Revelation 8 Commentary: The Seven Trumpets

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Please click here for the previous study on Revelation 7 commentary: God's Seal on His People.
Revelation 8:1: When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

What would cause such "silence"?

Chapter seven has been inserted between the events of the sixth seal and the opening of the seventh seal. During the sixth seal, we saw many people, great and small, crying to the rocks and mountains to fall on them and hide them from the face of Him that sat on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. "Who is able to stand?" they cried.

The answer to that question is that no one is able to stand except those who have received the seal of God, the sign of yielding self to be crucified with Christ. Chapter seven is inserted as Good News to answer that question of questions. But the vast majority of earth's inhabitants have rejected the cross, and have chosen to perish. And as they perish, there is "silence in heaven."

How can God wipe away all tears from the eyes of His redeemed until He has first wiped away His own tears? Can God see all these lost ones perish in their agony of despair and not feel a great sorrow? Every joyful harp in heaven is stilled. The victory of the Lamb has brought eternal salvation to those who have believed; but it has brought eternal loss to all those who have disbelieved. God has dearly loved each one, and so have the angels.

If this "half an hour" is prophetic time, that is, a day equal to one year, the "silence" will last about a week. It may be an indefinite time.

The final triumph of the Lamb in opening the seventh seal cannot take place until His people, the 144,000, submit to receive the seal of God in their foreheads. This is the import of chapter seven. His servants are not unimportant; they can hasten or delay His triumph.

Revelation 8:2-4: And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. And he was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel's hand.

In this portrayal we return for another view of events on earth since the time of Christ. The seven churches and the seven seals gave us glimpses of the progress of God's salvation work on earth as it relates to His people, culminating in its triumph as His servants receive His seal. Now we are to see world history in a different light. Trumpets in Bible prophecy are a symbol of war. The blowing of trumpets is a call to prepare for trouble, a warning.

These trumpets warn of events that are similar to the seven last plagues of chapter 16, but they cannot be identical for several reasons:

(a) The trumpet disasters are mixed with mercy whereas the last plagues are unmixed with mercy;

(b) trumpets are a warning to people to prepare whereas once the last plagues begin to fall there is no more opportunity to prepare. All the disasters of previous history are a foretaste of the final disasters of the seven last plagues.

Thus the seven trumpets will be a view of the "kingdoms of this world" (Revelation 11:15) in their strife among themselves—always of course, in relation to God's work on earth.

But first, a message of hope and Good News! While "seven angels" overrule the war and strife on earth, "another angel" is commanded to remember the needs of God's people, to offer "much incense . . . with the prayers of all the saints." The clash of arms is never so loud that it drowns out the prayers of God's saints. We are assured that there is mercy mingled with the judgments about which the seven trumpets warn us. Indeed, all through the agonizing times when the seven trumpets are blown, God has remembered His mercies.

The "golden altar" and the "incense" take us again to the sanctuary in heaven. Incense is fragrant to breathe. It masks disagreeable odors. It was offered continually on the altar in the Hebrew sanctuary, representing the fragrance of Christ's righteousness which covers human selfishness and sin. When we pray, heaven does not see us as sinners unworthy to be heard. Rather, heaven sees us in Christ, and our prayers are rendered fragrant and sweet to the Father in that Christ takes our place.

This is what it means to pray in Jesus' name. He knows the trials of His people living in a world of pain and strife. Christ has put His arms about all of us, so that when the Father accepts Christ, He receives us also. In Christ's perfect righteousness, the Father has gladly accepted the whole human race of sinners. You are Christ's kin, His own flesh and blood. So, whoever you are, do not fear to pray in His name.
Shofar (Jewish Trumpet)

Do you hesitate to pray because you do not know how to do so acceptably? Here is encouragement: "The Spirit also helps our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. ... He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God" (Romans 8:26, 27).

This gracious ministry continues while the seven trumpets are blown:

Revelation 8:5, 6: Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake. So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.

When Christ will cease His ministry as High Priest and clothe Himself with the robes of a king, there will be no more sanctuary intercession for sinners. But this throwing of the censer to earth apparently signifies that while the events of the seven trumpets take place, Christ's saving ministry continues for those on earth who choose to believe the light of His gospel. The disasters of which the seven trumpets warn us are not necessarily inflicted by God; nothing in the Book of Revelation indicates that He is the one who sends them. Rather, in mercy He warns His people to prepare for disasters that Satan brings on the earth!

'The Revelation of Jesus Christ" is always Good News, and this passage in chapter 8 can be no exception. The picture we see is this: although there is great distress for those who persist in rejecting truth, at the same time there is a constant ministry of intercession for those who choose to repent. During the seven trumpets, judgments fall on those who persecute and slay the martyrs of Christ, whose blood symbolically cries out for divine vengeance during the fifth seal (Revelation 6:9-11).

Now with the seven trumpets we will be carried back in history again to behold another parallel development of human events on earth. This time we see the outworking of wrath and retribution within history itself among those segments of humanity which have largely rejected the gospel:

Revelation 8:7: The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth; and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.

The Christian era (which the book of Revelation covers for us) opens with the Roman Empire as a beautiful, prosperous, and secure world. This first trumpet shows the beginning of the long series of devastations and conquests which degraded and mined that once beautiful empire. The succeeding trumpets picture a progressive destruction of all that seemed secure in that ancient world. It was as though Europe, America, and all civilized nations were destroyed in our time, and a race of ignorant savages should take over the ruins and start a new Dark Ages era.

