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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament

Revelation 8

 

 

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Verse 1

Revelation 8:1. The opening of the seventh seal is followed by half an hour’s silence in heaven: “he opened” looks back to Revelation 6:12, the absence of subject showing that 7 is a parenthesis foreign to the seal-series in its original shape. Probably this series, like each of the others, was originally a separate oracle upon the latter days. When woven by the author into his large work, they suffered a literary treatment which has interrupted but not altogether obliterated their original form and sequence. The book of destiny is now open; what follows (Revelation 8:6 f.) is the course of the future, which naturally corresponds at some points to the predictions already sketched proleptically in chap. 6. A brief interval, not of exhaustion but of expectation, of breathless suspense (a pause in the ecstasy, LXX of Daniel 4:16), ushers in a preliminary series of judicial plagues heralded by seven trumpet-blasts (Revelation 8:2 to Revelation 11:19). Half an hour ( ἡμ., cf., Win. § 5, 22 a for form) may have been an ominous period; Josephus (B. J. vi. 5, § 3) describes a portent at the siege of Jerusalem which consisted of a bright light shining at twilight for half an hour, and the collocation of silence with reverence is illustrated by the LXX version ( εὐλαβείσθω πᾶσα σάρξ) of Zechariah 12:13 and Zephaniah 1:7 f. The following trumpet-series has been woven into the frame of the work by the device of making it take the place of the climax which (after Revelation 6:17, Revelation 7:1-2) one would naturally expect to occur at this point. When the dénouement should take place, nothing happens; the judgment is adjourned.


Verse 2

Revelation 8:2. “The seven angels who stand before God” are introduced as familiar figures (cf. Lueken 36 f., R.J. 319 f.); they belonged to pre-Christian Judaism (Tobit 12:15, “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and go in before the glory of the Holy One”), and are associated with trumpets (1 Thessalonians 4:16). According to the Targ. on 2 Chronicles 33:13 when Manasseh prayed, all the angels who superintend the entrance of prayers went and closed every approach, to prevent his petition reaching heaven; in Chag. 13 b the prayers of the righteous are offered by Sandalphon (cf. Longfellow’s Sandalphon, and contrast Hebrews 7:25). This septet of distinguished angels belongs to the circle of ideas behind Revelation 1:4, Revelation 4:5, Revelation 5:6; but the author as usual prefers vividness and variety to homogeneity. He uses them for minatory purposes, assigning to “another angel” their characteristic function (Revelation 8:3) in Jewish tradition. The alteration of figure at this point is deliberate. The certainty of divine decrees is suggested by the figure of seals; but now that the prophet is describing the promulgation of the actual events presaged in the book of Doom, he, like the author of 4 Esdras (? cf. Lat. of Revelation 5:4), employs the figure of angels with trumpets of hostile summons and shattering alarm. The final series (ver 15–16.) in which these decrees are executed, is aptly described under the figure of bowls or vials drenching the earth with their bitter contents (cf. Bovon, Nouv. Test. Théol. ii. 503). The trumpet, as a signal for war, is naturally associated with scenes of judgment (reff.). “Power, whether spiritual or physical, is the meaning of the trumpet, and so, well used by Handel in his approaches to the Deity” (E. Fitzgerald’s Letters, i. 92). Trumpet to lip, the angels now stand ready. They are set in motion by a significant interlude (Revelation 8:3-5).


Verse 3

Revelation 8:3. Between royalty and ritual the scenery of the Apocalypse fluctuates. It is assumed (as at Revelation 6:9), after Revelation 7:15 perhaps, that heaven is a temple, although this is not expressly stated till Revelation 11:19; nor is it homogeneous with the throne-description in chap. 4. λιβανωτόν (“incense,” ἅπ. λεγ. N.T.) is used by mistake for the classical λιβανωτρίν (LXX, πυρ[ ε] ιον or θυίσκη) = “censer,” as already in an inscription of the second century B.C. (Dittenberger’s Sylloge Inscript. Grace. 588156) λιβανωτίς is employed by confusion for “frankincense”. Golden censers (1 Maccabees 1:22) and golden bowls ( φιάλαι) were among the furniture of the temple (1 Esdras 2:13). On prayers as an offering, see Acts 10:4. The symbolism is borrowed from the temple-ritual; when the saucer of incense had been emptied over the burning coals placed on the altar of incense, the people bowed in prayer, as the fragrant cloud of smoke rose up. Wellhausen’s deletion of 3 b, 4 as a gloss is therefore unnecessary. John is consoling the church (cf. on Revelation 6:10) by the assurance that their prayers for the coming of the kingdom are not breathed in vain.


