by Roger McCay
31 July 2022
Sermon Passage: Revelation 8:13-9:12
Link to Audio Version
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
C.S. Lewis penned these words in his preface to The Screwtape Letters—words to heed. In our secular, Western society, the predominant inclination is the former issue, to disbelieve, thinking that demons are fictional—a myth. But don’t be fooled. Demons, what Lewis calls “devils” here, are quite real. They are active. They are our enemy. And their king is Satan himself.
Demons are warring against you and I, even now. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood;” rather, our struggle is against “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). Concerning them, Lewis rightly says, “Of course, they don’t want you to believe in the Devil. If devils exist, their first aim is to give you an anaesthetic—to put you off your guard. Only if that fails do you become aware of them.” These spiritual forces of evil want us lulled to sleep, disbelieving in their existence and activities, so they might have their way with each of us. But thankfully, God’s Spirit indwells every Christian. He is the seal of God upon our very being. And while we must remain vigilant and faithful, we are under his protection and he empowers us in the battle, which is a mighty comfort.
Now, leading up to our passage today, the Lamb of God has unrolled the scroll; the imprecatory prayers of the saints have been heard; and judgments are being carried out. We are in the midst of the seven angels blowing the seven trumpets of wrath, trumpets which hearken to the trumpets against Jericho, and each calling down plagues like those that fell upon Egypt. The first four trumpets symbolized God’s wrath coming down upon the established order of things (nature and government). And now we roll into the last three trumpets, where the three woes are called forth—God’s wrath coming down upon the people of the Land of Israel.
And remember, the happenings, after the blowing of each trumpet, symbolize actual events, in history. The plagues are also not linear as they unfold in time, with one coming after another along the lines of trumpet one, trumpet two, etc. Rather, the historical events overlap, transversing time and space. Further, keep in mind the timeframe of The Book of Revelation, which is critical for right understanding. John received it from the Lord circa. AD 65. Its contents, its prophecies and such, were to take place “soon,” as the time was “near” (Rev. 1:1, 3). Therefore, in history, the events symbolized in Revelation quickly followed, largely taking place during the Jewish War, which began in AD 66, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70 (with the nation utterly destroyed by AD 73).
So, in our passage today, we begin with an ominous bird of woe, followed by the blowing of the fifth trumpet. An army of demons and their king are then symbolically described, a force which was unleashed against the Jews, but with certain restraints the sovereign Lord Jesus put in place. Hellish torments are the demonic army’s gifts to the people, to those who did not have the seal of the Spirit of God. And this demonic hordes’ task culminated in AD 70, in Jerusalem, when the city was besieged by Titus and the Roman armies.
So, take a look, once more, at Rev. 8:13:
Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the [Land], at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”
The background of the bird of woe imagery in this verse, seems to come from Hos. 8:1, which the NIV renders, “Put the trumpet to your lips! An eagle is over the house of the Lord because the people have broken my covenant and rebelled against my law.” Now, the Septuagint (the Greek OT) translates the Hebrew word for this bird, in Hos. 8:1, as ἀετός, and this is the same word given in Rev. 8:13. And note that the word ἀετός can be translated as either “eagle” or “vulture,” which might be confusing depending on the translation you are reading. As it is, Jesus, uses the term ἀετός, in his Olivet Discourse, in Matt. 24:28, when he speaks of his coming, in wrath upon Israel, with the destruction of Jerusalem: ESV, “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures [the ἀετός] will gather.” And note the KJV renders him saying (in the same verse) it is “eagles” that will gather. This is in harmony with the teaching in Deut. 8:49, where the agents of the Lord’s wrath are likened to ἀετός, in the Septuagint: “The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down.” And isn’t it interesting how the standard of the Roman armies was an eagle? The point is that the symbol of the ἀετός, as it is used in Rev. 8:13, hearkens to these various images, indicating that the three woes are each aspects of the Lord’s coming, in judgment, bringing the covenant curses upon apostate Israel.
So, the three woes are announced against the people of the Land of Israel, and this first woe from the fifth trumpet specifically characterizes the spiritual assault against the Jewish nation. But before we get into it, let me give some background from the gospels.
In Matt. 12:43-45, Jesus, having just cast a demon out of a man, responds to the Pharisees, who had said it was by “Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (i.e. Satan, according to Jesus in Mark 3:23) that Jesus cast out demons. Jesus responds harshly to them, speaking of the unforgiveable sin. Then, right after pronouncing that only the sign of Jonah would be given to their “evil and adulterous generation” (in response to the scribes and Pharisee’s query for a sign), Jesus gives this parable/prophecy:
43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”
Now, I suggest, in good company, that the fifth trumpet is a fulfillment of that prophecy upon the very generation Jesus had denounced. Like Jesus prophesied, in his Olivet Discourse, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt. 24:34).
So look at Rev. 9:1: “And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit.”
Bottom line up front, the star fallen from heaven, in this verse, is a reference to Satan. The structure of the passage, in the context of Rev. 9:11, in harmony with Scriptures, clarify this fact. The fallen star is a person, who is given a key to the abyss (the bottomless pit), who then looses from the abyss locusts who are given power like scorpions. This fits with Jesus’ statement in Lk. 10:18-19: “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy.” Notice the contextual parallel, in these passages, of a being who fell from heaven along with the mention of scorpions. In Lk. 10, Jesus attributes scorpions to Satan’s power. In Rev. 9:11, king over the locusts with stings like scorpions is the angel of the bottomless pit named Abaddon in Hebrew (meaning destruction) and Apollyon in Greek (meaning destroyer). The structure of the passage (a chiasm, which I don’t have time to go into) also equates Apollyon with the fallen star. So the fallen star, Abaddon/Apollyon is Satan.
Not surprisingly, then, the locusts with the power of scorpions are demons. In the Scriptures, the Abyss (rendered in the ESV as “the bottomless pit”) is a prison for demons (Luke 8:31), which will come into play in Rev. 20:1-3, but is also equated with Tartarus (2 Pet. 2:4) where the demons are chained in gloomy darkness (Jude 6). But these demons here are loosed. So the picture we get is that the demons were set free from the gloomy darkness of the Abyss (a place of which Legion dreaded to be banished – Lk. 8:31), and they come flying up out of darkness and smoke, descending upon the land specifically for the purpose of wreaking havoc upon the Jews. The symbolism here provides for dramatic effect, painting a terrifying picture.
And notice that there is no mention of the demons who were already roaming around waging war on humanity (of whom Paul speaks in Eph. 6:12 and who are mentioned in other parts of Scripture). Perhaps those demons were gathered with the loosed demons under Satan, in order to attack Israel according to the Lord’s command, or perhaps not. As it is, by design, the happenings in the spiritual realm remain largely veiled.
Whatever the case, demons are given a task but limits are set upon that task by our sovereign God, and they carry it out to devastating and horrific effect.
Now, may I suggest that you don’t get hung up on the description of the demons, thinking they looked exactly like what is described here. Their description is symbolic for their character (similar to how Jesus’ description in chapter Rev. 1 is symbolic, with a two-edged sword coming out of his mouth). Their description also hearkens back to some OT texts. And please note that the locusts are not helicopters. That interpretation comes from an eschatological theology that is so off the mark it is pure ignorance.
So, let’s briefly consider the attributes these demons are ascribed. For one, they are called locusts. This hearkens back to the Egyptian plague in Ex. 10:12-15. Locusts are also a symbolic term for armies in various places in the OT. The prophet Joel, particularly, had much to say about locusts in the sphere of God’s judgment upon Israel (cf. Joel 1:4-6; 2:4-10). But these locusts are quite different than the locusts in Joel in that they are “told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree” (Rev. 9:4). Rather, they are to torment the people who do not have this seal of God on their forehead, specifically the apostate Jews. Remember, the Christian Jews had been sealed in Rev. 7.
