I thought John may be trying to describe attack helicopters, but the text says they must not eat grass...or kill man?

Rev 9:3-6 - And out of the smoke, locusts descended on the earth, and they were given power like that of the scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. The locusts were not given power to kill them, but only to torment them for five months, and their torment was like the stinging of a scorpion. In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, but death will escape them.

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3 Answers 3


In order to understand this invasion, we have to consider the different aspects of the description as a whole.

They are locusts

The text calls them locusts. I understand that some of the details of the description are features which might be found on any ordinary swarm. Ordinary locusts, apparently, have hair and scales, and make a noise in flight, and their normal life-span is around five months, as in this passage. Any locust-swarm would be a source of terror, because locusts will eat up your crops and bring you close to starvation.

They are not ordinary locusts

But this description has got additional details, bizarre details, which would not be found in any ordinary locust swarm. They appear "like horses, arrayed for battle". They have human faces, with golden crowns. They have the teeth of lions, and stings like scorpions. The noise of their wings has become thunderous. And it seems that everything else about them has been magnified; at least their features are surely much more visible and noticeable than they would have been in locusts of ordinary size.

So the image starts with a topical model (a locust swarm) which would have been a source of terror in its own right. The emotion is then magnified. Further details are thrown into the image to ramp up the intensity of the terror by several degrees.

They come from “outside”

They originate from the smoke which comes from the bottomless pit. (v2). The word “bottomless” (ABYSSOS) alludes to the “deep” or the “abyss of waters” which appears in the Creation story, pushed back by God to make room for human life. It is the part of Creation which God has not organised, making it the symbol of the source of evil. The sea, in Revelation, has the same overtones, for the same reason. They are under the command of Abaddon or Apollyon, the destroyer or power of destruction, which is the polar opposite of “order”.

They come from God

We’re told that the star “was given the key” which opened the shaft of the pit. This is a reverential way of saying that the key came from God, which means that the locusts have been released on God's authority. The same applies when we read that the locusts “were given power” and “were allowed to torture” (v3, v5).

It is also important to recognise, in the background, the invasions described by Joel. The first band of locusts in that book have “lions’ teeth” (Joel ch1 v6). As for the second band, "Their appearance is like the appearance of horses", and and they leap on the tops of the mountain "as with the rumbling of chariots" (Joel ch2 vv4-5). Now the locusts in Joel are designated as the Lord's army; "The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble... The Lord utters his voice before his army, for his host is exceedingly great" (Joel ch2 vv10-11). The implication is that this army of locusts, whatever its immediate origin, is also ultimately acting as God's army and serving his purpose.

They bring torture

Whatever they look like, they don’t act like locusts. Their impact is on the human population, not the crops. They torture their victims without killing them. The effect of the torture is that "men will seek death". This is the state of mind which we call "despair", and I don't think we need to look any further to identify the nature of the torture. The function of these locusts is that they are the specialised agents and carriers of Despair.

Yet this is no ordinary despair. One might think that "wanting to die" was the deepest, the worst possible, level of despair. But there's a much deeper level indicated in the words that "men will seek death and will not find it". There's no need for us to puzzle our minds about the exact mechanism of "not being able to die". The real point is that this possibility implies an intensity of Despair beyond anything previously experienced, almost beyond anything that could previously be imagined.

Nevertheless, there's a precedent, contained in one of the complaints of Job; "Why is light given to him that is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death and it comes not, and dig for it more than for hid treasures; Who rejoice exceedingly, and are glad when they find the grave?... For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest; but trouble comes" (Job ch3 vv20-26).

This is not a coincidence, because there's another reference to Job at the same stage in the "bowl" sequence. When the fifth bowl is poured out, we're told that men "cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores". Of course this is precisely what Job was advised to do when he was suffering the experience of his own sores.

The message seems to be that the population of the world at large is undergoing a collective "Job" experience. The thing they feared has come upon them. They are not at ease and have no rest, and so they long for death. Job was plunged into despair by the fact that his world was falling apart. I suggest that the human race, in this chapter, is plunged into despair for the same reason. The “falling apart” was fully described in the previous chapter.

