Revelation 8:1 (3–6). THE SEVENTH SEAL
If, as some suppose, the Vision of the Angel with the Golden Censer is rather an introduction to the Vision of the Seven Trumpets than the close of the Vision of the Seven Seals, it would be matter for regret that Revelation 8:1 is joined with this chapter rather than with the preceding, as the blowing of the Seven Trumpets can hardly be regarded in any case as the sign which follows the opening of the Seal. Supposing that the Book with Seven Seals is rightly thought to contain the whole secret of the Divine Providence, it is no doubt at this point of the Vision that the Book is read: for it has certainly been read in Heaven when the little book not sealed but open (Revelation 10:2) is sent down to the Seer on earth. Whether or no we are to emphasise the contrast between βιβλίον and βιβλαρίδιον, the latter may very well contain all that was to be revealed through the Seer. And after the opening of the Sixth Seal, when terror has been carried to the height, everything is arranged to deepen the impression of suspense and awestruck hope, till the fire from the Heavenly Altar is cast down to earth as a sign that the earthly fulfilment of what has been shown in Vision in Heaven is about to begin.
ὅταν. It has been suggested that as no definite sign such as followed the opening of the other Seals follows the opening of the Seventh, the Seer was as it were uncertain of the precise moment of the opening and so writes ὅταν rather than ὅτε.
ἐγένετο σιγή. All the promised signs of Christ’s Coming have been fulfilled—everything has, apparently, been made ready for it: and we expect Him to come, and the world to come to an end: but the series of signs concludes—not with a catastrophe but—in silence. The same is the case, though less markedly, after the Seventh Trumpet in ch. Revelation 11:15; and in fact, similar cases occur throughout the Book. We have the choice between three explanations of this phenomenon. (I.) The preceding series of visions does describe the events leading up to Christ’s Coming: when they are ended, He does come, but His Coming itself is not described. Here, it is passed over in silence, or only symbolised by the opening of the seventh seal: the half-hour’s silence is, as St Victorinus grandly says, “initium quietis aeternae.” (II.) The previous series of visions describes events preparatory, indeed, to Christ’s Coming, but not leading directly up to it: the events symbolised by these visions have been fulfilled, but those of the rest of the Book must be fulfilled also, before He really comes. (III.) These visions represent, on a smaller scale, the preparations for Christ’s final Coming and Judgement: but they do not wait for their fulfilment till then, but have their proportionate fulfilment in any anticipatory judgement which He executes on one nation or generation. The similar series of visions which follow are therefore not parallel with this, but successive: again and again God executes His Judgements, foreshadowing the last Judgement of all, and leading men to expect it: and at last He will execute that also. The last view is the one generally taken in these notes: see Introduction, p. lv.
2. οἵ ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ ἑστήκασιν. ἑστήκασιν is in its natural place in ordinary Greek; in this Book we should expect to find it, if at all, before ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ: οἱ ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ without construction would be less surprising. The phrase is probably a designation of seven Angels (commonly, perhaps correctly, called Archangels) who permanently enjoy special nearness to God: “the Angels of the Presence.” We have in Tobit 12:15 an evidence of popular Jewish belief as to these Angels; St John’s vision is expressed in terms of that belief, and, it may fairly be thought, sanctions it with his prophetic authority.
Revelation 8:2; Revelation 8:6 to Revelation 11:19. THE SEVEN TRUMPETS
3. ἄλλος ἄγγελος. In Tobit l.c. it is the seven Angels themselves who present the prayers of the Saints before God: but, though the detail varies, the passages agree in assigning a priestly work to Angels on behalf of God’s people on earth.
ἐπὶ τοῦ θυσιαστηρίον. The golden altar of incense in the Tabernacle was only a cubit square and two cubits high (Exodus 30:2), and we have no reason to suppose that the analogous one either in the first or the second Temple was larger: perhaps we may gather from 2 Chronicles 5:5 that the former had identically the same one. But the altar of burnt-offering was a large platform rather than what we commonly imagine an altar (see 1 Maccabees 1:59, where the small Greek “idol altar” stands on the “altar of God” as its basement-it cannot he substituted for it): in the Tabernacle it was five cubits square, in Solomon’s Temple 20, in Zerubbabel’s probably the same, and in Herod’s 50 according to Josephus, 32 according to the Mishna. In the Temple at any rate, the height of the altar was such that the officiating priests had to come up upon a ledge surrounding it (and such an ascent is contemplated in Exodus 20:26). Probably here, though the Angel is offering incense not burnt-offering, the Altar where he officiates is conceived as rather of the larger type: see on Revelation 6:9. It is certainly superfluous to suppose that the Vision is accommodated to the Jewish ritual, in which the priest took fire from the altar of burnt-offering to light his incense on the golden altar.
