Upon Christ’s opening the seventh seal on the heavenly scroll, four angels sounded four trumpets, releasing much devastation on the earth (Rev. 8). As we have seen, this seems to be symbolic of warfare. When the Lord God executes His judgments on the earth, human military conflict is sometimes involved. We may not know the specific reason in God’s plan for every war and skirmish that has happened in human history, but we do know that battles are fought as a consequence of human sin.
Revelation 9:1–12 describes what happens at the blowing of the fifth trumpet. A star falls from heaven and opens the shaft of the “bottomless pit,” or literally, “the Abyss.” As in 1:20, this star is apparently an angel, only this is a fallen angel, and his possession of the key to the Abyss indicates his authority over the Abyss, a place of evil (11:7; 17:8; 20:1, 3). We have here an allusion to Satan’s fall from heaven and authority over the forces of evil (see 9:11; 12:7–17).
When the great pit is opened, a large swarm of locusts is released. Immediately, we think of the plague of locusts unleashed on the Egyptians in judgment during the days of the exodus (Ex. 10:1–20). But the book of Joel serves as a background here as well, for that prophet warned of locusts coming to judge God’s people in his own day (Joel 1:1–12). In the exodus and most likely also in Joel, actual insects were in view. Revelation 9:1–12, however, speaks more symbolically. It is unclear whether John is speaking of human soldiers or demons, or perhaps both. But the image would have been horrifying to the book’s original readers, for whom actual locusts and military invasions were real threats in their day. These locusts are depicted as quite powerful. Breastplates of iron suggest strength; human faces suggest intelligence; lions’ teeth and scorpion stings suggest pain (vv. 7–10). Again, this is picturesque, symbolic imagery designed to evoke fear and horror.
As horrible as these locusts may be, believers should not be afraid. They have authority to harm only those who have not been sealed by God. In other words, they cannot hurt believers. Instead, they can hurt only those who are not sealed, that is, the enemies of God’s people (vv. 4–6; see ch. 7). The Lord is promising that those who persecute His people will not escape judgment, and that He will even allow the forces of evil, human or demonic, to punish those who war against His church.