Dr. Richard L. Strauss
February 11, 1979
We are studying the culmination of God's program of redemption as it is revealed in a sealed scroll taken from the hand of God the Father by the Lamb of God. He was the only One on heaven and earth found worthy to open that scroll (Revelation 5:4-7). By the time He had opened the sixth seal, the inhabitants of the earth were fleeing to the mountains and caves for protection, "for the great day of His wrath is come" (Revelation 6:17). God's fierce judgment on sin was now in progress, a judgment designed to prepare the earth for the second coming of Jesus Christ, and the establishment of His kingdom of righteousness and peace.
Suddenly an angel of God delays any further affliction (Chapter 7), in order that a select company of 144,000 believing Israelites may be sealed for protection, for preservation, and for the propagation of the Gospel on earth during the Great Tribulation. That delay in destruction gave us an opportunity to get another quick glimpse at the throne of God, where we saw a great multitude of believers from every nation who had lost their lives for their faith in Christ during the Tribulation on earth. All heaven echoed with praise over these blood-bought children of God.
Now we turn to chapter eight, and the narrative resumes. The Lamb of God breaks the final seal and unrolls the last section of the scroll. Suddenly the joyous chorus ceases and an ominous hush falls over the throngs around the throne.
"When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour" (Revelation 8:1).
There is deadening silence in heaven. The Scripture tells us this silence lasts for about half an hour. Ordinarily that wouldn't be considered a very long time, but it must have seemed like an eternity to John as he beheld it. There had been all this activity and all this rejoicing, and suddenly--dead silence.
We are not told why the hosts of heaven are speechless, but it's certainly implied as we read on. The implication is certainly that they are horror stricken at the awfulness of what they beheld upon the opening of that final seal. The judgments that are about to be poured out upon the earth are so awful that the angels of God cannot continue to rejoice. Their very praise of God, and their rejoicing over the redeemed of God ceases as they behold the terror which shall fall upon the earth in the days ahead.
What an impetus this should be for men today to turn to Christ! If the inhabitants of heaven gasp in horror, how much more should the inhabitants of earth tremble at the prospect of what shall befall them? The time to turn to Christ is now. Only God knows when the Savior shall call His own to be with Himself, and this time of dreadful calamity commences. Have you trusted Christ as your personal Savior from sin?
2. The Seven Angels
The silence is past, and John sees things begin to happen. Judgment is to continue, and not only continue--it is to increase in intensity. That seventh seal brings seven angels before God, each with a trumpet. Trumpets were used for many different purposes in ancient Israel. They were used to call the people to solemn assemblies, to work, or to worship. One of its common usages was to warn people of impending danger, particularly the danger of invading armies (Nehemiah 4:18-20; Ezekiel 33:3-6). This seems to be the significance of the trumpets in the passage before us. They signal the commencement of waves of judgment: new degrees of danger and destruction. Each of these seven trumpets is to bring new suffering to the earth.
But before we move on through the passage to the sounding of the trumpets, it is necessary to say a word about the chronology of this passage--the time of these trumpets. Some Bible expositors have believed that the trumpet judgments are contemporaneous with the seal judgments. In other words, this is supposed to be another description of the same period we have already seen described in chapter six. There are similarities between the seals and the trumpets, such as seven of each, the fifth and sixth in each case having more direct application to people, and a parenthesis between the sixth and the seventh in each case. But this is where the similarity ceases. The contents of the judgments are vastly different:
False peace of Antichrist
Hail, fire, blood
Mountain into sea
|5||Souls under altar||Demon locusts|
|6||Catastrophe in nature||Infernal cavalry|
|--||144,000--great multitude||Little book--two witnesses|
|7||Silence, beginning of trumpets||Climax (Revelation 11:15)|
The most conclusive evidence of the true chronology of the passage is in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 8. It is obvious here that the seven trumpets come out of the seventh seal. In other words, the seventh trumpets are the seventh seal. The seals never really stop---they are carried on in the form of trumpets. We believe that the last series of judgments, the bowls or vials, come out of the seventh trumpet, and so we have before us a single series of judgments in three movements, carrying us to the end of the Great Tribulation. While they do not begin together--it seems that they end together. It would look something like this if we were to diagram it:
You see the end, in Revelation 10:7. "But in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets."
We are brought to the conclusion of the Great Tribulation, and the establishment of the Kingdom. Look at Revelation 11:15. "Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!'"
Then again in Revelation 16:17 we read the words, "It is done." In other words, the judgment is complete. So the trumpets and the bowls (or vials) end at the same time, and it looks like the seals end at the same time as well.
Now, I have been asked to do one other thing, and that is to pin-point where we are in God's plan of the ages. Now I know many people have seen this dozens of times but I'm certain there are some folks who have never seen just a little diagram like this to show us what the Scriptures teach us about things to come.
Of course, we start after the Old Testament and here we see a cross, followed by the bodily ascension of Christ into heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit, which signals the beginning of the church age. We don't know how long that age will be. We know it's at least over 1900 years. We are in the church age. The conclusion of that age will be when Jesus Christ returns to the air and takes believers to heaven to be with Himself. After that, there will break out on the earth a period of great tribulation. It's a period that lasts seven years, divided into two periods of three and a half years each. Technically, we call this entire seven year period Daniel's Seventieth Week. Jesus limited the Great Tribulation to the last three and a half years. That will be followed by the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to the earth with His saints (who have been raptured to be with Him) and the establishment of His kingdom on earth. We call this 1000 year reign of Christ on earth "The Millennium."
So very briefly, that's a timeline of what we think the Scriptures teach about things to come. It's my thought that the seal judgments begin shortly before the middle of Daniel's Seventieth Week. And by the time we get to the fifth or sixth seal, it becomes very obvious that we are in what Jesus called the Great Tribulation. The judgment is so great upon the earth that nobody can dispute it. God's great tribulation on the earth has begun. The great day of His wrath has come (Revelation 6:17).
Now having seen where we are in the progress of this book and in the progress of God's plan for the ages, let's come back to Revelation chapter 8 and continue with the story.
3. The Smoke of the Incense
After meeting the seven angels who have the seven trumpets, we read in verse 3: "Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand" (Revelation 8:3-4).
This angel holds in his hand a golden censer. The golden censer was the implement which the High Priest of the Old Testament used to carry fire from the altar of burnt offering to the altar of incense. This angel is doing just what the High Priest did with that censer: He is offering up incense.
The burning of incense symbolized prayer even in Old Testament times. David said, "Let my prayer be set forth before Thee as incense" (Psalm 141:2). That is exactly what it symbolizes here. He is offering up incense "with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne" (verse 3). This smoke with these prayers ascends before God out of the angel's hand (verse 4), a beautiful picture of the prayers of believers throughout the ages. We saw some of those prayers in Revelation 6:9-10 prayed by martyrs of the Tribulation, request that God would speedily avenge their deaths. We saw those prayers back in Revelation 5:8 and mentioned that they were probably prayers for God's final triumph against sin, and for God's kingdom of righteousness and peace.
We look at the world in Satan's control, filled with wickedness, immorality, violence, godlessness, and we ask God to vindicate His holy name, and right these wrongs, and put down sin, and destroy Satan, and establish a kingdom of righteousness and peace. But we see no evidence that our prayers are being answered. Crime continues to increase. Immorality becomes more and more acceptable. Violence threatens to destroy us all. Godless, atheistic communism continues to swallow up the earth bit by bit. Sometimes we are tempted to wonder whether God is really there, whether He is really listening.
What a comfort this passage of Scripture becomes! God is listening. Our prayers have not gone unnoticed. And in His good time, when the time is right, God will move with power and might to destroy Satan and put down all sin. When the smoke of the incense in Revelation 8:4 ascends before God, the time is right. God is ready to move.
