What does Revelation 9:18 mean?
ESV: By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths.
NIV: A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths.
NASB: A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire, the smoke, and the brimstone which came out of their mouths.
CSB: A third of the human race was killed by these three plagues--by the fire, the smoke, and the sulfur that came from their mouths.
NLT: One-third of all the people on earth were killed by these three plagues — by the fire and smoke and burning sulfur that came from the mouths of the horses.
KJV: By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths.
NKJV: By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed—by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which came out of their mouths.
Verse Commentary:
Prior verses depicted an army numbering two hundred million, unleashed along with four specially-prepared angels (Revelation 9:13–17). Some see John's description, including references to fire and sulfur coming from their "mouths" as an attempt to describe modern warfare coming from a man who'd never seen anything more advanced than catapults and giant crossbows. Others prefer to interpret this as a more supernatural or literally demonic force. John reports in this verse that the fire, smoke, and sulfur from the horses' mouths kills one third of mankind. Combined with the earlier death of one fourth of humanity (Revelation 6:7–8), the tribulation has so far halved earth's population.

The idea that literal smoke and fire could be used as weapons by an army is not farfetched. Smoke inhalation and fire can kill, and so can the fumes of burning sulfur. This result is reminiscent of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Lord rained on them sulfur and fire (Genesis 19:24). All the residents of those cities were destroyed except Lot, his wife, and their two daughters (Genesis 19:25; 2 Peter 2:7). Second Peter 2:6 reports that "by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly." A similar fate awaits unbelievers in the tribulation, when fire, smoke, and sulfur issues forth from the invading army's horses' mouths.

Some interpreters suggest that the fifth and sixth trumpet judgments will have no impact on those who come to faith in Christ after the rapture. The locust-like army from earlier in this chapter was explicitly told to target only unbelievers. However, there is no specific mention that the four angels (Revelation 9:14) or the massive army (Revelation 9:15–16) are given any such restriction. Those who think God will spare believer from these events point to the protection of God's people in the land of Goshen when God unleashed the plagues on Egypt (Exodus 9:22–26; 11:4–7).
Verse Context:
Revelation 9:13–21 provides further insight into the assault by the northern invader. Earlier in chapter 9 we read about a horde of demonic locusts ascending from the bottomless pit. Now we read about two hundred million heavily armed cavalrymen, whose horses have heads like those of lions and tails like those of snakes. Four angels residing at the Euphrates allow the demonic army to advance across the river. The swarm of locusts described earlier may control or even possess these two hundred million cavalrymen. What follows is the annihilation of one third of humanity. However, the rest of humanity refuse to repent of their evil deeds, idolatry, murders, sorceries, or sexual immorality. Joel 2 and Ezekiel 38 also prophesy this northern army's invasion of Israel. Revelation 10 will provide another interlude between the judgments.
Chapter Summary:
Revelation 9 tells us that under the fifth trumpet judgment John sees a star fall from heaven to earth. This ''star'' is Satan, and he is given the key to the bottomless pit. Using this key, Satan unleashes a plague of supernatural demons resembling locusts. They torment unbelievers for five months with such pain that people seek death unsuccessfully. They appear like horses prepared for battle, and they have a king, whose name is Apollyon, meaning ''Destroyer.'' Under the sixth trumpet judgment John sees four angels released from the Euphrates river. Their release coincides with a horde of two hundred million demonic mounted troops that kill a third of mankind. However, the survivors refuse to abandon their idolatry and to repent of their evil deeds.
Chapter Context:
The ninth chapter of Revelation continues the report of what happens when the seven angels blow their trumpets. Chapter 8 described the first four trumpet judgments; chapter 9 reports the fifth and sixth. The events in chapter 9 are much more severe than those which came before. The severity of judgments increases dramatically with each trumpet blast. These judgments precede the final series of events, called the bowl judgments. Revelation chapters 15 and 16 will reveal what happens under these judgments.
Book Summary:
The word ''revelation'' means ''an unveiling or disclosure.'' This writing unveils future events such as the rapture, three series of judgments that will fall on the earth during the tribulation, the emergence of the Antichrist, the persecution of Israel and her amazing revival, as well as Jesus' second coming with His saints to the earth, the judgment of Satan and his followers, and finally, the eternal state. This content, combined with the original Greek term apokalypsis, is why we now refer to an end-of-the-world scenario as ''an apocalypse.''
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