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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Revelation 8

 

 

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Verse 1

The seventh seal8:1

When the Lamb broke the seventh seal of the scroll, silence fell on the heavenly scene. For "half an hour" awesome silence continued as all of those assembled around the throne waited expectantly to see what God would do next. This is probably a literal30 minutes since there are no clues in Revelation that we should interpret time references non-literally. Beale interpreted the silence as representing the final judgment but said he did not know why it lasts for about a half hour. [Note: Beale, pp447-54.] The purpose of the silence is apparently to prepare for what is about to happen by heightening expectation of God"s awesome judgments to follow (cf. Habakkuk 2:20; Habakkuk 3:3; Zephaniah 1:7-8; Zephaniah 1:15; Zephaniah 1:17-18; Zechariah 2:13). Perhaps the silence represents God listening to the prayers of the saints. [Note: Beasley-Murray, p152.] It is the lull before the storm, as a few moments of calm normally precede the most devastating destruction of a tornado or hurricane.


Verse 2

John saw someone, perhaps God, give seven trumpets to a group of seven angels standing before the heavenly throne (cf. Revelation 1:4; Revelation 3:1; Revelation 8:6; Revelation 15:1). Exactly who these angels were is not clear. Some interpreters have identified them with seven archangels in Jewish tradition (cf. Book of Jubilees1:27 , 29; 2:1-2; 2:18; 15:27; 31:14; Tobit 12:15; Enoch20:2-8), but there is no basis for this in Revelation. They are apparently simply seven other angels who have great authority. These trumpets appear to be different from the trumpet of God ( 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16) and other trumpets mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament ( Hebrews 12:19; Revelation 1:10; Revelation 4:1), though they too announce God"s working (cf. Ezekiel 33:3).

Trumpets play a major role in God"s dealings with His people (cf. Exodus 19:16; Exodus 20:18; Isaiah 27:13; Jeremiah 4:5; Joel 2:1; Zephaniah 1:16; Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). They were part of Israel"s ceremonial processions (e.g, Joshua 6:4; Joshua 6:13-16; 1 Kings 1:34; 1 Kings 1:39; 1 Chronicles 15:24), and they assembled the Israelites for war, journeys, and special feasts (e.g, Numbers 10:9-10). They also warned of the coming day of the Lord (e.g, Joel 2:1), and they announced the new year in Israel (e.g, Numbers 29:1). Here they announce divine judgment in the day of the Lord (cf. Zechariah 1:14-16).


Verses 2-6

Introduction to the seven trumpet judgments8:2-6


Verse 3

The vision at this point is very reminiscent of priestly service as it took place in Israel"s tabernacle and temples. Another angel acting as a priest came into view and stood before the golden incense altar in heaven (cf. Revelation 6:9). His censer of gold, appropriate in view of God"s presence, contained coals of fire. The angel received more incense to add to the prayers of the saints already there. This may indicate that the prayers of the Tribulation saints ( Revelation 6:10) joined those of the rest of God"s people requesting God"s justice (cf. Revelation 5:8; Revelation 9:13; Revelation 14:18; Psalm 141:2).

"No saint"s prayer is forgotten, but has its effect in due season, in bringing in the Kingdom, that Isaiah , our Lord"s return!

"It is the answer at last to "Thy Kingdom come" which the saints of all ages have prayed. No other answer could be given, inasmuch as earth has rejected the rightful King!" [Note: Newell, p121.]


Verse 4

The angel offered this incense on the coals on the golden incense altar. The smoke of the incense went up before God symbolizing His receiving the prayers of His people. [Note: Swete, p108.] Clearly the incense, while symbolizing prayer ( Revelation 5:8), is distinct from prayer here. However the total impression is of prayers commingling as the angel pours more incense on the altar. He facilitates these prayers, though Jesus Christ, of course, is the only mediator between God and man (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5).


Verse 5

Then the angel took coals from the altar, placed them in his censer, and threw them out onto the earth. These coals of fire, symbolic of judgment, produced symbols of catastrophe: thunder, lightning, and earthquake (cf. Ezekiel 10:2-7). The censer thus became a symbolic instrument of judgment in response to prayer.


