Revelation 8:1. The opening of the seals is resumed in almost exactly the same strain as before in chap. 6. When the seventh seal was opened there followed a silence in heaven. This silence is generally supposed to relate to the cessation either of the songs of praise spoken of in chap. 7, or of the trials of the Church, which is now to enjoy a blessed period of rest. Both interpretations are unsatisfactory: the first, because, having returned to the subject of chap. 6, we have now nothing to do with chap. 7, and because it is hardly possible to imagine that the Seer would represent the songs of the heavenly host as interrupted even for a moment; the second, because the silence took place ‘in heaven,’ and cannot represent the rest of the Church on earth. We suggest that the ‘silence’ alluded to refers only to the cessation of the ‘lightnings and voices and thunders’ of chap. Revelation 4:5. These are the accompaniments of the Almighty’s throne in that aspect of it with which St. John has especially to do (comp. chap. 6:1). They probably did not pause while the seals were opening. Now they cease; and the meaning is that there is a pause in the judgments of God before a second and higher manifestation of them takes place.
This interpretation may find support in what appears to be the meaning of the words half an hour, words which are neither to be literally understood, nor to be regarded as expressing only a short space of time without having been suggested by any definite idea in the writer’s mind. Omitting all reference to the views of others, it seems to us that three considerations may be noted; first, that the word ‘hour,’ though here part of a compound word, can hardly be separated from the ‘hour’ so often spoken of by our Lord—‘This is your hour, and the power of darkness;’ ‘The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified;’ ‘Father, save me from this hour, but for this cause came I unto this hour’ (Luke 22:53; John 12:23; John 12:27); secondly, that the idea embodied in the ‘half’ of anything is that of the thing interrupted or broken, as in three and a half the half of seven; thirdly, that St. John is frequently in the habit of marking a pause before any great step in the further development of the history which he gives is taken. We see this last trait of his mode of thought on different occasions in the Fourth Gospel, and a marked illustration of it is afforded in Revelation 20. Keeping these points in view, the silence of half an hour may well be understood to mean that the hour of judgment is interrupted or broken. In other words, judgment is not yet completed, and we must pause in order to prepare for that unfolding of it which is yet to come.
Revelation 8:2. The seven angels spoken of stand before God ready to execute His will. It is implied that this is their usual position, and not merely that they are there for the moment.
And there were given unto them seven trumpets. These trumpets are neither those of festal proclamation, nor are they, with some recent commentators, to be regarded as a mere ‘manifestation of will.’ They are trumpets of war and battle, like those whose sound brought down the walls of Jericho, or those whose blast struck terror into the hosts of Midian ( 7:22). This alone is sufficient to show us that in them we have an advance upon the seals. The seals only announce judgment. The trumpets indicate action, which at the same time they arouse and quicken.
Revelation 8:3. As we are here at a higher stage of judgment than before, a greater amount of preparation is made for it. Hence the second angel appears. Who this, called another angel, was we are not informed. But, when we compare chap. Revelation 10:1 (see note), we shall probably conclude that, though not actually our Lord Himself, he is a representation of Him. He is distinctly pointed to as the Mediator of the prayers of the saints, and to Him all judgment is committed. Christ’s place, too, as our High Priest, is by the altar. Commentators have felt much difficulty in determining which of the two altars of the Tabernacle is referred to in the verse before us as ‘the altar,’ and whether we are to distinguish between it and that afterwards spoken of in the same verse as the golden altar which was before the throne. Upon the whole the probability seems to be that they are the same, the difference of expression depending upon the fact that the fuller description is given when the special purpose of the altar is more particularly alluded to. At Revelation 8:5, where we have again the simple designation ‘the altar,’ it is hardly possible to think of any other than the golden altar or the altar of incense. Beside this altar then the angel appears standing with a golden censer. Much incense is given him that he should add it unto the prayers of all the saints, so that the prayers and the incense might ascend together, a memorial before God of the trials and sufferings of His people. These prayers are obviously those of the suffering Church; and they are offered, not that she may be prepared to meet the coming judgments, but that she may hasten them (comp. Luke 18:7-8). It is clear that both in this verse, and throughout the passage, we are dealing not with any select company of believers, or with martyrs in the ordinary sense of that term, but with the whole Church of Christ conceived of as being in a martyr state.
Revelation 8:4. The smoke of the incense, now added to the prayers of the Church, went up before God, reminding the Almighty of the sufferings of His people, and of the answer for which they cried.
Revelation 8:5. The angel filled the censer with the fire of the altar, and cast it upon the earth. For the thought of ‘filling’ comp. John 2:7; John 19:29; John 21:11. For the Nemesis so characteristic of St. John, observe that the sufferings which had been spoken of, endured at the hands of the ‘earth,’ return in judgment upon the ‘earth’ (comp. chap. Revelation 6:4-8). The peculiar tense of the verb hath taken is in all probability employed in order to bring out the fact that the censer had never been laid aside by the angel from the moment when he first took it into his hand (comp. on chap. Revelation 7:14). The thunders and voices and lightnings and earthquake which are next spoken of are the appropriate accompaniments of judgment.
