Revelation 8 Sermon – The Seventh Seal and First Four Trumpet Judgements
Bigger Picture / Seal Judgments Review
Today we come to Revelation 8 and the final seal judgment. Before we go further I just want to zoom out and take a look at the big picture again. Revelation gives us its theme in the very first sentence in the book. It is the Revelation of Jesus Christ. The focus of the book is not the seals, the beasts, the Antichrist, or the mark of the beast. The focus is Jesus. These things are preludes to the big event when Jesus is revealed to the world. So let us keep our focus on Him as we continue studying Revelation.
In the past couple of chapters we have seen the first six seal judgments. And Jesus is the one opening them.
We can see deception, war, famine, pestilence, martyrdom, and cosmic signs. There are different ways which some people interpret these and you may even get different ideas week to week here. But I don’t want you to mistake that for division because what unites is far greater than whatever would divide us.
What unites us? These are the things which all of us hold to and which are the most important.
- Jesus is coming again.
- There is a bodily resurrection, of the saved to eternal life and of the wicked to punishment.
- Heaven and hell are literal places.
- One day every person will stand before God in judgment.
- God has a plan for history and He is bringing His plan to conclusion.
So I would encourage each of us to be humble. That doesn’t mean we should not hold a viewpoint. We should accurately divide the Word of truth. We are seeking the truth. And we do so humbly, realizing that we are not infallible. But His Word is, so let us seek to understand it.
Revelation 8 – When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.
The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.
The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.
Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”
Before we get into the text, I want to highlight two things about the sequence of the seal and trumpet judgments.
Firstly, notice that the 6th seal is the first one that is clearly supernatural in nature. For the first 5, these are brought about by human activity. God is behind the scenes and is working things out according to His plan. At the same time an unbeliever could easily attempt to explain away these things as “coincidence” or man-made.
The sixth seal is different. It is cosmic in scale. There is a great earthquake. The sun was blackened and the moon looked like blood. Mountains and islands are leveled. It is clearly a supernatural event. So mankind can no longer explain away what they are seeing as coincidence. They must come to the clear conclusion that God is the author of these things. They clearly recognize it is God’s wrath, but they don’t repent.
This then leads into the seventh seal. Humankind’s unrepentance in the face of divine judgment means that more judgment is on the way. Let’s now zoom in to the text to see the seventh seal.
The Seventh Seal (8:1-5)
The Lamb opens the seventh seal – Firstly, we see that Jesus is once again the one opening the seal. He is identified as a Lamb. It reminds us that although He is now executing judgment, He is also gentle. Salvation is possible through His sacrifice. So those who face judgment are doing so by their own choice.
Silence in Heaven for about half an hour – When this seal is opened there is about half an hour of silence. This does not mean that time passes in heaven the same as it does on earth. John is writing from his perspective.
The silence shows the awesome and terrible nature of what is to come. It also increases the anticipation and focuses everyone’s attention on what will unfold. It may also be that the silence showed the solemnity and seriousness of what was going to happen.
Angels preparing for trumpet judgments – The angels then prepare to initiate the next set of judgments. We will talk more about this in a moment.
Golden censer / Prayers of the saints – Revelation contains many images that are foreshadowed in the Old Testament tabernacle and temple. And this is one of them. There is an angel with a golden censor and he offers incense together with the prayers of the saints on the golden altar before the throne.
A censer is the small container used to hold coals. Incense is then put onto the coals. As they burn a cloud of incense rises up. We see this description in Leviticus 16.
Leviticus 16:12-13 – And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die.
What we see here is that the incense comes before the Lord together with our prayers. Our prayers are like incense to Him.
Psalm 141:2 – Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!
So why is prayer described as incense? Incense is fragrant, much like a perfume. So our prayers are pleasing to the Lord, like a waft of pleasing aroma. What are your favorite smells? One of mine is vanilla. I love to smell the vanilla from baked goods. It’s pleasant. In a similar way, God delights in the prayers of His children.
And during this time period on earth, His children are suffering. They are being intensely persecuted and martyred. But God is not distant. He is there. He cares. He is listening to our prayers.
