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Revelation 8-9

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

UBS4 NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
The Seventh Seal and the Golden Censer Seventh Seal: Prelude to the Seven Trumpets The Seventh Seal The Seventh Seal The Seventh Seal
8:1-2 8:1-6 8:1-2 8:1-2 8:1
        The Prayers of the Saints Bring the Coming of the Great Day Nearer
        8:2-5
8:3-5   8:3-5 8:3-5  
The Trumpets   The First Six Trumpets The Trumpets The First Four Trumpets
8:6 The First Six Trumpets 8:6 8:6 8:6-12
8:7 8:7 8:7 8:7  
  Second Trumpet: The Seal Struck      
8:8-9 8:8-9 8:8-9 8:8-9  
  Third Trumpet: The Waters Struck      
8:10-11 8:10-11 8:10-11 8:10-11  
  Fourth Trumpet: The Heavens Struck      
8:12 8:12 8:12 8:12  
8:13-9:6 8:13 8:13 8:13 8:13
  Fifth Trumpet: The Locusts from the Bottomless Pit The Plague of Demonic Locusts   The Fifth Trumpet
  9:1-12 9:1-6 9:1-6 9:1-6
9:7-11   9:7-11 9:7-11 9:7-11
9:12 Sixth Trumpet: The Angel from the Euphrates 9:12 9:12 9:12
9:13-19 9:13-21 9:13-19 9:13-19 9:13-21
9:20-21   9:20-21 9:20-21  

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS TO 8:1-9:21

A. As the seven trumpets proceed out of the seventh seal, the question is, "what is the relationship between the trumpets, the seals, and the bowls?" There is a partial, if not complete, recapitulation. They cover the same time period. They are built on the same pattern and proceed out of each other. A partial recapitulation theory seems to have first been advanced in the third century by Victorinus of Pettau (see The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 7, pp. 344-360). He only mentions a parallel relationship between the trumpets and bowls. When one compares the three, they seem to be apocalyptic, progressively destructive metaphors of the same eschatological period. It is quite possible that as the sixth seal (cf. 6:12-17) brings us up to the end, the seven trumpets (cf. 11:15-19) and seven bowls (cf. 16:17-21) describe the events of the end.

 

B. From where does John draw his imagery for these apocalyptic visions? There are several theories:

1. There are allusions to several OT passages, particularly in chapters 8 and 9, to the plagues of Egypt and to the locust invasion of Joel 2. As always in Revelation, the imagery of Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah form the basic background.

2. Jewish intertestamental apocalyptic writings, like I Enoch. I Enoch was widely known in first century Judaism, as well as in the church and was alluded to by NT authors (cf. II Peter 2 and Jude).

3. The historical setting of the first century, particularly Roman Emperor worship and local persecution.

The option we choose as the major source of imagery will determine how we interpret these two chapters. If we see this against the background of Imperial Rome, we will fit it into Roman history (preterist). If we see it against Jewish apocalyptic language, we will be more likely to interpret it as symbolic (idealist). If we see it against OT prophecies, we will project it into an end-time Jewish setting (futurist).

C. These two chapters describe an incrementally intensifying judgment on unbelievers. However, it must be emphasized that God brings judgment on them for the purpose of their redemption (cf. 9:20-21; 14:7; 16:9,11). Therefore, they function like the covenantal curses of Deuteronomy 27-29.

 

D. As in previous chapters, the symbolism is so vague that what some commentators ascribe to Christ, some ascribe to Satan. With that kind of fluidity of symbolism, dogmatism is totally inappropriate. Interpreters must summarize the complete vision in one central truth. This central truth should guide the interpretation of the details and remain the central theological issue to be emphasized!

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 8:1-2
 1When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 2And I saw the seven angels who stand before God. And seven trumpets were given to them.

8:1 "When the Lamb broke the seventh seal" Jesus is the One who opens the seventh seal, but from this point on angels will be involved in announcing the seven trumpets and later the seven bowls.

