************ Sermon on Revelation 8:7-13 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 29, 2008
"The First Four Trumpet Judgments"
Remember what we saw last time? We saw the prayers of God's saints for justice. And, because of those prayers, we saw seven angels about to blow the seven trumpets of judgment.
I From the Altar to the Earth
A We saw the prayers and the trumpets in the context of an angel, a censer (actually, a shovel), an altar, and incense. To properly understand the passage in front of us, I need to say more about this context.
In the earthly Temple and Tabernacle, there were two altars: the altar of burnt offering and the altar of incense. The altar of burnt offering was in the outer courts. The altar of incense was in the Holy Place. The priest would fill his censer with live coals from the altar of burnt offering, sprinkle incense powder on them, and then carry the coals and incense to the altar of incense. The fragrant smoke would go up to heaven's throne with the prayers of God's people – telling the people their prayers were a pleasing aroma to the Lord.
However, in the heavenly Temple there is only one altar. With the death and resurrection of Christ, the altar of offering and the altar of incense have become one, the dividing wall between the two has been broken down, and all of God's people can now see and approach the throne of God. So, unlike the priest in the earthly Temple, the angel of Revelation 8 does not have to fill his censer with coals from the altar of offering, sprinkle incense on it, and carry it to the altar of incense. Instead, he fills his censer with coals from the altar and sprinkles on it the incense powder given him by God. The pleasing smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, goes up before God.
B Don't forget what the saints are praying for. They are praying for victory. They are praying for God's final judgment to come. They are praying for God to be all-in-all. They are praying for every knee to bow and every tongue to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. They are praying for the coming of the Kingdom in all its power and glory. They are praying for justice.
God hears these prayers. And responds immediately. We see His answer to the prayers of the saints already in verse 5:
(Rev 8:5) Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.We see here that the priestly angel becomes an avenging angel. He returns to the altar. For the second time, he fills up his censer with coals from the fire. The purpose of the first coals is to lift up incense and prayers to God. The purpose of the second coals is to rain down fire upon the earth. This should remind us of the burning sulfur that rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah. This also sounds like the imagery used by Ezekiel, in which a man clothed in linen – an angel – is told to take coals of fire in his hands from the throne and scatter them on the city, symbolizing a fiery judgment (Ezek 10:2-7).
The coals of fire thrown down upon the earth are accompanied by "thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake" (Rev 8:5). In the Old Testament, these are signs of coming judgment. We see these signs at the opening of the seventh seal (Rev 8:5), the blowing of the seventh trumpet (Rev 11:19), and the pouring out of the seventh bowl (Rev 16:18). In this context, "thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake" can only speak of God's judgment.
C Do you know what John shows us in verse 5? Verse 5 is a summary statement, a preview, of the seven trumpet judgments that are now to follow: in each case, the censer is filled with fiery coals, a trumpet is blown, and a judgment is hurled on the earth. Each of the trumpet judgments reproduces the action we see in Revelation 8:5. Revelation 8:5 is God's response to the prayers of His Gospel martyrs under heaven's altar. Remember their cry, their prayer?
(Rev 6:10) They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?"Revelation 8:5 is God's answer. God has not forgotten them. God has not ignored them. God has not rejected them. God still loves them and His love is made evident in that He punishes those who hate them and persecute them with the judgments He now sends down upon the earth.
D Now, don't forget, this is all part of the opening of the seventh seal on the scroll of destiny. The seventh seal is the last seal. This means the contents of the scroll are finally revealed and set into motion. So, what is revealed? What is set into motion? Are you ready for the answer – seven trumpet judgments and seven bowl judgments upon the unbelieving, upon those who reject Christ, upon those who cruelly persecute the church. Like the seven seal judgments, they are executed throughout the whole time period between the first and second comings of Jesus Christ.
Today, we look at the first four trumpet judgments as God's answer to the prayers of the saints. You will notice that the trumpet judgments replicate the plagues visited upon Egypt when God wanted His people to be freed from the land of bondage.
