Fifth Trumpet

SYNOPSIS:  The fifth trumpet blast unleashes the first of the “three woes” pronounced against the “inhabitants of the earth” when malevolent creatures are released to ascend from the Abyss - Revelation 8:13-9:12

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash
The first four trumpets have sounded. Now, three “woes” are proclaimed that correspond to the last three trumpets. This is another example of John dividing a series of seven things into two segments of four and three (compare, Revelation 9:1211:14).

(Revelation 8:13) – “And I saw, and I heard one eagle flying in mid-heaven, saying with a loud voice — Woe! woe! woe! unto them that are dwelling upon the earth by reason of the remaining voices of the trumpet, of the three messengers who are about to sound” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The verse explicitly identifies the target of the trumpet blasts:  the “inhabitants of the earth.” This group is hostile to the saints who follow Jesus throughout the book of Revelation. The trumpet judgments are a response to that hostility (Revelation 3:106:1011:1012:1213:8-1414:617:217:8).

John sees an “eagle flying mid-heaven” to pronounce “woe” on the inhabitants of the earth. The height of this bird is noted in order to portray the announcement as a warning to the whole inhabited earth. This is not to be taken literally. Eagles cannot talk and, regardless of elevation, its message would only be heard over a limited range. This is symbolic language.

The repetition of “woe” indicates the severity of the final three judgments, or perhaps the severity of the consequent judgment on anyone who does not respond in repentance.

(Revelation 9:1-2) – “And the fifth messenger sounded; and I saw a star out of heaven fallen unto the earth, and there was given unto him the key of the shaft of the abyss. And he opened the shaft of the abyss; and there came up a smoke out of the shaft, as the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the shaft” – (The EmphasizedBible).

The Abyss features in several of Revelation’s visions. In each instance, it is the source of malevolent creatures that are hostile to the Lamb and “ascend” from it to wreak havoc. John, for example, saw the beast that will make war with the Two Witnesses “ascending out of the Abyss” (Revelation 9:1111:717:821:1-7).

During the thousand years before the final judgment, the Dragon is bound in the Abyss until released at the end of the period. The Abyss also corresponds to the sea from which the Beast is seen “ascending” (Revelation 13:1-2, 20:1-3, Daniel 7:1-8).

John sees smoke ascend out of the Abyss and a horde of locust-like creatures. An angel associated with destruction rules over this horde. Because of the language of ascent from the Abyss, we ought to consider whether the “ascents” described in other passages in the book refer to the same events (Revelation 9:111:713:1, 20:1).

John sees a “star having fallen from heaven” to unlock the Abyss. Elsewhere, stars represent “angels” or “messengers.” Most likely, this “star” is identical with the “the angel of the Abyss” named ‘Abaddon’ and ‘Apollyon’ (see Verse 11). “Fallen” is in a perfect tense and sees action as completed in the past. Possibly, this description identifies this one as one of the fallen angels who serve the Dragon (Revelation 1:20, 9:11, 12:7).

This angel is “given” a key. The key points to the control of the Lamb over events, including ones undertaken by satanic forces.  The army of locusts is unable to ascend from the Abyss until authorized to do so by the Lamb.

The darkening of the “sun and the air” alludes to the plague of darkness over Egypt, the ninth plague that followed the plague of locusts:

Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven, and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days…but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings” (Exodus10:21-23).

In the background of this vision is Isaiah 14:4-15, a judgment dirge against ancient Babylon - “Take up this parable against the king of Babylon, How has the oppressor ceased, the golden city ceased…You said in thy heart, I will ascend into heaven…I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; yet you will be brought down to Sheol, to the uttermost parts of the pit.”

(Revelation 9:3-10) – “And, out of the smoke, came forth locusts upon the earth; and there was given unto them licence, as the scorpions of the earth have licence. And it was bidden them that they should not injure the herbage of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree — but only the men who have not the seal of God upon their foreheads. And it was given unto them that they should not slay them, but that they should be tormented five months; and the torture of them was as of a scorpion’s torture, whensoever it smiteth a man. And, in those days, shall men seek death and in nowise shall find it, and shall covet to die, and death fleeth from them. And the likenesses of the locusts were like unto horses prepared for battle; and upon their heads, as it were crowns, like unto gold, and their faces were as the faces of men, and they had hair, as the hair of women, and their teeth were as of lions, and they had breastplates as breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running into battle; and they have tails like unto scorpions and stings, and in their tails is their licence to injure men five months” – (The EmphasizedBible).

The first four trumpets brought destruction to things that are necessary to commerce: agriculture, ships and so on. This plague does not harm vegetation but men, not to kill, but to torment them.

The description of the locusts draws imagery from Joel’s vision of a voracious invading army compared to a plague of locusts. In Joel, the attack is against Israel. Here the “locusts” target the “inhabitants of the earth” (Joel 1:15).

The “locusts” in Joel are identified as a “nationstrong and without number; his teeth are the teeth of a lion.” That day will be “day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness.” This horde has the appearance of horses; “as horsemen, so do they run. Like the noise of chariots on the tops of the mountains do they leap”; before them “the sun and the moon are darkened” (Joel 1:16, 2:2-5).

In the book of Joel, this army attacked Israel in Palestine. Israel averted destruction only through repentance. In contrast, in Revelation, the locusts attack the “inhabitants of the earth” that are hostile to God’s people and refuse to repent. These differences caution against viewing this as a straightforward “literal” interpretation of Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:14-20).

The book of Revelation weaves this imagery into its narrative along with language from other Old Testament passages to produce a paradoxical picture of judgment against a hostile world. What led Israel to repent, instead, causes the earth-dwellers to harden their hearts. Their every action against the church only produces more suffering for them.