λιβανωτὸν must mean “censer” here, though the Greek word properly means “incense.”
δώσει ταῖς προσευχαῖς. Literally, “give it to the prayers”; and if the literal translation requires a gloss, that of the A. V can hardly be the right one. The sense is not absolutely clear, this is the one place in this Book where the dative does not mark a personal or personified recipient. It would hardly be stranger if it were by the prayers of the saints that the Angel offered incense here, and that the incense went up, as in next verse. Apparently the image is, that the prayers of the saints are already lying on the Altar, and the Angel, in modern liturgical phrase, “censes the holy things.” Thus disappears the supposed theological necessity for identifying this Angel with the Lord Jesus: “the prayers of all saints” are presented by Him and by no one else, as is implied in Revelation 5:8-9, where the incense is the prayers of the saints, not something added to them. But here the Angels offer their own worship, as it is “given to them,” in union, perhaps in subordination, to those of the redeemed. The prayers here spoken of are those of all saints, not of the Martyrs exclusively: still, it is well to notice that the Altar where we offer our prayers is apparently the same where they poured out their lives, Revelation 6:9.
3–5. THE ANGEL WITH THE GOLDEN CENSER
4. ἀνέβη … ταῖς προσευχαῖς. The dative here again is quite unlike any other in this Book. The only question therefore as to the sense is, whether we are to understand the words as the goal of the local motion of the smoke, “went up to the prayers,” or as the object of its intent, “went up for the prayers”: the latter seems better. “The smoke of the incense went up before God out of the Angel’s hand, for the prayers of the Saints,” i.e. to consecrate and ratify them, to unite all His spiritual creation in the same supplication, which when thus united must prevail.
ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ. As is well known, these words are immediately followed in C by ἡμέρας χιλίας διακοσίας ἑξήκοντα, the copyist having mismatched some leaves of his original and gone on to Revelation 11:3. Of course he did not invent the admirable system of punctuation and paragraphs which he reproduced. It is possible that he may have failed to notice that ἐν. τοῦ θεοῦ ended a paragraph, as we should expect, or at any rate was followed by a stop. It is also possible that he found the 1260 days in his original in both places if, as seems probable, the vision of the incense on the heavenly Altar was shewn to the Seer in preparation for the profanation of the earthly altar at Jerusalem which had long been foretold, Daniel 8:11; Daniel 11:31; Daniel 12:11, and was soon to be fulfilled more completely than in the days of the Maccabees.
5. εἴληφεν. See on Revelation 5:7 for tense. As the Angel has the censer already we cannot refer to the common formula of the LXX. e.g. Leviticus 8:2, λάβε Ἀαρὼν καὶ τοὺς υἱοὺς αὐτοῦ καὶ τὰς στολὰς αὐτοῦ καὶ τὸ ἔλαιον τῆς χρίσεως καὶ τὸν μόσχον τὸν περὶ τῆς ἁμαρτίας, καὶ τοὺς δύο κριοὺς, καὶ τὸ κανοῦν τῶν ἀζύμων, and it is a little difficult to suppose that the censer is laid down after the incense from it has been emptied upon the Altar.
ἔβαλεν. Probably cast the censer full of burning coals, but possibly only “scattered the fire,” as Numbers 16:37. The meaning must be, to represent the same instrument as obtaining God’s mercy on His people, and executing His vengeance on His enemies: cf. Ezekiel 10:2.
βρονταὶ καὶ φωναί. We have similar signs in Revelation 11:19, Revelation 16:18, when the series of the Seven Trumpets and the Seven Vials respectively are ended: hence perhaps it is here rather than earlier that we are to look for the conclusion of the visions of the Seven Seals.
7. χάλαζα καὶ πῦρ. Cf. Exodus 9:24 : but here the blood marks the plague as more terrible, and more distinctly miraculous. “The stones of hail and the balls of fire fell in a shower of blood, just as hail and fire balls commonly fall in a shower of rain.” (Alford.)
