An Exegetical Commentary
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 28 May 2011; Revised 22 June 2019
Scripture Text: The Scripture text used in this commentary is prepared by Blaine Robison and based on the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. The essentially literal translation seeks to reflect the Jewish character of the author and writing. See my web article The Jewish New Testament. Scripture quotations may be taken from different versions. Click here for abbreviations of Bible versions.
Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited may be found at the end of the chapter commentary. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. Important early sources include the following:
● Church Fathers: Works by early leaders of Christianity are at Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
● DSS: Citations marked as "DSS" are from the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of Jewish manuscripts of Scripture and sectarian documents found in the Qumran caves. Most of the Qumran MSS belong to the last two centuries B.C. and the first century A.D. Online. Click here for DSS abbreviations.
● LXX: The abbreviation "LXX" ("70") stands for the Septuagint, the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which was in use among Jews by the mid-2nd century B.C.
● Josephus: Citations for Josephus, the first century Jewish historian (Yosef ben Matityahu), are from The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 75–99 A.D.) trans. William Whiston (1737). Online.
Syntax: Unless otherwise noted the definitions of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009). See the Greek Guide for the meaning of grammar abbreviations. Definitions of Hebrew words are from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981). The numbering system of the Strong's Exhaustive Concordance is identified with "SH" (Strong's Hebrew number) and "SG" (Strong's Greek number). Strong's Online.
Vocabulary: To emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms ADONAI (for 'LORD' when quoting a Tanakh source), Yeshua (Jesus), Messiah (Christ), Tanakh (Old Testament), and Besekh (New Testament).
The Seventh Seal Opened (8:1-6)
1― And when he broke the seventh seal, silence took place in heaven about a half-hour.
And when he broke: Grk. anoigō, aor., to open, often used of doors and gates. Some versions insert "the Lamb" before the verb for narrative consistency. the seventh: Grk. hebdomos, adj., the ordinal seventh of a series. seal: Grk. sphragis, an etched (engraved) object pressed into soft wax or clay to seal a document or letter; seal (HELPS). Suddenly the seventh and final seal is opened. silence: Grk. sigē, silence or quiet in the sense of the absence of all noise, whether by speaking or anything else. took place: Grk. ginomai, aor., to transfer from one state or condition to another, here to undergo a state of existence, change or development; came to be, took place, or happened.
The silence is significant because each of the previous six seals were accompanied with the sound of loud voices, first the living creatures, then the martyrs and finally the followers of the beast. Yet, the seventh seal begins with silence. in heaven: Grk. ouranos, the area above the earth that encompasses the sky, interstellar space and associated phenomena or the transcendent dwelling-place of God (Ps 148:1-4).Here the latter location of heaven is intended.
about a half-hour: Grk. hēmiōrion, a time reference for half an hour. The noun occurs only here in the Besekh. The mention of silence for 30 minutes is puzzling. How did John know the passing of time in heaven? The adverb "about" represents John's best guess. Even the living creatures hushed their anthem of praise and the elders made no move. Johnson refers to it as kind of a Sabbath pause, but this period of time is not merely a cessation from work. The half-hour wait may reflect Zephaniah's admonition, "Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near" (Zeph 1:7). Something terrible is about to happen, so the angels and disciples indicate their solemn respect of God's sovereign planning and anticipation of those long-awaited final events that will bring the present age to a close.
For decades motion picture producers have treated the public to one disaster movie after another featuring alien invasions, nuclear war, asteroid bombardment, volcanic eruptions, massive earthquakes, prehistoric predators, and a host of other threats to the survival of mankind. Often these movies rely on the assumption of "Mother Earth" gone berserk to repay mankind for not listening to environmentalists. In contrast the book of Revelation, particularly this chapter, describes a series of global catastrophes purposely initiated and engineered by God as judgment on a sinful world, and announced by trumpets, perhaps in answer to the prayers of the martyrs for justice.
Many have puzzled over whether the seven trumpets cover the same period as the seven seals and seven bowls since the events described are somewhat parallel. However, the natural sense of the context is that the seventh seal reveals the judgments of the seven trumpets and the seventh trumpet reveals the judgments of the seven bowls.
Messianic Jewish writers have pointed out that the narrative of the trumpet judgments strongly resembles the story of the plagues on Egypt in the time of Moses (Stern 814f; also Juster 17-20). The circumstances are also parallel. In Exodus Egypt was ruled by a dictator that oppressed the descendants of Israel (née Jacob). In Revelation the world is ruled by the beast that makes war on the saints. Both Exodus and Revelation feature two witnesses who serve as advocates of God. In both Exodus and Revelation God promises a new home for His people, but in order for His people to gain the new home the dictator must be defeated. Most significantly God imposes plagues of judgment to punish the dictator and his subjects for defying God and to do justice for the people of God.
In both books the plagues begin with the action of God's agents, Moses in Exodus and the angels in Revelation. In Exodus there is an unnatural succession of nine greatly intensified natural disasters (water turned blood-red, frogs, gnats, insects, livestock disease, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness) followed by the divine judgment of the death of the firstborn. In Revelation there are thirteen plagues, most of which replicate globally the Exodus judgments in horrifying severity. The calamities announced by the trumpets do not wreak total devastation to the earth and they are not God's final wrath. During the trumpet judgments, God still extends His offer of grace in response to repentance (9:21). The world has been warned. Unfortunately, the value of the warning has been diminished by the symbolic interpretation employed by many Christian interpreters.
And I saw the seven angels: Beginning with this chapter John is given glimpses of the power of angels. See my web article The Host of Heaven. who stand before God: Grk. histēmi, perf., to stand or to stand firm. The perfect tense points to their perpetual office from their initial appointment in the distant past. Throughout Scripture angels are given a variety of ministries to perform on behalf of God and His people. Of them David said, "Bless the Lord, you His angels, mighty in strength, who perform His Word, obeying the voice of His word" (Ps 103:20).
The definite article ("the" seven angels) and the prepositional phrase "before God" indicate this is a special group. The "Angels of the Presence” have a well-documented history in Jewish literature, possibly commencing with Isaiah 63:9 which mentions “an angel of His presence” and would include Gabriel who identified himself as one who stands in the presence of God (Luke 1:19). 1Enoch 20:2-8 gives the names and functions of seven holy angels who watch: Uri’el, Rafa’el, Ragu’el, Micha’el, Saraka’el, Gavri’el and Remi’el (Stern 814).
and seven trumpets: Grk. salpinx, which may refer to the instrument itself, the sound made by blowing into it or the signal given by the instrument. In Greek and Roman culture the salpinx was primarily a military trumpet used to change the guard, to sound attack or retreat or to terrify or deceive the enemy (DNTT 3:873). The term was also used as the name of a comet and figuratively of thunder (LSJ). The Greek salpinx, known since the years of Homer, consisted of a long, straight tube of narrow, cylindrical bore (roughly 90 cm) that ended in a prominent tulip-shaped bell. It was usually made of copper with a bone or metal mouthpiece. (See pictures at the Kotsanas Museum of Ancient Greek Technology.)
In the LXX salpinx translates six different Hebrew terms, the most common being shofar (SH-7782) and chatsotsrah (SH-2689) (DNTT 3:873f). The term shofar referred to originally the curved "ram’s horn," then more generally "horn" or "wind instrument," and was used for both military and religious purposes. Chatsotsrah was a long straight trumpet made of beaten silver and used for both practical and religious purposes (Num 10:1-10). The CJB and OJB translate salpinx here with shofars, but the MW and TLV have "trumpets."
were given to them: The grammar intends that each angel received one trumpet. The shape, design or composition of the trumpets used by the angels is not described. While Juster and Stern suggest that the trumpets were shofars, but it is much more likely as Mounce suggests that the trumpets were like the chatsotsrah. The silver trumpets God commanded Moses to make would have been based on a heavenly pattern (cf. Ex 25:9, 40; Num 8:4; 1Chr 28:19). Scripture makes no mention of animals in heaven, and it seems highly unlikely that the angels would have shofars made of horns from slaughtered rams.
3― Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne.
