What Should Christians Know about the Locusts in Revelation?
Everyone hates bugs, and the Bible uses our abhorrence of insects in the example of the horrific locusts in the book of Revelation.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ is the apocalyptic writing from John detailing the end of this age, the transition from the one to the coming one. With its abundant imagery, scholars have discussed and debated the literal and symbolic nature of the graphic pictures Jesus showed John.
Locusts are destructive and consuming insects that travel in swarms. But what do the locusts in Revelation mean?
What Comes Before the Locusts in Revelation?
Before the arrival of the locusts in the book of Revelation, the text unveils vivid events that contribute to the unfolding apocalyptic vision.
In Revelation 8, the seventh and final seal on a scroll is opened. A profound silence in heaven follows, signifying anticipation that something dramatic is coming. Seven angels are then given seven trumpets, each heralding a significant event in the divine judgment and redemption plan. Four trumpets, each a judgment against the earth and its people, sound before the locusts are unleashed.
The first trumpet brings a mixture of hail, fire, and blood upon the earth. Cataclysmic events burn a third of the earth, trees, and grass.
The second trumpet sounds, and a great mountain, burning with fire, is cast into the sea. This results in a third of the sea becoming blood, as well as a third of the living sea creatures and ships perishing.
The third trumpet announces Wormwood, a great star, falling from heaven. Its arrival poisons a third of the rivers and springs. Water becomes bitter, causing many people to die from drinking it.
The fourth trumpet sounds, and a third of the sun, moon, and stars are struck, reducing their light.
The fifth trumpet sounds, and Wormwood is given the key to the bottomless pit. Upon opening the pit, locusts (with the power to torment but not kill) emerge. These locusts look unusual: they look like horses prepared for battle, with faces like humans, hair like women, and stingers like scorpions.
So, what do we make of these locusts?
What Do We Learn about the Locusts in Revelation?
The star mentioned in the fifth trumpet connects to a fallen angel. Stars often symbolize fallen angels or demons in the Bible. The locusts originate from the abyss, which signifies a supernatural, evil force.
The description of the locusts’ physical appearance is laden with possible symbolic elements (Revelation 9:7-10). They are portrayed as horses prepared for battle, wearing crowns like gold, faces resembling humans, hair like women, and teeth like lions. Additionally, they possess wings that sound like chariots and stingers like scorpions. This vivid imagery underscores these locusts’ otherworldly and fearsome nature, symbolizing the destructive forces unleashed during times of divine judgment.
Unlike ordinary locusts, these symbolic locusts are given a specific charge—they are not to harm the grass, the earth, or any green thing (Revelation 9:4-6). Instead, they are permitted to torment those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. This selective torment emphasizes a spiritual dimension to the locust imagery, suggesting that the judgment targets those people not under God’s protective seal.
The torment inflicted by the locusts is described as lasting for five months. This limitation suggests a predetermined period during which the intensity of the divine judgment is experienced. The specific duration adds a structured element to the unfolding apocalyptic events.
The locusts are described as having a king over them, identified as the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon. The names signify destruction and the destroyer, further emphasizing the role of the locusts in executing divine judgment. The presence of a king over the locusts highlights the organized and purposeful nature of the spiritual forces at work.
Where Do We See Locusts Outside Revelation?
Locusts are a common biblical reference. Throughout the Old Testament, locusts are employed as symbolic elements, metaphors, and instruments of divine judgment. These references contribute to a nuanced understanding of locusts within the broader biblical narrative as well as Revelation.
In the book of Exodus, locusts are one of the ten plagues unleashed upon Egypt. In Exodus 10:4-6, Moses warns Pharaoh of the impending locust plague: “If you refuse to let my people go, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country. They will cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen. They will devour what little you have left after the hail, including every tree that is growing in your fields.” Egypt was a highly agrarian society known for its crops, so locusts served as a divine judgment striking their weak area.
The prophet Joel uses the imagery of locusts to convey a message of impending judgment on Israel and a call to repentance. In Joel 1:4, he describes a devastating locust invasion: “What the locust swarm has left, the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left, the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left, other locusts have eaten.” Joel employs the devastation caused by locusts as a metaphor for the consequences of turning away from God. This would have been a stark judgment, reminding Israelites of Egypt’s destruction.