τὸ τρίτον. It is certainly a feature to be noticed in the first Four Trumpets, as contrasted (see on Revelation 6:9) with the last three, that they introduce plagues (i) on the powers of nature only, not on men, and (ii) that on these the plague stops short of entire destruction. But no plausible explanation has been given of the destruction of a third part (cf. Revelation 6:8 : the limit of the fourth part is an illustration not an explanation which might perhaps be found in parallels like Ezekiel 5:2; Zechariah 13:8-9).
πᾶς χόρτος χλωρός. In exceptional countries like England pastures are green all the year round: in countries like Syria they are green for a season: is it possible that the fiery hail lays waste a third of the earth, and that in the Vision that is the only third where green grass is in season?
8. ὄρος μέγα πυρὶ καιόμενον. Cf. Jeremiah 51 :25 ἰδοὺ ἐγώ πρὸς σὲ τὸ ὄρος τὸ διεφθαρμένον τὸ διαφθεῖρον πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν, καὶ ἐκτενῶ τὴν χεῖρά μου ἐπὶ σὲ καὶ κατακυλιῶ σε ἐπὶ τῶν πετρῶν, καὶ δώσω σε ὡς ὄρος ἐμπεπυρισμένον, which seems like a prediction that Babylon shall be dealt with as the mountain of destruction over against Jerusalem had been dealt with by Josiah. If that passage was in the Seer’s mind, the image here might be compared with Revelation 18:21 sqq. though the parallel would not be exact. If we take this passage alone it is certainly natural to think of volcanic phenomena—rather of those of the Ægean than of those of Campania: the great eruption of Vesuvius would have suggested other images: though all volcanoes are near the sea, a torrent of lava would hardly be described as if the burning mountain itself fell into the sea.
ἐγένετο … αἶμα. This plague, like the last, recalls one of the plagues of Egypt, Exodus 7:17 sqq.
8, 9. THE SECOND TRUMPET
9. τὰ ἔχοντα ψυχάς. Cf. Revelation 2:20 n.; here it might be a question whether τὰ ἔχ. ψυχὰς is in apposition to τὸ τρίτον or τῶν κτισμάτων.
10. ὡς λαμπάς. “Like a torch,” with a flaring trail of fire. The same image is used of natural shooting stars, e.g. Verg. Aen. II. 694.
ἐπὶ τὰς πηγὰς τῶν ὑδάτων. Only the third part, as appears from the next verse.
10, 11. THE THIRD TRUMPET
11. ἐγένετο … εἰς ἄψινθον. We are perhaps to be reminded, as before, of the plagues in Egypt, so here of the mercy to Israel, Exodus 15:25 : here, as those are intensified, so that is reversed.
πολλοὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἀπέθανον. Of course such water would be unwholesome for ordinary use, though wormwood is not exactly poisonous. But it may be a question whether St John means the name to indicate the herb now known as wormwood, or another more deadly one: poison seems to be meant in Deuteronomy 29:18; Jeremiah 9:15; Jeremiah 23:15. The root of the Hebrew word there rendered “wormwood” seems to mean “noxious.”
12. τὸ τρίτον τοῦ ἡλίον. Here we may think either of the Egyptian plague of darkness, Exodus 10:21 sqq., or of a reversal (as in the last case) of the blessing of Isaiah 30:26. There, as here, there seems to be no distinction made between an increase, or decrease, in the intensity of light and in its duration.
ἵνα σκοτισθῇ. Lit. “that the third part of them may be darkened.” But in ordinary Greek we should have the optative instead of the subjunctive mood, possibly the present instead of the aorist tense.
12, 13. THE FOURTH TRUMPET
13. ἑνὸς ἀετοῦ. ἀγγέλον is no doubt a correct and very ancient gloss. Literally “one eagle.” But apparently there was a tendency in late Hebrew for the numeral to sink, as in modern languages, into a mere indefinite article; and here, and perhaps in one or two other places, we seem to have it so used in the N.T.: e.g. Matthew 8:19; Matthew 26:69, and probably Revelation 9:18.
ἐν μεσουρανήματι. “In mid-heaven.” The compound occurs again in Revelation 14:6, Revelation 19:17, and nowhere else in the N.T.: but in the later classical Greek it is not uncommon for the position of the sun at noonday. Yet the last of the places cited from this book, where all natural birds are said to fly “in mid-heaven,” seems rather as if St John used it of the air, the space between earth and sky.
οὐαί, οὐαί, οὐαί. We see by Revelation 9:12, Revelation 11:14 that three distinct woes are meant, one for each of the Three Trumpets.
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"Commentary on Revelation 8". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany