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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Revelation 8

A.M. 4100. A.D. 96.

(1,) The seventh seal being opened, after a short silence, seven angels prepare to give solemn alarms of approaching judgments, answerable to Christ’s intercession, and the prayers of his people, Revelation 8:1-6 .

(2,) Four of the trumpets being sounded, are each followed by terrible judgments, till the Roman empire is quite destroyed, and the church fearfully defaced, Revelation 8:7-12 .

(3,) An angel denounces still greater miseries to come upon the earth under the three following trumpets, Revelation 8:13 .

This chapter introduces the second period of this prophecy, which begins upon the opening of the seventh seal, and is distinguished by the sounding of the seven trumpets. This period of the trumpets contains a prophetic description of the state of the world and church for a considerable space of time after the empire became nominally Christian, and was governed by the successors of Constantine. It describes the great devastation of that empire by the several nations that broke in upon it, and finally put an end to it; and it predicts a time of great calamity, a state of new trials. So that here the church was shown the new dangers and oppositions it had to expect, after it should be delivered from the persecutions of the heathen Roman government: and that even when the Christian religion should have the protection of the laws and the favour of the emperors, the church would still have great need of caution, watchfulness, patience, and constancy; and there would be still this encouragement to faithfulness and perseverance, that though the opposition in this period of time would be very great, yet neither should this prevail against the cause of truth and righteousness, but the Christian faith should be preserved, and in the end triumph over this opposition, as it had before been victorious over that of the heathen emperors of Rome. And thus these fresh discoveries fully answer the general design and use of the prophecy, namely, to direct and encourage the constancy of Christ’s true church, whatever opposition it may meet with from its enemies, visible or invisible.

Verse 1

Revelation 8:1. And when he had opened the seventh seal This seal is introductory to the trumpets contained under it, as the seventh trumpet introduces the vials which belong to it. The period, therefore, of this seal is of much longer duration, and comprehends many more events, than any of the former seals. It comprehends, indeed, seven periods, distinguished by the sounding of seven trumpets. There was silence in heaven about half an hour This seems to have been intended, not only as an interval and pause, as it were, between the foregoing and the succeeding revelations, distinguishing in a remarkable manner the seventh seal from the six preceding; but as expressive of the solemn expectation excited on this occasion of great events about to be revealed. And the time of this silence being only half an hour, it seems, was intended to signify that the peace of the church would continue for a short season only, which was the case, namely, during the last fifteen years of Constantine’s reign, from A.D. 323 to A.D. 337. Of this silence some expositors think they find a figure in the following ceremonies of the Jews, mentioned by Philo. The incense, in the worship of God in the temple, used to be offered before the morning and after the evening sacrifice: and while the sacrifices were made, (2 Chronicles 29:25-28,) the voices, and instruments, and trumpets sounded; while the priest went into the temple to burn incense, (Luke 1:10,) all were silent, and the people prayed without in silence or to themselves. Now this was the morning of the church, and therefore the silence precedes the sounding of the trumpets.

Verses 2-3

Revelation 8:2-3. And I saw the seven angels I beheld further in my vision seven chief angels, instruments especially designed of God for a very important service, now to be declared; which stood Or were standing; before God To receive and execute his commands, after the manner of the great princes of the East, who used to be so attended by the chief officers of their courts. And to them were given seven trumpets To sound an alarm, and give warning to the nations of approaching judgments. And another angel came Representing, it seems, the great High-Priest of the church. The Lamb was emblematical of Christ, as a sacrifice for us, and this angel represented him in his priestly office as offering up to God the prayers of all the saints, recommended by his intercessions; having a golden censer Signifying his mediatorial office. And there was given unto him much incense An emblem of his great merits, and power with God; that he should offer it with, or add it to, the prayers of the saints upon the golden altar The altar of incense; which was before the throne There being in this representation of the divine presence no veil, and so no distinction between the holy and most holy place “The great angel of the covenant,” says Bishop Hall, “came and stood as the High-Priest of his church before the altar of heaven, and many holy and effectual prayers were offered unto him, that he might by his merciful mediation present them to God the Father.” “Some have thought,” says Doddridge, “that this is a plain intimation of the doctrine of the intercession of the angels, which is urged to have been an erroneous Jewish notion; and those who imagine it to be taught here, have made it an argument against the inspiration of this book. But I rather agree with those interpreters who consider this angel as an emblem of Christ. If we were indeed to consider Christ as appearing in the shape of a lamb, this would be a difficulty; but it does not appear at all absurd to me, that while the efficacy of Christ’s atonement was represented by a lamb slain, his intercession consequent upon it should be represented by an angel offering the incense; which seems only a symbolical or hieroglyphical declaration of this truth, that the prayers of the saints on earth are rendered acceptable to God by the intercession of one in heaven, who appears as a priest before God: just as the vision of the Lamb represents to us that a person of perfect innocence, and of a most gentle and amiable disposition, eminently adorned and enriched with the Spirit of God, has been offered as a sacrifice; and is, in consequence of that, highly honoured on the throne of God. But who this important victim and this intercessor is, we are to learn elsewhere; and we do learn that both these offices met in one, and that this illustrious person is Jesus the Son of God. As the golden altar made a part of the scene, there was a propriety in its appearing to be used, and the time of praying was the hour of incense. This vision may probably be designed to intimate, that considering the scenes of confusion represented by the trumpets, the saints should be exceeding earnest with God to pour out a spirit of wisdom, piety, and zeal upon the churches amidst these confusions.”

Verses 4-6

Revelation 8:4-6. And the smoke of the incense ascended before God In an odoriferous cloud, with the prayers of the saints A testimony of God’s gracious acceptance, both of the intercession of the great High-Priest, and of the prayers of his believing people, proceeding from devout hearts; and consequently of the continuance of his protection and blessing to his faithful worshippers. And when the angel had performed this office, in order to show the awful manner in which God would avenge the injury which his praying people upon earth had received from its tyrannical and oppressive powers, he took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar Not of the golden altar, upon which there was no fire, (except that which was in the censer, and which burned the incense,) but from the brazen altar of burnt-offerings; and cast it into the earth To denote the judgments about to be executed upon the earth, as in Eze 10:2 coals of fire are taken from between the cherubim and scattered over Jerusalem, to denote the judgments of God about to be executed upon that city; and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings Which seemed to break forth from the divine presence; and also an earthquake The violent shock of which seemed to shake the foundation of the world; the usual prophetic signs these, and preludes of great calamities and commotions upon the earth. See Revelation 16:19. Accordingly, this being mentioned here previous to the sounding of the trumpets, was intended to foretel that many calamities were approaching, which should afflict the world and the church, notwithstanding the seeming secure prosperity of both, after the Roman empire had become, in profession, Christian. And the seven angels prepared themselves to sound As the seals foretold the state and condition of the Roman empire before and till it became Christian, so the trumpets foreshow the fate and condition of it afterward. The sound of the trumpet, as Jeremiah says, Jeremiah 4:19, and as every one understands it, is the alarm of war; and the sounding of these trumpets is designed to rouse and excite the nations against the Roman empire, called the third part of the world, as perhaps including the third part of the world, and being seated principally in Europe, which was the third part of the world at that time.

Verse 7

Revelation 8:7. The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood A proper representation of great commotions and disorders, attended with much bloodshed, and the destruction of many of the several ranks and conditions of men. “A thunder-storm or tempest, that throws down all before it, is a fit metaphor to express the calamities of war, whether from civil disturbances or foreign invasion, which often, like a hurricane, lay all things waste as far as they reach. Accordingly, in the language of prophecy, this is a usual representation thereof. So the Prophet Isaiah expresses the invasion of Israel by Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, Isaiah 28:2. And thus he expresses the judgments of God in general, Isaiah 29:6. And in this way Ezekiel expresses the judgments of God on the prophets who deceived the people, Ezekiel 13:13.” Lowman. Trees here, says Mr. Waple, according to the prophetic manner of speech, signify the great ones, and grass, by the like analogy, signifies the common people. The reader will wish to see how this prophetic representation was verified in corresponding history. Let it be recollected then, as was stated in the notes on the opening of the sixth seal, Revelation 6:12-17, that the former period put an end to the persecution of heathen Rome by the empire of Constantine, about A.D. 323. Then was a time of peace and rest to the empire, as well as the church; which answers well to the time appointed for sealing the servants of God in their foreheads. But this is represented as a short time, and the angels soon prepared themselves to sound when there would be new commotions to disturb the peace of the empire and church. Constantine came to the whole power of the empire about A.D. 323, and continued possessed of that power about fifteen years, namely to A.D. 337. During all this time the empire enjoyed a state of tranquillity unknown for many years; there were no civil disorders; and though the Goths made some incursions into Mysia, the most distant parts of the Roman dominions, they were soon driven back into their own country. The profession of Christianity was greatly encouraged, and the converts to it from idolatry were innumerable; so that the face of religion was in a very short time quite changed throughout the Roman empire. Thus the providence of God, notwithstanding all opposition, brought the Christian Church into a state of great security and prosperity.

But on the death of Constantine the state of things was soon altered. He was succeeded by his three sons in different parts of his empire; by Constantine in Gaul, Constans in Italy, and Constantius in Asia and the East. Constantius in a short time sacrificed his father’s near relations to his jealousy and power; differences arose between Constantine and Constans, and the latter surprised the former and put him to death. Soon after Constans himself was put to death by Magnentius, who assumed the empire. At the same time Constantius, in the East, was hard pressed by the Persians; but apprehending greater danger from Magnentius, he marched against him; and the war between them was so fierce and bloody, that it almost ruined the empire. A little after this bloody intestine war all the Roman provinces were invaded at once, from the eastern to the western limits, by the Franks, Almans, Saxons, Quades, Sarmatians, and Persians; so that, according to Eutropius, when the barbarians had taken many towns, besieged, others, and there was everywhere a most destructive devastation, the Roman empire evidently tottered to its fall. It is a remarkable part of this history, that this storm of war fell so heavy on the great men of the empire, and in particular on the family of Constantine, though so likely to continue, seeing his own children and near relations were so many: and yet, in twenty-four years after his death these commotions put an end to his posterity, in the death of his three sons; and in three years more extinguished his family by the death of Julian in a battle against the Persians. The following reigns of Jovian, Valentinian, Valens, and Gratian, to the time when Gratian nominated Theodosius to the empire, are one continued series of trouble, by the invasion of the several provinces of the empire, and bloody battles in defence of them, for about the space of sixteen years, from the year 363 to 379. Thus Lowman, whose interpretation and application of this part of the prophecy are confirmed by Bishop Newton, save that the bishop considers this first trumpet as comprehending several events subsequent to those which Lowman includes in it. At the sounding of the first trumpet, says he, the barbarous nations, like a storm of hail and fire mingled with blood, invade the Roman territories, and destroy the third part of trees That is, the trees of the third part of the earth; and the green grass That is, both old and young, high and low, rich and poor together. Theodosius the Great died in the year 395; and no sooner was he dead, than the Huns, Goths, and other barbarians, like hail for multitude, and breathing fire and slaughter, broke in upon the best provinces of the empire, both in the east and west, with greater success than they had ever done before. But by this trumpet, I conceive, were principally intended the irruptions and depredations of the Goths, under the conduct of the famous Alaric, who began his incursions in the same year, 395; first ravaged Greece, then wasted Italy, besieged Rome, and was bought off at an exorbitant price; besieged it again in the year 410, took and plundered the city, and set fire to it in several places. Philostorgius, who lived and wrote of these times, saith, that “the sword of the barbarians destroyed the greatest multitude of men; and among other calamities, dry heats, with flashes of flame and whirlwinds of fire, occasioned various and intolerable terrors; yea, and hail greater than could be held in a man’s hand, fell down in several places, weighing as much as eight pounds.” Well therefore might the prophet compare these incursions of the barbarians to hail and fire mingled with blood. Claudian, in like manner, compares them to a storm of hail, in his poem on this very war. Jerome also saith, of some of these barbarians, “that they came on unexpectedly everywhere, and marching quicker than report, spared not religion, nor dignities, nor age, nor had compassion on crying infants: those were compelled to die, who had not yet begun to live.” So truly did they destroy the trees and the green grass together. These great calamities, which in so short a time befell the Roman empire after its being brought to the profession of Christianity, and in particular the family of Constantine, by whose instrumentality the great change in favour of Christianity had been effected, was a new and great trial of the faith, constancy, and patience of the church. As it became the wisdom and justice of Divine Providence to punish the wickedness of the world, which caused the disorders of those times, Christ was pleased in his goodness to forewarn the church of it, that it might learn to justify the ways of Providence, and not to faint under the chastisement which the abuse of the best religion in the world had rendered both proper and necessary: and when probably such afflictions, coming so soon after their great deliverance from the persecutions of heathen Rome, would be very unexpected, and the more discouraging.

Verses 8-9

Revelation 8:8-9. And the second angel sounded, and, as it were, a great mountain burning with fire That is, a great warlike nation, or hero; for in the style of poetry, which is near akin to the style of prophecy, heroes are compared to mountains; was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; and the third part of the creatures which were in the sea died The sea, in the Hebrew language, is any collection of waters, as Daubuz observes: now, as waters are expressly made a symbol of people in this prophecy, Revelation 17:15, the waters which thou sawest are people, and nations, and tongues; the sea here may well represent the collection of many people and nations into one body politic, or empire; and when a sea is considered as an empire or a collection of people into one body, the living creatures in that sea will be the people or nations whose union constitutes this empire. And the third part of the ships were destroyed Ships, from their use in trade, are a proper representation of the riches of the people; and as they are of use in war, especially to maritime nations, they are proper emblems of strength and power. As ships were of both uses in the Roman empire, they may be well understood both of the riches and power of that empire. Thus we have a description, in this part of the second period of prophecy, of a judgment to come on the empire, in which the capital should suffer much, many provinces should be dismembered, as well as invaded, and the springs of power and riches in the empire should be very much diminished. And accordingly we find in history that this was indeed a most calamitous period. The year 400 is marked out as one of the most memorable and calamitous that had ever befallen the empire; and in the latter end of the year 406, the Alans, Vandals, and other barbarous people, passed the Rhine, and made the most furious irruption into Gaul that had yet been known; passed into Spain, and from thence over into Africa; so that the maritime provinces became a prey to them, and the riches and naval power of the empire were almost quite ruined. But the heaviest calamities fell upon Rome itself, besieged and oppressed with famine and pestilence. After Alaric and his Goths, the next ravagers were Attila and his Huns, who, for the space of fourteen years, shook the east and west with the most cruel fear, and deformed the provinces of each empire with all kinds of plundering, slaughter, and burning. They first wasted Thrace, Macedon, and Greece, putting all to fire and sword, and compelled the eastern emperor, Theodosius the second, to purchase a shameful peace. Then Attila turned his arms against the western emperor, Valentinian the third; entered Gaul with seven hundred thousand men, and, not content with taking and spoiling, set most of the cities on fire. But at length, being there vigorously opposed, he fell upon Italy, took and destroyed Aquileia, with several other cities, slaying the inhabitants, and laying the buildings in ashes, and filled all places between the Alps and the Appennines with flight, depopulation, slaughter, servitude, burning, and desperation. Such a man might properly be compared to a great mountain burning with fire, who really was, as he called himself, the scourge of God, and the terror of men, and boasted that he was sent into the world by God for this purpose, that, as the executioner of his just anger, he might fill the earth with all kinds of evils; and he bounded his cruelty and passion by nothing less than blood and burning.

Verses 10-11

Revelation 8:10-11. An d the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven Bengelius, and some other commentators, interpret this of Arius and his heresy, and the persecutions connected therewith; “and no doubt,” as Mr. Scott observes, “such events might very aptly be represented by the falling of a star, and its imbittering and poisoning the waters to the destruction of those who drank of them: yet the series of the prophecy favours the interpretation of those who explain these verses as predicting the continuation of those calamities which subverted the empire.” Stars, in prophetic style, are figurative representations of many things. Among others they signify kings and kingdoms, eminent persons of great authority and power. Rivers, and fountains of waters To supply them, may be considered as necessary to the support of life; the drying up these expresses the scarcity of things necessary. Here then we have a prophecy which aptly expresses a judgment to come on the seat of the Roman empire, which should destroy the power of it in its spring and fountain, and cut off all its necessary supports; as when rivers and fountains, so necessary to life, are infected, and become rather deadly than fit for use. At the sounding of the third trumpet, says Bishop Newton, “a great prince appears like a star shooting from heaven to earth, a similitude not unusual in poetry. His coming therefore is sudden and unexpected, and his stay but short. The name of the star is called Wormwood, and he infects the third part of the rivers and fountains with the bitterness of wormwood That is, he is a bitter enemy, and proves the author of grievous calamities to the Roman empire. The rivers and fountains have a near connection with the sea; and it was within two years after Attila’s retreat from Italy, that Valentinian was murdered; and Maximus, who had caused him to be murdered, reigning in his stead, Genseric, the king of the Vandals, having settled in Africa, was solicited by Eudoxia, the widow of the deceased emperor, to come and revenge his death. Genseric accordingly embarked with three hundred thousand Vandals and Moors, and arrived upon the Roman coast in June, 455, the emperor and people not expecting nor thinking of any such enemy. He landed his men, and marched directly to Rome; whereupon the inhabitants fleeing into the woods and mountains, the city fell an easy prey into his hands. He abandoned it to the cruelty and avarice of his soldiers, who plundered it for fourteen days together, not only spoiling the private houses and palaces, but stripping the public buildings, and even the churches, of their riches and ornaments. He then set sail again for Africa, carrying away with him immense wealth, and an innumerable multitude of captives, together with the Empress Eudoxia and her two daughters; and left the state so weakened, that in a little time it was utterly subverted. Some critics understand rivers and fountains with relation to doctrines; and in this sense the application is still very proper to Genseric, who was a most bigoted Arian, and during his whole reign most cruelly persecuted the orthodox Christians.”

