Part 5. The 7 trumpets (8:1—11:19)
5.1. 7th seal: a dramatic pause (8:1)
5.2. Preparation (8:2-5)
5.3. First 4 trumpets (8:6-13)
† PICTURE: In the centre of the court of heaven, the Lamb opens the 7th seal. Suddenly, for half an hour, the heaven is totally silent. Everyone is waiting with anticipation for serious events to follow. Seven distinguished angels appear with trumpets in their hand. The prayers of the saints are brought before God, prompting His judgment. When the angels start blowing the trumpet, plagues occur on the earth.
8:1 After the interlude in ch.7, the action resumes from the end of chapter 6. The Lamb opens the seventh seal. Suddently, a great hush settles over the worshipping hosts of heaven who await the arrival of the horrible judgments. The dramatic silence extends to half an hour. Even the actual length is only 30 minutes, an absolute silence must have been felt by those in heaven to be a lot longer. Apparently, the angelic acitivities of vv.2-5 takes place during this interval of silence.
Out of the primeval silence came the Word of God to create the world; now silence precedes the re-creation of the world. It is the last pause before the imposition of judgment, symbolic of the longsuffering God.
8:2 The definite article (“the seven angels”) indicates that they constitute a special group. In the Pseudipigrapha 1 Enoch 20:2-8, these seven were identified as the archangels Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saraqael, Gabriel, and Remiel. They are called the Angels of His Presence (Isa 63:9), or as described in this verse as “those who stand before God.” In Lk 1:19, Gabriel describes himself as standing “in the presence of God.” It is possible that they are also the 7 angels who later pour out the 7 bowls of the wrath of God. To stand before God is to maintain oneself in readiness for service, similar to what Elijah said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand.” (2Ki 5:16, NKJV)
In the OT, the trumpet was used for different purposes: to call the people together, to move the tribes on their journey, to sound the alarm in time of war, and to celebrate days of sacred feasts (Nu 10:3-10). The Jewish New Year is called “a day for you to blow the trumpets.” (Nu 29:1) The trumpet was also regularly used at the coronation of kings (1Ki 1:34,39).
The trumpets in Revelation, however, are eschatological trumpets. They herald the day of God’s wrath, “a day of trumpet and battle cry.” (Zep 1:14-16)
8:3 This scene is similar to the previous vision where the 24 elders present golden bowls of incense representing the prayers of the saints. The angel here is holding a golden censer or fire pan which holds the incense representing the prayers of all the saints. The incense is put on the golden altar before the throne and is offered to God.
8:4 When incense is added to the hot coals, a cloud of fragrant smoke rises from the altar as a symbol of divine acceptance. The scene in heaven suggests that there is something sacrificial about the believers’ genuine prayers which enter the presence of God by way of the altar.
8:5 The angel uses the same censer, fills it with fire (or perhaps the burning incense) from the altar, and hurls it on the earth. The instrument for intercession now becomes the instrument of judgment. The prayers of the saints appear to play an essential part in bringing judgment of God upon the earth. The martyrs’ plea of “how long?” in 6:10 is here partially answered.
The thunders, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and the earthquake indicate that God is about to answer the prayers of the saints. The world can do nothing to prevent these powerful events except trembling before God.
8:6 The trumpets, like the seals, are divided into two groups: the first four and the last three. The first 4 trumpel-plagues are directed toward the world of nature. Athough they are supernatural, they are not explicitly demonic like the plagues of the 5th and the 6th trumpets. While the trumpet-plagues affect a significant proportion (“one-third” occurs 12 times in vv.7-12), not all the earth is affected, thus still leaving the chance of repentance.
In Exodus, the plagues preceded the release of the exodus of the children of Israel from the hostile nation of Egypt; here, the plagues precede the exodus of the church from the hostile secular humanistic world.
According to Josephus (the famous Jewish historian in Roman times), the trumpet in ancient times is a narrow tube about a cubit (18 inches) in length with a mouthpiece at one end and a bell-shaped opening at the other end.
8:7 With the sounding of the first trumpet, hail and fire mixed with blood were hurled down on the earth. This is similar to the 7th plague in Egypt (Ex 9:22-26). The blood probably refers to the awesome colour of the storm rather than physical blood. The blood-red storm with fire devastates one-third of the surface of the earth and its green grass, meaning all vegetation.
8:8 The second trumpet brings destruction to the sea, probably the open seas and oceans (in contrast to the inland waters in vv.10-11). Some large burning object that looks like a mountain to John, perhaps a volcano, is thrown into the sea. One third of the sea turns into blood. This can either be the colour of the fire or the colour of the blood of dead living creatures.
8:9 Some commentators understand this plague to be the widespread pollution from volcanic eruption. However, air pollution could not have caused the destruction of ships which will affect world commerce.
The visions are described from the viewpoint and understanding of John. Modern people describing the scenes may have used different analogies and figures but the scale of the destruction will still be horrific.
8:10 The third trumpet brings a burning star falling from the sky into inland waters (rivers and springs), turning them bitter and causing death of many people. The star may be a great meteorite set afire as it plunges through the earth’s atmosphere.
8:11 The star is called Wormwood after the strong bitter taste of the plant of that name. In the OT, wormwood was used as a symbol of bitterness and sorrow. Because Israel has forsaken God, He will “feed them…with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink.” (Jer 9:15) Although wormwood itself is not poisonous, its bitter taste suggests death.
8:12 The fourth trumpet brings the darkening of the sun, the moon, and the stars for one third of the day and the night. It is a total absence of light from the sky for extended periods. The is similar to the 9th plague in Egypt (Ex 10:21-23). This absolute darkness would be extremely terrifying. Imagine the sky is completely dark during daytime. This is much more serious than full sun eclipses when some diffused light is still visible.
The Bible does not specify how long this phenomenon extend. It is most likely not just for one day and one night. If this is for a long period, the extended reduction of sunlight will bring many other disasters, such as a decrease in agricultural production, confusion and abnormal behaviour among animals, drastic changes in climates, shortage of energy, etc.
In the OT, darkness was a symbol of divine judgment. Amos spoke of the Day of the Lord as a day of darkness (Amos 5:18), so also did Joel (Joel 2:2). In the NT, darkness is often connected with the demonic. Unbelieving Israel is to be cast outside into darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt 8:12). For Paul, light and darkness stand parallel to Christ and Belial (2Co 6:14-15). In this sense, the fourth plague anticipates the transition from divine warnings to demonic woes in the next two trumpets.
8:13 This verse is a transition between the two groups of trumpet-plagues (the first four and the last three). While the previous four plagues have been called forth by angelic beings, those that follow are announced by a bird of prey hovering overhead.
The bird (Gr. aetos) may either be an eagle or a vulture, both of them characterized by their predatory nature (live by killing) and their consumption of dead flesh. If it is an eagle, the accompanying qualities will be strength and swiftness. If it is a vulture, the symbol is the impending doom (Hab 1:8).
The eagle/vulture hovers in midair so as to be seen by all, and cries out loudly: “Woe! Woe! Woe!” The word occurs three times to correspond to the three last trumpets. These plagues are not to fall upon the saints (see 9:4) but upon a pagan and wicked world. As noted previous, “the inhabitants of the earth” in this book is a semitechnical term for people in their wickedness. Further, unlike the first four trumpets, which affected the source of people’s life, the last three fall directly upon people themselves.
† Prayers by saints for upholding the justice of God will speed up God’s judgment on the wicked. Similarly, intercessory prayers and verbal blessings by saints will also bring God’s real blessings as Jas 5:16 says: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
† Some disasters in the world today may represent God’s judgment. They are like the foretaste of the more intense disasters in end-time. They should help us to see God’s presence in this world.