THE INITIAL FOUR TRUMPET JUDGMENTS IMPACT THE EARTH’S ECOSYSTEM WITH GLOBAL CATASTROPHES IN PREPARATION FOR THE FINAL THREE MORE SEVERE WOES
Charles Swindoll: The first four trumpets sound in rapid staccato blasts, taking up only six verses. In contrast, the events surrounding the fifth through seventh trumpet judgments will extend from chapter 9 to chapter 11. The first four trumpet blasts will affect the earth’s ecosystem and atmosphere, drastically altering living conditions on the planet. The latter judgments will involve spiritual warfare that affects people directly.
Note that all of the trumpet judgments will be limited in their scope. The first four plagues affect only one-third of the planet (8:7-12). The demonic torment of the fifth trumpet is limited to only five months (9:5). The deadly spiritual attack of the sixth trumpet affects only one-third of the world’s population (9:15). The limits placed on these judgments remind us that God will still be exercising restraint in the early stages of the Tribulation [Day of the Lord], allowing room for repentance and salvation even in the midst of wrath. . .
The first four trumpet judgments, like the first four seals of Revelation 6, form a distinct cluster. They are loud, rapid-fire blasts that seize the attention of the entire world. Following these, however, three additional judgments will transpire. These will be slower, longer, and even more excruciating than the previous four. Before God unleashes these, He will make a bold pronouncement while He has the world’s attention. John described the vision as follows: “Then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in midheaven saying with a loud voice, ‘Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!’” (8:13).
In other words, the worst is yet to come.
Grant Osborne: The purpose of the first four trumpet judgments is primarily to disprove the earthly gods and to show that Yahweh alone is on the throne. By recapitulating the Egyptian plagues, God wants to make his omnipotence known to the world and to show the futility of turning against him. Each of these judgments addresses a different aspect of life in the ancient world and in the modern world as well. The first shows that the material world is no answer, the second and third address the sea trade, including food supplies, and the fourth focuses on life itself in the heat and light of the celestial bodies. The four together prove that those who live only for this world have chosen foolishly, for only in God is there true life. Earthly things turn on us, and we dare not depend on them.
John Walvoord: The interpreter of these and later judgments is constantly faced with the problem of how far to take the literal and the symbolic. The point of view adopted here is that these judgments should be interpreted literally as far as the literal interpretation can be reasonably followed. Though all questions cannot be answered, the unmistakable implication of these judgments is that God is dealing in righteous wrath with the wicked earth. . .
These very tokens of blessing and revelation of the glory of God are affected by the fourth trumpet. So dramatic are the judgments and so unmistakably an evidence of the power and sovereignty of God that even blasphemers on earth can no longer ignore the fact that God is dealing with them. Fearful as these judgments are, they are only the beginning of God’s dealing with the earth, and as indicated in a special announcement, three great woes are still to fall. Though it is difficult in this day of grace to imagine such catastrophic judgments, the Word of God is clear, and people are called everywhere to avail themselves of grace before it is too late.
Derek Thomas: The seals view the unfolding of the redemptive purposes of God from the point of view of the Lord’s own people, those who are sealed; the trumpets view this same reality from the point of view of the unsealed, those who are not the people of God. The opening of the seals brings great consolation to the people of God. The sounding of the trumpets brings great woes upon those who are not the people of God.
G.K. Beale: The first four trumpets: God deprives the ungodly of earthly security because of their persecution and idolatry in order to indicate their separation from Him (8:6-12).
Kendell Easley: The blowing of the first four trumpets devastates the world of nature as a warning for people to repent of their sins.
J.A. Seiss: We have reached a point in the history of the Apocalypse, at which everything stands in solemn readiness for those final blasts of judgment which bring the grand consummation. The last seal is broken. Heaven is in suspense to see the result. The prayers of all the saints have come up with acceptance before God, who has promised to avenge them. The coals and ashes of holy indignation have dropped from the golden censer to lodge upon the doomed world. In short, the time has come for the action of the great day to be hurried to its completion. May the Lord Almighty give us grace to contemplate the awful scenes foreshown, as becomes both the subject and ourselves!
