A. Past Lessons
- The Four Horsemen (Rev 6:1-8)
- The Fifth and Sixth Seal’s Effects on the Earth (Rev 6: 9-17)
- The 144,000 Are Marked with the Seal of God (Rev 7:1-8)
- God and the Lamb Are Praised (Rev 7:9-17)
- The Lamb Breaks the Seventh Seal (Rev 8:1-5)
- The First Four Trumpets (8:6-13)
- The Fifth Trumpet Brings the First Terror (9:1-12)
B. Text of Rev 9:13-21
“13Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet and I heard a voice from the corners of the golden altar before God. 14The voice said to the sixth angel (the one who holds the sixth trumpet), ‘Release the four angels which have been bound at the great Euphrates River.’ 15The four angels which were ready for this hour, day, month, and year were released in order to kill one-third of mankind. 16The number of their calvary army was 200,000,000 troops. I heard their number. 17Then I saw horses in a vision and the ones riding the horses had breastplates that were fiery colored, violet, and yellow. The heads of the hourses were like the heads of lions. Fire, smoke, and sulfur came from their mouths. 18From these three plagues one-third of mankind was killed. This was due to the fire, smoke, and sulfur which came from the mouths of the horses. 19For the power of the horses was in their mouths and in their tails. For their tails were like snakes which had heads that hurt people. 20The rest of mankind which was not killed by the plagues would not repent from the work of their hands because they did not want to stop worshipping the evil spirits nor the gold, bronze, stone, or wooden idols. These idols do not have power to see nor hear nor walk. 21And they would not repent from their murders or magic or sexual immortality or from their stealing.” (Rev 9:13-21) 1
Photo Credit: Phillip Medhurst “Four Angels Let Loose”
C. General Remarks
“It is as though John is systematically saying, ‘Think of your worst nightmares; now double them; and then imagine them coming true all at once together. That’s what it’s going to be like. This is God’s way of letting evil do its worst, so that it may eventually fall under its own weight.’” (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 92)
“It is poor hermeneutics to try to see them [the plagues] as prophetic modern weapons of war like tanks, planes, or nuclear missiles. John was thinking of ancient warfare, and the terrible fire and smoke caused by the siege engines of the Roman army. By giving each a separate place John is trying to capture the terrible devastation of the demonic cavalry as it goes to war again the peoples of the earth” (Osborne, Revelation, 384).
II. THE SIXTH TRUMPET RELEASES WRATH (9:13-16)
A. A Voice from the Altar (v. 13)
“Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet and I heard a voice from the corners of the golden altar before God.” (Rev 9:13)
B. Instructions for Release (v. 14)
“The voice said to the sixth angel (the one who holds the sixth trumpet), ‘Release the four angels which have been bound at the great Euphrates River.’” (Rev 9:14)
1. Four Angels
These four angels are the same or very similar to the four angels that stood at the four corners of the earth holding back the winds in Rev 7:1. In Rev 7:1 the four angels are at the four corners of the earth while the four angels in Rev 9:14 are bound at the Euphrates River. They seem ready to administer judgment and deliver God’s wrath.
Yet, some scholars disagree about whether these are “good” or “bad” angels. Namely, are they angels of God or fallen angels following Satan? Robertson says that these are, “the leaders of the demonic horsemen (9:15ff.) as the four angels let loose the demonic locusts (7:1ff.), both quaternions agents of God’s wrath” (Robertson, Word Pictures).
The same word for “bind” or “tie” is used of Satan in Mark 3:26-27 as well as when Satan is tied up in the abyss in Rev 20:2. Furthermore, there is a close connection to the angels and the 200 million horsemen of Rev 9:16.
2. Euphrates River
(a) Biblical Background
More than 4,000 years ago God told a man named Abraham to leave his native country, his relatives, his family, and to go to the land that God would show him. God promised to make Abraham into a great nation. God would bless those tho bless Abraham and curse those who treat Abraham with contempt. But, most important, all the families on earth would be blessed through Abraham (Gen 12:1-3). Later God further revealed his promise to Abraham, “On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,’” (Gen 15:18). The mention of the Euphrates River reminds me of that Gen 15:18 (cf. Exod 23:31; Pss 72:8) mention of the the Euphrates River and God’s original promise to Abraham. God is not finished with his people—Israel—because he still has promises for them.
Going even further back than Abraham was the the Euphrates River was one of the rivers flowing out of the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:14). Throughout the time when Israel and Judah were being invaded by the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians, those invasions all came across the Euphrates. It came to be a symbol of invasion.
There are numerous scriptural warnings about a “foe from the north.”