In Amos 7:1-2, Amos describes a vision of locusts during the time of the king’s harvest:
“This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me: He was preparing swarms of locusts after the king’s share had been harvested and just as the late crops were coming up. When they had stripped the land clean, I cried out, ‘Sovereign Lord, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!’”
Here, locusts symbolize the impending devastation and catalyze the prophet’s plea for mercy.
Locusts are referenced as part of life’s natural order and cycles in the Bible’s wisdom literature. Proverbs 30:27 states, “The locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank.” While not a picture of judgment, this proverbial reference emphasizes locusts’ organized and disciplined nature, even without a central authority.
Finally, the book of Nahum uses locust imagery to convey the relentlessness of divine judgment against oppressive powers. Nahum 3:15 states, “There the fire will devour you, the sword will cut you off; it will eat you up like a locust.” The symbolic use of locusts underscores the inevitability and thoroughness of God’s judgment.
Locusts symbolize God’s justice and the call to righteous living in these biblical references. Once the Israelites had settled into the Promised Land, God promised abundant crops if they would seek him alone and keep the Law. To disobey meant a curse on the land promised to them. Locusts were a destructive manifestation of that curse.
God also promises redemption if people would repent and turn back to him. In Joel 2, God says, “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust, my great army which I sent among you.” Here, even though Israel saw the consequence of their sin and disobedience, God promised to end the curse and completely redeem the land and people.
What Might the Locusts Symbolize in Revelation?
Interpreting the symbolism of the locusts in Revelation requires understanding the apocalyptic genre, a popular type of literature during the time of Jesus. Apocalyptic books often employ metaphorical language to convey spiritual truths. Therefore, the symbolism associated with the locusts in Revelation has sparked various theories and interpretations. Here are some things that the locusts might symbolize.
- Symbol of Divine Judgment. The locust plague in Revelation mirrors the Old Testament plagues upon Egypt, particularly the eighth plague. In this view, combined with other references from Amos and Joel, the locusts represent God’s judgment on unrepentant people who reject His authority. As seen from the other passages, part of God’s judgment is purifying God’s people and preparing the world for his final redemption.
- Military Symbolism. The locusts looking like horses prepared for battle, wearing crowns, and having stingers like scorpions all suggest a militaristic interpretation. This theory aligns with the broader theme of spiritual warfare and the cosmic struggle between good and evil.
- Symbol of Heresy and False Teaching. Another symbolic interpretation suggests that the locusts symbolize heresy and false teaching that infest the church. The locusts’ ability to torment but not kill may represent the spiritual harm caused by false doctrines.
- Symbol of Demonic Forces. Given the context of the locusts emerging from the abyss and being led by a king named Abaddon or Apollyon, some interpretations identify the locusts as symbolic of demonic forces. The abyss is often associated with a place of imprisonment for evil spirits, released for a time upon the earth in Revelation.
- Symbol of Oppressive Political Powers. In a socio-political interpretation, the locusts may symbolize oppressive political powers that bring (economic and military) suffering and torment. The locusts causing anguish and pain align with the idea that these powers inflict hardship on the earth’s inhabitants. This interpretation connects with the symbol of military oppressor Babylon in Revelation and the book’s context (it was written when the Roman Empire oppressed many Christians).
The symbolism of the locusts in Revelation is open to various interpretations, reflecting the complexity and richness of apocalyptic literature. The interpretation one adopts may depend on theological perspective, historical context, and the broader framework within which the book of Revelation is understood. To some degree, we aren’t limited to only one interpretation. The locusts could symbolize multiple things at once.
Ultimately, the importance of the locusts is the spiritual truth the image tells us: remember that pain may come, but Christ is coming soon. Therefore, be faithful. Every Christian should take seriously the instruction to remain faithful in light of how God will judge the world but bring all creation into redemption. One day, he will remove the curse of sin and rebellion once and for all.
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/switchkun
Britt Mooney lives and tells great stories. As an author of fiction and non -iction, he is passionate about teaching ministries and nonprofits the power of storytelling to inspire and spread truth. Mooney has a podcast called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author of We Were Reborn for This: The Jesus Model for Living Heaven on Earth as well as Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.
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