Then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in midheaven, saying with a loud voice, "Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!"
New American Standard Version
Verse Revelation 8:13. I - heard an angel flying — Instead of αγγελου πετωμενου, an angel flying, almost every MS. and version of note has αετου πετωμενον, an eagle flying. The eagle was the symbol of the Romans, and was always on their ensigns. The three woes which are here expressed were probably to be executed by this people, and upon the Jews and their commonwealth. Taken in this sense the symbols appear consistent and appropriate; and the reading eagle instead of angel is undoubtedly genuine, and Griesbach has received it into the text.
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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Revelation 8:13". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​acc/​revelation-8.html. 1832.
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Bridgeway Bible Commentary
8:6-11:19 THE SEVEN TRUMPETS
First four trumpets (8:6-13)
In the visions revealed by the breaking of the seals, the judgments arose largely from human sin. But in the judgments announced by the blowing of the trumpets, the judgments seem to come direct from God without the use of a human agency. The trumpet visions reveal another way of looking at God’s judgment, but like the seal visions they build towards a climax.
The first trumpet announces widespread devastation on the land (6-7); the second, on the sea (8-9); the third, on the waters of the land (10-11); and the fourth, on the moon and stars (12). The destruction of the symbolic ‘one third’ is slightly more extensive than the ‘one quarter’ in the seal judgments (cf. 6:8), but is not a total judgment. It is a warning of what will happen if people do not repent. The three woes (GNB: horrors) announced by an eagle correspond to the three remaining trumpet judgments (13; cf. 9:1,12-13; 11:14-15).
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Revelation 8:13". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​bbc/​revelation-8.html. 2005.
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Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
And I saw, and I heard an eagle, flying in mid heaven, saying with a great voice, Woe, woe, woe, for them that dwell on the earth, by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, who are yet to sound.
An eagle ... Woe, woe, woe ... This is intended as an ominous sign, the eagle being chosen perhaps because it is a bird of prey. The rather fanciful notion that, "God uses nature to send his messages to men," is not likely to be the meaning. God used John the apostle to send this message. The communication with God through nature is quite limited. The use of this bird, described by Caird as "a vulture, means that there is a theological reason why the woes are to be worse" than the misfortunes caused by the four first trumpets. We cannot agree with those who identify this eagle as "a symbol of Roman legions, some exceptional prophet, Gregory the Great, or even Christ himself." Rist even thought that this eagle might be the living creature with the eagle's head." Is it any wonder that people get mixed up and confused in their studies of this prophecy?
Strauss pointed out that the prophecy here of woes that shall be worse and worse "is in harmony with Paul's teachings (1Timothy 3:12)." Smith correctly viewed all of the first four trumpet judgments as "relating to some disaster falling upon the world of nature, and also that this verse is the first appearance of the word translated woe in the Apocalypse." It seems to us that Bruce correctly gave the meaning of the three woes here announced:
It is not only in man's natural environment that the repercussions of his sin are felt; that same sin unleashes demonic forces, uncontrollable by man, which bring woe after woe upon him. These are symbolized by the next three trumpets.
Beckwith's summary of this and the next chapters is also helpful:
The first four trumpets are sent directly upon part of the world of nature, and upon men indirectly. The fifth and sixth woes are sent directly upon the persons of men. They assail the whole world and are peculiarly poignant and demonic in character.
From these observations, it is clear that the vision of the eagle is transitional, marking the diverse natures of the four first and the three last trumpets.
 William Barclay, op. cit., p. 46.
 G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 117.
 R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 284.
 Martin Rist, op. cit., p. 431.
 James D. Strauss, op. cit., p. 134.
 Wilbur M. Smith, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 1072.
 F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 647.
 Isbon T. Beckwith op. cit., pp. 558,559.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Revelation 8:13". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​bcc/​revelation-8.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible
And I beheld - My attention was attracted by a new vision.
And heard an angel flying, ... - I heard the voice of an angel making this proclamation.
Woe, woe, woe - That is, there will be great woe. The repetition of the word is intensive, and the idea is, that the sounding of the three remaining trumpets would indicate great and fearful calamities. These three are grouped together as if they pertained to a similar series of events, as the first four had been. The two classes are separated from each other by this interval and by this proclamation - implying that the first series had been completed, and that there would be some interval, either of space or time, before the other series would come upon the world. All that is fairly implied here would be fulfilled by the supposition that the former referred to the West, and that the latter pertained to the East, and were to follow when those should have been completed.
These files are public domain.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Revelation 8:13". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​bnb/​revelation-8.html. 1870.
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Smith's Bible Commentary
And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour ( Revelation 8:1 ).
Silence can sometimes be an awesome thing, especially in a tremendous crowd of people. You see what silence for fifteen seconds does. It seems like it expanded, quiet. It is sort of an awesome thing. And there in heaven with vast multitudes singing and worshipping and seeing all of the activity that is there, and suddenly there is silence when this seventh seal is opened. It is sort of an awesome time.
Now, out of the seventh seal there will proceed now seven trumpet judgments. In these pyrotechnic displays during the Fourth of July, you seen these skyrockets burst open with a big flash, but from that there will be a secondary puff. Just about the time the big one begins to fade, the second one comes out of it with another flash. Well, that is what we have here. The seventh seal is opened and puff, here comes the second series of seven judgments. Out of the seventh seal, the seven trumpets now burst out. When you get to the seventh trumpet, then the seven vials of God's wrath, which complete the plagues, will be bursting out and coming forth.
And so the silence of about the space of a half-hour in heaven, just before now, this second series of judgments.
I saw the seven angels which stand before God; and to them were given seven trumpets ( Revelation 8:2 ).
Now, we know that the cherubim are about the throne of God. There are four of them. Satan used to be one of the cherubs. They seem to be the highest of God's created beings in an angelic form. The next highest are the archangels of which the Bible speaks of two. Michael, called the great prince, an archangel. Gabriel, when he announced himself to the father of John the Baptist, Zacharias, he said, "I am Gabriel who stands in the presence of God"( Luke 1:19 ). There are seven angels that stand there in the presence of God, who are dispatched by God on particular missions.
Now in one of the apocryphal books of Enoch and also Tobec, Rafael is also named as one of the seven angels. Also in Enoch is named Uriel and Sacral and he names a couple of others, but here are seven angels who stand before God and to them were given seven trumpets.
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 ( Revelation 8:3 ).
I believe that this other angel is Jesus Christ and we see Him now in His work as a mediator there in heaven as our great, Great High Priest.
Now, you remember on earth the high priests would go in and offer before the Lord the sacrifices for the people. And within the temple daily the priest would go in and would take these little incense burners with the coals from the altar and offer them, and the smoke of the incense would arise before the altar, which was called the mercy seat which was outside of the Holy of Holies. Daily they would go in and offer this incense.
Now, the earthly tabernacle was a model of heaven, as we have told you. So again, now we see the actual scene in heaven of which the earthly tabernacle was the model. But we see this angel, who as I say I believe to be Jesus, with a golden censer offering with much incense the prayers of all of the saints upon the golden altar, which is before the throne of which the altar in the tabernacle of the mercy seat was a model.
And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand ( Revelation 8:4 ).
So, here are the prayers of the saints again being offered before God as incense.
Now, we found this happen back in chapter five, when the Lamb came took the scroll out of the right hand of Him whom sat upon the throne. The elders took the little golden bowls filled with odors, which are the prayers of the saints, and they offered them before the throne of God. That is when the church burst out saying, "Worthy is the Lamb to take the scroll." But our prayers are often referred to as a sweet smelling savor unto God, that they ascend unto God as a sweet smelling savor. So, here again the prayers of the saints being offered with incense before the throne.
These are possibly the prayers of those souls which were under the altar in chapter five saying, "How long, O Lord, before you avenge our blood." Now that God is going to pour out the second series of judgments, these prayers of the saints who were asking God to avenge their blood against those on the earth who had slain them, it could be that these are the prayers that are being offered at this time.
Back in chapter five, when Jesus takes the scroll, the prayers that are offered at that time are those prayers that were offered when you said, "Thy kingdom come thy will be done in earth even as it is in heaven." Our prayers will be offered at that time, because when He takes the scroll, that's the kingdom coming. That's getting the earth ready to establish God's kingdom. So, at that time those are the prayers that will be offered. Now, as we are getting ready to see these judgments, the prayers that those saints had offered for vengeance upon those who had slain them.
I often pray, "Lord, how long before you clean up this mess?" The corruption that is in the world, the corrupt people that are in the world, the corrupted morals. And when men kidnap a little girl three or four years old, abuse them and then kill them, I say, "God how long before you take vengeance on them, bring judgment on them?" I really get excited over these things and I really pray, "Lord, how long are you going to let this corruption go on?" The day is coming. God will judge the earth. Man will not get by with his iniquity.
So, the prayers of the saints upon the golden altar before the throne.
And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand. And the angel took the censer, he filled it with fire from the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake. And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound ( Revelation 8:5-6 ).
And so we see a spectacular display of lightnings, thunderings, and an earthquake that proceed the sounding of the seven trumpets.
And the first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of the trees were burnt up, and all of the green grass was burnt up ( Revelation 8:7 ).
There is, in our solar system, an asteroid belt that does create great concern to many of the scientists and astronomers. Outside of Tucson, Arizona, they have established the Kit Telescope. In fact, it is quite a group of telescopes out there on Kit Mountain. And one of the main objects of research is that of charting and plotting and searching for asteroids that do present a real threat to the earth. There are some two thousand asteroids that have already been identified whose orbits can ultimately bring them into a collision course with the earth. There are another two thousand with the possibility of their orbits bringing them into contact with the earth.
The scientists are actually discussing preventative measures that might be taken should we discover one of these trajectories of the asteroids to be an immediate threat, say, within the next year or so. To send a, somehow, a space shuttle out there to try to somehow redirect the asteroid away from a collision with the earth, because an asteroid of one kilometer impacting the earth would do more physical damage than an all out nuclear warfare. The only thing it would not have would be the radiation after effects.
We know that the earth has shifted from its polar axis. We know that the northern area of the North Pole up in those areas, the Arctic Circle was not always an Arctic Circle. It was not always a frozen waste. It was not always covered with ice. For there in the ice they have found mastodons perfectly preserved, frozen there in the ice with tropical vegetation in their digestive tracts. It is believed by many scientists that the shift of the polar axis could have taken place as the result of an asteroid impacting the earth. They believe that the crater there in Arizona, outside of Windslow, that is three miles in diameter, five hundred and twenty-two feet deep, that this crater was formed perhaps by the impact of an asteroid. And that that was large enough, if the impact came at the right direction to have jerked the earth.
You take a ball that is spinning and suddenly you hit that ball with tremendous force. You can stop the spin of the ball or you can cause the ball to flip over. So, an asteroid hitting the earth would cause it to flip and suddenly these mastodons who were living sixteen hundred miles away from all of this polar Arctic ice would suddenly be frozen. The earth gets jerked in just a moment's time sixteen hundred miles, and suddenly this tropical area is under this cold air mass of the pole and immediately they are frozen in this fifty, eighty below zero kind of flash freeze, as suddenly they are under this mass of arctic air. And they believe that that is perhaps the cause of the mastodons being found there. The polar shift taking place instantly, from some, perhaps impact of an asteroid.
Now, they have talked about disintegrating an asteroid with an atom bomb. If we see one that is going to impact, you go out there. But then they have talked about the problem, that if you blow the thing apart, then you are going to have several asteroids impacting. That would only compound the problem. But they are actually studying methods by which they can deter the asteroid from its orbit that would impact the earth. It is a tremendous concern of the scientists today. And we are spending millions of dollars in research and study to protect the earth from this kind of a danger that does exist.
The chances of an asteroid impacting the earth this year are three in a million. So, there is not much of a chance, but yet it is there. It does exist. They have impacted before. The scientists believe that in 1906 that great cataclysmic catastrophe in Siberia which flattened huge trees, laid them over like toothpicks for several hundred miles, they believe that that was perhaps an asteroid impact. It is a thing that is a threat and a concern.
Now it could be that in studying these phenomena that are taking place in these trumpet judgments, these things could take place as the result of asteroid impacts. You see, the last asteroid that came close to impacting the earth was back in 1937. We almost had a calamity then. The asteroid came within five hundred thousand miles of the earth. And of course, we were monitoring the thing and we didn't know at that time, we weren't able with computers to plot the trajectory enough to know whether or not it was going to impact. But a lot of people thought it was going to impact back in 1937. That was the last close encounter we had with an asteroid of any size. Of course, we find meteorites eighteen hundred per second coming into our atmosphere somewhere around the earth. That is quite common.
Now this year Halley's Comet is returning. Behind Halley's Comet is that tail that is a bunch of what they call space garbage, debris, but meteorites. And every August we have a beautiful, heavenly display usually around the 20th or 21st of August, or so, where we pass through the debris of the tail of Halley's Comet left by its last orbit around this direction. And this junk that is there in space, we, every year pass through the orbit. When the earth orbits around the sun, when we get to that point where all the junk is, we see what we call the falling stars or the showers. And on many nights I have stayed out and watched the shower. It is really an exciting experience.
Now, Halley's Comet will probably not be visible to us this year because it is going to orbit on the other side of the sun. We may be able to see a little bit of the tail as it moves away from us. As it begins to leave, the gravitational pull of the sun will pull off more of the tail and bring it into our solar system so that we could very well have some interesting meteorite showers and all in the next few years. As the sun will pull off a lot of the debris from Halley's Comet, as it turns and starts to escape, not all of the tail will escape. A lot of the debris will be pulled by the gravitational strength of the sun. But this strong asteroid belt is out near the planet Jupiter, but sometimes they are pulled out of their orbit there and are brought into a collision course with the earth, and it is something that is being studied and it is quite interesting to the scientists.
Now, we find Jesus saying that the stars of heaven are going to fall like a fig tree casting forth its untimely fruit. In other words, some of these meteorite showers that we have seen are nothing to be compared with what is going to happen during the Great Tribulation period. And some of these things that are transpiring do sound like perhaps impact with asteroids and the effect that it would have. So, the first angel sounded followed by hail, fire, mingled with blood, and cast upon the earth.
Now remember the earth has gone through a period of three and a half years drought, so all the trees are very dry and all. And with this fiery shower hitting the earth, the trees and the dry grasses and all will be like tinder and a third part of them will go up in smoke.
The second angel sounded, and it was like a great mountain ( Revelation 8:8 )
Now it does sound like an asteroid indeed.
a great mountain burning with fire falling in the sea ( Revelation 8:8 ):
Fortunate. Had it impacted on the land surface it probably would have created another polar axis shift. But this great mountain of fire, a huge meteorite or asteroid falling into the sea.
and the third part of the sea became blood ( Revelation 8:8 );
It was probably the explosion of the thing. The disintegration into dust coloring the sea and turning into blood red like a red tide that we often see. And the result of it would be as the red tide, the killing off of the fish.
And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and a third part of the ships were destroyed ( Revelation 8:9 ).
The ships were probably destroyed by a title wave that would be created by such an impact. And the sea probably being the Mediterranean Sea and you had your yacht docked in the Mediterranean somewhere, you would probably lose the thing. A third part of them will be destroyed by this second trump of judgment.
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; And the name of the star is Wormwood ( Revelation 8:10-11 ):
The word is also translated "hemlock". It is a bitter poisonous substance.
and the third of the waters became wormwood [or poisonous]; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter [poisonous as a result of this third star, or the star falling from heaven, the third trumpet]. Now 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 darken, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise ( Revelation 8:11-12 ).
So, it is quite possible that in this-if it is indeed a meteorite shower, and when these meteorites come into our atmosphere and disintegrate, they turn into dust. And it could be that a tremendously heavy shower could create so much dust in our atmosphere that it would actually begin to filter out the light of the sun. Even as when Mount St. Helens erupted and it became dark at noon, in several of the cities in Washington around Mount St. Helens, as that thing disintegrated to dust and really darkened the skies.
So, a heavy kind of meteorite shower, if it is like a fig tree dropping its figs in a wind, just a heavy shower of meteorites around the earth, disintegrating into dust could very well shade the sun for a time with all the debris in the atmosphere. And so the sun shone but for a third part. And the moon, of course, was just a reflection of the sun and the stars.
And I beheld, and I heard an angel 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 )
Now this word "angel" here is not the same word that we have been dealing with. "Aggelos", which is messenger, but "aetos" which is also translated eagle. And in some of your translations you will find eagle. The eagle flying through the midst of heaven. But, you remember that the cherubim, one of the faces was that of an eagle. So, this could be both an angel and an eagle, or one of the cherubim. Certainly it is not an eagle as we know an eagle. They are not able to speak. This one flies through the heavens and warns all of the inhabitants of the earth. So, it is orbiting the earth no doubt, saying, "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." In other words, you haven't seen anything yet. Four angels have sounded and we have had some pretty cataclysmic effects, but what is to come is even worse. "Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth by the-
I had a parrot once that I trained to say, "Woe, woe, woe." Old George would-I kept him here in the office for a long time until my secretary got tired of him and gave him away when I was gone on vacation. And when I came home there was no George. But he would say, "Woe, woe, woe, sinners." He was a nice bird. "
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Revelation 8:13". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​csc/​revelation-8.html. 2014.
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Dr. Constable's Expository Notes
The warning concerning the final three trumpets 8:13
"And I looked" (Gr. kai eidon) signals a new scene in John’s vision. John next saw, on earth, an eagle interrupting the angels by flying through the sky and warning those living on the earth to beware of the last three trumpet judgments. This could be a literal eagle (Gr. aetou, also translated "vulture," Luke 17:37). God has given animals the ability to communicate with people in the past (cf. Genesis 3:1-5; Numbers 22:28-30). Eagles (or vultures) are birds of prey that approach rapidly and are a sign of disaster (Matthew 24:28). Thus this eagle is a fitting herald of God’s judgments to come. Another possibility is that this eagle is an angel (cf. Revelation 12:14). Mid-heaven is the position of the sun at noon, where everyone can see this bird. [Note: Morris, p. 125.] Obviously John was describing things from his vantage point. Its loud voice further guarantees that everyone on the earth will hear its message. The eagle announces the last three trumpet judgments, which are also "woes" (Revelation 9:12; Rev 10:14). They are especially bad because they have people rather than the objects of nature as their targets. There are several examples of double woes in Scripture (Revelation 18:10; Revelation 18:16; Revelation 18:19; Ezekiel 16:23), but a triple woe announces an even worse calamity. The objects of these judgments are earth-dwellers, and their judgment is partially in response to the prayers of the Tribulation martyrs (cf. Revelation 6:10).
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Revelation 8:13". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​dcc/​revelation-8.html. 2012.
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Barclay's Daily Study Bible
THE SILENCE AND THE THUNDER OF PRAYER ( Revelation 8:1-5 )
8:1-5 When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand in the presence of God, and seven trumpets were given to them. Another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense that he might add it to the prayers of the saints on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense went up with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God. And the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it on the ground. And there were crashes of thunder and loud voices and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.
Before we begin to examine this passage in detail, we may note one point about its arrangement. Revelation 8:2, which tells of the seven angels with the seven trumpets, is clearly out of place. As it stands, it interrupts the sense of the passage and it should come immediately before Revelation 8:7 --probably a copyist's mistake.
The passage begins with an intensely dramatic silence in heaven for about half an hour. The sheer stillness is even more effective than the thunder and the lightning. This silence may have two meanings.
(i) It may be a kind of breathing-space in the narrative, a moment of preparation before another shattering revelation comes.
(ii) There may be something much more beautiful in it. The prayers of the saints are about to go up to God; and it may be that the idea is that everything in heaven halts so that the prayers of the saints may be heard. As R. H. Charles puts it: "The needs of the saints are more to God than all the psalmody of heaven." Even the music of heaven and even the thunder of revelation are stilled so that God's ear may catch the whispered prayer of the humblest of his trusting people.
The picture divides itself into two. In the first half an unnamed angel offers the prayers of the saints to God. In Jewish thought the archangel Michael made prayer for the people of Israel and there was a nameless angel called The Angel of Peace whose duty was to see that Israel "did not fall into the extremity of Israel" and who interceded for Israel and for all the righteous.
The angel is standing at the altar. The altar in the Revelation frequently appears in the picture of heaven ( Revelation 6:9; Revelation 9:13; Revelation 14:18). It cannot be the altar of burnt-offering, for there can be no animal sacrifice in heaven; it must be the altar of incense. The altar of incense stood before the Holy Place in the Temple ( Leviticus 16:12; Numbers 16:46). Made of gold, it was eighteen inches square and three feet high. At each corner it had horns; it was hollow and was covered over with a gold plate, and round it was a little railing, like a miniature balustrade, to keep the burning coals from falling off it. In the Temple incense was burned and offered before the first and after the last sacrifices of the day. It was as if the offerings of the people went up to God wrapped in an envelope of perfumed incense.
Here we have the idea that prayer is a sacrifice to God; the prayers of the saints are offered on the altar and, like all other sacrifices, they are surrounded with the perfume of the incense as they rise to God. A man may have no other sacrifice to offer to God; but at all times he can offer his prayers and there are always angelic hands waiting to bring them to God.
There is another half of this picture. The same angel takes the censer, fills it with coals from the altar and dashes it on the ground; and this is the prelude to the thunder and the earthquake which are the introduction to more terrors. The picture comes from the vision of Ezekiel, in which the man in the linen-cloth takes coals from between the cherubim and scatters them over the city ( Ezekiel 10:2); and it is kin to the vision of Isaiah in which his lips are touched with a live coal from the altar ( Isaiah 6:6).
But this picture introduces something new. The coals from the censer introduce new woes. H. B. Swete puts it this way: "The prayers of the saints return to the earth in wrath." The idea in John's mind is that the prayers of the saints avail to bring vengeance upon those who had maltreated them.
We may feel that a prayer for vengeance is a strange prayer for a Christian, but we must remember the agony of persecution through which the Church was passing when the Revelation was written.
