GOD’S ANGELS ANNOUNCE HIS WRATH IN RESPONSE TO THE IMPRECATORY PRAYERS OFFERED UP IN WORSHIP BY SUFFERING SAINTS
Grant Osborne: The content of the scroll is now unveiled in the trumpets and bowls. The trumpet judgments form the middle of the three septets but are more closely related in style and substance to the bowl judgments. The seals are preliminary judgments that explore the depravity of humankind and demonstrate the necessity of judgment. The saints are sealed from the wrath of God and the judgments themselves but face the wrath of the earth-dwellers. The silence in heaven is an expectant hush awaiting the action of God, but that is not to be just an outpouring of wrath but God’s answer to the imprecatory prayers of the saints (6:9–11 recapitulated in 8:3–4). Thus there is worship (the golden censer with incense) behind the justice. . .
As some have noted (Talbert 1994: 38), there is a chiastic pattern in verses 2–6:
A The seven angels are given trumpets
B Another angel carries the censers with the prayers of the saints to God
B′ The angel hurls the censer with fire to the earth
A′ The seven angels prepare to sound the trumpets
Talbert (1994: 38) notes that in Jewish apocalyptic two metaphors of heaven predominate, the throne room and the heavenly temple with its altar. Both are utilized in Revelation, and both are combined in this scene, with the altar before the throne (8:3). Moreover, worship throughout this book produces judgment as well as joy. This is because God is characterized by both love and justice, and these are not separate but interdependent aspects of his being. Therefore judgment against God’s enemies occasions the same worship as does the vindication and salvation of his people. Here the prayers of the saints for justice are brought before God and produce the judgments. God assures his people that he does hear their prayers and act on them, albeit in his own time, not theirs (6:11).
James Hamilton: Revelation 8 meets at least four needs that we have, but these are needs that we often overlook.
- First, we need encouragement to keep praying. We need to understand the relationship between our prayers and God’s plan.
- Second, we often fail to make the connection between God’s wrath against sin and the ravages of nature. The fact that the world is broken is evidence of God’s righteous indignation against sin, and we need to understand this.
- Third, these judgments shout the glory of God. The severity of the judgments in chapter 8 are in direct proportion to the glory of the God avenged by these demonstrations of his righteousness and power.
- And fourth, we need to hear that our question, “how long?” is being answered by this book of Revelation with the answer, “a little longer,” and we need to be encouraged to endure.
So the main point of this study is this: the trumpet blasts in chapter 8 depict God hallowing his name in response to the prayers of his people as the holiness of God is visited upon the created order.
Or more simply, God answers the prayers of his people by hallowing his name and judging the world.
Warren Wiersbe: For centuries, God’s people have been praying, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done!” and now those prayers are about to be answered. Likewise, the tribulation martyrs prayed for God to vindicate them (Rev. 6:9–11), a common plea of David in the Psalms (see Ps. 7; 26; 35; 52; 55; and 58, for example). These “imprecatory psalms” are not expressions of selfish personal vengeance, but rather cries for God to uphold His holy law and vindicate His people.
On the great day of Atonement, the high priest would put incense on the coals in the censer and, with the blood of the sacrifice, he would enter the Holy of Holies (Lev. 16:11–14). But in this scene, the angel put the incense on the altar (presented the prayers before God) and then cast the coals from the altar to the earth! The parallel in Ezekiel 10 indicates that this symbolized God’s judgment, and the effects described in Revelation 8:5 substantiate this view. A storm is about to begin (see Rev. 4:5; 11:19; 16:18)!
Like it or not, the prayers of God’s people are involved in the judgments that He sends. The throne and the altar are related. The purpose of prayer, it has often been said, is not to get man’s will done in heaven, but to get God’s will done on earth—even if that will involves judgment. True prayer is serious business, so we had better not move the altar too far from the throne!
G.K. Beale: The placement of v. 2 before vv. 3-5 allows the latter to act as a parenthetical transition, both concluding the seals and introducing the trumpets. The transition functions on both a literary and thematic level. The narration of the trumpet series resumes in v. 6. John sees seven angels holding seven trumpets. The seven angels could be identified with the seven guardian angels of the seven churches in chs. 2–3.
The primary thematic function of the parenthesis in vv. 3-5 is to pick up and conclude the description of final judgment begun in 6:12-17 and 8:1. As already suggested, the temple atmosphere of this section is part of the OT judgment imagery, which includes the element of silence. Therefore, this parenthesis continues the imagery of the last judgment from v. 1.
