By Scott S. Mitchell
My interpretation of certain key verses of Revelation 9 is based on these assumptions: First, John is aware that his audience readers extends beyond the seven churches he names in Chapters 1, 2 and 3. He’s aware that the Lord has chosen him to fulfill the role that the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi prophesied he would fulfill, as I set forth in Part 1 of this essay. He knows that prior to the Millennium, his revelation will be the world’s only available scripture describing Earth’s entire history. Therefore, the events set forth in his narrative won’t be trivial or obscure ones; rather, they’ll be momentous, enormously consequential ones which can be identified after they’ve occurred.
A second assumption is that John speaks from the perspective of a Jew who is well aware of Jewish religious and cultural history, and the symbols he sees and describes also reflect his background as a devout disciple of Christ in the first century AD. Whether he fully understands all the symbols he sees, I express no opinion, but we may learn the significance of some of those symbols by reference to the common knowledge of John’s time.
Third, it isn’t clear from reading Revelation whether John knows how big the earth is, or that the Atlantic or Pacific oceans even exist. For this reason, we can’t tell for sure whether his description of destructive events apply to the whole world, or only to the part of the Mediterranean world we know he was familiar with. For example, for the purpose of this essay, I don’t assume that John necessarily meant a third of all the trees on the planet were destroyed when he writes “a third of the trees were burned up.” It’s very possible, and indeed probable in my view, that John’s view of events was geographically provincial, even though the events he saw were important to the whole world. The great Nephite prophets made clear that their own conception of the lands and peoples of the earth was very limited. They believed they lived on “an isle of the sea,” (see 2 Nephi 10:20) but apparently didn’t have any idea of its size. John wasn’t necessarily different in this respect.
Fourth, we must always keep in mind that John’s revelation is not written like any other revelation in the Bible or Book of Mormon. It is very much more like a dream or hallucination than an orderly vision. As such, its images are far more divorced from reality than the things seen in Lehi’s or Nephi’s tree of life visions in the Book of Mormon, or the dreams Joseph or Daniel interpreted for Egyptian or Babylonian royalty, or Peter’s famous vision at Joppa. Most of what John sees doesn’t exist in reality, and never will, but other parts are straightforward, such as the death and resurrection of the two prophets who testify in Jerusalem closely preceding Christ’s descent from heaven. Too, the Revelation narrative isn’t chronologically linear; more than once it stops and jumps ahead or backtracks, then returns to the original point of interruption. As such, we must not hold the revelation to rigid rules of construction when it obviously obeys only its own unique (and often undecipherable) internal logic. For example, if we’re trying to identify the four angels who are bound up in the River Euphrates, we cannot rule out any candidates merely because they’re not angels, or have no connection to the famous river. Otherwise, no interpretation will be possible at all; nothing will fit.
Finally, we have to tolerate not understanding many of Revelation’s referents in order to focus enough attention on those verses which are most crucial to our understanding. We can’t insist on a perfect understanding of all the symbols or no understanding at all. Some verses must await clarification by the Lord sometime in the future but remain opaque for now. And of course, the most fundamental assumption of all is that my interpretations of Revelation could well be wrong, despite my confidence in them.
Revelation 4:1 makes clear that John is about to see future events. The chronology begins with successive destructions with the opening of each of the first five seals (of the scroll containing world history which no one can declare but Jesus). After the sixth seal is opened in Rev. 6:12, the narrative skips ahead momentarily, allowing John to see a destruction so devastating and widespread that it threatens the existence of all. This appears to be the last great pre-Millennial war that immediately precedes Jesus’ second coming, and John is previewing it. “For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” the earth’s inhabitants exclaim. And here, the narrative pauses.
John then spends Chapter 7 assuring the reader that the righteous will find great happiness with God despite whatever calamities might befall the earth. In Chapter 8, he resumes the chronology, revealing to the reader enormously destructive large-scale events that wipe out not only great numbers of people, but huge portions of the earth’s natural resources. As Chapter 8 closes, John pauses again, as if to signal that what he’s about to set forth is particularly momentous in the history of Jews and Christians. We should remember that this comes in the context of an enormous destruction already under way. In Rev. 8:13, John exclaims, in effect, “It’s about to get worse!”
The Locusts and Their King: Nazis and Hitler
It’s my opinion that as Revelation Chapter 9 begins, John is describing World War II. From the perspective of someone who grew up in the first century AD and is looking at events almost 2,000 years in the future, he regards World War II as occurring right before Christ’s second coming. The war he describes is definitely a last-days event unparalleled in human history. John has already seen symbols of great destruction preceding this, but what he sees now is a greater, unprecedented threat. He views an army of locusts ascend out of the bottomless pit (representing the hellish evil that motivates them) and afflict the earth for five months, killing many and threatening to kill all. The locusts, anthropomorphically described here as in Joel 1:4-7; 2:2-4, obviously represent military forces–they wear breastplates and crowns, have human faces with the flesh-tearing teeth of lions, and the sound of them flying is similar to the noise generated by many horses pulling chariots into battle. The locusts of Revelation 9:3-11 symbolize human soldiers with their land and air vehicles, guns, and bombs.