I believe that one purpose when God’s people face tribulation is to teach us to pray. There is nothing like total desperation to drive a person to pray.
What is interesting here, is that we see a direct response from heaven to the prayers. The same censer which presented the incense with the prayers is now filled with burning coals, which are cast upon the earth. From earth’s perspective, these appear as thunder, lightning, and another earthquake.
The lesson is simple. God listens. He responds. The prayers go up to heaven and and answer is returned.
Application: Let us be people of prayer. When things around us get worse, it is not the time to complain or give up. It is time to go to our knees and redouble our prayers. No matter how imperfect or incomplete our prayers are, they are pleasant to Him, because they mean that His children know that they need Him.
Seventh seal contains the seven trumpets (Russian doll) –
Here the seventh seal judgment links to the seven trumpet judgments. Opening the seventh seal reveals the 7 trumpets which are within. If you remember, the seals sealed shut a scroll. As Jesus broke the seal, the contents of the scroll were then opened, revealing the judgments within. Thus, the 7th seal opens the portion of the scroll containing the 7 trumpets.
We can envision this as something like Russian dolls. And you can imagine when the seventh one is opened that there are seven more inside.
We will see that the judgments are increasing in intensity as it moves from the seals to the trumpets. Whereas most of the seal judgments were the result of human activity, these are clearly divine and supernatural. The first four target the earth and it’s ecosystem. The next three are even worse. They are described as “Woes” and the inhabitants of the earth are directly targeted. After that, the bowl judgments grow even worse.
Four Trumpets (6-13)
Literal or not?
As we start looking at the individual trumpets, we need to ask an important question. Are these literal or not? How you answer that question is probably defined by the overall view you take toward the whole book of Revelation. “Is this literal or not?” is a question many ask throughout the book. And different takes on that question is largely responsible for the different views of Revelation.
In the following trumpets we see, hail, fire, blood, a third of trees burnt, all grass burnt, a third of the sea becoming blood, a third of living sea creatures dead, a third of fresh water becoming bitter, and more.
Are these things symbolic, or real?
I believe we should interpret these things in a literal way.
We should consider firstly if the Bible uses language like this elsewhere, and if it was literal or symbolic then. And when we look at that, we will see that it makes a strong case this should be taken literally.
A. Egypt –
Exodus 7:17-18 Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood. The fish in the Nile shall die, and the Nile will stink, and the Egyptians will grow weary of drinking water from the Nile.”
Here God said He was going to turn the water to blood and that the animals in it would die. What happened? He turned it to blood and the animals in it died. It was literal.
Exodus 8:2 – I will plague all your country with frogs.
God said He was going to bring frogs. And frogs came. Not symbolic ones. Noisy, ugly, annoying ones.
Then the dust became gnats. Actual gnats.
Exodus 8:21 – And the houses of the Egyptians shall be filled with swarms of flies, and also the ground on which they stand.
Then God said He would send flies and He sent flies.
We won’t look at all of them, but I will highlight two of the last ones.
Exodus 9:18 – Behold, about this time tomorrow I will cause very heavy hail to fall, such as never has been in Egypt from the day it was founded until now.
God promised to send hail. Then He sent hail. Bricks of ice from the sky, which devastated the land. If He said hail then and it was hail and He says hail here, then why should the hail be symbolic of something else?
Exodus 10:21 – Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.”
God said there was going to be darkness. Then there was an actual darkness. Not a symbolic one.
But this is not only the case with Egypt. We saw God intervening in the world with supernatural judgment many times.
- Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with real fire.
- In the time of Joshua, hail was rained down on their enemies and the sun stopped. Real cosmic events.
- The sons of Korah were swallowed up by the ground in judgment. Aaron’s first two sons were devoured by fire in judgment.
All of these things have something in common. They are literal descriptions of real events. I believe that here in Revelation when God is pronouncing these judgments, these are also real, literal judgments.
