Revelation Part 18 – 9:1-12
A New Dimension
Well now, after reading these 12 verses one has to scratch their heads and ask: ‘What in the world is this all about?’
Rightly so! Locusts as big as horses; with the faces of humans; the hair of women; and tails that sting like scorpions?
Bizarre doesn’t quite cover it.
So once again our practice of majoring on the things we can be certain about, touching on what is reasonable and shying away from what is purely speculative takes on fresh importance.
And Don Carson’s reminder that Revelation is a picture book and not a puzzle book where we to try and fit the pieces together is also useful.
What we want to get at here is lifting out the concepts being communicated by the pictures and not trying to turn the pictures into detailed descriptions of objects, beings etc.
If I were to ask you to think of a baseball diamond you would not try to assign attributes to it like transparency or translucency. You wouldn’t imagine it to be a pure form of carbon, it is just a dirt figure. It doesn’t have multiple facets, can’t be worn as jewelry, won’t admit of various shapes and sizes and isn’t super valuable. We would all be aware we are simply referring to a rough shape.
Just so in many of these pictures. We cannot press each detail beyond its purpose but need to discern what chief or basic concepts are being communicated.
So when John says these things looked like locusts, had crowns etc., we more than likely are not trying to get a grip on huge, monstrous beast/insect hybrids. We’re looking at what those pictures might reasonably represent – especially to the first readers, conversant both with the Jewish Apocalyptic writing style, and especially their Bibles.
So let’s take the things that are really clear, and make some reasonable connections from there. And by God’s grace we can arrive at some practical applications .
What is certain here? And what can we reasonably make of it without going into wild speculation?
1 – John is introducing a new element or dimension in helping us understand God’s plans and purposes and the way our present world works
And remember – we’re using a very loose structure of the 7 seals being the revelation and beginning of the plan unfolded; the 7 trumpets being repeated announcements and warnings of what coming in more detail; and then the 7 bowls being the actual pouring out of final judgment in full.
Last time, we saw the 7 angels given their trumpets, the prayers of the saints as integral to Christ’s Kingdom coming and the 1st 4 trumpets blown.
Up until now, the focus has been on two realms, Heaven – or what goes on in the presence of God, and Earth – starting with the 7 churches.
Now a 3rd dimension gets added. It is referred to in vs. 1 as the “bottomless pit,” or the abyss.
So we’ve now got three areas of action – Heaven with God, His angels and the dead redeemed; Earth with human beings – both believing and unbelieving and some angelic presence as well; and now The Abyss – with what can only be understood as dark forces or fallen angels – the demonic. Which now also enter into the earthly scene.
In other words, while God is bringing both final judgment against His enemies, and final reward for His saints, there is more to the picture than just God/Human relations.
It takes the reader back to the Garden of Eden. That when mankind fell, we did not fall alone. Satan was an actor then. An instigator and influencer. So here, we are being reminded that this is still very much the case. Which will be teased out more in later chapters.
Human affairs and especially this present worldly system with its four pillars of: material wealth versus the Spiritual riches of Christ Himself; Man-made religion versus the Christ-centered redemption of the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross to pay for our sin and reconcile us to the Father through faith; Culturally determined morality versus Biblical holiness through the work of the Spirit; and self-governing belligerence – Personal autonomy versus the perfect rule of God in Jesus Christ – finds its roots in the suggestion and influence of Satan and his minions. There really are dark forces afoot. And this is the darkness they bring to the world. A counter or counterfeit kingdom to that of God and Christ.
Scripture will make the two concepts known this way: Colossians 1:13–14 “He [God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
No, these demonic entities aren’t imps or gremlins out to simply pester us to death – nor are they invincible ghouls. They are as Paul describes them in Ephesians 6:12 “cosmic powers over this present darkness,” and “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” These are pictured well for us in the verses that follow.
Forces as Christians we are told we “wrestle against.” Just how appears more fully in the nature of the battle.
Satan and his demonic forces are real, and must factor into how we understand God’s redemptive plan working in this world today, and why the world is the way it is today.
