Why Do People Refuse to Repent? Revelation 9:20-21

Sins of Jezebel (1953)After the devastation of the first six of the trumpets, the people of the earth do not repent of their idolatry (Revelation 9:20-21). This description of idolatry is consistent with the Old Testament, idols are things crafted by men that cannot do anything (Ps 115:5-7; 1 Cor 10:20). Standing on the foundation of texts like Deuteronomy 32:17, Revelation 9:20 says the worship of idols is the worship of demons. This is certainly the same view of idolatry as other Second Temple Jewish literature:

1 Enoch 99.6–7 “Again I swear to you, you sinners, for sin has been prepared for the day of unceasing blood. 7 (And those) who worship stones, and those who carve images of gold and of silver and of wood and of clay, and those who worship evil spirits and demons, and all kinds of idols not according to knowledge, they shall get no manner of help in them.

Testament of Judah 23.1 “My grief is great, my children, on account of the licentiousness and witchcraft and idolatry that you practice contrary to the kingship, following ventriloquists, omen dispensers, and demons of deceit.

The people of the earth do not repent of any of their offenses: murders, magic arts, sexual immorality, and thefts.” Three of these four are in the ten commandments (murder, adultery, and theft). The fourth, “magical arts” is sometimes translated “sorcery” (φάρμακον). Although this particular offense seems out of place alongside three of the Ten Commandments, the related φάρμακος describes the Egyptian magicians in the Septuagint (Exod 7:11; 9:11). Sorcerers or magicians are among those consigned to the Lake of Fire in Revelation 21:8 and 22:15.

The Old Testament often associated sorcery and idolatry. For example, 2 Kings 9:22, Jehu says there can be no peace in Israel because of the many “the whorings and the sorceries of your mother Jezebel.” Magicians are associated with sexual immorality in some Second Temple literature. For example, in the Testament of Reuben 4.9 Egyptian woman used magicians and potions for him to entrap Joseph sexually.

In the Temple Scroll idolatry and magic are abominations which will result in exile:

11Q19 Col. lx:17-20 Among you there should not be found anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass 18 through fire, anyone who practices divination, astrologers, sorcerers, wizards, anyone who performs incantations, anyone who consults a spirit 19 or oracles or anyone who questions the dead; because all those who do these things are an abomination to me. 20 And owing to these abominations I shall dispossess them before you.

I suggest the immediate context of idolatry and sexual immorality is participation in festivals and banquets honoring Roman gods, perhaps even the imperial cult. The letters to the seven churches often warned believers to repent (2:5 (2x); 2:16; 2:21, 22; 3:3; 3:19). In the case of Thyatira (2:18-28), the use of Jezebel clearly associates idolatry and immorality, as in 2 Kings 9:22, “the whorings and the sorceries of your mother Jezebel.”

That the people of the earth refuse to repent after the sixth trumpet is consistent with the sixth seal. Rather than repent, the people of the earth call on the rocks and mountains to hide them from the wrath of the Lamb. Greg Beale draws a parallel to the conclusion of the plagues in Egypt, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh (Revelation, 517). He argues there is a “theological purpose” to these warnings, God is providing sufficient opportunities for repentance so that he may demonstrate his sovereignty and justice when he finally judges those who are not sealed by God when the seventh trumpet sounds (11:18).

Like the plagues on the Egyptians in Exodus, the plagues in Revelation 7-9 are not evangelistic. They are fair warnings by the sovereign God that final judgment is coming soon even if the ones who are warned are have no interested in repenting.

The Sixth Trumpet:  An Uncountable Army – Revelation 9:13-21

When the angel sounds the sixth trumpet a voice from the golden altar commands the angel to release the four angels who have been bound at the great River Euphrates. These four angels command a massive army which will kill one-third of mankind.

Clone Warriors

Who are these four bound angels appointed for this task? In Revelation 7:1 four angels were holding back the four winds. Aune thinks Revelation 7:1 and 9:13 refer to the same four angels (2:537), Charles does not (1:250). Since these angels are bound at the Euphrates River, they seem to be a different set of four than 7:1. Revelation does not identify these angels and it is unlikely they are four archangels, Michael, Gabriel, Suriel, and Uriel (1 Enoch 20:1).

There are a few references to destroying angels in Second Temple apocalyptic, although there are no examples of four angles appointed for the task.  First Enoch 66:1 refers to “the angels of punishment who are prepared to come and release all the powers of the waters which are underground to become judgment and destruction unto all who live and dwell upon the earth.”

The Euphrates River is to the north and east of Jerusalem and many of Israel’s enemies in the Old Testament came from the east. Both Assyria and Babylon came from beyond the Euphrates River. After the exile Judea was controlled by the Ptolemies in Egypt to the south and the Seleucids in Syria to the north.

