In the book of Revelation, there are very real creatures lurking in an abyss. At the appointed time, they will be released to terrorize and kill unbelievers around the world.
We are introduced to some of these creatures in Revelation 9, which describes the first and sixth trumpet judgments—the first and second woes.
- The Fifth Trumpet (First Woe): Demonic Tormentors (Revelation 9:1-12)
Revelation 9 opens with the blowing of the fifth trumpet—the pronouncement of the first woe—a demonic angel from heaven.
At the sounding of the fifth trumpet, John saw a heavenly “star” that had “fallen to earth” (Revelation 9:1). As we’ll see, this “star” is not a literal star or meteor as in previous judgments, but it is an intelligent being—an angel—not a literal star in outer space.
I think it’s best to interpret and view this “fallen” angel as demonic—either Satan or another evil angel. Because he is given the “key of the bottomless pit,” is permitted to open the pit. When he does, “smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit” (Revelation 9:2).
Although this is not the same place as Hades—the temporary destination of the unsaved where there is weeping, and gnashing of teeth, and agonizing suffering in flames of torment—it is a horrible place like Hades and ultimately the Lake of Fire.
Mingled with the smoke belching from the pit, John saw something truly frightening (Revelation 9:3-6) – locusts. But these aren’t like any locusts John (or anyone) had ever seen before. They are given “power…as the scorpions of the earth have power” (Revelation 9:3), meaning they are able to hurt people in the same way a scorpion’s sting inflicts pain.
Ordered by God or the satanic angel “not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree,” the swarm of these demonic locusts was only to hurt “the men [and women] who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads” for five months (Revelation 9:4-5). It will become so terrible people “will seek death,” but “will not find it; they will long to die,” but “death flees from them” (Revelation 9:6).
These locusts are demonic and march in battle array under the order of their king—“the angel of the abyss; [whose] name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek . . . Apollyon” (Revelation 9:11). It’s tempting to identify this demon-king as Satan. But the text only calls him an “angel.”
And as if things couldn’t get any worse, Robert Mounce notes: “As the end draws near, there is a marked increase in the intensity and severity of the trumpet-plagues.” Which brings us to the sixth trumpet.
- The Sixth Trumpet (Second Woe): A Demonic Army (Revelation 9:13-19)
With the sounding of the sixth trumpet—the second woe—a voice commanded the sixth angel to set the judgment in motion—“Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates” (Revelation 9:14).
For however long these four demonic angels have been in chains, they have been kept ready for this specific purpose. At the appropriate time during the great tribulation they will be released because they have “been prepared for the hour and the day and month and year” to fulfill God’s purpose for them (Revelation 9:15).
In other words, their release will occur on the very hour of the very day of the very month of the very year when the alarm on God’s clock sounds. Though it may appear that things in our world are out of control—and it will seem like hell on earth during the great tribulation—but never forget, God is in perfect control, even of the demons.
Unlike the demonic locusts who were prevented from killing anyone ( Revelation 9:5), the release of these four demonic angels are to “kill a third of mankind” (Revelation 9:15), namely unbelieving earth-dwellers (Revelation 8:13).
Given that so many people had died before the blowing of the sixth trumpet, the release of these four demonic angels and their subsequent slaughter of a third of the earth-dwellers in rebellion against God will result in the extinction of half of the world’s population that had been alive at the beginning of the tribulation. Not since the judgment on humanity in the days of Noah will have so many people died in such a devastating manner.
These four demons will accomplish their deadly mission through the means of an army 200 million strong (Revelation 9:16-19). It could be these are humans under the influence of the four demon commanders, but more likely this army is made up other evil angels, making the number of 200 million even more literal. Like the demonic locusts, the description of the horses argues for a demonic cavalry. According to Revelation 9:17 these demonic horsemen are split into three divisions, identified by the color of their breastplates, which cover both rider and steed: red (“fire”), blue (“hyacinth”), and yellow (“brimstone”).
Normal horses don’t breathe “fire and smoke and brimstone” (9:17)—the same colors as their breastplates—but that doesn’t mean these demonic horses are unable to do so. What is to be taken literally is the result of this sixth trumpet: “A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone, which proceeded out of [the horses’] mouths” (Revelation 9:18).
The first woe (the fifth trumpet) brings distress; the second woe (the sixth trumpet) brings death. You would think the unbelieving world would repent. But it doesn’t (Revelation 9:20-21).
So hardened against God will be the hearts of unbelievers in the great tribulation that neither the five month torture of the demonic locusts nor the genocide of the demonic cavalry will cause the survivors to turn from their evil ways.
The only way a person will repent—turn from his sin—and trust in Christ is by a supernatural work of God in that person’s heart. If you have that awareness of sin and your need for a Savior, understand that your awareness is not something you have come to on your own, but it is a gift from God—a gift that will not last forever.