Tagged: Trumpet judgments

The fourth trumpet: Revelation 8:12-13

Previously: It fell on a third – Revelation 8:10-11

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)

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

It fell on a third — Revelation 8:10-11

Previously: A great star fell from heaven – Revelation 8:10-11

The scripture

Rev. 8:10-11 – The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from heaven. It fell on a third of the rivers and springs of water. 11The name of the star is Wormwood, and a third of the waters became wormwood. So, many of the people died from the waters, because they had been made bitter (HCSB).

It fell on a third

John records that the star Wormwood falls on a third of the rivers and springs of water, causing a third of the waters to become bitter. Scholars are divided as to whether the fractions used in Revelation are to be interpreted literally or figuratively. Making all of the fractions in these judgments add up is a daunting challenge and may not be necessary, according to those who argue that terms such as “a third” simply are literary or rabbinical devices to mean some portion but not the whole. Why, then, doesn’t John just avoid fractions altogether? More to the point, why doesn’t the Author of scripture, the Holy Spirit, be more explicit?

Those who read Revelation literally argue that the fractions are indeed explicit. One-third means one-third. Others, however, remind us that Revelation is apocalyptic, a form of writing that is figurative by design. In any case, it’s interesting to note that the first four trumpet judgments impact one-third of the environment: a third of the earth, a third of the trees, a third of the sea, a third of the living creatures in the sea, a third of the rivers and springs of water, and a third of the sun, moon and stars; the only exception is “all of the green grass” in the first trumpet judgment. Whether the term “a third” is to be taken literally or figuratively, it no doubt means a substantial portion but not all. The Lord is speaking clearly in these judgments, but also is extending His mercy to any who will repent.

In this third trumpet judgment, the star falls on a third of the rivers and springs of water so they become undrinkable. If this is to be taken literally, consider the impact: “The National Geographic Society lists about 100 principal rivers in the world, ranging in length from the Amazon (4,000 miles long) to the Rio de la Plata (150 miles long). The U.S. Geological Survey reports thirty large rivers in the United States, beginning with the mighty Mississippi (3,710 miles long). One third of these rivers, and their sources, will become so bitterly polluted that drinking their water could produce death” (Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Rev. 8:7).

If we read this judgment figuratively – in other words, that it applies to society in general or to the church – Matthew Henry provides this insight: “What effect it [the false ideals of leaders] had upon them [the populace or the church]; it turned those springs and streams into wormwood, made them very bitter, that men were poisoned by them; either the laws, which are springs of civil liberty, and property, and safety, were poisoned by arbitrary power, or the doctrines of the gospel, the springs of spiritual life, refreshment, and vigour to the souls of men, were so corrupted and embittered by a mixture of dangerous errors that the souls of men found their ruin where they sought for their refreshment” (Rev. 8:7-13).

David Stern, in the Jewish New Testament Commentary, offers this balanced approach to the judgments in Revelation: “If these verses in Revelation are to be understood literally, then, since God uses nature to accomplish his purposes, one can imagine asteroids plunging into the earth, other materials from outer space darkening the skies and infecting the water, and heat flashes setting fire to the vegetation; and one can seek scientific explanations for such phenomena. But if these are graphic but figurative ways of describing God’s judgment and the terror it will evoke, such speculations and researches are irrelevant. There are intelligent, well-informed God-fearing New Testament scholars taking each approach” (p. 815).

So many of the people died

But how may we accept a figurative approach to this judgment when John writes plainly that “many of the people died from the waters, because they had been made bitter” (v. 11)? No doubt, a literal rendering of this passage makes sense; if a third of the world’s fresh water supply is poisoned, a large number of people who rely on that water to sustain life will drink it and die.

If, however, one approaches these verses symbolically, death may be seen in a number of ways. For example, corrupt political leaders often kill their rivals, enslave their people and wage war against their enemies, so that people, societies, and basic human rights are destroyed. Or consider that false teachers in the church, as agents of Satan, demolish sound doctrine, resulting in spiritual death for those kept from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). At the same time, false teachers may stunt the spiritual growth of believers as they exploit them with “the teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). As a result, the faith of many withers; local churches die; once-universally held truths – like the virgin birth of Jesus, His deity, and His physical resurrection – become powerless myths and legends.

Physical death is tragic, but other deaths may be far worse.

Four major views of the third trumpet

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

  • Preterists – who see the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the church age – say the turning of fresh water into undrinkable water may be the result of rotting corpses in the Sea of Galilee during the Jewish War of 66-70 A.D. Others, however, see parallels between the imagery John uses and the implied threat God makes to ancient Israel after delivering the nation from Egyptian bondage. Just as the healing of bitter waters at Marah are symbolic of the deliverance of God’s people from slavery in Egypt, the Lord warns the Israelites that if they violate their covenant with God they are to expect plagues similar to those used to crush Egypt (Deut. 28:59-60). By combining these Old Testament allusions, John may be pointing out the fact that Israel is apostate and has become like Egypt. As a result, the nation will be destroyed.
  • Historicists – who view the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history – tend to view the “great star” as Attilla the Hun, who emerges as suddenly as a blazing meteor. He and his 800,000 men decimate the regions of the Rhine, upper Danube and Po Rivers. In the Italian Alps, they shed so much blood as to pollute the waters that have their springs there, according to Steve Gregg in Revelation: Four Views (p. 160). By some estimates, 300,000 corpses lay in the rivers so that those who drink from the putrid waters contract diseases and die.
  • Futurists – who argue that the events of Revelation are largely unfulfilled, especially chapters 4-22 – are divided. Some hold to a literal understanding in which a blazing heavenly object pollutes much of the world’s drinking water, while others contend that John is referring to some future leader – perhaps the pope, or the Antichrist, or even Satan.
  • Some idealists, or spiritualists – who see Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – say John is referring to all the ways in which God uses the inland waters, including floods and water-borne epidemics, to warn sinners to repent. Others say that perhaps the waters symbolize the many ways people satisfy their needs, such as industry and commerce; if so, then the blazing star is God’s way of disrupting man’s efforts to rule his own destiny. The turning of pure waters bitter perhaps reflects the fact that God, in the Old Testament, refers to Himself as “the fountain of living waters” and rebukes His people with forsaking Him for idols, thus polluting their worship. When people prefer the putrid waters of idolatry to the fountain of living waters, they should expect to receive the consequences.

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

A great star fell from heaven: Revelation 8:10-11

Previously: The third trumpet – Revelation 8:10-11

The scripture

Rev. 8:10 – The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from heaven. It fell on a third of the rivers and springs of water. 11The name of the star is Wormwood, and a third of the waters became wormwood. So, many of the people died from the waters, because they had been made bitter (HCSB).

A great star fell from heaven

John writes that “a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from heaven.” This star is given the name Wormwood, meaning absinthe, a bitter herb. The word “star” appears 73 times in 69 verses in the Bible (HCSB). Generally, it refers to any luminous heavenly body other than the sun and moon. The vast number of stars speaks to God’s creative power and the magnitude of His blessing. For example, He tells Abram that his offspring will be as numerous as the stars (Gen. 15:5, 22:17, 26:4). Pre-Christian astronomers mapped about 3,000 stars, but scripture indicates a far greater number, confirmed by Galileo at the beginning of telescopic astronomy. Today, we know that our own galaxy, the Milky Way, sports more than 100 billion stars. It takes light 100,000 years to cross it. Billions of other galaxies have been observed, up to 10 billion light years away. The God who created them determines their number and calls them by name (Ps. 147:4).

Throughout human history there has been the temptation to worship the stars, but Yahweh, who is greater than the sum of all creation, calls on us to worship Him alone (Deut. 4:19; Jer. 7:18; Amos 5:26; Acts 7:43). Stars play a vital role as signs in God’s acts of redemption and judgment (Is. 13:10; Eze. 32:7; Dan. 8:10; Joel 2:10, 3:15; Matt. 24:29; Mark 13:25; Luke 21:25; Rev. 6:13, 8:10-12, 9:1).

The star heralding Jesus’ birth is mentioned in Matthew 2. Commentators generally offer three possible explanations: a major comet, a planetary conjunction, or a supernova. The Chinese recorded a tailed comet that was visible for 70 days in 5 B.C. A planetary conjunction occurs when two or more stars appear to stand close to one another, as Jupiter and Saturn did three times in 7 B.C.; the Magi could have seen this as a sign that a significant event was about to occur. A supernova occurs when a star explodes with astonishing brightness – perhaps a million times as bright as the sun – before fading into obscurity. These are rarely seen and would have been a stunning sign in the heavens. One other possible explanation is that the Lord created a special star just for the occasion of His Son’s birth.

“The word ‘star’ is also used metaphorically without astronomical reference, usually to imply dignity, either innate or usurped (Jb. 38:7; Dn. 12:3; Rev. 1:16, 20; 2:1; 3:1; 12:1; 22:16)” (D.R.W. Wood and I.H. Marshall, New Bible Dictionary, 3rd Edition, p. 1132).

Wormwood

But what, or who, is this “star” called Wormwood?  The word, in the botanist’s language, is Artemisia absinthium, a plant with silvery, silky haired leaves and drooping yellow flowers, yielding a bitter, dark-green oil used in absinthe. The name the Greeks gave it, absinthion, means undrinkable. The word occurs nine times in eight verses in the Bible (HCSB). In Prov. 5:3-4, Solomon warns his son against the lure of the forbidden woman: Though her “lips drip honey and her words are smoother than oil, in the end she’s as bitter as wormwood, and as sharp as a double-edged sword.” In Jer. 9:15, the God of Israel tells idolatrous Judah, “I am about to feed this people wormwood and give them poisonous water to drink.” A similar declaration is made to the prophets in Jer. 23:15.

The author of Lamentations uses “wormwood” twice to describe his affliction at the hand of God (3:15, 19). In Amos the Lord rebukes those who “turn justice into wormwood” (5:7) and “the fruit of righteousness into wormwood” (6:12); some translators in this verse render it “hemlock.” No doubt the word is used to describe bitterness, affliction, remorse or punitive suffering.

So when we get to Rev. 8:11, where the word is used twice, it seems clear that God is sending this bitterness as judgment against those who stubbornly rebel against Him, cling to their idols and persecute the saints. Still, is wormwood the name of a celestial body, or perhaps a meteorite, or an angelic creature?

“Some take this to be a political star, some eminent governor, and they apply it to Augustulus, who was forced to resign the empire to Odoacer, in the year 480. Others take it to be an ecclesiastical star, some eminent person in the church, compared to a burning lamp, and they fix it upon Pelagius, who proved about this time a falling star, and greatly corrupted the churches of Christ” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Rev. 8:7-13).

Commentators also compare the star to heretics like Arius, a church leader in Alexandria who denies the deity of Christ and becomes the focus of attention at the First Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. Emperor Constantine orders the burning of his writings while Arius is yet alive. Still other interpreters see this star as some future Christian leader who poisons the church with false doctrines, resulting in a widespread dearth of spiritual life.

In any case, if Wormwood is a false teacher in the church, he or she turns life-giving spiritual springs into deadly Marahs (see Ex. 15:23). Some argue that the cross of Christ is the fulfillment of the sweetening wood at Marah. Just as Yahweh gives Moses the wood and it absorbs all the bitterness of Marah, the Lord also gives His Son who takes upon Himself the sin of the world, resulting in living water for all who trust in Him. Perhaps Wormwood is a false teacher, or even a false Messiah, who deceives many into believing they can quench their spiritual thirst with waters from the Dead Sea.

Interestingly, just as Moses tosses a piece of wood into the water at Marah to make it drinkable, the wormwood of Revelation 8 makes the sweet waters bitter. This is why some scholars say we should read Rev. 8:10-11 literally, for just as Moses and the people deal with real water in Exodus, so the people suffering under the third trumpet must be experiencing a similar physical thirst.

Next: It fell on a third (Rev. 8:10-11)

The third trumpet: Revelation 8:10-11

Previously: A preterist perspective – Rev. 8:8-9

The scripture

Rev. 8:10-11 – The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from heaven. It fell on a third of the rivers and springs of water. 11The name of the star is Wormwood, and a third of the waters became wormwood. So, many of the people died from the waters, because they had been made bitter (HCSB).

This is the third of the first four trumpet judgments that affect natural objects, in this case fresh water, resulting in the death of many. The final three trumpet judgments, which we will address in later lessons, affect men’s lives with pain, death and hell.

In this judgment, John sees “a great star, blazing like a torch,” falling from heaven and striking a third of the rivers and springs of water. This star is called Wormwood, which means absinthe, a bitter herb, and many die from drinking the water.

Is this “star” an object from outer space – a meteorite, perhaps? Is it an angel or demon? A world leader? When John says it falls from heaven, does He mean from the throne of God or the stellar sphere? Why does it fall on a third of the fresh water? And are these all the waters of the earth, or just in Israel and the surrounding lands? Why does this star have a name? And how can a bitter herb kill so many people? Let’s dig a little deeper and see what we can learn.

