Chapter 7 was an interlude. It interrupted the seal judgments to show believers on earth protected from God’s wrath and believers in heaven. It ended with the multitude of believers praising Jesus for salvation. Then they were joined by all of the creatures of heaven. But then, as 8:1 shows, Jesus broke the seventh seal of the scroll handed to him by the Father. This shows us the judgments are about to resume. But, instead of getting right to it, everything stopped for a while. All of the praising stopped. Silence ensued.
Why did heaven go silent? Why did all go silent? They were quiet in the face of the coming judgment of the Lord upon earth. When the time has come for judgment, there is nothing left to be said. God does to want to hear explanations or even pleas for mercy. It is also a sign of respect.
There are Old Testament examples. Consider Zephaniah 1:1-7. There the Lord tell of judgment that is coming. After he describes the judgment, God says “be silent before the LORD GOD!”. (Zeph. 1:7) It is a sign of respect. And it is a sign that the time for talking has come to an end.
Another example is Zechariah 2:13. There God said he will judge those who plundered Jerusalem. He ended by saying “Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD, force has roused himself from his holy dwelling”.
Finally, look at Psalm 76:7-9. The Psalmist wrote:
But you, you are to be feared!
Who can stand before you
when once your anger is roused?
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.
The Seven Angels With Trumpets
Then the silence is over. The seal judgments are over. The vision moves on to show the trumpet judgments. John saw 7 angels who stand before God. They were given 7 trumpets.
Prayers for Vindication Answered
Before the angels blow their trumpets, something else happens. John saw another angel standing at the altar before the throne. In the Old Testament tabernacle, the altar of incense was the item of furniture closest to the ark of the covenant.
The ark symbolized the throne of God. His presence dwelt there between the two golden cherubim. The altar was outside the Holiest Place, separated by a veil or curtain. The Israelite priests offered incense on it every morning and evening. (Exodus 30:7-8) The smoke of the burning incense joined the prayers of the people wafting up to God. The smoke symbolizes the prayers. You might remember that Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, had the job of burning the incense. When he did it, people gathered outside the temple to pray. (Luke 1:8-10) They understood this symbolism. They wanted their prayers lifted to God with the smoke of the incense.
The angel held a golden censer. That is what you carried the incense in when you took it to the altar to burn it. He was given much incense in the censer. It was to be burned on the altar along with the prayers of the saints. Remember a scene from chapter 5. After Jesus took the scroll, the 24 elders and 4 living creatures held golden bowls of incense that were the prayers of the saints. (Rev. 3:8) Then, in chapter 6, John saw underneath the altar the souls of the saints who asked how long it would be until God judged the earth. (Rev. 6:9-10)
So now, in chapter 8, we see a vision of these prayers rising up to God. Whereas God earlier told them to wait a little while longer, he now acts to answer those prayers. An angel took the censer, now empty of incense, and filled with with fire from the altar. He then threw it down onto earth. (8:5)This is a symbol of God answering the prayers of the saints for vindication and judgment.
The background for this action is Ezekiel 10:1-2. There God told the man clothes in linen “go in among the whirling wheels underneath the cherubim. Fill your hands with burning coals from between the cherubim and scatter them over the city.” This was to punish the people of Jerusalem for idolatry. It happened only after those true to God were sealed on their foreheads. (Ezekiel 9:4)
There is thunder and lighting and earthquake, symbolizing God’s power exercised in judgment and wrath upon his enemies on earth. The language here is the same as that used to describe God’s coming to Mount Sinai to deliver the law. (Exodus 19:16)
Hebrews 12:25 - 28 draws a comparison between God shaking Mount Sinai with his presence when he gave the law to Moses, and his shaking the earth in judgment at the end of time. It says:
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking, for if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”
Next will come the blowing of the trumpets. Trumpets in the Bible often announce the coming of God in victory. For example, Joel 2:1 says “Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain. Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming; it is near…”
With each trumpet, a judgment will come. The period of time covered by the trumpet judgments seems to cover the whole church age as the seal judgments did. But, here we see it from a different perspective. With the seal judgments, we saw the judgments from the perspective of heaven and the throne. But the trumpet judgments show the perspective of those unbelievers on earth who experience them as a result of the prayers of the saints. These judgments will resemble the plagues God poured out on Egypt as an expression of his wrath. The purpose of the plagues was to demonstrate God’s glory in his sovereignty over mighty Egypt. Egypt was powerful, but God defeated them and protected his people from the plagues. Here God will defeat the powers of the earth that oppose him and his people and will also protect his people in the process.
