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
This is the fifth in a series of articles on Jesus in the feasts of Israel.
|Name||Scriptures||Time / Date||Purpose||Fulfillment|
|Trumpets||Lev. 23:23-25; Num. 10:10, 29:1-6||1st day of Tishri (September/October)||To usher in the seventh month and begin “The Days of Awe.”||The rapture of the church(1 Cor. 15:51-2; 1 Thess. 4:16-17)|
In Scripture, Rosh Hashanah is referred to as Zikhron Teruah (“Memorial of Blowing [of trumpets],” Lev. 23:24) and Yom Teruah (“Day of Blowing [of trumpets],” Num. 29:1). Because of these biblical descriptions, Rosh Hashanah is often referred to as “the Feast of Trumpets.” It is a day of sounding trumpets in the Temple and throughout Israel. Rosh Hashanah literally means “head of the year.” This holiday marks the first day of the Jewish civil New Year. However, this designation only came to be after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. Since there was no longer a central place of worship and an altar of sacrifice – the Temple in Jerusalem – the observance necessarily had to change. Today, the emphasis is on the Jewish New Year rather than the blowing of trumpets.
The Biblical Observance
The Scripture references to the Feast of Trumpets are simple and straightforward:
- Israel is commanded to memorialize the day by blowing trumpets and by keeping the day as a Sabbath of rest (Lev. 23:23-25; Num. 29:1).
- A special burnt offering, consisting of a young bull, a ram, and seven lambs, is offered. A kid goat also is sacrificed as a sin offering. These offerings are in addition to the required daily sacrifices (Num. 28:1-8), and those for the new moon, which also are offered on that day (Num. 28:11-15).
Rosh Hashanah is the only Jewish holiday occurring on the first day of the month, when the moon appears as a thin crescent. Just as the seventh day and the seventh year are holy according to Mosaic law (Ex. 20:8-10; Lev. 25:4), so is the seventh month, Tishri, the Sabbath of months. Jews in ancient Israel announced the new moon with short blasts of a trumpet, but the new moon of Tishri was announced with long blasts, setting it apart.
The type of horn used for the Feast of Trumpets is the shofar, a curved trumpet made from a ram’s horn. This is different from the hatzotzerah, the silver trumpets priests blew to announce the beginning and ending of the Sabbath, and with the sacrifices. During the Feast of Trumpets, a priest is chosen to sound the shofar. He stands in a row of priests with silver trumpets facing the altar. The shofar sounds long blasts while the silver trumpets sound short blasts over the sacrifices of the day.
Besides the sacrificial ceremony, the trumpet had many uses for Israel:
- To gather an assembly before the Lord (Num. 10:2-4).
- To sound a battle alarm (Num. 10:9).
- To announce the coronation of a new king in the cases of Solomon (1 Kings 1:34, 39), Jehu (2 Kings 9:13), Joash (2 Kings 11:12-14), and Absalom (2 Sam. 15:10).
The Modern Observance
The observance of Rosh Hashanah today bears little resemblance to the biblical Feast of Trumpets.
The Days of Awe. Jewish tradition holds that the 10 days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur are the “Days of Awe.” It is believed that God reviews the books of judgment on Rosh Hashanah and delivers final judgment on Yom Kippur. These 10 days are considered the last chance for a person to repent before God’s judgment falls, possibly resulting in the death of the disobedient in the coming year. It is believed that three books are opened and every person’s name is entered into one of the books:
- The Book of Life for the wicked. If a person’s name is entered here, judgment is final and that person’s life will be cut short in the coming year.
- The Book of Life for the righteous. Those whose names are entered here are granted another year of life and prosperity.
- The Book of Life for the in-between. Those whose names are written here have their lives hanging in the balance. If they sincerely repent during the Days of Awe, tradition holds that God will grant them life until the following Yom Kippur.
There is a Biblical origin of this tradition (Ex. 32:32-33; Psalm 69:28), but Jewish tradition has greatly embellished it. The Days of Awe are so solemn, weddings and other festive occasions are postponed until after Yom Kippur.
Prayers of repentance. Faithful Jews recite penitent prayers called selihot (“forgiveness”) throughout the week leading up to Rosh Hashanah.
The casting ceremony. On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, observant Jews gather near a body of water to recite the Tashlikh (“cast off”) prayer. In Israel, this may take place on the beaches of the Mediterranean Sea or at the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem. Several Hebrew Scriptures make up the prayer – Micah 7:18-20; Psalm 118:5-9; Psalm 33; Psalm 130; and often Isaiah 11:9. After the prayer, worshipers may shake their pockets, or throw bread crumbs or stones into the water, symbolically ridding themselves of sins.
The sounding of the shofar. Jewish tradition holds that on Rosh Hashanah, Satan appears before God to accuse Israel as God opens the books for judgment. The Jews blast the shofar on this day to confuse Satan, so he might believe Messiah has come and ended Satan’s reign on earth. It is customary to sound 100 shofar blasts on each day of the Rosh Hashanah synagogue services.
Synagogue services for Rosh Hashanah are lengthy, lasting five or more hours, and are focused on God’s kingship. The prayers and readings emphasize God’s majesty, His remembrance of His everlasting covenant with Israel, and the key role of the shofar in the history of the nation. The benediction speaks of the end of days, in which God will reveal Himself, sounding the shofar and sending the promised Messiah (Zech. 9:14).
The Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah has its festive moments as well. Since it is identified as the start of the civil New Year, Jews often send festive cards to family and friends, wishing them Shanah tovah, “a good year.” They also dress in new clothing and eat special foods, like apples dipped in honey and oval loaves of hallah bread; the round loaves of bread remind them of crowns and God’s kingship.
The Talmud, the ancient rabbinical commentary, suggests the world was created in the month of Tishri. Other rabbinic authorities say Rosh Hashanah was the day on which man was created.
Israel’s four springtime feasts – Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits and Pentecost – were fulfilled in the first coming of the Messiah. The three fall festivals – Rosh Hashanah, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles – will be fulfilled at the Messiah’s second coming.
For Israel, the fulfillment of the Feast of Trumpets will be a dark day. Just as Rosh Hashanah occurs at the new moon, when the sky is darkest, Israel’s prophets warn of a coming day of judgment for the nation. For example, Amos 5:18-20, Zeph. 1:14-16, and Joel 2:31 all speak of the day in which the Lord will turn off the heavenly lights, pour out His wrath on the wicked, and bring Israel to repentance and into the new covenant.
Ancient Jewish tradition held that the resurrection of the dead would occur on Rosh Hashanah. As a result, many Jewish grave markers feature a shofar.
God’s last trump and the resurrection of the dead are tied to the rapture of the church in the New Testament. Consider these key passages:
- 1 Cor. 15:51-52 – “Listen! I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.”
- 1 Thess. 4:16-17 – “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will always be with the Lord.”
Remember the reasons for trumpet blasts in the Old Testament? They will be the same in the days to come:
- To gather an assembly before the Lord (the rapture of the church).
- To sound a battle alarm (God will defeat Satan’s rebellious followers throughout the tribulation and at Christ’s return).
- To announce the coronation of a new king (Jesus the Messiah will sit on the throne of David as King of kings and Lord of lords).
Next: The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips
* While several sources were used in preparing these notes, I drew heavily from The Feasts of the Lord: God’s Prophetic Calendar from Calvary to the Kingdom by Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal.