By William R. Newell
Part One: Judgment
When the Lamb opens the seventh one of the seals of the book of judgment of 8:1, we read,
There followed a silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.
On the one hand, all vocal worship and praise wholly cease; on the other, there is not seen any creature activity, even in the prosecution of those terrible visitations from heaven so soon to be sent on earth. All is silent.
The meaning, it seems to me, is two-fold: “The steps of God from mercy to judgment are always slow, reluctant, and measured.” It is God’s “strange work,” this of actually proceeding to visit from a long forbearing heaven direct strokes upon men. In the seals of chapter 6 men slay one another. Even the fourth seal sets forth death by sword, famine, pestilence and wild beasts—God’s four sore judgments, but not such as we shall see under the trumpets. So there is “silence in heaven.” All the heavenly hosts will soon be engaging in actual warfare against earth. But it is God’s “strange act” (Isaiah 28:21). He “hath no pleasure in the death of him that dieth.” God is love.
Again, on the other hand, this is an ominous silence! It is the calm before the storm. God, the Lamb, the four living ones, the twenty-four elders, the seraphim of Isaiah 6, the hundred million and millions of angels, the Church, the martyrs beneath the altar—all silent. Meditate on this scene: it greatly grows upon your soul!
And I saw the seven angels that stand before God (8:2). These are mentioned as if we knew of them before. But, so far as I am aware, there is no previous instruction regarding them in Scripture. Over and over again in The Revelation such unexpected words are used—especially regarding the arrangements in heaven. For this book, as its name signifies, is a revelation. If John says
“I saw,” we, by the Spirit and by faith, also see. Perhaps Gabriel is one of these seven, though probably filling a yet special place. “I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God” (Luke 1:19, R. V.).
God is “the great king”; and He is surrounded as is described in Daniel 7:10, “Thousands of thousands ministered unto him.” We know little of that scene of ineffable majesty: let us treasure what is told us!
And there were given unto them seven trumpets (8:2). The trumpets were appointed in Israel by God for calling of the princes, and the congregation, and for the journeying of the camps, as an alarm, or public notification (Numbers 10:1-6).55
The trumpets were to be blown also in the days of Israel’s “gladness,” “set feasts,” and over their sacrifice in the beginnings of their months—“for a memorial before your God.” Jehovah also loved them (Numbers 10:10).
But we find an especial use of the trumpet, in arousing to war the hosts of Jehovah against their enemies (Numbers 10:9). Compare Ezekiel 33:1-7, where the watchman’s trumpet blown faithfully could deliver all who would “take warning.” But it was too late in Jeremiah 4:19 (for the Israel of that day). “Thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. Destruction upon destruction is cried; for the whole land is laid waste … How long shall I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? For my people are foolish … no understanding … wise to do evil … to do good—no knowledge!” What a state! And the prophet heard the trumpet of judgment.
So with these seven angels. They blow the very trumpets of heaven against an earth become “as it was in the days of Noah … as the days of Sodom,” as Joshua and Israel blew the trumpets against Jericho.
Remembering the angelic governmental control that obtains over earth’s affairs, until Christ and the Church possess the kingdom (Hebrews 2:5, 6), we are not interpreting but perverting Scripture, unless we believe these seven angels to be angels indeed, and their trumpets, trumpets indeed, and the results, results indeed, as described. God had priests blow ram’s-horn trumpets a week around Jericho’s walls: and they “fell down flat.” Of course it was God’s power that caused it. But God thus proclaimed Himself the God of Israel, working wonders, as Israel blew and shouted.
So will He do, on an earth-wide scale, as these angels blow their trumpets in heaven. It is idle to call all these literally described scenes by the favorite word, “symbolic.” Symbolic of what, pray tell us! Do you have a plainer account of definite things anywhere in the Bible than we here have in The Revelation?
It is true that we must needs know the rest of Scripture to understand The Revelation fully; for it takes for granted such knowledge. But when God declares that definite things follow—“by reason of the … voices, of the angels” (8:7, 13, R. V.), who dares say that some fact of history, or some imagination of the human mind, other than the plainly described event, is to be understood? Let us beware of finding ourselves finally aligned with the Sadducees who denied both angel and spirit (Acts 23:8). There are figures and “signs” (semeia) in The Revelation; but we learn from Scripture, not from history, or reason, what such things mean.
This angel is not Christ, who is the Lamb opening the seals, and directing these processes of judgment. The fact that this angel is at the altar, and has incense, has led many, in their very jealousy for the Great High Priest, to forget the vision of the Lord in chapter 1 as Judge, clad in the robe of the Judge, not of the Priest. The vision of chapter 1 must control all the book—“Write the things which thou sawest (the glorious Lord); and the things which are (that are on—Church things); and the things which shall come to pass after these things.” (Revelation 1:19). It is not a book of salvation, nor of intercession, but of processed judgment.