Yet we're told that those who have "the seal of God" are immune. They cannot be touched (v4). The torture of Despair is essentially a spiritual attack, against which there is a spiritual defence. The effect of the Holy Spirit would include the confirmation and strengthening of Faith, which is the polar opposite of Despair. They are still putting their trust in the Creator God, whatever else is happening.


What are the demon creatures released from the Abyss in Rev 9?

The passage in question gives us some indication of who they might be.

Note that vs 3 says they are "given power", therefore there is someone that is directing them. Verse 4 shows us that they are "to harm . . . only those who did not have the seal of God" so the focus of their attack is on those in opposition to God. If these creatures were "demons" as the question asks, then they should be attacking themselves.

Verse 4 also has a striking similarity to what God told Satan at Job 2:5, 6:

5 But stretch out Your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse You to Your face.” 6 “Very well,” said the LORD to Satan. “He is in your hands, but you must spare his life.” (BSB) [bold mine]

So the locusts, while having power, are restrained from killing.

While different individuals will have their take on what this passage is referencing, we can carefully look at the Scriptures to guide us in understanding them.


Some of this posted elsewhere but generally helpful.

A plan of the revelation.

The revelation can be divided into 7 sections :

  1. The prologue or introduction. | 1:1 ~ 1:3

  2. The messages to the seven churches.
    The things that were seen.

    Introduction | 1:4 ~ 1:20
    Seven Messages | 2:1 ~ 3:22

  3. Activity in heaven.
    The things that are.

    Jesus as Messenger | 4:1 ~ 5:14

  4. The prophetic section.
    The things that will be.

    Seal 1 ~ 6 | 6:1 ~ 6:17
    The Reedemed | 7:1 ~ 7:17
    Seal 7 | 8:1 ~ 8:6

    Trumpet 1 ~ 4 | 8:7 ~ 8:12
    Warning of 3 Woes | 8:13
    Trumpet 5 | Woe 1 | 9:1 ~ 9:12
    Trumpet 6 | 9:13 ~ 9:21
    7 Thunders | 10:1 ~ 10:11
    Woe 2 | 11:1 ~ 11:14
    Trumpet 7 | 11:15 ~ 11:19
    Woman & Son & Dragon | Woe 3 | 12:1 ~ 12:17
    Sea Beast | 13:1 ~ 13:10
    Earth Beast | 13:11 ~ 13:18
    The Redemed & Judgement | 14:1 ~ 14:20

    Introduction to 7 Plagues | 15:1 ~ 16:1
    Vial 1 ~ 6 | 16:2 ~ 16:12
    3 Frogs & Armageddon | 16:13 ~ 16:16
    Vial 7 | 16:17 ~ 16:21

    Beast Punished | 17:1 ~ 19:21

  5. The 1000 Years | 20:1 ~ 20:15

  6. The New Jerusalem | 21:1 ~ 22:5

  7. Warning & Promise | 22:6 ~ 22:21

A chronological progression.

There is a chronological progression with the important caveat that the 7th seal contains all 7 trumpets and the 7th trumpet contains all 7 vials.
Visually :

<----- Seal 1 - 6 -----><-------------------- Seal 7 -------------------->
                        <----- Trumpet 1 - 6 -----><----- Trumpet 7 ----->
                                                   <----- Vial 1 - 7 ----->

Reoccurrence of events.

The overlaying of these 3 schemes allows for a repetition of certain events.

For instance, the 7th Vial contains these :

The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air ... “It is done!”

Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since mankind has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake.

Revelation 16:17, 18 NIV

This 7th Vial being the culmination of all things at the return of christ - the “It is done!” and prepatory verses 16-17 - being signal events are also described in the 7th Trumpet :

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven ...

And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake ...

Revelation 11:15, 19 NIV

This 7th Vial and 7th Trumpet also being noted in the 7th Seal :

When he opened the seventh seal ...

... there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.

Revelation 8:1, 5 NIV

This in effect causes a severe time compression and expansion in the narrative which can be disconcerting when not understood.

Duplication of descriptions.

It should also be noted that disparate events often share similar descriptors.

For instance, the 7th Vial - the return of christ - contains this :

Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found.

Revelation 16:20 NIV

A similar descriptor being found in the 6th Seal :

The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.

