Newspaper articles this past week have had titles such as “End of the world: Coronavirus panic and African locust plague spark Bible apocalypse fears” and “Like Something Out of the Book of Exodus.” They are reporting on the fact that locust armies are ravaging large portions of eastern Africa and the Middle East.
We are being told that these locust armies “are unprecedented in size and scope.” The numbers do stagger the imagination. They travel in swarms that can reach 40 miles in width, with each locust able to eat the equivalent of its own body weight every day. One writer stated that the recent locust plague “is a nightmare of epic proportions, and it is just getting started. It could get 500 times bigger by June." A medium-size swarm of locusts can eat the same amount of food in a day as the entire population of Kenya! Even this morning it is being reported that a swarm has crossed the Red Sea and entered western China. Watch this BBC video clip to see this phenomenon explained.
Revelation 9:1-11 describes a plague of locusts as the fifth trumpet of God's judgment is blasted.
Then the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth; and the key of the bottomless pit was given to him. He opened the bottomless pit, and smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit. Then out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. And they were not permitted to kill anyone, but to torment for five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings a man. And in those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them.
The appearance of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle; and on their heads appeared to be crowns like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men. They had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to battle. They have tails like scorpions, and stings; and in their tails is their power to hurt men for five months. They have as king over them, the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek he has the name Apollyon.
Some Bible teachers, like the title editors to these newspaper columns, take this passage and relate this text to this specific plague, saying it’s being fulfilled in our time. In past ages of the church, others have understood Revelation 9 to be various armies on horseback attacking a country. In more modern times, we hear things such as what Hal Lindsey says in his book Apocalypse, “These locusts are the thunderous sound of many attack helicopters flying overhead.” More recent teachers, trying to catch up with the latest technology, believe they are armies of murderous drones. Teachers such as these seem to watch the news or even Star Wars to interpret Revelation!
So what is being described here? Clearly, it is not ordinary locusts. The Lord makes that abundantly clear. For they are commanded not to harm the plants and trees. Nor are they war machines. No, these locusts are even more terrifying. For they are from the Abyss, the bottomless pit, the realm of the dead and evil spirits. John is describing here a time when hell is breaking loose as an army of demons is sent forth. They have the power of scorpions to sting and poison, exacting a great agony from their victims. For their target is not vegetation, but people.
The further description of these demons in verses 7-10 is beyond imagination. Notice that the word “like” is used repeatedly, as John grapples describing this grotesque spiritual reality. The demons are like horses in battle. Their faces like men with gold crowns. Their hair is long like that of a woman's. Their teeth are like those of lions. Their breastplates are like iron ones. Their wings sound like chariots and horses rushing to battle. We have here a mixture of human and animal characteristics, a hideous distortion of God’s created order. Their king is none other than Satan, whose Hebrew and Greek names both mean "Destroyer."
When Jesus cast the demons out of the Gerasene demoniac, remember that they pleaded to go into a nearby swine herd. As Jesus permitted this and they did so, the demon-possessed pigs then rushed into the sea, signifying they were going back into the Abyss. In contrast, the locust-like demon swarm described here is being released from the Abyss, showing a time of Satanic activity. As William Hendricksen says in More Than Conquerors, “Under the symbolism of a locust-plague John describes the powers and influences of hell operating in the hearts and lives of wicked men.”
In Pilgrim’s Progress, as Christian traveled through the Valley of Humiliation, he found Apollyon standing in his path. Bunyan describes him in this manner: “The monster was hideous to behold; he was clothed with scales like a fish (and they are his pride); he had wings like a dragon; feet like a bear; and out of his belly came fire and smoke; and his mouth was as the mouth of a lion.” When Christian refused to go back as Apollyon demanded, we read:
He broke out into a grievous rage, saying, “I am an enemy to this Prince; I hate his person, his laws, and people: I am come out on purpose to withstand you.” Then Apollyon straddled quite over the whole breadth of the way, and said, “I am void of fear in this matter. Prepare thyself to die; for I swear by my infernal den, that you shall go no farther: here will I spill your soul.” And with that he threw a flaming dart at Christian’s breast.
Bunyan reminds us with this scene of what too many of us in the modern Western world forget. The church is in a battle "against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:18). Seasons of locust plagues in Africa can seem distant to us, with our comforts and the knowledge that there is an ocean between us insulating us from the idea that we could also suffer. Likewise. the church in the West is asleep and largely ignorant of the cosmic battle being waged around us. Demons are making America's playground their home. You can see it in such things as the false teachings that plague our land, the gross sexual abuse and violence heard in the news that destroy so many lives, or the war against nature itself witnessed in a land no longer able to call a boy a boy and a girl a girl. All the while, the church in large measure just seems to slumber on.
Oh that the Lord might awaken the church once again! If she arose in earnest prayer and true preaching, would not Satan fall like lightening and the demons be sent back to the Abyss where they belong?