The judgements of the tribulation period are found written in the scroll that the Lamb of God took from the right hand of God the Father. The Lamb is the only one who is “worthy” to open the scroll and loose its seals. There are seven seals; six seals have already been opened. The seventh seal contains a rather extended message and reveals seven angels with seven trumpets. These trumpet judgements are found in the scroll after the seventh seal is broken.
The Prelude to Judgement
When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand. 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.
The silence is like the calm before the storm. After seeing and hearing all the praise and worship in heaven, this period of silence was a dramatic pause to the events that would soon follow. Something unusual is about to happen – something of enormous importance. John saw seven angels who are ready to carry out God’s orders. They are given seven trumpets and they are entrusted with the responsibility to blow these trumpets, announcing the judgements of Almighty God upon planet earth.
Trumpets have often been used in the life of Israel.
A loud trumpet was blown at Mount Sinai at the giving of the Law according to Exodus 19:19.
One of the feasts Israel celebrated was called the Feast of Trumpets according to Leviticus 23:23-25.
A trumpet was sounded on the Day of Atonement during the Year of Jubilee according to Leviticus 25:9.
Two silver trumpets were used to assemble the children of Israel and direct them in moving from place to place during their wilderness journeys according to Numbers 10:1-8.
The trumpets were also used to sound the alarm for going to war and when sacrifices were offered at the various feasts and celebrations according to Numbers 10:9-10.
The prophet Joel speaks of a trumpet being blown to sound an alarm concerning the coming day of the Lord according to Joel 2:1 and also speaks of a trumpet being blown to call the people of Israel to a fast and sacred assembly according to Joel 2:15.
John writes in verse three that “another angel had a golden censer.” The word “another” means “another of the same kind.” Therefore, this is an angel like the other seven angels. And “he was given much incense to offer”: We have here a beautiful picture of an Old Testament practice. Every morning and evening, the priests would use a golden censer to put incense on the altar of incense in front of the second veil of the tabernacle or temple. Behind this veil was the Holy of Holies into which only the high priest could go once a year on the Day of Atonement. The role of the priest is to offer the prayers of the people to God. The smoke of the incense burning on the altar was a picture of prayers rising to God. According to Revelation 8:3 this incense represents “the prayers of all the saints.” No doubt, these prayers include the prayers of the martyrs mentioned in:
How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until You judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?
God is about to answer their prayers. The altar here is described as being “the golden altar before the throne.” It seems unlikely that this special altar and its special place would be an altar of sacrifice. More likely, it is a beautiful fulfilment of the altar of incense which God commanded the Jews to build for worship in the tabernacle and temple. An altar in heaven is mentioned seven times in Revelation: Revelation 6:9; Revelation 8:3 (twice); Revelation 8:5; Revelation 9:13; Revelation 14:18; Revelation 16:7. The angel fills the censer with fire and hurls it on the earth as a demonstration that the trumpet judgements are answers to the prayers of God’s people throughout history. To demonstrate how important these prayers are in bringing these judgements we read of a response from the throne of God in the form of peals of thunder, rumblings, lightning and an earthquake. God is indicating His full support: His authority and power are behind these judgements.
The Punishment of Four Trumpets
Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them. 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 was burned up, and all the green grass was burned up. The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea was turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. 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 - 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. 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. As I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying in mid-air 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.”
The seven angels now step forward with their trumpets and prepare themselves to sound God’s alarms – the day of the Lord has come, the day of God’s wrath.
The First Trumpet Judgement
Trees and Grass burned up
Hail and fire mixed with blood was hurled down upon the earth. This judgement is similar to one of the plagues in Egypt involving hail and fire according to Exodus 9:22-26. The passage in Revelation adds that the hail and fire were mingled with blood, probably indicating that many people were killed when this judgement comes upon the earth.This reminds us of Joel 2:30-31 where we read that God will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke right before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. We will remember as well that God rained hail, fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah and many people were killed according to Genesis 19:24-25. Trees and grass burned up. A judgement such as this has enormous effect upon the quality of life and available food supply. Trees not only produce food, they are essential protection from violent storms and flooding. This verse predicts that one-third of all trees on the planet are destroyed by this judgement. It is difficult to imagine what this might mean for the survival of mankind. This judgement destroys “all green grass.” That fact alone will affect animal life which depends on green grass for food. The appearance of the planet will radically change, and it will seem as though the entire earth has become a wasteland or desert.