The third angel blew his trumpet

As a reminder, 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 this case, the sound of the shofar announces the commencement of judgment. Following each trumpet blast, we are introduced to the instrument of God’s judgment: hail and fire, mixed with blood (the first judgment); something like a great mountain ablaze with fire (the second judgment); a great star, blazing like a torch (the third judgment); a third of the sun, moon  and stars struck (the fourth judgment); a star with the key to the abyss (the fifth judgment); the release of four bound angels at the Euphrates River (the sixth judgment); and loud voices in heaven and an opening of God’s sanctuary (the seventh trumpet).

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.

Christians in particular should joyfully anticipate the sounding of the trumpet that heralds our physical resurrection and glorification – the “last trumpet” of 1 Cor. 15:52 and “the trumpet of God” in 1 Thess. 4:16.

Next: A great star fell from heaven (Rev. 8:10-11)

Hurled into the sea — Revelation 8:8-9

Previously: The second trumpet judgment (Rev. 8:8-9)

The scripture

Rev. 8:8 – The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain ablaze with fire was hurled into the sea. So a third of the sea became blood, 9a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed (HCSB).

 

Hurled into the sea

The great blazing mountain is “hurled into the sea.” Depending on how commentators interpret the mountain, the sea can mean many things:

  • Humanity (if Satan is the mountain).
  • The church (if heretics are the mountain).
  • The people of the Roman Empire (if the Goths and Vandals are the mountain).
  • The Gentiles (if Israel is the mountain).
  • The world’s restless people (if communism is the mountain).
  • The waters of the seas (if there is a natural explanation for the mountain such as a meteorite or a volcano, or if the mountain is a nuclear warhead).

It’s probably best not to mix and match symbolic and literal interpretations when it comes to the imagery in passages like this. A consistent view – either symbolic or literal – may be wrong, but a mixing of both views is almost certainly in error. Also, it’s wise to try to understand symbolic language in the context of clear teaching in other scriptures.

The sea in scripture

Before moving on, let’s look at some of the ways scripture deals with the “sea.” In the Old Testament, the predominant use of the Hebrew word yam is to describe the Mediterranean Sea. The word yam also means west, westward, or seaward with respect to Israel. The Mediterranean is called the “Great Sea,” the “western sea” and the “sea of the Philistines” in some translations.

Other seas mentioned in the Old Testament are the Red Sea (literally the sea of reeds), the Dead Sea (literally the sea of salt), and the Sea of Galilee. The word yam also is used to describe broad rivers like the Nile and Euphrates. And it’s used with reference to the great basin in the temple court.

In the New Testament, the Greek word thalassa describes many of the same bodies of water we encounter in the Old Testament. The Jews exercised a fear of the sea, probably because of ancient Semitic beliefs that the deep personified the power that fought against God. Yet, God is the Creator of the sea. He controls it and commands it to provide for mankind’s good. The language of Isaiah and Jeremiah demonstrate that He is absolutely sovereign over the sea. Some of the greatest miracles in the Bible are set in the sea: the parting of the Red Sea; Jesus’ walk on the Sea of Galilee; and Jesus’ calming of the same sea. Whatever fears people have of the sea will be done away with when God removes the sea in the world to come (Rev. 21:1).

Used symbolically in the Old Testament, the sea perhaps means the nations around the Mediterranean (Isa. 60:5) or the tumultuous changes among the nations of the earth (Dan. 7:3; see also Rev. 13:1).

The New Topical Text Book lists the following symbolic uses of the sea in the Bible:

  • Heavy afflictions (Isa. 43:2; La 2:13)
  • Trouble of the wicked (Isa. 57:20)
  • Roaring of hostile armies (Isa. 5:30; Jer. 6:23)
  • Waves of righteousness (Isa. 48:18)
  • Waves of devastating armies (Eze. 26:3-4)
  • Waves of the unsteady (James 1:6)
  • Covered with waters, speaking of the diffusion of spiritual knowledge over the earth in the latter days (Isa. 11:9; Hab 2:14)
  • Smooth as glass, a reference to the peace of heaven (Rev. 4:6; 15:2) (R. Torrey, A Scriptural Text Book for the Use of Ministers, Teachers, and All Christian Workers, Logos Research Systems, Inc.)

Next: A preterist perspective (Rev. 8:8-9)