Revelation 9

Chapter 9

With the fifth trumpet another star falls from heaven to earth. This could be a good angel doing God's will (as 20v1). But elsewhere falling from heaven implies defeat and limited authority to do evil on earth (12v8, cf. Lk 10v18). This angel "was given" the key to the shaft for the opening of the bottomless pit meaning that he has a God-given authority or opportunity to allow what follows out. The bottomless nature of the pit describes how thoroughly removed its occupants are and how profoundly dark the evil imprisoned there is.
     We should note these events relate to those of 20v1-2. The angel is not therefore Satan himself, but perhaps may be an angel who releases him. So the pit represents Hell - the place of evil where Satan and all demons are imprisoned (20v7, cf. 2Pet 2v4). And the angel's authority is similar to Christ's, where he has a key to death and Hades and to the Davidic Kingdom (1v18, 3v7). Indeed, the key is given by or from Christ who has all authority.
     With the shaft opened smoke rises like that from a great furnace, suggestive if the burning wrath of God in the fires of hell. It's darkening of the sun and air signifies the darkness it's occupants are about to bring. As in Egypt, locusts come in hoards, darkening the sky and devouring all vegetation they encounter - a fitting image for the demonic hoards coming from the smoke and so from this pit. Yet these are specifically told not to harm the vegetation, showing their purpose is more severe. They have power like scorpions to bring great agony on the earth - but only to those not sealed on chapter 7. So we see the redeemed haven't been raptured away for the trumpets, but as with the plagues of Egypt, they are not impacted by them. The charge that the locusts are not to kill the wicked either may be a restraint even though death is portrayed as release, for death comes with the next trumpet. For this judgment the locusts are to torment the wicked for 5 months - as a scorpion poison would, and although the wicked will want to die they won't.
     It's hard to see what this all signifies, as most evil is experienced by all including the redeemed. It may be the agony is that bound up with following evil, but during a time of immense wickedness towards the end. Most likely given chapter 18, it is the despair at seeing or being caught up in the fall of the Babylonian system but without the hope for the future the redeemed enjoy (18v7-19). The torment is therefore psychological and emotional, and is tasted whenever people feel panicky and distressed when economies suffer and their security is shaken. Joel 1 may confirm this as background. It gives a reason for the choice of locusts for this torment, recording the loss of "gladness" at losing crops and the resulting wine and oil. Here, it is not crops that have been destroyed, but the equivalent - the wealth and luxury of Babylon. The sense may be that having destroyed these things and laying the world bare like locusts, these demons then sting the people into despair like scorpions. And the resulting crisis is extreme. People are left with so little comfort that they long for death.
     An horrific description of the locusts follows, emphasising their evil. They are pictured as huge with the general anatomy of locusts exaggerated. Like horses ready for battle they are charging out to do harm and powerfully able.  Wearing gold crowns and having human faces and long hair may give the sense that these demons will use individuals - pictured perhaps as false believers. Alternatively the stress may simply be on them as conquering warriors. Whatever, their destructiveness is clear. With teeth like those of a lion they're ready to devour, with iron breastplates they are protected from harm; they have wings that give the impression of an advancing army of lethal chariots, and tails with scorpion-like stings. The highlighting of the sting in the tail may describe how surprising it is. And we are told they have power to hurt people for five months - which could be literal or shorthand simply for a defined and limited time, ie. the whole season given over to these locusts (the dry season and life of locusts was around that period). What all this will look like in practice will only be fully evident when it happens. But it will clearly be a severe demonic torment of all who lack faith in Christ.
     v11: Who is the king over these demonic powers - the angel of the bottomless pit? It's unclear. If in the pit, it could be Satan (20v2) as he is portrayed as ruler over fallen angels (12v7). However, one might expect him to be described as elsewhere (12v3,7, 20v2). Alternatively, it is the angel of 9v1 as (1) he is fallen and so most likely evil, (2) he has been given an authority to lose the demons, (3) he therefore becomes a bracket to the section. A final possibility is that he is a third great demonic power. To my mind, Satan would seem the most obvious to the original reader and as this is a vision of locusts it makes sense not to describe him here as a dragon. Whoever it is, as king this angel leads the charge. And his name in Hebrew and Greek is for all to know - destroyer. It implies that is the work of the locusts. As suggested above they destroy the splendour of Babylon and the happiness of those who enjoyed her benefits. It is striking that Roman Emporers linked themselves to Apollo. The inference to the original hearers is that they were demonic.