Verses 7-10, of Rev. 9, then provide a list of various descriptions. The demons are said to have the shape of horses, speaking to their power as an army (with strength and movement), and which is a direct allusion to Joel 2:4. They have crowns, which points to Paul’s language of the enemy consisting of “the authorities … the cosmic powers over this present darkness, … the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). They have human faces, which likely alludes to intelligence. They have long hair like women, which seems to speak to their having a beauty, which brings to mind 1 Cor. 11:15, which says long hair is the glory of a woman. However, the image of long hair, in their case, consists of the perversion of the demons’ seductive beauty, which would be consistent of what we know about sin and how it draws in its victims. The teeth of lions hearkens back to Joel’s description of the locusts in Joel 1:6, where the locusts are compared to a nation and its armies. Lion’s teeth tear and devour, so the demons are offensively prepared. The breastplates like iron indicates they are armored for battle, defensively prepared and not easily defeated. As for their wings, they can go anywhere in the targeted Land, and the targeted people cannot escape. Then, the noise like chariots rushing into battle speaks to them, as an army, going to war against the Jews—a spiritual war. Finally, the tails that sting like a scorpion speaks to their infernal power, to poison the people (spiritually and physically), bringing terrible and lingering pain upon them.
So, how did this play out historically? Rev. 9:5: “They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone.”
Now, during the Jewish War (AD 66-73), the siege of Jerusalem, by Titus and the Roman armies, lasted for five months (from April to August, AD 70).  That fits Rev. 9:5 exactly. Kenneth Gentry observes, “This is an image of the gruesome, final period of Jerusalem’s defense. The worst part of the Jewish war is the final five months, when they are now trapped, they’re starving, they’re in civil war, and soon their temple will be burned and destroyed.”
The siege of Jerusalem was a horrific, terrible, terrible time. They were under siege by the Romans, but a civil war was also being fought within the city. I’ll leave it to you to read Josephus’ Wars of the Jews, Book 5, ch. 10, for the many details. But David Chilton makes an interesting summary statement of the lead up and what occurred during that time:
The entire generation became increasingly demon-possessed; their progressive national insanity is apparent as one reads through the New Testament, its horrifying final stages are depicted in the pages of Josephus’ The Jewish War: the loss of all ability to reason, the frenzied mobs attacking one another, the deluded multitudes following after the most transparently false prophets, the crazed and desperate chase after food, the mass murders, executions, and suicides, the fathers slaughtering their own families and the mothers eating their own children. Satan and the host of hell simply swarmed through the land of Israel and consumed the apostates.
Those five months of siege, particularly, were the culminating point of the Lord’s wrath unleashed. And the demons were very effective in their task of torment. Josephus records:
The citizens themselves were under a terrible consternation and fear; … Nor was there ever any occasion for them to leave off their lamentations, because their calamities came perpetually one upon another, although the deep consternation they were in prevented their outward wailing; but, being constrained by their fear to conceal their inward passions, they were inwardly tormented, without daring to open their lips in groans.
“They [Jewish neighbor against Jewish neighbor] also invented terrible methods of torment to discover where any food was, … and this was done when these tormentors were not themselves hungry; for the thing had been less barbarous had necessity forced them to it; but this was done to keep their madness in exercise.
As for the worst of the human tormentors of the people, Chilton refers to “the Satanic gangs of murderous Zealots that preyed on the citizens of Jerusalem.” Here is an example of their behavior in Jerusalem from Josephus:
With an insatiable lust for loot, they ransacked the houses of the wealthy; the murder of men and the violation of women were their sport; they caroused on their spoils, with blood to wash them down, and from mere satiety unscrupulously indulged in effeminate practices, plaiting their hair and attiring themselves in women’s apparel, drenching themselves with perfumes and painting their eyelids to enhance their beauty. And not only did they imitate the dress, but also the passions of women, devising in their excess of lasciviousness unlawful pleasures and wallowing as in a brothel in the city, which they polluted from end to end with their foul deeds. Yet, while they wore women’s faces, their hands were murderous, and approaching with mincing steps they would suddenly become warriors and whipping out their swords from under their dyed mantles transfix whomsoever they met.
I could give example after example from Josephus, but the torment and misery and suffering the demonic hordes effected (from a spiritual level) upon the actions and sensibilities of the people were brutal and horrifying. Says Josephus of the Jews in Jerusalem at that time:
That neither did any other city ever suffer such miseries, nor did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was, from the beginning of the world.
And in another place:
I suppose, that had the Romans made any longer delay in coming against these villains, the city would either have been swallowed up by the ground opening upon them, or been overwhelmed by water, or else been destroyed by such thunder as the country of Sodom perished by; for it had brought forth a generation of men much more atheistical than were those that suffered such punishments; for by their madness it was that all the people came to be destroyed.