THE SEVEN ANGELS WITH THE TRUMPETS ( Revelation 8:2 ; Revelation 8:6 )
8:2,6 And I saw the seven angels who stand in the presence of God, and seven trumpets were given to them; and the seven angels with the seven trumpets prepared to sound the trumpets.
These seven angels, known as the angels of the presence, were the same as the archangels. Their names were Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Sariel, Gabriel and Remiel ( Tob_12:1 ; Tob_12:5 ).
That they were called the angels of the presence means two things. First, they enjoyed a special honour. In an oriental court it was only the most favoured courtiers who had the right at all times to the presence of the king; to be a courtier of the presence was a special honour. Second, although to be in the presence of the king meant special honour, even more it meant immediate readiness to be despatched on service. Both Elijah and Elisha repeatedly spoke of "the Lord God of Israel before whom I stand" ( 1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 18:15; 2 Kings 3:14; 2 Kings 5:16); and the phrase really means, "The Lord God of Israel whose servant I am."
The seven angels had seven trumpets. In the visions of the Old and the New Testament the trumpet is always the symbol of the intervention of God in history. All these pictures, and there are many of them, go back to the scene at Mount Sinai, when the law was given to the people. There were on the mountain thunders and lightnings and thick cloud, and a very loud trumpet blast ( Exodus 19:16; Exodus 19:19). This trumpet blast became an unchanging part of the apparatus of the Day of the Lord. In that day the great trumpet will be blown and it will summon back the exiles from every land ( Isaiah 27:13). On the Day of the Lord the trumpet will be blown in Zion and the alarm sounded in the holy mountain ( Joel 2:1). That day will be a day of trumpet and alarm ( Zephaniah 1:16). The Lord will blow the trumpet and go out with the whirlwind ( Zechariah 9:14).
This picture passed into the New Testament visions of the last day. Paul speaks of the day when the trumpet shall sound and the corruptible will put on incorruption ( 1 Corinthians 15:52-53). He speaks of the trumpet of God, which is to sound when Christ comes again ( 1 Thessalonians 4:16). Matthew speaks of the great sound of a trumpet when the elect are gathered in ( Matthew 24:31).
It would be wrong to expect God literally to blow the trumpet; but none the less the picture has symbolic truth in it. A trumpet blast can be three things:
(i) It can sound the alarm. It can waken from sleep or warn of danger; and God is always sounding his warnings in the ears of men.
(ii) It can be the fanfare which announces the arrival of royalty. It is a fitting symbol to express the invasion of time by the King of eternity.
(iii) It can be the summons to battle. God is always summoning men to take sides in the strife of truth with falsehood and to become soldiers of the King of kings.
THE UNLEASHING OF THE ELEMENTS ( Revelation 8:7-12 )
8:7-12 The first angel sounded a blast on his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood and launched themselves on the dry land; and a third part of the dry land was burned up, and a third part of the trees was burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
The second angel sounded a blast on his trumpet, and what I can only call a great mountain burning with fire was hurled into the sea; and a third part of the sea became blood, and a third part of the creatures in the sea who had life died, and a third part of the ships were destroyed in wreckage.
The third angel sounded a blast on his trumpet, and a great meteor blazing like a torch fell from heaven; and it fell on a third part of the rivers, and on the springs of water. And the name by which the meteor is called is Wormwood; and a third part of the waters became wormwood; and many of mankind died because of the embitterment of the waters.
The fourth angel sounded a blast on his trumpet, and a third part of the sun was smitten, and a third part of the moon, and a third part of the stars, so that a third part of their light was darkened, and so that a third part of the day did not shine, and so with the night.
Here we have a picture of the elemental forces of nature hurled in judgment against the world. At each blast on the trumpet a different part of the world is attacked; the destruction that follows is not total for this is only the prelude to the end. First, the blast of destruction falls on the earth ( Revelation 8:7); then it falls upon the sea ( Revelation 8:8-9); then it falls upon the fresh water rivers and springs ( Revelation 8:10-11); then it falls on the heavenly bodies ( Revelation 8:12). The tide of destruction is unleashed on every part of the created universe.
We have further to note where John found his imagery. For the most part the pictures find their origin in the descriptions in Exodus of the plagues which fell on Egypt when Pharaoh refused to allow the people to go.
In John's picture hail and fire and blood fall upon the dry land. In Exodus 9:24 we read how there came upon Egypt fire mixed with a hail of unparalleled destructiveness. John to increase the terror adds blood, remembering Joel's picture of the day when the sun would be turned into darkness and the moon into blood ( Joel 2:10). In John's picture a third part of the sea becomes blood and the fishes in it die. In Exodus, when Moses lifted up his rod and smote the waters, the waters of the Nile turned to blood and the fishes in the river died ( Exodus 7:20-21). In Zephaniah's picture of the Day of the Lord the threat of God is: "I will sweep away man and beast; I will sweep away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea" ( Zephaniah 1:3). There is no parallel for the picture of the fall of the flaming star, but there are many to the ideas of waters turning to wormwood.
Wormwood is a general name for the class of plants known as artemisia whose characteristic is bitterness of taste. They are not really poisonous in the sense of being fatal, although they are noxious, but the Israelites dreaded their bitterness. Wormwood was the fruit of idolatry ( Deuteronomy 29:17-18). It was the threat of God through Jeremiah that God would give his people wormwood to eat and the waters of gall to drink ( Jeremiah 9:14-15; Jeremiah 23:15). Wormwood always stood for the bitterness of the judgment of God on the disobedient.
In John's picture there came a darkening of a third part of the lights of heaven. In Exodus one of the plagues was a darkness that could be felt over the whole land ( Exodus 10:21-23).
As we have so often seen, John is so steeped in the Old Testament that its visions come to him as the natural background of all that he has to say.
In this case it is by no means impossible that John is taking at least a part of his picture from actual events which he had seen or of which he had heard. A rain which looks like a rain of blood has more than once been reported from the Mediterranean countries. There is, for instance, a record of such a rain in Italy and all over south-east Europe in 1901. The reason for it is that fine red sand from the Sahara Desert is caught up into the upper air; and then when the rain comes it seems to be raining blood, as the rain and the fine red particles of sand fall together upon the earth. It may well be that John had seen something like this or had heard of it.
Further, he speaks of a flaming mass falling into the sea. This sounds very like a volcanic eruption. There was an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in August Of A.D. 79 which decimated Naples and its bay. That would be within a very few years of the writing of the Revelation. The Aegean Sea has volcanic islands and volcanoes beneath the sea. Strabo, the Greek geographer, reports an eruption in the Aegean Sea, in which Patmos lay, in the year 196 B.C., which actually resulted in the formation of a new island called Pataia Kaumene. Such events also may have been in John's mind.
In this picture of terror John has the vision of God using the elemental forces of nature to warn man of the final destruction to come.
THE FLYING EAGLE ( Revelation 8:13 )
8:13 And I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in mid-heaven crying with a loud voice: "Woe! Woe! Woe! for those who dwell on the earth, because of what is going to happen when the rest of the trumpets speak, which the three angels are about to sound."
Here we have one of the pauses in the story which the Revelation uses so effectively. Three fearful woes are to come upon the earth when the three angels sound the last blasts on the trumpets; but for the moment there is a pause.
In this pause the seer sees an eagle--not an angel as the King James Version has it. It is quite possible that the Greek could mean "one solitary eagle." The expression "mid-heaven" means the zenith of the sky, that part where the sun is at midday. Here we have a dramatic and eerie picture of an empty sky and a solitary eagle winging its way across its zenith, forewarning of the doom to come.
Again John is using an idea which is not new. We have the same picture in Second Baruch. When the writer of that book has seen his vision and wishes to send it to the Jews exiled in Babylon by the waters of the Euphrates, he goes on: "And I called the eagle and spake these words unto it: 'The Most High hath made thee that thou shouldest be higher than all birds. Now go, and tarry not in any place, nor enter a nest, nor settle on any tree, till thou hast passed over the breadth of the many waters of the river Euphrates, and hast gone to the people that dwell there, and cast down to them this epistle'" (Baruch 77:21-22).
The picture is not to be taken literally but the symbolism behind it is that God uses nature to send his messages to men.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Revelation 8:13". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​dsb/​revelation-8.html. 1956-1959.
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Gann's Commentary on the Bible
angel . . [eagle] . . The majority of manuscripts from all periods have the word aetos (“eagle”) here. However, a minority of late manuscripts have the word angelos (“angel”). The Textus Receptus form of the Greek text follows the latter reading, as do English translations based on it, like the KJV and NKJV. - FSB
eagle . . vulture, Bird of prey ; OT symbol of vengeance and wrath.
The ancients regarded the eagle as a symbolic messenger of God (see 4 Ezra 11:7–8; 2 Baruch 77:19–26). NLTSB
This can refer to (1) a vulture (or eagle), which often was a symbol of slaughter (cf. Ezekiel 17:3; Habakkuk 1:8; Matthew 24:28; Luke 17:37); (2) an allusion to the judgment scene in Ezekiel 39:17-20; Hosea 8:1; (3) an allusion to the intertestamental apocalyptic book of II Baruch 77:21–22, in which a vulture sends a message to God’s hurting people; or (4) the Roman army standards which were topped by eagles. - Utley
flying overhead . . = The “flying in midheaven” is probably another allusion to birds of prey soaring above the earth (cf. Revelation 14:6; Revelation 19:17). - Utley
through the midst of heaven . . Rather, in mid-heaven: it is a single compound word. It occurs again in Revelation 14:6, Revelation 19:17, and nowhere else in the N. T.: but in the later classical Greek it is not uncommon for the position of the sun at noonday. Yet the last of the places cited from this book, where all natural birds are said to fly “in mid-heaven,” seems rather as if St John used it of the air, the space between earth and sky. - CBSC
Woe, woe, woe . . This possibly corresponds to the last three trumpets which are to come (cf. Revelation 9:12; Revelation 11:14; Revelation 12:12); it may also be a symbol of intensity (like “holy, holy, holy” of Revelation 4:8). In Hebrew a three-fold repetition is a superlative (cf. Holy, holy, holy of Isaiah 6:3). In the OT “woe” marks a certain poetic lament related to death and judgment.- Utley
Woe, woe, woe . . The threefold use of “woe” corresponds to the three remaining trumpet judgments. It communicates distress, pain, suffering, and displeasure. - FSB
Woe . . Terror, terror, terror . . A threefold announcement would be recognized as a message from God (see Acts 10:16). • The terror (Greek ouai) that sounded like an eagle’s screech was directed against humans of this world who were not among God’s faithful people (Revelation 6:10; Revelation 9:4, Revelation 9:20). - NLTSB
to those who live on the earth . . In Revelation this phrase refers to unbelievers, [to those persecuting the souls of Revelation 6:9-10] not all earth’s inhabitants (compare Revelation 3:10; Revelation 6:10; Revelation 11:10; Revelation 13:8). - FSB
by reason of . . = because of
by reason of the other voices . . in other words, "you aint seen nothing yet!"
The first four trumpets shows judgment on the people as symbolized by natural phenomena, the last three more specific and devastating.