The prophet Daniel had predicted clearly that the Roman Empire, strong as it was, would fall and be replaced with ten independent kingdoms (see Daniel 2:40; 42; 7:23, 24). The citizens of the empire became rich and corrupt, and thus invited their own destruction. In the north were many wild heathen tribes eager to seize the wealth and comforts of the weak and corrupt people in the south.

The first serious invasion of the Roman Empire was by the Goths, led by Alaric in A.D. 395. He conquered many cities of Greece, and captured Rome itself in A.D. 410.

"Hail" may imply that the wild invaders came from the cold north; "fire" may describe the fate that befell cities and farms; "blood" may describe the slaughter of the inhabitants. "Trees" is a common Bible term for prominent men and leaders, an apt term when one remembers how rare big trees were in ancient Bible lands (see Judges 9:8-15).

Revelation 8:8, 9: Then the second angel sounded: And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood; and a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

Immediately our attention is drawn to the sea, contrasted with the earth, to which the effects of the first trumpet were confined. It is as if we are looking at a great map of the civilized world of the Roman Empire. We see something taking place on the Mediterranean Sea, anciently called The Great Sea or "the Roman lake," over which the ships and commerce of Rome brought great riches. We ask, after the time of Alaric, was Rome punished by invaders who came from the sea?

Yes, it is a fact that the Vandals under Genseric repeatedly invaded the Roman Empire from the sea, between the years A.D. 428 and 469. On a gigantic cinema screen their conquests would appear like "a great mountain burning with fire, thrown into the sea." This powerful chief sailed from his headquarters in Africa and crossed the Mediterranean to harass the rich Romans in Italy and Greece, and to destroy their ships. One Roman emperor who plucked up courage to resist built a navy of more than three hundred ships in the harbor of Carthagena in Spain, prepared for war. Genseric learned of his plans, stealthily penetrated the defenses of the harbor and destroyed the navy.

In A.D. 468 the emperor of the East tried to bring Genseric to his knees. One hundred thousand soldiers and sailors embarked in 1,113 ships at an astronomical cost, to roust him at Carthage, his headquarters in Africa. But again the Vandal chief outwitted them by sending lighted fire ships among this huge fleet, which surprised the arrogant armies of Rome and caused such utter confusion among them that again they were defeated.

Before Genseric died in the fulness of years and of glory, he saw the overthrow of Western Rome. What a calamity for an empire which had grown to power for a thousand years! Incidentally, we derive our word "vandalism" from the Vandals.

Revelation 8:10, 11: Then the third angel sounded: And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water; and the name of the star is Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood; and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter.

The work of destruction of the old world of Rome was not yet complete. Something worse was yet to come; "springs of water" of future generations were to be made bitter. A new warrior arose to destroy Rome, whose name was Attila. He led hordes of savage and cruel men known as Huns (from which we get the name of the country of Hungary today). Writers of history have described Attila's appearance on the stage of history as a brilliant meteor flashing in the sky. He came from the East, gathering his followers, and poured them down suddenly on the Roman empire.

Attila devastated great portions of Europe. "It was the boast of Attila that the grass never grew on the spot where his horse had trod. The scourge of God' was a name that he appropriated to himself. . . . The Western emperor with the senate and people of Rome humbly and fearfully submitted to the rough Attila."

After Attila died in A.D. 453, the army of the Huns almost immediately disappeared from history. They were indeed like a flashing star that comes and goes quickly. The Huns, in contrast with the Vandals, did not sail on the Mediterranean Sea, but came down from the mountains, the source of Central Europe's rivers. They fit the prophetic description.

Revelation 8:12, 13: Then the fourth angel sounded: And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened; and a third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night. And I looked, and I heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, "Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!"

The natural result of such calamities was "darkness." It is commonly said that the thousand years which followed the fall of Rome were the Dark Ages. Not only was there darkness in the political world, but there was darkness in the professed church of Christ. Civilization itself was dimmed. "The accession of the Roman Church to power marked the beginning of the Dark Ages. As her power increased, the darkness deepened. . . .

"About the close of the eighth century, papists put forth the claim that in the first ages of the church the bishops of Rome had possessed the same spiritual power which they now assumed. . . . The darkness seemed to grow more dense. ... In the 13th century was established the most terrible of all the engines of the papacy—the Inquisition. The prince of darkness wrought with the leaders of the papal hierarchy. In their secret councils, Satan and his angels controlled the minds of evil men. The noontide of the papacy was the midnight of the world. A moral and intellectual paralysis had fallen upon Christendom. "

But there were more woes to come! Next we behold the rise of another power of darkness which was to punish those professed Christians who worshipped idols and turned away from the pure gospel. For hundreds of years the trembling people of Europe cowered in constant dread of conquest by the Muslims. To this day Islam remains as a scourge of apostate Christianity. The fifth trumpet will now spotlight the rise of this well-known power.

For a detailed, well researched and easy to read commentary on the book of Revelation I urge to buy a copy of Revelation of Jesus Christ: Commentary on the Book of Revelation This verse-by-verse commentary offers a text-focused and Christ-centered approach to the book of Revelation. Appropriate for personal study and as a college and seminary text, this volume provides both in-depth notes and lay-oriented exposition for use by scholars, students, pastors, and laypeople. An ever-increasing interest in the prophecies of the Apocalypse has resulted in deeper understandings which are introduced in this updated edition. 

Ranko Stefanovic is professor of New Testament at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. He holds a Ph.D. degree from Andrews University and is a well-loved teacher, popular speaker, and author of scholarly articles.

Please click here for the next study on Revelation 9 Commentary: What the Bible Says About the Rise of Islam.

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