As I mentioned last week, Ch. 7 serves as a parallel to what had been revealed earlier.
And in some ways ch. 8 continues that parallel while also moving us on to new pictures and a deeper understanding of how the whole of God’s redemptive plan of final judgment works.
We are getting more and more insight not only on what is coming on the earth – the events and movements among the nations – but what else is involved behind the scenes or in the heavenlies as well.
Vs. 1 – So in vs. 1 we get this opening of the 7th or final seal.
And the immediate result of that is silence. Silence NOT on earth – but in heaven.
Interestingly, what stuns those in heaven at this moment, seems to have no impact upon those on earth at all.
It is a vivid reminder that – as in this case – eternally monumental things can be going on, while the world hardly takes notice at all.
This reality was driven home to me multiple times during my tenure working for Keenan’s Funeral Home.
Each time I got into the hearse to lead a procession to a graveside, I was profoundly aware that for the friends and family of those in the procession – this moment was absolutely life changing and in some ways life transforming. The burying of this loved one was for those involved catastrophic, painful and grievous. And yet for all those passing us in their cars on the way to the cemetery, and for the rest of Rochester or Monroe County, those who never even saw the procession, life was just life as usual. They were completely unaware of what was absolutely consuming and life-altering to others.
It was never more true than on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion.
At that moment, the whole of the human race stood at the very edge of God’s wrath being poured out to consume all sin and sinners. But the very Son of God interposed Himself. He let that unleashing of God’s fury fall on His own back, that all who put their trust in Him might have absolute forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to the Father – and the rest of mankind would have a reprieve to hear the Gospel and repent in the years before Jesus’ return.
Collectively we stood on the brink of annihilation, and not a one of us knew it! This adds great weight to Jesus’ appeal to the Father: “Forgive them, they do not know what they are doing!”
The perpetrators knew they were murdering an innocent man. But they had no idea they were murdering the Son of God, and that in the process their very lives were being spared by His death; that salvation was being provided for in His atonement; and that reprieve was being enacted so that the Gospel might go out into all the world.
They especially had no idea what this meant to the Father.
So at this moment in the opening of the last seal: The significance is grasped in heaven, so that the heavenly host of the angels and the saints already there hold their breath in stunned silence, while the world below spins ignorantly on – almost wholly unaware of what is unfolding all around them. That the end is in process.
VS. 2 – It is at this point that 7 trumpets are then given to 7 angels. Now what is this?
To John and his 1st readers – to those familiar with the Old Testament this would not have seemed odd the way it does to us.
The use of trumpets for community announcements and especially for use in war – before the modern advent of radio communications – were the norm.
We get a rather full picture of this in Numbers 10:1-10. Once again, Scripture helps serve as its own best interpreter.
Here we see that trumpets were made for ancient Israel under God’s direction to serve a number of purposes.
(1) Summoning the congregation and for breaking camp.
(2) Calling just the chiefs or everyone to meetings.
(3) Alarms for the tribes to set out in order.
(4) At feast times.
(5) But especially when going into battle. Vs. 9.
So we most likely have much of those same things going on here.
The Church is to be warned and called to be part of the fact that we are about to move on. This world as it is, is NOT our final home.
And these trumpets are a call to the Church as a whole, and especially to the leadership to be ready before God.
It is also an announcement that the final feast – the consummation of all things is near at hand.
But most especially it is to call us to war! The program of righteous conquering that God revealed in the 1st seal is underway – and we are called to our part in it. What that looks like we’ll address shortly.
This pattern of “sounding the trumpets” in this regard is not new in Scripture either. Particularly when it comes to God being careful to warn of impending judgment over and over and over.
Think of Noah – who Scripture tells us was a preacher of righteousness for 120 years! God didn’t send the flood overnight – without more than a century of warning – both in Noah’s preaching and in the spectacle of his building the Ark.
And note 2 Chron. 24 how God reminds His people that the coming invasion of Babylon should not take them by surprise, because in His Mercy and lovingkindness He had been warning them over and over and over and calling them to repentance. So we read in 17-19: “Now after the death of Jehoiada the princes of Judah came and paid homage to the king. Then the king listened to them. And they abandoned the house of the Lord, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols. And wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs. Yet he sent prophets among them to bring them back to the Lord. These testified against them, but they would not pay attention.”
These warnings went on literally for hundreds of years.
So as I mentioned before, we see how the seals as a revelation of the Program, sort of give way to a call, a series of announcements and further details on the program, which in time will give way to the actual pouring out of God’s judgments in the 7 bowls.
These 7 Trumpets are God’s perfect, loud, repeated and sustained call to the World – through His Word, His preachers, the lives of His people and providential world events that His Kingdom is coming, and the Kingdoms of this world will fall and give way to it.
Now just what this call and announcement looks like to Believers gets uniquely unpacked in VSS. 3-5
VS. 3-5 – The picture is really informative. And here is the main idea. In some way, the unfolding program of God in judgment is connected to the prayers of the saints.
For now, just note the picture is of angelic involvement as an angel stands at the altar of God with a censer – a receptacle for burning incense – which the angel then mixes with the prayers of the saints.
And as the smoke of this combination rises before God – something happens on earth: “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.”
We’ll come back to this in a moment because this is the key concept to be wrestled with in this chapter.
Once this fire from the altar is hurled on the earth – then the sequence of the trumpets begins.
VS. 6-13 “Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.”
7 The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
With the 1st angel is the announcement that some sort of disaster will strike earth in which a huge portion of the trees and green grass will be destroyed.
8 The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. 9 A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
The 2nd angel’s announcement reveals another type of disaster all together – with the result of destroying massive numbers of marine life and even the ships in the oceans.
John is at a loss for words here. He says what happens here is something “like” a great mountain is the cause. He does not know precisely what it is and neither do we.
10 The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11 The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.
On the 3rd trumpet blast, another ecological disaster occurs and this time there is much loss of human life as well. The star here, given Ch. 9, may well be an angel. We’ll see that later. i.e. this disaster includes direct angelic involvement.
12 The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.
Then with the 4th trumpet we are introduced to some sort of cosmological disturbance that blocks out sunlight and moonlight alike. Reminiscent of the way darkness covered the land for the 3 hours Jesus was on the cross. How? We don’t how it worked then and John gives us no more details here.
13 Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”
Then at last there are more announcements of warning. WOE to those who dwell on the earth. Things are really ramping up and soon, after the last 3 trumpets, there will be no more warnings – just the actual outpouring of God’s judgments in full.
It is quite a picture isn’t it? Frightening and overwhelming.
And what are we to make of all of this? What practical use would it have been to the believers then – and what to us now?
I do believe there is a very central though which is at the heart of this portion, but let me offer two other ancillary points as well.
1. Note that God does not act without revelation and warning.
God is neither capricious nor knee jerk. He is so gracious and so kind and so patient, that we can in fact take His patience for granted as though He will never act at all. And that is a very grave mistake on our part.
Paul mentions this in Romans 2:3–4 “Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”
People can easily conclude in their hearts – God is fine with their sin. There’s no PRESSING need to repent. If He hasn’t judged me yet, He must be OK with what I’m doing.
All the time unaware that God’s patience is itself meant to be a means to call us to repentance. Oh how we can presume on God’s patient lovingkindness.
But we are reminded here how that He is exceedingly forbearing – He has also still fixed a day when He WILL judge. And has been warning us for several thousand years. How much closer we are now to His return – and judgment that will fall without mercy.
How patient He is demonstrated once more today in the fact you are hearing this message and we are studying this book together.
If you don’t know Christ – if you have not yet bowed the knee to Him as Lord, if you have not come to Him for salvation as your sin bearer and redeemer – He sounds the trumpet of the Gospel in your ear one more time today. Come to Him before it is too late.
The judgment is already beginning out in some measure, and you have this moment, this opportunity to confess your sin, to run to Him and to be forgiven and born again that you might face all that is coming on the earth with joy, confidence and His mark upon you as His own.
