Harry Whittaker
Revelation - A Biblical Approach

Chapter 22 -The Sixth Trumpet - A.D. 70 (9:12-21)

It has been seen that the Trumpet judgements were preceded by the prayers of the saints - prayers, according to the parallel in Ezekiel, that Jerusalem might be spared the horrors, which were hanging Over its head; but these prayers were unheeded. Now come other prayers of the saints - “a voice from the golden altar of incense.” It is not that the saints are praying now for judgement on God’s city and people, but rather that such prayers make judgement inevitable.

This Second Woe, aptly named, is a vision of a mighty army of horses and horsemen bringing fire and smoke and brimstone (thrice mentioned), both hurting and killing men.

“One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter” (Revelation 9:12). These words have a certain resemblance to the Septuagint Version of Ezekiel 7:23-26 (verse 26 in particular), which describes God’s wrath against Israel on an earlier dreadful occasion. Other verses in the same chapter continue the resemblance to Revelation, especially v. 12 (=9: 15), 14, 15, 19, 20 (=9: 20, 21). Thus the student is further encouraged to look for a primary fulfilment of the Trumpets in the A.D. 70 Fall of Jerusalem.

It is tempting to see in the four angels bound at Euphrates the same four as those mentioned at the beginning of Revelation 7, especially since they were bidden: “Hurt not,” and now these are specifically sent forth to “hurt” unrepentant sinners (9:19, 20). The army, which came against Jerusalem, was truly prepared by God for the hour and day and month and year, i.e. for the precise time when this part of the divine purpose was fully ripe. So far as one can judge, there is no prophetic time period involved here - at least, not in this particular application of the prophecy - but that this might be possible, by divine design, in some other fulfilment of the prophecy is not questioned.


The number of the army - 200 millions - can hardly be taken literally. At all ages in history this has been an impossible figure, until - perhaps - the present day. But more on this anon. For the moment the number must be read as indicating an exceptionally large army. By Roman numerical standards this was actually the case in A.D. 70. Four Roman legions-out of 26 in the entire Empire - were concentrated in this struggle for the suppression of Jewish opposition; and their fighting strength was approximately doubled by the contingents supplied, as acts of loyalty, by neighbouring eastern states. And all of these-most of them cavalry, in accordance with the prophecy - were concentrated in one of the smallest countries of the wide-spreading Roman Empire (Josephus B.J.3.4.2 and 5.1.6).

Like the hordes of locusts in the preceding vision, this army is described as being invisibly led and controlled by four angels, which are “bound at the Euphrates.” These details find unexpected (?) elucidation in the narrative of Josephus, who tells that most of the army consisted of legions already stationed at the Euphrates in preparation for an eastern campaign, and of cavalry supplied by four kings of that region.


“But as for Titus, he sailed over from Achaia to Alexandria, and that sooner than the winter season did usually permit; so he took with him those forces he was sent for, and marching with great expedition, he came suddenly to Ptolemais, and there finding his father (Vespasian), together with the two legions the fifth and the tenth, which were the most eminent legions of all, he joined them to the fifteenth legion which was with his father; eighteen cohorts followed these legions; there came also five cohorts from Caesarea, with one troop of horsemen, and five other troops of horsemen from Syria. Now these ten cohorts had several thousand footmen, but the other seven cohorts had no more than six hundred footman apiece, and a hundred and twenty horsemen. There was also brought together a considerable number of auxilaries that came from the kings Antiochus, and Agrippa, and Sohemus, each of them contributing one thousand footmen that were archers, and a thousand horsemen. Malchus also, a king of Arabia, sent a thousand horsemen, besides five thousand footmen, the greatest part of whom were archers; so that the whole army, including the auxiliaries sent by the kings, as well as horsemen and footmen, when all were united together, amounted to sixty thousand” (B.J.3.4.2).


For the Old Testament counterpart to this invasion by a mighty army, the horses of which, figuratively, have the stings of serpents in their tails, the reader is referred to the detailed parallel set out at the end of Chapter 20 indicating the close connection between Jeremiah 8 and Revelation 8, 9. “The snorting of his horses (Sixth Trumpet: “their power is in their mouth”) ... behold, I will send serpents, cockatrices among you ... and they shall bite you (“for their tails were like unto serpents”) ... Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images, and with their vanities (“idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and wood”)?”

In this way the language of the prophet is harnessed to shew that in this latest crisis of judgement God’s people had not changed. They deserved and they suffered a like fate to that which came upon them in the time of Nebuchadnezzar.

Isaiah has similar language which seems to have distinct relevance to the Sixth Trumpet judgement: “Rejoice not thou ... because the rod of him that smote thee is broken (the Jews scored big successes at first against the Romans): for out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery, flying serpent. And the firstborn of the poor shall feed (the safety of the faithful), and the needy shall lie down in safety: and I will kill thy root with famine, and he shall slay thy remnant (“hurt only those men that have not the seal of God in their foreheads”) ... there shall come from the north a smoke (the Roman campaign began in the north), and none standeth aloof (R.V.) at his appointed times (the hour and day and month and year) ... “ Yet this prophecy ends reassuringly. God’s purpose with Israel shall not fail: “What shall one then answer the messengers of the nation? That the Lord hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it” (Isaiah 14:29-32).