From the perspective of the late first century, the Euphrates could refer to eastern edge of the Roman empire. The Parthian empire controlled the east and Rome was concerned to control their eastern frontier against them. Since the Parthians were fierce warriors who used horseman in battle, many commentators interpret this large cavalry as a reference to the Parthians. Sibylline Oracles 14.66 refer to the “arrow-shooting Parthians of the deep-flowing Euphrates.”

The Sibylline Oracles refer to the Parthians several times. “Then the strife of war being aroused will come to the west, and the fugitive from Rome will also come, brandishing a great spear, having crossed the Euphrates with many myriads” (Sib. Or. 4.137–139). In 13.122–124 the “fugitive of Rome” crosses the Euphrates “with many myriads, who will burn you down and dispose everything badly.”

The size of the army is enormous, “twice ten thousand times ten thousand” (δισμυριάδες μυριάδων). Since the word myriad (μυριάς) refers to a very large, imprecise number (BDAG), Aune suggest the phrase be translated as “uncountable” (Aune 2:539). Psalm 68:17 describes an angelic army in similar terms, “The chariots of God are tens of thousands and thousands of thousands.” In 4 Ezra 13:5, Ezra sees “an innumerable multitude of men were gathered together from the four winds of heaven to make war against the man who came up out of the sea.” The man from the sea is a messianic figure based on Daniel 7.

Although popular prophecy teachers often associate this large number with China, a massive empire to the east of modern Israel, that is not at all the point of this massive uncountable army. A better explanation is to see this army as a demonic horde. The description of these demonic soldiers is intentionally horrifying:

Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The breastplate probably refers only to the riders, there are many examples of breastplates for horses.

The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions. A horse is not a terrifying animal, but a horse-sized animal with a head of a lion certainly is! Aune compares this lion-headed horse with “the widely distributed depictions of the Chimaera” (Aune 2:540).

Out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur. Fire-breathing creatures are associated with judgement in early Jewish texts. For example, in Job 41:19 Leviathan breathed fire. Beale suggests these creatures allude Job’s description of Leviathan, associating these beasts “with Satan and his deceptive work” (515).  Fourth Ezra 13 the messianic figure breaths fire on the uncountable multitude utterly destroying them.

4 Ezra 13.8-11 After this I looked, and behold, all who had gathered together against him, to wage war with him, were much afraid, yet dared to fight. 9 And behold, when he saw the onrush of the approaching multitude, he neither lifted his hand nor held a spear or any weapon of war; 10 but I saw only how he sent forth from his mouth as it were a stream of fire, and from his lips a flaming breath, and from his tongue he shot forth a storm of sparks. 11 All these were mingled together, the stream of fire and the flaming breath and the great storm, and fell on the onrushing multitude which was prepared to fight, and burned them all up, so that suddenly nothing was seen of the innumerable multitude but only the dust of ashes and the smell of smoke.

Their tails were like snakes, having heads with which they inflict injury. Like the locust in Revelation 9:1-11, the tails of these beasts are deadly.

As Greg Beale suggests, “the sixth trumpet intensifies and develops further the woe of the fifth” (Revelation, 513). The demonic oppression in the fifth trumpet had the power to torment, but not kill. This sixth trumpet kills one-third of the earth. Neither this destructive army nor the locust in the fifth trumpet refer to modern warfare or modern nations. They depict terrifying demonic oppression.

Who is Abaddon? Revelation 9:11

The last line of John’s description of the demonic locust rising from the bottomless pit refers to their king, Abaddon in Hebrew or Apollyon in Greek. Both words mean Destroyer.

Although Proverbs 30:27 states the locust have no king, there is a reference to the king of the locust in LXX Amos 7:1. The Hebrew reads “after the king’s mowing” although translating the final three words of 7:1 is difficult since the Hebrew גֵּז is rare. The Septuagint translation of Amos 7:1 is considerably different than the Hebrew Bible: “Thus the Lord God showed me and look, the offspring of locusts is coming early, and look, one locust is Agag, the king” (LES2). The name Agag is associated with the Amalekites; in 1 Sam 15 Saul was command to attack Agag, king of the Amalekites.

This translation understands the Greek Γώγ, Gog, as Agag. The NET of the Septuagint translates this as “Gog, their king.” It is likely the translator read the Hebrew word גֵּז as Gog (גּוֹג). The same confusion appears in the LXX of Numbers 24:7, the king is Agag but the LXX has Gog. While it is tantalizing to hear an echo of Ezekiel 38-39 and a foreshadowing of Revelation 20:8, the evidence that Gog is the king of the locust is thin.

