Authored by Jerry Marshall
Today in our study of Revelation 9:13-21, we will observe that God must intervene and enable people to make the transition from spiritual death to spiritual life. Otherwise, lost people will remain steadfast, unmoved and defiant in their sinful rebellion and their rejection of God. This they will do no matter how He demonstrates the reality of His existence to them (cf. John 11:47-53; 12:9-11).
While the end time judgment of God will be unleashed upon the inhabitants of the earth throughout the time of the Tribulation, the level of intensity will escalate during the last three and one half-years. This intense expression of God’s wrath will unfold in a sequential series of telescoping judgments described in Revelation as the seal judgments, the trumpet judgments and finally, the bowl judgments.
At this point in our study, we will examine the sounding of the sixth trumpet.
The previous trumpet judgment resulted in the inhabitants of the earth experiencing a non-fatal yet agonizing sting from scorpion like demons, which lasted for five months. However, the sounding of the sixth trumpet will bring a demonic attack upon sinful mankind that will result in the death of billions of people.
This unfolds for us in three scenes that make up John’s vision of this demonic cavalry.
I. The Release of the Four Angels (Revelation 9:13-15)
A. The command to release them (13-14)
13 The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the horns of the golden altar that is before God. 14 It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.”
I don’t believe that we are to understand that the golden altar is speaking here. The voice that issues the command to release these four angels is coming from the direction of the golden altar. Specifically from the top of the altar were you would see these protruding golden horns.
This same altar was mentioned earlier in this book as the place from which John heard the cries of the martyred saints, for God to judge and avenge their blood. But in that case, their cries came from beneath this altar where they were as they waited for the Lord to exercise His righteous vengeance on their murderers (5:9-10).
This altar is the heavenly counterpart to the Old Testament altar of incense which is described in detail in Exodus 30:1-10. The altar in the Old Testament was the place where incense was burned in order to symbolize the ascending prayers of the people of God for mercy. But now in the book of Revelation, this altar seems to be the place from which the Lord, in response to the prayers of the martyred saints from the Great Tribulation, unleashes His judgments upon the inhabitants of the earth.
Although the passage does not specifically identify who it is that is speaking, both the context of this book, as well as the nature of this command seems to point to the Lamb of God who was given the seven seal scroll earlier. The scroll contained the details of the Lord’s final judgment as well as the authority to break the seals, thus unleashing God’s final judgment upon this sin sick world.
The voice from the four horns of the golden altar issues a command to the sixth angel who had sounded the sixth trumpet to... “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.”
The fact that these angels are bound, indicates that they are demons because nowhere in the Scriptures is it ever stated that the Holy angels of God are bound. God’s angels are perfectly committed to carrying out His will. Therefore, there is no need for God to ever restrain them.
The perfect tense in the original indicates that these four angels were bound in the past in accordance with God’s sovereign purposes, but now are being released in order to execute their function as God’s instruments of judgment upon those who inhabit the earth.
The site of their incarceration is at, in or upon (epi), the Great River Euphrates. This river figures prominently in the Old Testament. It was first mentioned as one of the four headwaters that fed the river in the Garden of Eden. It was near this river that sin began, the first lie was told and the first murder was committed. The tower of Babel was erected near this river (the first false religious movement).
The region near the Euphrates was the central location of three of the world powers that oppressed Israel - Assyria, Babylon, and Medo-Persia. It was near this river that the nation of Israel spent seventy long and bitter years of captivity.
In the future, it will be this river that will be crossed by the enemies of God in order to engage in the battle of Armageddon (16:12-16).
Thus, we have the command of the Lord to release these four demonic beings. What then is the purpose of their release?
B. The purpose for releasing them (15)
15 And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind.
The fact that these four demonic beings had been kept bound in order to be released for this very hour, day, month and year, underlines the truth of God’s sovereignty over them. The timing of this horrific disaster has been firmly established and predetermined by God’s set purposes.
Please note the fact that they couldn’t release themselves. They had to remain bound until the perfect timing of God would come to pass.
And when they are released, they will begin their mission, which will result in the death of a third of mankind. The previous judgment of the fourth seal resulted in the death of one quarter of the earth’s population (6:8). Now with this sixth trumpet judgment, an additional third of the earth’s population will be killed. That would equal a half. By modern day population measurements, that would mean about three billion people.
II. The Revelation of the Mounted Troops (Revelation 9:16-19)
A. A gigantic force (16)
16 The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number.
John seems to add the phrase; “I heard their number” in order to quiet the objections of the skeptics who may have doubted that such a gigantic force could be assembled.
The slaughter of well over a billion people will not be accomplished by the four demonic beings alone - they will have a considerable amount of help in the carrying out of their mission.
Some have suggested that this is a human army. However, the figurative language used to describe these troops and their demonic like horses suggest that this is a supernatural force and not a human one.
Although China had boosted of such a military force during the 70’s, certainly in John’s day, such a gigantic force like this would have been nearly impossible to marshal, supply and move. All the Allied and Axis forces at their peak in World War II were only about 70 million (The World Almanac, 1971, ed. L. H. Long [New York: Newspaper Enterprise Association, 1970], p. 355)
B. A fearsome force (17)
1. The riders (17a)
17 The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur.
This description of the breastplates refers to what was worn by those who were the riders upon these horses. Horses are not usually equipped with breastplates. The colors of the breastplates of the riders seem to match the nature of the plagues they bring. The red is the color of the fire. The dark blue would be the color of the smoke. And the yellow would represent the color of the sulfur. (A noxious and suffocating fume that robs the lungs of good fresh air to breathe),
2. The horses (17b)
The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur.
Interestingly enough, it is not the riders who seem to be the primary agents of meting out this death and destruction, but rather the horses they ride. The fire, smoke and sulfur come from the mouths of these lion looking horses.
C. A deadly force (18)
18 A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths.
Consequently, over a billion people at this time will be incinerated with fire or asphyxiated with smoke and sulfur which is descriptive of the nature of these three plagues. The world has and never will experience again, such a deadly force.
Jesus was so right when he said of the time of a Great Tribulation...
21 For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. 22 Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.
D. A powerful force (19)
19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents and have heads, and with them they do harm.
Once again, this description of these lion like demonic horses is enhanced for us but not necessarily helpful for interpretation. But certainly, this description of their power underscores the truth that we are not talking about a human army here. This is not symbolizing tanks, cannons and the battleships of modern day warfare.
Unlike the scorpion stings inflicted by the demonic horde in the previous mentioned assault, which harmed people with a nonfatal, put extremely painful sting, the snakebites inflicted by these fearsome creatures will be fatal of a huge part of the world’s population.
III. The Reaction of Defiance (Revelation 9:20-21)
What will be the reaction to this hideous demonic attack and the death of over a billion people? You would think that people would drop to their knees, pleading for God’s mercy and forgiveness, abandoning their sinful practices and seeking the Lord’s salvation.
Yet we will see a breathtaking display of the hardness of the heart of unregenerated people.
A. A refusal to repent of idolatry (20)
20 The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk.
You would think that the terror of what is experienced at this time would cause the survivors to undergo a radical change of mind and behavior – however, their firmly established hostility to God remains intact - not even the scourge and sight of death prompts them to repent.
Repentance is the radical changing of the mind, which produces a radical change of behavior. It is a u-turn in one’s thinking that is reflected in a new lifestyle.
And what they refused to repent of is idolatry, which is imagining God to be other than what he has revealed Himself to be. Or creating God in our image and creating images of our concepts of God.
An idol is anything or anyone who now possesses that which solely belongs to the only true and living God and that is worship and adoration. Whatever or whoever possesses your supreme affection; your undying devotion or your complete submission is your God.
Idolatry is fashioning with our hands what the mind has mistakenly conceived. The end result are images of man-created god’s made of gold, bronze, silver, stone or wood; god’s that lack the capability to hear your prayers or see your plight.
Idolatry, at its very core, amounts to the worship of demons.
Psalm 96:5 states that “all the gods of the peoples are demons.” The apostle Paul stated that “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons”
(1 Corinthians 10:20).
Flowing out of their perverted theology is a corrupt lifestyle that causes others to be impacted by their sin.
B. A refusal to repent of murder (21a)
21 Nor did they repent of their murders,
“Bereft of any sense of morality, evil, unrepentant people will imitate the demon horde’s murderous blood lust. Believers in the true God will no doubt be their prime targets, as they lash out seeking revenge for the disasters God has brought on them.” MacArthur commentary
C. A refusal to repent of sorceries (21b)
The Greek word that is translated into “magic arts”, sorceries in other translations, is the word from which we get our English word “pharmacy.” These magic arts, or sorceries where used in order to produce a drug induced higher state of religious euphoria, while at the same time, silencing one’s conscience and lowing one’s moral scruples.
It is descriptive of the magic potions that were a part of heathen idolatry.
D. A refusal to repent of immorality (21c)
Immorality is a translation of the Greek word, porneia which is a general term describing sexual sin of every variety, including fornication, adultery, rape, and homosexuality.
E. A refusal to repent of robbery (21d)
This may be the product of the scarcity of supplies of food, clothing, water, shelter and medicines due to the various aspects of God’s wrath being expressed against the inhabitants of this earth.
1. Unless God draws a person to Himself, that individual will remain wedded to his
sinful practices, hostile to God and indifferent to His Word and His will. This condition will continue even if he beholds a miracle or a massacre at the hands of a sovereign God.
This illustrates the breath of the total depravity of those that are lost and alienated from God.
2. When people worship false gods who do not exist, demons that do exist will impersonate those gods, receive their worship and hold those idolaters captive to their demonic power and deception.
“Although the demonic cavalry massacres one-third of humankind, those that remain continue to worship the very malignant forces that are bringing about their destruction. Such is the delusion of sin.” Robert H. Mounce
3. When people turn from knowing the true God personally and intimately through
faith in Jesus Christ redemptive work, the path of their lives leads downward to an ever-deepening bondage to moral corruption.