CHAPTER 8- The Seventh Seal: The Book is Opened
Sanctions of the Covenant Treaty
"Let all people be silent before Yahweh, now that He is stirring from His Holy Dwelling."
"But Yahweh is in His Holy Temple: Let the whole earth be silent before Him."
Silence before the Lord Yahweh, for the Day of Yahweh is near. Yahweh has prepared a sacrifice, He has consecrated His guests."
"So when you see the appalling abomination, of which the prophet Daniel spoke, set up in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must escape to the mountains;..."
"When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you must realize that it will soon be laid desolate. Then those in Judea must escape to the mountains..."
(in the Jewish revolt of AD66-70 the Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem and destroyed the city and the Temple the 9th of Ab 70AD).
The Jewish historian, Josephus, writing about the cruel Roman govenor of Judah, Gessius Florus in 66AD: "..for he expected that, if the peace continued, he should have the Jews for his accusers before Caesar; but that if he could procure them to make a revolt, he should divert their laying lesser crimes to his charge...he therefore did every day augment their calamities, in order to induce them to a rebellion." -Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, 2.15.3 Florus kills 9,600 Jews when there are protests that he has looted some of the Temple treasures. The Revolt begins but without full participation in May 66AD. When the army of Roman General Cestius Gallus is defeated in November, the revolt begins in earnest.
Roman General Titus surrounds the city of Jerusalem in mid March AD70 "...the city began already to be seen , and a plain view might be taken of the Great Temple. ... no more than 7 furlongs distant from it. And here it was that Titus ordered a camp to be fortified for two legions...but ordered another camp to be fortified at three furlongs further distance behind them, for the fifth legion...the tenth legion, who came through Jericho....These legions had orders to encamp at the distance of six furlongs from Jerusalem, at the mount called the Mt of Olives, which lies over against the city on the east side." Josephus The Wars of the Jews, 5.2.3
July 70AD: "And now the Romans, upon the flight of the seditious into the city, and upon the burning of the Holy House itself, and of all the buildings round about it, brought their ensigns (battle standards) to the Temple, ...and there did they make Titus imperator." (Tertullian says in his Apologetic 16,162, that the entire religion of the roman camp almost consisted in worshipping the ensigns, in swearing by the ensigns, and in preferring the ensigns before all the gods.
Question: Do you see any prophecies from Matt. Ch 24 and Lk ch 21 fulfilled in these quotations from Josephus' account of the Jewish Revolt against Rome and the destruction of the Temple?
The interlude of chapter 7 is over. The Book is about to be opened and we have entered the Sanction portion of the Covenant Treaty (the Sanctions are covered in chapters 8-14) where the 7th Seal with be opened and 7 angels will be given 7 trumpets to unleash God's wrath
Let's review the 7s of Revelation so far:
-In the Preamble section in chapter 1 we had: 7 churches, 7 Spirits, 7 lampstands, 7 stars, 7 messengers (angelos= messengers in Greek).
-In the Historical Prologue section of chapters 2-3 we had: 7 stars, 7 lampstands, 7 Spirits,
-In the Ethical Stipulations section of chapters 4-7 we had: 7 lamps, 7 Spirits, 7 seals, 7 horns, 7 eyes.
-In the Sanctions section of chapters 8-14 we will find: 7 angels, 7 trumpets, 7 thunders, 7 thousand people killed, 7 headed dragon, 7 crowns on the dragon's heads.
The connection to the book of Ezekiel in this chapter is The Vision of the Burning Coals from God's altar: Ez. 10:2 and Rev. 8:5
Read Revelation Chapter 8:1-5
Verse 1: "The Lamb then broke the seventh seal, and there was silence in heaven for
about half an hour."
The angels and the elders cease their songs of praise and a deep and profound silence falls in heaven.
-Some scholars believe that this passage is a reference to the length of time it took for the High Priest to take the fire from the bronze altar that is in the outer court of the Temple and then to enter the Holy Place and to use the altar fire to burn incense on the golden altar in front of the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant had been kept and then to return to where the people were assembled to give them the priestly blessing. The whole procedure took about 30 minutes. (Lev. 16:13-14; Lk 1:10, 21). To give you a more complete picture of this part of the Temple service, let me quote from Alfred Edersheim's excellent book, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services as they were at the time of Jesus, page 167:
"Slowly the incensing priest and his assistants ascended the steps to the Holy Place, preceded by the two priests who had formerly dressed the altar and the candlestick, and who now removed the vessels they had left behind, and, worshipping, withdrew. Next, one of the assistants reverently spread the coals on the golden altar; the other arranged the incense; and then the chief officiating priest was left alone within the Holy Place, to await the signal of the president before burning the incense. It was probably while thus expectant that the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias (Luke 1:8-11). As the president gave the word of command, which marked that 'the time of incense had come,' 'the whole multitude of people without' withdrew from the inner court, and fell down before the Lord, spreading their hands in silent prayer. It is this most solemn period, when throughout the vast Temple buildings deep silence rested on the worshipping multitude, while within the sanctuary itself the priest laid the incense on the golden altar, and the cloud of 'odours' (5:8) rose up before the Lord, which serves as the image of heavenly things in this description." Note: in line 7 Edersheim is referring to Zechariah the high priest, the father of John the Baptist. Most American Bible translations spell his name 'Zechariah'.
