“Then locusts came from the smoke and descended on the earth, and they were given power to sting like scorpions. They were told not to harm the grass or plants or trees, but only the people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were told not to kill them but to torture them for five months with pain like the pain of a scorpion sting. In those days people will seek death but will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them!”
Revelation 9:3-6 NLT
As if the smoke polluting the atmosphere and the darkness was not disaster enough, another problem appeared, bringing more woes to affect the people on earth. Stinging locusts. And they were given specific instructions, that they were only to sting “the people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads”. The effect of the sting was quite specific in that it was to be like the sting of a scorpion, not enough to kill, but enough to cause pain so great that people wanted to die anyway.
The verses today contain quite a lot of information. Firstly, the locusts were biddable – they were given specific instructions about what they could and couldn’t do. They were not sent from Heaven but came out of the abyss in the smoke. It may have been that satan wanted the locusts to wreak total destruction on God’s people, as he has always wanted, but God had other plans. Another indication, perhaps, that God limits the devil’s powers and capabilities? However, on this occasion God’s people were protected from the stinging insects.
John was also told that God’s people had a mark, the seal of God, on their foreheads. Were these people the 144,000 we read about in Revelation 7, or did they include all Christians everywhere? I believe it to be the latter, because God has no favourites when it comes to His love and acceptance.
Another thought is what this seal or mark looks like. We will read about another mark, the mark of the beast, later in Revelation 13, so it wasn’t that. There has been speculation that these marks might be bar or QR codes. It was possible that this was a tattoo of some kind, but probably unlikely because the Jews in the Old Testament were discouraged from cutting or marking their skin (Leviticus 19:28). We of course don’t know what the mark or seal was, but what we do know is that it will be very distinctive and will declare unambiguously that the person with it belongs to God. And the locusts were not allowed to touch them. As a thought, I suppose that if we today were to carry a mark to say that we are Christians, would that make any difference to who we are and what we do. To what we say or how we behave? Hmmm…
What was the significance of the five months? Apparently locusts only live for five months so perhaps that was the reason, that they were going to be tormentors for their life span. However, to those being stung, it must have seemed like a life time. The non-Christians at that time must have gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid the locusts but I expect to no avail. As a resident of Scotland, I’m reminded of a wee beastie we call the Highland Midge. The female of the species is a very small insect that needs blood to mature the eggs it is carrying. And the effect of its bite is to cause an itch, sometimes painful, that takes some time to recede. Sadly, it does not distinguish between Christians and non-Christians. We have potions and sprays to discourage the midge from coming near us, and there is also an item of head and neck wear made of a very close mesh, that can sometimes help. There are even machines that attract the midgies (plural of midge) and dispose of them into a large tank underneath. But the midgies are relentless in their pursuit of blood. However, I can imagine the sting of the locusts in John’s vision was far worse, and there would have been no remedy or way of avoiding them.
Pilgrims still alive at this point in the End Times would have felt much relief that they were escaping the attentions of the locusts. But I would imagine that those unmarked in the population would have felt very resentful of them and I expect persecution of the Christians would have been severe and increasing. But Jesus said we must stand firm until the end comes. So stand firm we will, won’t we? We read in 1 Peter 5:9-10, “Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are. In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation”.
Dear Father God. We stand firm in our faith, in the knowledge that our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world are experiencing all sorts of persecution. We thank You that you have cut short the days of suffering and that we will one day share Heaven with You. We are so grateful. Amen.