Verse 4

Revelation 8:4. As an agent of God, the angel is commissioned to ratify with Divine approval the petitions of the saints for the end; this involves retribution on the impenitent and hostile world. The prophet is sure such aspirations are in harmony with God’s will.


Verse 5

Revelation 8:5. The censer, having offered incense to heaven, is now used to hurl fire upon the earth (adopted from Ezekiel 10:2-7; cf. Leviticus 16:12). As at the close of the trumpets (Revelation 11:19) and the bowls (Revelation 16:18), physical disturbances here accompany the manifestation of God’s wrath and judgment. In answer to the prayers and longings of the saints (Renan, 393), God at last visits the impenitent pagan world with a series of catastrophes (Revelation 8:8-9., cf. Revelation 9:4), which herald the end and also give (though in vain, Revelation 9:20-21) an opportunity for repentance.

Note on Revelation 8:3-5. This episode (in dumb show) of angel and incense, though apparently isolated, is an overture for the series of judgments, of which the successive trumpet-blasts are precursors. The prayers of all the saints, which, like those of the martyrs in Revelation 6:10, crave punishment upon God’s enemies throughout the earth, are supported and reinforced by the ministry of this angel, and answered at once by the succession of incidents beginning with Revelation 8:5. This object of Christian prayers, i.e., the final crisis, when Christ returns to crush his enemies and inaugurate his reign, pervaded early Christianity as a whole. At special periods of intolerable persecution, it assumed under the stress of antagonism as here a more sensuous and plastic form than the ordinary consciousness of the church would have been usually disposed to cherish; yet the common prayer of the church in any case was for the speedy end of the world ( ἐλθέτω χάρις καὶ παρελθέτω κόσμος οὗτος Did. x.). In Apoc. Mos. (tr. Conybeare, Jewish Quart. Rev., 1895, 216–235) 33, when the angels intercede for Adam at his ascension to heaven, they take golden censers and offer incense; whereupon smoke overshadows the very firmament. The intercession of angels on behalf of the saints, a result of their function as guardians, goes back to post-exilic Judaism with its inarticulated conception of the angels as helpful to mankind (Job 5:1; Job 33:23; Zechariah 1:12); subsequently the idea developed into a belief that the prayers of the pious won special efficacy as they were presented to God by angels such as Gabriel, Raphael, Michael, or the seven archangels (cf. Tobit, loc. cit.; Slav. En. vii. 5; En. ix. 2–11, xv. 2, xl. 6, xlvii. 2, xcix. 3, 16, civ. 1). In Christianity this rôle was naturally absorbed by Christ, who alone ratified and inspired his people’s supplications. But the old belief evidently lingered in pious circles of Jewish Christianity (cf. Test. Leviticus 3, 5), side by side with a complete acceptance of Christ’s heavenly function. The latter did not immediately or universally wither up such survivals of the older faith; popular religion tended then as now to be wider at several points than its theoretical principles (as in Origen, Cels. Revelation 8:4; and Tertull. de Orat. xii.). Plato, in Sympos. 202 E., makes the δαίμονες present men’s prayers and offerings to the gods, and mediate the latter’s commands and recompence to men (cf. Philo, de Somniis, i. 22, and on i. 1). See further Revelation 17:1, Revelation 21:9, for a similar state of matters in primitive Christianity with regard to the corresponding function of Jewish angels as intermediaries of revelation.


