Ted Grimsrud—February 8, 2014
In Revelation 9, the unfolding of the vision of the plagues associated with the seven trumpets continues. Chapter 8 echoed the first four of the seal visions in chapter 6, except with much more destruction. We should read these plague visions in light of their being surrounded the visions of redemption and faithfulness that we saw in the worship service of chapters 4 and 5, the multitude that stands before the Lamb in chapter 7, and—as we will see—the faithful witness of God’s people in chapters 11 and 12. Such a reading strategy will help us keep the plagues in perspective. They are not the fundamental reality. And they are not the work of a vengeful God punishing human wrongdoing.
After the four plagues of chapter 8, there is a brief interlude where a talking eagle cries out in pain in face of what the earth is facing with the plagues. The term in 8:13 that is translated “woe” could also be translated “alas!” and has the connotation of sorrow and empathy more than that this is announcing God’s direct punitive judgment.
The eagle cries out three times, pointing to the next two trumpet blasts that will be described in chapter 9 and a third “woe” that does not have a clear referent. The seventh trumpet blast (11:15-19) could be the third “woe”—in which case since the focus with the trumpet is the promise that God will “destroy the destroyers of the earth” (11:18), the idea could be that this “woe” will end all the “woes” by doing away with the actual source of the destruction, the Dragon and his minions. Beginning with chapter 9, Revelation makes it increasingly clear that the Dragon is the direct actor behind the plagues.
The fifth and sixth trumpets do speak of more trauma on earth and give more detail to the picture of this time of the “3 1/2 years” between Jesus’s victory described in Revelation 5 and the coming of the New Jerusalem in chapter 21.