Adam/Dave/Rod: September 17, 2009
Scripture text for this study: Revelation 8
A. Seventh Seal: Prelude to the Seven Trumpets (8:1-6)
Verse 2: The seven angels who were given the seven trumpets are said to “stand before God.” Is it possible that one of these seven angels was Gabriel, as he testified to Zechariah (Luke 1:19) that he “stands in the presence of God”? Steve Gregg, editor of Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary), says, “For Israel, the trumpet was an instrument used to rally the troops for war or to warn of an enemy invasion. Likening the upcoming judgments to the sounding of trumpets suggests that God Himself is making war against His enemies in apostate Israel” (p. 146).
Verses 3-5: The “prayers of all the saints” were offered together with “much incense” on the golden altar that was in front of the throne pictured in heaven. It seems clear that the judgments that followed were, in part, a direct result of these prayers. Sam Storms sees a direct link between the cries of the martyrs for vengeance (Rev. 6:10) and God’s response here in these verses. As a result of the censer filled “with fire from the altar” being thrown to the earth, there were “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.” One application to take away from this passage, then, is that God hears the prayers of His people and acts in a sovereign way in His own timing and according to His will. The thunder, lightning, and rumblings are again reminiscent of the giving of the Old Covenant through Moses at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16), just as in Rev. 4:5.
In her book, “Revelation: Introduction, Translation, and Commentary,” J. Massyngberde Ford says that there are four striking reversals in the text for Israel:
1. From the throne and altar, the “mercy seat,” now comes wrath;
2. Incense, the “soothing aroma to the Lord” ( Leviticus 1:13), now becomes an agent of death (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:14-16);
3. The trumpets, which called Israel to worship, now become heralds of her destruction;
4. The heavenly liturgy itself, appointed for Israel’s sanctification, becomes the means of her overthrow and dissolution.
John Piper said in 1994 that this text “portrays the prayers of the saints as the instrument God uses to usher in the end of the world with great divine judgments… [It] is an explanation of what has happened to the millions upon millions of prayers over the last 2,000 years as the saints have cried out again and again, ‘Thy kingdom come…’” Sam Storms, a Historicist, agrees with Piper’s cause/effect premise, but disagrees with him regarding the timing of God’s actions:
It may well be that the trumpets, no less than the sixth and seventh seals, are God’s answer to the prayers of his people in 6:9-11 for vindication against their persecutors. If so, this would strongly militate against the futurist interpretation which relegates the trumpets to the final few years of history just before the second coming. In other words, it seems unlikely that God would act in response to that prayer only at the end of history while passing by and leaving unscathed more than sixty generations of the wicked.
Sam Storms goes on to say that most of the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments “describe the commonplaces of history.” The Preterist response, of course, is that the prayers of the first-century martyrs who cried out “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before You will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10-11) were vindicated within one generation when God poured out His judgment on Jerusalem in 70 AD (cf. Matt. 23:29-38; Luke 13:33-35; Rev. 17:6, 18:20, 24). The Historicist idea that God has continued to act in various ways upon the prayers of His people throughout history certainly applies.
B. First Trumpet: Vegetation Struck (8:7)
Hail and fire, mixed with blood, is thrown to the earth. In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case (See, for example, the post on Revelation 1, where we examined the phrase “tribes of the earth” in verse 7, which is often thought to be worldwide in scope. When this prophecy is compared, though, to its counterpart in Zechariah 12:10-14, it’s clear that every one of those tribes belonged to the land of Israel).
Steve Gregg notes that “[as] the first four seals [Rev. 6:1-8] were set off from the latter three, in that each of the first group revealed a horseman, so the first four trumpets are set off from the last three, in that the latter are referred to as ‘Woes.’ The entire series, however, is concerned with the Jewish War of A.D. 66-70, ‘the Last Days’ of the Jewish commonwealth” (p. 148). Steve quotes from Jay Adams, who notes that during this period “the land suffered terribly. The plagues are reminiscent of those in Egypt, at the birth of the Hebrew nation. Here they mark both the latter’s cessation, and the birth of a new nation, the kingdom of God (I Pet. 2:9, 10).”
