Summary: Deeper and deeper into the mystery being unveiled. This is not an elongation of history but an in-depth look at the final judgments already uncovered. Seems that all this is happening within 3 and 1/2 years.
The First Six Trumpets and the three woes
aka: the 7th seal
(8, 9, 10:1-7, 11:15-19)
A break (8:1-6). All 7 trumpets are part of the 7 seals. In fact it appears as though they can all be found in the 5th and 6th seals. The catastrophes of the first four seals are now intensified. The fraction of devastation is moved from 1/4 (6:8) to 1/3 (e.g., 8:7) in the first 4 soundings. Therefore they cannot overlap with the first four seals, but do seem to follow them.
Note that 8:1 is a period of silence, a break in the action. Perhaps we are being led to understand that the chronology of the Book has been disrupted. The trumpets do not follow the seals, and especially that sublime beauty around the Throne, just described in chapter 7. They are rather included inside of them. We are zeroing in on the climactic final weeks and months of the Tribulation.
(8:2) John identifies these sounding angels as The 7 angels that stand before God. Could this be a connection to the “seven Spirits of God” of 3:1 and 1:4? Seven spirits are before His Throne, 1:4, 4:5, sent into all the earth. And in chapter 9, seven angels stand before God, announce judgments, control other angels (9:14). Are they the same ?
Not just every angel goes around sounding a trumpet. These messengers are authoritative, and were known by Paul. When he speaks of the last trump, he is speaking of the same 7th trumpet which John heard.
The Golden Altar (8:3-5). Moses was told to make all things according to the pattern shown him on the Mount (Exodus 25:40). Part of that pattern was a golden altar of incense (Exodus 30:1-3) , a copy , a shadow, of the Heavenly (Hebrews 5:8). The incense that was to be forever offered from that altar, we now understand, is the sweet communion of the saints with their God. How He cherishes our prayers!
Though incense is said to be the prayers of the saints in 5:8, here it is the accompanying fragrance. In 5:8 it seems as though saints gone on before us are bringing our prayers to God. Here the means of conveyance is purely angelic. I think it not wise to build a doctrine of intercession around either of these two passages, or both of them combined, when no such doctrine has been built by apostles before this time. Our prayers are given to God. How they get to Him is only hinted at here. Suffice it to say that He Himself hears and answers our prayers. The mystery of the method will be shown us, perhaps, on that Day.
(8:5-6) But can it be that the prayers of (not to) the saints on earth, praying in the Spirit according to the will of God, bring about all these events? The prayers and incense ascend, and the response is fire from the altar! An awesome combination of noises and sights and sounds and actions are seen, and the trumpets of judgment begin to sound.
The first four trumpets follow the same pattern as the first 4 seals. That is, a significant fraction of life on earth (now 1/3) is devastated. Trees, the sea, the creatures in the sea, ships on the sea, the rivers, light from sun and moon...all are hit, and hit hard. The difference, as indicated, is that the seals seem to unfold the history of man’s hostility to himself, especially the greed of would-be world powers, while these soundings herald catastrophes of nature set in motion by the Creator, things outside the power of man.
Trumpet one (8:7). Hail, as in the seventh plague of Moses (Exodus 9:13 ff), is mentioned here first in the Revelation, but will revisit earth at the end of the 7th trumpet/ 7th bowl, in a mightier way.
Hail and fire together show just how Divine is this natural happening. God promised Ezekiel that the northern army of Gog (Ezekiel 38:22) would be judged in this way in what seems to be earth’s final pre-Millennial battle. There the fire is laced with brimstone. And yes, Moses witnessed a mixture like this in his day (Exodus 9:24).
John adds that blood, a fearsome plague in and of itself, will also be a part of that apocalyptic storm. Is this the blood of the storm victims? One third of all earth’s trees will be destroyed in this way. It seems that all of earth’s grass is being destroyed here too, but perhaps the text means that all the grass where the trees are being burned up is meant.
A more pressing question than grass is, which third of the world is intended here, and which fourth in the seals? Is this a sprinkling of people world-wide that will equal one-third or one-fourth when totaled? Or is there a particular portion of earth being removed all at once?