars" (Job 38:7). Satan himself, referred to as "Lucifer, son of the morning," is depicted as a star fallen from heaven (Isa 14:12). Just as Isaiah's prophecy applied to a person with Satanic traits ("the king of Babylon"-Isa 14:4), so this trumpet includes the idea of someone of Satanic character bringing a scourge upon the earth. When the early disciples began to make inroads into Satan's empire, Jesus' explained their success by saying, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (Lk 10:18).
The language is precise, and we must give heed to it. This is not star from heaven coming to the earth, as found in the Lord Jesus. It is a star already "fallen" to the earth. Christ's entrance into the world (or more precisely, His work in the world) was the evidence of humility. He came on a mission from heaven that required laying aside Divine prerogatives. But this is not the nature of the star confronted in the fifth trumpet. This is a fallen star - one in a state of moral and spiritual decline. His is an evil mission that, like Satan, reflects his fallen nature. Too, whereas Christ's mission involved elevating men into "heavenly places" (Eph 1:3; 2:6), the activities of this fallen star are confined to the cursed realm of earth.
Related to the First Four Trumpets
The first trumpet is blown because of what occurred when the first four trumpets were sounded. It represents an acceleration of judgment. However, we are now introduced to the unleashing of Satanic powers. Here is evil more directly related to hell than anything before it. The terrors that now come upon the earth are beyond the realm of nature. They will transcend military aggression, as spiritual forces are unleashed in the world.
Godly men like Tertullian were persuaded the star that fell from heaven was Satan himself. Others, like Arethas, Bede, Vitringa, and Alford feel it was an evil angel. Wordsworth believed an apostate Christian teacher was meant. Notable scholars like Andreas, Bengel, and De Wette were convinced this was a good angel which permitted wicked powers to rise. Still others identify the fallen star with certain evil emperors.
There is a sense in which all of these views are true. Ultimately, the power of the fallen star is traced to the devil himself (9:11). Satan, in his work upon the earth, always works through an agent. In the garden of Eden, it was a serpent. Since then, it has been wicked and available men. Too, religious corruption has proved to be his most influential stratagem in opposing the saints. Add to this the fact that Satan cannot left his finger without Divine approval, and you have all of the varied interpretations fulfilled.
I take this "fallen star" to mean the devil himself. Ultimately, he is the one behind all moral and spiritual misrepresentation and decline. With remarkably precise words, Isaiah spoke of Satan's fall. "How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High. Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, To the lowest depths of the Pit" (Isa 14:12-15).
Just as the ultimate exaltation was that of the Lord Jesus, with all other exaltations subordinate to His, so the ultimate falling is that of Satan, with all others subordinate to his. All spiritual demise is ultimate traced to him, and is governed by God.
The Key to the Bottomless Pit
Notice, the key to the abyss was "given" to this fallen star-to Satan himself. This is an occasion under Divine control! Hell cannot spread its malignancy until granted from the Throne to do so! I have said it before, but must do so again. The devil cannot operate at will. He is under the Governor, and his horde of locusts cannot be released simply because he desires it. He cannot obtain or use the key that unlocks evil unless it is given to him! This is intended to be a comfort to the godly. It is also intended to warn the ungodly that their conduct may very well give God a reason to loose the powers of darkness. It is God Who possesses the key to the bottomless pit. He can lock it or open it; restrain iniquity or allow it to flourish.
The principle seen in this trumpet is alarming. Spiritual degeneracy becomes the occasion of the temporary triumph of evil. Through it, the forces of hell are unleashed, and great wickedness is promoted. Several times in this book, the success of Satan is associated with spiritual degeneracy. Men simply cannot fall away from the truth without Satan being given an advantage. Do you wonder why the Apostles zealously charged the church to awake from sleep (Rom 13:11-12)? They knew a lethargic church would surely occasion the rise of evil, the promotion of delusion, and the opening of the bottomless pit. A weak church is an unspeakable liability.
THE BOTTOMLESS PIT IS OPENED
"And he opened the bottomless pit . . . " O, what a dreadful picture is this! The "bottomless pit" is mentioned seven times in the Revelation (9:1,2,11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1,3).
The "angel of the bottomless pit" is none other than Satan himself, called Abaddon and Apollyon-the Destroyer (9:11). Later, a "beast" rises from this region to make war with the saints, and even to "overcome" them (11:7). We will find this to be political, or governmental, power. Another "beast" also rises from the "bottomless pit" to oppose the saints (17:8), which will be identified as corrupt religion. Before the book is concluded, a mighty angel possessing the key to this abyss will restrain Satan, whereas his influence is loosed in our present text (20:1-3). Bless God, the devil is a controlled adversary, else there would be no hope for mankind!
If this were all of the information we had about the "bottomless pit," it should drive believers to so live as to constrain God to keep the pit shut. No person realizing the depravity of this pit will ever want it to be opened, or its contents spewed out among men.
A Figurative View
From a figurative point of view, the "bottomless pit" is seen in the depraved nature of fallen man. The capacity of men for evil staggers the imagination of the most prodigious thinkers among our race. Little wonder Jeremiah exclaimed, "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?" (Jer 17:9). Those who do not flee to Christ for refuge are oblivious to their own capacity for evil. From time to time we hear of barbarous and atrocious acts of individuals that go beyond all reason. An example of the pervasive effect of such depravity is seen in the world of Noah's day. "Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually . . .The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence" (Gen 6:5,11).
The Lord's description of how He found His people, Jacob, again illustrates the depths to which humanity has fallen, and the evil of which it is capable. "For the Lord's portion is His people; Jacob is the place of His inheritance. He found him in a desert land And in the wasteland, a howling wilderness . . . " (Deut 32:10). The fallen human nature is like a wild beast in a barren wasteland-not to be trusted, and capable of enormous deeds of evil. The unregenerate nature, still resident in the saved, has a dreadful capacity-"bottomless"-for iniquity. Little wonder it is described as "dead in trespasses and sins," the place where the Satan now works (Eph 2:1-2). Such as live under the dominion of that nature are "children of wrath," who are "condemned already" (Eph 2:3; John 3:18). Think of descriptions like "having no hope and without God in the world" (Eph 2:12), "being past feeling" (Eph 4:19), and "corrupt according to the deceitful lusts" (Eph 4:22). Ponder being "once darkness" (Eph 5:8), under "the power of darkness" (Col 1:13), and "alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works" (Col 1:21). Who among us does not fear the unlocking of such debauched powers!
