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Christopher Wordsworth on the Second Woe

August 11, 2012

In the following, Christopher Wordsworth discusses the second woe of Revelation 9 & 11, from: Lectures on the Apocalypse, Critical, Expository, Practical, delivered before the University of Cambridge by Christopher Wordsworth, Canon of Westminster. 3rd. ed. London, 1852. pp. 142-158.

Christopher Wordsworth

Christopher Wordsworth

6. The next, the Sixth, Trumpet has occasioned some perplexity.

A voice from the horns of the altar of incense cries to the sixth Angel, who has the sixth Trumpet, Loose the four Angels, who are bound at the great river, the river Euphrates.

Modern Expositors, for the most part, understand by these Angels and their host, some great, earthly, powers, — Turkish, Saracenic, Oriental, — which come forth from the literal river Euphrates.

These expositions do not appear satisfactory; and let me crave your indulgence in declaring my opinion concerning this Trumpet.

Loose the four Angels. This carries us back to the Sixth Seal, where we have already seen four Angels, to whom reference is here made in the term, — “the four Angels.” In the Sixth Seal these four Angels are represented as standing at the four corners of the earth, having power to hurt the earth, the sea, and the trees, holding the four winds, that they may not blow upon the earth. And an Angel cries to these. Hurt not the earth, nor the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. [Rev. vii. 1-3] And they are restrained, till the Sealing of the Saints is complete.

In the Sixth Trumpet these four Angels are now described as bound — bound at the great river Euphrates. The Euphrates is the river of Babylon; and Babylon in the Apocalypse is always used in a figurative sense: it designates the Great City, concerning which more will be said hereafter. We cannot, therefore, concur with those interpreters who, while they understand Babylon in a typical sense, interpret the river of Babylon in a literal sense. If Babylon is figurative (as doubtless it is), Euphrates, the river of Babylon, is figurative also.

These four Angels, then, in the Sixth Trumpet, are said to be bound as captives in the Great City; and yet, in the Sixth Seal, they are not bound, for they are said to stand at the four corners of the earth. How is this to be explained?

As the Four Living Creatures under the heavenly throne [Rev. iv. 6] represent the fourfold Gospel in its glorified condition, adoring God in heaven, so these Four Angels represent the Gospel — the Æternum  Evangelium — diffused to the Four Winds of heaven; preached in the Four quarters of the World. And this Gospel is free as air: as St. Paul says, The Gospel is not bound. [2 Tim. ii. 9]

And yet, in a certain sense, the Gospel has been bound, bound at the great river Euphrates; bound in the Great City — the mystical Babylon — the Church of Rome: for that great City has put fetters upon it; it has chained the Word of God.

These four Angels are loosed, in obedience to a voice from the Altar of incense, which is before the face of God; and loosed by the sixth Angel, an Angel of God.

Thus they are contrasted with the Locusts of the preceding Trumpet, who were loosed by Satan from the bottomless pit.

Again: This Altar of incense, from which the voice issues, had been kindled with incense, which are the prayers of the Saints; [Rev. viii. 3-5] and therefore the loosing of the Four Angels is represented as a gracious answer from God to those prayers.

To proceed: These Angels are said to be prepared for the hour, the day, and month, and year, to destroy the third part of men; that is, they represent the Gospel, which is prepared for the hour of retribution, the day of wrath, the month of God’s harvest, the year of His visitation, the Great Day of Doom, when all will be judged by the Word of God.

A great Army is with them. I heard their number; Two hundred thousand thousand of horsemen; that is, two myriads of myriads. This extraordinary number seems also to intimate that these are not human hosts, but armies of God. And so they are regarded by some ancient Expositors. And this exposition is confirmed by the Apocalypse itself. In a former passage we read, I looked, and heard the voice of many Angels round about the throne, and their number was myriads of myriads. [Rev. v. 11] And Daniel speaks of the same number; myriad-myriads of Angels. And the Psalmist says, The Chariots of God are two hundred thousand thousand Angels [Psalm lxviii. 17] (so the passage ought to be translated); that is, the same number as in the Vision before us. And Jude says, The Lord cometh with myriads of His holy Angels. [Jude 14]

Next observe, Their horses have breastplates of fire and jacinth.