Verse 6

The whole scene quite clearly symbolizes God sending judgment on the earth in response to His people"s accumulated prayers (cf. Exodus 3:7-10; Exodus 19:16-19; Revelation 4:5; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 16:18). The trumpet judgments to follow are what He will send. The storm theophany, therefore, apparently implies the awful calamities that will come in the trumpet and bowl judgments that are ahead. [Note: Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22 : An Exegetical Commentary, p12.]

All the trumpet judgments seem to proceed out of the seventh seal judgment. [Note: For proof that the trumpet judgments telescope out from the seventh seal rather than recapitulating the seals judgments, see ibid, pp3-5 , 525-43.] In other words, when the Lamb broke the seventh seal John saw not just one judgment but a whole new series of judgments. There is every reason to conclude that these will follow chronologically. [Note: See Tenney, p71; and Ladd, p122.] We shall see that seven bowl judgments apparently proceed out of the seventh trumpet judgment in the same way. [Note: See the chart "The Tribulation Judgments" at the beginning of my discussion of chapter6 for a visual representation of this relationship.] Some interpreters, however, believe the trumpet judgments merely recap and restate the seal judgments. [Note: E.g, Dale Ralph Davis, "The Relationship Between the Seals, Trumpets, and Bowls in the Book of Revelation ," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society16 (Summer1973):149-58; and Beale, p472.]

These are the judgments that the angel ascending from the rising of the sun held back until the bond-servants of God were sealed on their foreheads ( Revelation 7:3). Therefore, they are more severe than the first six seal judgments. Their object is to lead hostile unbelievers to repentance and to announce punitive judgments against hardened unbelievers, but few will repent ( Revelation 9:20-21).


Verse 7

The first trumpet8:7

The scene shifts again, this time from heaven to earth. This first trumpet blast signaled the beginning of a judgment that involved hail, fire (lightning?), and blood (bloodshed? cf. Exodus 9:23-26; Ezekiel 38:22).

"Blood-red rain is not unknown in nature; in the spring of1901the daily journals contained accounts of this phenomenon, which was then being witnessed in Italy and the South of Europe, the result, it was said, of the air being full of particles of fine red sand from the Sahara." [Note: Swete, p110.]

This judgment resulted in the fiery destruction of one-third of the earth (cf. Ezekiel 5:2; Zechariah 13:8-9). Many less literal interpreters believe the fire represents judgment more generally and the one-third of the earth simply a large portion of humankind. This holocaust included a third of its trees and all of its grass. There are two explanations of how all the grass perishes here but in Revelation 9:4 we read that grass exists later. First, the grass may grow again since some time elapses between these two references. Second, it may only be the grass that is green that perishes now and what is now dormant and brown will be green when the events of Revelation 9:4 transpire. These judgments seem to be as literal as the plagues on Egypt were. There are many parallels with the Egyptian plagues.

"The OT prophets understood that the miracles of Egypt were to be repeated in the future (e.g, Isaiah 10:22-25; Isaiah 11:12-16; Isaiah 30:30; Jeremiah 16:14-15; Jeremiah 23:7-8; Ezekiel 38:22; Micah 7:15) ... At several points the prophet Amos uses God"s miraculous work of deliverance from Egypt as a reference point for the way He will deal with His people in the future (cf. Amos 2:10; Amos 4:10; Amos 8:8-9; Amos 9:5-7)." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 8-22 , p16.]


Verse 8-9

The second trumpet8:8-9

Following the blowing of the second trumpet something "like [cf. Revelation 6:13] a great mountain" that was on fire came crashing down from heaven into the waters of one or more of the earth"s seas. This resulted in a third of the oceans, perhaps a third of the ocean waters, becoming blood. Whether the water became blood, or became a substance like blood, or simply looked like blood, is difficult to determine from the text (cf. Exodus 7:20-21; Psalm 78:43-44; Joel 2:31; Zephaniah 1:3). Literally it could become blood. I understand that the only chemical difference between seawater and blood is that blood contains an iron molecule that is absent in seawater. Perhaps this mountain-like mass (a meteor?) will provide that molecule resulting in a change in the chemical composition of these seas. A third of the creatures living in the sea died, and a third of the ships on the sea perished. Beale took the mountain figuratively to represent a kingdom, specifically the Babylon referred to in chapters11-18. [Note: Beale, p476 , ]

"As of January1 , 1981there were24 ,867 ocean-going merchant ships registered. Imagine the shock waves that would hit the shipping industry if8 ,289 valuable ships were suddenly destroyed! And what about their cargoes!" [Note: Wiersbe, 2:593.]

