February 23, 2020
The Second Woe
At the sounding of the sixth trumpet, 4 angels are released from their bondage at the Euphrates river by the 6th angel, “So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind,” (Revelation 9:15). Due to the binding of the angels being told to us here, it leads me to believe these are likely fallen angels who were chained as judgment but are now released to fulfill a specific purpose.
I discussed this thought process in my article on the 5th trumpet judgment in reference to the “locusts” that emerge from the bottomless pit. There are 3 other places we get information regarding angels bound for purposes of judgment or reservation for future judgment: 2 Peter 2:4–5, Jude 1:6, and Revelation 20:1-3.
- “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly…” (2 Peter 2:4–5).
- “And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day…” (Jude 1:6).
- “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while” (Revelation 20:1-3).
Angels from the Euphrates
Although Revelation 9:15 is not specific about the manner in which these 4 angels are bound, based on the aforementioned 3 passages, it’s safe to conclude they were chained at this specific location (Euphrates river), for this specific time, to serve this specific purpose (killing a third of humanity).
It can be inferred (when using 2 Peter 2:4-5 and Jude 1:6) that these angels likely were part of the first excursion of angels to earth that reproduced with human woman and were judged for it. I explore this view in depth in my series on Genesis 6.
In his book, The Apocalypse, EW Bullinger also makes the connection of these 4 angels bound at the Euphrates with the angels mentioned in 2 Peter 2:4-5 and Jude 6, “These four angels cannot be identified with any others; for they are “bound.” There can be no doubt about their being “delivered into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto (or for) judgment” (2 Peter ii. 4). This is the judgment for which they (four of them at least) are “reserved” and “prepared” or ready. In Jude 6 we are again told of the angels which are “reserved in everlasting chains under darkness, unto (or for) the judgment of the great day,” (The Apocalypse, 219).
In his commentary on the book of Revelation Dr. Thomas L. Constable asserts that no where in scripture can we find a case of “good” angels bound for judgment, “These are evidently four angels that John had not seen before. They must be fallen angels, since good angels are not bound (cf. 20:1-3; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). God had a purpose for them to fulfill, and ordered their release to accomplish His will (cf. vv. 1-11). Scripture does not record when or why God bound these angels, but evidently He restricted them as punishment,” (1).
John F. Walvoord also speaks to this in his book, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, “There is no instance in Scripture where holy angels are bound. Some of the wicked angels, however, are bound according to Jude 6. Likewise, later Satan is bound for one thousand years and cast into the pit of the abyss. From these parallels, it may be concluded that the four angels bound in the Euphrates River are evil angels who are loosed on the occasion of the sounding of the sixth trumpet in order to execute this judgment. It is another instance of the loosing of wicked angels similar to the release of the demonic locusts earlier in the fifth trumpet,” (The Revelation of Jesus Christ, 111).
As we read through 2 Peter 2:4–5 as well as Jude 1:6 and draw parallels with Revelation 9:13-15, we see common themes of these angels being held in bondage for an appointed time. For me, initially reading through 2 Peter 2:4-5 and Jude 1:6 led me to believe that these angels were bound simply to wait for their own judgment but when we go to Revelation 9:13-15 we see these angels released to exact God’s judgment on mankind. Both Walvoord and Bullinger speak to this point.
They all are prepared for their hour of activity much as the whale was prepared to swallow Jonah and effect divine discipline upon the prophet. These are wicked angels designated to execute the great judgment of the sixth trumpet but prevented from doing so until the proper moment. It is declared that the angels’ function is to slay the third part of men and that they had been prepared to fulfill this purpose at the given hour. The expression “an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year” designates not the duration of their activity but the fact that this judgment comes exactly at the hour of God’s appointment, (The Revelation of Jesus Christ, 111).
