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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Revelation 8

 

 

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Introduction

CHAP. VIII.

At the opening of the seventh seal, seven angels had seven trumpets given them: another angel putteth incense to the prayers of the saints on the golden altar. Four angels sound their trumpets, and great plagues follow.

Anno Domini 96.


Verse 1

Revelation 8:1.— This chapter opens the second grand period of this prophesy; which begins upon the opening of the seventh seal, and is distinguished by the sounding of seven trumpets. This period of the trumpets is of much longer duration, and comprehends many more events than any of the former seals. It comprehends indeed seven periods, distinguished by the sounding of seven trumpets, and contains a prophetic description of the state of the world and church for a considerable space of time after the empire became Christian during the continuance of the empire in the successors of Constantine, ch. Revelation 8-10. It describes the great devastation of the Roman empire by the several nations which broke in upon it, and finally put an end to it: it describes a time of great calamity, a state of new trials: it shews the church what it was to expect in new dangers and opposition after it should be delivered from the persecution of the Heathen Roman Government: and when the Christian religion should have the protection of the laws, and the favour of the emperors, the church would still have great need of caution, watchfulness, patience, and constancy; and there would be still this encouragement to faithfulness and perseverance, that though the opposition in this period of time would be great, yet neither should this prevail against the cause of truth and righteousness. The Christian faith and religion should be preserved, and in the end triumph over this opposition, as it had before over the former opposition from the Heathen emperors of Rome; and thus the general design and use of the prophesy is fully answered, to direct and encourage the constancy of the Christian Church in faith and patience, whatever opposition it may meet with from the world.

There was silence in heaven Most interpreters agree that this silence in heaven for half an hour, is an allusion to the manner of the temple worship; for, while the priest offered incense in the holy place, the whole people prayed without in silence, or privately to themselves, Luke 1:10. On the day of expiation, the whole service was performed by the high-priest; to which particular service Sir Isaac Newton has observed an allusion: "The custom," says he, "on other days was to take fire from the great altar in a silver censer; but on this day of expiation, for the high-priest to take fire from the great altar in a golden censer: and when he was come down from the great altar, he took incense from one of the priests who brought it to him, and went with it to the golden altar; and while he offered the incense, the peopleprayed without in silence;—which is the silence in heaven for half an hour." It is true, on the day of expiation the high-priest did all the service himself; he used a golden censer, and took his hands full of incense; yet I doubt not but the mention of a golden censer, and much incense, refers to the glory and perfection of the heavenly worship, as well as to the peculiar service of the high-priest. But see the Note on Revelation 8:6, for my own opinion on this point.


Verses 2-5

Revelation 8:2-5. And I saw the seven angels which stood before God, &c.— "And I saw the seven angels which I have before mentioned, and which then stood before the throne of God; and seven trumpets were given to them, that they might each of them successively sound an alarm; which I understood to be the symbol of some very important and awakening events, which were, in order of time, to succeed those which had been expressed by the seals. And while they were preparing to execute the orders they had received, another angel, whom I understood as a typical representation of the great High-Priest of the church, came and stood before the altar which I saw in this celestial temple, having a golden censer; and there was given to him much fragrant incense, consisting of a variety of excellent perfumes mingled together, that he might present it with the prayers of all the saints, upon the golden altar which was before the throne; just as the Jewish high priest used to burn incense on the golden altar in the temple, while the people were praying in the courts of it at the hour of morning and evening sacrifice. And the smoke of the perfumes went up in a thick and odoriferous cloud,together with the prayers of the saints, from the hand of the angel as he stood before God; and seemed thereby emblematically to signify, how grateful to the Divine Being those prayers were which proceeded from holy hearts, being recommended by the intercession of that great High-Priest, whom this glorious angel had the honour, on this occasion, to represent; as Aaron and his sons did in the Jewish tabernacle of old. And when the angel had performed this office, in order to shew the awful manner in which God would avenge the injury which his praying people upon earth received from its tyrannical and oppressive powers, he took the censer, and, advancing towards the brazen altar of burnt offerings, he filled it with fire of the altar, and threw it upon the earth; and as soon as this action was performed, there were long and terrible voices, and thunders, and lightnings, which seemed to break out from the Shechinah, the glorious token of the Divine Presence; and there was also the sudden and violent shock of an earthquake, which seemed to shake the foundation of the world." There was no fire upon the golden altar, but that which was in the censer, in which the incense was burnt; so that we must necessarily, by this fire of the altar, understand that of the brazen altar, though it is not expressly declared to be so; and this may intimate, that in some other places the samewords may, by comparing different circumstances, have different ideas annexed to them.


Verse 6

Revelation 8:6. And the seven angels—prepared themselves to sound. As the seals foretold the state and condition of the Roman empire before, and till it became Christian, so the trumpets foreshow the state and condition of it afterward. The sound of the trumpet, as Jeremiah observes, ch. Jeremiah 4:19 and as every one understands it, is the alarm of war; and the sounding of these trumpets is designed to rouse and excite the nations against the Roman empire; called the third part of the world, as perhaps including the third part of the world, and being seated principally in Europe, the third part of the world as believed at that time. We may just observe, that the censers here mentioned, were the same with the vials full of odours mentioned ch. Revelation 5:8. The offeringof incense on the golden altar, seems to determine this allusion to the constant offering of incense in the temples and not to the service peculiar to the high-priest on the day of expiation; and fully shews the propriety of this vision in not expressly representing the high-priest. Indeed many interpreters, and that with good reason, understand the angel, Revelation 8:3 as an emblem of Christ, the great High-Priest of his church. As the golden altar made a part of the scene, there was a propriety in its appearing to be used; and the time of praying was the hour of incense. This vision may probably be designed to intimate, that, considering the scenes of confusion represented by the trumpets, the saints should be exceedingly earnest with God to pour out a spirit of wisdom, piety, and zeal upon the church, and preserve it safe amid these confusions.


Verse 7

Revelation 8:7. There followed hail, &c.— See the note on Revelation 8:2-5. Here is probably an allusion also to one of the plagues of Egypt, which was a destroying storm and tempest. See Exodus 9:23 . It is a just observation of Sir Isaac Newton, that, in the prophetic language, tempests, winds, or the motions of clouds, are put for wars; thunder; or the voice of a cloud, for the voice of a multitude; and storms of thunder and lightning, hail and overflowing rain, for a tempest of war, descending from the heavens and clouds politic. In like manner, the earth, animals, and vegetables, are put for the people of several nations and conditions: trees and green grass express the beauty and fruitfulness of a land; and, when the earth is an emblem of nations and dominions, may signify persons of higher rank, and those of common condition. Whether it was the intention of the prophetic style to be so particular, is not easy to determine; but it seems plain that it is designed to express some great calamities brought on the empire, when it is represented as a storm, destroying not only the green grass which is more easily blasted, but also a great part of the trees which are supposed more likely to withstand the violence of the storm; and it seems to point out these calamities as the effect of war and bloodshed throughout the Roman empire in the beginning of this period. Accordingly, says Bishop Newton, at the sounding of the first trumpet, the barbarous nations, like a storm of hail and fire mingled with blood, invade the Roman territories, and destroy the third part of trees, that is, the trees of the third part of the earth; and the green grass, that is, both old and young, high and low, rich and poor, together. Theododius the Great died in the year 395; and no sooner was he dead, than the Huns, Goths, and other barbarians, like hail for multitude, and breathing fire and slaughter, broke in upon the best provinces of the empire, both in the East and West, with greater success than they had ever done before. But by this trumpet were principally intended the irruptions and depredations of the Goths, under the conduct of the famous Alaric, who began his incursions in the same year 395; first ravaged Greece, then wasted Italy, besieged Rome, and was bought off at an exorbitant price; besieged it again in the year 410. Took and plundered the city, and set fire to it in several places, sparing neither religion, nor dignities, nor age, nor crying infants. "Among other calamities," says Philostorgius, (Hist. Eccles. 50. 2. 100. 7.) "dry heats, with flashes of flame and whirlwinds of fire, occasioned various and intolerable terrors; yea, and hail greater than could be held in a man's hand, fell down in several places, weighing about eight pounds." Well, therefore, might the prophet compare these incursions of the barbarians to "hail, and fire mingled with blood."


Verse 8-9

Revelation 8:8-9. As it were a great mountain burning, &c.— In the style of prophesy, a mountain signifies a kingdom, and the strength of it, its metropolis or capital city. See Jeremiah 30:24. Great disorders and commotions, especially when kingdoms are moved by hostile invasions, are expressed in the prophetic style, by carrying, or casting mountains into the midst of the sea. See Psalms 46:2. The sea, in the Hebrew language, is any collection of waters: now as waters are expressly made a symbol of people in this prophesy, ch. Revelation 17:15 the sea maywell represent the collection of many people and nations into one politic body or empire: and when a sea is considered as an empire, the living creatures in that sea will be the people or nations, whose union constitutes that empire. See Ezekiel 29:3; Ezekiel 29:21. Ships, from their use in trade, are a proper representation of the riches of a people; and as they are of use in war, especially to the maritime nations, they are proper emblems of strength and power. As ships were of both uses in the Roman empire, they may well be understood both of the riches and power of that empire. Thus we have a description, in this part of the second period of prophesy, of a judgment to come on the empire, in which the capital should suffer much; many provinces should bedismembered, as well as invaded, and the springs of power and riches in the empire should be very much diminished: and accordinglywe find in history, that this was indeed a most calamitous period. The year 400 is marked out as the most memorable and calamitous that had ever happened during the empire. The Alans, Vandals, and other barbarous people, in the year 406, made the most furious irruptions into Gaul, passedinto Spain, and thence into Africa; so that the maritime provinces became a prey to them; the riches and naval power of the empire were much diminished, and almost quite ruined: but the heaviest calamities fell upon Rome itself, besieged, and oppressed with famine and pestilence. After Alaric and his Goths, the next ravagers were Attila and his Huns, who, for the space of fourteen years, shook the East and West with the most cruel fear, and deformed the provinces of each empire with all kinds of plundering, slaughtering, and burning. They first wasted Thrace, Macedon, and Greece, putting all to fire and sword, and compelling the Eastern emperor, Theodosius, to purchase a shameful peace. Attila then turned his arms against the Western emperor, Valentinian III.; entered Gaul with seven hundred thousand men, took, plundered, and set most of the cities on fire. But, at length, being vigorously opposed, he fell upon Italy, took and destroyed Aquileia with several other cities, slaying the inhabitants, and laying the buildings in ashes; and filled all places between the Alps and Apennines with depopulation, slaughter, servitude, burning, and desperation. Such a man might properly be compared to a mountain burning with fire; who really was, as he called himself, the Scourge of God, and the terror of men; and boasted that he was sent into the world by God for this purpose; that, as the executioner of his just anger, he might fill the earth with all kinds of evils: and he bounded his cruelty and passion by nothing less than blood and burning.


