The First Woe—Locusts
1. Who follow through when the angels sound the trumpet blasts, and what does the fifth trumpet blast announce?
THE fifth angel prepares to blow his trumpet. Four heavenly trumpets have already sounded, and four plagues have been directed to the third of the earth that Jehovah regards as most reprehensible—Christendom. Her deathly sick condition has been uncovered. While angels sound the trumpet blasts, human heralds follow through on earth. Now the fifth angelic trumpet is about to announce the first woe, more fearsome even than what has gone before. It is related to a terrifying locust plague. First, though, let us examine other scriptures that will help us to understand this plague better.
2. What Bible book describes a plague of locusts similar to the one that John sees, and what was the effect of it on ancient Israel?
2 The Bible book of Joel, written during the ninth century B.C.E., describes a plague of insects, including locusts, that is similar to the one that John sees. (Joel 2:1-11, 25)a It was to cause much discomfort for apostate Israel but would also result in individual Jews’ repenting and returning to Jehovah’s favor. (Joel 2:6, 12-14) When that time arrived, Jehovah would pour out his spirit upon “every sort of flesh,” while fearful signs and alarming portents would precede “the coming of the great and fear-inspiring day of Jehovah.”—Joel 2:11, 28-32.
A First-Century Plague
3, 4. (a) When was there a fulfillment of Joel chapter 2, and how? (b) How was there a plague like a swarm of locusts in the first century C.E., and how long did the plaguing continue?
3 There was a fulfillment of Joel chapter 2 in the first century. It was then, at Pentecost 33 C.E., that holy spirit was poured out, anointing the first Christians and empowering them to speak “the magnificent things of God” in many tongues. As a result, a large crowd assembled. The apostle Peter addressed those astonished onlookers, quoting Joel 2:28, 29 and explaining that they were witnessing its fulfillment. (Acts 2:1-21) But there is no record of a literal insect plague at that time, causing discomfort to some and leading others to repentance.
4 Was there a figurative plague during those days? Yes, indeed! It came as a result of the relentless preaching of the newly anointed Christians.b Through them, Jehovah invited those Jews who would listen to repent and enjoy blessings from him. (Acts 2:38-40; 3:19) The individuals who responded received his favor to a remarkable degree. But to the ones who refused the invitation, the first-century Christians became like a devastating swarm of locusts. Starting in Jerusalem, they spread through all Judaea and Samaria. Soon they were everywhere, tormenting the unbelieving Jews by publicly proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection, with all that this implied. (Acts 1:8; 4:18-20; 5:17-21, 28, 29, 40-42; 17:5, 6; 21:27-30) That plaguing continued until the “fear-inspiring day,” in 70 C.E., when Jehovah brought the Roman armies against Jerusalem to destroy it. Only those Christians who in faith called on the name of Jehovah were saved.—Joel 2:32; Acts 2:20, 21; Proverbs 18:10.
The Locust Plague Today
5. How has Joel’s prophecy had a fulfillment since 1919?
5 Reasonably, we could expect Joel’s prophecy to have a final fulfillment in the time of the end. How true this has proved to be! At the Bible Students’ convention at Cedar Point, Ohio, U.S.A., September 1-8, 1919, a notable outpouring of Jehovah’s spirit activated his people to organize a global campaign of preaching. Of all professed Christians, they alone, recognizing that Jesus had been enthroned as heavenly King, spared no effort in publishing abroad that good news. Their relentless witnessing, in fulfillment of prophecy, became as a tormenting plague to apostate Christendom.—Matthew 24:3-8, 14; Acts 1:8.
6. (a) What did John see when the fifth angel blew his trumpet? (b) Whom does this “star” symbolize, and why?
