In my opinion, this is essentially the last part of the book of Revelation in which the "setting" for the rest of the book will be explored and explained. After this, things will start flowing a little bit more, be at least a slight bit easier to understand, and we'll get to a time-line of sorts in which we can probe what the author is trying to say.
- Review definitions that they need to know.
- Up to this point we've covered the author of the book, the audience, some description about God, and an introduction to the setting through the seals and trumpets.
- These seals have unleashed Destruction, Violence, Economic catastrophes, Death, Unjust slaughter of martyrs, Devastating political occurrences, and natural calamities in the seven seals, and fiery/icy hail, meteorites/asteroids, poisoned waters, as well as a darkened day.
- Jumping into chapter nine, we start off with the fifth trumpet. What's interesting is that these last three trumpets are called “woes” (9:12)
- One thing that's different about this fifth trumpet is the amount of the text that is devoted to describe it. The first four trumpets are just glanced over, and at this point we start taking a much more detailed look at the text. Additionally, after the fourth trumpet, an eagle gave a warning that the three remaining trumpets would be the worst. In my opinion, if it's important, the text will focus on it more. With this trumpet, a star falls to heaven presumably opening up a shaft or abyss in the earth (9:2). From this abyss rises smoke which darkens out the sun and also from which powerful locusts swarm out. These locusts were given power like scorpions (9:3), and were told to harm people. The specific number of five months is given, and while this could quite possibly be a real amount of time, I think the more likely interpretation is that the “torment” exists for a short or limited time only. This truly is a torment because they will long for death, but they won't be able to actually find its comfort (9:6) There is a lot of description about the locusts, comparing them to lions or armored chariots (9:8-9), but I think the main idea that's being portrayed here is that they're powerful. And over these kings is someone who is named Abbadon (in Hebrew) and Apollyon (Greek). These names both mean “destroyer” and I think that's pretty obvious given what they are put in charge of.
- The sixth trumpet, like the fifth one before it and the seventh one after it is given a lot more detail than the first four. This fits in nicely with the image of these last three being the final “woes” or the especially bad ones. What is released here is a mounted army that is 200 million strong (some manuscripts actually read “only” 100 million as the English Standard Version does) (9:16). While the locusts before them weren't supposed to kill anyone, these horseman were charged with killing off one third of the human race (9:15). With these fractions and numbers, I tend to disregard them as factually literal, and instead view them as symbolic. As always, though, my opinion is exactly that, and there are hundreds of other views on the matter that take it as factually literal. Whatever stance you take, try to examine it from the other view and to then develop a strong reason for embracing that view. All those who aren't killed by these horseman still chose not to make remission of their sins (9:20). I think what this passage is making clear is the harm that can come about when someone ultimately rejects their best interests and buy into sins making these sins idols in their life (9:20).
- So, while I bet everyone was expecting that we would get to finish up the trumpets at this point, that's sadly not the case. What instead happens is that the author gets a little bit off track (just like with what happened between the sixth and seventh seals), and starts talking about other things. I think this is really where the book starts getting a bit more unified. Up to this point, I like to think that John was laying the setting for the rest of the story to come, and now that's it has been eloquently laid out in detail, we're ready to actually get to the "bulk" of it all.
- In chapter 10, we start talking about a mighty angel who comes down from heaven (with a rainbow; the sign of hope). As would be expected of John, he describes the supernatural through natural terms (face like the sun, legs like fiery pillars, and a rainbow over his head) in his description of this angel (10:1-2). He is holding a little scroll opened in his hand, and it seems that this will be important in a little bit (10:2). I have a feeling that the scroll itself isn't all that small (as my study Bible suggested), but that the angel holding it is so big that it just looks small in comparison.
- While some people may like to approach this text with a hard-core, literal approach, I think we can all agree that at this point we're starting to hit some serious symbolism. The angels starts but putting his right leg on the sea and his left on the land (10:2). While it's not exactly specified, my best guess is that this isn't like having one foot in the ocean and one on the beach, but rather like having one in the middle of North America and one in the middle of the Pacific. Looking at this symbolically, what do you think having one foot on the sea and one on the land means?
- He roars, which is described like a lion, and then seven “thunders” speak with their voices (10:3). Clearly we're hitting some symbolism here since I think we all know that thunder can't speak. Regardless, these thunders said something that John heard, but he was immediately told not to write it. (10:4) What do you think could have been said, and why do you think that John wasn't allowed to write it down? Though this is all speculation, I think it helps create interest in the text, and can get your mind thinking.
- What follows after the thunders is a little bit strange. The angel raises up his right hand and swears an oath upon God (10:6). He then goes on to say that there will no longer be an “interval of time” (10:7). When I first read that, I was a bit confused, but thanks to my study bible, I realized that what they meant was a delay. What he is saying is that there won't be a delay any longer, and that the seventh trumpet will be blown soon and God's “hidden” plan will be completed.
- John is then commanded to take the scroll from the angel and to then eat it (10:8-9). He is told it will be sweet in his mouth, but bitter in his stomach (10:9). John does as he is told, and sure enough, it happens. Immediately after this, he is told that he is to go and prophesy to/against many people, nations, languages, and rulers (10:11). I think the message about the bitter-sweet scroll, though a bit hidden, isn't too hard to understand if you look at it deeply enough. Given that immediately after he ate the scroll he was told to go prophesy (or preach), I think the message given by the symbol of the scroll is that though the John's message may seem sweet at first, it will be bitter and difficult for some to swallow thereafter (alternate views such as the one expressed in my study Bible is that the word of God is pleasing at first, but later unpleasant and difficult to truly understand the “depth” of; the word of God may seem sweet or "easy" at first, but eventually trials, tribulations, hard times, or persecutions will come).
- There we go. We've concluded a lot of stuff, and not all of it is exactly cohesive or easy to piece together. This is understandable, and I really recommend that people take things chunk-by-chunk and write down there thoughts and important stuff as they go about reading it. When we come back, we'll start discussing more about the “actual story” of Revelation and what precisely we can learn from it.
I think John borrows a lot of imagery from the Prophets of the Old/First Testament, and so if you are interested, I would recommend that you read all or some of these passages as I think they'll give you a new appreciation or understanding of the writing style of the book of Revelation.
Ezekiel 2, 3
Exodus 7-12, and 15 (story of bitter water)
Joel 1, 2.
Assignment over break: Reread and finish the rest of Revelation, read the book of Hebrews, and read as many minor prophets as you can (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, as examples). These minor prophets will really help you understand the symbolism, or at least make you a bit more familiar with it. Exploring the major prophets (the only real difference between a major prophet and a minor prophet is the length of the text they wrote; the minor prophets wrote short books while the major prophets wrote long books. It's not like a major prophet is more important than a minor prophet) can also help you gain an understanding for this sort of writing style, but they're longer, thicker, and more difficult to understand. If you have a study bible, please read the section before the book about the historical context, as I think this really helps you understand the text and why specifically it was written, and can also shed some light on some of the more confusing parts of the text.