In chapter 9 the two next or fifth and sixth Trumpets are described with minute care, as indeed these are two of the Woe-trumpets. There remains the third Woe-trumpet, the last of the seven, which is set forth at the end of Rev. 11, and brings us the closing scene in a general way to the end.
The first of the Woe-trumpets consists of the symbolic locusts led by the ominous Apollyon, to whom was given, as its angel, the key of the abyss. For that they are not to be understood of the literal insects is clear, if only for this reason, that these are expressly said not to feed on that which is the natural food of locusts. The well-known creature, with most portentous qualities and powers added, becomes the descriptive sign of these marauders from the abyss. They were to injure not the vegetable realm, but man expressly, and from a source not human but diabolical. It is a darkening and tormenting evil let loose from the pit on the unsealed (those of Israel who had no such favour from God), not on what they valued merely but on themselves, by instruments boasting a righteous commission from God (for they had upon their heads as crowns like gold), yet not even men in their true place, but weakly subject. For they had the hair of women, if the faces of men. They were given such power as the scorpions have; and their object for a torment of five months was the men who lacked the seal of God on their foreheads. And the envenomed sting produced such anguish that men preferred death but found it not. How graphic the picture of this scourge from the abyss! Like horses were they prepared for war, their teeth as those of lions, their breastplates as of iron, and the sound of their wings as of chariots of many horses running unto war. Thus were combined a darkening influence from beneath to shut out heavenly light and healthful means with aggressive force of imposing character and a tormenting power as of a false prophet; "for the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail"; and these have tails like scorpions, and their power is in their tail. As their breasts were steeled against all force to pierce them, so were they led by a king who tells the tale of the enemy behind all.
"And the fifth angel sounded trumpet: and I saw a star out of the heaven fallen unto the earth, and there was given to him the key of the pit of the abyss. And he opened the pit of the abyss, and smoke went up out of the pit as the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun was darkened and the air from the smoke of the pit. And out of the smoke came forth locusts unto the earth, and to them was given power [or, authority] as the scorpions of the earth have power. And it was said to them that they should not injure the grass of the earth nor any green thing nor any tree, but the men which [οἵτινες have not the seal of God on their foreheads. And it was given to them that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months; and their torment [was] as a scorpion's torment when it striketh a man. And in those days shall men seek death and shall in no way find it; and they shall desire to die, and death fleeth from them. And the likenesses of the locusts [were] like horses prepared for war; and upon their heads as crowns of gold, and their faces as men's faces; and they had hair as women's hair; and their teeth were as of lions. And they kind breastplates as iron breastplates, and the sound of their wings [was] as the sound of chariots of many horses running unto war. And they have tails like scorpions, and stings; and their power was in their tails to injure men five months. They have a king over them, the angel of the abyss, his name in Hebrew Abaddon, and in the Greek he hath a name Apollyon [destroyer].
"One woe is past; behold, there come two woes more after these things." Here too is a revealed "pause of judgment."
To another remark your attention is called, that the first Woe-trumpet answers in the way of contrast to the hundred and forty-four thousand that were sealed out of Israel; as the second Woe-trumpet (namely, that of the Euphratean horsemen) answers by a similar contrast to the countless multitude out of the Gentiles. As some perhaps may consider this contrast vague and indefinite, let us endeavour to make the meaning plainer. It is expressly said that the locusts of the vision were to carry on their tormenting, scorpion-like devastations, except on those that were sealed. Here then is an allusion clearly to those whom God set apart from Israel in Revelation 7; and this is at issue with the hypothesis of parallel series of judgments; for it is under the fifth Trumpet we are told of the unsealed, whereas it is in the parenthesis of the sixth Seal that the sealing was effected.
On the other hand, in the Euphratean horsemen we see far more of aggressive and destructive power, though there is also serpent-like torment. But torment is the main characteristic of the locust Woe; the horsemen Woe is more distinctively the onward progress of aggressive power portrayed in energetic colours. They fall on men and destroy them; and here "the third" reappears. According to the force given already, this would imply that the Woe falls on the Gentiles indeed, more particularly on the western empire, from the east Their "mouth" is characteristically prominent, and not their tails only as in the locust judgment. "And out of their mouths proceedeth fire and smoke and brimstone." Even the tails are not compared to scorpions but to serpents having heads, not so much a tormenting stroke as deliberate Satanic purpose. Their breastplates are not as iron but of fire and jacinth and brimstone, savouring of the very lake of fire.
"And the sixth angel sounded trumpet; and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar that [is] before God, saying to the sixth angel that had the trumpet, Loose the four angels that are bound at the great river Euphrates. And the four angels were loosed that were prepared for the hour and day and month and year, that they might kill the third of men. And the number of the armies of the cavalry [was] twice ten thousand times ten thousand: I heard the number of them. And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and those that sat upon them, having breastplates of fire and jacinth and brimstone; and the heads of the horses [were] as lions' heads, and out of their mouths proceedeth fire and smoke and brimstone. By these three strokes were the third 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, having heads, and with them they injure. And the rest of the men who were not killed with these strokes 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 [or, drugs], nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts."
Here a voice from the four horns of the golden altar (and how significant that it should come from thence!) summons a swift and overwhelming and destructive host from the east to slay men of the western empire. For it is not "torment" now but death, though not without Satan's power of deceit as in the preceding Woe. In their inflictions a time limit appears, first a short term followed next by a longer one. There was also a term in the preceding Woe, as indeed they are evidently allied, though with notable points of difference. Here too, as the summons came from the four horns of the altar of intercession, so it was to the four angels that were bound at the great river, which was the boundary of the eastern powers. It was sweeping indeed.
It seems that these two Woes represent what will be verified in the early doings of the Antichrist in Judea, and of the Assyrian or eastern leader. The first or the locust raid consists of a tormenting infliction. Here accordingly we have Abaddon, the destroyer, their king, who is set forth in a peculiar fashion as angel of the abyss. It is not of course the issue yet fairly formed; but we can quite comprehend that there is to be an early manifestation of evil; just as grace will effect the beginning of that which is good in the remnant.
Here then we have these Woe-trumpets. First of all a tormenting Woe falls on the land, but not on those sealed out of the twelve tribes of Israel. Next the Euphratean horsemen are let loose on the western powers, overwhelming all Christendom, and in particular that west as the special object of the judgment of God. The former is emphatically torment from Satan on the reprobate Jews; as the latter is a most scathing infliction of man's aggressive energy, though not this only, from the east on the corrupt and idolatrous western world. The killing of the third of men represents, not the merely physical end, but the destruction even of all confession of relationship with the only true God. What an awful sketch of what had once received the gospel, professedly at least, and stood forth as God's church on earth! "And the rest of the men who were not killed by these strokes 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." Think of such a description divinely furnished of those who were not ostensibly apostate but still keeping up the name of Christianity, before the falling away was complete, as the book has yet to tell us! For "thou shalt see greater abominations than these"; not only the unclean spirit returned to the house empty, swept, and garnished, but taking to himself seven different spirits more wicked than himself, so that the last state is worse than the first. Then shall the vilest of men be worshipped as God in the temple of God, the west no less committed to this blasphemy than the mass of the Jews. But who believes the divine report?