6 Revelation, written some 26 years after Jerusalem’s destruction, also describes that plague. What does it add to Joel’s description? Let us take up the record, as reported by John: “And the fifth angel blew his trumpet. And I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to the earth, and the key of the pit of the abyss was given him.” (Revelation 9:1) This “star” is different from that at Revelation 8:10 that John saw in the act of falling. He sees “a star that had fallen from heaven” and that now has an assignment with respect to this earth. Is this a spirit or a fleshly person? The holder of this “key of the pit of the abyss” is later described as hurling Satan into “the abyss.” (Revelation 20:1-3) So he must be a mighty spirit person. At Revelation 9:11, John tells us that the locusts have “a king, the angel of the abyss.” Both verses must refer to the same individual, since the angel holding the key of the abyss would logically be the angel of the abyss. And the star must symbolize Jehovah’s appointed King, since anointed Christians acknowledge only the one angelic King, Jesus Christ.—Colossians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 15:25.
7. (a) What happens when “the pit of the abyss” is opened? (b) What is “the abyss,” and who spent a short time in it?
7 The account continues: “And he opened the pit of the abyss, and smoke ascended out of the pit as the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun was darkened, also the air, by the smoke of the pit. And out of the smoke locusts came forth upon the earth; and authority was given them, the same authority as the scorpions of the earth have.” (Revelation 9:2, 3) Scripturally, “the abyss” is a place of inactivity, even of death. (Compare Romans 10:7; Revelation 17:8; 20:1, 3.) The small band of Jesus’ brothers spent a short time in such an “abyss” of relative inactivity at the end of the first world war (1918-19). But when Jehovah poured his spirit upon his repentant servants in 1919, they swarmed forth to meet the challenge of the work that lay ahead.
8. How is it that the release of the locusts is accompanied by much “smoke”?
8 As John observes, the release of the locusts is accompanied by much smoke, like “the smoke of a great furnace.”c That is how it proved to be in 1919. The situation darkened for Christendom and for the world in general. (Compare Joel 2:30, 31.) The release of those locusts, the John class, was actually a defeat for Christendom’s clergy, who had schemed and plotted to kill the Kingdom work for good and who now rejected God’s Kingdom. Evidence of a smokelike pall started to spread over apostate Christendom as that locust band was given divine authority and began to exercise it in proclaiming powerful judgment messages. Christendom’s “sun”—her appearance of enlightenment—suffered an eclipse, and “the air” became thick with declarations of divine judgment as “the ruler of the authority of the air” of this world was shown to be Christendom’s god.—Ephesians 2:2; John 12:31; 1 John 5:19.
Those Tormenting Locusts!
9. What battle instructions did the locusts receive?
9 What battle instructions did those locusts receive? John reports: “And they were told to harm no vegetation of the earth nor any green thing nor any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. And it was granted the locusts, not to kill them, but that these should be tormented five months, and the torment upon them was as torment by a scorpion when it strikes a man. And in those days the men will seek death but will by no means find it, and they will desire to die but death keeps fleeing from them.”—Revelation 9:4-6.
10. (a) Against whom primarily is the plague directed, and with what effect on them? (b) What kind of torment is involved? (See also footnote.)
10 Notice that this plague is not directed first against the people or prominent ones among them—the ‘vegetation and trees of the earth.’ (Compare Revelation 8:7.) The locusts are to harm only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads, those in Christendom who claim to be sealed but whose record belies that claim. (Ephesians 1:13, 14) Thus, the tormenting utterances of these modern-day locusts were directed first against the religious leaders of Christendom. How these self-assuming men must have been tormented at hearing it publicly announced that not only were they failing to lead their flocks to heaven but they themselves would not get there!d Truly, it has been a case of ‘the blind leading the blind’!—Matthew 15:14.
11. (a) How long are the locusts authorized to torment God’s enemies, and why is that not really a short time? (b) How severe is the torment?
11 The torment lasts for five months. Is that a relatively short time? Not from the point of view of a literal locust. Five months describes the normal life span of one of these insects. Therefore, it is for as long as they live that the modern-day locusts keep stinging God’s enemies. Moreover, the torment is so severe that men seek to die. True, we have no record that any of those who were stung by the locusts actually tried to kill themselves. But the expression helps us to picture the intensity of the torment—as though by the relentless assault of scorpions. It is like the suffering foreseen by Jeremiah for those unfaithful Israelites who would be scattered by the Babylonian conquerors and for whom death would be preferable to life.—Jeremiah 8:3; see also Ecclesiastes 4:2, 3.
