Homer, the ancient Greek poet, mentions a fantastical creature in his epic, The Iliad:
. . . that savage monster, the Chimaera, who was not a human being, but a goddess, for she had the head of a lion and the tail of a serpent, while her body was that of a goat, and she breathed forth flames of fire . . .6.172-185
John describes something similar in Revelation 9:13-21,
The sixth angel blew his trumpet. From the four horns of the gold altar that is before God, I heard a voice say to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels bound at the great river Euphrates.” So the four angels who were prepared for the hour, day, month, and year were released to kill a third of the human race. The number of mounted troops was 200 million; I heard their number. This is how I saw the horses in my vision: The horsemen had breastplates that were fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow. The heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and from their mouths came fire, smoke, and sulfur. A third of the human race was killed by these three plagues—by the fire, the smoke, and the sulfur that came from their mouths. For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails, which resemble snakes, have heads, and they inflict injury with them.
The rest of the people, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands to stop worshiping demons and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which are not able to see, hear, or walk. And they did not repent of their murders, their sorceries, their sexual immorality, or their thefts.
There are a few things to note about this text.
First, whereas verses 1-12 summed up the first “woe” (cf. 8:13), the second woe goes from 9:13-11:13. This woe will be broken up into three parts:
- 9:13-21 = Hell on Earth, pt. 2
- 10:1-11 = A Judgment Spared
- 11:1-14 = The Church Age
I point this out because we must understand all three of these sections together to understand the second “woe.” We can’t merely say that these demonic horsemen are the second “woe,” but we also can’t only say that the earthquake in chapter 11 is the second “woe.” We must understand them together.
But we also must understand this trumpet judgment in light of the previous one. The fifth and sixth trumpet judgments are closely related.
As such, i think it’s safe to say that this plague can only harm nonbelievers. The previous plague is the only one that specifies they weren’t allowed to harm those with God’s seal (cf. 9:4). Still, this one says they were allowed to kill “a third of the human race” (9:15, 18) and then it adds that those who “were not killed by these plagues did not repent” (9:20). God’s people wouldn’t need to repent from these sorts of sins–as we will see later (cf. 14:1-5)–and John is careful to distinguish God’s people from those belonging to the human race. This means that if you want to avoid the death resulting from this plague, you need to become one of God’s people.
Trust Christ before it’s too late! (The next entry will prove that He is coming sooner than we expect. Be ready!)
Secondly, this plague must be placed in history at some point. While most of the others (cf. 6:1-17; 8:1-9:11) remind us of daily headlines, this plague explicitly states that these angels “were prepared for the hour, day, month, and year” (9:15).
(I am willing to concede that the previous plague [9:1-12] might be a literal one that takes place in future history as well. However, it could also be referring to demonic oppression, possession, or even merely intense depression of a spiritual nature.)
But as it stands, the plague under discussion (9:13-21) is undoubtedly in the future. We haven’t yet seen 200 million fiery horsemen marching out and killing a third of the population (cf. 9:15, 18).
However, like the “locusts” released from the pit in 9:2-3, here we have four angels bound at the Euphrates River. They were bound there until the right time (cf. Jude 1:6; 2 Peter 2:4; Genesis 6:1-4). Genesis 6:4b is revealing:
They were the powerful men of old, the famous men.
The International Standard Version of Genesis 6:4 reads as follows:
The Nephilim were on the earth at that time (and also immediately afterward), when those divine beings were having sexual relations with those human women, who gave birth to children for them. These children became the heroes and legendary figures of ancient times.Emphasis added.
Kenneth Matthews, while not arguing for the same view i am, nevertheless points out that some have made the same connection that i’m making below:
Antiquity, it is argued, is full of stories in which deities mate with beautiful women by force or persuasion, giving birth to demigods.K. A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 324.
