Could the Symbols seen by the Prophet John Indicate the use of Modern Weaponry?
John described what he saw in a vision of events that God had revealed to him. It was a mysterious, frightening spectacle for sure. Since this revelation came to John nearly 2000 years ago, it’s understandable that he might not know precisely what he was seeing and was only able to translate what he saw into what he knew at that time.
Could it be possible that the creatures he saw were symbolic of weapons God knew man would be capable of inventing in the end time? Could the strange symbols be referring to modern missiles, helicopters and tanks?
The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not given power to kill them, but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes a man. During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them. The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. Their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. They had tails and stings like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months. They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek is Apollyon (that is, Destroyer). – Revelation 9:1-11
As we attempt to interpret some of these difficult symbols, it might be fashionable to interpret them in light of our own existence in our time, but I believe they are better interpreted in light of scripture, the context they are written, and history. The dating of Revelation is also relevant in that an early dating (65 AD) would lend credence to John’s writing about the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, while a later dating (95 AD) might indicate some yet to be fulfilled future event. Unfortunately, we don’t have an undisputed date of John’s writing.
The Old Testament contains many passages describing the Abyss or bottomless pit (KJV) as the place to which the defeated armies of the uncircumcised descend (Isa. 14:15, Isa. 14:19; Ezek. 32:18-32). As the saints are citizens of heaven, the Gentiles were citizens of hell. The Abyss or bottomless pit therefore can be seen to the world spiritually as a symbol of heathendom.
If we accept an earlier date of the writing of Revelation, John’s vision of locusts tormenting men for five months mirrors the length of the Roman siege in Jerusalem in 70 AD, leading to that city’s downfall. The Roman siege even took place during the same months that locusts would typically invade Israel’s land.
So, what might the locust army here represent? Perhaps the forces of heathendom, the Roman army.
The siege of the city by the Romans began on 14 April 70 AD (Nisan 14), three days before the beginning of Passover that year and ended about The conquest of the city was complete on approximately 8 September 70 AD with the burning and destruction of the temple. That’s a period of about five months; dates given are approximations since the correspondence between the calendar Josephus used and modern calendars is uncertain.
The Hebrew name of this locust army’s leader (v.11) is Abaddon (destruction) or Greek is Apollyon (destroyer). The Greek name is remarkably similar to the 15th Roman legion commanded by Titus, Apollinarus, that surrounded the city on the western side. This legion was named after the Greek god, Apollo, a god whom the Romans worshiped.
The cult of Apollo used the symbol of the locust. The emperors Caligula, Nero and Domitian considered themselves to be incarnations of Apollo.
John states that in those days men would “seek death, and shall not find it” (v. 5, 6). Josephus spoke of men longing for death, just like John saw in his visions (Rev. 6:16, Rev. 9:6) and just like Jesus said would be the case for the “daughters of Jerusalem” and their children (Luke 23:27-30).
The Zealots defending Jerusalem fought amongst themselves, and they lacked proper leadership, resulting in poor discipline, training, and preparation for the battles that were to follow. At one point they destroyed the food stocks in the city, a drastic measure thought to have been undertaken perhaps in order to enlist a merciful God’s intervention on behalf of the besieged Jews, or as a stratagem to make the defenders more desperate, supposing that was necessary in order to repel the Roman army. Regardless of of the reason, this left the Jews in the city without food and famine devoured the inhabitants. The historian, Flavius Josephus wrote that the Jews starved and some ate their own children “… she slew her son, and then roasted him, and eat the one half of him, and kept the other half by her concealed.” So those that were thus distressed by the famine were very desirous to die, and those already dead were esteemed happy, because they had not lived long enough either to hear or to see such miseries.
The first woe is past; two other woes are yet to come. The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the four horns of the golden altar that is before God. It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand. I heard their number.
The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur. A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths. The power of the horses was in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails were like snakes, having heads with which they inflict injury. – Revelation 9:12-19
Jay Adams (Westminster Theological Seminary) is one scholar who points out that Israel’s past conquerors had traditionally crossed the Euphrates before wreaking their destruction. He notes that Josephus (Wars 7:1:3) told of Roman armies stationed along the Euphrates, including the famed 10th Legion, before they made their final advance on Jerusalem in 69-70 AD (Steve Gregg, Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary, p. 186).
The number of mounted troops was 200 million (twice ten thousand times ten thousand [v.16]). Or was it? Futurist interpreters often insist that this number is to be taken literally, and some have supposed that this must refer to a future army that will come out of China.
Sam Storms says that in the Greek, the expression denotes “a ‘double myriad of myriads,’ a ‘myriad’ typically equivalent to 10,000.” Therefore, it’s very possible that John heard the number 20,000, but that this has often been wrongly translated as 200 million. [Pursuing Truth]
There is no evidence the Roman siege on Jerusalem in 70AD consisted of 200 million troops. The siege of Jerusalem consisted of three Roman legions (V Macedonica, XII Fulminata, XV Apollinaris) on the western side and a fourth (X Fretensis) on the Mount of Olives, to the east. A legion was roughly of brigade size, composed of 5,200 infantry. That would have placed about 20,800 Roman infantry soldiers surrounding Jerusalem. The historical record adds quite a few more to the siege, including nearly 20,000 in Auxiliaries and another 20,000 local troops, making the total force arrayed against Jerusalem around 60,000 men. But, Rev. 9:16 says “mounted” troops (“horsemen” KJV) and this 60,000 man force was likely mostly not mounted.
I have not yet been able to determine what the total population was in Judea at the time, but Josephus claims that 1.1 million people were killed during the siege of Jerusalem, of which a majority were Jewish. Josephus attributes this to the celebration of Passover which he uses as rationale for the vast number of people present among the death toll. Armed rebels, as well as the frail citizens, were put to death. All of Jerusalem’s remaining citizens became Roman prisoners. After the Romans killed the armed and elder people, 97,000 were still enslaved. Of the 97,000, thousands were forced to become gladiators and eventually expired in the arena.
After the Fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the city and its Temple, there were still a few Judean strongholds in which the rebels continued holding out, at Herodium, Machaerus, and Masada. Both Herodium and Machaerus fell to the Roman army within the next two years, with Masada remaining as the final stronghold of the Judean rebels. In 73 AD, the Romans breached the walls of Masada and captured the fortress, with Josephus claiming that nearly all of the Jewish defenders had committed mass suicide prior to the entry of the Romans. With the fall of Masada, the First Jewish–Roman War came to an end.
It is difficult to say with certainty that Rev. 9:12-19 describes the assault on Jerusalem in 70AD or if it describes a future event. While the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD does fit the Revelation narrative in many ways, there remains some inconsistencies that might leave us in doubt.