Very quickly, let me note the similarities of the trumpet judgments to the seal judgments. Just as the first four seals are opened in rapid succession, so the first four trumpets are sounded in rapid succession, one quickly following another. Just as the fifth and sixth seal judgments are described in great detail, so the fifth and sixth trumpet judgments are developed more thoroughly. As is the case between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals, so an intermission or interlude happens between the blowing of the sixth and seventh trumpets. As the opening of the seventh seal leads to the seven trumpet judgments, so the blowing of the seventh trumpet leads to the seven bowl judgments.
We also notice some differences. The main difference is that the intensity of the judgments is increasing. The seal judgments are directed against one quarter of the earth, whereas the trumpet judgments are directed against one third of the earth. Eventually, the judgments will reach the point where there are no more fractions. It won't be one quarter or one third of the earth any more; rather, it will be all the earth.
II The First Trumpet: Judgment on the Earth
A The first angel sounds the first trumpet. In response, the angel of verse 5 fills his censer with fiery coals, and a judgment is hurled on the earth:
(Rev 8:7) The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.
What is hurled down upon the earth? "Hail and fire mixed with blood." Why does John mention blood? John wants us to think of the blood of the Gospel martyrs. Don't forget, it is the blood of the Gospel martyrs that is crying out for justice. So here we see that the punishment fits the crime. The blood of the martyrs was shed and that blood is now hurled down upon the earth as punishment. Are we to understand this as real human blood? That is doubtful because, don't forget, this is a judgment that is executed throughout the whole time period between the first and second comings of Jesus Christ; as far as I know, we have not seen blood flowing from heaven anytime during the last 2000 years.
B What is the result of this judgment? "A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up" (Rev 5:7). We are not to understand one third as being a precise geographical measurement. We are not to picture God in heaven filling in a pie graph until precisely one third of the earth and the trees is burned up. One third means a large portion; one third means the majority is left untouched. So, then, what are we to picture? Picture huge grass fires. Picture the great forests of the world on fire: the Amazon, the Congo, Yosemite, Yellowstone. Picture all the firefighters of the world trying to put out all these fires. Picture Al Gore freaking out about the smoke, the heat, the polar ice-cap melting.
In today's world, some are quick to think this judgment is things like acid rain, fallout from a nuclear attack or accident, the depletion of the ozone layer, forest fires. But, don't forget, the message of Revelation has to make sense to its original audience too. So, we can't think of the first trumpet judgment only in terms of 21st century problems.
What is John telling us that applies to all times and all places? What applies equally to the first century and the twenty-first century? This first trumpet judgment replicates the hail of the seventh Egyptian plague.
(Ex 9:24-25) ... hail fell and lightning flashed back and forth. It was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation. (25) Throughout Egypt hail struck everything in the fields--both men and animals; it beat down everything growing in the fields and stripped every tree.What was the result: famine, hunger. So, John is telling us that the result of the first judgment is famine. Think about it. One third of the earth is burned. Doesn't this mean a shortage of crops: corn, wheat, melons, leeks, cucumbers, onions, and garlic (cf Num 11:5)? One third of the trees are burned. Doesn't this mean a shortage of fruit: olives, figs, grapes, pomegranates? All of the grass is burned so there is nothing for sheep, goats, and cattle to eat. Doesn't this mean a shortage of animal products: meat, milk, and cheese?
III The Second Trumpet: Judgment on the Sea
A The second angel sounds the second trumpet. In response, the angel of verse 5 fills his censer with fiery coals, and a judgment is hurled on the sea:
(Rev 8:8-9) The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, (9) a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
What is hurled down upon the sea? "Something like a huge mountain, all ablaze." What is in mind here? Volcanic activity was very common around the Mediterranean Sea. Fresh in the minds of John's audience was the burial of Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius blew in A.D. 79.
B What is the result of this judgment? "A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed" (Rev 8:8-9).
Earlier this week I received an email from Bill Drennon on a red tide that hit the coast of Mexico. Dead fish, stinking fish, everywhere. Is this what John has in mind? I will never forget the pictures we saw after the crash of the Exxon Valdez. Oil coated birds, fish, and other sea life littered the Alaskan coast line. Is this what John has in mind?
What is John telling us that applies to all times and all places? What applies equally to the first century and the twenty-first century? This second trumpet judgment replicates the water turned into blood of the first Egyptian plague.
