Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 9:1–6

Revelation 9:1–6
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. 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. 3 Then out of the smoke came locusts onto the earth, and they were given power like that of the scorpions of the earth. 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. 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. 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.(NET Bible)

The opening of the seventh seal

If there is one thing Revelation accomplishes, it is to make each of us feel insignificant in comparison to the awesome forces God unleashes on the world. The effect is to remove any sense of controlling our environment or future.

In truth, God is no less sovereign at this moment than during the visions John presents. But, for the moment, God is withholding his hand of judgment and power to allow time for repentance. Be careful not to let God’s forbearance lull you into believing you are in charge!

Previously I have said that the seventh seal encapsulates the increasingly severe judgments pictured by the seven trumpets and seven bowls. The escalating severity is building to a crescendo of violence. Many commentators have noted the numerous parallels between the plagues God brought on Egypt (Exod. 7–10), and the trumpet and bowl judgments.

Keener describes the surprising effect of Rev. 8:1: “After six thunderous seals of judgment (6:1–17) and a dramatic interlude in 7:1–17, the reader may be pardoned for a sense of anticlimax when reaching the final seal and hearing — silence.”[1]

After the seven angels are given trumpets (8:2), another angel offers burning incense along with “the prayers of all the saints” (8:3) before God. Then the same censer (a brass container or fire-pan) used for the incense is used to scoop coals of fire from the altar that are then hurled onto the earth. Osborne says: “The thrust of the first coals was to lift incense and prayers to God [8:3-4], but now the coals become the ‘fire’ of judgment [8:5]. . . . As we have seen, worship and judgment are interconnected throughout this book.”[2]

The first four trumpets affect one-third of the earth in a deadly way (8:6–12). But these hard blows are nothing to the coming three trumpets, as we are told in 8:13: “Woe! Woe! Woe to those who live on the earth because of the remaining sounds of the trumpets of the three angels who are about to blow them!”

Beale explains why the last three trumpets are worse than the first four: “The woes are worse than the initial four in that they directly strike the wicked.”[3] Even while judgment is falling, repentance is what God desires.

The identity and allegiance of the angel described in 9:1 is disputed. Though there are good arguments on each side, I am inclined to agree with the ESV Study Bible, which says, “The star fallen from heaven to earth is Satan, whom Jesus saw fall like lightning as a result of his disciples’ ministry (Luke 10:18).”[4] Note that “he was given the key to the shaft of the abyss” (9:1), which is a divine passive. Beale says, “Christ is ultimately the one who bestows this key, since he has overcome Satan and now ‘possesses the keys of death and Hades’ (1:18).”[5]

The abyss (NET, NIV, HCSB) is also translated as pit (ESV, KJV, NLT); in fact, it is the common Greek word phrear, meaning “well.” However, the word well is modified by the Greek noun abyssos, meaning “an immensely deep space.”[6] So, the “well of the abyss” has been rendered by NET as “the shaft of the abyss” (9:1). Of greater importance is what the Bible says about this place. In the NT it appears as a prison for evil spirits (Luke 8:31, 2 Pet. 2:4, Jude 6) where the beast (11:7) and Satan (20:1–3) are confined for a time.

The locusts of Revelation 9 are demonic spirits from the abyss whose mission is to torment the unbelieving peoples of the earth, but not the believers who have the seal of God (9:4).

There are many ironies in Revelation. These who are seeking death find that it runs away from them by God’s command!

All the important things in life come from one person

It is hard to imagine a long period of time when one’s highest aspiration would be to die! Of course, these who desire death are the ones who have killed every Christian they can find. Only God can grant them what they want.

“Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth.
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn; Truth has gone from my mouth, a word that will not be revoked:
Every knee will bow to me, every tongue will swear allegiance.”
(Isa. 45:2223, Christian Standard Bible).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 253.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 346-347.

[3] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 489.

[4] ESV Study Bible, notes for Revelation 9:1.

[5] Beale, Revelation, 493.

[6] W. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3d ed. Revised and edited by F. W. Danker, translated by W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich and F. W. Danker (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2000) abyssos, abyss, q.v.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!

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