SYNOPSIS: The sixth trumpet unleashes a demonic horde from beyond the “Euphrates” to afflict the unrepentant “inhabitants of the earth.” – Revelation 9:13-21.
The sixth trumpet or second “woe” is related to the sixth bowl of wrath; both begin with the release of creatures from beyond the Euphrates River; both end with the overthrow of end-time Babylon (Revelation 16:12-21).
The second “woe” now begins as did the first one with the release of a malevolent invading force, this time, a force from the “Euphrates River,” not from the Abyss. Possibly, this represents the same reality but in a different form; that is, the “Abyss” and the “Euphrates River” point to the same origin.
- (Revelation 9:13-16) – “And the sixth messenger sounded; and I heard one voice from among the horns of the altar of gold which is before God, saying unto the sixth messenger who was holding the trumpet — Loose the four messengers who are bound at the great river Euphrates. And the four messengers were loosed who had been prepared for the hour, and day, and month, and year, that they should slay the third of men. And the number of the armies of the horsemen was twice ten thousand times ten thousand — I heard the number of them” – (The Emphasized Bible).
In this paragraph, John describes what he “heard,” not what he saw. The “golden altar” refers to the altar of incense on which the prayers of the saints were offered as incense. The judgments now unleashed are in response to those prayers (Revelation 8:2-5).
Mesopotamia lay beyond the Euphrates River, the home of Babylon. The river flowed through the center of the city. But this is not a reference to a location east of the Euphrates; the judgments released by the “three woes” target the “inhabitants of the earth,” not Mesopotamia. Any allusion to “Babylon” is to the end-time reality described elsewhere in Revelation (Revelation 8:13, 17:1-5).
The sixth trumpet is related to the sixth bowl of wrath, which dries up the Euphrates River in order to prepare an attack by the “kings of the east.” This group is identified as “the kings of the whole habitable earth” gathered by demonic spirits to “the battle of the great day of God Almighty in a place called Armageddon” (Revelation 16:12-16, 19:17-21; 20:8-9).
The angel is commanded to “loose the four angels bound at the great river Euphrates.” Elsewhere in the book, four angels are linked to the four corners of the earth. The number four symbolizes universality. The four angels are probably identical with the four angels seen earlier holding back the winds of heaven while God’s servants were being sealed. They are now free to unleash whatever the four winds hold (Revelation 7:1-3).
The four angels were “prepared for the hour, day, month and year, to kill the third of men.” Elsewhere, this is the “hour of trial that is going to come upon the inhabitants of the earth.” the same as the hour of Babylon’s desolation. The verb rendered “prepared” (hetoimazō) occurs in both images (i.e., the four angels were prepared; the sixth bowl prepares the way of the kings – Revelation 3:10, 18:10, 18:17-19).
The death of a “third” of mankind is not a case of forbearance by God who limits the extent of the damage. Neither the inhabitants killed nor the ones still alive at the end of the sixth trumpet escape judgment. The seventh trumpet will mean nothing less than the “time of the dead to be judged and the destruction of them that destroy the earth”; if anything, the death of a third of humanity is a foretaste of things to come (Revelation 11:18).
- (Revelation 9:17-19) –“And, thus, saw I the horses in the vision — and them who were sitting upon them, having breastplates as of fire and hyacinth and brimstone; — and the heads of the horses were as heads of lions, and out of their mouths come forth fire and smoke and brimstone: by these three plagues were slain the third part of mankind, by reason of the fire and the smoke and the brimstone that proceedeth out of their mouths; for the licence of the horses is in their mouth and in their tails, for their tails are like unto serpents, having heads, and with them they injure” – (The Emphasized Bible).
John describes what he actually “saw.” This interpretive technique was previously employed in Revelation 5:5-6 – What John saw interprets what he first heard. John heard “lion of the tribe of Judah” but saw a slain Lamb. John later “heard” the number, 144,000 men from the twelve tribes of Israel, but then “saw” an innumerable multitude of men and women from every tribe and nation.
What John now “sees” in the sixth trumpet is not an invading human army but, instead, a horde of hideous demonic creatures, but the link to the “Euphrates” informs us that the source of this demonic horde is “Babylon.”
The riders have “breastplates like fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone.” This is a simile. It portrays how the breastplates appear to the eye; bright, deep red and blue (“hyacinth”). Elsewhere, “brimstone” is linked to the Lake of Fire (Revelation 14:10, 19:20, 21:8). Likewise, they have heads like those of “lions.” These descriptions demonstrate that the figures are neither human nor animal, but something quite unnatural.
The locusts of the fifth trumpet had “tails with stings like scorpions.” These riders have “tails like snakes” or “serpents” (ophis) with authority to inflict harm. The same term is applied to Satan, “the great dragon and that old serpent.” This links the “riders” to the Dragon. Their tails “harm” (adikeō) men, the same verb in the promise to overcoming believers: “You will not be harmed of the second death,” which is the Lake of Fire (Revelation 2:11, 12:9, 12:14-15, 20:2).
It is not “power” found in their “tails” but, rather, “authority, license” (exousia); “their license is in their mouth and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents, having heads.” This is a verbal link to the vision of the Beast from the sea that has “a mouth like a lion, and the dragon gave it great authority. And I saw one of its heads, as slain to death; and his deadly plague was healed, and all the world wondered after the beast.”
