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THE SECOND VISION CONTINUED.
The Seventh Seal is Opened.
The First Six Trumpets (Revelation 8:1 - Revelation 9:21 ).
‘And when he opened the seventh seal there followed a silence in Heaven about the space of half an hour.’
The seventh seal is chronologically parallel to the occurrences in the first six seals (as we have noted the sixth seal ends with the second coming and the final judgment. The seventh seal could not follow that). Its content thus occurs at the same time as the events in the first six seals, at the same time as the four horsemen are riding, (and they have ridden throughout history as ‘the beginning of travail’ - Matthew 24:7-8). It helps to explain the meaning of the apocalyptic language in seal 6. We have no reason to doubt, and every reason to believe, that it occurs while the seven churches are on earth.
Here in Revelation we are seeing present history from heaven’s point of view. Dreadful things have happened throughout history and we now discover their source. While they are the result of man’s sinfulness, they are also the result of heavenly activity (compare 2 Kings 6:17).
Each seal represents different aspects of the activities of men and of the judgments of God. They are opened one after another simply because there is no other way of opening them in a deliberate way, but what is in the seven-sealed book is an overall record of future history from the time of John onwards, seen as a whole, but leading up to the end. Thus most of what is presented occurs in parallel. The events are to a certain extent overlapping each other.
The silence in Heaven must probably be seen as one of trust and awe in the light of what comes from it. As Jeremiah says in Lamentations, ‘it is good that one should hope and wait in silence for the Lord’s deliverance’ (Lamentations 3:26, compare also Habakkuk 2:20; Zephaniah 1:7; Zechariah 2:13). God’s judgments are about to be revealed in fuller measure, and the prayers of God’s people are reaching their climax and are about to be answered. Thus Heaven waits in expectant and awestruck silence. The opening of the seventh seal results in the sounding of the seven trumpets. So the seven trumpets are contemporary with the seven seals.
The first five seals referred to man’s activity throughout history at the command of God, the latter fact reminding us that God is always in control. In the same way the first five trumpets represent the more specific direct judgments of God during the same period. History is full of God’s judgments, intended to bring men to repentance. The sixth seal and the sixth and seventh trumpets describe the consummation of the age.
‘And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.’
The seven angels are the ones mentioned in Revelation 1:4 and Revelation 4:5. They have been waiting for this very moment. The blowing of the seven trumpets, like the opening of the seven seals of which they are a part, will cause God’s purposes to go forward. Like the seven seals, the trumpets overlap with each other, so that the events described in one may occur while others are going on, although also to some extent consecutively. They announce publicly God’s next actions. Just as the New Year was inaugurated with the blowing of trumpets and hope for the future (Leviticus 23:24; Numbers 29:1), and the year of Jubilee was inaugurated with trumpets which signalled release and freedom (Leviticus 25:8-10), so each of God’s new actions is inaugurated in the same way. The seven trumpets were given to the angels by God, as the passive tense ‘were given’ makes clear. Their being seven indicates the divine completeness of the judgments they cover.
‘And another angel came and stood over the altar, having a golden censer, and much incense was given to him in order that he should offer it with the prayers of all God’s people (‘all the set apart ones’ or ‘all the saints’) on the golden altar which is before the throne. And the smoke of the incense with the prayers of the God’s people (the set apart ones - the saints) went up before God out of the angel’s hand. And the angel takes the censer and he filled it with the fire of the altar and cast it on the earth. And there followed thunders, and voices, and lightnings, and an earthquake.’
The angel, who is not identified, stands at the heavenly altar of incense ready to make his offering before God. He is one of many angels with specific tasks to perform. Who he is it is idle to speculate. He is anonymous. He is only important because of the task he performs. The golden altar of incense is before the throne, just as the altar of incense in the Tabernacle was before the veil behind which was the mercy seat, the throne of God. The incense is thus offered directly to God.