▣ "there was silence in heaven for about half an hour" There have been several theories connected with this silence. The rabbis relate it to a period of silence to let the prayers of the saints be heard

1. some relate it to the book of II Esdras 7:29-31, where the silence is the beginning of the New Age

2. others relate it to several OT passages where humans are to be silent in the coming presence of God (cf. Hab. 2:20; Zeph. 1:7; Zech. 2:13)

3. some relate it to dramatic effect for the coming intense judgment on unbelievers

4. Victorinus related it to the beginning of eternity

 

8:2 "and I saw the seven angels who stand before God" It is interesting that the definite article appears, "the seven angels." In rabbinical Judaism the seven angels of the presence are named in Tobit 12:15; Jubilees 1:27,29; 2:1-2,18; and I Enoch 20:1-7. They are Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saraqael or Sariel, Gabriel, and Remiel. Others see this phrase as related to the Messiah (paralleled to "the Angel of His Presence") in Isa. 63:9 or to judgment on those who rebel and grieve the Holy Spirit (cf. Isa. 63:10). The Exodus connection may be seen in the angel in Exod. 23:20-23; 33:12-16.

▣ "seven trumpets were given to them" There are seven angels to correspond to the seven trumpets (cf. v. 6). In the OT trumpets were often used to communicate to God's people, either religiously or militarily (cf. Exod. 19:16; Num. 10:1-10; Isa. 27:13; Jer. 4:5-9; Joel 2:1; Zeph. 1:16; Zech. 9:14; II Esdras 6:23, see Special Topic at 1:10). In the NT a trumpet will announce the Second Coming of Christ (cf. Matt. 24:31; I Cor. 15:52-53; I Thess. 4:16).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 8:3-5
 3Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. 4And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel's hand. 5Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.

8:3 "Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer" This text and 5:8 have been used to promote the rabbinical theological concept that angels are the bearers of prayers to God. The Bible is silent on how to interpret this type of detail. These symbolic passages should not be used to define speculative theological details. This is a vision and not meant to define the role of certain angels. It does affirm that the prayers of the saints do affect God.

The altar has been identified as either the incense altar before the veil in the Holy Place (cf. Exod. 30:1-10) or the altar of sacrifice (cf. v. 5; 9:13). However, this vision is not the earthly Tabernacle or Temple in Jerusalem, but the throne room of God in heaven (cf. Heb. 8:2; 9:11,24). The incense altar fits this context best.

▣ "the prayers of all the saints" Exactly which group of saints this represents is uncertain, but this does show that God knows and responds to the needs of His people (cf. Exod. 3:7). Incense was a symbol of prayer (cf. Ps. 141:2; Rev. 5:8) because the smoke went up and disappeared from the visible realm to the invisible realm.

For "saints" see SPECIAL TOPIC: SAINTS at 5:8.

8:4 Throughout the book of Leviticus incense arose to God's presence, therefore, incense came to represent the prayers of God's people.

8:5 "the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth" This is an allusion to Ezek. 10:2. Coals for the incense altar before the veil would have originally been taken from the altar of sacrifice at the front of the Tabernacle (cf. 9:13; Lev. 16:11-13). These are Tabernacle symbols whose meaning is fluid. The key theological thought is that this is occurring before God in heaven.

▣ "and there followed peals of thunder" These types of physical phenomenon are often associated with YHWH's presence (cf. 4:5; 11:19; 16:18; Exod. 19:16-19; Ps. 18:10-13).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 8:6
 6And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound them.

8:1-6 These verses represent the actions during the period of silence.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 8:7
 7The first sounded, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were thrown to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.

8:7 "and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood" Much of the imagery is drawn from the Egyptian plagues. This passage is an allusion to Exod. 9:24. It is also possible that this is taken from Ezek. 38:22, the overthrow of Gog's invading army.

▣ "and a third of the earth was burned up" This limited, but substantive, percentage is mentioned quite often in the next few chapters (cf. 8:7-8,9,10,11,12; 9:15,18; 12:4). The second series of judgments is more intense than the first (cf. 6:8, where one quarter is mentioned). YHWH is still attempting to reach sinful mankind by means of physical plagues (cf. Exodus 7-11; Deuteronomy 28-29), but they would not respond in repentance and faith!

