Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/Revelation/Chapter 8
The Seventh Seal
- 1And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
Commentary: The seventh seal is the last of the seals that keep the content of the scroll hidden. After this seal is broken, the entire content of the scroll is visible. Like the previous three seals, it has to do with the wrath of God. This seal is about the wrath of God in the form of seven trumpet judgments. It is important that silence, which is not the usual sound pattern, does take place in heaven because it means that the angels and adorers of heaven are in continuous praise and worship of God's glory. In the course of history the only event that could cause the silence of heaven is the wrath of God. This wrath has been promised since the fall of man in the garden with Adam and Eve. The story is starting to get exciting...it is just beginning. This silence is something to take note of. One explanation of the silence is that it is something like a devotional time, in which the heavenly multitude is in silent contemplation of the Divine presence. The length of silent time (1/2 an hour) may also be interpreted as a pregnant pause staged for dramatic effect, presumably to contrast the forthcoming sound of the trumpets. The great events about to be ushered in during the "final acts" of this masterful performance may have brought forth the silence. Again, it's important to note that these attempted explanations are speculative statements.
- 2And I saw the seven angels which stood before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.
Commentary: This begins the second set of judgments. Like the judgments released by the seals, the judgments of this set number seven, each revealed by and angel blowing a trumpet. The trumpet is an instrument used to announce the presence of God and was also used it battle. It the follow verses, the trumpet blasts are to announce a coming judgment, and that the wrath of God was present. With this in mind, it is difficult to say whether or not the judgments of the seven trumpets are in addition to those of the seven seals, or if they are merely more detailed descriptions of the same judgments. It is possible to read images like those of the four angels, bound by the Euphrates as separate or analogous figures to those of the four horsemen described in the judgments of the seals. Also like the judgments of the seals, the judgments of the trumpets are not example of personal, punitive, or vengeful judgments, instead they are depicted as just occurrences designed to cause the rest of humanity to repent. The first four judgments, which appear in chapter eight, are of a somewhat natural nature. In these judgments both the church and non believers are affected. In the final three of the seven judgments which are to come, believers, those who bear the mark of God, are set aside and spared those judgments The first four angels sound their trumpets releasing the plagues
- 3And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer, and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. 4And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.
Commentary: According to Witheringon III, this vision seems to harken back to the image of the priest in the Temple of Jerusalem. The priest would take hot coals from the sacrifice alter and light incense with them. The angel behaves in a similar manner.
The smoke of the incense is used as a metaphor for the prayers of God's people. The prayers were mixed with the incense and offered unto God. As incense is pleasing to the senses, so the prayers are pleasing to God. The alter of incense is before the Throne of God showing that the prayers are given directly to God. The prayers are cries of relief,vengeance, and retribution from the saints, and they lead to the final judgement, the seven Trumpets. It can be inferred from the text that these prayers are for.
- 5And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire from the altar, and cast it into the earth, and there were voices, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake. 6And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared to sound.
Commentary: The same censer which carried the prayers of the faithful to the throne of God is now used to bring a reply.
The prayers of the saints, which have risen to heaven with the incense smoke lit at the time of prayer, and then mixed with the smoke of the prayers of the angels, is then answered by casting coals from the heavenly fire onto the earth. These manifest in thunder, lightening, and quakes. These prayers, then, are prayers for vengeance.
Regardless of which view one accepts on the chronology of this next set of judgments (after the seventh seal, a further description of the seventh seal, a repetition of the seals, etc.), this set of judgments teaches us more about John’s understanding of God’s justice. First of all, here the church is not specifically judged; rather it is the whole earth. However, and possibly most importantly, the church is not exempt from the first four judgments.The first four trumpets sound attacks upon earth's nature and also the cosmos. The following three blasts are directed toward the people on earth. This clearly negates some modern ideas that believers will be “raptured” (taken up into Heaven), thereby bypassing any suffering. Christians are rewarded for faithfully enduring suffering, not for avoiding it. Another point worth mentioning is that unlike the plagues of Egypt described in Exodus, there is no known possible natural explanation for these acts of judgment; they are undeniably supernatural/divine.