The angel is given incense which will amplify the prayers of God’s people as they are offered to God. Such effective prayer is necessary in view of what we learn about the trumpets and the seals. In Revelation 5:8 the twenty four elders who act for the church of Christ hold golden bowls full of incense which are the prayers of the saints. This angel’s task is to enhance those prayers with further prayers, and Scripture elsewhere tells us the divine source of those prayers in the Great Intercessor (Romans 8:26; Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25).
The ‘much incense’ given to the angel is to be seen as comprising the intercession of Christ, ‘who ever lives to make intercession for us’ (Romans 8:34), and of the Spirit Who ‘makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered’ (Romans 8:26-27), for what else could boost the prayers of God’s people? If any particular prayers are specifically in John’s mind they are probably those of the souls under the altar in Revelation 6:9-10, for these are about to be answered. (This is all of course picture language. It is not recommending the use of incense in churches, nor saying that there are priests in Heaven, it is using Old Testament ceremonies to apply New Testament truths. Prayer, praise and thanksgiving have replaced incense and are actually what is offered).
In Revelation we are constantly reminded that the people of God are praying (Revelation 5:8; Revelation 6:10). They pray that His name may be glorified, that His kingly rule may come and that His will may be done (Matthew 6:10). And Revelation is the fulfilment of those prayers, although possibly not in the way that they expected. As God’s people pray for deliverance so does God continue His acts of judgment which partly bring about those prayers.
Having offered up the incense by burning it in the fire on the altar, thus effectively assisting God’s people, the angel fills the censer with the fire from the altar, which has been used to offer up the prayers of God’s people, and casts it on the earth, thus applying their prayers directly and ensuring their fulfilment. What will now happen on earth is God’s response to the prayers of God’s people. He is about to carry out His righteous judgments. In Ezekiel a similar action is performed by the man clothed with linen who had sealed God’s people to secure their protection (Ezekiel 10:2). In that case it would result in the carrying our of God’s righteous judgments in the devastation of the city of Jerusalem.
We are not to see these ideas as literal. (It is described in earthly terms. There is no need or place for an altar in Heaven for it is essentially spiritual). They are intended to assure the people of God that God is constantly aware of their prayers and to assure them that the intercession of Christ and the Holy Spirit is effective on their behalf. They also assure them of the interest of heavenly beings in their needs and problems. The prayers directly in mind are the prayers for assistance in the face of trial, and longings for the fulfilment of God’s purposes. It does not have in mind our prayers for the sorting out of our personal day to day lives, although it does include our prayers for protection from evil.
If we were to take Revelation 15:8 literally it is an awesome thought that the above may be the last ‘priestly’ act carried out by angels until the resurrection. The prayers of God’s people for the working out of God’s purposes have been heard, those prayers have been applied on earth, and all that follows in the future will be the working out of the answer to those prayers.
‘There followed thunders, and lightnings, and voices and an earthquake’. As mentioned previously on Revelation 4:5 the first three of these indicate something of the glory and mystery of God. They declare that something very important is about to happen. To these are added the earthquake to draw attention to the fact that God’s judgments are in process and that there will be earth shaking events. Earthquakes are depicted in Revelation as indicators and reminders of the judgment of God, and as part of those judgments.
‘And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.’
It is possible that the silence in Heaven has been utilised for the purpose of putting into action the prayers of God’s people. All Heaven has waited in awed silence while this task has been performed. The Lord in His holy Temple has been receiving their prayers and Heaven (Revelation 8:1) and earth (Revelation 7:1) have waited in silence before Him (compare Habakkuk 2:20 - ‘the Lord is in His holy Temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him’). Now the four angels at the four corners of the earth who will hurt the earth and the sea and the trees will be loosed (Revelation 7:1).
While the six seals were only indirectly the judgments of God in that they involved the activities of men, these are the more direct judgments which go alongside them, more intensified and more devastating, and yet more restricted in effect. When were they released? In the days of John and onwards.
The ideas behind the consequences of the seven trumpets are based to some extent on the plagues of Exodus 7:0. Hail and fire mixed with blood compares with the seventh plague (Exodus 9:22 following), the sea becoming blood compares with the first plague, as does the undrinkable water (Exodus 7:17 following), and the darkness which follows the fourth trumpet blast compares with the ninth plague (Exodus 10:21 following), while the locusts parallel Exodus 10:4. Just as God was then preparing for a great deliverance of His people, and to lead them into the land of promise, so now God is seen as preparing a new and greater deliverance for His people and is leading them into the heavenly Promised Land.
It is very probable that we should see the first four trumpets as resulting from the release of the ‘winds’ by the four angels of Revelation 7:1. These winds are to be released to carry out their work on earth with devastating consequences. Each releases something which affects a part of mankind. Every occurrence of such events can be seen as the continual working of these ‘winds’ of God.
The First Trumpet Sounds.
‘And the first sounded and there followed hail and fire, mingled with blood, and they were cast on the land (or earth), and the third part of the land (or earth) was burnt up, and the third part of the trees were burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.’
The first wind of earth has been released, specifically affecting trees (Revelation 7:1). In Exodus 9:24 there was ‘hail, and fire mingled with hail’ and plants of the earth were smitten (Exodus 9:31-32), indicating a great storm with hail and lightning and possibly thunderbolts, and the resulting fires burn up trees and vegetation. A similar thing happens here. Compare ‘hailstones and coals of fire’ (Psalms 18:13-14), similarly part of such a great storm. John would seem to have Exodus 9:0 in mind but replaces ‘hail’ with ‘blood’.
From where does John introduce such an idea? In Ezekiel 38:22 God says of Gog ‘I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood, and I will rain on him and on his hordes and upon the many peoples who are with him an overflowing shower, and great hailstones, fire and brimstone’, John is thus taking these ideas and combining them with Exodus 9:0. This brings out that the prime significance of ‘blood’ here is death through the storms. Some have seen it as connected with Joel 2:30 which speaks of ‘blood and fire’ in connection with the future, ‘I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood and fire and pillars of smoke’. But in context that more suggests devastation by pillaging armies. It may, however, be seen as also referring to extreme natural phenomena, and may thus have been in John’s mind for Joel 2:30 was connected by the early church with current events (Acts 2:10).
This whole picture suggests a procession of great storms, their devastating effects resulting in pestilence and death, and the mention of fire and brimstone stresses that they are to be seen as a judgment of God. Possibly, but not necessarily (it is apocalyptic language not to be taken literally) to be seen as connected with volcanic action. The mention of blood over against pestilence in Ezekiel refers to ‘death’ and includes the storm’s effects as it causes death and destruction (see also Ezekiel 14:19). Pestilence and death are closely related. The word for ‘death’ is regularly used in the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint) to translate the Hebrew word ‘deber’ which means destruction, plague, pestilence (1 Kings 8:37; Jeremiah 14:12).
This whole imagery may also have in mind the phenomenon of red rain which occurred in certain parts of the Mediterranean region. It may, however, be simply apocalyptic imagery suggesting widespread death. Or more probably it is the one seen with the other. There may also be the suggestion in it that they are receiving recompense for the blood of the martyrs which they have shed, their ‘blood’ being seen as poured on them in the judgments coming on them (compare Revelation 15:6).
Such great and devastating storms, and huge fires caused by lightning and thunderbolts, burning up swathes of countryside, occurred in John’s time and have occurred through history, and will continue to do so, exacting death tolls sometimes of great magnitude, although not many have reached this magnitude. Here we learn that such storms should be seen in their own way as judgments of God, as the releasing of the winds of earth, a further step towards and reminder of Christ’s Second Coming. There will no doubt be more. Every such severe catastrophe in nature is a pointer to the end. The whole message of Revelation is that however much things seem out of control, God is in control and working His purposes out.
