THE REVELATION TO THE apostle John begins with an inaugural announcement: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.” (Rev. 1:7). What followed the announcement was a loud and calamitous message of tribulation. The Four Horsemen commenced what is called the last days.
When Jesus broke the seventh seal something unique happened—after all the loudness and chaos that began when the first seal was opened, everything became still and quiet. There is no judgment specific to the opening of the seventh seal. Rather, it ushers in the next wave of judgments that will be unleashed with the seven trumpets and the seven bowls. John MacArthur writes, “When the Lamb opens the seventh and last seal on the scroll, the judgments of the Day of the Lord will intensify and expand dramatically.”1 Verse 1 of Revelations 8 connects the first two periods of judgment. The Moody Bible Commentary says, “The silence in heaven is striking.2 Silence in Scripture is used to depict submission and expectation.
“When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.” (Rev. 8:1-2).
During this half-hour of silence, seven angels appear, standing before God, and seven trumpets are given to them. These seven angels represent various ranks and orders: cherubim, seraphim, archangels, thrones, dominions, rulers, authorities, and powers. This is consistent with Jesus telling the disciples that angels will accompany Him at the final judgment (see Matt. 25:31). Another angel stood at the altar holding a golden censer or “fire pan.” He was given incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne.
The Day of the Lord will be a day of wrath, trouble, distress, devastation, desolation, darkness, gloominess, clouds, thick darkness, trumpet, and alarm (see Zeph. 1:15-16, 18).
What occurs next is often referred to as “the sounding.” It follows an ominous and reverent silence, no doubt meant to draw attention to what is about to happen—final judgment and the destruction of heaven and earth. God uses trumpets as a means of communicating essential announcements to everyone. The ram’s horn (shofar in Hebrew) produces a piercing tone and was typically used to warn of an approaching enemy or pending calamity, usually creating fear and trembling among the community when blown. Each of the seven trumpets that follow the opening of the seventh seal calls forth a progressive unfolding of specific judgments.
The Sounding of the Trumpets
The first angel blew his trumpet and hail and fire mixed with blood were hurled to the earth, burning up one-third of the earth and trees and all of the grass (Rev. 8:7). Marilyn Hickey notes it will fall in the same way fire and brimstone fell on Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:24.3 Hail is indicative of God’s divine judgment. Psalm 11:6 says, “Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.” This will no doubt cause devastating global destruction.
The second angel blew his trumpet and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed (Rev. 8:8-9). I was amazed to read of the destruction to take place during this judgment, including the sinking of many vessels on the water. God created the oceans to benefit mankind. But when man became increasingly evil to the point where God could no longer tolerate it, he caused it to rain for forty days, making the seas rise to destroy the earth, along with man and all land creatures. In the final days, God will cause a giant mountain-sized meteor to strike somewhere in the ocean with a force greater than that of an atomic bomb.
The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. This falling object is different from the meteor that falls at the sounding of the second trumpet in that it is a celestial body or “great star”—a planet or sun. A third of the water becomes wormwood, and many people die from drinking it because it had been made bitter (Rev. 8:10-11). Wormwood is mentioned only in Revelation 8:11 in the New Testament. It is mentioned eight times in the Old Testament. The characteristics of wormwood are bitterness, poison, and death. The effects of this falling star will be embittered water that is undrinkable. It won’t be a matter of tasting bad; it will literally be poisonous. Can you imagine the fallout from one-third of the planet being cut off from potable water?
The fourth angel blows his trumpet and a third of the is struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night (Rev. 8:12). John sees cataclysmic damage taking place. Unprecedented darkness occurs across the entire globe. John MacArthur reminds us that this eclipse is temporary, as God will drastically increase the temperature of the sun (see Rev. 16:8-9). But at this point in the final days blocking out the sun’s rays will cause the temperature to plunge over the entire planet.
Revelation 8:13 says, “Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow’” [emphasis added]. In essence, if you are still around things will become absolutely unbearable. According to GotQuestions.com, Woe means grief, anguish, and affliction. The three woes of Revelation are the final judgment God pronounces on the evil inhabitants of the earth in order to spur them to repentance. These woes are a time of great affliction for those who have pledged their allegiance to the Antichrist. I am reminded of the pronouncement in Revelation 4:8, when the four living creatures sing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” The phrase “Holy, holy, holy” is called the trihagion (Gr.), and is also found in Isaiah 6:3. This threefold recitation is saying God was, is, and will always be holy. If three “holies” refer to a three-fold holiness, how much more do three “woes” signify utter grief, anguish, and affliction?
In Part Fourteen, I will focus on the remaining three trumpets, which will bring a terrifying plague of giant demonic locusts, the release of four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year who were released to kill a third of mankind, and the temple of God is opened in heaven.
Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture references contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Bible (NRSV).
1 John MacArthur, Revelation: The Christian’s Ultimate Victory (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 55.
2 Moody Bible Institute, The Moody Bible Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 2011.
3 Marilyn Hickey, The Final Hour: Understanding What the Bible Has to Say About the End Times (Denver, CO: Harrison House Publishers, 2016), 189.