(:2) PROLOGUE – TRUMPET JUDGMENTS ADMINISTERED BY SEVEN ANGELS
A. Vision of 7 Angels
“And I saw the seven angels who stand before God;”
Buist Fanning: In his vision John “saw” (εἶδον; used 14x in chs. 4–7) “seven angels” standing ready to serve God, whom John assumes were familiar to his readers since he uses the article: “The seven angels.” Jewish tradition at the time of the New Testament knew of seven archangels (cf. Tob 12:15; 4 Ezra 4:36; they are all named in 1 En. 20:1–8), two of whom are named in the Old Testament or New Testament (Gabriel; Michael). Perhaps it is these seven who are in view here. The mission of divine judgment that will follow is important enough to be entrusted to God’s chief angels.
John MacArthur: The verb translated stand is in the perfect tense, which indicates that they were in the presence of God and had been there for a time.
Robert Mounce: In I Enoch 20:2–8 the names of these seven archangels are listed as Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saraqâêl, Gabriel, and Remiel. . . Whatever the connection may be between the seven trumpet-angels of John’s vision and the seven archangels of Jewish apocalyptic, their role in the book of Revelation is to announce a series of plagues that is to fall upon the earth and its inhabitants. It is possible that they are also the seven angels who later pour out the seven bowls of the wrath of God (15:1, 6–8; 16:1; 17:1; 21:9).
William Barclay: That they were called the angels of the presence means two things.
- First, they enjoyed a special honour. In a middle-eastern court, it was only the most favoured courtiers who had the right at all times to be in the presence of the king; to be a courtier of the presence was a special honour.
- Second, although to be in the presence of the king meant special honour, even more it meant immediate readiness to be dispatched on service. Both Elijah and Elisha repeatedly spoke of ‘the Lord God of Israel … before whom I stand’ (1 Kings 17:1, 18:15; 2 Kings 3:14, 5:16); and the phrase really means, ‘the Lord God of Israel whose servant I am’.
B. Vision of 7 Trumpets
“and seven trumpets were given to them.”
Buist Fanning: There appears to be a close relationship between the seventh seal of v. 1 and the seven trumpets introduced in v. 2, suggesting that the seven trumpets constitute the actual content of the seventh seal. A similar telescoping or nesting together of the series of judgments is likely also in 11:15 where the seventh trumpet has no separate content but consists of the seven bowls that come in chapters 15–16.
Robert Mounce: The trumpets in Revelation, however, are eschatological trumpets. They herald the day of God’s wrath. Zeph 1:14–16 describes the great day of the Lord as “a day of wrath … a day of distress and anguish … a day of trumpet and battle cry.” In 2 Esdr 6:23 the sounding of a trumpet announces the day of judgment, striking sudden terror to the hearts of people. In the Apocalypse of Abraham (31) the trumpet heralds the coming of the Elect One to burn the wicked (cf. Sib. Or. 4:174). John’s trumpet-angels call forth four great calamities upon the physical universe (8:7–12), two demonic plagues upon unrepentant humankind (9:1–21), and the great proclamation that this world has fallen to the sovereignty of God (11:15ff.).
William Barclay: In the visions of the Old and the New Testaments, the trumpet is always the symbol of the intervention of God in history. All these pictures, and there are many of them, go back to the scene at Mount Sinai, when the law was given to the people. On the mountain there were thunders and lightnings and thick cloud, and a very loud trumpet-blast (Exodus 19:16, 19:19). This trumpet-blast became an unchanging feature of the day of the Lord. On that day, the great trumpet will be blown and it will summon back the exiles from every land (Isaiah 27:13). On the day of the Lord, the trumpet will be blown in Zion and the alarm sounded in the holy mountain (Joel 2:1). That day will be a day of trumpet and alarm (Zephaniah 1:16). The Lord will blow the trumpet and go out with the whirlwind (Zechariah 9:14).
This picture passed into the New Testament visions of the last day. Paul speaks of the day when the trumpet shall sound and the perishable will put on imperishability (1 Corinthians 15:52–3). He speaks of the trumpet of God, which is to sound when Christ comes again (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Matthew speaks of the great sound of a trumpet when the elect are gathered from one end of the heavens to the other (Matthew 24:31).
A trumpet-blast can be three things.
(1) It can sound the alarm. It can waken from sleep or warn of danger; and God is always sounding his warnings in our ears.
(2) It can be the fanfare which announces the arrival of royalty. It is a fitting symbol to express the invasion of time by the King of eternity.
(3) It can be the summons to battle. God is always summoning us to take sides in the battle between truth and falsehood and to become soldiers of the King of Kings.
