Revelation Chapter 9, Pt. 2 – The Armies from the East
Throughout the period of judges, Israel repeatedly failed to stay true to Yahveh, even though Yahveh was merciful and faithful to raise-up deliverers to rescue His people from their enemies when they repented. The following is an example of Israel being laid low by an enemy:
Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of Yahveh; and Yahveh gave them into the hands of Midian seven years. The hand of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of Midian the sons of Israel made for themselves the dens which were in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. For it was when Israel had sown, that the Midianites would come up with the Amalekites and the sons of the east and go up against them. So they would camp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel as well as no sheep, ox, or donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, they would come in like locusts for number, both they and their camels were innumerable; and they came into the land to devastate it. So Israel was brought very low because of Midian, and the sons of Israel cried to Yahveh.
Now it came about when the sons of Israel cried to Yahveh on account of Midian, that Yahveh sent a prophet to the sons of Israel, and he said to them, “Thus says Yahveh, the God of Israel, ‘It was I who brought you up from Egypt and brought you out from the house of slaves. I delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hands of all your oppressors, and dispossessed them before you and gave you their land, and I said to you, “I am Yahveh your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But you have not listened to My voice.”’”(Judges 6:1-10)
The Apostle Sha’ul, in describing the believer’s conflict against the powers of darkness said:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)
Generally, fallen man is protected from the full onslaught of Satan’s attack due to Yahveh’s universal grace over mankind. However, the more man gives himself over to deeds of darkness and sin, the more easily it is for man to become a victim of evil spirits which can enslave and drive man to self-destruction. Furthermore, the victim can be used by these wicked spirits to destroy other men. Yahshua said of the devil, “He was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). Yahshua’s earthly appearance was to undo the works of the devil. John wrote:
the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.(I John 3:8)
The Fifth Shofar Blast
The fifth shofar blast of judgment ends with John stating “The first woe is past; behold, two woes are still coming after these things” (Rev. 9:12). John here, indicated that two more woes were about to be unleashed upon the Land in succession. Yahveh would act with hostility against His people if they did not turn back to Him. He warned them of this judgment centuries before they took possession of the Promised Land of Israel.
‘And if by these things you are not turned to Me, but act with hostility against Me, then I will act with hostility against you; and I, even I, will strike you seven times for your sins. I will also bring upon you a sword which will execute vengeance for the covenant; and when you gather together into your cities, I will send pestilence among you, so that you shall be delivered into enemy hands.(Lev. 26:23-25)
I will make the land desolate so that your enemies who settle in it will be appalled over it.(Lev. 26:32)
Then the sixth angel sounded, and I heard one voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, one saying 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 prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released, so that they would kill a third of mankind. (Rev. 9:13-15)
The “Voice” John heard from the altar of incense was the voice of “One” who commanded the sixth angel with the shofar to release four bound angels at the Euphrates River. The “Voice” represented the voice of the Son of God (cf. Rev. 1:12-18). The word “angel” (aggelos) does not always mean a celestial being (angel), but can properly refer to human messengers. In each of the following Scriptures, the “messengers” (aggelos) represent the power or dignity of the one who sent them.
Messenger (aggelon) referring to John the Baptist This is the one about whom it has been written, ‘BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER BEFORE YOUR FACE , WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.’(Matt. 11:10)
Messengers (aggelon) of John or delegates: When the messengers of John had left, He began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?”(Luke 7:24)
Messengers (aggelous) referring to Yahshua’s disciples: and He sent messengers on ahead of Him, and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him.(Luke 9:52)
Messengers (aggelous) referring to Joshua’s spies: In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?(James 2:25)
The “angels” or messengers seen by John were staged to be released from their positioned locality. They were stationed near the Euphrates River, about 300 miles from Jerusalem. These “angels” most likely were human delegates. They were particular generals, leaders of large armies. It can be inferred by the following mention of the phrase “armies of horsemen” immediately after the angels were released (Rev. 9:16).
Josephus writes of these massive troops. They were auxiliary forces (auxilia) assisting the Roman legions. The auxiliary forces were not Roman citizens, but assisted the Imperial Roman army. The Latin word auxilia means “to aid and support.” They were mostly subjects from different free provinces in the Roman Empire. The regiments were often placed in strategic localities for the Empire’s imperial security and to foster the process of Romanization and integration of the provinces.