I. (:7) FIRST TRUMPET JUDGMENT – HAIL AND FIRE MIXED WITH BLOOD –
GOD IS SOVEREIGN IN JUDGMENT OVER THE EARTH’S VEGETATION
A. Sounding of the Trumpet
“And the first sounded,”
B. Specific Judgment
“and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood,
and they were thrown to the earth;”
Grant Osborne: Hail is a frequent judgment in the OT but, interestingly, in the NT occurs only in Revelation. In Josh. 10:11 God casts “huge hailstones” on the Amorite army, and in Job 38:22–23 God tells Job that he reserves “storehouses of hail” for his enemies. Several psalms celebrate God’s use of hail in the plagues (Ps. 78:47; 105:32–33) and his control of “lightning and hail” (148:8). In summary, hailstorms are a common element in the judgment theme in the OT.
C. Severe Devastation
- On the Earth
“and a third of the earth was burned up,”
Sola Scriptura: “a third of the earth” – is clearly a defining trait of the trumpet judgments which should not be overlooked or generalized. This point clearly distinguishes the trumpet judgments from the seals and bowls. Only those who wish to ignore textual details while overly pressing generalities would equate the seals, trumpets and bowls.
- On the Trees
“and a third of the trees were burned up,”
J. Hampton Keathley, III: As has often been pointed out, it would be very inconsistent to understand these judgments symbolically and interpret the plagues in Egypt plainly and actually. The judgment of the first trumpet presents a grim picture of devastation on the vegetation of the world.
- On the Green Grass
“and all the green grass was burned up.”
Buist Fanning: The trumpet blast signals the onslaught of a preternatural barrage of “hail and fire mixed with blood” that was “thrown onto the earth.” This judgment follows the pattern of the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24, fire and sulfur), the seventh plague on Egypt (Exod 9:23–24, hail and fire), and Ezekiel’s visions of Jerusalem’s destruction (Ezek 10:2, fire) and of God’s defeat of Gog and Magog (Ezek 38:22, pestilence, blood, hail, fire, sulfur). The earlier Old Testament judgments from God were destructive but localized. The pattern will be intensified in this end-time replication by being more widespread, as the final clauses of v. 7 indicate (one-third of the earth, trees, all the grass). This proportion perhaps mirrors Old Testament prophetic models as well, and while it represents an escalation over the “one-fourth” of the earth affected by the fourth seal (6:8), it is nonetheless an indication that the final, greatest cataclysm is still to come (e.g., 16:3). The verb phrase “burned up” (κατεκάη) used three times in the final clause of v. 7 carries the strong sense of “consume by fire, destroy by burning,” and the Old Testament parallels cited earlier (Sodom and Gomorrah, Jerusalem) make it difficult to minimize the catastrophic damage described in this verse. The burning of “all the green grass” adds to the severity of this blow to the earth and its inhabitants.
II. (:8-9) SECOND TRUMPET JUDGMENT – BURNING MOUNTAIN THROWN INTO THE SEA —
GOD IS SOVEREIGN IN JUDGMENT OVER THE SEAS AND COMMERCE
A. (:8a) Sounding of the Trumpet
“And the second angel sounded,”
B. (:8b) Specific Judgment
“and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea;”
John MacArthur: This is evidently a giant meteorite or asteroid, surrounded by flaming gases set ablaze by the friction of the earth’s atmosphere, on a collision course with the earth. The current doomsday scenarios about an asteroid hitting the earth will come true with a vengeance. Everyone will see it, either live or on television, and as the world’s telescopes see it coming, many predictions will no doubt be made about whether it will hit the earth or not. It will hit, striking somewhere in the world’s oceans with an explosive power far greater than that of an atomic bomb. Because all the world’s oceans are connected, the devastation from that hit will spread across one-third of the ocean waters, causing a third of the sea to become blood. . .
The impact will also generate unimaginably huge tsunamis (tidal waves). Those giant waves will destroy a third of the ships on the world’s oceans, capsizing huge ocean-going vessels and completely swamping ports. The resulting disruption of commerce and transportation will cause economic chaos.
Grant Osborne: It might picture a meteorite with the imagery of a burning mountain falling into the sea. The image of the goddess Diana (Artemis) in the great temple at Ephesus (one of the seven wonders of the world) was apparently a meteorite (cf. Acts 19:35), and it was thought that meteors were a sign of direct action on the part of the gods.