In a Bible interpretation course, I heard a phrase, I will never forget, “When the common sense makes sense, seek no other sense.” That means that the Bible should be read in a straightforward way. Unless it is clearly symbolic, then it should be understood in a real sense. That is not to say that there are no symbols in Revelation. There are. But the simplest and most common understanding of hail, blood, and fire, is that it is hail, blood, and fire.
And examining all of Scripture, we see God has acted that way again in judgment. It is reasonable that in the final supernatural, cosmic judgments seen in Revelation that He will do so again, and in even more spectacular fashion.
If it is symbolic, then it actually becomes much much harder to interpret. Then you would have to try to match hail, fire, blood, burning, the mountain thrown into the sea, and all of these things to something else. And that is very very difficult to do.
Now why is this important?
I believe that God tells ahead of time clearly what will happen so that when it happens, there will be no denying it. People will know that God has spoken. And people will know that He fulfilled it. They will know that God is God. And that fits with how God works.
Amos 3:7 – For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.
The more vague a prophecy is, the less powerful the impact when it is fulfilled. Nostradamus was vague and people are still trying to fit his prophecies onto events that happen. And sometimes they seem to make some sense. You can generally find some correlation if you are looking hard enough for it.
Some also try to fit the events of Revelation onto things that have happened already, but it can be challenging. But God does not need to be vague. The simplest explanation is that since we cannot find a very clear correlation in history for these things, they have not happened yet.
I believe that God wants it to be clear so that when it happens people KNOW, they KNOW it is God. Every last vestige of excuse will be ripped away. No other explanations will make any sense, except that God said it and then God did it. That fact in itself will give Him great glory.
A. First Trumpet – The first angel blew his trumpet and… Each trumpet blast is followed by a specific judgment. The trumpet is a warning of what is to come.
The first trumpet judgment brings hail and fire and blood thrown upon the earth. One third of the earth is burned up, one third of trees, and all green grass. The judgments now are worse than the seals. Huge numbers of people are affected. We don’t know if this is a contiguous land area or if it takes place throughout the globe. But at least some of the effects are felt around the globe.
B. Second Trumpet – John describes the next trumpet judgment as something like a mountain being thrown into the sea. Here we see divine judgment on the oceans. One third of them are turned to blood and one third of the sea creatures die. It reminds us of the judgment on the Nile in Egypt. Because John uses imprecise language, “something like a mountain,” it actually suggests this is to be taken literally. He was trying to describe something he was seeing, which he had never experienced before.
Some people try to speculate on what this will be or compare it to things we know of like meteors, nuclear bombs, etc. It is not necessary. The point is not exactly what this thing is. The point is that it is coming and it is coming specifically as an act of judgment.
Note that even ships are effected. Blood is a different density than water. So ships would float higher. That would cause many to capsize.
Can you imaging the horror of flying in an airplane over a stretch of ocean and only seeing blood as far as the eye can see? This is completely frightening if you are not on good terms with the Judge. All of these things make the fear induced by Covid pale in comparison.
C. Third Trumpet – The next judgment is on the fresh water. Every part of the earth’s ecosystem is being targeted. A giant object falls to the earth from space. It is something like a comet in that it is ablaze as it comes through the earth’s atmosphere. One third of fresh water in the world turns bitter. Its poison kills those who drink it. Such a change to the earth’s water supply would complete devastate many countries, business, the world’s economy, and lives.
D. Fourth Trumpet – The next judgment is on the celestial lights. We see the continued pattern of thirds. A third of the oceans and fresh waters have been destroyed. And now we see that a third of sun, moon, and stars were each struck that “third of the day might be kept from shining.” Very possibly that means that the time of day is cut short by one third so that the sun shines for eight hours instead of twelve. That would cause temperatures to plummet around the world, causing something like a nuclear winter. Many would die from the frigid temperatures. Others would be forced to spend all of their time just trying to keep warm an survive. All would know, the time of God’s wrath has come. He is not happy and it shows.
When I was preparing this message I was reminded of the song “It’s a Wonderful World” by George Weiss.
[Verse 1] I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world
[Verse 2] I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed days, the dark sacred nights
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world
But here we see it’s not a wonderful world anymore. The beautiful green grass is all gone.
