Tagged: Trumpet judgments

Go and measure God’s sanctuary: Rev. 11:1-2

Previously: You must prophesy again

The scripture

Rev. 11:1 – Then I was given a measuring reed like a rod, with these words: “Go and measure God’s sanctuary and the altar, and [count] those who worship there. 2But exclude the courtyard outside the sanctuary. Don’t measure it, because it is given to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for 42 months.” (HCSB)

Revelation 11 continues the interlude between the second and third woes (the sixth and seventh trumpet judgments), although we are warned at the end of verse 14 that the third woe is coming quickly. John is given a measuring instrument and told to measure the Lord’s sanctuary and altar, but to exclude the courtyard, which is given to the nations (or Gentiles) for a period of time.

He then is told that two witnesses will be empowered for the same length of time. These prophets have the ability to kill their enemies with fire, to prevent rain from falling, and to produce plagues similar to those witnessed in the days of Moses in Egypt. Ultimately, the “beast” who comes up from the abyss will conquer them and kill them. Their bodies will be on public display for three and a half days, prompting a global celebration. But then the Lord will raise them from the dead, call them into heaven, and produce a violent earthquake that kills 7,000 people and terrifies the survivors.

Why is John instructed to measure the sanctuary and the altar? Are these in heaven or on earth? Who are the two witnesses, and why are they compared with olive trees and lampstands? Why do they prevent rain and produce plagues? How does the beast manage to kill them, and why does the Lord breathe life back into them, only to snatch them up into heaven? And what does it mean that the survivors of the earthquake give glory to the God of heaven? Do they repent and become believers?

There is much imagery in these verses – and a great deal of disagreement among scholars as to its meaning. So let’s dig in.

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The mighty angel and the small scroll: Revelation 10

Previously: 200 million mounted troops – Revelation 9:13-21

The scripture

Rev. 10:1 – Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, surrounded by a cloud, with a rainbow over his head. His face was like the sun, his legs were like fiery pillars, 2and he had a little scroll opened in his hand. He put his right foot on the sea, his left on the land, 3and he cried out with a loud voice like a roaring lion. When he cried out, the seven thunders spoke with their voices. 4And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write. Then I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders said, and do not write it down!”

5Then the angel that I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. 6He swore an oath by the One who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it: “There will no longer be an interval of time, 7but in the days of the sound of the seventh angel, when he will blow his trumpet, then God’s hidden plan will be completed, as He announced to His servants the prophets.”

8Now the voice that I heard from heaven spoke to me again and said, “God, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.”

9So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take and eat it; it will be bitter in your stomach, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.”

10Then I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It was as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I ate it, my stomach became bitter. 11And I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.” (HCSB)

An interlude between woes

There is an interlude between the second and third woes (the sixth and seventh trumpet judgments), just as there is a pause between the sixth and seventh seal judgments. John sees a mighty angel descend from heaven and stand with one foot on land and one in the sea. He holds a “little scroll” in his hand. The angel roars like a lion, prompting the seven thunders to speak; but what they say is sealed up and hidden, at least for now.

The mighty angel proclaims, “There will no longer be an interval of time.” When the seventh angel blows his trumpet, “God’s hidden plan” will be completed.

A voice from heaven tells John to take the scroll from the mighty angel. As the angel gives the open scroll to John, he tells the apostle to eat it. John obeys and finds the scroll as sweet as honey in his mouth but bitter in his stomach.

Finally, John is told that his work is far from finished; he must “prophesy again about many people, nations, languages, and kings.”

Why is there a break in the action between the sixth and seventh trumpet judgments? Who is the mighty angel that roars like a lion? Who are the seven thunders that speak, and why is John forbidden from revealing what they say? Why is there to be no more delay before God’s hidden plan is completed? What is written on the scroll in the mighty angel’s hand? Why is John told to eat the scroll? And why is it sweet to the tongue but bitter to the stomach?

This chapter is filled with vivid imagery and rich meaning. Let’s move slowly through these verses.

Another mighty angel

John sees “another mighty angel” coming down from heaven, surrounded by a cloud, with a rainbow over his head. His face is like the sun. His legs are as fiery pillars. He stands with his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and his voice is like a roaring lion’s. What a magnificent image of a powerful heavenly being. So magnificent, in fact, that many commentators conclude this is Christ.

And perhaps he is. There are similarities between this “mighty angel” and Jesus as He is depicted in Revelation 1 and Revelation 19. But there also are differences – among them, the fact that the angel in Revelation 10 is called “another mighty angel,” whereas Jesus is unique and there is no one like Him. Also, in Revelation 1 John falls at Jesus’ feet in worship, but he does not worship this angel, even though he mistakenly worships an angel in Revelation 22. Jesus, we should remember, is never called an angel in Revelation.

Finally, in verse 6 the mighty angel swears an oath by the One who lives forever and ever, an inappropriate action for the Messiah, who is God and needs to swear no oath, for merely in speaking He guarantees the truth of His words and the surety of His promises.* For these reasons, it appears best to understand this mighty angel as a powerful heavenly messenger who, like John, worships and serves Christ.

In calling him “another mighty angel,” John may be distinguishing him from the mighty angel we encounter in Rev. 5:2, who proclaims, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” Or John may be setting this mighty angel apart from the other angels who sound the seven trumpets. In any case, this appears to be a mighty angel who instills awe in the human observer yet is not divine.

Notice how John describes the mighty angel:

  • Coming down from heaven. As W.A. Criswell notes, this is not so much a point of departure as a description of his abode. He is a heavenly creature, familiar with the presence of the triune Godhead and the trappings of the throne room.
  • Surrounded by a cloud. The English Standard Version renders it “wrapped in a cloud” and the New American Standard Bible says he is “clothed with a cloud.” God often is identified with clouds. He leads Israel out of Egypt and through the desert by a cloud. Dark clouds cover Mt. Sinai when He delivers the Law. He appears to Moses in a cloud of glory. The Psalmist writes that He “makes the clouds His chariot” (Ps. 104:3). A cloud receives Jesus when He ascends into heaven. And when He returns it will be with clouds. This phrase alone may cause some to conclude that the mighty angel is Jesus. Yet for the reasons stated above, this likely is not the Lord. Consider that people are sometimes identified with clouds in service to the Lord. For example, the writer of Hebrews tells us we are surrounded by “a large cloud of witnesses,” those who have gone into heaven before us. And note that the Lord’s two witnesses are carried up to heaven in “a cloud” in Rev. 11:12.
  • A rainbow over his head. Some render it, “with a halo on his head.” Many see this as an allusion to Rev. 4:3, where we see an emerald rainbow surrounding the throne. At the very least, the rainbow is a sign of our covenant-keeping God. This does not necessarily mean the mighty angel in Revelation 10 is Christ, however, for the Lord employs angels in His covenant work.
  • With his face like the sun. This follows the description of Jesus in Rev. 1:16 and on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matt. 17:2. Even so, consider that Moses’ face “shone as a result of speaking with the Lord” so that he wore a veil to keep from frightening his fellow Israelites (Ex. 34:29-35). And other passages of scripture suggest that believers acquire a radiance in God’s presence (Judges 5:31; Dan. 12:3; Matt. 13:43). Remember, too, that angels, who reside in God’s presence, often are associated with bright light (see, for example, Luke 2:9). Even Satan may disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), although there is no suggestion in John’s vision that this mighty angel is anything but holy.
  • Legs like fiery pillars. This angel comes in judgment. Even though Jesus is depicted as One with “feet like fine bronze fired in a furnace” (Rev. 1:15), He also sends out His angels as “a fiery flame” (Heb. 1:7).
  • A little scroll in his hand. Some see this as the same scroll of Rev. 5:1. Two different Greek words are used to describe them (biblion and biblaridion), but they come from the same root word (biblos). Perhaps the most fitting tie is to the scroll Ezekiel is commanded to eat before prophesying to the house of Israel (Eze. 2:8 – 3:14).
  • His right foot on the sea, his left on the land. Many commentators believe this symbolizes a universal message, one for both Jews and Gentiles. The angel seems extraordinarily large, although John does not tell us his height and he could in fact simply be the size of a man standing on the shoreline. The rabbis in the Talmud discuss an angel named Sandelfon, who stands 500 miles taller than other angels (Hagigah 13b).
  • A loud voice like a roaring lion. The word translated “roaring” (mukaomai) usually is used for the voice of oxen, a low bellow. However, it seems an appropriate allusion to Old Testament passages where the Lord speaks as a lion (Jer. 25:30; Hosea 11:10; Joel 3:16; Amos 3:8). More to the point, throughout Revelation we see angels speaking with commanding voices (Rev. 5:2, 4:9, etc.).

So, while many commentators identify this mighty angel as Jesus – and again, perhaps he is – it seems best to see this figure as a powerful angelic messenger of the Lord, one with an awe-inspiring appearance and magnificent power who speaks on behalf of Almighty God and whose voice carries an ambassadorial authority.

