Almost everybody agrees that the book of Revelation can’t be understood.
Almost everybody is wrong most of the time.
The Meaning of the Book
Revelation – So many say it’s difficult to understand.
The original Greek word for Revelation is ἀποκάλυψις, or as we transliterate it means “apocalypse.”
Apocalypse means unveiling or revealing – not “hiding” or “making harder to understand.” In other words, John’s book of Revelation is to expose, reveal, explain, and show what’s going to take place. Our God who inspired John’s words is not a god of confusion.
So man says Revelation is hard to understand. God says it is revealing and that it uncovers what was hidden before. Wonder who we should listen to more, man or God?
Revelation 9 is contains some nasty things. It begins as follows. I boldfaced the words we’re most interested in here:
Then the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth; and the key of the bottomless pit was given to him. He opened the bottomless pit, and smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit. Then out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. And they were not permitted to kill anyone, but to torment for five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings a man.
And in those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them.
The appearance of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle; and on their heads appeared to be crowns like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men. They had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to battle. They have tails like scorpions, and stings; and in their tails is their power to hurt men for five months.
What Could This Mean?
I have a friend who asked me today about the last line. “…tails like scorpions” Did I think these were actual giant scorpions or if it was an analogy. For example, perhaps it is a figure of speech used to describe poison coming out of men’s mouths in the last days as being as bad as a scorpion’s sting.
So which is it, a real monster, a regular-sized scorpion, or just a man? How could we possibly make a guess?
Easy. We just read it.
The ancient and world-famous hermeneutic method called the “Look Up and Down Hermeneutic” that I recently made up says this: Any time lots of people argue over Scripture, usually right above or below the questioned verses God has explained everything crystal clearly.
Just as He does here. God tells us the words used for the scorpions are similes.
(Note: To public school English teachers who are now confused: A simile makes a comparison using the words like or as.)
Go back to the earlier verses and look at where I applied the boldfacing. Notice that the chapter twice begins with “as… scorpions” or “like… scorpions.” So God says it’s a simile. In other words, once again we argue over something God’s Word just makes clear right there.
How Close a Simile?
It’s useful to determine just how close a simile might be. We have good reason to think that these aren’t actual giant scorpions but I do believe they are large creatures that aren’t too different from scorpions. Some how they also are like locusts, perhaps in the way they fly and first appear, or perhaps they are locusts that are like mutated giant locusts with stinging tails.
You see, when God does use a simile, He doesn’t just make one up willy-nilly.
(I went to school with Willy Nilly.)
(That’s a lie.)
God wouldn’t describe them as locusts and like scorpions if they were far different from locusts and scorpions.
I think we can easily gather that these are big things, perhaps large man-like monster demons, with some way of inflicting actual stings, likely with a tail of some kind that is very much like a scorpion’s. Ugh!
We can argue all day what this means: They have tails like scorpions, and stings; and in their tails is their power to hurt men for five months.
But why would we need to argue? God is telling us through His inspired words exactly what these things’ tails are like. They are like a scorpion’s, they sting like a scorpion’s, only instead of the short-term pain inflicted by an actual scorpion this pain lasts for five months! And it’s so bad, the people stung want to die but can’t. (…they will long to die, and death flees from them.)
So, are these creatures actual scorpions? No, they are very much “like” scorpions though.
How much are they “like” scorpions? Very much so in the way they have tails that inflict stinging pain.
Is it really all just an analogy for something else? How on earth can you conclude that from this clear text?
Revelation is Revealing After All
We need to stop acting as though Revelation is cloudy and unclear. We just perhaps should consider reading it if we want to know what it says.
And if we want to know if something in Revelation is a representation of something other than exactly what it says? Then we need to consider reading it if we want to know if that’s the case. God tells us.
But how close of a simile or metaphor? Perhaps we need to consider reading it as I demonstrated above to know how close of a metaphor it is.
It’s all fairly easy. It takes years of reading a bunch of dead Germans to cloud your brain enough to stop believing what God’s Word clearly says.
Caveat: A proper study of any word, verse, or passage in Scripture requires looking at the underlying language and doing more exegesis than I’ve done here. But this is a great start. Just read what it says. The Bible almost always just means what it says.