Revelation 8 Commentary

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“After the long interlude of ch. 7, the sequence of the opening of the seals is resumed by the opening of the final or seventh seal. This action provides both a conclusion to the seals and a preparation for the seven trumpets. The praises ordinarily heard uninterruptedly in heaven (4:8) now cease in order to allow the prayers of the suffering, persecuted saints on earth for deliverance and justice to be heard (6:10; 8:4; cf. Lk 18:2-8). Most interpreters, however, understand the silence to refer to the awesome silence before the great storm of God’s wrath on the earth. A kind of Sabbath pause might be thought of here.”[1]

v.1 “Saying the silence in heaven lasted about half an hour is poetic way of saying this is a long silence.  In the Bible, silence often comes before or with God’s judgments (Hab.2:20; Zech, 2:13).  Thus, this long, dramatic pause signals that the judgment to come is going to be just as long and dramatic.  The silence prepares people to hear the seven trumpets of judgment (8:6)”[2]

vv.2-4 “While the seven seals were opened by the Lamb himself, the judgments of the seven trumpets and the seven bowls (15:1) are executed by seven angels. Before the trumpet judgments are executed, another angel enacts a symbolic scene in heaven. He takes a golden censer filled with incense and offers the incense on the altar in behalf of the prayers of all God’s people. Earlier, John mentioned the altar that was near God’s presence (6:9). A strong assurance is here given to the suffering followers of Christ that their prayers for vindication are not forgotten because God will speedily vindicate them from their enemies’ assaults. So close is the altar to God that the incense cloud of the saints’ prayers rises into his presence and cannot escape his notice (cf. Ps 141:2).”[3]

v. 2seven trumpets. In OT times the trumpet served to announce important events and give signals in time of war. The seven trumpets of Rev 8-9; 11:15-19 announce a series of plagues more severe than the seals but not as completely devastating as the bowls (ch. 16).”[4]

v.3 “Before the angels blow their trumpets the prayers of the saints are offered. This is not an unrelated parenthesis. John means us to see that the prayers of God’s people are supremely important. Even the cataclysmic judgments which follow are held up till these prayers have been offered. Indeed in a sense it is these prayers that set the judgments in motion (v.5).”[5]

v.4 “The incense and the prayers went up before God. Notice that they went up from the angel’s hand, which is probably a way of saying that heaven and earth are at one in this matter. Prayer is not the lonely venture it so often feels. There is heavenly assistance and our prayers do reach God. It may be significant that there is mention of an altar in connection with this, for it signifies that there is something sacrificial in true prayer. We should not think of the angel as a mediator. Angels are fellow-servants (19:10; 22:9). But we are Christian only because of Christ’s sacrifice, and all our service (and our praying) is to be sacrificial.”[6]

v.5 “The censer or firepan is now used to take some of the burning coals from the altar and cast them to the earth. Symbolically, this represents the answer to the prayers of the saints through the visitation on earth of God’s righteous judgments. God next appears on earth in a theophany. The language, reminiscent of Sinai with its thunder, lightning, and earthquake, indicates that God has come to vindicate his saints (Ex 19:16-19; Rev 4:5; 11:19; 16:18).”[7]

v.6 “Two questions confront the interpreter at this point: (1) What is the relationship of the trumpets to the preceding seals and the following bowls? (2) Are the events described symbolic or literal?

“In answer to the first question, there are two options: either the series are parallel and simultaneous or they are sequential. It is not possible to decide with certainty for either view, for each contains elements of truth. This commentary has already argued for the chronological priority of the first five seals to the events of the trumpets and bowls (see comment on 6:1). But the sixth seal seems to take us into the period of the outpouring of God’s wrath that is enacted in the trumpet and bowl judgments (6:12-17) […]