Before passing from these verses, one important question connected with them ought to be noticed, from its bearing on the general character of the Apocalypse. Of what nature are the prayers referred to? They have been sometimes described as prayers for the salvation of the world, at other times as prayers for mercy to such as will receive mercy, for judgment on the impenitent and hardened. Both views are out of keeping with the context. Let us compare the fact, noticed in Revelation 8:5, that the angel took the golden censer and filled it with fire of the altar and cast it into the earth, with the two facts mentioned in Revelation 8:3, that the golden censer there spoken of is the one out of which the angel had just caused the smoke to go up with the prayers of all the saints before God, and that the fire is taken from the golden altar upon which these prayers had just been offered, and we shall feel that it is impossible to accept either interpretation. There is no thought of mercy for the world. The prayers are for judgment only. They are prayers that God will vindicate His own cause, and they are answered by Him who, when His people cry to Him, will arise to judgment. To a similar effect is the cry of the souls under the altar in chap. Revelation 6:10; and, when judgments are poured out, all the hosts of heaven behold in them the brightest manifestation of God’s glory (chap. Revelation 19:1-2; comp. chap. Revelation 11:17-18). Yet it would be a grievous mistake to see in passages such as these any desire for personal vengeance on the part of the righteous, any want of that compassion which longs for the salvation of the whole world. They express only that longing for the reign of perfect truth and holiness which is one of the most essential constituents of love, whether in God or man.
Revelation 8:6. The prayers of the suffering Church have been heard, and the answer is to be given. Hence we are told in this verse that the seven angels prepared themselves to sound. The words are, strictly speaking, a part neither of the seventh seal nor of the first trumpet. They mark a transition point, preparatory to the latter.
Revelation 8:7. And the first sounded, and there came hail and fire mingled in blood, and it was cast upon the earth. The language used both in this and the following judgments takes us back to the Old Testament, and more particularly to the plagues of Egypt. Pharaoh, who was visited by these plagues, was always to Israel the symbol of the cruel and oppressive treatment by the world of the children of God; while the judgments of the Almighty upon Egypt, vindicating His own glory and effecting the deliverance of His people, became types of the manner in which the same great ends shall be effected in every age of the Church’s history. But the plagues of Egypt are not followed in their order, nor are they alone resorted to for the imagery of these visions. All the figures of judgment used in the Old Testament are familiar to the mind of the Apocalyptic Seer, and he uses them in the manner which he thinks best adapted to his plan. That of this verse is founded on Exodus 9:23-25, where we are told that ‘the Lord sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along upon the ground; and the Lord rained hail upon the land of Egypt. So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous; . . . and the hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt all that was in the field, both man and beast; and the hail smote every herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field.’ In some respects the judgment of the first trumpet seems less terrible than that on Egypt. In other respects the terrors of the latter are increased. More particularly is this the case with the mention of ‘blood,’ for the fire and hail are not mingled ‘with’ blood. They are mingled ‘in’ blood; that is, the blood is what we see; but beneath its surface are hailstones and coals of fire. It seems unwise to attempt to connect particular judgments, such as wars or pestilences or the incursions of barbarians or the demolition of cities, with the special things mentioned as objects of terror either in this or the following visions. By no enumeration could the Seer have given symbolical expression to all the variety of ways in which the world has suffered because it has refused the revelation of Divine truth offered it in Christ Jesus, and has persecuted those by whom, at one time in word, at another in life, that truth has been received and faithfully proclaimed. Any selection from these would, therefore, have been arbitrary, or might even have misled us as to the relative importance of different Divine judgments. It is more natural to think that these objects of terror simply denote judgment in general, and that they are to be interpreted neither of classes of judgments nor of individuals of a class.—The effect of the judgments spoken of is, that the third part of the earth, that is, of the surface of the earth, and the third part of the trees, and all green grass, were burnt up.
Again, as at chap. Revelation 7:1 (see note), we are not to interpret these words in any specially metaphorical sense. The figure, as belonging to the third part of the earth, would indeed prove quite incongruous if we did, for the trees would necessarily perish when that portion of its surface was destroyed, and the statement of the next clause, that only a third part of the trees was burnt up, would be incorrect. Neither does it seem as if any particular meaning were intended by the ‘third part’ mentioned. It was necessary to fix upon some fractional part in order to leave room for the heavier judgments that are yet to come, and the ‘third’ may have been selected for no more important reason than that the numeral three plays so large a part in the general structure of the Apocalypse, or that the instruments of judgment mentioned immediately before bad been three in number.
The first four Trumpets are evidently separated from the three which follow them, both by the words of Revelation 8:13 and by the fact that they refer to things of earth, while in the latter we are brought into contact with the spiritual world. A transition of a similar kind met us at the opening of the fifth Seal in chap. Revelation 6:9, and the correspondence, in a book constructed upon so symmetrical a plan as the Apocalypse, is sufficient to show us that the transition is in both cases designed.
