Let the Trumpets Commence
Scripture: Revelation 8:1–13
Let The Trumpets CommenceRevelation 8:1-13
Sunday, November 15, 2015
Pastor Randy Smith
So I had a conversation with a man outside of the church earlier this week. He said he loved Jesus. I then asked him what is the greatest thing about loving Jesus. He mentioned many good things, but went without any comment regarding the afterlife. I said, what about heaven or hell? To my surprise, he said it didn't matter. He said Jesus was all about enjoying Him in this life. I respectfully replied, "My friend, you don't love Jesus." Loving Jesus is wanting nothing more than to spend all of eternity by His side. It's wanting to be never separated from Him. Or to put it another way, heaven is the reward of seeking Jesus with all our hearts for our time here on earth, so we can enjoy the better sinless, blessed communion with Him for all of eternity.
As we consider the details, we must never miss this big picture of Revelation. It's about loving Jesus now so we can be with Him in heaven. Revelation teaches us that all of eternity for every human being hinges upon what one does with Jesus Christ. Reject Him as the One who can take way all your sin and wash you clean in His blood and you will await the awful and eternal wrath of God as the just consequences for your sin. Receive Him and be accepted, protected from condemnation and enjoy a sweetness for all eternity beyond anything human words can explain.
This is what the book of Revelation, moreover the entire Bible, is all about. This morning in chapter 8 we'll see how a perfectly holy God must judge sinful people. Those who refuse His offer to be forgiven in Christ will face that judgment.
As we've been learning, the unfolding of the eternal fate of all humans is symbolized in the opening of a scroll (chapter 5). We learned that the scroll was closed with seven seals. Only Jesus was found worthy to take the scroll, break the seals and fulfill the events contained within.
The first four seals are world turmoil (wars, famine, death, etc.). The stage is set. Antichrist comes on the scene, he persecutes Christians. The fifth seal is associated with martyrs. The sixth seal are the events commonly associated with "the Day of the Lord," preparations for our Lord's return and the beginning of His judgment on a sinful world (chapter 6). So the martyrs in seal five, remember, are asking for God's judgment, seal six announces God's judgment, seal seven, as we'll see this morning, is the fulfillment of God's judgment.
1. Breaking The Last Seal (verses 1-6)
That prepares us for chapter 8. In verse 1 we read, "When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour." The seventh seal was the final seal on the scroll. Though it's hard to line it up exactly, it appears to me that the seventh seal is the unleashing of the seven trumpets of judgment. There are seven seals, seven trumpets and seven bowls. Some see all of these events in a series. Some see the three as three ways of explaining the same thing. And others, like myself, see all the events happening within the seven seals. So from the seventh seal come the seven trumpets and from the seventh trumpet come the seven bowls.
The trumpets begin God's wrath, but we have already seen the initial arrival of God's wrath in the sixth seal, remember? "And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?'" (Rev. 6:16-17).
Yet before these trumpets blow, the verse says there was "silence in heaven for about half an hour." We've learned so far that heaven is filled with loud worship. Yet it seems the worship that has been continual, temporarily ceases. In this rapidly moving drama there is a dramatic pause. There is breathless anticipation of the trumpets that are now about to be sounded.
The vision continues, verse 2, "And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them." Just like we observed with the seven seals, four trumpets will blow instantly. Trumpets five and six and then there will be an interlude to see what the people of God are doing. Finally, the seventh trumpet will sound which I believe is to begin the final seven bowl judgments.
So the trumpets represent seven judgments sent from God and these seven unknown angels (though many have tried to identify them, line up with the seven angels from chapters 2 and 3 or the seven angels mentioned in 1 Enoch 20 - Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saraqael, Gabriel and Remiel), they are the messengers to carry out God's judgment.
Many see this predicted earlier in the Old Testament book of Zephaniah. "Near is the great day of the LORD, near and coming very quickly; listen, the day of the LORD! In it the warrior cries out bitterly. A day of wrath is that day, a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and the high corner towers" (Zeph. 1:14-16).
Now verses 3-5 is like a parenthesis showing an overview of this great wrath before it is spelled out specifically in greater detail, which begins in verse 7. It is also showing what is about to happen with these trumpets, but in this case presenting it from another perspective. Soon we'll see how God's wrath affects the earth, but here in verses 3-5 we see how God's wrath is generated in heaven.
Let me start with a great quote from Leon Morris before I read and explain the verses. "[Christians] appear insignificant to men at large. But in the sight of God they matter. Even great cosmic cataclysms are held back on their account. The praises of the angels give way to silence so that [now] the saints may be heard (The Revelation of John, p. 119). Keep that in mind!
Look with me at verses 3 and 4. "Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel's hand."
Okay, so let's get this picture in our minds. We are told in the book of Hebrews that the objects in the Jewish Temple were specifically chosen to be a copy of the reality that is in heaven (Heb. 8:5; 9:24). What we see in verses 3 and 4 is the golden altar, the censer (or firepan) and incense. These were used physically in the Temple and Tabernacle on earth because there is a symbolic presence of them in heaven.
So this angel in heaven takes the hot coals in the censer, then goes to the altar, puts the hot coals on the altar and then on the altar adds the incense that was given to him. This is what the priest would do on a daily basis in the Temple (Ex. 30:7-8) as they would take the hot coals from the altar of sacrifice and carry them to the holy place to the altar of incense.
Yet what we see here is that added to the incense is what? The prayers of the saints (or we could say Christians).And not just some of the Christians, but "all" of the Christians. Now, we'll broaden this in a second, but staying within the context, we have only seen the altar mentioned once so far in Revelation. Remember chapter 6? The souls of the martyred Christians were seen under the altar. And what were they doing? They were praying. And what were they praying? 6:10, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" And what was the Lord's response? I hear you, but rest. Rest until the remainder of those to be killed like you is to be completed (Rev. 6:11). Then My vengeance will be poured out.
So just before God's wrath begins (there and here), we see the mention of prayers that have been offered throughout the church age from all the Christians. Prayers like: "Come, Lord Jesus." "How much longer, Lord?" "Defend Your people." "Stop those who oppose Your name." "Show the world Your greatness." These prayers were heard, they have piled up, so to speak, on God's altar. But these prayers we know have remained unanswered. That is, until now.
Pause for a second, do you see the value of your prayers? Do you see why we prioritize prayer here at Grace Bible Church? Do you see why we have so many people coming out on Wednesday nights to pray? Do you see how God in His sovereign will use your prayers to usher in the end of the world with divine justice?
Commenting on this verse, John Piper said, "What God wants us to believe about our God-exalting prayers is that none of them is lost. None is wasted or pointless. They are stored up on the altar of God until the proper time when God pours them out on the earth to accomplish his great purposes of judgment and redemption" (The Prayers of the Saints and the End of the World, January 9, 1994).
I remember when our family visited a recreation of the Jewish Tabernacle in Lancaster PA. A man dressed up as the priest, reenacted many of the biblical roles. One of them was the act of offering incense. The original priests in the Old Testament used hot coals; he simply used a hot plate. Yet over ten years later and I still vividly remember what happened when the incense was added. There was a large plume of smoke and a fragrance that permeated the entire facility.
Verse 4 tells us, "And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel's hand." Again, Old Testament imagery of this act which is pleasing to God. The smell of the incense with the prayers was pleasing to the Lord. We see divine acceptance and immediately we see action.
What I believe we will see going forward from here are direct allusions to the Egyptian Exodus. There we saw God's people being tremendously persecuted. God raises up a leader (in Moses) and speaks His word to him. Judgment ensues. God's wrath is poured upon the land in a series of plagues. Israel is not delivered from the wrath, but is saved from the wrath through God's appointed means of atonement. In a similar way, we see the same thing here. Wrath upon the unbeliever, protection for those sealed by God in the blood of the Lamb (Jesus Christ) and deliverance to heaven, the new exodus through the new leader (Jesus Christ).
Remember the Israelites experience during the Exodus? Exodus 19, "So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder" (Ex. 19:16-19).
In Revelation 8:5 we read something strikingly similar. "Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake." Verse 6, "And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound them."
As Christians are protected from the God's wrath (Rev. 7:3) seen in the trumpets, we need to ask the question, what is God's ultimate purpose for those without Christ at this time during the trumpets? Many claim it is God's final call to repentance before the bowl judgments are poured out and the world then comes to a close. But if we stay consistent with the Exodus account we know the plagues were not to soften Pharaoh's heart, but rather to harden it. The goal was not to coerce Pharaoh to release Israel, but allow God the opportunity to demonstrate His power over the Egyptians and particularly His power over their gods. And that is supported by the overwhelming passages we see here in Revelation that despite the wrath of God, people did not repent and turn to Jesus Christ.
Look for example at chapter 9, verses 20 and 21. Following the sixth trumpet, "The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts." Or how about chapter 16, verses 8-11. Following the fourth and fifth bowls, "The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory. Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds."
