Harry Whittaker
Revelation - A Biblical Approach

Chapter 20 - The Fifth Trumpet: A.D. 70 (9:1-11)

The last three Trumpets are introduced by the vision of “an angel (R.V.: eagle) flying in the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the angels, which are yet to sound” (8:13). Because of this, and by reason of the special severity of these judgements, Trumpets 5, 6 and 7 have come to be known as the Three Woes.

This mention of an eagle-angel has some interesting and informative associations in other parts of the Bible:

Hosea 8:1: “Set thy trumpet to thy mouth, as an eagle against the house of the Lord, because they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my law.” This passage can surely be regarded with confidence as the Old Testament basis of the verse in Revelation now under consideration. Thus the student is steered yet again to seek an application of the Trumpets to the righteous retribution of God against His people.

Deuteronomy 28:49: “The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand; and he shall besiege thee in all thy gates...” The entire passage to the end of v. 61 should be read. Its reference to the Roman overthrow of Jerusalem can hardly be questioned.

Matthew 24:28: “For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” The context here - warnings against being deceived by false prophets-demands as the meaning of this passage: “If you shew yourself to be spiritually dead, you will surely get the vultures round you.” The primary reference is undoubtedly to the Ecclesia, but a similar application of the same principle to the covenant-peoyle of Israel can hardly be denied. Spiritually dead and corrupting by A.D. 70, Israel was left to the eagles till nothing remained save a valley full of dry bones.


The interesting textual problem as to whether the A.V. or R.V. reading of 8:13 is correct is best solved amicably in favour of both. The best manuscripts certainly read “eagle;” but a comparison with other passages makes it equally clear that an angel is referred to. “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel ...” (14:6). Here the phraseology is precisely the same, only this time the reading “angel” is indubitable. And the word “another” picks out this passage as an echo of 8:13.

The conclusion indicated is, then, that the angel of 8:13 is one in the character of an eagle; such is the nature of the commission entrusted to him. Cp. 19:17, 18: “And I saw an angel standing in the sun (compare “in midheaven”) and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; that ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains ....”


Josephus has a most interesting story (B.J. 6:5:3) markedly reminiscent of this passage. He tells how for seven years before Jerusalem was destroyed a respectable citizen took to going about the city, crying aloud: “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the Holy House, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people ... Woe to the city, and to the people, and to the Holy House.” He was brought before the Roman procurator, yet he never desisted even though his bones were laid bare with flogging. At the great Feasts his efforts were redoubled amongst the immense crowds. Finally he died in the siege, struck by a mighty sling-stone from the Romans, and crying to the last; “Woe, woe, woe.”

It is not without significance that the eagle-angel is described as “flying in mid-heaven.” The original word actually denotes the expanse of space between heaven and earth. It is readily seen to be a reminiscence of the occasion of David’s numbering of the people and the wrath that came on Israel because of it. David, it will be remembered, chose as punishment three days of pestilence as preferable to three months of war or three years of famine. “And David lifted up his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched over Jerusalem ... “ (1 Chronicles 21:16). The resemblance to this in Revelation 8:13 encourages yet further the idea that the remaining Trumpets are God’s “woes” against a sinful Israel.[36]


It can hardly be hair-splitting to draw attention to the odd phraseology at the end of Revelation 8:13: “ ... the other voices of the trumpet (not trumpets) of the three angels which are yet to sound.” This strange use of the singular where a plural would normally be used is neither, so far as one can tell, a Greek idiom nor one of John’s many Hebraisms. Is it intended to suggest by this means that the three remaining Trumpets are, in character and intention, one and the same? If so, there is here further emphasis on the synchronous rather than the serial or consecutive character of these judgements. In other words, they are to be regarded as describing different aspects of the same merited affliction, rather than successive phases of divine judgement spread over a long period of time.

Even so, due weight must be assigned to the indisputable fact that a sharp line is obviously intended to be drawn between the first four Trumpets and the last three.

In the First Century fulfilment this answers to the distinction between the sporadic tumult, rebellion and war which filled Palestine from end to end for three and a half years from A.D. 67, and the final horrific phase represented by the siege of Jerusalem itself. The difference in character between the judgements of ch. 8 and those of ch. 9 supports such a suggestion. When attention is turned to the Last Day fulfilment of these Trumpets a further similar and appropriate suggestion will be submitted.