Kendell Easley: People in John’s day were familiar with volcanoes. (Mount Vesuvius had erupted in A.D. 79, destroying Pompeii and other cities.) But what kind of volcano begins in the sky and is thrown into the sea? Only something directly from the hand of God. We aren’t meant to know the mechanism of this destruction. It is enough that he who created sea life on the fifth day of Creation now destroys a third of that life (Gen. 1:20–23).
C. (:8c-9) Severe Devastation
- (:8c) On the Sea
“and a third of the sea became blood;”
Warren Wiersbe: Considering that the oceans occupy about three-fourths of the earth’s surface, you can imagine the extent of this judgment. The pollution of the water and the death of so many creatures would greatly affect the balance of life in the oceans, and this would undoubtedly lead to further insoluble problems.
- (:9a) On the Creatures in the Sea
“and a third of the creatures, which were in the sea and had life, died;”
- (:9b) On the Ships Sailing the Sea
“and a third of the ships were destroyed.”
Buist Fanning: It does seem that this judgment, which so drastically affects the sea and its commerce (fishing, ship-born trade, etc.), foreshadows the destruction of “Babylon” and its commercial empire as described in chapters 17–18 (especially 18:21). It would be a mistake, however, to take this resonance with chapters 17–18 as the sole symbolic significance of this judgment (i.e., evil commercial empires suffering collapse at various times in history). The pattern of judgments like those that fell on Egypt—but in the end-times escalated to extreme and cosmic proportions—strongly suggests that the trumpet judgments will be supernatural plagues from God that have horrific natural effects.
III. (:10-11) THIRD TRUMPET JUDGMENT – FALLING BURNING STAR —
GOD IS SOVEREIGN IN JUDGMENT OVER THE FRESH WATER SOURCES
A. (:10a) Sounding of the Trumpet
“And the third angel sounded,”
B. (:10b-11a) Specific Judgment
- (:10b) Graphic Image of the Burning Star
“and a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch,”
Grant Osborne: The blazing star falls on a third of the rivers and “springs of water,” a phrase used often in the OT (Lev. 11:36; Ps. 104:10; 107:33) due to the fact that much of Judah’s water stems from natural springs. Water was scarce there, and so springs, both natural and human-made, were essential. Thus springs were viewed as a source of life, and that is the metaphorical meaning in several places, for instance in the “fountain of life” (Prov. 10:11; 13:14; 14:27) and God as “the spring of living water” (Jer. 2:13; 17:13). Isaiah 35:7 gives an eschatological promise that God would turn “the thirsty ground [into] bubbling springs” (cf. Isa. 41:18; 58:11; Joel 3:18). In Revelation the Lamb leads the saints to “springs of living water” in 7:17, and he gives drink to the thirsty from “the spring of the water of life” in 21:6. Thus its place here may be to heighten the great reversal of water as life to water as death in this judgment. In Exod. 7:21 the first Egyptian plague also turned the water bad, so this is a further replication of that disaster.
- (:10c) Targeted Destination of the Burning Star
“and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of waters;”
Warren Wiersbe: The National Geographic Society lists about 100 principal rivers in the world, ranging in length from the Amazon (4,000 miles long) to the Rio de la Plata (150 miles long). The U.S. Geological Survey reports thirty large rivers in the United States, beginning with the mighty Mississippi (3,710 miles long). One third of these rivers, and their sources, will become so bitterly polluted that drinking their water could produce death.
- (:11a) Identification of the Burning Star
“and the name of the star is called Wormwood;”
C. (:11b) Severe Devastation
- On the Waters
“and a third of the waters became wormwood;”
Buist Fanning: The (middle) English term “wormwood” is the name for a shrub or herb whose leaves are used in making a bitter-tasting medicine to treat intestinal parasites and other ailments. It contains a compound that is safe yet quite bitter in low concentrations, but can cause fatal seizures in higher amounts. That so much of the fresh water supply is contaminated in this way inevitably produces disastrous results for humans. John records that “many people died” because of the water. The added clause “because it [i.e., the water] became poisonous” (v. 11d) literally reads “because it was made bitter” (ἐπικράνθησαν), but the bitterness here is toxic. The Old Testament associates punishment for sin with bitter drink or bitterness that often leads to death (Num 5:24, 27; Deut 29:18; Prov 5:4; Jer 9:15; 23:15; Lam 3:19), and in this case the death-dealing effect is made clear in Revelation 8:11c.
