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the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 8

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Verses 1-7

The Seventh Seal and the First Trumpet

Revelation 8:1. With the breaking of “the seventh seal” the book is totally open. That means that the time of the end has come, for it was said to Daniel of this book that he had to seal it till the time of the end (Daniel 12:4; Daniel 12:9). That means that the time has come that many prophetically announced events will be fulfilled. With a view to that a deathly silence arises in heaven. It is the silence before the storm that is about to break loose, a silence in which everything and everybody holds his breath with a view to what is going to happen.

That there is mention of “about half an hour” seems to be a symbolic indication for a very short period of time. It is presumably the period in which happens what John sees in the Revelation 8:2-Numbers :. In the following verses the first trumpet judgments are executed.

It is also possible that the “silence in heaven” of half an hour shows something of the mercy of God. God is slow to anger. He doesn’t like to judge, it is an unusual act of His (Isaiah 28:21; Lamentations 3:33). The judgments under the sixth seal have not led to conversion. In connection to that there is a half an hour longer wait. When there is no sign of repentance to be noticed, God has to come into action which implies that the judgments break loose under the trumpets.

Revelation 8:2. While there is, most likely, a deathly silence in heaven, preparations are being made in that silence for the trumpet judgments. John sees “the seven angels stand before God”. That seems to indicate that it is about seven specific angels (the seven angels) who find themselves in an exceptionally privileged position (before God). These seven angels with their seven trumpets form together the judgment of the seventh seal.

Each of them receives a trumpet. No one else than the Lord Jesus could have given them those trumpets. That there is mention of “trumpets” here, means that God speaks with a loud voice through the means of the judgments which are being poured out at the sounding of each trumpet. A trumpet which is sounded is a command for attention.

Revelation 8:3. Then “another angel” comes. That is again nobody but the Lord Jesus (cf. Revelation 10:1; Revelation 18:1), for only He is able to give strength to the prayers of the saints. He came and “stood at the altar”. An altar is an offering place where offerings are brought to God. At the end of this verse it is said that it is a “golden altar” and that it is “before the throne”. The offering place bears the mark of Divine glory (of which the gold speaks). The offering which is offered here to God, is not a bloody offering, but it consists of “the prayers of all the saints”. Regarding the prayers, you read that they are compared with incense (Psalms 141:2). Each sincere prayer is pleasing to God and will be answered by Him.

Because it regards the prayers of ‘all’ the saints, it is nice to consider that at that very moment the prayers will be answered which through the ages have been sent up to heaven by all the saints. But it concerns indeed the prayers of the believers who do not belong to the church. That becomes clear from the fact that these prayers are not related to the throne of grace, but to the throne of judgment.

In the time of the great tribulation the saints cry out to ‘the God of vengeance’ (Psalms 94:1) to come into action. They ask of Him to judge the ungodly, from which they will be saved. This is again a proof that the church is not on earth anymore, for we are told to pray for those who persecute us and to bless them and not to curse them (Matthew 5:44; Acts 7:60).

Each prayer only gets its full value to God because the Lord Jesus has a golden censer with much incense in it. The intention of it is also described: “That he might add it to the prayers of all the saints.” Nobody but He is able to give strength to the prayers of all saints (cf. Revelation 5:8). He is the true High Priest. Everything you offer to God is only pleasing to God through Him (Hebrews 13:15; 1 Peter 2:5).

‘Incense’ represents the personal glories of the Lord Jesus, which became visible in His life on earth and His dying on the cross. When you then especially consider prayer, you read of Him that His whole life on earth was ‘prayer’ (Psalms 109:4). Therefore His life was a sweet incense to God.

Revelation 8:4. Everything that the Lord Jesus is as a Man to God ascends together with the prayers of the saints to God. It says also distinctly “before God out the angel’s hand”. In this way the involvement of the Lord Jesus with the prayer of the saints is presented greater than when the incense of the altar would be ascending up to heaven.

Revelation 8:5. When the censer is empty, when the prayers have reached their destination, the Angel returns to the altar with the empty censer. He fills the censer with the fire of the altar which He afterwards throws on the earth. Here you see that the Lord Jesus gives as it were the starting signal for the judgments. When the fire is being thrown on the earth, impressive accompanying signals are to be experienced.

