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The Third Vision and the Opening of the Seventh Seal.
The preparation for the sounding of the trumpets:
v. 1. And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.
v. 2. And I saw the seven, angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.
v. 3. And another angel came and stood at the altar having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.
v. 4. And the smoke of the incense which came with the prayers of the saints ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.
v. 5. And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth; and there were voices and thunderings and lightnings and an earthquake.
v. 6. And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.
The narrative at this point, with all its simplicity, is full of dramatic intensity: And when He opened the seventh seal, silence reigned in heaven for about a half-hour. It was a silence of strained expectation, of breathless suspense. The plagues that were about to be shown in symbols were the greatest, the most horrible of all, the tribulations which would strike the Church would be awe-inspiring in their intensity. It was an ominous period of direst portent.
After the half-hour had elapsed, an activity ensued which prepared for the coming events: And I saw the seven angels that stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. The use of trumpets is always associated in Scriptures with important announcements intended for great multitudes. Here the seven angels are mentioned, the spirits that were in the immediate service of the Lord, just as Gabriel calls himself one of those that stand in the presence of the Lord, Luke 1:19. They were His servants, to carry out His commands, and the trumpets were given to them in order that they might be the Lord's heralds. They now stood ready, with their trumpets at their mouths, waiting for the signal to proclaim doom.
The idea that heaven is a vast temple now again comes to the foreground: And another angel came and stood next to the altar, having a golden censer, and to him was given incense in abundance, that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne. Here again everything points to the solemnity of the occasion. There is no hurry, no confusion: the act of worship is performed with all the impressiveness of holy dignity. Many commentators identify this angel with the one great High Priest of the New Testament, Jesus Christ Himself. Just as the high priest of the Old Testament took a golden censer to sacrifice incense in the Most Holy Place, so the prayers of the saints, a great mass of them, are here pictured as being offered up to God. This was acceptable to the Lord: And the smoke of the incense arose with the prayers of the saints out of the hand of the angel before God. The straight ascent of the smoke of a sacrifice signified that God looked upon it graciously, that the prayers of the saints met with His approval, as they are sure to do if made according to His will, for the sake of the precious merit and the powerful intercession of the great High Priest and Mediator Jesus Christ.
The last action of the angel was also significant: And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there occurred thunderings and voices and lightnings and an earthquake. The fire from the altar is a manifestation of the sevenfold Spirit in the Word. The proclamation of this Word is like thunder in shaking hard hearts, like a mighty voice in penetrating the minds, like lightning in revealing the innermost recesses of the heart and in working knowledge of divine things, like an earthquake in working mighty changes, not only in the heart and mind of the hearers, but in their entire life. These preliminary acts having taken place, everything was ready for the sounding of the trumpets: And the seven angels that had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to trumpet.
The sounding of the first and second trumpets:
v. 7. The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth; and the third part of trees was burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
v. 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;
v. 9. and the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.
The first four trumpets set in motion forces of ruin whose destruction is directed against natural objects, the disasters calling to mind the Egyptian plagues. The first plague concerned the earth: And the first one sounded the trumpet; and there occurred hail and fire mingled with blood and fell on the earth, and the third part of the trees was consumed, and all green grass was consumed. Here we have the picture of a terrible storm of lightning and hail, leaving death and destruction in its wake, with the added horror of a shower of blood instead of rain. Thus it is when a hurricane of false doctrines, especially of those of the righteousness of works, strikes the Church of God. Then the green pastures of His Word are sadly burned, and the tender shoots of the young Christians wither away.
The second plague struck the sea: And the second angel sounded his trumpet, and what resembled a huge mountain burning with fire fell into the sea; and the third part of the sea became blood, and the third part of the creatures that were in the sea died, the living animals, and the third part of the ships were destroyed. Here we have a picture of a peculiar volcanic disturbance which includes the explosion of the volcano itself, the turning of the water into blood, the destruction of many marine animals, and the working of havoc among the shipping. Thus it is when heretical fanaticism enters the Christian Church, when false teachers arise and show forth apparently great signs and wonders, puffing themselves up in glittering greatness before men. Alas, only too many Christians have been led astray by such men, leaving the solid foundation of God's eternal Word and perishing in their own foolishness.
The sounding of the third and fourth trumpets:
v. 10. And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon a third art of the rivers and upon the fountains of waters;
v. 11. and the name of the star is called Wormwood; and the third art of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters because they were made bitter.
v. 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 art of the stars, so as the third art of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise.
v. 13. And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhibiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels which are yet to sound!
The third plague struck the waters of the earth: And the third angel sounded his trumpet; and there fell from heaven a huge star like a torch, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers and upon the springs of water; and the name of the star is called Wormwood; and the third part of the waters turned to wormwood, and many among men died of the waters, because they had been made bitter. Here is the picture of an immense meteor shooting down out of the sky, filled with a bitter drug said to be a mortal poison which it was able to impart to all waters and springs with which it came in contact. Thus it has happened more than once that men who considered themselves shining lights and bright stars in the firmament of the Church have been found filled with the poison of false doctrine, which they all too often imparted to the sermons and books that were spread broadcast by them. By such men the Water of Life, the pure Gospel of the Savior is made bitter and poisonous, and all men that drink of this poisoned water fall victims to spiritual death. The description fits especially well in the case of the great rationalistic teachers, who poisoned the fountains of the pure inspired Word.
The fourth plague struck the firmament of the sky: And the fourth angel sounded his trumpet; and the third part of the sun was smitten and the third part of the moon and the third part of the stars, the result being that the third part of them was darkened, and that the day had no light for its third part and the night likewise. Here is a picture of an unusual disturbance in the sky, by which all the bodies of light in the firmament mere affected in such a manner as to take away a third part of their power both by day and by night. This is what happens in the Church when men that call themselves ministers of the Gospel darken the light of Scriptures with their own opinions, substituting arbitrariness and uncertainty for the infallible basis of the truth of God. Just as soon as speculations concerning the divine Word are introduced into the pulpit, just so soon the light of God is dimmed. It is a pity that, as the text notes throughout, the third art of the creatures were destroyed by these plagues, that a large part of the Church has always been struck by the various heresies. But there is still this comfort, that the third part is not the whole. The entire Church will: not give way to error; God will keep His chosen ones in His Word and faith. The portals of hell shall not prevail against His Church.
The narrative now again shows an interval in the action: And I saw, and I heard an eagle (or: angel) flying in mid-heaven with a loud cry, Woe, woe, woe, to those that dwell upon the earth, for the rest of the trumpet-voices of the three angels that are about to sound their trumpets! In the midst of the sky, in the zenith, directly over the heads of men, the eagle was flying, and his screaming cry was a warning against security, a call to repentance, before the remaining trumpets should sound and bring still greater woes and distresses to the inhabitants of the earth. It is absolutely necessary that all Christians heed the warning words of their pastors in these last days of the world, lest they be overwhelmed by the woes which are coming upon the Church.
The prophet, at the beginning of the third vision, sees the opening of the seventh seal and witnesses the blowing of the trumpets by four angels, the consequence being that plagues visited the earth, the sea, the waters, and the sky.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Revelation 8". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13