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Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Revelation 8

 

 

Verse 1
REV:8

Regarding Revelation 8:1. With the first verse of this chapter, one reaches a watershed in the interpretation of Revelation, a moment of decision, that affects the understanding of all that follows. This verse is the pivot upon which the whole interpretation turns, making the problem of its interpretation probably the most important in the whole book. Once the wrong view of Revelation 8:1 is established in the interpreter's understanding, it is impossible for the exegesis of subsequent chapters to be correct; and most of the systems of interpreting Revelation are wrong because this verse was either ignored or misunderstood. Observe the verse itself.

And when he opened the seventh seal, there followed a silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. (Revelation 8:1)

In these brief words, we have all that pertains to the opening of the seventh seal. The half hour of silence does not either include or introduce the seven trumpets, or anything else. Since the sixth seal brought a vision of the Second Advent and final judgment, followed by a special vision of the safety and felicity of the saints (Revelation 7), not only while they are enduring sufferings and tribulations, but also through the final judgment into heaven itself, the most natural question of the soul is, "What will it be like in heaven?" The Scriptural answer to that question is this half hour of silence. It is not revealed. There is not a word in the whole Bible that actually portrays the events following the judgment of the last day, "the day of the Lord." Even the marvelous two chapters which conclude this prophecy reveal nothing of the events that are to take place afterwards. John himself said, "It is not yet made manifest what we shall be" (1 John 3:2), a statement which is parallel with the thought here. A moment later, we shall note some of the important corollaries that derive from this interpretation; but first, we shall give the interpretation of this verse as found in the writings of others:

It is a silence of fearful apprehension.[1] The silence is transitional.[2] It introduces a new series of symbols (the trumpets).[3] It may be a breathing space in the narrative.[4] It is a dread suspense in anticipation of events to follow.[5] All heaven breathlessly awaits the final act of divine judgment.[6] It is a brilliant device for deepening the suspense.[7] It begins a new series of visions, the trumpets.[8] It represents a broken or interrupted whole.[9]

The vast majority of commentators hold views similar to those cited here; and the net result of such an interpretation is that of making the trumpets a vision of events coming subsequently and in sequence to the six seals. This we believe to be incorrect. That half hour of silence is a terminus reaching all the way to eternity and summing up all that had been revealed by the opening of the six seals, which disclosed conditions of the whole period between the two Advents of Christ. This understanding of the silence forces the conclusion that whatever else may be revealed in Revelation covers identically the same time period as that covered by the opening of the six seals. A number of scholars discerned this exceedingly important truth:

Revelation 6:11 is clearly a reference to the final judgment ... the half hour silence is the full content of the seventh seal ... the end, after the judgment, is pictured by the silence. This shuts out the possibility of the trumpets and bowls being pictures of historical events subsequent to the seals ... They present different aspects of the same time period as the seals.[10] Each new series of visions (trumpets and bowls) both recapitulates and develops the theme already stated in what has gone before.[11] It is noteworthy that both the seals and the trumpets bring us to the end (Revelation 6:17; 11:15); and this requires us to recognize some measure of recapitulation, when the narrative backs up and recovers the same ground.[12] He (John) has in mind at this point to double back and present more material.[13] The successive visions (the seals) are paralleled in the trumpets.[14] The arrangement of the trumpets is parallel to that of the seals.[15] Man cannot yet know all of God's plans (comment on the silence).[16]

Others could be cited, but these are enough to show that the interpretation advocated here is by no means unique. This view of the half hour of silence as the totality of the seventh seal stresses the importance of the seventh seal. Roberson objected that such a view, "Does not give the same significance to the seventh seal which the reader is entitled to expect";[17] but this objection is removed by the view of it as a withholding of any prophecy at all regarding the afterlife, thus making the seventh seal one of the most important and significant things in the whole prophecy. No other solution is adequate. This confirms the view of the sixth seal as a picture of the final judgment, and clears up the wonderment of many regarding no mention of the end in the seventh seal; but the end has already happened! The silence regards the time after the end, and God is silent with reference to that. Plummer also noted this:

The events narrated under the vision of the trumpets are not an exposition of the seventh seal, but a separate supplementary vision. The silence is typical of the eternal peace of heaven, the ineffable bliss of which it is impossible for mortals to comprehend, and which is, therefore, symbolized by silence.[18]

The crucial importance of Revelation 8:1 requires our study of it to be as thorough as possible. It is the key to our conviction that the prophecy of Revelation is a series of sections, each ending in the final judgment, and all of them therefore parallel and having reference to the same extended time period between the two Advents of Christ, and each of them recapitulating from different viewpoints the events regarding all the world of both believers and unbelievers, with specific references to both classes again and again.

