Revelation 9:1-12: Nightmare.

“The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. Their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. 10 They had tails with stings, like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months. 11 They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek is Apollyon (that is, Destroyer).12 The first woe is past; two other woes are yet to come.” NIV

This really is the stuff of nightmares isn’t it? It feels like horror movie material. You can let your imagination run riot here. Someone referred to these ‘insects on steroids’. Scary! You want to go and hide behind the sofa as the terrible scene unfolds. Normally, locusts eat vegetation and do no harm to people, but these demonic locusts ignore vegetation and attack humans. More precisely, they target ‘’those who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads’’ as opposed to those who have the mark of the beast (see 13:16). The clouds ‘’like the smoke from a gigantic furnace’’ (2-4) is intended to convey the impression of an advancing cloud of locusts. The comparison of these demon hordes to locusts echoes the vision of Joel 2:1-10. But in addition to what we read there, these locusts have power to inflict pain like scorpions (9:10).

I refer to them as demonic because the scene opens with ‘’a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth’’ (1). He is a fallen angel, but nevertheless an instrument in God’s Hands. He has authority.He is ‘’given the key to the shaft of the Abyss.’’ The Abyss had come to denote the abode of demonic beings. In 20:1-3 it is the place into which Satan is thrown and imprisoned. So here, with reference to the ‘’key’’, we see that God is firmly in charge of the place.

Who/what are these locusts? John ‘lavishes more detailed description on these super-locusts than on any other creature in this vivid book. So much so, in fact, that many modern readers, struck by the almost mechanical appearance of the creatures in verses 7-10, have tried to identify them as this or that kind of modern military machine; an attack helicopter, for instance. This seems a typical case of trying to tie down John’s symbolism and thereby almost to domesticate it…The point is…The fifth angel has unleashed something truly monstrous, truly hellish.’ Tom Wright: ‘Revelation for Everyone’, pp.85, 86.

Whatever the symbolism here means, we are meant to see that the power of the man-torturing locusts is limited (5 – ‘’five months’’ is the normal life span of a locust). God and the Lamb are fully in charge of history, but for evil to finally be conquered, it has to first of all be allowed to come fully out of its dark, smelly cave, into the open, and do its worst.

For those who know they are sealed by God, this is the all important reality. It isn’t a guarantee that we will be spared all possible pain. But the Lord knows His own, and He will bring them safely home.