Tagged: hail and fire mixed with blood

A third of the earth was burned up (Rev. 8:7)

Previously: The first trumpet (Rev. 8:7)

The scripture

Rev. 8:7 – The first [angel] blew his trumpet, and hail and fire, mixed with blood, were hurled to the earth. So a third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up (HCSB).

A third of the earth was burned up

The impact of the hail and fire mixed with blood is devastating. John writes that “a third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.” Whether this is to be taken literally or figuratively is a matter of intense debate among scholars. See the final section in this lesson for a comparison of four views.

“I have no quarrel, none at all, with those who look upon these things as being literally described,” writes W.A. Criswell. “But, these things could also be symbols, pictures of the judgments of God” (Expository Sermons on Revelation, p. 174). Possible meanings of these symbols in Revelation 8, according to Criswell:

  • Hail could be a sudden, sharp judgment of God (Isa. 28:2, 17).
  • Fire could be the unsparing evidence of the wrath of God, mostly in the form of war (Deut. 32:22: Isa. 33:14).
  • Blood could symbolize death in all its forms – physical, spiritual, moral.
  • The earth could stand for the civilized world.
  • The sea could depict the restless masses of humanity (Dan.7:2-3; Isa. 57:20).
  • Trees could represent the pride of human greatness (Dan. 4:10, 20-22; Eze. 31:3-18).
  • Grass is a term sometimes used to represent people in general (Isa. 40:6-7).
  • Green grass could symbolize the finest of mankind.
  • A star can be a pastor, a teacher, or a person of great authority.
  • Rivers and fountains could stand for sources of life-giving water – the doctrine, salvation and hope that false teachers undermine (pp. 174-75).

There is, of course, the possibility that both figurative and literal meanings may be applied at various times in human history, or even at the same time. For example, there is no doubt that the judgments of God have fallen hard and fast like hail upon His people (Israel and Judah, for example) and upon the wicked (the Assyrians; see Isa. 37:36-38). This does not preclude God from using the real elements of His creation – hail, fire, blood, etc. – to bring judgment upon the wicked in the last days. Some would argue that this view is too fluid, to the point where nothing in Revelation really means anything. But we must keep in mind that this is apocalyptic writing intended not only for readers in the last days, but for first-century readers facing persecution, the end of formal Judaism, and the collapse of the once-great Roman Empire. Surely the Lord can speak to people of all ages through His word.

Now, what about the fractions John uses here – a third of the earth, a third of the trees, and all the green grass? As Matthew Henry notes in his unabridged commentary on the Bible, “The most severe calamities have their bounds and limits set by the great God.” Could it be that in sparing two-thirds of the earth and trees – whether literal or figurative – the Lord is providing yet one more opportunity for the wicked to repent? They will refuse, of course, as we see later. “And [despite the sixth trumpet judgment] they did not repent of their murders, their sorceries, their sexual immortality, or their thefts” (Rev. 9.21). “So they blasphemed the name of God who had the power over these plagues, and they did not repent and give Him glory” (Rev. 16:9b). “And they blasphemed God for the plague of hail because that plague was extremely severe” (Rev. 16:21b). This, however, is no reflection on God’s mercy but on the severe wickedness of the human heart. “The heart is more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick – who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).

But how can “all the green grass” be burned up if the locusts are told later, in the fifth trumpet judgment, not to harm the grass of the earth? There are a few possible explanations. First, the phrase “green grass” could mean something more specific than the term “grass.” In the New Testament, there is one Greek word translated “grass.” It is chortos and can mean grass or hay. So the “green grass” could be a reference to meadows and hillsides similar to the grass on which the followers of Jesus sat when He fed the 5,000 (Mark 6:39), while the “grass” could refer to cultivated fields of hay, oats and barley. Another explanation comes from the fact that we don’t know the lapse in time between the first and fifth trumpet judgments. We do know that when grass is burned, it grows back. One other possible answer is that if this language is figurative, then the “green grass” symbolizes prominent human figures while the “grass” represents all humanity.

A final thought from the Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times: “The figure of ‘a third’ used in each of the first four trumpets reveals that God’s judgments are partial and destructive, but not yet final” (p. 454).

Four major views of the first trumpet

How do proponents of the four major interpretations of Revelation view the first trumpet?

  • Preterists – who see the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the church age – say the entire series of trumpet judgments is concerned with the Jewish War of 66-70 A.D., the “last days” of the Jewish commonwealth. The first four trumpet judgments depict several years of ravaging at the hands of the Romans prior to the destruction of Jerusalem. The plagues are reminiscent of those in Egypt at the birth of the Jewish nation. Some commentators insist that the trumpet judgments should not be seen occurring chronologically, but rather concurrently. The destruction of trees and green grass may be seen symbolically of people. The “green grass” could even describe the elect, who are not completely spared suffering and death in the Roman conquest of Jerusalem. Other interpreters, however, say the description of destroyed vegetation accurately depicts the Roman method of conquering Israel’s capital city and is captured by historian Josephus in his writings.
  • Many historicists – who view the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history – identify the first trumpet with the military conflicts between the Western Roman Empire and hordes of Goths and Vandals under Visigoth King Alaric, who sacked Rome in 410 A.D.  Non-Christian historian Edward Gibbon described the invasion of the empire in biblical terms: “Blood and conflagration and the burning of trees and herbage marked their [Goths’] path.” Some suggest the “trees” and “grass” represent the church’s clergy and laity at this time. And the fraction “a third” could refer either to the Roman Empire, which was one-third of the known world, or one-third of the empire itself, the western division.
  • Most futurists – who argue that the events of Revelation are largely unfulfilled, especially chapters 4-22 – take the hail, fire, trees and green grass literally. They equate the events in this judgment to one of the 10 plagues on Egypt (Ex. 9:18-26). Hal Lindsey, who authored The Late, Great Planet Earth, believes all of the ecological catastrophes in this chapter are the result of nuclear weapons. Some, however, equate the trees to great leaders, and the grass to ordinary people.
  • Idealists, or spiritualists – who see Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – see the trumpet judgments as calamities that occur repeatedly throughout the ages, not as singular events in John’s day or at the end of time. Further, they see these judgments as symbolic, not literal. William Hendriksen writes, “In all probability this first judgment indicates that throughout the period extending from the first to the second coming, our Lord, who now reigns in heaven, will afflict the persecutors of the Church with various disasters that will take place on earth” (quoted in Revelation: Four Views, edited by Steve Gregg, p. 151).

Next: The second trumpet (Rev. 8:8-9)

The first trumpet – Revelation 8:7

Previously: The seventh seal – Revelation 8:1-6

The scripture

Rev. 8:7 – The first [angel] blew his trumpet, and hail and fire, mixed with blood, were hurled to the earth. So a third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up (HCSB).

The four angels standing at the four corners of the earth are prevented from harming “the earth or the sea or the trees” until the 144,000 are sealed (Rev. 7:2-3). But now, with the sounding of the first and second trumpets, a third of the earth and trees are burned up, and a third of the sea becomes blood. The hiatus is over and massive destruction of the sin-cursed world begins to take place.

Are we to believe that hail, fire and blood are literally mixed and hurled to the earth? What’s the significance of “a third,” a recurring fraction in the first four trumpet judgments? How can “all” the green grass be burned in the first trumpet judgment if the “locusts” that ascend out of the abyss are prevented from harming the grass in the fifth judgment? And do the trumpet judgments follow the seal judgments chronologically or run concurrently with them? Let’s take a closer look.

The first angel blew his trumpet

The trumpet employed by each angel in this series of judgments is the shofar, or ram’s horn, and is translated so in the Complete Jewish Bible. This horn has special significance for Israel. Loud blasts of the shofar accompany the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai and cause the people to tremble (Ex. 20:18). The shofar is incorporated into the Jewish feasts of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, or Atonement. Some Bible commentators believe the coming rapture of the church will be associated with Rosh Hashanah and the trumpets described in 1 Cor. 15:52 and 1 Thess. 4:16. They also believe the trumpets of Yom Kippur will herald national judgment on Israel, leading many Jews to receive Jesus as Messiah during the Tribulation.

David H. Stern writes, “The idea that the Great Judgment of the Last Days is heralded by blasts on the shofar has its roots in the Tanakh [Old Testament]. ‘YHVH [Yahweh; God] will be seen over them, his arrow will go forth like lightning, and Adonai YHVH will sound the shofar and will move in the storm winds of the south…. And YHVH their God will save them on that day as the flock of his people (Zech. 9:14, 16)” (Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 814).