-The Navarre commentators, however, interpret the silence as a signal that 'The End' has come! Yahweh as been patiently waiting'putting off the final "Day of Judgment" even though the Saints have cried out to Him in protest "How Long?"(Rev. 6:10). I think the Navarre commentators have correctly interpreted this profound 'silence' in heaven as the prelude to the Day of the Yahweh's judgment but I agree with Dr. Scott Hahn and other Catholic scholars that this in not the "Final Day of Judgment" of Christ's Second Advent, but the Day of Judgment for apostate Judah for rejecting the Messiah and hindering the establishment of the New Covenant Church. In Rev. ch. 6 God tells the Saints to be patient. The Navarre scholars quote St. Peter's statement about God's forbearance in 2 Peter 3:9b-10 "The Lord is not being slow in carrying out His promises, as some people think He is; rather is He being patient with you, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to repentance. The Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then with a roar the sky will vanish, the elements will catch fire and melt away, the earth and all that it contains will be burned up." Question: What are God's promises concerning the Church? Answer: That the New Covenant Church would be God's authority on earth and the means through which all people will obtain salvation through the blood of Christ.
Question: Does the line "with a roar the sky will vanish" remind you of any particular verse we have recently studied in Revelation? Answer Rev. 6:14 "..the sky disappeared like a scroll rolling up." Peter uses apocalyptic imagery in this passage just as Jesus did in His discourse on the destruction of Jerusalem in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Those prophecies were fulfilled in 70AD.
In defense of the Navarre scholars' interpretation, I do believe that even though John's visions in Revelation reveal an eminent disaster instead of a disaster thousands of years in the future, that John's visions of the destruction of the world of the Jews may prefigure the Final Days of the entire world just as the Day of Judgment of Jerusalem and Judah in 586/7BC (and Ezekiel's visions which so closely parallels John's visions) prefigure the destruction in 70AD. In other words, the 70AD judgment will be repeated in the 2nd Advent of Christ. Prophecy can have multiple fulfillment's just as many of Ezekiel's prophecies were fulfilled in 586/7AC and 70AD.
Returning to the 2 Peter passage, there is something important to remember in the context of Peter's prophecy. Do you remember Peter's Holy Spirit inspired homily at Pentecost (Acts ch. 2) where he prophesizes the coming "Day of the Lord"? In that homily Peter is calling the Jews of Jerusalem to repentance and be saved before God's judgment falls on Jerusalem as prophesized by Jesus in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. In Acts 2:40 he calls on the Jews to "save yourselves from this perverse generation" which recalls Jesus' statement in Mat. 24:29 which begins: "Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky and the powers of heaven will be shaken..." This line recalls the Hebrews 12:25-26 passage we read last week and the verse "the removal of what is shaken" which refers to the necessity of the Temple being destroyed before the New Covenant can be fully implemented. Then Jesus continues in Matt. 24:34 "In truth I tell you, before this generation has passed away, all these things will have taken place." In Peter's homily quoting Joel 3:1-5 he ends the quote with the line (v.5).."And all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved!" When the Prophet Joel made that prophecy he was prophesizing the Day of Yahweh when He would pour out His Spirit (happened that Pentecost morning) on all humanity followed by a Day of terrible judgment when a holy remnant was saved from the destruction. Peter is saying today (Pentecost Sunday) is that day. God will bring judgment on Judah and Jerusalem for rejecting the Messiah, but God in His mercy will also spare a holy remnant. Dr. Hahn identifies this remnant as the 144,000 John saw in chapter 7. At the End of Time and the Final Judgment there will no longer be any need for a holy remnant to carry on the true faith. All will face judgment.
Jesus prophesized that the earthly Temple would be destroyed (Matt 24:1-2; Mk 13:1-2; Lk 21:8-23). Turn to the Gospel of Luke chapter 21: This is Jesus' last week in Jerusalem before His passion. In chapter 19:41-44 He cried over Jerusalem. In Ch. 19:45 He cleansed the Temple by excommunicating the moneylenders (the word in Greek which we translate 'cast out' has the same meaning as excommunicate). At the end of Ch 19 He begins to teach in the Temple. Please read Luke 21:5-33.