The colour white, in the Apocalypse, is restricted to what concerns Christ; so the colour jacinth, or violet, is applied in Scripture to divine things. Thus, in the Old Testament, it describes the colour of the curtains of the Tabernacle, and of the Veil, and of the High Priest’s attire. [Exod. xxv. 4; xxvi. 1] And in the Apocalypse jacinth is one of the twelve jewels of the heavenly city. [Rev. xxi. 20] Here is another proof that these Angels and their armies are divine.

Again: their horses’ heads are said to be like lions. And in this book, Christ is called the Lion of the tribe of Judah, [Rev. v. 5] and to utter a voice as the Lion roareth. [Rev. x. 3]

Further we read: And from their mouths go forth fire and smoke and brimstone; and the third part of men are killed by the fire and smoke and brimstone which goes forth from their mouth. For they have power in their mouth and their tails; for their tails are like serpents, and they hurt with them.

How, it may be asked, can this be true of the Word of God?

In reply, let us remember, that the Word of God is a savour of life unto life to those who receive it; but it is also a savour of death unto death to all who reject it. [2 Cor. ii. 16] Either by God’s grace it is the greatest blessing which we can receive; or else, by our sin it becomes our greatest bane. As the rod of the Jewish Lawgiver became a serpent, and he is ordered to take it up by the tail, and it again becomes a Rod in his hand, and as that of Aaron also became a serpent, and devoured the rods of the Magicians, [Exod. iv. 4; vii. 9-12] so the Word of God, which has no sting for the righteous, but is a Rod of power in their hands, recoils with deadly force on the ungodly, and has a sting for the wicked. The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the Law. [1 Cor. xv. 56] If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloke for their sin. [John xv. 22; Matth. x. 34; See Rom. iv. 15; iii, 20]

Our Blessed Lord Himself seems to authorize this interpretation of the Sixth Trumpet, a Trumpet of Woe. In speaking of the Gospel He uses the word Woe: He represents the Gospel as a Woe to those who reject it. Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And He says to His Apostles, that if any City receive not their message, it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for it. [Luke x. 11-14; Matth. xi. 21]

This Exposition is also confirmed by the Scripture expressions which describe the retributive power and punitive office of God’s Word.

He shall smite the earth with the Rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked. [Isa. xi. 4] I have hewed them by the Prophets; I have slain them by the words of My Mouth. [Hos. vi. 5] Behold, I will make My Words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them. [Jerem. v. 14] Repent, (says Christ, in the Apocalypse,) or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against thee with the Sword of My mouth. [Rev. ii. 16] Out of His mouth goeth a sharp Sword, that with it He should smite the Nations. [Rev. xix. 21. 15] And, after the destruction of the Beast and False Prophet, The remnant, we read, were slain with the Sword of Him that sat upon the horse, which Sword proceedeth out of His mouth. Out of His mouth goeth a sharp Sword, that with it He should smite the Nations; and He shall rule them with a Rod of Iron. [Rev. xix. 21]

Such is the language of Scripture respecting the Word of God. How terrible is it!

Let us recollect also, that concerning the Delivery of the Law it is said, — The Lord came from Sinai; He shined forth from mount Paran; and He came with ten thousands of Saints: from His right hand went a fiery Law for them. [Deut. xxxiii. 2] Such was His Majesty in the Law; and does He come with less power and glory in the Gospel? [2 Cor. iii. 9]

If further proof be required of this Exposition, let us compare what is here said of these Four Angels, with what is afterwards said in the Apocalypse in the parallel Vision of the Two Witnesses, or Two Testaments, the Law and the Gospel. [Rev. xi. 6-11]

There is a wonderful resemblance. Each of these Visions illustrates the other.

