Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.
Re 8:1-13. Seventh Seal. Preparation for the Seven Trumpets. The First Four and the Consequent Plagues.
1. was—Greek, "came to pass"; "began to be."
silence in heaven about … half an hour—The last seal having been broken open, the book of God's eternal plan of redemption is opened for the Lamb to read to the blessed ones in heaven. The half hour's silence contrasts with the previous jubilant songs of the great multitude, taken up by the angels (Re 7:9-11). It is the solemn introduction to the employments and enjoyments of the eternal Sabbath-rest of the people of God, commencing with the Lamb's reading the book heretofore sealed up, and which we cannot know till then. In Re 10:4, similarly at the eve of the sounding of the seventh trumpet, when the seven thunders uttered their voices, John is forbidden to write them. The seventh trumpet (Re 11:15-19) winds up God's vast plan of providence and grace in redemption, just as the seventh seal brings it to the same consummation. So also the seventh vial, Re 16:17. Not that the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven vials, though parallel, are repetitions. They each trace the course of divine action up to the grand consummation in which they all meet, under a different aspect. Thunders, lightnings, an earthquake, and voices close the seven thunders and the seven seals alike (compare Re 8:5, with Re 11:19). Compare at the seventh vial, the voices, thunders, lightnings, and earthquake, Re 16:18. The half-hour silence is the brief pause GIVEN TO John between the preceding vision and the following one, implying, on the one hand, the solemn introduction to the eternal sabbatism which is to follow the seventh seal; and, on the other, the silence which continued during the incense-accompanied prayers which usher in the first of the seven trumpets (Re 8:3-5). In the Jewish temple, musical instruments and singing resounded during the whole time of the offering of the sacrifices, which formed the first part of the service. But at the offering of incense, solemn silence was kept ("My soul waiteth upon God," Ps 62:1; "is silent," Margin; Ps 65:1, Margin), the people praying secretly all the time. The half-hour stillness implies, too, the earnest adoring expectation with which the blessed spirits and the angels await the succeeding unfolding of God's judgments. A short space is implied; for even an hour is so used (Re 17:12; 18:10, 19).
And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.
2. the seven angels—Compare the apocryphal Tobit 12:15, "I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One." Compare Lu 1:19, "I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God."
seven trumpets—These come in during the time while the martyrs rest until their fellow servants also, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled; for it is the inhabiters of the earth on whom the judgments fall, on whom also the martyrs prayed that they should fall (Re 6:10). All the ungodly, and not merely some one portion of them, are meant, all the opponents and obstacles in the way of the kingdom of Christ and His saints, as is proved by Re 11:15, 18, end, at the close of the seven trumpets. The Revelation becomes more special only as it advances farther (Re 13:1-18; 16:10; 17:18). By the seven trumpets the world kingdoms are overturned to make way for Christ's universal kingdom. The first four are connected together; and the last three, which alone have Woe, woe, woe (Re 8:7-13).
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.
3. another angel—not Christ, as many think; for He, in Revelation, is always designated by one of His proper titles; though, doubtless, He is the only true High Priest, the Angel of the Covenant, standing before the golden altar of incense, and there, as Mediator, offering up His people's prayers, rendered acceptable before God through the incense of His merit. Here the angel acts merely as a ministering spirit (Heb 1:4), just as the twenty-four elders have vials full of odors, or incense, which are the prayers of saints (Re 5:8), and which they present before the Lamb. How precisely their ministry, in perfuming the prayers of the saints and offering them on the altar of incense, is exercised, we know not, but we do know they are not to be prayed TO. If we send an offering of tribute to the king, the king's messenger is not allowed to appropriate what is due to the king alone.
there was given unto him—The angel does not provide the incense; it is given to him by Christ, whose meritorious obedience and death are the incense, rendering the saints' prayers well pleasing to God. It is not the saints who give the angel the incense; nor are their prayers identified with the incense; nor do they offer their prayers to him. Christ alone is the Mediator through whom, and to whom, prayer is to be offered.
offer it with the prayers—rather as Greek, "give it TO the prayers," so rendering them efficacious as a sweet-smelling savor to God. Christ's merits alone can thus incense our prayers, though the angelic ministry be employed to attach this incense to the prayers. The saints' praying on earth, and the angel's incensing in heaven, are simultaneous.
all saints—The prayers both of the saints in the heavenly rest, and of those militant on earth. The martyrs' cry is the foremost, and brings down the ensuing judgments.
golden altar—antitype to the earthly.
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. the smoke … which came with the prayers … ascended up—rather, "the smoke of the incense FOR (or 'given TO': 'given' being understood from Re 8:3) the prayers of the saints ascended up, out of the angel's hand, in the presence of Gods" The angel merely burns the incense given him by Christ the High Priest, so that its smoke blends with the ascending prayers of the saints. The saints themselves are priests; and the angels in this priestly ministration are but their fellow servants (Re 19:10).