The name Abaddon appears only here in Revelation, although the word אֲבַדּוֹן is found in the Hebrew Bible a few times with reference to the abode of the dead, in parallel with Sheol (Job 26:6; Prov 15:11). In Job 31:12 it is also a location: “a fire that consumes as far as Abaddon.” Later rabbinic literature used the term for the place of punishment for the wicked (Grether, “Abaddon,” ABD 1:6).

The name is found in several fragmentary Dead Sea Scrolls as a location of the dead (the pot, sheol, etc.)

1QHa Col. xi:19-20 I thank you, Lord, because you saved my life from the pit, and from the Sheol of Abaddon 20 have lifted me up to an everlasting height, so that I can walk on a boundless plain.

1QHa Col. xi:32 The torrents of Belial break into Abaddon. The schemers of the deep howl at the din of those extracting mud.

4Q432 Frag. 4 i:4 [And when they rush forth, Sheo]l [and Abaddon open; all the arrows of] 5 [the p]it [make their voice heard] while going down [to the abyss; and the gates of Sheol] «open» 6 [for al]l […] the deed[s of the serpent.

4Q504 Frags. 1–2 viir:7 the earth and all its schemers [… the] 8 great [abyss], Abaddon, the water and all that there [is in it …]  9 all its creatures, always, for centuries [eternal. Amen. Amen.]

In Revelation 9:11Abaddon is not a location but rather the “king of the locust.” In Greek, the name of the king is Apollyon, the destroyer. The Greek is related to the word ἀπολλύναι, “to destroy” but also to the name Apollo (Charles, 1:246). David Aune suggests an allusion to Nero since he claimed to be Apollo and was “identified with Belial in some early Jewish literature” (Aune, 2:535).

However, Beale suggests Abaddon/Apollyon refers to “the angel is that of the exodus plagues” (504). During the tenth plague a destroying angel swept over Egypt. Unfortunately, “destroyer” is a participle of ὀλεθρεύω rather than ἀπόλλυμι. Jubilees 49:2 calls this angel Mastema. LXX Psalm 77:49 refers to “evil angels” active in the plagues.

That Abaddon or Apollyon is associated with the Egyptian plagues would be consistent with the first four trumpets which also alluded to the plagues.

The Fifth Trumpet: Locust from the Abyss – Revelation 9:1-12

As the angel sounds the fifth trumpet, John sees a strange locust plague rising out of the bottomless pit like smoke. As with the other trumpets, this locust plague evokes the plagues on Egypt. This chapter is an excellent example of why we need to ground our reading of Revelation in its first-century context: the locust are NOT helicopters, drones, soldiers with jetpacks, or whatever new technology known today. These locusts are the ultimate demonic army which will be released in the last days.

The eighth plague was great plague of locust, such as has never been before nor will be again (Exod 10:14; Pss 78:48; 105:34-35). Ezekiel the Tragedian associated darkness and locust in the Egyptian plagues: “Darkness I’ll decree for three whole days, and locusts send, who shall the residue of food consume and every blade of grass” (EzTrag 1.144–146).

The curses for unfaithfulness include locust plagues (Deut 28:38; 1 Kings 8:36). Amos 4:9 describes a locust plague as God’s judgment on Israel and Jeremiah 46:23 describes the armies of Egypt as “more numerous than locusts; they are without number.” Huge enemy armies are uncountable locust (Judg 6:5; 7:12).

Since locusts are associated with a terrifying army of enemies who strip the land bare, a locust plague was a natural metaphor for a great final battle. Joel 2 uses a locust plague in Israel as a metaphor for an eschatological army descending on the land “like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come” (Joel 2:2).

Locust breed in the desert regions and can travel in a column as deep as one hundred feet and as long as four miles (Mounce, 186).  Usually locust strip the land of all vegetation, but these locusts do not attack vegetation, but rather who are not sealed by God. This is the opposite of the normal activity of locust, they eat plants, not people!

But these are not ordinary locust (Rev 9:7-9). There is an Arabic proverb that says that a locust has the head of a horse, the chest of a lion, the feet of a camel, the body of a serpent, and antennae like the hair of a woman. Each of the items in the description are grounded in the Old Testament and the literature of Second Temple Judaism.

Like other crowns in Revelation, these golden crowns refer to the power that they are given to rule for five months (Aune, 2:532).

Long disheveled hair does not mean these creatures are feminine. Samson and Absalom were both known for their strength yet had long hair. The important difference is this hair is disheveled. D.C. Duling suggests (OTP 1:973, note a) disheveled hair was a characteristic Medusa and is found on Aramaic Incantation Bowls depicting the demon Lilith with disheveled hair. Both the Testament of Solomon and the Apocalypse of Zephaniah describe demons with disheveled hair.

Testament of Solomon 13.1 Then I ordered another demon to appear before me. There came before me one who had the shape of a woman but she possessed as one of her traits the form of one with disheveled hair.