- “Wail at the gates! Weep in the cities! Melt with fear, you Philistines! A powerful army comes like smoke from the north. Each soldier rushes forward eager to fight.” (Isaiah 14:31, NLT)
- ““Yes,” the LORD said, “for terror from the north will boil out on the people of this land. Listen! I am calling the armies of the kingdoms of the north to come to Jerusalem. I, the LORD, have spoken! “They will set their thrones at the gates of the city. They will attack its walls and all the other towns of Judah.” (Jeremiah 1:14–15, NLT)
- ““Run for your lives, you people of Benjamin! Get out of Jerusalem! Sound the alarm in Tekoa! Send up a signal at Beth-hakkerem! A powerful army is coming from the north, coming with disaster and destruction.” (Jeremiah 6:1, NLT)
- “This is what the LORD says: “Look! A great army coming from the north! A great nation is rising against you from far-off lands.” (Jeremiah 6:22, NLT)
- “Listen! Hear the terrifying roar of great armies as they roll down from the north. The towns of Judah will be destroyed and become a haunt for jackals.” (Jeremiah 10:22, NLT)
- “Open up your eyes and see the armies marching down from the north! Where is your flock— your beautiful flock— that he gave you to care for?” (Jeremiah 13:20, NLT)
- “I will gather together all the armies of the north under King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, whom I have appointed as my deputy. I will bring them all against this land and its people and against the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy you and make you an object of horror and contempt and a ruin forever.” (Jeremiah 25:9, NLT)
- “And I gave it to the kings of the northern countries, far and near, one after the other—all the kingdoms of the world. And finally, the king of Babylon himself drank from the cup of the LORD’s anger.” (Jeremiah 25:26, NLT)
- “Egypt is as sleek as a beautiful heifer, but a horsefly from the north is on its way!” (Jeremiah 46:20, NLT)
- “Egypt will be humiliated; she will be handed over to people from the north.”” (Jeremiah 46:24, NLT)
- “This is what the LORD says: “A flood is coming from the north to overflow the land. It will destroy the land and everything in it— cities and people alike. People will scream in terror, and everyone in the land will wail.” (Jeremiah 47:2, NLT)
- “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: From the north I will bring King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon against Tyre. He is king of kings and brings his horses, chariots, charioteers, and great army.” (Ezekiel 26:7, NLT)
- “Gomer and all its armies will also join you, along with the armies of Beth-togarmah from the distant north, and many others.” (Ezekiel 38:6, NLT)
- “You were blameless in all you did from the day you were created until the day evil was found in you.” (Ezekiel 28:15, NLT)
- “Son of man, turn and face Egypt and prophesy against Pharaoh the king and all the people of Egypt.” (Ezekiel 29:2, NLT)
(b) Historical Background
Euphrates was the eastern boundary of the Roman Empire. On the other side of the eastern boundary was the dreaded Parthians. Interestingly, the Parthians had defeated Roman armies in 53 B.C. and A.D. 62.
C. Four Angels Turned Loose (v. 15)
“The four angels which were ready for this hour, day, month, and year were released in order to kill one-third of mankind.” (Rev 9:15)
1. Angels Ready for This Hour
Osborne says that the saints who had been martyred and were asking for their blood to be avenged (Rev 6:10-15) will see fulfillment of their request here.
2. One-Third of the Earth Killed
Most commentators agree that the fraction “one-third” is a sign of God’s mercy. While one-third of the earth is killed, two-thirds are given the chance to repent and follow God.
D. Two Hundred Million Troops Ready for Battle (v. 16)
“The number of their cavalry army was 200,000,000 troops. I heard their number.” (Rev 9:16)
The text in Rev 5:11 described “myriads and myriads” of angels. But, here it doubles that literal number and is two hundred million troops! The Roman Army at John’s time of writing 125,000 people. This number in Revelation is a thousand times that number.
III. THE ARMY AND ITS EFFECTS (9:17-19)
A. The Horses of the Army (v. 17)
“Then I saw horses in a vision and the ones riding the horses had breastplates that were fiery colored, violet, and yellow. The heads of the horses were like the heads of lions. Fire, smoke, and sulfur came from their mouths.” (Rev 9:17)
B. One-Third of the People of the Earth Killed (v. 18)
“From these three plagues one-third of mankind was killed. This was due to the fire, smoke, and sulfur which came from the mouths of the horses.” (Rev 9:18)
1. Three Separate Judgments Together
All of these judgements causes one-third of the earth to be killed, there is a sense that each judgment is a separate event. The Greek article is included before each event implying that each is individual and separate, yet also contributes to the entire whole result (Osborne, Revelation, 384).
2. One-Third of the Earth Killed
As part of the first trumpet, hail and fire mixed with blood are thrown down on the earth (8:7). In this judgement one-third of the earth is set on fire, one-third of the trees are burned, and one-third of the grass is burned. As part of the second trumpet, fire is thrown into the sea and one-third of the water becomes like blood (8:8), one-third of all living things in the sea die, and one-third of all the ships on the sea are destroyed (8:9). A star falls from the sky burning like a torch during the third trumpet. It falls on one-third of the rivers and springs of water (8:10) and makes one-third of the water bitter (8:11). During the fourth trumpet one-third of the sun, one-third of the moon, and one-third of the stars are struck and become dark (8:12). One-third of the day and one-third of the night are dark (8:12).
