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, the heaven is totally silent. Everyone is waiting with anticipation for serious events to follow. Seven 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.
Out of the primeval silence came God to create the world; now silence precedes the re-creation of the world. It is the last pause before judgment, symbolic of the longsuffering God.
8:2 The definite article (“the seven angels”) indicates that they constitute a special group. 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.
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). Here, however, the trumpets herald the day of God’s wrath, “a day of trumpet and battle cry.” (Zep 1:14-16)
8:3 The angel holds 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 thunders, rumblings, lightning, and earthquake indicate that God is about to answer the prayers of the saints.
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 world.
The trumpet in ancient times is a narrow tube about a cubit (18 inches) in length.
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 and oceans. Some large burning object like a mountain, 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 The destruction of ships will affect world commerce.
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. 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.
It is most likely that this phenomenon lasts 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. In the NT, darkness is often connected with the demonic. Light and darkness are parallel to Christ and Belial (2Co 6:14-15). The 4th plague anticipates the transition from divine warnings to demonic woes in the next two trumpets.
8:13 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. It symbolizes 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.