1. And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. 

2. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. 

3. And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. 

4. And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.

5. And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when, he striketh a man. 

6. And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.

7. And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men. 

8. And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions. 

9. And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle. 

10. And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to, hurt men five months. 

11. And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon. 

12. One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter.

In verse 13 of the preceding chapter we have a little intermittent scene. An eagle flies in mid-heaven and announces a three-fold woe upon them that dwell on the earth by reason of the voices of the trumpets that are still to sound. Much has been made of this eagle, and people have speculated as to what this eagle might be. Some reach the conclusion that it is a member of the church triumphant that has already been taken to heaven, according to these interpreters, before these trumpets are sounded. We, on our part, cannot attach special significance to the identity of this eagle. We rather accept that it merely belongs to the symbolism of the entire scene that John, before the last three trumpets are sounded, beholds this eagle, the bird with its penetrating look, flying in mid-heaven and calling, “Woe, woe, woe, for them that dwell on the earth.” In the meantime, it indicates that we may expect that the three trumpets that are still to sound will bring events that are quite different from those that are revealed thus far. The element of vengeance and suffering in them will be more pronounced. They will be most plainly visible as the day draws near that the Lord shall return in His final appearance. They indicate that the world gradually becomes ripe for judgment. Accordingly we expect too that it will be more difficult to point out the exact historical realization of these last trumpets, seeing that they point to events that must for the most part still be fulfilled in the future. 

Our text speaks of the locusts out of the abyss. First of all, we note that as the fifth angel sounds, John beholds a star fallen from heaven. It will be well to call your attention from the outset to two things: in the first place, to the fact that this star does not fall from heaven at the moment when John hears the sound of the fifth trumpet. He does not say that he saw a star falling from heaven, but simply that his eye beholds a star that had already fallen from heaven at the moment when the trumpet sounds. John merely beholds that star now, though the star had been cast out of heaven before. He beholds it at this particular moment because at the sound of the fifth trumpet that star begins to operate. This brings us to our second remark, namely, that this star is surely no star in the literal sense of the word, for the simple reason that the things that are told us of this star cannot be true of one of the heavenly luminaries that shine in the firmament of heaven. In the first place, it would already be an inconceivability that a star would fall from heaven and simply lie on the earth without any further effect. But above all, it would be impossible to maintain that this is a real star in the light of the fact that the star acts like a person with intellect and will. We read of this strange star that the key of the pit of the abyss was given him, and that as the key was received by him, he went and opened the pit of the abyss. Whoever may be represented by this star, therefore, so much is certain from the outset, that it is not a real heavenly luminary, but some being that is able to receive and understand commands and to act accordingly. In harmony with what follows in the text, the supposition is not without grounds, as we shall see, that this star represents no one else but Satan himself. He is called in the Word of God the prince of the powers of the air, Eph. 2:2, the prince of the demons, Mark 3:22. Of him the Savior speaks in language remarkably similar to this passage, namely, that He saw him fallen as lightning out of heaven, Luke 10:18. And as we hope to see presently, it is in that very capacity that he occurs also in the words of this particular passage. 

