Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.The Seventh Seal. Chap. 8 Revelation 8:11. there was silence] All the promised signs of Christ’s Coming have been fulfilled—everything has, apparently, been made ready for it: and we expect Him to come, and the world to come to an end: but the series of signs concludes—not with a catastrophe but—in silence. The same is the case, though less markedly, after the seventh trumpet in ch. Revelation 11:15; and in fact, similar cases occur throughout the book. We have the choice between three explanations of this phenomenon. (I.) The preceding series of visions does describe the events leading up to Christ’s Coming: when they are ended, He does come, but His Coming itself is not described. Here, it is passed over in silence, or only symbolised by the opening of the seventh seal: the half-hour’s silence is, as St Victorinus grandly says, “initium quietis aeternae.” (II.) The previous series of visions describes events preparatory, indeed, to Christ’s Coming, but not leading directly up to it: the events symbolised by these visions have been fulfilled, but those of the rest of the Book must be fulfilled also, before He really comes. (III.) These visions represent, on a smaller scale, the preparations for Christ’s final Coming and Judgement: but they do not wait for their fulfilment till then, but have their proportionate fulfilment in any anticipatory judgement which He executes on one nation or generation. The similar series of visions which follow are therefore not parallel with this, but successive: again and again God executes His Judgements, foreshadowing the last Judgement of all, and leading men to expect it: and at last He will execute that also. The last view is the one generally taken in these notes: see Introduction, p. lv. On any view it is a pity that this verse is joined with this chapter rather than with the preceding: the blowing of the seven trumpets can hardly be regarded as the effect of the opening the seal.
And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.The Seven Trumpets. Chap. Revelation 8:2 to Revelation 11:192. the seven angels which stood] Should be, which stand. It is probably a designation of seven Angels (commonly, perhaps correctly, called Archangels) who permanently enjoy special nearness to God. We have in Tob 12:15 an evidence of popular Jewish belief as to these Angels; St John’s vision is expressed in terms of that belief, and, it may fairly be thought, sanctions it with his prophetic authority.
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.The Angel with the Golden Censer, Revelation 8:3-63. another angel] In Tobit, l.c. it is the seven Angels themselves who present the prayers of the Saints before God: but, though the detail varies, the passages agree in assigning a priestly work to Angels on behalf of God’s people on earth.
at the altar] More literally, on the altar, R. V. “over the altar.” The golden altar of Incense in the Tabernacle was only a cubit square and two cubits high (Exodus 30:2), and we have no reason to suppose that the analogous one either in the first or the second Temple was larger: perhaps we may gather from 2 Chronicles 5:5, that the altar in the first Temple was identical with the one in the Tabernacle. But the altar of burnt-offering was rather a large platform than what we commonly imagine an altar (see 1Ma 1:59, where the small Greek “idol altar” stands on the “altar of God” as its basement—it cannot be substituted for it): in the Tabernacle it was 5 cubits square, in Solomon’s Temple 20, in Zerubbabel’s probably the same, and in Herod’s 50 according to Josephus, 32 according to the Mishna. In the Temple at any rate, the height of the altar was such that the officiating priests had to come up upon a ledge surrounding it (and such an ascent is contemplated in Exodus 20:26). Probably here, though the Angel is offering incense not burnt offering, the Altar where he officiates is conceived as rather of the larger type: see on Revelation 6:9.
censer] Plainly the sense here, though the Greek word properly means “incense.”
offer it with] Literally, give (i.e. add) it to the prayers; and if the literal translation requires a gloss, that of the A. V. can hardly be the right one. Apparently the image is, that the prayers of the Saints are already lying on the Altar, and the Angel, in modern liturgical phrase, “censes the holy things.” Thus disappears the supposed theological necessity for identifying this Angel with the Lord Jesus: “the prayers of all saints” are presented by Him and by no one else, as is implied in Revelation 5:8-9; where the incense is the prayers of the Saints, not something added to them. But here the Angels offer their own worship, as it is “given to them,” in union, perhaps in subordination, to those of the redeemed. The prayers here spoken of are those of all saints, not of the Martyrs exclusively: still, it is well to notice that the Altar where we offer our prayers is apparently the same where they poured out their lives, Revelation 6:9.
