Augsburger Wunderzeichenbuch, c. 1550

After the first four angels released their judgements, the fifth angel blew his trumpet. John saw a star that had fallen from the sky to earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like smoke from a huge furnace. The sun and the sky were darkened by the smoke.

The Fifth Trumpet brings the first terror - Unknown artistOut of the smoke came locusts which were given the power like that of scorpions. They were told to not harm the grass or any plant or tree but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads.  They were not allowed to kill their victims but only to torture them for five months. The agony suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. During those days, people will seek death but will not find it. They will long to die but death will elude them.

The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold and their faces resembled human faces. They had hair like a woman’s hair and their teeth were like lion’s teeth. They wore breastplates like iron and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. They had tails with stingers like scorpions and in their tails, they had power to torment people for five months.

They had as king over them, the angel of the Abyss whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek is Apollyon – the Destroyer.

The first woe is past, two other woes are yet to come.

What the story means to us today

Locusts plague the earth, but Christians are protected by God’s good grace

When the seventh seal was broken, seven angels were given trumpets to sound. The first four trumpets cause much havoc including hail and fire mixed with blood, a huge mountain thrown into the sea, a blazing star fallen on earth, and a third of the sky darkened. There are three more “woes” remaining – and they will be especially horrific.

The first woe (of the “three woes”) is initiated by a trumpet blast sounded by the fifth angel. As a result, a swarm of apocalyptic locusts are released upon earth. It’s important to note the exception to the destruction released by the fifth trumpet. The swarming locusts are only allowed to harm those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. Although destruction will run rampant on earth, Christians will be protected from the wrath by God’s saving grace.

Additional thoughts and considerations

The star that falls to earth

The star that falls to earth can be interpreted as a literal astronomical object or more likely, as a symbol for a living entity – an angel. This seems reasonable since planetary stars are often associated with angels. The theory is further supported in later verses when the star is referred to as a person who is given the key to the Abyss. Additional supporting evidence occurs in Revelation 9:11 where we are told that the king of the locusts is the “angel of the Abyss”.

In later verses, we will see another reference to an angel coming down from heaven while holding the key to the Abyss (into which Satan will ultimately be thrown). Whether this angel is good or a “fallen angel” is unknown.

The Abyss

The Abyss is referred to in later verses as the place from which the beast arises. From various references throughout the Bible, we can infer the Abyss is a sort of underworld for the dead and a container for certain demonic entities or fallen angels. Although the “keys” required to open it are almost certainly a metaphorical representation, the Abyss appears to be some sort of trap, container, or inaccessible repository which requires special “power” to access.

Note that John sees smoke arise from the Abyss. This could of course be literal smoke from a place of burning judgement – or it could be a dense cloud of locusts.

We tend to envision the Abyss as an underworld, a fiery hellhole deep beneath the earth’s surface. But the Abyss could be something altogether different. It could be an otherworldly location or even another dimension which we are unfamiliar with or cannot otherwise conceive. We must be careful not to twist or force interpretation of biblical prophecy into a preconceived expectation. Doing so could mislead us when the events unfold.

Locusts that don’t eat?

The verses tell us that the locusts are not allowed to harm grass or any other plants. This is unusual because locust plagues typically wreak havoc on plant life when swarms of the hungry insects devour all vegetation in their path. Given the description of the locusts – stinging tails, human-like faces, crown-like objects on their head, and iron-like breastplates – the locusts John sees are likely something completely unknown to us. Given that they arise from the Abyss and are intelligently controlled (they can only harm those that worship the beast), it may be that these creatures are themselves some form of demonic entity.

Five months of torture for non-believers

The Bible tells us the stinging locusts will be allowed to inflict agony on non-believers for five months. The five-month period is close to a locust “season” and thus, the five-month period may be the lifespan of the locusts (which normally hatch in the springtime and die near the end of summer). Though the scripture does not specify, it could be that they are present on earth for five months and then they die.

Military helicopter with face painted on it looks like locust insectAn endless variety of interpretations

Revelation 9 is a highly-visual apocalyptic vision and thus, produces an endless variety of unusual potential interpretations.  One popular interpretation proposes the “star” is a human celebrity or ruler who’s popularity has been taken away (he “falls to earth”).  The fallen star then opens a repository and releases a horde of locusts which in some eyes, sound eerily like the description of a military helicopter (at least in the eyes of John who would be unfamiliar with a modern helicopter) – stinging tails: the tail rotor at the end of the tail boom, human-like faces: the pilots in the cockpit, crown-like objects on their head: the main rotor blade, and iron-like breastplates: the armored body of a military copter.

