Chapter Six - The Trumpet Judgments Begin (7:1-8:13)

 

1. INTRODUCTION

In this parenthesis, John observes the sealed 144,000 and the multitude from the Gentiles.

1.1. The Sealing of the 144,000 Israelites (7:1-8)

As John continues to observes the revelation being given to him, an angelic messenger seems to interrupt the proceedings with an important message. It is as though a parenthesis is being inserted between the sixth and the seventh seal. This same thing will happen again between the sixth and the seventh trumpet in the next series of judgments (10:1-11:14). These parentheses are seemingly inserted not to continue the chronological revelation, but to be retrospective. They give the background against which the judgments take place.

It seems likely that the events pictured here, especially the sealing of the 144,000, probably occurred during the breaking of the first seal or, if not that far back, at least before the second seal when warfare breaks out in the world. The four angels who stand at the four corners of the earth (7:1) exercise a restraining ministry so that there cannot be any damage occurring on the earth until the sealing of the 144,000 is completed. While the first seal does not seem to produce great damage on the earth, once the second seal is broken there is great damage.

The purpose of a seal was to provide a mark of ownership and to provide security. We see only a few Jewish people today coming to the Lord Jesus Christ, but after the rapture, a great number will believe. Perhaps most of these will be killed in the "Great Tribulation," but still a large number, these 144,000, are sealed and protected from harm. They keep on to the end and greet the Lamb when He arrives on Mount Zion (Matthew 24:13; Revelation 14:1).

1.2. A Great Multitude of Both Jews and Gentiles Will be Saved During the Tribulation Period (7:9-17)

The question has often been asked, "Will anyone be saved after the rapture?" The Scriptures clearly indicate that a great multitude of both Jews and Gentiles will trust in the Lord after the church is caught up. Though all genuine Christians living on earth will be raptured to the Heaven when Christ comes for His church, immediately a testimony will be raised up to the name of Christ through new converts among Jews and Gentiles.

There are strong indications that those who heard the gospel and deliberately rejected it before the rapture will not be saved after the rapture. "God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12). The lie, of course, is the belief that the wicked superman (i.e., the Antichrist) of the Tribulation period is God Himself. Those who have rejected Christ during the age of grace (i.e., the church age) will be prone to accept the lie.

But there are many in the world who either have never heard the gospel or have not fully understand it. There is no reason to think that these cannot be saved, if still alive after the rapture. By reading the Bible and related books and Internet resources regarding the Bible Prophecy (Note: it is one of the missions of my website.), many Jews and Gentiles will turn to the Lord Jesus Christ in repentance and faith. This will also include some previous professing Christians who will repent and have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They will then go throughout the world (Matthew 24:14), preaching the gospel of the Kingdom. All who believe in Christ will be saved and will enter the Millennium with Christ (Revelation 20:4). Many Jews and Gentiles will be converted. Though these are never described by the term "church," they are constantly called "saints" in the book of Revelation, that is, those set apart as holy to God and saved through the sacrifice of Christ.

1.3. The Special Ministries of the Holy Spirit During the Tribulation Period

The presence of saved people in the world after the rapture has puzzled some because according to 2 Thessalonians 2:7 the one who now restrains sin, often identified as the Holy Spirit, is pictures as being removed from the world. The question then is how can people be saved in the Tribulation if the Holy Spirit is taken out of the world?

The answer is that the Holy Spirit is removed from the world in the same sense in which He came on the day of Pentecost. When the present church age ends and the Holy Spirit is caught up with the church, the situation will return to that which was true before the day of Pentecost. Though the special ministries which are characteristic of the present dispensation may cease, there will be the continued ministry of the Spirit in a similar way to that which existed before Pentecost. The Holy Spirit will lead people to Christ, and many will be saved during the Tribulation. The Holy Spirit is always omnipresent. He has always been in the world and always will be.

 

2. THE SEALING OF THE 144,000 ISRAELITES ON EARTH (7:1-8)

2.1. The Vision of the Four Angels (7:1-3)

Verse 7:1

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree.

Four angels hold back the winds which bring judgment on the earth. The word "wind" (Greek: ἀνέμους,Transliteration: anemous) is equivalent to the Hebrew word רוּחַ which means "spirit," and in Daniel 7:2 the four winds are blowing up storms over the sea of many nations. God sometimes allows "spirits" to do their worst so He can accomplish His purposes.

The agents in control of the four winds are four angels. They are located at the four corners of the earth. Though sometimes taken as reflecting the ancient cosmology of a square earth, this is an accommodative term used to designate the four directions of the compass, the whole earth (Isaiah 11:12; Revelation 20:8). The earth is not a flat square with four corners. The language is figurative to indicate the worldwide nature of these angels' responsibility. These four points of the compass are points of origination from which the four winds proceed (Jeremiah 49:36; Matthew 24:31). The threefold repetition of the numerical "four" is a means of marking the universality of this angelic action. In light of this emphasis, the "earth" should not be limited to the land of Palestine or to the Roman world of the time in any of its three uses in verse 1. It is the earth in its largest sense.

The mission of the four angels is to prevent outbreaks of destructive wind forces. The verb "holding" (Greek: κρατοῦντας, transliteration: kratountas,tense: present participle) implies that the winds are struggling to get loose, but are being restrained. The four winds picture God's destructive action against the earth (Jeremiah 49:36-38; Daniel 7:2; Hosea 13:15).

It is reasonable to see the winds as a vivid apocalyptic way of referring to the plagues that are shortly to happen to mankind. Because of the fluidity of apocalyptic language, the release of the winds is not mentioned later, being replaced by the seven angels with trumpets, at whose sounding the plagues fall upon the earth. The first two trumpet judgments affect the same parts of creation as the winds, i.e., the earth, the trees, and the sea (Revelation 8:6-9), so the angelic restraint here is in essence a delaying of the initiation of the trumpet series. Further confirmation of the connection between the four winds and the coming trumpet judgments comes in the sealing that must precede the release of the winds (Revelation 7:2-4). As reflected in Revelation 9:4, this protects the servants of God from the effects of the trumpets as the sealing of Ezekiel 9:4-8 protected the righteous remnant from the ministers of slaughter in Jerusalem. Such a mark set on certain people protects them from the harm inflicted on the rest.

Verse 7:2

Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea,

John saw another angel (i.e., the fifth angel) ascending from the rising of the sun. It appears to have been to the east of Patmos, in the direction of Israel and the countries beyond it. Why this angel came from the east? The answers are as follows:

  1. It is recalled that Paradise was set up in the east (Genesis 2:8);

  2. The glory of God comes to the Temple from the east (Ezekiel 43:2);

  3. This direction also was the area whence the magi came at the Lord Jesus' birth (Matthew 2:1);

  4. Jesus is called "dayspring" (Luke 1:78) and "morning star" (Revelation 22:16), which signals the arrival of daylight through the rising of the sun in the east. Israel will experience salvation through the "sun-rising" of Christ; and

  5. The east is the direction of Israel and is appropriate because in this section the twelve tribes of Israel are the ones sealed.

God has chosen to reveal His salvation from this area of the world. It is, then, appropriate that the angel should come from there.

The fifth angel carrying the "seal of the living God." "The living God" is a familiar expression in both the Old Testament (Joshua 3:10; Psalms 42:2; Hosea 1:10) and the New Testament (Revelation 4:9, 10; 10:6; 15:7). This kind of reference to Him emphasizes the contrast between the one eternal God and innumerable transitory gods of the heathen.

A "seal" (Greek: σφραγῖδα, transliteration:  sphragida) was usually a signet ring that an oriental monarch affixed to give validity to official documents or to mark his property (Genesis 41:42; Esther 3:10; 8:2, 8; Daniel 6:17). It was used to authenticate and to protect. In Revelation 14:1, this seal is the name of the Lamb and that of His Father (Isaiah 44:5). A seal has a rich meaning in Christian usage, including:

  1. ownership (2 Corinthians 1:22);

  2. authentication (John 6:27); and

  3. protection leading to final salvation (Ephesians 4:30).

The symbolism of this seal is similar to Ezekiel 9:3-6 where a man provided with a writing kit is bidden to set a mark on the foreheads of the righteous. This is a protective measure for them in view of an impending massacre in Jerusalem. The preserving effect of the seal is shown in the trumpet judgment (Revelation 9:4).

The fifth angel cried out with a loud voice reflects the urgency and importance of his mission. His first concern is protection of God's servants on earth. These saints must receive their mark of exemption from the ill effects of God's visitations against the rest of mankind.

Verse 7:3

saying, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads."

The prohibition "do not harm" tells the four angels to continue their restraint of the four winds a little longer. They are not even to allow the damage to begin until the sealing work is done. The first person plural of "we have sealed" perhaps refers to the help from the other angels who assist the fifth angel in the sealing task.

The sealing is an immunity from death due to the following reasons:

  1. Before the rapture, the true church has the responsibility of spreading the gospel and also to bear testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ on the earth. After the rapture, the church is absent on the earth and therefore the God must deal with Israel (i.e., the God's earthly chosen people) again. He has to set apart a group of special faithful Jewish remnant to spread the gospel and also to be a testimony to God's grace and mercy during the Tribulation period. They are already God's servants who must not be killed otherwise there will be insufficient number of people to spread the gospel.

  2. The later appearance of this same group with the Lamb on Mount Zion (Revelation 14:1-5) means they will enjoy physical preservation until they meet Christ at His return to earth.

  3. These being the elect of Israel, they will be gathered by the Lord Jesus Christ after the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:31), having been protected and preserved unscathed. They will live in the future earthly kingdom of Israel during the Millennium.

  4. There are many precedents in Scriptures for such a protection of God's own. When God sent the flood upon the earth, He separated Noah and his family from the rest of the human race and the flood did not hurt them (Genesis 7:1-9:19). When God destroyed Jericho, He protected Rahab and her household (2:1-24; 6:22-25). In a similar way in the time of Great Tribulation protection will be given to this group of 144,000 Israelites. This reasoning is also supported by Ezekiel 9:4.

The parallel device of the beast to mark his own as special associates in his cause (Revelation 13:16; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20) shows this sealing of God's own to be in the character of a special guarantee of an alliance with Him in the future developments on earth.

The placement of the seal is "on their foreheads" (compare Ezekiel 9:4). The forehead was chosen because it was the most conspicuous, the most noble, and the part by which a person is usually identified.

2.2. The Sealing of the Twelve Tribes (7:4)

Verse 7:4

And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:

John heard that 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel (Revelation 7:5-8), total 144,000 Israelites (i.e., 12,000 x 12 = 144,000) are protected by the seal. For purposes of emphasizing that every tribe is included, the expression: "sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel" is added to supplement the numerical total. This, along with the naming of each individual tribe and the repeated number 12,000 in (7:5-8), furnishes the strongest possible indicator that representation will come from every division of Israel.

THE SEALING OF THE 144,000 ISRAELITES

The 144,000 Israelites is not the entirety of the faithful remnant of Israel, but a group of them charged with a special responsibility of witnessing for Christ during the world's darkest hour. There will be other Israelites saved besides these 144,000, but many of these will die martyrs' deaths and give up their lives for their faith. The 144,000 are those who are delivered from their persecutors and brought safely through this terrible time of tribulation. In Revelation chapter 14 they are seen triumphant at the end of the Tribulation when Christ returns.

No justification can be found for understanding the simple statement in 7:4 as a figure of speech. If it is taken symbolically, no number in the book can be taken literally. As God reserved 7,000 in the days of Ahab (1 Kings 19:18; Romans 11:4), He will reserve 144,000 for Himself during the future Great Tribulation.

The false teachers of the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in South Korea claim that they are the 144,000, specially blessed of God, we can be sure that their teaching is wrong.

There are two interpretations of the 144,000 Israelites:

  1. It is the Church (symbolical interpretation). The 144,000 Israelites represent the spiritual Israel (i.e., the church is the new Israel) during the Tribulation period.

  2. It is the national Israel (literal interpretation). It is the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

2.2.1. It is the Church: Symbolical Interpretation (False Interpretation)

The reasons are as follows:

  1. Jesus' promise to the twelve apostles of sitting on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28) leads to the conclusion that the church is the new Israel.

  2. The sealing must embrace the entire Christian community, for God would not secure some of His servants and leave others unprotected.

  3. The conflict between the Roman emperor and the church in the background of the Apocalypse necessitates that the 144,000 must be the church.

  4. A reference to national Israel here complicates the book of Revelation by introducing racial distinctions that no longer exist in the New Testament.

  5. There is no reason why only Jews have the seal and are preserved by the God.

  6. Galatians 6:16 seems to support that the church is the new Israel.

  7. Ten of the twelve tribes of Israel lost their identity in the Assyrian captivity and the remaining two lost theirs when Jerusalem fell in AD 70. The lost tribes are distributed around everywhere in the world and their genealogies have been lost.

However, this interpretation is false due to the following reasons:

  1. A tie-in of the term to the church through the twelve apostles (Matthew 19:28) is improbable because Revelation 21:12, 14 makes a clear distinction between the two groups of twelve.

  2. The entire Christian community will be protected by the God as the true church will be raptured to Heaven before the Tribulation period.

  3. The Roman emperor also persecuted the Jews in early centuries.

  4. There is no racial distinctions as the church (which consists of both Jews and Gentiles) will be raptured to the Heaven and a great multitude of Gentiles will also be saved during the Tribulation period (Revelation 7:9-17).

  5. The Jews have to spread the gospel during the Tribulation period and it is necessary for the God to preserve them.

  6. Galatians 6:16, where "the Israel of God" does not imply that the church is the new Israel. The correct interpretation is that: the Israel of God refers to those Jews by natural birth who accept the Lord Jesus Christ as Messiah. Paul prays God's peace and mercy for those who follow the principle that he has been enunciating throughout the epistle, this principle of new life in the Lord Jesus Christ. And he prays also for the true Israel in contrast to the Judaizers, who claimed to be Israel. The true Israel is the "remnant" described in Romans 2:28-29; 11:5 and therefore it does not refer to the church.

  7. Though the identity of the tribe members is lost to mankind, it is still known to God who will be in charge of the sealing when it takes place.

  8. It is ridiculous because it necessitates typological interpretation that divides the church into twelve tribes to coincide with the listing of Revelation 7:5-8.

  9. There is no clear-cut example of the church being called "Israel" exists in the New Testament or in ancient church writings until AD 160. This interpretation is widely distributed by the false cults to twist the original meanings of the Bible e.g. the Jehovah's Witnesses.

  10. As God reserved 7,000 in the days of Ahab (1 Kings 19:18; Romans 11:4), there is no reason why we cannot believe that He will reserve 144,000 Israelites for Himself during the future Great Tribulation.

2.2.2. It is the national Israel: Literal Interpretation (Correct Interpretation)

The reasons are as follows:

  1. This allows a simple and consistent way to understand the entire Bible.

  2. This is the natural understanding and the word's normal usage in the New Testament as well as the Old Testament.

  3. This accounts for the detailed division of the people of God into twelve families answering individually to the twelve tribes of Israel in 7:5-8.

  4. It is the explanation favoured by the earliest Christian tradition.

  5. It is in harmony with Paul's clear distinction between two groups of God's people, Israel and the church, as described in Romans 9-11.

  6. Various Bible prophecies in both the Old Testament and New Testament promised that the national Israel which will be preserved in the Tribulation period, will become a great nation in the future Millennial Kingdom.

  7. The nation Israel was re-established on 14 May 1948. US President Donald Trump recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on 6 December 2017.

2.3. Differences Between the Lists of Twelve Tribes in the Old Testament and in Revelation 7:5-8

Verses 7:5-8

12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,

12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,

12,000 from the tribe of Gad,

12,000 from the tribe of Asher,

12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,

12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,

12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,

12,000 from the tribe of Levi,

12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,

12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,

12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,

12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.

The terms "Israel" and "twelve tribes" must be referred to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The birth of Jacob's 12 sons is described in Genesis 29:32 to 35:18. Other lists of them are found in Genesis 35:22-26; 46:8-25; 49:3-27; Exodus 1:2-5; Numbers 1:5-15; 2:3-31; 13:4-15; 26:4-51; 34:19-28; Deuteronomy 27:12-13; 33:6-25; Joshua 13:7 to 22:34; Judges 5:12-18; 1 Chronicles 2:1 to 8:40; 12:24-37; 27:16-22; Ezekiel 48:1-7, 23-28, 31-34.

In the Old Testament lists, there are 19 arrangements of the names that differ from each other, and the listing in Revelation 7:5-8 agrees with none of them.  The differences among them are as follows:

  1. the order of birth is followed (Genesis 29:32 to 35:18);

  2. the order of Jacob's blessing them (Genesis 49:3-27);

  3. the order of encampment (Numbers 2:3-31);

  4. the order of the census before the invasion of Canaan (Numbers 26:4-51);

  5. the order of blessing and cursing (Deuteronomy 27:12-13);

  6. the order of Moses' blessing (Deuteronomy 33:6-25);

  7. the order of the heads (Numbers 1:5-15);

  8. the order of inheritance (Joshua 13:7 to 22:34);

  9. the order by the wives and concubines (1 Chronicles 2:1 to 8:40); and

  10. the order of the gates of the new holy city (Ezekiel 48:31-34).

The last list is closest to the present list because it includes Levi and Joseph as John's list does (compare Ezekiel 48:31-34 with Revelation 5:5).

COMPARISON OF TEN BIBLICAL LISTS OF THE TWELVE TRIBES OF ISRAEL

2.3.1. The inclusion of the tribe of Levi in the list

The tribe of Levi is included in the Old Testament lists where territorial division is in view (1 Chronicles 6:1-81).

2.3.2. The reason for Judah's first position in the list

The reason for Judah's first position lies in Christ's membership in that tribe, giving it priority. This is supported by the title "the lion of the tribe of Judah" in Revelation 5:5 and by comparison with Old Testament lists where Judah comes first. In all listings in the Old Testament, there is a connection with the Messianic expectation through Judah (Genesis 49:10; 1 Chronicles 2:3 to 4:43; 5:2).

2.3.3. The absence of the tribe of Dan in the list

Another peculiarity of the list is the absence of the tribe of Dan. A number of explanations of this have been offered:

  1. The Jewish tradition and the early church believed that the Antichrist was to arise from this tribe, and for this reason, it was not included. The early church saw this omission as an outgrowth of Dan's territory being one of the places where Jeroboam set up his idolatrous calf-worship (1 Kings 12:28-30). Jacob's prophecy about Dan in Genesis 49:17 also refers him to the serpent and what is diabolical.

  2. Idolatry in particular was the blight upon Dan. Deuteronomy 29:19-20 requires the blotting out of the name of anyone who introduces idolatry into Israel. The Scripture gives regular notice of this tribe's offensiveness in this regard (Judges 18:30, 31; 1 Kings 12:28-30). Idolaters will be excluded from the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:15). Though Dan is included in the future distribution of the land and it will be situated in the extreme north which is the farthest removed from the temple (Ezekiel 48), it will be excluded from the protective sealing because of the blot upon Dan's history caused by idolatry. The other tribes were guilty of the same sin, but Dan was the leader in idolatrous practices. This is the best reason.

2.3.4. The absence of the tribe of Ephraim in the list

The absence of Ephraim's name from the list of tribes may be caused by the following reasons:

  1. Ephraim like Dan was addicted to idolatry according to the Old Testament (Judges 17:1-13; 18:2, 30, 31; 1 Kings 12:25-29; Hosea 4:17).

  2. Ephraim was foremost in the defection from the house of David (2 Samuel 2:9; Isaiah 7:17) and was an ally of the enemies of Judah (Isaiah 7:2, 5; Hosea 5:3).

  3. As shown in points 1 and 2, there were certain "untheocratic" recollections connected with this name that probably led to the substitution of Joseph's name. Such a substitution occurs elsewhere (Judges 1:22, 35), being based on the fact that the tribe of Ephraim, like that of Manasseh, is closely associated with their father Joseph through whom they received their inheritance (Joshua 17:16-17). The inclusion of Joseph in the present list accomplishes the purpose of including Ephraim without the unpleasant connotation that the name carried. This is the best reason.

2.3.5. The inclusion of the tribes of Manasseh and Joseph in the same list

Another peculiar characteristic of the breakdown of Revelation 7:5-8 is the inclusion of Manasseh and Joseph in the same list. Manasseh was the faithful son of Joseph. Because Joseph was given a double portion by Jacob in recognition of his favouritism toward Joseph (Genesis 37:3; Joshua 17:16-17), this is a fitting tribute to Manasseh's faithfulness.

2.4. Conclusion

Although the leaders of socialism, atheism and Godless commercialism are found among the Jews and are gathered back to their land in unbelief, trusting their money to purchase the favour of the Gentiles, yet God will have 144,000 whom He calls His "servants," who are sealed with the name of the Lamb and of His Father in their foreheads (Revelation 14:1; 7:3).

 

3. THE GREAT MULTITUDE OF MARTYRED DEAD IN HEAVEN (7:9-17)

3.1. Introduction

The second half of chapter 7 of Revelation demonstrates that not only will many be saved in Israel but also many Gentiles will come to Christ in the Great Tribulation. In his vision John sees a great multitude beyond human computation coming from all nations, kindreds and languages standing before the throne, clothed with white robes, with palms in their hands, ascribing salvation to God and to the Lamb. In contrast to those coming from the twelve tribes as pictured earlier in the chapter, this throng comes from all nations.

The majority of saints in the Tribulation will die as martyrs. Many will be killed by earthquakes, war and pestilence. Others will be the object of special persecution by the world ruler. Because they will not worship the beast (i.e., Antichrist), they will be under a death sentence (Revelation 13:15). Those who accept Christ in that time may be faced with the solemn alternative of either renouncing their faith in Christ and worshipping the beast or being slain. The result will be multiplied thousands of martyrs.

This passage clearly teaches that many Gentiles will be saved during the Tribulation. The command to preach the gospel to every nation throughout the world (Matthew 24:14; 28:19-20) will have its ultimate fulfillment in this way before Christ comes back to establish His millennial kingdom.

3.2. The Martyred Dead of the Tribulation Period Seen in Heaven (7:9-10)

Verse 7:9

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,

John saw a very great number of people in heaven. No one could count all these from every nation, tribe and language group. They were standing before the throne and the Lamb. They too wore white robes, like the martyrs of Revelation 6:11, and were holding branches of palm trees in their hands.

THE GREAT MULTITUDE IN HEAVEN

3.2.1. The time and place of the vision

The expression "after this I looked, and behold, a great multitude" indicates a vision that is new and distinct from the preceding one. John received it immediately after the vision of Revelation 7:1-8.

According to the placement of the vision between the sixth and seventh seals, this would be a point just before the mid-point of Daniel's seventieth week. The presence of the elders and the living beings (Revelation 7:11) verifies that this is still the heavenly throne room introduced earlier in chapters 4-5 and not in an earthly setting.

3.2.2. The source of the "great multitude"

The clause "no one could number" simply means that this "great multitude" is a very great number of people. The source of this multitude is given by the fourfold division "from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages" (compare Revelation 5:9; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15). The multitude of redeemed people are standing before the throne and the Lamb. The elders, living beings and other angels are still in the presence of God and the Lamb (Revelation 7:11). The multitude are now joined with them in the Heaven.

3.2.3. The characteristics of the "great multitude"

They clothed in "white robes," like the martyrs of Revelation 6:11. In John's day, white robes were emblematic of rejoicing associated with victory. Here they indicate not only victory, but also the righteousness obtained through the death of Christ (Revelation 7:14). The palms carried in their hands confirm the victory symbolism of the robes.

They were "holding branches of palm trees in their hands." A palm was a perfect tree because it embodied everything a tree should have. Palm branches were regarded as appropriate at any symbol of joy, triumph or celebration, such as the triumphal entry of Christ (Matthew 21:8; John 12:13). They were prominent at the Feast of Tabernacles, being used to construct the shelters on the housetops required for that occasion (Leviticus 23:40; Nehemiah 8:15). This was to remind the Jewish people of their long, hard journey through the desert. These believers in Heaven praised the Lord with palms in their hands as they too had gone through great trouble in the world (Revelation 7:14).

3.2.4. The identity of the "great multitude"

There are several interpretations of the identity of the "great multitude" as follows:

  1. It is a symbolic representation of those who are finally victorious in salvation. This interpretation fails to note the connection of this crowd with the future Great Tribulation in Revelation 7:14, and is not keeping with the point reached in the breaking of the seals. This interpretation is wrong.

  2. They are identical with the 144,000 sealed earlier in the chapter. But the two groups cannot be the same. The earlier one was numbered, but this one is innumerable. One is exclusively Jews, the other is not. This multitude includes far more than the 144,000 of the earlier group. Please see below table showing the differences between the two groups of people. It is obvious that this interpretation is wrong.

  3. They are Jewish and Gentile martyrs who have died violent deaths during the period of the first six seals. The universality of terminology agrees with this as does the placement of the vision between the sixth and seventh seals. They are seen in Heaven after the completion of the sealing of the 144,000 on earth. This is the best interpretation.

COMPARISONS BETWEEN THE TWO GROUPS DESCRIBED IN REVELATION 7

144,000 (7:1-8)

The Multitude (7:9-17)

144,000

Innumerable

Are Israelites only, 12,000 from the 12 tribes of Israel.

Come out of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.

Still upon the earth in mortal bodies that need the protection of God.

In a state of glory before the very throne of God.

Sealed for protection

Ascended after persecution

Verse 7:10

and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"

The expression "crying out with a loud voice" reflects the depth of gratitude of the crowd. These Jews and Gentiles had been saved from sin, and so they cried out their thanks for their salvation to God and to the Lamb (compare Revelation 19:1). This salvation is not their own achievement, but that of God and of the Lamb. It is a comprehensive sense of deliverance from sin with all its dire consequences. Satan and his servants would destroy all believers if they could, but Christ has won the victory and we are safe. God is our Saviour (Titus 3:4; Jude 25) and Christ is our Saviour (2 Peter 1:1).

3.3. The Praise of the Heavenly Host (7:11-12)

Verse 7:11

And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,

All the angels joined in praising God. These are presumably the same ones who endorsed the ascription of praise in 5:11-12. Though angels do not experience victory and salvation in the same sense as humans, they still rejoice over a repentant sinner (Luke 15:10) and have an intense desire to know more about the salvation that is available to men (1 Peter 1:12). As in Revelation 5:11, the angels form a circle around the throne outside the elders and the living beings. They are standing nearer the throne than the great multitude.

The angels "fell on their faces before the throne" much in the same manner as the twenty-four elders were known to do (Revelation 4:10; 11:16). This posture is appropriate for those who worship God. The expression "worshiped God" shows worship to be a regular practice in the Heaven (Revelation 4:10; 5:14; 11:16; 19:4).

Verse 7:12

saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and strength be to our God forever and ever! Amen."

The angels saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."

The first "amen" is their solemn confirmation of the tribute of the redeemed multitude to God because of the victory He has brought (Revelation 1:6-7; 5:14; 19:4). Then follows their own tribute in the form of a sevenfold doxology similar to the one addressed to the Lamb by an innumerable multitude of angelic beings in Revelation 5:12. The connection of their doxology with that of the large crowd of human beings shows the final victory of the redeemed. The meanings of the sevenfold doxology are as follows:

  1. "Blessing" is what is due to God on behalf of the liberated multitude. It finds a place in the doxologies of Revelation 5:12-13 also.

  2. "Glory" is honour derived from earning a good reputation. Here it is the radiance of the divine Person, particularly because of His work of deliverance. The word occurs in doxologies at Revelation 1:6; 4:11; 5:12-13; 19:1 also.

  3. "Wisdom" is the divine knowledge of God exhibited in His plan of salvation. It is in another doxology at Revelation 5:12.

  4. "Thanksgiving" is made up of two parts, the first meaning "well" and the second "to give freely." It denotes gratitude. The thanksgiving of the creature is inevitable in view of God's victorious accomplishments. The doxology of Revelation 4:9 also contains this word.

  5. "Honour" is in recognition of God's provision of salvation. This term is in three other doxologies (Revelation 4:11; 5:12-13).

  6. "Power" is God's omnipotence, His ability to act effectively against all opposition. He has delivered this multitude from the persecutions of the Antichrist and his controlled evil governments. Its other doxological uses are at Revelation 4:11; 5:12; 19:1.

  7. "Strength" refers to the God's strength in delivering this throng from the clutches of the enemy. The word is in a doxology again at Revelation 5:12.

In voicing their praise, the angels validate the eternal attributes of the God (i.e., "forever and ever, amen").

3.4. The Martyred Dead Identified As Tribulation Saints (7:13-14)

Verse 7:13

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?"

One of the twenty-four elders asked John if he knew who these people were and where they came from. The elder intervened as at Revelation 5:5 to interpret the vision by anticipating the question that John was getting ready to ask (Joshua 9:8; Jonah 1:8).

It is clear from these questions that the twenty-four elders are representative of a group different from those who are here pictured as the great multitude in white robes. If the elders represent the church, the multitude represents a different body of saints.

With his question the elder draws John's attention to the "white robes" which serves as the main identifying mark of the great multitude. The elder inquiries their identity which indicates their character (i.e., who) and their origin (i.e., where).

Verse 7:14

I said to him, "my lord, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

John's address of the elder as "my lord" is a general way of showing respect and deep reverence toward heavenly beings (compare Daniel 10:16-17; Zechariah 1:9; 4:5, 13). John's words "you know" are both a confession of ignorance and an appeal for explanation.

3.4.1. Reasons why John did not recognize the great multitude

The question of why John did not recognize the great multitude is interesting. The following factors contributed to John's response to the elder:

  1. The great multitude is neither Old Testament saints nor the Church saints. John would have known them if Old Testament saints, as he and Peter and James knew Elijah and Moses on the Transfiguration Mount (Matthew 17:1-4; Mark 9:2-5; Luke 9:28-30). Also, he would have known them if Church saints as John is one of the twelve apostles. These are not of the church yet they are in Heaven.

  2. It could have been the location of the scene. As one steeped in the Old Testament prophecy relating to the future restoration of Israel, John might have expected such a scene of blessedness to be on earth rather than in heaven.

  3. It could have been the time period from which the participants were drawn, the future Tribulation. These in the vision had not yet lived on earth to permit John to meet them.

  4. It could have been the vast numbers that were perplexing to John. Jesus had taught that only few would be chosen (Matthew 7:13-14; 22:14).

The elder told John that "these are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." The expression "these are the ones coming out" indicates that persecution of the saints (i.e., the great multitude) will be a prolonged process that from John's standpoint was partly past and partly future (Revelation 6:9-11). But for the saints' standpoint that entry into Heaven follows immediately after physical death. However, resurrection of their bodies awaits the personal return of Christ to earth (Revelation 20:4).

Note the comparisons between these and believers of the church age. This shows that these Tribulation saints are different from the church age saints.

COMPARISONS BETWEEN THE CHURCH AGE SAINTS AND TRIBULATION SAINTS

Church Age Saints

Tribulation Saints

Kept out of the Tribulation by the rapture (3:10)

Come out of the Great Tribulation through Martyrdom (7:14)

Clothed in white raiment or garments (3:5; 4:4)

Clothed in white robes (7:9)

Sit on thrones about the throne (4:4)

Stand before the throne (7:10)

Wear crowns (the victor's crown as promised to the church) (4:4)

No crowns mentioned

Have harps and golden bowls full of incense (5:8)

Palm branches in their hands (7:9)

Sing a new song (5:9)

Cry out with a loud voice (7:10)

Declared to be a kingdom of priests who will reign with Christ (5:10)

Serve Him day and night (7:15, cf. 20:4)

3.4.2. The great tribulation should not be interpreted as the general tribulations in the world

The expression "the great tribulation" indicates that the "ones" (i.e., great multitude) are coming out from the 7 years Tribulation period before Christ returns in power to establish His kingdom. The definite article "the" (Greek: τῆς, transliteration: tēs) clearly indicates that "the great tribulation" should not be interpreted as the general tribulations in the world. It should not be interpreted as:

  1. The general tribulation that began in John's time. This is a worldwide crisis among all nations that could hardly reflect the localized situation of John's time or shortly thereafter.

  2. The destruction of Jerusalem of AD 70, the subject of Christ's remarks on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:1-3, 21, 29), because this was not the ultimate fulfillment of His prophecies there.

  3. The reference to all the tribulations throughout the age of the church.

This must relate to the future time of punitive action anticipated in Revelation 3:10 as "an hour of trial" and spoken of in Revelation 6:17 as "the great day" of the wrath of God and of the Lamb.

3.4.3. When will the great multitude come from?

These great multitude of Gentiles and Jews will be saved through the witness of the following parties:

  1. A lot of professing Christians and church goers will not be raptured to the Heaven because their faith is not genuine. They will be left behind on the earth (Revelation 3:10). During the Tribulation, some of them will repent and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour. They will preach the gospel world-wide during the Tribulation.

  2. The 144,000 faithful Jews will preach the gospel world-wide (Revelation 7:4).

  3. An angel will preach the gospel world-wide (Revelation 14:6-7).

The expression "great tribulation" should be interpreted as the future seven years Tribulation. It is the superlatively great crisis of trial through which all rebels against God must pass just before Christ's second coming. This great multitude of servants of God will not suffer the direct effects of God's wrath. However, they will not be exempted from the persecution of God's enemies during this period (Revelation 6:9-11; 13:7-10). The intensity of persecution will increase when the seven-year period reaches its midpoint. Some will already have been martyred before the opening of the sixth seal (Revelation 6:9-11) and many more will be persecuted in other ways during the latter half of the 7 years Tribulation (Revelation 13:7-10).

The Old Testament speaks of blood as the symbol of life (Leviticus 17:14). The expression "they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" means that no any blood would accomplish the cleansing except the Lamb. The blood of the Lamb is the assurance of cleansing and forgiveness for these who have been martyred for their faith in Christ. Only the blood of Christ avails to wash away sin (Revelation 1:5; 5:9; Acts 15:9; Romans 3:25; 5:9; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:20; Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:2, 19; 1 John 1:7).

3.5. The Heavenly Bliss of the Martyred Saints (7:15-17)

Verse 7:15

"Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.

The expression "therefore they are before the throne of God" means that with sins forgiven they can stand without fear before the holy throne of a holy God.

The expression "serve him day and night in his temple" indicates that Heaven is not only a place of rest from earthly toil but also a place of privileged service. Those who have served well on earth will have a ministry in Heaven. Priestly service was limited to priests and Levites in the Old Testament. But now the white-robed crowd can serve the God continuously in the Heaven (compare Hebrews 8:5; 9:1-6).

The unbrokenness of the multitude's worship is emphasized in "day and night." It must be presumed that a distinction between day and night does not exist in Heaven, because of the condition in the new Jerusalem that excludes night (Revelation 22:5). The figurative language recalls that here on earth changes of day and night affect mankind continually, but in Heaven they will do so on longer. The service of worship by the victorious crowd continues without interruption.

The location of the worship "his temple" has created difficulty for some when compared with Revelation 21:22, which says there is no temple in the new Jerusalem. The correct explanation is that this is a picture of the whole of Heaven as a sanctuary in which God's people are priests. This heavenly temple stands in the existing Heaven (Revelation 11:19). This is a view of the saints after death, not after the ultimate judgment. They are not yet in their final state of glory, but in the presence of God awaiting the opening of the seventh seal judgment. The harmonization of the sanctuary in Revelation 7:15 and the statement of Revelation 21:22 that there is no longer a sanctuary is that the present passage describes a heavenly scene just before the mid-point of the seven-year Tribulation, whereas the later one is descriptive of the eternal state.

The elder states three of God's future provisions for those people. The first provision is "he who sits on the throne will shelter them." The immediate presence of God to shelter and protect from all harm is what is promised here (Isaiah 4:5-6). The word "shelter" corresponds to the promise that God will dwell in the midst of His people (Leviticus 26:11-12; Ezekiel 37:27; Zechariah 8:3, 8; Revelation 21:3).

Verse 7:16

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.

Two more provisions for the heavenly multitude are given in verse 16. The second promise is "they shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore." This promise is drawn from Isaiah's description of the exiles returning from Babylon (Isaiah 49:10). In the Church Age, the God's servants sometimes have to suffer from hungry and persecution as we serve the Lord Jesus Christ on the earth. During the seven-year Tribulation these believers will be terribly persecuted by their enemies. This verse suggests that their food and clothing will be taken and they will be forced to run away (Revelation 12:13-17; 13:16-17). This promise has the deeper meaning of the satisfaction of spiritual hunger and the quenching of spiritual thirst (John 4:14; 6:35; 7:37). 

The third provision stated in verse 16 "the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat" also alludes to Isaiah 49:10. Without clothing they will have no protection from the great heat of the sun. Under the fourth bowl of God's wrath the heat of the sun will become more oppressive than ever before (Revelation 16:8-9). These things will never happen to them again. The words are more meaningful to those who have just come from an experience of severe persecution.

Verse 7:17

For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

The Lamb's function as shepherd comes into view with the words "will be their shepherd." The Lord Jesus Christ is our shepherd in the New Testament (John 10:1-30; 21:15-17; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25; 5:2-4). In the Old Testament, the God is pictured as shepherd (Psalms 23:1-4; Isaiah 40:11; 53:6-7; Ezekiel 34:23). The gospels view Christ's shepherding in relation to present life on earth (Matthew 2:6; John 10:1, 16), but the book of Revelation sees the saints as God's flock in Heaven.

In addition, He will "guide them to springs of living water". Besides protecting the sheep, the shepherd is responsible to provide for their refreshment. The words "he will guide" describe God's guidance of Israel (Exodus 15:13; Deuteronomy 1:33) and of individual lives (Psalms 5:9; 86:11) and to describe the work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). The Lord Jesus Christ is the way, and the truth, and the life, He leads us to the Father God (John 14:6).

The Lord Jesus Christ leads the saints "to springs of living water." God who is the fountain of life (Psalms 36:9) is the one to whom the Lamb (i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ) will lead His sheep (Revelation 21:6; 22:1, 17; John 4:12, 14; 7:38-39). The spiritual thirst of the saints will be satisfied at such a fountain.

The concluding statement in the chapter is that "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." "Tears" in the eyes denote the sorrow of God's people because of the pressures of life on earth. The Old Testament source of this promise can be found in Isaiah 25:8. The promise is restated in identical wording in Revelation 21:3. The ultimate fulfillment of these seven promises (Revelation 7:15b-17) will come in the eternal state described more fully in Revelation 21-22.

Some have attempted to draw from this passage that there will be actual tears in Heaven and have implied that saints will be shedding tears because of grief over wasted lives and unconfessed sin while on earth. This passage, however, does not even suggest such a situation. The point is that the grief and tears of the past, speaking of their trials in the Tribulation, will be over when they get to Heaven. The saints in glory will be occupied with the beauty and wonder of Heaven and the worship of the Saviour. They will not have time for repentance of that which can no longer be changed. Instead, God will wipe away all tears resulting from their suffering on earth.

So, before the seventh seal we are shown in chapter 7 two groups of people:

  1. On earth 144,000 Israelites. They are sealed and protected from the judgments of God during the Tribulation.

  2. In Heaven, a gathering of countless people from all nations who will come out of the Tribulation. They praise God for saving them.

The parenthesis of chapter 7 does not advance the chronology of the Tribulation in any way; however, revelations in this chapter point out several important facts:

  1. God is going to make a provision for a witness during this time, someone who cannot be stopped by the world dictator.

  2. It shows that fruit will come from that witness, for multitudes from all over the world will come to faith.

  3. Most of those who do come to faith will die as martyrs.

  4. It is clear that though the Tribulation is a period of God's wrath on the earth, His saving grace will continue even in such a dark period of man's history.

 

4. THE SEVENTH SEAL (8:1-6)

Once the parenthetical revelations have been completed, John returns to the main theme of chapters 5 and 6, the seven-sealed scroll. In the sequence of the revelation, six of seals have been broken, revealing the chronological development of the Tribulation. Now the Lord Jesus finally breaks the one seal remaining.

4.1. The Structure of the Seventh Seal

A structural plan, called the "telescopic" or "dovetailing" view, sees the seventh seal as composed of the seven trumpets with the consequence that the trumpets are chronologically subsequent to the first six seals in their fulfillment. It is the form of progression that entails "telescoping," i.e., the seventh seal consists of a number of parts as does a telescope when it is compressed, making the inner parts of the unit invisible. The same is true of the seventh trumpet. The chronological movement in the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls is always forward, never backward. The progression of future events that will follow one right after the other in the same order as the scroll unfolds them.

Within this progressive structure, pauses occur when elements of parenthesis intervene. They function in supporting roles to add understanding to the happenings of the numbered series that compose the main skeleton of the book of Revelation. Aside from the parenthesis, however, there is forward movement in the scroll from chapter 6 toward a climax in the return of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom in Revelation 19:11-22:5. When allowance is made for the parenthesis of chapters 17-18 and 21:9-22:5, it is clear that the seventh bowl in its finality has three parts: 

  1. The fall of Babylon (16:17-19:10);

  2. The final battles and judgments (19:11-20:15); and

  3. The vision of the new creation and the new Jerusalem (21:1-8).

The following diagram is a graphical representation of the relationships of the seals, the trumpets and the bowls.

CHRONOLOGICAL PATTERN OF THE SEALS, TRUMPETS AND BOWLS

As shown in the above diagram that the seven trumpets are included in the seventh seal and that the seven bowls are included in the seventh trumpet. Contained in the seventh seal are all the subsequent developments leading to the second coming of Christ, including the seven trumpets and the seven bowls.

It appears that the trumpet judgments begin shortly after the midpoint of the Tribulation. The seventh trumpet (11:15-18) seems to announce the imminent establishment of Christ's kingdom on the earth.

4.2. The Seventh Seal: The Seven Trumpets Awaited (8:1)

Verse 8:1

When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

The breaking of the final seal brings an unexpected result: "there was silence in heaven for about half an hour." This silence is a dramatic pause to symbolize the awe and dread with which the heavenly hosts await the events about to happen. It is a quieted expectancy that makes the judgments about to begin more impressive. This kind of silence corresponds to Old Testament occurrences of the same in conjunction with reverence for God and awesome expectation of His judgment (Habakkuk 2:20; 3:3; Zephaniah 1:7-8, 15, 17-18; Zechariah 2:13). So the silence prepares for what is to come in Revelation 8:2.

The limit of the silence to about a half-hour duration is an interesting accommodation of heavenly actions to a human limitation. One must think of Heaven under the immediate rule of the eternal God as not subject to time limitations, but for the sake of the prophet a specifically short restriction applies to the period of silence. Though thirty minutes is not ordinarily considered a long time, when it is a time of absolute silence portending such ominous developments ahead it is an indication that something tremendous is about to take place. It may be compared to the silence before the foreman of a jury reports a verdict; for a moment there is perfect silence and everyone awaits that which will follow. Alternatively, this span of time may be another example of God's grace as He gives men time to repent. But in general, the inhabitants of the world are not in the mood for repentance, for by this point in the Tribulation most of them have become followers of the world dictator (i.e., Antichrist).

4.3. The Setting of the Trumpets: The Prayers of the Saints (8:2-6)

Verse 8:2

Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.

John saw seven angels "stand before God." The verb translated "stand" (Greek: ἑστήκασιν, transliteration: hestēkasin, tense: perfect) is in the perfect tense, which indicates that they were in the presence of God and had been there for a time. Their position before God marks their readiness for service. They are a specific group of angels whose commission is to sound the trumpets.

SEVEN TRUMPET ANGELS

John saw the seven angels received "seven trumpets." The number "seven" signifies the completeness or perfect accomplishment of these judgments. In the Old Testament, "trumpets" were used to summon the congregation of Israel (Numbers 10:2), to sound the alarm in time of war (Numbers 10:9; 2 Chronicles 13:12; Ezekiel 33:3), at religious feasts (Numbers 10:10; Psalms 81:3), to announce news (1 Samuel 13:3), to acclaim new kings (1 Kings 1:34, 39), and in worship (1 Chronicles 16:6, 42; 2 Chronicles 5:12-13). Zephaniah 1:14-16 associates trumpets with the Day of the Lord.

The New Testament teaches that a trumpet will announce the Rapture (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16) and the gathering of the elect (Matthew 24:31). Here in chapter 8 the "trumpets" announce God's judgment on men, and also the beginning of the last great battle with the armies of Satan before the Lord Jesus comes to rule. They are precursors of divine judgment in the Day of the Lord (Zephaniah 1:14-16).

Each of the "trumpets" unleashes a specific judgment of greater intensity than the first six seals, but not as destructive as the seven bowls (16:1-21). The first four trumpets destroy the earth’s ecology (8:6-12), the next two produce demonic destruction of humanity (8:13; 9:1-11, 13-19), and the seventh trumpet introduces the final outpouring of God’s wrath contained in the seven bowl judgments.

Verse 8:3

And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne,

Before the trumpets sound, however, an interlude sets the tone for them. As John watched, another angel with a golden censer came into the picture and stood before the gold altar of sweet-smelling incense.

"The golden censer" sometimes referred to as a fire pan, was an implement used in the Solomon temple (1 Kings 7:50; 2 Kings 25:15; 2 Chronicles 4:22; Jeremiah 52:18-19).

The next step was for the angel to receive from God much "incense" to offer on the altar for the prayers of the saints. Though the source of the gift of "incense" is unstated, customary usage of "was given" throughout Revelation indicates that it was God (Revelation 6:2, 4, 8, 11; 7:2; 9:1, 3; 11:1, 2; 13:5, 7; 19:8; 20:4).

"Incense" had a prominent place in Old Testament worship (Exodus 30:34-37) and serves as a reminder that intercessory prayer is like sweet perfume before the Lord. A similar connection between incense and the prayers of the saints occurs here. The offering of "incense" is to help the prayers in order to make them more acceptable to God. The incense here speaking of the perfections of Christ is inseparably bound up with any ministry of intercession, and the believer's petitions are coupled with the worthiness of Christ in their presentation at the heavenly altar.

The "prayers of all the saints" are unquestionably the cries of the them during the Tribulation for judgment against their persecutors (Revelation 8:4-5; 6:9-10). The destination of their prayers is the "golden altar of incense before the throne."

ANGEL WITH A GOLDEN CENSER

Verse 8:4

and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.

The smoke produced by the burning incense rises with the prayers. The association of the two guarantees divine acceptance of the prayers for God to act in vengeance. Prayers unanswered (Revelation 6:10) until now become welcome and receive an immediate reply. These prayers reach the ear of God Himself. His beloved people have been killed, and His righteousness demands that He should punish their enemies.

Verse 8:5

Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

The angel was filling his golden censer with fire on the altar of incense and throwing it to the earth. This connotes judgment about to be commenced in answer to the prayers. The "censer" normally used for offering incense has become a symbol of judgment in response to prayer.

"Fire" is a symbol for divine punishment of the wicked. The "peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake" are in marked contrast with the silence of Revelation 8:1. They along with the lightning are physical disturbances that accompany the manifestation of God's wrath against an impenitent world (Exodus 19:16-19; Revelation 11:19; 16:18). The scene, therefore, is set for the judgment symbolized by the seven trumpets about to sound.

Verse 8:6

Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.

Now the seven angels get ready to blow their trumpets. The time had come for God's judgment.

Following the pattern of the seal series, the first four trumpets are different in kind from the last three. These four set in motion the forces of nature to achieve their destructive effects on natural objects. God uses the world of nature to punish mankind. On the other hand, in the last three trumpets, sustaining human life in the face of demonic on slaughters is the major concern, particularly among earth's godless inhabitants.

Like the bowls to follow (Revelation 16:1) the trumpet series has the following reminiscences of the Old Testament plagues against Egypt:

  1. the first trumpet paralleling the seventh plague (Exodus 9:24);

  2. the second trumpet resembling the first plague (Exodus 7:19-20);

  3. the fourth trumpet recalling the ninth plague (Exodus 10:21); and

  4. the fifth trumpet paralleling the eighth plague (Exodus 10:12).

Both series are judgments against the enemies of God's people and comprise steps toward deliverance of the saints.

 

5. THE FIRST FOUR TRUMPETS (8:7-13)

5.1. The First Trumpet: Burning of a Third of Vegetation

Verse 8:7

The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.

In response to the sounding of the trumpet held by the first angel, a scene of desolation is spread abroad upon the earth caused by "hail and fire mingled with blood." The judgment seems to be directed to vegetation, and a third part of the trees and all the green grass are burned.

The Old Testament prophets understood that the miracles of Egypt were to be repeated in the future (Isaiah 30:30; Ezekiel 38:22; Micah 7:15). At several points the prophet Amos uses God's miraculous work of deliverance from Egypt as a reference point for the way He will deal with His people in the future (Amos 2:10; 4:10; 8:8-9; 9:5-7). The same principles of interpretation apply in prophecies as in historical narrative.

In view of the resemblances of the trumpet visitations to five and possibly six of those against Egypt in Moses' day, the plain literal sense of the plagues is far superior to the fanciful associations attached to them by those who spiritualize the text. Inasmuch as in the account of Exodus there was literal hail and fire, there is no reason for not taking this judgment in its literal sense.

The only problem which seems to remain is the meaning of the term "blood." Here we have another helpful suggestion from the plagues of Egypt. The hail was of such character according to Exodus 9:19, 25 that it destroyed not only vegetation but also men and beasts who were caught in it. Whether or not blood was actually included in the hail and fire cast on the earth, the result was bloodshed of men and animals, though the main burden of the judgment seems to be that of destroying vegetation.

The casting of the "hail and fire mixed with blood" has a threefold result:

  1. the third part of the earth was burned up;

  2. the third part of the trees were burned up; and

  3. all green grass was burning up.

It was the hail in the comparable Egyptian plague that wrought the destruction of vegetation (Exodus 9:25). The first object is the cultivated soil on the surface of "earth," a third of which was burned up. The second object is a third of the "trees." Fruit trees in particular were important to life in Palestine and in Asia Minor (Matthew 7:17; Mark 11:12-14; Jude 1:12). Flames destroyed these too. So men would suffer from hunger.

The third element of vegetation to be burned is "all" the "green grass." This poses a dilemma, because grass still exists when the fifth trumpet arrives (Revelation 9:4). Two considerations help to resolve the quandary. First, a time lapse between the first and fifth trumpets allows time for grass to be re-grown after the burning. Second, in most parts of the earth grass is not green the year round, but is seasonal. Burning of all the grass that is green during a particular season would leave the remainder untouched until its season of dormancy is over. Either of these two explanations allows for taking "all" in its literal sense without contradicting Revelation 9:4.

THE FIRST TRUMPET

The description of "hail and fire mingled with blood" falling from the sky, may be John saw and describing in his own language, the firing of bombs falling and exploding on earth causing destruction of the earth.

BOMBS FALLING FROM THE SKY

5.2. The Second Trumpet: Destruction of a Third of Sea Life (Verses 8:8-9)

Verse 8:8

The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood.

The second angel blew his trumpet and John saw something "like a great mountain burning with fire, which was thrown into the sea." This turned one third of the sea into blood. It seems to be a parallel to the plagues of Egypt. Moses and Aaron struck the waters of the Nile River with the rod of God, and the water became blood, fish died, and men could not drink the water (Exodus 7:19-21).

Opinions regarding the meaning of "like a great mountain, burning with fire." Some Bible scholars connected the fall of the mountain-like object with local volcanic activity in the sea. Other Bible scholars takes the mountain-like mass to be a meteoric chunk, ablaze with fire. In my opinions, both of them are possible explanations.

"The sea" into which the burning mass is thrown is the sea as a whole. The result was "third part of the sea became blood." Was this actual blood or only a blood-like colour? The possibility is that the vast quantity of the blood from the dead fishes and sea animals turn the sea into blood red colour. On the basis of this vision, John believed that a large part of the sea would turn into blood literally as it had under the deliverance in Egypt (Exodus 7:20; Psalms 78:43-44).

THE SECOND TRUMPET

Verse 8:9

A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

The judgment destroys a third of the "ships" and a third of "living creatures" in the sea. As under the first Egyptian plague (Exodus 7:21; Zephaniah 1:3), the fish in the blood-filled environment perished. The ships and their human masters and crews are also destroyed. Clearly, such a judgment would impact the naval forces of the world and affect all shipping. The whole evaporation cycle of water would clearly be affected by such a judgment, probably resulting in great drought on the earth.

5.3. The Third Trumpet: Poisoning of a Third of the Fresh Water (Verses 8:10-11)

Verse 8:10

The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water.

When the third trumpet sounds, John witnesses "a great star blazing like a torch" falling upon rivers and fountains of water. Some expositors referred the great star as the Antichrist of Satan's representative and the waters could be regarded as symbolic of the peoples of the earth. However, this symbolic interpretation fails in the absence of any textual indication that the star is a symbol for something else.

A reliable interpretation is that the star is a literal meteorite from outer space, understandably burning as it enters the atmosphere of earth, and falling with contaminating influence upon the rivers and waters. Ancient usage of "torch" to denote a meteorite shooting through the air confirms this conclusion.

A METEORITE HITTING EARTH

It may also be possible that John saw and describing in his own language, a nuclear missile as "a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch" and it fell on rivers and on the springs of water causing a large scale of nuclear bomb radioactive waste contamination of the drinking-water supply.

A NUCLEAR MISSILE

Verse 8:11

The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.

The name of the star is called "Wormwood" and the third part of the waters became wormwood and many among men died from the waters, because they were made bitter. "Wormwood" is a plant with a bitter taste appearing in several varieties in Palestine. This is a reminiscence of the bitter water forced on the rebellious Israelites of old. "Wormwood" in the Old Testament was a symbol for divine punishment (Jeremiah 9:14-15; 23:15; Lamentations 3:15, 19). The impact of this trumpet is to bring judgment on the fresh water supply of the earth, the water that is necessary for sustaining life. As a result of this judgment, many will die. This again recalls the first Egyptian plague with its contamination of the drinking-water supply (Exodus 7:21).

THE THIRD TRUMPET

5.4. The Fourth Trumpet: Darkening of a Third of the Heavenly Bodies (Verses 8:12-13)

Verse 8:12

The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.

In contrast to the first three judgments having to do respectively with land, sea, rivers and fountains of water, the fourth trumpet relates to the Heavens themselves. As John witnesses the scene, he sees a third part of the sun, a third part of the moon, and a third part of the stars darkened, an eclipse that extends to a third part of the day and a third part of the night.

"Darkening" is a symbol for judgment throughout the Old Testament. The particular parallel with this trumpet is the ninth Egyptian plague (Exodus 10:21-22). Amos called the "Day of the Lord" a day of darkness (Amos 5:18; Isaiah 13:10; Joel 2:2; Mark 13:24). The fourth trumpet fulfills this anticipation.

If the sun and the moon were to suddenly lose one-third of their effect, the earth would be greatly impacted. Some have theorized that if one-third of the planets in our solar system were suddenly changed in some way, the whole rotation pattern of the earth might be affected. Could it possibly be that the twenty-four-hour day might be changed? Could the climate of the earth suddenly change dramatically? All of these things are possibilities as a result of this judgment. In this connection, almost every area of life including agriculture, navigation, human health, productivity, and the like, are bound to feel the consequences of this judgment. When Jesus Christ spoke of this time He said that "there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars" (Luke 21:25).

THE FOURTH TRUMPET

"A third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened shining" may be the possible consequences of nuclear explosions, the atmosphere will be covered up with huge nuclear radioactive dust cloud causing the darkening of the sky.

It is of considerable interest to note the progress of divine judgment - one third of the trees and grass, one third of marine life and shipping, one third of the waters, and one third of the heavenly bodies are affected. Food is destroyed; distribution is crippled; water supply is limited; production is hampered.

Verse 8:13

Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew in mid-heaven, "Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!"

John records that he both beheld and heard the loud voice of an "eagle" pronouncing a triple woe on the inhabitants of the earth because of the three trumpets which were yet to sound.

The ability of the eagle to speak is insufficient ground on which to conclude it is symbolic. Animate creation other than mankind receive that ability occasionally in Scripture (Genesis 3:1-5; Numbers 22:28-30). The picture is that of a strong bird rushing to its prey, in this case referring to the rapid approach of God's remaining vengeance (Deuteronomy 28:49; Hosea 8:1). The eagle speaks of the salvation of God for Israel, reminding that the plagues are but the birth pains of God's new age (Deuteronomy 32:9-11; Exodus 19:4; Mark 13:8), but at the other, it is a bird of prey, associated with blood, death, and rotting flesh (Job 39:27-30; Revelation 19:17-21).

The eagle's position is in "mid-heaven" which is the position of the sun at noon. This is a place where all men can see him. His loud voice assures that all will hear him. Broad coverage is important, for the disasters he announces will touch earth-dwellers in every part of the world.

The eagle's announcement is brief, but vital: "Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!" The past trumpets have been woeful in themselves, but this announcement forebodes that the remaining three will be even worse (Revelation 9:1, 12; 11:14).

AN EAGLE IS CALLING OUT WOE WOE WOE

The objects of the coming vengeance which are "the inhabitants of the earth," are the same as the ones on whom martyrs in Revelation 6:10 invoke vengeance, so this is a further step in the answer to their prayers. They comprise only the wicked according to Revelation 9:4, 20.

Fearful as these judgments are, they are only the beginning of God's dealing with the earth; and as indicated in a special announcement, three great woes are still to fall. Though it is difficult in this day of grace to imagine such catastrophic judgments, the Word of God is plain, and men are called everywhere to avail themselves of grace before it is too late.

 

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