(Ex 7:20-21) Moses and Aaron did just as the LORD had commanded. He raised his staff in the presence of Pharaoh and his officials and struck the water of the Nile, and all the water was changed into blood. (21) The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt.In Egypt, there was no fish to eat and there was no water to drink. In Rome, this second trumpet judgment would be even worse than it was in Egypt. The sea was called the lifeblood of Rome because more people ate fish than meat and, the economic well-being of Rome was highly dependent upon the commerce derived from the Mediterranean Sea. And, think of how dependent we are upon the sea today. By it we ship our oil and cars and grain and most of the products of a global economy. From it we mine minerals. In it we catch fish. We use it to cool our nuclear power plants. And, we even convert it to fresh drinking water. Do you see what this second trumpet judgment does? In a very real sense, the famine of the first trumpet continues, it is enhanced and intensified.
IV The Third Trumpet: Judgment on Fresh Water
A The third angel sounds the third trumpet. In response, the angel of verse 5 fills his censer with fiery coals, and a judgment is hurled on the fresh water:
(Rev 8:10-11) The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water-- (11) the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.
What is hurled down upon the fresh waters? "A great star, blazing like a torch." Sounds like a meteor, a comet, a shooting star.
B What is the result of this judgment? John gives a name to the star: Wormwood. This names indicates the results. Now, contrary to popular opinion, wormwood is not poisonous. But it does turn water bitter. Its taste is so potent, that one ounce can be tasted in 524 gallons of water. "A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter" (Rev 8:11).
Water that is poisonous and kills. I think of the toxic wastes buried at Love Canal by Hooker Chemical. I think of Erin Brockovich and the Chromium 6 that Pacific Gas and Electric allowed to leak into the groundwater and severely compromise the health of countless people around Hinkley, California.
What is John telling us that applies to all times and all places? What applies equally to the first century and the twenty-first century? I want you to note that we have another allusion to the first Egyptian plague. The result was water that could not be used by man or beast, for drinking or cooking. This third trumpet judgment reverses the miracle of Marah when Moses threw a piece of wood into the bitter water, turning it sweet (Ex 15:23). In a very real sense, the famine of the first trumpet continues, it again is enhanced and intensified.
V The Fourth Trumpet: Judgment on the Heavens
A The fourth angel sounds the fourth trumpet. In response, the angel of verse 5 fills his censer with fiery coals, and a judgment is hurled on the sun, moon, and stars:
(Rev 8:12) The fourth angel sounded 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 turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night.
One third of the sun, moon, and stars turned dark. But didn't this already happen at the opening of the sixth seal (Rev 6:12)? Can our solar system even exist if the light of the sun is reduced by a third? And, what can possibly dim all the heavenly bodies by one third? Is John talking about an eclipse? Is John talking about something blocking out the light of the sun, moon, and stars – like an eclipse or maybe the ash from a series of volcanoes or maybe a nuclear winter?
B We don't understand what John has in mind until we read the last sentence. John writes, "A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night" (Rev 8:12). A good part of the day and night was without light, any light.
What is John telling us that applies to all times and all places? What applies equally to the first century and the twenty-first century? This fourth trumpet judgment replicates the ninth Egyptian plague.
(Ex 10:22-23) So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. (23) No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days.Do you know what Egypt experienced: darkness, total darkness, absolute darkness. A darkness so dark that no light could penetrate it. A darkness so dark than no candle or lamp could shine.
Aren't we told about a similar darkness on Good Friday? What happened then? For three hours, in the middle of the day, there was darkness upon the land while all the judgment and wrath of God against our sin was poured out upon Jesus.
Something similar happens when the fourth trumpet sounds. We are being told that the wrath and judgment of God against sin is being poured out. That is the point of the darkness.
VI Four Lessons
A As I have already indicated, many find today's world in Revelation 8. They see today's environmental problems in the four trumpet blasts. So, I was tempted to entitle this sermon, "Al Gore and Revelation 8." Yet, this view does not do justice to the first century Christians. In other words, Revelation 8 is a source of controversy. However, what is not controversial are the lessons Revelation 8 teaches us.
