“And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, 14 Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates. 15 And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men. 16 And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them. 17 And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone. 18 By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths. 19 For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt.” (Revelation 9:13-19)
As I have attempted to show in my “Revelation 9’s Locusts Are Not Revolution 9’s Beatles” series of blog posts the events of Revelation chapter 9 are not still future and are not to be fulfilled in a short period of time (e.g. within 7 years or 3.5 years). Neither did the prophesied events symbolized happen in or prior to 70 AD. The prophesied woes properly interpreted are SYMBOLICALLY associated with Islam. The first phase of its growth represented the fulfillment of the fifth trumpet “woe” and and the Ottoman Empire represented the fulfillment of the sixth trumpet “woe”. The Islam of the Middle Ages. This is what many Baptists and Protestants of the past believed. I’m not advocating anything new or arbitrary. As a new believer who was “dispensationally-inclined” (and consequently “hermeneutically challenged”) I used to think that the sixth trumpet pointed toward something still future : a massive army of 200 million Chinese soldiers riding on horses. I thank the Lord that my prophetic thinking has improved over the years through fear of the Lord which is the beginning of the wisdom (Proverbs 1:7) we need to properly interpret Revelation and other prophetic Scriptures. I will quote here some God-fearing Bible commentators/teachers used by the Lord (Ephesians 4:11) to help me better grasp these symbolic passages:
On the application of this passage to the Turks Mr. Daubuz justly remarks, that “from their first appearance the Ottomans have affected to wear warlike apparel of scarlet, blue, and yellow – a descriptive trait the more marked from its contrast to the military appearance of the Greeks, Franks, or Saracens contemporarily.” Mr. Elliott adds: “It only needs to have seen the Turkish cavalry (as they were before the late innovations), whether in war itself, or in the djerrid war‘s mimicry, to leave an impression of the absolute necessity of some such notice of their rich and varied colorings, in order to give in description at all a just impression of their appearance”
“Having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone; and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire, and smoke, and brimstone.” It was remarked in the exposition of this passage that this is just such a description as would be given of an army to which the use of gunpowder was known, and which made use of it in these wars. Looking now upon a body of cavalry in the heat of an engagement, it would seem, if the cause were not known, that the horses belched forth smoke and sulphurous flame. The only question now is, whether in the warfare of the Turks there was anything which would especially or remarkably justify this description. And here it is impossible not to advert to the historical fact that they were among the first to make use of gunpowder in their wars, and that to the use of this destructive element they owed much of their success and their ultimate triumphs.
In the description of the conquest of Constantinople Mr. Gibbon makes frequent mention of their artillery, and of the use of gunpowder, and of its important agency in securing their final conquests, and in the overthrow of the Eastern empire.
… in the description of the final conflict when Constantinople was taken, Mr. Gibbon says, “From the lines, the galleys, and the bridge, the Ottoman artillery thundered on all sides; and the camp and city, the Greeks and the Turks, were involved in a cloud of smoke which could only be dispelled by the final deliverance or destruction of the Roman empire,” vol. iv. p. 350. Assuredly, if such was the fact in the conquests of the Turks, it was not unnatural in one who was looking on these warriors in vision to describe them as if they seemed to belch out “fire and smoke and brimstone.” If Mr. Gibbon had designed to describe the conquest of the Turks as a fulfillment of the prediction, could he have done it in a style more clear and graphic than what he has employed? If this had occurred in a Christian writer, would it not have been charged on him that he had shaped his facts to meet his notions of the meaning of the prophecy?
(Note : I quoted just a bit of what Mr. Barnes wrote about the fulfillment of the sixth trumpet… there’s a whole lot more information worthy of perusal)
Fire, smoke, and brimstone, is a good allegorical representation of gunpowder. The Ottomans made great use of heavy artillery in their wars with the Greeks of the lower empire.
Their power is in their mouth – From these the destructive balls are projected; and in their tails, the breech where the charge of gunpowder is lodged.
Their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads – If cannons are intended, the description, though allegorical, is plain enough; for brass ordnance especially are frequently thus ornamented, both at their muzzles and at their breech.
loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates; … men are here meant, as appears from Revelation 9:16, and particularly the Turks, as most interpreters agree; who dwelt on the other side the river Euphrates, and were let loose, or suffered to pass over that river into the eastern [Byzantine] empire, to ruin and destroy it, as they did: these are called “angels”, because of their might and force, their power and strength, with which they bore all before them; and for their great swiftness and rapidity in the victories and conquests which the Ottoman family obtained; who, from very small beginnings, raised themselves, in a very little time, to a large monarchy, and founded the Turkish empire, which, from them, is to this day called the Ottoman empire.