In the passages of Luke 21 Jesus was not talking about the end of time and His final Coming : Lk 21:32 "In truth I tell you, before this generation has passed away all will have taken place.". Everything Jesus prophesized in this passage occurred between 30 and 70AD: the spread of the gospel of Christ across the entire Roman world and then the destruction of Jerusalem and the Old Covenant Temple by the Roman Army just as Jesus told His disciples in Lk 12:20 "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you must realize that it will soon be laid desolate.". The inspired writer of the Book of Hebrews also wrote "...as long as the old tent stands, the way into the Holy Place is not opened up..." (Heb. 9:9). As long as the old Temple stands the New Covenant cannot be permanently set in place. If John's vision is just prior to 70AD, God in His mercy and forbearance has waited 40 years; now is the time for judgment.
I found several Old Testament passages that support Dr. Hahn's interpretation. Each of them refer to 'silence' before Yahweh as a liturgical command just as it is stated in Revelation 8:1: (Please turn to each of these passages in you Bibles).
1.Habakkuk 2:20 "But Yahweh is in His Holy Temple: let the whole earth be silent before Him." Habakkuk is God's holy prophet and a contemporary of Jeremiah. He is prophesizing prior to the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. The 'silence' of this passage preludes the theophany of ch 3:3-15 =Yahweh coming in judgment on Judah in 586/7BC.
2. Zechariah 2:17 "Let all people be silent before Yahweh, now that He is stirring from His holy Dwelling!" Zechariah is one of the 3 post-exile prophets (after the return of God's people from exile in Babylon). In mid February 519BC Yahweh tells Zechariah "I have returned to Jerusalem; my Temple will be rebuilt there." The Second Temple was completed in 5l6BC. This is the Temple that will be destroyed by the Romans in 70AD. Then in ch 2, in Zechariah's 2nd vision (there will be 8 visions; 8 is the number of salvation and the number of Jesus. The Gematria of Jesus is 888). God tells Zechariah of the 4 future nations that will oppress Judah and Jerusalem and that the 4th nation will be destruction for Judah and for the Temple. Historically these nations were the Greeks (Alexander the Great), Ptolomaic Egypt, Seleucid Empire of Syria, and the Romans. Chapter 2 has the promise that God Himself is coming "for now I am coming to live among you'Yahweh declares. And on that day many nations will be converted to Yahweh." (2:15-16). Then in chapter 3 Zechariah has the 4th vision. This vision (after the silence of 2:17) is the investiture of Yeshua (Joshua'Jesus in English)! Now at the time Zechariah was living the governor of Judah, appointed by the Persians was a descendent of David, therefore the rightful King of Judah. His name was Zerubabel. The High Priest was a man named Yeshua (Joshua) see ch. 1-2. We are told in chapter 3:8 that the investiture of Yeshua/Joshua "for they are an omen of things to come'for I shall bring in my servant the Branch, and I shall remove this country's guilt in a single day." In chapter 6:9-15 Joshua the high priest is crowned as King!. Many scholars believe this passage was a mistake in translation and Zerubbabel's name should be in place of Joshua/Jesus. It is not a mistake, These passages are obviously a prophecy of things to come: of the coming of Yeshua (Jesua) the Messiah, King of Kings and our High Priest in the heavenly Jerusalem. Chapter 7 prophesizes the scattering of the tribes of Israel to the 4 corners of the earth followed by chapters 8 to 14 and the promise of salvation when a remnant of God's people will be restored and a New Jerusalem established along with the nations of the earth who will return to worship Yahweh in His holy city (the universal Church) "After this, all the survivors of all the nations which have attacked Jerusalem will come up year after year to worship the King. Yahweh Sabaoth, and to keep the feast of Shelters (Feast of Tabernacles)."-Zech. 14:16. Do you remember the reference to this feast in Rev. ch 7? This feast celebrated God's sovereignty and the building of the Tabernacle.
3. Zephaniah 1:7-2:3. I think the best Old Testament reference is in the Book of the prophet Zephaniah. Zephaniah received his prophetic call in approximately 649-630BC. His message is a prophecy of the Day of Yahweh and the catastrophe that will effect not only Judah but also the nations. Zephaniah's message is that Judah is condemned for disobedience to the Covenant and for religious and moral corruption. All that Judah has done, or failed to do, is an offense against the Living God. The impending chastisement should serve as a warning (3:7) to reduce God's people to obedience and humility (2:3). Salvation is promised to only a humble and obedient remnant (3:12-13). Please read Zephaniah 1:7-2:3.
In each of these passages the 'silence' announces the Day of Yahweh which is represented as a sacrificial banquet (Isaiah 34:6; Jere. 46:10; and Ez 39:17) at which the people of Judah are the victims. They are the guests consecrated for slaughter. The terrible consequence of this Day of Yahweh is proceeded by silence.