“And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven fallen to the earth” (9:1 R.V.). This is an echo, surely, of the Third Trumpet and its description of the Star Wormwood; so this also is to be interpreted of Israel now cast out from covenant relationship with God.

Attention is drawn again, more closely, to the unexpected similarity between certain details of this Fifth Trumpet and words of Jesus to his disciples:

Luke 10:18-20
Revelation 9:1, 3, 4

I beheld Satan fallen as lightning (Isaiah 14:12: the morning star) from heaven.
A star from heaven fallen to the earth.

Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions.
Unto them was given power as the scorpions of the earth have power.

Nothing shall by any means hurt you.
...that they should hurt...only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.

Your names are written in heaven.
(The Lamb’s Book of Life?)

A broad hint, often overlooked, as to what Jesus meant when he spoke of “Satan fallen as lightning from heaven” is available in an earlier verse in Luke 10: “And thou, Capernaum, which are exalted to heaven, shall be thrust down to hell” (v. 15). Like the words just quoted, these form another reference to Isaiah 14 - and Jesus most astonishingly applies them to Capernaum! Thus he defines whom he meant by “Satan”: the stubborn and unspiritual adversaries of his own Galilee.[37]

And now, in Revelation 9, he applies the same language over again in a more generalized form to the entire nation and its city, which had rejected so signally and with such consummate folly the gospel of their salvation. His saints were to triumph over the scorpions of persecution, but they were to suffer torment indescribable. His saints were to be specially preserved unto life everlasting, but they were to be just as specially singled out for the worst of all tribulations. His saints were to have their names inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life, but they were to be given over to wretchedness, torture and death.


“And to him (i.e. to the angel sounding the Fifth Trumpet) was given the key of the bottomless pit.” This abyss is easily identifiable from other Scriptures where the same word is used.

Luke 8:31, 33: “And they (the demons) besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep (abyss; Mark: out of the country) ... and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked.”

Romans 10:7: “Who shall descend into the deep (abyss)” - which is itself the New Testament equivalent of Deuteronomy 30:13: “Who shall go over the sea for us?” Clearest of all are Revelation 13:1 and 11:7 where the Beast coming up “out of the sea” is also described as “coming out of the abyss.”


Hence the great locust invasion which is now pictured as symbolic of the ravaging Roman armies which came from across the sea, from “out of the country.” That the locusts represent armies is clear from the words: “it was commanded them that they should hurt ... only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.” This allusion back to ch. 7:3 is an undeniable link. If the exposition of that chapter was on right lines the Trumpets too (and this one in particular) must have similar reference.

The smoke and darkness accompanying this locust invasion (v. 2) are reminiscent of Old Testament language which describes the scattering of Israel: “So will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the day of clouds and thick darkness” (Ezekiel 34:12 RVm.). Comparison should also be made with Isaiah 9:18, 19 which likewise associates the same figure of smoke and darkness with the day of wrath against Israel. Further, the smoke of Sodom “went up as the smoke of a furnace” (Genesis 19:28), and in Revelation 11:8 Jerusalem is spoken of as “Sodom.”

A serious difficulty may be felt in the command to these locusts that they should not kill, but only torment (v. 5). However, it would seem that the policy of Titus throughout the siege of Jerusalem was to exercise the utmost clemency possible. For months the attack on the city was not pressed with characteristic Roman vigour and efficiency, Titus apparently entertaining for a long time the hope that eventually the Jews would come to a more reasonable frame of mind and realize frankly the hopelessness of their situation.

“But now out of the hope he had that he should make the Jews ashamed of their obstinacy, by not being willing, when he was able, to afflict them more than he needed to do, he did widen the breach in the wall, in order to make a safer retreat upon occasion; for he did no, think they would lay snares for those that did them such kindnesses. When, therefore, he came in, he did not permit his soldiers to kill any of those they caught, nor to set fire to their houses either; nay, he gave leave to the seditious, if they had a mind, to fight without any harm to the people, and promised to restore the people’s effects to them; for he was very desirous to preserve the city for his own sake, and the temple for the sake of the city” (Josephus B.J.5.8.1).


The representation of this locust horde is clearly a composite one, intended by the graphic association of different figures of speech to make more vivid the harrowing character of the judgement in store for God’s people:

They sting as scorpions.

They are like horses going into battle.