Apoc. Zeph. 4.1-4 Then I walked with the angel of the Lord. I looked before me and I saw a place there. 2 [Thousands] of thousands and myriads of myriads of an[gels] entered through [it]. 3 Their faces were like a leopar[d], their tusks being outside their mouth [like] the wild boars. 4 Their eyes were mixed with blood. Their hair was loose like the hair of women, and fiery scourges were in their hands.

Apoc. Zeph. 6:8 That same instant I stood up, and I saw a great angel before me. His hair was spread out like the lionesses’. His teeth were outside his mouth like a bear. His hair was spread out like women’s. His body was like the serpent’s when he wished to swallow me.

Teeth like iron are proverbial for “something irresistibly and fatally destructive” (Aune, 2:532) and their breastplates of iron imply invincibility.

These demonic locust-scorpions are given the power to torment people for five months. Although their sting is painful, the sting of a scorpions in Judea are not usually fatal to humans. These locust with scorpion tails are only allowed to torment people for five months, but not to kill them.

Why five months? It is often observed that the normal life-span of a locust is 5 months (Charles, 1:243, Aune 2:530, five simply means “a few”) The dry season in Palestine is also about 5 months, the months that are most likely to experience a locust plague. The time limit is an indication that this is not just a capricious torment, but a punishment with definite limits.  It is a warning to the earth, as are the other trumpets.

People “will beg God to kill them, but they won’t be able to die.” This is similar to the description given by Pliny of the eruption of Vesuvius, “People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying.” (Ep. 6.20.14)

Apoc. Elijah 9.1-7 They will desire death but death will flee from them. They will climb onto rocks and jump down on them, and say, “Fall on us!” And they will not die but death runs away from them.

The people tormented by these demonic beings want to die in order to escape the plague but all that awaits them is the lake of fire.

What is the Abyss in Revelation 9:1? 

The word abyss (ἄβυσσος) refers to an “immensely deep space” (BDAG) and sometimes refers to the place of the dead in the Old Testament and other Second Temple Jewish literature. But this “bottomless pit” is more often associated with fallen angels and demonic forces.

In Revelation 9:1 the angel has “the key to the shaft of the abyss” (ἡ κλεὶς τοῦ φρέατος τῆς ἀβύσσου), although this is often translated as “the bottomless pit.” Both the word “shaft” and “Abyss” have articles in the Greek indicating they are well-known to the readers. The word appears seven times, all but twice with reference to a “three tied cosmology,” the angel descended from heaven to earth and then opened the gate of the underworld (Aune 2:525).

The Septuagint translates the Hebrew (thwm, תְּהוֹם) in Genesis 1:2 as ἄβυσσος, “darkness was on the face of the deep.” The chaotic waters are often associated with dark forces in both the Old testament and the literature of the Ancient Near East. For example, in Psalm 77:16, the waters of the deep (תְּהוֹם, ἄβυσσος) tremble when they see the Lord. In LXX Job 38:16 “have you seen the gates of deep darkness (ἀβύσσου)?” is in parallel to “the gates of Hades (πυλωροὶ ᾅδου) in 38:17. In Psalm 71:20 the deep is the place of the dead, “from the depths of the earth, you will bring me up again.”

Although Luke 8:31 implies demons are imprisoned in the abyss, there is nothing in Revelation that specifically states the abyss is a place of torment. This is the view of Second Temple period literature (compare also 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6).

1 Enoch 18.11–14 And I saw a deep pit with heavenly fire on its pillars; I saw inside them descending pillars of fire that were immeasurable (in respect to both) altitude and depth. 12 And on top of that pit I saw a place without the heavenly firmament above it or earthly foundation under it or water. There was nothing on it—not even birds—but it was a desolate and terrible place. 13 And I saw there the seven stars (which) were like great, burning mountains. 14 (then) the angel said (to me), “This place is the (ultimate) end of heaven and earth: it is the prison house for the stars and the powers of heaven.

1 Enoch 10.13–14 And against his angels whom he had sent to the earth he was very angry. He commanded that they be uprooted from all their dominion. And he told us to bind them in the depths of the earth, and behold, they are bound in the midst of them, and they are isolated.

Jubilees 5:6 And against his angels whom he had sent to the earth he was very angry. He commanded that they be uprooted from all their dominion. And he told us to bind them in the depths of the earth, and behold, they are bound in the midst of them, and they are isolated.