It’s possible that this mighty creature is the same angel we encounter in Rev. 5:2, who proclaims with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” Perhaps, as well, it’s the angel of Rev. 7:2, who has the seal of the living God and who instructs four other angels in a loud voice not to harm the earth until the servants of the Lord are sealed. Additionally, it could be the angel of Rev. 8:3-5, who carries a gold incense burner and stands before the altar in heaven, then takes coals from the fire and hurls them to earth.

Finally, it could be the angel we will see in Rev. 18:1, who comes down from heaven with great authority and illuminates the earth with his splendor. Some commentators suggest this is Michael the archangel, whose name means “one like God.” However, because John calls him “another mighty angel,” he simply may be a unique contemporary of the others.

W.A. Criswell summarizes, “More than sixty times, besides the reference to the angels of the seven churches, are angels referred to in the Revelation, and every time the reference is to their employment in the service to God. So this angel is a glorious servant of the most High God” (Expository Sermons on Revelation, p. 198).

Next: A little scroll opened in his hand – Revelation 10

Release the four angels: Revelation 9:13-21

Previously: The sixth trumpet — Revelation 9:13-21

The scripture

Rev. 9:13 – The sixth angel blew his trumpet. From the four horns of the gold altar that is before God, I heard a voice 14 say to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15 So the four angels who were prepared for the hour, day, month, and year were released to kill a third of the human race. 16 The number of mounted troops was 200 million; I heard their number. 17 This is how I saw the horses in my vision: The horsemen had breastplates that were fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow. The heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and from their mouths came fire, smoke, and sulfur. 18 A third of the human race was killed by these three plagues—by the fire, the smoke, and the sulfur that came from their mouths. 19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, because their tails, like snakes, have heads, and they inflict injury with them. 20 The rest of the people, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands to stop worshiping demons and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which are not able to see, hear, or walk. 21 And they did not repent of their murders, their sorceries, their sexual immorality, or their thefts. (HCSB)

Release the four angels

The sixth angel is instructed, “Release the four angels bound at the great river Euphrates” (v. 14). No doubt, the four angels are demons, for holy angels are not bound. Together, the demons command a vast army of 200 million mounted riders (some manuscripts read 100 million). The army is held in check until God determines the precise time for a special purpose: to kill one-third of the human race. Since a fourth of mankind already has been killed in the fourth seal judgment (Rev. 6:8), and “many” people have died from the bitter waters in the third trumpet judgment (Rev. 8:11), this means roughly half of the world’s population will be dead by the time the sixth trumpet judgment is completed.

As for the army of 200 million, is this a literal army riding uniquely equipped horses? Or does John’s vision depict modern-day weapons such as tanks, driven by soldiers from a nation, or a coalition of nations, capable of deploying such a vast army? It seems best to see this as an army of demons unleashed to destroy people. While these are wicked men and women who have rejected God’s call to repentance, the demons swiftly destroy them because they are creatures made in God’s image; if the demons cannot fight against God, they can destroy his creatures and mar His creation. Even so, they unwittingly carry out God’s sovereign plan as instruments of His divine judgment.

The timing is interesting here. Just as God sent His Son at “the completion of the time” (Gal. 4:4) and Jesus died “at the appointed moment” (Rom. 5:6), the four angels are “prepared for the hour, day, month, and year … to kill a third of the human race” (Rev. 9:15). From a human perspective, so much of life seems random, chaotic and uncontrollable. Yet God sovereignly directs the real choices of people (and demons) and moves the world toward judgment and, beyond that, its promised redemption.

Whose voice is it that sounds over the four horns of the altar? Some argue that it is none other than the voice of God. Others say that because the four horns represent the four Gospels, they sound in a unified voice so that all those who are about to be judged will hear that their pending destruction is due to their rejection of the Son of God.

At the river Euphrates

The Euphrates River is the most important and, at 1780 miles, the longest river in western Asia. It begins in the Armenian Mountains. It passes through the Taurus Range and the Mesopotamian Valley down to the Persian Gulf. But it is far more significant than just its size. The river is part of the cradle of civilization (Gen. 2:14) and one of Israel’s stated boundaries (Gen. 15:18). The banks of the river are where sin is first known, where the first lie is told, where suffering begins and where human misery originates. It’s also where God’s promise of redemption is made through the seed of woman (Gen. 3:15).