Remember that this judgment was to the people without the seal of God - Revelation 9:4
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Gann, Windell. "Commentary on Revelation 8:13". Gann's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​gbc/​revelation-8.html. 2021.
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Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible
And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven,.... The Alexandrian copy, the Complutensian edition, the Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Ethiopic versions, instead of "an angel", read "an eagle"; and to "fly" agrees with either of them, and the sense is the same let it be read either way; and this angel may design either Christ, or a created angel, or a minister of the Gospel, as in Revelation 14:6; did the next trumpet introduce Popery, as some have supposed, Gregory bishop of Rome might be thought, as he is by some, to be the angel here intended, since he gave notice and warning of antichrist being at hand:
saying with a loud voice; that all might hear, and as having something of importance to say, and delivering it with great fervour and affection:
woe, woe, woe; three times, answerable to the three trumpets yet to be blown; and which are therefore called the woe trumpets: and these woes are denounced
to the inhabiters of the earth; the Roman empire, particularly the eastern part of it, which the fifth and sixth trumpets relate unto; and even the whole world, with which the seventh trumpet is concerned:
by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels which are yet to sound! the design of this loud cry of the angel is to show, that though the distresses and ruin which the barbarous nations had brought upon the western empire were very great; yet those which would come upon the eastern empire by the Saracens and Turks, under the sounding of the fifth and sixth trumpets, would be much more grievous; and especially the judgments which the seventh trumpet would bring upon the whole world, when all the nations of the earth will be judged. From the sounding of the fourth trumpet, to the sounding of the fifth, was a space of a hundred and thirty five years, that is, from the deposition of Augustulus, A. D. 476, to the public preaching of Mahomet, A. D. 612.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on Revelation 8:13". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​geb/​revelation-8.html. 1999.
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Henry's Complete Commentary on the Bible
|The Seven Trumpets.||A.D.95.|
7 The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up. 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; 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. 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; 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. 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. 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!
Observe, I. The first angel sounded the first trumpet, and the events which followed were very dismal: There followed hail and fire mingled with blood, c., Revelation 8:7; Revelation 8:7. There was a terrible storm; but whether it is to be understood of a storm of heresies, a mixture of monstrous errors falling on the church (for in that age Arianism prevailed), or a storm or tempest of war falling on the civil state, expositors are not agreed. Mr. Mede takes it to be meant of the Gothic inundation that broke in upon the empire in the year 395, the same year that Theodosius died, when the northern nations, under Alaricus, king of the Goths, broke in upon the western parts of the empire. However, here we observe, 1. It was a very terrible storm-fire, and hail, and blood: a strange mixture! 2. The limitation of it: it fell on the third part of the trees, and on the third part of the grass, and blasted and burnt it up; that is, say some, upon the third part of the clergy and the third part of the laity; or, as others who take it to fall upon the civil state, upon the third part of the great men, and upon the third part of the common people, either upon the Roman empire itself, which was a third part of the then known world, or upon a third part of that empire. The most severe calamities have their bounds and limits set them by the great God.
II. The second angel sounded, and the alarm was followed, as in the first, with terrible events: A great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea; and the third part of the sea became blood,Revelation 8:8; Revelation 8:8. By this mountain some understand the leader or leaders of the heretics; others, as Mr. Mede, the city of Rome, which was five times sacked by the Goths and Vandals, within the compass of 137 years; first by Alaricus, in the year 410, with great slaughter and cruelty. In these calamities, a third part of the people (called here the sea or collection of waters) were destroyed: here was still a limitation to the third part, for in the midst of judgment God remembers mercy. This storm fell heavy upon the maritime and merchandizing cities and countries of the Roman empire.
III. The third angel sounded, and the alarm had the like effects as before: There fell a great star from heaven, c., Revelation 8:10; Revelation 8:10. Some take this to be a political star, some eminent governor, and they apply it to Augustulus, who was forced to resign the empire to Odoacer, in the year 480. Others take it to be an ecclesiastical star, some eminent person in the church, compared to a burning lamp, and they fix it upon Pelagius, who proved about this time a falling star, and greatly corrupted the churches of Christ. Observe, 1. Where this star fell: Upon a third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters. 2. What effect it had upon them; it turned those springs and streams into wormwood, made them very bitter, that men were poisoned by them; either the laws, which are springs of civil liberty, and property, and safety, were poisoned by arbitrary power, or the doctrines of the gospel, the springs of spiritual life, refreshment, and vigour to the souls of men, were so corrupted and embittered by a mixture of dangerous errors that the souls of men found their ruin where they sought for their refreshment.
IV. The fourth angel sounded, and the alarm was followed with further calamities. Observe, 1. The nature of this calamity; it was darkness; it fell therefore upon the great luminaries of the heaven, that give light to the world--the sun, and the moon, and the stars, either the guides and governors of the church, or of the state, who are placed in higher orbs than the people, and are to dispense light and benign influences to them. 2. The limitation: it was confined to a third part of these luminaries; there was some light both of the sun by day, and of the moon and stars by night, but it was only a third part of what they had before. Without determining what is matter of controversy in these points among learned men, we rather choose to make these plain and practical remarks:-- (1.) Where the gospel comes to a people, and is but coldly received, and has not its proper effects upon their hearts and lives, it is usually followed with dreadful judgments. (2.) God gives warning to men of his judgments before he sends them; he sounds an alarm by the written word, by ministers, by men's own consciences, and by the signs of the times; so that, if a people be surprised, it is their own fault. (3.) The anger of God against a people makes dreadful work among them; it embitters all their comforts, and makes even life itself bitter and burdensome. (4.) God does not in this world stir up all his wrath, but sets bounds to the most terrible judgments. (5.) Corruptions of doctrine and worship in the church are themselves great judgments, and the usual causes and tokens of other judgments coming on a people.
V. Before the other three trumpets are sounded here is solemn warning given to the world how terrible the calamities would be that should follow them, and how miserable those times and places would be on which they fell, Revelation 8:13; Revelation 8:13. 1. The messenger was an angel flying in the midst of heaven, as in haste, and coming on an awful errand. 2. The message was a denunciation of further and greater woe and misery than the world had hitherto endured. Here are three woes, to show how much the calamities coming should exceed those that had been already, or to hint how every one of the three succeeding trumpets should introduce its particular and distinct calamity. If less judgments do not take effect, but the church and the world grow worse under them, they must expect greater. God will be known by the judgments that he executes; and he expects, when he comes to punish the world, the inhabitants thereof should tremble before him.
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Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Revelation 8:13". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​mhm/​revelation-8.html. 1706.
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Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible
We have already seen the bearing of the seven churches to which the Lord was pleased to send the letters contained in the second and third chapters. We have found, I trust, substantial reason and ample evidence in their own contents, as well as in the character of the book itself, to look for a meaning far more comprehensive than a literal historical notice of the condition of the Asiatic churches which were then primarily addressed. It is, of course, ground well known to all that John wrote to seven churches; but that no more was meant than the existing assemblies is more than ought to be assumed. The septenary number is significant, and the division of the seven into two parts. Again, the order of their contents, as well as their nature severally, points to the same conclusion. Further, it is plain that certain phases do not necessarily abide, while at a given point in their course the language implies the state of things meant by them to continue up to Christ's return. That point is Thyatira, and thenceforward the same feature is in Sardis, Philadelphia, and of course Laodicea. Beginning successively, these go on together. But it is equally remarkable that the first three churches do not. What I gather from it is, that the three earlier churches are severed in character from the rest; for though all are alike typical, only the last four are used as fore-shadows of successive states of things about to ensue, and then be concurrent up to the Second Advent. We can easily understand two things: first, the succession of seven different states represented by those seven churches; and, secondly, that of the seven, three passed away, only retaining a moral bearing; whereas the last four have not this only, but a prophetic and successional bearing, and from the epoch of their appearance, run along-side of each other till the coming of the Lord Jesus.
But the remarkable fact which meets us from chapter 4 and onward is, that we no longer find any church condition on the earth. This confirms the same fact. Had these churches not been meant to have an application beyond the literal one, how could it be accounted for? If, on the other hand, besides that historical application, they were meant to be prophetical, we can easily comprehend that the Lord did address assemblies then existing, but meant by them to give views of successional states that should be found up to the close, when four of these states go on together. Thyatira brings before us the public character of corrupted Christendom that which is notoriously found in Popery. Then, again, Sardis is that which is well known as Protestantism: there might be orthodoxy, but withal a manifest want of real life and power. This is followed by the revival of the truth of Christian brotherhood, with an open door for the work as well as word of the Lord, and His coming acting powerfully, not merely on the mind as a conviction, but on the affections as attaching to the Lord Jesus. This is found in Philadelphia. Then Laodicea shows us the final state of indifference that would be produced by the rejection of these warnings and encouragements of the Lord.
From the fourth chapter we have the Spirit of God leading the prophet into the understanding of not the church-state, but that which will follow when churches are no longer before the mind of the Lord when it becomes a question of the world, not without testimonies from God in the midst of gradually swelling troubles; but His witnesses henceforward of Jewish or Gentile character, never more after that of the church on earth. Believers we do see, of course, some of them of the chosen people, others of the nations; but we hear of no such church condition as was found in the second and third chapters. One of the most striking proofs of the way in which the patent facts of the word of God are habitually passed over is, that this has been so constantly overlooked. There have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books written on the Revelation, yet it is only of comparatively recent date that so plain, sure, and grave a feature seems to have been seen. I speak now from some acquaintance with that which has been written on the book from the Fathers down to our own days. As far as I remember, there does not occur in hundreds of the ablest books about it which have passed through my hands, the slightest reference even to this undeniable and important fact which lies on the surface of the prophecy.
I draw from this nothing complimentary to man's mind, but the contrary. It loudly confirms those who are convinced of the necessity of the teaching of the Holy Ghost, to profit even by what is plain, certain, and obvious. There is no book so remarkable as the Bible in this respect: no learning nor acquirement, no brightness of mind or imagination, will ever, without His power, enable any soul to seize, enjoy, and use aright its communications. They may, no doubt, perceive one fact here and another there; but how to employ even these for good will never be known unless the Spirit of God give us to look straight to Christ. He that has Christ before him is soon sensible of a difference of relationship and its results. Christ has special ways of dealing with the church that are suitable to none else. This closes with the end of the third chapter.
The inference is obvious. New things come before the Lord, as well as the reader. Now, as notoriously the great mass of persons who bear the name of the Lord have assumed, without the smallest proof from scripture, that the church has always been and always will be while the work of converting souls proceeds on earth, it is clear that this assumption erects an impassable barrier against the truth. No wonder people fail to understand the Bible when they enter on its study with a principle which opposes at all points the revealed truth of God. There is no such notion in the Bible. It is found in no part either of the Old or of the New Testament; as little as anywhere else is it tolerated by the book now before us. Thus we see churches existing when the book begins; but they are found no more, when the introductory portion closes and the proper prophecy is entered on. A church condition is not, strictly speaking, the subject of prophecy, which deals with the world, and shows us divine judgments coming on its evil, when God is about to make room for good according to His own mind. Such is the great theme of the book of Revelation. But inasmuch as there were Christian assemblies then, the Spirit of God is pleased to preface it with a most remarkable panoramic view of the church condition as long as it should subsist before the Lord on the earth. And we have seen this given with the most striking wisdom, so as to suit at the time of John, yet also as long as the church goes on always to apply, and increasingly, not every part at once, but with sufficient light to give children of God full satisfaction as to the mind of the Lord. In fact, it is the same here as in every other part of scripture: none can really profit by the word, whether in Genesis or in the Revelation, without the Spirit, and this can only be to the glory of Christ.