This understanding of Revelation dates back many years with this writer, and it was delightfully exciting to discover, far later, the able defense of this view by William Hendriksen. Before glancing at Hendriksen's argument, the reason why this interpretation came about is significant. In the Old Testament Joseph interpreted the parallel dreams of Pharaoh regarding the seven fat cattle devoured by the seven lean cattle, and the seven good ears of corn consumed by the seven blasted ears which followed them; and the answer God gave to Joseph was, "The dream of Pharaoh is one" (Genesis 41:25). There are far more resemblances in the various series of visions in this prophecy than there were in Pharaoh's two strange dreams; and this fact long ago led this student to the conclusion that, in a sense, all seven of these sections in Revelation are one. A summary of Hendriksen's very extensive presentation of this view is:[19]

The book consists of seven sections, running parallel, and spanning the whole dispensation between the first and second coming of Christ.

Each ends in the judgment day.

Both the first trumpet and the first bowl affect the earth (Revelation 8:7,16:2); the second trumpet and the second bowl affect the sea; the third trumpet and the third bowl affect the rivers; the fourth in both series refers to the sun. This type of correspondence in the series is extensive, including the divisions into groups of four and three, etc.

The same themes appear in all sections: the bliss of the redeemed, the destruction of Christ's enemies, the judgment of the wicked, divine judgments upon men, trials and persecutions of the church, etc.

Even the interludes are similarly constructed.

The seven churches addressed at the beginning constitute somewhat of an overture for the whole production; and they suggest a sevenfold division of the whole prophecy.

The same promises are repeated in all sections. God shall wipe away all tears appears in Revelation 7:17, and in Revelation 21:4.SIZE>

Many other similarities and resemblances will be pointed out in the notes on the text throughout.

The acceptance of the above interpretation does not mean that no specific events in history are prophesied; for it is our conviction that many such things are included, although most of them may not be restricted to specific dates nor limited to any single fulfillment. The fulfillment of the wars and famines under the six seals, for example, has been repeated in many fulfillments throughout history, and will doubtless be fulfilled again and again in the future.

[1] Ralph Earle, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 10 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 551.

[2] Ray Summers, Worthy is the Lamb (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1961), p. 153.

[3] W. S. Thompson, Comments on Revelation (Memphis, Texas: Southern Church Publications, 1957), p. 87.

[4] William Barclay, The Revelation of John (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 40.

[5] Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1919), p. 269.

[6] F. F. Bruce, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 646.

[7] Martin Kiddle, The Revelation of St. John, The Moffatt New Testament Commentary, p. 144.

[8] Leon Morris, Tyndale Commentaries, Vol. 20, The Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969), p. 119.

[9] Charles H. Roberson, Studies in Revelation (Tyler, Texas: P. D. Wilmeth, P.O. Box 3305,1957), p. 53.

[10] Douglas Ezell, Revelations on Revelation (Waco: Word Books, 1977), pp. 44-47.

[11] G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 106.

[12] George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), p. 121.

[13] Vernard Eller, The Most Revealing Book in the Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 104.

[14] Ralph Earle, op. cit., p. 555.

[15] J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 1079.

[16] James William Russell, Compact Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 632.

[17] Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 52.

[18] A. Plummer, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 20, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 229.

[19] William Hendriksen, More than Conquerors (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1956), pp. 23,25, 26,28, and 139.

Verse 2
SECTION II

(Revelation 8:2-11:19)

And I saw the seven angels that stand before God; and there was given unto them seven trumpets. (Revelation 8:2)

The pageantry here did not take place during the silence, but after it. "Revelation 2-6 are a preface to the vision of the trumpets."[20]

Seven angels that stand before God ... It is natural that many should understand these as the seven archangels, and Barclay named them (not from the Bible, of course, but from Tobit): "Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Sariel, Gabriel and Remiel.[21] Only one archangel is mentioned in the Bible, Michael; and it seems logical to conclude that there could be only one archangel, the one of highest authority. See more on this in my Commentary on Jude, p. 534. Barclay also thought that "this verse is out of place, due to some copyist's error";[22] but such views come from a failure to see this little paragraph as a fitting introduction to the trumpet judgments.