Take care, child of God, not to feed this part of your nature, lest it be unlocked, and you suffer the consequences!
I understand it is not fashionable to speak in this manner, yet our day demands that we do so. Men are lingering on the edge of the "bottomless pit," unaware of its depth. Too, others are oblivious of the fact that as they neglect God's "great salvation," they move closer to the abyss. Remember, the key belongs to the Lord! He can lock or unlock blessing and cursing as well. "It is a fearful think to fall into the hands of the living God!"
Smoke Rises from the Pit
" . . . and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. So the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit." Here is a vivid depiction of delusion, and its effects upon the minds of men. This is nothing less than the clouding of men's minds, and the darkening of their understanding. Yet, it is more than that. This is extraordinary delusion, and unusually effective. It is pervasive, successfully obscuring the bright light of the sun and defiling the purity of the air. What a dreadful circumstance!
In my judgment, it is not good to press this figure too far, attempting to limit its meaning by specific historic occurrences. It will be demonstrated in history, to be sure, but the message of this text extends beyond an historic perspective. We are to behold here the things of which Satan is capable when the God permits and restraints are removed. This is particularly true in the area of delusion, or the darkening of the understanding.
Make no mistake about this, the devil can, and does, blind the minds of those "who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them" (2 Cor 4:4). Were it not for Divine restraint upon him, his delusion of "the whole world" (Rev 12:9; 1 John 5:19) would have continued uninterrupted until the heavens are rolled up as a scroll!
An arresting depiction of the judgment of God is provided by Joel. It speaks with the same tones reflected in the passage before us. "Blow the trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; For the day of the LORD is coming, For it is at hand: A day of darkness and gloominess, A day of clouds and thick darkness, Like the morning clouds spread over the mountains. A people come, great and strong, The like of whom has never been; Nor will there ever be any such after them, Even for many successive generations" (Joel 2:1-2).
This entire passage is remarkably like that of Revelation. Joel spoke of a great and strong people who would sweep like a devastating plague over the land. He declared, "Their appearance is like the appearance of horses; And like swift steeds, so they run" (2:4), affirming that fear would grip the hearts of all who saw them (2:6). Like that of our text, this is the language of Divine judgment-fierce and irresistible judgment! Truly, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!"
Locusts Come Out of the Smoke
"Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power." This is no small judgment! Throughout Scripture, locusts are associated with fierce and unrelenting destruction. You may recall the plague of locusts visited upon Egypt. They "covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they ate every herb of the land and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left. So there remained nothing green on the trees or on the plants of the field throughout all the land of Egypt" (Ex 10:12-15). Destruction! The Lord declared His judgment upon Israel in the same language. "You shall carry much seed out to the field but gather little in, for the locust shall consume it" (Deut 28:38). He said He would "command the locusts to devour the land" (2 Chron 7:13). Joel also spoke of utter devastation at the hand of the locust (Joel 1:4). Scripture has associated the locust with Divine judgment, destruction, and devastation. (Psa 105:34; Joel 2:25; Nah 3:15)
In this case, we have a militant delusion-delusion fostered by violence or force rather than mere philosophy. The carriers of this "strong delusion" will spread their misconception by force. We will find an historical fulfillment of this, but it does not exhaust this prophecy. Further comments on this horde of locusts will be made later in this lesson.
The Sending of Delusion
We know from even more specific teaching on this subject that continued rejection of the truth will be judged by God. He will loose, as it were, the forces of hell, sending religious deception to those who refused His Gospel. Hear the Word of the Lord. "The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thess 2:9-12).
We must never forget this book is a declaration of the manner of the Kingdom. It reveals how Jesus is maintaining the government, which is upon His shoulder, and His alone (Isa 9:6-7). Everything He does, whether the opening of the bottomless pit, or the complete exoneration of sinners, is with "cause." He does nothing capriciously, or without a cause. As it is written, " . . . and you shall know that I have done nothing without cause that I have done in it (Jerusalem)" says the LORD GOD" (Ezek 14:23). While our text does not deal with Jerusalem, it does deal with Divine judgment, which is always for a cause.
Whether delusion is perpetrated by those practicing heathen idolatry, the historically religiously-militant Mohammedan, or the Christian sectarian, the effect is the same. Hard hearts are given the lie to embrace, in order that their condemnation might be just, and the truth of God be vindicated. Delusion is inevitable where the truth is not embraced. There is no acceptable alternative to believing the truth!
STRICT DIVINE CONTROL
"They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months." Divine judgment is never out of control, raging like a wild fire. Notice the level of control on this judgment. The militants are "commanded" not to harm anything that is alive. By this, the Spirit means anyone in whom the life of God is found. The people of God will be shielded, as it were, from the delusion that is coming, as Israel was shielded from the plagues of Egypt. "The Lord knoweth them that are His" (2 Tim 2:19), and will not allow their feet to be moved. Notice also the warring carriers of delusion were not given authority to "kill," but only to "torment." Not only that, the time given to them was precise, "five months." Lest any suppose this meant the judgment was not severe, the Spirit will reveal the torment to be so grievous men would prefer death to life, but be unable to find it.
Ezekiel Spoke in the Same Manner
The Lord has familiarized us with this type of language through the prophet Ezekiel. Through him, the Lord spoke of judgment against Jerusalem in the same manner. Fierce judgment was to come against the holy city, but the people identified with God would be spared. In vivid language the prophet writes, "He cried also in mine ears with a loud voice, saying, Cause them that have charge over the city to draw near, even every man with his destroying weapon in his hand. And, behold, six men came from the way of the higher gate, which lieth toward the north, and every man a slaughter weapon in his hand; and one man among them was clothed with linen, with a writer's inkhorn by his side: and they went in, and stood beside the brazen altar." The "six men" were angelic hosts with authority over Jerusalem, like the angels in Revelation had charge of wind, the waters, fire, etc. One was among them with an "inkhorn." His role was to find the people who lamented the condition of the holy city, and place a mark upon them. "And He called to the man clothed with linen, who had the writer's inkhorn at his side; and the LORD said to him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it." The Lord takes note of those burdened by the iniquity around them-particularly when it is found among God's people.