12. Why are the locusts granted to torment the religious leaders of Christendom, in a spiritual sense, but not to kill them?
12 Why is it granted to torment these ones, in a spiritual sense, and not to kill them? This is an initial woe in the exposing of the lies of Christendom and her failures, but only later, as the Lord’s day progresses, will her deathlike spiritual state be fully publicized. It will be during a second woe that a third of the men are killed.—Revelation 1:10; 9:12, 18; 11:14.
Locusts Equipped for Battle
13. What appearance do the locusts have?
13 What a remarkable appearance those locusts have! John describes it: “And the likenesses of the locusts resembled horses prepared for battle; and upon their heads were what seemed to be crowns like gold, and their faces were as men’s faces, but they had hair as women’s hair. And their teeth were as those of lions; and they had breastplates like iron breastplates. And the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running into battle.”—Revelation 9:7-9.
14. Why did John’s description of the locusts fit the group of revived Christians in 1919?
14 This well illustrates the loyal group of revived Christians in 1919. Like horses, they were ready for battle, eager to fight for the truth in the way described by the apostle Paul. (Ephesians 6:11-13; 2 Corinthians 10:4) On their heads John sees what seem to be crowns as of gold. It would not be proper for them to have actual crowns because they do not begin ruling while they are still on earth. (1 Corinthians 4:8; Revelation 20:4) But in 1919 they already had a royal appearance. They were brothers of the King, and their heavenly crowns were reserved for them provided they continued faithful to the end.—2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Peter 5:4.
15. What is denoted by the locusts’ (a) iron breastplates? (b) faces like men’s? (c) hair like a woman’s? (d) teeth as those of lions? (e) making a lot of noise?
15 In the vision, the locusts have iron breastplates, symbolizing unbreakable righteousness. (Ephesians 6:14-18) They also have men’s faces, this feature pointing to the quality of love, since man was made in the image of God, who is love. (Genesis 1:26; 1 John 4:16) Their hair is long like a woman’s, which well pictures subjection to their King, the angel of the abyss. And their teeth resemble a lion’s teeth. A lion uses its teeth to tear meat. From 1919 onward, the John class has again been able to take in solid spiritual food, particularly the truths about God’s Kingdom ruled by “the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah,” Jesus Christ. Just as the lion symbolizes courage, so great courage has been needed to digest this hard-hitting message, to bring it forth in publications, and to distribute it around the globe. Those figurative locusts have made a lot of noise, like “the sound of chariots of many horses running into battle.” After the example of first-century Christians, they do not intend to stay quiet.—1 Corinthians 11:7-15; Revelation 5:5.
16. What is the significance in the locusts’ having “tails and stings like scorpions”?
16 This preaching involves more than the spoken word! “Also, they have tails and stings like scorpions; and in their tails is their authority to hurt the men five months.” (Revelation 9:10) What could this mean? As they go about their Kingdom work, Jehovah’s Witnesses, using the spoken word and printed publications, issue authoritative statements based on God’s Word. Their message has a scorpionlike sting because they warn of Jehovah’s approaching day of vengeance. (Isaiah 61:2) Before the present generation of spiritual locusts lives out its life span, its divinely ordained work of declaring Jehovah’s judgments will be completed—to the hurt of all stiff-necked blasphemers.
17. (a) What was announced at the 1919 convention of the Bible Students that would intensify the sting of their witnessing? (b) How have the clergy been tormented, and how did they act in response?
17 That locust band was overjoyed when a new magazine, The Golden Age, was announced at their 1919 convention. It was a biweekly magazine, designed to intensify the sting of their witnessing.e Its issue No. 27, of September 29, 1920, exposed the clergy’s duplicity in persecuting the Bible Students in the United States during the 1918-19 period. Through the 1920’s and 1930’s, The Golden Age tormented the clergy with further stinging articles and cartoons that exposed their crafty dabbling in politics, and especially the Catholic hierarchy’s accords made with the Fascist and Nazi dictators. In response, the clergy ‘framed mischief by law’ and organized mob violence against God’s people.—Psalm 94:20, King James Version.