There were given unto them seven trumpets ... "The reason for only seven angels being mentioned is that there were just seven trumpets to be sounded."[23] The usual view of this place, which is rejected here, is that "the seventh seal becomes the seven trumpets."[24] This series of judgments is new, but it covers the same time period as the seven seals; and there is here a significant difference. Whereas the first four judgments under the seals derived from the sins of people, the first four in the series of the trumpets are the result of what appears to be supernatural intervention. "The trumpets are structured over the same pattern as that of the seals,"[25] "but the judgments under the seals were natural, ordinary occurrences; the supernatural is added here."[26] The trumpet is often mentioned in Scripture in connection with the last things. See 1 Corinthians 15:50ff and 1 Thessalonians 4:16.

[20] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 230,231.

[21] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 41.

[22] Ibid., p. 38.

[23] John T. Hinds, op. cit., p. 118.

[24] Ralph Earle, op. cit., p. 552.

[25] Vernard Eller, op. cit., p. 107.

[26] Esther Ohstad, Courage for Today, Hope for Tomorrow (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1973), p. 38.

Verse 3
And another angel came and stood over the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should add it unto the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.

Revelation 8:3-6 seems to connect the prayers of the saints with the trumpet judgments; and, in a sense, "it is these prayers that set the judgments in motion."[27]

Over the altar ... All speculations about where, exactly, this altar is located, and whether or not it is the same as the one mentioned in Revelation 6:9, "are uncalled for."[28] This prophecy does not present any diagram of the heavenly scene which John saw. Any altar is a place where prayers and sacrifices are offered.

Having a golden censer ... In Revelation 8:5, it is stated that the angel "taketh the censer," and some writers have expressed wonder as to how he could take it when he already had it; but such quibbles are due to not recognizing the nature of these visions, which "are surrealistic, rather than rational and logically consistent."[29]

Much incense that he should add it to the prayers of the saints ... We are sure that Beckwith is wrong in supposing that this offering of incense added by the angel to the prayers of the saints was "to add efficacy to the prayers of all Christians."[30] No!

The role of an angel does not consist in making the prayers of saints acceptable to God. The mediatorial role of angels does not find a place in New Testament theology.[31]

There is only one mediator between God and man, Jesus our Lord (1 Timothy 2:5). The angel here did not produce the incense; it was given to him. "Therefore, the angel is not here represented as giving efficacy to prayers."[32] There is no support whatever here for the mediation either of angels or dead saints. Hendriksen thought the incense given to the angel might "represent our Saviour's intercession in heaven for the redeemed";[33] and it also might signify the service which angels perform for those who shall be the heirs of salvation (Hebrews 1:14). The important truth here is the fact that the prayers of God's people enter into the purpose of God in the forthcoming judgments.

[27] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 120.

[28] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John's Revelation (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), p. 269.

[29] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 124.

[30] Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 270.

[31] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), p. 182.

[32] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 231.

[33] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 142.

Verse 4
And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel's hand.

Smoke of the incense ... prayers ... went up before God ... The prayers were heard, and God's response was at once evident in the sending of judgments upon the earth, symbolized by the casting of fire upon it by the angel with the censer. "The judgments of the wicked, which follow in the trumpet visions constitute the answer to the saints' prayers."[34]

ENDNOTE:

[34] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 232.

Verse 5
And the angel taketh the censer; and he filled it with the fire of the altar, and cast it upon the earth: and there followed thunders, and voices, and lightnings, and an earthquake.

Filled it with fire, and cast it upon the earth ... "This is the main symbolical act."[35] It shows that God's judgments upon the earth are definitely connected with the prayers of his saints. The most powerful influence on earth is that of prayer; and there are no significant events of earth that do not sustain some relationship to Christian prayers, whether observable by people or not. "This casting of fire also symbolizes that God's judgments are about to descend upon earth."[36] "The earth here means the entire earth,"[37] and does not mean the land as distinguish from the sea; hence, all the judgments that follow are the answer to prayers.

What are the real master powers behind the world, and what are the deeper secrets of our destiny? Here is the astounding answer: the prayers of the saints and the fire of God.[38]

[35] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 271.

[36] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 232.

[37] James D. Strauss, op. cit. p. 129.

[38] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 121.

Verse 6
And the seven angels that had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.

This verse begins the trumpet judgments, and it should be noted that all of them are tempered with mercy, only "the third part" of affected things being involved. "The mercy is greater than the judgment."[39] This is another particular in which the trumpet judgments parallel that of the seals, in which only "the fourth" part was hurt or destroyed. A big difference is that the seal judgments were ordinary events; these are supernatural and represent the direct intervention of God in the progress of the natural order of creation. There is clearly here an echo of the primeval curse upon Adam and his posterity in Genesis 3:17-19, when God intervened to reduce the desirability of the natural environment "for Adam's sake"; and these judgments show that God is still doing the same thing, and, presumably, for precisely the same reason, "for Adam's sake." It was for the spiritual advantage of man that the curse came upon the ground for Adam's sake, and it must be that the continuing adjustment of human environment by the Father is also for the purpose of making it a little easier for people to set their minds upon the things eternal "The first four of these involve natural catastrophes; the last three fall directly upon men."[40] This motif of four and three appears repeatedly in this prophecy. "This fresh series of disasters does not advance matters any further than the previous seal-series."[41] All of the things in both series concern the life of people in the present dispensation. Referring the judgments to the so-called "Great Tribulation" is a mistake. "The tribulation began with the Cross and resurrection and continues until the end of time."[42]

The judgments in this and the following chapter do not need to be identified with any particular time or event. Their fulfillment is multiple and continuous throughout history. As Pieters said:

I know them. Have we not ourselves twice, in 1914-1918, and again in 1939-1945, seen the bottomless pit opened, and the heavens darkened by the swarms of evil things that issued from it? Has not the thunder of two hundred million hellish horsemen shaken the earth in our day?[43]

The same thing, of course, may be said of countless natural disasters occurring almost every week everywhere on earth. These verses enable people to connect all such disasters with the will of God; and yet God's purpose is benign. The Lord cursed the ground for Adam's sake; and the great floods, earthquakes, droughts, volcanoes, etc., all these visitations, are for the same purpose, that evil men may learn repentance and be saved. All such things are depicted, not literally, but symbolically in the trumpet series.

[39] J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 1080.

[40] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit.. p. 126.

[41] James Moffatt, Expositor's Greek New Testament, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 403.

[42] Douglas Ezell, op. cit., p. 47.

[43] Albertus Pieters, Studies in the Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1934), p. 130.

Verse 7
And the first sounded, and there followed hail and fire, mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of the earth was burnt up, and the third part of the trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.

These first four trumpets are given very briefly, but the last three are presented more extensively. "All of them reveal the active involvement of God in bringing judgment upon a wicked world."[44] Many scholars mention the plagues of Egypt in connection with these, but "the resemblance is only general."[45] The sounding of the first four trumpets results in disaster falling upon the earth, salt water, fresh water, and the sky. "They are God's judgment upon human sin and are intended to lead men to repentance."[46] "Everything is injured by sin, and nature itself cries out against man and thus appeals to God."[47]

Hail ... fire ... blood ... cast upon the earth ... Neither hail nor blood can actually "burn up" anything. Such expressions are merely to show the violent and destructive nature of the things foretold. The language is clearly figurative. Some have supposed that these symbolize wars, bloodshed, violence, and social upheavals; but the clear distinction between these first four trumpet visions of judgments upon earth, sea, rivers ,and atmosphere and the three trumpet "woes" directly against "men" seems to say that the first four are not against people directly; although, of course, whatever affects the environment necessarily affects people also. For this reason, we interpret the first four trumpets as the perpetual equivalent of the primeval curse upon the earth "for Adam's sake." God does not intend for the sinful race of man to find any earthly situation altogether cozy and comfortable.

In the progression of history, less and less of the earth remains habitable. The great dust bowl of the 1930's in Oklahoma is a tiny example of how the elements themselves are at times hostile "to the land." Look at the damage visible to the eye all over the world, which has been thus destroyed. The deserts, the badlands, the fertile valleys destroyed by soil erosion, etc., are a few examples.

The interlocking and conjunctive nature of the first four trumpet judgments should be noted. They are presented almost simultaneously in a brief six verses, indicating that all four work together, and suggesting that their effect should be understood collectively, all of them working hand in hand to produce a more hostile environment for man in the physical creation that surrounds him. Forest fires, droughts, swamps, rampaging rivers, ice storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and all such natural disasters have indeed "burnt up" a third of the earth, and the damage is still being done. All of it is God's response to the wickedness of man; but wicked men also contribute to the progressive damage, as indicated in the final three trumpets.