As always, we must be careful when applying preconceived interpretations to biblical prophecy.  It is however, an interesting interpretation that demonstrates how John’s symbolism could be applied to modern-day.

The science and history behind the story

Apollyon, Apollo, or Domitian?

The narrative of the fifth trumpet is one of the main points used by those who believe Revelation applied to John’s day and is not a prophecy for the future. Their supposition is this: Apollyon could be a play on the name of the Greek god, Apollo. During the time Revelation was written, the Roman emperor Domitian may have been the emperor (81 AD to 96 AD). Domitian considered himself to be Apollo incarnate. Since one of the many epitaphs for Apollo is the locust, some propose that John intended this section to be a coded means to say worship of Domitian was evil. This is surely a stretch of interpretation but should be kept in mind nevertheless.

Notes on Biblical translation

Abaddon/Apollyon

The Hebrew word “Abaddon” means destruction, ruin, or possibly “the place of ruin” when related to Sheol (the underworld). The Greek word “Apollyon” bears similar connotations. It means exterminator or destroyer. The word appears nowhere else in the Bible.

The reason John gives both Hebrew and Greek variants of the name is unclear. Some believe he was following Old Testament stylistic writing where objects are often presented in bilingual terms.

Bible Text

NAbaddon and the locusts - Unknown artistIV

The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. 2 When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. 3 And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. 6 During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.

7 The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. 8 Their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. 9 They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. 10 They had tails with stingers, like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months. 11 They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek is Apollyon (that is, Destroyer).

12 The first woe is past; two other woes are yet to come.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The Message

The fifth Angel trumpeted. I saw a Star plummet from Heaven to earth. The Star was handed a key to the Well of the Abyss. He unlocked the Well of the Abyss—smoke poured out of the Well, billows and billows of smoke, sun and air in blackout from smoke pouring out of the Well.

3–6 Then out of the smoke crawled locusts with the venom of scorpions. They were given their orders: “Don’t hurt the grass, don’t hurt anything green, don’t hurt a single tree—only men and women, and then only those who lack the seal of God on their foreheads.” They were ordered to torture but not kill, torture them for five months, the pain like a scorpion sting. When this happens, people are going to prefer death to torture, look for ways to kill themselves. But they won’t find a way—death will have gone into hiding.

7–11 The locusts looked like horses ready for war. They had gold crowns, human faces, women’s hair, the teeth of lions, and iron breastplates. The sound of their wings was the sound of horse-drawn chariots charging into battle. Their tails were equipped with stings, like scorpion tails. With those tails they were ordered to torture the human race for five months. They had a king over them, the Angel of the Abyss. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, in Greek, Apollyon—“Destroyer.”

12 The first doom is past. Two dooms yet to come.

Revelation 9 locust engravingPeterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

The NET Bible

9:1 Then the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the abyss. 9:2 He opened the shaft of the abyss and smoke rose out of it like smoke from a giant furnace. The sun and the air were darkened with smoke from the shaft. 9:3 Then out of the smoke came locusts onto the earth, and they were given power like that of the scorpions of the earth. 9:4 They were told not to damage the grass of the earth, or any green plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their forehead. 9:5 The locusts were not given permission to kill them, but only to torture them for five months, and their torture was like that of a scorpion when it stings a person. 9:6 In those days people will seek death, but will not be able to find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.

9:7 Now the locusts looked like horses equipped for battle. On their heads were something like crowns similar to gold, and their faces looked like men’s faces. 9:8 They had hair like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. 9:9 They had breastplates like iron breastplates, and the sound of their wings was like the noise of many horse-drawn chariots charging into battle. 9:10 They have tails and stingers like scorpions, and their ability to injure people for five months is in their tails. 9:11 They have as king over them the angel of the abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon.

9:12 The first woe has passed, but two woes are still coming after these things!

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

King James Version

9 And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. 2 And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. 3 And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. 4 And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads. 5 And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man. 6 And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them. 7 And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men. 8 And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions. 9 And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle. 10 And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months. 11 And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name xApollyon. 12 One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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