REVELATION - CHAPTER 8
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
8:1. “And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.”
8:2. “And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.”
As we have noted already, chapter seven comes in as a parenthesis between chapters six and eight, and since chapter six concluded by describing the events that will follow the opening of the sixth seal, chapter eight continues that revelation by describing events that will follow the opening of the seventh seal. Instead of continuing the judgments associated with the first six seals, however, the opening of this seventh seal introduces a further series of judgments to be poured out under the sounding of seven trumpets.
Trumpets have played a prominent part in Israel’s history, as for example in the taking of Jericho. There the blowing of trumpets brought down the walls of the city, but that seven-day encirclement of Jericho is a picture of the Tribulation, the fall of the city depicting the destruction of Gentile world power as Christ returns in power and glory to end the Tribulation and inaugurate His millennial kingdom.
The half-hour of silence in heaven following the opening of the seventh seal is generally taken to be symbolic of the awe with which angelic hosts will view the judgments that will continue to be poured out upon an earth that has filled its cup of wickedness to the brim, and that has finally exhausted the patience of the God Who is the very epitome of patience. It is like the moment of calm that precedes the storm, and reminds us that, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31).
The opening of this seventh seal disclosed seven angels standing before God, each one having been given a trumpet, the sounding of which was to be the signal for the outpouring of judgments yet more terrible than those which had already fallen upon the unrepentant earth under the seals.
Others have noted that the judgments under the seals are such as might come from the hand of man, he being simply the instrument of divine judgment. Those associated with the trumpets, however, are of a different character. In them God uses natural phenomena, but clearly some at least of the trumpet judgments relate to the spiritual realm as well as the physical. As we are reminded in Job 33:14-30, God not only speaks often, but also in different ways, “yet man perceiveth it not.”
The use of trumpets (associated with Israel in the past) to introduce this series of judgments, has led many to conclude that we are to see in this an emphasis upon the fact, that as declared in many OT passages, Israel will be the focus of the Tribulation judgments that will devastate the whole earth.
8:3. “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.”
8:4. “And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.”
Before the angels began to sound their trumpets, John saw another angel standing at the golden altar, and since Christ is the great High Priest through Whom worship is presented to the Father, it has been suggested that it is He Who is represented by this other angel, the incense being the symbol of His person and work, and therefore lending efficacy to the prayers of the saints. Not all, however, accept this. There is general agreement that these prayers, like those of Re 6:10, are imprecatory, and that these judgments are the divine response to those prayers.
8:5. “And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.”
It is significant that the very same fire which manifested the fragrance of the incense, is that which was cast into the earth, bringing “voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake,” i.e., manifesting the wrath of God to earth’s rebels. The very element that brings the worship of the redeemed to God, is that which brings His wrath to unbelievers. Since fire is a Biblical symbol of the Holy Spirit, it may be that we are intended to see here the Holy Spirit as the One Who will direct the Tribulation judgments.
8:6. “And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.
8:7. “The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: (and a third part of the earth was burnt up), and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.”
According to many competent scholars, verse 7 should include after “earth” the words shown in parentheses, “and the third part of the earth was burnt up,” for though it is omitted from the KJ version, it appears in many of the better manuscripts, and in this study will be considered as properly belonging in the verse.
Complying with the exegetical law that requires first a literal interpretation, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise, we shall examine the literal statement first. The announcement then, is that hail and fire will destroy a third part of the earth, a third part of trees on that third part of the earth, and all green grass on that same third part, and there is no reason why this should not be understood literally. Similar destruction fell on Egypt in the time of Moses, and few question that those judgments are foreshadowings of those which will devastate the Tribulation age earth, the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage being itself a foreshadowing of her deliverance from the Beast in the Tribulation.
Inasmuch as those judgments upon Egypt, while literal, also pointed to the more terrible judgments that will fall upon the whole world in the Tribulation, we may be justified in examining the possibility that some at least of the Tribulation judgments, while literal, may have also a spiritual significance. Looking at them then, from this perspective, it is to be noted that trees and grass are both Biblical symbols of humanity, the grass representing the frailty and transitoriness of man, while the trees portray the many different social levels into which humanity is divided, the hyssop representing the lowest, and the cedar, the greatest (1 Ki 4:33). The interpretation suggested by some, that trees represent rulers, and grass, the common people, is invalid, for the burning up of all green grass would mean that all men except rulers would die, and this of course is contradicted by Scripture.
It is to be noted further that it is all green grass on a third part of the earth that is to be burned, and since green is the color of life, this green grass may represent believers, so that the symbolic announcement then, is not of the death of all men on a third of the earth, but rather, the death of all believers on that third part of the earth. But since the earth is a Biblical symbol of genuine faith as compared with mere profession, the destruction of all green grass on a third of the earth would then translate into the statement that a third of all believers in the world will die - a very likely possibility in view of the Beast’s murderous hatred of God and His people.
8:8. “And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood;”
8:9 “And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed,”
That this mountain is not literal is assured by the words, “as it were,” and since the mountain is symbolic, it seems that we must view the other things as being also symbolic.
The mountain’s “burning with fire” declares it to be something under the judgment of God. Out of several possible interpretations, the two having most validity are (1) the burning mountain represents Satan at the moment of his expulsion from heaven (Re 12:7-12), and (2) it represents the seizure of the great false church by the Beast, the head of the political confederation which will be the revived Roman empire (Re 17:16-18).
In support of the latter view is what is written in Jer 51:24-25 “And I will render unto Babylon ... all the evil that they have done in Zion.... Behold, I am against thee, O destroying mountain, saith the Lord ... and I will stretch out mine hand upon thee, and roll thee down from the rocks, and will make thee a burnt mountain.” Since literal ancient Babylon has lain for over twenty-five hundred years as heaps of grass-covered ruins, and is never to be rebuilt, this foretold destruction appears to be of the false religious system which began in ancient Babylon, and is symbolically represented in Scripture under the same name, even though the evil system has been centered in Rome for two thousand years.
Isa 57:20 interprets the symbol of the sea: it represents the nations in their restless rebellion against God. This great burning mountain therefore, cast into the sea becomes the symbolic announcement of the calamitous effects following the Beast’s seizure the wealth and power of the great false church. There
is good reason, however, to believe that that seizure will coincide with Satan’s expulsion from heaven, an event, it is generally agreed, that will mark the beginning of the Great Tribulation, the final three and a half years of the seven-year Tribulation period. It may well be, in fact, that this great burning mountain cast into the sea is meant to portray both the Beast’s seizure of the harlot church, and Satan’s expulsion from heaven.
“... and the third part of the sea became blood.” This indicates, not that the literal sea will become literal blood, but that death in one form or another will carry off a third of unbelieving humanity represented by the sea. This would be consistent with the dissolution of the great harlot church in her present form, since the vast majority of those who constitute her are, and always will be, mere religious professors, at heart the enemies of God and His people.
Consistent exegesis requires that verse 9 also be construed as symbolic, “And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died.” The qualifying phrase and had life indicates that the reference is to believing Gentiles. It seems that a third of them will also die. For them, however, as for believers of this present age, to be “absent from the body (will be) to be present with the Lord” (2 Co 5:8), “which is far better” (Php 1:23).
The ships, then, must also be taken symbolically, and inasmuch as a ship is one of the symbols of the Church, it may be that the reference is to what will be the equivalent of local churches in the Tribulation, i.e., local assemblies of believers. If our interpretation of the symbol is correct, a third of those assemblies will be annihilated during the murderous reign of the Beast energized by Satan.
8:10. “And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters;”
8:11. “And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.”
In Jer 9:13-15 God, having rehearsed the sins of the people, declared, “I will feed them with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink”; and again in Jer 23:14-15, He voices His displeasure at the wickedness of the false prophets, and announces, “I will feed them with wormwood, and make them drink the water of gall,” and it is significant that in Jer 23:20 we read, “The anger of the Lord shall not return, until He have executed, and till He have performed the thoughts of His heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it perfectly.”
Since the reference in Jeremiah is to the punishment of God’s earthly people Israel, it would indicate that the reference here in Revelation is also to Israel, the reference to “the latter days,” seeming to furnish additional confirmation. It is difficult to see how the language could be anything other than symbolic, so that we must then translate the symbols in order to read the message, and that task isn’t difficult since all of these symbols are familiar. We have noted in other studies that the sun is a symbol of Christ the Light of the world, while the moon is the symbol of corporate testimony (in the OT and in the Tribulation, Israel; and in this present age, the Church); and a star is the symbol of individual witness, e.g., Dan 12:3 declares, “... they that turn many to righteousness (shall shine) as the stars for ever and ever.” It was a star that guided the wise men to Christ; and in Jude 13 false teachers, i.e., those who lead others astray, are referred to as “wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.”
The description of this great star shows it to be representative of evil, for it is “fallen from heaven, “and it is “as it were” a lamp, i.e., it is not a true lamp. Whatever is represented by this star is someone or something pretending to guide men aright, but which is in reality seeking to lead them astray. This narrows the choice down to Satan or a false prophet, or both, and inasmuch as the star is seen as fallen from heaven, it seems to point to Satan at the midpoint of the Tribulation when he will be cast out of heaven. It is he who has always sought to lead men astray, and, significantly, very often by distorting the Scriptures, which rightly used, are “a lamp” unto men’s feet, e.g., his deception of Eve, and his attempted seduction of Christ in the wilderness. We can’t, however, dismiss the possibility that the reference may be also to the false prophet, for he will be Satan’s agent doing this nefarious work in the Tribulation.
Since the rivers and fountains of waters represent the Word, the message is that Satan, through the false prophet, will so corrupt the Word that instead of its being the water of life, it will become, in its corrupted form, wormwood (absinth), i.e., spiritual poison, so that men, believing Satan’s lies, will die in their sins, going first to hell, and then for ever to the lake of fire “which is the second death” (Re 20:14).
The reference to “a third part of the rivers ... and the waters” is not to be understood as saying that only one-third of the Word will be corrupted, but rather that one-third of the earth will be deluded, for in the Tribulation “the rivers and fountains (the Word)” will be everywhere on earth, Scripture assuring us that in the Tribulation, unlike today, the Gospel will be preached to the whole earth. Some have mistakenly applied this assurance to the present age. That the gospel will not have reached to every part of the earth before the Rapture, however, is declared by the fact that the only ones who will be saved in the Tribulation will be those who have never previously heard the Gospel, 2 Th 2:10-12.
8:12. “And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise,”
This may certainly be taken literally, but there is plenty of reason to justify the view that it may be also figurative, the sun representing Christ; the moon, corporate testimony; and the stars, individual witnesses. There is no problem in seeing the smiting of the moon and stars as referring to persecution and possible destruction of a third of the corporate testimonies, and a third of the individual believers; but how are we to understand the smiting of a third part of the sun, if it represents Christ? There is really no difficulty when we remember that these persecuted ones will be believers, and therefore very dear to Christ, so that, as in this present age, what is done to them will be viewed as having been done to Him, Mt 25:40. It will be no less true of the Tribulation remnant than it was of Israel long ago: he who touches His people, touches “the apple (pupil) of His eye,” (De 32:10). Since believers are described as “light” e.g., Mt 5:14; 1 Th 5:5, “the day shone not for a third part of it” may be the symbolic announcement of the fact that the destruction of so many believers will result in diminished ministry to the household of faith (believers being likened to the day), “Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day” (1 Th 5:5); similar reduction of ministry to the unsaved being portrayed in the diminution of nocturnal light by a third, moon and stars, as already noted, being symbolic of corporate and personal testimony respectively in the Gospel to the unconverted, those who are darkness rather than light.
8:13. “And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!”
Some translations render “angel” in the first part of the verse as “eagle,” and it may well be correct for there are several OT references to the eagle as a symbol of judgment coming upon disobedient Israel, e.g., Dt 28:49 “The Lord shall bring a nation against thee ... as swift as the eagle flieth.”
The recurring references in this chapter to a third may be to remind us that the ultimate purpose of the Tribulation judgments is the spiritual resurrection of Israel, since three is the Biblical number of resurrection, for in Zec 13:8-9 it is written that two-thirds of Israel “shall be cut off,” but the remaining one-third, after being refined as silver, i.e., redeemed and tested, will be God’s people in the Millennium.
The “inhabiters of the earth” to whom the woes are announced are those who are earthy, i.e., unconverted.