This would mean–arguing against Matthews above–that the Flood story is Yahweh fighting against the “Titans” (e.g., the Greek stories of the offspring of the gods and humans). Yahweh locks them up as a result of the Flood for the future judgment. Interestingly, just as Noah likely didn’t live far from the Euphrates River (cf. Genesis 2:14), so also the four angels were “bound at the great river Euphrates” (9:14). John is writing to Gentiles who would know the Greek legends, and he is connecting their fables to the Jewish story to make it more real for them.
This leads us to John’s description of these horsemen:
- breastplates were fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow
- heads like a lion’s
- from mouths came fire, smoke, and sulfur
- tails have heads like snakes
I suggest that John is describing a mythological creature known as a chimera. Why? Let’s start with a picture of one:
I believe this is what John describes, especially as it would make the goat “the horseman.” These are demonic–demons are often pictured with horns. It is fascinating because the Chimera was the offspring of Typhon (a son of Gaia and Tartarus) and Echidna (Typhon’s sister, according to some authors), which ties back to Genesis 6:4.
All of the legends (including the quote from Homer’s Iliad, which introduced this post) tell us that the Chimera breathes fire, which lends credence to understanding these horsemen as Chimeras. Their breastplates could just be fire, smoke, and sulfur (the colors used would match this = the fires of hell, cf. Revelation 20:10). Additionally, it was a fearful creature, and sightings of it often indicated approaching natural disasters. (An earthquake is coming before the end of the second “woe” [cf. 11:13]).
However, no matter how terrifying the Chimera is, and no matter what its appearance meant to the ancients, John’s use of it here is an encouragement to his readers. These creatures won’t show up until the appointed time. You need not fear them before that time. And if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, then you need never fear them. God is in control of the Chimera, just like He is in control of everything:
- Chaos (6:1-8)
- Christians (6:9-11)
- Calamity (6:12-17)
- Chronology (8:1-6)
- Restoration (8:7-12)
- Manticores (9:1-12)
- Chimeras (9:13-19)
At the end of the day, the book of Revelation is an encouragement that God is in complete control. Nothing takes Him by surprise. Nothing happens that makes Him scratch His head, wondering how He can fix it. God is in control, and His will will be done.
Trust Christ before it’s too late!
Finally, John’s point here–building off the fifth plague–is that a third of humanity will get what they wished for while being tormented for five months. They will die a gruesome, painful, final death. Once these horsemen kill a person, that person is cut off from any hope of eternal life. And once these horsemen kill those people, the eternal punishment of hell starts.
It is important to note that a third of humanity is killed by this plague. There are two parts to this. First, in 6:1-8, we saw that the four horsemen of the apocalypse were given the authority to kill a fourth of the earth (6:8). This shows us that as the eschaton (last days) continues, judgment becomes more intense. More and more people will lose their lives as a result of God’s judgment. Don’t wait to place your faith in Christ!
Second, two-thirds of humanity are spared death by this plague. This means God is not willing that any should perish (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). He wants people to trust in Christ for eternal life. However, John’s point is apparent in the last two verses of Revelation 9:
The rest of the people, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands to stop worshiping demons and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which are not able to see, hear, or walk. And they did not repent of their murders, their sorceries, their sexual immorality, or their thefts.9:20-21
People prefer sin–and by extent, judgment and pain–to repentance and faith. These people worship the very things responsible for their pain and torment–demons–instead of trusting God. And even though they are spared death by the 200 million horsemen, they are hardened in their rebellion. They prefer murder, sorcery, sexual immorality, and theft to trusting Christ.
What are you holding on to instead of placing faith in Christ? What do you refuse to release?
Let go of whatever it is before this judgment comes. If this judgment hits, it is pretty clear that you’ll be unable to repent at that point. Trust Christ today!
He was judged on the cross as a murderer, sorcerer, sexually immoral person, and thief so that those who are guilty of those sins (and others) could be forgiven and justified in God’s sight.
Place your faith in Him today!
Either you will suffer for your sin, or you will by faith say that Jesus took your place. If you respond with the latter faith, then you must also evidence it by a changed life!
Repent and believe today!
In this with you.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thanks for reading.
The next entry can be found here.