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Revelation 9:13–21

“The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts” (vv. 20–21).

One important truth that stands out in Revelation 9 is the limited nature of the judgment depicted. For example, the locusts released by the fifth trumpet are allowed to afflict people for only five months (v. 10). Clearly, these locusts do not bring about final, eternal punishment, for they are present for not even half a year. Similarly, the army released by the sixth trumpet in today’s passage kills only a third of mankind, not all people (vv. 13–19). Thus, the vision conveys the idea of limited judgment. In both cases, we see not the Lord’s final judgment on people at the end of history but a finite expression of God’s justice in time. Description of the final judgment awaits the end of the book.

In today’s passage, the third of humanity who die suffer at the hands of an army that numbers some two hundred million. The number, like many of the numbers in Revelation, should not be read as a literal figure. It is greater than the population of the entire Mediterranean world at the time John is writing. The image is one of an uncountable threat (v. 16). The army rides terrifying horses that breathe out fire, smoke, and sulfur (v. 17). These horses wound with their tails (v. 18). Moreover, they come from beyond the Euphrates River (vv. 13–15). Taking these facts together, the vision is perhaps based on the terrifying armies of the Parthian Empire, which controlled territory from the Euphrates River to modern India. The Parthians were feared enemies of the Roman Empire in John’s day. These skilled horsemen were experts at shooting arrows backward as the horses they were riding charged ahead, hence the reference to the sting in their tails. But of course, John does not seem to be saying that the Parthian Empire will invade and kill a third of mankind. The number of the army is impossibly huge, and the description of their horses is terrible and fear-inducing. Building on what his audience commonly feared, John is saying that in the period between Christ’s first and second comings, powerful armies (here they may even be demons) will kill and destroy, but their destructive power will be restrained by God.

Note particularly what John says in verses 20–21. Those who are not killed by these horsemen or the locusts in Revelation 9 do not repent of their idolatry and immorality. They do not take the calamity as God’s acting in grace to exhort them to turn from their sin and find life. Such is the case all too often in human history.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Passages such as Leviticus 26 tell us that the Lord allows destruction in increasing measure in order to drive people to repent. The irrationality of sin is that people experience destruction and yet do not repent. We should not be surprised when calamities do not inspire people to turn from sin, but we also should not fail to turn from sin in good times and in bad.


For Further Study
  • 2 Chronicles 36:15–16
  • Ezekiel 14
  • Matthew 11:20–24
  • Revelation 16:1–1

The Fifth Trumpet

The Angel Brings a Scroll

Keep Reading Truth

From the November 2020 Issue
Nov 2020 Issue