The picture from Joel is reminiscent of a dirge from Jeremiah against Babylon and the prediction of her destruction by northerly force, a passage already alluded to in the first four trumpets:

Behold, a people from the north…They lay hold on bow and spear; they are cruel and have no mercy; their voice roars like the sea; and they ride upon horses, every one set in array, as a man to the battle, against thee, O daughter of Babylon” (Jeremiah 50:41-42).

We are meant at this point to hear echoes of the eighth plague of Egypt, the locusts (Exodus 10:14-15):

And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt…they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened, and there remained not any green thing in all the land of Egypt.”

As with the previous plagues, Pharaoh hardened his heart and did not let Israel go. But it was the intention of Yahweh all along to bring Israel out by means of judgment on Egypt and its gods; to bring forth my people out of the land of Egypt by great judgmentsso the Egyptians would get to know that I am Yahweh, when I stretch forth my hand upon Egypt to bring out the children of Israel” (Exodus 7:2-5).

As with the first four trumpet blasts, the book of Revelation expects us to hear echoes of the Exodus story and the past judgments against ancient Babylon in this round of judgment pronouncements (compare, Jeremiah 51:24-2551:56).

The “inhabitants of the earth” are “tormented” (basanismos) five months. The same Greek noun is used to describe how the Two Witnesses “tormented the inhabitants of the earth” by the words issuing from their mouths (Revelation 11:5-6).

Men seek but do not find death. This is reminiscent of Jeremiah 8:3, a judgment against Judah for idolatry - “Death shall be chosen rather than life by all the residue that remain of this evil family.”

Unlike ancient Judah, the “inhabitants of the earth” seek death and “in no wise find it.” This parallels the sixth seal in which men from all levels of society “hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and they say, Fall on us and hide us from the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:15-16). Death is no way out; there will be no escape from judgment for the “inhabitants of the earth.”

Five months.” This figure does not occur elsewhere in Revelation, which makes it difficult to determine its significance. But the number five does and it may be connected to Revelation 17:8-10 where John saw the “Beast that is going to ascend out of the Abyss and go into destruction. The inhabitants of the earth will wonder when they behold the Beast…The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings; five are fallen, one is, another is not yet come, and when it comes it must continue a little while.”

If this proposal is correct, the “five-month” figure is a link to the “five fallen kings” in Revelation 17:8. This proposal is not without problems.

(Revelation 9:11-12) – “They have over them, as king, the messenger of the abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon ["=Destroyer"], and, in the Greek, he hath for name Destroyer. The first Woe hath passed away, lo! there come yet two Woes after these things” – (The EmphasizedBible).

Prior to unleashing the first plague against Egypt, Yahweh stated that Pharaoh would harden his heart regardless of any “signs and wonders.” That highlighted His justice; the plagues were “to bring forth my people out of the land of Egypt by great judgments.” This allusion becomes clear when the “inhabitants of the earth” refuse to repent despite the horrific fifth trumpet/plague (Exodus 7:2-5, Revelation 9:21).

The final paragraph of the fifth trumpet draws on the story of the final or tenth plague against Egypt when Yahweh sent the “destroyer” to slay the firstborn of Egypt. Both “Abaddon” and “Apollyon” mean “destroyer.” “For Yahweh will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he sees the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side-posts, Yahweh will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you” (Exodus 12:23).

Note that Israelites did not suffer this destruction if blood from a lamb was applied to the doorposts of their homes. This corresponds to the saints who are sealed with the seal of God to protect them from destructive forces released by the “winds of heaven” (Revelation 7:1-3).

As stated above, the figure named “Abaddon” is probably the same as the “fallen angel” that unleashes the locusts from the Abyss. This name alludes also to Jeremiah 51:24-25, a passage already applied in the first four trumpets (“I will render to Babylon and to all the inhabitants of Chaldea all their evil that they have done in Zion in your sight. I am against you, O destroying mountain, which destroyed all the earth” [also, Jeremiah 51:56]).

The sixth trumpet or second “woe” continues with imagery from the ten plagues of Egypt to portray the next judgment on the “inhabitants of the earth.” But the trumpet plagues are not limited geographically; they target the “inhabitants of the earth,” not Pharaoh; it is the “inhabitants of the earth” that harden their hearts in response to the next plague (Revelation 8:13).

The sixth trumpet prepares for and leads into the final or seventh trumpet that will culminate in the judgment of the dead and the final victory being declared over the kingdoms of the earth (Revelation 11:15-19).

The “second woe” consists of several sections and does not end until the resurrection of the two witnesses (Revelation 11:14– “The second Woe is past; the third Woe comes quickly”). The several sections of this “woe” are:
  1. The invasion by a horde from beyond the Euphrates (Revelation 9:13-21).
  2. The little scroll (Revelation 10:1-11).
  3. The measuring of the sanctuary (Revelation 11:1-2).
  4. The two witnesses (Revelation 11:3-13).
  5. The end of the “second woe” (Revelation 11:14).
The sections with the little scroll, the measuring of the sanctuary, and the two witnesses are often viewed to form an “interlude” between the sixth and seventh trumpets that interrupts this sevenfold series. But in the vision, as presented by John, all these sections occur during the “second woe.” It consists of more than a destructive plague.

Structurally, both the sevenfold series of seals and trumpets are subdivided into groups of four, two and, finally, one seal or trumpet with what appears to be an “interlude” between the sixth and seventh events (Revelation 7:1-8:110:1-11:13). In both series, the “interlude” is part of the sixth event. Thus, for example, the sixth seal includes cosmic upheaval and the sealing of God’s servants (Revelation 6:12-7:17).

The sixth trumpet is also related to the sixth bowl of wrath. Both begin with the release of creatures from beyond the Euphrates River and both end with the overthrow of Babylon (Revelation 16:12-21).

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