Go to Verse 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.
"Silence in heaven"
This verse immediately follows Revelation 6:17 in chronological sequence. Chapter 7 is a parenthetical insertion between the discussion of the sixth and seventh seals, just as Revelation 10:1 through 11:14 is parenthetically inserted between the presentation of the sixth and seventh trumpets, and as Revelation 16:13-16 is inserted between the sixth and seventh plagues.
The sixth seal brought us up to the events accompanying the second coming of Jesus. "The heaven departed as a scroll . . . and every mountain and island were moved out of their places." Revelation 6:14. "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." Matthew 24:30.
At the sight of Him whom they have rejected, "the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb." Revelation 6:15, 16. "All faces are turned into paleness." Jeremiah 30:6. "The heart melteth, and the knees smite together, . . . and the faces of them all gather blackness." Nahum 2:10. Even the righteous cry out in amazement, "Who shall be able to stand?" Revelation 6:17. Then the shining angels accompanying the King of glory hush their singing, and there is "silence in heaven about the space of half an hour." Revelation 8:1. Never before has there been such a period of awful silence. Imagine the voice of Jesus then saying, "Those who have clean hands and pure hearts shall be able to stand; My grace is sufficient for you."
With this scene the final seal has been opened. The second major section of the book of Revelation has come to a close.
And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.
"The seven angels which stood before God"
John does not say, "And I saw seven angels," as if he is here introducing something new; but, "I saw the seven angels," as if we have already been informed of them. It seems quite safe and reasonable to identify these with "the seven spirits which are before his throne." Revelation 1:4.
"I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. Destruction upon destruction is cried." Jeremiah 4:19, 20.
According to Jeremiah 4:19, the sound of the trumpet is "the alarm of war."
The seven trumpets are located in the historical portion of Revelation, indicating that they are to be understood historically. So, in identifying the seven trumpets, we must look for alarms of war during the historical periods covered by the seven churches and seven seals.
And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.
And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.
And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.
Having been introduced to the subject of the trumpets, John's attention is momentarily directed to another scene in heaven. The view occupying verses 3-5 provides an overview of Christ's mediatorial work, which parallels the period covered by the sounding of the trumpets.
"And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound"
We now return to the subject of the trumpets. We have observed that these trumpets are to be understood historically, and that they outline the significant wars to occur after the writing of Revelation, affecting the civilization which then existed. We take the position that the first four trumpets describe the major military actions which brought about the end of the Roman Empire in the West. For a general overview of the barbarian invasions see comments on the ten horns of Daniel 7:7. These invasions were described by a contemporary in the following language:
"At this time [c. A.D. 365], as if trumpets were sounding the war-note throughout the whole Roman world, the most savage peoples roused themselves and poured across the nearest frontiers." Ammianus Marcellinus History xxvi. 4. 5; translated by John C. Rolfe, Vol. 2 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1956), pp. 587, 589.
So the idea of "trumpets" being associated with the Teutonic invasions of the Roman Empire is quite appropriate. But not all the invading tribes were "the most savage peoples." Historical evidence indicates that, at least in the case of the Goths and the Vandals, these invaders surpassed in moral virtues those whom they conquered. (See The Character of the Invaders.)
As you study the trumpets, keep in mind the general theme of this section of Revelation. As demonstrated in our chiasm, here are outlined the major post-apostolic movements in heaven's war against error. How chapter 8 fits into that overall theme is explained in the section summary.
The first three trumpets are distinguished by the location of the attacks made. The first is directed against the earth (verse 7), the second against the sea (verse 8), and the third against the rivers and fountains of waters (verse 10). It is a notable fact that the first three effective military advances against Western Rome came in precisely that order. We will look at the historical details in our comments on each of those trumpets.
