Revelation: The Culmination of Scripture – 19 (“The 7th Seal and the First Four Trumpet Judgments”)
In the passage that we are studying today, we will see a continuance of more judgments on earth. We also see that the description of these judgments is so immense that they actually seem unreal. That is why John, in his description of what he sees, uses words like, “something like…” – “The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire” (Rev.8:8). He struggles to find words to explain what he sees. I don’t know about you, but I’ve wondered many a time before, how my father, who passed away in 1974, would have reacted to things like the television, mobile phones, computers, Skype, etc. were he alive today. Imagine what Calvin would have said if he saw us, reading the Bible from an iPad or even listening to an audio Bible – he would not have had the vocabulary to describe it. That is exactly what happens to John when he sees the next judgments.
We see in Revelation, three sets of judgments. First, we have the Seal Judgments, then the Trumpet Judgments and thirdly we have the bowl judgments and in both the seal- and trumpet judgments we have a 4+2+1 pattern with an interlude before the last element.
2. SCRIPTURE READING:
Rev.8:1-12 ~ “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. 3 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. 5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. 6 Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them. 7 The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. 8 The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. 9 A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. 10 The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11 The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter. 12 The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.”
In today’s message, we will see how God responds on the prayers of His people by pouring out the first four trumpet judgments on an unbelieving world.
3. PREPARATION FOR THE SEVEN TRUMPETS (8:2-6):
With the breaking of the 7th seal, a couple of things are going to happen before the seven trumpet judgments will begin.
· Silence in Heaven (8:1): The breaking of the 7th seal brings a dramatic pause of silence in heaven before the seven trumpet judgments begin. In the Rev.7 we had the 144,000 and the great multitude, singing praises to God for their salvation, in fact, their praise is not for their own accomplishment, but for salvation that proceeds from God – it is His work and so all honour and praise are due to Him alone for it. They sang these words ~ “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev.7:10) and in response to that, the angels… “…fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (vss.11-12), but now suddenly, with the opening of the last seal, there is almost a “tangible silence” in heaven.
In contrast to the first six seals, John now sees and hears nothing… ~ “…for about half an hour” (8:1). This silence reminds us of the words in Hab.2:20 ~ “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him,” where the message of Habakkuk, was clear. For it said, “Stop complaining! Stop doubting! God is not indifferent to sin. He is not insensitive to suffering. The Lord is neither inactive. He is in control. In His perfect time Yahweh will accomplish His divine purpose.” Habakkuk stood in humble silence, a hushed expectancy of God’s intervention.
30 Minutes is not a long time, but half an hour of absolute silence can seem like an eternity. What is the purpose of the long silent pause? In the Jewish temple, musical instruments and singing resounded during the whole time of the offering of the sacrifices,
which formed the first part of the service. But at the offering of incense, solemn silence was kept. At the end of the Holy compartment of the tabernacle, next to the curtain dividing it from the Most Holy, was located the incense altar (Ex.30:1; 37:25; 40:5, 26, 27). Every morning and evening the sacred incense was burned (Ex.30:7, 8; 2Ch.13:11). Once a year on the “Day of Atonement” coals from the altar were taken in a censer, or fire holder, together with two handfuls of incense, into the Holy of Holies, where the incense was made to smoke before the mercy seat of the ark of the testimony (Lev.16:12-13) ~ “And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die.”
At various places in Scripture a pattern of silence is associated with the recognition of God’s holiness and righteous judgment ~ “From the heavens you uttered judgment; the earth feared and was still, when God arose to establish judgment, to save all the humble of the earth. Selah” (Ps.76:8-9).
After the first interlude and the opening of the 7th seal there was silence in heaven, because every creature (the 144,00 and the angels) knew that the holy God was about to pour out His righteous judgment and vengeance on all unbelievers – this is the final judgment that will take place at the “end of days.”
The silence in heaven therefore, creates the setting for God to hear the prayers of the saints (6:10) ~ “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” These prayers are now going to be heard and answered by God which will lead into the trumpet judgments.
· The Seven Angels (8:2): After the short silence of 30 minutes, John now sees ~ “the seven angels” and each one receives a trumpet (8:2). The fact that these are angels’ trumpets distinguishes them from the trumpet of God (as we see in e.g. 1 Cor.15:52; 1 Thes.4:16) and from other New Testament trumpets (e.g. Heb.12:19; Rev.1:10; 4:1)., We see however, in other parts of the Bible that trumpets were specifically given to angels ~ (Matt.24:31; 1 Thess.4:16; 1 Cor.15:52; Rev.4:1, 4).
These seven angels were most probably the seven arch angels of Jewish tradition (Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saraqa’el, Gabriel, and Ramiel) and they were given each a trumpet, which indicates that God is the ultimate source of the judgments to come and He is about to deliver His final judgment.
· Another Angel (8:3-6): But before these seven angels can blow their trumpets, another angel appears on the scene and he was carrying or holding a golden censer and approached God presence by standing at the altar – the altar which refers to the one altar in heaven as we’ve already seen in Rev.6:9 ~ “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.” This angel then receives a censer similar to the one which was used by the High Priest to carry burning coals and two scoops of incense into the Most Holy as already explained. This angel received the incense, as well as the prayers of all God’s people (note: not just the martyrs). This angel carried the censer with the incense to God as a fragrant aroma. A fragrant aroma is always an aroma that is acceptable and pleasing to God ~ “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Phil.4:18). It is an acceptable and pleasing aroma that this angel brought to God – the importance of a sacrifice’s aroma is not the smell but what the smell represents – the substitutionary atonement for sin and we know that the substitutionary atonement refers to Jesus Christ dying as a substitute for sinners.
