Then the four angels who had been prepared for this hour, day, month, and year were set free to kill a third of humanity. 16 The number of soldiers on horseback was two hundred million; I heard their number.
The rest of humanity, who had not been killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so that they did not stop worshiping demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood – idols that cannot see or hear or walk about. 21 Furthermore, they did not repent of their murders, of their magic spells, of their sexual immorality, or of their stealing.(NET Bible)
The sixth angel
Denial is a regular feature of human psychology. The young think they are immortal; the beautiful think they will turn heads forever; the rich think nothing can touch them. Fools all!
The reconnaissance pilot who personally laid the aerial photograph on Adolf Hitler’s desk was a repeat winner of the Iron Cross. He had risked his life to show the Führer the long rows of Russian tanks and artillery poised for battle on the Eastern Front. Hitler wrote one word across the face of the offending photograph: “Lies!”
We learn in 9:14 that these four angels have been bound at the River Euphrates waiting for this very moment. Since there are examples of demonic angels being bound (Rev. 20:2; Mark 3:27) and no examples of good angels being bound, there is little doubt the four angels in 9:14–15 are demonic. Indeed, another divine passive lets us know that God prepared them for this very moment.
As with many parts of Revelation, there is a historical background that would have been understood by the churches who originally received this book. Few peoples ever defeated the Romans during the earlier periods of the empire, but the Parthians, who lived east of the Euphrates River, were among them. Their arrow-firing cavalry had defeated Roman legions in 53 B.C. and again in A.D. 62, and the dread of a Parthian invasion hung over the Roman provinces in the east. These threats are the ancient fear from which John’s visions borrow.
Verse 16a is based on the Parthian cavalry, and if NET’s translation sounds a bit modern, try this more literal translation: “The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number” (ESV). The demonic cavalry is heavily armed and highly mobile. By the time their authorized quota has been met, one-third of humanity will have been exterminated (9:18).
In light of the astounding number of mounted troops in John’s vision, Grant Osborne points out: “John adds, ‘I heard the number,’ pointing to prophetic activity on his part. . . . This is important in responding to those who say this is merely a literary work, John’s own creation; he claims he specifically ‘saw’ and ‘heard’ these things. He is not making up the details.”
In ably summarizing Rev. 9:20-21, Robert Mounce says:
Nowhere will you find a more accurate picture of sinful humanity pressed to the extreme. One would think that the terrors of God’s wrath would bring rebels to their knees. Not so. Past the point of no return, they respond to greater punishment with increased rebellion. Such is sinful nature untouched and unmoved by the mercies of God.
The relationship of denial to repentance
In theological terms, the opposite of denial is repentance. While repentance is often explained as changing your mind — the first-listed meaning in the standard lexicon for the Greek verb metanoe? — not a single verse of the NT is listed under that meaning! Instead, all the instances in the NT are listed under the secondary meaning “feel remorse, repent, be converted.” This meaning puts greater emphasis on a change in our lives rather than just our ideas; the OT metaphor is to get off the wrong road and walk on the right road.
The people said: “The Lord has abandoned the land, and the Lord does not see!” (Ezek. 9:9)
The Lord said: “But as for me, my eye will not pity them nor will I spare them; I hereby repay them for what they have done.” (Ezek. 9:10).
Let those words fall on someone else!
Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.
 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 381.
 Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Rev. Ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997) 193.
 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) metanoe?, repent, q.v.