The Two Witnesses, it is said, torment those who dwell on the earth, and have power to shut heaven, and to turn waters into blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues as often as they will. [Rev. xi. 10] If any one injures them, it is said, fire cometh out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies; and if any one hurts them, he must be so destroyed.

Similarly, of these Four Angels and their host, it is said in almost the same words, that fire cometh out of their mouth, and they have power to destroy the third part of men by their plagues; and the rest of men who were not destroyed by these plagues did not repent.

Again: the Two Witnesses are said to be warred on by the Beast, and to lie unburied in the Great City, — that is, in Babylon.

Similarly: the Four Angels are here represented as bound, imprisoned, at the great river Euphrates — the river of Babylon.

Again: the Two Witnesses arise. The Spirit of God enters into them; they ascend in the clouds of Christ’s glory to heaven; their foes are terrified; a tenth part of the City falls; and the world is awed, and gives glory to God.

Similarly: the Four Angels are represented as accompanied with the heavenly host, and endued with tremendous power.

Lastly, — (which is very remarkable) — the preaching of the Two Witnesses is expressly called in the Apocalypse the Second Woe. [Rev. xi. 14]

And the loosing of the Four Angels is also called in the Apocalypse the Second Woe. [Rev. ix. 12]

In fact, the preaching of the Two Witnesses and the loosing of the Four Angels represent the same thing. And what is that?

The preaching of the Gospel.

The Second Woe is the eve of the End. And our Lord Himself says, This Gospel must first be preached for a Witness unto all nations, and what then will take place? then shall the End come. [Matth. xxiv. 14; Mark xiii. 10] Thus He connects the Gospel with the Witnesses, and with the End. Christ, says St. Paul, will consume the Man of Sin with the Spirit of His mouth, and destroy him with the brightness of His coming, [2 Thess. ii. 8] when the Lord shall be revealed with His mighty Angels in flaming fire. [2 Thess. i. 7, 8] A fiery stream, says Daniel, issued forth from before Him; thousand thousands ministered unto Him; and I beheld till the Beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame. [Dan. vii. 10, 11. Compare Rev. xix. 19, 20]

Yes, my brethren, and is not this the fact? It is not the sword and spear which will destroy the walls of the spiritual Jericho: it is the breath of the Gospel, and the shout of the People of God. They will be overthrown by the foolishness of preaching, [1 Cor. i. 21] by the rams-horn trumpets of the Gospel; not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts. [Zech. iv. 6] Our weapons are not carnal, but mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strongholds. [2 Cor. x. 4] It is expressly said of Christ’s Saints, They overcame by the blood of Christ, and by the Word of their Testimony. [Rev. xii. 11]

Is it not, also, true that God, the Lord of Sabaoth, does indeed come with His mighty Angels, in His glorious Gospel? — that to the eye of faith He is there seen surrounded with myriads of Cherubim and Seraphim; and that to those who reject His Word Our God is a consuming fire? [Deut. iv. 24; Heb. xii. 29]

Is it not also true that even now, in a certain sense, this Apocalyptic Vision of Christ and His Angel Horsemen has begun to be fulfilled?

The temporal power of Rome has been weakened; and so, the Scriptures, which were enthralled by her, have been freed. Thus, the Angels have been loosed, which were bound for many centuries at the river Euphrates.

Again: the Word of God has been translated into all languages. Thus the Angels have been loosed. And by the aid of Printing they have been multiplied innumerably. Thus, also, the Angels have been loosed. The Scriptures, in swiftness and strength, like an innumerable Army of Horsemen, are now sweeping over the world. Their sound is gone forth into all lands, and their words unto the Ends of the world. [Psalm xix. 4] These are the Chariots of God’s Power. This is His Host; they are like the Cherubim. Christ, the Mighty Conqueror, rides upon them.

And let us be sure that this Propagation of the Gospel is, to those who reject or despise it, a terrible Woe.

