Pastor Scott Andrews | October 9, 2022
It was the French Reformer John Calvin who once wrote that “man’s nature [heart] is a perpetual idol factory.” That is, we are always producing idols to worship – replacing the worship of God the Creator with the worship of the things He has created. Many things for our good – but when anything becomes more important than God, the controlling center of your life, the last in a series of priorities to go, an object of worship, it becomes an idol, worthy of judgment. Paul said it this way in Romans 1:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, [why? how?]
19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. [we know in our heart of hearts there is a God worthy of worship]
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,
23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. [you see, we worship the corruptible things He created, rather than Him]
24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.
25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
God’s wrath is currently revealed from heaven, because humanity worships what God created, rather than the Creator. The very things He created which declare His majesty and glory – Psalm 19 says, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands,” – those very things we have begun to worship – because, the human heart is a perpetual idol factory. Why – why do we worship lessor things instead of the ultimate thing? So we can do what we want.
So then, is it any wonder as we get to the book of Revelation, we find God’s wrath poured out on even creation. What is the end of humanity’s worship of creation rather than worship of the Creator? Even creation itself, currently subjected to futility and corruption, will be destroyed – and remade. Now to be clear, part of the creation mandate when God placed humans on this planet, was to care for His creation – to be good stewards. And we have not necessarily done a very good job with that. Regardless of your positions on environmentalism, ecology, global warming and the like – we have done a good job of ruining – corrupting God’s perfect creation. To include, worshiping this earth as if it is our mother, rather than stewarding it well – exercising good and godly dominion over it. And so, one day, it will be destroyed, and there will be a new heaven and new earth – because one is desperately needed. One that will serve us and its God – rather than one we worship.
So therefore, we see God’s judgment include cataclysmic wrath poured out on creation. You may ask, what does God have against trees and grass? Well certainly, ultimately because of the impact such judgment has on rebellious humanity.
We leave Revelation 7, filled with the wonder and worship of all heaven toward the One who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, and make our way back to the earth in chapter 8. To this point, we have seen six of seven seals on the scroll in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne opened by the Lamb. After a significant interlude in chapter 7, we arrive at chapter 8 where the seventh seal will be broken, revealing the contents of the scroll: seven trumpets, followed by seven bowls. And they will be directed against rebellious humanity, to be sure, but in some sense, through the creation that humanity has wrongly worshiped. Read the text with me today – Revelation 8:1-12.
What does God have against trees and grass and waters and fish and sun, moon and stars? You see, God’s good gifts should cause us to worship Him, not His gifts. These judgments are ultimately against rebellious humanity, but also a demonstration that God alone deserves worship. There are some incredibly great truths to be found in this text, with the following outline:
- The Seventh Seal and the Silence of Heaven (1)
- The Seven Angels and the Seven Trumpets (2)
- The Prayers of the Saints in the Silence of Heaven (3-4)
- The Wrath of God in Answer to the Prayers (5-6)
- The First Four Trumpets Unleashed on Creation (7-12)
Again, we’ve come through the first six seals, largely on earth, as God begins to judge the earth dwellers for their rebellion. We’ve come through chapter 7, where we saw all of heaven praising God for His sovereignty, His protection, and the salvation of His people – from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue.
Which brings us to the seventh seal. We notice right away there is no judgment or even initial action in the breaking of the seventh seal. In fact, it seems as if the breaking of this seal reveals the seven trumpet judgments to come. My personal thought is that the seventh seal contains the seven trumpets, and the seventh trumpet contains the seven bowls. Some suggest each septet is a retelling of the same judgments from a different perspective, but they seem far too different – and seem to increase in intensity through the tribulation period.
So the Lamb, Jesus, breaks the seventh seal, which would then reveal the contents of the scroll itself – which I suggest contains the next two sets of judgments, and the culmination of history, including the rescue of His people, and the new heavens and the new earth – all leading to the eschaton, or the eternal state. The scroll is not the book of Revelation, but it contains God’s purposes of redemption and judgment – and the culmination of history as we know it.
Now interestingly, when the seal is broken, there is silence in heaven for about half an hour. Now stop and think about that. There has been anything but silence in heaven to this point:
- In chapter 4, there are flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, and the four living creatures and the 24 elders continuously break into praise.