‘And the third part of the earth (or land area) was burnt up, and the third part of the trees were burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up’. This is apocalyptic language to bring out the severity of the situation and is a deliberate increase on ‘the fourth part’ in Revelation 6:8, stressing an even greater increase in death and devastation through these great fires and storms in the areas where they occur. However, it is in merciful contrast with the ‘two thirds’ of Zechariah 13:8 which applied to those who smite the shepherd and scatter the sheep, for they claimed to be God’s people and were therefore liable to greater punishment. Thus here justice is seen as tempered with mercy.
God would have been justified in destroying all, but he limits it to a third. Nature and man are both seen as controlled by God. It may be seen as occurring over time, with the devastation not all occurring at once. The mention of the destruction of trees and grass stresses that there will be resulting shortages for both man and beast. The ‘third part of the earth’, or it could equally be translated ‘of the land’, has in mind ‘the earth’ as known to John, not the whole world as we know it, and probably even means ‘of the land where the storms occur’. It indicates great devastation. But although the devastation is great, it is not necessarily worldwide. Within its sphere it is widespread and devastating. The word for ‘earth’ can also equally mean ‘land area’ (their concept of ‘the earth’ was different from ours). The mention of the fraction reminds us that God is allowing a powerful warning but has not yet determined to destroy the whole.
There have been such apocalyptic moments in history when particularly awful natural phenomena have caused devastating consequences on a huge scale, and in a lesser way such ‘natural’ phenomena as typhoons and hurricanes occur regularly. But we obtain hints of worse from ancient writings and from scientific studies. Any one of these, or all, could be in mind here. Revelation presents us with a pattern of suffering and woes which mankind must constantly face and is assuring us that they do not mean that things are out of control. They come and they go, but God’s purposes go forward and His people are not forgotten.
The Second Trumpet Sounds.
‘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, and the third part of creatures which were in the sea died, those that had life, and the third part of the ships were destroyed.’
The second wind of heaven affects the sea (see Revelation 7:1). We are not told which sea is involved, (‘in Spirit’ John could be anywhere) but the description may be of a meteor or asteroid crashing to earth producing great devastation and even changing the colour of the sea. Because it hits the sea its worst effects are avoided, but it still causes great devastation around it. The sea was always seen by the Israelites as an enemy, for they had few ports and little to do with it.
This is possibly not seen as being as widespread as the first disasters, for it affects only one sea, but it is deeper in intensity. God’s judgments are sometimes widespread, and sometimes deeper in intensity. Whether such an event which meets all these criteria has specifically happened in history we may not be able to identify (so much of history is a blank to us), but we do know of devastation caused by meteors and other spatial objects, some of which have caused quite considerable devastation, and there are early records of such events. Once again ‘the third part’ is apocalyptic language for great devastation.
Speaking of the 6th century AD Roger of Wendover (13th century AD) refers to a catastrophe that was exceedingly widespread, probably caused by the effects of a comet breaking up in space or an asteroid, as follows, ‘a comet in Gaul so vast that the whole sky seemed on fire. In the same year there dropped real blood from the clouds --- and a dreadful mortality ensued’. While almost certainly exaggerated the language has similarities with our passage. Such events have occurred, fortunately relatively rarely, throughout history, including in the twentieth century in, for example, Siberia.
John himself is thinking of a relatively short period for these activities, for he could not foresee the time that would elapse before Christ’s Second Coming. These things were to ‘soon come about’ and there can be no question but that things which could be interpreted as them were experienced in John’s day. But God’s perspective is different. He sees history as a whole. John is again saying that when such devastating things happen the Christian can be aware that it is not a sign that God has forgotten us. Rather He allows them in order to remind men of the even more devastating judgment to come.
On the other hand, the idea of ‘stars’ (heavenly lights of one kind or another) falling from heaven and causing devastation are known in other apocalyptic literature (e.g. the Book of Enoch mentioned by Jude (Revelation 1:14)) and there they represent fallen angels. Indeed, the king of Babylon, who made great claims to deity was pictured as the Day-star, falling from heaven which suggests a similar background (Isaiah 14:12). It may thus be that that is the idea here, and that a powerful fallen angel is seen as carrying out what is written here.
