The fifth trumpet seems either definitely metaphysical or highly allegorical, so how do expositors who take the historical or more specifically preterist views read these verses?
Almost all commentators in this camp understand the locusts to be the military might of the Saracens (Muslim Arabs) and their largely successful campaigns from 612 – 763 CE, conquering the eastern portion of the Roman Empire. The falling star would be the Prophet of Islam, in this reading because the Prophet had become the founder and leader of a major religion and political movement, but his family had lost primary status after his death.
As a point of interest, in antiquity clouds of locusts apparently often came from the region of Arabia, and as one scholar notes, in Hebrew the word for “locust,” אַרְבֶּה | arbeh, is very similar-sounding to the word for “Arab,” ערבי | arbi.
[As an aside, though this is an interesting tidbit, keep in mind that John’s Revelation is written in Greek, so this Hebraism might have happened in the minds of John’s readers if they were Hebrew speakers. Many of them might not have been though, as even the Hebrew scriptures had been translated into Greek – called the ‘Septuagint’ – to accommodate the many Jewish people living in the Diaspora who no longer spoke or read in their ancestral language.]
Historical interpreters see the falling star, the Prophet, as a king, and it is the king’s command to the locust army not to harm any of the vegetation. Evidently, the Prophet had given similar instructions to his own troops.
“… destroy not the means of their subsistence, nor their fruit trees and touch not the palm.”
The Khalifa Abu-Bakr also gave the following instructions to the commander of an army in the Syrian battle:
“… Destroy no palm-trees, nor burn any fields of corn or wheat, cut down no fruit trees …”Ahmed A. Galwash, The Religion of Islam, Volume 2, Chapter XXXII – Payment of Tribute Called “Jizia”
By striking contrast, it was emblematic of the Gothic hordes to destroy and burn to the ground everything in their path, just as the previous trumpets had so vividly portrayed.
The invading Saracens were not able to completely kill the Christian presence in the Eastern Roman Empire, but their torment of them was extreme. Reading of the brutality and near-extermination of the Eastern Church makes for grim reading.
The Crusades were well underway by the end of the time of the Saracens, so the empire was not yet taken, and at least some theologians with this perspective opine (perhaps unfairly?) that it was not the true believers who were targeted, but rather corrupt and idolatrous Christians.
Historicists calculate this time period as one hundred and fifty days (five thirty-day months) which represent the one hundred and fifty years between 612 CE when the Prophet instituted evangelism by the sword and 763 CE when the Saracen capital was moved to Baghdad, and the policy of putting infidels to death who would not convert to Islam was ended.
It is this grisly era that helped to spark the Crusades, when church after church was ravaged in the attempt to force conversion to Islam by brute force.
Some Protestant commentators take an ecclesiastical perspective, seeing the falling star as perhaps the first Roman bishop, Boniface, to assume title over the Church universal, rather than just the Roman See. The damage would be spiritual, the sting doctrinal, the spiritual torment limited for a time until better teaching was made available.
Alternatively, some Catholic commentators view Lutherans as the locusts of the Reformation, and Luther the falling star.
These interpreters agree the fifth trumpet represents a spiritual rather than a physical scene. The falling star was a personage, perhaps an angel, or a leading religious figure. Through this personage false teaching was spread and as a result, a whole swarm of moral and spiritual wrongs in the form of locusts resulted.
Madness During the Siege
This would explain what happened during the four years of Rome’s siege of Jerusalem. According to Josephus, in his work The Wars of the Jews, factions within the city turned on each other, false prophets spread lies abroad, precious food stores were destroyed for spite, fathers killed their families, and children were eaten by their mothers.
Jesus had, according to this view, prophesied about what would happen in the next few decades if those in Jerusalem refused to receive what Jesus was offering them.
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none.
“Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it returns, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first.
“So will it be also with this evil generation.”Matthew 12:43-45 (NRSV)
At first, it might seem Jesus was talking about a person who had been freed of demons. Just a few verses before in this passage, Jesus had liberated a man who had been rendered blind and mute by demon-possession, amazing the watching crowd. That the man could now see reality, and speak his testimony was symbolic of what belief in Jesus would bring. But, as so often happened, a number of theologians and religious authorities present were not amazed. They were aghast and angry, accusing Jesus of being Himself in collusion with demons.
This was, time and again, Jerusalem’s response to Jesus. There was conflict, a split between those who thought Jesus was a good man from God and others who considered him a madman or worse.
The final line of Jesus’s prophecy, however, shows the true direction of His prophecy. It seemed wherever Jesus went, He was casting out demons from the people of Israel. Jesus was, if you will, “sweeping the house clean.” But if the house remained empty, rather than full of faith in God through Christ, then a far worse infestation of evil spirits would swoop in.
Jesus’s crucifixion was the seal of Jerusalem’s fate. Rather than repent and return to God through their Messiah, they had handed Him over to His executioners.
Other expositors see a more mundane possibility in the first year of the siege (five months representing a limited time) when the Zealots stirred one faction against another. Or perhaps it was the year before the siege, when the procurator of Judea Gessius Florus, for a period of five months, fomented terror among Judeans by killing 3,600 law-abiding inhabitants, trying to arouse rebellion.
According to Josephus, it worked.
Procurator Gessius Florus
… Gessius Florus … did his unjust actions to the harm of the nation after a pompous manner; and as though he had been sent as an executioner to punish condemned malefactors, he omitted no sort of rapine, or of vexation;
where the case was really pitiable, he was most barbarous, and in things of the greatest turpitude he was most impudent.
Nor could any one outdo him in disguising the truth; nor could any one contrive more subtle ways of deceit than he did.
He indeed thought it but a petty offense to get money out of single persons; so he spoiled whole cities, and ruined entire bodies of men at once, and did almost publicly proclaim it all the country over, that they had liberty given them to turn robbers, upon this condition, that he might go shares with them in the spoils they got.
Accordingly, this his greediness of gain was the occasion that entire toparchies were brought to desolation, and a great many of the people left their own country, and fled into foreign provinces.Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book II, Chapter 14, 2
The story continues of unspeakable barbarities in which Florus ordered whole families, including infants, to be tortured and crucified. When the furor would die down,
Florus was troubled that the disturbances were over, and endeavored to kindle that flame again … [and] Florus contrived another way to oblige the Jews to begin the war …Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book II, Chapter 15, 3; Chapter 16, item 1
The four perspectives taken from Revelation: Four Views A Parallel Commentary, edited by Steve Gregg