A Star Had Fallen – Revelation Bible Guide Day 14
March 8, 2018
13Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew in midheaven, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”
And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit; 2he opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. 3 Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given authority like the authority of scorpions of the earth. 4They were told not to damage the grass of the earth or any green growth or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5They were allowed to torture them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torture was like the torture of a scorpion when it stings someone. 6And in those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.
7In appearance the locusts were like horses equipped for battle. On their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, 8their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; 9they had scales like iron breastplates, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. 10They have tails like scorpions, with stingers, and in their tails is their power to harm people for five months. 11They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.
12The first woe has passed. There are still two woes to come.
13Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, 14saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15So the four angels were released, who had been held ready for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, to kill a third of humankind. 16The number of the troops of cavalry was two hundred million; I heard their number. 17And this was how I saw the horses in my vision: the riders wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur; the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths. 18By these three plagues a third of humankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. 19For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails; their tails are like serpents, having heads; and with them they inflict harm.
20The rest of humankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands or give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk. 21And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their fornication or their thefts.
Points of Interest
- A public service announcement: This might be a good time to remember how weird Revelation is. Have you noticed yet? John wrote this almost two thousand years ago, steeped in the symbolic literary conventions of a way of writing about faith and life that we’re not used to. The best way to read this isn’t to try to decode everything but let it wash over you like a vivid zombie movie – enjoying the strangeness and chewing on the meaning in the parts that speak to you.
- “the bottomless pit” – The tale of the fifth trumpet might be the spookiest scene in all Revelation. Death personified emerges from a smoky pit.
- “not to damage the grass” – A reminder that the tragic tale of history unfolding under the seven seals is descriptive, not prescriptive. This is a God’s-eye view on our history, not God’s will being done on earth. But under God’s watch, there’s a always a limit to evil and violence.
- “they will long to die, but death will flee from them” – Misery and psychic pain are part of the worst suffering. I think of victims of the Holocaust or the Middle Passage or in John’s age, the Roman siege of Jerusalem, and the suffering victims preferring death over their fate. Revelation exposes the violent underbelly of all human civilizations, our own included.
- “locusts like horses” – In his locust army of death, you can’t fault the vividness of John’s imagination!
- “his name is Abaddon” – In Hebrew, this is the pit of death personified; in Greek, “destroyer.” Who is this? Not just one person. Abbadon is Emperor Nero, scapegoating and killing Christians for his city’s fire. Abbadon is Hitler, exterminating classes of people he despises. Abbadon is the drunken man abusing his step-daughter. Abbadon is Satan, the personified spiritual force of all human evil, the “star fallen from heaven.” Abbadon is death in its many wretched forms.
- “the number of the troops .. was two hundred million” – As with the sixth seal, the sixth trumpet works its way toward violent cataclysm – an army even larger than Rome’s, a violence more total than we can imagine.
- “a third of humankind was killed” – good news, bad news here. A third of humankind is horrific, apocalyptic violence. And yet still two thirds survive. The worst of human history, the spirit of Abaddon, cannot prevail.
- “did not repent” – There is a long history of viewing God’s judgment as the source of human suffering. From this point of view, God causes human suffering to punish us or get us to change our ways. The word “plague” at the end evokes the Exodus story, when God hurts the Egyptian people and economy to push them to free their Hebrew slaves. There’s a shocking admission in Revelation – this does not work. Punishment doesn’t usually change people. Perhaps God will lead humans toward repentance through kindness, love, and self-sacrifice instead.
Each day this week, you’re invited to withdraw from the stress and urgency of daily life and reflect on God’s power and goodness. Praise God that while human authorities use violence and threats and suffering to advance their own agenda, God uses love and kindness to advance our healing.
A Direction for Prayer
All times and cultures have the spirit of Abaddon at work within them. Pray that your church will announce and embody good news that runs counter to the violence and psychic misery of the times you live in.
The Bible Guide
This blog post is part of a Lenten journey through the book of Revelation. Every year during the season of Lent, we take a focused look at a portion of Scripture as part of our communal spiritual practice. This year, we are exploring what it means to be Children of God in a Fractured World, with Revelation as our lens. The series starts here.