They have, “as it were,” crowns like gold,

and breastplates of iron,

teeth like lions,

wings sounding like chariots in battle;

yet they have hair like women.

Their leader is called the Destroyer.

Their power to hurt continues for five months.

Some of these details present little difficulty, the figure employed being so plain in its meaning, and indeed involving sometimes a large element of the literal as well as the figurative. For instance, the reference to horses and chariots (designed to connect up with the Sixth Trumpet) is an obvious indication of the great reliance put by the Romans on cavalry; an exceedingly large proportion of the army they brought against Jerusalem consisted of horsemen. More information will be offered on this point in Chapter 22. The “crowns like gold” and the “breastplates of iron” (Daniel’s fourth empire?) are easily read as allusions to the defensive armour of the Roman soldiers, the former especially being a reference to the head-pieces of polished metal as they glistened and glittered in the sun. Josephus actually makes reference to these accoutrements. Similarly, the “teeth like lions” are an indication of the irresistible strength of the Roman legions.

The stings like scorpions are possibly allusions back to the time when rebellious Israel in the wilderness was smitten by the God-sent plague of fiery serpents (Numbers 21:6-9). Then whoever looked to the brazen serpent on the pole lived. Likewise on this occasion the afflictions came only on those who had not the seal of God in their forehead, on those, that is, who had not looked in faith to Christ “lifted up” for the salvation of men (John 3:14).

Perhaps it is worthwhile, also, to note that the word “scorpion” is almost identical with the Greek word for “scatter.” Certainly it was this “locust” horde with their scorpion stings which accomplished the scattering of the once “holy people.”

But what shall be said about the “hair like women”? Here is a difficulty of some magnitude.

Is it possible that this is a reference to the sexual perversions practised by the Roman soldiers? See Romans 1:24, 27.

Or is Jeremiah to be used here as interpreter (51:27)?: “Cause the horses to come up as the rough caterpillars” (i.e. as the hairy locusts, a particularly destructive and repulsive kind).

Alternatively, is there here an allusion to 1 Corinthians 11:10? A woman’s hair is a symbol that she is under authority “because of the angels.” In like fashion these Roman armies were led on by a divinely appointed leader, an angel.


Apollyon is described as “the angel of the abyss.” It must be a literal angel that is intended - a destroying angel, an angel of death. There is nothing fanciful about taking these words of v. 11 in the most literal sense possible. The angel who slew the firstborn in Egypt is called the Destroyer (Exodus 12:23). The angel who punished Israel in the wilderness is called the Destroyer (1 Corinthians 10:10). The angel who afflicted Israel with pestilence in the time of David is spoken of as destroying (1 Chronicles 21:12, 15, 16; compare what was suggested on Revelation 8:13). And since these Roman armies were undoubtedly God’s armies (see Matthew 22:7) little difficulty should be found in the idea that the destroying legions were invisibly led by one of the Almighty’s angels of evil.[38]


There remains to be considered the outstanding and precise detail (twice mentioned) of the period of this locust invasion - five months. It has been observed that the months May to September inclusive, i.e. five months, are the normal season during which Palestine is liable to experience the inroads of locusts. Thus regarded, the five months is seen to be a remarkable touch of verisimilitude, emphasizing the likeness of this great army to a horde of locusts.

But the resemblance is much more close than this. Whilst the troubles associated with the fall of Jerusalem were spread over several years, the duration of the actual siege, once it began in earnest, was from April 14th to September 8th, a period of precisely five lunar (and therefore Jewish) months.


The effect of this locust invasion is given in graphic phrases: “In those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.” How true these words became in A.D. 70 is easily demonstrated, if demonstration be needed. Josephus’ description of the rigours of famine, endured by those who were secure from Roman violence behind impregnable city walls, is harrowing to the imagination. They were not slain; yet what torments they suffered!

        “It was now a miserable case, and a sight that would justly bring tears to your eyes how men stood as to their food, while the more powerful had more than enough, and the weaker were lamenting for want of it, but the famine was too hard for all other passions, and it was destructive to nothing so much as it was to modesty; for what was worthy of reverence otherwise was in this case despised; insomuch that sons pulled the very morsels that their fathers were eating out of their mouths, and what was still more to be pitied, so did the mothers do to their infants, they were not ashamed to take from them the last drops that might preserve their lives; and while they ate after this manner, yet were they not concealed in so doing: but the seditious everywhere came upon them immediately, and snatched away from them what they had gotten from others; for when they saw any house shut up, this was to them a signal that the people within had gotten some food; whereupon they snatched what they were eating almost from their very throats, and this by force; the old men, who held their food fast, were beaten, and if the women hid what they had within their hands, their hair was torn for so doing; nor was there any commiseration shown to either the aged or to the infants, but they lifted up children from the ground as they hung upon the morsels they had gotten, and shook them down upon the floor” (B.J.5.10.3).


