Series: “Little Gems from Our Study of the Book of Revelation”
The following study was published yesterday in The Fulfilled Connection (TFC) Magazine, and is adapted from our study of Revelation 9:
In this study of the first half of Revelation 9, we will see that:
- John’s vision of locusts tormenting men for five months is parallel to the length of time that Israel was prone to locust invasions throughout its history;
- This also mirrors the length of the Roman siege in Jerusalem in 70 AD, leading to that city’s downfall;
- The Roman siege even took place during the same months that locusts would typically invade Israel’s land;
- Josephus spoke of men seeking death, but not finding it, just like John saw in his vision and just like Jesus said would be the case for the “daughters of Jerusalem” and their children (Luke 23:27-30);
- The name of this locust army’s leader, Apollyon, is remarkably similar to the 15th Roman legion, Apollinarus, that Titus led into Jerusalem in 70 AD (verse 11). This legion was named after the Greek god, Apollo.
In verses 1-2, the key to the bottomless pit was given to “a star [that had] fallen from heaven to earth.” John’s readers are not told explicitly who this star is, but some believe that it was Lucifer (see Luke 10:18 and Rev. 12:9-10). In “Days of Vengeance,” published in 1987, David Chilton notes that “the bottomless pit” is referenced a total of seven times in the book Revelation (9:1, 2, 11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1, 3). Chilton adds,
In Biblical symbolism, the Abyss is the farthest extreme from heaven (Genesis 49:25; Deuteronomy 33:13) and from the high mountains (Psalm 36:6). It is used in Scripture as a reference to the deepest parts of the sea (Job 28:14; 38:16; Psalm 33:7) and to subterranean rivers and vaults of water (Deuteronomy 8:7; Job 36:16), whence the waters of the Flood came (Genesis 7:11; 8:2; Proverbs 3:20; 8:24), and which nourished the kingdom of Assyria (Ezekiel 31:4, 15). The Red Sea crossing of the covenant people is repeatedly likened to a passage through the Abyss (Psalm 77:16; 106:9; Isaiah 44:27; 51:10; 63:13). The prophet Ezekiel threatened Tyre with a great desolation of the land, in which God would bring up the Abyss to cover the city with a new Flood, bringing its people down to the pit in the lower parts of the earth (Ezekiel 26:19-21), and Jonah spoke of the Abyss in terms of excommunication from God’s presence, a banishment from the Temple (Jonah 2:5-6). The domain of the Dragon (Job 41:31;Psalm 148:7; Revelation 11:7; 17:8), the prison of the demons (Luke 8:31; Revelation 20:1-3; cf.2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6), and the realm of the dead (Romans 10:7) are all called by the name Abyss.
St. John is thus warning his readers that hell is about to break loose upon the Land of Israel; as with Tyre of old, the Abyss is being dredged up to cover the Land with its unclean spirits. Apostate Israel is to be cast out of God’s presence, excommunicated from the Temple, and filled with demons. One of the central messages of Revelation is that the Church tabernacles in heaven (see Revelation 7:15; 12:12; 13:6); the corollary of this is that the false church tabernacles in hell (David Chilton, Days of Vengeance, 1987).
In verses 3-4, the locusts are seen coming “upon the earth.” The Greek word for “earth,” ge, can be and sometimes is also translated as “land.” As the Greek Lexicon reveals, this is not necessarily the entire planet, but may rather be just a region. Here in Revelation 9, and in numerous other cases in Revelation, there is good reason to see this term as referring to the land of Israel, i.e. the Promised Land. I have discussed this distinctive pattern in Revelation, particularly the oft-repeated phrase “those who dwell on the earth,” in much greater detail in an earlier 3-part series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).
Question: In verse 4, we see that the locusts are told not to harm the grass, green plants, or trees, but only those without the seal of God on their foreheads. Is this seen elsewhere in Revelation?
Answer: It’s also seen in Revelation 7:1-4, where 144,000 believers are sealed before destruction begins.
In verse 5, John’s readers learn that the locusts are given authority to torment men for five months. Chilton notes that in Judea it was typical for locusts to appear in the land anytime between May and September, a period of five months. Here in Revelation 9, these locusts were allowed to attack relentlessly for five months. The Jewish historian, Josephus, as well as Roman historians, recorded that the Roman armies laid a siege upon Jerusalem in 70 AD which lasted for five months. Even more significantly, this siege began in mid-April of that year and lasted until late August/ early September, the very same period when locusts would normally appear in Judea. (It began around 14 April 70 AD, during the Passover Feast, in order to trap as many visitors as possible in Jerusalem).
John’s vision here is full of all kinds of significance for the people of ancient Israel. John’s vision, of course, calls to mind an older vision involving the same imagery. In Joel 1:2-7 and 2:1-11, God’s vine and His fig tree (1:7), Zion (2:1), is stripped bare and thrown away by a destroying army which is likened to locusts, because of Judah’s unfaithfulness (2:12-17, 3:1).
The “Models of Eschatology” site (moderated by a person identified as “wbdjr” for the United Christian Church in Richmond, Virginia) has this to say about the five month siege:
Five months is the time period that the Roman siege lasted around Jerusalem. During this time the Romans didn’t try to take the city, but let the work of the siege slowly weaken the city defenders and bring conditions upon them that could fit the definition of a great tribulation. During the siege the Zealots inside Jerusalem set fire to the foodstocks that were stored up thinking that without food the inhabitants would be more compelled to join them in fighting the Romans. As food disappeared people were compelled to eat leather from belts, shoes, and anywhere else it could be found.