Verse 6

Revelation 8:6 In the scheme of the trumpet-visions, as of the seal-visions, the first four are differentiated from the next three; the fifth and sixth in both cases stand by themselves and are separated by a considerable interlude from the closing seventh. It is remarkable that even the final trumpet of Revelation 11:15 f. does not correspond to the loud trumpet-blast which according to Jewish and early Christian tradition, was to awaken the dead to resurrection or to rally the saints (Matthew 24:31) at the close of the world. The Apocalypse knows nothing of this feature, nor of the tradition (preserved by R. Akiba) that the process of the resurrection would be accompanied by seven trumpet-peals from God. The first four trumpets set in motion forces of ruin that fall on natural objects; in Sap. 5:17–23 (Revelation 16:17-21) the world of nature is used directly by God to punish men. The closing three concern human life, i.e., the godless inhabitants of the earth. The general idea is that of the Jewish tradition (see on Revelation 15:2) which prefaced the second great redemption by disasters analogous to those preceding the first: cf. e.g., Sohar Exodus 4 b, tempore quo se reuelabit rex Messias, faciet Deus omnia ista miracula, prodigia et divinae uirtutis opera coram Israele, quae fecit olim in Aegypto, quemadmodum scriptum est Micah 7:15; also Jalkut Sim. i. 56 b, Targ. Jon. on Zechariah 10:11, etc. The disasters remind one now and then of the Egyptian plagues (cf. Jos. Ant. ii. 14–15; also Amos 4:4 f., Isaiah 9:7 f.). The first four visit earth, sea, waters, and the sky. Hail-showers were a traditional scourge and weapon of the divine armoury; on their association with thunderstorms see G. A. Smith’s Hist. Geog. 64, 65.


Verses 6-12

Revelation 8:6-12. The first four trumpets.


Verse 7

Revelation 8:7. Hail and fire, as in the fourth Egyptian plague, but with the added O.T. horror (see reff.) of a shower of blood instead of rain (see Chag. 12 b, where the sixth heaven is the storehouse of hail, storm, and noxious vapours, enclosed within gates of fire; and specially Sibyll. ver 377, πῦρ γὰρ ἀπʼ οὐρανῶνβρέξειπῦρ καὶ αἷμα). For similar atmospheric phenomena, see on Revelation 6:8; Revelation 6:12. Portents of this abnormal nature are recorded for the seventh decade of the first century by Roman historians, but there is no need to see specific historical allusions in prophecy upon this grand scale. The sight of atmospheric fire always signified to the ancients the approach of various disasters, especially when stars fell. Wetstein cites Bara Mezia, 59, 1; dixit R. Eliezer, percussus est mundus, tertia nempe pars olearum, tertia pars tritici, et tertia hordei. The third is a primitive Semitic (Babylonian: Jastrow, 107 f.) division, which has its roots also in Iranian religion (Yasht, xiii. 3, Yasna, xi. 7, etc.), where the tripartite division of earth, derived originally from the threefold division of earth, atmosphere, and universe, is older than the sevenfold.— δένδρων, see Schol. ( τὰ δένδρα δηλονότι) on Thuc. ii. 19 καθεζόμενοι ἔτεμνοντὸ πεδίον. Pausan. ii. 365 (cf. iv. 166 f.) mentions among the phenomena attending earthquakes heavy rain or prolonged drought, the discolouring of the sun’s disc, etc.; “springs mostly dry up. Sudden gusts sometimes sweep over the country, blowing the trees down. At times, too, the sky is shot with sheets of flame. Stars are seen of an aspect never known before, and strike consternation into all beholders.”