Verses 2-4 "Next I saw seven trumpets being given to the seven angels who stand in the presence of God. Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. A large quantity of incense was given to him to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that stood in front of the throne; and so from the angel's hand the smoke of the incense went up in the presence of God and with it the prayers of the saints.
Following the period of silence the 7 angels who stand before God are given 7 trumpets.
Tobit 12:15 speaks of the 7 holy "Angels of the Presence" who present the prayers of the saints and who go in and out before the glory of the Most High God: "I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand ever ready to enter the presence of the glory of the Lord." (These are not the same as the 7 messengers (angels/bishops) who delivered the letters to the 7 churches of Asia).
The 7 "Angels of the Presence" have a well-documented history in Biblical scripture and in Jewish Oral Tradition and literature. In Luke 1:19 the angel tells Zechariah "..I am Gabriel, who stand in God's presence..". Another interesting passage concerning the 7 "Angels of the Presence" is the Ezekiel 9:2 passage we read last week in which Ezekiel has a vision of 6 "men" with slaughter weapons, and one "man" among them clothed in linen with a writer's ink well at his side to whom God speaks.
Holy Scripture only names 3 of these archangels:
The other names come from apocryphal texts, Jewish oral tradition (the Jewish Talmud), and also from documents found at Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. According to these extra-biblical sources the other archangels are:
4. Uriel, "fire of God";
5. Raguel, "friend of God";
6. Remiel, "thunder or height of God"
7. Sariel, "prince of God"
In the Jewish Talmud, which records the Sacred Oral Tradition of the Old Covenant, Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, and Michael are called "ministering angels" (in Hebrew mal'akhey-hasharet). There may be a connection between this tradition and the fact that in Rev. 8:7-12 four angels are singled out to announce the four "non-woe trumpet (shofar= ram's horn) judgments. And that is another point: these trumpets are probably shofar or ram's horn trumpets instead of the 2 silver trumpets (Num 10:2) and are reminisent of the 7 shofar of the 7 priests (God's representatives among the people as the angels are God's representatives in heavenly liturgy) in Josh. 6:4-20. The idea that the Great Judgment of the Last Days is heralded by blasts on the shofar has its roots in the Old Testament and in Jewish Oral Tradition. (also see Ps. 47:5 "God goes up to shouts of acclaim, Yahweh to a fanfare on the ram's horn." & 98:6 for ram's horn/ shofar references).
Returning to verse 3: the 7 angels are given 7 trumpets and then John sees another angel standing at the heavenly altar of incense holding a golden censer. In earthly worship in the Temple in Jerusalem a small golden shovel was used to place the burning coals from God's holy altar of sacrifice into a golden censer which was carried by the priest to the golden altar of incense that stood in front of the Holy of Holies. A large amount of incense is given to the angel.
Question: What does the large amount of incense symbolize? Hint: see verses 3&4. Answer: It is symbolic of the prayers of the saints (also see Rev. 5:8; Psalms 141:2; Lk. 1:10). It is given to the angel so that "he might add to" the prayers of God's holy people. As in earthly liturgy when the incense combines with our prayers and ascends before God (as it does in this passage out of the angel's hands), the priest offers up the petitions of his congregation.
What happens next is the focal point of the passage:
Verse 5 "Then the angel took the censer and filled it from the fire of the altar, which he then hurled down onto the earth, immediately there came peals of thunder and flashes of lighting, and the earth shook."
The angel took the coals of fire from the incense altar and casts the fire down onto the earth in judgment. This is another vision of John's that parallels Ezekiel's vision 7 years before the destruction of the Temple in 586/7BC. Ezekiel 10:1-2 "Then, in vision I saw that above the solid surface over the heads of the winged creatures there was above them something like sapphire, which seemed to be like a throne. He then said to the man dressed in linen, 'Go in between the wheels below the winged creatures; take a handful of burning coal from between the winged creatures and scatter it over the city. He went in as I watched."
Question: In Rev.8:5 what 3 phenomena follow the angel's action?
Answer: 1) thunder, 2) flashes of lightening, 3) earthquake.
Question: Does the action at the altar of incense and the manifestation of these phenomena remind you of another events in Salvation History or liturgical worship? Answer: The 4 phenomena are familiar to us as the normal accompaniments of the Glory-Cloud of God (see Ex. 19:16, 18; etc.) while the reference to the altar of incense recall elements of Tabernacle/Temple worship as well as elements in the celebration of the Mass. The Tabernacle liturgy, prescribed by God, prefigured the worship we would offer God in the New Covenant announced by Jesus in John 4:23 when we would worship "in Spirit and in truth."
The irony of this passage is that the fire from the altar will be used to destroy apostate Israel when in the worship of the Old Testament, the fire on the altar of burnt offering originated in heaven, coming down upon the altar when the Tabernacle and the Temple were made ready to be possessed by God (see Lev. 9:24; 2Chron. 7:1-3). The heavenly fire started the fire of the great altar of sacrifice, was kept burning by the priests, and was carried from place to place so that it could be used to start other holy fires (Lev. 16:12-13; Num 16:46-50; Gen 22:6).
But the holy fire had other purposes than the altar sacrifice, the lighting of the golden menorah, and the lighting of the altar on incense. If an Israelite town turned away from worshiping Yahweh this is the punishment God ordered: Deut. 13:16: "...you must put the inhabitants of that town to the sword, you must lay it under the curse of destruction'the town and everything in it. You must pile up all its loot in the public square and burn the town and all its loot, offering it all to Yahweh your God." (also see Judges 20:40). The only acceptable punishment for a city as a whole burnt offing to Yahweh was with God's fire'holy fire from the altar with the entire city being offered up as a sacrifice.
Question: Can you remember an Old Testament city (or cities) famous for sinful practices that was destroyed in the same manner? Hint: read Genesis 19:23-28. Answer: Sodom and Gomorrah. It is this practice of putting a city "under the ban," so that nothing survives the great fire of God (Deut. 13:12-18) that the Book of Revelation uses to describe God's judgment against apostate Jerusalem.
Question: Can you think of another Old Testament city that received God's judgment? An earthquake brought on by the blowing of 7 trumpets destroyed this city. Answer: Jericho. Read Joshua 5:10-6:21. Jericho was a city that stood in opposition to God's plan to establish a holy nation (the Old Covenant Church) in the Promised Land. Jerusalem in the 1st century had become another Jericho standing in opposition to God's plan to establish a holy New Covenant Church to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven on earth= the universal, Catholic Church. The Promised Land of Israel was never meant to be an end in itself. It was meant to be a beachhead from where God could launch his holy people to reclaim all of the nations back into the family of God so they could inherit the real Promised Land = the heavenly kingdom of Christ the King.
Please read verses 6-13
Verses 6-7 The first trumpet: "The seven angels that had the seven trumpets now made ready to sound them. The first blew his trumpet and with that, hail and fire, mixed with blood, were hurled on the earth: a third of the earth was burnt up, and a third of all trees, and every blade of the grass was burnt."
The help us understand the role the trumpets play in chapter 8 it would be helpful to review how trumpets were used in the Old Testament:
Note: The first 4 of the 7 Sacred Feast of the Old Covenant were fulfilled in the first Advent of Christ (see the chart The Seven Feasts). The last 3 have yet to be fulfilled in Christ. It is interesting that the next feast to be fulfilled is the Feast of Trumpets and now in this chapter we have God's judgment being expressed in the blowing of trumpets. I have speculated (as you can see in my chart) that the Feast of Trumpets would be the 2nd Advent "At the signal given by the voice of the Archangel and the trumpet of God, the Lord himself will come down from heaven;" 1Thes 4:16. Then the Feast of Atonement would be the Great Judgment and Tabernacles would be the New Creation. I wonder if Rev. ch 8's trumpets and the coming of Christ's in judgment on apostate Judah is a prelude that will be repeated in much the same way in the 2nd Advent of Christ. In any case, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD is a warning we all should heed.
J. Massyngberde Ford in the Anchor Bible commentary on Revelation discusses 4 ironic reversals in this Revelation passage:
You may have already noticed a number of examples of irony in Revelation: robes washed white with blood; a lion that is really a lamb. Images are introduced that may seem familiar at first but the meaning is quite different. It is best to remember John's warning that we will read in Rev. 13:18a "There is need for shrewdness here.."
With the destruction that comes from the blowing of 7 trumpets we not only have imagery reminiscent of the fall of Jericho but now verse 7 also recalls other great disasters. Question: Does the mention of these disasters of hail, fire and blood remind you of other Old Testament judgments on cities or nations?
Answer: the plagues of Egypt in Exodus. In the first plague the water turned to blood (Ex. 7:18) and in the 7th plague hail destroyed the crops, trees, livestock, and people. The fire is reminiscent of the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:23 "Then Yahweh rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire of His own sending." Like the Canaanite city of Jericho, both Egypt and Sodom not only stood in opposition to God's plan but they also persecuted God's people. The punishment for this offense was severe.
With the sound of the first Trumpet we get a triple judgment. Question: What is the triple threat? Answer: We are told that hail, fire and blood are hurled on the earth and that "one third" of the earth, trees and grass was destroyed. Which means the judgment is neither total nor final so this cannot refer to the end of the physical world. Nevertheless the destruction is tremendous. The fire that destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 70AD was the end of the world for the Old Covenant Jews.