John was clearly describing supernatural interventions, not natural happenings.


Verse 10-11

The third trumpet8:10-11

Next a great star (meteor or comet?) fell from heaven on the fresh water sources on earth. Sometimes stars represent angels (e.g, Revelation 9:1), but here something mineral seems to be in view. It too was on fire ( Revelation 8:7-8). The ancients sometimes used "torch" (this Greek word, lampas) to describe a meteor shooting through the sky. [Note: Thomas, Revelation 8-22 , p21.] It poisoned a third of the rivers and streams, and many people died from drinking the poisoned water. The National Geographic Society has listed100 major rivers in the world ranging in length from4 ,000 miles (the Amazon) to150 miles (the Rio de la Plata). [Note: Cited by Wiersbe, 2:593.] "Wormwood" means "bitter" (cf. Deuteronomy 29:18, et al.). It was the name of a bitter herb that was fatally poisonous to some people and was a symbol of divine punishment ( Jeremiah 9:15; Jeremiah 23:15; Lamentations 3:15; Lamentations 3:19; Amos 5:7). This judgment recalls the bitter water that God gave the rebellious Israelites to drink in the wilderness, which the tree cast in turned sweet ( Exodus 15:23-25), as well as the first Egyptian plague ( Exodus 7:21).


Verse 12

The fourth trumpet8:12

This time the trumpet blast announced judgment on a third of the heavenly bodies. Darkness is a common symbol of judgment in the Old Testament, and the day of the Lord was to be a time of darkness ( Amos 5:18; cf. Isaiah 13:10; Joel 2:2; Mark 13:24). The darkening of the heavenly bodies predicted in this verse also serves to warn of more judgment to come. Evidently God will cut off light from the sun, moon, and stars from the earth by one-third (cf. Exodus 10:21-23). The text seems to imply that God will reduce the intensity of light from these sources by one-third (cf. Matthew 27:45). Perhaps a partial eclipse or pollution in the atmosphere is in view. Such a reduction in light, and consequently temperature, would have a devastating effect on the earth. A non-literal interpretation views the darkness as spiritual darkness.


Verse 13

The warning concerning the final three trumpets8:13

"And I looked" (Gr. kai eidon) signals a new scene in John"s vision. John next saw, on earth, an eagle interrupting the angels by flying through the sky and warning those living on the earth to beware of the last three trumpet judgments. This could be a literal eagle (Gr. aetou, also translated "vulture," Luke 17:37). God has given animals the ability to communicate with people in the past (cf. Genesis 3:1-5; Numbers 22:28-30). Eagles (or vultures) are birds of prey that approach rapidly and are a sign of disaster ( Matthew 24:28). Thus this eagle is a fitting herald of God"s judgments to come. Another possibility is that this eagle is an angel (cf. Revelation 12:14). Mid-heaven is the position of the sun at noon, where everyone can see this bird. [Note: Morris, p125.] Obviously John was describing things from his vantage point. Its loud voice further guarantees that everyone on the earth will hear its message. The eagle announces the last three trumpet judgments, which are also "woes" ( Revelation 9:12; Revelation 10:14). They are especially bad because they have people rather than the objects of nature as their targets. There are several examples of double woes in Scripture ( Revelation 18:10; Revelation 18:16; Revelation 18:19; Ezekiel 16:23), but a triple woe announces an even worse calamity. The objects of these judgments are earth-dwellers, and their judgment is partially in response to the prayers of the Tribulation martyrs (cf. Revelation 6:10).

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Revelation 8:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/revelation-8.html. 2012.


Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 15th, 2018
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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