Matthew Poole's Commentary
And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.Revelation 8:1 The seventh seal opened.
Revelation 8:2 Seven angels receive seven trumpets.
Revelation 8:3-5 An angel presenteth the prayers of the saints with incense
on the golden altar before the throne.
Revelation 8:6-13 Four of the angels sound their trumpets, and great
plagues severally follow.
And when he; that is, the Lamb, mentioned Revelation 5:7, who took the book out of the hand of him that sat upon the throne, the book of God’s counsels, and had now revealed mysteriously to John what should come to pass (under all the pagan emperors) to the church of Christ, until the time of Constantine the Great, who, (as was said), about the year 325, had settled the Christian religion, and shut up all the idols’ temples, having conquered the apostate Licinius.
Had opened the seventh seal; he cometh now to open the seventh seal, that is, to reveal to John what should be in the succeeding time of the church to the end of the world.
There was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour: but before the great evils should break out, which were to come to pass in this time, there was in the church a rest for a small time; for from the year 317, when Constantine bare the greatest sway in the empire, or 325, when he had got a full victory over Licinius, the church had a great peace for a little time, till 339, when the empire being divided, and Constantius having the eastern part, and Constans the western, (both sons of Constantine), Constanius, being an Arian, (who denied the Godhead of Christ), began again to persecute the Christians; and after him Julian, who apostatized to paganism. But after him they had a little further respite to the year 395, when Theodosius died, and the Christians’ quiet died with him. I rather choose to interpret this thus, than with those who understand the
silence in heaven, of a silence in the third heavens, in allusion to the Jewish order; who, though they sung during the time of the sacrifice, and played upon instruments of music all that time, yet kept silence while the incense was offering. For (as divers have noted) it seemeth hard to judge, that in this Revelation there should be no mention of that short truce which the church had during the reign of Constantine, and for a small time after.
And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.The seven angels which stood before God; the seven mentioned hereafter, which blew with the trumpets; for we presently read, that
seven trumpets were given to them. Trumpets were used to call the people together, to proclaim festivals, and in war. The use of these trumpets we shall hereafter read, which was to proclaim the will and counsels of God, as to things to come.
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.And another angel came; by this angel I understand Christ, as do many very valuable authors; nor, indeed, can what is said of this angel agree to any other but him, who is called an Angel, Genesis 48:16, and the Angel of the covenant, Malachi 3:1. Here is a manifest allusion to the order of the Jewish worship; they had an altar of incense, Exodus 30:1, upon which the high priest was to burn incense every morning and evening, Revelation 8:7,8. Whilst the priest was burning incense, as appears, Luke 1:10, the people, were without, praying. Christ is here represented as
having a golden censer. The high priest’s censer amongst the Jews was of brass; but he was a more excellent High Priest.
And there was given unto him much incense; by which is meant the infinite merit of his death, to be offered up by himself (who is the golden altar) with the prayers of all his saints. By all this Christ is represented to us, as interceding for his saints that were to live after this time, during all troubles that were immediately to begin, and to follow on, during the reign of antichrist.
And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.This only denotes the acceptableness of Christ’s intercession, and God’s people’s prayers, through the virtue of that intercession, unto God.
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.I doubt not but by fire here, is to be understood the wrath of God, often in holy writ compared to fire, poured out upon the Roman empire, or the visible church. Upon which followed great judgments, and confusions, and tumults, expressed here, or ushered in, as before, Revelation 6:1, with
thunderings; which being here more generally mentioned, are by and by more particularly expressed.
And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.The angels are God’s ministers, by which he bringeth his counsels to pass in the world: they hearing the thunderings and voices, knew the time was come when they were to begin the execution of God’s judgments upon the earth; the execution of which was intrusted to them, and they are therefore set out (though they be always ready) after the manner of men, preparing themselves to execute what God had intrusted them with the execution of.
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 angel sounded; the first of the seven angels to whom the seven trumpets were given, Revelation 8:2, began to execute his commission; the consequents of which were
hail and fire mingled with blood, cast upon the earth: by which some understand the primitive church’s persecutions by the Jews and the heathen emperors; but these were over. Some understand God’s revenge upon the Jews; but this also was taken some hundreds of years since. Some understand unseasonable weather in many parts of the world; but we read nothing like this in history. Some understand contests happening in the church; others understand heresies. But I cannot but rather agree with the reverend Mr. Mede, who expounds it of great troubles, and blood, and slaughter which should happen; and thinks that this prophecy began to be fulfilled about the death of Theodosius, Anno 395. For in this very year (saith he) Alaricus the king of the Goths brake into Macedonia, with a great army went into Thessalia, and so into Achaia, Peloponnesus, Corinth, Argos, Sparta, burning, wasting, and ruining all places; and so went on till the year 400; then fell upon the eastern empire, and committed the same outrages in Dalmatia and Hungary; then went into Stiria and Bavaria, thence into Italy and to Venice. After this, in the year 404, these barbarous nations invaded Italy, and took divers places. In the year 406 the Vandals and Alans, with many others, invaded France, Spain, and Africa: all which he proveth from the testimony of Jerome, Ep. 3. 11. This he judgeth the effect of the first angel’s sounding, and to have been signified by the hail and fire mingled with blood, consonant to other scriptures. Isaiah, Isaiah 28:2, compareth Shalmaneser to a storm of hail; and, Isaiah 30:30, he so likeneth the ruin to come upon the Assyrians. By the
trees burnt up, are (saith he) the great and rich men to be understood, ordinarily in Scripture compared to trees, Isaiah 2:13 14:8 Zechariah 11:2; and by the
green grass, the ordinary common people. Thus he judgeth the effects of this first trumpet’s sounding to have been determined in fifteen years, viz. from the year 395 to 410.
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;There is a great variety of senses also about this
mountain of fire cast into the sea. Some by it understand things happening in Judea; but this had been not to have showed John the things which should be, but which had been. Others will have the devil understood; others, the power of the Roman empire; others, some great war stirred up amongst people; others, some notable heresy or heretic; others, some famous persons in the church: but I most like Mr. Mede’s notion again here, who understands by this mountain, Rome, the seat of the western empire; great cities being called mountains in Scripture phrase, Isaiah 37:24 Jeremiah 51:25.
And the third part of the sea became blood: this phrase speaks only the great effusion of blood upon the taking of Rome by its enemies.
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.Phrases all signifying the miserable catastrophe that should follow the destruction of this city, by the slaughter of men, the ruin of houses and towns in Italy, &c. History (as Mr. Mede showeth) excellently agreeth with this. In the year 410, Rome was taken by Alaricus; this was followed with great devastations both in France and Spain. Honorius, to recover the empire, was glad to give the Goths a seat and government in France, and the Burgundians and Vandals a place near unto the river Rhone; and, Anno 415, to the Vandals a place in Spain; and, Anno 455, Rome was again taken by Gensericus the Vandal, who divided the whole empire into ten kingdoms:
1. That of the Britrons, ruled by Vortimer.
2. The Saxons, ruled by Hengist.
3. The Franks, ruled by Childeric.
4. The Burgundians, ruled by Gundericus.
5. The Visigoths, ruled by Theodoricus II.
6. The Alans and Suevi, ruled by Riciarius.
7. The Vandals, ruled by Gensericus.
8. The Germans, ruled by Sumanus.
9. The Ostrogoths, ruled by Theodemirus.
10. The Grecians, ruled by Marcianus.
This is the sum of what Mr. Mede saith, and to this tract of time, between the years 410 and 455, the second trumpet seemeth to relate.
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;There fell a great star from heaven: stars, in their metaphorical notion, signify some eminent persons in the state, or in the church; accordingly interpreters are divided in their senses; some thinking that it is meant of a political star, some eminent civil governor, and apply it to Caesar Augustulus, who, about the year 480, was forced to give over the empire, by Odoacer; of him Mr. Mede understands this prophecy. Others understand it of some ecclesiastical star, who apostatized, and apply it to Pelagius. I do rather incline to those who apply it to some ecclesiastical star; and Pelagius might be pointed at, as probably as any other in these times, for he was a great professor, and so burned
as a lamp. And it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; and did corrupt a great part of the church.
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.His doctrine was as bitter as wormwood; and he was the ruin of many souls. But if any do rather choose to understand it of a political star, Mr. Mede’s notion bids as fair for the sense as any, because the western empire determined in Augustulus, and he reigned but a very short time; and he was a prince of many sorrows and afflictions, and many perished with him in those sorrows and afflictions which he underwent. Whether we understand it of some eminent political magistrate, (such was Augustulus), or some eminent light in the church, (such was Pelagius), they both fell about this time, the one from his terrene dignity, the other spiritually from the honour he had in the church; and many fell with them, either in a civil or in a spiritual sense.
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.Interpreters (setting aside one or two, who conceit the Revelation is nothing but a repetition of things that happened in Judea before John’s time) generally agree, that the period of time to which this prophecy relates, is from the year 480, when the western empire ceased. The history of the age next following, both relating to civil and ecclesiastical things, doth so fit this prophecy, that interpreters are much divided about the sense of it, whether it be to be understood of the miseries befalling the Roman empire or the church in that time; for, as great princes in the former, so great lights in the latter, are metaphorically expressed in Scripture under the notions of the sun, moon, and stars, in regard of the great influence they have upon men, as those luminaries of heaven have upon the earth. Mr. Mede understands it of political magistrates, here expressed (as in Joseph’s dream) by the sun, moon, and stars: and to show us how the event fitted the prophecy, he tells us out of the best authors, that when Odoacer had routed Augustulus, and turned him out of the empire, himself ruled Rome under the title of a king sixteen years, and destroyed all their old magistracy, but after two years restored it. That Theodoricus, following him in the government of Italy, restored all their rights again, which so continued under three kings (all Goths) for near fifty years. But after the year 546, Rome was taken and burnt once and again, and a third part of it demolished by Totilas. Others understand it of Pelagius, or some famous heretic in that time. But to speak freely, the words of the prophecy, and the histories we have, rather agree to Mr. Mede’s sense; for (except Pelagius, who began about the year 406) we read of none in this age to whom the words of this prophecy will agree in any good sense.
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!This verse is but an introduction to the other three angels sounding, declaring that the times which were to follow would be much more full of miseries and woes
to the inhabitants of the earth; by which I understand all those countries which lately were subject to the Roman empire. Others understand the more earthy, unsound, hypocritical part of the church. The
woe is thrice repeated, either to show the greatness of the calamities, or rather correspondently to the number of the angels yet to sound.