Sadly because of much Scriptural ignorance (especially of the Old Testament) and a poor knowledge of the Scriptural usage of symbols (in figurative/poetic/prophetic passages) many kinds of arbitrary interpretations of the Book of Revelation have been put forth that do not take into account how the Bible elsewhere uses the same prophetic symbols. Since most professing Christians today hold to a form of dispensationalist futurism (popular futurism : the events of Revelation chapters 4 to 19 are still future and are to occur within a limited time frame) they will totally exclude any possible past fulfillment of a symbolic prophecy and try to find something in the present. Obviously if a prophecy in Revelation has already been fulfilled in the past then the futurist will necessarily make mistakes. One prophecy which many Bible teachers in the past (of the Protestant historicist school) have understood as having been fulfilled historically in the past is the symbolic vision of the army of locusts of Revelation chapter 9.
“And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. And there came out of the smoke LOCUSTS upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.” (Revelation 9:1-3)
Before we start giving an interpretation of what the prophetic symbol of “locusts” can mean let us remember that we are dealing with a book using symbolic language and this book was first given to predominantly Gentile churches in Gentile Asia Minor in the 1st century AD. Let us look at the first verse of Revelation :
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ [this book is centered on Christ and not on stock market crashes and physical earthquakes], which God gave unto him, TO SHEW UNTO [the whole world? no! but particularly unto] HIS SERVANTS [redeemed people who have the Holy Spirit and spiritual understanding] THINGS WHICH MUST SHORTLY COME TO PASS; and he sent and SIGNIFIED IT by his angel unto his servant John” (Revelation 1:1)
Now please notice 3 things in the previously quoted verse : 1) the Revelation of Jesus Christ is SIGN-ified, 2) the things described are meant to be shown unto true believers and 3) the things described first to believers in the 1st century AD should SHORTLY come to pass.
1) the Revelation of Jesus Christ is SIGN-ified:
One of the definitions for the word “sign” given by Merriam-Webster is the following : “something material or external that stands for or signifies something spiritual”.
The apostle John who was used by God to write the Book of Revelation uses the word “signify” 3 times in his Gospel :
“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, SIGNIFYING what death he should die.” (John 12:32-33)
“Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death: That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, SIGNIFYING what death he should die.” (John 18:31-32)
“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, SIGNIFYING by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.” (John 21:18-19)
In the King James Version the words “as” and “like”, used to express SIMILES (or SIMILITUDES), respectively appear in the Book of Revelation 83 times in 59 verses and 26 times in 20 verses. Hmmm… 83 times in a book of 22 chapters doesn’t seem inSIGNificant, right? In the same English translation of the Book of Revelation the word “mystery” appears 4 times, “sign” appears twice (“signifying”, “sign”) and “vision” appears once. In light of such facts are we to jump in and interpret everything literally?
The God of Israel : “I have also spoken by the prophets, and I have multiplied VISIONS, and used SIMILITUDES, by the ministry of the prophets.” (Hosea 12:10)
In the very first chapter of the book Christ himself must tell John what the SYMBOLS of the stars and candlesticks truly mean. If stars are meant to be understood symbolically/figuratively then what can we say about the moon or the sun which are also mentioned in Revelation? If animals/beasts are used prophetically to represent kingdoms (see Daniel chapter 7) then how should we prophetically view locusts?
2) the things described are meant to be shown unto true believers
It is interesting to note that in each letter addressed to one of the 7 churches in Asia Minor we read the following words : “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Revelation 2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:29, 3:6, 3:13, 3:22) Christ who spoke those words recorded in Revelation spoke similar words during His earthly ministry with the only difference that the words “what the Spirit saith unto the churches” do not appear (e.g. Matthew 11:15 : “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”). In the Gospel of Matthew for example, Christ used such words after having spoken in a PARABLE (see Matthew 13:9 and Matthew 13:43) or after having uttered a difficult prophetic truth not immediately grasped (see Matthew 11:9-15 and then read Matthew 17:10-13).
Wikipedia : “The word “parable” comes from the Greek παραβολή (parabolē), meaning “COMPARISON, ILLUSTRATION, ANALOGY”.” (which means we don’t take a parable literally… the Kingdom of Heaven is not LITERALLY a pearl or a tree.)
John Gill wrote the following concerning Matthew 13:9 :
“Not externally only, but internally; he that has ears given him to hear, so as to understand, let him make use of them, and seriously consider of, and diligently attend to the use and importance of this parable. It is a way of speaking used by Christ, when anything of moment was delivered, and NOT SO EASY TO BE UNDERSTOOD, on purpose to quicken the attention of his auditors, and stir up in them a desire of understanding what was said; which effect this had upon his disciples”
The true understanding of Scripture has been given by God to true believers so we should not expect heretics and non-believers to give us a true and proper interpretation of certain prophetic symbols unless such people used plagiarism (e.g. Ellen G. White):
“At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.” (Matthew 11:25)
“And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them [unbelievers, non-elect] it is not given.” (Matthew 13:10-11)
Knowing that Christ himself used the words “He that hath an ear, let him hear” a total of 7 times in Revelation in chapters 2 and 3 (near the very beginning of the book) and knowing that those very same words are used elsewhere by Christ in connection to parables or difficult truths then how can anyone think that we can go into Revelation and take everything literally?
3) the things described first to believers in the 1st century AD should SHORTLY come to pass.
“… THINGS WHICH MUST SHORTLY COME TO PASS… ” (Revelation 1:1)
The word “shortly” in the first verse of the book is a key word in understanding the time period for all of the prophecies of this book. The Greek word “tachos” (think of a tachometer = SPEED meter) which means “speedily” or “quickly” is used in other places in the New Testament where there is no doubt as to the meaning of the word:
“And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up QUICKLY (GREEK WORD TACHOS, STRONG NUMBER 5034). And his chains fell off from his hands.” (Acts 12:7) (to my knowledge Peter didn’t take his time to get out of prison… at least not 1900 years’ worth of time…)
“And saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee QUICKLY (GREEK WORD TACHOS, STRONG NUMBER 5034) out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me.” (Acts 22:18) (to my knowledge Paul didn’t take many centuries to leave Jerusalem… at least not 19 centuries…)
Let us consider the events of Revelation chapter 5 which occur before the opening of the seals:
“And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?” (Revelation 5:1-2)
Key question : who is worthy to open the book? We know that the One who is worthy is Christ.
“And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.” (Revelation 5:5)
Why is He worthy to open the book and loose its seals? Here is the answer:
“And they sung a new song, saying, THOU ART WORTHY TO TAKE THE BOOK, and to open the seals thereof: FOR THOU WAST SLAIN (which occurred in the 1st century AD), AND HAS REDEEMED US TO GOD BY THY BLOOD (which occurred in the 1st century AD) out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Revelation 5:9)
Because of His death and the atonement it made for sinners Christ was worthy to open the seals in the first century after His ascension into heaven. Am I believe that for 1900+ years Christ has not been able or willing or worthy to open the seals especially when we consider He earlier spoke of things SHORTLY coming to pass? Knowing that Christ’s Second Coming to judge all of the earth with fire (see 2nd Thessalonians chapter 1) is still future and believing that Christ was already worthy to open the seals in the first century AD I believe it is most plausible to believe that the prophecies of the book (from chapter 6 which mentions the opening of the first seal to chapter 20 which refers to the final judgment) refer prophetically to events extending from the 1st century AD to the Second Coming of Christ. Prior to the mid-1800s that’s what most respectable Protestants and Baptists believed. How then can we believe that a prophecy in chapter 9, not even half-way in the book, could refer to something over 1900 years away from the time of the writing of the book when we are to understand chapters 6 to 20 as spanning close to 20 centuries?
“What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven CHURCHES which are in ASIA [not Judea]” (Revelation 1:11b)
It is very important to note that the first groups addressed by this Book were predominantly GENTILE churches (not tribes of physical Israel) in a predominantly GENTILE land in the 1st century AD (not the 21st century AD). Would it not be plausible to believe that most of this Book addressed to GENTILE Christians would be concerned with the 1900+ years of the “times of the Gentiles”? Does not Christ himself in the first chapter of the book take an Old Testament object, the candlestick of the Hebrew tabernacle, and give it a New Testament meaning (“church”)?