Old Testament Reading: Exodus 10:1-20
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord.’ So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh and said to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, that they may serve me. For if you refuse to let my people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country, and they shall cover the face of the land, so that no one can see the land. And they shall eat what is left to you after the hail, and they shall eat every tree of yours that grows in the field, and they shall fill your houses and the houses of all your servants and of all the Egyptians, as neither your fathers nor your grandfathers have seen, from the day they came on earth to this day.’’ Then he turned and went out from Pharaoh. Then Pharaoh’s servants said to him, ‘How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the Lord their God. Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?’ So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. And he said to them, ‘Go, serve the Lord your God. But which ones are to go?’ Moses said, ‘We will go with our young and our old. We will go with our sons and daughters and with our flocks and herds, for we must hold a feast to the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘The Lord be with you, if ever I let you and your little ones go! Look, you have some evil purpose in mind. No! Go, the men among you, and serve the Lord, for that is what you are asking.’ And they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the land of Egypt for the locusts, so that they may come upon the land of Egypt and eat every plant in the land, all that the hail has left.’ So Moses stretched out his staff over the land of Egypt, and the Lord brought an east wind upon the land all that day and all that night. When it was morning, the east wind had brought the locusts. The locusts came up over all the land of Egypt and settled on the whole country of Egypt, such a dense swarm of locusts as had never been before, nor ever will be again. They covered the face of the whole land, so that the land was darkened, and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Not a green thing remained, neither tree nor plant of the field, through all the land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh hastily called Moses and Aaron and said, ‘I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you. Now therefore, forgive my sin, please, only this once, and plead with the Lord your God only to remove this death from me.’ So he went out from Pharaoh and pleaded with the Lord. And the Lord turned the wind into a very strong west wind, which lifted the locusts and drove them into the Red Sea. Not a single locust was left in all the country of Egypt. But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go” (Exodus 10:1–20, ESV).
New Testament Reading: Revelation 9:1-12
“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. 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. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. 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. 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. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them. 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, their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; 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. They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. 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. The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come” (Revelation 9:1–12, ESV).
I will begin today by stating directly the meaning of this passage, and then afterwards move carefully through the text, verse by verse, in order to demonstrate the validity of the interpretation.
The vision that was shown to John when the fifth of the seven trumpets was blown symbolizes this truth: Satan, that ancient serpent and fallen angel, was barred from heaven and cast down to earth when Christ won the decisive victory over him through his life, death, burial and resurrection. Satan was defeated then. One of the effects of Christ’s victory was that Satan was barred from heaven as the accuser of the brethren, was restricted to the earth, and was bound.
To say that he was bound does not mean that he is now powerless in every respect, or that he is inactive altogether, but that such a decisive victory was won over him through the cross of Christ, that whatever he does, he does only by way of permission. God and Christ are sovereign over the evil one. This has always been the case. But from the time of the ascension of Christ to the Father, the powers of the evil one are greatly limited. Satan is on a shorter leash today than in the days prior to the resurrection of Christ from the dead. And it is Christ who holds that leash.
The evil one knows that his days are numbered. When he is permitted to act, he acts, therefore, with great ferocity. That seems to be the point of this vision. Satan is a wicked and cruel master. He torments with spiritual and psychological torment all who belong to him – that is, all who do not have the seal of God upon them, but who have taken instead his mark. The reward they receive for their fidelity to him is not life, but death; not peace, but turmoil. These torments are poured out upon the ungodly by his demons, whom he is king over.
Some of you have lived for a time under the torments of this wicked master. Some of you are living under his torments even now as you walk, not according to Christ, but according to the evil one. You know what it is to be stung by his minions, and to even long for death, but to have death flee from you. This passage ought to to move the Christian to follow Christ all the more closely – to be true to him as Lord – to be his slave, knowing that his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:30). To have Christ as Lord is to have “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding… [guarding] your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).
This is the meaning of the vision shown to John when the fifth of seven trumpets were blown.