Kenneth Gentry (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 248) also states, quoting from F.F. Bruce (New Testament History, p. 382): “Titus began the siege of Jerusalem in April, 70. The defenders held out desperately for five months, but by the end of August the Temple area was occupied and the holy house burned down, and by the end of September all resistance in the city had come to an end.”
In verse 6, John’s readers are told that people would “seek death and…not find it” and “long to die, but death [would] flee from them.” Josephus records that during the height of the siege in 70 AD, surviving Jews “poured forth their congratulations on those whom death had hurried away from such heartrending scenes” as were seen during the siege. They were envious of the dead, Josephus says. Thousands were literally starved to death during those months. As I pointed out in a study on Revelation 6, Josephus also records that when the temple was burned in August 70 AD, many survivors retreated to Upper Jerusalem and put on happy faces “in expectation, as they said, of death to end their miseries.” This longing for death is reminiscent of what Jesus said in Luke 23:27-30 would happen to the first century daughters of Jerusalem and their children (see also Revelation 6:16).
Kenneth Gentry sees verses 1-12 as speaking strictly of demonic activity, and verses 13-19 as speaking of the invasion of a physical army. In any case, his reference to Jesus’ words in Matthew is most compelling:
Revelation 9:1-12 clearly seems to speak of demons under the imagery of locusts (perhaps due to their destructive power and the gnawing agony they cause). A great many commentators agree that, stripped of the poetical imagery, the locusts are really demons and their sting is that of the pain and influence of demonic oppression. This seems to be quite clearly the case in light of their origin (the bottomless pit, 9:1-3), their task (they afflict only men, 9:4), and their ruler (“the angel of the abyss,” surely Satan, 9:11). Were this a reference to the Roman army (or some later army), their restriction from killing (Rev. 9:5, 10) would be inexplicable in that the Roman army actually did destroy thousands of Jews in its assault. But if these are demons, and the physical killing is left to the armies (which are seen later, Rev. 9:13ff), the picture begins to come into focus.
If demons are in view in this passage, this fits well with requirements of the early date [for the writing of the book of Revelation, i.e. before 70 AD] and the prophetic expectation of Christ inMatthew 12:38-45. There Christ teaches that during His earthly ministry He had cast out demons in Israel, but because of Israel’s resistance to His message, the demons will return in greater numbers within the “generation” (ibid, pp. 247-248)
While I agree that this text does not speak of literal locusts present during this judgment, I see the possibility that in addition to a picture of demonic activity there are also hints of attacks by a human army, i.e. both happening concurrently. In verse 7 it is said that they appeared as “horses prepared for battle.” Their faces were “like human faces” (verse 7b), they had “hair like women’s hair,” they had breastplates of iron, and the noise made by their “wings” was “like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle” (verse 9). There are enough references mixed in here to give a picture of 1st century-type warfare. Steve Gregg, editor of Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary), has this to say (pp. 182, 184):
Though the locusts themselves are no doubt a portrayal of armies of demons that afflicted the whole society of the Jews during their conflicts with the Romans, the description is perhaps mingled with some features of the demonized zealots who made life so miserable for their fellow Jews during the siege. That they have hair like women’s hair [v. 8] may actually be a reference to their transvestitism, as Josephus describes:
“With their insatiable hunger for loot, they ransacked the houses of the wealthy, murdered men and violated women for sport; they drank their spoils with blood, and from mere satiety and shamelessness gave themselves up to effeminate practices, plaiting their hair and putting on women’s clothes, drenched themselves with perfumes and painting their eyelids to make themselves attractive. They copied not merely the dress, but also the passions of women, devising in their excess of licentiousness unlawful pleasures in which they wallowed as in a brothel. Thus they entirely polluted the city with their foul practices. Yet though they wore women’s faces, their hands were murderous. They would approach with mincing steps, then suddenly become fighting men, and, whipping out their swords from under their dyed cloaks, they would run through every passerby” (Wars, IV:9:10).
Regarding the appearance of this army, David Chilton adds,
The frightening description of the demon-locusts in Revelation 9:7-11 bears many similarities to the invading heathen armies mentioned in the prophets (Jeremiah 51:27; Joel 1:6; 2:4-10; cf.Leviticus 17:7 and 2 Chronicles 11:15, where the Hebrew word for demon is ‘hairy one’). This passage may also refer, in part, to the Satanic gangs of murderous Zealots that preyed on the citizens of Jerusalem, ransacking houses and committing murder and rape indiscriminately. Characteristically, these perverts dressed up as harlots in order to seduce unsuspecting men to their deaths. One particularly interesting point about the description of the demon army is St. John’s statement that “the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to battle.” That is the same sound made by the wings of the angels in the Glory-Cloud (Ezekiel 1:24; 3:13; 2 Kings 7:5-7); the difference here is that the noise is made by fallen angels.
In verse 11, we learn that the king over this army was named “Abaddon” in Hebrew, but “Apollyon” in Greek. According to Livius, an online ancient history encyclopedia compiled by the Dutch historian, Jona Lendering, “Apollo” was the favorite god of the Roman emperor, Augustus. For this reason, the famous 15th Roman legion was called “Legio XV Apollinaris.” When the Jewish revolt against Rome began in 66 AD, this 15th legion, Apollinaris, was moved from Alexandria, Egypt, and called to advance toward Judea. In 67 AD this legion captured Josephus in Jotapata (in Galilee).
Emblem on the Shields of the Roman 15th Legion (Photo Source)
After Vespasian was named emperor in 69 AD, his son, Titus, led the 15th legion, Apollinarus, toward Jerusalem. After a 5-month siege, Titus and his legion overthrew Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and burned the city. It appears that Titus was the Apollyon of Revelation 9:11.