2. Blowing The First Trumpets (verses 7-13)
Let's move to the second point and take a brief look at the first four trumpets.
Three things are important to note. First, do you see in verses 7-12 that the words "a third" are mentioned 13 times? The destruction is always a third of a particular item. This shows a partial judgment with the worst to come later. Also, and I'll point it out as we go, the initial trumpets follow the judgment of the Egyptian plagues. Lastly, commentators are split as to whether we should take these trumpets literally or symbolically. Either way, it is not good for the Christ rejecter. I'll give you both possibilities.
The First Trumpet
The first trumpet, verse 7, "The first sounded, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were thrown to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up."
Literal - Just like the literal seventh plague upon the Egyptians where "fire [was] flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very severe, such as had not been in all the land of Egypt" (Ex. 9:24). The fire most likely is lightning. The blood that verse 7 speaks about could be a result of the damaging storm on the people or it could be the color of the sky during the storm.
Symbolic - Fire is often figurative in revelation as a metaphor for judgment. Here we see it, many believe as a symbol for famine (cf. Rev. 18:8).
Either way, this was earlier prophesized in Joel 2:31 and repeated at Pentecost. "The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes" (cf. Ac. 2:20).
The Second Trumpet
The second trumpet, verses 8-9, "The second angel sounded, and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood, and a third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed."
Literal - Here we see the water becoming blood, the same as what happened in the Nile during the first Egyptian plague (Ex. 7:20). Some think the second trumpet is related to volcanic activity. Whatever it is, it goes beyond the explanation of anything we are familiar with.
Symbolic - Mountains in Revelation are symbolic for kingdoms. The burning mountain thrown down is the judgment of an evil nation. Revelation 18:21 is a good example, "Then a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, 'So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer.'"
The Third Trumpet
The third trumpet, verses 10 and 11, "The third angel sounded, and a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of waters. The name of the star is called Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter."
Literal - Obviously we can't get too literal as a star which is tremendously larger than the earth cannot fall on a third of the rivers. It says the star is called "Wormwood." There is no evidence of any star in the ancient world with that name. Perhaps it's a great meteorite? It says the rivers became wormwood. Wormwood was a bitter herb that can be poisonous in drunk in excess. You also see here a reversal of the miracle at Marah where Moses threw a tree into the water and they went from bitter to sweet (Ex. 15:25). Here they go from sweet to bitter.
Symbolic - Fire again is judgment and stars as we have seen can represent angels (Rev. 1:16; below in Isa. 14:12). Could this speak of the judgment on Satan and the angelic world that sided with him? Remember what Jesus said, "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning" (Lk. 10:18). How about the prophecy from Isaiah often attributed to Satan? "How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.' Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit" (Isa. 14:12-15). The bitterness would be symbolic for the tone of suffering as demonic angels moved false teachers to pollute God's people. Now they will be polluted themselves.
The Fourth Trumpet
The fourth trumpet, verse 12, "The fourth angel sounded, and a third of the sun and a third of the moon and a third of the stars were struck, so that a third of them would be darkened and the day would not shine for a third of it, and the night in the same way."
Literal - Fairly straightforward. How a third of the celestial bodies that bring us light will be darkened is tough to say, but light to some degree will cease (Isa. 13:10; Am. 5:8; Jo. 2:2). Again in line with Exodus when darkness came over the land for three days during the ninth plague (Ex. 10:21-23). It's almost as if we see a de-creation taking place, the original creation breaking down preparing the way for the new heavens and new earth.
Symbolic - There is almost a violation of God's physical laws upon those who disobey His spiritual laws. Darkness is symbolic for divine abandonment. Judgment will be upon those who lived in sin, who lived in darkness (cf. 1 Thes. 5:4-5) and follow Satan, the "prince of darkness." A good example would be the darkness that came upon the land at midday when God was judging Jesus as He was bearing our sins on the cross (Lk. 23:44).
The Remaining Trumpets (verse 13)
Yet this is only the beginning. Verse 13, "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!"
And as the Lord permits, next week, we'll cover two of those final three trumpets from chapter 9.
So where is the priority of Jesus in your life? There is one of two eternal destinies for all people. Will you be enjoying fellowship with Him in heaven or will you be a recipient of His awful wrath we've seen and discussed this morning? If you are His, is there evidence of His work in your life? Is there a clear desire to give Him "first-place" in all things? Is there a love for Him that exceeds you love for everything else?