Revelation 6:14 NIV

This "receding like a scroll" being the events relating to the disappearance of the pagan Roman empire (the dragon) and eventual appearance of "the beast" under Constantine. The "heavens" signifying action in authority systems.

The mountains and islands normally being somewhat protected from events in the Roman polity by either their prominence or isolation. The events of the "christianizing" of Rome were so significant as to effect all corners of the empire.

Likewise the global effect of the return of christ.

The Seals.

No doubt a significant issue with the Revelation is a failure to walk through the events in the prophetic section systematically. Taken in isolation, without an awareness of biblical symbols generally, and without regard to other concomitant prophecy - especially Daniel chapters 2 and 7 - will inevitably lead nowhere.
The example from the question turning locusts into attack helicopters. A reasonable guess, considering Revelation describing future events in the language of its day, but wrong.

The solution being to start from the start and walk systematically through the symbols.

Fortunately we are provided with as clear an indication as to the timespan of the Revelation as we are Nebuchadnezzars image.

The Revelation ... the things which must needs come to pass with speed,––and he shewed them by signs ...

Revelation 1:1 Rotherham

The events to be looked for being necessarily relevant to all faithful from the withdrawal of the spirit gifts until the return of Jesus.
Amos 3:7 and John 16:13 and Acts 2:38-39 and 1 Corinthians 8:9 and 2 Peter 1:19 etcetera.

Four Horses of the Apocalypse.

The shared symbology of the four horses being the horse as representive of the Roman body politic, a.k.a. the Roman empire, and the rider signifying the events extant at that point, ultimately affecting the colour, or state, of that empire.

The white horse.

"I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest." (verse 2 NIV)

White being symbolic of peace within the Roman empire generally. The bow without arrows symbolic of the non-militant spread of christianity. The crown being στέφανος as presented at the crucifixion. This "conquest" of christianity being at the price of much persecution.

Five Good Emperors.

"... that their rule was a time when "the Roman Empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of wisdom and virtue" ... these benevolent monarchs and their moderate policies were unusual and contrasted with their more tyrannical and oppressive successors.'


The red horse.

"Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him was given a large sword." (verse 4 NIV)

Red being symbolic of bloodshed. The "large sword" being properly "great dagger" - μάχαιρα - an instrument for assasination.

Year of the Five Emperors.


The black horse.

"I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand." (verse 5 NIV)

Black symbolic of grief and mourning. The scales - elaborated in the subsequent verse - representing the decline of the Roman economy following excess and severe taxation and the crippling effects on food production.

Five emporers of excess and taxation.

"All land, including imperial estates, which was not under cultivation in Italy and the provinces, was to be given over to private individuals to work, with security of tenure and a ten-year tax exemption."


"... around 20,000 men and women were killed or proscribed on this charge during this time."


"Domestically, Caracalla became known ... for the introduction of a new Roman currency named the antoninianus, a sort of double denarius; and for the massacres he ordered, both in Rome and elsewhere in the empire."




"This shortfall left Rome in a dire fiscal situation that Macrinus needed to address."


"... he suffered one of the worst reputations among Roman emperors."

"Elagabalus was not a tyrant, but he was an incompetent, probably the least able emperor Rome had ever had."

"Under Elagabalus, the gradual devaluation of Roman aurei and denarii continued ..."


"Alexander's reign was also characterized by a significant breakdown of military discipline."


The pale horse.

"I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth." (verse 8 NIV)

The pale horse - χλωρός - being the colour of death. The sword in this instance being ῥομφαίᾳ as used in war. The "wild beasts" being the barbarians who for the first time directly threatened Rome - the fourth part of the empire, hitherto untouched.

See summary here :





The fifth seal.

"When he opened the fifth seal ..." (verse 9 NIV)

"The Diocletianic or Great Persecution was the last and most severe persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire."


The sixth seal.

"I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth ... The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place."

Revelation 6:12-14 NIV

The earthquake signifying the massive shift from pagan Rome to "christianized" Rome under Constantine.


The sun representing the embodiment of imperial power, until that time pagan, disappears.

This disappearing of the sun or imperial authority, eclipsed by theocracy or "christianity" again being found in Constantine :

'... a vision that Constantine had while marching at midday in which "he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, In Hoc Signo Vinces" ("In this sign thou shalt conquer").'


The moon, representing the ecclesiastical systems of that pagan system are stained through war and violence. The stars, or "leading lights" that received power from that pagan system and its emporer and ecclesiastical systems "fall to the earth".

These heavens in their entirety "receded like a scroll being rolled up". All mountains and islands, nominally protected from upheaval by prominence and isolation, affected.

This description forming the backdrop to the introduction in chapter 12 of Constantine and the beast of chapter 13.

The seventh seal.

"When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour." (8:1 NIV)

The events of the 6th Seal culminating in :

'... the great civil war of 324 ... the war as a battle between Christianity and paganism ...'

'Thus Constantine became the sole emperor of the Roman Empire.'


There following a period of great stability and elevation of "christianity" in the empire until shortly after the death of Constantine some 15 or so years later.

A day for a year being 360 divided by 12 (in this case the day being the hours of the sun) or 15, and ὡς being "about".

The Four Trumpets.

Thus begins the barbarian predations on the western empire. These four trumpets each describing events against a third of that empire.
The earth being the central Italian division centred in Rome. The sea being the Mediterranean. The rivers being the European heartland where the major rivers are found. The heavens again being the Italian third but in this instance there being a final blow to the authority of the western Empire.

Trumpet first.

"The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down on the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up." (8:7 NIV)

Alaric's efforts concentrated toward the Italian third. The grass representing the people and the trees the rulers, both decimated by his invasion.

'Alaric ... marched into Italy ... He is responsible for the sack of Rome in 410; one of several notable events in the Western Roman Empire's eventual decline.'


And not co-incidentally :

'... the envoys boasted to him that the Roman people were trained to fight and ready for war, Alaric laughed at them and said, "The thickest grass is easier to cut than the thinnest."'


Trumpet second.

"The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed." (8:8-9 NIV)

'The Vandals under Gaiseric invaded Africa in 429 ... to seize Carthage, the once most treasured province of Rome.'

This Carthagian "mountain" becoming a base of operations and being effectively "thrown into the sea" :

'Once in power ... naval raids were routinely launched on Romans in the Mediterranean.'


'... a large fleet ... exerting effective control over much of the western Mediterranean.'

'Gaiseric moved a large seaborne force from Carthage to Italy and sacked the city in a more thorough manner than even Alaric's Goths had ...'


Trumpet third.

"The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter." (8:10-11 NIV)

Attila the Hun coming from outside the western empire having geatest effect against the barbarian third.

'... he was one of the most feared enemies of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires. He crossed the Danube twice ...'

'... He also attempted to conquer Roman Gaul (modern France), crossing the Rhine in 451 ...'


Trumpet fourth.

"The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night." (8:12 NIV)

Until this point the incursions had been against the people of the Italian peninsula, upon the Mediterranean, into the heart of riverine Europe, now the "heavens" or ruling sytems of the western empire were displaced.

'Odoacer ... a barbarian soldier and statesman ... deposed the Western Roman ... emperor ... and became the ruler of Italy (476–493).'

'The Eastern Emperor then conferred upon Odoacer the title of Patrician and granted him legal authority to govern Italy in the name of Rome, as dux Italiae.'


The First Woe Fifth Trumpet.

The fifth angel sounded his trumpet ... (9:1 NIV)

Now that the western empire has been largely subdued by the barbarians attention shifts in the 5th Trumpet (and 6th) to the eastern empire centred in Constantinople.

... and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. (verse 1)

The "star" indicating much as it does today, a personage of significant prominence.
The πεπτωκότα is in the past tense - at the time of the vision, this person had already fallen.

'... when Abu Talib, his uncle who supported him ... died, Muhammed was left with no protection. The repercussions of the death of Abu Talib were in the political sphere.'


After the death of Abu Talib Muhammad was forced to flee the political atmosphere - "the sky" - of Mecca in exchange for the company of the people - "the earth" - in Medina.


The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. (verse 1)

The abyss - ἀβύσσου - being the "depths of the sea" (Luke 8:31) out of which the beast arises.

'The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss ...' Revelation 17:8

'The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.' Revelation 17:15

In that case the "sea" being the literal and figurative "sea" of Mediterranean people, from which arises catholic Europe, the ultimate object of destruction.
In the current case the abyss being the peoples of the levant which would succumb to Mahomet and become his "locusts".

The "pit" or shaft being of necessity the eastern empire centred in Constantinople.
The control or "key" of which would ultimately fall to the Ottomans, but not the abyss itself, that honour being reserved for Napoleon (Vials 1 through 5).

When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. (verse 2)


The "smoke" from these conquests being visible to all the Roman empire.

'And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth.' (verse 3)

The caliphates while having a centralized system of authority were not monarchies in the ususal sense (Proverbs 30:27).
The scorpion being a natural symbol for the power of these vast united Arab armies.

They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. (verse 4)

The caliphates were incredibly tolerant of subjugated populations preferring the destruction of catholics.

'At its greatest extent, the Umayyad Caliphate ... the largest empire the world had yet seen and the sixth largest ever to exist in history.'


'The Umayyad Caliphate ruled over a vast multiethnic and multicultural population. Christians, who still constituted a majority of the caliphate's population, and Jews were allowed to practice their own religion ...'


They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. (verse 5)

Although the action of the Saracens was significant against the eastern and western empires, they made little inroad and had no lasting effect.

The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. Their hair was like women’s hair ... (verses 7 and 8)

Unlike the clean shaven Romans, the Saracens wore beards, "faces of men" - ἀνθρώπων - but with long flowing hair "like women".

Italians (apparently) call the locust cavaletta or "little horse" due to its horse like head.

'The Arabian or Arab horse is a breed of horse that originated on the Arabian Peninsula. With a distinctive head shape ...'


The appearance when armoured no doubt adding to a resemblance to scorpions.

They had tails with stingers, like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months. (verse 10)

'The heavy engines, siege machines ... were carried on camels behind the army.'


These 5 months and the earlier 5 (in verse 5) corresponding to 300 years and possibly related to the rise of the Umayyad Caliphate and the Abbasid Caliphate during which time the empire declined.



They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek is Apollyon (that is, Destroyer). (verse 11)

Both these labels being "destroyer". The Caliphs - the messenger of the eastern abyss - having two distinct functions, to subjugate the hebrew world first and then to rage against the greek Byzantine empire.

And many other items of note.

Understanding the purpose of the Revelation being critcal to its examination.
That purpose being an unrolling scroll of prophesy for all believers between the time of the partial knowledge and prophesy in the period after the ascension of Jesus and the spirit gifts until his return and the “It is done!”.

  • 2
    Three-quarters of your monumental answer have nothing to do with the question. You don't begin to deal with Rev. 9:3-6 until some way down from your last heading "The First Woe the Fifth Trumpet". Until then you just seem to treat the Q as an excuse to give an interpretation of Revelation chapter 1 through to the few verses asked about in chapter 9. That is approaching an abuse of the question and answer system. If you removed the first three-quarters, it would not be.
    – Anne
    Apr 29, 2023 at 14:27
  • 1
    And it:s an okay answer. Hardly monumental. Apr 29, 2023 at 21:08
  • Look at the general stupidity of the answers. Not necessarily here but elsewhere also. Where there is no vision, the people perish. Revelation is supposed to be understood. To not treat the symbols ... as symbols (1:1) is deliberate disrespect. To not accept the span between John's time and ours (1:1) is also deliberate disrespect. Deliberate. People swinging at the revelation without a care in the world is unhelpful. It takes me considerable time to post these things to help all of us. Not necessarily you. I'm glad if you know these things. Comprehended as a whole, piecemeal results in fail Jun 19, 2023 at 2:24
  • 2
    Yes, it must take you considerable time to post such a lengthy answer, and your motive (to help all of us) is good. But his Hermeneutics site is confined to specific verses of text. The OP asked about 3 verses in ch.9 of Rev. Granted that it's not possible to answer without reference to other verses, that might be why you speak of other answers as 'piecemeal' and 'the general stupidity of the answers', and 'general disrespect' for Rev. But that comes across as disrespect from you, to others! This site calls for objective, specific answers re. specific verses asked about and no swipes at others
    – Anne
    Jun 19, 2023 at 11:40

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