Second Judgement Trumpet
Sea Life and Ships destroyed
The mountain that was thrown into the sea is not a literal mountain that was burning, but something like a burning mountain. Some commentators have suggested this refers to a giant meteor. Others have suggested it refers to an atomic or nuclear explosion. The first plague of Egypt turned the water of the River Nile into blood according to Exodus 7:14-25. Something similar occurs at the Second trumpet Judgement of Revelation 8. Three consequences are described: One-third of the sea becomes blood. The word “sea” is preceded by the word “the”. That would seem to indicate a definite sea and very likely refers to the Mediterranean Sea. That the sea became blood may suggest that either animal or human life has been destroyed by this supernatural catastrophe. One-third of the sea life is killed. The Mediterranean Sea is filled with fish, supplying the food needs of many countries and peoples.
This disaster will have a serious effect upon the peoples of the world, especially those who live in countries depending upon the fishing industry in the Mediterranean. We find similar descriptions of destruction to animal life in Hosea 4:3 and Zephaniah 1:2-3. One-third of the ships are destroyed. This particular tragedy becomes more significant when we realise that the Mediterranean Sea is covered with naval vessels, cruise ships and fishing boats of all sizes. One-third of these ships will be destroyed in this one judgement, and, of course, many lives will be lost.
Third Trumpet Judgement
River and Springs made bitter
A great star fell from the sky. Many believe this great star is a meteorite. If that is so, then it is certainly an unusual one which affects one-third of the rivers and springs of water. The star is called Wormwood after the strong, bitter taste of the wormwood plant, an Old Testament symbol for bitterness and sorrow.
In Lamentation 3:15 we read;
He has filled me with bitter herbs and sated me with gall.
And we read in Amos 5:7
You who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground.
Jeremiah describes God’s judgement on those who disobey Him in similar terms according to Jeremiah 9:13-15 and Jeremiah 23:15.
“Wormwood” is God’s judgement upon those who disobey Him. Although not itself lethal, wormwood’s bitter taste suggests death. This tragic judgement affecting the water supply of the world and bringing about the death of many is a consequence upon those who refuse to submit to God’s authority in their lives. We all need water; it is basic to human survival.
The Fourth Trumpet Judgement
Sun, Moon and Stars darkened
This judgement causes a reduction of light. The problems arising from this judgement extend to many areas of life that we take for granted. The light sources of the universe all struck by this judgement. God clearly shows us that they are also dependant upon His power and control. The sun, moon and stars have been consistently used by pagan religions as objects of worship. God shows us in this one judgement that He alone is to be worshipped. As with the first judgement, this judgement reminds us of one of the plagues in Egypt when total darkness covered the land for three days according to Exodus 10: 21-23.
Some interpret the 33 percent reduction of light to mean that the daytime lasts for eight hours and the night time for sixteen hours. However, the wording of this judgement implies an overall reduction of light for these heavenly bodies so that even the daylight hours are darkened to some extent. Jesus predicted that there would be “signs in the sun, moon and stars” according to Luke 21:25. In addition, several Old Testament prophets foretold this coming day of darkness, in Isaiah 13:10; Jeremiah 4:23; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:31; Joel 3:15; Amos 5:20. It is clear that the Hebrew prophets knew of this coming judgement of the Lord upon the sun, moon and stars.
The Proclamation of a flying Eagle or Angel
Even though many manuscripts have used the term “eagle” here, evidence can support for the term “angel” to be used instead. The use of angels to announce God’s plans is well known – why would an exception occur at this point? Angels are blowing the trumpets to announce these judgements – why not an angel to warn the planet that the worst is yet to come? Three “woes” are to come. Each “woe” indicates a warning of what is to come. The last three trumpets are more severe than the first four. Each of these “woes” corresponds to one the last three trumpet judgements. These judgements will fall upon “the inhabitants of the earth”, a term referring to unbelievers who take the mark of the beast according to Revelation 13:16 and do not repent of their deeds. They are the ones who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads according to Revelation 9:4. And what is coming is far more severe than what has already been experienced.