3. Judgment from Hell
The three colors in Rev 9:17 matches this and show that these monsters are from the pits of hell. In Job 41:19-20 fire and smoke come up from the mouth and nostrils of Leviathan, which is the monster of the deep (or the abyss). Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by “burning sulfur” (Gen 19:28). Fire, smoke, and burning sulfur became signs of divine judgment throughout the rest of the Bible (Pss 11:6; Isa 30:33; Ezek 38:22) as well as Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17:29; Jude 7). Throughout the rest of the book of Revelation “burning sulfur” always refers to the eternal fires of judgment (14:10) with special emphasis on the fiery lake of burning sulfur (19:20; 20:10; 21:8). Smoke also was a sign of the judgment of God (14:11; 18:9, 18; 19:3).
C. Power from their Tails (v. 19)
“For the power of the horses was in their mouths and in their tails. For their tails were like snakes which had heads that hurt people.” (Rev 9:19)
In Gen 3:1-7 the Snake deceived Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. Jewish apocalyptic literature equates Satan and the snake together (Apocalypse of Moses 16; 3 Barauch 9:6-8). Snakes were also seen as a demonic force in Egypt and Persian religions (Osborne, Revelation, 384). The same word used here in Rev 9:19 is also used in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians when he says that Eve was deceived by the serpent (2 Cor 11:3). In Rev 12 the serpent is clearly identified as Satan (Rev 12:9-14). Later, the serpent—Satan—is bound and locked in the abyss for 1,000 years (Rev 20:2).
IV. VIEWS ON THE HORSES
A. Preterist View – Roman Army
The preterist view sees this as the “forces arrayed against Israel during the Israel war” (Gentry, “The Preterist View of Revelation” in Four Views on the Book of Revelation, 64). Support for this view is the historical backdrop is that the Euphrates River which is mentioned in Rev 9:14 borders Syria, which is where the Romans kept four legions of armies. With this, the sixth trumpet’s description of horses, snake tails, fire, and sulfure are “Roman’s armored horsemen, iron-plated towers, battering rams, and catapults, producing their fire and smoke” (Genry, “Preterist View,” 64).
However, as I have said before, the preterist view can never overcome the date of the book of Revelation. Church history unanimously points to John writing the book of Revelation in AD 95, which would mean the events described by the preterist view above have already happened in AD 70.
B. Idealist View – Armored Vehicles or Tanks
Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 91.
B. Futurist View – Demonic Hordes
These are hordes of demons released to kill one-third of the earth.
V. RESPONSE FROM UNBELIEVERS (9:20-21)
A. Worship of Unbelievers (v. 20)
“The rest of mankind which was not killed by the plagues would not repent from the work of their hands because they did not want to stop worshiping the evil spirits nor the gold, bronze, stone, or wooden idols. These idols do not have power to see nor hear nor walk.” (Rev 9:20)
B. Refusal to Repent (v. 21)
“And they would not repent from their murders or magic or sexual immortality or from their stealing.” (Rev 9:21)
I find Osborne’s comments helpful here, “The seven letters address churches that need to get right with God, while these last four call unbelievers to ‘repent’ and find salvation. This is one of the purposes of the seals, trumpets, and bowls—to give a final offer of salvation to the nations and to demonstrate the depravity of a people who reject it” (Osborne, Revelation, 385).
God wants the people living on the earth to repent of their deeds and to worship him. God provides signs and wonders in an effort to draw people to himself, yet they do not seem to want to do that.
Bruce Metzger writes, “the overall intention of the sounding of the seven trumpets is not to inflict vengeance but to bring people to repentance. Although nothing is done to minimize the gravity of sin and rebellion against God, there is great emphasis on God’s patience and mercy” (Metzger, Breaking the Code, 66).
VI. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
A. God’s promise to the nation of Israel is not finished.
More than 4,000 years ago God told a man named Abraham to leave his native country, his relatives, his family, and to go to the land that God would show him. God promised to make Abraham into a great nation. God would bless those tho bless Abraham and curse those who treat Abraham with contempt. But, most important, all the families on earth would be blessed through Abraham (Gen 12:1-3). Later God further revealed his promise to Abraham, “On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,’” (Gen 15:18). The mention of the Euphrates River reminds me of that Gen 15:18 mention of the the Euphrates River and God’s original promise to Abraham. God is not finished with his people—Israel—because he still has promises for them.
B. Some people are only driven farther away from God when God reveals himself to them.
C. You become like what you worship.
Simply put, if you worship our Lord Jesus Christ, you likely will become more like him. But, if you worship money, sex, and fame you will become more wrapped up in those things. Your character will change from being loving and kind like Jesus to passionate to pursue and get whatever you want regardless of the cost.