And what will be the portion of those men who lamented over the decadence of the city. Hear the King of glory speak. "To the others He said in my hearing, Go after him through the city and kill; do not let your eye spare, nor have any pity. Utterly slay old and young men, maidens and little children and women; but do not come near anyone on whom is the mark; and begin at My sanctuary" (Ezek 9:1-6). Let us forever purge from our minds any notion that God is tolerant of iniquity! He is righteous, and a God of judgment. He sees both the wicked and the righteous, and will reward both accordingly.
The Seal of God
The tormenters could not touch the servants of God! They were given permission to hurt "only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads." The church, then, has not been removed at this point in Revelation, as some imagine. If this is not the case, we have servants of God, with His seal upon them, who are not in the body of Christ, are not in Christ Jesus, and exist without the influence of the Holy Spirit. It requires a remarkable imagination to conceive of such a thing. It also requires unbelief and a fundamental ignorance of God and His salvation.
The people of God are described here as "the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads." As we have said before, the word "grass" means herbage, or vegetation-like the fresh sprouts eaten by grazing cattle. It is herbage in the state of growth, that has not yet come to maturity. This, therefore, views the people of God as those whose tenure in this world has not yet been completed-who are in a state of growth and are tender. The Psalmist spoke of the people of God as those who "shall flourish like grass of the earth" (Psa 72:16).
These people are also likened to "any green thing." Here the accentuation is placed upon life itself, and not the development of the life. These are people in whom Deity resides, who are living unto God. Jesus, for example, referred to Himself as a "green tree" - one that was living, and filled with Divine life (Lk 23:31). The Psalmist spoke of spiritually flourishing as being "like a green olive tree in the house of God" (Psa 52:8).
Those exempted from the torment are also likened to "any tree," an indication of spiritual stability. The saints are truly "trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified" (Isa 61:3). These are the people who withstand the storms of life, bear fruit to God, and whose roots tap into the water of life.
And what will be the lot of such people? They will be sealed in their foreheads! It adds no strength to the text to think of this as a physical mark, detected by men. This is a mark seen by angelic hosts, not by men. It is in the forehead, because it has chiefly to do with the mind-with the thought patterns of believers. They have experienced the "renewing" of their "mind," and with their minds "serve the law of God" (Rom 12:2; 7:25). These are the people who "mind" the "things of the Spirit of God" (Rom 8:5).
The manner in which people THINK identifies who they really are. Those who cannot think the thoughts of God are simply not of God. They are not sealed in their foreheads!
The Significance of the Forehead
The imagery and significance of the "forehead" was developed under the law. Aaron, the High priest, was to wear a plate of pure gold upon his forehead, upon which was engraved "HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD" (Ex 28:36). His mind was to be occupied with things pertaining to God, and therefore his High Priestly attire reflected that situation.
When directing the prophet Ezekiel, God gave him a resolute mind. This was necessary because he was sent to prophesy to an obstinate people. The determined mind given to him is described as a forehead of flint. "Behold, I have made your face strong against their faces, and your forehead strong against their foreheads. Like adamant stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not be afraid of them, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house" (Ezek 3:8-9). The "forehead," therefore, reflects the condition of the mind.
The seal of God upon the forehead depicts a condition where men think like God, and are therefore identified with Him. This is nothing less than having "the mind of Christ," an integral part of being conformed to His image (Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 2:16). It is not common to hear such things, but those who do not think like God, or whose mind is not "controlled by the Spirit" (Rom 8:6, NIV), have no evidence of identity with the Living God. Such will not be protected from Satanic delusion. The only other kind of mind that can be possessed is a "carnal mind," which is "enmity against God." Such a mind "is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Rom 8:7).
It is tragic beyond description that much of what parades itself as Christian is actually at variance with God. Not only are the thoughts of countless professed Christians unlike Christ's, they are at variance with Him. Our text, while declaring fierce Divine judgment, affirms that such people will not be protected from the cloud of delusion that will be released upon a world saturated with unbelief. The hedge has been removed from all such individuals.
Other References to the "Forehead"
In addition to the passage in the 9th chapter of Ezekiel, the Spirit refers elsewhere to the "forehead" being marked. You may recall that the devastating sixth plague was held back until God's servants were "sealed in their foreheads" (Rev 7:3). These same sealed ones are also referenced in 14:1. Again, this is an aspect of regeneration called being "be renewed in the spirit of your mind" (Eph 4:23).
The infamous mark of the "beast" is said to be received either "on their right hand or on their foreheads" (Rev 13:16). This is no more an external mark than the seal of God upon the forehead. It is symbolic language denoting conformity to the devil's delusion. It is either found in DOING what he says, whether willingly or unwillingly (in the right hand), or subscribing in the mind to his manner of thought (in the forehead). Those receiving this mark are mentioned again in 14:9. Such, we are told, "drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation" (14:10).
Later in Revelation, we are introduced to the false church-the fabrication of the devil himself, offered as a adulterous substitute for the church of the living God. That spiritual harlot also has a name written on her "forehead." The name reminds us of its devilish thought patterns, and alliance with the world. The name is "MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH" (17:5). That is an appropriate description and chief trait of false religion - deviate thinking!
The real people of God are not only characterized by thinking that reflects the mind of their Savior. They also are noted for NOT thinking as the world and corrupted religion. Thus the martyrs are described as they "who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands" (20:4). They did not think like the world, nor did they serve its interests.
The ultimate experience of the saints of God will include the total absence of wayward and unwanted thoughts. Without obscurity, and in glorious clarity, they shall behold their King "face to face," and bask consciously in His presence. How marvelously this is stated in the last chapter of this book. "They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads" (22:4).
This conformity in the mind begins now-in this day and time. Now is the time to have our thought patterns changed. They will not be changed when the world ends. "The mind of Christ" will not only prepare us for dwelling in Christ's presence, it will protect us from the delusions of the wicked one. Any representation of Christianity that leaves people with a worldly mind-set is false to the core. It is to be rejected with haste, for it will force one into a state of delusion. Only the truth makes men free (John 8:32,36). I am persuaded that multitudes of professed believers have yet to be convinced of this fact. The scarcity of truth, and the limited quest for it, confirms this to be so.
A DREADFUL SCOURGE
"Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man. In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them." Remember, Divine restraint is placed upon this assault. It was not "given" to the devil's messengers to take life. The condition brings the affliction of Job to mind. While the occasion differs, the circumstance is somewhat the same. In Job's case, Satan could not take his life, but was granted authority to afflict him. Who can forget the words of the Lord, "And the LORD said to Satan, Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life" (Job 2:6). The issues of both life and death belong exclusively to God Almighty. As it is written, "He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto GOD the Lord belong the issues from death" (Psa 68:20). Only God can set both "life and death" before us (Deut 30:19). Satan, while he had "the power of death" (Heb 2:14), could never exercise that power without Divine approval.
It is imperative that the saints of God perceive this, for it will sustain them in the time of trial. This does not mean no harm will ever come to believers, and those who suppose this to be the case will be shaken by life's circumstances. What it does mean is that all trials of God's people are monitored and controlled. He will not allow them to be tested beyond their measure of endurance, or to be tried beyond their ability (Cor 10:13). An example of this is found in the godly king Josiah. The sins of previous generations were going to be visited upon Judah. Notwithstanding, because of the character of Josiah, he was spared seeing that visitation. It is written, "Surely, therefore, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the calamity which I will bring on this place" (2 Kgs 22:20).
Another example of the control of God over His people and their circumstances is found in the Apostles. Jesus sent them into a spiritual wolf pack, informing them they would be opposed, betrayed, and some of them even put to death. Yet He anchored them in the protection of the Almighty, affirming nothing would be beyond His notice or apart from His control. "Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost. By your patience possess your souls" (Lk 21:14-19). The control of the Almighty is so precise that a single hair cannot be lost without His approval. In view of this, Jesus told His Apostles to possess their souls in patience, or through their endurance, they would gain their life (RSV).
Suffering saints need to hear this! The Lord does not hide from us that evils are coming upon our world, just as they did on previous generations. But we will not be left to the caprice of the wicked one! God will make us equal to the occasion, while also commanding the aggressors not to hurt us. It is a true saying, "godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come" (1 Tim 4:8).
Like A Scorpion
Again, this is the language of Scripture. When interpreting figures of Scripture, our first recourse is to the Word itself.
First use of the word
We are first introduced to scorpions in relation to Israel's punitive trek through the wilderness. Of those forty years it is written, " . . . Who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty land where there was no water . . . " (Deut 8:15). In this instance, there were very real scorpions that plagued the people. The point, however, was the jeopardy of the wilderness, in which life-sustaining needs were not found. The desert was marked by peril and pain. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!"
Second use of the word
The second Scriptural reference to scorpions is a figurative one. When Solomon's son, Rehoboam, prepared to reign in the stead of his father, he did not speak kindly to the people. Even though he was advised by the "old men" to speak tenderly to the people, he affirmed he would use threatening language instead. "And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions" (1 Kgs 12:11,14; 2 Chron 10:11,14). Here the term denoted sever punishment, as compared with less harsh chastisement. Some historians apprize us there was a special whip that was called "scorpion." It was designed to inflict unusual pain.
"St. Isidore, and after him Calmet and others, assert that the scorpion was a sort of severe whip, the lashes of which were armed with iron points, that sunk into and tore the flesh. We know that the scorpion was a military engine among the Romans for shooting arrows, which, being poisoned, were likened to the scorpion's sting, and the wound it inflicted." (1)
Third use of the word
The third use of this word is found in the book of Ezekiel. "And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you dwell among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words or dismayed by their looks, though they are a rebellious house" (Ezek 2:6). Here, the word is used to describe people-people who will inflict pain upon the heart and conscience of the prophet. He was to arm himself for their hurtful ways and rejection of his words.
Fourth use of the word
Jesus Himself employs this term in His response to the triumphant return of the commissioned seventy. "Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you" (Lk 10:19). Here the term is associated with the devil himself, whose diabolical army causes spiritual pain and infection among men.
The meaning of the text
"And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power." This plague does not describe destroying agents, but agents of pain, sorrow, fear, and dread. Danger in the midst of spiritual poverty is declared-unparalleled danger. The element of punishment is seen upon those who have rejected the truth, and thus have not the seal of God upon their foreheads. The activity of Satan is also seen. He is working through this pain-inflicting horde to make living painful and difficult among the sons of men.
Not Normal Sufferings
This is not a description of the normal sufferings of life. These are accelerated sufferings, wed to delusion, and augmented by fear.
Life Becomes Intolerable
Here is a judgment in which life becomes intolerable. "And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them." These words produce great sobriety among those believing them. Here is a precursor to the end of the world, in which men will also seek death in preference to confronting the wrath of the Lamb (Rev 6:16).
Scripture often describes great anguish in this language-preferring death to life. It depicts a very real situation. However, the emphasis of the language is not the circumstance that produced it, but the effect of the circumstance upon the soul. It describes a condition with which mankind cannot grapple. With all of his wisdom and ingenuity, a condition is brought which can neither be removed nor neutralized by the wisdom of man. Woe to the person who puts his trust in man, man's wisdom, and the inventions of man. God can, and often does, bring circumstances upon men in which their wisdom wilts and their power dissipates.
In Job's lamentation, he refers to a condition where death is preferable to life. "Why is light given to him who is in misery, And life to the bitter of soul, Who long for death, but it does not come, And search for it more than hidden treasures; who rejoice exceedingly, And are glad when they can find the grave?" (Job 3:20-22). In another telling expression that shows the extent to which men can suffer, Job said, "my soul chooses strangling And death rather than my body. I loathe my life; I would not live forever" (Job 7:15-16). Remember, Job's affliction was caused by Satan with the approval of God, just as in our text. But Job's suffering is not to be compared with the greatness of the judgment of the fifth trumpet!
Jeremiah also spoke of a time when death would be preferred to life. "Then death shall be chosen rather than life by all the residue of those who remain of this evil family, who remain in all the places where I have driven them," says the LORD of hosts" (Jer 8:3).
The Extremity of Anguish
This is descriptive of the extremity of anguish. There is a spiritual dimension to both blessing and cursing, pleasure and pain. The lesser and the greater can be found in both benefit and deprivation. Think of this text! Death is the "last enemy," and is universally abhorred and zealously sought to be avoided. Yet, the mighty God can so orchestrate life that death actually becomes a preference. Men will, in such a case, go against nature itself. God be praised for His great salvation!
Our text speaks of a time of Divine retribution - a time in which the influences of hell are released upon those who are not in Christ Jesus, and have not the seal of the Holy spirit. It is a time when men's hearts will fail for fear (Lk 21:26), and yet they will be powerless to avert the judgment. The mighty God will not allow them to die, even though they prefer to do so. God has the power to do this! The power of life and death belong to Him alone.
While there is an historical fulfillment of this trumpet, we do well to also think in larger terms. There is no power in history itself. We must behold the Divine principles that are at work in history.
Without controversy, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Judgment awaits all who reject the Son and His salvation-and there are no exceptions!
THE MESSENGERS OF DESTRUCTION
The point of this text is not to paint a physical portrait of the messengers of pain, but to emphasize the effectiveness with which they come. This is symbolic, or apocalyptic, language that underscores the irresistibleness of the judgment of God.
"The shape of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle. On their heads were crowns of something like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men. they had hair like women's hair, and their teeth were like lions' teeth. And they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses running into battle. They had tails like scorpions, and there were stings in their tails."
This same figure of assault is used by Joel, in reference to loss that was temporal, or did not result in death. "So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, The crawling locust, The consuming locust, And the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you" (Joel 2:25). The first and second chapters of Joel should be read in association with this passage. They are the well from which the prophet is drawing this vivid description. He is speaking of torment in the language of the prophet. Joel describes a great nation with locust-like characteristics. It laid the vine waste, stripped the bark from trees, demolished fields, and obliterated corn. Every tree is withered, and the flocks begin to die because there is no food for them (Joel 1:7-18). The adversarial army darkens the very sky. They are like a roaring fire that blazes across the county side. They are so devastating the earth shudders because of them (Joel 2:1-11).
Some Facts About Locusts
One commentator, G.R. Driver, has researched the locusts of the East and affirmed the things attributed to them in Scripture are no exaggeration. We are told they are about two inches long, with a wing span of 4-5 inches. They travel in a column a hundred feet deep, and as much as four miles long. When such a cloud of locusts appears, the effect is like an eclipse of the sun. The destruction they cause is beyond all imagination. When they leave an area, we are told, not a blade of grass is left. Trees are stripped of their bark, and the land looks as though it had been ravished with fire. In 1866, a plague of locusts invaded Algiers. The destruction was so total that 200,000 people died of starvation during the famine that followed. Like Joel's time, these are God's "great army."
The Egyptian plague
This is the type of plague that was sent upon Egypt (Ex 10:4-19). This was a devastating plague. The locusts "covered the earth," so the people could not see it. They ate everything that remained from the hailstorm. They also "ate every tree" that grew in the field. Scripture tells us the Lord brought the locusts into Egypt by means of an east wind. "Previously," we are told, "there had been no such locusts as they." The spoliation left by them is described in these words. "They covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they ate every herb of the land and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left. So there remained nothing green on the trees or on the plants of the field throughout all the land of Egypt" (Ex 10:11-15). This was a very literal plague, with very literal consequences. Nature is under the control of the Almighty!
The Shadow Is Weaker Than the Substance
The plague of Egypt was but a shadow of the plague of Revelation - and the plague of Revelation is only a shadow of the day of wrath, at the coming of the Lord. A Kingdom principle to be seen here is this. The shadow, or type, is always weaker than the substance, or antitype. Thus, the typical lamb of Leviticus was far inferior to the Lamb of God, Who took away the sin of the world. The tabernacle of the Exodus was inferior to the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. The Aaronic High Priesthood was only introductory to the glorious High Priesthood of Christ Jesus . . . etc., etc.
By the same token, the historical locust plagues that have devastated the earth are nothing to compare with the devastation and torment that is inflicted by hosts from the "bottomless pit." This is a demonic plague, and, by Divine decree, is thoroughly effective. We are witnessing an awesome judgment that is infinitely more severe than the gnawing of a locust or the sting of a scorpion. The unleashing of Satanic delusion is something for which nature has no adequate counterpart. In every sense of the word, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!" How zealously we must embrace and contend for the truth while we have it! It is too precious to ignore! Let every soul with insight promote an eager and unsatiable love and appetite for the truth of God!
TORMENT UNDER DIVINE CONTROL
I ever want to keep before you the precision with which our Lord rules. Nothing is ever out of control. All things are being worked together for the good of those who love God, and are called according to his purpose. Too, all things are being orchestrated against those who have been confronted with the truth of God, but have refused His seal in favor of the world's acclamation. God does not take lightly the rejection of His Son!
"Their power was to hurt men five months. And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon." Now, the picture is painted with greater clarity, as the Spirit develops the picture for us. This powerful army has power to "hurt men" to such an extent they will seek death in preference of life. But they operate under the greater authority of the King of kings and Lord of lords. The duration of their power was "five months." For whatever worth it may be, authorities tell us that is considered the life-span of a locust. As you must know, however, that is not the point of the text. This is a controlled period of torment-controlled by God, and even in consideration of the ungodly. God is both Sovereign and merciful, two traits rarely combined among the sons of men. What, therefore, the tormenting army does is limited-they cannot kill, and they cannot touch those with the seal of God upon their foreheads. Also, the duration of their work is limited-it is only for five months.
This is not punishment that extends into the next world. It is reserved for "time." Should "men" fail to profit from this affliction, a far worse thing awaits them in the world to come. While this message comforts saints, it is a warning to sinners.
The expression "hurt men" is not to be taken lightly. The holy angels are not accessible to these forces, but "men." These are not "men" in general, for those aligned with God through Christ are excluded. The people of God will live on in the midst of this furnace of affliction, whether Satan wants them to or not. The "men" to be hurt are godless men. They are individuals who do not have the seal of God upon them-who are not reconciled to God. Such will not have to wait until the judgment day to have their sins visited upon them! "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!"
