The First Four Trumpet Judgments (Rev 8:1-13)
The Seventh Seal and the Silence in Heaven
The first parenthesis or interlude dealing with salvation in the Tribulation is now over and the narrative sequence begins again with chapter 8. Remember that the seven seals ultimately contain all the judgments needed to usher in the rule of the Lamb and the kingdom of God. This includes both the trumpet and bowl judgments. With the opening of the seventh seal, the seven-sealed scroll is completely opened and immediately there is silence in heaven. Everything becomes deathly still in heaven. In place of the choruses of the elders, the cries of the angels and the multitudes, all is quiet.
The stillness is so intense that it can be felt. This is a silence of expectancy, for this is the last seal. It is also a silence of foreboding that precedes the onslaught of judgments. It last for half an hour (which may be understood just as literally as the other time designations in the book). Silence at this point, after all the vocal expressions of worship previously noted, would be an awesome thing.113
Here, then, is a dramatic pause caused by the significance of this final seal, by the intensity of its judgments to follow, and by their final result. The seventh seal contains within its scope all the rest of the judgments of the Tribulation (the trumpets and the bowls) which will restore the kingdom of God to earth.
As mentioned previously, some have said that the seals, trumpets and bowls all describe the same period, or that the trumpets and bowls simply double back over all or portions of the seals. But very poor or no arguments are given for such a position. Especially significant is the fact that those who hold this position never explain the content of the seventh seal, nor do they give an adequate explanation for the content of the seventh trumpet. Certainly Revelation 11:15b-19 does not describe the seventh trumpet, but rather heaven’s response to the sounding of the trumpet because of its significance, i.e., the outpouring of the seven bowls followed by the return of Jesus Christ.
Further, chapters 12 through 14 do not set forth its content for they introduce key personages and events in another parenthetical section. These chapters again interrupt the chronological movement which is then resumed in chapters 15 and 16 with the announcement of the bowl judgments. Perhaps, it would be good to review the argument for this view, that the seventh seal contains the seven trumpets and the seventh trumpet contains the seven bowls is simply this:
(1) There is no precise explanation of the content of the seventh seal as with the preceding six, instead, the seven trumpet angels are immediately introduced following the announcement of the seventh seal (cf. 8:1 with 8:2f).
(2) When we come to the seventh trumpet we again find no precise definition as with the preceding six. Instead, heaven’s response is seen and heard in anticipation of what the seventh trumpet and its judgments will bring, specifically “… the kingdom of the world becoming the kingdom of our Lord …” Revelation 11:18 summarizes the activities and results, though the details of this are given in Revelation 15 and 16 in the bowl judgments.
(3) Chapter 5 gives the story of the seven-sealed book which contains all that is needed to restore God’s kingdom to earth. Here there is no mention of the trumpets or bowls. Why? Because each is ultimately contained in the seventh seal.
Thus we can see why there is silence when the seventh seal is opened: it is a display of awesome reverence for what God is doing.
The Seven Angels
Here the seven angels, who stand in the presence of God as attendants to His service ever ready to carry out His orders, are equipped to carry out the trumpet judgments. They are given seven trumpets which stand symbolically for God’s provision and authority for these seven angels to pour out these judgments.
Trumpets were used by Israel on all their national occasions: for assembly to battle, public assembly, to signal important events of the calendar year and almost any important occasion. In this context, they symbolize the announcement of judgment and the number seven signifies the completeness or perfect accomplishment of these judgments.
Joel 2:1 Blow a trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, For the Day of the Lord is coming; Surely it is near.
The Single Angel with the Golden Sensor
The Identity of the Angel (3a)
“Another angel came and stood at the altar …” There is no way to determine with finality who this angel is. Some believe it is an angel of high rank, carrying out a representative work which illustrates the priestly work of Christ whose life and presence in heaven gives efficacy to our prayers. Others believe that it is Jesus Christ, because He is seen often in the Old Testament as the Angel of the Lord (Gen. 16:7; Ex. 3:2; Numb. 22:22), and because here this angel is ministering in a priestly function which is not the normal role of angels in Scripture.
