Bible Prophecy in Chronology series (post #11)
In the previous post from this series, we covered the first four of the seven Trumpet Judgments that will take place toward the end of the first half of the tribulation period. In this post, we’ll cover the remaining three. These three judgments will bring the world right up to the doorstep of the midway point of the period.
Trumpet Judgment #5 (Revelation 9:1-12): An Invasion of Demons
When the angel blows the trumpet to begin the 5th trumpet judgment, John says, “And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit” (Revelation 9:1). The fact that John refers to this “star” as “him” shows that we aren’t dealing with a literal star. This is a being, one “fallen from heaven to earth.” And so who is this “star”? It’s Satan.
If by nothing else, Satan’s identity is given away by the fact that he is glad to get the key to the “bottomless pit.” The Greek word that is translated as “bottomless pit” is abussos, and it’s the word that gives us the English word “abyss.” In the King James translation, abussos is also sometimes translated as “the deep” (Luke 8:31, Romans 10:7). By piecing certain scriptures together, we learn that abussos (the abyss, the deep) is only the description of the place. Its actual name in the Greek is Tartarus (2 Peter 2:4), which unfortunately gets translated as “hell” in the King James translation. Summing it all up, abussos, Tartarus, the abyss, the deep, and the bottomless pit are all different ways of describing the same place.
Now, the all-important thing to remember about this place is this: It is a place exclusively for the imprisonment of fallen angels. No human – alive or dead, saved or lost – ever has anything to do with this site. Fallen angels (demons) are the only beings that ever need worry about “the bottomless pit,” and they are terrified of it. This explains why a group of them once begged Jesus not to send them there (Luke 8:31).
Okay, so why does Satan want the key to this bottomless pit? It’s because some of his most powerful fallen angels are imprisoned in there. 1 Peter 3:18-20, 2 Peter 2:4, and Jude verse 6 all talk about a group of angels (“spirits”) that sinned and were cast down to the “prison” of Tartarus (the bottomless pit) where they are currently kept in “chains of darkness.” These twice-fallen angels were disobedient in “the days of Noah” (1 Peter 3:20). All this only fits one group of fallen angels: the infamous “sons of God” from Genesis 6:1-4. These are the ones who somehow married human women and fathered children through them in the days leading up to the flood of Noah. That sin was so heinous in God’s eyes that He imprisoned this group of demons in the bottomless pit.
Sometime just before the midway point of the tribulation period, Satan will be granted the key to the bottomless pit and he will immediately free his long-imprisoned demons. As John watched Satan open the pit, smoke like the smoke of a great furnace rose up into the air and temporarily cloaked the sun in darkness (Revelation 9:2). This shows us that the bottomless pit is located somewhere deep within the bowels of planet earth. This isn’t some mystical place that exists way out there in the far reaches of space. And Satan knows just exactly where its entrance is.
But how can the pit be “bottomless”? One possible answer is that the center of the earth, like deep space, is void of gravity. Obviously no one knows for sure what exactly is going on at the center of the earth, but the idea of no gravity makes some sense and would explain the description “bottomless.”
Once the smoke rises up, out of it come all the demons, however many there are, that have been incarcerated in that prison for so long. John figuratively calls them “locusts” (Revelation 9:3), but his description of them makes it clear that he’s not talking about actual locusts. He even says they have a king over them, and this king is “the angel of the bottomless pit” (Revelation 9:11). In other words, this is the chief fallen angel (demon) who leads the whole group. In the Hebrew language, this angel’s name is Abaddon. In the Greek, it is Apollyon. Both names mean the same thing: Destroyer.
As for the description of these demons, John says that even though they “were given power” (Revelation 9:3) they were commanded not to harm any of the earth’s vegetation or any of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists (Revelation 9:4). They also couldn’t actually kill anyone. All they could do was torment the people of the earth for five months. This torment will be like the pain of a scorpion sting (Revelation 9:5). The pain inflicted by these demons will be so great that John says, “In those days, men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them” (Revelation 9:6).
Continuing on with the description, John says the demons had the shape of “horses prepared for battle” and wore on their heads “crowns of something like gold” (Revelation 9:7). The phrase “horses prepared for battle” seems to convey the picture that these demons will emerge from that pit primed and ready for battle, like war horses snorting and pawing at the ground as they impatiently stand on the outskirts of a battle. Perhaps the crowns the demons wear symbolically speak of the high ranking the demons hold in Satan’s army.
