25. The Woe Trumpets

The Unveiling of Jesus Christ

The Concordant Version

CHAPTER 8:13-9:12


THE first four trumpets summon the inanimate forces of nature to wreak vengeance on mankind: the last three are inflicted by living agents. The hail, the fire, and the blood, the burning mountain, the torch-like star, the eclipse of heaven's luminaries--—these give place to the more direct and disastrous inflictions of the scorpion locusts, the infernal cavalry, the two witnesses, and the judgments of Christ Himself at His appearing. So terrible are these visitations that they are named the "woe trumpets" and call forth a special note of warning before they are sounded.

John saw a single vulture in mid-heaven saying with a loud voice: "Woe! woe! woe! to those dwelling on the earth as a result of the rest of the soundings of the trumpets of the three messengers who are about to be trumpeting!" (Rev.8:13).

The full significance of this is lost if we render this eagle in place of vulture, or follow the discredited reading angel. None of the best editors read messenger, or angel. The manuscripts on which the CONCORDANT VERSION is based do not even contain this reading. It is far more likely that some manuscripts would be altered to angels, than that angels should be changed to vultures.

The Hebrew nesher and Greek aetos are undoubtedly the names given to the great griffon vulture which is a distinctive feature of the landscape of Palestine. Eagles are rare and do not answer to the description and characteristics of this lord of the air. The head of a vulture is bald, as we read in Micah 1:16. Not so the eagle. A Carcase would call few eagles, but may gather hundreds of vultures (Matt.24:28). Eagles are solitary in their habits but vultures congregate. A single vulture is apt to be a hungry one, out after prey.

The significance of a single vulture is not difficult to discover. Who has seen a bird of prey parleying and hovering over a certain spot without an unuttered woe! to the hapless creature beneath? Many a man in dread of death in the wild spaces of the earth has shuddered at the sight of a circling scavenger who is patiently waiting till it can pick his bones. To such straits has mankind come that a vulture is preparing to pounce upon its carcass. It is the harbinger of death.

Hitherto many have been killed. In the fearful inflictions that follow probably most of mankind will fall a prey to the vultures. The second woe accounts for a full third, and the third woe may take even a greater toll of life. Here we see but one vulture. At the close of three woes, God will make a great dinner for all the birds of prey and they shall feast on the flesh of the slain (Rev.19:17-21).

We find it impossible to sympathize with the thought, which has so often been put forth in this connection, that this "eagle" is a symbol of the saints, and that we are to pronounce these woes upon mankind at this crisis. We feel like saying to such as suppose this to be our task, "You know not the spirit He has given us!" As members of the body of Christ, we are undoubtedly the instruments for the execution of His will. The saints shall judge, or rule, the world. But not all the saints have the same function. We are totally unfit for such work as is delegated to this vulture. Ours is a higher, a nobler sphere. We do not deal out judgment on the earth but herald the heights of grace to the heavenly hosts.


The fifth trumpet brings judgment from beneath. The abyss is opened and vomits a vast volume of smoke, out of which emerge such creatures as earth has never yet known. They cannot kill, but they are licensed to torture mankind for five months.

The well leading down to the abyss is opened by a messenger who is represented as a star, fallen from heaven. And here it behooves us to tread carefully. It is the common tendency to ascribe all evil to Satan, and this picture of a fallen star seems too much of a temptation for some expositors. Satan is not the only instrument of evil that God uses. In this very vision, Apollyon appears at the head of the horde of locusts. His very name is Destruction, yet he surely is not identical with Satan.

Satan is seen in this Unveiling as the enemy of the saints. He is not by any means engaged in afflicting his own subjects. The locusts cannot touch the saints, who have the seal of God on their foreheads. Why should Satan torment those who are true to him? We may be sure that, if he is the fallen star, he would never unlock the well of the abyss. The figment that he tortures his dupes in hell is as false as it is foolish. Neither does he in any way encourage or direct the actions of Apollyon or his locusts. The fallen star is a messenger of God, and appears in obedience to the trumpet call of the angel who is one of the horns of the Lambkin.

There is a gruesome fascination about such subjects as the abyss, its messenger Apollyon, and the grotesque creatures which come up from its depths. In creating the medieval "hell," the imaginary features of Gehenna, Tartarus, and the lake of fire were all combined to make a lurid illusion. But even these were not sufficient, so the abyss and Apollyon were introduced as added features. It is only as we distinguish all these that we may arrive at the truth. Satan probably has never been in the abyss, and certainly never makes it a part of his sovereignty. Rather, it is the place to which he is banished, the prison from which he is unable to escape during the thousand years.

