Revelation 8:1-13 In the Center of God’s Hurricane of Judgment
We begin this chapter with a pause. We have seen the intensity of the seal judgments and the preparation of God’s people. Now we come to a pause.
I have been in the middle of a hurricane on many occasions when I lived in Texas on the Gulf Coast. When a hurricane passes by, normally it moves from a southerly direction going northward. When the storm hits, the rains may come and the wind may kick up but the northern side of a hurricane is so dangerous. It is just wet. Then comes the center of the hurricane. When the center passes, you can literally go outside and watch. The storms stop. The clouds clear and you hear silence. As the center passes, the southern part of the hurricane cycle kicks up. The intensity of the storm is much greater from the southern side of a hurricane than from the northern side. – because the storm is going clockwise and you are getting both the north and the southern waves of water and winds.
In Revelation 8, we are in the center of the hurricane of God’s judgment. The seal judgments have passed. We are now in the calm before the coming storm. Three things happen during this calm: silence, selection and supplication – pause, preparation and prayer.
Pause (Revelation 8:1)
“When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” (Revelation 8:1, HCSB)
A better interpretation (although not the one we most prefer) is that all of heaven is silenced to allow the prayers of the saints to be heard.1 As God’s people pray and their prayers are wafted aloft into the presence of God, time is given for intercession before the resumption of the judgments to follow2
Preparation (Revelation 8:2)
“Then I saw the seven angels who stand in the presence of God; seven trumpets were given to them.” (Revelation 8:2, HCSB)
Who are these seven angels? Tradition claims that these seven angels are the seven archangels before the throne. Others claim that they are the guardian angels of the seven churches. In either case, these angels have one role: to announce that God’s judgments as they come.
Prayer (Revelation 8:3-4)
“Another angel, with a gold incense burner, came and stood at the altar. He was given a large amount of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the gold altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up in the presence of God from the angel’s hand.” (Revelation 8:3–4, HCSB)
The prayers offered to God are different from those brought to the Lord in bowls of incense by the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders.3
“When He took the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” (Revelation 5:8, HCSB)
Instead, these prayers were originally offered during the fifth seal is answered with the trumpet judgments.
“When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the people slaughtered because of God’s word and the testimony they had. They cried out with a loud voice: “Lord, the One who is holy and true, how long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?” So a white robe was given to each of them, and they were told to rest a little while longer until the number would be completed of their fellow slaves and their brothers, who were going to be killed just as they had been.” (Revelation 6:9–11, HCSB)
Provision (Revelation 8:5-6)
“The angel took the incense burner, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it to the earth; there were rumblings of thunder, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.” (Revelation 8:5–6, HCSB)
Apparently the prayers of the saints affect events in heaven and on earth. Intercession brings God’s mighty judgments and redemptive acts. Hence, when the censer is thrown to earth, there are “noises, thundering, lightning, and an earthquake.”4
God answers the prayers of His people. In this symbolic exchange, the angel takes the prayers and throws them like fire to the Earth. The rumblings in this passage shows us God’s answer. We saw it before and we will see it again. This reveals that God has heard the prayer and He will answer.
Richard Bauckham has observed that these phrases form a progressive sequence of allusions to Exodus 19 that systematically build upon one another5:
“Flashes of lightning and rumblings of thunder came from the throne…” (Revelation 4:5, HCSB)
“The angel took the incense burner, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it to the earth; there were rumblings of thunder, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.” (Revelation 8:5, HCSB)
“God’s sanctuary in heaven was opened, and the ark of His covenant appeared in His sanctuary. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings of thunder, an earthquake, and severe hail.” (Revelation 11:19, HCSB)
“There were flashes of lightning and rumblings of thunder. And a severe earthquake occurred like no other since man has been on the earth—so great was the quake… Enormous hailstones…” (Revelation 16:18–21, HCSB)
Before we address these trumpet judgments, let’s address the chronology.
The Sequence of the Seal and Trumpet Judgments
The first view is that they are parallel. Michael Wilcock states the following view:
In a word, the two scenes are parallel. The breaking open of the Seals shows what will happen throughout history, up to the return of Christ, with particular reference to what the church will have to suffer. The Trumpets, starting again from the same point, and also declaring what will happen throughout history up to and including the return of Christ, proclaims a warning to the unbelieving world.6
This view has the benefit of aligning with Scripture. In Egypt, the people of Israel had to suffer (which is similar to the churches and the seal judgments.) At the same time, God sent the plagues which did not affect the Israelites, only the Egyptians. Here is a comparison:
COMPARISON OF TRUMPET JUDGMENTS AND PLAGUES IN EGYPT7
1st trumpet (8:7)
Hail and fire mixed with blood
7th plague (9:22–25)
2nd trumpet (8:8–9)
Burning mountain turns sea to 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)
The second view is that these judgements are sequential – they follow one after another. The reason is that the intensity of the judgments has increased.