Now that the last seal has been broken open, the book of God’s eternal plan of redemption is opened for the Lamb to read to the blessed ones in heaven. As already mentioned, on the great Day of Atonement, the high priest would put incense on the coals in the censer and, with the blood of the sacrifice, enter the holy of holies (Lev. 16:11–14). But in this scene, the angel put the incense on the altar (presented the prayers before God) and then cast the coals from the altar to the earth! The parallel in Ezekiel 10 indicates that this symbolised God’s judgment; and the effects described in Rev.8:5 substantiate this view. A storm is about to begin! (see Rev. 4:5; 11:19; 16:18).
The fire or coals from the altar cast upon the earth speaks of the wrath of God about to be poured out on unbelievers. The seven angels stand ready for action, and then their trumpets sound one by one.
4. THE FIRST TRUMPET (8:7):
The sorts of judgments characterising the judgments of the trumpets and bowls are mainly taken directly from the ten plagues of the Exodus (except that they are numerically adjusted to seven), but the sequence and even number of the plagues are not important for the point made by the image:
1st Trumpet (8:7) Hail and Fire mixed with blood 7th Plague (9:22-25)
2nd Trumpet (8:8-9) Burning mountain turns sea into blood 1st Plague (7:14-24)
3rd Trumpet (8:10-11) Blazing star makes fresh water bitter 1st Plague (7:14-24)
4th Trumpet (8:12) Sun, moon, and stars darkened 9th Plague (10:21-23)
5th Trumpet (9:1-11) Hoard of scorpion-locusts 8th Plague (10:1-20)
We see then that the first trumpet recalls the 7th plague where God sends lightning, thunder, and a huge hailstorm that devastates the land. Revelation adds fire and blood – elements that are often associated with judgment, e.g. Joel 2:30-31 ~ “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” This devastating judgment, where everything that is green (trees, grass) are burned up, is like that announced by most of the trumpets, and primarily affected a third of the earth.
It is also interesting to note, that the intensity of these trumpet judgments has increased from the “one-fourth” of the seal judgments, but it has not yet progressed to the fullness of the bowl or vial judgments, where no fractions are used.
5. THE SECOND TRUMPET (8:8-9):
The second trumpet judgment alludes to the first Egyptian plague in which God turns the Nile River into blood. The mention of a fiery mountain might have reminded John’s readers of a devastating volcanic eruption, such as the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, which destroyed the Roman cities Pompeii and Herculaneum (I was privileged to visit Pompeii in 1973 and 1974 – man, animal – everything was wiped out).
This judgment results in the destruction of one-third of the sea life and ships. Note that John did not say that an actual burning mountain was cast out of heaven, but that the fiery object was like a great mountain. A triple judgment resulted: a third part of the saltwater turned to blood, a third part of the marine life died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. This will be an ecological and an economic disaster of unprecedented proportions.
6. THE THIRD TRUMPET (8:10-11):
The third trumpet judgment refers to a great blazing star that fell from the sky onto a third of the rivers and springs of water and it had a strange name of “wormwood.” This star is called “wormwood” for its affect. How must we understand this? “Wormwood” is a shrub which is an aromatic herb indigenous in the Middle East and has strong aromas and bitter tastes and was used to repel midges (Afrikaans: “muggies”), fleas, moths, intestinal worms and to treat malaria. As a result of its bitter taste, the “wormwood” became the symbol for bitterness and sorrow.
We also see that the word “wormwood” is metaphorically used in the Old Testament of the idolatry of Israel ~ “Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit” (Deut. 29:18).
This third trumpet judgment, which reminds us of third first plague in Egypt where the water became blood, turns a third of all water into a bitter and undrinkable poison, which will kill many people.
7. THE FOURTH TRUMPET (8:12):
The fourth angel announces the fourth judgment and we see that a third of the sun is struck as well as a third of the moon and the stars. This plague echoes the ninth plague in Exodus 10:22–23. The days and nights will be 33% darker than in the past. Not only serves darkness as a symbol of divine judgment, it may also hint that people experience darkness in the day and intensified darkness in the night because of their sins, but the Lord gives them enough light by day and by night that they may forsake their moral darkness for life in the light of His presence.
8. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:
In the first four trumpet judgments we see clear parallels with the plagues of Egypt, and this Exodus typology clearly demonstrates three realities:
· First, through the plague judgements God is demonstrating that He is Lord over creation and human history and will reign victoriously over every competing God or idle.
· Second, God responds to the cries of His people by punishing wickedness, but He does so in a manner that allows for unbelievers to repent. We should however, not be too quick to pray and call on God to bring justice by punishing one’s enemies. It is not a cry for human vengeance (self-centred), but a cry for divine justice (God-centred).
· Third, the plague judgements also serve as a prelude to God’s deliverance of His people.
· We also learn from our text, that God will judge wickedness.