The auxiliary units were actually larger in number than the Roman army. They also provided almost all the Roman army’s cavalry, which they lacked, and large infantry units.
Josephus records information about Vespasian and his son Titus’ military build-up before the Fall of Jerusalem:
Whether, therefore, we estimate the capacity of governing from the skill of a person in years, we ought to have Vespasian, – or whether from the strength of a young man, we ought to have Titus; for by this means we shall have the advantage of both their ages, for that they will afford strength to those that shall be made emperors, they having already three legions, besides other auxiliaries from the neighboring kings, and will have further all the armies in the east to support them, as also those in Europe, so they as they are out of the distance and dread of Vitellius, besides such auxiliaries as they may have in Italy itself; that is, Vespasian’s brother, and his other son [Domitian] (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Chap 10, Sec 3)
After the Fall of Jerusalem, Titus honored many of his commanders, soldiers and all those who performed great exploits in the war against the Jews by gifting them with gold ornaments, spears of gold, medals of distinction and with promotion in rank. They offered sacrifices to their gods, and the entire army feasted and celebrated for three days. Titus then sent his legions away to different localities. Josephus records:
And when he had staid three days among the principal commanders, and so long feasted with them, he sent away the rest of his army to the several places where they would be every one best situated; but permitted the tenth legion to stay, as a guard at Jerusalem, and did not send them away beyond Euphrates, where they had been before. And as he remembered that the twelfth legion had given way to the Jews, under Cestius their general, he expelled them out of all Syria, for they had lain formerly at Raphanea, and sent them away to a place called Meletine, near Euphrates, which is in the limits of Armenia and Cappadocia; he also thought fit that two of the legions should stay with him till he should go to Egypt. He then went down with his army to that Cesarea which lay by the sea-side, and there laid up the rest of his spoils in great quantities, and gave order that the captives should he kept there; for the winter season hindered him then from sailing into Italy. (Joseph, The Wars of the Jews, Book 7, Chap. 1, Sec 3)
The Number of the Army of Horsemen
The number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them.(Rev. 9:16)
When John heard the number of those who were sealed from every tribe of Israel, it was 144,000. Again, this number was not an exact number, with no more and no less, but a figurative number typifying “completeness” (Rev. 7:4, see Revelation Chapter 7 “The Great Assembly” comments). The same would be true of the number of horsemen.
Though it is possible to muster a large force of two hundred million horsemen, it most likely was not done. This figure was only designed to convey the concept of a large overwhelming, terrifying force sent out to assist the Roman armies against the Jewish uprising in the Land of Judea.
The Jews in the first century believed Jerusalem, the City of the Great King, was secure. The City actually had two surrounding walls making it very difficult for any invading army to overthrow the city. The Zion means “fortress.” Zion was figuratively used for the people of Judah (II Kings 19:21). In Zechariah, Yahveh declared of Zion:
For ‘I,’ declares Yahveh, ‘will be a wall of fire to her, and I will be the glory in her midst.’” (Zech. 2:5)
The people of Judah had confidence in their massive walls and felt secure from her enemies. But, the prophet Jeremiah exposed the folly of his people’s trust in their past wars with the Babylonians when he said:
The kings of the earth did not believe, Nor did any of the inhabitants of the world, That the adversary and the enemy Could enter the gates of Jerusalem.(Lam. 4:12)
Yahshua foretold the same would happen again to His disciples:
“Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” (Matt. 24:2)
It was for this reason that John “heard the number” of horsemen. Furthermore, Yahshua warned the actual readers and hearers of the Scroll of Revelation to “heed the things which are written in it, for the time is near.” What time was near? It was their time, the audience’s time, which was near. The overwhelming force would advance upon them, and:
Therefore all hands will fall limp, And every man’s heart will melt. (Isa. 13:7)
This was a common expression among the Jews. It was an idiom meaning, “all confidence and security would fail and be lost.” (See others: Ezek. 7:17; 21:7; Zeph. 3:16.)
Behind the earthly scene was the unseen hand of Almighty God unleashing His vengeance of the covenant against His disobedient people, Israel. John was shown Yahveh’s “war plans” that the “Lion from the Tribe of Judah” would use on His adversaries.
‘I will make My arrows drunk with blood, And My sword will devour flesh, With the blood of the slain and the captives, From the long-haired head of the enemy.’(Deut. 32:42)
Yahveh has His own “armory,” His weapons to vent His fury.