If it is a fallen angel and not a specific natural catastrophe that is in mind it could again mean the angel does his work over a period of time. Fallen angels are a feature of Revelation and pictured as falling stars (Revelation 9:1-2; Revelation 12:4). (In Daniel 10:0 they are constantly at work throughout history). As these first four trumpets connect with the four angels at the corners of the earth (Revelation 7:1) this may well be so. But the deliberate avoiding of the word ‘star’ suggests that in this case John may well be talking only of natural phenomena (in contrast with the third trumpet to follow).
The Third Trumpet Sounds.
‘And the third angel sounded and there fell from heaven a great star, burning like a torch, and it fell on the third part of the rivers, and on the fountains of the waters, and the name of the star is called Wormwood, and many men died of the waters because they were made bitter.’
The third wind of heaven affects the land (the earth) (Revelation 7:1). In Jeremiah 9:13-15 God declared of those who had forsaken His law and walked in the way of Balaam (compare Revelation 3:14), ‘Behold I will feed them, even this people, with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink’ and in Jeremiah 15:6 God declares of the false prophets of Jerusalem, ‘I will feed them with wormwood, and make them drink the water of gall’. Thus the partaking of wormwood is a recognised judgment of God because men have forsaken His ways.
This was fulfilled in Jeremiah’s case by the taking into exile in Babylon of the people of Judah and Israel, described in Lamentations 3:15 as, ‘He has filled me with bitterness, He has sated me with wormwood’, compare Jeremiah 9:16. Their exile was an exceedingly bitter thing to swallow, and was like drinking wormwood and gall. So this judgment has in mind the punishment of God for disobedience to His law and to His word and the bitter experiences that result. Because people reject His word they will ‘drink’ bitter and deadly water, in other words they will experience bitter things, including death, resulting from heavenly activity.
There may be here an intended contrast with the Revelation 7:17 where the fountains of waters of life are spiritual. Thus, as it was with the exiles, the wormwood and bitterness may largely be seen as spiritual and not physical, a bitterness of mind and heart, resulting from bitter experiences. But it is illustrated by the pollution of their water supplies.
As with the second trumpet it is always possible that we have here the fall of a heavenly body and its subsequent effects. Many strange things have happened through history which have been unaccounted for, and some such events as this may therefore have taken place, affecting a good part of a particular area. (It seems very probable that John himself was aware of stories of falling heavenly bodies which caused devastation). But as falling stars are regularly angels in Revelation that must seem more probable here.
Thus it is more likely the case that we are to see in this the activity of a fallen angel, described partly in terms reminiscent of the plagues in Egypt. If this be so it may again be seen as happening over a period of time. That is that a fallen angel comes down and continues to bring about certain effects resulting in bitterness in men’s spirits. John is not thinking of occurrences in the distant future, for he is anticipating the near coming of the Lord. But we who see things from a different perspective are entitled to see things differently, and possibly as something that reoccurs. History is full of this activity of the fallen angel.
Indeed the pollution of rivers and seas is not a phenomenon unknown to modern man. Many countries are now heavily polluted and there have been innumerable deaths as a result. It is an interesting thought that modern industrial society’s greediness and carelessness may be due to supernatural activity. Certainly there is much evil at the heart of modern business activity.
However, we are not the first to pollute the land, and widespread land pollution occurred in John’s day through various means, as well as at other times. But while physical pollution through man’s sinful activities may be in mind, we learn here that it is probably also to be seen as being a result of God’s judgments resulting in distressed souls, as well as in distressed bodies, as ‘drinking wormwood’ is in Lamentations. A polluted world should remind us of the pollution in men’s souls, and is allowed by God so as to awaken us to our need for Him.
So the first three trumpets are relatively localised and speak of devastating activities in nature in those areas, including possibly a falling meteor and other natural catastrophes, and angelic activity and heavy pollution of man’s environment, causing bitterness in men’s souls. When these things occur, says John, (and they have occurred numbers of times throughout history) they are to be recognised as part of God’s judgments, as calls to repent and turn back to God, and as reminders that Christ is coming again.