And so the angel takes the censer filled with fire and flings it out upon the earth (verse 5). "And there were choices, and thunderclaps, and lightnings, and an earthquake." The censer and the fire which was used to produce the smoke of incense, beautifully picturing the prayers of God's children, suddenly becomes God's instrument of judgment on earth. The temporary suspension of judgment is now terminated; the silence is broken. The earth is about to feel the sting of God's wrath against sin like it never has before.
The scene is set for judgment. The angels with the trumpets prepare to blow their trumpets. We're only going to finish chapter 8 today and study the first four trumpets. We'll study the fifth and the sixth in the next message, God willing.
a. The First Trumpet
The first trumpet is sounded. "The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mixed with blood, and they were cast upon the earth; and the third part of trees was burned up, and all green grass was burned up" (Revelation 8:7).
Some will immediately ask whether this description of judgment is to be taken literally, or whether it is merely symbolic of divine judgment that will be less physical in nature. I don't think anyone with a high view of inspired Scripture will dispute the literal nature of the plagues on Egypt described in the book of Exodus. In Exodus 9:24 we read, "So there was hail and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous." If it happened before, what good reason can we give to deny its happening again?
There is some dispute over whether blood will actually be mixed with the hail and fire that comes down upon the earth, or whether there is some other explanation for the blood. While this calamity seems to be directed primarily at the vegetation of the earth, it is difficult to imagine that some humans and some animals will not be affected. Some have suggested by comparing Exodus 9:19, 25 that the blood will be the result of the death caused by this judgment. Others have suggested that hail and lightning will assume the appearance of a blood-red color (Hoyt, p. 35). Since John is seeing things in a vision, and seeking to convey to us their appearance, such an explanation is plausible without doing injustice to the text. There is no reason to insist, however, that part of this judgment is not actual blood. If that is the way God intends to judge the earth for sin, it is His prerogative. The point is, a third of the trees of the earth and all the green will be burned up. What tremendous hardship will result for the inhabitants of the earth.
We here in California know a little bit about fire, don't we? Most of us have seen fires roar through canyons. I've only been here six years and I've seen a few of them. What a frightening thing it is. And then to go back and look at the devastation after the fire is over. Think of it--when a third of the vegetation of the earth, including foods that grow--what a hardship that's going to bring. That's the first trumpet and that's just the beginning.
b. The Second Trumpet
"Then the second angel sounded: And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood" (Revelation 8:8).
Will you notice that when the second trumpet is sounded, it doesn't say that a great mountain was cast into the sea. John is definitely portraying to us here the appearance of what he saw. It was "as it were, a great mountain," or "something like a great mountain." It may have been a mountain, or it may have been a great meteorite mass. Or maybe it was an atomic explosion that started under the sea. Some Bible commentators have said that while God is in control, He may simply allow men to pour out these judgments on one another. That is certainly possible. I have no idea what it was, but whatever it was, when it enters the sea, a third part of the seas of the earth become blood.
Again, it is possible to understand this as being blood-red. But when Aaron stretched out his rod and smote the waters in Egypt, God turned the water into blood (Exodus 7:19-21). He may do the very same thing at some future day. Perhaps it is the blood of the life in the sea that is killed. Whatever the cause, the effect of this huge mass falling into the sea and turning it to blood is absolutely disastrous.
The chemical change in the water itself kills one third of all sea life. As the population of the world increases, and becomes more and more dependent upon the sea, this will inflict a crippling blow at the economy of the world, threaten many with starvation. The force of the great mass falling into the sea destroys a third of the shipping in the world, and bring suffering and affliction to many. It's quite obvious that the world is not going to be a very pleasant place in those days.
c. The Third Trumpet
Another great mass falls upon the earth when the third trumpet is sounded.
"Then the third angel sounded: And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter" (Revelation 8:10-11).
This great mass looks like a great star, burning as though it were a lamp. Again, it is possible that it is some sort of meteorite. Maybe it's a nuclear device. I don't know what it is. But it falls upon the rivers and the fountains of water, affecting a third part of them.