If this be so, we can understand the vast importance of the change that is here observable. The prophet enters by the door into heaven. Of course this was simply a vision. The power of the Holy Ghost gave him thus to enter and behold; it was not a question of sensible facts. He was immediately in the Spirit, it is said; and in heaven he beholds a throne set, and this, from its effects and surroundings, a judicial throne. It is not at all the same character of the throne of God as we know and approach now. We come boldly to the throne and find grace and mercy to help in time of need. But we find nothing of the sort here, either in the throne or in what issues from it. Even a child might read better the force of the symbols employed for our instruction. What is meant by lightnings and voices and thunderings? Is it too much to say that he who could confound the aspect of the throne in Hebrews 4:1-16 with that of Revelation 4:1-11 must have a singularly constituted mind? I cannot understand how any attentive reader could fail to see the difference, not to speak of one spiritually taught. Indeed, the amazing thing is, how any person in his sober senses could conclude that the two descriptions characterize the same state of things. They stand really in the strongest possible contrast.
Here we have the throne, not of divine mercy, but invested with what was proper to Sinai: it discerns, denounces, and destroys the evil of the earth. Thus it is the seat and source of judgment on the ungodly. I admit that it is not yet the throne of the Son of man reigning over the world. The time is not come at this point for the church to reign with Christ over the earth. In Revelation 5:1-14 the reigning over the earth is spoken of as a future thing ("shall reign over the earth"), and not yet a fact. Clearly, therefore, we see here a transitional state of things after the church condition ends, and before the millennial reign begins. Such is the manifest truth necessary to understand the Revelation. As long as you do not admit this, you will never, in my judgment, understand the Apocalypse as a whole
Then we are told that the likeness of Him that sat on the throne is compared to a jasper and a sardine stone. This obviously does not refer to the divine essence, which no creature can approach to or look upon. It is God's glory so far as He was pleased to allow it to be made visible to the creature. Consequently it is compared to those precious stones of which we hear in the city afterwards.
But there are other notable features of the throne. We are told that round about it "there was a rainbow in sight like an emerald." God marks here His remembrance of creation. The rainbow is the familiar sign of the covenant with creation, and it was presented prominently to the prophet's mind. The various points noticed are as in God's mind, not merely as in man's eyes. Thus the rainbow is not seen in a shower of rain upon the earth. It is a question of the simple truth that was set forth by it, and nothing more. So it is with all the other objects seen in this vision.
Next, "round about the throne were four and twenty elders." The allusion is evident to the four and twenty courses of priesthood. Only it will be observed that it is not the whole number the twenty-four classes of men), but simply the chief priests of these courses. The twenty-four elders, in my opinion, refer to the heads of the priesthood. Therefore this is of some importance to bear in mind, because we find subsequently others that are recognized as priests who were not yet in heaven, who indeed were only called out on the earth after this. Unquestionably these others became priests, but no more elders are recognized. No addition is ever made to the company of elders; they are a fixed number. Priests there are afterwards, but no heads of priesthood save these elders.
These heads of priesthood, I have no doubt then, are the glorified saints above; and in that glorified body, as I apprehend, are the Old Testament saints as well as the New. You will see from this, that I am as far as possible from wishing to undervalue the grace of God to those of old. It seems to me that there are good grounds to infer from the prophecy itself that the twenty-four elders are not merely the church, but all those saints that rise up at the presence of the Lord Jesus (as it is written, they that are Christ's at His coming or His presence). This is unquestionable to my mind. The rising from the dead includes all saints up to that time, and of course, at the same time, the change that is described in the latter part of the same chapter. (1 Corinthians 15:1-58) All saints deceased or then alive appear to me meant. Thus the Old Testament saints and those of the New are changed; for the "dead in Christ" ought scarcely to be limited merely to the body of Christ. But the phrase "the dead in Christ" means all that have their relationship in Christ, and not merely in Adam; they did not die in the flesh, but died in Christ. It is not a question of Adam the first, but of the Second; but as the one embraces all the Adam family, it seems to me the other should be equally broad. Thus we must leave room in the twenty-four elders for the glorified, whether in the Old Testament times or in the New. This does not in the smallest degree compromise the special character of the church. It will be shown how remarkably this is preserved and manifested in a later point of the visions. At present I merely wish to state briefly what I believe to be the force of the symbol here.
These twenty-four elders, again, are clothed in white raiment, as also they have crowns of gold. They are seated on thrones. It is impossible to apply this to angelic beings. Angels are never so crowned or enthroned. Nowhere do we hear of an angel called to any such dignity. Power no doubt they might wield, but never do they reign; they have the execution of the will of God in outward things, but never do they administer it after this royal pattern. This is destined for the glorified saints for the redeemed, and not for angels; and this because Christ has given them the title of grace by His blood. As it was said in a previous chapter, He has made us a kingdom,-priests to His God and Father. In chapter 4 we have symbols which answer rather to the kingly title, as in chapter 5 the same persons appear, discharging functions after a priestly type. In Revelation 4:1-11 the elders are crowned and enthroned; inRevelation 5:1-14; Revelation 5:1-14 they have golden vials (or bowls) of odours ( i.e., incense), which are the prayers of the saints. In the one, therefore, their kingly place is more involved, in the other their priestly occupation. This is never applied to ordinary angels as such. The only angel ever seen in priestly action is when the Lord Jesus assumes the character of an angel-priest (Revelation 8:1-13); not of course that He becomes a literal angel, but God was pleased, for reasons of sufficient weight, thus to represent Him at the altar under the trumpets.
Next we find that attention was directed both to what characterized the throne judicially, and also to the Holy Ghost as having a symbolic description suitable to the scene seven lamps or torches of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. Thus it is not the Holy Ghost in the gracious power which characterizes His relationship to the church, but in governmental judgment, because it is a question of a sinful guilty world of the creature, and not the new creation.
So too we see that the four living creatures are brought before us. "Before the throne," it is written, "there was a sea of glass like unto crystal." Instead of its being a laver of water to purify the unclean, it is a sea, not liquid, but of glass. It is fixed purity now. Hence it is no question of meeting what was contracted in this defiling world. Those that are here in relation to it have passed out of their failure and need; they are in heaven and already glorified. And I may just repeat what has been often said before, that all scripture testifies to glorified bodies, without a word about glorified spirits. The twenty-four elders do not mean those members of Christ who have gone by death into His presence. The numerical symbol in fact is inconsistent with such an idea for this simple reason, that, interpret the twenty-four as you please, it must mean a complete company. Now the saints cannot be said to be complete in any sense whatsoever till Christ have come, who will translate all the Christians alive then on earth, with all the saints who had previously fallen asleep in Him, to be glorified with Himself above.
There is no time that you can look at the departed spirits, but there are some on earth who require to be added in order to exhibit the number complete. In point of fact, so far is scripture from ever representing the separate condition of the spirits as a complete state, that its testimony is distinctly adverse. The church is viewed as in a certain sense complete at any given moment on the earth, not because of the greater importance of those who are on the earth compared with such as are in heaven, but because the Holy Ghost was sent down from heaven, and is on earth. This is the reason why, (He being the one bond of the church,) where He is, the church must be. Accordingly there never can be any complete state of the church at any given moment in heaven, but on earth rather till Jesus come. But when we speak of absolute completeness, it is clear that this cannot be till the Lord come and has taken all the heavenly saints out of the world, and they go up into His presence above. Then there is completeness; and this is the state that is represented by the twenty-four elders. So that we have here, therefore, still more confirmation of what has been already pressed, that the entire description pre-supposes the church condition done with, and a new state entered on. Such is the unforced meaning of this vision of the blessedness and glory of those who had been on earth, but are now glorified in heaven. It is a complete company in the fullest sense; the heads of the heavenly priesthood. They have passed, therefore, out of the need of the washing of water by the word. It is a sea, not of water, but of glass, like crystal. This stamps the fact in a most evident manner.
Further, we have to notice the cherubic symbol. "And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind." Thus there was perfect discernment conferred on them by God. The living creatures I understand to be symbolic of the agency whatever may be the agents that God employs in the execution of His judicial power. Consequently the qualities of power are those fitting and necessary for that execution. "The first was like a lion; the second like a calf (a young bull or steer); the third had the face as of a man; and the fourth was like a flying eagle." We have thus majestic power, patient endurance, intelligence, and rapidity, all which enter into the judicial dealings that follow.
The question arises, and a very interesting one it is, not what, but who, are these living creatures? We have seen the qualities in their agency; but who are the agents? This is a delicate point. At the same time I think that scripture gives adequate light, as to those who wait on God, for everything which it is important for us to know.
It will be observed that in Revelation 4:1-11 (and it is a remarkable fact) there are no angels mentioned. You have the throne of God; you have the elders, and also the four living creatures, but not a word about angels. The living creatures celebrate God, not yet as the Most High, but as the "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come." And when they do thus "give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth unto the ages of the ages, the twenty-four elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth unto the ages of the ages, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord and our God, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou createst all things, and because of thy will they were and were created." I give it in its exact form. There is this particular stamped on the elders, that they always speak with understanding. It will be true in its measure even of the, Jewish remnant that are to be called after the rapture. They are designated as "the wise that shall understand:" so we know from Daniel and others. But the elders have a higher character, because they invariably enter into the reason of the thing. This is an exceedingly beautiful feature, which I suppose also to be connected with the fact that they are called elders. They are those who have the mind of Christ. They apprehend the counsels and ways of God.
In Revelation 4:1-11 we see that the living creatures and the elders are closely connected, but no more. We shall find inRevelation 5:1-14; Revelation 5:1-14 that they join together. Not merely are they connected there but they positively combine. This is shown us in the case where the Lamb "takes the book, the four living creatures and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sing a new song." The remarkable fact that it is important to heed here is this. Chapter 5 shows us for the first time the Lamb presented distinctly and definitely in the scene. It was not so even in chapter 4 where we have seen the display of the judicial glory of God in His various earthly or dispensational characters, save His millennial one, and of course not His special revelation to us now as Father. In itself we know that Jehovah God embraces equally the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. But here the Holy Ghost is distinctively seen as the seven Spirits of God under a symbolic guise; here the Lord Jesus is not yet discriminated. The glorious vision of Him who sits on the throne may include therefore both the Father and the Son; it is rather God as such, than the revelation of personality the general or generic idea, not personal distinction formally. But in Revelation 5:1-14, a challenge is made which at once displays the worth, victory, and peace of the Lamb, that holy earth-rejected Sufferer, whose blood has bought for God those who were under the ruin of sin and misery. There is to he then the full blessing of man and the creature on God's part, yea, man not only delivered, but even before the deliverance is displayed led into the understanding of the mind and will of God. Christ is just as necessarily the wisdom of God as He is the power of God. Without Him no creature can apprehend, any more than a sinner knows salvation without Him. We need, and how blessed that we have, Christ for everything! Thus, whatever the glory of the scene before the prophet in chapter 4 that which follows shows us the wondrous person and way in which man is brought into the consciousness of the blessing, and the appreciation of the divine ways and glory.
"And I saw on the right hand of him that sat on the throne a roll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals" (Revelation 5:1). The creature could not open these seals, none anywhere. But the strong angel proclaims, and the Lord Jesus at length comes forward to answer the proclamation. He takes up the challenge, appearing after a sufficient space had proved the impotence of all others. The comfort assured to John by the elder is thus justified; for the elders always understand. And he sees the Lion of the tribe of Judah to be the Lamb, despised on earth, exalted in heaven, who advances and takes the roll out of the right hand of Him that sat on the throne. And then they all living creatures and elders together fell down before the Lamb with a new song.
It is striking that after this, as we are told, "I saw, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;" who said with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power." Here we have the angels, who are now distinctly and prominently brought forward. Why is this? How comes it that no angels appear in chap. 4? And why is it that we have them in chap. 5? There is always the wisest reason in the ways of God of which scripture speaks, and we are encouraged by the Spirit to enquire humbly but trustfully. What is marked by it seems to be this: that the assumption of the book into the hands of the Lamb, and His preparing to open the seals, marks a chance of administration. Up to that point of time, angels have held a sort of executory ministry of power from God. Where judgments were in question, or other extraordinary intervention on His part, angels were the instruments; whereas from this point of time, it appears to me that the Spirit of God marks the fact of a vast change, however they way still be employed during the interval of the last of Daniel's seventy weeks. It is providence yet, not manifested glory.
The title of the glorified saints is thus asserted. We know for certain, as a matter of doctrine inHebrews 2:1-18; Hebrews 2:1-18, that the world to come is to be put not under angels but the redeemed. Here it appears to me that the seer is admitted to a prophetic glimpse that falls in with the doctrine of St. Paul. In other words, when the Lamb is brought definitely into the scene, then, and not before, we see the elders and the living creatures united in the new song. As one company, they join in praising the Lamb. They sing, "Thou art worthy, for thou hast redeemed," and so on. Thus we have them combined in a new fashion; and, what is more, the angels are now seen and definitely distinguished. Supposing, for instance, that previously, the administration of judgment was in the hand of angels, it is easily understood that they would not be distinguished from the living creatures in chap. 4 because, in point, of fact, the living creatures set forth she agencies of God's executory judgment; whereas in chap. 5, if there be a change in administration, and the angels that used to be the executors are no longer so recognised as such in view of the kingdom, but the power is entrusted to the hands of the glorified saints, it is simple enough that the angels fall back, being eclipsed by the heirs, and no longer in the same position. If previously they might be understood to be included under the living creatures, they are henceforward to take their place simply as angels, and are therefore no longer comprehended under that symbol. This, the suggestion of another, appears to commend itself as a true explanation of the matter.
From this, if correct, as I believe it to be, it follows that the four living creatures might be at one time angels, and at another saints. What the symbol sets forth is not so much the persons that are entrusted with these judgments, as the character of the agencies employed. Scripture, however, affords elements to solve the question, first by the marked absence of angels, who, as we know, are the beings that God employed in His providential dealings with the world, and this both in Old Testament times, and still in the days of the New Testament. The church is only in course of formation; but when it shall be complete, when the glorified saints are caught up, and the First-begotten is owned in His title, they too will be owned in theirs. For as the Lord is coming to take visibly the kingdom, we can readily understand that the change of administration is first made manifest in heaven before it is displayed upon earth. If this be correct, then the change is marked in chapter 5. The general fact is in chapter 4 the approaching change is anticipated in chapter 5. This appears to be the most satisfactory way of accounting for that which is here brought before us.
All the results are celebrated for every creature when once the note is struck (ver. 13).
Next we come to the opening of the seals. Revelation 6:1-17; Revelation 6:1-17 has a character of completeness about it, with this only exception, that the seventh seal is the introduction to the trumpets in the beginning ofRevelation 8:1-13; Revelation 8:1-13. This does not call for many words on the present occasion. "And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, Come." Ought we to have here, and after the other three horses, the words "and see"? It appears that they are wanting in the best text* in all these passages. In every one of the cases the sentence ought to be "come." The difference comes to this, that "come and see" would be addressed to John; whereas according to the better MSS. the "come" is addressed by the living creature to the rider on the horse. Clearly this makes a considerable difference. One of the living creatures steps forward when the first seal is opened, and says, Come; and at once comes forth a rider on a white horse.
* Yet in every instance the Sinai MS. supports the inferior copies against the Alexandrian, and the Rescript of Paris with the better cursives, etc.
Let us inquire into, the force of each severally. "I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him: and he went (or came) forth conquering and that he might conquer." It is the answer to the call. The first then comes forth, and the character of his action is prosperity and conquest. Everything shows this. It is the earliest state that the Spirit of God notices as brought about in the world. After the mighty change we have already seen to have taken place in heaven, there is a mighty conqueror that will appear here below. We are all aware that this has been applied to a great variety of things and persons. Sometimes it has been supposed to mean the triumphs of the gospel, sometimes Christ's coming again, and as often antichrist, and I know not what. But what I think we may safely gather from it is this, that God employs a conqueror who will carry everything before him.
It is not necessarily by bloodshed, as in the second seal, which gives us carnage if not civil war. Hence the rider is not on a white horse, the symbol of victory; but remounted on another, a red horse, with a commission to kill, and a great sword. Imperial power which subjugates is meant by the horse in every state; but in the first case imperial power seems to subject men bloodlessly. The measures are so successful the name itself carries such weight with it that, in point of fact, it is one onward career of conquest without necessarily involving slaughter. But in the second seal the great point is "that they should slay one another." It was possibly even civil warfare. There the horse was red.
In the third seal it is a black horse, the colour of mourning. Accordingly we read now of a choenix of wheat for a denarius, and three choenixes of barley for a denarius. That is, the price was the rate of scarcity. The ordinary price a little while before we know to have been incomparably less; for notoriously a denarius would have procured as much as fifteen choenixes. Now it is needless to say that fifteen times the ordinary price of wheat would make a serious difference; but however this may have been, certainly the rate current in St. John's day is not a question that is easily settled. Naturally rates differ. The increase of civilization and other causes tend to make it a little uncertain. That there is a difficulty in ascertaining with nicety the prices at this particular epoch is plain from the fact that men of ability and conscience have supported every possible variety of opinion plenty, scarcity, and a fair supply at a just price; but I do not think it is worth while to spend more time on the point. The colour of the horse, to my mind, decisively proves what the nature of the case is. Mourning would be strange if it were either a time of plenty or one governed by a just price; black suits a time of scarcity. Some will be surprised to hear that each of these views has had defenders. There are only three possible ways of taking it; and each one of these has had staunch support. Every one of these different interpretations has been insisted on by learned men, who are as liable as others to waver sometimes to one side, sometimes to another. There is no certainty about them. The word of God makes the matter plain to a simple mind. The unlettered in this country or any other cannot know much details about the price of barley or wheat at the time of St. John, or later; but he does see at once that the black colour is significant, especially as contrasted with white and red, and not at all indicative of joy or justice, but very naturally of distress; and therefore he feels bound to take this in company with the other points of the third horse and its rider.
The fourth seal was a pale or livid horse, the hue of death. Accordingly the name of its rider is Death, and Hades followed with him. To make the force still plainer, it is said that authority was given to him over the fourth of the earth, to slay with the sword, and with hunger, and with death (pestilence perhaps), and by the beasts of the earth.
The fifth seal shows us souls under the altar, who had been slain for the word of God, and for their testimony, who cried aloud for vengeance to the Sovereign Ruler. They are vindicated before God, but must wait: others, both their fellow-servants and their brethren, must be killed as they were ere that day comes.
The sixth seal marks a vast convulsion, a partial answer to the cry as I suppose. Many a person thinks that those in question are Christians. But if we look more clearly into the passage, we may learn that this again confirms the removal of the church to heaven before this. "How long, O Sovereign, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" Is this a prayer, or desire according to the grace of the gospel? Reasoning is hardly needful on a point so manifest. I think that any one who understands the general drift of the New Testament, and the special prayers there recorded by the Holy Ghost for our instruction, would be satisfied but for a false bias otherwise. Take Stephen's prayer, and our blessed Lord, the pattern of all that is perfect. On the other hand we have similar language elsewhere: but where? In the Psalms. Thus we have all the evidence that can be required. The evidence of the New Testament shows that these are not the sanctioned prayers of the Christian; the evidence of the Old Testament, that just such were the prayers of persons whose feelings and experience and desires were founded on Israelitish hopes.
Does not this exactly fall in with what we have already proved that the heavenly glorified saints will have passed out of the scene, and that God will be at work in the formation of a new testimony, which will of course have its own peculiarities, not of course obliterating the facts of the New Testament, but at the same time leading the souls of the saints more particularly into what was revealed of old, because God is going to accomplish what was predicted then? The time is approaching for God to take the earth. The great subject of the Old Testament is the earth blessed under the rule of the heavens, and Christ the head of both. The earth, and the earthly people Israel, and the nations, will then enjoy the days of heaven here below. Accordingly these souls show us their condition and hopes. They pray for earthly judgments. They desire not that their enemies should be converted, but that God should avenge their blood on them. Nothing can be simpler, or more sure than the inference. "And it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until both their fellow-servants and their brethren, that were to be killed as they were, should be fulfilled."
This is an important intimation, as we shall see from what follows in the Apocalypse. They are told that they are not the only band of the faithful who are given up to a violent end: others must follow later. Till then, God is not going to appear for the accomplishment of that judgment for which they cried. They must wait therefore for that further, and, as we know, more furious outburst of persecution. After that, God will deal with the earth. Thus we have here the latest persecution, as well as the earlier one, of the Apocalyptic period distinctly given. The apostle Paul had spoken of himself as ready to be offered up: so these were and are seen therefore under the altar in the vision. They were renewed indeed, and understood what Israel ought to do; but they were clearly not on the ground of Christian faith and intelligence as we are. Of course it is a vision, but still a vision with weighty and plain intimations to us. They had the spirit of prophecy to form the testimony of Jesus. Judgment yet lingers till there was the predicted final outpouring of man's apostate rage, and then the Lord will appear and put down all enemies.
At the same time, as we have already seen passingly, the next seal shows that God was not indifferent meanwhile. The sixth seal may be regarded as a kind of immediate consequence of the foregoing cry. When opened, a vast shaking ensues, a thorough concussion of everything above and below, set forth mystically, as in the previous seals. "The sun became black as sack-cloth of hair, and the whole moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell on the earth, even as a fig tree, shaken by a mighty wind, casteth its untimely figs. And the heaven was removed as a scroll rolled up; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places." This is merely the appearance before the seer in the vision. We are not to suppose that heaven and earth will be physically confounded when the prediction is fulfilled. He saw all this before his eyes as signs, of which we have to consider the meaning. We have to find out by their symbolic use elsewhere what is intended here by the changes that passed over sun, moon, stars, and the earth in the vision. And the result of course depends on our just application of scripture by the teaching of the Holy Spirit.