My friends, these horrors (where men were overtaken with a “demonic urge to destroy others and to torment and to torture others”), were the direct result of the demonic hordes being sent to torment the people of Jerusalem for five months, as prophesied, in Rev. 9, with the blowing of the fifth trumpet. The curse was such that people longed for death, but couldn’t find it (9:6), which is a hyperbolic statement emphasizing how horrible it was for them. They had to suffer through it. Such was God’s wrath upon them. And while the demons were limited, as for all the people killed, that was the work of humans.
So it came to pass, the Lord’s prophecy of Matt. 12:43-45 took place. Gentry summarizes the Lord’s words:
“I’ve cast out demons, but since you’ve rejected me, seven times worse demons are going to come.”
“I have come in, and I have cleaned up the house of Israel regarding demons, casting them out, healing the demoniacs. But when I leave, you will not have repented, and seven times worse will happen to you.” 
What are we to make of all this? Well, it seems wise to take it as a warning for those who partake of covenant benefits (in church and the Christian community) but are not true believers. These are those who hold to cheap grace (wanting grace, but on their own terms); who want the benefits of the covenant community, but refuse to submit to the Lord; and who claim to have faith, but remain unrepentant.
If that’s you, you are vulnerable—vulnerable to demonic attack, even possession, as you have no protection coming from God’s Spirit. You fall into the same category as those Jews who suffered God’s wrath, in Jerusalem, in AD 70, with the demonic hordes tormenting them. Why? Because, although you have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and benefited from it, you have rejected him in your heart.
So trust in Jesus. Turn your life over to him. Receive the gift of salvation from him (saved from God’s wrath due to your sin). And follow Jesus, in repentance and the obedience of faith.
Now, if you are a true believer, there is comfort to be found in this passage. Notice how the Lord remains in sovereign control over the whole thing. Satan is given the key (v. 1). The demons were given power (v. 3). They were told, in v. 4, not to harm (in some cases, but to focus their harm on the unbelievers who didn’t have the seal of God on their foreheads (which is symbolic for the indwelling Spirit of God who is the seal of the inheritance of all true believers). And their torments were limited to five months (v. 5). God was in charge, and Satan and his demons remained under his sovereign power. That is always true (e.g. Job 1:12).
Therefore we continue to pray, “deliver us from evil” – “deliver us from the evil one.” “Protect us, O’ Lord.” He hears, and he answers our prayer. If the Spirit of God indwells you, in him you find protection and empowerment against evil. Thus we are commanded to “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). Though, like in the case of Job, we are not immune from attack nor suffering—indeed suffering is a means the Spirit of God uses to sanctify us. But the evil one will never overcome us, and he certainly doesn’t have the last word. In Christ, we find the power to endure to the end, overcoming evil, and our victory is in him.
The events the fifth trumpet called forth happened a long time ago—hordes of demons descending upon Jerusalem to torment its inhabitants during the Roman siege, in AD 70. But we know that our struggle is also against the demonic, against “the authorities … the cosmic powers over this present darkness, … the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Are you empowered by the Spirit of God against this enemy? Or are you vulnerable? Since the Holy Spirit protects against demons, we should ensure we are sealed by Him.
 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: Macmillan, 1982), 3.
 C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970), 57.
 ESV translation.
 Cf. Judg. 6:5; 7:12; Isa. 33:4; Jer. 46:23; 51:14, 27.
 F.F. Bruce, New Testament History (New York, Doubleday, 1980), 382.
 Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Survey of the Book of Revelation, Video Series (Chesnee SC: Victorious Hope Publishing, 2012), DVD 2, lesson 9.
 David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance (Fort Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), 246.
 Flavius Josephus, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 698. Wars of the Jews, 5.1.5.
 Ibid., 719. Wars of the Jews, 5.10.3
 Chilton, 246.
 Josephus, 720. Wars of the Jews, 5.10.5.
 Ibid., 726–773. Wars of the Jews, 5.13.6.
 Gentry, Survey of the Book of Revelation, DVD 2, lesson 9.