Revelation (Part 14): Trumpets 5 and 6
As Satan opens the abyss, smoke belches out of the great furnace, blocking out the sun. The imagery here is clear. The sun is normally associated with illuminating light of revelation. God gives light, and the sun then represents that brilliancy of truth, goodness, and beauty that comes from God. When God talks of a darkened sun in the Bible (mostly in the Old Testament), it indicates the anger of God against sin and the blocking of his favor. Here associated with the fifth trumpet is a darkening sun caused by the evil angelic army, indicating their purpose was to oppose or block the light of God.
The demons appear as locusts. The Bible uses locusts many times in Scripture both actually in judgment directed against the crops—the food produce of Israel—and figuratively comparing an invading army to a swarm of locusts. Caught in a swarm of locusts, the torment comes not so much in physical pain (although there is that because the locusts, biting everything in their path in order to eat) can nip and sting with their constant, swarming presence. But the greater torment is of the mind. Imagine being in such a cloud of creatures. You may wave your arms violently, but there is no way to fend them off. You turn to the right and they’re there; you turn back to the left and there are just as many. And people can begin to panic and lose control mentally in their failed efforts just trying to get away.
That is the feeling that is intended with this fifth trumpet. The people of the world, seeking satisfaction apart from God and for themselves, find that nothing satisfies no matter which way they desperately turn for relief. We were made as creatures that are ultimately satisfied only in the truth, goodness, and beauty of God. When we shove that away, we free fall into despair without hope. Verse 6 explains the result: “In those days people will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.”
When we compare this fifth trumpet activity to OT imagery, we find many instances of similarity. Possibly one of the more parallel passages is in Joel 2:
Blow the horn in Zion (reminds of the fifth trumpet blast);
Sound the alarm on My holy mountain! (9:1 Like the fifth trumpet blast)
Let all the residents of the land tremble,
for the Day of the Lord is coming;
in fact, it is near—a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and dense overcast, (9:2 smoke from the abyss)
like the dawn spreading over the mountains;
a great and strong people appears, (9:3 the locust/demon horde)
such as never existed in ages past
and never will again in all the generations to come.
A fire destroys in front of them,
and behind them a flame devours.
The land in front of them is like the Garden of Eden,
but behind them, it is like a desert wasteland;
there is no escape from them. (9:6 swarming, causing despair and desire for death)
Their appearance is like that of horses, (9:7 appearance of horses)
and they gallop like war horses.
They bound on the tops of the mountains.
Their sound is like the sound of chariots, (9:9 sound of wings like sound of chariots)
like the sound of fiery flames consuming stubble,
like a mighty army deployed for war.
Even in this passage, we learn in verse 25, the figurative description concerns actual locusts, swarming as an army.
The description of these locusts is intended to create a wild, powerful, menacing, fear-instilling force. Many (most) commentators, however, somehow equate the description of “hair like women’s hair” in verse 8 as indicating that these demons are seductive. That is reading something into the passage that is not intended. Of course, we can be seduced by sin. But the point of the passage is not to explain how we may sin but rather to describe the evil intent of the demons, driving us to despair. And the way it is being done is to show a powerful army, not a seductress. The hair like women’s is merely meant to show a wild, long-haired demonic presence. We have a description like this in the pseudepigraphical book Apocalypse of Zephaniah. Chapter 4 has reference to a demonic presence with hair like a woman’s: “Then I walked with the angel of the Lord. I looked before me and I saw a place there. Thousands of thousands and myriads of myriads of angels entered through it. Their faces were like a leopard, their tusks being outside their mouth like wild boars. Their eyes were mixed with blood. Their hair was loose like the hair of women, and fiery scourges were in their hands.” Later in Chapter 6, we have this description of Satan himself: “In that same instant I stood up, and I saw a great angel before me. His hair was spread out like that of lionesses’. His teeth were outside his mouth like a bear. His hair was spread out like women’s. His body was like the serpent’s when he wished to swallow me. And when I saw him, I was afraid of him so that all the parts of my body were loosened and I fell upon my face.”
We may wonder why God would use demons to heighten judgment against evil humanity. But as we review the OT, we find a parallel with Israel. Many Christians wrongly think of Israel as the OT version of the church. In the OT, so the thought goes, Israel were the people of God, just as in the NT, the church encompasses the people of God. And then we look for parallels as to how God dealt with Israel, thinking that will help us learn how God deals with us as Christians. That is not the correct view we should take of Israel.
Isaiah shows several elements of God’s interaction. In Isaiah, we find Israel—the nation—to be mostly composed of evil Jews, both leaders and the people. God uses other nations—Egypt, Assyria, Babylon--as his instruments of judgment against Israel. Yet God sends his servant rescuer (Moses, Cyrus, etc.) to lead his people out of judgment. And God stresses the righteous remnant that he always cares for in that rescue. Finally, God shows that even these other nations that he uses to inflict judgment on Israel are themselves judged.
As we compare this scenario to the more complete redemption plan for the world, we find that Israel is symbolic of the world. Israel had a covenant relationship with God just as the world (through Adam and Eve) had a covenant of life relationship with God. The human race (again through Adam and Eve) fell into sin and broke that covenant, just as Israel constantly broke the Mosaic covenant of Law. God, in the fifth trumpet activity, shows that he sends an outside force (the locust demons) as a means to bring judgment on the world, just as the other nations brought judgment against Israel. God also sends his Kinsman Redeemer, Jesus, to rescue, as he rescued in Israel in the OT. That righteous remnant of the OT depiction is what is rightly representative of the church in this day—a remnant kept by God from the judgment consequence on the whole world. And finally, that demon presence will be judged (Rev 20) just as the other nations were judged in the OT.
Moving to the sixth trumpet, we find it has much the same purpose as the fifth trumpet but yet with a subtle difference. While the fifth trumpet highlighted the torment in the world’s search for satisfaction in self apart from God, the sixth trumpet focuses on the torment in the world’s search for satisfaction in self apart from others. Both are selfish pursuits, but the one is a rejection of relationship with God while the other is a selfish rejection of the interests of others.
This sixth trumpet begins with a voice coming from the four horns of the gold altar before God. This gold altar we saw at the beginning of chapter 9. Importantly, it reminds us that the activity of God in these trumpet judgments is a response to the prayers of God’s people. The people are not told to wait, as they were in the 5th seal of chapter 5. That is because redemption has been accomplished through Christ on the cross. Although we see the same kind of sin through the world in broken relationship with God, others, and the rest of creation, the difference is that with redemption accomplished, the brokenness strikes out against God’s revealed rescue. While the seals showed the downward spiral of sin, the trumpets show God’s involvement in manipulating this sinful condition in judgment and for the gathering of all those who respond in faith to the Kinsman Redeemer.