This star, this prince of the devils,—or as he appears here, this prince of the abyss,—opens the pit of the abyss. The picture here given is that the abyss is a place beneath the surface of the earth, evidently widening according as it extends deeper below the surface, and therefore narrowest at the top, until it narrows down to a simple shaft, or, as it is called in our passage, a pit. This pit is locked, indicating that for the inhabitants it forms a prison from which they cannot at will escape. Nor is it thus, that they can attain their freedom merely at the command of their prince, the star. For evidently, according to the words of the passage we are now discussing, he dopes not hold the key of this abyss. It is not in his power. But it is given to him. In ordinary circumstances he does not have this key; but it is now given to him. And therewith he receives the power, and also the liberty evidently, to open the abyss over which he is prince. He does so. And the result is terrible. Out of this abyss issues forth, in the first place, a terrible cloud of smoke, darkening the sun and the air. And out of the smoke gradually a tremendous host of locusts becomes visible. Of locusts we read several times in Holy Writ. They are, whether literally or symbolically, the harbingers of the judgments of the Lord. So we read of them as constituting one of the ten plagues that fell on the land of Egypt by reason of its stubborn resistance and oppression of the people of God. Thus we also read of a plague of locusts that threatened the people of Israel in the second chapter, of the prophecy of Joel. And a plague they certainly were. In the eastern countries an army of these locusts would sweep over an entire country that was rich in vegetation and leave no green thing behind it. But these locusts that are mentioned here are of a very peculiar description. In general, indeed, their description is somewhat derived from the general appearance of the locust. But nevertheless, their appearance is entirely peculiar. They are in shape like horses that are prepared for war. Crowns of gold, or at least something that makes one think of crowns of gold, they wear on their heads. And they are protected with breastplates as it were of iron. Their faces are as the faces of men. And they have long hair, as the hair of women. But in contrast again with this human and even feminine appearance, they show teeth as the teeth of lions, and tails like the tails of scorpions. They come in orderly array, with a king by the name of Abaddon, or Apollyon, at their head. And as they pass, the sound of their wings makes one think of a tremendous army, with horses and chariots, rushing for war. Thus is their description. And still more strange is their monstrous power. One might think perhaps that their description is merely an overdrawn picture of the imagination though the general traits of the ordinary locust are maintained. But this cannot be said of their power. In the first place, it is strange that these locusts have their power of destruction in their tails instead of in their mouth. And in the second place, it is also strange that they do not touch the grass or the crops or the trees or any green thing. Thirdly, it is peculiar that their power is limited to men, and that to those that have not the seal of God on their foreheads. And fourthly, it is also peculiar that they may not kill these men, but merely torture them, so that life becomes an awful burden to those that are struck by the locusts. 

In answer to the question who these locusts are, we may limit the field of our investigation in two ways. In the first place, we may deem it an established fact that they are not real locusts. We have always emphasized that in the Book of Revelation the text always plainly indicates whether we must take a certain passage literally or in the symbolical sense of the word. And surely, in this case the text is sufficiently clear to make us feel safe in asserting that real locusts are out of the question. In the first place, of course, there is their description. True, as we have already said, real locusts might be described in terms of a strong imagination as horses running to battle, because indeed the locust resembles the horse, especially as to the shape of its head, and also because in the second chapter of Joel we find a somewhat similar description. But it is not true that the locust also has the face as of a man, that it possesses teeth like the teeth of a lion, that it has hair, like the hair of women, and that it has a tail like that of a scorpion, in which its terrible power lies. But there are clearer indications that Scripture does not intend to have us think here of real locusts. First of all, we must call your attention to their origin. They arise from the abyss, over which Satan is king, And they have as a king another angel, whose name is Abaddon, or Apollyon, the first of which is Hebrew, and the second Greek. Both of these names mean “Destroyer.” Ordinary locusts surely do not have their dwelling-place in the abyss, whatever that abyss may be. Besides, their work is entirely different from that of ordinary locusts. They do not touch the grass and the trees or any green thing. But that is exactly what the locust devours. In an inconceivably short time the locust knows how to make a barren desert out of the most fruitful country, abounding in vegetation. These locusts, on the other hand, touch only men, and touch them not with their mouth but with their tails. And they cause these men to suffer the most fearful agony, pain comparable only to the pain caused by the sting of a scorpion, which, as travelers assure us, is well-nigh unbearable. All these things, therefore, establish it beyond a shadow of doubt that we would violate the purpose of the text if still we would maintain that they were real locusts. No, they are not real locusts, but they must be taken as symbols of something else. That they are described as monstrous locusts, infernal in their appearance and in their power, is merely because the locust actually constitutes one of the scourges wherewith the Lord visits the earth in His judgments. 