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. cast it into the earth—that is, unto the earth: the hot coals off the altar cast on the earth, symbolize God's fiery judgments about to descend on the Church's foes in answer to the saints' incense-perfumed prayers which have just ascended before God, and those of the martyrs. How marvellous the power of the saints' prayers!
there were—"there took place," or "ensued."
voices, and thunderings, and lightnings—B places the "voices" after "thunderings." A places it after "lightnings."
And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.
6. sound—blow the trumpets.
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.
7. The common feature of the first four trumpets is, the judgments under them affect natural objects, the accessories of life, the earth, trees, grass, the sea, rivers, fountains, the light of the sun, moon, and stars. The last three, the woe-trumpets (Re 8:13), affect men's life with pain, death, and hell. The language is evidently drawn from the plagues of Egypt, five or six out of the ten exactly corresponding: the hail, the fire (Ex 9:24), the WATER turned to blood (Ex 7:19), the darkness (Ex 10:21), the locusts (Ex 10:12), and perhaps the death (Re 9:18). Judicial retribution in kind characterizes the inflictions of the first four, those elements which had been abused punishing their abusers.
mingled with—A, B, and Vulgate read, Greek, "… IN blood." So in the case of the second and third vials (Re 16:3, 4).
upon the earth—Greek, "unto the earth." A, B, Vulgate, and Syriac add, "And the third of the earth was burnt up." So under the third trumpet, the third of the rivers is affected: also, under the sixth trumpet, the third part of men are killed. In Zec 13:8, 9 this tripartite division appears, but the proportions reversed, two parts killed, only a third preserved. Here, vice versa, two-thirds escape, one-third is smitten. The fire was the predominant element.
all green grass—no longer a third, but all is burnt up.
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;
8. as it were—not literally a mountain: a mountain-like burning mass. There is a plain allusion to Jer 51:25; Am 7:4.
third part of the sea became blood—In the parallel second vial, the whole sea (not merely a third) becomes blood. The overthrow of Jericho, the type of the Antichristian Babylon, after which Israel, under Joshua (the same name as Jesus), victoriously took possession of Canaan, the type of Christ's and His people's kingdom, is perhaps alluded to in the SEVEN trumpets, which end in the overthrow of all Christ's foes, and the setting up of His kingdom. On the seventh day, at the seventh time, when the seven priests blew the seven ram's horn trumpets, the people shouted, and the walls fell flat: and then ensued the blood-shedding of the foe. A mountain-like fiery mass would not naturally change water into blood; nor would the third part of ships be thereby destroyed.
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.
9. The symbolical interpreters take the ships here to be churches. For the Greek here for ships is not the common one, but that used in the Gospels of the apostolic vessel in which Christ taught: and the first churches were in the shape of an inverted ship: and the Greek for destroyed is also used of heretical corruptings (1Ti 6:5).
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;
10. a lamp—a torch.
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. The symbolizers interpret the star fallen from heaven as a chief minister (Arius, according to Bullinger, Bengel, and others; or some future false teacher, if, as is more likely, the event be still future) falling from his high place in the Church, and instead of shining with heavenly light as a star, becoming a torch lit with earthly fire and smouldering with smoke. And "wormwood," though medicinal in some cases, if used as ordinary water would not only be disagreeable to the taste, but also fatal to life: so "heretical wormwood changes the sweet Siloas of Scripture into deadly Marahs" [Wordsworth]. Contrast the converse change of bitter Marah water into sweet, Ex 15:23. Alford gives as an illustration in a physical point of view, the conversion of water into firewater or ardent spirits, which may yet go on to destroy even as many as a third of the ungodly in the latter days.
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.
12. third part—not a total obscuration as in the sixth seal (Re 6:12, 13). This partial obscuration, therefore, comes between the prayers of the martyrs under the fifth seal, and the last overwhelming judgments on the ungodly under the sixth seal, at the eve of Christ's coming.
the night likewise—withdrew a third part of the light which the bright Eastern moon and stars ordinarily afford.
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—A, B, Vulgate, Syriac, and Coptic read for "angel," which is supported by none of the oldest manuscripts, "an eagle": the symbol of judgment descending fatally from on high; the king of birds pouncing on the prey. Compare this fourth trumpet and the flying eagle with the fourth seal introduced by the fourth living creature, "like a flying eagle," Re 4:7; 6:7, 8: the aspect of Jesus as presented by the fourth Evangelist. John is compared in the cherubim (according to the primitive interpretation) to a flying eagle: Christ's divine majesty in this similitude is set forth in the Gospel according to John, His judicial visitations in the Revelation of John. Contrast "another angel," or messenger, with "the everlasting Gospel," Re 14:6.
through the midst of heaven—Greek, "in the mid-heaven," that is, in the part of the sky where the sun reaches the meridian: in such a position as that the eagle is an object conspicuous to all.
the inhabiters of the earth—the ungodly, the "men of the world," whose "portion is in this life," upon whom the martyrs had prayed that their blood might be avenged (Re 6:10). Not that they sought personal revenge, but their zeal was for the honor of God against the foes of God and His Church.
the other—Greek, "the remaining voices."