Revelation 8 begins with the opening of the seventh seal that has bound the scroll. This is the climax of the first series of judgments. And the tension mounts as the seal’s opening is followed by a period of silence. It is as if heaven is holding its collective breath in anticipation of what will come next.
As the silence ends, seven angels are given trumpets, reminiscent of the Jericho story. But before the angels sound their trumpets, God responds to the prayers of the saints with a dramatic epiphany, similar to what Israel experienced on Mt. Sinai. As the next series of judgments (which are more severe than the first) are about to fall upon the earth, God is powerfully present in covenant with his people!
The seven trumpet judgments fall into a similar pattern as the seven seals — four judgments that directly affect the earth, followed by two more judgments, followed by a two-part interlude, followed by a climactic judgment. The angels sound their trumpets, heralding in Jericho-like style the imminent judgment upon the earth. But these judgments are actually warning-judgments, intended to bring rebellious humanity to repentance. To communicate this, John describes the first four judgments with images similar to the plagues that befell Egypt in order to bring Pharaoh to repentance. Also, each judgment only affects 1/3 of the earth. Interestingly, John combines images from the Exodus story with contemporary images that would evoke strong emotions from his readers. For example, the huge mountain that falls into the sea is an image of Mt. Vesuvius’ eruption in AD 79, which brought untold chaos to sections of the Roman Empire. Also, the fifth and sixth judgments describe in apocalyptic style the barbarian hordes from northern Europe, casting them as a demonic army with allusions to the locust swarm from the Book of Joel.
What is particularly significant about these warning-judgments is their results — although devastating 1/3 of the earth, these “acts of God” have no affect in bringing humanity to repentance (Revelation 9:20-21). Something more than these divine deeds are needed to turn hearts to God. And this sets us up for the two-part interlude in Revelation 10 & 11, where the contents of God’s scroll are finally revealed.
Revelation 8 & 9 have relevance for us today as we live and pray for God’s world. Many of us are crying out for God to move powerfully in our families, neighborhoods, relationships, nations and world. We are praying that God would move powerfully and bring revival. Even as we witness the catastrophes of natural and human-initiated disasters, we pray that somehow God would use these events to lead people to repentance. But these chapters show us that this is not enough! These chapters reveal that the coming of God’s kingdom from heaven to earth does not occur solely from God’s end. Something more is needed in the equation. The renewal of his creation occurs as God works in tandem with his people. As we will see in the next chapters, this is the mystery of the scroll.