Ottoman the First subdued great part of Bithynia, and fixed the seat of his kingdom at Prusa; or rather his son Urchanes, who conquered Mysia, Lycaonia, Phrygia, Caria, and the rest, to the Hellespont, and the Euxine sea. Amurath his son took Callipolis, Hadrianople, and the adjacent provinces. Bajazet added to the empire Thessalia, Macedonia, Phocis, Attica, Mysia, and Bulgaria; and Mahomet the Second took Constantinople itself, and thereby put an end to the eastern empire; and all this was done in a very few years: it is said of this last, that he conquered two empires, and twelve kingdoms, and above two hundred cities. And these Ottoman Turks may be called angels, or messengers, because they were the messengers and executioners of God’s wrath upon the [idolatrous, apostate*] eastern empire: they are signified by “four angels”, either, as some think, because of the four names of Saracens, Turks, Tartars, and Arabians, though all Mahometans, under which they went, before they were united under one emperor, Ottoman; or rather because of the four principalities, or governments, into which they were divided, while they were upon the banks of, or near to the river Euphrates; the seat of one being at Iconium, another at Bagdad, a third at Aleppo, and a fourth at Damascus; and chiefly because, when they passed the river Euphrates, they had four princes at the head of them, Soliman Shak, and his three sons. Soliman himself, as he passed, not knowing the fords of the river, was drowned in it; at which his sons being so affrighted, two of them, Sankur Zengi, and Gun Tugdi, returned to Persia, but the third, Ortogrules, with his three sons (which made “four” again) Condoz, Sarubani, and Othman, or Ottoman, continued, to whom Aladdin, sultan of Iconium, gave them some land among the mountains of Armenia; and from hence, by degrees, as before observed, a large empire was raised.
* if God sent such a “woe” to afflict the Byzantine empire for centuries (and finally put an end to it) is that not a powerful indicator of God’s great displeasure with the apostate Greek Orthodox church? Just like her sister, the Roman Catholic Church, she has not repented of her idols and other religious sins. Revelation 18:4 comes to mind. God is calling not only Roman Catholics to repent of their sins, dead works and false works-based “Gospel” but He is also calling Greek/Russian Orthodox to do the same in order to embrace the true Gospel.
Now these are said to be “bound in the great river Euphrates”; which river is to be literally understood, and is the same with that which is so called in Genesis 2:14, and ran through Mesopotamia and Chaldea, and was the boundary of the Roman empire; so it was fixed by Hadrian; and beyond which the Turks, before this time did rarely go, and if they did, retired again: for till this time, as the historian says, the Turks had Asia, “within Euphrates”, and the Arabians Coelo-Syria and Phoenicia. Now here these were bound; they were not suffered to pass the river, or to make any inroads of any consequence further into the Roman empire; they were restrained, by the decree of God, from proceeding any further till this time; which, as he fixes a decreed place for the sea, that its waves should come thus far, and no further, so he restrains princes from their enterprises, and settles the bounds of empires, as long as he pleases; and they were kept back by the power of God from pouring in upon the empire, and pouring forth their fury upon it, who causes the wrath of men to praise him, and restrains the remainder of it.
were two hundred thousand thousand; or “two myriads of myriads”; two hundred millions, or twenty thousand brigades of ten thousand each; that is, a very large and prodigious number, almost infinite and incredible, like the army of Gog and Magog, as the sand of the sea, Revelation 20:8. The Turks used to bring, and still do bring vast armies into the field: in the year 1396, Bajazet, with three hundred thousand men, fell upon sixty thousand Christians, killed twenty thousand of them, and lost sixty thousand of his own: against him afterward, in the year 1397, came Tamerlane the Tartar, with four hundred thousand horse, and six hundred thousand foot, and having killed two hundred thousand Turks, took Bajazet prisoner, and carried him about in a cage, in golden chains. In the year 1438, Amurath entered into Pannonia, with three hundred thousand horsemen: and in the year 1453, Mahomet took Constantinople with the like number; yea, it is said, that the army at the siege of that city consisted of forty myriads, or four hundred thousand men. It is reported, that the great Turk contemptuously sent to the emperor of the Romans a camel, or a dromedary, loaden with wheat, with this vow by a message, that he should bring against him as many fighting men as there were grains of wheat therein. And it is related, that when Ladislaus, king of Hungary, went out against Amurath with four and twenty thousand horse, Dracula, governor of Walachia, advised him not to attack the emperor of the Turks with so small an army, since he went out every day a hunting with more men than such a number.
having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth and brimstone; which may be understood either literally of their external breastplates, which being of polished iron, according to the custom of these people, looked at a distance like sparkling fire, and seemed to be of the colour of hyacinth, or of a sky colour, and appeared as flaming sulphur; though some think that their breastplates were of different colours, some looked like fire, others like jacinth, and others like brimstone; or it may denote that they would be accoutred in scarlet, blue, and yellow, which are the colours the Turks have commonly wore.
