Revelation: A Complete Commentary

By William R. Newell

Part One: Judgment

Chapter 7: Locusts And Hellish Horsemen

Revelation 9

We have now the sounding of trumpets of the fifth and sixth angels in Revelation 9, with their fearsome following effects upon men.

The fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven fallen unto the earth: and there was given to him the key of the shaft (Greek, phrear, as in John 4:11, “The well is deep”) of the abyss.

That there is a passage from the earth to its heart not only is indicated by Scripture, but was believed by the ancient Greeks, and is today known to the followers of Satan. In Revelation 20:1-3 we find Satan himself cast down there, and the passage sealed for 1000 years. In this latter passage, “an angel coming down out of heaven” has the key of the abyss. In Revelation 9:1 it is a “fallen” one of those beings so often called stars (e.g., Daniel 8:10, 24; Isaiah 14:12) to whom is given the key of the shaft of the abyss. We know from our Lord’s words in Revelation 1:18 that He has Himself “the keys of death and of Hades.” Inasmuch as the word “abyss” describes the region, and Hades (literally “the unseen”) describes the state or class of beings—spirits who go there—we judge both words refer to “the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). For our Lord, we know, during that three days was in the Old Testament Sheol, which is the New Testament Hades. (Compare Psalm 16:10 with Acts 2:25-31—both R. V., for the King James version is quite confusing in its varied translations of Sheol and Hades.) In Romans 10:7 also, Paul shows that to bring our Lord up from the dead, was to “descend into the abyss.”

And he opened the shaft of the abyss; and there went up smoke out of the shaft, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the shaft.

Now if we should read of the eruption of a great volcano darkening the sky for thousands of miles, we would believe it to be physical smoke and literal darkness. Such phenomena have actually occurred, as may be found upon consulting any physical geography.

So we shall proceed to believe that God’s Word is as true as are man’s records, and we shall have no trouble in considering this smoke and consequent darkening just as literal as the words express them to be.

When we remember that The Revelation is not a sealed book, we shall have no difficulty in regarding the locusts that God says will proceed from this smoke, as actual locusts. In Exodus 10 we are told concerning the plague of locusts in Egypt that they were such “as neither thy fathers nor thy fathers’ fathers have seen, since the day that they were upon the earth unto this day.” “Before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such.”

Now no one who believes the Bible has any trouble believing the record of that past plague. Nor has any one any right to have any difficulty about the terrible locust plague of Revelation 9. It is because of the fog of unbelief, and the super-fog of “historical interpretation,” that this passage has been considered “hard to understand.” If we do not believe that God means what He so plainly and explicitly says in Revelation 9, let us say we do not believe it, and be honest. But let us not dare to bring in vain imaginations and call them interpretations of Scripture. (As, for example, the grotesque and absurd notion that the “hair as the hair of women” [9:8] was fulfilled in the horse-tails tied by the Saracens to their spears!) Remember that we are reading from Revelation 4 onward “the things that must come to pass” after the present Church period. See Revelation 1:19, where the Lord Himself makes the division; and compare it with 4:1 where He carries it forward. It preens our pride to point as wise ones to this or that in Church history, and say, “There was the fulfilment of, for example, this locust army.” But the trouble is, that denies what Christ said about this part of the book, namely, that it was to be fulfilled after Church times and Church history are closed.

Out of the smoke came forth locusts upon the earth; and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power.

Then follows the command of the Creator of these creatures, reversing utterly their habits as to manner of food! They are directed not to hurt the grass, nor green things, nor trees (the natural food of locusts until then) “but only such men as have not the seal of God on their foreheads”!

Five months (the natural life-period of locusts) is assigned them to “torment men.” Down in Egypt (the plagues of which throw great light on the earth-plagues of Revelation), God “put a difference” (Hebrew—set redemption) between His people Israel, and the Egyptians (See Exodus 8:22; 9:4,6,26; 10:23). God will do likewise when these terrible visitations are again in the earth. Whatever persecutions the saints of those days may endure from men, they will have constant miraculous evidence that their God is not against them!