“Fire, smoke, and brimstone” spew from their mouths, which are three different “plagues” sent to kill a third of mankind. The first four trumpets unleashed fire and the fifth one, smoke. Now brimstone is added to the mix – All of the elements connected to the Lake of Fire (Revelation 9:17-18, 14:10-11, 18:9, 19:3, 19:20).
John saw fire, smoke, and sulfur “issuing” (ekporeuomai) from their mouths. This is a parody of Jesus and the One Who Sits on the Throne. In the opening vision, John saw a sharp two-edged sword issuing (ekporeuomai) from the mouth of Jesus. Likewise, in the vision of a heavenly rider on a white horse, a sharp sword issued from the mouth of Jesus (ekporeuomai). And in the heavenly court, John saw “lightning, thunders, and voices issuing from the Throne” (Revelation 1:16, 4:5, 19:11-21).
This last feature is a link to the Two Witnesses observed between the sixth and seventh trumpets. When anyone attempted to harm them, “fire issued (ekporeuomai) from their mouth and consumed their enemies; and if any man desired to harm (adikeō) them, in this manner must he be killed.” The Two Witnesses represent churches (Revelation 11:4, 1:20– “two lampstands”).
The “fire, smoke and sulfur” that issue from the mouth of this demonic horde is set in contrast to what issues from the mouths of Jesus and his witnesses. What proceeds from the Lamb’s mouth is life, from the mouths of the Dragon and his minions issue, instead, death.
The horses have tails like serpents, “having heads with which they injure.” This may correspond to the Beast from the sea that had “seven heads,” one of which appeared “as though slain unto death; and its plague was healed.” The healing of its “plague” caused the “inhabitants of the earth” amazement, “Who is like unto the beast, and who is able to war with him?”
- (Revelation 9:20-21) – “And the rest of mankind who were not slain by these plagues, repented not of the works of their hands — that they should not do homage unto the demons, nor unto the idols of gold and of silver and of copper and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; Neither repented they of their murders, or of their sorceries, or of their lewdnesses, or of their thefts” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The described human response is in spite of the plagues, not because of them. They harden the hearts of the earth-dwells and do not produce repentance, despite the deaths of a “third part of men.” Plagues and hardened hearts link the vision to the Exodus story, the plagues of Egypt, and the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.
The “rest” of the inhabitants of the earth refuse to cease from the worship of “demons, and the idols of gold, and of silver, and of brass, and of stone, and of wood.” Their sin is idolatry. Likewise, the False Prophet causes men to make an image of the Beast (Revelation 13:15-17).
The “rest” has verbal parallels with several later verses. Just prior to the sounding of the seventh trumpet an earthquake devastated a tenth of the “city,” Babylon, and killed seven thousand of the “inhabitants of the earth.” This left “the rest fearful.”
Unlike the “inhabitants of the earth” at the end of the sixth trumpet, this group “gave glory to the God of heaven”; at the end of the battle of Armageddon, “the rest were killed with the sword of him that sat upon the horse”; and at the start of the thousand years, “the rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished” (Revelation 11:10-13, 19:21, 20:5).
The death of a “third of mankind” is not a partial or limited judgment, but an example to “the rest” that is not slain outright, a foretaste of the “second death” that awaits them for their refusal to repent. This demonstrates to them the justice of God’s impending judgment. “The rest” is comprised of men who hardened their hearts to any appeal from the Lamb or the Throne of God. The demonic horde inflicts the same kind of punishments on some men that is reserved for “the rest” in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 14:10-11, 19:20, 20:10, 21:8).
The inhabitants of the earth refuse to repent of “murders, sorceries, fornication or thefts,” sins that are connected to Babylon and her economic dominion. Thus, the nations of the earth were deceived by her “sorceries” and “fornication” (Revelation 2:21, 14:8, 17:2-4, 18:3, 18:23, 19:2).
As for “murders,” Babylon is a woman drunk with the “blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” In her is found the “blood of prophets, of saints and of all that were slain upon the earth” (Revelation 17:6, 18:24).
The second woe continues to use language and imagery from the Exodus story and the judgment dirge of Jeremiah against Babylon. At the discretion of the Lamb, destructive forces are unleashed against the “inhabitants of the earth“; forces that were held back until the saints were sealed.
The book of Revelation expects us to continue to read the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and of its persecution by Babylon into its vision for the end-time saints of God.
Because of the lamb’s sacrificed life, the churches of Asia have left “Egypt” and are now in transit to the Greater Promised Land, New Jerusalem. Along the way, they endure persecution and even captivity at the hands of “Babylon.” What the Dragon means for the destruction of the church, the Lamb uses to judge his enemies and furthers the exodus of his people.
In the book of Exodus, God used the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart to manifest His might and glory, liberate His people and bring them out of Egypt. The same is about to occur as the Lamb, having freed the saints from Greater Egypt by his shed blood, leads them to the Greater Promised Land.
Every assault against the church by the Dragon results in victory for the church and defeat for her enemies. However, the ultimate defeat of Satan enemies and the triumph of the Lamb will require more than just destructive plagues.