- In chapter 5, when the Lamb takes the scroll the praise crescendos – from the four living creatures and the 24 elders to thousands and thousands of angels to every created thing which is in heaven and on earth.
- In chapter 6, as each horse and rider is revealed, we hear one of the four living creatures say with a voice of thunder, come! Further, we hear the cries of the martyrs under the altar, crying out for vengeance.
- In chapter 7, John hears the voice of an angel, and the number of those sealed – 144,000. He sees a great multitude of people which no one could count, crying out in a loud voice, Salvation to our God and to the Lamb. Then the elders and four living creatures fall to their faces, saying Amen, and let loose with a seven-fold doxology.
To be sure, heaven has been anything but silent. In fact, I’ve suggested the praise of heaven is constant, consistent, loud, exuberant and joy-filled. But now, when the Lamb opens the seventh seal, there is silence, a dramatic pause, deepening the suspense. Let that sink into your psyche. Silence. Why? What is this about?
Most agree this silence has at least two purposes, although as many as eight have been suggested. First, the scroll has been unfurled, and God is about to unleash unmitigated wrath on the earth – it is the great tribulation that supersedes all that came before – and all of heaven is breathlessly silent before Him. The judgment is almost unspeakable. It causes those in heaven to stop their mouths before this One with whom all will one day give an account. We are reminded of Habakkuk 2:20, “the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him.”
Second, many suggest this half hour of silence is filled the activity of verses 2-5. All heaven is silent before the prayers of God’s people. The action is intensified in the complete absence of any sound. Notice, we assume during this silence, another angel mixes the prayers of the saints – that is, God’s holy people – with incense, which ascend to His presence. All is silent as God gives unparalleled attention to the cries of His people. We’ll come back to that.
Which brings us to our second point – the seven angels and the seven trumpets. First, we should note the seven angels have the definite article the. These are not just any angels, these are the seven angels who stand before God. Who are they? They are not named, although in Luke 1:19, we see that Gabriel is one who stands in the presence of God. Some apocryphal works like Tobit and Jubilees mention the seven angels of the presence and I Enoch list the names of the seven who stand before God as Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saraqa’el, Gabriel, and Remiel. That carries, of course, no biblical authority – it’s just interesting to note. We also read in chapter 15:1, “Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished.” This is awesome.
Now, there are several categories of angels in Scripture – seraphim, cherubim, archangels, princes, powers, authorities, for example – and here we see a special designation of those seven who stand in His presence. The idea is they are readily present, prepared to carry out any task.
And we find they each receive a trumpet – seven trumpets. Trumpets throughout Scripture are sounded for something significant – important. In Numbers 10, Moses was instructed to make two trumpets of silver, for which they were used, for example:
- To summon the congregation of Israel
- To move the tribes on their journey
- To sound the alarm in time of war
- To announce religious feast days
- To announce news
- To proclaim new kings
- To summon to worship
Interestingly, in Joshua 6, seven priests with trumpets led the army of Israel around the city of Jericho. The first six days they circled the city once in complete silence. On the seventh day at the seventh revolution, the trumpets were sounded, the people let out a war cry, and the walls of the city fell down flat. Silence before utter destruction. Further, the New Testament declares the sounding of the trumpet at the return of Christ:
Matthew 24:31 – “And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.”
I Thessalonians 4:16 – For the Lord Himself will descent from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
I Corinthians 15:51-52 – Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
Listen – all those funerals I’ve done this year – were some of your family members who knew the Lord. Their souls are in the presence of God right now – Paul said to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Their bodies are buried, but there is coming a day when all those who sleep – who have died and are bodily in the tomb – they will hear the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God – and they will be raised physically to life. Revelation 20 calls it the first resurrection. Death is not the final victor. We wait for resurrection.
Which brings us to our third point – the prayers of the saints in the silence of heaven. Most agree that as this silence permeates heaven, God hears the prayers of His people. He gives full attention to their cries. Back in chapter 6, we saw the souls under the altar crying, how long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth? The earth dwellers – the unbelievers who martyred us. And God heard their prayers, gave them a white robe, and told them to rest a little while longer. Now, it appears the little while longer has happened – and He will judge the earth dwellers.