We are told that a third of the earth (the land of Israel), the trees, and the green grass were burned up in this judgment. This account from Josephus points to a very plausible fulfillment during the five-month siege upon Jerusalem leading up to its destruction in 70 AD:
And now the Romans, although they were greatly distressed in getting together their materials, raised their banks in  days, after they had cut down all the trees that were in the country that adjoined to the city, and that for ninety furlongs [10 miles] round about, as I have already related. And, truly, the very view itself of the country was a melancholy thing; for those places which were before adorned with trees and pleasant gardens were now become a desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down: nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change; for the war had laid all signs of beauty quite waste; nor if any one that had known the place before, had come on a sudden to it now, would he have known it again; but though he were at the city itself, yet would he have inquired for it notwithstanding (Wars 6.1.1).
C. Second Trumpet: The Seas Struck (8:8-9)
Verse 8: John was shown “something like a great mountain burning with fire …thrown into the sea.” Steve Gregg asserts that there is both a symbolic and a literal sense in which this trumpet can be applied to the destruction of Jerusalem and Israel in 66-70 AD:  It’s symbolic, in that in Biblical prophecy a mountain often refers to a government or a kingdom, even as it did for Israel (e.g. Exodus 15:17). The sea is a frequent prophetic “symbol of the Gentile nations, in contrast to ‘the land,’ signifying Israel. The symbolism could predict the Jewish state collapsing and the resultant dispersion of the Jews throughout the Gentile world.” (97,000 Jews were sold into slavery by Rome in 70 AD.)  It’s also literal in that Jerusalem was burned with fire by the Romans in 70 AD (pp. 154, 156).
Later John sees an angel picking up a great millstone and casting it into the sea, which the angel says is symbolic of “Babylon, that great city” being thrown down with violence (Revelation 18:21). The literary structures of these two passages show that they are parallel:
|“And the second angel sounded,||“And a strong angel||saying,|
|and something like a great||took up a stone like a great||‘Thus will Babylon that great|
|mountain burning with fire||millstone||city|
|was thrown into the sea…”||and threw it into the sea,||will be thrown down with violence|
|and it will not be found any longer.”|
See this post for more details on how the prayers of the saints were answered when the mountain of Jerusalem was cast into the sea: https://adammaarschalk.com/2016/07/25/that-mountain-was-cast-into-the-sea-and-these-mountains-can-be-too/.
Verses 8-9: John was also shown a third of the sea becoming blood, with the result being that a third of the living creatures in the sea died and a third of the ships were also destroyed. For those open to the idea of Revelation having been written before 70 AD, this most definitely calls to mind some of the battles during the Jewish-Roman War (66-70 AD). The Roman Emperor Nero officially declared war on Israel in February 67 AD in response to the Jewish rebellion, and by the spring of that year his general Vespasian had marched into the land of Judea with 60,000 men. In the coming months more than 150,000 Jews were killed in Judea and Galilee. The Jewish historian Josephus described Galilee at one point as “filled with fire and blood.” Here is his description of one battle that took place in the Sea of Galilee:
“Sometimes the Romans leaped into their ships, with swords in their hands, and slew them; but when some of them met the vessels, the Romans caught them by the middle, and destroyed at once their ships and themselves who were taken in them. And for such as were drowning in the sea, if they lifted their heads up above the water, they were either killed by darts, or caught by the vessels; but if, in the desperate case they were in, they attempted to swim to their enemies, the Romans cut off either their heads or their hands; and indeed they were destroyed after various manners every where, till the rest being put to flight, were forced to get upon the land, while the vessels encompassed them about [on the sea]: but as many of these were repulsed when they were getting ashore, they were killed by the darts upon the lake; and the Romans leaped out of their vessels, and destroyed a great many more upon the land: one might then see the lake all bloody, and full of dead bodies, for not one of them escaped” (Wars 3.10.9).
With such carnage, it’s easy to see how many creatures in the Sea of Galilee were poisoned and did not survive, and how a third of its ships could have been destroyed. In another instance, Josephus described what happened to some Jews who had escaped from Joppa:
“Now as those people of Joppa were floating about in this sea, in the morning there fell a violent wind upon them; it is called by those that sail there “the black north wind,” and there dashed their ships one against another, and dashed some of them against the rocks, and carried many of them by force, while they strove against the opposite waves, into the main sea; for the shore was so rocky, and had so many of the enemy upon it, that they were afraid to come to land; nay, the waves rose so very high, that they drowned them; nor was there any place whither they could fly, nor any way to save themselves; while they were thrust out of the sea, by the violence of the wind, if they staid where they were, and out of the city by the violence of the Romans. And much lamentation there was when the ships were dashed against one another, and a terrible noise when they were broken to pieces; and some of the multitude that were in them were covered with waves, and so perished, and a great many were embarrassed with shipwrecks. But some of them thought that to die by their own swords was lighter than by the sea, and so they killed themselves before they were drowned; although the greatest part of them were carried by the waves, and dashed to pieces against the abrupt parts of the rocks, insomuch that the sea was bloody a long way, and the maritime parts were full of dead bodies; for the Romans came upon those that were carried to the shore, and destroyed them; and the number of the bodies that were thus thrown out of the sea was four thousand and two hundred” (Wars 3.9.3).
D. Third Trumpet: The Waters Struck (8:10-11)
This passage speaks of a “great star” falling from heaven, “burning like a torch,” causing many deaths because a third of the rivers and springs of water become wormwood (bitter). Some futurists interpret this trumpet judgment symbolically, as referring either to a future Antichrist (e.g. Arno Gaebelein) or a future Pope (e.g. H.A. Ironside) who causes much corruption (Steve Gregg, pp. 161, 163). Other futurist interpreters (e.g. Henry Morris, Charles Ryrie, John Walvoord) see this as a literal reference to a burning meteorite or “a giant set of meteors” that will enter earth’s atmosphere “with contaminating influence upon the rivers and waters” of the entire planet (p. 165). Steve Gregg’s articulation of the Preterist understanding is helpful:
The turning of fresh water sources bitter and toxic may be in part a literal result of the decaying corpses that lay in the Sea of Galilee and in the river as the result of war. However, this fouling of the waters has symbolic significance, occurring as it does here to the nation of Israel. There is probably an intentional allusion to the promise (and implied threat) God made to Israel when they first came out of Egypt. When they came to the bitter waters of Marah, in response to Moses’ casting a tree into the waters, God made the waters sweet and wholesome… However, God’s promise/warning implies that their disobedience to Him will result in His placing upon them the same plagues that He placed on the Egyptians—the waters can be made bitter again [cf. Exodus 15:25-26, Deuteronomy 28:59-60]… It is noteworthy that throughout the pages of Revelation, the plagues that come upon the apostates are comparable to those with which God afflicted the Egyptians in the days of Moses. The star which was burning like a torch (v. 10) is reminiscent of the tree cast into the waters by Moses, but has the opposite effect (pp. 160, 162).
David Chilton adds,
The name of this fallen star is Wormwood, a term used in the Law and the Prophets to warn Israel of its destruction as a punishment for apostasy (Deut. 29:18; Jer. 9:15; 23:15; Lam. 3:15, 19; Amos 5:7). Again, by combining these Old Testament allusions, St. John makes his point: Israel is apostate, and has become an Egypt; Jerusalem has become a Babylon; and the covenant-breakers will be destroyed, as surely as Egypt and Babylon were destroyed (Gregg, p. 164).
[The following information in blue font was edited into this post on October 26, 2009:]
To further illustrate this point, it’s also instructive to consider the test for adultery under the Law of Moses, as recorded in Numbers 5:11-31. This test was to be administered by a priest in cases where a married woman was suspected of defiling herself in an adulterous manner (Numbers 5:11-14). The priest would mix dust from the floor of the tabernacle into holy water contained in a vessel, to create “the water of bitterness that brings the curse” (vss. 16-18). The woman would then take the following oath:
If no man has lain with you, and if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while you were under your husband’s authority, be free from this water of bitterness that brings the curse. But if you have gone astray, though you are under your husband’s authority, and if you have defiled yourself, and some man other than your husband has lain with you, then (let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse, and say to the woman) the Lord make you a curse and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your thigh fall away and your body swell. May this water that brings the curse pass into your bowels and make your womb swell and your thigh fall away (vss. 20-22).
The woman would then say, “Amen. Amen,” and the curses would be written into a book and washed off into the bitter water. The woman would then be made to drink the water (vss. 23-26), with the following possible results:
And when he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has broken faith with her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall swell, and her thigh shall fall away, and the woman shall become a curse among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be free and shall conceive children (vss. 27-28).