The imagery and language of the Apocalypse, as we have said, is derived from that of the Prophets of the Old Testament; and the interpretation now offered of the Sixth Trumpet receives light from a very sublime Vision in the book of the Prophet Joel. [Joel ii. 1-11]

This Vision, like that in the Apocalypse, is introduced with the sound of the Trumpet.

Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, says the Prophet; sound an alarm in My holy mountain; let all the inhabitants of the earth tremble, for the day of the Lord is at hand.

Then the Lord’s army is revealed.

A fire devoureth before them, and behind them the land burneth. The appearance of them is as the appearance of Horses, and as Horsemen shall they run.

Like the noise of Chariots on the tops of the mountains shall they leap; like the noise of a flame of fire , that devoureth the stubble, as a strong people set in battle array.

Their power and prowess is thus described. Then it is added —

And the Lord shall utter His voice before His army; for His camp is very great; for He is strong that executeth His Word; for the Day of the Lord is great and terrible, and who can abide it?

St. John, I conceive, refers to this Vision; and there are some remarkable verbal parallelisms, as well as real coincidences, between his description and that of the Prophet Joel, especially as read in the Septuagint Version.

The Prophet Zechariah also represents Angels, the Ministers of Christ, as Horsemen, in one of his first Visions.

And the Prophet Habakkuk exclaims, Thou didst ride, Lord, upon Thine Horses, and Thy Chariots of Salvation. Thy bow was made quite naked, even Thy Word. Thou didst walk through the sea with Thine Horses, through the heap of great waters. [Hab. iii. 8, 9, 15, 17]

The interpretation, now proposed, of the Sixth Trumpet, or Second Woe, is also remarkably confirmed by other passages in the Apocalypse.

In the first Seal, as we have seen, Christ goes forth as a Royal Warrior on a White Horse, conquering and to conquer. [Rev. vi. 2] And, just before the final consummation, One like the Son of Man is displayed, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle. [Rev. xiv. 14] Another Angel also appears with a sickle; and the Earth is reaped; and the Vintage begins. And then we read, — The Winepress was trodden without the city; and blood came out of the Winepress, even unto the bridles of the Horses. [Rev. xiv. 20]

This mention of Horses, in connexion with the Winepress, seems at first very obscure; but when we remember the Angels’ Horses of the Second Woe, it becomes clear.

And this passage of the Apocalypse is illustrated, also, by a sublime description of the Prophet Zechariah, whom St. John imitates very closely in the Revelation; or, to speak more truly, both being filled with the same Divine Spirit, use the same language.

The Prophet, speaking of the same great conflict as St. John, when the power of Christ shall be revealed as that of a mighty Conqueror, compares Him to a Warrior at the head of a great army; and speaks, as St. John does, of the bridles of the Horses. In that day shall there be upon the bridles of the Horses Holiness to the Lord. [Zech. xiv. 20]

Again: there is another passage still later in the Apocalypse, which confirms the exposition we have given of the Sixth Trumpet. I saw heaven opened, says St. John, after the pouring out of the sixth Vial, at the great conflict of Armageddon, and, behold, a White Horse, and He Who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and He judges and wars in righteousness; and His eyes are as a fame of fire, and on His head many crowns; and He has a name written which no one knows but Himself; and He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood; and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven followed Him on White Horses; and they were clothed with linen, white and pure. And from His mouth goeth forth a sharp sword, that with it He may smite the nations; and He will rule them with a rod of iron. And He treads the Winepress of God’s wrath. [Rev. xix. 11-15, cp. Rev. xvi. 12-16]

Then follows the destruction of the Beast and False Prophet, and of the powers of the Earth who have been gathered together against Christ. [Rev. xix. 19, 20]

All these descriptions refer to the same period, that of the Sixth Trumpet, or the Second Woe.

Thus we see Christ is represented as a Mighty Warrior riding to Victory, and His Army with Him, mounted on horses, an innumerable host; and Christ, so leading them to the conflict, is called The Word of God.