Here we see the world becoming more inhospitable and barren. And it reminds us of how far people’s sin has taken them from God. In Eden, people lived in a paradise made just for them. As sin runs its full course, the very world He gave us is being taken away. It’s turning from a paradise into a wasteland as judgment against mankind’s willful and repeated rebellion.
Brothers and sisters, that is where sin and rebellion lead. Satan makes big promises. Enjoy yourself. Follow your own desires. You can create a wonderful world for yourself where you are king. It is a lie. An illusion. We cannot have a wonderful world outside of God’s will. This is where sin fully pursued finally leads, divine judgment.
What Does This Teach Us About God?
The world is being laid waste. How could God do this? What does this teach us about God?
Just – Firstly, we see God’s justice. The unbeliever might look at this and say, “God is cruel.” That is certainly what Satan wants you to think. But it is not the case. God’s original creation was “very good.” That was the paradise which He gave people. But people rebelled and messed it up. And the rebellion that began with Adam and Eve continues, and is getting worse. It is that rebellion in the face of all of God’s goodness that brings the world to this point.
People often ask, “If God is good then why does He allow suffering? Why doesn’t He just end sin?” Well, he will. That is what is happening in the book of Revelation. God is going to end sin once and for all. But you cannot end sin without judging the sinner. So first the sinners are judged. And then sin will be finally ended.
God is the “I AM WHO I AM,” not who people expect or want Him to be. And who He is, is just. The destruction in Revelation is not the result of a capricious God. It is instead an example of the Biblical principle, “you reap what you sow.” Mankind is responsible. And I want you to see and understand something. When the sixth seal judgment occurred it was the first seal with many clear, cosmic signs. When people were confronted so clearly with the truth that God is real and that God is unhappy with them, what did they do? Did they repent? No, they hid from Him. And they wanted to kill themselves rather than turn to the Lord.
Merciful – God’s mercy and God’s’ justice are often seen side by side. This is true here as well. God tells the world what will happen ahead of time, so that when it does they will know without any doubt that He is true and real. As we saw in the last chapter there are believers coming to Christ and in chapter 11 there are witnesses telling of Him. So these judgments, while painful, also serve as a wake up call to the lost. Time is quickly running out. Turn to God and repent before it is too late.
The message for mankind is always the same. Repent now. Today is the salvation. Don’t wait.
Don’t grow attached to this world –
1 John 2:15,17 – Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
The world is going to end. It is headed for judgment. The things we see don’t last. The things most people pursue; pleasure, money, fame, do not last. The pleasures of this world are fleeting. Security offered in this world is temporary.
Always ask yourself the question, “Is the work I am doing going to make a difference for eternity?”
Don’t put your hope, energy, and time to this world. Put it to the next.
In light of what is coming, what should we do?
Some say believers will go through it and some think we will be raptured first. I have heard at least five different rapture theories with different timings since we first started studying Revelation. Personally I believe the church will be raptured before this. However, I am not 100% sure and I hold that view “loosely” in the sense that I know I could be wrong. The Bible teaches the rapture, but the timing is not quite as clear.
The interesting thing, is that whichever you believe, the application is the same.
Get close to Jesus. Rely on Jesus. Build your relationship to Him. He is the only hope. Either He will save you out of it. Or He will preserve and strengthen you through it, giving you the courage and perseverance to face these things. Either way, He is our salvation. As Nate shared last week, “Who is able to stand these things?” The only ones who can stand are those who are saved by the Lamb.
Discussion Questions for More Reflection
- How does knowing your prayers are like incense to God affect your prayer life?
- How can you become less attached to this world?
- How do the judgments shape your view of sin? And of God?
- Bonus question (if you have time): Why do you think there is about half an hour of silence in heaven when the seventh seal is broken?
We want to help you study the Bible, obey the Bible, and teach the Bible to others. We have therefore created a library of almost one thousand (and growing) inductive Bible studies, which are available for free. This takes a lot of time and hard work.
Help us continue to create Bible study resources by supporting Study and Obey for as little as $1.