“The second problem concerns the literalness of the events described under each trumpet. The important but hard question is not literal versus nonliteral but what John intended. Some things may need to be understood more literally and others symbolically. For example, the reference to the army of 200 million (9:16-19) can hardly be literal (cf. comment on 9:16). Either the number is figurative or the army refers to demonic powers rather than human soldiers. It is also difficult to handle literally the reference to the eagle that speaks human words (8:13). While there is no way to settle this problem finally, this exposition will attempt to steer between a literal approach and a totally symbolic one.”[8]

v.7 The first trumpet. Hail and fire remind one of the fourth plague of the Exodus (Ex 9:23-26), with added intensity suggested by the reference to hail and fire mixed with blood (cf. Eze 38:22). A ‘third’ refers to a relative fraction of the total and should not be construed as a specific amount (cf. Eze 5:2; Zec 13:8-9).”[9]

vv.8-9 The second trumpet. A huge blazing mass like a mountain is thrown into the sea and turns part of it into blood. This suggests the first plague, when the Nile was turned blood red and the fish were destroyed (Ex 7:20-21; cf. Zep 1:3). Reference to the destruction of ships shows the intense turbulence of the sea.”[10]

vv.10-11 The third trumpet. John next sees a huge fiery star fall on the rivers and springs of water and turn a part of these fresh-water supplies into very bitter water. The star’s name is ‘Wormwood,’ which refers to the bitter herb Artemesia absinthium found in the Near East and mentioned elsewhere in the Bible (Jer 9:15; 23:15; La 3:15, 19; Am 5:7). It is not clear whether John intended the star to be understood as an angel as in 9:1 and in 1:20. Here is the first reference in the plagues to the loss of human life (cf. 9:15, 20). This plague, aimed at the fresh water, is a counterpart of the preceding one, which was aimed at the sea.”[11]

v.11 “Wormwood. A plant with a strong, bitter taste (see NIV text note). It is used here as a metaphor for calamity and sorrow (see Pr 5:3-4; Jer 9:15; La 3:19). It is not poisonous, but its bitterness suggests death. waters turned bitter. The reverse of the miracle at Marah, where bitter waters were made sweet (Ex 15:25).”[12]

v.12 “The fourth trumpet. The heavens are struck with partial darkness, reminiscent of the ninth plague (Ex 10:21-23). The references to ‘a third of . . .’ refer to a partial impairment of the ordinary light from these bodies. In the OT the darkening of the heavens appears in connection with the theophany of God in judgment (cf. Isa 13:10; Eze 32:7-8; Joel 2:10; 3:15; cf. Mt 24:29). An unusual darkness also attended the crucifixion of Christ (Mt 27:45).”[13]

v.13 “Before the last three trumpets sound, John hears a flying eagle call out ‘woe’… three times. His cry announces the especially grievous nature of the last three plagues, which kill a third part of the population of the earth (9:18). Two of the woes are identified with the fifth and sixth trumpets (9:12; 11:14). (See the comments on 8:6, which argue that the third woe should be seen as the seven bowl judgments in 16:1ff.) The ‘inhabitants of the earth’ distinguishes the Christ rejecters of the world from the true, faithful followers of the Lamb (cf. comment on 3:10). A flying ‘eagle’ announces these words. This must be taken symbolically. In Revelation there are two other references to eagles (4:7; 12:14). Since 4:7 relates to the description of one of the four living beings, it may be that John intends the eagle mentioned here to have the same significance.”[14]


[1] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) notes for Revelation 8.

[2] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1994) p.1719.

[3] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) notes for Revelation 8:2-4.

[4] Kenneth Barker, The New International Version Study Bible Notes CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995) notes on Revelation.

[5] Leon Morris, The Book of Revelations (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) p.117.

[6] Leon Morris, The Book of Revelations (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) p.118.

[7] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) notes for Revelation 8:5.

[8] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) notes for Revelation 8:6.

[9] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) notes for Revelation 8:7.

[10] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) notes for Revelation 8:8-9.

[11] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) notes for Revelation 8:10-11.

[12] Kenneth Barker, The New International Version Study Bible Notes CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995) notes on Revelation 8:11.

[13] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) notes for Revelation 8:12.

[14] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) notes for Revelation 8:13.

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