Notice that the 7th seal "destruction of the green grass" parallels the green rider of the 4th seal. It is also interesting that the Seal judgments were counted in fourths and the Trumpet judgments are counted in thirds. As a matter of fact, the words "a third part" are used 12 times in chapter 8. Other mentions of one third or a third part in the Old Testament are: sacrifices in Temple 1/3 hin of oil & wine Num 15:5-6; Ezek 5:2-12. burn a third of city, etc ;also 3rds in Ez 10:14; 21:14; 31:1; 46:14. This third part destruction is also mentioned in Ezekiel 5:12 when Yahweh instructs Ezekiel to give this message to Jerusalem (prior to 586?7BC): "A third of your citizens will die of plague or starve to death inside you; a third will fall by the sword round you; and a third I shall scatter to the winds, unsheathing the sword behind them."
Question: The hail comes from heaven, the fire from the altar but where does the blood come from? Answer: Is it the blood of the slain witnesses that is mixed with the fire from the altar? The "green grass" parallels the green horse of the 4th horseman.
Question: If in Biblical symbolism trees and green grass represent men or God's elect, what is the symbolism here? Answer: If the trees and grass represent the elect remnant that we saw in 7:3 and will see again in 9:4, then this passage indicates that the elect are not exempt from physical suffering and death as God's wrath is visited upon the wicked. We should not lose our courage, however, because the Christian's ultimate destiny is life and salvation; Romans 2:7-9; 1 Thess. 5:9-10:"God destined us not for His retribution, but to win salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that, awake or asleep (meaning alive or dead), we should still live united to Him".
To those who complain that God fails to rescue Christians from their enemies, St. Augustine had this reply: "As for those who insult over them in their trials, and when ills befall them say, 'Where is your God?' ... the family of Christ is furnished with its reply: Our God is everywhere present, wholly everywhere; not confined to any place. He can be present unperceived, and be absent without moving; when He exposes us to adversities, it is either to prove our perfections or correct our imperfections; and in return for our patient endurance of the sufferings of time, He reserves for us an everlasting reward."
The Second Trumpet: Verses 8-9: "The second angel blew his trumpet and it was as though a great mountain blazing with fire was hurled into the sea: a third of the sea turned into blood, a third of all the living things in the sea were killed, and a third of all ships were destroyed."
Question: Do you see a parallel with the devastation caused by the 2nd trumpet and an Old Testament disaster? Answer: The first plague on Egypt in which the Nile was turned to blood and the fish died (Ex. 7:17-21).
Question: What was the reason given for the cause of the disaster? Answer: The disaster was that:"it was though a great mountain blazing with fire was hurled into the sea.." In the Old Testament, Israel is referred to as God's "Holy Mountain," - Mount Zion, the "mountain of God's inheritance" =Ex 15:17; also see Ps 30:7; Is. 2:2; 25:10; Ez 17:3, etc.. It is also important to note that the people of Jerusalem referred to the Temple on Mt. Moriah as "the Mountain" Ps 43:3; 48:1; 68:16; 87:1; 99:9; Is 27:13; 30:29; 66:20; etc. Also see Ezekiel 6:1-7 where Ezekiel is told by Yahweh to "turn towards the mountains of Israel and prophesy against them.."
Question: Keeping these traditions in mind, can you recall a passage in the New Testament when Jesus talks about the destruction of a "mountain"? Hint: See Matthew chapters 20-25. Answer: During Jesus' last week in Jerusalem, in the middle of a series of discourses and parables about the destruction of Jerusalem, He leaves the Temple and then stops and curses an unfruitful fig tree as a symbol of judgment upon Judah/Israel (see Matt. 21:18-20). When His disciples ask Him how it is that the fig tree withered instantly He answers them: In truth I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt at all, not only will you do what I have done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be pulled down and thrown into the sea," it will be done. And if you have faith, everything you ask for in prayer, you will receive."" (Matt. 21:20-22). Notice Jesus didn't say "a mountain", He said "THIS mountain'! Jesus was referring to the Temple that He had just left after throwing out the moneylenders.
Jesus was not being flippant and He was not requiring unreasonable physical feats from His disciples. He was also not changing the subject from his continued discourse on the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. He was still giving them a lesson about the fall of Judah-Israel. The instructions are to pray for the destruction of apostate Israel and to caste the apostate mountain (Temple) into destruction.
Question: Did the Disciples and Apostles understand this judgment on the people of the Old Covenant if they rejected the Messiah? Before you answer read 1Thess. 2:13-16.
Answer: Yes, they understood. Speaking about the Jews who rejected Christ Paul writes in verse 15-16: "Their conduct does not please God, and makes them the enemies of the whole human race, because they are hindering us from preaching to gentiles to save them. Thus all the time they are reaching the full extent of their iniquity, but retribution has finally overtaken them."
We have already discussed that both Israel and the Temple were referred to in Scripture and tradition as "the Mountain" or "Mount Zion," but I found another interesting passage that may be a reference to our Revelation passage. The scripture reference is Jeremiah 51:24,25,42. In this passage Jeremiah prophesizes that even though God has used Babylon to bring His judgment upon Judah and the Temple (586/7BC), that God will also bring His judgment on Babylon. Jeremiah writes " I am setting myself against you, mountain of destruction, Yahweh declares, destroyer of the whole world! I shall reach out My hand for you and send you tumbling from the crags and make you a burnt-out-mountain....(v. 24-25) and "The sea has risen over Babylon, she sinks beneath its boisterous waves." (v.42). The historical Babylon was located on a flat plain not on a mountain, and it is not near the sea nor did the city ever plunge into the sea. The imagery is of God's wrath and the destruction of Babylon; it is not a literal description. The connection to Jerusalem in the 1st century is that like the city of Babylon, Jerusalem has caused God's people to suffer and stood contrary to God's divine plan. This comparison with Babylon will continue in future chapters of Revelation.
Question: Did you notice the triple curse of destruction again with the blowing of the second trumpet? Answer: the curse includes a third of the sea turning to blood, a third of the living things of the sea destroyed, and a third of ships destroyed. Again, destruction is NOT complete.
The Second Trumpet: Verses 10-11 "The third angel blew his trumpet, and a huge star fell from the sky, burning like a ball of fire, and it fell on a third of all rivers and on the springs of water; this was the star called Wormwood, and a third of all water turned to wormwood, so that many people died; the water had become so bitter."
Like the preceding trumpet vision, the vision of the Third Trumpet combines Biblical imagery from both the plagues of Egypt in Exodus and the great city Babylon.
Question: Which Egyptian plague is recalled here? Answer: Ex. 7:21 in the first plague when the water became bitter because of the dead and decaying fish.
Question: What is the connection to Babylon is this passage. Hint: read Isaiah 14:12-15. Answer. In the Isaiah passage the he prophesizes the fall of the great city of Babylon in terms of the fall of Satan from Paradise. Satan's name before he fell was Lucifer 'dawn-star.'
Question: What is the name of the star? Answer: "Wormwood". Wormwood is a plant of the genus Artemisia; it has a bitter taste. This is a term used in the Law (the Pentateuch) and the Prophets to warn Israel of its destruction as a punishment for apostasy. In Deut. 29:17-18 it is used in reference to one who spreads idolatry. In Amos 6:12 the prophet warns of turning"the fruit of righteousness into wormwood," . In Jeremiah 9:14 –15 God says that He will feed His idolatrous people "with wormwood, give them poison to drink" and the same punishment is promised for false prophets in Jeremiah 23:15 "I shall give them wormwood to eat and make them drink poisoned water since from the prophets of Jerusalem godlessness has spread throughout the land." Also see Lam. 3:15,19; and Amos 5:7.
Question: This poisoning of pure water is the reverse of a miracle that God gave the children of Israel in the Exodus. Do you recall that miracle? Answer: The bitter waters of Marah in Exodus 15:22-26 when God "showed him a piece of wood. When Moses threw it into the water, the water became sweet." The Fathers of the Church have always taught that this miracle prefigures Christ whose death on the cross would take away the bitterness of sin and death and provide living water of salvation. There is also an interesting warning that God gives Israel in this passage: v. 26: "If you listen carefully to the voice of Yahweh your God and do what He regards as right, of you pay attention to His commandments and keep all His laws, I shall never inflict on you any of the diseases that I inflicted on the Egyptians, for I am Yahweh, your Healer." Old Covenant Israel/Judea did not heed this warning and the afflictions of Egypt fell on them symbolically and in some cases literally (in Jerusalem as the Jews fought among themselves, they poisoned each other's wells). Note: Many Christians became very interested in reading Revelation when the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Russia had a near melt-down in the 80's. Chernobyl in Russian means ''wormwood."
The Fourth Trumpet: Verses 12-13 "The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun and a third of the moon and a third of the stars were blasted, so that the light went out of a third of them and the day lost a third of its illumination, and likewise the night. In my vision, I heard an eagle, calling aloud as it flew high overhead, 'Disaster, disaster, disaster, on all the people on earth at the sound of the other three trumpets which the three angels have yet to blow!'"
Question: Do you recall a plague of Egypt that recalls the vision in verse 12? Answer: Ex. 10:21-13 the ninth Egyptian plague of "thick darkness".
