The Book of Revelation with commentary by Dr. Henry M. Morris and paintings by Ramona Lowe
The paintings are a work in progress and the finished pieces are highlighted in red on Page 2

Page 57

The Earth in Trauma 

(Revelation 8)

     The earth had enjoyed a brief respite from the plagues suffered when the first six seals of the great scroll were opened.  There had been wars and violence, famine and drought, and then tremendous earthquakes.  It had finally become so fearful that men had cried out hysterically for deliverance from God’s wrath.

     But then had come a reprieve, as it were, while the Lord had called and prepared His 144,000 witnesses from Israel.  From his heavenly vantage point John had seen prophetically the great multitude of believers who would emerge, partially through the testimony of these witnesses, during the remaining years of the awful tribulation period which were still ahead of them.

     The respite would be brief, however, and when the judgments began again to fall, they would be increasingly severe.  There was only one seal yet unopened, but it would unleash more fury than all that had gone before.

Silence in Heaven

     All eyes at the heavenly throne were now drawn irresistibly to the Lamb once more.  An expectant hush settled on the multitude as He prepared to open the final seal.  They perhaps did not all realize that its unveiling would set into action an entire series of further judgments, with mighty angels sounding trumpets of woe and pouring out great bowls of fiery wrath on the trembling earth.

Revelation 8:1.     And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half and hour.

     As each of the other seals had been opened, the judgments corresponding to them had immediately begun to act on the earth and its inhabitants.  The opening of the seventh seal, however, was followed by awful silence.  The angelic hosts stood mute and the resurrected saints watched in intense concern.

     Before this time and after, heaven and earth had been filled with sound.  The joyful noises of praise and singing had poured forth from the hosts at the heavenly throne.  On earth were the noises of battle and of nature in turmoil, with shouts of fear and blasphemy and challenge echoing through the world.

     But suddenly an intense silence – the only one noted in the whole book of Revelation – seems to overwhelm the whole creation.  It does not last long.  John timed it as about half an hour.  But it will seem like an eternity.  In fact, it gives opportunity once again for all to consider eternity.  Those in heaven meditate and pray.  Those on earth, somehow sensing the hush in heaven, must consider anew whether to repent before God’s judgments again bombard the earth or whether to harden their hearts yet further against the Lamb of God.  Many will turn in repentance toward God and faith toward Christ, and will thus become part of the redeemed throng emerging from the great tribulation, as John already had seen prophetically.  But most will continue to rebel and to increase in ungodliness.

     The silence in heaven, and the brief respite on earth, will not last long.  Quickly the cosmic drama gets under way once more.

Revelation 8:2.     And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.

     That the number seven is truly a number of special divine significance is again indicated in the fact that God has designated exactly seven archangels whose privilege it is to stand in His immediate presence.  The prefix “arch” means “first,” and these are evidently so designated because they, of all the “principalities and powers” in the angelic hierarchy, have first access to God.

     Angels are created beings, of course – not eternal, like God.  They, like all other creatures, were made during the six days of God’s creation week (Exodus 20:11).  They are not mentioned in the Genesis creation narrative, except by implication, as part of the “host of heaven” alluded to in Genesis 2:1.  But they are among the “sons of God” who are said to have “shouted for joy” when God “laid the foundations of the earth” (Job 38:4-7).  The latter, no doubt, were “laid” on the third day of creation week, when God caused the “dry land” to “appear” out of the primordial waters which had originally maintained all elements in a solution or suspension which was “without form.”

     In all probability the angelic host was created on the very first day of creation week, immediately after God had created the space/time cosmos and had set His throne in its midst.  This is the inference derived from Psalm 104:1-5 in particular.  There we are told that after God had “[stretched] out the heavens,” then He made “his angels spirits,” and later “ laid the foundations of the earth.”  Presumably, the seven “presence-angels” were assigned their positions at this time of their creation.

     The name of one of the archangels is known to be Michael, since he is called “the archangel” in Jude 9.  He is also mentioned in Daniel 12:1 as “the great prince,” and as “one of the chief princes” in Daniel 10:13.  He is said to command the vast heavenly army in Revelation 12:7.

     Gabriel is certainly another of those “first angels.”  He identified himself to Zacharias as “I . . . Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God” (Luke 1:19).  Gabriel also was sent direct from God’s presence to Daniel (Daniel 8:16; 9:21-23) and to Mary (Luke 1:26).

     The other five chief angels are not mentioned by name in Scripture.  Jewish tradition (e.g., the apocryphal book of Enoch) does suggest names for four of them Raphael (mentioned also in the book of Tobit), Uriel, Sarakiel, and Raguel.  One might also think of the possibility that four of these angels could be the four cherubim (or “living creatures”), since these latter are also always seen as in the immediate presence of God.  They were directly involved in the opening of the first four seals (Revelation 6:1, 3, 5, 7), so it might be that they could also be involved in the sounding of the trumpets.  This is unlikely, however, since they seem always to be carefully distinguished from other angels (e.g., Revelation 5:11, etc.; esp. Revelation 15:7).

     In any case, these seven angels are granted the privilege of sounding seven mighty trumpets, which will signal the unleashing of a series of unprecedented physical judgments on the earth.  These trumpets are not, however, the same as the “trump of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16) which will accompany “the voice of the archangel,” or the “last trump” of 1 Corinthians 15:52, which calls the dead forth from the grave.   Both the terminology and the effects of these other trumps are quite different from those accompanying the trumpets of the seven angels, though a number of expositors have attempted to equate the “seventh trumpet” in particular, with the “last trump.”

