THE OPENING OF the sixth seal (Revelation 6:12-17), produced great convulsions, affecting both the heavens and the earth, which brought terror into the hearts of all. Then came a pause; the winds of heaven being arrested until the servants of God were sealed. Chapter 8 brings us to the opening of the seventh seal and again there is a pause, described as “silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.” What transpires on earth during that time is not stated. Divine judgment, when it falls, is not only sure but swift, yet it is never hurried. During this interval of silence the seven angels “prepared themselves to sound” their trumpets. There is a calm serenity about the Divine action in judgment, and it is postponed to the last possible moment.
Angels now come into prominence. This is in keeping with the Lord’s own words in Matthew 13:39, Matthew 13:41, Matthew 13:49; and again in 24: 31. Angels of special importance are indicated here— “the seven angels which stood before God.” To Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, the angel announced himself as “Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God” (Luke 1:19). These seven angels had that peculiar privilege also. In the trumpets that were given to them we have a symbol that differs from the seals. The breaking of the seals not only set in motion the providential judgments that came on men, but also revealed their secret source. Such things, in a less intense form, had come to pass before. The hand of God in the judgments might not have been discerned, had not the seals been broken. The trumpet, on the other hand, is the symbol of what is clearly avowed, constituting an unmistakable call to all. The trumpet was commonly used in Israel, whether for calling an assembly or sounding an alarm. In our chapter the alarm is sounded with great emphasis.
But again, there took place during the half hour the action of “another angel,” detailed in verses Revelation 8:3-5. This great Angel acted in high priestly capacity, adding the fragrance of His incense to the prayers of all saints. Many therefore see in Him a symbolic representation of Christ Himself, and we think they are right. His action was twofold. First, He acted on behalf of living saints, so that their prayers might ascend before God as “an odour of a sweet smell.” There were still saints on earth, though many had been martyred as Revelation 6:9 showed. Those uttered their cry for vengeance but they did not need the action of the High Priest as these did.
In the second place, His action indicated the fire of judgment. The same censer, that was used for incense and fragrance, was now filled with fire from the altar, and flung to the earth as a signal for the trumpet judgments to begin. The censer was golden in keeping with the golden altar, symbolic of that which is divine in its intrinsic excellence. So whether it was the prayers of saints ascending in fragrance, or fire descending in judgment, all was executed in a righteousness which is divine.
In verses Revelation 8:7-13 we get the sounding of the first four trumpets and the results. The language continues to be highly symbolic, and a feature common to each is that the judgments only fall upon a third part of the things affected. This shows that for the moment the effects are not universal but limited. The phrase, “the third part,” occurs again in Revelation 12:4, where the Roman Empire, energized by Satan, is in question. This leads to the conclusion that here it is used to indicate the Roman earth, which is practically to be identified with the western European powers, or perhaps we may say, Christendom.
Another thing we notice in these verses is that the judgments fall on things rather than men. Yet the things specified—earth, trees, grass, sea and creatures in it, ships, rivers, fountains, sun, moon, stars—are not themselves moral agents, and so accountable to God. Man is the rebel sinner who has to be dealt with. The things are symbols of man and of what is connected with him.
For instance, “earth” signifies the stable organized nations, in contrast with “sea”—the restless, disorganized peoples. “Trees” signify the great men of the earth, in contrast with “green grass,” which indicates the common people, but in a prosperous state. “Ships” would be the symbol of commerce. “Rivers” and “Fountains” of the channels and sources of life and refreshment. The darkening of part of both day and night would indicate the disturbance of the whole course of nature to the blinding of men.
The judgment inflicted is symbolic in each case. “Hail and fire, mingled with blood,” must signify judgment from heaven of a crushing and searching nature, bringing death in its train. “A great mountain burning with fire... cast into the sea”—some imposing and apparently stable institution crashing under divine judgment into the restless masses of humanity. A “great star” burning as a lamp and falling from heaven, speaks rather of some prominent individual, who had shone as a luminary utterly apostasizing, and spreading death-dealing poison of a spiritual sort. The smiting of the third part of sun, moon and stars indicates the partial putting out of the sources of light and direction for men.
It is of course quite possible that we may have here reference also to great sights and signs and catastrophes in the realm of nature. But such things are not, we judge, the main objects of the prophecy, which has to do with what is spiritual and moral rather than what is physical and material.
After the fourth trumpet a very grave warning was sounded. “Eagle” rather than “angel” is the better attested reading in verse Revelation 8:13, which is significant in view of the Lord’s words in Matthew 24:28. The state of “the inhabiters of the earth” is becoming like that of a putrid carcase, and hence the three following trumpets are to unleash judgments of threefold intensity. This phrase or the equivalent, “them that dwell on the earth,” occurs a number of times in the book, and usually indicates a special class, whose interests and hopes are completely centred on the earth, and who have excluded all that is of heaven from their thoughts. As Christians we have a heavenly calling, and yet the present trend of religious thought is to concentrate exclusively on the earth, and to treat our hope of heaven with derision. When the church is gone, the earth-dwellers will be striving for their earthly paradise and expecting it as a result of their efforts. These apostates will specially come under the governmental wrath of God.
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Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Revelation 8". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany