The Concordant Version
13And the sixth messenger trumpets. And I hear one voice out of the horns of the golden altar which is before God, 14saying to the sixth messenger who has the trumpet, "Loose the four messengers who are bound at the great river Euphrates." 15And loosed were the four messengers, made ready for the hour, and day, and month, and year, that they should be killing a third of mankind. 16And the number of the troops of cavalry was two hundred millions-I hear their number. 17And thus I perceived the horses in the vision, and those sitting on them, having cuirasses fiery and amethystine and sulphurous; and the heads of the horses are as the heads of lions, and out of their mouths is issuing fire and fumes and sulphur. 18By these three calamities were killed a third of mankind: by the fire and the fumes and the sulphur which is issuing out of their mouths. 19For the license of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents, having heads, and with them they are injuring. 20And the rest of mankind, who were not killed in these calamities, repent not of the acts of their hands - that they will not be worshiping the demons and idols of gold and silver and copper and stone and wood, which are neither able to be observing nor to be hearing nor to be walking - 21and they repent not of their murders, nor of their enchantments, nor of their prostitution, nor of their thefts.
THE SECOND WOE
THE sixth trumpet is the second woe. The woes are distinguished from the preceding trumpets not only by the intensity of the inflictions but by their character and the means of the divine indignation. The inanimate creation was marshaled against mankind in the first four trumpets, but the hosts of the unseen world are arrayed against them in the woes. The sixth trumpet looses the four messengers, or angels, bound at the great river Euphrates. The most malignant of man's enemies are in the spirit sphere. Little does he realize that, even at this moment, God is holding in leash such terrible agents of destruction that even man's most vaunted death machines cannot compare with them.
All over the earth mankind is talking peace and preparing for war. The most important question before the great governments is the adequacy of its army to meet the latest advances in warfare. The advent of a new weapon may make obsolete armaments which cost many millions. The question whether the next great war will be fought on land, in or on the sea, or in the air, has stirred militarism to its core. But, while man's highest aim and most expensive luxury is the killing of his fellows, the spirit world is mobilizing an army which will make all his armaments a costly pile of junk.
The weak point in all human preparations is that men are totally ignorant of the plans of their enemies (though they are plainly revealed in this Revelation), and are helpless in the face of fighting machines which they cannot destroy, and against which they have provided no protection. There are four messengers, or angels, who have made preparations for the destruction of a third of humankind, and no armament on earth is equipped to touch them or their army. And it is all the more remarkable that this should be so, for they use cavalry, a branch of human warfare which is almost obsolete, and which no one would consider at all effective in the face of modern weapons of war.
Before we can intelligently understand this, the most terrible of all the trumpets, we must inquire into the significance of the golden altar and its horns, whence proceeds the command to loose the four messengers. Abel's blood cried to God against Cain. Of course, blood cannot actually speak, but God heard its silent cry. The sin of Cain was symbolized by his brother's blood, and all who have ears can still hear its echo. The religion of Cain is the worldwide worship of today. In the same way the horns of the golden altar raise a cry of protest and invoke vengeance on the apostate world. The religion of the nations is brought into judgment under the sixth trumpet.
There were two altars in Israel, the brazen altar, in the court, outside the tabernacle or the temple, on which the sacrifices were offered, and the golden altar of incense, which stood before the veil or curtain, inside the holy place. It had four horns (Ex.30:2,3,10; 37:25,26). The blood of the sin-offering was put upon these horns, whether it was a bullock for the errors of a priest (Lev.4:7), a young bullock for the congregation (Lev.4:25), a kid of the goats for one of the people (Lev.4:30), or a lamb (Lev.4:34).
On the day of atonement, or covering, the chief priest took of the blood of the bullock and of the goat of the sin-offering which is for the people, and he put it on the horns of the altar which is before Yahweh (Lev.16:18). Among a cattle-keeping people, the offensive strength of an animal was well expressed by a reference to its horns. Throughout the eighth of Daniel the effective military forces of the Medo-Persian and Grecian empires are figured by the horns of the ram and the goat. When the time comes for the daughter of Zion to thresh the nations, Yahweh will make her horn iron, so that she will beat in pieces many peoples (Micah 5:13). The horns of a people, like that of a beast, are its offensive power. But what is symbolized by the horns of the altar?
The altar itself is a symbol of worship. When the third bowl is poured out on those who have shed the blood of saints and prophets, a voice is heard from the altar, saying: "Yea, Lord God Almighty, true and just are Thy judgments" (Rev.16:7). The horns of the altar represent the power which enforces its demands, which executes its judgments.
