If you haven’t found out by now, Revelation is a strange letter; there are all sorts of images and visions that don’t quite make sense to us most of the time. In chapter nine, things get much stranger, as we see some terrifying images of God’s judgment being sent upon unrepentant people that have killed God’s people (i.e. Christians). However, strange as it may be, this chapter is absolutely crucial to understanding what John is trying to communicate throughout the whole letter. There is a key theme that needs to be drawn out if we are to understand what John is talking about.
In chapter eight, we saw angels getting ready to blow seven trumpets that would bring about God’s judgment, in response to the prayers that God had heard from His people back in chapter six. When we come to chapter nine, the fifth trumpet is blown, bringing about this terrifying, demonic locust army that goes around tormenting people for five months. They look strange, sound strange, and behave in a strange manner. There have been many theories about what these locusts are, but I don’t believe John’s focus is on who or what these locusts are; they are more of a background image than anything.
John’s main point is found at the end of the chapter, after the sixth trumpet is blown. In 9:20-21, we learn that, even though all these terrible and strange things are happening to these people, they still refuse to repent and change their lives. That is the point of John’s message of the trumpets; even God bringing His fiercest and most terrifying judgment on people is not enough to get them to repent. We saw a similar situation in Exodus, when Pharaoh refused to repent, even though God brought 10 plagues on the land. This is also John’s point with the later seven bowls (16:10-11), and likely the point of the previous seals as well.
The question that we, as the readers, are left with is, “What will make people repent?” That question will be answered in chapter 11, when we are introduced to the Two Witnesses.
For you today, I encourage you to think about the way that you spread the gospel to others. What will work better? Preaching about God’s judgment and condemnation, or offering hope and encouragement? If God’s righteous judgment isn’t enough to bring about repentance in people’s hearts in Revelation, don’t assume that it will work for you either. Let’s offer a hope that is focused on the love of the cross and a merciful God that has offered His own Son for us all! Let’s preach the good news!