World Rulers Put on Notice
18. What job did the locusts have to do, and what occurred in response to the fifth trumpet blast?
18 The modern-day locusts had a job to do. The Kingdom good news had to be preached. Errors had to be exposed. Lost sheep had to be found. As the locusts went about these tasks, the world was forced to sit up and take notice. In obedience to the angels’ trumpet blasts, the John class has continued to expose Christendom as deserving of Jehovah’s adverse judgments. In response to the fifth trumpet, a particular aspect of these judgments was emphasized at a convention of the Bible Students in London, England, May 25-31, 1926. This featured a resolution, “A Testimony to the Rulers of the World,” and a public talk at the Royal Albert Hall on “Why World Powers Are Tottering—The Remedy,” the complete text of both of these being printed in a leading London newspaper the following day. Later, the locust band distributed worldwide, as a tract, 50 million copies of that resolution—a torment indeed to the clergy! Years later, people in England still spoke of this stinging exposé.
19. What further fighting equipment did the symbolic locusts receive, and what did it have to say about the London manifesto?
19 At this convention, the symbolic locusts received further fighting equipment, notably a new book entitled Deliverance. It included a Scriptural discussion of the sign proving that the ‘man child’ government, Christ’s heavenly Kingdom, had been born in 1914. (Matthew 24:3-14; Revelation 12:1-10) Thereafter, it quoted the manifesto published in London in 1917 and signed by eight clergymen, who were described as being “among the world’s greatest preachers.” They represented the leading Protestant denominations—Baptist, Congregational, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Methodist. This manifesto proclaimed that “the present crisis points toward the close of the times of the Gentiles” and that “the revelation of the Lord may be expected at any moment.” Yes, those clergymen had recognized the sign of Jesus’ presence! But did they want to do anything about it? The book Deliverance informs us: “The most remarkable part of the affair is that the very men who signed the manifesto subsequently repudiated it and rejected the evidence which proves that we are at the end of the world and in the day of the Lord’s second presence.”
20. (a) What choice have the clergy made with regard to the locust band and their King? (b) Who does John say is over the locust band, and what is his name?
20 Rather than announce the incoming Kingdom of God, Christendom’s clergy have chosen to remain with Satan’s world. They want no part with the locust band and their King, concerning whom John now observes: “They have over them a king, the angel of the abyss. In Hebrew his name is Abaddon [meaning “Destruction”], but in Greek he has the name Apollyon [meaning “Destroyer”].” (Revelation 9:11) As “angel of the abyss” and “Destroyer,” Jesus had truly released a plaguing woe on Christendom. But more is to follow!
a Compare Joel 2:4, 5, 7 (where the insects are described as horses, people, and men, and as making a sound like a chariot) with Revelation 9:7-9; also, compare Joel 2:6, 10 (describing the painful effect of the insect plague) with Revelation 9:2, 5.
b See the article “United Against Nations in the Valley of Decision” in the December 1, 1961, issue of The Watchtower.
c Notice that this scripture cannot be used to prove that there was a fire in the abyss, as if the abyss were some kind of hellfire. John says he saw thick smoke that was “as,” or like, the smoke of a great furnace. (Revelation 9:2) He does not report seeing actual flames in the abyss.
d The Greek word used here comes from the root ba·sa·niʹzo, which is sometimes used of literal torture; however, it can also be used of mental torment. For example, at 2 Peter 2:8 we read that Lot “was tormenting his righteous soul” because of the evil that he saw in Sodom. The religious leaders of the apostolic era experienced mental torment although, of course, for a very different reason.
e This magazine was renamed Consolation in 1937 and Awake! in 1946.
[Picture on page 143]
The blowing of the fifth trumpet introduces the first of three woes
[Picture on page 146]
Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the King’s enemies. (Psalm 45:5) Appearing with this caption, the above cartoon is typical of many published in the 1930’s that stung “those men who do not have the seal of God”
[Pictures on page 147]
The Royal Albert Hall, where the book Deliverance was released and the resolution “A Testimony to the Rulers of the World” was adopted