Revelation 8:3.     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.

     Before the angels began to sound their trumpets, however, John saw another still higher angel make his appearance at the altar before the throne.  This mighty angel was assuming nothing less than the role of the great high priest before the altar, preparing to present the intercessions of God’s people to God Himself.

     That this angel is higher than even the archangels is evident from his function.  He transmits the prayers of the saints to God on the throne, and thus, like the ancient high priest of Israel, is a mediator between men and God.  The priest’s role was symbolic only, however, for there is really only “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).  We are thus justified seeing in this angel none other than the Lord Jesus Christ appearing here in yet another of His many offices, this time in His gracious ministry of intercession, of conveying our own prayers to His Father, “now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24).

     The prayers, however, must first be purified and made fragrant by the holy incense, mixed with them and offered in sacrifice upon the altar.  But the incense itself is nothing else than the “odours” (Revelation 5:8 – same word in the Greek) “which are the prayers of saints,” contained in the golden vials held by the twenty-four elders at the throne.  The prayers of these saints are thus mixed together with the prayers of all saints (Revelation 8:3) and all offered in the fire on the golden altar.  Beneath the altar, in fact, John had already heard the cry of the martyred saints praying for God to avenge their blood, and these prayers also are about to be answered (Revelation 6:9-11).

     It is, in fact, reasonable to see in this scene the gathering of all the unanswered prayers of God’s suffering saints in all ages.  Before God, these prayers, offered in faith and praise to God even though suffering, have been “an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18). When Noah offered sacrifices on the first altar, after the awful judgment of the Flood, “the Lord smelled a sweet savour” (Genesis 8:21).

     It was all this that the altar of incense in Israel (Exodus 30:1) was intended to portray, as Aaron the high priest was to “burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations” (Exodus 30:8).  David cried, “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:2).

     God is pleased when we pray in faith and praise, and these prayers will receive an answer – perhaps not on the same day on which they are offered, but at least in that day which John saw, if not before.  “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Hebrews 13:15).

Revelation 8:4.     And the smoke of the incense which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.

     In the hand of the angel was a golden censer, in which burned incense with fire from the altar.  The Greek word for “censer” in this case is derived from the word for “frankincense,” the main ingredient in the divinely-prescribed incense used in the holy tabernacle of Israel (Exodus 30:34), an incense so sacred that its profane duplication for sensual enjoyment was punishable by death.  It was no accident that, in God’s providence, the descent of His Son from heaven was acknowledged by a special offering of frankincense (Matthew 2:11), for He was Himself to become the sacrifice burned on the altar, thence to ascend up to heaven on our behalf.  He is both altar and incense, both sacrifice and priest.  “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.  For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).

     Because He was the one sacrifice for sins for ever, our daily sacrifices of praise and intercession are acceptable to a holy God.  The smoke from the fiery altar of His awful suffering becomes the sweet incense which carries our prayers all the way to the heavenly throne.  In the hand of our great High Priest, wounded with the nails of our transgressions, are held aloft our cries of confession and petition, and God hears and answers.

Revelation 8:5.     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.

     The same golden censer from which the prayers of the saints are wafted heavenward now becomes a fiery weapon discharging judgment earthward.  The altar fires which consumed the divine sacrifice for sins now become the flames of God’s wrath on a world of sinners.  All who spurn God’s loving forgiveness must receive His righteous vengeance.  “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26, 27).

     Jesus Himself said, while still on earth in the days of His flesh: “I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?  But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I staitened till it be accomplished!  Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth?  I tell you, Nay; but rather division” (Luke 12:49-51).

     His fiery baptism at the cross has divided men into two great companies.  The one participates with Him in His sufferings, (though never in the same degree) and enters with Him forever into the kingdom of God; the other is offended by His righteousness, and even more by His grace, and thus must depart from Him forever in the fires of wickedness.  “He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an ungodly thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:28, 29).

     Those who are offended at the cross become themselves an offending plague which must finally be purged with fire: “The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:41, 42).  Furthermore, those who themselves have suffered because of their faith in Christ and their service for Him will finally, like the martyrs under the altar, see their prayers answered, and righteous judgment on the enemies of Christ who became their enemies because of Him: “Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you: And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-8).

     And so fire is cast to the earth!  This comes after a quiet interlude, during which most men undoubtedly will have hardened their hearts still further toward God, thinking that somehow earth’s brief respite from judgment had betokened victory over Him.  But now the silence is broken.  The first embers from the altar begin to reach the earth, in the form of a great world storm of thunder and lightning, but still no rain.  A fearful sight this will be, with lightning bolts crashing from the sun-filled sky and leaden atmosphere.  Atmospheric physicists will be called on to explain the strange phenomenon, and perhaps will venture some hypothesis that will calm the disturbed “voices” of the frightened populace for a time.

     But then another great earthquake strikes around the world, and the voices of alarm become more clamorous.  There had also been lightnings and thunderings and voices around the throne (Revelation 4:5), but these seem to be on the earth, to foretoken the great judgments about to fall when the seven mighty archangels sound their trumpets.

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