Verse 10-11

Revelation 8:10-11. There fell a great star from heaven, &c.— Stars, in prophetic style, are figurative representations of many things. Among others, they signify kings and kingdoms,—eminent persons of great authority and power. See Numbers 24:17 . Daniel 8:10 . Isaiah 14:12 . Rivers, and fountains of waters to supply them, may be considered as necessaries to the support of life. The drying up of rivers and fountains of waters, expresses a scarcity of things necessary. See Hosea 13:15 . Isaiah 19:5 . There seems also an allusion to Exodus 7:20-21 . Here then we have a prophesy, which aptly expresses a judgment to come on the seat of the Roman empire, which should destroy the power of it in its spring and fountain, and cut off all its necessary supports; as when rivers and fountains, so necessary to life, are infected, and become rather deadly, than fit for use. At the sounding of the third trumpet, says Bishop Newton, a great prince appears like a star shooting from heaven to earth; a similitude not unusual in poetry.His coming is therefore sudden and unexpected, and his stay but short. The name of the star is called Wormwood, and he infects a third part of the rivers, &c. Revelation 8:11. that is, he is a bitter enemy, and proves the author of grievous calamities to the Roman empire. The rivers and fountains have a near connection with the sea, and it was within two years after Attila's retreat from Italy, that Valentinian was murdered; and Maximus, who had caused him to be murdered, reigning in his stead, Genseric, the king of the Vandals, having settled in Africa, was solicited by Eudoxia, the widow of the deceased emperor, to revenge his death. Genseric accordingly embarked with three hundred thousand Vandals and Moors, and arrived upon the Roman coasts in June, 455, the emperor and people not expecting him. He landed his men, and marched directly to Rome, which being deserted by its inhabitants, fell an easy prey into his hands. The city was abandoned to the cruelty and avarice of his soldiers, who plundered it fourteen days together. He then set sail for Africa, carrying with him immense wealth, and an innumerable multitude of captives, together with the empress Eudoxia and her two daughters, and left the state so weakened, that, in a little time, it was utterly subverted. Some critics understand rivers and fountains, Revelation 8:10. with relation to doctrines; and in this sense the application is still very proper to Genseric, who was a most bigoted Arian, and during his reign most cruelly persecuted the orthodox Christians.


Verse 12

Revelation 8:12. The fourth angel sounded, &c.— At the sounding of the fourth trumpet, the third part of the sun, moon, and stars, that is, the great lights of the Roman empire, were eclipsed and darkened, and remained in darkness for some time. See Jeremiah 13:16 . Isaiah 13:10-11 . Ezekiel 32:7-8 . Genseric left the western empire in a weak and desperate condition. It struggled hard, and gasped as it were for breath, through eight short and turbulent reigns, for the space of twenty years, and at length expired under Momillus, in the year 476. This change was effected by Odoacer, king of the Heruli, who, coming to Rome with an army of barbarians, caused himself to be proclaimed king of Italy, and put an end to the very name of the Western empire. After a reign of sixteen years, he was overcome in the year 493, by Theodoric, who founded the kingdom of the Ostrogoths in Italy, which continued about sixty years. Thus was the Roman sun extinguished in the Western empire: but the other lesser luminaries, the moon and stars, still subsisted; for Rome was still allowed to have her senate, and consuls, and other subordinate magistrates, as before. These lights shone more faintly under barbarian kings, than under Roman emperors; but they were not totally suppressed and extinguished, till after the kingdom of the Ostrogoths was destroyed by the lieutenants of the emperor of the East, and Italy became a province to the Eastern empire. Longinus, in the year 566, by authority received from the emperor Justin II. changed the whole form of the government, and in every city of note constituted a new governor, under the title of duke. He himself presided over all; and, residing at Ravenna, was called "the Exarch of Ravenna," as his successors were also. Rome was thus degraded to the same level with other places; and, from being the queen of cities, and empress of the world, was reduced to a poor dukedom, and made tributary to Ravenna, which she had used to govern.