No wonder Jesus was constrained to exclaim: “Except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (Matthew 24:22). These words were no rhetorical flourish, but literal truth. The first great siege of Jerusalem, the graphic prototype of A.D. 70, by Nebuchadnezzar ended on precisely the same day of the year as did the siege of Titus, but it had lasted a whole year whereas this for the elect’s sake (i.e. by reason of the prayers of the faithful who yet regarded with reverence and affection the city of the Great King) was concluded within the astonishingly short period of five months.

The grim words of Revelation are echoed almost verbatim by Josephus: “So those that were thus distressed by the famine were very desirous to die, and those that were already dead were esteemed happy ... Nay, the terror was so very great, that he who survived called them that were first dead happy, as being at rest already; as did those that were under torture in the prisons declare that those that lay unburied were the happiest.”

Could correspondence between prophecy and Jewish history be more impressive than that which meets the student of Revelation 9?

There is evidence that even in the First Century this Scripture was understood in the manner briefly set out here. One of the “visions” described in the (uninspired) “Shepherd of Hermas” has these words: “Behold I saw a great Beast like a whale (compare the beast of the sea; Revelation 13) and out of its mouth fiery locusts went forth. This beast came out so fiercely as if it could demolish the city at a blow ... This beast is the emblem of the wrath to come.”


A final and utterly conclusive proof that the foregoing interpretation is on the right lines comes from a consideration of the parallel between Jeremiah 8 and the Trumpets. This is the chapter to which Jesus referred four times in foretelling the casting off of Israel: v. 11 = Luke 19: 42; v. 12 = Luke 19: 44; v. 13 = Luke 20:10 and Matthew 21:19. In Revelation Jesus resumes his exposition of that prophecy:

Jeremiah 8

Revelation 8, 9
v. 2
The idols “which they have loved, served, walked after, sought, worshipped.”
“Idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and wood; which can neither see, nor hear, nor walk.”
v. 3.
“Death shall be chosen rather than life.”
“Men shall seek death and shall not find it.”
v. 5.
“Why then is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? They hold fast deceit, they refuse to return”
9:20, 21:
“Yet they repented not of the works of their hands neither repented they of their murders etc.”
v. 7.
“The stork knoweth her appointed times ... but my people doth not know ...”
“Prepare (the attacking army) for the hour and day and month and year.”
v. 14.
“The Lord God hath given us water of gall (wormwood) to drink.”
“The star wormwood ... and many men died, because the waters were made bitter”
v. 16.
“The snorting of his horses was heard ... the whole land trembled at the sound of the neighing of his strong ones.”
“The sound of many horses running to the battle.”
v. 17.
“I will send serpents, cockatrices among you ... and they shall bite you.”
“Their torment was as the torment of a scorpion when he striketh a man.”
v 20.
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”
The end of the five months (it came in August), and only hopelessness.
v. 22.
“Is there no balm in Gilead?”

Saints in Pella (Gilead) pleading for Jerusalem, yet unable to save it (9:13)?
v. 19.
“The cry of the daughter of my people from a land that is very far off.”

Israel sold into captivity in far-off lands.
v. 19.
“Is not the Lord in Zion? Is not her King in her?”

Jerusalem rejected as God’s dwelling place. The Messiah no longer acknowledged there by any.

To deny the application of the Trumpets to the time of A.D. 70 in the face of such facts is to deny any validity at all to the principle of interpretation of Scripture by means of Scripture.

[36] There is much to be said for the view that in this remarkable episode in 1 Chronicles 21, the sin lay in the people rather than in David. But to analyse such an opinion pro and con here would involve too big a digression.
[37] Here is the Lord’s own answer to those who would quote his words in Luke 10:18 as proving the existence of a superhuman Devil.
[38] Angels to whom God commits the dispensation of evil; not wicked angels (Psalm 78:49 R.V.); there are no wicked angels.
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