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.