It is also important to not that what is important here is not knowing the exact chronological order of how this events may happen. It seems that John is more to present grotesque and terrifying images to the people into reading to turn away from idolatry and repent (Fiorenze, Revelation, 1991). Even more, the chronology is not the point and the series events described by John is an attempt to paint a picture of how grand and dramatic divine judgement will be.
The First Four Trumpets
- 7The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth, and the third part of the trees was burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.
Commentary: The plagues are said to be controlled by the Two Witnesses to be used to defeat the Antichrist through the latter part of the Tribulation. The hail and fire may be an ancient vision of modern weapons, with the blood symbolizing the associated loss of life. The hail calls to mind an Egyptian plague from the days of Moses, but God ups the ante on this one with blood mixed in the ice. Witherington suggests it is impossible to associate this plague with any natural phenomena, but that it is a godly brimstone.
One should also note that one third is probably not literal. Like other numbers in this book, it simply means a lot, specially more than the destruction caused by the seals. One third also illustrates that the whole earth is not destroyed in this first round of judgments, more is to come. 
- 8And the second angel sounded and, as it were, a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood, 9and a third of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
Commentary: The great mountain is most likely a Volcanic Eruption where the top of the mountain is blown off into the sea. This brings back images from Mt. Vesuvius in Italy which erupted near the coast causing a tidal wave which destroyed many boats. The reference to the sea becoming blood is more-so a metaphor for the large amount of death and blood loss because of it. However, this could also be a possible reference back to Exodus of the Red Sea which Moses crossed escaping Egypt.
"A third of the sea became blood" The destruction is focused solely on one-third of the salt water of the earth. Salt water becomes blood. This text can be taken literally if the story of Moses and the Nile becoming blood is taken literally as well. As the Nile became blood for Moses, one-third of salt water will do the for this event. This naturally results in death for those creatures needing oxygen. Blood is the only element of a dead body which cannot be harvested.
- 10And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven burning, as it were, like a lamp, and it fell upon a third of the rivers, and upon the springs of waters. 11And the name of the star is called Wormwood, and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the waters, because they were made bitter.
Commentary: Like the “great mountain” of the second trumpet, it appears to be a huge meteorite or comet, though it might also represent a nuclear weapon, which not only causes great destruction, but poisons the environment with radiation. This was most common after the Chernobyl disaster, since the word "wormwood" can be translated to be Chernobyl. Some even take it to be a portrayal of Satan's fall from Heaven. Wormwood is actually the name of an extremely bitter herb, and it may be that the name is used symbolically in reference to the bitter effect the event has. However, it should be noted that wormwood is not actually poisonous. This event of natural disaster continues the theme of devastation in the natural order. It has a gloomy tone and adds to the ever growing theme of perdition in Revelation.
- 12And the fourth angel sounded, and a third of the sun was smitten, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise.
Commentary: Just as the seal judgments began with a group of four (the four horsemen), the trumpet judgments follow the same pattern, also beginning with a set of four. Each of the trumpets results in the destruction of a third of one particular aspect of earth’s life support system. The imagery of the moon and stars falling and causing darkness in the world refers to the fact that there will be great calamity. This imagery may infer that the world in in darkness and gloom during this time of great disaster. It could also mean that a day becomes much shorter and the night much longer or that the lightness of the day becomes darker, almost clouded over in a sense.
- 13And I looked, and 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 other voices of the trumpets of the three angels, which are yet to sound.”
Commentary: This verse shows an angel crying out “Woe” three times, once for each of the remaining trumpets. This serves as an announcement of the impending judgment. Each woe is worse than any of the previous plagues released by the sounding of the initial four trumpets.
Although this translation states that it is an angel who cries out in warning, nearly every other translation of this verse maintains that it is an eagle who performs this action. The Greek word at use here is the noun "aetos," which generally translates as "eagle." However, Luke 17:37 translates this word as "vulture." Some commentators have suggested that vulture would be more appropriate in this verse because the vulture is a bird of prey. In light the human slaughter that has already occurred and that is soon follow, a carrion bird such as a vulture might be a better translation.
- Witherington, Ben. Revelation. Cambridge University Press, 2003.
- Witherington, Ben. Revelation. Cambridge University Press, 2003.