Another angel came: John notices an altar and a different angel than the group of seven entering and holding a censer. The angel here is performing one of the many ministries on behalf of the saints as determined by the Lord (cf. Heb 1:14). and stood at the altar: The temple in Jerusalem had two altars, one for burnt offerings and one for incense. Since the atonement of Yeshua was "once-for-all," this altar cannot be for sacrifice, but would be an altar of incense (Stern). Even so, altars in Hebrew worship reflected personal sacrifice and only the best could be offered to God. holding a golden censer: Grk. libanotos means (frank)incense or censer and occurs only here and v. 5 in the apostolic writings. Libanos is a white resinous gum obtained from several kinds of a certain tree in Arabia. The adjective "golden" indicates that John had the implement in mind rather than what was placed in it (Mounce). The "golden censer" refers to a fire-pan. The original censers in the temple were made of brass (Ex 27:3), whereas Solomon had the implements made from gold (1Kgs 7:50).
and much incense: Grk. thumiama. The word is actually plural, "incenses" (Marshall). The term "much incenses" may then refer to quantity or variety. Incense is a sweet-smelling substance burned to release its fragrance. Revelation 5:8 gives the only explicit statement of the purpose of incense burning as representative of prayer. The burning of incense was a particular function of the priesthood (1Sam 2:28) and the Torah contains specific instructions for its composition and proper use. However, the lingering smoke morning and evening in the temple would also signify the presence of God (cf. 1Kgs 8:10f; Isa 6:4). Incense was an integral part of worship in the tabernacle and the Jerusalem temple, but ceased when the temple was destroyed (CJE 258).
so that he might add it to the prayers: Grk. proseuchē is the most common word-group in the apostolic writings for prayer and used in the context of worship, personal requests and intercession (DNTT 2:861). The clause "that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints" appears to be at variance with John's explanation of the incense in 5:8. Translations reflect the interpretation of the majority of commentators that both incense and prayer are present and somehow being mingled. The RSV even uses this particular phrasing. However, Mounce suggests that the dative case of "prayers" in this and the next verse (translated by the preposition with) is equivalent to the Heb. le of definition and so should be translated, "he was given much incense to offer, consisting of the prayers of the holy ones." How important is prayer!
of all the saints: It should be noted that the prayers of "all the saints" are used and not just the martyrs of 6:9. Here the prayers of the saints are given priority over the blowing of the trumpets. David noted in his prayer of Psalm 56:8: "You have taken account of my wanderings; put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?" God does not reveal His reasoning, but prayers are not just words uttered into the air to be lost. Not only does God hear and answer the prayers of His people, but also He honors His people by keeping and cherishing their prayers.
on the golden altar which was before the throne: The kinds of prayers God can use are those that are offered on an altar. Perhaps the believer should consider this question, "Is my place of prayer an altar where I submit myself to God's will or an anvil where I ‘pound out' my will?" The essence of the prayers of the saints may be found in the prayer Yeshua taught his disciples – "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Yeshua has been longing for this day (cf. Luke 12:49-51).
4― And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel's hand.
Again the word "incense" is plural. Mounce suggests that the prayers as fragrant incense go up before God as a symbol of divine acceptance, but particular note is made of the fact of both incense and prayers going up, reinforcing the description of the previous verse. The prayers in this situation may function as a "sacrifice of praise to God" (Heb 13:15), but prayer by definition means a petition or entreaty. To say that the incense and prayers go up "out of the hand" of the angel is an idiom that indicates personal control and activity to accomplish the action.
5― Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.
The angel next fills his censer with fire from the altar, perhaps in response to the prayers of the saints, and casts the contents to the earth. The action prefigures the bowl judgments by using a container to produce environmental reactions on earth, but in this case the angel's completed task serves as an alert of the impending trumpet blasts. The heavenly fire spreads over the earth and in its wake the incredible energy resident in earth's meteorological and tectonic systems echoes the divine decree in booming thunders, frightening flashes of lightning, and a jarring earthquake, not unlike the signs that accompanied God's visitation on Mt. Sinai in the time of Moses (Ex 19:16-19; 24:17). The awesome power of the earth reflects the omnipotence of God that controls all physical processes in the universe.
6― And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound them.