     To possibly the one speaking as the sixth trumpet sounds is Christ or an angel. The authority implies Christ. The altar reminds us the trumpets are a response to the prayers for the saints leading to the final judgment on their persecutors - flowing from the presence of God. It's four corners here may speak of its impact on the four corners of the earth.
     The binding of the four angels at the Euphrates speaks of them needing containment because of their desire to fulfil their role, and being kept until the right time. They are not necessarily evil, serving God like the angel of death in Egypt. Now is their specific hour, and they are to kill a third of humanity. It's difficult to imagine how believers would be exempt from this one, unless their tool is an army that sought to protect them - even if with wrong motive. One thinks of Persian under Darius aiding the exiles. Certainly the Euphrates on the eastern border of the Roman Empire was an area great armies had often come. It was also the area of Eden and so of entrance to heaven.
     Another terrifying picture is painted. But these monstrous horses have not come from the pit so could well be a human army bent on destruction. The twice 10,000 = 200 million and intended to mean innumerable - a swarm covering the earth. They have lions heads, stressing them as seeking kill. The contrast with the horses heads implies the breastplates were on the riders. Fire, sapphire and sulphur may simply be to note they come in judgment from heaven (21v8, 19) or that what they bring is a precursor to hell itself. The colours reflect the realities denoting three plagues (sulphur being the colour of the smoke here - probably blueish) coming from their mouths. The parallels with chapter 18 imply these plagues are the "death, mourning and famine" (18v8) that come on Babylon - perhaps at the band of a foreign army. This may suggests this is the conclusion of the threefold plague begun with the first trumpet (8v7). Whatever,  believers are protected by heeding the warning to "come out of her" (18v4). The power of the horses to wound is in their mouths - implying they achieve their destruction through deception (cf. 16v13),  and serpent-like tails with heads - implying this is demonic (cf. 12v15).
     If we are right in seeing these trumpets paralleled in chapter 18 what we are witnessing is the fall of Babylon described in terms of intensity: (1) It's impact on the land. (2) It's impact on trade. (3) The bitterness it brings its inhabitants. (4) The despair it brings them. (5) The terrible torment this will entail. (6) The death it will eventually result in. Of course this increase intensity may also develop chronologically as was the case in Egypt. This is suggested by trumpet 5 being restrained and 6 finally unleashing death.
     It is surely not wholly wrong to ponder whether these things could be fulfilled in contemporary events. No doubt they will function by giving endurance if there is ever a fit. So we should recognise that the trumpets could be "played out" in some kind of environmental disaster (as was the case in Egypt) by which much of the vegetation of the world is destroyed, fishing stocks are reduced, and economic collapse follows leading to bitterness, despair, torment, and then war from the Turkey/Iraq area, resulting in death, mourning and famine - but somehow exempting Christians. Having said all this, it is possible these things are to be read far less literally according to the explanation above.
     v20: We're now told the impact all this will have on the survivors. None. They did not repent. Three things are stressed that they refuse to turn from. "Works" refers to sinful activity in general. "Worship" to their idolatry. False worship as elsewhere is said to be worship of demons because it worships the deceptions they lie behind, but take the form of crafted idols that are lifeless and so cannot hear or walk. The note of "walk" is strange as God can't as spirit. It suggests the idols are being contrasted with Christ. Third, specific sins are noted. Murder, magic, sex and stealing mark this sinful society. In context murder most likely refers to the killing of Christians, but no doubt others were also killed to promote her wealth and slavery. Magic has remained since ancient times and is tied to the occult. Here we see its seriousness in being a paradox on God's true power. Sexual immorlality then as now included promiscuity, homosexuality, flippant with marriage and other perversions not yet so prevalent today. Stealing describes the dishonesty that accompanies a wealthy and materialistic society (cf. 18v3,5,9,13,23,19v2).

     The point is that patterned on the plagues of Egypt, these too were intended to bring repentance. But like Pharaoh, people refused to listen. This implies the plagues will be successive stages leading to the ultimate destruction of the Babylonian world order. It tells us that it is important to call people to repentance and especially as these judgments are meted out. Finally, it tells us the final judgment is just as people refuse to turn and be saved.