Then we are told in plain language, not in figures, that "the kings of the earth, and the great and the rich, and the chiliarchs, and the mighty, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains." This it is well to heed, because it would be evident that if it meant that the heaven literally was removed as a scroll, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place, there could be no place to hide in. Thus to take it as other than symbolic representation would be to contradict the end by the beginning. This, then, is not the true force. Supposing heaven really to disappear, and the earth to be moved according to the import of these terms in a pseudo-literal way, how could the various classes of terrified men be saying to the mountains, "Fall on us and hide us?" It is plain, therefore, that the vision, like its predecessor, is symbolical; that the prophet indeed beheld these objects heavenly and earthly thus darkened and in confusion; but that the meaning must be sought out on the ordinary principles of interpretation. To my mind, it represents a complete dislocation of all authority, high and low an unexampled convulsion of all classes of mankind within its own sphere, the effect of which is to overturn all the foundations of power and authority in the world, and to fill men's minds with the apprehension that the day of judgment is come.
It is not the first time indeed that people have so dreaded, but it will be again worse than it has ever been. Such is the effect of the sixth seal when its judgment is accomplished, after the church is taken away to heaven, and indeed subsequent to a murderous persecution of the saints who follow us on earth. The persecuting powers and those subject to them will be visited judicially, and there will ensue a complete disruption of authority on the earth. The rulers will have misused their power, and now a revolution on a vast scale takes place. Such seems to rue the meaning of the vision. The effect on men when they see the total overturning of all that is established in authority here below will be that they will think the day of the Lord is come. They will say to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who is able to stand?" It is an error to confound their saying so with God's declaration. It is not He but they who cry that the great day of the wrath is come. There is no excuse for so mistaken an interpretation. It is what these frightened multitudes exclaim; but the fact is that the great day does not arrive for a considerable space afterwards, as the Revelation itself clearly proves. The whole matter here is that men are so alarmed by all this visitation, that they think it must be His coming day, and they say so. It is very evident that the great day of His wrath is not yet come, because a considerable time after this epoch our prophecy describes the day of His coming. It is described inRevelation 14:1-20; Revelation 14:1-20, Revelation 17:1-18, and especiallyRevelation 19:1-21; Revelation 19:1-21. When it really arrives, so infatuated are the men of the world that they will fight against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them. Satan will have destroyed their dread when there is most ground for it.
After this, so far is the great day of His wrath from being come, that we find in the parenthesis ofRevelation 7:1-17; Revelation 7:1-17 God accomplishing mighty works of saving mercy. The first is the sealing of 144,000 out of the tribes of Israel by an angel that comes from the sun-rising. Next there is vouchsafed to the prophet the sight of a crowd of Gentiles that none could number, "out of every nation, and tribes, and peoples, and Tongues, standing before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and they cry with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb."
Here it is not simply "salvation," but "salvation to God," in the quality of sitting upon the throne (we have seen in this book, His judicial throne). In other words, the ascription could not have been made before Revelation 4:1-11. Its tenor supposes a vast change to have taken place. It is not the fruit of a testimony during all or many ages. All this is merely men's imagination, without the smallest foundation in scripture. So far from its being a picture of the redeemed of all times, it is expressly said to be a countless throng out of Gentiles contrasted with Israel, and this in relation to God governing judicially. It is not universal therefore. These Gentiles stand in manifest contrast with the sealed out of Israel. One of the elders talked about them, and explained to the prophet, who evidently without this would have been at fault. If the elders mean the glorified saints, these Gentiles are not. Most assuredly they cannot be all saints, because the hundred and forty-four thousand of Israel we have seen expressly distinguished from them. Who are they and what? They are a multitude of Gentiles to be preserved by gracious power in these last days. They are not said to be glorified; nor is there reason to doubt that they are still in their natural bodies. When they are said to be before the throne, it proves nothing inconsistent with this; because the woman, for instance, inRevelation 12:1-17; Revelation 12:1-17, is also described as seen in heaven; but, you must remember, this is only where the prophet saw them in the vision. We are not necessarily to gather that they were to be in heaven; John saw them there, but whether it might mean that they were, or were not to be, in heaven, is another question. This depends on other considerations that have to be taken into account, and it is for want of due waiting on God, and of adequately weighing the surrounding circumstances, that such serious mistakes are made in these matters.
In this case it is perfectly plain to my mind that they are not heavenly as such. There are weighty objections. First of all, we find them definitely contra-distinguished from Israel, who clearly are on earth, and thus naturally this company would be on earth too,-the one Jewish, and the other Gentile. Next they come out of the great tribulation. Far from its being a general body in respect to all time, this proves that it is a very peculiar though countless group, that it is only persons who can be preserved and blessed of God during the epoch of the great tribulation.
In the millennial time there will be a great ingathering of the Gentiles; but these are not millennial saints. They are saints from among the Gentiles, who will be called to the knowledge of God by the preaching of the "everlasting gospel," or the "gospel of the kingdom," of which we hear both in the gospels and in the Revelation. We all know that the Lord Himself tells the disciples that this "gospel of the kingdom" shall be "preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations" (or all the Gentiles); "and then shall the end come." Now this is just the very time spoken of here. It is clearly not a general summary of what is going on now, but a description of what is yet to be, specially just before the end when the great tribulation bursts out. And there is the fruit of divine grace even then in this vast crowd from the Gentiles, the details of whose description fall in with and confirm what has been remarked already.
I have already drawn attention to the fact that they are distinguished from the elders. If these mean the church, those do not; and as all admit that the elders represent the glorified saints, the inference seems to me quite plain and certain. Undoubtedly we might have the same body represented at different times by a different symbol, but hardly by two symbols at the same time. We may have, for instance, Christians set forth by a train of virgins at one time, and by the bride at another; but in the same parable there is a careful avoidance of confusion; and no such incongruous mixture occurs in scripture. It is not even found amongst sensible men, not to speak of the word of God. So here the prophet tells us that one of the elders answers his own enquiry) "What are these arrayed in white robes? and whence come they?" "These are they who come out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." Clearly therefore they are believers or saints. "Therefore are they before the throne of God," which I take to be not a description of their local place but of their character, that it is in view of, and in connection with, the throne. This, we have seen, makes it to be limited to the particular time, and not vague or general; because the throne here differs from what it is now, and the millennial throne will be different from both. It is that very aspect of the throne which may be called its Apocalyptic character, to distinguish it from what was before or will be afterwards.
Again, not merely are they there themselves, but it is said, "He that sitteth on the throne shall" not exactly "dwell among them," but "tabernacle over them." It is the gracious shelter of the Lord's care and goodness that is set forth by it. This is of importance: because, though God now dwells by the Holy Ghost in the church as His habitation through the Spirit, it will not be so when these Gentiles will be called to the knowledge of Himself. There will be what is more suited to their character His protection. Of old God had His pillar of cloud, which was a defence and a canopy over the camp of Israel (though He also dwelt in their midst); here, too, He graciously shows it is not alone the sealed of Israel that enjoy His care, but these poor Gentiles. It is added that "they shall not hunger any more, neither thirst any more; nor in any wise shall the sun fall on them, nor any heat." I confess to you that I think such a promise is much more exactly adapted to a people about to be on the earth, than to men in a glorified state above. Where would be the propriety of a promise to glorified people not to hunger or thirst any more? If to a people on earth, we can all understand the comfort of its assurance. "For the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall tend them, and shall lead them unto fountains of waters of life: and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes."
Then comes at length the seventh seal. This is important, because it guards us effectually against the idea that the sixth seal goes down to the end, as many excellent men have imagined in ancient and modern times. It is clearly incorrect. The seventh seal is necessarily after the sixth. If there is an order in the others, we must allow that the seventh seal introduces seven trumpets which follow each other in succession like the seals. These are described from Revelation 8:1-13 and onward. "I saw the seven angels who stand before God; and to them were given seven trumpets." Then we see a remarkable fact, already alluded to an angel of peculiarly august character found before the altar. "And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given him much incense, that he might give [efficacy] to the prayers of all the saints at the golden altar which was before the throne." Hence it follows that, while there are glorified saints above, saints are not wanting on earth who are sustained by the great High Priest, however little their light, or great their trial. Thus we have here the clear intimation that while the glorified are above, there will be others in their natural bodies yet accredited as saints here below.
But there is another trait which demands our attention. Under the trumpets the Lord Jesus assumes the angelic character. Everything is angelic under the trumpets. We no longer hear of Him as the Lamb. As such He had opened the seals; but here as the trumpets were blown by angels, so the angel of the covenant (who is the second person in the Trinity, as He is commonly called) falls back on that which was so familiar in the Old Testament presentation of Himself. Not of course that He divests Himself of His humanity: this could not be; or if it could be imagined, it would be contrary to all truth. The Son of God since the incarnation always abides the man Christ Jesus. From the time that He took manhood into union with His glorious person, never will He cut it off. But this evidently does not prevent His assuming whatever appearance is suited to the prophetic necessity of the case and this I conceive is just what we find here under the trumpets. We may observe that an increasingly figurative style of language is employed. All other objects become more distant in this series of visions than before; and even Christ Himself is seen more vaguely, i.e., not in His distinct human reality, but in an angelic appearance.
Here then it is written that "the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it unto the earth." The effect was "voices, and thunders, and lightnings, and an earthquake." Further, in this new septenary we must prepare ourselves for even greater visitations of God's judgments. There were lightnings and voices and thunders inRevelation 4:1-11; Revelation 4:1-11 but there is more now. We find, besides these, an earthquake added. The effect among men becomes more intense.
"And the first sounded his trumpet, and there was hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth." This I take as a violent down-pouring of displeasure from God. Hail implies this. Fire, we know, is the constant symbol of God's consuming judgment, and it is mingled with blood. It is destruction to life in the point of view that is intended here. We have to consider whether it is simple physical decease or dissolution in some special respect.
It will be noticed in these divine visitations that the third part is particularly introduced. What is the prophetic meaning of "the third"? It appears to answer to what we have given us inRevelation 12:1-17; Revelation 12:1-17 ( i.e., the properly Roman or western empire). I believe that it would thus convey the consumption of the Roman empire in the west. Of course one cannot be expected in a general sketch to enter on a discussion of the grounds for this view. It is enough now to state what one believes to be the fact. If this be so, at least the earlier trumpets (though not these only) are a specific visitation of judgment on the western empire of Rome. Not only was this visited, but "the third of the trees were burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up." This is a contrast. The dignitaries within that sphere were visited, but there was also a universal interference with the prosperity of men here below,
"And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third of the sea became blood; and the third of the creatures which were in the sea, which had life, died; and the third of the ships were destroyed." It was in this case a great earthly power, which as a divine judgment dealt with the masses in a revolutionary state to their destruction. Thus not merely the world under stable government, but that which is or when it is in a state of agitation and disorder; and we find the same deadly effects here also, putting an end, it would seem, to their trade and commerce.
"The third angel sounded, and there fell from heaven a great star, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third of the rivers, and upon the fountains of the waters." Here the fall of a great dignitary or ruler, whose influence was judicially turned to embitter all the springs and channels of popular influence, is before us. The sources and means of intercourse among men are here visited by God's judgment.
The fourth angel sounded, and the third of the sun and moon and stars was smitten; that is to say, the governing powers supreme, derivative, and subordinate all come under God's judgment all within the west.
"And I saw, and I heard an eagle flying in mid-heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to those that dwell on the earth, by reason of the remaining voices of the trumpet of the three angels that are about to sound." It is a vivid image of rapidly approaching judgments, "angel" being substituted for the better reading "eagle" by scribes who did not appreciate the symbolic style of the prophecy here.
In Revelation 9:1-21 the two next, or fifth and sixth trumpets, are described with minute care, as indeed these are two of the woe trumpets. There remains the third woe trumpet, the last of the seven, which is set forth at the end of Revelation 11:1-19, where we close.
The first of the woe trumpets consists of the symbolic locusts. For that they are not to be understood in a merely literal way is clear, if only for this reason, that they are expressly said not to feed on that which is the natural food of locusts. This creature is simply the descriptive sign of these marauders.
To another remark I would call your attention: that the first woe trumpet answers in the way of contrast to the hundred and forty-four thousand that were sealed of Israel; as the second woe trumpet, namely, that of the Euphratean horsemen, answers by a similar contrast to the countless multitude of the Gentiles. As some perhaps may think that this contrast must be vague and indefinite, I shall therefore endeavour to make my meaning plainer. It is expressly said that the locusts of the vision were to carry on their devastations, except on those that were sealed. Here then is an allusion clearly to those whom God set apart from Israel inRevelation 7:1-17; Revelation 7:1-17.
On the other hand, in the Euphratean horsemen we see far more of aggressive power, though there is also torment. But torment is the main characteristic of the locust woe; the horsemen woe is more distinctively the onward progress of imperial power, described in most energetic colours. They fall on men and destroy them; but here "the third" re-appears. According to the force given already, this would imply that the woe falls on the Gentiles indeed, and more particularly on the western Roman empire.
It seems also plain that these two woes represent what will be verified in the early doings of the antichrist in Judea. The first or the locust raid consists of a tormenting infliction. Here accordingly we have Abaddon, the destroyer, who is set forth in a very peculiar fashion as the prince of the bottomless pit, their leader. It is not of course the beast yet fairly formed; but we can quite comprehend that there will be an early manifestation of evil, just as grace will effect the beginning of that which is good in the remnant. Here then we have these initiatory woes. First of all a tormenting woe that falls on the land of Israel, but not upon those that were sealed out of the twelve tribes of Israel. On the other hand, we find the Euphratean horsemen let loose on the Roman empire, overwhelming the Gentiles, and in particular that empire, as the object of the judgment of God.
Such is the general scope of Revelation 9:1-21. As to entering into particulars, it would be quite out of the question tonight. Other opportunities do not fail for learning more minute details, and their application.
Revelation 10:1-11 in the trumpets answers toRevelation 7:1-17; Revelation 7:1-17 in the seals. It forms an important parenthesis, that comes in between the sixth and seventh trumpets, just as the sealing chapter (7) came in between the sixth and seventh seals: so orderly is the Apocalypse. Accordingly we have here again the Lord, as it seems to me, in angelic garb. As before in high-priestly function, He is the angel with royal claim here. A mighty angel comes down from heaven, clothed with a cloud the special sign of Jehovah's majesty: none but He has a title to come thus clothed. And, further, the rainbow is on His head; it is not now a question of round the throne: here there is a step in advance. He is approaching the earth; He is about to lay speedy claim to that which is His right. "The rainbow was on his head, and his face was as the sun" supreme authority; "and his feet as pillars of fire" with firmness of divine judgment. "And he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot on the sea, and his left on the earth, and cried with a loud voice, as a lion roareth."
John was going to write, but is forbidden. The disclosures were to be scaled for the present. "And the angel whom I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his right hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for the ages of the ages, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things that are therein, that there should be no longer delay." There was no more to be any lapse of time allowed; but God would terminate the mystery of His present seeming inaction as to government. He is now allowing the world, with slight check, to go on its own way. Men may sin, and, as far as direct intervention is concerned, God appears not, though there may be interferences exceptionally. But the time is coming when God will surely visit sin, and this immediately, when there will be no toleration for a moment of anything which is contrary to Himself. This is the blessed age to which all the prophets look onward; and the angel here swears that the time is approaching. There is going to be no more delay; 'but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God also shall be finished." The mystery here is, not Christ and the church, but God's allowing evil to go on in its present course with apparent impunity.
And then John is told at the end of the chapter that he must "prophesy again before peoples, and nations, and tongues, and many kings." The meaning of this more clearly appears soon. There is a kind of appendix of prophecy where he renews his course for especial reasons.
Meanwhile, I would just call your attention to the contrast between the little book which the prophet here takes and cats, and the great book we have seen already sealed with seven seals. Why a little book? and why open? A little book, because it treats of a comparatively contracted sphere; and open, because things are no longer to be described in the mysterious guise in which the seals and yet more the trumpets. set them out. All is going to be made perfectly plain in what falls under it here. This is the case accordingly inRevelation 11:1-19; Revelation 11:1-19.
The angel proceeds to say, "Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given to the Gentiles." Jerusalem appears in the foreground. This is the centre now, though the beast may ravage there. "And I will give* to my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth." Their task is for a time comparatively short for three years and a half. "These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the Lord of the earth." The witnesses are two, not because in point of fact they are historically to be limited to only two individuals, but as meaning the least adequate testimony according to the law. To make it two literally seems to me a mistaken way of interpreting prophecy, and the Apocalypse in particular, as being eminently symbolical, which Daniel also is in measure. To forget this practically is to involve oneself in clouds of error and inconsistency.
* Probably here, as inRevelation 8:3; Revelation 8:3, the word implies "efficacy" or "power," as the translators saw in one text if not in the other.
Thus, for instance, one hears occasionally, for the purpose of illustrating the Revelation, a reference to Isaiah, Jeremiah, or the like; but we must remember that these prophecies are not in their structure symbolical, and therefore the reasoning that is founded on the books and style of Jeremiah or Isaiah (Ezekiel being partly symbolical, partly figurative) cannot decide for Daniel or the Apocalypse. Here then are symbols which have a language of their own. Thus the regular meaning of two," symbolically, is competent testimony enough and not more than enough. "In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established." According to Jewish law a case could not be decided by one witness; there must be at least two for valid proof and judgment.
The Lord shows us that He will raise up an adequate testimony in these days. Of how many the testimony will consist is another matter, on which I have little or nothing to say. One can no more reason on this than on the twenty-four glorified elders. Who would thence infer that there will be only so many glorified ones? and why should one think that there will be only two to testify? However this may be, those who are raised to witness are to prophesy for a limited time. "And if any man desire to hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man desire to hurt them, he must in this manner be killed."
Is this then, I ask, the testimony of the gospel? Is it thus the Lord protects those that are the preachers of the gospel of His own grace? Did fire ever proceed out of the mouths of evangelists? Did a teacher ever devour his enemies? Was it on this principle Ananias and Sapphira fell dead? Are these the ways of the gospel? It is evident then that we are here in a new atmosphere that an altogether different state of things is before us from that which reigned during the church condition, though even then sin might be unto death in peculiar cases. I refer to no more proofs now, thinking that enough has been given. "These have authority to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy." That is, they are something like Elijah; and they have "authority over the waters to turn them to blood." In this respect they resemble Moses also. This does not mean that they are Moses and Elias personally; but that the character of their testimony is similar, and the sanctions of it are such as God gave in the days of those two honoured servants of old. "And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them." They are preserved in spite of the beast, till their work is done; but directly their testimony is concluded, the beast is allowed to overcome them. It is just as it was with the Lord. The utmost pressure was brought against Him in His service. So their hour, we may say, has not yet come, just as He said of Himself before them. There was all possible willingness to destroy them long before, but somehow it could not be done; for the Lord protected them till they had done their mission. We see this in the character of grace which filled the Lord Jesus which essentially belonged to Him. Here we meet with the earthly retributive dealing of the Old Testament. The Spirit will form them thus; and no wonder, because in fact God is recurring to that which He promised then, but has never yet performed. He is going to perform it now. He does not merely purpose to gather people for heavenly glory; He will govern on earth the Jews and the Gentiles in their Several places Israel nearest to Himself. He must have an earthly people as well as a family on high. When the heavenly saints are changed, then He begins with the earthly. He will never mix them all up together. This would make nothing but the greatest confusion.
"And their corpse shall lie on the broadway of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified." It was Jerusalem, but spiritually called Sodom and Egypt, because of the wickedness of the people and their prince. It had no less abominations than Sodom; it had all the darkness and the moral bondage of Egypt, but it was really the place where their Lord had been crucified, i.e., Jerusalem. So the witnesses fell, and men in various measures showed their satisfaction. "And [some] from among the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations see their corpse three days and a half, and do not suffer their corpses to be put into a tomb. And they that dwell on the earth rejoice over them, or make merry, and shall send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those that dwell on the earth." But after the three days and a half God's power raises up these slain witnesses, and they ascend to heaven in the cloud, and their enemies behold them. "And in that hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain seven thousand names of men: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven. The second woe is past; behold, the third woe cometh quickly."
Lastly we have the seventh trumpet. This is important for understanding the structure of the book. The seventh trumpet brings us down to the close in a general way. This is quite plain, though often overlooked. "And the seventh angel, sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdom of the world of our Lord and of his Christ is come." You must translate it a little more exactly, and with a better text too. The true meaning is this: "The kingdom of the world" (or the world-kingdom," if our tongue would admit of such a phrase) "of our Lord and of his Christ is come." It is not merely power in general conferred in heaven, but "the world-kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ is come, and he shall reign for ever and ever. And the four and twenty elders, that sit before God on their thrones, fell on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God the Almighty, that art, and that wast; because thou hast taken thy great power, and hast reigned. And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come."
Here, it will be observed, the end of the age is supposed to be now arrived. It is not merely frightened kings and peoples who say so, but now it is the voice of those who know in heaven. Further, it is "the time of the dead that they should be judged." It is not a question here of the saints caught up to heaven, but a later hour, "that thou shouldest give reward to thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and to those that fear thy name." Not a word is said here about taking them to heaven, but of recompensing them. There will be no such thing as the conferring of reward till the public manifestation of the Lord Jesus Christ. The taking of those changed out of the scene is another association of truth. The reward will fail to none that fear the Lord's name, small and great. He will also "destroy those that destroy the earth."
This is the true conclusion ofRevelation 11:1-19; Revelation 11:1-19. The next verse (19), beyond a question to my mind, though arranged in our Bibles as the end of this chapter, is properly the beginning of a new series. I shall therefore not treat of it tonight.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on Revelation 8:13". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​wkc/​revelation-8.html. 1860-1890.
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