Yahveh has opened His armory And has brought forth the weapons of His indignation(Jer. 50:25a)
The Army’s Description
And thus I saw in the vision the horses and those who sat on them: the riders had breastplates of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone;(Rev. 9:17a)
John describes the horses and their riders. He first described the riders as wearing fiery breastplates. “Fire” represents judgment, an element that purges and purifies. The breastplates also had the color of “hyacinth,” which is a dark purple, a red color bordering on black.
“Brimstone” is the final descriptive word used concerning John’s vision of the riders’ breastplates. Brimstone is Sulphur, a hard, brittle, inflammable substance which has no smell unless heated, and when heated can reach extremely high temperatures. When boiled at 832⁰F, it melts to a blood-red thick liquid and emits a blue flame.
Yahveh appeared to Abraham to bring the good news that Sarah his wife would have a son the following year. But Yahveh also had some bad news, and He asked:
“Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do,” (Gen. 18:17b)
Yahveh and the two angels were on a mission to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because “their sin was exceedingly grave” (Gen. 18:29). Because Abraham’s nephew Lot was the only righteous one living among these wicked sinners, he and his family were rescued. Yahveh overthrew these cities and the valley. Early that morning Yahveh:
rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from Yahveh out of heaven,(Gen. 19:24b)
Evidence of this destruction can still be seen today. The cities were literally rained on by burning chunks of Sulphur that can be seen embedded in many places in the area, with tons of ash all around. The Apostle Peter wrote:
and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter;(II Peter 2:6)
It can be surmised the description of the riders on horses with breastplates of fire, hyacinth and brimstone represented the color of war, blood and fiery destruction which would come to the Land of Judea. Recall the words at the beginning of the Book, “the things which must soon take place” (Rev. 1:1).
For Yahveh your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. (Deut. 4:24)
The Description of the Horses
and the heads of the horses are like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceed fire and smoke and brimstone.(Rev. 9:17b)
John indicated that he saw horses, but these unique looking horses had heads “like the heads of lions.” The phrase “like the heads” is plain evidence that John is not seeing anything literal, but figurative. Horses with heads like lions and with fire, smoke and brimstone is also indication that both horse and horseman were designed for and represented warfare and coming destruction. A lion’s mouth is pictured as gaping with fangs exposed.
A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which proceeded out of their mouths.(Rev. 9:18)
Again, “fire,” “smoke” and “brimstone” are figurative of destruction. All three elements are mentioned in the account of the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Now Abraham arose early in the morning and went to the place where he had stood before Yahveh; and he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the valley, and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land ascended like the smoke of a kiln.(Gen. 19:27, 28)
Yahveh destroyed these cities by His mighty power. John saw a coming destruction upon Judea, whose spiritual condition was like Sodom and Gomorrah. In the days of Isaiah the prophet, Yahveh called out to Judah and Jerusalem saying:
Hear the word of Yahveh, You rulers of “Sodom”; Give ear to the instruction of our God, You people of “Gomorrah.”(Isa. 1:10)
John also said Jerusalem was mystically or spiritually called “Sodom and Egypt” (Rev. 11:8). Since Jerusalem had become spiritually degenerate in the days of John, she was ready to undergo judgment as Sodom had by experiencing the same destructive elements of “fire, smoke and brimstone” by means of a large army of auxiliary forces advancing upon the Judeans to assist Titus and the Roman legions.
“Zeal is fit for wise men, but is found mostly in fools” as goes an ancient proverb. Would it be called “scholarship” to confidently and glibly say the vision of John is assuredly about “modern day attack helicopters with stinger missiles on their tails?” What would be the premise or facts for arriving at this conclusion? What inferential facts or propositions lead one to this kind of conclusion? Imagination? Assumption is not wisdom.
For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents and have heads, and with them they do harm.(Rev. 9:19)
A statement was made by a scholar of the past regarding the Book of Revelation; “An elaborate symbolism is unimaginably monstrous.” It must be in order to present a reasonable and true picture. Understanding in this case is the outcome of proper interpretation of symbolism. The focal point is where the source of power lies in the horses. It was in their lion-like heads and serpent-like tails. That which proceeds from the “heads” and “tails” is “fire,” “smoke” and “brimstone.” The symbolism is “unimaginably monstrous” if a literal interpretation is applied. In II Tim. 4:17 was Sha’ul literally rescued out of a lion’s mouth?