God gives this star a name. It is called Wormwood. This word is used several times throughout the Scripture, always referring to that which is bitter and unpalatable (see Deuteronomy 29:18, Proverbs 5:4, Jeremiah 9:15; 23:15). It does just what we expect it to do. It makes the waters poisonously bitter, and many men die as a result of drinking the affected water.
Some expositors insist that this judgment is symbolic--that the star is a personage and that the waters are people who are affected by him. Stars sometimes refer to individuals in the Scripture, and waters sometimes refer to great bodies of people. But when God intends us to understand references like this symbolically, He usually gives us some clue. In Revelation 9:1 we read of another star, but the star is addressed as "he" in verse 2, and takes certain actions characteristic of an individual. Here we are not given such a clue so there is no reason to believe that the star is a person. The children of Israel had some literal experience with bitter waters at Marah (Exodus 15:23-25). Why should we not assume that this is something that contaminates the water supply? When we consider the present danger of atomic fallout to our world-wide water supply, a literal interpretation of the star called Wormwood in Revelation 8 is no problem.
I'm not saying this is a nuclear occurrence for sure. I'm just saying that 40 years ago (from 1979) we couldn't have imagined how these things literally could happen. Now we can easily see how it could happen, should God choose to use that means. I don't know. I'm just suggesting that a literal interpretation Revelation 8 is not at all far-fetched.
"Then the fourth angel sounded: And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night" (Revelation 8:12).
The judgments of the fourth trumpet were predicted by the Lord Jesus Himself while on earth when He said there would be signs in the sun, moon, and stars (Luke 21:25). We do not know how the third part of the sun, the moon, and the stars will be affected. Scientifically, we cannot explain it. But the same God who created these lights on the fourth day of His creative activity will withdraw some of their light when the fourth trumpet of Revelation sounds. You can imagine how seriously this will affect the health and well-being of the earth dwellers of that day. This is great tribulation.
People are going to be very aware that something is happening. Some people will even know that it is God who is dealing His wrath upon the earth. But unless they trust Christ, there is no escape.
God reaches out in love and grace and invites you into a personal relationship with Himself. Won't you accept His offer?
We take the beauty of God's earth for granted, don't we? We enjoy the trees and the grass, the oceans, the warmth of the sun, the beauty of the moon and stars, the life sustaining refreshment of springs and streams. But some day God is going to smite it and then men won't take it for granted any longer.
And yet, according to verse 13, it's just the beginning. "And I beheld and heard an angel"--or an eagle as the better manuscripts say--"flying through the midst of heaven saying with a loud voice, 'Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels which are yet to sound'" (Revelation 8:13).
These next three trumpets are called "Woes" because of their dreadful consequences for the people on earth. How I thank God for the promise of His Word, the promise that "God has not appointed us who know Him to wrath, but to obtain deliverance by the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:9). Do you know the Lord? Or are you going to gamble with your life, and possibly see this day of wrath? If you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, we look forward to the deliverance of the wrath to come.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Do you know Him? He reaches out in love and grace to forgive your sins and assure your eternal salvation. But you've got to accept His gift of eternal life. And should you spurn Him, and should He return to take believers to be home with Himself, shortly following, these days of judgment shall come. These seals and trumpets and bowls shall extend to the end of that Great Tribulation until Jesus comes to the earth to destroy sinners and establish His righteous kingdom of love and peace. Don't you want to be a part of that? That rule of Christ on earth? It's reserved for believers, you know.
If you've never made that decision, why not trust the Lord today? Let's bow together in prayer.
Father, we thank You for warning us of the wrath to come. If there are some here today who have never heeded the warning of Your Word and never yet trusted Christ, Lord, I pray that in these moments, they may see their need of the Savior and open their hearts to Him.
We pray that we who know Christ, we pray again--again, Father--that we may be motivated to share with those around us the way of Life, through Christ Jesus our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Continue to RV-08A: Hell on Earth