This imagery of darkness or an natural phenomenon like an eclipse was used by the ancients, and Old Testament prophets, to depict the fall of nations and national rulers and kings: Isaiah 13:9-11, 19; 24:19-23; 34:4-5; Ezek. 32:7-8, 11-12; Joel 2:10, 28-32; Act 2:16-21 and at the crucifixion in Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; and Luke 23:44 "It was now about the sixth hour and the sun's light failed, so that darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour." And in the reverse we are familiar with the connection between light, new stars or comets and the birth or coming into power of a king or conqueror like the passage in Numbers 24:17 concerning a 'star' that will arise from Jacob prophesizing the birth of the Messiah. The Magi identification the Star of Bethlehem with the birth of a king was very much in keeping with the traditions and superstitions of their time. In the 1st century Roman Empire and in Judah, its puppet state, ruler after ruler was assassinated: Roman emperors Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galva, Otho, Vitellius were either murdered or died of suicide. In Judah: Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Herod Agrippa, most of the Herodian princes, a number of the high priests of Jerusalem all died in disgrace or in exile or by violence. All these were darkened suns and fallen stars.
Verse 13's flying eagle-cherub from Rev. 4:7 rules the Trumpets section of Revelation. Do you recall the discussion in chapter 4 of the theory that after the Preamble in chapter 1, Revelation is divided into four quarters each "ruled" by one of these angel/cherbum? John lists them in counterclockwise order in chapter 4 (maybe because he was viewing them from heaven) but for the structure of his prophecy he lists them in direct order of the 4 seasons as they correspond to the constellations of Taurus, Leo, Scorpio (Eagle), and Aquarius the water carrier:
Living Creature like a Bull chapters 2-3 (7 stars = of Taurus)
Living Creature like a Lion chapters 4-7 (Lion of Judah)
Living Creature like a flying Eagle chapters 8-14 (flying eagle)
Living Creature with a Human face chapters 15-22 (the king on the white horse)
It does give this theory some merit now that St. John hears (again he 'hears' before he 'sees') " an eagle, calling aloud as it flew high overhead" warning of wrath to come. Like many other covenantal symbols, the eagle has a dual nature.
1). One on hand the eagle symbolizes the salvation God provided for Israel: Ex 19:4 "You have seen for yourselves what I did to the Egyptians and how I carried you away on eagle's wings and brought you to me." (also see Deut 32:9).
2). But on the other hand, the eagle is used to convey prophetic warnings of Israel's destruction in images of an eagle, or other birds of prey, associated with blood, death and destruction: Hosea 8:1 "Put the trumpets to your lips! Like an eagle, disaster is swooping on Yahweh's home! Because they have violated my covenant and been unfaithful to my Law.." or Job 39:30 referring to the eagle: "His young ones also such up blood; and where the slain are, there is he" or Matthew 23:27-28 where Jesus says "...the coming of the Son of Man will be like lightning striking in the east and flashing far into the west. Wherever the corpse is, that is where the vultures will gather." (also see Gen 15:9-12; Deut. 28:26, 49; Jer 4:13; 7:33-34; 16:3-4; 19:7; 34:18-20; Ezek 39:17-20; Lam 4:19; Hab 1:8; Rev 19:17-18.)
The flying eagle (angel/cherub from Rev. 4:6 "..and the 4th living creature was like a flying eagle") will reappear in Rev. 12:14 as an image of salvation, and at the end of this section in 14:6, as an angel flying proclaiming the Gospel to "those who dwell on the Land" because his mission is ultimately redemptive not simply destructive. But the salvation of the world will come about through Israel/Judah's fall : Romans 11:11-15, 25 "...their failure has brought salvation to the gentiles in order to stir them to envy. And if their fall has proved a great gain to the world, and their loss has proved a great gain to the gentiles'how much greater a gain will come when all is restored to them!......." And that is why the Eagle begins his message with wrath, proclaiming 3 woes(crying "disaster 3 times: one for each of the trumpets that remain). These next three trumpets will release the disasters that are to come upon "those who dwell on the Land" which we have identified Biblically as a reference to Israel. This image is a replay of Ezekiel 7:1-14 in which Yahweh instructs Ezekiel to called out repeatedly to the inhabitants of Jerusalem: "disaster...the end is coming" followed by Yahweh's announcement in verse 14a "The trumpet sounds, all is ready..." Indeed, now that the Eagle has cried out his warning of "disaster" it is time for the 5th Trumpet to be blown!
Like the plagues of Egypt, the curses are becoming more intense, the crescendo is building with the three woes of the Eagle corresponding to what we will see as the 5,6, and 7th blasts of the trumpets when the terrifying sanctions of the Law are finally unleashed against the covenant-breakers, so that Christ the king may inherit the kingdoms of the world through the establishment of His Kingdom of Heaven on earth, the Catholic (universal) Church, and so that He can bring the nations of the world into His kingdom to worship in His holy Temple.
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