"Text: Rev 9:13-21
OT Scripture: Joel 2:12-17
Featured Verse: Rev 9:20-21 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.
Main Idea: Like the sixth seal in a prior chapter, this sixth judgment seems to point toward a climactic battle at the end of time. We are reminded that God has a final purpose
Many commentators recognize that this section of the book is particularly difficult to understand. (Fortunately, later visions will be a little clearer, so hang on.) For now, we want to recognize some of the patterns that we can see and set some parameters around what is known... and what is uncertain. The sounding of the sixth trumpet causes four angels to be released. Like the demonic powers seen in the vision of the fifth trumpet they seem to be forces of evil that bring destruction on the earth. In verse 16, they are compared to an army that numbers "twice ten thousand times ten thousand" (200,000,000.) That is a large army. Scholars say that is greater than the entire population of the Roman Empire at the time. The army is portrayed in grotesque ways similar to the demonic locust hoard of the fifth trumpet vision. Unlike the demonic locust hoard (which did not kill), this army of mutant horses kills one third of mankind with "fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths." (v.18) Is this referring to demonic powers that look like an army, or to an army that is an agent for demonic powers? I am not sure.
Here are some things we can be more confident seeing in the passage. There are several important patterns that can be observed. The sixth trumpet has important similarities to other events in the book of Revelation. The sixth judgment in each of the three series of seven seems to relate to a climactic battle that occurs at the end of history. Other descriptions of a final battle in the book of Revelation are found below:
- Sixth Seal (6:12-17) - "then the kings of the earth and...the generals... hid themselves in the caves... for the great day of [God's] wrath has come."
- Sixth Trumpet (9:13-19) - "the number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand."**
- Sixth Bowl of Wrath (16:12-16) - "the kings of the whole world assembled... at a place...called Armageddon."
- Rider in White (19:19) "Kings of the earth gathered to make war."
- Satan Defeated with God and Magog (20:7-10) - "nations at the four corners of the earth... gather... for battle."
So, what do we make of this? There are a few possibilities. The approach that we have taken so far is to recognize a pattern of recapitulation in the book, such that a single event is described repeatedly. While that seems to take us a long way toward understanding what is happening in the book of Revelation, there is more that we can add to it. Because the series of seven judgments increase in magnitude* there is also a sense that the whole scene of judgment is escalating. While it seems that many of these accounts, listed above, seem to point toward a single final battle, it is a known feature of biblical prophecy to describe contemporary judgments with the language of the ultimate last battle. For example, the fall of Jerusalem (in both 486 BC and 70 AD) is described in language that sounds like the end of the world. In other words, it should not surprise us that bad things happen in history. When they occur, they give us a foretaste of the final conflict. History has periods of peace interspersed with intense conflict. The Persecution of Domitian, the Fall of Rome, the Black Death, the Civil War, World Wars I & II... all felt like world ending cataclysmic events to those who participated. In a sense they carried with them the echoes of final judgment. Because the sixth trumpet is said to affect "one third" of mankind, it may be a window into this phenomenon.
Conclusion and Application
Well, perhaps that seems a little complicated or a little abstract. Our final landing point is to see the impact of these judgments on people. God has a purpose in bringing judgments into history. They serve to bring justice and reveal his glory. But they are also opportunities for repentance. When any particular bad thing happens it is a reminder that we are naturally separated from God and need to be reconciled to our creator. Every war or disaster is an opportunity for people to review their spiritual situation and turn back to God. Hard things can serve as wake up calls for repentance.
Unfortunately, John shows us that the majority of people do not respond in this way. Although they had experienced a judgment that was meant to stir them to repentance they did not turn from their rebellious sin. (9:20-21)
Humans experience suffering for many reasons. Sometimes it is our fault. Often it is not. Sometimes we even suffer because we are pursuing righteousness. But regardless of the reason, suffering is always an opportunity for deeper repentance and more dependent faith. When we hear of "wars and rumors of wars" and when our land is marked by "famines or earthquakes" or disease (See Matthew 24:6-8), let us place our trust in our heavenly Father, who through Christ has sealed us for redemption, and let us draw near with more heart-felt repentance.
* The seven seals affect 1/4 of mankind. Then the seven trumpets affect 1/3 of mankind. (The fraction is becoming greater as the denominator gets smaller.) The seven thunders (10:4) are "sealed up" so we don't get to hear what this judgment would be, but following the pattern we would expect it to affect 1/2 of mankind. Finally, the seven bowls of wrath complete the cycle of judgment. They affect the entirety of mankind - essentially 1/1.
** The "second woe" is not said to end until after the interlude of chapters 10 and 11. In these visions, a different perspective on warfare is introduced. The temple of God is sealed and two witnesses give faithful testimony until they are martyred. This will be discussed in more detail later, but I reference here because it seems to be part of the sixth trumpet (the second woe) and includes continued themes of warfare that is witnessed throughout the earth.