Additionally, the shofar is to be sounded on the Day of Atonement in the Year of Jubilee, every 50th year, to signal the release of slaves and debt. For Christians, this may be seen as symbolic of Christ’s work on our behalf, redeeming us from the slave market of sin and paying our sin debt with His blood. His finished work on the cross frees us from the debtor’s prison of sin.

Whatever the significance of the shofar in the case of the trumpet judgments, its sounding precedes unprecedented acts of God upon the earth (the first four trumpet judgments) and its wicked people (the last three trumpet judgments).

Hail and fire, mixed with blood

After the angel sounds the first trumpet, John sees hail and fire, mixed with blood, hurled to the earth. R. Jamieson, A.R. Fausset and D. Brown note there is a common feature in the first four trumpets; the judgments affect natural objects – the earth, trees, grass, the sea, rivers, fountains, the light of the sun, moon and stars. But the last three trumpet judgments affect men’s lives with pain, death and hell (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Re 8:7).

Further, the language used to describe these judgments is drawn from the plagues of Egypt, with five or six out of the 10 plagues corresponding to trumpet judgments: hail, fire (Ex. 9:24), water turning to blood (Ex. 7:19), darkness (Ex. 10:21), locusts (Ex. 10:12), and perhaps death (Rev. 9:18).

If we step back a little, we can see a pattern in all three sets of judgments – the seals, trumpets, and bowls. As the Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times notes, “In all three series of seven, the first four judgments focus on the earth, while the last three are more cosmic in nature. The seals and trumpets follow a 4+2+1 pattern, while the bowls follow a 4+3 pattern. There is an interlude between the sixth and seventh seals and the sixth and seventh trumpets, but no interlude between the sixth and seventh bowls as the pace becomes too intense” (p. 405).

It’s also important to note that some commentators see these three sets of judgments playing out in chronological order – the seals first, followed by the trumpets and, finally, the bowls – while others see them as repeating and overlapping, especially since each series culminates at the end of time with a storm-earthquake. One’s view of the end times (historical, for example, or futurist) no doubt influences a belief in either consecutive or overlapping series of judgments, or perhaps it’s the other way around. In any case, it is difficult to overlook the similarities between the three sets of judgments.

Grant Osborne, in his book Revelation, identifies seven major themes in the three judgment series:

  1. These judgments are poured out on unbelievers, while believers are protected (Rev. 3:10; 7:1-8; 9:4; 16:2).
  2. These judgments are God’s response to the prayers of the saints for justice and vengeance (5:8; 6:9-11; 8:3-5).
  3. The sovereignty of God is emphasized throughout.
  4. God does not command evil to do His will; He simply allows it to operate.
  5. Unbelievers respond by refusing to repent and by cursing God, thus demonstrating depravity (9:20-21; 16:9, 11).
  6. These judgments are acts of mercy, providing a final opportunity to repent (9:20; 14:6-7; 16:9, 11).
  7. There is a progressive dismantling of creation, preparing for the final consummation.

As for the first trumpet, it no doubt ushers in a terrible storm, but commentators are divided as to what that storm symbolizes. Some argue this is a symbolic storm of heresies; others, a mixture of doctrinal errors such as the Arian heresy that denied the deity of Christ; or a tempest of war falling on the state.  In any case, the hail and fire, mingled with blood, remind us of the seventh plague God sends against Egypt (Ex. 9:18-26). The prophet Joel also promises blood and fire in the last days (Joel 2:30).

Although it’s difficult to picture hail and fire mixed with blood, imagine the apostle John, from his first-century perspective, trying to describe events that are perhaps centuries in the future. If the futurist perspective is correct, for example, how is John to describe 21st century (or later) warfare and weapons? Could the locusts be attack helicopters, and the burning mountain falling into the sea a nuclear warhead? We simply do not know.

As we read these descriptions of hail and fire mixed with blood, strange-looking locusts, and blazing mountains falling from the sky, we are well advised to cling to the clear teachings of each passage and be willing to be proven wrong on our assumptions about apocalyptic details. For example, it is clear that God is bringing judgment to bear upon the earth; that much suffering ensues; that the wicked refuse to repent; that the Lamb is in control; that His people are protected; and that the earth is being prepared for what Jesus called “the regeneration” (Matt. 19:28 KJV) and what Peter referred to as “new heavens and a new earth” (2 Peter 3:13).

Next: A third of the earth was burned up (first trumpet continued): Rev. 8:7