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The Sixth Trumpet Announcement  (Revelation 9:13-21)

The first five woes announced by the trumpets have passed.  Before we go any further, it needs to be pointed out that these woes on the enemies of God's children did not occur in a progressive step by step fashion over the Roman Empire.  They overlapped and ran concurrent with each other to a large degree.  There were earthquakes, famines, plagues and other natural disasters throughout the history of the Roman Empire and they happened at random times over diverse territories.  One of the next major contributing factors to the decline of the Roman Empire was unsuccessful wars against their enemies.  Their enemies were constantly attacking their borders and their most bitter adversaries were the Parthians to the east.  The Roman empire tried to conquer the Parthians but were never successful at it.  Part of the reason the Roman Empire could not subdue them was because of their own internal civil wars.  Their internal conflicts kept them from a concerted effort to finally overtake them and destroy them. 

In 53 BC, the Roman general Marcus Licinius Crassus invaded Parthia in search of desperately needed gold to fund Roman military campaigns. The Parthian armies used both their light archery and heavy armored calvaries to hand Crassus a decisive defeat at the Battle of Carrhae.  After the battle, the victorious Parthians fed Crassus molten gold as a symbolic gesture of his greed. This was the beginning of a series of wars that were to last for almost three centuries.  In 39 BC, following a successful battle against the Parthians led by Marc Antony the Euphrates River became the border between the Roman and the Parthian Empire.  As we will see in this vision, the Euphrates river plays a role in the vision of the 6th trumpet. 

As we look into this vision, let's keep in mind that this is still part of the seventh seal.  Each seal picturing in a graphic way a progression of scenes beginning with the coming of righteousness, followed by the coming of evil and then the forces of evil at war with righteousness and now with the seventh seal, revealing the divine retribution of God upon the enemies of the Christians.  Even when God has had enough and begins doing those things which will bring the empire down, his highest priority is still the salvation of the lost.  The sixth trumpet announcement is another tool at the disposal of God with which He afflicts the Empire thereby chiseling away at its ability to remain in  power. 

Revelation 9:13
"And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the horns of the golden altar which is before God"
The golden alter here is likely the same one from which the angel in Revelation 8:3 offered the prayers of the saints with much incense to God. 

Rev 9:14
"one saying to the sixth angel that had one trumpet, Loose the four angels that are bound at the great river Euphrates."
At the time of the Revelation, the Euphrates river was the eastern boundary between the Roman Empire and the Parthian Empire.  The Parthians were Rome's greatest enemy at the time of the writing of the Revelation. 

The Parthian Empire is a fascinating period of Persian history closely connected to Greece and Rome. Ruling from 247 B.C. to A.D. 228 in ancient Persia (Iran), the Parthians defeated Alexander the Great's successors, the Seleucids, conquered most of the Middle East and southwest Asia, controlled the Silk Road and built Parthia into an Eastern superpower. The Parthian empire counterbalanced Rome's dominance in the West. Parthia at one time occupied areas now in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaidzhan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel.

The Euphrates River is mentioned by name in this vision.  This would certainly suggest that the actual river is in view here.  Being mentioned before the horsemen in this vision appears to mean that this river is going to be the area or the direction from which the sixth plague on the empire will come.  The Parthian cavalry was world renowned and dreaded for their war tactics from horseback.  The Roman Empire, eager to push its borders further and the Parthians likewise desiring to conquer more territory were bitter enemies.  The Euphrates River became a hotly disputed border between the two with each empire seemingly digging in their heels and refusing to retreat any further. 

We see a parallel in this vision with the sixth bowl of wrath in Revelation 16:12, where the Euphrates river was effected in such a way as to prepare the way for the kings of the east.  The kings of the east were the Parthians.  Vassal kingdoms made up much of their territory and each one had its king and to say there was no love lost between them and the Roman Empire is a profound understatement.

The plague announced here with the sixth trumpet appears to be the incessant attacks of the Parthian Kings across the Euphrates and into Roman territory.  It was a significant drain on Roman resources to defend this border from attack and served to contribute to the erosion of Rome's power. 

Rev 9:15
"And the four angels were loosed, that had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, that they should kill the third part of men."
The number 4 was symbolic of the world in which we live so these four angels may have represented the enemies of the Romans on a worldwide scale.  The Parthians, while bitter enemies of the Roman Empire were not its only adversaries.  The Romans faced a number of other great enemies besides the Parthians, such as the Germans which included the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths.  It was the Visigoths who paved the way for the final downfall of the Roman Empire defeating and sacking the city of Rome in 410 A.D.  It is significant to note that the Germanic tribes which invaded the Empire from the west were horsemen just like the Parthian Cavalry. 

Being prepared for the precise time period stated simply means that God had them prepared beforehand to do His exact bidding at the time of His choosing.  The third part of men killed does not literally mean that exactly a third of all mankind perished in this plague, rather it means that a lot of people perished in this judgment doubtless being represented by the slain on both sides of the conflict. 

It does not say in this announcement that the saints of God are excluded from this plague.  This is a picture of war and good people die as a consequence of it.  The saints of all time can take great comfort in the assurance that all the faithful who die will be counted with the victorious and will inherit the rewards and promises of those who die in Christ. 

Revelation 9:16
"And the number of the armies of the horsemen was twice ten thousand times ten thousand: I heard the number of them."
This army of horsemen numbered 2 times ten thousand times ten thousand which is 200,000,000.  If we take this number literally and give space for each man to be on a horse the area of land which this would encompass would be roughly a strip of land 1 mile wide and 200 or so miles long giving each horse and horseman an area 4 feet wide and 8 feet long. 

This number is not to be taken literally.  In fact it is so fantastic a literal number that one should almost be aware of the fact of it's figurative representation simply from the sheer enormity of the numbers involved.  To put such a number in perspective, if each horse ate 10 pounds of grain a day that would be 2 billion pounds of feed every single day.  That would be roughly 45,000 loads of feed from a full sized modern day grain trailer pulled behind an over the road truck every single day.  If each horse drank 5 gallons of water every day we are looking at a billion gallons of water every day.  It would take a good sized river to furnish that kind of fresh water and we need to keep in mind that they are going to need to fit 200 miles of horses one mile wide along the banks of this river just to give them a chance to drink.  And if this isn't enough, we still have not fed the horsemen.   The U.S. Census Bureau reports that there is an estimated 303,000,000 people, men, women and children in the United States in 2008.  The number of horsemen in the vision if they were literal would have been two thirds of the total population of the United States.  When dealing with numbers of this magnitude, we need to be realistic about them.  There simply were not enough resources and capability in that day and time to even consider mobilizing such a force at one time.  In the first century, this number was symbolic of a sufficient number to carry out God's retribution on the Roman Empire. 

While the Parthians were the enemy behind the Euphrates River, in consideration of the fact that the Roman Empire had many more enemies than just them, being represented by the number which symbolized the world in which we live and considering the vastness of the number used to represent these horsemen, it is entirely likely this number represented the sum total of all the horsemen of all the enemies of Rome through all the centuries leading up to its downfall.  The first readers would probably have been aware of that fact based on the sheer size of the number, knowing instantly that there were not even that many horsemen and horses in any one cavalry in any one kingdom at any one time in history. 

Revelation 9:17
"And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates (as) of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone: and the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceedeth fire and smoke and brimstone."
A large factor making the Parthians such a formidable foe was their vicious and effective methods of horsemanship warfare.  The Parthians had perfected horseback warfare to the degree that they were a deadly foe whether charging forward or in retreat.  They were proficient horseback archers with the skills to shoot enemies with arrows even from behind them.  They also originated the fully armored type of horseback soldier known as the
Cataphract.  These horses and riders were heavily armored and made them especially difficult to defeat, especially for the Roman foot soldiers. 

The heads of lions represented great strength.  The armor they wore was dependant upon the role they played.  The archers were lightly armored for speed while the Cataphracts were armored both rider and horse.  The single most devastating weapon that could be used at a distance was fire.  The invading horsemen would burn everything in their path to the degree required to secure victory.  Incendiary devices were standard weapons of war.  Burning arrows were used to set flammable structures on fire.  Military engineers of the day dedicated themselves to finding ways of ensuring that the fires burned long enough to catch.  Liquid fire was used as early as 429 BC when the Spartans used burning charcoal saturated in pitch and sulfur to burn the walls down in the seige of Plataea.  A century later Aeneas Tacticus mentions a mixture of sulphur, pitch, charcoal packed in wooden vessels, ignited and thrown onto the wooden decks of enemy ships.  Arrows were dipped in flaming mixtures of liquid pitch and sulphur and then fired at the enemies, burning everything flammable in their path.  This was all taking place centuries before the Parthians started invading the Roman Empire across the Euphrates River.  This type of warfare had been around for a long time and the Parthians knew exactly how to wage it.  It should be noted that brimstone is the ancient name for a sulphurous substance. 

Revelation 9:18
"By these three plagues was the third part of men killed, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone, which proceeded out of their mouths."
Fire, smoke and brimstone in conjunction are always figures for divine judgment in scripture.  Sodom and Gomorrah were overthrown by fire and brimstone raining down on them from heaven (Gen 19:24).  The Psalmist wrote "Upon the wicked he [God] will rain snares; fire and brimstone and burning wind shall be the portion of their cup (Psalm 11:6).  In warning wayward Israel of God's forthcoming judgment Ezekiel wrote, "And with pestilence and with blood will I enter into judgment with him; and I will rain upon him, and upon his hordes, and upon the many peoples that are with him, an overflowing shower, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone" (Ezekiel 38:22). 

Whether all this fire and brimstone was literal or not, we can look back at old testament scripture and plainly see that some of it was and given the ancient use of fire as a weapon, we can easily infer that it was used many centuries preceding the writing of Revelation.  This terrible form of warfare took a heavy toll on the Romans.  Countless millions of people obviously perished as a result.  There can be little doubt as to the literalness of the terrible consequences that came about as a result of these attacks upon the Roman Empire.  

Revelation 9:19
"For the power of the horses is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails are like unto serpents, and have heads; and with them they hurt."
Twice now it is mentioned that these terrible plagues are issuing from the mouths and tails of the horses.  Fire, smoke and brimstone do not come from the literal mouths and tails of horses.  But horses with riders who can shoot flaming arrows dipped in burning pitch and sulphur and who are capable of accurately firing these weapons facing either forward or backwards on their mounts are certainly going to give the impression that the fire is coming both from the mouth or tail areas of the horses. 

The image here is more of terror, panic and loss of life than it is of literal fire and brimstone.  While we have a plausible explanation for all three plagues, we need to focus on the results and the objective more than anything.  Many people were dying because they refused to repent.  God's primary purpose here was to bring people to repentance.  Natural disasters, disease and internal corruption had not done the job.  Now it's time for a more direct approach.  

Revelation 9:20
"And the rest of mankind, who were not killed with these plagues, repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and the idols of gold, and of silver, and of brass, and of stone, and of wood; which can neither see, nor hear, nor walk:"
The men who were not killed (worldly or evil men) still did not repent even though they were seeing their empire slowly disintegrating before their eyes.  The righteous are not under consideration in this vision.  God wants all men to be saved but these refused to repent.  The whole purpose of this judgment upon the Roman empire was to bring the unrighteous repentance.
 God has gone to great lengths to try to get the ungodly to think about their fate, stop persecuting Christians and stop worshipping their manmade idols which were worthless, lifeless and represented nothing real.

The lifeless qualities of their manmade idols in this vision are reminiscent of language used in the old testament to describe them.  In Jeremiah 10:1-6, Isaiah 44:9-20 and 46:5-7 we read of God's utter disdain for these things and of His warning that they are worthless and of no benefit.  In Isaiah 44:20, the prophet wrote that those who follow after such things "feedeth on ashes". 

 Revelation 9:21
"and they repented not of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts."
This is basically a repeat of verse 20 added for emphasis.  By repeating Himself, God is making sure His readers understand what He is saying and driving it home by repeating it to them.  The unrighteous who perished from the various woes inflicted upon them had their fate sealed.  But those who survived had a wonderful opportunity to see the fate that awaited them if they failed to heed the warning.  The unrighteous had it within their power to avoid everything evil that was happening to them and refused to change their ways. 

This vision completes the three instruments God would use to bring about the fall of the Roman Empire.  These three instruments were natural calamity, internal disease and decadence and external invasion by her enemies.  These instruments of God's judgment were already partially at work in the first century and history shows us that all three of these were significantly instrumental in the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. 

The text of verse 20 and 21 indicate that God's judgment in these visions were aimed at the enemies of righteousness and not at the Christians.  The Christians might suffer in the earthly application of these woes but they would not suffer the eternal fate of the unrighteous.  This vision was given as reassurance that good shall triumph over evil and that those who overcome and remain faithful unto death will be victorious in the end.