Grant Osborne: As in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, poisonous water is divine judgment for sin and rebellion. It is also common to see here a reversal of the miracle of Marah (Exod. 15:23) when Moses threw a piece of wood into the bitter water, turning it sweet. The parallel is obvious, though it is difficult to prove that John had this in mind. Again, this depicts a judgment that would shatter civilization. None of us could imagine a third of all the rivers and lakes turning poisonous. All the scares about polluted waters due to industrial waste in recent years seem quite pallid next to this terrible disaster.
Van Parunak: The Greek word translated “wormwood” appears only here in the Greek Bible, but there is good reason to associate it with the Hebrew word translated “wormwood” in our OT. Both the Greek and the Hebrew word describe a bitter-tasting plant extract that was used to treat intestinal worms, leading to the name “wormwood.” This word first appears in Moses’ renewal of the covenant with Israel in Deuteronomy 29,
Deut. 29:14 Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath; 15 But with him that standeth here with us this day before the LORD our God, and also with him that is not here with us this day: … 18 Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood;
Here, and consistently throughout the OT, wormwood describes the bitter result of infidelity to the Lord, as Israel turns to idols. We have seen the pervasive temptation to idolatry that the society of Asia Minor posed to the early churches, and it is appropriate that God’s judgment on the earth include one specific to the sin of turning aside after other gods.
- On Mankind
“and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter.”
IV. (:12) FOURTH TRUMPET JUDGMENT – DARKNESS —
GOD IS SOVEREIGN IN JUDGMENT OVER THE HEAVENLY BODIES
A. Sounding of the Trumpet
“And the fourth angel sounded,”
B. Specific Judgment
“and a third of the sun
and a third of the moon
and a third of the stars were smitten,”
G.K. Beale: The allusion is to the plague of darkness in Exod. 10:21-29. The Jews interpreted the Exodus plague in a symbolic sense, as a spiritual, cultural, or mental darkness. The darkness here may refer to a series of divine judgments which plunge men into despair as it causes them to realize the futility of their idolatry and that disaster is rapidly coming upon them. Fear, terror, hopelessness, and depression may be their response.
Marvin Rosenthal: Don’t confuse the heavenly disturbance of the fourth trumpet (8:12) with the the specific cosmic disturbance that occurs inside of the Tribulation period with the opening of the sixth seal (6:12-13). There is no parallel of thought or language.
C. Severe Devastation
“so that a third of them might be darkened
and the day might not shine for a third of it,
and the night in the same way.”
Buist Fanning: This punishment is broadly reminiscent of the ninth plague on Egypt (Exod 10:21–23, a palpable darkness over all of Egypt for three days), but it also incorporates details from certain day-of-the-Lord passages that speak of the day’s darkness and gloom by citing its effects on the sun, moon, and stars (e.g., Joel 2:10, 31; 3:14–15; Amos 5:18–20; 8:9; cf. Ezek 32:7–8).46 The further effect described here (v. 12d–e) is similar to Amos 8:9 (darkness for a portion of the day) and different from Exodus 10:22 (darkness for three entire days). The blows result in complete darkness for a third of the daytime and of the nighttime: “The day did not shine for a third of it, and the night likewise.”
Charles Swindoll: Places in the area hit hardest by these plagues will have already lost power and deteriorated into desperation and despair. Add natural darkness to this situation and the result would be anarchy and chaos. Rioting, looting, and crime would exacerbate the horrors experienced around the globe.
Robert Mounce: the NT darkness is often connected with the demonic. Unbelieving Israel is to be cast outside into the darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 8:12). In 2 Cor 6:14–15 light and darkness stand parallel to Christ and Belial. According to Col 1:13 the saints are those who have been rescued from the dominion of darkness (cf. Col 2:13–15). The darkness of the fourth plague anticipates the transition from divine warnings to demonic woes. It previews that ultimate excommunication of unrepentant people to the punishment prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt 25:41).