But an angel could perform such a function as this in Christ’s behalf, symbolically, just as the Old Testament priests did. The Greek word for “another” is allos, “another of the same kind,” and not %eteros, “another of a different kind.” This indicates this single angel is another angelic being of the same order as the seven.
What can we learn from the imagery of this angel with the sensor and his function?
(1) The imagery is that of the Old Testament tabernacle which was itself made to serve as a copy of the heavenly (cf. Heb. 8:5; 9:1-5; Isa. 6:1-7).
(2) The altar is the golden alter of incense, which was before God (or placed before the Holy of Holies just outside the veil), but it belonged on the inside in the Presence of God (Heb. 9:3-4). It was kept outside of the veil because it had to be serviced and the high priest could only go within the veil once a year (Heb. 9:7).
(3) In the Old Testament the priest would burn incense on the altar of incense. The smoke would fill the temple or tabernacle and then ascend upward to heaven.
(4) The live coals on this altar originally came from the altar of brass, the altar of sacrifice or of judgment with the brass symbolizing judgment. This spoke of Christ our sacrifice who was judged for us. Anyone who rejects Christ’s sacrifice must face God’s judgment (John 3:16-19). Note that when this angel filled the sensor with fire from the altar and through the fire to earth, immediately, there were peals of thunder, flashes of lightning and an earthquake, all portents of divine wrath (Rev. 8:5).
(5) The sweet incense ascending heavenward was symbolic of worship and prayer and was a reminder that our prayers must have the character of sweet incense or the mediatorial presence of Christ to be accepted and heard by God. (a) The sweet incense speaks of the sweet savor of Christ’s person who satisfies the Father’s holy character and represents us before God, providing boldness and access to God (cf. Eph. 3:12; Heb. 4:16; 10:19-22). (b) The incense poured on the coals from the altar of sacrifice producing the smoke and sweet odor pictures both Christ’s person and work together. It is this (both His person and work) which makes our worship and prayer acceptable to God. The coals spoke of Christ’s death, the incense of Christ’s person.
(6) In Revelation 8:3-4 much incense is given to the angel which is added to the prayers of all the saints upon the altar of incense. The point is that the incense gives efficacy, meaning, and acceptance to the prayers of the saints because it represents the sweet savor of Christ’s person and work. Thus their prayers ascend upward into God’s presence, gaining His ear and answer.
The Identity of The Saints and Their Intercession (3-4)
We are not specifically told who these saints are, but the implication of the passage is that the saints here are Tribulation saints, both Jew and Gentile believers who are living on earth during the Tribulation. Their prayer is that God would pour out His wrath on a rebellious world, but their desire is to establish His kingdom and will on earth. However, “they may include the saints of all time whose longing petitions for the coming of the kingdom of the Lord are now about to be answered.”114
The Implications of this Scene (5-6)
There is a clear juxtaposition of ideas here. First, the prayers of the saints are made effective before God by the symbolic ministry of the priestly angel (8:3-4). The next scene is the angel acting in judgment, or in a symbolic way which speaks of judgment. This action is followed by a token judgment in physical phenomenon on earth, “peals of thunder, flashes of lightening and an earthquake.” Then we are told the seven angels prepared themselves to sound their trumpets. The point is that after the prayer ascends with the incense then the judgment descends with the coals of fire from the altar.
As the incense gives efficacy to the prayers of the saints, so the coals from the altar of sacrifice, Christ’s sacrifice for us, gives efficacy or the right to judge the earth and the earthdweller, the rejecters of Christ. Here is retribution for rebellion and rejection of Christ.
John 3:16-19. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.
John 3:36. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.