Third part of the trees, and all green grass ... The denuding of the earth of a significant part of its forests is an astonishing and spectacular feature of a third of the earth this very day. Travelers in Korea and other oriental countries cannot fail to be impressed with this feature of the landscape; and even in America today, where are the mighty forests? Let any man ask the price of 1,000 board-feet of white pine or black walnut, and he will suddenly be aware that the trumpet of God still sounds over the trees.

All the green grass ... This is best understood to mean, "All the grass in the one third of the earth mentioned."[48] All these disasters coming upon the land are under the control of God and are limited. Only a minor part of the earth can be affected by such things. Some have called Revelation the Book of Doom; but it is the opposite of that. It is the book which reveals the Father's limitation and restraint of the doom which already had come when man rebelled against his Creator.

[44] Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 184.

[45] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 232.

[46] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 112.

[47] James William Russell, op. cit., p. 633.

[48] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 123.

Verse 8
And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; and there died the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, even they that had life; and the third part of the ships was destroyed.

The second judgment falls upon the sea. It is foolish to suppose that John is here merely making imaginative use of the imagery derived from volcanoes, etc. This language goes far beyond any natural phenomenon ever heard of. A literal picture of what is described here is impossible. A third of the ocean turned to blood, and yet two thirds of earth's shipping still remaining active upon it, is an impossible conception. A third of the ships destroyed, and a third of the creatures in the sea destroyed - the preterists point to certain great naval battles of history; but in truth, no single event of all history could possibly fulfill so terrible a prophecy as this; and yet such interpreters seem to be correct in the view that great maritime disasters are here suggested. Any particular one? No. It would be an exercise in futility to fasten an identity with this trumpet judgment upon any one of them, except as an example.

As an example, we cite the wreck of the great Spanish Armada in 1588, not by a naval battle, but by a great storm, which preserved England from subjection to the regressive tyranny of Spain, and led to the first Thanksgiving Day ever observed in the English-speaking world, and from which our own Thanksgiving Day customs are derived. This is only an example of many maritime disasters, nor may we suppose for an instant that John consciously foretold this. It may be objected that John's language here cannot be reconciled with such an event; but we ask, what event could be? Furthermore, any naval captain of the Spanish Armada would most likely have agreed that "a burning mountain" had been cast into the sea!

The destruction depicted in this vision may not be confined to any one time or locality. The trumpets do not follow the seals in a chronological sequence, but, "Both are being fulfilled side by side in the same epoch."[49] That epoch, of course, is our own. We continue to be amazed at the exhaustive efforts of commentators to find parallels of this in the plagues of Egypt; but absolutely nothing in those judgments is worthy to be compared with these. Therefore, like Lenski, "We do not stress the resemblance of these judgments to those plagues."[50]

We cannot leave this prophecy of the "burning mountain" cast into the sea without citing the only literal historical fulfillment of it that is known; and, even in this, the sea did not become blood. On August 27,1883, the 2,623-foot mountain Krakatoa in the Sunda strait of Indonesia literally exploded, burned up completely, and was cast into the sea, the waters where the mountain stood having been 1,000 feet deep ever since.[51] Following this event, atmospheric waves girdled the earth seven times; tidal waves are thought to have destroyed a million lives; some tidal waves reached England, more than 11,000 miles away; and the explosion was actually heard at Bangkok at a distance of 3,000 miles! Thus, within the memory of a few people who have just died, we still have the evidence that the trumpet of God still sounds above the waters of the sea.

Of course, we do not think that John prophesied this, nor any other particular disaster; but he surely conveyed the revelation that includes all such things; nor should we for an instant suppose that great maritime disasters belong to the past alone. How inadequate and limited are the interpretations of these prophecies which confine them to obscure events in the history of a single nation some sixteen centuries, or more, in the past!

Lenski, and many other respected commentators, applied these two verses (Revelation 8:8-9) to, "Destructive religious delusion, not the old paganism, but a new delusion which will not accept the gospel."[52] While this fits our own age well enough, it appears to us that it is more fittingly applied to the judgments of the trumpet woes. We cannot get away from the inference in these first four trumpets that the judgments do not fall upon people directly, but upon land, sea, river and air. Providential intervention in human environment is meant. "All of these four judgments show that the sin of man can and does adversely affect the rest of creation, which reacts disastrously upon man's own life."[53]

[49] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 234.