There is one last image here to deal with. The other place in the Bible where 7 trumpets blow in conjunction with the judgment of God is in the book of Joshua. The city of Jericho stood between God’s people and their possession of the promised land. God had Israel march around the city once per day for 6 days. They carried the ark of the covenant with them. On the 7th day, 7 priests with 7 trumpets blew them after marching around the city 7 times. The city walls fell and Israel destroyed Jericho. (Joshua 6) Here in Revelation we have 7 trumpets heralding God’s judgments on unbelievers. We might call them the City of Man. Revelation will call it Babylon later in the book. And the 7th trumpet leads to the appearance of the ark of the covenant in Revelation 17.
The comparison is made between the Old Testament people of God struggling to get to the promised land and the afflicted New Testament people of God enduring to the end in order to inherit the new promised land, the New Jerusalem. In Revelation, the city of man stands in the way of the New Jerusalem. But God will destroy it, protect his people, and deliver them into the new promised land.
The First Trumpet
At the sound of the first trumpet, hail and fire mixed with blood were thrown down on a third of the earth, burning it. Again we see the judgment limited. There are people left who may repent. If they see this as a sign of the final destruction to come, they will recognize God’s sovereignty, repent and be saved.
This is reminiscent of the 7th plague on Egypt in the book of Exodus. Exodus 9:23-26 says:
“Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven and the LORD sent thunder and hail and fire ran down on the earth. And the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt. There was hail and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very heavy hail, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field. Only the land of Goshen, where the people of Israel were, was there no hail.”
This symbol may mean these things come actually from heaven, but also may be symbols of things mankind will bring about. The first seal judgement was about conquest. The first trumpet judgment may symbolize conflict that brings destruction. History is full of examples of armies destroying everything in their paths to prevent their enemies from restoring their prosperity. Ancient armies burned cities as Israel burned Jericho. They sowed fields with salt to kill the soil. The ISIS army today steals what it ca use and destroys everything else.
The 2nd Trumpet
Whereas the first trumpet destroyed one third of the land, the second trumpet destroys one third of the sea by turning it to blood. A third of the world’s ships was destroyed. This happened because “something like a great mountain burning with fire” was throne into the sea. The fact that John said “something like” means he did not have an exact description. If we work with the later date for the writing of Revelation, all would have been familiar with the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii. We also know that the first plague the Lord sent on Egypt was turning the water of the Nile to blood.
Death of one third of the world’s fish would cause great food shortages. Destruction of one third of the ships would disrupt both commerce and military operations.
The 3rd trumpet causes the destruction of one third of the rivers and streams. A great star fell on these rivers and made the water bitter and toxic. Wormwood is a plant with a strong bitter taste. It is actually not poisonous. But, the Bible uses bitter water as a symbol of suffering and judgment. In this case, people died from drinking this water, as when the Egyptians could not drink the bloodied water of the Nile after the first plague. (Exodus 8:24)
Water is a precious commodity. We cannot survive without it. When drought comes, people suffer. Water is in short supply in some places in the U.S. and in many places in the world. A loss of one third of the drinking water would be catastrophic.
One of God’s judgments on Israel was this very thing. In Jeremiah 9:15, God said “I will make this people eat bitter food and drink poisoned water”. This was in judgment of Israel’s idolatry. Similarly, the 3rd trumpet brings judgment on the earth that is in rebellion against God and, therefore, guilty of idolatry.
Certainly the world today is largely in rebellion against God. Although Christianity is growing, much of the world worships under Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. There are many native religions. Paganism is resurgent in first world countries. In addition, there are many perversions of Christianity around. God will ultimately destroy all these.
The 4th Trumpet
At the sound of the 4th trumpet, a third of the sun, moon and stars was struck. This would make our world much darker than it is. At our house, light bulbs often go out and we are slow to replace them. Sometimes a room gets too dark to be used, so we are forced to get those bulbs replaced. Then we are amazed at how bright the room becomes.
Some years ago, people in our city were amazed that smoke from a big fire in central Mexico made its way to us. For two days, our sky was darkened by smoke. It was distressing and many people were scared.
Darkness would also limit the growing of crops. It would affect many people mentally.
This is again a limited judgment. It affects only one third of the light. That is terrible, but it is not total darkness. In contrast, The final seal judgment in chapter 6 said the whole son became black and the moon red. But it also harkens back to a plague against Egypt. In Exodus 10:21, God said to Moses: Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.”
There will be darkness in eternity for those who reject Christ. Jesus said “I tell you, many will come from east and west and refine at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:12)