Brothers and sisters, remember that when the first four trumpets were blown judgments were poured out upon the created world. When the first trumpet was blown John saw hail, fire and blood cast upon the land. When the second trumpet was blown he saw something like a burning mountain cast into the sea. When the third trumpet was blown he saw a great star burning like a torch fall upon rivers and springs. And when the fourth trumpet was blown the sun, moon and stars were darkened. In each instance our minds are directed back to the Old Testament, particularly the plagues poured out upon the Egyptians at the exodus – there too the created world was effected. In each of the four trumpets the plagues of the exodus are both universalized (not restricted to the land of Egypt, but effecting the world), and also restrained (only a third of the mentioned realms are said to be effected). The meaning of the first four trumpets is this: God will, in the time between Christ’s first and second comings, pour out partial and perpetual judgments upon the earth disrupting the stability of life on this planet as a demonstration to the unbelieving and idolatrous, that they are not right with God, and as a warning to all that a full and final judgment will one day come. The first six trumpets in the book of Revelation function like the first six trumpets in the days leading up to the destruction of Jericho. We should remember, though, that God, while pouring out partial and perpetual judgments upon the idolatrous can and will preserve his people. Nations will rise and fall. There will be wars and rumors of wars. Earthquakes and famines will trouble us. But by the grace of God these phenomena will be restrained. The end is not yet. These are but the beginning of birth pains. The people of God are to persevere.
Notice that the last three trumpets are set off from the first four.
There is an intensification. Look at 8:13. Between the sounding of the fourth trumpet and the fifth we have these words: “Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, ‘Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow’” (Revelation 8:13, ESV)!
Eagles and vultures symbolize judgment in the Bible. They are called to gorge themselves upon the flesh of the fallen.
Ezekiel 39:1-5: “And you, son of man, prophesy against Gog and say, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. And I will turn you about and drive you forward, and bring you up from the uttermost parts of the north, and lead you against the mountains of Israel. Then I will strike your bow from your left hand, and will make your arrows drop out of your right hand. You shall fall on the mountains of Israel, you and all your hordes and the peoples who are with you. I will give you to birds of prey of every sort and to the beasts of the field to be devoured. You shall fall in the open field, for I have spoken, declares the Lord God” (Ezekiel 39:1–5, ESV).
Here an eagle is seen by John flying overhead and crying out “woe, woe, woe”. The last of the seven trumpets are also called “woes”, for they are more intense than the first four.
A Star Fallen From Heaven
When the “fifth angel blew his trumpet… [John] saw a star fallen from heaven to earth…” (Revelation 9:1a, ESV).
This star represents Satan. He is, in verse eleven, said to be the king over the demonic hoards that will proceed from the bottomless pit. His name, in verse eleven, is said to be Abandon in Hebrew, and Apollyon in Greek. “Abandon” means destruction. “Apollyon” means destroyer.
Notice that in this vision John does not say that he saw Satan fall, but that he saw him fallen: “And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth…” (Revelation 9:1a, ESV). The verb “fallen” is in the perfect tense which is used in the Greek to refer to a completed action that occurred in the past but produces a state of being that exists in the present, from the writers perspective. The vision picks up, then, not with Satan being cast from heaven, but with him already having been barred from heaven and bound.
The casting down of Satan from heaven to earth will be portrayed in Revelation 12:7-12.
“Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short” (Revelation 12:7–12, ESV)!
Jesus referred to the casting down of Satan from heaven to earth in his earth ministry. Luke 10:17-20 says, “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven’” (Luke 10:17–20, ESV). The disciples of Jesus rejoiced that they had authority over the demonic in Christ’s name. And Jesus confirmed their success by saying, “I saw…” (other translations say, “I was watching”, or “I beheld”, which brings out the emphasis of the imperfect tense a little more, I think) “I saw [or was watching] Satan fall like lightning from heaven”. The disciples of Christ were beginning to enjoy the victory of Christ over the evil on even in the days of his earthly ministry as the kingdom of heaven was intruding.
In John 12:31-32 we find these words on Jesus’ lips as he speaks of the effect of his death: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:31–32, ESV). The death of Christ would accomplish, among other things, the casting out Satan, who is the ruler of this world.
Matthew 12:28-29 communicates a similar concept. Christ here speaks of the binding of Satan. He replied to the accusation of his opponents that he was casting out dreams by the power of Satan with the words, “And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:26, ESV) And in verse 28 he says, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house” (Matthew 12:28–29, ESV).
Indeed, this is what Christ has accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection. He has defeated the evil one so that he be barred from heaven. He has bound him from deceiving the nations so that he might plunder his house through the advancement of his kingdom by the making of disciples to the ends of the earth.
You might be thinking to yourself, but wasn’t Satan cast from heaven the moment he fell? Not completely. Do you remember the story of Job? The book begins with a description of Job as a righteous man, but the focus quickly turns to the accusations that Satan brings to God against him.
Job 1:6-12: “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, ‘From where have you come?’ Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’ And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?’ Then Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.’ And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.’ So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord” (Job 1:6–12, ESV).
Satan, after his fall, was permitted to come before God in heaven. And what was he doing there? Bringing accusation against God’s elect.
The same thing can be observed in Zechariah 3:1. Zechariah saw a heavenly vision where he was shown, and I quote, “…Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire’” (Zechariah 3:1–2, ESV)? Once more, Satan is said to come before God to do what? Accuse God’s elect!
And do you remember what Christ said to Peter as he warned him that he would deny him three time? “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31–32, ESV). Again, Satan is portrayed as the accuser of God’s elect and evidently, even at this point in time immediately preceding the crucifixion of Christ, has access to God to ask for Peter that he might destroy him.
When the scriptures refer to Satan being cast or barred from heaven at Christ’s first coming, this is what stands behind it. He, in this New Covenant era no longer has access to God to accuse the elect for the work of Christ has been finished.
It is the Revelation 12 passage that I read earlier which makes this so clear. The heavenly announcement was this: “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” This was accomplished at Christ’s first coming. I will prove it when we come to that text in our study.
Do you see that when A-millennialists such as I say things like, “Satan was bound at Christ’s first coming”, or “Satan was bared from heaven at Christ’s first coming”, or “Satan was defeated at Christ’s first coming”, we do not mean to say that he is powerless in every respect, or that he is inactive altogether. No! He is indeed active. He has power. He is ferocious. But he is on a short leash. He cannot accuse the brethren any long, nor is he able to keep the nation is darkness, nor can he do harm to God’s elect.
That he is still active is clear from the text that is before us this morning.
He Was Given The Key To The Shaft Of The Bottomless Pit
Notice at the end of verse one that John saw this fallen star being given “… the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit” (Revelation 9:1, ESV).
The bottomless pit, or the abyss, is the realm of demons over which Satan rules. Revelation 20:1-3 says that Satan is bound there. It is from the bottomless pit that the beast will arise. Revelation 11:7 says “And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them…” (Revelation 11:7, ESV). Listen also to Revelation 17:8: “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction…. (Revelation 17:8, ESV). The image is that of Satan doing his destructive work on the earth from this bottomless pit as he sends forth his emissaries from there.
Remember that John saw him being given “… the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit.” Who gave the keys to him? Christ did. Remember that Christ is the one who, by his death and resurrection, has “the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17–18, ESV). It is God and Christ who have the keys, but they here given to Abaddon, who is also called Apollyon, for a purpose. To quote G.K. Beale, the meaning is this: “Neither Satan nor his evil servants can any longer unleash the forces of hell on earth unless they are given power to do so by the resurrected Christ.”
Brothers and sisters, Satan has surely been bound – he is certainly restrained (praise be to God) – but this does not mean that he is inactive. He is king of the abyss. And he is permitted by God to release destruction upon the earth from the abyss, but in a limited and restrained way.
Locust From The Bottomless Pit
Look at verse two and use your imagination as we read. The fallen star, who’s name is Abaddon and Apollyon “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” (Revelation 9:2, ESV).
Can you picture what John saw in this vision? Can you picture the abyss and smoke rising from it “like the smoke of a great furnace”? So thick was this smoke that “the sun and the air were darkened” by it.
But this is not merely smoke. Verse three: “Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth” (Revelation 9:3, ESV).
The eighth of the ten plagues should come to mind. Remember that God sent swarms of locust upon the Egyptians. “The locusts came up over all the land of Egypt and settled on the whole country of Egypt, such a dense swarm of locusts as had never been before, nor ever will be again. They covered the face of the whole land, so that the land was darkened, and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Not a green thing remained, neither tree nor plant of the field, through all the land of Egypt” (Exodus 10:14–15, ESV). In this way God poured out judgment upon the idolators of Egypt, but he preserved his own.