God demands the homage of all hearts, Jew and gentile, not only Israel, but the nations also. The succeeding section of this Revelation (11:19-20:15) deals with Israel's failure to worship Him. Here we have the judgment due the nations for their departure from God. The first and foremost charge against them is the worship of demons and idols (Rev.9:20). This is an offence against the golden altar where all true worship ascends with the incense of Christ's sacrifice. It must be righted by the horns of the altar.
The first voice in this section of the Revelation comes out of the throne (4:5), because dominion is its dominant note. Yet the kingdom to be established over the nations is a priest kingdom, and will demand worship as well as subjection. Hence this, the last judgment before the kingdom comes, deals with the religion of the nations and destroys it. This is a very different matter from the next section. There the first voice comes out of the temple (Rev.11:19), and the judgments are on the people of the covenant and their religious apostasy. They have not worshiped demons or bowed down to idols, as the nations have done.
It is always highly instructive to note carefully whence the voices come in this unveiling. Those under the fifth seal come from beneath the brazen altar, hence from victims who have been slain in sacrifice. The nations are judged for their anti-Semitism (Rev.6: 10). A vulture is chosen to announce the woe trumpets (Rev.8:13). The last bowl is accompanied by a voice out of the temple (Rev.16: 17). It is most fitting, then, that a voice from the horns of the golden altar should call for judgment on the abominations of the nations.
It is a grave error to suppose that the only super-human religion is that given by God. The religions of the nations are not of human origin, nor are their gods mere myths of the imagination. Paul insists that what the nations are sacrificing they are sacrificing to demons (1 Cor.10:20). He says there are many gods (1 Cor.8:5), though, for us, there is but One. Behind their idols of gold and silver and copper and stone and wood are the unseen yet potent powers of darkness.
Men fondly imagine that idol worship is on the wane and will soon be relegated to the limbo of religious superstitions. But quite the opposite is the truth. At the time of the end the great image set up by the second wild beast will command the worship of all but a few of mankind. It will not be able to observe or hear or walk, but it will be able to speak and to kill all who will not worship it (Rev.13:14,15). Comparatively few of mankind do not worship demons under some form or other. Spiritism is the purest form of approach to the unseen world, but it is by no means limited to its devotees. The mass of mankind bow down to demons instead of giving God the glory which is His due.
The religious organizations of the world are the most prolific breeding places of sin. We must never forget that the heads of the only divine religion were guilty of the most heinous of all crimes. Not the Roman governor, but the Jewish chief priests crucified the Christ. But if the most exalted men in that God-given ritual committed the greatest of all sins, what can we expect of those who follow the cult of the demons? The second woe comes on them because, as demon worshipers, they are guilty of murder and enchantment and prostitution and theft. The coloring of the context assures us that these are considered as the accompaniments of religion, a part of the ritual, sins sanctified and sacred.
Everyone who has any acquaintance with priest-craft, from that in so-called Christian communions to the medicine men of the most degraded tribes of central Africa, will readily agree that murder is a matter of common occurrence in such sacred circles. Almost all enchantment, sorcery, necromancy, thaumaturgy, and fetishism is found allied with religion. Prostitution is still, as in ancient days, their strongest lure to holy living. The unspeakable vices of Mecca, one of the world's most sacred cities, is only one example of the ethics of demon-directed worship. And as for thefts, is not all priest-craft organized to get, when it has nothing to give?
It is striking to note, in this Unveiling, how messengers or "angels" are given special jurisdiction over definite departments of the divine operations. Four have control of the winds (7:1), Abaddon is the messenger of the abyss (9:11). Then there is the messenger of the waters (16:5). He probably has charge of the river Euphrates, at which these four messengers are bound. The question arises, what jurisdiction is accorded these bound messengers? They are quite distinct from the messenger of the waters, and besides, their judgments do not fall on the rivers, but on mankind.
Their number seems to suggest that mankind is divided into four divisions, with one messenger over each. This, coupled with the introduction of the golden altar, is the key to their particular part in the judgments of the end time. There are only four great religions in the world, Brahmanism, Buddhism, Mohammedanism and Christianity. For each there is a messenger of destruction being prepared. The doom of each has been decreed, and only awaits the destined moment. The sixth messenger will loose the four messengers, and they will rid the earth of all its Christless Christianity and Godless religions.
Before this time the members of the body of Christ will have been received up into glory. But that event will by no means be the end of Christendom. Perhaps its devotees of that day will feel relieved that so many of the uninfluential but troublesome adherents of the church have disappeared, for they were a constant hindrance to progress. Christianity has its messenger, waiting to unleash his horrid hosts upon the heads of the apostate "church."