Fearsome as they may be, the locusts’ five-month invasion signifies the temporariness of the terror they impose. In John’s homeland of Israel, where locusts are common, locusts hatch in April and threaten grasses and crops for five months through August. After that, they die off and disappear. It appears the reason John was shown a five-month period of locusts is not because of any actual five-month period in the war, but that he might perceive that the locusts’ plague won’t last long enough to completely conquer their victims. The destruction they cause, however devastating, will be overcome before all is destroyed. The plague will last only as long as the Lord allows it to last. Before that time, however, their siege will be as torture to their victims, so much so that men will seek to die to end the torment.
According to Revelation 9:11, the locusts have a king over them, and it’s he who is the angel, or messenger, of the bottomless pit. His hellish philosophy and message commands the locusts into war. He is known as Abaddon in Hebrew and Apollyon in Greek, but both names translate as “destruction” or “destroyer.” I interpret this king to be Adolph Hitler, and the locusts are Nazi forces that sought to conquer Europe and America under his direction. Like locusts, the Nazis stormed into European countries with overpowering force and backbreaking suddenness. Hitler planned to take the Americas after the Third Reich conquered the British Empire. Europe and America are particularly important in John’s vision because they are the lands in the 20th century where most of the world’s Christians and Jews lived. John is himself a Jew and a Christian, and for this reason, it makes sense that his apocalyptic view of future world events would make special mention of the one man who posed the greatest existential threat in world history to Jews in particular, and to the Christian nations in general. It would seem impossible that John’s revelation would omit any mention of the Holocaust, in which 6,000,000 Jews were killed, or of the war waged by the forces of righteousness to defeat the man causing such destruction.
I don’t argue that John actually saw the Holocaust itself. I argue that what he saw is what he said he saw. He saw symbols that we can now interpret as references to World War II, Hitler’s rise, his commanding of the German military, and the great destruction he caused to Jews and Christians through invasions of countries and the gas chambers wherein Jews were slaughtered.
The Four Angels, the River Euphrates, and the Hour, Day, Month and Year: The United States, Canada, Great Britain and the French Freedom Forces Invade Normandy
In response to the locusts and their king, in Rev. 9:14 we read of the releasing of four angels who have been “bound” in the great river Euphrates. These have been held ready for a specific hour, day, month and year to fight back, to “slay the third part of men.” Determining the significance of the Euphrates River is more difficult than identifying the four angels, in my opinion. This river formed the northern boundary of the land promised by the Lord to the Israel (see Genesis 15:18 and Deuteronomy 1:7). As such, my best guess is that the Euphrates represents juridictions beyond the borders of the people to be rescued. These are the forces of nations separated by water from those whom they come to save. John may very well have been seeing what Isaiah was seeing when he wrote these words, now found in Isaiah 13 and 2 Nephi 23, about the Lord bringing faraway Christian peoples to destroy the forces of evil in the last days:
3 I have commanded my sanctified ones, I have also called my mighty ones for mine anger, even them that rejoice in my highness.
4 The noise of a multitude in the mountains, like as of a great people; a tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of nations gathered together: the Lord of hosts mustereth the host of the battle.
5 They come from a far country, from the end of heaven, even the Lord, and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land.
6 ¶ Howl ye; for the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty.
I interpret the four angels seen by John who spearheaded the military effort to take back the world from the Nazis the forces from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and the Free French Forces, the government-in-exile led by Charles de Gaulle and headquartered in London. Together, these four entities, all of them separated from mainland Europe by water, together with smaller armies from other countries, invaded the Normandy region of France on June 6, 1944, the most famous day in the world’s military history. This day, still known as D-day, had been planned and rehearsed since the beginning of the war. The above-mentioned Allied forces had decided that on a jointly designated hour, day, month and year when they would invade the European mainland in a coordinated drive to free the world from Hitler (though the exact day this plan would be executed had to remain flexible and undecided until conditions were optimal). The Normandy invasion resulted from that planning, and it turned the tide of the war. On that fateful day, righteousness began to prevail again over evil, and the process of eventually liberating the Jews from Hitler’s concentrations camps had also begun.
John notes in Rev. 9:18 that as a result of the aforementioned momentous counteroffensive “was a third part of men killed…” Given the fact that the phrase “the third part of ____” occurs thirteen times in Revelation to describe the amount of something destroyed, whether it be men or natural resources, it appears that John uses this phrases not as a precise measurement of the extent of destruction, but as an idiom signifying “a great many” or “a great amount of.” If so, we at least understand that the forces of righteousness were successful and did indeed kill a great many Nazi soldiers. But as Revelation 9 comes to an end, John notes in verses 20 and 21 that the rest of those who weren’t killed by the counteroffensive failed to repent of their evil. So at the close of World War II, though righteousness had prevailed in the war, wickedness remained, leaving one great and final confrontation remaining before the Lord’s second coming could be ushered in. In Part 3, I’ll set forth what I think John saw happen next.