This angel of 8:3 is publicly to bring before all heaven three things:
1. That the prayers of all the saints are ever had in memory before God: a most blessed and solemn truth! No saint’s prayer is forgotten, but has its effect in due season, in bringing in the Kingdom, that is, our Lord’s return!
2. That the incense (ever in Scripture setting forth the power of Christ’s atonement acting upon God) the incense, I say, representing our Lord’s person and work at Calvary, added in due time to the prayers of all the saints, makes them instantly effectual before God.
3. That the prayers of all the saints, in the power of Christ’s atonement, is that which really brings about judgment. It is the answer at last to “Thy Kingdom come” which the saints of all ages have prayed. No other answer could be given, inasmuch as earth has rejected the rightful King!
It is of the utmost importance that we understand Revelation 8:3-5. This incense is “given” to this angel. (Christ would have needed none!) And it is God’s hour to begin from heaven that direct heavenly intervention which will be the answer to the saints’ prayers. Enoch prophesied of it (Jude 14, 15). Jacob waited for it (Gen. 49:18). All the prophets spake of it. Now, in Revelation 8:3-5,—inasmuch as its hour has begun to be, what caused it must be openly brought in and shown upon “the golden altar which was before the throne” (of God).
Now this angel takes his censer, and, filling it with the fire of the altar, he “cast it into the earth.” The altar of old was the place of substitutionary atonement, and the fire represented the judgment of a holy God upon sin visited upon a sacrifice rather than the sinner. Here it is reversed. When the censer is cast into the earth, there follow thunders, and voices, and lightnings, and an earthquake” (8:5, R.V.).
Notice first, that the “scientific” explanation of the “processes of nature” utterly fail—thunders precede lightnings!
Again, voices, intelligent, significant, warning, come between the thunders and the lightnings.
And finally all these are physical disturbances. The earthquake is a real earthquake: one of God’s constant ways of arousing men.
When we proceed to what follows each trumpet, things will be simple, if we but believe what is written.
Four of the Seven Trumpets 8:6-13
These seven presence-angels, having waited until the incense (the power of Christ’s sacrificial work) and the prayers of all the saints should be formally presented before God (8:3-5) as the means of direct judgment from heaven upon men (as before these were the means of salvation) are now ready to act. Until this time the judgments have been preliminary and indirect: now we shall see direct visitations from heaven upon men.56
Now this is a book of revelation we are reading. And it is not sealed (22:10). Therefore we have just read an exact description of what will take place! If you should read to someone an account of the seventh plague in Egypt, from Exodus 9:18-26, he would hear such words as these:
“I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail, such as hath not been in Egypt since the day it was founded even until now … Jehovah sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down into the earth … so there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous, such as had not been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation … Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, was there no hail.”
Now if your hearer should say, “I believe that literally happened, just as related,” you would reply: “Certainly. God does not speak in a riddle; all this happened in Egypt.” But if you then read him what God says will happen when the first angel blows his trumpet in Revelation 8:7: “hail and fire, mingled with blood … cast upon the earth,” and he declares, “That is not literal hail or fire or blood,” your only proper course would be to call him a doubter, a caviller at God’s plain statements. He might reply, “The book of Revelation is full of ‘symbols’—you cannot take it literally as you do Exodus.”
Your true course then would be to show him, in all meekness, but with all firmness, that if God does not mean what He says here, no one on earth can tell what He means! When God uses emblems, or “signs,” as, for example, the two evil women, Jezebel in Thyatira, and the harlot on the Beast in chapter 17, God tells what He means. But when God says that such and such exuents will take place, they will take place! It is folly to pretend that the trumpet-judgments have already been “fulfilled in Church history.” God says John here was beholding the things that should come to pass after Church things (4:1).
Tell me, when was exactly one third of this earth burnt, so that the grass and the trees were destroyed? History has no record of such an event!
But it will occur, literally! And the very inventions that help geographers to chart this earth (and there are many), will enable the men living in the days of the Seventh Angel quickly to compute that one third of the earth has been affected by this great judgment.
One third! Three is the divine number (as all Bible students know) and four is the earth-number.
Now under the first four trumpets, we read the words “a third” twelve times! And twelve is God’s governmental number concerning this earth.
Manifestly, to understand this, we have only to believe it. Unbelief is the greatest enemy of prophecy.
Also, it is idle to talk about this “third part” as “the Roman earth.” What but your imagination ever told you such a thing? These judgments are world-wide (as is plainly seen from verse 12, where the sun is smitten). Is there a “Roman” sun?
God says a third part of the sea will become blood. God will do this: and will let all the earth know three things: (1) That it is a heavenly judgment, by the loud blast of the angel’s trumpet; (2) that a great body like a burning mountain has been cast into the sea; (3) that just one third—God’s number—of the sea becomes, like the river Nile under Moses’ rod, blood. And the lines of it will be absolutely denned in the ocean, that men may know it is God’s hand that is at work.