God Has Left examples
Those who question whether or not such things can happen only betray their ignorance. From the beginning of time individuals and collections of individuals rise to testify that men begin reaping what they sow in this life. The flood still stands as a token of God's intolerance of iniquity. Sodom, ancient Tyre, Nineveh, and even Jerusalem, reveal the judgment of God upon cities. Nations like Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, testify that judgment for sinful nations is not reserved unto the final day.
Let every child of God rejoice in the management of the affairs of men, the orchestration of events, and the consideration of the godly.
Authority was given this host of hell to "hurt men" for five months. First, it is a limited period. Second, it is a specific period. Third, it is a time upon earth. It is not only a time when suffering is restricted, it is also one when the powers of hell are restrained.
Time in Revelation
Various time periods are used throughout the book of Revelation. While there are parallels in history, such time periods generally have to be calculated, with an option to use various methods. While this cannot simply be written off as without merit, it does indicate it is not the primary and most profitable view of the time periods in this book. Notwithstanding, there is some value to be found here.
You will find that the specific duration of these periods is not the primary point. Rather, it is what occurs during that time. Several times, the same period is referred to in different time-terms. For example, 42 months, 1,260 days, and time, times, and ½ a time are all referring to the same interlude. Accounting a month as 30 days, 42 months=1,260 days. Twelve months of 30 days would make a year 360 days long. 3-1/2 years (time, times, and ½ a time), therefore, would also equal 1,260 days. The same period is referred to in different terms because different things are being emphasized.
Suffice it to say, in the expression "five months," a relatively brief period is signified.
There is a way of looking at this passage that has Scriptural precedent. While this view cannot be bound upon men, we will discover it does hold a substantial meaning. We find this method of calculation in the books of Ezekiel, Numbers, and Daniel. Some have considered this to be a significant index. I find no reason to doubt this to be the case. I am personally persuaded this is one of the manners in which God reckons time.
In a most unusual requirement, God told Ezekiel he would, in some sense, bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. He was going to be a sign to the house of Israel (Ezek 4:3). The prophet was told to first lay upon his left side for 390 days. Second, he was to lay on his right side for 40 days, for the house of Judah. He was then told each day stood for a year in God's judgment against His people. "Lie also on your left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it. According to the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their iniquity. For I have laid on you the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days; so you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. And when you have completed them, lie again on your right side; then you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days. I have laid on you a day for each year" (Ezek 4:4-6). What an act of mercy for the holy prophet! What a depiction of awesome judgment for the Jews!
Israel's Judgment in the Wilderness
This is not the first time such a calculation was employed. When Israel searched the land of Canaan for forty days, returning in unbelief, they were judged by God. They were assigned a wilderness wandering of forty years-one year for each day they spied out the land in unbelief. The judgment reads this way. "According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection" (Num 14:34).
Daniel's Messianic prophecy
There is yet a third employment of this type of calculation in Scripture-i.e., a day counting for a year. It is found in the book of Daniel. The passage deals with seventy weeks associated with the coming Messiah, and is highly controversial in Fundamentalist circles. The passage is found in Daniel 9:24-27. Because of the relevance this has to the understanding of Revelation, briefly dealing with this prophecy will be profitable.
Seventy weeks were set by God as a period in which the following would be accomplished. Transgression would be "finished," and an "end of sins" would be made. "Reconcilation" would also be made, and "everlasting righteousness" would be brought in, the vision would be "sealed," or completed, and "the Most Holy" would be "anointed" (Dan 9:24). The obvious reference to Christ's atoning work and the opening of God's righteousness for humanity ought to be obvious.
The period of seventy weeks is divided into three distinct periods.
(1. Seven weeks, or 49 years (9:25).
(2 Sixty-two weeks, or 434 years (9:25-26).
(3. One week, or seven years (9:27).
While the precise beginning point of the calculations is seen differently by several notable scholars, there is a unanimity among them concerning a day standing for a year. The following represents a standard view of the passage.
The first period of seven weeks, or 49 years, belong to the repairing and restoration of Jerusalem. Ezra and Nehemiah were employed in this task for 49 years (453 BC - 404 BC), from the commission of Artaxerxes.
The second period of sixty-two weeks, or 434 years, begins with the completed restoration of Jerusalem (404 BC - 30 AD). That brings us to the beginning of Christ's public ministry.
The third period of one week, or seven years, begins with Christ's public ministry (30 AD). In the midst of the seventieth week, or after 3-1/2 years, Messiah would be "cut off," or die for the sins of the people. The remaining 3/1-2 years take us to the conversion of Paul in 37 AD, when the thrust of the Gospel moved from the Jews to the Gentiles.
The remarkable precision of the day-for-a-year view is difficult to charge to coincidence, or exegetical creativity. Suffice it to say, there is good reason to believe this is a way God calculates time. This being the case, five months would stand for a period of 150 years. As I will show, there is a period of history that precisely conforms to this text. It should serve to confirm to our hearts that we are dealing with reality.
The Leader of the Horde
"And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon." In this matter, these spiritual locusts differ from natural ones. Ordinarily, locusts do not have a leader. As it is written, "The locusts have no king, Yet they all advance in ranks" (Prov 30:27). We are, therefore, speaking of supernatural phenomenon-spiritual militancy, or a delusionary flood.
There should be no doubt in our minds concerning the identity of this leader. Although this is the only place in the Word of God where this name (Abaddon, or Apollyon) is used, it doubtless refers to Satan himself. The name means "Destroyer," or "destroying one."
Some believe it is a reference to death. However, since these demonic hordes have no power to take men's lives, they cannot be led by death. They are operating under the subordinate authority of the devil himself.
Satan is The Destroyer
It was our Lord Jesus Himself Who identified Satan as a destroying one. " . . . the devil . . . He was a murderer from the beginning . . . " (John 8:44). Peter also speaks of him in this capacity, likening him to a "roaring lion" who stalks the race, "seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet 5:8).