The figure of “a third” occurs repeatedly throughout this series to indicate the limited nature of God’s judgment. The intensity has increased from the “one-fourth” of the seal judgments, but it has not yet progressed to the fullness of the bowl judgments, where no fractions are used.8
Again, we have the 4-3-1 sequence. In this case, we have four trumpet judgments followed by three “Woe” statements. The first four trumpet judgment mirror three plagues that God used against Egypt.
Trumpet #1 – Hail and fire mixed with blood (Revelation 8:7)
“The first angel blew his trumpet, and hail and fire, mixed with blood, were hurled to the earth. So a third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.” (Revelation 8:7, HCSB)This judgment affects the earth.
Trumpet #2 – Burning mountain into the sea (Revelation 8:8-9)
“The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain ablaze with fire was hurled into the sea. So a third of the sea became blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.” (Revelation 8:8–9, HCSB)
This judgment affects the sea.
Trumpet #3 – The Star Wormwood (Revelation 8:10-11)
“The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from heaven. It fell on a third of the rivers and springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood, and a third of the waters became wormwood. So, many of the people died from the waters, because they had been made bitter.” (Revelation 8:10–11, HCSB)
This judgment affects the water supply. Judgment has been extended from the oceans to the rivers, infecting water supplies and breeding disease.9
Trumpet #4 – Darkening of the Heavenly Lights (Revelation 8:12)
“The fourth angel blew his trumpet, 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. A third of the day was without light, and the night as well.” (Revelation 8:12, HCSB)
The fourth parallels the ninth plague in Exodus. The ninth plague caused darkness to fall all over Egypt for three days (Exodus 10:21–29), covering the land in darkness.10
Warren Wiersbe notes that it is possible that this particular judgment is temporary, for the fourth bowl judgment will reverse it, and the sun’s power will be intensified (Revelation 16:8–9). Then, at the close of the Tribulation, the sun and moon will be darkened again to announce the Savior’s return (Matthew 24:29–30; see also Luke 21:25–28).11
The first four trumpets describe partial judgments (“a third”) upon the earth’s vegetation, the oceans, fresh waters, and the heavenly lights. The last three trumpets are grouped together and are also described as three “woes” upon the earth, emphasizing God’s judgment upon humankind.12
The Warning of the Three Woes (Revelation 8:13)
“I looked again and heard an eagle flying high overhead, crying out in a loud voice, “Woe! Woe! Woe to those who live on the earth, because of the remaining trumpet blasts that the three angels are about to sound!”” (Revelation 8:13, HCSB)
The eagle is an omen of danger in other places in the Bible.
“but these are the ones you may not eat: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture,” (Deuteronomy 14:12, HCSB)
““You are to detest these birds. They must not be eaten because they are detestable: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture,” (Leviticus 11:13, HCSB)
Jesus makes reference to the eagle as a sign of danger in Matthew:
“Wherever the carcass is, there the vultures will gather.” (Matthew 24:28, HCSB)
The word is “aetos” which is used alternatively as an eagle or vulture. The eagle is a bird of prey, and for a traveler upon the desert the sight of an eagle is a sign of danger. The implication of this sign is that the cry of the eagle signals even worse dangers ahead.13
Warren Wiersbe makes ann important point about the translation of this word. He states:
Most manuscripts have “eagle” here instead of “angel,” but either one would certainly get people’s attention! Could this be the eagle-like living creature that John saw worshiping before the throne? (Revelation 4:7–8) Will God send it on this special mission? We cannot say for sure, but it is a possibility.14
As Scott McKnight notes: The eagle could also represent simply a heavenly throne angel (Revelation 4:7).15
Men suffer indirectly as the first four Trumpets affect their environment. Since they are still impenitent, the remaining Trumpets will now affect them directly.16 God is essentially saying to the unrepentant: The calm of the storm is over. Get ready for the more intense judgment.
1 Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 253.
2 Paige Patterson, Revelation, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 39, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2012), 206.
3 Robert W. Wall, Revelation, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 123.
4 Daniel C. Juster, Passover: The Key That Unlocks the Book of Revelation (Clarksville, MD: Messianic Jewish Publishers, 2011), 39.
5 G. K. Beale and Sean M McDonough, “Revelation,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007), 1111.
6 Michael Wilcock, The Message of Revelation: I Saw Heaven Opened, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 88.
7 J. Scott Duvall, Revelation, ed. Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 126.
8 Ibid., 126.
9 Daniel C. Juster, Passover: The Key That Unlocks the Book of Revelation (Clarksville, MD: Messianic Jewish Publishers, 2011), 40.
10 Ibid., 40.
11 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 594.
12 Robert B. Sloan, “The Revelation,” in Holman Concise Bible Commentary, ed. David S. Dockery (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 673.
13 Earl F. Palmer and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, 1, 2 & 3 John / Revelation, vol. 35, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982), 179.
14 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 594.
15 Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 258.
16 Michael Wilcock, The Message of Revelation: I Saw Heaven Opened, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 96.