Notice in Revelation that these are not literal locusts who literally consume literal plants. Instead these locusts, “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” (Revelation 9:4, ESV).
Their work is limited. They do not have the freedom to harm people indiscriminately, but only those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. Who are these except all who belong to Christ by faith who have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise? It is the 144,00 who are sealed – 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of multiethnic, New Covenant Israel – that is to say, the church.
These locusts cannot touch God’s people, but only the idolaters who have, not the seal of God, but the mark of beast. Friends, you are not free. You are in bondage to someone. You either belong to Christ, having been sealed by him, or you belong to the evil one, bearing his mark.
These locusts, who represent demons, “were allowed to torment them [those not sealed by God] for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone” (Revelation 9:5, ESV).
Notice again that these are limited. They are permitted to torment for five months. This should not be taken literally. Numbers are symbolic in this book. The point seems to be that, not only are the locust restrained from harming God’s people, bit they are restrained also in regard to the harm they can do even to the idolator.
They are also restrained in that they are not allowed to kill those whom they torment.
Their torment is described as the sting of a scorpion.
It seems to me that what is portrayed here in Revelation is a depiction of what Christ said in Luke 10:18-20: “And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:18–20, ESV).
Such is the torment of these locusts that those effected by them “in those days… will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them” (Revelation 9:6, ESV).
The futurist and the hyper-literalist thinks that this is a literal description of literal creatures who will literally sting with a sting like that of a scorpion, and that the literal and physical pain will drive men mad to the point of desiring death. This method of interpretation is not in step with the method of interpretation demanded elsewhere in the book of Revelation. The book everywhere communicates truth by way of symbol. The torment of the locusts sting is not literal and physical, but spiritaulartul and psychological. This interpretation is in keeping with the symbolism of the rest of he book.
The point is this: this is how the evil one rewards those who belong to him. Notice that he is pleased to sting, not the people of God, but his own people. He is pleased to torment them. He is glad to remove all joy and peace as he overwhelms them with all manner of spiritual torment to the point that they despair of life and long for death.
A child of God – one sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise – cannot be stung by the full power of the locusts sting. But I cannot help but think that the Christian may taste what it is like to live under these torments for a time when he or she turns from Christ to walk in sin, and in so doing, grieves the Spirit of God with which they have been sealed.
Some of you know what it is to belong to the evil one and to be tormented by him to the point of despairing of life and longing for death. The thing that kept you from suicide, was the fearful expectation of judgment.
But some of you who belong to Christ have walked in sin and, in so doing, grieved the Holy Spirit so that you know something of the tortuous existence experienced by those who have not the Holy Spirit. This, I think, is a relatively common Christian experience.
Walk with Christ, friends. Turn from your sins and believe in him. Confess him as Lord, for his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:30). In him is found joy and peace and much comfort. To belong to the evil one will bring only everlasting torment to your soul.
Notice the description of these locusts in Revelation 9:7-10. “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, their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; 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. They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails” (Revelation 9:7–10, ESV).
Some hyper-literalistic dispensational futurists think that John must have been shown a vision of modern attack helicopters and that he did his best to describe what he saw. I will admit that I can see how this passage would get their imaginations going. I can understand how they would come to this conclusion given their presuppositions about the book of Revelation – they assume that the visions shown to John we like video footage, as it were, of historical events that are yet to happen in our future. But as I have said before, their presuppositions are faulty.
Instead it is better to understand that what John saw had symbolic significance and that it draws upon key Old Testament texts.
The way that John describes locust should take our minds to Joel chapters 1 and 2 and Jeremiah 51, which I do not have the time to read today.
It is clear that he struggled to describe what he saw. He said, “In appearance the locusts were like…” These creatures were so strange that he struggled to describe them. They were like nothing he had seen before.
The way that the creatures are described underscores that they are powerful, rational, terrifying, beings who possess authority to destroy.
When I say this is not a literal description of real creatures that should not bring you too much comfort. These creatures represent real beings who, although they do not look like this, have real power cause real destruction. The terrifying description of them ought to make us all the more sober concerning the evil one and power to destroy.