More Trumpets from the Historicist View
Again today the woes that befall the earth are relatively easy to understand from a "futurist" viewpoint. We don't totally understand everything - the scorpions/demons that are described here are difficult to totally understand - but we understand the big message clearly: bad things are happening in order that people might recognize that God is powerful and repent. Do they repent? No. Even in the midst of such heavy signs of judgment, people still refuse to acknowledge God. I'm going to take this opportunity to encourage you, if you're interested in this kind of thing, to read the "Left Behind" book series. It presents in fictional form a futurist understanding of the events of Revelation in an engaging way. Though many have criticisms of it (a lot of them being those who do not see Revelation from a "futurist" view), I think it is a very accessible way to imagine how these events might play out. LIALC's church library has the series if you're interested. We haven't gotten into it in Revelation, but the books are also written from a Premillennial and Pretribulational viewpoint. We'll most likely cover those terms later - they deal mostly with how the timeline of Revelation plays out - not all futurists are in agreement about the order of events and who is effected in the tribulation.
Anyway - for the futurist, today is pretty straightforward because there isn't really symbolism involved: things will happen just as they are portrayed here. Because of that, I want to take today to present what is often considered one of the more strong interpretations in the "historicist" viewpoint. Remember that the historicist sees Revelation as portraying events that occur throughout the history of the Church. As I said, this section is often considered to be one of the stronger interpretations in this view. I have an extended quote, then I want to engage with the ideas a bit to show why even in this stronger section I think there are difficulties with this view:
"To nearly all historicist commentators, the locusts (v. 3) represent the Saracens (Muslim Arabs) and their campaigns against the Eastern Roman Empire from about 612 to 763. The king (v. 11) that is over them is Mohammed. Adam Clarke says that this locust plague “certainly agrees better with the Saracens than with any other people or nation.”
The star fallen from heaven (v. 1) is a symbol for a prince who has been degraded and deprived of his rank. Mohammed was of princely pedigree, but the previous generation of his family had lost rule.
In biblical times, actual locust plagues often came from Arabia. Elliott comments: “I say the very word for locust might almost to a Hebrew ear suggest Arab: the names of the one and of the other being in pronunciation and in radicals not dissimilar—of the locusts (arbeh), of an Arab (arbi).”
These locusts, quite unlike the natural locust, were commanded by their king not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing (v. 4). A striking parallel appears in Mohammed’s instruction in the Koran: “Destroy no palm trees, nor any fields of corn, cut down no fruit trees.” This policy was in stark contrast to the slash and burn approach of the Gothic invaders described in the previous trumpet visions (e.g., 8:7). The Saracens were not able to kill (v. 5) papal Rome as a political body, but only to torment it for a while. Accordingly, though they desolated the Greek and Latin churches, they could not exterminate them nor gain possession of the empire. Those who do not have the seal of God in their foreheads (v. 4), the targets of the tormentors’ assaults, according to the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, are “corrupt and idolatrous Christians; against whom the Saracens chiefly prevailed.”
As for the five months (vv. 5, 10), these are seen as five prophetic months of thirty days each: a total of 150 days, or by the year-for-a-day principle, 150 years. Mohammed adopted the policy of making converts by the sword in 612, from which time the Muslim Arabs began to attack the eastern churches and seek to forcibly convert Europe from Christianity to Islam. Their ravages were checked by their defeat at Tours by Charles Martel, in 732. In the year 763, the Muslims ceased their policy of aggression and moved their capital to Baghdad on the Tigris. Thus, “from the time that Mohammed began to propagate his imposture, A.D. 612, to the building of Baghdad, when they ceased from their ravages, A.D. 763, are just 150 years” (Treasury)...
Matthew Henry takes an entirely different approach to interpreting this vision. Until this point, he has presented the possibility that the trumpets could be describing either political or ecclesiastical events. At this point, he presents only the latter view. He sees the star fallen from heaven (v. 1) as Boniface, the third bishop of Rome, who assumed the title of universal bishop. Having forfeited the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” he now has the keys of hell, to unleash damnable doctrines and deception upon the church. This damage is spiritual, not physical; these demonic doctrines do not kill (v. 5) people physically, but subject them to spiritual torment for a limited period of time (five months). Mention might be made at this point of the Roman Catholic interpretation of Bellarmine and other Catholic writers, who identify the locusts with the Lutherans of the Reformation. In this view, Luther himself, who defected from the papal church, is the fallen star of the vision. Seiss, the futurist, rebuts this view:
If Luther was the fallen star, who was the king over the Lutherans? The locusts were to continue “five months,” but the Lutherans have wrought now for more than three hundred and fifty years, and still are the particular grief of the Papists. … The locusts have stings to torment men; the Lutherans have never been tormentors nor persecutors … No people have ever suffered from the Lutherans or their doctrines, as to seek death in order to escape their torments, without ability to find it."  (emphasis mine)
Where to begin? The areas above that I've highlighted are areas I consider to be quite problematic. My overwhelming impression is what I explained on the first day that I presented the views: it's simply too hard to tie these events to history in any kind of unified way. In the absence of any shared understanding of this book, why is it even in the Bible? Why would God give it to us if we are totally unable to understand it? One writer takes it as Muslim invaders, another the Catholic Church, and the Catholic writers as the Reformation. Definitely not in any kind of agreement here.
Also, note the amount of stretching that needs to occur here to make details fit. If we take the scorpions to be Muslims, the things strongly in our favor are long hair and that they didn't destroy the land. However, to get to the correct time period even symbolically, we need to take the "months" as "prophetic months" and convert days into years. We need to understand "torment but not kill" politically, which seems to be a huge stretch to me. It really feels to me like we're grasping for straws and trying to fit our interpretation to the text rather than taking the text for what it says. Matthew Henry's interpretation suffers in similar ways: the torment happens doctrinally, not physically, and who knows what's going on with the five months!
I show you this today to demonstrate why I think the futurist view has a lot more going for it than the others. As I wrote above, the interpretation that says these events portray the Islamic invasion is considered to be one of the more solid historicist interpretations, yet it is riddled with problems. Also, remember that I consider to be the historicist interpretation to be second most likely after the futurist interpretation, yet we can see here how far it falls short. I don't write this to be discouraging, but to encourage us to be faithful to the text and discerning in our understanding of God's Word.
I'm probably not going to dip into the other views too much after this, but if you are ever just curious as to how some of the other views interpret certain passages, hit me up in the comments and I'll try to explain it. It's no secret that I'm pretty firmly in the futurist camp, but I'm all for seeking to understand other views as well. In the case of Revelation they usually serve to solidify that they futurist view is the best one, but sometimes I'm curious too.