Their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when it striketh a man. The writer was once struck on the heel by a small scorpion, and the unrelievable, indescribable anguish extended clear to the head. Of course we are simply to believe Revelation 9:5. To seek to twist it from its natural sense is wickedness: for unbelief is wickedness!

In those days men shall seek death, and shall in no wise find it. We remember one who was dragged years ago from the Chicago river, after attempted suicide, crying, “Oh, let me drown! I cannot face another day!” Now God does not tell us by what means men shall in this terrible time be kept back from the longed-for oblivion of physical death: but He does reveal that they shall seek it and not find it. This giddy, pleasure-mad age little realizes to what extremities of trouble it is fast hastening. And if, dear reader, you should die without Christ, before these judgments from God set in, it would be only to enter the dark gates of Hades (in the center of this earth), to be kept there till the judgment of the Great White Throne of Revelation 20:11-15; for the Word of God must be fulfilled.

Now, further regarding these locusts, a detailed description is given in verses 7-10. Their aspect will be truly terrible. I have seen an onslaught of white hornets, whose nest has been disturbed, drive men frantic before them. How much more these fearsome creatures! “Shapes … like unto horses prepared for war.” Faces like humans—horrible! Crowns on their heads—as God’s avengers. Teeth like lions’, breastplates like iron, wings like a thousand rushing war-chariots. Stinging tails like those of scorpions—is not this a horrid host! God once promised to send the hornet to drive out His people’s foes (Exodus 23:28; Deuteronomy 7:20). Probably there were “wise ones” also in those days who said, “The Lord does not mean literal hornets; but some terrifying thoughts sent into the Canaanites.” But Jehovah tells us in Joshua 24:12: “I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out from before you.” It is utterly amazing to confront, even in commentaries by excellent men, complete disbelief that these will be literal locusts, though God takes such pains to say explicitly that they will be just that! So we will believe Him, and be thankful that the Church will not be here at that time; and that the other sealed ones, God’s own, will be secure from their terrifying attacks.

They have over them as king the angel of the abyss: his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek tongue he hath the name Apollyon.

Of ordinary locusts, the Word of God says, “the locusts have no king” (Proverbs 30:27). But of this devastating judgment a grim leader is seen—revealed but this once in Scripture. This is evidently not Satan; as he is nowhere connected with “the abyss” till he is cast therein in Revelation 20:1-3. He walks up and down in the earth and accuses the saints before God, in heaven (Job 1, 1 Peter 5, Revelation 12).

Abaddon means destruction, in the Hebrew; but the Greek, Apollyon, is destroyer.

Perhaps, just as Satan has “the power of death” (Hebrews 2), so this angel of the abyss has the doleful power and authority to execute on creatures the effects of death that give him his name! So he heads this army of judgment-bearing, tormenting locusts, which, we read in Revelation 9:12, constitutes the first Woe.

The first Woe is past: behold, there come yet two Woes after these things.

And the sixth angel sounded.

I heard a voice from the horns of the golden altar which is before God.58

One saying to the sixth angel that had the trumpet, Loose the four angels that are bound at the great river Euphrates. 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. And the number of the armies of the horsemen was twice ten thousand times ten thousand: I heard the number of them.

How little the nations that are seeking just now to restore Mesopotamia to its ancient fertility (foremost among these being England) realize that they are working in the immediate region of four of Satan’s most powerful princes, which are bound there for a special purpose! (See 2 Peter 2:4, where we read of certain angels, probably those of Genesis 6, as cast down to Tartarus,— perhaps the lowest part of the abyss, and committed to pits or chains of darkness.) Most of Satan’s angels are yet free—being the principalities against which we wrestle (Ephesians 6), but some terrible offenders of high rank have been bound. These four angels have this ominous destiny: they “had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, that they should kill the third part of men.” Some think that this designation of time is intended to set forth thirteen months; a year plus a month, plus a day and an hour. But this seems to be straining the meaning of the passage, and not to be in accord with the spirit of it: for it is the object of the chaining of these angels, not the duration of their infliction upon men, that is in view. They have been prepared for this particular moment—chained there until this command from the golden altar.