Therefore, in the Vision of the Victorious Army of Horsemen revealed at the Sixth Trumpet, we recognize the triumph of Christ and of His Word.

All these testimonies of God Himself in Scripture serve to inculcate a momentous truth, the power and majesty of His Word, and the great sin and peril of despising it.

Therefore, well might the Sixth Angel take up the trumpet, and sound. Woe to the World. Woe to the World, because of offences! Woe to the World, for its neglect of the Gospel! Oh! that men would hear the heavenly blast now sounding in their ears! Nations have rejected the Gospel. Philosophers deny its inspiration. Senates are treading it under foot. Men are patronizing Error as if it were truth; they are encouraging Judaism — which blasphemes Christ as a deceiver — as if it were equally true with the Religion which adores Him as God! Even Churches have bound the Angels, and killed the Witnesses. And yet the Gospel is the Voice of God. The Word of God is the Army of God. Alas! for all who despise it. Woe to all who reject it. Eternal death is their doom. Let the World listen and tremble at the Angelic trumpet, the trump of Woe; for the Gospel will judge the world.

7. When the Seventh or last Trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised, and all shall be summoned before the great White Throne of the Everlasting Judge, then all who dwell upon earth, and have heard the blast of the Sixth Trumpet, and have heard it in vain, shall weep and wail in despair.

When the Lord descends from heaven with a shout, with the Voice of the Archangel and the Trump of God, [1 Thess. iv. 16] then the Word which He has spoken in the Gospel, the same will judge them in that day. [John xii. 48]

  1. August 4, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    Wordsworth said that the horses in the prophecy of the second woe are angels, and he cited Rev. 5:11, Psalm 68:17, Jude 14 to support this.

    He identified the Scriptures with horsemen. He wrote,”The Scriptures, in swiftness and strength, like an innumerable Army of Horsemen, are now sweeping over the world. Their sound is gone forth into all lands, and their words unto the Ends of the world. [Psalm xix. 4] These are the Chariots of God’s Power. This is His Host; they are like the Cherubim. Christ, the Mighty Conqueror, rides upon them.”

    Wordsworth referred to Rev. 19:11-15 and Rev. 16. 12-16, and stated: “”Thus we see Christ is represented as a Mighty Warrior riding to Victory, and His Army with Him, mounted on horses, an innumerable host; and Christ, so leading them to the conflict, is called The Word of God. Therefore, in the Vision of the Victorious Army of Horsemen revealed at the Sixth Trumpet, we recognize the triumph of Christ and of His Word.”

    Wordsworth interpreted the two witnesses as representing the Scriptures. He noted several parallels between the 2nd woe and the powers of the two witnesses.

    The following are some problems in Wordsworth’s interpretation.

    1. Scripture identifies Scripture with a sword, proceeding from Christ’s mouth. He is the one who sits on the horse in Rev.19:21. Christ’s horse and his sword are each separate and distinct symbols. Horses and horsemen are not identified with the Scriptures.

    2. While the horses and horsemen of the 2nd woe and the prophecy of the two witnesses are connected, they do not each represent the Scriptures. In that case, one of the prophecies would be redundant.

    3. The idea that the horsemen are angels implies they are invisible, but if that were true, why would John have specified the colours of their breastplates? The breastplates would also be invisible. The composition of the breastplates contrasts with “breastplates of righteousness” that form part of the armour of the saints in Ephesians 6. Instead, the horses and horsemen have breastplates of fire, smoke, and sulphur. Breastplates imply that those wearing them represent mortal humans, as angels or spirits would have no need for breastplates.

    4. The fire, smoke and brimstone from the mouths of the horses and horsemen kill one third of men, but the fire from the mouth of the two witnesses kills only those who would harm them.

    5. The idea that the horses are holy angels is discredited because they possess tails, in the form of serpents, that have heads. Tails signify false teachers.

    6. Lions’ heads of the horses depict them as having the minds of fierce beasts of prey, which would not apply to the Scriptures.

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