Some additional thoughts to consider:

What an application we can make from this to ourselves today.  There is a quote saying this, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  Let us pause and give serious reflection to what we see going on in the most powerful nation on earth today.  Homosexuality and sexual decadence were an earmark of the behavior of the Romans and what happened to them?  Disease, decay and corruption.  The Romans practiced infanticide as a means of birth control.  They slaughtered their babies.  What about abortion today in the most powerful nation on earth?  Consider the natural disasters that occurred in the Roman Empire and give pause to think about the storms and earthquakes and other natural disasters going on in the most powerful nation on earth in these current times.  What about this sixth judgment where the enemies of the Roman Empire started attacking them and picking away at them bit by bit and piece by piece.  Now what about this most recent enemy of the most powerful nation of the earth today rising up and causing death and destruction, depleting the resources at hand which are necessary to withstand them.   We today know what the fate of the Roman Empire was and why.  We can see the parallels going on right in front of our faces.  Will we as a people repent before it is too late or will history see yet another world power rise and fall because of Godlessness?  And while we are considering these things, we also need to give attention to how to get this message to the unrighteous.  If the message of hope comes not from us, then from whence will it come?   

Summary Paraphrase

Rev 9:13-21

Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and from the four horns of the golden altar which stands before God I heard a voice speak to the sixth angel instructing him to release a plague of horsemen which had been held back at the great River Euphrates.  This plague which had been prepared beforehand was ready to strike at the exact appointed time and was liberated so they would destroy about a third of all mankind in their wake.  I was told the number of the armies of the horsemen and they were two hundred million strong.

In my vision, I saw the horses and those who sat upon them and their riders were armored with breastplates red like fire and blue like sapphires and yellow like sulfur.  The horses' heads were powerful as lions and from before them poured out fire, smoke and sulfurous fumes.   Many of mankind were killed in these attacks.  The power of the fiery plagues looked like it was coming from their mouths and their tails.  And I could see their heads like deadly serpents from their tails and they wounded people from behind them. 

But the rest of humanity who were not killed in these attacks refused to stop worshipping devils and manmade idols of gold and silver and of brass and stone, and of wood, all of which are without life, unable to see or hear or walk.  Moreover, they also refused to stop murdering and practicing sorceries and sexual immorality. 


Church of Christ Lessons on the Revelation of Jesus Christ

1.  Understanding Revelation
2.  Symbolic Objects in Revelation
3.  Understanding the Numerical Symbolism in Revelation
4.  Identifying the Opposition Characters in Revelation
John's Introduction to the Churches of Asia

6.  John's Vision of Jesus Christ
7. The Church who Left Her First Love, Ephesus
8.  Smyrna, the Suffering Church
9.  Pergamum, the church in Hell's Headquarter
10.  Thyatira, the church that Condoned Sin
11. Sardis (The Dead Church)
12. Philadelphia (The Church With Opportunity)
13.  Laodicea (The Lukewarm Church)

14.  Letter to Your Church
15.  John's Throne Vision (chapter 4)
16.  God the Redeemer Revealed  (chapter 5)
17.  God the Avenger of His Children (Chapter 6)
18.  Who Will Be Able To Stand  (Chapter 7)
19.  The First Four Trumpets
(Chapter 8)
20.  The Fifth Trumpet (Chapter 9:1-12)
21.  The Sixth Trumpet Announcement (Chapter 9:13-21)
22. The Little Book and the Unutterable Thunders (Rev 10)
23.  The Seventh Trumpet Announcement (Rev 11)
24. The Conflict (Revelation 12)
25.  Revelation 13 (Identification of the First Beast)

26.  Revelation 13 (Identification of the Second Beast)

27.  Chapter 14 (The Victorious Lamb and the Redeemed)
28.  Revelation 14 (The Turning Point)
29.  Revelation 14 (The Sickle and the Winepress)
30.  Chapter 15 (Comfort for the Saints)
31.  Chapter 16 (Bowls of Wrath)
32.  Chapter 16 (The Battle of Armageddon)
33.  Chapter 17 (The Scarlet Woman)
34.  Chapter 18 (Fallen  is Babylon)

35.  King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Chapter 19)
36.  The Fall of Satan  (Chapter 20)
37.  Heaven, the Home of the Soul  (Chapter 21)
38.  The Spirit and the Bride Say Come  (Chapter 22)
39.  The Dating of the Revelation

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Revelation 21:5-7

And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.  And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.  He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.