The church at Smyrna was told it would suffer tribulation at the instigation of Satan himself. "Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days" (Rev 2:10). Later in the vision of Revelation, Satan is presented as giving power to a spiritual aggressor to "make war with the saints and to overcome them" (Rev 13:1-7). Before Revelation ends, the devil is "released from his prison" to flood the world with delusion. With supernatural energy his armies cover the breadth of the earth in an effort extirpate the saints of the Most High God (Rev 20:7-9). Let no one mistake the character of Satan!
A corrupt view of Satan
There is a corrupt view of Satan that is growing in popularity among many professed believers. It is that Satan possesses no power at all, and the saints have nothing to fear from him. While there is an element of truth to this, it is only an element, and not the entire picture. The devil has, indeed, been "destroyed" through the vicarious death of Christ (Heb 2:14). That destruction, however, is only in the heavenly places! Those who live by faith are in a realm where Satan is restrained. Those who live in the flesh function in a realm where Satan can be loosed.
Believers are warned about the presence of Satan. They are told, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet 5:8). The mighty Apostle Paul once acknowledged Satan had deterred him from coming to the Thessalonians (1 Thess 2:18). With sober tones, the Spirit shouts, "Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time" (Rev 12:12).
Make no mistake about it, Satan is a very real foe, with very real power! Long after Jesus had "destroyed him who has the power of death," the Spirit spoke of those who had "turned aside after Satan" (1 Tim 5:15). Recalcitrant sinners who dared to wear the name of Christ were "delivered to Satan" for the "destruction of the flesh" (1 Cor 5:5; 1 Tim 1:20). He still has "devices" that require alertness on our part, else he will get advantage of us (2 Cor 2:11).
The spirit prophesied of a time when one of Satan's workman would rise "with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception" (2 Thess 2:9). Those who conduct their lives as though Satan were not a formidable adversary are in great error. He is ONLY restrained by God, never by man! On one occasion King Jesus permitted Satan to bring a thorn to Paul, in order that Divine strength might be made known in him. Paul, though given great power, could not repel the visitation or rid himself of the thorn (2 Cor 12:7-9). Let the saints settle it in their minds: they do have a very real foe in Satan!
Here the mighty God gives power to Satan to open the arsenal of hell and gather demonic forces to assault the earth. Limits are placed upon him and his vile armies. They cannot touch any one alive to God-who have the seal of God upon them. Too, they cannot kill, but can only torment. The duration of their work is five months.
Glory, if you will, in the Sovereign God of heaven, and His Christ. The government has been placed upon the shoulder of our Savior, and all is well. He takes into consideration both the godly and the ungodly, and rewards them accordingly. We need not take it upon ourselves to punish the ungodly. God Himself will see to that.
THE HISTORIC VIEW
Remember, we are dealing with the judgment of God upon those who have refused to be aligned with Him. The forces of hell are employed by Christ in this retribution. Those who walk with Christ will be visited by Him. Likewise, those who serve the devil will, under the government of King Jesus, be visited by Satan. Every person must reckon with the one they serve-even in this life!
Recognize, what we behold here is coming from hell. It comes under the leadership of Satan. It also comes under the authority of the Lord Jesus, who alone has the key to the bottomless pit. That key can be used only when it is "given."
Also, the reason for this retribution must be restated. The world, as a whole, had begun to reject the Gospel. Although there was a remarkable spread of the truth at the first, corruption had now set in, and opposition to the truth began to assert itself. Rome joined in the conspiracy to kill Jesus, killed both Paul and Peter, and shed the blood of millions of saints. Asia martyred Philip, Andrew, and Jude. Ethiopia killed Matthew. The Jews killed the prophets, Jesus, Stephen, James the Less, and Matthias. Greece killed Mark, Luke, and Barnabas. India slew Thomas. Africa martyred Bartholomew. Britain killed Simon. The world is not innocent! It has historically aligned itself against the Lord's Christ, and thus experienced the judgment of God. With remarkable deliberation, it ignored the solemn warning of the mighty God. "Do not touch My anointed ones, And do My prophets no harm" (1 Chron 16:22; Psa 105:15).
While we are to have compassion on the world, and endeavor to turn it from darkness to light, we are not to entertain an accommodating view of it. It is neither good nor innocent!
The Rise of Mohammedanism
The introduction and spread of Mohammedanism is one of the remarkable occurrences of history. It came from the East, the land of locusts, lions, horses, and scorpions. Their men were noted for their long flowing hair. Pliny spoke of them as "The turbaned Arabs with uncut hair." Marcellinius and Jerome mentioned "the long haired Arabs."
The leader of this religion was Muhammad, who claimed to be the "Prophet of God," even affirming he was "the Comforter," or Holy Spirit. This was the first aggressive perversion of the Gospel. Muhammad affirmed he was elected of God to preach true religion. He claimed to receive his call from Gabriel the angel. The great prophets, he avouched, included Adam., Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and finally himself-Muhammad. Abraham is regarded as their patriarch, and "father of the faithful." Their teaching also affirms Jesus will return at the end of the world to lead the faithful against the forces of evil.
This awful reign of religious perversity began in 632 AD. They marched out of Arabia like a horde of locusts, determined to subdue the world to Mohammedanism, after all of Arabia had been subdued. In 634, the city of Damascus was taken, and has been Mohammedan ever since. In 634, Jerusalem fell, and a mosque which still remains was erected in the very heart of the city. In 638 Egypt was conquered, as the armies pushed Westward to the Atlantic ocean. In 675, they poured into the borders of Europe, and conquered Constantinople. In 711 they crossed the straits of Gibralter and conquered Spain. In 716 they defeated Constantinople the second time, and in 721 crossed into France in at attempt to conquer Northwest Europe. At this time, their empire of deception extended from Central Asia over Persia, Arabia, Syria, Africa, Europe, Spain, and Portugal. Within 100 years after leaving Arabia, they secured Asia, Africa, and Southwestern Europe. (Universal Standard Encyclopedia and Grolliers Encyclopedia)
Their reign of terror ended in 782 AD, 150 years after it began in 632 AD. While some might be tempted to charge this all to coincidence, I find it most difficult to accept such a postulate. Rather than being noted for butchery and slaughter, they were noted for converting people-even nations-to their religious persuasion. They represent a significant departure from the truth - a loosing of the powers of hell, as it were.
How appropriately they fulfill the vivid description Revelation provides (Rev 9:7-10). The horde of locusts were shaped like "horses prepared to battle"-these militant evangelists swept through the world on horses. The horde of Revelation had "crowns of gold," denoting a reign-precisely describing the spread of Mohammadanism. The locusts from the bottomless pit also had "faces like men," denoting intelligence and strategy-something for which the crusading Arabs were noted. They also had "hair like a woman," describing a certain attractiveness or appeal-also something for which the militant evangelists were noted. But the cloud of locusts also had "teeth like a lion," indicating their devouring and consuming nature-aptly depicting the manner in which this militant religion stole hope and brought hearts into bondage. The army from hell also had "breastplates of iron," denoting crudeness, strength, and a lack of refinement-something which characterized these religious militants. The extreme and aggressive activity of the Satanic messengers was described as "the sound of wings as chariots"-also fulfilled in the non-stop activity of the proponents of error. The presence of the hellish horde was always felt, as depicted by their tails which were "as scorpions"--an appropriate description of the presence of the crusaders of error. When the bottomless pit was opened, hurt and misery followed the invading host, for "stings were in their tails"-a fact fulfilled in the loveless and heartless reign of this corrupt religion.
We are still living under the sway of this religious corruption. In 1973, there were 500,000,000 Mohammedans (called Moslems) in the world. Today, there are over 1,000,000,000 - 20% of the world's population!
While these historical facts do not exhaust the vision's fulfillment, they do confirm to us the seriousness of rejecting the truth of God. Because we live in a nation that is in the very process of rejecting Christ, the relevance of this message ought to be apparent. Regardless of our heritage, we dare not suppose this nation to be exempt from such a judgment! The Word of the Lord is still true! " . . . they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thess 2:10-12). This is an aspect of God that is little known, yet is essential to godliness. We do well to sound it abroad.
MORE IS TO COME!
"One woe is past. Behold, still two more woes are coming after these things." One might dare to suppose Divine judgment had finally been exhausted. Surely the world has suffered enough for its rejection of the truth of God! But this is not the case at all. When once the wrath of God is aroused, fearful things follow! Only one third of the retribution has taken place! More is to come!
Remember, this is Christ's message to the churches! This is an aspect of the Divine nature with which we are to be familiar! How Kingdom efforts would be changed if the reality of this text were to burst upon the souls of men! The rejection of the truth would be viewed quite differently. The lethargic manners that characterize so many churches would no longer be tolerated. What an effect would be wrought in the approaches of men to the preaching of the Gospel! Entertainment and jovial environments would no longer have such high values assigned to them. A professional approach to the service of the King would not seem so needful. The awakening of the soul to the manner in which Jesus governs His Kingdom provokes a different outlook on doctrinal error, sin, and church functions. The slapstick approach to the truth of God, the prominence of humor, and religious careers would lose their popularity.
When men-any men-refuse the truth, malign Jesus, and persecute His messengers, they will be opposed by God! There will be an unleashing of forces against them with which they will not be able to contend. The Lord blinded Israel because they did not believe (Isa 29:9-14; Rom 11:87-11). He brought Jerusalem down because it did not know the day of its "visitation" (Lk 19:42-44). The world itself was flooded with delusion because, after God had sent messengers to its extremities, it chose to reject the truth and kill the messengers. Make no mistake about it, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
We have reviewed a sobering text of Scripture, and you do well to take it seriously. Do not be distracted by theological positions, historical views, or fanciful explanations. The Word of God is not a novelty, and it is essential to spiritual life. The dominating message of this book can be, and must be, understood. It is essential to the people of God overcoming the world. It cannot be ignored or placed to the side in preference of more supposedly palatable sections of Scripture.
If you are tempted to be fearful, remember that the unleashing of the forces of hell was accompanied by Divine restriction. Those with the seal of God upon their foreheads could not be touched by the invading hosts. Nothing living could be harmed! The Lord does not pour out His judgments without due consideration of the godly! In the flood, He remembered Noah. In the destruction of Sodom, He remembered Lot. In the plagues upon Egypt, he remembered the Israelites. God will not abandon those who place their trust in Him!
It is our business, therefore, to culture our relationship to the Lord-to enhance our fellowship with the Son. Divine protection and consideration depend upon our occupation of the spiritual zone of safety-the Lord Jesus Christ! Our souls must abhor and shun anything that moves us beyond the perimeter of blessing. When the things of God become vague, the gap between us and judgment gets smaller. As we cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart, drawing near to Him with a true heart, we are occupying the realm of Divine consideration.
It is good to remember that evil can be unleashed! The key to the bottomless pit can be given to our adversary! The pit can be opened, and a cloud of delusion can cover the places occupied by men! This can be on a personal, national, or even global basis. Every individual is capable of more evil than they dare to imagine. We each have a "bottomless pit" resident in our fallen natures. It is only the grace of God that keeps it from being opened. Our personal growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ keeps the pit closed! Too, every society, regardless of its level of refinement and spiritual advancement, has within it the seeds of corruption-a "bottomless pit." Given leave by God, that pit can be opened, producing unspeakable delusion and defilement. The only way of averting the loosing of Satan and his delusions is listening to and availing ourselves of, the truth of God.
Let every soul be encouraged to seek the Lord with all of the heart, and to pray the Lord of the harvest that He would send forth laborers into His harvest! If His laborers do not go forth, Satan's laborers will! The knowledge of this will enable us to pray more fervently "that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith" (2 Thess 3:1-2). Too, remember those who speak in the name of the Lord! Pray they will "speak boldly," as they ought to speak (Eph 6:20). More is at stake than many dare to imagine!
I cannot close this section without once again reminding you of the faithfulness of God. The consideration of the godly is directly related to the faithfulness of our Lord. "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Cor 10:13). His character will not allow Him to forget the trusting one! Whether you are young or old, your faith in God is not in vain. Do not allow the wicked one to cause you to fear the fierceness of the punishment of the ungodly. Rather, focus upon the exceeding great of the reward of the righteous.
1. Clarkes Commentary on First Kings