We have had four trumpets sound already, and the previous chapter ends with a very severe warning that the last three trumpets will cause ‘woes’ or catastrophes that are far worse than the first four. This time around, John describes spiritual attack…
Trumpet 5: The first ‘woe’! A ‘star’ falls to earth; clearly this cannot be taken literally, so it must signify a demonic attack, along the lines of: “I saw Satan falling like lightening from heaven” (Luke 10:18). The demonic being (or Satan himself) is given some freedom by God to cause mayhem upon the earth, by opening the Abyss and releasing some ‘locust-like’ beings with stings like scorpions. The ‘Abyss’ seems to represent a precursor of Hell, where many evil spirits are already imprisoned, awaiting the final judgment. Luke 8:31 and Rev 20:1 both mention it.
These demonic spirits fill the world and begin their attacks upon the unsuspecting population – those who have rejected the protection and lifestyle that Jesus offers (see v4). This imagery is strongly reminiscent of the plague of locusts in Egypt (Exodus 10:4-15; Joel 1); only the Egyptians were inflicted with this plague and even then, they refused to repent. But these are not really locusts; they are demonic beings with far greater powers to harm and to torture. The vegetation is left alone, and it is the humans who are the prey! This period of ‘five months’ is probably about the period of time that a normal locust attack would last for. Here, it is a short period of time that God permits this suffering to come upon the earth.
Trumpet 6: This sounds immediately afterwards, signalling the second ‘woe’. Four great angels who had been restrained at a particular location in the Middle East were suddenly released and immediately started a mighty war, perhaps symbolic of all wars, past, present, and future! A great proportion of mankind was enticed to participate – egged on by demonic powers – and a third of the unbelieving world was killed in various ways. This is portrayed as a punishment for the unbelievers, and those who survived still refused to repent and return to God. They continued, as this chapter ends, to worship demons and engage in idolatry, murder, magic arts, sexual immorality, and theft. It reads like the world of Noah’s day – or perhaps of our day!
We have a short ‘interlude’ between the sixth and seventh trumpets (the second and third ‘woes’), during which a gigantic angel appears from heaven, whose appearance closely resembles Christ (see 1:7, 1:17, 4:3). But it may not be an actual appearance of the Lord himself this time. He stands on the earth and the sea and roars like a lion – speaking a message to the whole world concerning the whole world. Echoing that mighty voice were ‘seven thunders’ – but we don’t know what they said or, indeed, what they symbolise.
This great angel now swears by the Creator God himself that the end is very near – no more delay! The judgment is just around the corner! The ‘mystery’ that the angel speaks of is not explained here, but in reference to other New Testament passages (Ephesians 3:9; Col 1:27; 2:2; 4:3) it might point to the Son of God uniting his chosen people (Jew and Gentile) and inhabiting this Body, adding more and more members to it through the power of the gospel. The long reach of the gospel will eventually come to an end and then the end will come!
This is, I believe, what the little scroll comes to symbolise – it is a different perspective on exactly the same time period, and represents the ‘gospel age’, the time when God’s church is being enlarged and matured, at the same time that the wicked are being punished in various ways. This scroll is referred to in Ezekiel 2:9- and 3:1-4 and probably means the same thing there. It is the preaching of the good news of God to an unbelieving world. (Psalm 119:103 backs this up.) The gospel seems glorious and sweet in the mouth, but it will bring the bitterness of persecution to the speaker from those who reject the message.
John, in exile on the Island of Patmos, would concur with this description. Nevertheless, the angel insisted that he must continue with the ‘prophesying’ of the good news to all peoples, nations, languages, and kings. Clearly, here, there is a warning and an encouragement to us to do exactly the same thing – see Matthew 24:9-14. In fact, the entire chapter of Matthew 24 could be a kind of commentary on Revelation 10.