"and all the green grass was burned up" This must refer to the complete destruction of the green grass within the one-third area, because green grass is protected in 9:4.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 8:8-9
 8The second angel sounded, and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood, 9and a third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed.

8:8 "like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea" Once again the issue is the source of John's imagery— Roman, Jewish inter-biblical, or OT.

1. If it is the OT, then Ps. 46:2 or Exod. 7:20-21 is the reference.

2. If Jewish apocalyptic, then the reference is I Enoch 18:13-16 or possibly the Sibylline Oracles 5:158.

3. If Roman then possibly it is a historical allusion to the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, which the Jews interpreted as God's judgment on Rome for destroying Jerusalem.

The exact source of John's metaphors is uncertain, but they do speak of God's wrath toward a rebellious creation with the purpose of redemption in mind.

▣ "and a third of the sea became blood" This is another allusion to the Egyptian plagues (cf. Exod. 7:20-21).

8:9 "a third of the creatures. . .died" This is another allusion to the Egyptian plagues (cf. Exod. 7:21).

▣ "a third of the ships were destroyed" This has no parallel in the OT, in apocalyptic literature, or in first century Roman literature. Obviously commerce is affected and goods and food would be scarce. It does confirm God's limited, progressive judgment. His judgment intensifies (1/4 in the seals, 1/3 in the trumpets) until in the bowls the time of repentance has passed and total, complete judgment occurs.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 8:10-11
 10The third angel sounded, and a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of waters. 11The name of the star is called Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter.

8:10 "a great star fell from heaven" This may be an allusion to Isa. 14:12. Many have tried to relate this to Rev. 6:13 or 9:1, but this may be trying to lock down John's imagery too tightly. Be careful of attempting to interpret each and every detail. This is dramatic imagery. Usually in Jewish apocalyptic literature a star falling refers to an angel (i.e. 9:1).

8:11 "The name of the star is called Wormwood" In the OT wormwood is linked to idolatry (cf. Deut. 29:17-18). It is also seen as mixed with poison and is, therefore, deadly (cf. Jer. 9:15; 23:15; Amos 6:12). Wormwood, by itself (cf. TEV), was bitter but not lethal. Here it is a metaphor for Divine judgment.

A good example of the inappropriateness of moderns trying to force the details of Revelation into their day is the assertion that the Russian Chernobyl nuclear facility which experienced a meltdown was fulfilled prophecy because the name meant wormwood in Russian. This practice of interpreting the Bible based on the morning newspaper has been common throughout the last two thousand years and should warn us to beware of the same procedure!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 8:12
 12The fourth angel sounded, and a third of the sun and a third of the moon and a third of the stars were struck, so that a third of them would be darkened and the day would not shine for a third of it, and the night in the same way.

8:12 Darkness has always been a sign of God's judgment (cf. Exod. 10:21; Isa. 13:10; 34:4; 50:3; Ezek. 32:7-8; Joel 2:2,10,31; 3:15; Amos 5:18; Mark 13:24). The heavenly bodies were often worshiped as spiritual powers. God created them (cf. Gen. 1:14-19; Isa. 40:26); named them (cf. Ps. 147:4; Isa. 40:26); controls them (cf. Isa. 48:13); and they praise Him (cf. Ps. 148:3).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 8:13
 13Then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in midheaven, saying with a loud voice, "Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!"

8:13 "Then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in midheaven, saying" The KJV has "angel" instead of "eagle," but this comes from a late ninth-century Greek manuscript. Both Sinaiticus (א) and Alexandrinus (A) have "eagle." This can refer to: a vulture (or eagle), which often was a symbol of slaughter (cf. Ezek. 17:3; Hab. 1:8; Matt. 24:28; Luke 17:37)

1. an allusion to the judgment scene in Ezek. 39:17-20; Hos. 8:1

2. an allusion to the intertestamental apocalyptic book of II Baruch 77:21-22, in which a vulture sends a message to God's hurting people

3. the Roman army standards which were topped by eagles

The "flying in midheaven" is probably another allusion to birds of prey soaring above the earth (cf. Rev. 14:6; 19:17).