A study of the passages in which the abyss is mentioned will convince us that it is always associated with the waters of the earth. After the disruption, darkness was on the face of the abyss (Gen.1:2). The springs of the abyss were broken up at the flood (Gen.7:11; 8:2). We read of the waters of the great deep, or abyss (Isa.51:10). With this corresponds the phrase here used— the well of the abyss. It is not, as the common version always renders it in this book, a bottomless pit, but the shaft of a well, leading down to water. Our Lord drank of the water from such a well (John 4:11,12).

But how can smoke come out of a well? The old adage assures us that where there is smoke there must be fire. But this is not necessarily the case. This word is usually used of the smoke from fire, but includes the thought of fumes, or smoke-like manifestations. On several occasions, the temple was filled with smoke which came from no fire but Yahweh's jealousy (Deut. 29:20; Isa.6:4; Rev.15:8). It is an index of the anger of the Lord (Psalm 74:1). It is translated angry in Psalm 80:4. We use the same figure in the verb to fume.

The smoke or fumes and the locusts with which it swarms, are supernatural. The smoke tells us that the very earth is fuming with indignation against the irreverent.

The locusts that came upon the land of Egypt at the exodus were not the usual kind. "Before them, there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall there be such" (Ex.10:14). Yet they were ever so much more like other kinds than those which are sent under the fifth trumpet. They ate all the herbs and fruit and green things (Ex.10:15), but the locusts from the abyss do not even injure the grass, or any tree or any green thing. Indeed, it is not clear at first why they should be called locusts. They are not such in appearance or habits.

There is, however, a dread parallel which can be appreciated fully only by those who have known the devastation that follows their advent. Their number is often appalling. In Egypt, they were to be so thick that they completely hid the ground. I once had an interesting experience while riding on horseback through a wild region of California. At my approach, hundreds of locusts would fly into the air and many flew into my face. I dared not open my mouth and could only squint through a narrow slit of nearly closed eyes. I thought their number incredible. But when I was about to alight from my horse among some tall grass I was struck with the peculiar color of the ground and it seemed to be in motion. What was my astonishment to find that it was a solid mass of young green locusts! And this was in a land where they seldom do much damage. An occasional insect of this kind is no hardship. Their number is what makes them so appalling. This is the probable reason why this scourge is called by their name.

In the second woe, we are told that the number of the horsemen is two hundred millions. If the comparison between locusts and horses is any index of their relative number, there will be untold billions of these locusts, more than sufficient for every man, woman, and child in the world. There will be no possible escape from them.

These locusts correspond to the natural ones in the length of their season. This lasts from May to September, about five months. On the other hand, we are specially informed that locusts have no king (Prov.30:27), but these hordes will be marshalled under the banner of Apollyon, their king, the messenger of the abyss.

Scorpions are a scourge in themselves, though they are neither numerous nor winged, like locusts. I once dug down an old lime kiln which seemed to be a favorite abode of theirs. Each time I pried off a brick or stone I had to beware lest one be lurking under it. I could never become accustomed to the horrid creatures with their crab-like claws and long tails curved back above them, always ready to strike. There is no insect I dread more than a scorpion.

What a monstrous and dreadful combination when we supply the locust hordes with scorpions' tails! What escape is possible from scorpions in such numbers and with wings, and, under the direction of Apollyon, bent on sinking their stings into every human being which is devoid of the divine seal? No wonder that, in those days, mankind will seek relief in death. But, though the scorpion's sting is unutterably painful it is not necessarily fatal. And, under this trumpet, men are denied even the boon of death. For five months mankind must bear the terrible torment.

There seems to be an intended contrast between these creatures and the cherubim. Both are composites, made up from the various realms of animal creation. From the wild beasts both use the lion, but the locusts have only its teeth. From the domestic animals the cherubim choose the bullock, the other has the horse, which, in the orient, was used almost exclusively for war. Both have the face of a man.

For the noble vulture, soaring aloft to meet the sun, is substituted the devastating locust and venomous scorpion. In the cherubim we have the symbols of sovereignty, in the locusts, we have a composite which speaks of devastation and ruin. No wonder their king is named Apollyon or Abaddon, for they seem to be equipped for no other purpose than "destruction." In glorious contrast to him, He Who sits in the midst of the cherubim is named Salvation, for His name signifies the salvation of Yahweh.

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