In Revelation 8 four global level natural disasters were heralded by each of 4 trumpets. A break in the trumpet-disaster spectrum happened after the fourth trumpet when an eagle-like creature flew through the mid-heavens. That creature not only flew, but spoke and its words were heralds of the final three trumpets. These trumpets were ill-omens that would devolve upon the inhabitants of the earth.
The 9th chapter of Revelation unpacks the events of trumpet 5 and 6. These events, though, move to a new level. They leave behind what seem to be God-orchestrated natural events (hail, asteroids, etc.) intermixing natural earth events with supernatural ones. Only time will tell if the symbolic in Revelation 9 truly paint spiritual creatures released to do carnage or other natural events. The eagle-like creature of chapter 8 places them in a more severe category when it proclaims them as woes.
Trumpet 5 sounds off. Woe #1.
1 And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. 2 He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. 3 Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. 6 And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.
7 In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, 8 their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; 9 they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. 10 They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. 11 They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.
12 The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come. (Revelation 9:1-12–ESV)
“Woe, Nelly!” 1
So things get dicey here for the earth, and for the interpreter.
- Star called “he”
- Star given a key.
- Bottomless pit, aka abyss
- Are we opening volcanoes here? Is this hell? Is hell in the center of the earth?
- Locusts come from smoke and get power like scorpions?
- Locusts given orders to harm people?
- Remember locusts usually don’t have leaders or take orders; these did.
- Locusts usually eat green things not torment people
- Go torture people=command to locusts
- How about how those locust creatures look?
- Angel of the pit seems more like demon of the pit
- Demon of the pit has Hebrew and Greek name
It is features like these which suggest to me that the veil between spiritual beings and physical beings is drawn back. The torment of humanity is now not coming from the heavens. This chapter is not telling us of near earth objects crashing to the earth demolishing the world. Here sentient beings come from a great place beneath the earth. Those beings spread out and begin some version of waterboarding.
Some people will read Revelation 9 and begin to expound on the nature of these locusts. When you come to this passage your inner tendencies will veer you into a variety of explanations for these fantastic beasts. While there was a 2016 movie called “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” the fantastic locusts are not a thing one would want to find. No magic controls or charms them. Some of us will consider them almost as if they were a spiritual species, a manifestation of the demonic. Others will try to make them into helicopters or futuristic mechanisms: think Transformers or human controlled machines: think Pacific Rim.
I think that it is a profound mistake in matters of prophetic interpretation to suppose, to think and act as if a given prophecy has a given answer. A Rubik’s cube or a Sudoku puzzle has a single solution. Prophecy has inherent uncertainty in it and an expositor of such things must adopt a careful approach so as not to be proven wrong by the unfolding of history.
We do long to know the future for we suppose that knowing it will assuage anxiety and/or give us control over it. The problem with uncertainty is, as David Henderson, a former World Bank executive stated in regard to economic and social life, that one cannot find “recognized, uniquely correct and permanently valid” explanations. We may try, but time and again the opinions of man are proven wrong. They do not stand the test of time.
A Wrinkle in Time
In chapters 10 and 11 of Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Wrinkle in Time some odd creatures are introduced. They have only indentations for eyes and their fingers are like tentacles. They do not see as we do even finding the concept of light to be new. Meg, who is argumentative in the face of uncertainty, saw these creatures, beasts even, and was sure Calvin, she and her newly found father2 would be killed or tortured. As it turned out looks were deceiving and she became very fond of one who ended up being given the name Aunt Beast.
L’Engle takes these tall, furry, sightless creatures and gives them a shape that visually oriented humans would be uncomfortable with. She uses these creatures as a foil to show how much emphasis we place on things like shape, looks, appearance. Aunt Beast has no eyes and so “sees” very differently, more like looking at the heart.
I would like to do the same with Revelation 9 setting aside one of our great reflexes: being visually oriented. I want to emphasize the configuration of these Revelation 9 characters. Like Aunt Beast in L’Engle’s book let us look more deeply at these being and see what we can learn. Specifically I want us to look at their constraints and who constrained them.