Here, in verses 3 and 4, we see another angel – that is, not one of the seven holding the trumpets – come and stand at the altar, holding a golden censer. The altar is likely the altar of incense which stood right before the veil separating the holy place from the most holy place. Twice a day, the priests would take fire – coals – from the brazen altar where sacrifices were made, and carry them with a golden censer into the holy place – and put them on the golden altar of incense. The incense was a special mixture of spices – there, the incense would burn, arising as a sweet aroma to God.
Here, we see the angel performing that duty in heaven. Much incense was given to him, so that he might add to it the prayers of the saints. Which prayers? Probably all prayers of His people – but especially during this time of tribulation – praying for protection and deliverance and vengeance – the prayers of the martyrs in chapter 6. And the smoke of the incense with the prayers of the saints went up before God out of the angel’s hand. Psalm 141:2 says, “May my prayer be counted as incense before You; the lifting of my hands as the evening offering.” Your prayers are like incense rising to God.
It’s all imagery, but communicates an incredible, wonderful truth. While God is busy running the universe, even pouring out His wrath on rebellious humanity, He is not too busy for His children, He is not too busy for you. I’ve heard it asked, does God care about the little things in my life? Here’s the answer – is there any need you have that is big enough for the majestic God of the universe to hear and handle? He hears them all. As I said a few weeks ago – if you ever feel like your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling – unheard by a very busy or inattentive God – know that He hears, and He listens, He answers according to His purposes. Here’s another little gem – sometimes we think God doesn’t answer our prayers because He doesn’t give us what we want – what we ask for. But listen – no is as much an answer as yes. He answers all your prayers – you may not like the answer – but it is always for your good.
Well, how does God answer these specific prayers? Point 4, the wrath of God in response to the prayers of His people. So the prayers ascend, and verses 5 and 6 indicate the answer. Then the angel took the censer and filled it – not with incense and the prayers of the saints – but with the fire of the altar which burned the incense – and threw it on the earth. This angel of intercession becomes an angel of judgment. We’ve seen this before – and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake. This phenomena accompanied John’s first vision of the throne in heaven in chapter 4 – now it follows each set of seven judgments – the seals, trumpets and bowls.
And now, the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them – presumably, each in turn lifting the trumpet to their lips.
Which brings us to the last point – the first four trumpets – the first four cataclysmic, climactic judgments of this septet of judgments. Like the seven seals, these judgments are broken into subsets of four and three. The first four are judgments are great calamities against the cosmos – particularly the earth, that has a dreadful impact on humanity. The next two are demonic plagues upon unrepentant humanity. And the last one reveals the seven bowls. No remember, the first four seals depicted judgments that are the inevitable result of human sinfulness; the trumpets reveal the active involvement of God in bringing punishment on a wicked, rebellious, unrepentant world.
Now, these judgments are images – but remember, they mean something. How literally we take them is up for discussion, but somehow, these judgments affect the seas and the grass and the trees and the sun, moon and stars – all signaling God’s wrath being poured out. Look at them with me:
The first trumpet sounds in verse 7, and hail and fire, mixed with blood, was thrown to the earth, and a third of the earth was burned up – with a third of the trees, and we assume a third of the grass or vegetation.
Most of these judgments in some way remind us of the 10 plagues poured out on Egypt – this one corresponding to the 7th plague when hail battered the land, destroying the crops. In fact, Exodus 9 reads, “Moses stretched out his staff toward the sky, and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth.”
We also remember the ten plagues of the Exodus were poured out against the gods of Egypt, demonstrating the supremacy of the God of the Hebrews – the true and the living God. For example, the Egyptians worshiped the Nile, so the first plague was turning the Nile into blood. They worshiped Ra, the Sun god, so the ninth plague was darkness over the land. They worshiped the Pharaoh as a god, so the tenth plague took his firstborn. All the plagues demonstrated that God alone is God, and worthy of worship. God is doing the same thing here – only intensified. People have sought their lives and meaning and purpose through God’s creation, rather than through Him, the Creator. And judgment falls.