These four messengers of divine judgment lay bound in the river Euphrates, a great way from the European nations. Here the Turkish power had its rise, which seems to be the story of this vision.
Their artillery, by which they made such slaughter, described by fire, smoke, and brimstone, issuing out of the mouths of their horses, and the stings that were in their tails. It is Mr. [Joseph] Mede’s opinion that this is a prediction of great guns, those instruments of cruelty which make such destruction: he observes, These were first used by the Turks at the siege of Constantinople, and, being new and strange, were very terrible, and did great execution. However, here seems to be an allusion to what is mentioned in the former vision, that, as antichrist had his forces of a spiritual nature, like scorpions poisoning the minds of men with error and idolatry, so the Turks, who were raised up to punish the antichristian apostasy, had their scorpions and their stings too, to hurt and kill the bodies of those who had been the murderers of so many souls.
By these four angels, or instruments of God to execute his vengeance, I find the most valuable interpreters understanding the Turks, considered as distinct from the Saracens, and succeeding of them, whose empire began in Ottoman, Anno 1296, or thereabouts. Mr. [Joseph] Mede saith these four angels denote so many sultanies or kingdoms, into which the Turks were dispersed, having passed the river Euphrates.
He [the apostle John] saith nothing [in verse 16] of the infantry, but leaves us to conjecture how great that must be, from the number of the horse; we must not think there was precisely this number, but the meaning is, that the armies should be vastly great, as we know all the Turkish armies are.
Loose the four angels, That is, those four potent peoples, the Arabians, the Saracens, the Tartars, and the Turks, that they may march out against Christendom, to murder and massacre the third part of men. These are called angels, because sent of God to revenge the quarrel of his covenant.
Two hundred thousand thousand, Not so many at any one time, but in several ages and battles. Howbeit the Turk goes usually into the field 200,000 strong; many times he hath more, as in that famous battle fought by Bajazet against Tamerlane, where he had well-nigh a million. Of his common soldiers called Asapi (which for the most part are miserable Christians), he makes no great reckoning or other use than to blunt the swords of his enemies, or to abate their first fury, thereby to give the easier victory to his janizaries and better soldiers, which are all cavalry for most part.
Breastplates of fire, Muskets, arquebuses, pistols, and other spitfires; but especially those great guns and murdering pieces, so much used by the Turks, those mighty ordnance they brought before Constantinople, Rhodes, and other places, nothing inferior to those two that were cast by Alphonsus Duke of Ferrara, the one whereof he called the earthquake, the other Grandiabolo, or the great devil. (Chalcondylas. Peacham’s Valley of Vanity.)
And then the Turks, who were originally different from the Saracens, became followers of Mohammed, and conquered all the Eastern empire. They began their empire about the year of Christ 1296; began to invade Europe in the year 1300: took Constantinople, and so became masters of all the Eastern empire, in the year 1453. And thus all the cities’ and countries where stood those famous churches of which we read in the New Testament, as Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, &c. now became subject to the Turks. These are supposed to be prophesied of by the horsemen in Rev. 9: 15, &c. And the remains of the Christians in those parts of the world, who are mostly of the Greek church, are in miserable slavery under these Turks ; are treated with a great deal of barbarity and cruelty, and are become mostly very ignorant and superstitious.
H. Grattan Guinness:
The following list of Presentist expositors of the Apocalypse includes, so far as I have been able to ascertain, all of any note from the era of the Reformation to the publication of the ‘ Horae’ [Apocalypticae] of Mr. [E. B.] Elliott : Luther, Bullinger, Bale, Chytraeus, Marlorat, Foxe, Brightman, Parens, Mede, Vitringa, Daubuz, Sir Isaac Newton, Whiston, Bengel, Bishop Newton, Bicheno, Faber, Frere, Irving, Cunningham, Habershon, Bickersteth, Birks, Woodhouse, Keith, Elliott, twenty six in all. Out of these there are agreed as follows : 1. That seals I. to IV. are the decline of the pagan empire; 2. That seal VI. is the fall of paganism under Constantine; 3. That trumpets I. to IV. are the Gothic invasions; 4. That trumpet V. is the Saracens; 5. That trumpet VI. is the Turks.
History tells us how this Euphratean flood covered land after land, with its irresistible advance. All over South-Eastern Europe, as far as Venice, the Turkish flood extended. Wherever it reached it carried misery and death, so that even the strong language of Rev. ix. 17 can barely convey an idea of the ” woe ” it was to Eastern Christendom.