The First Four Trumpets
In chapter eight there is nothing to indicate we should take verses 7-13 in any way other than in their literal sense. If the literal sense makes good sense, and if there is no indication in the passage itself which suggests a symbolical interpretation, then these verses should be taken literally. This is mentioned for some, like Walter Scott, understand the third part of the earth to mean the devastation of the Western confederation of nations, etc. But there is nothing here to suggest this. These are literal judgments. Ryrie makes a good point:
As has often been pointed out, it would be very inconsistent to understand these judgments symbolically and interpret the plagues in Egypt plainly and actually. The judgment of the first trumpet presents a grim picture of devastation on the vegetation of the world.115
The Significance of the Number Four
Many Bible students believe that four is the number of the world. It marks God’s creative works. We might say that it is the signature of the world, or the universal aspect.
(1) On the fourth day God finished the material creation, i.e., the heavens and earth (Gen. 1:14-19).
(2) Revelation 7:9 gives us four divisions of mankind: nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.
(3) There are four directions or regions: north, south, east, and west.
(4) There are four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter.
(5) In presenting the Lord Jesus to men, there are four gospels.
(6) There are four kingdoms: animal, mineral, vegetable, and spiritual;
(7) Finally, in Daniel’s portrayal of the times of the Gentiles, we are given only four great world powers or kingdoms of prophecy, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.
In this regard, the seven trumpets are divided into four and three. The first four bring devastation to the world, God’s creation. The last three are aimed more directly at man though mankind is affected and hurt by all the trumpets. This is significant since these first four are areas of God’s common grace intended for man’s blessing. Yet man, on the whole today, attributes this world to evolution rather than to a personal God. The evolutionists often say, “God did not create the universe. Man simply created God in his imagination out of his fears and weaknesses.” But at this point in the Tribulation, remember that there will then be no atheists, only rebellious and hardened people.
The First Trumpet (7)
With the sounding of the first trumpet hail and fire are cast to earth mingled with blood. This results in the burning of one-third of the earth—specifically burned are the trees and the green grass. This would also refer to the various crops of the earth like wheat, barley, rice, corn, etc. Imagine the famine as a result of this.
Each aspect of this judgment, though undoubtedly literal, represents certain spiritual concepts in the wrath of God.
(1) “Hail” comes from above and naturally speaks of the source as well as the suddenness (cf. Isa. 28:2).
(2) “Fire” speaks of the consuming character of God’s wrath. These judgments consume and destroy the meaning and purpose of life on earth.
(3) “Blood” is naturally descriptive of death. It not only reminds us men will be killed by these judgments, but that the wages of sin is death. God is judging moral and spiritual death on the earth by the physical death caused by the hail and fire.
(4) One third of the earth is destroyed by fire. Why not one fourth, or one fifth? Perhaps, because three is one of the numbers of perfection as with the number seven. Three is the number of God or the trinity. God is referred to by the formula, “Who was, Who is, and Who is to come.” During the last half of the Tribulation, the world will be ruled by the trinity from hell—Satan, the beast, and the False Prophet. In other words, the world has sought a solution to its problems not in God (the Trinity) but in the Satanic trinity. So it appears that by the number one-third, God is stressing the impotence of Satan’s trio and the perfection of God’s wrath to establish His eternal purposes.
These are literal judgments, but they also seem to represent some very basic spiritual truth.
The Second Trumpet (8-9)
Let’s be careful to note exactly what this says and what it does not say. It does not say that a great mountain, burning with fire was cast into the sea. Rather, it says “Something like a great mountain …” The object which is cast into the sea is compared to a great burning mountain. It was a huge mountain-like ball of fire which was cast into the sea. It is the perfect picture of what we know today about asteroids. Asteroids are literally mountains hurling through space. There is one family of asteroids called the Apollo group with an orbit that crosses directly across the Earth. These asteroids are masses of rock which vary in size from just a few miles to several hundred.