Notice the words, a third – appears some twelve times in these verses. Now, when we get to the bowl judgments, the devastation will be more complete. Here, it is one-third – over and over. Why? Because even in His wrath – God is leaving room – more, calling people to repentance. Sadly, we will find over and over people do not turn from their sin and in faith to Jesus Christ – they will harden their hearts as Pharoah did – and refuse to accept God’s gift of grace. For example, we will read in 9:20-21, which comes at the end of the seven trumpet judgments:
20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk;
21 and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.
The see the judgment of God, they experience the judgment of God, they know it’s the judgment of God, and yet, they do not repent.
Revelation 16:9, which comes at the end of the bowl judgments, reads:
9 Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory.
I’ll come back to that in a moment when we close.
In this first trumpet judgment, hail and fire mixed with blood – blood literal or metaphorical, representing death – fell on a third of the earth – and a third of the trees and grass was burned up.
The second trumpet sounded in verse 8, and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea. First the land, now the sea. Please notice – the trumpets are sounded in heaven, and from heaven come these cataclysmic events – make no mistake about it, this is God’s judgment on rebellious humanity. One of the primary objections of people to God is all the evil in the world – if there is a good God, why does all this happen? And we come up with all kinds of natural explanations for hurricanes and floods and tornadoes and tsunamis and famine. But know this, the wrath of God is currently being poured out, and it will get worse – and people will still not repent.
This great mountain burning with fire sounds like a volcano. Around this time, two significant volcanoes had erupted – the eruption of Thera in 47 AD, and the very recent Mt. Vesuvius which erupted in 79 AD, burying Pompeii and Herculaneum – and most were familiar with the devastation.
As a result of this great mountain falling into the sea – oceanic waters – a third of the sea became blood. Again, whether literal or figurative is not the point – the point is devastation of the seas, an important life source for people. We should be reminded of the first plague in Egypt – the Nile being turned into blood. Here, a third of the creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. It is eschatological judgment beyond explanation in natural terms.
The third angel sounded in verses 10 and 11, and a great star – a meteorite, a comet – who knows – fell from heaven, burning like a torch and fell on a third of the fresh water. The last trumpet saw a great mountain fall on the seas – this on the rivers and springs, which would be the source of fresh water for people. Don’t miss that the angel hurled the censer filled with fire to the earth, and each of the first three judgments contain a reference to fire, portending the final judgment to come in Revelation 20.
We are told the star is called Wormwood – a bitter plant that makes the water undrinkable. It’s not necessarily poisonous unless induced in large amounts – it just makes the water useless. As a result, the waters become wormwood – and many people will die from the waters. We see the direct result of these judgments on the ecology of the earth – human death. The waters were made bitter – a reversal of what Moses did when he threw a tree into the bitter waters of Marah and made them sweet to drink.
Finally, the fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun and a third of the moon and a third of the stars were struck. This should remind us of the ninth plague, when there was dread, thick darkness over the face of the earth. This in not like an eclipse – it’s much worse. It appears that a third of the day and a third of the night has no light source, and terrifying darkness covers the land. Both Amos and Joel speak of the day of the Lord as a day of darkness rather than light; “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness.” Jesus says in the Olivet Discourse, “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.”
Here, one third. Not all – one third is mentioned twelve times. To give people the opportunity to repent. To give you the opportunity to repent. Robert Mounce writes, “As plagues preceded the release of the children of Israel from their Egyptian masters, so plagues will precede the Exodus of the church from hostile powers. They are the prelude to that great and final Exodus in which the church is taken out of the world and enters into the eternal presence of God…. We are dealing here with that montage of divine judgments upon a recalcitrant world which leads to the return of Jesus Christ as sovereign Lord.”
Jesus is coming back as King of kings and Lord of lords. And all will bow their knees and confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. But He has not yet come. Why? He is patient with sinners, allowing them to repent. Allowing you to repent. God demands nothing less than your full allegiance and devotion. II Peter 3 says to you today, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
His judgment is coming. When you see a beautiful sunset, the blue waters of crashing waves, a majestic mountain range, a meadow in full bloom of wild flowers, the southern Appalachians tenderly graced with soft, smoky clouds – what to you see? Does your heart manufacture an idol, or do you see the glory of God?