SYNOPSIS: The fifth trumpet unleashes the first of the “three woes” against the “inhabitants of the earth” – Malevolent creatures released from the Abyss – Revelation 8:13-9:12.
The first four trumpets have sounded. Now, the last three trumpets are announced as three “woes,” a series of severe judgments that afflict the “inhabitants of the earth.” This is another example of John dividing a sevenfold series into distinct segments or groups of four and three things. For example, the first four seal openings formed a group distinct from the last three seals.
Additionally, the final or seventh trumpet is separated from the first four trumpets, and from the fifth and the sixth trumpets by an interlude during which servants of God are prepared for what is coming (Revelation 9:21-11:13).
- (Revelation 8:13) – “And I saw, and I heard one eagle flying in mid-heaven, saying with a loud voice — Woe! woe! woe! unto them that are dwelling upon the earth by reason of the remaining voices of the trumpet, of the three messengers who are about to sound” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The warning by an “eagle” about three impending “woes” identifies their target – The “inhabitants of the earth.” This is the group that is hostile to the saints who follow Jesus throughout the book. The trumpet judgments comprise a Divine response to its hostility (Revelation 3:10, 6:10, 11:10, 12:12, 13:8-14, 14:6, 17:2, 17:8).
John saw an “eagle flying mid-heaven” that pronounced “woe” on the “inhabitants of the earth.” The height of the bird’s flight is noted to portray the announcement as a warning to the whole inhabited earth. This is not to be taken literally – Eagles cannot talk. Regardless of the bird’s elevation, its message would be heard only over a limited distance. This is symbolic language.
The repetition of “woe” indicates the severity of the final three judgments or, possibly, the severity of their afflictions on anyone who does not repent.
- (Revelation 9:1-2) – “And the fifth messenger sounded; and I saw a star out of heaven fallen unto the earth, and there was given unto him the key of the shaft of the abyss. And he opened the shaft of the abyss; and there came up a smoke out of the shaft, as the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the shaft” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The Abyss features in several of the visions of Revelation. In each instance, it is the source of malevolent beings who are hostile to the Lamb and “ascend” from it to wreak havoc, sometimes on the “inhabitants of the earth,” other times to persecute followers of the Lamb. For example, John saw a Beast “ascending out of the Abyss” to make war with the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:7, 17:8, 20:7-10).
During the “thousand years” before the judgment, the Dragon is bound in the “Abyss” until released at the end of the period. The “Abyss” also corresponds to the “sea” from which the Beast “ascends,” and to the “sea of glass” before the Throne (Revelation 13:1-2, 15:1-5, 20:1-3, Daniel 7:1-8).
John saw smoke “ascending” out of the Abyss that represented a horde of locust-like creatures. An angel associated with destruction ruled over the horde. The language and image of ascent from a dark and deep place is a literary link to several of the book’s visions. The “Abyss” corresponds to the “deep things of Satan” promoted by “Jezebel” at Thyatira, the “sea” from which the Beast ascends, the “sea of glass” on which overcoming saints stand, and the pit in which Satan is imprisoned for a thousand years (Revelation 2:24, 9:1, 11:7, 13:1, 15:1-5, 20:1-3).
John saw a “star, having fallen from heaven,” unlock the “Abyss.” Elsewhere, stars represent “angels” or “messengers.” Most likely, this “star” is identical to the “angel of the Abyss” named ‘Abaddon’ and ‘Apollyon’ (Verse 11). “Fallen” is in a perfect tense, that is, an action completed in the past. The description suggests this “messenger” could be one of the fallen “angels” who serve the Dragon (Revelation 1:20, 9:11, 12:7).
The angel is “given a key.” This points to the Lamb’s control over events, including the activities of satanic forces. The army of “locusts” is unable to ascend from the “Abyss” until authorized to do so by the Lamb.
The darkening of the “sun and the air” alludes to the plague of darkness over Egypt, the ninth plague that followed the plague of locusts:
- “Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven, and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days…but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings” (Exodus 10:21-23).
In the background is Isaiah 14:4-15, a judgment dirge against ancient Babylon – “Take up this parable against the king of Babylon, How has the oppressor ceased, the golden city ceased…You said in thy heart, I will ascend into heaven…I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; yet you will be brought down to Sheol, to the uttermost parts of the pit.”
- (Revelation 9:3-10) – “And, out of the smoke, came forth locusts upon the earth; and there was given unto them licence, as the scorpions of the earth have licence. And it was bidden them that they should not injure the herbage of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree — but only the men who have not the seal of God upon their foreheads. And it was given unto them that they should not slay them, but that they should be tormented five months; and the torture of them was as of a scorpion’s torture, whensoever it smiteth a man. And, in those days, shall men seek death and in nowise shall find it, and shall covet to die, and death fleeth from them. And the likenesses of the locusts were like unto horses prepared for battle; and upon their heads, as it were crowns, like unto gold, and their faces were as the faces of men, and they had hair, as the hair of women, and their teeth were as of lions, and they had breastplates as breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running into battle; and they have tails like unto scorpions and stings, and in their tails is their licence to injure men five months” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The first four trumpets brought destruction to things necessary for commerce: agriculture, ships, and so on. In contrast, the fifth plague harms men, not vegetation, the earth, or the sea. Its sounding results in the torment of men.
The description of the locusts draws imagery from the prophet Joel’s vision of a voracious invading army that he compared to a plague of locusts. In the book of Joel, the attack is against Israel. In Revelation, the “locusts” target the “inhabitants of the earth” (Joel 1:15).