About 3,500 asteroids have been cataloged, and more are discovered each year. Their orbits are generally very elliptical, with one end closer to the sun than the other. The largest asteroid, Ceres, is about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) in diameter. Next in size are Pallas, about 332 miles (534 kilometers); and Vesta, about 240 miles (386 kilometers).116
What would happen if even a small asteroid struck the earth? First, as it entered our atmosphere, as with shooting stars, it would begin to heat up and glow white with fire by friction. It would actually begin to burn. Then, when it hit the sea (as this object will if this is something like an asteroid) it would cause tidal waves and devastation for hundreds of miles. The meteorite which fell in Siberia in 1908 devastated over 1,000 square miles. The shock was felt as far away as Europe while trees up to 20 miles away were blown down. Yet the 1908 meteorite was only about 200 feet across—a far cry from one mile across!
One of the most powerful and devastating volcanic eruptions was that of Krakatoa. Its eruption in 1883 was one of the most catastrophic ever witnessed in recorded history and provides us with just an inkling of what the future holds in the time of the Tribulation.
On the afternoon of Aug. 26, 1883, the first of a series of increasingly violent explosions occurred. A black cloud of ash rose 17 miles (27 kilometers) above Krakatoa. On the morning of the next day, tremendous explosions were heard 2,200 miles (3,540 kilometers) away in Australia. Ash was propelled to a height of 50 miles (80 kilometers), blocking the sun and plunging the surrounding region into darkness for two and a half days. The drifting dust caused spectacular red sunsets throughout the following year. Pressure waves in the atmosphere were recorded around the Earth, and tsunamis, or tidal waves, reached as far away as Hawaii and South America. The greatest wave reached a height of 120 feet (36 meters) and took 36,000 lives in the coastal towns of nearby Java and Sumatra. Near the volcano masses of floating pumice produced from lava cooled in the sea were thick enough to halt traveling ships.
Everything on the nearby islands was buried under a thick layer of sterile ash. Plant and animal life did not begin to reestablish itself to any degree for five years. The volcano was quiet until 1927, when sporadic weaker eruptions began. These tremors have continued into the 1990s.117
Other reports have mentioned that it killed 38,000 due mostly from the huge tidal waves.
Let’s look at the devastation described in verses 8 and 9.
“A third of the sea became blood” refers to the open sea or ocean. What sea we are not told, though it could very well be the Mediterranean Sea.
“Became blood.” This could be caused supernaturally as with the Nile River in Exodus 7:20, or perhaps it could be caused by the tremendous amount of death resulting in blood poured into the Sea. The Sea becoming blood would simply mean or refer to a tremendous loss of life. When the second bowl of Revelation 16:3 is poured out into the sea, in that part of the world, either the sea is turned to blood, or it is chemically changed so as to have the appearance of blood. Here there is a change in the color of one-third of the sea. In the next trumpet there is an effect on the taste of one-third of the fresh water supply.
“A third of the sea” means that one-third of the sea is affected, whereas in the second bowl (16:3) all the sea, or open water is affected with all its sea life. The third appears to be in one portion of the earth, the portion near the impact of the burning object.
Verse 9 tells us one-third of all sea life dies and one-third of the ships are destroyed. This again means one-third of all in the oceans, but all in that specific area. Evidently sea life is killed by the change in the water and the ships are destroyed by the impact of the burning object, probably by both the shock waves and tidal waves, whatever the cause.
The Third Trumpet (10-11)
Quite clearly this is a heavenly body burning with fire as it comes into the Earth’s atmosphere and hits the Earth. Evidently as the star enters our atmosphere it begins to burn and to break up affecting a very large area of land and especially the lakes, rivers and streams. This will cause a chemical change making the waters bitter.
The star is called “wormwood.” This was a type of wood growing in Palestine that had a very strong and bitter taste. The star is called wormwood because of the affect the star has on the water. It makes the water like wormwood, i.e., bitter, but it appears that while the wormwood in Palestine is not poisonous, this star will poison the water because those who drink this water die. Thus one-third of the fresh water supply of the Earth is made unfit for human consumption.