(:13) EPILOGUE – WARNING OF INCREASE IN SEVERITY OF JUDGMENTS
A. Vision Continued
“And I looked,”
William Barclay: Here we have one of the pauses in the story which Revelation uses so effectively. Three fearful woes are to come on the earth when the three angels sound the last blasts on the trumpets; but, for the moment, there is a pause.
In this pause, the seer sees an eagle – not an angel as the Authorized Version has it. It is quite possible that the Greek could mean ‘one solitary eagle’. The expression ‘mid-heaven’ means the highest point of the sky, that part where the sun is at midday. Here we have a dramatic and eerie picture of an empty sky and a solitary eagle winging its way across its highest point, forewarning of the doom to come.
Again, John is using an idea which is not new. We have the same picture in 2 Baruch. When the writer of that book has seen his vision and wants to send it to the Jews exiled in Babylon by the waters of the Euphrates, he goes on: ‘And I called the eagle and spake these words unto it: “The Most High hath made you that you should be higher than all birds. Now go, and tarry not in any place, nor enter a nest, nor settle on any tree, till you have passed over the breadth of the many waters of the river Euphrates, and have gone to the people that dwell there, and cast down to them this letter” ‘ (2 Baruch 77:21–2).
B. Verbal Woes Proclaimed by Flying Eagle
- Eagle Appears
“and I heard an eagle flying in midheaven,”
- Eagle Loudly Proclaims 3 Remaining Woes
“saying with a loud voice,
‘Woe, woe, woe, to those who dwell on the earth,
because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels
who are about to sound!’”
James Hamilton: The angel pronounces one woe for each of the three trumpets, and notice that the woes are directed at “those who dwell on the earth,” the earth-dwellers. These are people who live for this world. These are people who are not concerned with God and his purposes. God will judge them for their refusal to honor him as God and give thanks to him.
Buist Fanning: Most prominent in this part of the vision is what John “heard” (as in 5:11), “an eagle” heralding the impending distress that will accompany the final three trumpets. The eagle is a common image for swift, overwhelming destruction (e.g., Deut 28:49; Jer 4:13; Lam 4:19; Hos 8:1; Hab 1:8), and an eagle “flying high in the sky” implies its ability to swoop down at will on unsuspecting and vulnerable targets. The eagle here, however, gives loud warning of the intense distress that will come soon with the threefold exclamation, “woe, woe, woe.” Such “woes” are pronounced also in the Old Testament (e.g., 1 Sam 4:7–8; Isa 1:4, 24; Jer 4:13; Zeph 2:5; see the double “woe, woe” in Ezek 16:23; Amos 5:16) and frequently by Jesus as well (e.g., Luke 6:24–26). Here the triple lament is pronounced regarding “those who live on the earth,” a frequent description in Revelation referring to the world of humanity opposed to God, whom God will judge by these woes. The threefold exclamation intensifies the emotional expression, but it also provides the structure for grouping the final three trumpet judgments together. The threefold structure is introduced here and reiterated in 9:12 and 11:14. The “trumpet blasts” by the three remaining angels are the reason for these cries of lament.
John MacArthur: Woe is used throughout Scripture, as an expression of judgment, destruction, and condemnation (cf. Num. 21:29; 1 Sam. 4:7–8; Job 10:15; Ps. 120:5; Eccl. 10:16; Isa. 3:9; Jer. 4:13; Lam. 5:16; Ezek. 13:3; Hos. 7:13; Amos 6:1; Mic. 2:1; Nah. 3:1; Hab. 2:6; Zeph. 2:5; Matt. 11:21; Jude 11).
J. Hampton Keathley, III: “Woe” is the Greek ouai, an onomatopoetic term and a strong interjection of grief or denunciation. By onomatopoetic is meant the formation or use of words such as buzzor murmurbecause the sound of the word imitates the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to. So this is a very graphic warning of the nature of what is coming.
Sola Scriptura: The final three trumpets are characterized as three “woes.” These represent the worst expression of God’s wrath the wicked will ever experience on earth.