Revelation 8 (revised)
David H. Linden, University Presbyterian Church,
Seventh Seal The interlude between seals six and seven is
over. The narrative can pick up where it left off with the last seal. This is
the natural way those first hearing it read would understand the resumption of
the seal vision. But just when they would expect the activity that accompanied the
other seals, a hush comes over the scene in heaven. The opening of the seventh
seal will allow further revelation, and that will come, but the sudden silence
adds an ominous note of what is to come. Naturally, some teachers interpret
this as the lull before the storm, a view justified by a few OT examples. I
think there is another reason for a half hour of silence.
Seven trumpets are
distributed to seven angels. It is certain that they will be blown and more of
what is coming will be shown, probably more unveiling of divine judgment as in
the opening of the other seals by the Lamb. With this suspense, in the first
reading of Revelation in the first century, there was not much difficulty
holding the congregation’s attention. Silence in heaven – among all who
incessantly praise, and do so loudly – that is quite a surprise. The trumpets
have not yet been brought to the lips of the angels.
This mention of one half hour
is odd. It appears nowhere else. Within Revelation when a very short time is
being communicated, it is usually one
hour or a
single hour  (All of this is so deliberate we ought to be
rejoicing!) So John has not used the usual way of communicating a short time.
That leaves the possibility that a literal half hour would be recognizable to
the Jewish members of the churches receiving this prophetic letter. I did not
say that there is predicted here a literal time frame in heaven; I speak rather
of what these words would echo in the minds of those Christians.  In 8:3 another angel, not one of the seven,
stood at the altar with a golden censer. The spices within would be burned and
the resulting smoke would rise before the Lord, just as it did in the temple. This
is the ritual upon the golden altar of incense. Back when there was a temple,
the people would wait outside while the priest offered the incense. The wait
would be about half an hour. In Luke 1:21 when Zechariah was delayed in the
temple, the people wondered about the delay; perhaps they worried. In Jewish
lore, when things were quiet in heaven, it meant God was listening to the
prayers of His people. So the silence in heaven (8:1) could be a way of showing
how seriously the Lord took the plea of the souls under the altar in 6:10.
Revelation 8 broadens this; note that the incense symbolizes the prayers of the
saints (5:8), but here in 8:3 it is the prayers of all the saints. Our prayers rise to God. The prayers of all His
children are heard.
A Central Theme The mention of prayers connected to the incense
offering in v.3 is repeated in v.4. That is not an accident. In this way, the
altar, combined with the prayers offered there, is being highlighted as a major
element in the narrative. That altar, that incense, and those prayers are not a
secondary thread in Revelation. In 5:8 each angel of the 4 and 24 holds a
golden bowl full of incense: “And when he
had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell
down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense,
which are the prayers of the saints” (5.8). In 6:10 we hear a prayer,
prayed loudly: "O Sovereign Lord,
holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who
dwell on the earth?" This prayer is not vague; we have the words. The
prayer came from “the souls of those who
had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne” (6:9).
It rose from martyrs whose blood had been poured on the ground at the base of
the altar.  Note: “I
saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain…”
The symbolism becomes more dramatic.
Two things happen next. The angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the
altar and threw it on the earth. That means that what happens on earth is God’s
response to the prayers of saints from that altar. They had suffered death at
the hands of those who dwell on the earth. To maintain the parallel with the
incense in vv.7 & 8 something was thrown
on the earth and sea. The Lord’s presence was indicated by “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.”
This can come only from the throne. It was introduced that way in 4:5. In chapter
8 an earthquake has been added to the list. The
saints suffered, they prayed, God heard, and on the earth came the vengeance they
The relation of prayer to
God’s action in judgment shows up again within Revelation. In 14:18 an angel
came out from the altar – from which the martyrs pray – “and he called with a loud voice to the one
who had the sharp sickle, ‘Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the
vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.’” Though it was an angel who
called for the sickle to cut and gather grapes to go into the winepress of
wrath, that order came from the altar. The significance is that God is still
answering the prayers of His people. Later in Revelation when the final series
of seven judgments occurs, we read in 16:7: “And
I heard the altar saying, “‘Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your
judgments!’” By this repetition Revelation makes clear that the Lord heard
the martyrs’ prayer in 6:10. The saints will indeed suffer at the hands of
those who dwell on the earth, but God has provided wonderfully for the future
of His saints and remembers their prayers.
The Seven Trumpets 8:6 – 9:21
The Lamb opened every seal.
With the trumpets, it is angels that blow and some action ensues on earth. It
may appear that Christ’s role is reduced in the trumpets. This is not so. In 8:1-5
nothing is given as a result of the Lamb opening the seal. All the activity is
in heaven and was simply preparatory to what would follow. The seventh seal did
have action which would impact the earth: seven trumpets were distributed. That
means that all that happens with the seven trumpets is traced back to the Lamb
opening seal seven. The seven trumpets are the seventh seal, or to say it the
other way, the seventh seal is comprised of the seven trumpets. In this way we
see that the action and control of the Lamb extends to all that transpires in
the trumpets. The angels are His agents; they do not take over from Him.
In 8:6 the angels prepare to
blow the trumpets. As in the account of the seals, the first four move quickly.
As in the seals there is a large difference in the last three from the
preceding four. The judgments intensify. In the fifth seal the activity of
Satan comes to the forefront for the first time since John was called to heaven.
Trumpets 5 & 6 each have more words than the first four combined. The
object of judicial destruction in one to four is earth, sea, waters and
heavenly lights. These are the environment of man who lives on the earth, who travels
and fishes the sea, drinks of earth’s streams, and depends on the sun, moon and
stars. In seals one to four the focus is divinely ordained human death from
human conflict. Now in four trumpets, all human agency is bypassed as the world
around man suffers judgment from heaven. This is not surprising; the original
curse included the earth itself (Genesis 3:17-19). Creation has long groaned in
labor pains without delivery (Romans 8:19-23). The new heaven and the new earth
are not yet here, and the curse of God is increasingly executed on creation as sinners
persist in idolatry and resolutely refuse to repent (9:20,21).
Trumpet blasts in Scripture Note
the valuable review on trumpets in Scripture in “The Triumph of the Lamb” on
pp.140 & 141. Trumpets attend the coming of the Lord. Trumpets sounded the
Since earth and trees are mentioned, and since the second trumpet relates
to the sea, this passage takes us back to 7:1, “…that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree.” Those
judgments in 7:1 are now released. Things are being thrown on the earth and the
sea This reveals a divine hostility against this corrupted original creation.
The judgment is in response to the prayers of the saints (8:3,4). Thus the
angel filled the censer with fire and threw
it on the earth (8:5). God will still have His creation back. He will say, "Behold, I am making all things
new" (21:5). We must not forget man’s close connection to the physical
creation. One way to punish sin is to curse the things that sustain the sinner.
There is more. The
ingredients of this imposed suffering are hail, fire (mixed with blood)
bringing a conflagration of a third of the earth, trees and all the grass. The
fraction of one third is an obvious increase over the one fourth of 6:8. The
imagery is still that of limited disasters, but the specifics hark back to the
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand toward
heaven, so that there may be hail in all the
When this prophetic letter
was read in the churches of Asia, many would catch the likeness to God’s
The first trumpet had blood mixed in with hail and fire. How those can
be combined is not something that should concern us. This is apocalyptic. It is
not history, nor is it a specific prediction of future events. The hail and
fire (probably lightning) in Exodus is history,
the descriptions there are literal happenings. The impression the Lord was
giving in the trumpets is of direct divine judgment on man, the reward of sin.
That judgment will be just as real as it was when
Blood was a frightful element
in the ten plagues on
… And all the water in the
Mountains might slide into
the sea from an earthquake, but earthquakes do not toss mountains around. No
power on earth can throw a mountain, but God can; the throw language of 8:5 is repeated. Later in the sixth trumpet, the
miseries imposed are called plagues. Those familiar with the OT could sense the
plagues as early as the first trumpet. These are not the plagues from the bowls
of Revelation 16.
In Revelation we should be
aware of what some scholars call “the divine passive”. In 6:2 a crown was given; in 6:8 they were given authority, etc. The Giver is
not identified. It is the Lord. So here in 8:8 a mountain was thrown (passive). This is the Lord God Almighty in action. These words in 4:8 were not flattery from
God’s creatures but their sincere recognition of the power of the Lord.
three This is the first trumpet to mention human death
explicitly. Previously, the text was holding our attention to the environment
on which man’s life depends. Now a star will affect man’s water supply on land.
The water of the sea was first; then this judgment moves inland to affect the
water supply of those who have never seen the sea. We need not worry how one
great star could fall in such a spread out pattern that a third of all rivers
are contaminated while two-thirds are not. Apocalyptic should not be read
through the lens of the laws of physics. The point is that all around gives
way, even the water supply, but God’s judgment is still presented as restrained.
Because it is not yet total, room is left for repentance. The King James used
the word wormwood in Jeremiah 9:15: “ … I
will feed them, even this people, with wormwood, and give them water of gall to
Some brothers look for a way for these judgments to be literally
fulfilled as described. That is not a good grasp of apocalyptic, and here it is
not a good grip of science. If we lost one third of our sunlight the earth
would freeze over. The Lord Who made these heavenly lights can speak of
reducing them. The imagery of dire judgment has now extended to the climate.
Man is not having the happy life he hoped for without God.
milestones: three woes The
terrible judgments on the first four trumpets are now to be followed by three more
called the three woes. These are
simply the last three of the seven trumpets. For those hearing Revelation read,
these signposts help them to stay with the developing narrative, and its
increasing horror. Woes always
introduce tragedy or desolation.
What is ahead What follows in chapter nine is demonic
torture (trumpet five), and a huge marauding army on a killing spree (trumpet
six). Things are coming to a head! We
are not surprised when it says, “… that
there should be time no longer: But in the days of the voice of the seventh
angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as
he hath declared to his servants the prophets” (10:6,7). We would expect in
the seventh seal that God would finish off the wicked, but when the third woe
is announced, here is how it begins!!!:
‘ “Then the seventh angel blew his
trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdom of the
world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign
forever and ever” ’ (11:15).
Evidently the God of supreme justice is also the God
of amazing grace. This little preview should make us attentive to the interlude
that is found in chapters 10 & 11. As with the previous interlude, just
what it means is a matter of controversy among believers. That is not a mandate
to withdraw, because these interludes instruct us as to our duty.
 In Greek the
same words are used in 17:12 where the ESV has one hour, and later in 18:10,17, & 19, where the ESV has a single hour.
 See the footnote on p.137, Johnson.
 Leviticus 1 speaks of blood thrown against the sides of the altar. It would dribble to the ground. But Leviticus 4:7 says the priest will pour “all the rest of the blood of the bull … at the base of the altar of burnt offering that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting.” Note that Revelation speaks simply of the altar (singular) which in this case would be the altar of burnt offering. Both altars appear in Leviticus 4:7. That is history. In Revelation there is but one altar; that is apocalyptic vision.
 The addition of earthquakes The Presence of God is accompanied with
awesome and terrifying sights and sounds. It harkens back to Sinai (Exodus
19:16ff) where there were thunders, lightnings, darkness, trumpet blasts, “and the whole mountain [Sinai] trembled greatly” (Exodus
19:16-18). “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’” (Hebrews
12:26). As I prepare these notes in October, 2011, another deadly earthquake
has hit eastern