Bullinger elaborates upon 2 Peter 2:4 – “to be reserved for judgment” – to make his case that this doesn’t mean to simply be held for a future judgment but to be held to exact judgment, “These four angels, now bound, we are distinctly told are “reserved unto judgment.” The word is (…) (eis) unto, with a view to judgment (not merely to being judged); and this judgment is that of “the great day.” They are reserved for the particular appointed moment; the moment of this their loosing. There seems to be little doubt as to the meaning of the period of time. It does not imply the duration of the judgment, but the preparation for the particular moment which has been appointed by God,” (The Apocalypse, 221).
An important fact we need to keep in mind as we go through these verses is that although a 1/3 of mankind is killed by this sixth trumpet judgment, this only comes after the previous 7 seals and 5 trumpet judgments have already taken their toll on the inhabitants of the world.
At this point I don’t believe it would be an overestimate to say the population of the earth is reduced by half. The importance in emphasizing this point is to show how horrible this time period is. While we’re still in the age of Grace, as believers we have the opportunity to still share the gospel and warn a lost world.
Revelation 9:16 quickly changes the focus from the 4 angels to an army of “horseman” numbering 200 million. The “horses” John sees here is another example of the difficulty we have in interpreting this as either literal horses that may be demonic in nature or some kind of supernatural being or symbolic for types of technology he couldn’t describe at the time. I used to lean towards the interpretation of this being technology but now believe these to be literal supernatural entities.
200 Million Horseman
Although the physical appearances of the horses John sees is strange indeed, this is not the first occurrence of something like this. Another great example of strange creatures mentioned to us in the bible are Seraphim and Cherubim and in the 5th trumpet judgment I argued for a literal interpretation for the locusts who also had a fierce and strange appearance. John was simply told to write what he saw and that’s what he did (Revelation 1:19).
John begins describing the physical appearance of the horses starting with the horseman who have “breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow” (Revelation 9:17). He tells us the horses heads “were like the heads of lions” and that their tails “are like serpents, having heads; and with them they do harm,” (Revelation 9:19).
Revelation 9:15 tells us the 4 angels kill a third of mankind but we also see the 200 million horseman and horses take part in this onslaught. The horses kill using the fire, smoke, and brimstone that proceeds from their mouth as well as their tails that cause harm, “and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone. By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed—by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which came out of their mouths. For their power is in their mouth and in their tails…” (Revelation 9:18-19).
From our understanding, the physical description of these horses and horseman, as unfamiliar as it is, is enough reason for many to interpret them as non-literal. What we find time and time again however is that simply taking God at his word is the best policy.
Bullinger states, “This is the description of these supernatural beings. They are not human. They come from below. We know of nothing like them. When God thus describes them nothing ought to be easier than to believe what He says. They need no explanation. This description is given to explain them to us. Is it not easier to believe they are what God says they and their spirit riders are…” ( The Apocalypse, 222).
Dr. Constable offers a similar view of the horses and horsemen being supernatural in nature, “The “horsemen” may be humans under the control of these four evil angels (cf. Dan. 11:44), or, more likely, they are demons. The description of the horses (v. 17) argues for an angelic” (demonic) army, as does its leadership, namely, four fallen angels (vv. 14-15)…This verse suggests that this army is probably something other than a human army of cavalry, probably an angelic army (cf. v. 9). However, some interpreters, both premillennial and amillennial, have believed that this will be a human army,” (1).
He continues making this case by further drawing upon the idea that these horses are able to kill using the power in their heads and tails, “This added description of the horses, “power … in their mouths and in their tails,” supports the conclusion that they represent angelic instruments of divine judgment other than natural horses. Some interpreters have suggested that what they represent are modern weapons that shoot both forward and backward, such as missiles,” (1).
In part 2 of this study on the sixth trumpet judgment I delve into the interpretation that the 200 million horsemen and horses are not supernatural in nature but are instead humans and technological warfare. Then I wrap up the study by taking a look as to how mankind can remain unrepentant in the face of so many judgments as we see in Revelation 9:20-21.
If you enjoyed this study, you can find similar studies on the book of Revelation here including the 7 Churches of Revelation, the 24 Elders, the 4 living creatures, 4 Horseman, etc.