It is not at all unlikely that the fury of this infliction will be felt especially by all those who are associated with the religions of the world, from the popes, bishops and priests, down to the despicable beggars who ask for alms in the name of their gods. Since one-third of mankind are killed, the judgment must needs reach those who are the greatest sinners against the golden altar.
There is no need to "explain" the various features of the formidable cavalry. We could tell of the guesses that have been made, but we have no desire to turn the terrible tragedy here unfolded into a theological comedy. Taken literally, all is easy to understand.
Nothing is said of the horsemen except that they are covered with a coat of mail which is not only invulnerable to human attack, but fatal to life in a close encounter. No man can approach them. Probably no weapon can wound them. The ingenuity of man has exhausted itself in devising means to massacre men, but the hyacinthine armor of these horsemen is proof against their projectiles. The latest and most deadly device of modern warfare will not even bring discomfort to them, for they themselves are the incarnation of these most ghastly means of murder.
Of all creatures, horses are the most appropriate for this scene, for they were used almost exclusively for military purposes in the Orient. But, as they encounter those who, in another connection, are described as ferocious wild beasts, of whom a horse would be afraid, each is given the head of a lion, before whom all other animals tremble. The bear, the lion, the leopard and the nondescript (13:2) are confronted with the lion-headed horses, belching forth the flames and fumes of death. Even this is most appropriate. Just as the deadly gases stifle the physical breath, so the doctrines of demons, promulgated by the false religions of today, stifle the life of the spirit. Though these judgments seem so terrible, they are really not so awful as the spiritual asphyxiation with which we have become accustomed, and which has taken its toll by the billion for the last two millenniums.
Perhaps no other elements are so suggestive of religious ritual as fire and smoke and sulphur. Fire is sacred in many cults, and fumes (which are a kind of smoke) arise before many a shrine. In ancient times sulphur was most closely connected with religious rites, and was considered a necessary purifier in their lustrations. Its very name theion is the neuter of theios, which means divine. Is it not striking that these sacred elements, which have such a place in dead religion, should be used to kill its devotees?
The same coincidence is seen in the serpent tails. Most religions deify the dragon, and propitiate it, as the creator of evil. Even Christendom is guilty of this error. Besides its triple pantheon, it includes Satan as a rival deity, whose realms, in the end, will be far more populous than the kingdom of God. Some of the nations openly worship the dragon now. I have seen a Chinese dragon, hundreds of feet in length, mounted on the shoulders of many men, carried through the streets of a great Christian city amidst much wonder and applause on the part of those who should have known its sinister significance.
There is a good reason why some snakes are so venomous. They are no more so than their spiritual counterpart. It is not long since I had an experience which gave me a sober dread of the reptiles. Curiously enough, it was in a country called Eden. I had been climbing over the mountains and was lying on the ground, resting, and nearly dozed off. Suddenly I was struck with a queer commotion in the brush which, at first, I thought was the wind. I glanced skyward but saw no stir in the vegetation. Then there came a buzzing sound. Immediately it occurred to me that it might be a rattlesnake, though I never knew one to strike unless provoked. I never sprang to my feet so quickly before! I was not a fraction of a second too soon, for there was a swiftly striking rattler just where I had been lying. It had coiled just above my head, where I could not see it, and where, from its viewpoint, I bore no resemblance to a man. An instant's delay would have made my chances of life rather slim. If the Creator had not provided it with rattles, I would not be telling about it now. I can easily understand how the unenlightened mind would first fear and finally venerate such a creature. And especially am I impressed with the fitness of the serpent to be the symbol of Satan, with its stealthy approach, its hypnotic fascination, its swift stroke, its deadly venom.
It is not intimated here that the serpents are the immediate cause of death to anyone. Indeed, the bite of a snake is never fatal at first. It is a poison, slow, insidious, but deadly, in the end, unless an antidote is taken or the poison drawn out before it enters the circulation. Is not this the case with the nations of the world who worship the image of the wild beast? Not only a third are killed by the horsemen at this time, but all who receive the emblem of the wild beast are bitten by the serpents, and get their death by fire and smoke and sulphur at a later time (Rev.14:9,10).
This, it seems, will be the supreme test of the effect of severe infliction as a method of producing repentance. It conclusively proves that no such means will ever turn the human heart to God. The rest of mankind, who were not killed, persist in their idolatry and devotion to demons, and all the wickedness which follows in its wake.
The sixth trumpet details the destruction of the four great world religions. These can have no place in the kingdom of God and of Christ. The whole conflict is essentially superhuman, though men are the pawns on the board. Behind human religions are the demons whom they deify. Against them are the four messengers and their horrible horsemen. Demonism is given its death stroke, though it is not done away until the seventh trumpet sounds and the last woe works havoc with the hosts of unrepentant humanity.