QUESTION: Revelation 9:3-5 concerning the locusts, if I understand you correctly they are the anointed remnant after having received the seal of God. They are told not to harm the vegetation of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree. Are we to take that literally or is it referring to those who will make up the great crowd that won’t be harmed? Further, if the locusts are indeed the remnant, are they just being told not to harm each other when directed to torment men not having the seal, for five months?
ANSWER: The short answer is yes. The green vegetation that is not harmed by the locusts symbolizes the great crowd. It is an appropriate representation since they are to reside on the earth – permanently planted, so-to-speak. I commend you for your insight. (Also, the great crowd themselves are depicted as waving palm tree branches.)
Now let us examine the “things that must shortly take place” in detail.
The sixth chapter of Revelation portrays the opening of the symbolic seven seals of God’s judgments. The opening of the sixth seal causes the world’s present civilization to crash – symbolized in the Apocalypse by the sun and moon going into eclipse, the stars falling from heaven and every mountain and island being rocked from their place. Then the opening verses of the seventh chapter of Revelation states: “After this I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding tight the four winds of the earth, so that no wind could blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the sunrise, having a seal of the living God; and he called with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying: “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until after we have sealed the slaves of our God in their foreheads.”
This is the first mention of “trees.” And in this instance they are to be protected until such time as the sealing of God’s slaves takes place; at which point the curtain is pulled back to reveal the two groups – the 144,000 and the great crowd. Then the seventh and final seal is broken and the first angel blows his trumpet. What happens as a result? “And there was hail and fire mingled with blood, and it was hurled to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green vegetation was burned up.”
However, with the blowing of the fifth trumpet, which is in connection with Abaddon’s warriors, “They were told not to harm the vegetation of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.”
But if “all the green vegetation was burned up” in response to the first trumpet, why are the stinging locust-cavalry under the command “not to harm the vegetation of the earth or any green plant and tree”? Is this a contradiction? No. Going back to the seventh chapter the sealing of the sons of God (144,000) and the gathered great crowd are those who are saved from the destruction to come. No one apart from them will receive salvation. The door is shut at that point.
So, at that juncture God’s judgment begins and the first four trumpets herald God’s adverse judgment against his own house. The “third of the earth that was burned up” is Jehovah’s earthly organization. A third means a sizable number, but a minority nonetheless. All four trumpets basically herald the same thing.
In that context the trees represent the faithless element of the leadership that is over the “green vegetation” and the “green vegetation” symbolizes those under that doomed leadership, who faithlessly follow them after Christ arrives.
The very same symbolism is used in the 11th chapter of Zechariah, where the prophet speaks God’s judgments against the majestic trees of the impenetrable forest, which the context reveals to be the shepherds of God’s flock! This judgment coincides with the desolation of the holy place by a disgusting thing during the great tribulation.
But how do we know that the first four angels proclaim God’s judgments against his earthly organization? Because the very last verse of chapter eight states: “And I saw, and I heard an eagle flying in midheaven say with a loud voice: ‘Woe, woe, woe to those dwelling on the earth because of the rest of the trumpet blasts of the three angels who are about to blow their trumpets!’”
The question is, why the distinction between the first four “trumpet blasts” and the last three trumpets and woes that they initiate? Again, the first four are directed against the house of God. Do not the prophets declare that judgment begins with the house of God? Well, are God’s judgments inconsequential? But once that judgment is concluded, then the next phase of Jehovah’s judgments is directed against the world at large. In that respect the “earth” does not symbolize Jehovah’s earthly organization, but everyone else not among the great crowd.
So, the “green vegetation” that the locusts do not sting is the great crowd. Everyone else at that point is outside the protection of God. And the stings of the locusts upon them are messages of divine condemnation that will precede their literal destruction when the seventh trumpet is sounded.