Understanding The Apocalypse

Revelation 9:12-21
Chapter 16

I remember a conversation with a person who was describing a series of personal hardships. After giving a detailed account of one particular adversity, this person said, "Just when I thought it could not get worse, sure enough, it did."

Sadly, Revelation 9:12, is the prediction of additional woes, "One woe is past and, behold, there come two woes hereafter." After reading Revelation 9:1-11, it's hard to imagine how things could get worse for the inhabitants of the earth during the Great Tribulation, but they do.

The demons unleashed upon the inhabitants of the earth after the sounding of the fifth trumpet, do not compare with the woe released at the sounding of,

I. The Sixth Trumpet

"And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God" (Revelation 9:13).

You may recall that this golden altar before the throne of God is mentioned in Revelation 8 and we reasoned that the angel who offered the prayers of intercession could only be our Lord Jesus Christ in His office as our Great High Priest.

However, at this mention of the altar contains no description of personage, only a voice. But a voice implies the presence of a being and although the text does not specifically identify this person, the evidence points to our Lord Jesus Christ.

First, notice Revelation 9:14, "Saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet." Clearly, this voice gives a command to the angel who has the trumpet. This indicates the one speaking has authority over the angels. Certainly, our Lord Jesus Christ has authority over the angels. But there is a more convincing proof in Revelation 9:13, where we read that the voice comes "from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God."

We know from Leviticus 4, the priest was to dip his finger in the blood of the sin offering and put it on the horns of the altar. Because the horns of the altar were the receptors for the sacrificial blood, we can reason that the voice from those horns must be a voice connected to blood that was shed for sins.

It is not the voice of a bull or a goat speaking from the altar. It is the voice of the Eternal Son of God who gave Himself as the only complete, sacrifice for sins. Therefore, all power in Heaven and earth has been given to Hiam and He has the right to execute judgment upon those who reject His grace and refuse to repent of their sins.

Next we read His command to the angel, in Revelation 9:14, "Loose the four angels who are bound in the great river, Euphrates."

II. The Second Woe

Normally, when we think of angels, we think of the holy messengers of God like the one who delivered the message of the birth of Christ, to the shepherds in the fields and sometimes, we forget that not all angels are holy residents of heaven. Such is the case with Satan. Although he fell from his first estate and was cast out of heaven, he is still an angel. So it is with all the angels who followed Satan in his rebellion against God. They too, were cast out of heaven and even though they are called demons, they are still angels.

Notice, Revelation 9:14, clearly says the four angels are bound. This is an important point because there is no instance in Scripture where the resident holy angels of heaven are bound. However, according to Jude 6, some of the fallen or wicked angels are bound. Therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that these four angels are fallen angels who are loosed to bring destruction upon the earth.

These angels have been bound or prepared to execute divine judgment just as the "great fish" was prepared to execute discipline, in the life of the prophet Jonah. This is the gist of Revelation 9:15, which says, "And the four angels were loosed, who were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, to slay the third part of men."

Though these angels rebelled against God, they are still subject to His will and purpose. God will use their rebellion and hatred of humanity to execute judgment on the earth at the appropriate time and until that time comes, they are helplessly bound, in the Euphrates.

There is a lesson concerning God's sovereignty in this. John F. Walvoord conveys it well: "Though the agency of men is used to accomplish the purpose of God, the time schedule is determined by God, not man, and even angels execute God's will in God's time."

III. The Mission of the Four Angels

"To slay the third part of men" (Revelation 9:15) To do this, we read in Revelation 9:16, they will call forth an army of 200 million combatants. "And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand; and I heard the number of them."

Many believe this is an army of men from the East or the Orient that will cross the Euphrates River to attack Israel. Certainly, the 16th and 19th chapters of Revelation reveal an invading army will come from the East to a place called Armageddon.

From Zechariah 14, and Revelation 19, we know the Armageddon Battle concludes with the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in Glory, who will fight the battle for Israel. Then, after destroying the entire invading army from the East, Christ will establish His Kingdom on earth.

While this viewpoint accurately presents certain facts concerning the Armageddon Battle, the army in Revelation 9:16, is not the army that will be assembled to attack Israel, at Armageddon. Rather, it is an army of demons bent on the destruction of all mankind. There are several reasons from the text for this conclusion:

(1) The text does not say the horses or their riders are real flesh and blood animals and men as we know them. The word rendered "horsemen" is from a Greek word that means "of a horse" and connotes cavalry. Therefore, the riders could be anything.

We do know the army at Armageddon is composed of flesh and blood men on real flesh and blood horses. So, if the horses and riders in Revelation 9:17-19 are not flesh and blood, this cannot be the Armageddon Army.

Frankly, the descriptions given in this text do not describe flesh and blood horses and riders as we know them.

"And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions, and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone, by these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths. For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails; for their tails were like serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt."

(2) Part of the mission of the Armageddon Army is to attack and destroy Israel, but the mission of this army is to kill one-third of mankind. Unless the Armageddon Army is able to kill enough Jews to equal a third of humanity before the Lord comes to defend them, this must be a different army.

(3) It is clear in Revelation 19:18, that the leaders of the Armageddon Army are kings, captains, and mighty men but the apparent commanders of this army are the four angels bound in the Euphrates. Different commanders usually mean different armies.

(4) Some commentators say that since spirit beings cannot be bound by a river, it is most likely this is an army of men from the Orient. However, Revelation 9:14 says clearly that the four angels are bound in the Euphrates and angels are spirit beings. Therefore, the text itself seems to lay this commentary to rest. And if the Lord can bind four fallen angels in the Euphrates River, surely He can bind millions of others there also.

(5) Since the text does not specifically state the origin of the army, it is not unrealistic to expect they would originate from the same place as their leaders, which in this case is the Euphrates River. Unlike this army, we know from the Scriptures the Armageddon Army will originate with the kings of the East.

(6) We know the Armageddon Army will be composed of flesh and blood men and horses that are not immortal, because they will be killed in battle and birds will eat their flesh. Therefore, we know that being mortal they could not live under water. Since this army has been bound in the Euphrates River, they cannot be the flesh and blood humans that make up the Armageddon Army. This must be a different army.

Given these six evidences, this must be an army of fallen angels or demons, unleashed to execute God's judgment upon the earth, in the second woe. Read again, their descriptions in Revelation 9:17-19.

"And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions, and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone, by these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths. For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails; for their tails were like serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt."

Some say these verses contain a description of modern warfare and the machinery of war. While this is debatable, the important thing to notice is that humanity will be helpless against the sheer numbers and power of this demonic army. The only record of death is on the human side of the ledger.

The sting of the scorpion, wielded by the wave of demons in the first woe, will be replaced by the strike of the serpent. The locusts will be replaced by horses with heads of lions breathing fire, smoke and brimstone.

Not only will they have the power to hurt, they, unlike the demons of the first woe, will have the power to kill and they will do so with such efficiency that a third of mankind will be destroyed.

Surely, we cannot begin to imagine how terrible it will be to live on earth during this time. Even more difficult to imagine is how those who manage to survive this suffering and carnage could continue in unbelief. But they will for it is a time of,

IV. Idolatry, Immorality and Rebellion

"And the rest of the men who were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, and silver, and bronze, and stone, and wood, which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk. Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts" (Revelation 9:20-21).

Even in the face of God's judgment and in spite of it, mankind will refuse to repent. Just as mainstream humanity has done since the beginning of time, they will continue in lawlessness and immorality and will then try to establish their own righteousness through religious endeavor.

Their worship of demons and idols indicates their religious affiliations as they continue their sinful activities. This proves their religions are at best tolerant of sin and at worst, they encourage it. This is nothing new.

Religion cannot make men righteous, neither does it encourage contriteness of heart and repentance. Religion is a tool Satan often uses to deceive men into thinking they are righteous when indeed they are lost in sin.

We have evidence of this right here in our own country. A newspaper article containing the results of a recent survey of American families said over 80% of the Americans surveyed claimed to have a religious affiliation. Yet, the catalogue of sins in Revelation 9:21, sounds like a commentary on American society. For example, the United States has the highest annual murder rate in the world. A sad record for a so-called "Christian Nation."

The "sorceries" mentioned in Revelation 9:21, are also a big problem in the U.S. The word in Greek is "pharmakia" from which we get our word pharmacy and its derivatives. The word has to do with medicines or drugs. A "pharmakia" or "sorcery" is a drug-induced trance supposedly enhancing the mental or spiritual awareness of the user. The United States has one of the biggest appetites for alcohol, opiates and cocaine in the world. Even our government officials acknowledge we are in a "war on drugs."

Fornication or sexual immorality is rampant in our country. Pornography, rape, child molestation, and incest are increasing yearly at exponential rates. So are prostitution, live-in relationships, out-of-wedlock births, and homosexual encounters. It seems one of the primary driving forces in American society today is the sex drive.

Property rights are being eroded daily as more and more hoodlums take what they want, rather than work for it and society seems to be increasingly tolerant of their behavior.

In a recent edition of a local newspaper there was an article warning people not to use deadly force against burglars. One statement, made in reference to the purchase of firearms, said, "The last thing you want to buy it for is the protection of property. That's what homeowner's insurance is for."

There was a time when home insurance was called fire insurance, indicating its primary purpose and at that time society also recognized a person's right to protect and defend his property against thieves.

So, even today, we see religion has no Godly influence in our society. Although 80% of our citizens claim to be religious, that religion has not brought repentance to America. Only the grace of God, through the Gospel of Christ can change the hearts and lives of humanity.

Revelation 9:20-21, is an example of how hardened the hearts of men become when the influence of the Gospel and Grace of God is removed from them. There will be no hope for those who suffer through this Great Tribulation, because the influence of the Church and the Holy Spirit who indwells the Church will be removed from the earth.

Likewise, there is no hope for national repentance in America as long as churches continue to involve themselves in religion and ignore the proclamation of the Gospel of the Grace of God.

If the 80% who claim to have a religious affiliation would forget religion and begin proclaiming the Gospel that Christ died for sins and rose again, not only would we see a great revival in America, but also around the world.

From "Understanding The Apocalypse"
A book of sermons by Pastor Jim McColloch, Th.M., Th.D.
© Copyright 1994, 1999, 2006