Whilst undoubtedly one of the more complex chapters in Revelation, chapter 9 also contains some very practical lessons for the Christian by providing insight into the character and conduct of the enemy. The chapter begins with a Satanic smoke screen, emanating from the fumes billowing out their choking acrid debris into the air of earth. As always Satan obscures his purpose and as has been the case for generations his promises invariable conclude in the pit. This is the pit of broken promises, the pit into which the angels who followed him fell and an echo of the same trap set for Adam, David, Solomon, Ahithophel and Judas.
The second half of chapter 9 continues to provide forensic insight into the character of malevolence. The numbers perpetrating evil decrease from the swarms of locusts down to the 4 angels but their impact is amplified. These are the angels referenced in Daniel chapter 9, Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28; angels moving behind the scenes, motivating and manipulating the decisions and agenda of kings and politicians. These are the 4 angels of the Euphrates basin, hitherto placed on hold as the spiritual power house behind the dominance of Iraq, Turkey and Syria, once chained they now rise again, heralding the political ascendency of Turkey, Iraq and Syria. These lands become the setting for the fulfilment for some of the most unlikely of biblical prophecies. An army of 200 million are seen in this vision of John amassing for war with a third of the worlds population destroyed. At the time John wrote the world's population amounted to less than this total number observed as involved in the battle! Today however military, paramilitary and reserve forces already amount to 65 million (International Institute of Strategic Studies), with over 1 billion people potentially able to be called upon in the event of war. Today finally the numbers add up and the picture painted by John is no longer outlandish nor off the scale. Here is a battle and a slaughter ordered and ordained from the horns of the golden altar, all in God's plan and purpose, ultimately for His Glory.
A study in our series of expository messages on the book of Revelation.
Revelation chapter 8 opens with a silence of separation (8:1), a silence separating all that has gone before in heaven and upon earth from that which is about to happen. So dramatic, terrible and catastrophic are the events which are about to unfold that a line of demarcation is drawn between before the silence and after the silence. This unprecedented silence will forever be a line of separation, a turning point in God’s dealings with His world.
Before this half an hour of silence God had dealt with this world in:
Upholding sustaining power extended as general grace to all men
Even up until chapter 8 God’s judgments were on the whole passive and consequential upon the opening of the seals. The judgments so far were indirect, as a consequence of the opening of the seals rather than being directly commanded of God. The judgments so far pronounced drew, on the whole from natural causes and instruments in man’s world, familiar to us; eg war, famine and death. You might from the perspective of earth look at the four riders of the apocalypse and the natural disasters of the 6th seal and not clearly appreciate nor apprehend that these events had a Divine and supernatural cause! You could live through the first 6 seals and still hold on fairly tenaciously to your atheism, putting the events you experienced down to man made catastrophes, political upheaval and natural disasters. That is all about to change!
Revelation chapter 8 verse 1 signals a line of bold demarcation, not only in John’s apocalypse but also in the foreign policy of heaven. Earth now becomes the object not of:
But of unparalleled judgment.
For half an hour the chorus of heaven ceases.
The worship of the innumerable company of martyrs of chapter 7, angels, living creatures and elders (7:11) is silenced
The harps of the 24 elders are set aside (5:8)
The chorus of the redeemed (5:9) is no longer heard
Holy, Holy, Holy is cried no longer (4:8)
Heaven falls silent.
This silence may occupy only a single verse of that vast volume we call the Bible, but don’t be misled, this is no minor matter! This is a silence that brings to a halt the Holy, Holy, Holy of Revelation chapter 4 and the 4 living creatures!
What is about to transpire is a judgment of unparalleled proportions. A judgment that is unlike any previous activity of heaven. The judgments of heaven move from the natural to the supernatural. In chapter 8 of Revelation we see not only nature turned against man; as it was in chapter 6 but we see:
Heaven and the angels (8:6-13)
Hell and the demonic (chp 9)
Mobilised against man!
Here is a half hour of silence. A half hour for:
A half hour of:
Awe – a reasonable and rational response to greatness and the Glory of God eg Zechariah 2:13; Romans 3:19
Grace – even in the epicentre of Divine judgment God’s character has not changed. As late as Revelation 16:9 there remains an echo of the hope for repentance. “God...is longsuffering to us-ward not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”
Forgotten prayers. Here are the prayers of “all saints” (Revelation 8:3), including those ‘forgotten’ prayers of Rev 6:10 and who knowns how many other prayers long offered and thence forgotten. God does not forget the prayers of His people, even if those who offered such prayers have already gone home to Glory. He did not forget:
The blood of Abel (Genesis 4:10; Matthew 23:35; Luke11:51)
The murder of Zacharias (Luke 11:51)
Prayer of Abraham (Genesis 15:2)
Prayer of Zacharias (Luke 1:13)
These prayers are now offered in this interlude with the “smoke of incense” fragrant and powerful. Incense added to the fragrance of the believer’s life “for we are unto God a sweet fragrance of Christ” (2 Co 2:15). How much more effective and powerful could my prayers be if the incense of my life truly complemented the fragrance of heaven?
The sounding of the first 4 trumpets (Revelation 8:6-13)
In the sounding of these first 4 trumpets we have the outpouring of Divine judgment in a hitherto unknown and unseen fashion. This is the systematic deconstruction of man’s world. You could draw parallels with the 10 plagues of Egypt with the hail (v7), waters of blood (v8), destruction of the plant life (v7) and subsequently of course the plague of locusts (9:3ff). This is bigger than the 10 plagues of Egypt. This is global in extent and spiritual in character.
In these first 4 trumpets man’s world and man’s place in the world is shaken and deconstructed. Each and every sphere of the world as we know it is shaken and impacted part by part:
The earth and land (8:7)
The sea (8:8-9)
The rivers (8:10-11)
The heavens above (8:12-13)
Piece by piece man’s world is systematically deconstructed!
Here is the deconstruction of the creatorial work of Genesis chapter 1.
Here is God’s definitive response to man’s most ancient of sins; idolatry.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and -- fourth generation of them that hate me;” (Exodus 20:3ff)
It is here that God’s jealousy for His own glory finds final justice and satisfaction. The material world adored by man, where man dug deep his foundations and denied his creator crumbles.
Utter devastation and catastrophe abounds, and yet there is in all of this at least one great grace. This is the new enlightenment! Many will be familiar with the that period of western history in the 16th and 17th century we refer to as the enlightenment. A period of time marked by a mushrooming of:
Human rights and individualism
Political changes and democracy
Pursuit of happiness
A period of time in which men attempted to:
Find their place in the world
Find their happiness in the world
Often this led many to abandon God or at least distance themselves from God and His demands morally and spiritually. These ideas have grown ever since coming down to us today in ever expanding forms.
Here is the new enlightenment! Here is a stage closer to reality. In these days men will have to rethink who and what they are. Chapter 8 challenges us to consider not:
What man is in the world
What man is without the world
“whose then shall these things be which thou has provided?”
If everything I have, all I possess, all I have laid by in store for this world was gone, would I have anything left?
“Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness,” (2 Peter 3:11)
Edwin Blum: “Peter here makes the impending disintegration of the universe the ground for a personal challenge to his readers” (Expositors Bible Commentary)
Is this not why we are given now an insight into events then?
Where today does our foundation lie?
Where today do we lay up treasure?
What today are we distracted by?
Is it worth it?
Will it endure?
What of the details of these first 4 trumpets?
Many an interpretation has been given.
Symbolic – trees representing great men, grass the temporal nature of man’s glory, great mountain the kingdoms of men, sea as the nations. I have difficulty with this. The symbols appear to me very stretched and a bit arbitrary; are you really sure trees are great and powerful men in this context? Where trees are used as symbolic of great men there is usually an indicator or clue in the passage that they are being used in that way (Amos 2:9).
Literal – 4 literal judgments, distinctive, instigated as a sovereign act of God. What will happen is just as described. That being the case there would be nothing further to expound. The description is as it stands, simple and literal.
Descriptive – there are some elements of Johns description here that would suggest that a completely literal interpretation is probably not what is intended; eg sea “became blood” (v8) – a biological material produced by the bone marrow of animals, a complex protein structure carefully controlled by biological hormones, growth factors and cytokines. It is unlikely that such vast quantities of a biological substance would be found in the ocean, nor would they likely survive for any significant period of time in the oceans. Note also the description that the waters became “wormwood” (v11). Wormwood is a plant from which is made Absinthe, a potent and at times toxic alcoholic drink, contains a vast array of biologically active compounds, anti cholinergics, anti cholinesterases, it is toxic. Unlikely however that 1/3 of the waters will be literally turned to wormwood!
These first 4 trumpets may then announce 4 distinct catastrophes from God, supernaturally authored and destructive individually as described:
Hail and fire
Meteor or comet hit to the seas
Comet strike affecting waters
Eclipse of some form
However bearing in mind that this section has descriptive elements to it, ie not entirely literal, is there anything that we know of today which might fit with the figurative descriptive language of this section?
There is one modern scenario which does pretty strongly parallel the description which we have here in Revelation chapter 8. A scenario unknown of course to John and to humanity for the next 1900 years.
Allow me to describe from secular academic sources the likely scenario of a nuclear holocaust.
In the event of a nuclear strike:
Likely targets of a nuclear strike would include key population centres and cities in the world: Washington, LA, San Diego, Moscow, Vladivostok, Tokyo, Beijing.
An epicentre of variable size depending on the size of the nuclear warhead would extend out from the point of impact over an area of 5 to 10 miles. Within that epicentre there would be total vaporisation, complete destruction. The episode would be engulfed in intense heat and flames. Everything flammable would be consumed, buildings, vehicles, people and plants. The vaporised products of that explosion would rise as a mushroom cloud, to fall to earth as black rain, embers and burning material. Approximately 50% of the debris from the initial nuclear strike would fall locally within the first 24 hours. A scenario not dissimilar to the hail and fire of verse 7 linked with the burning of vegetation. Interestingly notice that in the description of verse 7 some plants fair better than others. All of the green grass but only 1/3 of the trees were burnt up. This could likewise fit with fires extending out from nuclear epicentres in which some vegetation would be more resilient than others. In Hiroshima hit by the A bomb in 1945, all vegetation above the ground was vaporized extending out in a diameter of 3 km. Some plants with roots deep underground survived including approximately 170 broad leafed trees, including the Hibakujumoku tree. Ground based plants did not survive.
The fallout of radioactive particles would contaminate all surface waters making them undrinkable (consider verse 10).
The smoke and ash from that nuclear strike would rise 20 to 50 miles above the surface of the earth and stay there for a period of years. It is this smoke which would in part block out the light of the sun and moon, resulting in what scientists refer to as a nuclear winter. Note the 4th trumpet in this respect of verse 12. As a consequence, corn and wheat yields would drop depending on how large the nuclear holocaust was. From a relatively small nuclear conflict eg between India and Pakistan it is estimated that food production would drop by up to 40% and 1 to 2 billion people would perish with 90% of the worlds population starving to death in a nuclear winter.
A nuclear hit on or around the sea would likewise have catastrophic effects on the marine life and nearby coastal regions, not only at the epicentre but in the extended area around it as the pressure way dissipates through the water. A nuclear marine hit would cause massive aquatic death, increase the sea temperature locally and change nutrient concentrations in the vicinity from decomposing marine life.
Interestingly in response to changing sea temperatures and nutrient compositions many areas of the world experience red tides in California, Gulf of Mexico, Maine, British Columbia, Florida. This is caused by the overgrowth of a variety of toxic algae species such as Karenia Brevis and bacteria, Cyanobacterium Trichodesmium, Red tides have also been observed as a consequence of overgrowth of Alexandrium species of bacteria in sea temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The toxins from Alexandrium species are responsible for Toxic Shellfish Poisoning, these toxins form the bacteria being absorbed by the shellfish.
In a recent paper published by Jae Young Oh, it has been discovered that some marine algae possess radioprotective phytochemicals, radioprotective polysaccharides and carotenoids. The radioprotective qualities of red algae have been extensively studied.
At the Chernobyl site in Ukraine it was found that following the nuclear accident at Ribiyart that Cryptococcus Neoformans were able to feed on radioactive material turning radiation into chemical energy!
Tanks at sellafield nuclear reactor have grown Haematococcus resistent to radiation. Haematococcus produces astaxanthan part of the carotenoid group of substances, which occurs in algae and causes the pink red colour in Salmon.
Ukrainian – Chernobyl – perhaps a little echo of what is to come?
Part of our systematic study of the book of Revelation presented by Dr J Stewart Gillespie, at the Bridgend Gospel Hall, New Cumnock.
Revelation chapter 8 verses 1 to 5, the half hour silence in heaven at the opening of the 7th seal and prior to the sounding of the 7th trumpet Heaven, the place of angelic adoration, worship and singing by the redeemed and the sound of eternal praise comes to a total silence. The sound track of heaven is silenced for half an hour. This deadly silence separates chapters 8 and 9 of Revelation from all that precedes. Here are a series of judgments about to be poured out upon the earth which has qualitatively and quantitatively distinct from all that precede them. These judgments unleash not only death and judgment from the sphere of nature, as did the losing of the 7 seals but these trumpets announce, directly and deliberately the unleashing of all the power of heaven (Revelation chapter 8) and of hell (Revelation chapter 9). Destruction now will be on a scale hitherto unrealised and unwitnessed. Here also is 30 minutes of Divine Grace from a God who is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance even as late on as Revelation 16:9, this remains the case. It is during these 30 minutes of silence that heaven is punctuated with prayers past ascended and long forgotten by those who once prayed for justice, judgment and vengeance. The prayers of God's people are not forgotten. The prayers of God's people do not fall to the ground unheard and unnoticed keep praying. From a message preached at Bridgend Gospel Hall, New Cumnock by Dr J Stewart Gillespie on Revelation chapter 8 vs 1 to 5 - The Silence of the Lamb Part of a verse by exposition of the book of Revelation, free to download audio and video.