I. (:3) TRUMPET JUDGMENTS ALIGNED WITH THE PRAYERS OF THE SAINTS
A. Vision of Another Angel
- Standing at the Altar
“And another angel came and stood at the altar,”
John MacArthur: Because of his priestly work, some identify him as the Lord Jesus Christ. That identification is unlikely, however, for several reasons. First, Christ is already identified in the heavenly scene as the Lamb (5:6; 6:1; 7:17), distinguishing Him from this angel. Second, while the pre-incarnate Christ appeared as the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament, Jesus is nowhere identified as an angel in the New Testament. Third, the reference in verse 2 to the seven actual angels defines the meaning of the term in this context. The angel in verse 3 is described as another (alios; another of the same kind; cf. 7:2) angel like those in verse 2. Finally, everywhere He appears in Revelation, Jesus is clearly identified. He is called “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth”(1:5), the son of man (1:13), the first and the last (1:17), the living One (1:18), the Son of God (2:18), “He who is holy, who is true” (3:7), “the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God” (3:14), “the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David”(5:5), the Lamb (6:1, 16; 7:17; 8:1), Faithful and True (19:11), the Word of God (19:13), and “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords” (19:16). If He were the One at the altar, it is reasonable to assume that He would be specifically identified. . .
That altar is the heavenly counterpart to the altar of incense in the temple, which also was made with gold (Ex. 30:3). It was the same golden incense altar seen by Isaiah in his vision (Isa. 6:6) and by Ezekiel (cf. Ezek. 10:2). The further description of this altar as before the throne assures John’s readers that the altar of incense was the earthly counterpart to this heavenly incense altar. That is evident because the altar of incense in the tabernacle and the temple was the nearest thing to the Holy of Holies where God’s glory dwelt (Ex. 30:6). Consistent with that identification is that fact that the angel held in his hand a golden censer, or firepan. In the Old Testament era, the priests would twice daily (morning and evening) take hot, fiery coals from the brazen altar (where sacrifices were offered) and transport them into the Holy Place to the incense altar (Ex. 30:7, 8; 2 Chron. 29:11; cf. 1 Kings 7:50; 2 Kings 25:15; Jer. 52:18–19). They then ignited the incense, which rose toward heaven, emblematic of the prayers of the saints (cf. 5:8).
- Holding a Golden Censer
“holding a golden censer;”
Buist Fanning: The angel is poised to carry out the ritual of incense offering (cf. Exod 30:7–8; Lev 16:12–13; Luke 1:9–10; m. Tamid 5–6) because he has with him “a golden censer” (λιβανωτὸν χρυσοῦν) or fire pan (Exod 27:3; 1 Kgs 7:50) in which to carry coals to the altar of incense to make the offering (Rev 8:3b).
B. Significance of the Incense
- Much Incense
“and much incense was given to him,”
John Walvoord: Though nothing is said about the nature of the incense, it is reasonable to suppose that it fulfills the same function as incense used in Old Testament worship, composed of the four spices mentioned in Exodus 30:34–38 and regarded as so holy that the people of Israel were forbidden to use it for any common purpose. The incense, speaking of the perfections of Christ, is inseparably bound up with any ministry of intercession, and the believers’ petitions are coupled with the worthiness of Christ in their presentation at the heavenly altar. This points to the necessity of praying in the name of Christ and to the effectiveness of such prayer when faithfully ministered on earth.
J. Hampton Keathley, III: In Revelation 8:3-4much incense is given to the angel which is added to the prayers of all the saints upon the altar of incense. The point is that the incense gives efficacy, meaning, and acceptance to the prayers of the saints because it represents the sweet savor of Christ’s person and work. Thus their prayers ascend upward into God’s presence, gaining His ear and answer.
- Mingled with the Prayers of the Saints
“that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints”
Buist Fanning: Judging from how the events of vv. 3–6 flow together, however, it seems correct to understand these as prayers for relief and vindication similar to those of 6:10.
Robert Mounce: To the angel is given much incense “that he should add it unto the prayers of all the saints” (ASV). The clause has been variously understood, but the major options are two. Either the incense is mingled with the prayers of the saints or the incense is the prayers. The majority of commentators and English translations favor the former alternative. The RSV translates, “and [the angel] was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints … and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints.” It is preferable, however, to follow the second option, which is to take the dative case in vv. 3 and 4 (translated by the preposition “with”) as equivalent to the Hebrew le of definition and to translate, “he was given much incense to offer, consisting of the prayers of all the saints.” This interpretation harmonizes with 5:8, where the bowls of incense are definitely identified with the prayers of the saints.
Van Parunak: In 7:10, the multitude in heaven declare that salvation belongs to God and to the Lamb, and in 7:11-12 the angels say “Amen” to this declaration and burst into praise. Similarly, we should understand the incense as the angelic endorsement of the prayers of the saints that we have already heard in the fifth seal. The saints have been crying out for God’s righteous judgment, and now the angel is endorsing that request. We are assured that God is aware of both the prayers and the endorsing incense, and what follows may be understood as his response to those prayers.
- Ministered upon the Golden Altar before the Throne
“upon the golden altar which was before the throne.”
II. (:4) TRUMPET JUDGMENTS APPROVED BY GOD
A. Enhancement of the Prayers – Commingled with the Smoke of Incense
- Offering of Incense
“And the smoke of the incense,”
- Offering of the Prayers
“with the prayers of the saints,”
Grant Osborne: The prayers here most likely refer specifically to the imprecatory prayers for vengeance and justice in Rev. 6:9–11, although the presence of “all the saints” here specifically may refer to all prayers in general. Most likely, the language emphasizes the imprecatory prayers within the general category of all the prayers of the saints. “All the saints” refers to the “great multitude” of 7:9, and within that category the martyrs of 6:9–11 are especially highlighted. As stated above, one of the themes of the seals, trumpets, and bowls is that the outpouring of God’s judgment is his response to the prayers of the saints. Here we see God accepting those prayers as a “sweet-smelling savor” (the meaning of the imagery of incense here). The mention of the throne of God stresses God’s sovereignty and power, thus leading naturally into the judgment theme of 8:5.
B. Efficacy of the Prayers
- Received by God
“went up before God”
Kendell Easley: The effectiveness of incense is measured by its smoke. This incense is potent and acceptable, for it went up before God from the angel’s hand. Once more we see that what the saints do on earth has a direct effect in the very presence of God. . . The prayers that had ascended before God are transformed and hurled back to earth. The mood changes from intercession to judgment.
- Released from the Angel’s Hand
“out of the angel’s hand.”
III. (:5) TRUMPET JUDGMENTS ANNOUNCED BY TERRIFYING SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
A. Telltale Sign of Judgment
- Taking the Censer
“And the angel took the censer;”
Buist Fanning: In dramatic and unexpected fashion, the angel follows his act of worship with a gesture of judgment that foreshadows the outpouring of punishment on the earth accompanying the seven trumpets that follow. In particular, the angel’s action of “throwing fire” from the heavenly altar anticipates the character of the first four trumpet judgments especially: they visit destruction on earth but originate directly from heaven. His three rapid actions in the heavenly throne room (“took,” “filled,” “threw”; v. 5a–c) are followed by omens of God’s appearance to judge the whole cosmos (v. 5d)
- Filling It with the Fire of the Altar
“and he filled it with the fire of the altar”
- Casting It Down to the Earth
“and threw it to the earth;”
Daniel Akin: The angel priest casts fire onto the earth followed by harbingers of impending storm and disaster. The cosmos trembles before the presence and power of its Creator. A day of reckoning has arrived: “The seven angels are prepared to blow” (8:7).
John MacArthur: Heaven’s half hour of silence is abruptly shattered and judgment resumes as a divine firestorm bursts upon this planet. The angel standing before the golden incense altar took his censer and, removing the coals from the altar, filled it with the fire of the altar. Then, in an act that must have stunned John and the assembled multitude in heaven, the angel threw it to the earth. The results are catastrophic, as God’s judgment falls upon the earth like a massive fireball out of the sky.
B. Terrifying Sights and Sounds
“and there followed peals of thunder”
“and sounds and flashes of lightning”
“and an earthquake.”
Kendell Easley: These four phenomena are also recorded as occurring on the earth when God revealed himself on Mount Sinai to Moses and the people of Israel (Exod. 19:16–19). They will all happen again twice more in Revelation (11:19; 16:18).
Gordon Fee: What this means seems clear enough, and serves as the source of the title of Eugene Peterson’s meditative commentary on the Revelation, Reversed Thunder, language borrowed from George Herbert. Earlier in 6:9–10, the souls of the “saints” are under the altar, where they cry out, “How long, Sovereign Lord, until you . . . avenge our blood?” Now, in another great moment in this book, this initial picture of warnings about soon-coming judgment is seen as in direct response to the prayers of the saints. Thus, as the prayers go up, great displays of a fierce storm come down, which conclude with a rumbling of the earth itself.
David Thompson: Keep in mind that things have been quiet for about ½ hour, but when this happens the people on earth will know serious things are about to happen.
Sola Scriptura: Because thunder, sounds, lightning and an earthquake occur in connection with the seventh bowl, some argue that the trumpets and bowls are synonymous. However, this is a result of ignoring the textual details and focusing on generalities. At this point, in the chronology of the Revelation, God’s wrath has not begun. Only the sign of its imminent outbreak has occurred.
(:6) EPILOGUE – TRUMPET JUDGMENTS ABOUT TO BE SOUNDED
“And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound them.”
Buist Fanning: Resuming the scene from v. 2 after the intervening events of vv. 3–5, v. 6 sets the stage again for the series of seven trumpet judgments. Once again we see “the seven angels,” and here “the seven trumpets” carries an anaphoric article (referring back to v. 2 where the phrase was anarthrous to introduce them to the scene). But the activity of this verse is purely anticipatory: they “prepare themselves” for what will come next, the actual sounding of the first four trumpets one by one in vv. 7–12.