2. Events on earth are not to be thought of in isolation from God’s eternal plans and purposes.
When we saw the program laid out or revealed in the 7 seals, the activities referred to were from an earthly or horizontal view.
War, famine, etc., are part of earthly experience.
Now, as we see in the trumpets, each is coming from above. So the picture in these things aren’t just happening down here, they have a Heavenly origin or component.
The hail and fire were THROWN down. The great mountain was thrown. The burning star, whatever it is falls from above. It is the sun and the moon that is struck – celestial. What is happening on earth isn’t disconnected from God and His actions.
Natural disasters, plagues, cosmological upsets, all have their earthly causes and effects, but they are not totally disconnected from the plan of God and the judgments He is accomplishing on the earth.
Heaven and earth are not so disconnected that we can sever these things as though they have nothing to do with each other.
Each is a sign of ultimate judgment to come. Each has a spiritual dimension to it as well as the earthly and physical. God’s hand is as visible in all of them as mere nature or even man-made aspects.
I do not know if climate change is a wholly man-made phenomenon, the mere outworking of a natural cycle, or a divine judgment. But if we are understanding God’s Word aright, it is most likely a mixture. But at the very least – not apart from God’s hand.
3. The prayers of the saints are potent and are integral to God’s plans being accomplished.
At the beginning we had a portion from the book of Daniel read. In that portion, the text notes that Daniel had discovered in reading Jeremiah that Israel’s captivity in Babylon was to be 70 years, and that time was nearly up. What was Daniel’s response? He began to order his prayers in concert with what he knew the plan of God to be.
We also had read for us the portion of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus instructs us how to pray. Unfortunately in our day, that prayer has been looked at as either simply be prayed as rote, or virtually ignored for all of our own prayers. I think this is an error on both parts.
Yes, Scripture is clear that we are to bring everything which concerns us to God, and because of the entrance Christ has made for us to the throne, to have confidence in the Father’s wise and loving response to those needs.
But there is certainly more to this – and I think this chapter demonstrates that for us. It has to do both with being in concert with what God is doing, and in arranging our priorities.
Jesus not only delivered this prayer in this sermon, He did again later when His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray. And in doing so, He gave a most intimate look into His own heart and mind. For it is as if He said in answer to their question – do you want to know what the greatest burden on MY heart is? What moves ME most in prayer? What are the things which I deem of supreme importance to be pleading with God for?
First that reverence for my Father’s name be restored in the universe.
And secondly – that His Kingdom – MY Kingdom would come in its fullness. That everything that opposes My perfect, all wise, all holy, all just and wondrous rule would be put down and crushed forever – that I might rule and reign in My glory – which is the ultimate good of the universe!
So what is it that is part and parcel of the beginning of judgment being poured out on the earth? It is the prayers of the saints being heard, and those judgments then beginning to be unfolded.
So here is the question beloved – do WE, you and I – do we make it a priority in our prayers that sin and all that goes with it be overthrown on the earth, and Christ’s absolute rule come into full power?
Does it even cross our minds from day to day? For it sure is represented as being an absolutely integral part of the judgments being delivered as we see it in this passage.
Let’s make it even more personal. Do we pray for that overthrow in our own hearts and minds? Do we want our skewed value system destroyed? Our twisted morality forever stamped out? Any religious notion not fully in concert with God’s revelation in Christ and His sovereign government to have absolute authority within us?
Do we plead for the coming of His Kingdom IN us, no matter what the cost, even as we pray for His kingdom to come in this world no matter what the cost?
So that after we see what it takes to destroy the kingdoms of this world and usher His in – we can pray with John at the end of this book – Even so – no matter what it takes – come quickly Lord Jesus.
Part of what is involved in the tearing down of these world systems that surround us is the vital role our prayers play in seeing it accomplished. It will produce the rumblings, thunders and earthquakes of an entirely new world system.
The destruction won’t be pretty. But the end will be glorious.
And so we join with the saints in Heaven and say Father YOUR KINGDOM COME – so that YOUR will is done on this earth – IN this earth, even as it is in Heaven. Overthrow everything in me that might still oppose that, even as I pray for it in the world at large.