Besides, and in the second place, we may also from the outset discard the interpretation that finds in these locusts the symbol of an army of men. This explanation constitutes indeed one of the favorite interpretations, especially of those interpreters that explain the Book of Revelation as being historically and successively fulfilled in the course of time. These locusts, so they say, are the symbols of the hordes of the Mohammedans that flooded parts of Asia, North Africa, and Southern Europe in the seventh and eighth centuries of our era. In detail these interpreters find in the description given of these locusts the picture of these Saracens as they rose from the East and swept the entire northern part of Africa, as well as the southern part of Europe, constituting an awful scourge upon the countries they conquered. But there are elements in the words of our text which simply make such an interpretation an impossibility,—elements which I find that these interpreters simply ignore and overlook. First of all, what does it mean that these locusts have their power in their tails? That seems to constitute an essential element in the passage we are now discussing. Yet this cannot be sufficiently explained on the supposition that they are the symbols of the Moslem army, or, in fact, of any army of human beings. Still more, the text makes the important statement that the people who have the seal of God on their foreheads must be left untouched. But was it not especially against the Christians that the fury of the Mohammedans raged? Or can it be said of any army in the world that they ever make a distinction between the people of God and the people of the world, and refuse to do the former any hurt? Still more: these locusts receive the command that they may not kill, but simply hurt men for five months. Granted now, for a moment, that it is permissible to take these five months in the symbolical sense, every day of them constituting one year, so that the entire period might be calculated as being one hundred fifty years, was it ever beheld of an army,—that of the Moslems surely not excluded,—that they did not kill, but merely hurt the enemy? Surely, all these objections,—facts so plainly and so emphatically mentioned in the passage,—are simply insurmountable. These locusts are not the symbol of an army of men. 

Both these possibilities being ruled out, there is practically but one possibility left. And that one is indeed in harmony with the entire passage, as well as with the Scriptures in general, namely, that these locusts form an infernal army of demons let loose by Satan for a certain definite purpose. We know from the Word of God that Satan was not the only person that fell in the spiritual world, but that with him a veritable host of angels fell away from God into rebellion. We know not how many of the angels fell with their prince; nor is this important. But we certainly receive the impression that there were indeed thousands upon thousands that fell with Satan. Now what became of these evil angels? Plain it is that they have not yet received their final judgment and punishment. Also the angel-world is still to be judged, and shall not be judged until the great day of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we shall judge them with Him. Satan still goeth about like a roaring lion. And also the evil spirits, direct subjects of his kingdom, are not confined to the place of their eternal torture. It may safely be said, therefore, of all these evil angels that although they have been cast out of heaven and no more enjoy the light of life in the presence of the Holy One,—which, of course, would be impossible,—yet they have not received their final sentence, and still must be made subject to their eternal punishment. In other words, in the literal sense of the word the devil and his angels are not yet in hell. Where then are they? It seems to us that Scripture makes a distinction. Also the lot of these fallen angels is not the same for all, and according to their different state they accomplish a different purpose in the economy of the present dispensation. In the first place, we read of evil spirits roaming about in desert places or being bound by the river Euphrates. In the second place, we learn from Scripture that there are a number of these evil spirits in aerial places,—perhaps the main army of them, Satan included. Paul calls the devil the “prince of the power of the air,” Eph. 2:2. And he warns the Ephesians that they shall put on the whole armor of God: “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in aerial places.” Eph. 4:12. They seem to be at the disposal of Satan continually and constantly fight the battle with him against the realization of the kingdom of Christ. But in distinction from these devils, or demons, in the air there is another division of the army of Satan. They are in the abyss. They are shut up. They do not have the liberty to roam about, except on special occasions. At the time of Jesus’ public ministry, for instance, we find mention of one legion of them. And when they are cast out, they beseech the Lord that He may not send them back into the abyss. Peter also speaks of angels that have sinned and that have been committed unto pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment. II Peter 2:4. And Jude, verse 6, makes mention of “angels that kept not their own principality, but left their proper habitation,” which “he hath kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.” And of these latter evil spirits our text also makes mention. It tells us of them that they are in the pit. And the smoke that issues out of the abyss as it is opened evidently speaks to us of the fact that their proper habitation, the sphere in which they exist, is darkness. It tells us that the pit of this abyss is locked, so that they cannot issue forth from it at will. And since even the prince of this abyss must receive the key, it also tells us that these evil spirits are ultimately at the disposal of Christ. They cannot leave their prison except at His bidding. They cannot perform their infernal purposes except when He deems it the proper time. Then He blows the trumpet and hands the key of the abyss to the prince, that he may let his armies go forth to battle.