[50] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 278.

[51] Encyclopedia Britannica, 1961 edition, Vol. 13, p. 499.

[52] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 279.

[53] F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 647.

Verse 10
And the third angel sounded, and there fell from heaven a great star, burning as a torch, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of the waters; and the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood: and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.

The third angel sounded ... Moffatt thought that this part of Revelation came "from Iranian or Mandaean eschatology,"[54] but scholars will continue to fail in their search for the meaning of the New Testament in the writings and folklore of paganism.

There fell from heaven a great star ... Who was he? There are as many answers as there are writers. He has been identified as: the devil, Lucifer, Atilla the Hun, Pelagius, Origen (Luther's opinion), Arius, or Pope Gregory the Great! The futurists think of their antichrist.[55] The simple truth is that this angel is not identifiable with any individual, evil person. "Wormwood, symbolical of bitter sorrow (Lamentations 3:19), is the name of this star (Revelation 8:11)."[56]

Upon rivers and fountains ... How can the waters of rivers and fountains turn into bitter sorrow for people? Ask any one who ever depended upon wells or fountains that dried up, or who ever survived any great flood of a mighty river. The river which once was life and joy to people became their defeat and their execution. What river? Any one of hundreds all over the world.

The rivers of China are a good example of this. The Yangtze Chiang, the Yellow river, also known as the Hwang-ho, and others, cross the mainland of China, descending from the great Tibetan plateau and bearing incredible loads of sediment, the Yangtze Chiang alone depositing over a billion tons of sediment a year[57] and cause incredible flood damages at uncertain intervals. The beds of the rivers are continually being built up by the great sediment load, until finally, the great river strikes out in a new direction, changing course radically, and traversing the most populated area in the world, with the result of the loss of millions of lives and untold property damage. Such floods have been the recurring curse of the Chinese mainland for countless centuries. But this situation is worldwide.

There is nothing new in such recurring calamities; never a day passes without news media reference to such things in one part of the world or another; what is revealed in these trumpet visions is that such things are not "mere accidents of nature." Moreover, they are restrained. Only a minor part of the earth will suffer such things. "The newspapers tell you all about such things,"[58] except that they are God's warnings that people should repent and turn to God. "Four thousand years of recorded history tell of man's repeated failure to avoid the destructiveness of floods."[59] Why? A star named Wormwood has fallen upon the rivers and fountains of earth. Who can deny it?

Some expositors rely upon a spiritual interpretation of these judgments. For example, Hough wrote:

When men turn to wickedness, they tamper with something far more profound than they know. A power comes from above to ruin the very waters upon which the wicked depend for the life they are misusing.[60]

Such a view is true, of course; but we believe that something more tangible is meant.

This turn of earth's waters into bitterness is the opposite of the Old Testament event of making the bitter waters of Marah sweet (Exodus 15:25). When people tire of drinking earth's waters made bitter, may they turn to Christ who is able to make the bitter waters sweet.

The reaction of rebellious minds against these judgments should be noted. Some have spoken sarcastically of God's "killing off large numbers as an object lesson to survivors," and seem to be resentful; but Caird effectively answered such objections thus:

The question mark which death sets over human existence is just as great whether they die soon or late, alone or in company, violently or in their beds. All men must die; and their ultimate destiny is not determined either by the moment or the manner of their death.[61]

[54] James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 405.

[55] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 281.

[56] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 144.

[57] Encyclopedia Britannica, 1961 edition, Vol. 23, p. 875.

[58] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 144.

[59] Encyclopedia Britannica, 1961 edition, Vol. 9, p. 385.

[60] Lynn Harold Hough, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. XII (New York-Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 429.

[61] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 113.

Verse 12
And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; that the third part of them should be darkened, and the day should not shine for the third part of it, and the night in like manner.

This is impossible of any literal understanding. If only a third part of the sun was stricken, it could not prevent the two thirds from shining all the time; so the judgment is against the things which are seen in the sky. This probably stands for heavenly intervention in the atmospheric area of man's environment. Lenski quoted someone's complaint that the apostle "either forgot or ignored the fact that he has already cleared the heavens of the stars (Revelation 6:13)!"[62] But that is only one of a thousand difficulties encountered by an interpretation that makes these various series of visions (seals, trumpets, and bowls) to be sequential, consecutive, or concerned with successive events. Each series is independent and parallel with reference to the others.