The Fourth Trumpet Sounds.
‘And the fourth angel sounded and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars, that the third part of them should be darkened, and the day should not shine for the third part of it, and the night in the same way.’
This directly connects with the description under the sixth seal previously commented on, which see. The language vividly portrays times of uncertainty and distress. Thus while it at first appears that it is the heavens that are affected it is really the earth. It is indicating repercussions on earth. This is confirmed by the fact that this is the fourth wind of earth. It blows on the earth. The descriptions of the heavenly bodies are as seen from earth.
The language is partially referring to similar events to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, as it did in Jesus’ discourse (Mark 13:24-25; Matthew 24:29; Luke 21:25), when it would have seemed to the people as though the whole of life had become distorted, and smoke, fire, devastation and horror would affect the view of heavenly phenomena. It certainly there has in mind political and historical activity causing the distress of nations, for Luke emphasised this (Revelation 21:25). Equally certainly in John’s day nations suffered invasion and counter-invasion, with all their devastating consequences, which may have affected the people so. The deliberate burning of food producing land was a recognised policy with many armies and the rising smoke and flames as large areas of land were devastated would cause distortions in how natural phenomena were seen. It is describing a period when men are at their wit’s end and living in great fear, (not so unusual a phenomenon in history).
It has occurred through the ages. History is sadly strewn with activities of men that have made it seem to those affected as though the very heavens were being affected (it is apocalyptic language). It may deepen as time goes on. But once again we are reminded that it is part of the judgments of God on a sinful world, and a continual call to repent. The whole creation still groans and travails in pain waiting for the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:18-23).
It could also refer to periods when climactic conditions have combined with such events as are described above to cause such phenomena so that nature appears to have run amok. The idea is then of unnatural periods of light and darkness, as in the plague in Egypt. We can compare the darkness at the crucifixion (Mark 15:33). The description is exaggerated for effect and describes things as seen on earth. Political and military activity and signs in nature were all seen as one connected whole in those days, so that physical occurrences and heavenly phenomena were seen together. Once again the ‘third’ signifies large but contained effects. Total judgment is not yet here.
‘The third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars, that the third part of them should be darkened, and the day should not shine for the third part of it, and the night in the same way.’ Note how it is earth that is seen as affected, and the length of days and nights. There is to be darkening on earth, with the length of days and nights being seen as altering. Such things can happen when there are large natural catastrophes. It may indicate the light of sun and moon being diminished as seen from parts of the earth (e.g. by smoke and ashes and cloud).
Proclamation Of The Three Woes.
‘And I saw and I heard an eagle, flying in mid heaven, saying with a great voice, ‘Woe, woe, woe for those who dwell on the earth, by reason of the other blasts (Gk: voices) of the trumpets which are yet to sound.’
The eagle flying in Heaven presumably refers to the living creature who was in the form of a flying eagle (Revelation 4:7). (When a flying eagle is specifically described earlier in the book it is surely unnecessary to look elsewhere). Just as the living creatures were the ones who sent out the four horsemen, so it is one of them who declare the earth’s woes. The last three trumpets are being prepared for, and an indication is given of the awfulness that will result, beside which what has happened before will be as nothing. The woes are upon the ‘earth-dwellers’, a term regularly used in Revelation of non-Christians. The Christians are sealed against them. Eagles are often connected with judgment (Hosea 8:1. See also Deuteronomy 28:49; Jeremiah 4:13; Habakkuk 1:8). which makes the use of the eagle type ‘living creature’ especially relevant.
The fact that the last three trumpets are described as ‘woes’ in contrast with the remainder stresses their awfulness and the fact that supernatural agencies are more fully involved. It is saying that what has been previously described is as nothing compared with what is now about to be described. Here we have an intensification of all that has been described before, but taking the form of direct spiritual attack.
The Fifth Trumpet Sounds - The First Woe.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Revelation 8". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25