In the Animal Apocalypse, the fallen stars are punished by “binding his hands and feet and throwing him into an abyss—this abyss was narrow and deep, empty and dark” (1 Enoch 88:1). In 1 Enoch 90:

1 Enoch 90.24–27 Then his judgment took place. First among the stars, they received their judgment and were found guilty, and they went to the place of condemnation; and they were thrown into an abyss, full of fire and flame and full of the pillar of fire. 25 Then those seventy shepherds were judged and found guilty; and they were cast into that fiery abyss. 26 In the meantime I saw how another abyss like it, full of fire, was opened wide in the middle of the ground; and they brought those blinded sheep, all of which were judged, found guilty, and cast into this fiery abyss, and they were burned—the abyss is to the right of that house; 27 thus I saw those sheep while they were burning—their bones also were burning.

After Asenath’s conversion, she describes her experience as a rescue from darkness and the “foundations of the abyss”:  “Blessed be the Lord your God the Most High who sent you out to rescue me from the darkness and to bring me up from the foundations of the abyss, and blessed be your name forever” (Joseph and Aseneth 15.12).

In Revelation 9, the Abyss or bottomless pit is the source of the demonic locust-like creatures. Later in the book the beast rises from the sea (11:7; 17:8) and the abyss will be the place of Satan’s imprisonment during the 1000-year kingdom (20:1-3)

Who is the Fallen Star in Revelation 9:1?  

After the fifth angel sounded his trumpet in Revelation 9:1, a “star fallen it earth” is given a key to the shaft of the Abyss (NIV) or the “bottomless pit” (ESV, NRSV), which he unlocks and opens in 9:2. What does this star represent?

The star is usually identified as an angel based on Job 38:7 and other Second Temple texts which describe angelic beings as stars. But this angel could be a either a good or bad angel.

Angel with the key to the abyss, Augsburg School, c. 1550

The key word is “fallen” (a perfect active participle from πίπτω). Robert Mounce (192) and R. H. Charles (1:238) consider the verb “fallen” to mean nothing more than “to descend” and his actions opening the shaft of the Abyss are no different than the angel who sounded the trumpet. Mounce suggests this is the same angel who locks the Abyss in Revelation 20:1. George Ladd argued the star “represents some angelic figure divinely commissions to carry out God’s purposes” (129).

It is quite true this star “fallen from heaven to earth” is fulfilling a divinely appointed task, but it is difficult to argue πίπτω simply means “descend” either in koine Greek or the book of Revelation. Things which fall are always bad in Revelation.

More often this star is identified with a fallen angel, either a powerful demon such as Abaddon, or Satan himself.  Since Satan is described as falling from heaven in Revelation 12 it is possible this “star fallen from heaven to earth” is Satan. However, in Revelation 12:8 Satan is thrown down to the earth by Michael, a slightly different description than Revelation 9:1.

There are several examples in Second Temple period literature of “fallen stars” as demons. In the Animal Apocalypse, the writer says describes the origin of “bad animals” as fallen stars: “I observed the sky and behold, I saw many stars descending and casting themselves down from the sky” (1 Enoch 86:3). In the Testament of Solomon, a demon describes the activities of the “principalities and authorities and powers.” The demons deemed not worthy to enter heaven are “dropped like flashes of lightning to the earth.”

Testament of Solomon 20.14–17 I asked him, “Tell me, then, how you, being demons, are able to ascend into heaven.” 15 He replied, “Whatever things are accomplished in heaven (are accomplished) in the same way also on earth; for the principalities and authorities and powers above fly around and are considered worthy of entering heaven. 16 But we who are demons are exhausted from not having a way station from which to ascend or on which to rest; so we fall down like leaves from the trees and the men who are watching think that stars are falling from heaven. 17 That is not true, King; rather, we fall because of our weakness and, since there is nothing on which to hold, we are dropped like flashes of lightning to the earth. We burn cities down and set fields on fire. But the stars of heaven have their foundations laid in the firmament.

In the Coptic Apocalypse of Elijah both Elijah and Enoch confront the “shameless one” as fallen from heaven like the morning stars:

Apocalypse of Elijah 4.8–12 Are you indeed not ashamed? When you attach yourself to the saints, because you are always estranged. 9 You have been hostile to those who belong to heaven. You have acted against those belonging to the earth. 10 You have been hostile to the thrones. You have acted against the angels. You are always a stranger. 11You have fallen from heaven like the morning stars. You were changed, and your tribe became dark for you. 12 But you are not ashamed, when you stand firmly against God. You are a devil.

The Apocalypse of Elijah seems to have been written no earlier than AD 150 and is more likely was composed in the third or fourth century and is reliant on Revelation or other Christian apocalypses. However, the idea of Satan falling from heaven appears in Luke 10:18.

I do not think it is necessary to choose between a good angel who is dispatching his divinely appointed commission to open the Abyss and an evil angel who is acting on the orders of Satan to open the Abyss. Perhaps the angel is not (morally) either good or bad, but simply the being appointed by God to open (or lock) the Abyss.

