Rev. 8:12 – The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day was without light, and the night as well. 13I looked, and I heard an eagle, flying in mid-heaven, saying in a loud voice, “Woe! Woe! Woe to those who live on the earth, because of the remaining trumpet blasts that the three angels are about to sound!” (HCSB)
Like the previous trumpet judgments, the fourth affects natural objects, in this case the sun, moon and stars, resulting in diminished light on the earth. The final three trumpet judgments, which we will begin to address in the next lesson, affect men’s lives with pain, death and hell.
In this judgment, John notes that “a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened.” He then reports seeing an eagle fly in “mid-heaven,” pronouncing woes on the earth’s inhabitants, who are about to experience more severe judgment when the fifth, sixth and seventh trumpets are sounded.
How can “a third” of the sun, moon and stars be stricken? Are a third of the stars destroyed, or is the brightness of these celestial bodies dimmed? What’s so bad about this judgment? What’s the significance of an “eagle” who speaks? Where is “mid-heaven?” And why does the eagle give advance warning of the coming woes? Let’s take a closer look.
The fourth angel blew his trumpet
As we noted previously, the “trumpet” each angel blows in this series of judgments is the shofar, or ram’s horn, and has special significance for Israel (see The first trumpet for more details). In the case of the trumpet judgments, the sound of the shofar alerts us that God is moving righteously in judgment, extending His mercy a little while longer for those who will repent, destroying the wicked, rewarding His people, and preparing the created order for new heavens and a new earth.
It’s also important to keep in mind that God’s judgment falls only after His calls to repentance go unheeded. The flood in Noah’s day comes 120 years after Noah begins building the ark and warning the earth’s wicked about God’s coming wrath. The idolatrous residents of Canaan are destroyed to make room for the Israelites only after their measure of sin is full; God waits patiently for nearly half a millennium for them to set aside their idolatry until it is clear to all that they will not. And Christ graciously delays His return so that people have ample opportunity to turn to Him in faith (2 Peter 3:8-9). Unbelievers who stand before the Lord in final judgment will not be able to say they didn’t have time to repent – or to offer up any other excuses (Rom. 1:20).
A third of the sun was struck
John writes that “a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day was without light, and the night as well.” There are some similarities between the fourth trumpet judgment and the sixth seal judgment in Rev. 6:12-14. In both cases, the sun, moon and stars are affected. But in the sixth seal judgment, it appears the darkening of the entire sun is due to an earthquake that perhaps is connected to a volcano, which in turn spews ash far into the atmosphere. The moon appears to turn blood red, perhaps for the same reason. And the stars of heaven fall to earth as a fig tree drops its unripe figs when shaken by a high wind. This could be a description of meteors. But as we read about the fourth trumpet judgment, it seems the Lord touches these celestial objects directly, reducing light in the daytime and the night by one-third.
Some commentators take this judgment literally, likening it to the plague of darkness that falls upon Egypt in the days of Moses. Others understand these words symbolically to be “either the guides and governors of the church, or of the state, who are placed in higher orbs than the people, and are to dispense light and benign influences to them” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Rev. 8:7-13).
Regardless of whether John’s words are to be taken literally or figuratively, darkness in scripture often is a sign of God’s judgment. In Exodus 10, God sends “thick darkness” throughout Egypt for three days in the ninth plague. In Isaiah 13 the Lord tells of a day when He will bring disaster on the world: “Indeed, the stars of the sky and its constellations will not give their light. The sun will be dark when it rises, and the moon will not shine” (Isa. 13:10). In Isaiah 34, at the judgment of the nations, “All the heavenly bodies will dissolve. The skies will roll up like a scroll, and their stars will all wither as leaves wither on the vine, and foliage on the fig tree” (Isa. 34:4).
In Ezekiel 32, the Lord tells the king of Egypt, “When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars. I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light” (Eze. 32:7). In Joel 2, we are told that the day of the Lord is coming, “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and dense overcast…. The sun and moon grow dark, and the stars cease their shining…. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and awe-inspiring Day of the Lord comes” (Joel 2:2, 10, 31). In Amos 5 we read that the Day of the Lord “will be darkness and not light…. Won’t the Day of the Lord be darkness rather than light, even gloom without any brightness in it” (Amos 5:18, 20). And in Mark 13:24-25 Jesus warns us that just before His return, “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not shed its light; the stars will be falling from the sky, and the celestial powers will be shaken.”
The first three trumpet judgments impact a third of the land and waters, but the fourth judgment affects the entire world. Why? “Because it gets to the very source of the earth’s life and energy, the sun. With one third less sunlight on the earth, there will be one third less energy available to support the life systems of man and nature…. Think of the vast changes in temperatures that will occur and how these will affect human health and food growth. It is possible that this particular judgment is temporary, for the fourth bowl judgment will reverse it, and the sun’s power will be intensified (Rev. 16:8–9)” (Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Rev. 8:7).
Even more, under the cloak of darkness, human depravity no doubt will thrive. As Jesus reminds us, “For everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed” (John 3:20). It will take the blinding light of Christ’s return to finally drive out all darkness.
One additional thought: The precise impact of this judgment on the sun, moon and stars isn’t clear. The text says that a third of the day was without light, and the night as well. If the days are made shorter, the nights should be longer, but that does not appear to be what is happening. Likely, the celestial bodies are smitten in such a way as to diminish their light-giving – or in the case of the moon, light-reflecting – qualities.
Next: I heard an eagle – Rev. 8:12-13