Verse 13

Revelation 8:13. I beheld, and heard an angel flying through, &c.— Notice is here proclaimed by an angel, that the three other trumpets will sound to still greater and more terrible plagues, and are therefore distinguished from the former by the name of woes. They are not woes of a light or common nature, but such in the extreme; for the Hebrews having no superlative degree, in the manner of other languages, express their superlative by repeating the positive three times, as in this place. The design of this messenger is to raise our attention to the following trumpets; and the following we shall find to be more strongly marked than the foregoing. The foregoing relate chiefly to the downfal of the Western empire; the following relate chiefly to the downfal of the Eastern empire. The foregoing are described more succinctly, and contain a less compass of time; the following are set forth with more particular circumstances, and are of longer duration, as well as of larger description. Mr. Burton observes, "The seven trumpets fall next under our consideration; which, I conclude, are governed by the above-mentioned apocalyptical number, seven, four of which seem to me to have already sounded; but the three remaining ones, called the woe trumpets, I look upon as yet to be sounded; though we seem hastening towards them. For, however the imaginations of men, warmed with apious zeal for solving all scriptural difficulties, may have induced them to believe any past events to have answered to the apocalyptical descriptions; the imagery appears to me too strong for any one event that has yet happened, properly to be applied to. I am therefore inclined to think, that the fifth, sixth, and seventh are yet to sound. What induces me to think so, is, that in the vision of the prophet Habakkuk, a similar description seems to be given to this dreadful one now under our consideration; which has an apparent reference to those events that are to take place in the very last days.Habakkuk 1:6 . For lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwelling-places that are not theirs. Revelation 8:7. They are terrible and dreadful; their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves. Revelation 8:8. Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves: and their horsemen shall spread themselves, and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat. Revelation 8:9. They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand. Revelation 8:10. And they shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn unto them: they shall deride every strong hold, for they shall heap dust, and take it. This description must awaken our attention, and seems to answer to the tremendous warriors of this chapter. But, bad as the bulk of the giddy multitude may at this time appear, the bottomless pit, I hope, is not yet opened upon us; since, most probably, that will be a time dreadful beyond the power of imagination to conceive, and may be that very hour of temptation, which our Saviour has declared shall one day come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth, and from which Christ has most graciously promised to those who have kept the word of his patience, that he will keep them, Revelation 3:10 . Whereas, although, through the great prevalency of sin, the multitude of the wicked already, at times, seem to ride triumphant; yet, God be thanked, there are not wanting many individuals, who are ready to stand forth in defence of religion, and many, who, in their words and works, set forth all its praise." See the Appendix to the Revelation, for other views of this subject.

Inferences and REFLECTIONS.—While we prepare ourselves, with silent admiration, to attend the discoveries here opening upon us, let us rejoice in the symbolical representation of the intercession of Jesus, our great High-Priest, shadowed forth, in so beautiful and expressive a manner, by the angel standing at the altar with the golden censer, and much incense. Behold, how the prayers of all the saints ascend before God with acceptance! See the method we are to take, if we desire that ours should be acceptable to him; and, encouraged by such a view, let us offer them up, not only with humility, but with cheerful confidence, though we are conscious of their great unworthiness.

To what wretchedness are they exposed, who oppress and injure those, that, through their great Representative, have such an interest in the court of Heaven! The hail and the fire shall, at the divine command, powerfully plead their cause; the mountains shall be torn from their bases, and cast into the middle of the sea; the sun, the noon, and the stars shall be darkened in their orbs, and all nature be thrown into convulsive agonies, ere God will suffer his faithful saints to be overborne; or fail to punish, with becoming severity, those who continue to persecute or evil entreat them.

Let such awful representatives as these remind us of the sovereign almighty power of God, whom all the hosts of heaven worship with reverence; and at whose awful word, when he gives forth his voice, hailstones and coals of fire descend (Psalms 18:13 .); at whose rebuke the pillars of heaven tremble, and the foundations of the earth are shaken; who speaks to the sun, and it shineth not; who darkeneth the moon, and sealeth up the stars. Who would not fear thee, O thou King of nations, so terrible in the judgments which thou executest on the earth? Deliver us, we entreat thee, from the multiplied and accumulated miseries of those who continue obstinately to oppose thee; and conduct us at length to thy heavenly presence; though it should be through days of darkness, and waters of bitterness, and seas of blood! Amen.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Revelation 8:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/revelation-8.html. 1801-1803.

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