The Euphrates is the backdrop of great apostasies before and after the flood. It is the river from which many of Israel’s greatest and most oppressive enemies drink and water their horses. It is the backdrop of captivity and exile for Israel and Judah. And it is the scene of the rise of the great world empires that oppose God’s people. It is the place from which the Assyrians come to defeat Israel’s northern kingdom and from which the Babylonians, Persians and Medes strike terror in the hearts of their enemies. In the days after Jesus’ ascension, as Israel rebels against the Roman Empire (66 – 70 A.D.), the Euphrates is where some of Rome’s mounted troops are poised to bring swift destruction. Now, in John’s vision, it is the river where four evil angels are unleashed, and an army of 200 million is deployed, as instruments of God’s wrath.

It is important to note that some commentators take a figurative view of the Euphrates and link it to “spiritual Babylon,” or the apostate church. More pointedly, they argue that the Roman Catholic Church is in view here, with its damaging dogmas of Mariology, sacramental salvation, and the buying and selling of indulgences.

In any case, the Euphrates in scripture is both a source and a boundary. It is one of the rivers of Eden; its root word, pehrat, means to break forth and abound. According to Xenophon, the Greek historian, the Euphrates causes the desert to “become a garden of fertility.” While it is a life-giving source of water, the river also sustains wicked people and their murderous schemes. For those who spiritualize the river, it symbolizes the source of idolatry and other false teachings, from Islam to Roman Catholicism to the New Age movement. As a boundary, the Euphrates separates East from West and, in many ways, Judaism and Christianity from competing Eastern religions. And in John’s vision of the sixth trumpet, it is a boundary where evil forces are detained until the sovereign God of the universe decides to unleash them.

 Next: The number of mounted troops was 200 million

The sixth trumpet: Revelation 9:13-21

Previously: The appearance of locusts — Revelation 9:1-12

The scripture

Rev. 9:13 – The sixth angel blew his trumpet. From the four horns of the gold altar that is before God, I heard a voice 14 say to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15 So the four angels who were prepared for the hour, day, month, and year were released to kill a third of the human race. 16 The number of mounted troops was 200 million; I heard their number. 17 This is how I saw the horses in my vision: The horsemen had breastplates that were fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow. The heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and from their mouths came fire, smoke, and sulfur. 18 A third of the human race was killed by these three plagues—by the fire, the smoke, and the sulfur that came from their mouths. 19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, because their tails, like snakes, have heads, and they inflict injury with them. 20 The rest of the people, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands to stop worshiping demons and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which are not able to see, hear, or walk. 21 And they did not repent of their murders, their sorceries, their sexual immorality, or their thefts. (HCSB)

The second woe is more devastating than the first. The fifth trumpet judgment – the first woe – results in torment at the hands of demonic “locusts.” But the sixth trumpet judgment yields death for a third of the human race.

It begins with the release of four angels who are “prepared” for this particularly gruesome season in human history. Joining the angels are 200 million mounted troops riding grotesque, fire-breathing horses with heads like lions and tails like poisonous snakes.

The result of this judgment is death for multitudes and shockingly hard-hearted rebellion against God by the survivors, who refuse to repent of their demon worship, murders, sorceries, sexual immorality and thefts.

Who are these angels? And where do they muster a mounted army of 200 million? Who are the fire-breathing horses, and how do their tails inflict injury? Finally, how can any human being, no matter how wicked, refuse to repent after witnessing such death and devastation? Let’s take a closer look at the details of this second woe.

The four horns of the gold altar

John hears a voice coming from the four horns of the gold altar before God. Remember from previous lessons that in the tabernacle and temple, there are two altars. First, there is the altar of bronze, located outside the sanctuary in the court and upon which sacrifices are offered; we encounter this altar in the fifth seal judgment as the martyred souls beneath it cry out to God for vengeance (Rev. 6:9-11). The second is the altar of gold, a smaller altar that stands in front of the veil and is used to burn incense, a picture of prayers ascending to God (see Ps. 141:2). In John’s vision of the sixth trumpet judgment, we see the altar of gold, the altar of burned incense and prayer.

We also encounter the altar of gold in Rev. 8:3-5. An angel with a gold incense burner is given a large amount of incense to offer with the prayers of the saints. The smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, arises into the presence of the Lord, while the angel fills his incense burner with fire from the altar and hurls it to earth in a prelude to the seven trumpet judgments.

The significance of the altar is that it reminds us the Lord hears our prayers and answers them – not always in the way we want or in keeping with our deadlines, but according to His divine will and in His perfect timing. Quoting from Psalm 34, Peter writes to remind us that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are open to their request. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:12).

W.A. Criswell shares the following insight into the two altars:

Now, in the golden censer, fire was taken from the Altar of Sacrifice and carried to the Golden Altar, where incense was burned unto God. Blood was taken from the Altar of Sacrifice on the day of atonement and sprinkled on the four golden horns of the Alter of prayer. All of this ritual was to teach that prayer and worship are based upon sacrifice, the shedding of blood without which there is no remission of sins, and without which no man can come into the presence of God. Now, it is from the four horns that the awful cry comes to loose those four terrible angels bound over the river Euphrates. What an amazing thing! Heretofore, the blood of the sacrifice and the prayers of intercession have always been for mercy, that God would forgive us, that God would save us. But now the blood that cries and the voice that is raised is no longer for forgiveness, for salvation, for God’s mercy, but the voice is for judgment and damnation. Oh, the horror of it! How could such a thing be? For a very plain and simple reason: God’s way for a man to be saved is in the blood. This is the way for a man to meet God, through the great mediation of the High Priest, Jesus Christ. This is God’s propitiation for our sins (Expository Sermons on Revelation, p. 189).

Next: Release the four angels — Revelation 9:13-21

I heard an eagle — Revelation 8:12-13

Previously: The fourth trumpet – Revelation 8:12-13

The scripture

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)

I heard an eagle

Now John writes, “I looked, and I heard an eagle …” Some manuscripts read “angel” instead of “eagle,” which could make more sense because angels play such prominent speaking roles in Revelation. However, most translations render the word “eagle.” Young’s Literal Translation renders it “messenger.” The eagle is a symbol of the Romans and is found on their ensigns. For some, that supports a first-century fulfillment of Revelation as the Romans swoop down upon Jerusalem like an eagle on its prey and bring the nation to ruin in 70 A.D.

The eagle in scripture is a symbol of vengeance. In Deut. 28:49, as Moses recites the curses that will befall Israel if the people break their covenant with God, he says, “The Lord will bring a nation from far away, from the ends of the earth, to swoop down on you like an eagle.” In Hosea 8:1, the Israelites are told, “[P]ut the horn to your mouth! One like an eagle comes against the house of the Lord, because they transgress My covenant and rebel against My law.” And in Hab. 1:8, the Lord tells His people He is raising up the Chaldeans as an instrument of His wrath: “They fly like an eagle, swooping to devour.”

Eagles are mentioned many times in scripture, usually in symbolic terms. They convey the idea of gathering God’s people to Himself (Ex. 19:4); of swiftness (2 Sam. 1:23; Job 9:25-26; Jer. 4:13; Lam. 4:19; and others); of prophetic significance (Dan. 7:4); of a parable (Eze. 17:1-4); of youth and the young (Ps. 103:5; Deut. 32:11); of flying toward heaven and nesting in the heights (Job 39:27; Prov. 23:5; Jer. 49:16; Obad. 1:4); of feasting on carcasses (Job 39:28-30; Prov. 30:17; Matt. 24:28); of the Lord bringing destruction (Jer. 48:40-42; 49:22-26; Hosea 8:1); of the Lord renewing strength (Isa. 40:31); of God’s people being delivered from Satan (Rev. 12:14); of creatures with four faces (Eze. 1:10; 10:14); and of beasts in heaven around the throne (Rev. 4:7).

If the creature in Rev. 8:13 is in fact an eagle, he fulfills his Old Testament role as a harbinger of judgment, for he pronounces three woes – which are the three final trumpet judgments – upon the earth’s inhabitants. If this creature is an angel, he speaks in a manner consistent with other angels in Revelation who herald, or deliver, God’s wrath.

The eagle is said to be flying in “mid-heaven,” which also may be translated “very high.” Some versions render it “midair,” “air,” “directly overhead,” “mid-heaven,” “midst of heaven,” or “sky.” So it appears he is soaring in our atmosphere, hovering perhaps, circling intently as one that eyes his prey. But the eagle does not attack. He is not the instrument of judgment, but its herald, warning those on the earth that there is still time to repent, but not much time.

W.A. Criswell puts the three woes in perspective: “Incomprehensible to us is the reluctance with which the Lord God Almighty gives up His people … Why does not God damn the demons out of His sight? Why does not God destroy them? Why does not God burn them with fire? Why does God let a tyrant live? Why does God let sinful people continue in their terribleness? Why does He do it? Because of the longsuffering of the Almighty. Maybe, maybe they will turn. Maybe they will hear. Maybe they will listen. Maybe they will repent. Maybe they will be saved…. There is always an appeal from God, a warning from the Lord, lest we fall into perdition and into damnation and into death. That is why this warning is given here before the sounding of the last three trumpets, beyond which it is forever and forever too late” (Expository Sermons on Revelation, pp. 178-179).

The eagle cries in a loud voice, “Woe! Woe! Woe to those who live on the earth.” There are two words in the Greek language to describe dwellers on the earth. One is paroikeo, which means to  dwell as a sojourner. The other is katoikeo, and it means to settle down. The latter word is used here, illustrating that those upon whom judgment is about to fall are firmly attached to their world and prefer it to the throne of God. They will be damned, not because a place in heaven is unavailable, but because they won’t have it. Their home is the sinful and fallen earth. Their treasures are here. Their hopes and dreams are here. Their desires are here. So the eagle tells them three times, “Woe!” They will get exactly what they want – a stake in the world that is passing away.

The word “woe” is telling. It is used more than 110 times in scripture and often is used as an expression of grief or a lament of deplorable conditions. When Jesus says in Matt. 24:19, “Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days,” He is expressing concern for the vulnerable when “the abomination that causes desolation” occurs. Yet there are times that a harsher meaning must be taken. Jesus’ woes upon the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23 are pointed condemnations, especially since he repeatedly calls them “hypocrites,” “snakes,” and a “brood of vipers” and tells them plainly, “How can you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matt. 23:33).

But what is the meaning of “woe” in Rev. 8:13? The eagle does not speak directly to the earth’s inhabitants, although no doubt they can hear him. Rather, he warns that even more deadly judgments are about to fall upon those who cling to the domain of Satan. Perhaps this is a warning, uttered with a shade of God’s mercy. The axe has not fallen yet; there is still time. But if those who hear the warning fail to heed it, the eagle’s words will echo in their empty hearts for eons to come.

As the apostle Paul wrote in an appeal to the Corinthians, “Don’t receive God’s grace in vain…. Look, now is the acceptable time; look, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:1-2).

Four major views of the fourth trumpet

How do supporters of the four major interpretations of Revelation view the fourth trumpet?

  • Preterists – who see the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the church age – assign the events of the fourth trumpet to the Jewish War of 66-70 A.D. The darkened celestial bodies symbolize Roman and Jewish leaders. Austin Farrar writes that “ruler after ruler, chieftain after chieftain of the Roman Empire and the Jewish nation was assassinated and ruined. Gaius, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, all died by murder or suicide; Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Herod Agrippa, and most of the Herodian Princes, together with not a few of the leading High Priests of Jerusalem, perished in disgrace, or in exile, or by violent hands. All these were quenched suns and darkened stars” (quoted in Revelation: Four Views, pp. 166, 168).
  • Historicists – who view the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history – view the sun, moon and stars as “the political firmament of Rome,” and many argue that the events described in the fourth trumpet judgment are fulfilled in the fall of the Roman Empire in or around 467 A.D. The fact that some Roman influence continues after this time illustrates that the empire’s lights are not completely extinguished. Some historicists, however, remain open to the idea that these celestial bodies symbolize leaders in the church.
  • Futurists – who say the events of Revelation are largely unfulfilled, especially chapters 4-22 – are divided along literal vs. symbolic lines. Some argue that these fading celestial lights represent a reduction in spiritual light during the tribulation, citing 2 Thess. 2:11-12: “For this reason God sends them a strong delusion so that they will believe what is false, so that all will be condemned – those who did not believe the truth but enjoyed unrighteousness.” Others hold out for a more literal application. Some believe we are reading a description of an eclipse; others, of a day-night cycle shortened to 16 hours; still others, of the lingering effects of the first three trumpet judgments that leave “scientists and politicians trying desperately to find naturalistic explanations for their causes” (Henry Morris, quoted in Revelation: Four Views, p. 169).
  • Some idealists, or spiritualists – who see Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – say John is describing the decline of the Roman Empire, while others say it’s best to apply this more broadly to the fall of the ungodly. Geoffrey B. Wilson writes that “it should be obvious that John is painting a picture and not writing a treatise on astronomy! The darkness prefigures the doom of the ungodly (Isa. 13:10), and is also the prelude to the new exodus of God’s people from under the hands of their oppressors … In an age which looks to the stars for guidance, this verse reminds us that God exercises complete control over the solar system” (quoted in Revelation: Four Views, p. 169).

Next: The fifth trumpet (Revelation 9:1-12)