Revelation (Apocalypse) #8: ; God judges the earth and the inhabitants of the earth
sermon Revelation 9 : Pierre Constant, 2022_10_07, AB Lausanne church
title : Revelation Bible Study #8: ; God judges the earth and the inhabitants of the earth (chap 8,9)
God judges the earth and the inhabitants of the earth
“ 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! ” (KJV Bible) Revelation 8 . 13
17. The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.
18. I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, who are of thee, to whom the reproach of it was a burden.
19. Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee: and I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out; and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame.
20. At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the LORD.
(KJV Bible ) Zephaniah 3.17-20
Last time we went through the opening of the first six seals and then the interlude of chapter 7 describing the identity of God’s people. We have seen that John presents the people of God in two aspects: as the true Israel of God (Revelation 7:1-8) and then as a great multitude or a great multitude of redeemed from all peoples and languages, glorifying God for his salvation, worshiping him day and night, the fulfillment of the promises made to the fathers, the Lamb’s people now acting as shepherds (Revelation 7:9-17).
A. The opening of the 7th seal (Revelation 8.1)
As a reminder, we have also seen that the relationship between the seals, the trumpets and the vials was not necessarily in chronological sequence but that each of the heptads, each of the groups of seven (judgments), essentially repeated the whole of the judgments of God upon the inhabitants of the earth, i.e. on a world that prefers darkness to light.
Thus the opening of the 7th seal, after the description of a great judgment during the opening of the 6th seal (Revelation 6.12 -17), gives rise to a silence of half an hour, followed by a new cycle of 7 judgments, the trumpets. In a way, the 7th seal consists of the following trumpets.
The theme of silence in the OT takes on different colors. Sometimes it means patiently waiting for God’s help (Psalms 37:7, 39:2).
Sometimes keeping silent before God means acknowledging His omnipotence, His sovereignty:
“Islands, be silent to listen to me, May the peoples revive their strength, May they advance, and speak. Let us approach to plead together” (Isaiah 41.1), or “The Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before him” (Habakkuk 2:20). “Silence before the Lord GOD! For the day of the Lord is at hand” (Zephaniah 1:7). “Let all flesh be silent before the Lord! For he arose from his holy abode” (Zechariah 2:13).
Silence also communicates that God silences His enemies.
“[The LORD] will bring their iniquity upon them, he will silence them through their wickedness; The Lord our God will silence them” (Psalm 94:23). “Sit quietly and go into darkness, daughter of the Chaldeans, you will no longer be called queen of kingdoms” (Isaiah 47:5).
From a contrary perspective, the absence of silence on the part of God sometimes evokes the idea of judgment:
“He comes our God, he does not remain silent; Before him is a consuming fire, Around him a violent storm” (Psalm 50.3).
The fact that God breaks the silence means that He takes action. “O God; don’t be silent! Be not silent, and do not rest, O God” (Psalm 83:1).
However, in this case, we are not on earth, but in heaven as the 7th seal is broken. It is a celestial silence in question. What happens when the heavens are silent? We read in Zephaniah 3.17:
“17. The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.»
The silence of God is to be interpreted here as a time of calm, a time of rest, a time to catch one’s breath before undergoing other judgments. After the seals – images of judgments – come other judgments: the trumpets.
B. Preparation for trumpets (Revelation 8:2-6)
John sees seven angels standing before God, to whom seven trumpets are given. The verb is in the passive voice, again indicating that their authority comes to them from someone else, from God Himself.
But even before the angels sound each of their trumpets, another angel comes to stand on (or in front of, in front of) the altar, holding a censer. A censer usually contains embers, on which incense is sprinkled. The angel receives incense to offer on the golden altar before the throne. Translations differ here, one can, however, also translate, more exactly in my opinion, in v. 3: “Many incenses were given to him to offer, which are the prayers of all the saints. »
Likewise in v. 4: “The smoke of incense ascended, which are (or i.e.) the prayers of the saints. »
Some see in this angel who offers the incense none other than Jesus Christ Himself, officiating here as high priest and officiating in behalf of His own. This is far from certain, however. Note that prayers are not offered to angels (a frequent theme in apocalyptic literature); the angel just presents them to God. One cannot justify praying to the angels (or to the dead) on such a fragile basis.
Anyway, the association between perfumes and prayers is not difficult to make. See for example Luke 1:10: “All the multitude of the people were outside praying at the hour of incense. »
Although incense in the OT could be used to atone for sin (cf. Num 16:46-47), incense could symbolize the prayers of God’s people (cf. Luke 1:9-10). Note, however, that it is not specified whether the altar under which the souls of the martyrs are found in Revelation 6.9 is a celestial equivalent of the altar of incense.
What we do know, however, is that the angel standing before the altar mentioned in Revelation 8 offers to God the prayers of all the saints. He then takes embers from the altar and throws them on the ground. In response to this gesture, we read that there were “thunders, voices, lightning and an earthquake. »
Lightnings, voices and thunders have already been mentioned in Revelation 4.4 in connection with the holiness of God. Paired with an earthquake (symbol of judgment in Revelation 6.12), they symbolize judgments. The same thing happens when the seventh trumpet sounds (Revelation 11:19): lightning, voices, thunders and earthquakes, to which is added also a strong hail, another symbol of judgment (one thinks of the ten plagues in Egypt).
- A few words about the significance of the trumpets.
The trumpets are interpreted differently according to the interpretative approaches we talked about during our first meeting:
According to the preterist approach, these trumpets correspond to the disasters inflicted on Israel during the Roman invasion during the years 66-70. The sixth trumpet corresponds to the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70.
According to the historical approach, these trumpets correspond to barbarian invasions against the Roman Empire, in particular the invasions perpetrated by the Vandals, the Huns, the Saracens and the Turks. The sixth trumpet corresponds to the fall of Constantinople in the year 1453.
According to the futuristic approach, the trumpets either literally or symbolically represent calamities and plagues that will befall humans during the 7 Year Great Tribulation following the Rapture of the Church. Some even go so far as to see scourges resulting from the misuse of human technology, including atomic weapons.
According to the idealistic approach, these catastrophes span the entire period between the first and second comings of Jesus, and highlight the hardening of the human heart that refuses to repent.
In the OT the trumpets were used for different purposes:
The sound of the trumpet sometimes signified the presence of God, the holiness of God (Exodus 19.13, 16, 19, 20.18) or rejoicing in the presence of God (2 Samuel 6.15). Trumpets were also used to proclaim a new king (2 Samuel 15.10, 20.1, 1 Kings 1.34, 39, 2 Kings 9.13).
Feasts or special occasions were signaled with the sound of trumpets (the beginning of the civil year – Leviticus 23.24; the first day of the Jubilee year – Leviticus 25.9).
Trumpets were also used to direct the movement of troops, in wars (Judges 6.34; 2 Samuel 2.28 ), breaking camp, to signal festivals, new moons and so on (Numbers 10 )…
During certain wars, the sound of the trumpets signified, in the ears of the enemies of Israel, the judgment of God coming upon them (one thinks of the battle against the Midianites in Numbers 31, or the battle at Jericho – Joshua 6). See also 2 Chronicles 13.12, Jeremiah 4.5, 19, 21, Hosea 5.8, 8.1, Amos 2.2, 3.6, Zephaniah 1.16.
Paul also speaks of the sounding of the trumpet, when the dead in Christ will be raised (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
- Relating the symbolism of the trumpets to its frequent meaning in the OT, it appears to me that the angel offering incense and then throwing fire on earth means two things in particular:
-What is about to happen is again a series of judgments. After six seals symbolizing a series of judgments on human beings, here we are in the presence of another series of judgments, after a short respite.
-These judgments are intimately linked to the prayers of the saints, already mentioned during the fifth seal. The saints cried out to God with a loud voice and demanded justice (Revelation 5:9-10). Unlike the vision of the fifth seal, the seven trumpets are actually a series of judgments, presented here as divine answer to the prayer of the saints. God exercises His judgments and avenges the blood of His servants.
- If we read the account of the seven trumpets as God’s answer to the prayers of His martyred children, this leads us to an important principle about the interpretation of the trumpets: these trumpets are not necessarily related to specific events in human history. This is not impossible, but nothing in the text obliges this interpretation.
The purpose of these two chapters (Revelation 8-9) is not to announce in pictorial form a series of specific events; rather than trying to equate such a trumpet with such an event in history, these trumpets are rather to be understood from the perspective of judgments on human beings, in response to the prayer of the saints. The focus here is the theological (not historical) significance of the trumpets. Attempting to read the trumpets story as a series of predictions of future events simply doesn’t fit their function in the apocalyptic literary genre.
This section of Revelation is not first and foremost a series of predictions to be matched to subsequent events; it is an announcement of the judgments of God in response to the sufferings of His people. Although some trumpets may evoke events of the first century, we must beware of the desire to associate these trumpets at all costs with specific events in human history.
This connection between the trumpets and specific events in history is a hermeneutical (interpretive) error made by the first three approaches mentioned above. Rather, it seems to me that the so-called idealist interpretation is the one that best corresponds to the literary genre of this section of the book of Revelation.
C. The first six trumpets (Revelation 8:7-21)
- A word about the structure of this section
Just as the seals responded to a 4 + 3 structure, so the trumpets are similarly grouped; we quickly have the first four trumpets (Revelation 8.7-12), followed by the appearance of an eagle flying in the sky and announcing three other woes (the last three trumpets). The account of the fifth trumpet extends over several verses (Revelation 9.1-12, the end of which is signaled by the reminder that the first woe is past – 9.12). The account of the sixth trumpet also extends over several verses (Revelation 9:13-21). The seventh trumpet does not sound until Revelation 11.15-19, separated from the other six by a long interlude (Revelation 10.1 –11.13 and the signal that the second woe is past and the third is coming soon – Revelation 11.14).
So, in the same way that the seals corresponded to a cadence 4 + 3, or rather 4 + 2 + (interlude) + 1, the same kind of cadence is followed for the trumpets: 4 + 3, or more precisely 4 + 2 + (interlude) + 1.
The first four trumpets (Revelation 8:7-12)
In quick succession, John introduces four angels sounding the first four trumpets:
At the sound of the first trumpet by the first angel, fire and hail are thrown on the earth, so that a third of the earth, a third of the trees and all green grass are consumed (Revelation 8.7). The form of this judgment is strongly reminiscent of one of the plagues of Egypt, the seventh (Exodus 9:23-24), where fire and hail are mentioned three times in two verses. This episode is also remembered in Psalms 78.48, 105.3. Fire and hail appear again as signs of God’s judgment in Psalms 18.12-13, 148.8. Finally, Ezekiel 38.22 uses the same image to announce the destruction of the city of Gog, in the country of Magog.
It should be noted here that if fire and hail were to be understood in the literal sense, during the seventh plague of Egypt, this does not necessarily mean that fire and hail are to be understood in the literal sense here as well. Regularly, John refers to AT, but let us remember that he writes in a literary genre for which few elements are to be understood in the literal sense. A literal interpretation of hail and fire clashes with the apocalyptic literary genre.
b. The sound of the second trumpet leads to the fall of a kind of great fiery mountain into the sea. Far from being an atomic bomb or a meteorite falling into the sea (remember that a text of the Apocalypse cannot signify today what it never could signify in the first century), what catches the attention is the result: a third of the sea becomes blood, a third of the creatures which live there perish, just as one-third of ships. God’s judgments are severe but they do not reach the totality of creation.
Note again the allusion to a plague of Egypt, the first (Exodus 7). Just as the water of the Nile was turned into blood and the fish perished, so this divine judgment directed against the sea takes many victims.
The sound of the third trumpet brings another judgment: a great star burning like a torch falls from heaven and touches, not only the sea, but also a third of the rivers and springs of water. Many men perish because of this star whose name is Absinthe (Poison).
The image of wormwood, a powerful poison drawn from a root (Deuteronomy 29.17) and linked to water in Jeremiah 9.15, 23.15, evokes a judgment of God against His people or against His prophets. But wanting to interpret this burning star as nuclear power plants or meteorites is closer to fantasy than apocalyptic symbolism.
d. The fourth trumpet causes the sun, moon and stars to lose a third of their brightness. It is the same for the brightness of the night. Here again, the language is symbolic. Often in the OT the elements of creation serve as a sign declaring the judgments of God (cf. Joel 2).
The Preterist approach rightly cites Old Testament echoes, such as Isaiah 13:9-10: desolate land, Who will destroy sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will no longer shine their light, the sun will be dark as soon as it rises, and the moon will no longer shine its light. Overall, however, this approach restricts the meaning of these judgments to a judgment of the people and land of Israel in the first century, a restriction that is difficult to sustain unless one has taken this interpretative approach first.
Rather than looking for a physical equivalent to these symbols (nuclear clouds obscuring the sun and so on…), let us recognize once again the symbolic significance of this text: God judges the earth and its inhabitants. This language is similar to that of Jesus in His eschatological discourse: “There will be signs in the sun, in the moon and in the stars; and on earth, an anguish of the nations who will not know what to do at the noise of the sea and the waves; men will faint in fear for what will come to the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26).
This series of four judgments announced by the trumpets is interrupted – in v. 13 – by a triple “woe, woe, woe” uttered by an eagle flying in the middle of the sky, a declaration corresponding to the three trumpets yet to come. If the first four trumpets resulted in terrible judgments, the judgments to come are even more so!
- The fifth and sixth trumpets (Revelation 9)
As noted earlier, the 5th and 6th trumpets are much more detailed.
The fifth trumpet refers to a star falling from heaven to earth (Revelation 9:1). Once fallen, she receives the key to the abyss and opens the well. From it comes a smoke like the smoke of a great furnace (remember that we are in full symbolic language), a smoke such that the sun and the air are darkened by it (Revelation 9 .2). Out of this smoke appear locusts (Revelation 9.3) which, unlike the disasters evoked by the first four trumpets, now affect only human beings and not the elements of creation.
In the OT, locusts often appear as agents of God’s judgment: Exodus 10, Deuteronomy 28.38, 1 Kings 8.37, 2 Chronicles 7.13, Psalm 78.46, Isaiah 33.4, Jeremiah 46.23, 51.14. They symbolize both a very large number of enemies, a total scourge from which nothing escapes, a complete devastation (Amos 4.9, Nahum 3.15-17).
The mission of these locusts (Revelation 9.4-6): to attack only human beings in order, not to kill them, but to torment them and with such torment that human beings would rather die than stay alive. Note that he attacks the inhabitants of the earth (Revelation 8 .1 3), i.e. to those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads (the people of God mentioned in Revelation 7:3-8; there is a probable allusion here to Ezekiel 9:3-4). Again we see the division between two groups: those who are sealed with the seal of God and suffer the wrath of Satan and those who are sealed with the seal of the beast and suffer the wrath of God. The book of Revelation is not a book to scare but to warn (unbelievers) and to comfort believers!
The description of these locusts (Revelation 9:7-10): John describes these locusts in detail, not to give us clues as to their identity but to describe its ferocity: golden crowns on their heads, human faces, women’s hair, lion’s teeth, iron chests, the sound of their wings, murderous tails like scorpions and goads. The hypotheses abound to bring them closer to war machines at different times (including helicopters!). Earlier in Revelation, John had described his vision of Jesus, again using a great deal of detail (Revelation 1:13-16), without attempting to describe all the components of the vision.
The identity of these grasshoppers: this cannot be determined by their description given in vv. 7-10; the identity of the locusts can be made on a more solid basis, by the identity of their leader, which is given to us in v. 11: “They have as king the angel of the abyss, whose Hebrew name is Abaddon and who in Greek is called Apollyon. »
These two terms both mean destruction, perdition. Locusts serve the angel of the abyss, the destroyer. This can be none other than Satan himself. His servants are therefore, in all likelihood, not war machines but demons. They do not attack creation but human beings! Their work is much more insidious, tormenting human beings without causing them to die. Unlike grasshoppers which would not attack human beings but only vegetation, these grasshoppers only attack human beings and inflict on them torments more painful than death itself. No wonder the eagle announced “woe to the inhabitants of the earth” (Revelation 8:13).
The five months of their torment is the average life of a grasshopper in this part of the world. This duration is used here metaphorically to evoke the limited scope of their disastrous work.
The sixth trumpet describes a second “woe”: a voice issuing from the altar communicates the order to loosen the four chained angels on the Euphrates. Let us once again beware of looking for precise historical or geographical equivalences, as if John meant an invasion from Babylon or Assyria (modern-day Iran or Iraq).
These angels, ready for a determined time, are at the head of an innumerable army, two myriads of myriads (2 X 10,000 X 10,000 = 200,000,000 = 200 million). This is a number John hears, just as he heard the number 144,000 (Revelation 7:4).
What John sees, however, are riders on horses. Interesting fact: John will linger to describe the horses much more than the riders (Revelation 9.17-19): cuirasses the color of fire, hyacinth and sulfur; lion heads, fire-smoke-brimstone coming out of their mouths, serpent-like tails, tails having malignant heads. The description of the power of the tail and mouth of horses (Revelation 9.19) recalls that of the tail of locusts (Revelation 9.10).
They have the power to destroy a third of men (Revelation 9:15, 18). In fact, the word “third” is used 14 times in Revelation chapters 8–9. It designates a limit to the judgments of God; although terrible, these scourges spare people.
However, the spiritual darkness is so dense that others do not repent.
John affirms three times:
they did not repent of the works of their hands;
they did not cease to worship demons and idols;
they did not repent of their murders, spells (pharmakon), misconduct (porneia), thefts.
Because of the similarities between locusts and horsemen and their horses (5th and 6th trumpets), it is a safe bet that these two misfortunes both describe demonic hordes, whom God Himself grants permission to afflict with plagues human beings. These plagues, like the set of trumpets, come in judgment from God and are in answer to the prayers of His own.
The first two misfortunes (= 5th and 6th trumpets) therefore refer to the same kind of events: a divine judgment in the form of hordes of demons who attack human beings.
The central message of this series of trumpets is therefore twofold (and even threefold):
God inflicts His judgments on the inhabitants of the world while preserving His own from His wrath.
The judgments of God do not lead the inhabitants of the world to repentance, quite the contrary.
God judges the inhabitants of the earth because of His holiness and in answer to the prayer of His own.
1. And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.
2. And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.
3. 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.
4. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.
5. 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.
6. And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.
7. 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.
8. 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;
9. 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.
10. 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;
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. 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!
1. And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.
2. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.
3. And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.
4. And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.
5. And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man.
6. And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.
7. And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men.
8. And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions.
9. And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle.
10. And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months.
11. And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.
12. One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter.
13. And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God,
14. Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates.
15. And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.
16. And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them.
17. And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.
18. By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths.
19. For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt.
20. And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk:
21. Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.
Related Links / Notes
Study Notes are translated from the original French version prepared by Pierre Constant who has been Associate Professor of the New Testament at the Toronto Baptist Seminary since 2003. The orginal French notes are in “note” form, and are not a direct transcription of the video. The notes provided here follow that form, but are detailed enough to help provide a deep understanding of the texts in the book of revelation.
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