Attention has been abundantly called by commentators to the region of the Euphrates as that place where human sin began and also Satan’s empire over man; where the first murder was committed; where the first war confederacy was made (Genesis 14); and back of this it is where Nimrod began to be “a mighty one in the earth,” and where the vast system of Babylonian idolatry, with its trinity of evil—“father, mother and son” originated, to deceive the whole world by the Satanic fable of “the queen of heaven.” Here, moreover, as we saw in Zechariah 5, iniquity is to have its last stage on earth (see “Revelation 18 also).

The two hundred million horsemen whose number John heard are not human beings at all. It is so belittling to Scripture to treat it as if its words were not definite. It blinds the mind to the whole force of the coming chapters of Revelation, to accept such foolish notions as those of the historicists (that is, those who apply these chapters to what has already taken place during Church history) bring forth here. John plainly declares,

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 the horses are as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceedeth fire and smoke and brimstone. By these three plagues was the third part of men killed, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone, which proceedeth out of their mouths. Here God goes into descriptive detail. Believe, and you scarcely need any comment. Every one knows what fire and smoke and brimstone are. The only trouble is to believe that God would (of course He could) turn loose such horrific agents against men on earth.

To doubt that this is fire and smoke and brimstone in chapter 9, is to proceed to doubt whether the lake of fire is literal fire burning with brimstone. Doubt as to this has already spread through Christendom. Yet it must be literal—there is no possible escape if we believe the Bible true at all!

In Genesis 19, we read in verse 24, “Then Jehovah rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from Jehovah out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. And Abraham gat up early in the morning to the place where he had stood before Jehovah: (do you believe Abraham was a literal man?) and he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah (they were literal cities), and toward all the land of the Plain (it lies there yet, covered by the Dead Sea), and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the land went up as the smoke of a furnace.

Do you believe this record to be an inspired statement of what Abraham actually saw? Why then do you seek to reject in Revelation what you accept in Genesis?

In Revelation 14:10 and 11, we read that certain men will be “tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: (If you do not believe in the actual existence of angels you are a Sadducee and an infidel. You might as well confess you do not believe in the risen Lamb of God.) “And the smoke of their torment goeth up unto ages of ages.”

Again, you find in Revelation 20:10, that the first Beast and the false prophet have been in “the lake of fire and brimstone” for 1000 years, and are not annihilated, and then that the Devil is cast therein. Do you realize that to claim that you do not believe in literal fire and literal brimstone, but believe in something more awful than this, is just silly nonsense?

It becomes necessary to contemplate deeply and with absolute faith the visitations that destroy the third part of the earth’s remaining population (a fourth having been slain under the fourth seal of 6:8). One-half of the population of the earth has been removed. Thus, at the low estimate of 1,600,000,000,400,000,000 were slain in chapter 6, and a third of the rest, or 400,000,000 more in chapter 9.

The prophecies concerning the decimation of earth’s population prior to the bringing in of the kingdom (that is, the Millennium), we shall see thus gradually fulfilled in these preliminary judgments,—of the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls of wrath,—before “the great and terrible day of the Lord” of Revelation 19:11-16; when the Lord as King of kings will tread “the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God, the Almighty”: with the results seen in 19:17, 18.

Now in Revelation 9 these hellish horsemen, which are literal and which are certainly coming, belch forth on this earth fire and smoke and brimstone; “which proceeded out of their mouths.” It is idle to talk about this being “a figure of false doctrine”! When God desires to tell of certain “spirits of demons going forth to deceive the earth” for Armageddon, He is able to describe them perfectly in Revelation 16:13, 14. And when God speaks of fire and smoke and brimstone, He means what He says.59

We are compelled therefore to envisage untold future horrors to come upon this earth, even before that Great Day of Wrath when our Lord personally comes in chapter 19:11-15. A third part of the humanity remaining (after one-fourth of the whole had been destroyed under the fourth seal) are now killed. This is physical death. They are removed in judgment from the earth. What awful days they will be when one third of earth’s remaining population will be slain by this foretaste of the pit, the fire and smoke and the brimstone, proceeding from the mouths of these dread horsemen! Also those not killed, according to verse 19, may be smitten into torment with the tails of these horses, which are “like unto serpents, and have heads; and with them they hurt.”

