Trumpets of doom
Seventh seal cues silence and horror1 When the Lamb broke the seventh seal—the last one holding the scroll closed—heaven fell dead silent. It lasted about half an hour. 2 I saw the seven angels who stand with God at the throne. Each one received a trumpet.
3 Another angel walked over to the altar. He held a golden censer. He was going to use it to burn incense on the golden altar by the throne, while all of God’s people prayed. He was given an incredible amount of incense to burn. 4 As God’s people prayed, the angel lit the incense. Smoke and prayer rose, right there in front of God. 5 Then the angel went over to the altar, pulled out some of its fire, and loaded it into the censer, filling it. The angel threw the censer down to the earth. The sky lit up with lightning, as thunder rolled and an earthquake shook the ground.
Seven angels, seven trumpets6 The seven angels got ready to blow the trumpets.
7 When the first angel blew his trumpet, I saw hail, fire, and blood thrown down onto the earth. Fire burned a third of the earth, including a third of the trees and all the green grass.
8 When the second angel blew his trumpet, I saw something on fire. It was as big as a mountain, and it was thrown down to the earth. It crashed into the sea, turning a third of earth’s water into blood. 9 It killed a third of all sea life and destroyed a third of all ships at sea.
10 When the third angel blew his trumpet, I saw a massive star, blazing like a torch, fall to earth. It destroyed a third of the freshwater rivers and underground springs. 11 The star’s name was Wormwood. It polluted a third of earth's freshwater with a bitter toxin that killed many people.
12 When the fourth angel blew his trumpet, I saw darkness block the sun for a third of the daylight hours and block the moon and stars for a third of the nighttime. 13 Then I saw an eagle flying directly above me. It cried out, “Oh no! Pity the people on earth for what's about to happen when the last three angels blow their trumpets!”
It’s unclear why heaven fell silent. Among the many theories: (1) awe over what is about to happen, (2) time for the guilty to consider the sentence they’re about to receive, (3) time for God’s people to pray, as indicated in 8:3-5. There are also theories about what exactly is going to happen. Theories include: end of the world, or end of Jerusalem in AD 70 when Romans crushed the Jewish rebellion and leveled the city, or current and future persecution of Christians throughout the centuries.
The seven angels may have been the “seven spirits” mentioned in Revelation 1:4, possibly leading angels, such as archangels like Gabriel.
Priests in the Jerusalem Temple burned fragrant incense inside the Temple sanctuary in rituals of worship. The fragrance of the incense rising in the room represented the prayers of God’s people (Psalm 141:2).
This sounds like the seventh plague in Egypt. Hail and fire rained down on Egypt, destroying the crops and the trees, and killing people and animals (Exodus 9:23).
Bible experts have several theories about what this “mountain” might be. (1) Volcano like Mount Vesuvius, which erupted in AD 79 and like other eruptions on islands off the coast of Greece, in the Aegean Sea. (2) Meteorite. People seemed to think that a meteorite provided the metal for a statue of the goddess Artemis in the temple at Ephesus. Writers in Bible times called this temple one of the seven wonders of the world. “Who doesn’t know that we alone are the keepers of her image that fell from the skies?” (Acts 19:35). (3) Sibylline Oracles, a collection of ancient Greek writings, talked about a star falling from the sky and burning up the sea and Babylon (Oracles, 5.210-215).
This sounds like the first Egyptian plague. God turned the Nile River to blood (Exodus 7:20).
Wormwood is apsinthos in Greek. That’s the name of a bitter-tasting shrub with the scientific name Artemisia absinthium. The plant is native to parts of North Africa and the Middle East. Some varieties of the plant can produce convulsions and death if consumed in large doses. It’s used today to help flavor some wine and liquor, including a type of liquor known as bitters, which tastes bitter, of course.
In the ninth plague of Egypt, there were three days of darkness (Exodus 10:22).
“Heaven fell dead silent. It lasted about half an hour” (8:1). What’s up with that? Why the drama?
The entire scene in 8:1-5 sounds foreign to most Christians. Though some churches burn incense in a censer and treat the smoke as an instrument of worship, most churches don’t do that. In John’s day, it had been a worship practice at the Jerusalem Temple, until Romans destroyed both the city and the Temple in AD 70. That ended the sacrificial system and the Temple worship practices. Do you think the scene in 8:1-5 is what we’ll find in heaven? Or was it scripted for John’s readers? In either case, what’s the point of it?
“The sky lit up with lightning, as thunder rolled and an earthquake shook the ground” (8:5). Again, with the drama. Why not throw in a cyclone, a tornado, and the solar flare? What kind of message do you think the dramatic imagery communicates to the reader in John’s day?
Three of seven trumpets blow, each one signaling the unleashing of some kind of disaster. First trumpet: “Fire burned a third of the earth” (8:7). Trumpets that follow kill a third of everything in the sea, a third of the freshwater, and it even steals a third of the daylight. How do you think we should understand what John is reporting here? Take it literally, or does John have something else in mind?
LIFE APPLICATION. Some Christians say that polluting the land and sea and producing carbon emissions that wreak havoc with the environment is just a natural part of the end times. So, they don’t seem particularly motivated to do anything about it. What can we say to someone like that in an attempt to motivate them to do a better job of taking care of the planet?