The reference to wormwood seems to draw the parallel of the experience of the children of Israel at the waters of Marah (Exodus 15:23-25). There the tree cast into the bitter waters made them sweet. Here the wormwood cast into the sweet water made it bitter. Such also is the contrast between Christ on the cross atoning for sin and making that which is bitter sweet and Christ coming in judgment which turns the vain hopes and ambitions of men into bitterness and despair. The result of this trumpet is to inflict a divine judgment from God upon men themselves.118
The Fourth Trumpet (12)
In contrast to the first three trumpet judgments against the land, sea, rivers, and fountains of water, the fourth trumpet is aimed against the heavens. It is interesting that it was on the fourth day that God created and made visible to the Earth the sun, the moon and the stars. So now the fourth trumpet judgment is aimed at these heavenly bodies—the gracious provisions of God’s common grace (Cf. Matt. 24:29; Luke 21:25).
The Luke passage teaches us that these very literal occurrences are signs. The Greek word here is shmeion, “a sign, mark, token.” But this word looks at what is supernatural, a supernatural act of God, but one with a message or a moral or spiritual purpose. It is designed to teach and communicate a point and to cause people to take note of something. In the last days, man, in his humanism and the deification of himself, will have rejected the truth of creation and the authority of God. So now God acts supernaturally in that part of His creation which so clearly declares His glory—the sun, the moon, and the stars. Why? To demonstrate the truth of God as the Creator and Sovereign of the universe. However, surely it is also a warning and an appeal. It warns of final judgment, the return of Christ, and appeals to man to repent.
“Smitten” is the Greek word plhssw which means “to strike or smite.” The word plhgh, “a blow, stripe, wound, or calamity, plague,” comes from this word. The point is that God strikes one-third of the light-bearing bodies of the universe which hinders their light-giving capacity in some way. Note the emphatic thrust of the word order of the Greek sentence, “and was smitten, the third of the sun.”
The statement, “so that one-third of them might be darkened,” focuses our attention on both God’s purpose or design and the result. “So that” is %ina, a conjunction which normally shows purpose (“in order that”), but the distinction between purpose and result are often very delicate so that a purpose blends into the result (“so that”). “Darkened” is skotizw and means “to blacken, darken.” From this meaning and what follows, this could refer to an eclipse that will begin and occur daily from this point on in the Tribulation. The rest of the verse gives us the result.
“And the day might not shine for a third of it, and the night in the same way.” The daylight hours are reduced by one-third and even the light of the night from the moon and stars will likewise be eclipsed for one-third of the night. Ryrie believes this means the day-night cycle is changed from a 24-hour day to a 16-hour day.119
Whatever, these things seem to defy what science knows about the laws of our universe. They are unexplainable apart from the omnipotence of God and this is the point. Matthew 24:29 tells us that “powers of the heavens will be shaken.” “Powers” refers to the stars, or the heavenly bodies perhaps so-called because of their light-giving capacity. “Shaken” is the Greek word saleuw and means “to agitate, to shake, cause to move to and fro.” The stars now so obedient and consistent in their orbit will then be moving out of their orbit. This is all tremendously frightening, and to live in these days will be beyond description.
The Eagle Flying in Mid-heaven
As the ass spoke to Balaam, so this eagle, by the power of God, will speak from heaven as it flies about the earth like a flying sound-truck giving warning of the coming last three trumpets. The first four trumpets seem to serve not only as judgments, but as warnings of the last three trumpets since they are far worse. This is supported by the effects of the fourth on the heavens which the Lord referred to as “great signs in the heavens” (Luke 21:11), and by the warning of the eagle flying in heaven. Then, by the cry of the eagle, “Woe, woe, woe,” these last three trumpets are designated as woes because of their severity. As bad as the first four will be, these last three will be even worse. “Woe” is the Greek ouai, an onomatopoetic term and a strong interjection of grief or denunciation. By onomatopoetic is meant the formation or use of words such as buzz or murmur because the sound of the word imitates the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to. So this is a very graphic warning of the nature of what is coming.
Related Topics: Eschatology (Things to Come)