This is a taste of hell on earth that is coming. One of every three humans left on earth succumbs to its fury.

Yet, when we come to Revelation 13, to the strong delusion of the worship of the Beast, and through him of the Devil, the destruction will be greater yet!

Now read Revelation 9:20, 21—the end of our chapter. We must remember that the inhabitants of the earth are already in our day far gone in utter rebellion and impenitence: what wonder then that such terrible infliction as these horsemen of hell, which we shall now consider, come upon the condition of hardened iniquity described in the closing verses of chapter 9.

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: and they repented not of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.

We see here the two tables of God’s holy law set at naught by the impenitent. First, in demon-worship—and who knows how far this has progressed in our day! Take Chicago: Arriving in this city at the close of 1893, (the former World’s Fair) I found nearly two pages of the Saturday issue of the newspaper were taken up with announcement of services at the various churches, and the sermons were generally on solemn subjects by godly men. In 1935, four or five announcements, at most a half a dozen, invited to places where one’s soul would be safe to attend; while the announcements of Spiritualists, Theosophists, Christian Scientists, Unity followers, etc.—those cults that have direct traffic with Satan—ran into the scores. (Six orthodox, against 75 Satanic, in the Chicago Daily News of November 14, 1931.)

Next idolatry—literal idols that are coming fast into Christendom again, and that not only in Romish (Jezebel) circles, but among “Protestants,” both in England and in this country. Moreover, as toward God, that will be the characterizing condition at the time of the visitation of which we are about to read. (See especially the “image of the Beast” of chapter 13—worshipped by the world!) Next, their attitude toward one another (verse 21)— murders. The daily press already fairly screams of “killings,” and that not only by gangsters, but by fathers and mothers of families, by college students, young people and even children! Violence is indeed filling the earth, “as it was in the days of Noah.”

Then come sorceries. The Greek word pharmakeis is used three times in the New Testament: here, and in Revelation 18:23 and Galatians 5:20. The corresponding noun is used in Revelation 21:8 and 22:15. It fundamentally indicates the charming of others by means of drugs or magic, which is, of course, commonly practiced in the pagan world; and more secretly in so-called “Christendom.” Its connection seems to denote an evil intent upon others by means of enchantments. Its place next to “murders” here, and to “enmities” in Galatians 5:20, would show this. Generally speaking, it is calling the energies of the evil spirit-world, by whatever means, into human affairs. It forms a horrible and increasing maelstrom from which few escape who once enter it. The literal meaning of pharmakeia “enchanting by drugs,” can also include the fearful and increasing prevalence of the “dope” habit in all lands. Gangsters rely on drugs to stupefy their fears when they assassinate. All this is in accord with the prophecy of Isaiah 28 regarding “the drunkards of Ephraim.” It seems to portray clearly the future use of the vineyards now being planted by the returning Jews in Palestine.60

Let the dreamers of dreams who do not read God’s Word reflect on this. I fully believe these last days will prove the most drunken and drugged age the world ever saw! Unregenerate man’s refuge from intolerable conditions is suicide or drugged oblivion.61

The next prevailing sin (Revelation 9:21) is fornication. One has only to glance about at the pictures in newspapers, at magazine covers, at the advertisments of theatres and moving pictures, to see what a wave of lust has begun to sweep the earth. God’s Spirit seems to be withdrawing and letting the sinful heart of man have its fill of uncleanness. Gradually we become accustomed to reading or hearing of these things until we scarcely realize how far in a few years we have drifted toward the morals of Sodom. Nor will man repent of his dear sin in this respect. We remember that although Jezebel was given space to repent in Revelation 2:20, 21, it was of her fornication she willed not to repent. In a certain real sense, just as a Christian father lives watchfully to care for his wife and family, so the unregenerate world, uncontrolled as it is by the fear of God or the Holy Spirit, really lives for the essence of self-indulgence in the abuse of the sexual relation. One has only to recall the conversation he may have heard from worldlings off their guard to understand this!

Finally, the sin that brings about the terrific judgment of the horsemen of hell is theft. Get money, by whatever means, is the slogan of these last days. Dishonesty, trickery, irresponsibility in business circles, have become proverbial. A prominent man in a great commercial house some time ago said to me, “We never count as we used to on contracts being lived up to. Cancellation without notice is so common as to cause no surprise.” And what enormous trickery has the covetousness that has brought about the wrecking of hundreds, probably thousands, of banks, often revealed. Nor will there be any permanent change except for the worse. “Lying and false swearing,” according to Zechariah 5 (two remarkable visions!) are the special forms of iniquity in the last days, as revealed in Palestine but finally centered in “the land of Shinar” (Zechariah 5:11).


58 This is not the brazen altar, as under the fifth seal, but the altar where prayer was offered up in 8:3. Its pattern is seen in Exodus 30. In the tabernacle the prayers of the Israelites who had been atoned for at the brazen altar were offered up before the golden altar, but now, just as we saw in 8:3, 5, the voice from the golden altar which was meant to speak for mercy, now calls for judgment; and it is from the “horns” that the voice comes in Revelation 9:13. The horns symbolize the power of that which was done at that altar. Therefore it is an answer to the prayers of God’s saints based upon Christ’s atonement that this terrible judgment now comes!

59 The final, unescapable demonstration of this is in Matthew 13 in our Lord’s interpretation of the parable of the tares (verses 36-43). In this interpretation He gives the meaning of the figures of the parable, The good seed— sons of the kingdom; tares—sons of the evil one; the enemy—the Devil; the harvest—the end of the age; the reapers—angels. Now read verse 41: “The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity, and shall, cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.” You can’t say the furnace of fire is a figure here, without falsifying our Lord’s words, for He is telling what the figures of the parable mean. And you must also traduce your own intellectual processes, for you imagine an imagination (because you are terrified at the truth) but you have no basis for your imagination. You cannot reach it by logic, for logic leads you to the truth—of eternal literal fire in Matthew 13, Therefore when you claim you do not believe in literal fire but in something “more awful,” you are giving heed to your deceitful heart, to those subtle lies fostered there by the Devil. Whoever really heard of or described anything more awful than God’s visiting men with fire and brimstone?

Spiritistic mediums all talk about the “spirit world” as being lovely and pleasant, etc. Every false doctrine denies literal eternal fire. Keep out of that class!

60 “This prophecy is plainly one for the last days—yea, the last seven-year treaty of the “majority” (Daniel 9:27) of Israel with the last Roman emperor. Isaiah 28:15, 18, compared with Revelation 17:8 proves that. As to the prevalence of drunkenness in Palestine at that time, read Isaiah 28:7, 8: “These reel with wine, and stagger with strong drink; the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they stagger with strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment… . All tables … full of vomit and filthiness … no place clean.”

61 We have only to think of the use of alcoholic stimulants, of opium, of tobacco, of the rage of cosmetics and medicaments to increase love attractions, of resorts to the pharmacopoeia in connection with sensuality—of the magical agents and treatments alleged to come from the spirit-world for the benefit of people in this—of the thousand impositions in the way of medicines and remedial agents, encouraging mankind to recklessness in transgression with the hope of easily repairing the damages of nature’s penalties—of the growing prevalence of crime induced by these things, setting loose and stimulating to activity the vilest passions, which are eating out the moral sense of society—for the beginnings of that moral degeneracy to which the seer here alludes as characteristic of the period when the sixth trumpet is sounded.—Seiss.

62 The translation of chronos by the word “time” is impossible, as well as unreasonable, in view of the context. We know that after our Lord’s coming back to earth in chapter 19 there will be one thousand years of His reign with His saints on earth (20:4-6) and after that “a little season,” before the earth and the heaven flee away at the Great White Throne judgment.