And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.4. which came with] Again a misleading gloss: the most literal translation is, and there went up the smoke of the incense for the prayers of the saints, out of the hand of the Angel, before God. It went up for the prayers of the Saints, i.e. to consecrate and ratify them, to unite all His spiritual creation in the same supplication, which when thus united must prevail: or “for” may be equivalent only to “with.”
And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.5. and cast it] Probably cast the censer full of burning coals, but possibly only “scattered the fire,” as Numbers 16:37. The meaning must be, to represent the same instrument as obtaining God’s mercy on His people, and executing His vengeance on His enemies: cf. Ezekiel 10:2.
there were voices, &c.] “Voices” and “thunders” should be transposed. We have similar signs in Revelation 11:19, Revelation 16:18, when the series of the seven trumpets and the seven vials respectively are ended: hence perhaps it is here rather than earlier that we are to look for the conclusion of the visions of the seven seals.
And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.
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.The First Trumpet, Revelation 8:77. The first angel] Read, And the first.
hail and fire mingled with blood] Cf. Exodus 9:24 : but here the blood marks the plague as more terrible, and more distinctly miraculous. “The stones of hail and the balls of fire fell in a shower of blood, just as hail and fire balls commonly fall in a shower of rain.” (Alford).
the third part] Read, The third part of the earth was burnt up, and the third part of the trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up. It is certainly a feature to be noticed in the first four trumpets, as contrasted (see on Revelation 6:9) with the last three, that they introduce plagues (i), on the powers of nature only, not on men, and (ii) that on these the plague stops short of entire destruction. But no plausible explanation has been given of the destruction of a third part (cf. Revelation 6:8): still less can any reason be given why all green grass is destroyed, apparently not a third part only. The former feature is perhaps to be illustrated by Ezekiel 5:2; Zechariah 13:8-9.
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;The Second Trumpet, Revelation 8:8-98. a great mountain burning with fire] Cf. Jeremiah 51:25. It can hardly be said how far the image may have been suggested to either prophet by the natural phenomenon of a volcano: of the two, St John is likelier to have seen one than Jeremiah. Volcanoes are almost always near the sea.
became blood] This plague, like the last, reminds us of one of the plagues of Egypt, Exodus 7:17 sqq.
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.
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;The Third Trumpet, Revelation 8:10-1110. burning as it were a lamp] Rather, like a torch, with a flaring trail of fire. The same image is used of natural shooting stars, e.g. Verg. Aen. ii. 694.
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.11. became wormwood] We are perhaps to be reminded, as before, of the plagues in Egypt, so here of the mercy to Israel, Exodus 15:25 : here, as those are intensified, so that is reversed.
many men died] Of course such water would be unwholesome for ordinary use, though wormwood is not exactly poisonous. But it may be a question whether St John means the name to indicate the herb now known as wormwood, or another more deadly one: poison seems to be meant in Deuteronomy 29:18; Jeremiah 9:15; Jeremiah 23:15. The root of the Hebrew word there rendered “wormwood” seems to mean “noxious.”
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.The Fourth Trumpet, Revelation 8:12-1312. the third part of the sun, &c.] Here we may think either of the Egyptian plague of darkness, Exodus 10:21 sqq., or of a reversal (as in the last case) of the blessing of Isaiah 30:26. There, as here, there seems to be no distinction made between an increase, or decrease, in the intensity of light and in its duration.
so as the third part of them was] More accurately, that the third part of them might (lit. may) “be darkened, and the day not shine, &c.”
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!13. an angel] Read, an eagle: or more literally one eagle. But apparently there was a tendency in late Hebrew for the numeral to sink, as in modern languages, into a mere indefinite article; and here, and perhaps in one or two other places, we seem to have it so used in the N. T.: e.g. Matthew 8:19; Matthew 26:69, and probably Revelation 9:18.
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.
Woe, woe, woe] We see by Revelation 9:12, Revelation 11:14 that three distinct woes are meant, one for each of the three trumpets.