There remain difficulties in a number of details in this remarkable vision. Yet the general correspondence between prophets, Apocalypse and history is clear enough. Fundamentally the waywardness of Israel was unchanged, and the time came when retribution was inevitable.

It is worth observing, in passing, that these identifications with Old Testament prophecy pay a double dividend. They give firm assurance that the Book of Revelation is in large degree concerned with God’s purpose with Israel. They also supply excellent reasons for studying the Old Testament prophets afresh with a conviction that whatever fulfilment their oracles may have had already, they have a yet greater message for future days, the near future.


Josephus provides more than adequate commentary as to how men were “hurt” and “plagued” by the invaders. His narrative makes gruesome reading:

“Hereupon, some of the deserters, having no other way leaped down from the wall immediately, while others of them went out of the city with stones, as if they would fight them; but thereupon they fled away to the Romans, but here a worse fate accompanied these than what they had found within the city; and they met with a quicker despatch from the greater abundance among the Romans, than they could have in the famine among the Jews; for when they came first to the Romans, they were puffed up by the famine, and swelled like men in a dropsy; after which they all on a sudden over-filled these bodies which were before empty, and so burst asunder, excepting such only as were skilful enough to restrain their appetites and by degrees took in their food into bodies unaccustomed hereto. Yet did another plague seize upon them that were thus preserved, for there was found among the Syrian deserters a certain person who was caught gathering pieces of gold out of the excrements of the Jews’ bellies, for the deserters used to swallow such pieces of gold, as we told you before, when they came out, and for these did the seditious search them all, for there was a great quantity of gold in the city; insomuch that as much was now sold in the Roman camp for twelve Attic drams, as was sold before for twenty-five. But then this contrivance was discovered in one instance, the fame of it filled their several camps that the deserters came to them full of gold. So the multitude of them (Arabians and Syrians) cut up those that came as supplicants, and searched their bellies. Nor does it seem to me, that any misery befell the Jews that was more terrible than this, since in one night’s time about 2,000 of these deserters were thus dissected” (B.J.5.13.4).

With this ghastly picture compare: “They shall cast their silver in the streets, and their gold shall be removed; their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord: they shall not satisfy their souls, neither fill their bowels; because it is the stumblingblock of their iniquity” (Ezekiel 7:19).


The vision concludes with the surprising statement that in spite of those sufferings inflicted on themselves and their fellows, the survivors repented not of their idolatry, “neither of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.” The worship of “demons (i.e. gods) of gold, silver, brass and stone, the works of their own hands” is more than adequately explained by the fanatical reverence which the Jews accorded to the endless sequence of false prophets who rose up among them, and to their Temple - “the works of their own hands,” even the disciples of Jesus were not immune: “Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here” (Mark 13:1). Even in the very last stages of the conflict, thousands of people perished through foolishly following the exhortation of a false prophet to muster in a certain part of the Temple that their Messiah might appear unto them. As to the rest, once again Josephus is more than adequate commentator: “Now this Simon, who was without the wall was a greater terror to the people than the Romans themselves, as were the Zealots who were within it themselves more heavy than both the others; and during this time did the mischievous contrivances and courage of John corrupt the body of the Galileans; for these Galileans had advanced this John, and made him very potent, who made them very suitable requital from the authority he had obtained by their means, for he (John of Gischala) permitted them to do all things that any of them desired to do, while their inclination to plunder was insatiable; as was their zeal in searching the houses of the rich; and for the murdering of men, and abusing of the women, it was sport to them. They also devoured what spoils they had taken, together with their blood, and indulged themselves in wantonness, without any disturbance, till they were satiated therewith: while they decked their hair and put on woman’s garments, and were besmeared over with ointments; and that they might appear very comely they had paints under their eyes, and imitated, not only the ornaments, but also the lusts of women, and were guilty of such intolerable uncleanness that they invented unlawful pleasure of that sort; and thus did they roll themselves up and down the city, as in a brothel house, and defiled it entirely with their impure actions; nay, while their faces looked like the faces of women, they killed with their right hands; and while their gait was effeminate, they presently attacked men and became warriors, and drew their swords from under their finely dyed cloaks, and ran everybody through who they came upon. However, Simon waited for such as ran away from John, and was the more bloody of the two; and he that escaped the tyrant within the wall, was destroyed by the other that lay before the gates, so that all attempts of flying and deserting to the Romans were cut off, if any had the mind so to do” (B.J.4.9.10). Murders, sorceries, fornication, thefts!

Yet in spite of all these extremes of suffering the Jews were utterly unrepentant. On the contrary, they merely became more and more fanatical and unreasoning in their opposition to the Romans and in their stubborn refusal to turn to the God of their fathers who was chastening them thus.
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