Third part ... This is repeated five times in this verse, emphasizing the limitation God has placed upon atmospheric disasters, the limitation being for man's benefit. The purpose of their being permitted at all, and even sent upon the earth, is benign and merciful, having the purpose or design of leading to man's repentance.

What kind of disasters are meant here? Such things as violent weather, radical changes of climate due to sunspots or shifting of the jet stream, and many other changes harmful to man are meant. But do not people know all about such things, claiming to predict the weather and nearly everything else? In a sense, maybe, this is true; but look at exactly this type of change which destroyed the Indian civilization in Frijoles Canyon, an event of quite recent historical times; and there are many other examples of environmental changes that have wrecked whole civilizations. As for man's being able to predict such things accurately, it is a vain delusion. Not even the daily weather predictions are in any sense accurate. The trumpet of God has been sounded above all such things, with the result that vast numbers of people are continually being hurt by them; "and the analogy with the other members of this fourfold series shows that that result is intended."[63]

Some commentators find the fulfillment of this vision in "particular periods of the Roman empire, or in some notable eclipse of the sun";[64] but we view such explanations as totally inadequate. "All evils that are due to the abnormal function of the heavenly bodies throughout this entire age are indicated."[65]

Lenski gave a spiritual interpretation of this, understanding the darkness as that "which took place in the Greek and Roman Catholic churches, and in many sects, and the folly of men generally."[66] We agree that such things are indeed darkness, but we believe all four of these first trumpets are related to natural judgments upon man's physical environment. As Roberson pointed out, "No time limit is set on these judgments."[67] They occur again and again repeatedly throughout history. Their aim is the reformation of mankind, not their destruction, a fact which is seen in the oft-repeated limitation, not upon the times of their recurrence, but upon the extent of their destructive power.

[62] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 282.

[63] Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 558.

[64] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 235.

[65] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 144.

[66] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 282.

[67] Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 56.

Verse 13
And I saw, and I heard an eagle, flying in mid heaven, saying with a great voice, Woe, woe, woe, for them that dwell on the earth, by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, who are yet to sound.

An eagle ... Woe, woe, woe ... This is intended as an ominous sign, the eagle being chosen perhaps because it is a bird of prey. The rather fanciful notion that, "God uses nature to send his messages to men,"[68] is not likely to be the meaning. God used John the apostle to send this message. The communication with God through nature is quite limited. The use of this bird, described by Caird as "a vulture, means that there is a theological reason why the woes are to be worse"[69] than the misfortunes caused by the four first trumpets. We cannot agree with those who identify this eagle as "a symbol of Roman legions, some exceptional prophet, Gregory the Great, or even Christ himself."[70] Rist even thought that this eagle might be the living creature with the eagle's head."[71] Is it any wonder that people get mixed up and confused in their studies of this prophecy?

Strauss pointed out that the prophecy here of woes that shall be worse and worse "is in harmony with Paul's teachings (1 Timothy 3:12)."[72] Smith correctly viewed all of the first four trumpet judgments as "relating to some disaster falling upon the world of nature, and also that this verse is the first appearance of the word translated woe in the Apocalypse."[73] It seems to us that Bruce correctly gave the meaning of the three woes here announced:

It is not only in man's natural environment that the repercussions of his sin are felt; that same sin unleashes demonic forces, uncontrollable by man, which bring woe after woe upon him. These are symbolized by the next three trumpets.[74]

Beckwith's summary of this and the next chapters is also helpful:

The first four trumpets are sent directly upon part of the world of nature, and upon men indirectly. The fifth and sixth woes are sent directly upon the persons of men. They assail the whole world and are peculiarly poignant and demonic in character.[75]

From these observations, it is clear that the vision of the eagle is transitional, marking the diverse natures of the four first and the three last trumpets.

[68] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 46.

[69] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 117.

[70] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 284.

[71] Martin Rist, op. cit., p. 431.

[72] James D. Strauss, op. cit., p. 134.

[73] Wilbur M. Smith, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 1072.

[74] F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 647.

[75] Isbon T. Beckwith op. cit., pp. 558,559.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Revelation 8:1". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". "http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/view.cgi?bk=65&ch=8". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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