Then the sixth angel sounded a trumpet and I heard one voice from the [four] horns of the altar of gold before the face of God, saying to the sixth angel, the one having the trumpet,
“Release the four angels having been bound over the mighty river Euphrates.”
And the four angels have been released, the ones having been made ready for the hour and day and month and year in order that they would put to death the third of the people.Revelation 9:13-15
It is not clear whether the sixth angel sounded the trumpet before the five months of torment and testing had ended, or whether the swarm of supernatural scorpionesque locusts had completed its mission. Perhaps the one came upon the heels of the other, or perhaps there was a lull on earth, an interval of rest.
According to this view, after the 150 years of the Saracens, the sixth trumpet heralded the fall of the Grecian region of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire with Constantinople as its capitol city.
Then, late in the tenth century, Tartars from the Caspian Sea moved eastward, creating settlements along the Euphrates, and came to be known as Turkomen.
Not long after, Muhammet Togrul, second ruler of the Seljuk dynasty, united their various tribes into a formidable empire in central Asia, conquering Baghdad of the Saracens, then converting to Islam.
At his ascendancy, Togrul’s son looked westward for new territory to subjugate, and began a methodical assault on the remains of the Roman Empire. Over the course of four hundred years, the Turkish armies and western Crusaders clashed until by 1453 the Turkish Ottoman Empire overthrew Constantinople and the Holy Roman Empire was no more.
- Four angels—The angels from the Euphrates are messengers of war, Turkish horsemen released to vanquish the remnants of Rome.
- Hour, day, month, year—these increments of time are to be added together. The code calculates a day for a year to become approximately four hundred years.
One hour is equal to either 1/12 or 1/24 of a year.
One day is equal to 1 year.
One month is equal to 30 years.
One year is equal to either 360 or 365 years (either by a Jewish calendar, as primarily John’s readers would have been Jewish, or a Roman calendar with a nod to Jewish families living throughout the Roman Empire).
Sum Total falls somewhere between 391 years, 15 days to 396 years, 3 months, and about 16 days.
Some interpreters begin their calculations later, seeing the four messengers as Sultanates along the Euphrates that were held back by the Crusaders. They broke free in 1281 to begin severe persecution of Christians and their final victory came in 1672, in a foray into Poland.
These commentators say that during the events of 66-70 CE, many of the Roman troops had been stationed along the Euphrates, which in ancient times had acted as a natural boundary between Israel and both the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires.
John’s specification of an exact time, down to the hour, points to a predestined event God had already been preparing and that would definitely come about. There is precedent found in Daniel’s prophecies concerning a seventy week timeline.
Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city: to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place.Daniel 9:24 (NRSV)
Jesus also gave a timetable in His prediction of Jerusalem’s destruction.
“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”Luke 21:6 (NRSV)
Peter with his brother Andrew, and John with his brother James all came up to Jesus privately to ask Him to explain His alarming prophecy, Jesus gave a long reply that has sometimes been entitled the Olivet Discourse.
Specifically, these four disciples wanted to know exactly when this was going to happen, and what the impending signs might be.
Impending Signs of Jerusalem’s Destruction
Jesus told them to be alert.
“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.”Luke 21:20 (NRSV)
Timetable For Jerusalem’s Demise
And when would that happen?
“Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.”Luke 21:32 (NRSV)
So, in other words, in the next forty years, when those in Jerusalem saw Titus’s armies beginning to lay siege, the end was near and they were to flee to the mountains for safety.
Commentators in this camp contend Jesus considered this coming judgment of Jerusalem to be the culmination of prophets’ oracles.
“For these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written.”Luke 21:22 (NRSV)
This is why John is so specific about even the hour of the unleashing. This hour has been predestined from long ago.
A number of interpreters who look to the future understand the four angels of the Euphrates to be the same angels identified two chapters previously.
After this, I saw four angels were standing upon the four corners of the earth, taking hold of the four winds of the earth, in order that wind would not breathe upon the earth nor upon the sea nor upon any tree.Revelation 7:7
But there is not consensus. Others consider the Euphrates angels to be definitely evil whose primary purpose is to kill and destroy. The angels are understood as a powerful malevolent influence that will gather a vast military force formed from nations east of the Euphrates—Asian and Eurasian countries.
In this case, the Euphrates is seen as the natural barrier between the eastern and western longitude dividing Europe, Israel, and North Africa, from the Near and Far East (called the Orient in older publications).
There is some crossover on this aspect of John’s apocalypse with other literature of the first century reflecting a dread of Parthian or other foreign invaders attacking the people of God. But John’s revelation is distinctive in stating this clash will be a global event of God’s divine judgment against the debasement of all of earth’s cultures and governments.
Expositors with this view also consider John’s timeframe noteworthy. It is not a length of time, as the historicist scholars claim. Instead, they agree with preterist commentators: it is a specific moment in history that has long since been set by God. But rather than having already happened in 70 CE, it is a day and an hour still future to us today
The Euphrates River has for millennia represented a natural boundary between east and west; between Israel and the fearsome federations that eventually did conquer and exile God’s people; between the eastern and western portions of Rome’s empire; and between Asia and Europe today. Symbolically, then, the Euphrates is a depiction of boundaries, a firm line between two worlds. That the four angels are being held there in restraint is a picture of God holding back the forces of evil—perhaps at the border of darkness and light itself.
Interestingly, the voice that releases these dark angels comes from the four horns of the golden incense altar, earlier associated with the prayers of the faithful and godly.
These supplications launched the seven trumpets cycle, as the angel in attendance flung a fine mist of glowing incense and ash out of heaven to cascade through earth’s atmosphere. From heaven’s perspective, this must have been almost operatic as the sparkling and aromatic embers rained down while each angel solemnly sounded their horns. But from earth’s perspective, it was one fiery disaster after another.
Yet each calamity is muted, as though having been given in warning. So it is with this sixth trumpet, for though a third of all humankind is to die, yet two-thirds are preserved.
This is not an end-all cataclysm but a severe call to repentance, that the rest might be redeemed.
The four perspectives taken from Revelation: Four Views A Parallel Commentary, edited by Steve Gregg