2 – Note how the “Star” of vs. 1 is personified. “He” was given the key to the abyss. As we’ve mentioned before, stars in this kind of literature and in the book of Revelation as a whole most often refer to angels. In this case, we don’t know if this angel is good or bad, simply that he is sent with this key and opens the pit.
Again, the first readers would have thought of passages like 2 Peter 2:4 “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment;”
And Jude 6 “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—”
In simple terms, as human history draws near to final judgment, not only is mankind judged for sin, but the wicked forces of evil are also exposed as they are nearing their final disposition too. And in that, appear to be given a season of renewed activity.
3 – (2) The immediate result of opening the pit is something like smoke – producing great darkness. This is central and most descriptive.
Drawing back again on 2 Peter and Jude, as well as a motif used throughout Scripture – we simply cannot miss this or overestimate the importance of this: The chief activity of Satan and his allies, is the obscuring of the light of God and His truth. John 8:44 “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
Satan’s hatred of God is most manifest in his constant campaign of obscuring the light, the glory of God, both in disinformation about God Himself – think back to the lies told in the Garden that God was petty and did not have the best interest of Adam and Eve at heart – And then in the defiling and exploitation of humanity as made in God’s image.
4 – (3-4) Out of this darkness came these locust-like creatures who unlike real locusts, are restricted from harming the vegetation, but instead only afflict those who were not sealed or marked out as God’s people in the last chapter.
5 – (5) They had a period of time or a season in which they had permission to afflict unbelievers in some fashion that produces great pain. To a people like John’s 1st readers who were familiar with plagues of locusts devastating crops, this was an apt illustration of a true plague. They would have connected the idea with how God used locusts as one of the 10 plagues used to judge the Egyptians and free the Israelites. And no doubt they would have remembered the book of Joel and the locust invasion he witnessed in Judah, used as a portent of coming judgment on God’s people for their sin. Everyone back then knew that locust season lasted about 5 months. Thus it is a graphic and simple way of saying Satan and his hoard will have their season as part of dismantling this present world system and ushering in the full reign of Christ. How long this season is precisely we do not know.
6 – (6) Those afflicted would desire to die rather than endure the affliction, but do not.
Several commentators take the same track I am convinced of as well – that this “sting” the creatures inflict is not a physical thing, but rather psychological and spiritual.
Let me cite Matthew Henry here, but Greg Beale takes a very similar approach: “The hurt they were to do them was not a bodily, but a spiritual hurt. They should not in a military way destroy all by fire and sword; the trees and the grass should be untouched, and those they hurt should not be slain; it should not be a persecution, but a secret poison and infection in their souls, which should rob them of their purity, and afterwards of their peace. Heresy is a poison in the soul, working slowly and secretly, but will be bitterness in the end.”
Unless we want to posit the idea that some form of immortality is suddenly given to some on earth – a notion the balance of the chapter shows is clearly not the case – the idea here is that in their torment, these who are afflicted would prefer death over their circumstance, but can’t find it in themselves to commit suicide to escape. We’ll come back to this before we finish.
7 – (7-10) These locust-like beings have some remarkable features which make them quite terrifying. Again, it is what these features communicate which is important.
Attempts to visualize the locusts totally misses the point.
And of all the commentators I’ve read, it is interesting that good old Matthew Henry is among the clearest and sanest. He writes: “These locusts were of a monstrous size and shape…They were equipped for their work like horses prepared to battle…They pretended to great authority, and seemed to be assured of victory: They had crowns like gold on their heads; it was not a true, but a counterfeit authority…They had the show of wisdom and sagacity, the faces of men, though the spirit of devils…They had all the allurements of seeming beauty, to ensnare and defile the minds of men—hair like women…Though they appeared with the tenderness of women, they had the teeth of lions, were really cruel creatures…They had the defense and protection of earthly powers—breastplates of iron…They made a mighty noise in the world; they flew about from one country to another, and the noise of their motion was like that of an army with chariots and horses… Though at first they soothed and flattered men with a fair appearance, there was a sting in their tails; the cup of their abominations contained that which, though luscious at first, would at length bite like a serpent and sting like an adder.”
It is the fierceness and brutality as they attack the minds and souls of the lost that jars you. These demonic spirits who defy Christ will gleefully rip every shred of decency and remainder of the image of God from everyone they can get their hands on – through deception from the truth of Jesus Christ.