John then says that the demons had faces “like the faces of men,” “hair like women’s hair,” and teeth “like lions’ teeth” (Revelation 9:7-8). Frankly, there’s just no way of telling when John is speaking literally and when he is speaking symbolically. I will say that if the demons literally have faces like men, that could explain how they fooled those human women into marrying them back in Genesis chapter 6. Likewise, if they literally have hair like women’s hair, that could simply mean that they have long, flowing hair. And what about those teeth like lions’ teeth? I suppose that could merely mean that their teeth are very strong.
But John isn’t finished. He continues on by saying that the demons “had breastplates like breastplates of iron” (Revelation 9:9). A breastplate is a protective covering that protects the chest. The demons had wings too, and when they flew it sounded like “chariots with many horses running into battle” (Revelation 9:9). This shouldn’t surprise us. After all, angels do have wings, right? For example, a seraph angel has six wings (Isaiah 6:2).
Lastly, John says the demons had “tails like scorpions” and there were “stings in their tails” (Revelation 9:10). Are these tails literal? I have no idea. If the face, hair, teeth, and wings are literal, I suppose the tails could be too, even though we don’t normally think of angels – fallen or unfallen – as having tails. If the tails aren’t literal, then the symbolism speaks to the demons’ power to inflict pain upon people. Noted commentator William MacDonald suggests that these demons will inflict all this pain upon people by entering into their bodies and possessing them. That’s possible. Again, it’s hard to interpret every last detail with any kind of certainty.
Trumpet Judgment #6 (Revelation 9:13-21): 4 More Demons & An Army of 200 Million
When the sixth angel blows his trumpet, four fallen angels (demons) are released from their imprisonment in the Euphrates River (Revelation 9:13-14). Unlike the demons released from the bottomless pit, these demons are released “to kill a third of mankind” (Revelation 9:15). These demons “had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year” (Revelation 9:15). At face value, this phrase can be taken to mean the demons will reek their havoc for a little over 13 months. While this does fit neatly into the months just prior to the midway point of the tribulation period, it might be significant that John says the demons are prepared for “the hour and day and month and year.” That might show that the phrase, rather than being literal, simply means that God has a divinely appointed schedule for these demons to do their damage. I myself lean toward the literal interpretation of 13 months.
Of course, the whole subject of these four demons raises some valid questions. Who are these demons? Why are they imprisoned in the Euphrates river? When were they imprisoned there? Unfortunately, John doesn’t lay out any pat answers to these questions.
Our best guess (and that’s all it is) as to the identity of these demons takes us to the pages of the book of Daniel. That book is built around prophecies concerning four great empires: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Interestingly, Daniel chapter 10 uses the word “princes” to refer to mighty angels, either unfallen or fallen. God’s archangel Michael, for example, is called “one of the chief princes” (Daniel 10:13). Mention is also made of “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” (Daniel 10:13) and “the prince of the kingdom of Greece” (Daniel 10:20). It seems logical, then, to assume that there is also a “prince” of the kingdom of Babylon and a “prince” of the kingdom of Rome. These “princes” would be four mighty angels who are the powers behind the thrones of these kingdoms. They are also our best guess as to who these four angels from the sixth trumpet judgment are. As for why, when, and how they were imprisoned in the Euphrates river, it’s hard to even venture a guess.
What we do know is that historically speaking the Euphrates river is probably the most important river in the world. According to Genesis 2:14, the singular river that flowed through the garden of Eden became the heads of four other rivers once it exited the garden. One of those four rivers was the Euphrates. The Euphrates was also the river that flowed right through the heart of ancient Babylon. Later on it served as the eastern border to the Roman empire. Traditionally, the Euphrates has played the role of the unofficial boundary between the West and the East.
But how will these four demons kill off one-third of the world’s population? Well, John doesn’t tell us, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that right after talking about these four demons he launches into his description of an army of 200 million (Revelation 9:16). Did you know that there isn’t a single Bible passage in which a fallen angel – even Satan – actually kills a human being? Jesus Himself called Satan “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44), but Satan has never personally killed anyone. What he does instead is use human beings to get his killing done. If you think about it, that’s how he got Jesus killed. And in the coming days of the first half of the tribulation period, four powerful demons will be unleashed from their imprisonment in the Euphrates river and will work through an army of 200 millions soldiers to kill off one-third of the world’s entire population.
It boggles the mind to realize that when John wrote this portion of prophecy there weren’t even 200 million people on the earth! So, is there a nation now that could produce such a staggering number of soldiers? Yes, there is. China could do it. In the May 21, 1965, edition of Time magazine, China boasted that it could field an army of 200 million soldiers. Clearly, if China could put that many soldiers on the field back then, they can put even more on the field now. This is to say nothing, of course, of the sheer numbers of soldiers that could be produced by an alliance between China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Indonesia, India, etc. Along these lines, Revelation 16:12 talks about the “kings (plural) from the east” bringing their troops to the battle of Armageddon at the close of the tribulation period. So, I believe that the four demons from the Euphrates river will inspire and energize this army of 200 million soldiers from the East to slay one-third of earth’s population by means of war in the tribulation period.
And now let’s get to John’s account of the army. He begins by talking about “horses” with riders who had multicolored breastplates of red, blue, and yellow (Revelation 9:17). However, like the “locusts” earlier in the chapter, these “horses” aren’t actual horses. We know this because their heads “were like the heads of lions” and “out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone” (Revelation 9:17). (Brimstone is a yellowish, sulfuric rock that when heated melts and produces a suffocating gas.) It is by the fire, smoke, and brimstone that a third of the world’s inhabitants die (Revelation 9:18). The fact that the percentage of one-third is used here just like it was in regards to the number of deaths attributed to the four angels proves that the angels do their killing through this army of 200 million.
But if these “horses” aren’t to be taken literally, how should we interpret them. Well, I agree with all the prophecy experts who feel that this particular passage is John’s way of describing some of our modern weapons of warfare. Think about tanks. If a first-century man saw such vehicles being driven by soldiers, would it be a stretch for him to classify them as some type of incredible horses? If he saw the tanks, because of their rotational guns, appearing to fire out of their fronts and backs, wouldn’t he describe that as the horses having “power in their mouth and in their tail” (Revelation 9:19)? And when he says the soldiers wore breastplates of red, blue, and yellow, couldn’t he be describing the colors of their uniforms or their battle gear?
I am not one of these preachers who sees 21st century weaponry on every page of The Revelation, but I would be lying if I said these so-called “horses” the army of 200 million sit upon don’t sound a lot like our modern tanks. Could this be a wrong interpretation? Sure. If it is, though, the correct one might be even more bizarre.
The Seventh Trumpet Judgment (Revelation 11:15-19): All the Events of the Last Half of the Tribulation Period
To find the seventh trumpet judgment, we have to jump ahead in the chronological timeline of The Revelation just a touch and find Revelation 11:15-19. (In the next post, I’ll cover the information we are jumping over). This jumping ahead allows us to learn that when the seventh angel blows the trumpet for the last of the trumpet judgments, John hears loud voices in heaven saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
The strange thing about this pronouncement is that immediately following it the kingdoms of the world do not become the kingdoms of God the Father and God the Son. Jesus certainly doesn’t begin to reign upon the earth either. As a matter of fact, the promise of the pronouncement won’t be fulfilled until Christ’s second coming at the very end of the tribulation period. What this means, then, is that the seventh trumpet judgment actually encompasses everything beginning with Revelation 11:15 and concluding with Revelation 19:21. In other words, it includes everything that makes up the last three-and-a-half years of the tribulation period.
And would you believe that among those events are seven more judgments? These judgments are known as the Bowl Judgments and they are recorded in Revelation chapter 16. You see, just as the seventh seal judgment held within it the seven trumpet judgments (Revelation 8:1-6), the seventh trumpet judgment holds within it, among many other things, the seven bowl judgments.
We’ll soon get to our study of these judgments as well as all the other events that take place at the midway point of the tribulation period and beyond. Before we begin all that, though, we’ve got one more study to do to complete the first half of the tribulation period. That will be the post next time. So, until then, keep studying prophecy and keep looking for the Rapture!