Verse 12

Revelation 8:12. And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, &c. A fit representation to express the last desolation of the imperial city, which God’s righteous judgment doomed, as Babylon heretofore, to a loss of all power and of all authority. Darkening, smiting, or the setting of the sun, moon, and stars, says Sir I. Newton, are put for the setting of a kingdom, or the desolation thereof, proportional to the darkness. And when darkness is opposed to light, as light is a symbol of joy and safety, so darkness is a symbol of misery and adversity; according to the style of Jeremiah 13:16, Give glory to the Lord before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, &c. The darkness of the sun, moon, and stars, is likewise observed to denote a general deficiency in government, as the prophets describe a day of severe judgment. See Isaiah 13:10-11; Ezekiel 32:7-8. In pointing out the accomplishment of this prophecy, and showing how the great lights of the Roman empire were eclipsed and darkened, and remained in darkness, Bishop Newton observes, Genseric left the western empire in a weak and desperate condition. It struggled hard, and gasped, as it were, for breath, through eight short and turbulent reigns, for the space of twenty years, and at length expired in the year 476, under Momyllus, or Augustulus, as he was named in derision, being a diminutive Augustus. This change was effected by Odoacer, king of the Heruli, who, coming to Rome with an army of barbarians, stripped Momyllus of the imperial robes, put an end to the very name of the western empire, and caused himself to be proclaimed king of Italy. His kingdom indeed was of no long duration: for after a reign of sixteen years, he was overcome and slain in the year 493 by Theodoric, who founded the kingdom of the Ostrogoths in Italy, which continued about sixty years under his successors. Thus was the Roman sun extinguished in the western emperor, but the other lesser luminaries, the moon and stars, still subsisted; for Rome was still allowed to have her senate and consuls, and other subordinate magistrates, as before. These lights, we may suppose, shone more faintly under barbarian kings than under Roman emperors; but they were not totally suppressed and extinguished till after the kingdom of the Ostrogoths was destroyed by the emperor of the east’s lieutenants, and Italy was made a province of the eastern empire. Longinus was sent in the year 556 by the Emperor Justin II. to govern Italy with absolute authority; and he changed the whole form of the government, abolished the senate and consuls, and all the former magistrates in Rome and Italy, and in every city of note constituted a new governor with the title of duke. He himself presided over all; and, residing at Ravenna, and not at Rome, he was called the exarch of Ravenna, as were also his successors in the same office. Rome was degraded to the same level with other places, and, from being the queen of cities and empress of the world, was reduced to a poor dukedom, and made tributary to Ravenna, which she had used to govern.

Verse 13

Revelation 8:13. And I beheld an angel flying through the midst of heaven Between the trumpets of the fourth and fifth angels; saying with a loud voice That is, proclaiming for the information of all, Wo, wo, wo, to the inhabitants of the earth All, without exception: heavy calamities were coming on all; by reason of the other voices of the trumpet, &c. As if he had said, Though the judgments signified by the four trumpets which have already sounded are very great and dreadful, yet greater judgments still remain to be inflicted on the earth, in the events that are to follow upon sounding the three remaining trumpets. Several interpreters suppose this part of the vision to be a representation of some faithful witnesses against the superstition, idolatry, and growing corruptions of those times; and that the dreadfulness of the woes of the three remaining trumpets is proclaimed to the corrupt members of the church, because as they were endued, by the divine revelation, with more knowledge than before, being all Christians by name, they therefore deserved to suffer more for their crimes than plain heathen, such as were chiefly concerned in the former judgments. Be this as it may, whether this angel was designed to represent any such faithful witnesses against these corruptions, and to signify that such should arise, or not, it must at least be allowed, as Bishop Newton observes, that the design of this messenger, in conformity with the design of the angels that sounded the preceding trumpets, was to raise men’s attention especially to the three following trumpets, predicting events of a more calamitous nature, or more terrible plagues, than any of the preceding, and therefore distinguished from them by the name of woes. And they are not woes of a light or common nature, but such in the extreme; for the Hebrews, having no superlative degree, in the manner of other languages, express their superlative by repeating the positive three times, as in this place. The foregoing calamities relate chiefly to the downfall of the western empire, the two following to the downfall of the eastern empire. The foregoing are described more succinctly, and contain a less compass of time; the following are set forth with more particular circumstances, and are of longer duration, as well as larger description.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Revelation 8". Benson's Commentary. 1857.