1. The “peals of thunders” make clear that God speaks through the judgments.
2. “Sounds” are no rumbling noises at a distance, but horrible deafening blows that make everything shake.
3. “Flashes of lightning” put everything in the light and are blinding.
4. “An earthquake” causes that the earth suddenly is ripped open under the feet and that every hold is taken away.

The fire is taken from the burnt offering altar on which it burns ceaselessly. The burnt offering altar is the place where the burnt offering is consumed by fire, for the benefit of those who are reconciled and sanctified by it. But that same fire is also used to consume those who have no part in the burnt offering. That the fire is put into the censer first, indicates that the following judgments are related with the prayers of the saints and in that way are the answers to those prayers. It is altogether symbolic language in order to clarify the exercise of these judgments.

Revelation 8:6. Then it is the angels’ turn to exercise their duty. They prepare themselves to sound the trumpets that were given to them. A trumpet announces the judgment, but it also serves as a warning signal, so that people will escape the declared judgments (Ezekiel 33:2-Numbers :). The destruction and siege of Jericho was also preceded by the sounding of trumpets (Joshua 6:4). That will also happen when the judgments and the taking possession of the earth will come to pass.

Like often, here also the number seven can be divided in four and three. Just like the first four seals make one whole, the first four trumpets also do. These four are related to the creation, subdivided according to the four domains: the earth, the sea, the rivers and springs of waters, and the sun, the moon and the stars (cf. Revelation 14:6). However, it does not regard the whole world, for there is still mention of “the third part”.

Revelation 8:7. When the first angel sounds, “hail and fire, mixed with blood … were thrown to the earth”. “Hail” is a judging power that comes from heaven (Revelation 11:19; Revelation 16:21; Exodus 9:23-Jeremiah :; Isaiah 28:2; Ezekiel 38:22). “Fire” is God's consuming judgment (Revelation 20:10; Luke 16:24). “Blood”, separated from the body, speaks of death (Revelation 16:3). The fact that hail and fire are mingled with blood therefore means that those judgments will result in death.

The fire does its work and consumes the world wherever there is still a certain order of government (“the earth”). Arrogant powers (“the trees”, Daniel 4:19-:) will be consumed, just like prosperity (“all the green grass”, Isaiah 15:6). Grass represents both Israel (Isaiah 40:7) and the whole human race (1 Peter 1:24). Because of the mention of the green grass, it may probably emphasize that it relates to man in his prosperity.

In this verse “burned up” occurs three times. It is a verb that indicates ‘completely burned up’. It is about being burned to the ground. Although I prefer a symbolic explanation of this trumpet judgment, it is not unthinkable that this judgment is to be taken literally. It seems very difficult to me to consider a literal event in connection to each trumpet judgment. I would like you to ponder on that yourself, without letting your fantasy run free. Of course that also applies to myself. Therefore you need to read even more carefully what I propose to you as a possible explanation.

“A third part of the earth” means that the judgments will strike a limited territory and not the whole earth. It has all the appearances that this “third part” regards to the nominal Christian part, the false Christianity, which very probably may refer to the restored Roman empire or the united Europe (Revelation 12:4). That is my opinion, because in this part of the world the light of the gospel has shone most clearly. That makes the responsibility of the people who live here even greater than that of other people. And God always begins with His judgment with those who are most responsible (cf. 1 Peter 4:17; Leviticus 10:3).

Now read Revelation 8:1-7 again.

Reflection: What does the power consist of which is given to the prayers of the saints by the Angel?

Verses 8-13

The Second, Third and Fourth Trumpet

Revelation 8:8. When the second angel sounds the trumpet, something like “a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea”. After the earth also the sea will be the object of judgment. The sea represents the disordered world (Isaiah 17:12; Isaiah 57:20), lands where revolution and anarchy are in control, in contrast to the earth of Revelation 8:7. Great powers will go down in there, while other powers will come out of them.

The great mountain, or anyway something which reminds us of that, is a symbol of a strong worldly power (Jeremiah 51:25; Isaiah 2:2; Daniel 2:35; cf. Psalms 46:3). This is not the restored Roman empire, for that will not go down in the sea of nations, but will arise from it (Revelation 13:1). Some interpreters refer to the United States. This great power is burning with fire. It is an object of God's wrath.

Revelation 8:9. The fall of this burning great power sows death and destruction in the midst of a third part of the nations. The third part of the inhabitants of these nations will die. The fall of the great power also causes the destruction of “the third of the ships”. That may probably indicate that parts of trade and communication will be paralyzed, which for example will cause it to be impossible for relief supplies to be imported from countries that are further away.

Revelation 8:10. At the sounding of the third angel “a great star fell from heaven”. Just like with the first two trumpets, there is also mention of fire here. Only it is not that much about a consuming fire here, but about something that burns “like a torch”. The effect is also to be compared with the previous trumpets, for here also many men die (Revelation 8:11). However, there is still a difference. The cause of death is not fire, but wormwood, which is caused by this star.

The star is a symbol of a ruler that should radiate heavenly light (Revelation 1:20). You may think of a great person with authority or a religious powerful system, probably somebody who or something that impresses people, in the expectation that he or it will supply religious leadership to the (western) world. This star will not be thrown like it happened in the previous verses, but will fall down from heaven (Isaiah 14:12). It will burn like a torch and in that way it is an imitation of the seven Spirits of God (Revelation 4:5). That leads to the thought that this star concerns a spiritual power. The Spirit of God spreads the truth; this star spreads lies and destruction, doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1).

The star falls on “a third of the rivers and on the springs of water”. “Rivers” represent the normal life of a nation which is characterized by certain principles. “Springs” refer more to the influences that are based on the principles. In the symbolism of this description you may say that this star causes the destruction of spiritual springs instead of giving a wholesome heavenly light.

After the two domains on which life happens (earth and sea) are struck by the previous trumpets, now the springs of life that determine the quality of life are struck. You recognize this if you for instance look at marriage and family. Marriages and family were given by God as a spring of happiness. When this is separated from God, it becomes a spring of unhappiness. Or: the womb is a spring of life, but separated from God life is being killed there, which now has become a large place of murder. That's what makes life bitter.

Revelation 8:11. Wormwood represents bitterness (Proverbs 5:4). That's what this ruler causes to those who find themselves within his reach. All people who think to find delight in him, will notice that they have drunk death. The water is not only bitter, but it also appears to be poisonous. Dying does not imply the physical death, but the moral death, which means that there is absolutely no connection with what God has given concerning the good things in creation. Therefore there is no possibility to enjoy those things anymore. Life becomes altogether bitterness and embitterment. As a believer you therefore need to watch out for becoming embittered for whatever reason (Hebrews 12:15). Embitterment strangles the life within yourself and also within others.

Revelation 8:12. The trumpet judgments take away the life of people step by step and sacrifice them to the powers and forces of death. The fourth angel sounds. That causes that the celestial bodies are struck which were ordained to give light on the earth (Genesis 1:14-Psalms :). The punishment of this judgment is the removal of light. In that way another spring of life is struck, for without light life cannot grow and flourish.

Of sun and moon it is said that they ‘rule’ (Genesis 1:16). Stars serve to give us orientation. These celestial bodies refer to the whole system of the government in all its parts, from the highest authority to its lowest form. These light bearers, authority figures in different layers, will be partly (“a third”) clothed in darkness. That takes every orientation which they could have offered, away from them, both in daytime and during the night.

Revelation 8:13. After the fourth trumpet has sounded John sees and hears “an eagle flying in midheaven”. An eagle is the symbol of the speed with which the judgment is exercised. It sees its prey from a far distance and dives at a high speed to catch it. The eagle flies “in midheaven”, so that it is to be seen and heard by everyone on earth. It announces the judgment of the remaining three trumpets.

Because of fierceness of these three trumpets the eagle cries out a threefold “woe”. This threefold ‘woe’ is like the fifth, sixth and seventh trumpet. Therefore the last three trumpets also make a whole. The three coming trumpet judgments or woes do not strike so much the circumstances wherein people find themselves, like it has been most often the case up to now, but they now strike the people themselves and are therefore not indirect judgments anymore.

These people are indicated as “those who dwell on the earth”. In Revelation this expression always regards those who feel themselves at home on earth and for whom that's the purpose of life. Nothing else matters for them. God has no place in their thinking and life. Therefore they will be judged with the earth, which they love that much and to which they attached their fate. Believers do not ‘dwell’ on the earth, but they are pilgrims there. Their home is heaven (Philippians 3:20).

The judgments that follow are horrible, whereby that of the third woe, which includes the seven bowls, are the most horrible ones. The first ‘woe’ will come over the unsealed Jews, the second ‘woe’ will strike the Christless Christianity.

Now read Revelation 8:8-13 again.

Reflection: What actually is struck by judgments in this portion?

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Revelation 8". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/revelation-8.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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