What are the Three Woes in Revelation 8:13?

In Revelation 8:13 John sees an eagle flying above the earth who announces these woes. It is possible to translate the Greek word ἀετός as either eagle or vulture. This sounds odd to Americans who associate eagles with freedom and strength but vultures with death.

In several cases in the Hebrew Bible and eagle/vulture is a symbol of an enemy. In Deuteronomy 28:49 the enemies of Israel will swoop down in them like eagles to carry them into exile (Jer 4:13, 48:4; Lam 4:19). In Hosea 8:1 a vulture is over the house of the Lord, suggesting the impending judgment on Israel. In Luke 17:37 Jesus clearly means vultures, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” Some suggest Jesus is referring to the eagle imagery carried by a Roman legion, meaning something like, “where there are dead bodies, the Roman army is close by.” Zeus used an eagle as a messenger. The Ptolemaic tetradrachm (285-246 B.C.) pictures the Eagle of Zeus standing on a thunderbolt. Although Roman legions used an eagle and lightning bolt as a standard, it seems unlikely Revelation 8:13 is an allusion to the Roman military.

An eagle is also a symbol of strength and swiftness in the Hebrew Bible and Apocalyptic literature. Eagles are heavenly messengers in a number of apocalyptic texts. In 2 Baruch, Baruch writes letters to the exiles and sends them by means of eagles.

4 Ezra 11.7–9 And I looked, and behold, the eagle rose upon his talons, and uttered a cry to his wings, saying, 8 “Do not all watch at the same time; let each sleep in his own place, and watch in his turn; 9 but let the heads be reserved for the last.”

2 Baruch 77.19–20 And I wrote two letters. One I sent by means of an eagle to the nine and a half tribes, and the other I sent by means of three men to those who were in Babylon. 20 And I called an eagle and said to him these words:

4 Baruch (Paraleipomena Jeremiou) 7:15-16 And as they were going out with the dead man and weeping, they passed by the eagle. 16 And the eagle cried in a loud voice, saying, “I say to you, Jeremiah, chosen one of God, go! Gather the people and come here that they may hear a letter which I have brought you from Baruch and Abimelech.”

On the other hand, this reference to an eagle in the air could be a reference to an angel. In 3 Enoch 26:3, the supreme angel Metatron is described as “His face is like the face of angels, and his body is like the body of eagles.”

The eagle is in “mid-heaven” a word occurring several times in Revelation (8:13; 14:6; 19:17).  In each case an angel stands in the sky (in the sun) along with the birds of heaven.

This eagle cries out in a great voice, “Woe!” All the world hears this pronouncement of woe.  Those that hear it are the inhabitants of the earth, the ones under God’s judgement. Woe (οὐαὶ) was used by the prophets to announce impending doom, such as Isaiah when he said, “woe is me!” The Hebrew (הוֹי, אוֹי, ‘oy) calls attention to what was being said, something like “hey” (Aune 2:524). Isaiah knew he was doomed since he was “a man of unclean lips” in the presence of God.

By calling these last three trumpets “woes” we are being told that they end is near, judgement is coming.  If fourth trumpet had a hint of demonic activity, the fifth and sixth will be entirely demonic.

While the first and second woe are identified as the fifth and sixth trumpets the identity of the third woe is a matter of debate. Some take it as the seventh trumpet, although the seventh trumpet is a scene of praise in heaven connected to the return of Christ. Others take it as the fall of Satan in chapter 12, since in 12:12 a great voice says, “woe to you, o earth and sea, for the devil has come down….” Finally, it is possible the third woe is simply the last set of judgments in Revelation 16.

 

The Fourth Trumpet: Unnatural Darkness – Revelation 8:12

Revelation 8:12 The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night.

The fourth trumpet effects the sun, moon, and stars, reducing their light by one third.  Darkness is a common symbol of terror and the end of the world, the reduction of light will increase terror, and make food production less effective. Like the other trumpets, this unnatural darkness recalls the plague of darkness in Exodus 10:21-23.

Eclipse

Darkness is often associated with God’s judgment in the Old Testament. Amos 5:18 describes the Day of the Lord as “darkness, not light” and Joel 2:2 calls is a day of “darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.” Isaiah 13:10 describes the Day of the Lord for Babylon as a time when “the stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light.  The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.” Similarly, tn the Olivet Discourse Jesus says just prior to the coming of the Son of Man, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” (Mark 13:24-25).

This darkness is unnatural, listed among the “evil signs” in the ancient world. For example, Lucan describes the moon growing dim and the sun turning dark, “forcing mankind to despair of daylight” (1.536-43). David Aune suggests the unnatural darkness in Revelation 8:12 is an allusion to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, citing the eyewitness report of Pliny the Younger (Ep. 6.16.17; 6.20.15; Aune 2:522).

Unnatural darkness also appears in Second Temple period apocalyptic texts. In the Animal Apocalypse, when the Lord of the sheep came upon enemies of the sheep in wrath, “all who saw him fled and fell all into darkness, from before his face” (1 Enoch 90.15).

1 Enoch 62.9–10  On that day, all the kings, the governors, the high officials, and those who rule the earth shall fall down before him on their faces, and worship and raise their hopes in that Son of Man; they shall beg and plead for mercy at his feet. But the Lord of the Spirits himself will cause them to be frantic, so that they shall rush and depart from his presence. Their faces shall be filled with shame, and their countenances shall be crowned with darkness.

Ezekiel the Tragedian 1.141–146 And I shall make the heavens bitter; hail and fire shall fall and slay all mortal men, and cause to perish every crop and beast. Darkness I’ll decree for three whole days, and locusts send, who shall the residue of food consume and every blade of grass.

Both these texts are remarkable parallels to the to the unnatural darkness in both the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-17 as well as the fourth trumpet. Ezekiel the Tragedian is retelling the story of the plagues, but notice he has reverse the order of the locust and darkness so that the locust follow the plague of darkness, as in the fourth and fifth trumpets.

In contrast, the absence of darkness is often a sign of salvation. Revelation 21:24-25, the New Jerusalem is described as a place filled with light, “there will be no night there.” In the conclusion to the Animal Apocalypse, “Sin and darkness shall perish forever, and shall no more be seen from that day forevermore” (1 Enoch 92:5). In the Testament of Levi, the messianic figure described as a “new priest” will drive out all darkness.

Testament of Levi 18:4-5 This one will shine forth like the sun in the earth; he shall take away all darkness from under heaven, and there shall be peace in all the earth. The heavens shall greatly rejoice in his days and the earth shall be glad; the clouds will be filled with joy and the knowledge of the Lord will be poured out on the earth like the water of the seas.

What is it that reduces the light?  It is possible that this is the combined effect of all the fire that has been started in the first three trumpets, all of the smoke and pollution have created a cloud cover that reduces light by one third. But the New Testament associates darkness with demonic activity. The fourth trumpet anticipate demonic activity which increases in intensity in the fifth and sixth trumpets. Greg Beale suggest this darkness is a transition to more demonic in the fifth and sixth seal (Beale, 483).

The Third Trumpet: Wormwood Falls into the Fresh Water – Revelation 8:10-11

Revelation 8:10-11 The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— 11 the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.

The third trumpet resembles the plague of the freshwater in Exodus 7:20, the Nile turned to blood. That this is a “great star” with a specific name is important. Enoch describes fallen angels as “seven stars of heaven. . . like great mountains and burning with fire” (1 Enoch 21:3). It is therefore likely the image of a star falling from heaven refers to some kind of spiritual being.

Unlike Disney-saturated western world, “shooting stars” were signs of good luck. A falling star was bad luck and a comet was even worse. “…comets were considered prodigies that signaled the imminence of death and disaster (Manilius Astron. 1.892-926; cited by Aune 2:520). Anyone reading these verses in the first century would understand this as a “bad sign.”

Meteor Hitting the Earth

The star is named Wormwood (ὁ Ἄψινθος, apsinth). Wormwood is a non-poisonous bitter-tasting herb (Artemisia absinthium) that makes the fresh water undrinkable. Tarragon and sage belong to the same family. Of the several varieties of Wormwood known in the ancient world, the one that grown in the Galatian mountains was so strong that “a single ounce diluted in 524 gallons of water can still be tasted” (Aune 2:520). The first century physician Dioscorides says Wormwood “is good, taken as a drink with seseli or celtic nardus for gaseousness and pains in the intestines and stomach. Three cups of a dilution or decoction of it (taken every day) heals lack of appetite and jaundice.” In German, Wormwood in Wermut, related to the English vermouth.

Falling stars appear in apocalyptic literature frequently. In the fifth Sibylline Oracle a great star comes from heaven and burns up the seas, in Sib. Or. 8.190–193 all the stars fall into the sea. In contrast to the third trumpet, however, in these examples all the sea is destroyed rather than one-third and there is no reference to people drinking the bitter waters.

Sib. Or. 5.155–161 But when after the fourth year a great star shines which alone will destroy the whole earth, because of the honor which they first gave to Poseidon of the sea, a great star will come from heaven to the wondrous sea and will burn the deep sea and Babylon itself 160 and the land of Italy, because of which many holy faithful Hebrews and a true people perished.

Sib. Or. 2.202–205 For all the stars will fall together from heaven on the sea. All the souls of men will gnash their teeth, burning in a river, and brimstone and a rush of fire in a fiery plain, and ashes will cover all.