In Genesis Moses records the fall of man and the particular curses that followed. Regarding the serpent, Yahveh cursed it more than all the animals of the field. Then Yahveh looked beyond the animal creature and addressed the true serpent entity, Satan. He stated:
“And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”(Gen. 3:15)
Yahveh spoke in parabolic form. Josephus comments on this:
He also deprived the serpent of speech, out of indignation at his malicious disposition towards Adam. Besides this, he inserted poison under his tongue, and made him an enemy to men; and suggested to them, that they should direct their strokes against his head, that being the place wherein lay his mischievous designs towards men, and it being easiest to take vengeance on him, that way. And when he had deprived him of the use of his feet, he made him to go rolling all along, and dragging himself upon the ground. And when God had appointed these penalties for them, he removed Adam and Eve out of the garden into another place. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, Chap. 1, Sec 4)
The serpent’s head is where “lay his mischievous designs towards men.” Whether it be a natural physical head of a poisonous snake or in the devious, deceptive murderous mind of the Adversary the Devil, therein lies his mischievous designs against humanity.
The bruising of Satan’s head by Messiah and not the crushing of its head is stated in Yahveh’s parable. The same is said of Messiah’s heel being bruised. Again, Yahshua came to destroy the work of the devil in the believer, who is admonished to continue to resist the devil, firm in faith (I Peter 5:8).
Returning to the vision, John stated the horses’ tails were “like serpents and have heads.” Obviously, all serpents have heads. The statement is only emphasized purposely to bring recollection and illumination to those of that culture and ethos who clearly understand the symbolism. Their forefathers experienced judgment from Yahveh when His people became impatient on their journey in the wilderness and complained and insulted Yahveh. Because of their constant sin and complaint:
Yahveh sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.(Num. 21:6)
Moses describes the snakes as “fiery serpents” sent to inflict deadly bites on the people. The Hebrew word for “fiery” is “seraphim.” It is the same word to refer to the fiery angelic beings in Isaiah 6:2. Why was “seraphim” used to describe snakes? For reason that these poisonous snakes’ bite had a painful burning effect. This was the picturesque style of the Hebrew’s language.
The horse has no understanding. How wonderful it is that man has dominion over it by controlling it with bit and bridle (Psa. 32:9). Yahveh, in marvelous poetry says of the war horse:
“Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with a mane? “Do you make him leap like the locust? His majestic snorting is terrible. “They paw in the valley, and rejoices in his strength; He goes out to meet the weapons. “He laughs at fear and is not dismayed; And he does not turn back from the sword. “The quiver rattles against him, The flashing spear and javelin. “With shaking and rage he races over the ground, And he does not stand still at the voice of the trumpet. “As often as the trumpet sounds he says, ‘Aha!’ And he scents the battle from afar, And the thunder of the captains and the war cry.(Job 39:19-25)
Solomon wrote a proverb about the war horse and said:
The horse is prepared for the day of battle, But victory belongs to Yahveh.(Prov. 21:31)
The Creator designed the horse with a short tail that is actually part of its spine. Its fountain of hair grows out of this tail (dock) for a reason. It is that portion that is moved by the horse that causes the strands of hair to move. Its purpose is to ward off flies from itself and to keep flies off other horses when near each other. Other reasons are to keep warm and to signal. Flies are symbols of that which is evil and disgusting. In Scripture they are the cause of corruption (Eccl. 10:1). In Isaiah they typified the military force of Egypt (Isa. 7:18) and were likely the insect that plagued Egypt (Psa. 78:45). Satan was given the title “Lord of the Flies” or “Ba’alzevuv” (Matt. 12:24) symbolizing master of all the disgusting evil spirits.
The monstrous looking horse in John’s vision tells an allegory…
A Child’s Tale
Once there was a horse. He was a fearful looking horse. It had a lion’s head. But the strange thing about his head is that instead of using its large powerful teeth to kill its prey, it did something extraordinary! It had the same power as a fire breathing dragon. Fire, smoke and brimstone came out of its mouth at will! Yes, indeed, this horse was very unusual!
Why, this horse did not have a nice flowing tail of hair like other horses had so that it could swat those wicked, pesky flies, oh no! This horse’s tail had snakes heads with poisonous fangs sticking out ready to bite!