No wonder then that Paul warns Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:23–26 “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
8 – (11) The beings are not simply creatures but have a leader who is identified as Abaddon or Apollyon. Abaddon being an Old Testament word for the underworld – the habitation of the wicked dead, and Apollyon being Greek for the Destroyer – or Satan.
9 – (12) This all is once again (in keeping with the nature of the trumpets as serving to announce or proclaim) a powerful pronouncement of “woe” to those living on the earth.
Well now, what are we to do with all of this?
I think there are 4 things most worthy of our attention in it all.
1. Humanity has a very real and utterly ruthless and savage enemy who with his cohorts will stop at nothing to keep people in darkness from the God of the Bible and the salvation He offers to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
False religions and cults are not just some societal phenomenon. They are the result of the machinations of the powers and principalities of darkness. 1 Timothy 4:1 “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.”
2. This enemy’s chief instrument of war against God and mankind is deception and the perverting of the truth about God, your origin, your lost condition, your rebellion, your need of redemption from sin, and the only means of that redemption in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
2 Thess. 2:9–12 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
It is Satan’s strategy to keep people: Preoccupied with the pursuit and false promise of security and well-being in material prosperity –
Stupefied with a cross-less, Christ-less religion which cannot address sin –
Perpetually dissatisfied in the pursuit of ultimate sexual satisfaction through every form of immorality –
And Arrogantly self-deified in the self-deception of total, personal autonomy.
And when all of these prove to be empty, what pain!
Think of it for a moment. There is little more painful in all of life than investing your whole being into something, and then after getting it, finding it utterly empty and unfulfilling. It is true with careers, relationships, education, fame, accomplishments – you name it.
But it can be worse. What if you bought into the whole paradigm of material wealth, cultural morality, man-made religion, and personal autonomy, only then to add to it that you are nothing but a cosmic accident, with no ultimate purpose – just existing until you die?
What if the utter futility of life finally came crashing in on you, and because your mind is utterly darkened to the truth of God having created you in His image; of sin having separated you from Him – sin in the very things you’ve given your life to; darkened to the forgiveness of that sin and the cleansing and reconciliation to the God who made you through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross – blind to all of that so that you have nothing left but the pain of emptiness and meaninglessness? What do you do with THAT pain?
Recently Sarah sent me the lyrics to a 2017 song by the Canadian Indie pop group Arcade Fire. Listen to what “the sting” sounds like.
Some boys hate themselves, Spend their lives resenting their fathers
Some girls hate their bodies, Stand in the mirror and wait for the feedback
Saying God, make me famous, If you can’t just make it painless
Just make it painless
Assisted suicide, She dreams about dying all the time
She told me she came so close, Filled up the bathtub and put on our first record
Saying God, make me famous, If you can’t just make it painless
Just make it painless
It goes on and on, I don’t know what I want
On and on, I don’t know if I want it – On and on, I don’t know what I want
On and on, I don’t know if I want it – (On and on I don’t know what I want)
No wonder our text calls this especially a “woe”. Woe to those who are caught in this wicked deception that keeps from the love and glory of Christ. What pain indeed.
3. That Christians have been translated out of this kingdom of darkness into God’s marvelous light and are kept from these ultimate deceptions.
We are not left without insight, protection in the sealing of God and instruction.
Matthew 24:24 “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”
But He has sealed those who are His and we are kept from this hideous darkness that plagues the World.
4. That Christians join the warfare in bringing down the kingdom of darkness through faith in the atoning work of Christ, and the proclamation of the light and truth of God’s Word to this dark world.
We know how to engage in this battle. Not by superstitiously spying out demons behind bushes, wearing crosses or carrying bigger Bibles, but: 2 Corinthians 10:3–5 “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,” TRUTH! The Truth as it is in Jesus Christ is our armament.
And so we proclaim the Gospel once more , especially to you here today who have not yet come to Christ for the forgiveness of sins through His substitutionary death on the cross – and reconciliation to the God who made you, through His blood.
This very hour you can be delivered from the kingdom of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. The pain can end now – and you can be born again. Look to Him.