Sunday, 27 December 2020
The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth. And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. Revelation 8:7
John just noted that the seven angels prepared to sound the seven trumpets. With that stated, he now says, “The first angel sounded.” The judgments of the trumpets have begun. In this, the eighth chapter of Revelation corresponds to the eighth letter of the Hebrew aleph-bet. The eighth letter, heth, pictures a tent wall, and it signifies “wall,” “outside,” “divide,” and “half.” It is a rich letter that bears the understood meaning of terror or dread as well as destroy. The obvious connection to Chapter 8 is that of the initiation of the trumpet judgments and their resulting terror and destruction.
With the sounding of the trumpet, John sees what was prophesied hundreds of years before he was born. It is that which was anticipated by Peter when he spoke to Israel at Pentecost. Next, it says, “And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood.” Various Greek manuscripts say more precisely, “mingled in blood.”
The result of this first trumpet blast is similar to the seventh plague to come against Egypt before the exodus –
“And Moses stretched out his rod toward heaven; and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and fire darted to the ground. And the Lord rained hail on the land of Egypt. 24 So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, so very heavy that there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation.” Exodus 9:23, 24
There are differences though. Along with the hail mingled with fire, John notes that it is “mingled with blood.” As a point of speculation, this could symbolically be representing the blood of the saints who were mentioned in the previous verses. The censer of incense was filled with fire and cast to the earth. As the incense represents the prayers of the saints, it may be an allegorical way of saying that it is their blood that is being avenged. Next, he says, “and they were thrown to the earth.”
This matches the symbolism of the angel casting the censer to the earth in judgment. That judgment has now come. With this thought stated, various manuscripts include after this, “and a third of the earth was burned up.”
With this stated, the question is whether this is referring to the entire earth, or the land of Israel, or a portion of the earth where the particular judgment is directed. It is a general word, ges, that can signify any of these, and the context is what sets the meaning. And further, it is generally inclusive of the inhabitants of the land.
Here, the context is not sure enough to come to a solid conclusion as to which is being described. However, it most likely appears that these trumpet judgments are directed specifically to the land of Israel. This seems especially so from the contents of Chapter 9. Whichever is correct, it next says, “And a third of the trees were burned up.”
This is explicit, but what the words “trees” is referring to can be literal or allegorical. In Judges 9:7-15, there is a parable where trees are equated to rule and authority. This is seen in Daniel 4:14 as well. Jesus speaks of the trees in an allegorical manner as well, such as in Luke 21:29. Whether literal trees, or whether they are allegorical, it next says, “and all green grass was burned up.”
Again, it is a direct statement that appears to be speaking of literal grass. And yet, a question immediately arises as to why “all green grass was burned up,” but only a third of the trees were. And so, an allegorical meaning may apply here as well. Humans are equated to grass elsewhere, such as in Psalm 37:2 (and etc.), and a set number of people is referred to at times in Old Testament prophecy also –
“You shall burn with fire one-third in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are finished; then you shall take one-third and strike around it with the sword, and one-third you shall scatter in the wind: I will draw out a sword after them. 3 You shall also take a small number of them and bind them in the edge of your garment. 4 Then take some of them again and throw them into the midst of the fire, and burn them in the fire. From there a fire will go out into all the house of Israel.” Ezekiel 5:2-4
“And it shall come to pass in all the land,”
Says the Lord,
“That two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die,
But one-third shall be left in it:
9 I will bring the one-third through the fire,
Will refine them as silver is refined,
And test them as gold is tested.
They will call on My name,
And I will answer them.
I will say, ‘This is My people’;
And each one will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” Zechariah 13:8, 9
With such Old Testament comparisons, it is hard to be dogmatic concerning the nature of what is being described. What is certain is that judgment on a very large scale is being prophesied. After it is accomplished, it will be understood exactly what John is seeing, be it literal or allegorical. However, what seems certain is that this is the time prophesied by Joel and was then mentioned by Peter –
“And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth:
Blood and fire and pillars of smoke.” Joel 2:30
Joel prophesied of a time of judgment to come upon the earth (again, it could be the land of Israel only, or the entire earth – the word can mean either) This was then quoted by Peter. Peter was speaking to the people of Israel at that time. The beginning of the fulfillment of his words came to them at Pentecost. However, Israel eventually rejected Christ Jesus and went into the punishment of exile. Now that they are back in the land, the prophecy of Joel will find its fulfillment. Peter’s words to Israel were –
“I will show wonders in heaven above
And signs in the earth beneath:
Blood and fire and vapor of smoke.
20 The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.
21 And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Shall be saved.” Acts 2:19-21
Taking the context (spoken to Israel while under the law), the events of Revelation make all the sense in the world. Verse 7:14 said (in a literal rendering), “These are the (ones) coming out of the tribulation the great.” It was an indication that the tribulation saints were coming and continued to come out by faith in Christ. The focus is on Israel during their final seven years under the law, and it is also inclusive of any Gentiles who are willing to accept the gospel and believe in what Christ did on their behalf. That is confirmed by Peter here with the words “whoever calls on the name of the Lord.” There is no time that is set. When a person calls on the name of the Lord, he shall be saved.
Life application: If the events described here are literal, and on a global scale (actual trees and grass), just imagine the result on the earth. When the plant life is so quickly destroyed, any rains will then cause mudslides and flooding. Food would then become exceedingly scarce and expensive, and disease will begin to run rampant.
One can see how the plagues of the four horsemen can quickly come to pass with just the sounding of this first trumpet. And yet there are six more trumpets to go. The world will begin a cataclysmic tailspin. Things will get progressively worse, not better, as the judgments unfold.
If the events are allegory, the horrors that are coming are no less terrifying. One-third of the leaders and the people they lead will be consumed. But what is seen as a terrifying ordeal is also seen to be a time of grace. Despite the judgment coming upon the earth, for those who call on the name of the Lord, salvation will result. Their physical bodies may die, but their souls shall be saved.
This is the purpose of the judgments. In them, God will judge the world for having taken a perverse path, but these judgments are also intended to wake up the world to return to the sound path offered through Jesus. God could just destroy the entire world in a flash. But He mercifully gives those who survive apocalyptic events the chance to turn to Him. It is reflective of the petition of Habakkuk 3:2 – “In wrath remember mercy.” The Lord does remember mercy, even in His wrath. This is sure because He took all of the cup of His wrath and passed it to His Son in order to redeem man. Peace with Him can now be obtained by accepting the work of Christ. Call on the Lord today. Call on JESUS.
Oh God, how sobering it is to see what the results of our sin are. Rather than humbling ourselves and being obedient to You, our Creator, we dismiss You, mock You, and only bring calamity on ourselves. Help those of us who have come to You through Christ to be lights to those around us before the great judgments that Your word says are coming actually begin. May we be responsible with the time set before us. Amen.