not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree
Here we see the reason why the last three woesthe last three trumpetsare separated from the previous four trumpets. The first four trumpets involve judgments on natural systems, including vegetation, whereas the judgments of the final three trumpets target people. In contrast to the previous trumpet judgments (Rev. Rev. 7:3+; Rev. 8:7-11+), the locusts are told not to harm the natural system, but to attack certain men. These are not natural locusts: This is an unusual locust that will not attack anything greenthat is all the normal locust would attack. They did not attack human beings.1
The natural locusts of the plagues of Egypt, although supernaturally provided, illustrate the normal activities of locusts:
For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they ate every herb of the land and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left. So there remained nothing green on the trees or on the plants of the field throughout all the land of Egypt. (Ex. Ex. 10:15)
The flight of locusts is thus described by M. Olivier (Voyage dans lEmpire Othoman, ii.424): With the burning south winds (of Syria) there come from the interior of Arabia and from the most southern parts of Persia clouds of locusts (Acridium peregrinum), whose ravages to these countries are as grievous and nearly as sudden as those of the heaviest hail in Europe. We witnessed them twice. It is difficult to express the effect produced on us by the sight of the whole atmosphere filled on all sides and to a great height by an innumerable quantity of these insects, whose flight was slow and uniform, and whose noise resembled that of rain: the sky was darkened, and the light of the sun considerably weakened. In a moment the terraces of the houses, the streets, and all the fields were covered by these insects, and in two days they had nearly devoured all the leaves of the plants. Happily they lived but a short time, and seemed to have migrated only to reproduce themselves and die; in fact, nearly all those we saw the next day had paired, and the day following the fields were covered with their dead bodies.2How different are these locusts from natural locusts, for they avoid the very things which natural locusts devastate. Some have difficulty reconciling the instructions not to harm the green grass when in the first trumpet it was said that all green grass was burned up (Rev. Rev. 8:7+). This is readily explained:
The reference to the grass of the earth suggests that some time has passed since the first trumpet judgment scorched all the grass that was then in season (Rev. Rev. 8:7+). The damaged grass has grown again and is to remain untouched in this plague, indicating that enough time has elapsed for a partial recovery of the earths environment.3See commentary on Revelation 8:7.
but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads
Here we see the chronological relationship in the visions related by John, for in order to be protected from these locusts, the men must have already been sealed. Indeed they were, in Revelation Rev. 7:4+. Thus, Revelation Rev. 9:1+ must follow chronologically after Revelation Rev. 7:1+.
These are the 144,000 of Israel who were sealed in Revelation Rev. 7:3+ which see . Their seal protected them in the midst of the judgments of the systems of nature (Rev. Rev. 7:3+; Rev. 8:7+) and now it provides protection from the judgment of the demonic locusts. Here is another indicator that these are not ordinary insects: they are able to differentiate between those who have Gods seal and those who do not. The seal may not be a visible mark (see commentary on Revelation 7:4 ), yet these locusts are able to detect those who are sealed. The answer lies in the fact that demons have great spiritual awareness. During Jesus ministry, demons frequently identified him as the Son of God or Holy One of God, a fact which was missed by His disciples and most of those whom He taught (Mtt. Mat. 8:29; Mark Mark 1:24; Mark 3:11; Luke Luke 4:33-34; Luke 8:28). Mark informs us that Jesus did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him (Mark Mark 1:34). Luke says And demons also came out of many, crying out and saying, You are the Christ, the Son of God! And He, rebuking them, did not allow them to speak, for they knew He was the Christ (Luke Luke 4:41). Not only did the demons recognize Jesus, but they also recognized Pauland that he had spiritual authority which the seven sons of Sceva lacked since they were presumably not born again (Acts Acts 19:14-16). Thus, these demonic locusts will be able to readily identify those which have been marked for special protection by God, whether the mark is physical or spiritual in nature.
If we are to understand the 144,000 sealed Jews in Revelation Rev. 7:1+ to be the initial sealing of an evangelistic force and a signal of Gods redemptive focus returning upon Israel (Rom. Rom. 11:25-32), then from their initial witness, many more, both Jew and Gentile, will come to know God during the Tribulation. These are those who John saw which came out of the Great Tribulation (Rev. Rev. 7:14+). It would seem that these too will be protected from the demonic horde:4
Those who have the seal of God include not only the 144,000 Jewish evangelists (Rev. Rev. 7:3-4+; Rev. 14:1+), but also the rest of the redeemed (cf. Rev. Rev. 22:4+; 2Ti. 2Ti. 2:19). This seal marks them as personally belonging to God and as such protected from the forces of hell. Jesus promised the faithful members of the Philadelphia church that He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name (Rev. Rev. 3:12+).5
3 John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), Rev. 9:4.
5 MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Rev. 9:4.