For example, now the Gulf Stream flows, a great sea-river, many miles in width, with a color so marked that a ship’s bow enters it with the stern plainly back in the common ocean. Also, it keeps on its distinct way clear across the Atlantic.
And it will not be difficult for the nations to ascertain that one third of their ships have been “destroyed.” Louder and louder are the divine voices which should awake men. “When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9). But many perish under the judgments!
Wormwood is the bitterest shrub known. Several varieties are found in the East, and in Syria and Palestine. It would be easy for any one to understand what the Seer meant. “The star is called Wormwood.” Men are reaping the bitter fruits of sin; and they know that heaven is sending these troubles upon them.
It should be carefully noted, that the order of these first four trumpet-judgments is the same as that of the bowls of wrath in chapter 16. (1) Earth; (2) Sea; (3) Rivers and fountains of waters; (4) The Sun.
Men get their water supply from the rivers of earth, and from the “fountains of waters”—which sometimes flow from the snows and glaciers of the mountains, and sometimes become the underground sources of springs and wells. To cut off their “water supply” is to render men desperate and helpless. The greater part of earth’s inhabitants (Matthew 7:13—“wide is the gate”) is evermore hastening on to “the pit wherein is no water” (Zechariah 9:11). What wonder, then, that God now lets them have a hint of what is coming! The day was, that “all the Egyptians digged around about the river for water to drink; for they could not drink of the water of the river.” Then God let them find water—though at great labor. And here in The Revelation He smites only a third of the sources of their drinking water.
As we before quoted: “The steps of God from mercy to judgment are always slow, reluctant, and measured.”
But now comes a stroke that even the lowest and least of men can, and must, recognize and interpret:
On the fourth day of creation God said, “Let there be light bearers (Hebrew—maorim) in the firmament of heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years.” Men’s almanacs deal with seasons, days and years: but God said these heavenly bodies were primarily for Signs!
“And there shall be signs in the sun and moon and stars,” Christ, the Creator of them, said (Luke 21:25) speaking in connection with His own second coming.
Revelation 8:12 will surely set the “star-gazers” on their heads! There is the loud blast of a heavenly trumpet, and lo! out goes the sun! And the daylight turns into night. And such night! No stars, no moon, just black, impenetrable darkness. Then lo! again the sun shines. And when men compute the duration of it, they find again that third—ominous indeed to those who know not, and who desire not to know God.
Our Lord tells us plainly that “the powers of the heavens shall be shaken”—evidently referring to such physical powers as the so-called laws of gravitation, and celestial attraction: for the “distress of nations” referred to in Luke 21:25, 26, is terror arising from “the roaring of the sea and the billows.” They will be “in perplexity” (R. V.), for no science will be able to explain these things.
All their confidence has been in “all things continuing as they were”—in the “fixity of nature’s laws,” etc., etc. Now all is overset. And, the Lord continued, “men will be fainting (or expiring) for fear, and for expectation of the things which are coming on the world.”57
Then, indeed, to Israel’s sealed remnant, such Psalms as 46 will be a source of confidence that will be unknown except to God’s own: “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth do change, And though the mountains be shaken into the heart of the seas; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, Though the mountains tremble with the swelling thereof.”
But now in Revelation 8:13 comes the great eagle’s announcement of the three woes that trumpets five, six and seven, will usher in chapter 9.
The warning is that trumpets five, six and seven will bring a new quality and degree of divine displeasure and consequent disaster. We shall see the first woe in the locusts (9:1-11); the second, in the Euphratean horsemen and hosts (9:13-21) and the plagues wherewith the two witnesses (11:5, 6) smite the earth. The third we see in the handing over of the earth to the Beast-worship of chapter 13—worst by far, of all!
55 Numbers 10:7 is interesting indeed to one who knows the real hope of the Church: “When the assembly is to be gathered together, ye shall blow, but ye shall not sound an alarm!”
56 It is probable that these trumpet-blasts will be heard on earth; and that all the world will know whence these troubles come. In 16:9 we read “they blasphemed the name of God who hath the power over these plagues” (the bowls of wrath). Men will know what is going on. The heaven, under the sixth seal (6:14) “was removed as a scroll when it is rolled up.” We cannot avoid the conclusion that there will be at that time manifest knowledge that God is the direct Author of earth’s calamities. He will make men feel it.
57 We see from Matthew 24:29, that the greatest physical convulsions are to take place “immediately after the tribulation.” But the Lord’s own are, in Luke 21:28, told to be encouraged “when these things begin to come to pass.” The Church escapes from earth at the end of Church-things, in Revelation 4:1. But God has others of His saints, who will behold, and “lift up their heads,” in the dark days before The Tribulation, as well as after it.