The Sixth Trumpet - (Revelation 9:13-21)

Volcano Erupting - Photo by Yosh Ginsu on Unsplash
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 (16:12-21).
(Revelation 9:13-16) – “And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the horns of the golden altar which is before God, one saying to the sixth angel that had one trumpet, Loose the four angels that are bound at the great river Euphrates. And the four angels were loosed, that had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, that they should kill the third part of men. And the number of the armies of the horsemen was twice ten thousand times ten thousand: I heard the number of them.
In this paragraph, John describes what he “heard,” not what he saw. The “golden altar” refers to the altar of incense on which the prayers of the saints were offered as incense (Revelation 8:2-5). The judgments now unleashed are in response to those prayers.
The second “woe” begins as the first with the release of a malevolent invading force, this one from the “Euphrates River” not the Abyss.  Possibly, this represents the same reality in a different form.
Mesopotamia lay beyond the Euphrates River, the home of Babylon. The river flowed through the center of the city (cp. Jeremiah 51:63). But this is not a reference to a location east of the Euphrates; the judgments released by the “three woes” target the “inhabitants of the earth” (8:13). Any allusion to “Babylon” is to the end-time reality described elsewhere in Revelation.
The sixth trumpet is related to the sixth bowl of wrath (16:12-16), which dries up the Euphrates River “to prepare” (hetoimazo) an attack by the “kings of the east.” This group is identified as “the kings of the whole habitable earth” gathered by demonic spirits to “the battle of the great day of God Almighty in a place called Armageddon” (cp. 19:17-2120:8-9).
The angel is commanded, “to loose four angels bound at the great river Euphrates.” Elsewhere four angels are linked to the four corners of the earth. The number four symbolizes universal. The four angels are probably identical with the four holding back the winds of heaven when God’s servants were sealed (7:1). They are now free to unleash whatever the winds hold.
The four angels were “prepared for the hour, day, month and year, to kill the third of men.” Elsewhere this is the “hour of trial that is going to come upon the inhabitants of the earth” (3:10), the hour of Babylon’s desolation (18:1018:1718:19). The verb rendered “prepared” (hetoimazō) occurs in both images (i.e., the four angels were prepared; the sixth bowl prepares the way of the kings).
The death of a “third” of mankind is not a case of God’s forbearance by limiting the extent of the damage. Neither the inhabitants killed nor the ones still alive at the end of the sixth trumpet escape judgment. The seventh trumpet will mean nothing less than the “time of the dead to be judged and the destruction of them that destroy the earth” (11:18). If anything, the death of a third of humanity is a foretaste of things to come.
(Revelation 9:17-19) –“ And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates as of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone: and the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceeds fire and smoke and brimstone By these three plagues was the third part of men killed, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone, which proceeded out of their mouths. For the power of the horses is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails are like serpents, and have heads, and with them they hurt.”
John describes what he actually “saw.” This interpretive technique was previously employed in Revelation 5:5-6; what John saw interprets what he first heard. John heard “lion of the tribe of Judah” but saw a slain Lamb. John “heard” 144,000 men from the twelve tribes of Israel but “saw” an innumerable multitude of men and women from every tribe and nation.
What John “sees” in the sixth trumpet is not an invading human army but a horde of hideous demonic creatures, but the link to the Euphrates informs us that the source of this demonic horde is “Babylon.”
The riders have “breastplates like fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone.” This is a simile. It portrays how the breastplates appear to the eye; bright, deep red and blue (“hyacinth”). Elsewhere, “brimstone” is linked to the Lake of Fire (14:1019:2021:8). They have heads like those of lions. This demonstrates they are not human but something unnatural.
The locusts of the fifth trumpet had “tails with stings like scorpions.” These riders have “tails like snakes” or “serpents” (ophis) with authority to inflict harm. The same term is applied to Satan, “the great dragon and that old serpent” (12:912:14-1520:2). This links the “riders” to the Dragon. Their tails “harm” (adikeō) men, the same verb in the promise to overcoming believers: “you will not be harmed of the second death,” which is the Lake of Fire (2:11).
It is not “might” found in their “tails” but “authority, license” (exousia); “their license is in their mouth and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents, having heads.” This is a verbal link to the vision of the Beast from the sea that has “mouth like a lion, and the dragon gave it great authority. And I saw one of its heads, as slain to death; and his deadly plague was healed, and all the world wondered after the beast.”
Fire, smoke, and brimstone” spew from their mouths, which are three different “plagues” sent to kill a third of mankind (9:17-18). The first four trumpets unleashed fire and the fifth smoke. Now brimstone is added to the mix; all elements connected to the Lake of Fire(14:10-11; 18:9; 19:3; 19:20; 20:10; 21:8).
John saw fire, smoke, and sulfur “issuing” (ekporeuomai) from their mouths. This is a parody of Jesus and the One Sitting on the Throne. In the opening vision, John saw a sharp two-edged sword issuing (ekporeuomai) from the mouth of Jesus (1:16).
In his vision of a heavenly rider, a sharp sword issued from the mouth of Jesus (ekporeuomai - 19:11-21). And in the heavenly court, he saw “lightning, thunders, and voices issuing from the Throne” (4:5).
This last feature is a link to the Two Witnesses between the sixth and seventh trumpets. When anyone attempts to harm them “fire issues (ekporeuomai) from their mouth and consumes their enemies; and if any man desires to harm (adikeō)them, in this manner must he be killed.” The Two Witnesses represent churches (11:41:20- “two lamp-stands”).
The “fire, smoke and sulfur” that issue from the mouth of this demonic horde is set in contrast. What proceeds from the Lamb’s mouth is life; from the mouths of the Dragon and his minions issue death.
These horses have tails like serpents, “having heads with which they injure.” This may correspond to the Beast from the sea that had “seven heads,” one of which appeared “as though slain unto death; and its plague was healed.” The healing of its “plague” caused the inhabitants of the earth amazement, “Who is like unto the beast, and who is able to war with him?”
(Revelation 9:20-21) – “And the rest of mankind, who were not killed with these plagues, repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and the idols of gold, and of silver, and of brass, and of stone, and of wood; which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they repented not of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their fornication nor of their thefts.”
The described human response is in spite of the plagues, not because of them. They harden the hearts of the earth-dwells and do not produce repentance, despite the deaths of a “third part of men.” Plagues and hardened hearts link the vision to the Exodus story, the plagues of Egypt and the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.
The “rest” of the inhabitants of the earth refuse to cease from the worship of “demons, and the idols of gold, and of silver, and of brass, and of stone, and of wood.” Their sin is idolatry. Likewise, the False Prophet causes men to make an image of the Beast (13:15-17).
The “rest” has verbal parallels with several later verses. Just prior to the sounding of the seventh trumpet an earthquake devastates a tenth of the “city,” Babylon, and kills seven-thousand of the “inhabitants of the earth.”  This left “the rest fearful.”
Unlike the “inhabitants of the earth” at the end of the sixth trumpet, this group “gave glory to the God of heaven” (11:10-13); at the end of the battle of Armageddon “the rest were killed with the sword of him that sat upon the horse” (19:21); and at the start of the thousand years “the rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished” (20:5).
The death of a “third of mankind” is not a partial or limited judgment, but an example to “the rest” that is not slain outright, a foretaste of the “second death” that awaits them for their refusal to repent, which demonstrates the justice of God’s judgment on them. “The rest” is comprised of men who hardened their hearts to any appeal from the Lamb or the Throne of God. The demonic horde inflicts the same kind of punishments on some men reserved for “the rest” in the Lake of Fire (14:10-11; 19:20; 20:10; 21:8).
The inhabitants of the earth refuse to repent of “murders, sorceries, fornication or thefts,” sins are connected to Babylon and her economic dominion. Thus, the nations of the earth were deceived by her “sorceries” (18:23) and “fornication” (2:2114:817:2-418:319:2).
As for “murders,” Babylon is a woman drunk with the “blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (17:6). In her is found the “blood of prophets, of saints and of all that were slain upon the earth” (18:24).
The first woe continues to use language and imagery from the Exodus story and Jeremiah’s judgment dirge against Babylon. At the discretion of the Lamb, destructive forces are unleashed against the inhabitants of the earth; forces were held back until the saints were sealed.
Revelation expects us to continue to read Israel’s exodus story and its persecution by Babylon into its vision for the church. Because of the lamb’s sacrificed life, the churches of Asia have left “Egypt” and are now in transit to the Greater Promised Land, New Jerusalem. Along the way, they endure persecution and even captivity at the hands of “Babylon.” What the Dragon means for the destruction of the church, the Lamb uses to judge his enemies and furthers the exodus of his people.
In the book of Exodus, God used the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart to manifest His might and glory, liberate His people and bring them out of Egypt. The same is about to occur as the Lamb, having freed the saints from Greater Egypt by his shed blood, leads them to the Greater Promised Land.
Every assault against the church by the Dragon results in victory for the church and defeat for her enemies. However, the ultimate defeat of Satan enemies and the triumph of the Lamb will require more than just destructive plagues.