The items mentioned in Revelation chapters 8 and 9 are not generally symbols, as are the beasts and horns of other apocalyptic prophecies, which are usually accompanied by a "key," or explanation, of the symbol. These chapters are basically to be understood literally. Within that mostly-literal description, however, are found some metaphors, or figures of speech. When Malachi 4:2 speaks of Jesus as the Sun of righteousness, we understand "Sun" to be a figure of speech, a metaphor. Similar metaphors are found in Revelation 8 and 9. But, for the most part, these chapters, providing no keyed symbols, describe events rather literally.
The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.
"And the first angel sounded"
Going to history, we quote from Norman Cantor, Western Civilization: Its Genesis and Destiny, Vol. One, Chapter 5. Section IV, "The Disintegration of the Roman Empire."
"The first great victory against the Romans was achieved by the Visigoths at Adrianople in 378." (p. 243)
"In 395 the Visigoths came under the leadership of Alaric. . . . In 408 he attacked Rome itself, retreating only after he had extorted a rich tribute. The next year he set up his own puppet emperor. In 410, when the legitimate emperor refused to meet Alaric's demands, the Visigoths invaded Italy and even held Rome for a few days." (p. 245)
These were certainly advances on the earth, or land attacks, as the verse specifies.
Verses 8 and 9
And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; and the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.
"And the second angel sounded"
Continuing in our history book, we come to the following description of the next event:
"In 429 the Vandals crossed from southern Spain to Africa and fought the imperial armies there. After some success they were settled peacefully on outlying provinces. Ten years later, however, in 439, they confronted the Roman forces again and this time took Carthage itself. . . . The Vandals advanced against Sicily in 440. Finally the treaty with Rome was renegotiated, and this time the Vandals received Carthage and the choicest of the African provinces. . . . The Vandals took to the sea, organized pirate fleets, and cut Rome off from maritime communication with Gaul and Spain." (p. 246)
The continued sea attacks of the Vandals greatly weakened the power of Rome.
Verses 10 and 11
And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; and the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.
"And the third angel sounded"
The next phase in the disintegration of the Roman Empire as presented in our history book is described here:
"The greatest threat of invasion of the Roman Empire came not from the German tribes but from the Huns, Mongolian peoples who had turned westward after being repulsed by the Chinese. . . . In the middle of the fifth century . . . the famous Attila was able to organize a huge empire. Germans and Romans alike lived in terror of the invasion of this vast, primitive fighting machine. Until 448 Attila, the Hunnish king, was content to pillage the eastern parts of the Empire, exacting tribute in addition to the plunder gained by less formal means, but in that year his attention was directed toward the western part of the Empire. . . . He was defeated by a Roman and Visigothic army at Chalons in Gaul in 451 and retreated. He then turned against Italy, where, for mysterious reasons, he was suddenly forced to withdraw. Western Europe was saved from its greatest threat." (pp. 246, 247)
In fulfillment of this prophecy, Attila's raids were directed against the civilizations along the great river valleys of southern Europe.
And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise.
"And the fourth angel sounded"
We would expect this trumpet to depict the fourth step in the disintegration of the Roman Empire. If that is the case, let us see what our secular historian describes next in the sequence:
"The final point of decay in the position of the Western emperor came in 476, when the German general Odovacar became the ruler of Italy. Odovacar was from a small German tribe on the borders of the Empire and, like many such Germans, was an officer in the Roman army. He rose to a position of leadership when his soldiers made demands on the illegal but de facto emperor in Rome. When the emperor refused to meet them, Odovacar deposed him, with the blessing of the Eastern emperor." (p. 247)
"Odovacar established his kingdom in Italy and Rome, forcibly settling his people on the land. It had long been imperial practice to force the landowners of estates upon which troops were garrisoned to grant the use of one third of the land to the soldiers assigned to them. Now this system was made permanent, and the German followers of Odovacar settled down as permanent residents among the Roman inhabitants of Italy. . . . The city of Rome itself became no more than one of the many German kingdoms in western Europe." (p. 248)
The history of the first four trumpets reviewed
And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!
"Woe, woe, woe"
The last three trumpets are often called the three woes. They are discussed in Revelation 9:1-11; Revelation 9:13-21; and Revelation 11:15-19