▣ "Woe, woe, woe" This possibly corresponds to the last three trumpets which are to come (cf. 9:12; 11:14; 12:12); it may also be a symbol of intensity (like "holy, holy, holy" of 4:8). In Hebrew a three-fold repetition is a superlative (cf. Holy, holy, holy of Isa. 6:3). In the OT "woe" marks a certain poetic lament related to death and judgment.

"to those who dwell on the earth" This phrase refers to the unredeemed (cf. 3:10; 6:10; 11:10; 13:8; 17:2).

REVELATION 9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 9:1-6
 1Then the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth; and the key of the bottomless pit was given to him. 2He opened the bottomless pit, and smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit. 3Then out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. 4They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green tree, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5And they were not permitted to kill anyone, but to torment for five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings a man. 6And in those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them.

9:1 "and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth" There have been several theories as to the identity of this personified star who is called an angel.

1. because the verb is perfect tense, it could refer to Satan having fallen in the past and continues to be fallen from heaven (cf. Isa. 14:12; Ezek. 28:16; Luke 10:18; Rev. 12:9)

2. because of the context it could be just another servant angel involved in God's judgment (cf. 20:1)

Angels as falling stars are often found in the intertestamental Jewish apocalyptic literature.

▣ "the key of the bottomless pit was given to him" A "key" is mentioned in 1:18 and 20:1. It symbolizes authority. God exercises authority over the demonic hordes of judgment.

The abyss is a Greek term that meant "depth" negated by an alpha privative.

1. It is used in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT) in Gen. 1:2; 7:11; Ps. 42:7; 107:26 for the depths of the waters of creation.

2. In Ps. 71:20 it refers to the holding place of the dead.

3. This is also true of I Enoch 18:12-16; 21:7-10; 108:3-6, where it is both a temporary and final prison of fallen angels.

4. It seems to be synonymous with the term "tartarus" (cf. II Pet. 2:4 and I Enoch 21:7), a place where evil angels are held in prison (cf. Luke 8:31; Jude 6; Rev. 11:7; 17:8; 20:1-3; and I Enoch 10:4; 86:1; 88:1; Jubilees 5:6-11).

5. Paul used this term (abyss) in Rom. 10:7 for the place of the dead (cf. Isa. 24:21-22).

6. Later the rabbis said it was the name of the unrighteous part of Sheol/Hades (see Special Topic at 1:18).

 

"was given" There is a series of passive verbs in both chapters 8 and 9, which emphasizes God's control of both history and the demonic (cf. 8:3,7,8,11,12; 9:1,3,4,5). Often Jewish writers used passive voice as a circumlocution for deity's actions.

9:2 "smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace" This terminology is used in several senses in the OT:

1.it accompanied the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Gen. 19:28)

2. it accompanied the judgment of God on the nations (cf. Isa. 34:10)

3. it accompanied the presence of God on Mt. Sinai (cf. Exod. 19:18)

 

9:3 "locusts" These are often used as symbols of God's wrath (cf. Exod. 10:12-15; Joel 1:4; 2:1ff) because they symbolized an invading army (cf. v. 7; Joel. 2:4-5, 7-9).

9:4 "They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree" These demonic forces are limited in their punishment. They must not destroy any plant life and they can only torment, but not kill, the unbelievers (cf. v. 5; 7:4); the believers are protected by God (as they were in the Egyptian plagues).

▣ "the seal of God on their foreheads" See full note at 7:2. It is an allusion from Ezek. 9:4.

9:5 "five months" Some interpret this time span as the life expectancy of a locust. However, it is possibly one-half the number ten, which would be another metaphor for a limited judgment (cf. 6:6,8; 8:7-12).