Verse 8-9

Revelation 8:8-9. A fiery mass, huge as a mountain, is flung into the sea—a description which would recall the fiery volcanic bombs familiar to inhabitants of the Egean. The catastrophe includes, as in the first Egyptian plague, the turning of water into blood and the destruction of marine animals (4 Ezra 5:7, Verg. Georg. iii. 541 f.), besides havoc among the shipping. Volcanic phenomena (cf. Introd.§ 8) in the Egean archipelago (e.g., at Thera) are in the background of this description, and of others throughout the book; features such as the disturbance of islands and the mainland, showers of stones, earthquakes, the sun obscured by a black mist of ashes, and the moon reddened by volcanic dust, were the natural consequences of eruption in some submarine volcano, and Thera—adjoining Patmos—was in a state of more or less severe eruption during the first century. All this suggested the hideous colours in which the final catastrophe was painted by the imagination of pious contemporaries. In the eruption of 1573, the sea round Thera was tinted for twenty miles round, and even when the submarine volcano is quiescent, “the sea in the immediate vicinity of the cone is of a brilliant orange colour, from the action of oxide of iron”. In 1707 a large rock suddenly appeared in the sea, during the eruption, and owing to noxious vapours “all fish in the harbour died”.


Verse 10-11

Revelation 8:10-11. The third part of all drinking waters is poisoned by a huge, noxious, torch-like meteor shooting down from the sky (Vergil’s “de coelo lapsa per umbras Stella facem ducens multa cum luce concurrit,” Aen. ii. 693, 694). Wormwood, a bitter drug typical of divine punishment, was apparently supposed to be a mortal poison; thus Pliny (H. N. ii. 232) ascribes the bitterness of Lake Sannaus (Anava) in the Lycos valley to the circa nascente apsinthio. But this feature of the vision is taken from Iranian or Mandaean eschatology (Brandt, 584 f.), where among the signs of the end are famine, wars, a star falling from heaven and making the sea red [cf. Revelation 16:3], and a cyclone with a dust-storm. Cf. 4 Ezra 5:9, et in dulcibus aquis salae inueniuntur. Rivers and fountains were associated in the ethnic mind (cf. Nehemiah 2:13) with supernatural spirits and curative properties; hence upon them this stern prophet of monotheism sees the doom of God falling. ἐγένετοεἰς, a Hebraistic constr., common in Apocalypse and in quotations from O.T., but “decidedly rare elsewhere” in N.T. (Simcox). Springs (like those, e.g., near Smyrna) and fountains naturally appeared to the ancient mind somewhat mysterious and separate; their lack of visible connexion with rivers or lakes suggested the idea that they sprang from the subterranean abyss or that they were connected with daemons. Hence their role in the final convulsions of nature (4 Esd. 6:24 uenae fontium stabunt, Ass. Mos. x. 8 et fontes aquarum deficient). Cf. Rohrbach’s Im Lande Jahwehs und Jesu (1901), 30 f.; for their connexion with dragons, R. S., 157, 161 f., and for their bubbling as a mark of sacred energy, ibid. 154 f.


Verse 12

Revelation 8:12. “So as to darken a third part of them, and (i.e.) to prevent a third of the day from shining ( φάνῃ, or φάνῃ Win.) and of the night likewise”. Daylight is shortened by a third, and the brightness of an Eastern night correspondingly lessened (cf. the Egyptian plague of darkness). The writer either forgets or ignores the fact that he has already cleared the heaven of stars (Revelation 6:13).


Verse 13

Revelation 8:13. An ominous introduction to the last three trumpets. An eagle, here as in Apoc. Bar. lxxvii. 17–22, lxxxvii. 1 (cf. Rest of Words of Bar. 7.) a messenger and herald of catastrophe (its associations are punitive and bodeful, Deuteronomy 28:49, Hosea 8:1, Habakkuk 1:8, Eurip. Rhes. 528–536) flies in the zenith, i.e., swooping exactly over the heads of men. For the eagle (Simurgh in Zoroastrianism) as the servant of Deity in ancient (Syrian) mythology, see E. Bi. “Cherub,” § 8, and Acts of Thomas (Hymn of Soul, 51).—“Woe … for the rest of the trumpet voices.” The first woe finishes at Revelation 9:12, the second (after the interlude of Revelation 10:1 to Revelation 11:13) at Revelation 11:14, the third apparently at Revelation 12:12—though as usual one series of phenomena melts irregularly at the close into another.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Revelation 8:4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/revelation-8.html. 1897-1910.

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