Here are my teaching notes from Revelation 8. You can search my journal for similar notes on the first seven chapters of Revelation as well.
Introduction: This afternoon my daughter Grace sent an e-mail about her five-year-old Elijah. Last night he had come to her bed about 4 a.m., in tears, saying that his stomach hurt and asking her to pray with him that he would feel better. She did so. A few minutes later, he came in again holding a small trash can and crying, “It didn’t work, the praying didn’t work.” Well, we all feel that way sometimes; and it’s true that sometimes the Lord says No or Wait. We have examples of “unanswered” prayer in the lives of Abraham, Moses, Paul, and Jesus. But the Lord has promised to answer all our prayers in His own way and timing, and Revelation 8 gives us one of the Bible most vivid pictures of our prayers and God’s determination to answer them.
Review: We can easily do a “thumb review” of Revelation. Just thumb through chapters 1-7. Chapter 1 is the opening vision of the glorified Christ. Chapters 2 and 3 are the messages Jesus had to John’s congregations. Chapters 4 and 5 take us to heaven and show us the convocation of worship that will herald the events leading to the Second Coming of Christ. Chapters 7 and 8 give us the “seven seals” that launch the judgments of the Great Tribulation. Now in chapters 8 and 9, we have the next series of judgments or catastrophes, signified by seven trumpets. These judgments will essentially destroy a third of the world.
Verse 1: Silence represents reverenced awe. Habakkuk 2:20 says, “The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.” This is like the silence in a courtroom before the sentence is spoken. It is a silence of shock and awe, of dread and foreboding. This must be the only time in history when heaven is silent. Until now, heaven has been continuously ringing with the voices of ten thousand time ten thousand angels. So far in Revelation, we’ve had hymn after hymn, song after song. Heaven and earth has vibrated with rafter-rousing praise. But suddenly every voice is silent and every instrument is stilled, and for half an hour no one makes a sound. You can hear a pin drop as a new series of judgments are about to be unleashed on earth. One commentator described it as ominous anticipation. Another as the lull before the storm. Suddenly the blast of a trumpet breaks the silence and we come to the trumpet judgments of chapters 8 and 9.
Verses 2-5: Seven angels are dispatched to bring these judgments; but there is another delay as the prayers of the saints still alive on earth are delivered to the throne like incense in a container. In the Bible, incense is symbolic for our prayers ascending heavenward. The suffering saints are no doubt praying heavenward for deliverance and help and for judgment on those who are so evil and oppressive. In response to these prayers, the Lord takes the incense container, fills it with judgment, and hurls it to the earth. This is one of the most vivid pictures – maybe the most vivid picture – in the Bible of answered prayer. As the incense contains collides with the earth, it produces a massive global thunderstorm and an. And that sets into motion the next seven judgments.
Verse 6: The trumpet judgments begin.
Verse 7: The first in this series of cataclysmic events is a supernatural storm that descends on the planet raining hail down from the sky like machine gun bullets and filled with lightning strikes and fire. The Lord has used this plague once before, on Egypt in Exodus 9:22-26 (although the plague in Exodus 9 as only a mild preview of the one in Revelation 8).
Verses 8-9: This appears to be an asteroid that collides with earth, splashing down into the ocean somewhere. We’ve seen scenes like this acted out in movies, but this will be for real. It will contaminate a third of the ocean water. If you think the Gulf Oil spill is bad, just imagine if a third of all the seas and oceans in the world were contaminated. (Note another similarity with the plagues of Egypt—the water being turned to “blood”).
Verses 10-1: Another heavenly body, maybe a meteor, falls on the earth and contaminates much of the world’s fresh water.
Verse 12: Here we have frightening anomalies in the sky. It may be that the asteroid and/or meteor attacks create a sort of nuclear cloud.
Verse 13: The last three judgments are going to be so severe there’s a special announcement about them. This is delivered by an eagle flying through the sky. This might be a cherub, for they are described as having the face of an eagle in Revelation 4:7.
Conclusion: There is an alternate interpretation to this chapter and I’m inclined to think it may be true. While these trumpet judgments might represent asteroids and meteors and supernatural judgments from God as I’ve indicated above, it’s also possible that chapter 8 gives us a modern, scientifically-accurate picture of nuclear war. Read back through the chapters. Hurling objects falling from the sky on sea and land. Widespread contamination of the seas and fresh water. Sunlight being obscured and blotted out. Though the world never conceived of a global nuclear war until 1945, this chapter gives us a vivid picture of such an event. In my own mind, I wonder if the best interpretation of this passage is as a nuclear war that breaks out between nations during the Tribulation. Recently Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned, “The greatest danger to Israel, to the Middle East, and to all of humanity, is the encounter between extremist Islam and nuclear weapons.” The highly respected editor-at-large of United Press International, Arnauld de Borchgrave, when asked if the world is more dangerous today than at the height of the Cold War, replied with a “resounding yes.” He said, “Nuclear terrorism, unthinkable during the Cold War, is now the most immediate fear of the experts.” The world is preparing for the return of our Lord!