▣ "the torment of a scorpion" The sting of a scorpion is another OT metaphor (cf. II Chr. 10:11,14).

9:6 This is a direct parallel to 6:15-16, which may be additional evidence for the recapitulation theory among the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls. This may be an allusion to the judgment of the faithless idolatrous Jews of Jerusalem in Jer. 8:2-3.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 9:7-11
 7The appearance of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle; and on their heads appeared to be crowns like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men. 8They had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions. 9They had breastplates like breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to battle. 10They have tails like scorpions, and stings; and in their tails is their power to hurt men for five months. 11They have as king over them, the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek he has the name Apollyon.

9:7-9 "the appearance of the locusts" The physical description of these locusts is very similar to Joel 2:4-9 and also to a famous Arabian proverb that says, "locusts have a head like a horse, a breast like a lion, feet like a camel, a body like a serpent, and antennae like the hair of a maiden."

This is obviously an allusion to the book of Joel in its description of:

1. the lion's teeth (cf. v. 8; Joel 1:6)

2. the vast number of chariots and horses rushing to battle (cf. v. 9 and Joel 2:5)

 

9:8 Some see this as a reference to the Parthian hordes, cavalry with long hair. These were known for their skill as mounted archers. The Romans feared these barbaric invaders.

9:11 "They have as king over them" Proverbs 30:27 says that locusts do not have a king, but this is an allusion to a demonic swarm, not physical locusts.

▣ "the angel of the abyss" The term "abyss" refers to the realm of the dead (cf. 9:1,2,11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1,3; and Rom. 10:7).

See full note at 9:1.

▣ "his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek he has the name Apollyon" The Hebrew (Aramaic) term meant "destruction" and the Greek term meant "destroyer." The Hebrew term was identified with Sheol, the realm of the dead (cf. Job 26:6; 29:22; 31:12; Ps. 88:11 Pro. 15:11; 27:20).

Robert B. Girdlestone has an interesting comment on this term in his book Synonyms of the Old Testament: "This word is rendered "perish" in about a hundred passages. When used of persons it generally signifies death, when used of lands it implies desolation" (p. 273).

In Job 28:22 it is personified along with Death. This personification is also characteristic of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the intertestamental Jewish apocalyptic literature. This is somewhat unusual because the angel of death in the OT is a servant of YHWH (cf. Exod. 12:23; Job 15:21) or even a personification of YHWH (cf. Exod. 12:13,29). But here the angel seems to be the ruler of an imprisoned, demonic horde. This may be another way to show God's control of all things.

Some have even asserted that as the emperors Nero and Domitian claimed to be the incarnation of Apollo, that this Greek name is a corrupted form and an allusion to Apollyon. There are two pieces of evidences to support this,

1. locusts were a symbol of Apollo

2. the term Apollo and Apollyon both come from the same Greek root

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 9:12
 12The first woe is past; behold, two woes are still coming after these things.

9:12 This verse links up with 11:14 and 12:2.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 9:13-19
 13Then the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, 14one saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, "Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates." 15And the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released, so that they would kill a third of mankind. 16The number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. 17And this is how I saw in the vision the horses and those who sat on them: the riders had breastplates the color of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone; and the heads of the horses are like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceed fire and smoke and brimstone. 18A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which proceeded out of their mouths. 19For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents and have heads, and with them they do harm.

9:13 "I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar" This is an allusion to the altar of incense in the Tabernacle (cf. Exod. 30:2,3,10). There are two altars mentioned in this section: the altar of sacrifice under which the souls of the martyrs were found (cf. 6:9-11), and the altar of incense upon which the prayers of God's people are placed (cf. 8:3-5). The horns were an OT symbol of power. Both the incense altar and altar of sacrifice had horns. See note at 8:3.

9:14 "'Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates'" Those who are looking for historical first century allusions see this as the Parthian hordes just beyond the Euphrates River (i.e., the boundary of the Roman Empire, cf. I Enoch 56:5-8). Others, however, see this as an allusion to the OT where, as the four horses of the apocalypse are found in Zech. 1:8 and 6:1-8, these four angels seem to be another metaphor for God's appointed servants bringing judgment on a fallen, rebellious world (cf. 7:1). However, because these angels are bound, it may be a reference to evil angels (cf. Jude v. 6). These angels bring death to one-third of mankind (cf. v. 18).

The northern part of the headwaters of the Euphrates River was the northeastern boundary of the Promised Land (cf. Gen. 15:18; Deut. 1:7; 11:24; Josh. 1:4).

9:15 "And the four angels, who had been prepared for that hour and day and month and year, were released" There is a definite article with the term "hour," which implies the definiteness of this complete phrase. This is a reference to God's sovereignty and control of history (cf. I Enoch 92:2). This is a great help to those who are undergoing persecution.

9:16 "The number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million" This is a symbolic number of the demonic hordes that engulf unredeemed mankind. This number is comparable to the myriads of angels who serve God (cf. 5:11; Deut. 33:2; Ps. 68:17; Dan. 7:10; Heb. 12:22; Jude v. 14).

Again, to try to relate this to the modern nation of China is another example of forcing figurative literature into current history. The desire of Christians to figure out the future and impress each other with esoteric knowledge is a recurrent problem.

9:17-19 "the horses and those who sat on them" The description that follows sees the horses and riders as one unit. The real agents of death and torment are the horses themselves (cf. v. 19). The colors of the horses—red (fire), blue (hyacinth) and yellow (brimstone)—identify this particular demonic horde as related to the three plagues of fire, blue smoke, and sulphur mentioned in v. 18.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 9:20-21
 20The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; 21and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.

9:20 "The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands" This is a clear, unambiguous statement of the redemptive purposes of these plagues (cf. v. 21; 14:6-7; 16:9,11; 21:7; 22:17).

As God used the plagues on Egypt as a motivation for (1) Egyptians to believe and serve Him and (2) Israel to stay faithful and serve Him (cf. Deuteronomy 27-28), so these similar plagues were meant to turn unbelieving mankind back to their creator, but they refused. Their stubborn unbelief had become a settled state of rebellion (cf. Rom. 1:24,26).

▣ "the works of their hands" This an allusion to idolatry (i.e., the worship of demons, cf. Deut. 32:17; Ps. 106:37; I Cor. 10:20) mentioned so often in the OT (cf. Deut. 4:28; 28:36,64; 29:17; 32:17; Ps. 115:4-8; 135:15-18; Isa. 2:8; 37:19; 40:19-20; 44:17; Jer. 1:16; 10:3-5; Dan. 5:23; Mic. 5:13). Notice in the NT that idolatry is linked to the demonic (cf. 16:14; I Cor. 10:20; I Tim. 4:1).

9:21 These four things (idolatry, murder, sorceries, immorality) are condemned in the OT (cf. Deut. 18:10-11,14,20; Exod. 22:18; Lev. 20:6) and they characterize the immoral lifestyle of the unbelievers (cf. Romans 1-2; I Tim. 4:1; Rev. 18:23). This same inclusive group of unrepentant unbelievers is mentioned in 13:15-17; 14:9; 16:2,9,11.

NASB, NKJV,
NRSV"sorceries"
TEV"magic"
NJB"witchcraft"

We get the English term "pharmacy" from this Greek word for sorceries (pharmakeia, cf. Gal. 5:20). This may have been a reference to magical potions or poisoning, like the wormwood mentioned earlier (cf. 8:11). In the ancient world drugs were often used to induce "religious" experience.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Where are we to find the source of the imagery of these chapters: (1) the OT; (2) Jewish apocalyptic literature; or (3) historical events of the Roman Empire?

2. Do these events refer to (1) the first century, (2) every century, or (3) the future?

3. Are these chapters meant to be taken literally or apocalyptically?

4. What is the major thrust of chapters 8-9?

5. How are the seven seals and the seven bowls related in chapters 8 and 9?

6. Why will there be increased angelic and demonic activity before the Second Coming?