In Joel, the “locusts” were identified as a “nation, strong and without number; his teeth are the teeth of a lion.” Its attack against Israel would be “a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness.” The invading horde had the appearance of horses – “As horsemen, so do they run. Like the noise of chariots on the tops of the mountains do they leap”; before them “the sun and the moon are darkened” (Joel 1:16, 2:2-5).
In the book of Joel, the invading army attacked Israel in the land of Canaan. The nation averted destruction only through repentance. In contrast, in Revelation, the locust-like force attacks the “inhabitants of the earth” who are hostile to God and refuse to repent. These differences caution against viewing this as a straightforward “literal” interpretation of Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:14-20).
The book of Revelation weaves this imagery into its narrative along with language from other Old Testament passages to produce a paradoxical picture of judgment. What led Israel to repent, instead, now causes the earth-dwellers to harden their hearts. Their every action against the church only produces more suffering for them.
The picture from Joel is reminiscent of a dirge from the book of Jeremiah against ancient Babylon and the prediction of her destruction by a northerly force, a passage already alluded to in the first four trumpets:
- “Behold, a people from the north…They lay hold on bow and spear; they are cruel and have no mercy; their voice roars like the sea; and they ride upon horses, every one set in array, as a man to the battle, against thee, O daughter of Babylon” (Jeremiah 50:41-42).
At this point, we are meant to hear echoes of the eighth plague of Egypt, the horrific plague of locusts:
- (Exodus 10:14-15) – “And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt…they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened, and there remained not any green thing in all the land of Egypt.”
As with the previous plagues, Pharaoh hardened his heart and did not let Israel go. But it was the intention of Yahweh to bring Israel out by means of judgment on Egypt and its gods:
- (Exodus 7:2-5) – “To bring forth my people out of the land of Egypt by great judgments, so the Egyptians would get to know that I am Yahweh, when I stretch forth my hand upon Egypt to bring out the children of Israel.”
As with the first four trumpet blasts, in this round of judicial pronouncements, the book of Revelation expects us to hear the echoes of the Exodus story and Yahweh’s later judgments against ancient Babylon (Jeremiah 51:24-25, 51:56).
The “inhabitants of the earth” are “tormented” (basanismos) five months. The same Greek noun is used to describe how the Two Witnesses “tormented the inhabitants of the earth” by the words that issued from “their mouth,” singular (Revelation 11:5-6).
Because of the torment, men seek death; however, they do not find it. This is reminiscent of Jeremiah 8:3, a judgment against Judah for idolatry – “Death shall be chosen rather than life by all the residue that remain of this evil family.”
Unlike ancient Judah, the “inhabitants of the earth” seek death and “in no wise find it.” This parallels the sixth seal when men “hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and they say, Fall on us and hide us from the wrath of the Lamb.” Death is no way out; there will be no escape from judgment for the “inhabitants of the earth” (Revelation 6:15-16).
“Five months.” This figure does not occur elsewhere in Revelation, which makes it difficult to determine its significance. But the number five does and the “five months” is possibly connected to the later description of the “seven mountains” on which Babylon sat:
- “The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings; five are fallen, one is, another is not yet come, and when it comes it must continue a little while” – (Revelation 17:8-10).
If this proposal is correct, the “five-month” figure is a link to the “five fallen kings” in the preceding passage. However, this proposal is not without its problems.
- (Revelation 9:11-12) – “They have over them, as king, the messenger of the abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon [“=Destroyer”], and, in the Greek, he hath for name Destroyer. The first Woe hath passed away, lo! there come yet two Woes after these things” – (The Emphasized Bible).
Prior to unleashing the first plague against Egypt, Yahweh warned Pharaoh would harden his heart regardless of any “signs and wonders.” The “hardening” highlighted the justice of God. The plagues were “to bring forth my people out of the land of Egypt by great judgments.” The allusion becomes clear in Revelation when the “inhabitants of the earth” refuse to repent despite the fifth trumpet-plague (Exodus 7:2-5, Revelation 9:21).
The fifth trumpet concludes by drawing on the story of the tenth plague of Egypt – Yahweh sent the “destroyer” to slay the firstborn of the nation. Both “Abaddon” and “Apollyon” mean “destroyer.” The name is derived from the tenth plague of Egypt:
- “For Yahweh will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he sees the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side-posts, Yahweh will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you” – (Exodus 12:23).
Note the Israelites did not suffer this destruction if blood from a lamb was applied to their doorposts. This past act corresponds to the saints who are sealed with the “seal of God” to protect them from the destructive forces unleashed by the “winds of heaven” (Revelation 7:1-3).
As stated above, the figure named “Abaddon” is probably the same entity as the “fallen angel” that unleashed the locusts from the Abyss. The name alludes also to Jeremiah 51:24-25, a passage already applied in the first four trumpets:
- “I will render to Babylon and to all the inhabitants of Chaldea all their evil that they have done in Zion in your sight. I am against you, O destroying mountain, which destroyed all the earth” – (Jeremiah 51:24-26, 51:56]).
The sixth trumpet or second “woe” will continue with the imagery from the ten plagues of Egypt as it portrays the next judgment. But the trumpet plagues are not limited geographically; they target the “inhabitants of the earth,” not Egypt. It is the “inhabitants of the earth” who harden their hearts in response to the next plague, not Pharaoh (Revelation 8:13).