Revelation 8:8-9. These two verses contain the second trumpet, at the sounding of which what resembled a great mountain, as it were a great mountain burning with fire was east into the sea. There is nothing in this part of the description to remind us of the plagues of Egypt, but in Jeremiah 51:25 we read of a ‘burnt mountain.’ It may be doubted, however, whether there is any reference to this, and the image may be only intended to convey to us the idea of a judgment frightful to behold, and terrible in its effects. That we are not to think of any particular object is evident from the want of all direct correspondence between the instrument of judgment and its effects. The casting of a burning mountain into the sea has no tendency to turn its waters into blood.—In the description of the effect produced we are reminded of the first plague of Egypt (Exodus 7:20-21). As before, and no doubt for the same reason, it is a third part of the sea, and of the creatures which were in the sea and of the ships, that suffers. The first becomes blood, the second die, the third are destroyed. The ships appear to be thought of apart from their crews.
This trumpet is distinguished from the first by its containing judgments on the sea instead of the land, but both sea and land can only be regarded as together making up the surface of the earth. They are not separately symbolical, the one of the mass of the Gentile nations, the other of the Jews.
Revelation 8:10-11. These verses record the sounding of the third trumpet, when there fell out of heaven a great star burning as a torch. The star fell upon the third part of the waters of the earth exclusive of the sea, which had been already visited under the second trumpet. These waters are naturally divided into two portions, rivers and fountains. The one-third part, though not expressly mentioned, is to be understood in connection with the latter as well as with the former, for it appears from Revelation 8:11 that no more than one-third of all waters was hurt. The ‘hurt’ consists in communicating to the waters the poisonously bitter qualities of the star which, in order to express its extreme bitterness, is called Wormwood; while the bitter waters themselves remind us of the waters of Marah (Exodus 15:23), and of those waters in the vision of Ezekiel which were only made whole by means of the living stream beheld by the prophet as it issued from the temple (Ezekiel 47:9). They represent the bitterness of that water with which, instead of the water of life, the world seeks to quench the thirst of its votaries. Under the third trumpet we first meet with men. Under the first we had nothing but inanimate nature; under the second nature was associated with creatures that had life; now we read of the death of many men. As the judgments of God are sent forth one after another they deepen in intensity.
Revelation 8:12. In this verse we have the contents of the fourth trumpet, which touches the sun, the moon, and the stars. Yet it must not be supposed that, because these heavenly bodies are now introduced, we are taken beyond the condition of men in the present world. Sun, moon, and stars are thought of only in their relation to earth and its life and comfort, so that when they are affected it also suffers. The idea of the judgment rests upon the Egyptian plague of darkness. Any attempt to connect particular objects upon earth with the heavenly bodies mentioned in the judgment is vain. As we have already seen under the previous trumpets, the objects judged are simply parts of the world in which men dwell, and it may be noticed that they are substantially taken up and gathered together as a whole when, in chap. Revelation 14:7, the Almighty is described as He ‘that made the heaven and the earth and sea and fountains of waters.’ It may be further worth while to remark that the sun and moon and stars are by no means so seriously affected here as they were under the sixth seal (chap. Revelation 6:12-13). There ‘the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the whole moon became as blood; and the stars of the heaven fell unto the earth.’ Now only a third part of their light is taken away. The whole series of the trumpets is more intense in judgment than that of the seals, but not to such a degree that the judgment of the fourth trumpet may not be lighter than that of the sixth seal. At the same time we are not to infer that the first four trumpets necessarily precede the sixth seal, except in thought.
Revelation 8:13. The first four trumpets are over, and we might have expected to pass, as in the case of the seals, directly and without interruption, to the fifth. But we are dealing with a higher potency of judgment than that which met us under the seals; and at this point therefore, when a transition is to be made from the earthly to the spiritual world, our attention is specially called to the judgments that are to follow.
And I saw, and I heard one eagle flying in mid-heaven. The reading of the Authorised Version ‘angel’ instead of ‘eagle’ is undoubtedly a mistake of copyists, and the word ‘one’ ought to be given effect to, as at chaps. Revelation 9:13 and Revelation 19:17. Nor can there be much hesitation in determining why the eagle is thus fixed on as the bird of all others to proclaim woe. Most commentators indeed allow without hesitation that here at least, as so frequently in the Old Testament, the eagle is thought of as the bird of rapine and prey (Deuteronomy 28:49; Jeremiah 48:40; Jeremiah 49:22; Ezekiel 17:3; Hosea 8:1; Habakkuk 1:8; Matthew 24:28; comp. also note on Revelation 4:7). That this eagle flew in ‘mid-heaven’ is easily explained. It was there that he could best be seen, and thence that his voice could most easily be heard by men.
His cry is Woe, woe, woe to them that dwell on the earth, by reason of the remaining voices of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound. By them ‘that dwell on the earth’ are to be understood the ungodly alone (comp. on chap. Revelation 3:10). The solemn warning has been given, and all is ready for the sounding of the fifth trumpet.
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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Revelation 8". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany