Revelation 8:6 launches the third cycle of visions with angels blowing seven trumpets. In the Bible, trumpets are blown for a variety of reasons. They are sounded as a call to the people of God to assemble for an important occasion. The feasts of Israel were hailed “with blasts of trumpets,” as “a holy convocation” (Lev. 23:24). Trumpets hailed Solomon’s ascension to David’s throne (1 Kings 1:34, 39).  According to the New Testament, a trumpet blast will herald the second coming of Christ, summoning the elect to join Him from all over the earth (Matt. 24:30-31). Against this background, verse 6 tells us that “the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them,” we can expect to see God intervening in history to defeat His enemies.

Let us now see what the trumpets of the angels signify. The description in verse 7 is reminiscent of the seventh plague that befell Egypt during Moses’ confrontation with Pharaoh, when hail and lightning came upon the whole land. In Revelation 8 we see hail and lightning mingled with blood.  This is not a new phenomenon. Scientists and historians have recorded other times when red rain fell from the sky. Revelation 8 foresees a time when hail and fire, mingled with blood, will descend not on some isolated region of the earth, but over great portions of the land. It will devastate much of our natural world.

Notice that the plagues of the first four trumpets all fall on creation, causing massive environmental damage. It is as though the Lord were saying, “You have taken the natural world for granted, abused it, and plundered it. You want a devastated world? Very well then, you shall have it.” As always, the worst judgment God can mete out to sinful humanity is to give humanity what it demands. But the destruction that is depicted here doesn’t just have a literal dimension. It is also powerfully symbolic. It is designed to teach us a truth of God that is invisible to the eyes of men at that time. I believe this passage depicts a judgment that is directed not only against the natural world and the environment, but upon Israel – both its leaders (symbolized by the trees) and its people (symbolized by the grass). Old Testament prophets pointed to a future time when God would judge His people Israel, an example is in Zephaniah 1:12-13.

Next, John describes the judgment brought about by the second angel and the second trumpet (vv. 8-9). The first trumpet judgment assaulted the earth. The second attacks the sea. A great blazing mountain-like object falls into the sea. This could be the result of an unimaginably violent volcanic eruption or it could be a massive meteor falling out of space and flaming through the atmosphere, landing at last in the sea. Whatever this mountain-like object is, it will cause the sea to become blood-red resulting in leaving a third of all marine life dead and a third of all shipping destroyed.

If these are literal events, there is also a symbolic dimension to them. The image of the great mountain, blazing with fire and tumbling into the sea, symbolizes a great kingdom aflame with revolution. The prophet Jeremiah records some strikingly similar imagery when he conveys the Lord’s judgment against Babylon (Jer. 51:25). As we gather by comparing this passage with other passages of Scripture, the symbol of the mountain-like object falling into the sea probably symbolizes the influence of what is popularly called “the revived Roman Empire,” the ten-kingdom coalition of Western European and Western allied nations that will be prominent, under the leadership of the Antichrist, during the Tribulation period. So the symbolic image of these verses suggests a time when the Antichrist-led coalition will fall upon the Gentiles of the world like a flaming, destroying mountain, conquering the Gentile nations while destroying many Gentile lives.

As happened in the first trumpet judgment, and as will happen again and again throughout these seven judgments, we see the repetitive use of the term “a third.” Under the seals of judgment, the losses were limited to “a forth,” but here we see losses of “a third,” again and again. What is the difference between the judgments of the seven seals and the judgments of the seven trumpets? Four is the number of human government. Under the seal judgments God was indicating that He uses human government to limit the onslaught of the four terrible horseman of Revelation 6. Human government will still retain some vestige of restraining power during those days. But in Revelation 8, even that limited amount of restraint has been removed. Under the trumpet judgments, God alone restrains. Three is the divine number, the symbol of God’s attributes. By the repeated phrase “a third” God is indicating that only His mercy and grace limits these terrible apocalyptic judgments to one-third of the earth.

Now John describes the judgment brought about by the third angel and the third judgment (vv. 10-11). This great star which falls into the rivers and the fountains of the earth is very likely a comet or comet-like object which breaks up when it enters the atmosphere and scatters itself throughout the earth, falling into the rivers and springs and poisoning them. It is interesting to speculate that the form of poisoning described in these verses might actually be a form of radiation. In fact, we may have already witnessed a fore gleam of such an event when a nuclear reactor experienced a melt down at Chernobyl. It is no mere coincidence that the word Chernobyl is actually Russian for “Wormwood”! I believe God was desperately trying to warn us during that terrible nuclear accident – but, as usual, humankind refuses to listen.

Again, I believe the destruction depicted has a symbolic as well as a literal dimension. It is designed to teach us God’s truth about the invisible realm of man’s internal being. Rivers, of course, symbolize great masses of people moving together in one direction – entire populations caught up in one idea, one mindset, moving predictably and inexorably like a river toward a single destination. The springs symbolize the sources of moral or philosophical leadership. The star symbolizes a prominent leader. It appears from these symbols that the great person, widely recognized as a leader, will suddenly reverse his policy. He will, in essence, fall. Many people will be embittered by the turnabout of this influential leader. In the mass struggle that ensues, many will experience moral and spiritual death. This is exactly the scene that is described for us later in Revelation under the rule of the Beast that comes from the earth.

Next John describes the judgment brought about by the fourth angel and the fourth trumpet (v. 12). Now compare this verse with the words of the Lord Jesus from His Sermon on the Mount in Luke 21:25-26. There is no question that Jesus here describes the same event that John relates as the judgment of the fourth trumpet. But not only is this a literal event in which the sun, moon, and stars are darkened or fail for a time to give their light, this is also a powerfully symbolic event.

The sun, moon, and stars are used in various places in Scripture to symbolize earthly authorities. The highest such authorities – kings, prime ministers, dictators, and presidents – would be portrayed as the sun. Lesser authorities would be portrayed as the moon and stars. Thus, we see depicted here a hierarchy of civil authority – authority which somehow is eclipsed under judgment of the fourth trumpet. The darkening of these heavenly bodies means that these authorities will be morally darkened. Instead of displaying sound moral judgment, their judgment will be darkened and evil. They will display no ethical restraint, no compassion, and no justice. People under their government will experience only deceit, cruelty, treachery, oppression, and merciless exploitation. By the grace of God, this darkening will still be limited to a third. Some restraint of evil will still be possible in those evil times, but only by the sovereign grace of a sovereign God!

In verse 13, an eagle appears with a message of warning and lament. If you study in the King James Version, you will find the word “angel” instead of “eagle,” but the more authoritative and reliable Greek manuscripts use the Greek word for “eagle.” After the woes that have already befallen the earth, it is difficult to imagine what could follow in the next three trumpet blasts that could be any worst – yet as we shall see, the eagle’s threefold cry of “Woe!” is well-deserved.

As we examine this passage, we should note that there is a mistranslation in the text. The phrase “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth” would be better translated “Woe to those who make their home on earth.” This may seem a small difference at first, but it is actually an extremely important distinction. During the days of the Great Tribulation there will be many converts, redeemed followers of Christ, who are inhabitants of the earth but do not make their home on earth. They will live and act as though their citizenship is in heaven. Those “who make their home on earth” are a moral and spiritual class of people who live only for the present life and care nothing for the things of God and the life to come. They care only about the present, about their own immediate and self-centered needs, their own pleasures, their own will. They give no thought to others. They give no thought in the purpose of life or the meaning of their own existence. They give no thought to God.

The warning of the eagle is that a terrible doom is coming upon all those who live for the moment, who live for self, who have no larger framework for their lives than today’s pleasures. This is the kind of moral decay that will exist in that day. The first four trumpets, which should have been “loud” enough to awaken anyone with ears to hear, appear to have fallen on deaf ears among those “who make their home on earth.” The next three trumpets shall bring unimaginable woe upon those who live only for the moment and for self.

Revelation 8:6-13 Study Questions:

What do the first two trumpets bring (vv. 6-9)?

The idea of a huge mountain being thrown into the sea is an image used by Jesus himself on occasion, for example, Mark 11:23, and was familiar in other Jewish writings of the time. Why is it significant that this vision uses symbols and ideas that were already familiar to John’s readers?

What plagues do the third and fourth trumpets bring (vv. 10-12)?

The picture of a giant star falling from the sky (v. 10) has resonances with the ancient story of a fallen angel being cast out of heaven (Isaiah 14:12). By including this detail, how might John be pointing us to the ultimate meaning of what is being revealed in these plagues?

How does Revelation 8 underscore the seriousness of evil in our world?

There is nothing wrong with being an earth-dweller. But the point John is making, again and again, is that there are many who have lived on earth as though there were no heaven, or as though, if heaven there be, it was irrelevant. In what ways do we still see the tendency to think this way in our own day?

How might we set a counter-example as those who do embrace God’s re-establishment of the rule of heaven on earth?


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