Sib. Or. 8.190–193 All the stars will fall directly into the sea, all in turn, and men will call a shining comet “the star,” a sign of much impending toil, war, and slaughter.

The Hebrew word translated bitterness or wormwood (לַעֲנָה, laʿănâ) several times in the Septuagint. Because Israel has sinned against the Lord, he has “doomed us to perish and has given us poisoned water to drink” (Jer 8:14); because they have forsaken the Law, the Lord says he will “I will feed this people with bitter food, and give them poisonous water to drink” (Jer 9:15; 23:15).

Readers miss the point of third trumpet by focusing on the effects of a literal comet or meteorite hitting the earth. Along with these three examples in Jeremiah of the Lord giving Israel bitter or poisoned water to drink as a sign they are under God’s judgment, consider also Jeremiah 25:15-16:

Jeremiah 25:15-16 Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. 16 They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.”

The prophet is told to make the nations drink the cup of God’s wrath. Following this command, verses 18-26 list many nations, concluding with Babylon. The rest of the chapter describes the Lord’s judgment on the whole earth: “I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth” (25:29). Verse 33 summarizes: “a great tempest is stirring from the farthest parts of the earth.” Just as in Jeremiah’s day, John describes a judgment on the world in which the Lord makes the whole world drink bitter water as a sign of their guilt.

The Second Trumpet: A Mountain Thrown Into The Sea – Revelation 8:8-9

Revelation 8:8-9 The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

When the first trumpet sounded, hail mixed with fire burned one third of the land. Now the second trumpet damages one third of the seas. A huge blazing mountain is thrown into the sea and one third of all sea life and shipping are destroyed.

“Something like a huge mountain” in the sea is reminiscent of a volcanic event in the Mediterranean world. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius was a recent event for the first readers of Revelation, even although Ephesus was more that 1000 miles from Pompeii the eruption of Vesuvius was a well-known event. Some Jews believed Vesuvius was a judgment of God on the Romans for destroying Jerusalem in AD 70. Pliny reported that some sea creatures were stranded on dry land. Volcanic debris blocked the Bay of Naples and sea levels dropped.

Pliny Epistles, 6.20 Then we beheld the sea sucked back, and as it were repulsed by the convulsive motion of the earth; it is certain at least the shore was considerably enlarged, and now held many sea animals captive on the dry sand. On the other side, a black and dreadful cloud bursting out in gusts of igneous serpentine vapour now and again yawned open to reveal long fantastic flames, resembling flashes of lightning but much larger. (Trans. William Melmoth, LCL, 1:493.

Some read the “great mountain” as a meteorite striking the earth. Certainly this would cause a great deal of destruction to the sea, but volcanic activity is far more common in the Mediterranean  world than meteor strikes. It is important not to read this sea as the Atlantic or Pacific oceans, but rather the Mediterranean Sea. The Roman Empire relied on the Mediterranean for fishing and commerce, so whatever the “burning mountain” is, it destroys one-third of the shipping on the Mediterranean and destroys one-third of the food supply.

However, in the Old Testament, nations are sometimes described as mountains. In Jeremiah 51:25 for example, Babylon is a great destroying mountain. When the Lord stretches his hand against Babylon, it will become a “burnt mountain.” Greg Beale concludes the second trumpet is “the judgment of a wicked kingdom” (Revelation, 476).

The sea “turning to blood” recalls the first of the ten plagues, the Nile turning to blood. Just as the Mediterranean. The Nile was necessary for life in Egypt. To attack the Nile was to threaten all life in Egypt. In a similar way, to destroy one third of the shipping in the Mediterranean would cripple the economy and military strength of the Empire. Looking ahead to Revelation 18, God’s judgment falls on the economy of Babylon, although the imagery clearly has the Roman Empire in mind.

Destructive burning mountains appear in other apocalyptic as well. In the Sibylline Oracles:

Sib. Or. 4.130-34  But when a firebrand, turned away from a cleft in the earth in the land of Italy, reaches to broad heaven, it will burn many cities and destroy men. Much smoking ashes will fill the great sky, and showers will fall from heaven like red earth.

Sib. Or. 5.512–514, 528-31 I saw the threat of the burning sun among the stars and the terrible wrath of the moon among the lightning flashes. The stars travailed in battle; God bade them fight… 528-31 Heaven itself was roused until it shook the fighters. In anger it cast them headlong to earth. Accordingly, stricken into the baths of ocean, they quickly kindled the whole earth. But the sky remained starless.

In both these examples, it is likely a volcanic eruption is the source of the apocalyptic imagery. What is important here is the continued use of the plagues as a model for God’s judgment on the empires of this world, focusing here on devastating the economy of the empire.