If this imagery and this procedure is what is mirrored by the third trumpet judgment, then this is one more indication that Israel had been found to be apostate. Many people died from the bitter water because they were indeed guilty of spiritual adultery, and were found to be in a state of defilement.
E. Fourth Trumpet: The Heavens Struck (8:12-13)
Verse 12: Regarding the common contention of Futurists that these judgments must literally take place in the future, i.e. a third of the light of the sun, moon, and stars will cease to shine; a practical question is in order. Since this is not to be the final plague, and other judgments must follow this one, is it possible that any life would continue to survive for even a few days, let alone months, under those conditions? We know that life exists on this planet because the sun basically maintains its present intensity. A significant increase or decrease in its intensity would either cause mankind to burn or freeze. Alternatively, David Chilton writes,
The imagery here was long used in the prophets to depict the fall of nations and national rulers (cf. Isa. 13:9-11, 19; 24:19-23; 34:4-5; Ezek. 32:7-8, 11-12; Joel 2:10, 28-32; Acts 2:16-21. [He quotes F.W. Farrar (1831-1903), who wrote that] “ruler after ruler, chieftain after chieftain of the Roman Empire and the Jewish nation was assassinated and ruined. Gaius, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, all died by murder or suicide; Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Herod Agrippa, and most of the Herodian Princes, together with not a few of the leading High Priests of Jerusalem, perished in disgrace, or in exile, or by violent hands. All these were quenched suns and darkened stars” (Gregg, pp. 166, 168).
Verse 13: As terrible as these plagues are, a flying eagle with a loud voice announces that the three remaining trumpet judgments are even more woeful. Their target again is “those who dwell on the earth,” another reference to the land of Israel, as discussed earlier. We will see these woes beginning in chapter 9. Steve Gregg quotes from Adam Clarke (1732-1815), who he says is a historicist but “accurately puts forth the preterist position”:
These woes are supposed by many learned men to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem: the first woe—the seditions among the Jews themselves; the second woe—the besieging of the city by the Romans; the third woe—the taking and the sacking of the city, and burning the Temple. This was the greatest of all the woes, as in it the city and Temple were destroyed, and nearly a million men lost their lives.
Our study of Revelation 9 can be found here.
All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.
 For more on the concept that 70 AD marked the birthing of God’s kingdom, in the exclusive sense that it was completely separated from the Judaic system, see  here  here, and  Matthew 21:33-45, Hebrews 8:13.
One of the fascinating things in Revelation is the way it portrays the experience of the people of God in terms very similar to what transpired for Israel in Egypt and the ten plagues of judgment. For example,
1) prominence of the Red Sea (Ex. 14:1-31) // 1) prominence of glassy sea (Rev. 15:2)
2) song of deliverance (Ex. 15:1-18) // 2) song of deliverance (Rev. 15:2-4)
3) God’s enemy: Pharaoh // 3) God’s enemy: the Beast
4) court magicians of Egypt // 4) the False Prophet
5) persecution of Israel // 5) persecution of the Church
6) protected from plagues (Ex. 8:22; 9:4,26; 10:23; 11:7) // 6) protected from wrath (Rev. 7:1-8; 9:4)
7) hardened/unrepentant (Ex. 8:15; 9:12-16) // 7) hardened/unrepentant (Rev. 16:9,11,21)
8] the name of God (Ex. 3:14) // 8] the name of God (Rev. 1:4-6)
9) Israel redeemed from bondage by blood // 9) Church redeemed from sin by blood
10) Israel made a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6) // 10) Church made a kingdom of priests (Rev. 1:6)
11) 7th plague (Ex. 9:22-25) // 11) 1st trumpet
12) 6th plague (Ex. 9:8-12) // 12) 1st bowl
13) 1st plague (Ex. 7:20-25) // 13) 2nd/3rd trumpet & 2nd/3rd bowl
14) 9th plague (Ex. 10:21-23) // 14) 4th trumpet & 4th bowl
15) 8th & 9th plagues (Ex. 10:1-20) // 15) 5th trumpet & 5th bowl
 See the chart of the Emperors here: https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp5-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-2/.