The first lesson: the judgments originate from God. Don't forget what we learned when we first looked at the seven angels and the seven trumpets. We learned that the trumpets signal judgment. We also learned that the trumpets belong to God, are given by God, and are blown at God's command. Don't forget, also what verse 5 shows us: the fiery coals come from heaven's altar. So, the first trumpet judgment "was hurled down upon the earth" (Rev 5:7). The third trumpet judgment "fell from the sky" (Rev 5:10). Notice the direction of all the judgments. The direction is down – from heaven to earth. The judgments come from God.
B The second lesson: the sovereign God alone is worthy of worship. Ancient Egypt and Rome worshiped the earth, the sea, the heavens. But don't some environmentalists today do the same thing? In the last couple of years, I have actually heard an environmentalist offer prayers to the earth and sun and moon. But notice what happens to the earth, sea, and sky: they all face the judgment of God. None of them supply the answers, the security, or the foundation that man so desperately wants. Just like that they can be destroyed, burned, polluted, or damaged. The first four trumpet judgments show us that those who live for earthly things have chosen foolishly, for only in God is there true life. Earthly things turn on us, and we dare not depend on them.
Earlier, I said that the "thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake" of verse 5 speak of judgment. But they also speak of worship. In Rev 4, "thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake" are part of the heavenly worship scene and remind us of the worship of Israel at Mt. Sinai. But, don't forget, Rev 8:1-6 is also a worship scene – the angel replicates the worship scene of the Temple and Tabernacle. The "thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake" reminds us that the God that is worshiped – whether by Israel at Mt. Sinai, or the Christians of Asia Minor, or us today, or the saints in heaven – is majestic and powerful and almighty. He alone – not the earth, not the sea, not the sun and moon and stars – is worthy of worship!
C The third lesson: unbelievers need to repent. Did you notice verse 13?
(Rev 8:13) As I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying in midair call out in a loud voice: "Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!"John heard an "eagle." The Greek can also be translated "vulture." What do eagles and vultures have in common? They endlessly circle above, looking and waiting for prey. This eagle/vulture cries out: "Woe! Woe! Woe!" Why three times? Because there are three more trumpets blasts to come. "Woe! Woe! Woe!" This tells us that the next three trumpet judgments are worse than the first four trumpet judgments. You think the first four trumpet judgments are awful and horrible and terrible? Well, you have seen nothing yet. "Woe! Woe! Woe!"
Notice, also, who is the target of these judgments? "Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth." The Greek actually says "earth dwellers." We have come across this phrase repeatedly in the Revelation. Who are the earth dwellers? These are people who reject God and Christ. These are people who have joined with the devil in opposing God. In Egypt, they worship the sun and moon and Nile River, etc. In Rome, they worship the god of thunder and war and sun. Today, they are called secular humanists, communists, atheists.
"Woe! Woe! Woe!" to everyone of these people unless they repent. But do they repent? Remember what happened at the opening of the sixth seal? They wanted mountains and rocks to fall on them and hide them from the wrath of God and the Lamb. In other words, they know judgment has come. They know the Lamb has come. Yet, there is no repentance. Now, we see the same thing with the trumpet judgments. See the angel throwing fiery coals from heaven to earth? See how it effects one third of the earth? Do we see repentance? Do we see confession? Do we see conversion? No. No. No. They remain in their sin. They remain in their unbelief. They remain in their rebellion. "Woe! Woe! Woe!" because if they do not repent what awaits them is the awful and terrifying wrath of God and the Lamb!
D The fourth lesson: there is comfort here for God's people. I already mentioned that the trumpet judgments replicate the plagues visited upon Egypt. But this is not the only thing that is replicated. Over and over again in Exodus we are told that the plagues visited Egypt but did not touch the children of Israel. They were protected. Doesn't this sound like the sealing of the saints in Revelation 7? Because of the seal, the mark, the children of God are protected from the wrath of God. Now, why did God send the plagues upon Egypt? In order to save and deliver His people from the house of bondage. Why does God send the seal judgments and the trumpet judgments and the bowl judgments? Ultimately, the reason for the judgments is the salvation of God's people. God's plan in sending the trumpet judgments is the salvation of His own.
Four trumpet blasts. With each trumpet blast, the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.
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