This horse was very well trained, too. It was sent on a long journey to a place at the rising of the sun. It was on a mission. You see the place where it was going to was a place where many bad people lived. They were once a good people, but something happened. They did not want to follow their Leader Who had a Great Book that was full of good things to say. This Book also promised many good things for them if they just would listen and obey. But as it happened, they chose not to follow their Leader and His Great Book anymore.
In fact, something terrible took place. This Great Leader had an only Son. This Son was good, oh, very good! Some of these people did not like Him, so they did an awful thing to Him. I’m sad to say, they killed Him, even though He loved them so much. They just didn’t understand.
The Great Leader had told all these people that if they ever chose not to follow Him or listen to the Great Book, they would experience bad things. Well, this is why that unusual looking horse with a rider directing him is going to that place.
This horse is called The Magnificent War Horse because all he does is make war. Not because he wants to, but because he was made to punish bad people. The horse can burn the bad people’s city where they are hiding and feeling safe. Fire! Smoke! And Brimstone! Is what these bad people will see coming to their city. And this horse is going to use his tail, yes, that tail with snake heads to bite the sinful people.
Yes – this Magnificent War Horse is going to execute judgment upon all these bad people, and convict them of all their bad deeds which they have done in their bad ways, of all the harsh things they have spoken against the Great Leader and His Book and against His only Son. Oh! How frightening!
This allegory is to clarify the meaning of the symbolism found in John’s vision in connection with the army of warrior riders.
Unifying the truths from these verses related to John’s vision, a reasonable inference then can be made based on facts related to the subject without imposing a preconceived theological belief system to filter the results. Consider the following:
1. The sixth angel was commanded to release the four messengers (angels); which were the leaders or generals stationed at the river Euphrates. (Rev. 9:14)
2. The four generals were prepared for a specific and definite time and purpose. It is stated they “had been prepared for the hour, day, month and year…” (Rev. 9:15). The use of the article “the” is significant and telling. It speaks of the specific time that had been fixed by the Sovereign God. They were prepared for the exact purposes of Yahveh in order to operate at the exact period required. The phrase is an idiom for “the exact time.”
3. The word “mankind” (Rev. 9:15, 18, 20) does not mean all mankind of the earth, but can mean a specific group of people, therefore, would refer to the people of Judea, especially Jerusalem. (See Footnote below)
4. This group of people were guilty of demon worship, idol worship, murder, sorceries, immorality and theft; describing a sinful and perverse first century generation Yahshua predicted would become (Rev. 9:20, 21; Matt. 12:43-45).
5. History (Josephus) confirms that Rome enlisted legions of auxiliary armies that were stationed at strategic places of the empire, including the Euphrates River, and that these auxiliary armies consisted mainly of cavalry, which the Roman armies lacked.
6. The colorful, but symbolic, description of the riders and their horses serve to illustrate that they were warriors on war horses advancing toward Jerusalem to inflict judgment. Every descriptive word used for the horsemen and horses typify judgment. They were an army equipped for battle from, “head to tail.”
7. Though 1,100,000 of resistant Jews were killed, those remaining within Jerusalem refused to repent and surrender to General Titus and his legions. Their actions being reminiscent of Yahveh’s words to Moses since the beginning, “…they are an obstinate people.”
When the fifth angel sounded (Rev 9:1-12) John was allowed to witness a demonic horde come over the people of Judea in Jerusalem. History records the terrible acts and atrocities many of the Jews committed on each other for survival, which are found in Josephus’ “Wars of the Jews.” When the sixth angel sounded (Rev. 9:13-21) John was allowed to see military hordes that were bent on destroying the same people for all their wickedness and sins (Rev. 9:20, 21).
Let any people and nation fear the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob out of love and never duty. The promised blessings listed in Deut. 28:1-14 and Lev. 26:1-13 will come upon us and overtake us if we obey Yahveh our God through Yahshua the Messiah. However, if we forsake Yahveh and His Son Yahshua and disobey, the curses listed in Deut. 28:15-67 and Lev. 26:14-39 will come upon us and overtake us.
___________________ Footnote: Anthropos, a man, human mankind, refers to mankind in general and of a specific man, woman or class (type, group) of people. (E.g. Matt. 5a:13b; 6:2; 8:9, 27; 4:4, 19; 9:9, 32; 10:33. All of these references use the same Greek word “anthrōpōn” to refer to their various applications.)