Some commentators speculate that the trumpet calamities are retribution ordered by the two witnesses of Chapter Eleven (cf. 11:6). However, the trumpet judgments most likely follow the deaths of the two witnesses and should not be confused with their actions taken in self-defense. An interesting detail in John's description is the mention of the angels preparing themselves. Whether the angels have to "tune" the instruments is not clear. Preparation may constitute forming a straight line and raising their trumpets at a ready position. There is also psychological preparation as they might consider how their singular effort will assist God in transitioning from this present age to the age to come. They know they've been selected out of millions of angels at God's disposal. This is a moment of extreme concentration as a cavalry bugler might anticipate the signal to sound the charge. If the angels had been conversing previously they are now hushed and serious about the solemn task they know awaits their duty.
Four Trumpets Sound (8:7-12)
7― The first sounded, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were thrown to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
The first sounded: The first angel blew his trumpet. The sounding of the trumpets did not cause the effects described, but they announced to those in heaven the judgments that followed. there came hail: Grk. chalaza means hail or hailstone associated with a thunderstorm. At the sound of the first trumpet hail and fire are unleashed over the earth. Hail is precipitation in the form of ice and the fire in this case refers to lightning, since lightning is produced as ice crystals within a cloud grow and interact (Hugh H. Christian, Lightning Detection from Space: A Lightning Primer, NASA: 2004). Lightning may be intra-cloud, inter-cloud, cloud-to-air or cloud-to-ground, the latter of which is inferred in this verse.
Hail is an uncommon meteorological occurrence in the holy land and is only mentioned in Scripture as a weapon in God's arsenal. "Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, which I have reserved for the time of distress, for the day of war and battle? (Job 38:22f) Two specific incidents of hail are recorded in Scripture. Egypt experienced God's storehouse of hail in the seventh plague, "such as had not been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation" (Ex 9:23f). Many people and livestock were killed, which resulted in a short-lived confession of sin from Pharaoh (Ex 9:27).
The second mention of hail came on the day the sun stood still and God gave a great victory to Joshua: "As they fled from before Israel, while they were at the descent of Beth-horon, the Lord threw large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died; there were more who died from the hailstones than those whom the sons of Israel killed with the sword" (Josh 10:11). Because of these two significant acts of God's wrath in Israel's history, the hailstorm became a symbol of divine vengeance (Ps 18:12f; 105:32; Isa 28:2, 17; 30:30; Ezek 13:11, 13; 38:22; Hag 2:17). Hail is mentioned only three times in the apostolic writings, all in Revelation (also 11:19; 16:21). Since hail represents God's wrath, then the common experience of mankind with much less severe hailstorms serves as a serious warning of God's judgment described in these trumpet plagues.
mixed with blood: Grk. haima. See 1:5 on "blood." The mention of the hail being mixed with or in blood presents something of a puzzle to the modern mind. Blood is a unique and divinely created fluid that circulates in humans and animals and carries nutrients to and waste away from bodily tissues and protects the body from infection. Barnes connects the mention of blood with reports of reddish colored snow that has fallen infrequently in the past. In 1778 red snow was discovered on Mount St. Bernard (Switzerland), in the Spanish Pyrenees, and in Norway, and in 1819 at Baffin's Bay (Canada). Red snow fell on the whole country of Cadore, Belluno, and Peltri, Italy in 1808, and in 1818 it fell on the Italian Alps and Apennines. Most scholars treat the mention of blood as a symbolic color. Whether the blood-hail is only a variation of the red snow of man's experience remains to be confirmed by a chemical analysis, but the text does not imply that God merely added red dye to the hail.
and they were thrown to the earth: Grk. gē. Considering the vegetation affected by the divine storm the word "earth" probably should be translated "land." and a third of the earth: The measurement of a "third" of land and trees being burned is a simple description of the result and not necessarily the specific intention to burn only a third, especially since "all" the grass is burned. While the "third" could refer to one specific landmass on earth, this plague could consist of many localized storms and the "third" represents the cumulative total of land affected on all the continents.
and a third of the trees: The word "trees" occurs frequently in Scripture in reference to fruit-bearing trees, the olive, the fig and the vine, upon which the agrarian society of ancient Israel was so dependent (Earle). and all green grass: Grk. chortos refers to grass or hay, including green grass standing in a field or meadow or stalks of grain in their early grass-like stages. Similarly, "grass" does not refer to lawn grass, but to edible vegetation grown in fields and meadows, whether for animals or people (cf. Matt 13:26; 14:19; Mark 4:28).
was burned up: The verb may be "burned up" or "burned down" meaning a complete destruction by fire. The preposition in compound is perfective (Rienecker). the triple repetition of the verb emphasizes the divine nature of the judgment. The calamities announced by the trumpets do not wreak total devastation to the earth and they are not God's final wrath. More destruction follows in the bowl judgments, and, during the trumpet judgments, God still offers grace in response to repentance (9:21).
8― The second angel sounded, and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood,
something like a great mountain: Grk. oros means "mountain," "hill," or "hill-country." In Greek literature oros was also used to denote a desert and a place to bury a corpse. was thrown: Grk. ballō, aor. pass. See 6:13 on "casts." into the sea: Grk. thalassa. See 4:6 on "sea." At the sound of the second trumpet John sees a huge rock mass "thrown," not merely fall, into the sea. Morris suggests that the burning "mountain" could be a great meteorite or asteroid hurtling toward the earth, surrounded by combustible gases that ignite as it enters the atmosphere. However, the text does not say that the "mountain" came from heaven as in the third trumpet, and everywhere else in Scripture "mountain" is a terrain feature on earth. Yeshua had said that only a little faith was required to throw a mountain into the sea (Matt 21:21), perhaps portending this great act of judgment.
The "burning" indicates the explosion of a volcano and the mountain is rated as "great" because of the size of the mountain and the amount of material ejected in the eruption. While scientists speculate on "deadliest" volcanoes, perhaps the greatest volcano in history (since the global flood) was the Hatepe eruption (also called Taupo eruption) in New Zealand about AD 180, which ejected an estimated 120 cubic kilometers of material, devastated an area of 20,000 square miles and sent a massive tsunami crashing miles into Australia. It is believed that the eruption column was 50 kilometers high, twice as high as the eruption column from Mount St. Helens in 1980. The resulting ash turned the sky red over Rome and China. (See Hatepe Eruption) In this last-days event the explosion is so great that the mountain itself is destroyed and blown into the sea.
and a third of the sea became blood: The mountain explosion causes the sea to become blood. (See comment on the previous verse of blood mixed with hail.) Besides the experience of red snow, blood-red water can occur naturally such as water poisoned by multitudes of dead microorganisms known as "red tides," which have occurred infrequently in modern oceans (Morris). Water may also turn red from the combination of red soil and various animal and plant organisms, which has occurred with the flooding of the Nile (Edersheim-Bible 179). Nevertheless, the sea becoming blood probably refers to the blood of animals and people killed by the explosion, suggesting that the location is near a major population center. The deadliest volcano eruption recorded in ancient times occurred at Mount Vesuvius, Italy, located close to the Bay of Naples in the year 79, whereas in modern times the deadliest volcanoes have occurred in Indonesia.
The text indicates that the great mountain is situated next to the sea. Identification of the location is complicated by the fact that Scripture uses the term "sea" for both land-locked bodies, such as the Sea (or Lake) of Galilee and the Dead Sea, and the great bodies bordering Israel, the Great Sea (Mediterranean) and the Red Sea. In modern language "sea" refers to the continuous salt waters that cover the earth. While man has defined and named four oceans (Arctic, Atlantic, Indian and Pacific) and various seas on the earth for navigation purposes (and national control), the global interconnected waters, covering over 70% of the earth's surface, are the remnant of the cataclysmic flood of Noah's day and know no boundary but the land.
The explosion affects a "third of the sea," which may represent linear distance, i.e., the area of water affected from the point of impact either in all directions or in the direction of the prevailing currents. The third could also refer to depth, meaning that the red color does not extend to the bottom of the ocean. The location of the exploding mountain cannot be determined, but possible sites include the so-called "rim of fire" that encircles the Pacific Ocean and the historic volcanoes in the Mediterranean area.
9― and a third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed.
a third of the creatures: While there may be ambiguity in the meaning of "third," ocean animals are definitely harmed and would partly account for blood in the water. The "creatures" are defined as having "life," or more literally, "souls" (Marshall). Scripture never speaks of plants as "living" or "dying." Plants either produce fruit or dry up (cf. John 15:2, 6). Genesis 1:20-21 tells of the creation of sea animals, which are referred to as "living" or "with souls." This verse does not exclude the possibility of sea plants being destroyed, but the focus is on the fish and mammals of the sea, which are such a vital part of the earth's economy. The loss of so much grass and timber from the first trumpet and the loss of marine life in this judgment will seriously impact the basic components of the food chain.
a third of the ships: Grk. ploion in biblical times denoted any vessel that could go out on a body of water. In modern times "ships" are classified as vessels that can traverse oceans, whereas "boats" cannot, and it is this distinction that has probably guided translation of the word in modern Bible versions. The massive eruption and explosion of the great mountain into the ocean will create concentric tsunami waves emanating from the point of impact and of much greater size than a normal hurricane. Not only is that which is under the sea adversely affected, but also what is on the surface. Ships that happen to be in the area would be destroyed, probably not from direct impact, but from the advancing tsunami waves. Morris thinks that most of the ships to be destroyed would likely be those anchored in port when coastal areas are hit by the gigantic waves.
10― The third angel sounded, and a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of waters.
The third angel sounded: At the sound of the third trumpet a "great star" plummets from heaven. like a torch: Grk. lampas. See 4:5 on "lamps." The star is described burning as a torch, either referring to the fire created from falling through the atmosphere or that the object is already on fire before it enters the atmosphere. In recent years scientists and the media have given much attention to potential meteor or asteroid collisions with the earth. In fact, scientists estimate that there are 10,000 objects half a kilometer or more in diameter moving on intersecting trajectories with the Earth. Many of these objects are capable of causing more damage than all the nations' nuclear weapons put together. It is only a matter of time before one of those intersections results in catastrophe. (Henry M. Morris, "The Coming Big Bang," Back to Genesis, Institute for Creation Research: #101, May 1997, a.) If the "star" was already on fire, then the description fits the characteristics of a comet. a third of … waters: The mass of the missile may be mostly fluid so that when it enters the atmosphere it breaks up scattering its burning elements over land and sea, all over the earth (Morris). The fragmented material contaminates even subterranean sources of water.
11― The name of the star is called Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter.
The name of the star: Grk. apsinthos, "wormwood," is a rare word, occurring nowhere else in the Greek Bible, although the Greek translation of Aquila uses it several times (Ladd). Wormwood is the deadly liquor ingredient known as absinthe (Morris). The star is given the official name after the poison because of its effects. Normally, wormwood mixed with water would not be deadly. However, the concentration is so high that many people die from drinking the water unaware of its pollution. In Jeremiah 9:15 wormwood symbolizes divine judgment. "Therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, 'Behold I will feed them, this people, with wormwood and give them poisoned water to drink'" (cf. Jer 23:15; Lam 3:15, 19; Amos 5:7).
12― The fourth angel sounded, and a third of the sun and a third of the moon and a third of the stars were struck, so that a third of them would be darkened and the day would not shine for a third of it, and the night in the same way.
The fourth angel sounded: At the blowing of the fourth trumpet interstellar bodies are affected. were struck: The verb plēssō occurs only here in the Bible. In Greek literature plēssō was used to refer to either lightning strikes or physical blows inflicted on persons or things. Thus, a violent blast of high energy hits the sun, moon and stars. The description is not that only a third of the heavenly bodies are affected but that the illumination from all of them is instantly reduced by a third. The "third" may refer to what is visible to an observer on earth (cf. Ps 8:3) rather than all the stars in existence, since "the host of heaven cannot be counted" (Jer 33:22) and only about 4,000 stars are visible to the naked eye without the aid of a telescope (BBMS 156). Daylight hours around the globe vary greatly from the North Pole to the South Pole, so in this respect the impact is relative. However, the loss of light and heat will cause a severe drop in world temperatures and adversely effect climate. Severe storms would likely result, as well as interruptions in botanical and biological cycles (Morris). The darkening effect is temporary, though, because later the sun's burning is intensified (16:8-9), but men's hearts will fail from fear (cf. Luke 21:25-26).
This judgment is not an eclipse, which usually only lasts a few minutes. The earth is plunged into total darkness for about 6-8 hours, the period overlapping daytime and nighttime. In a similar judgment on Egypt the ninth plague of Moses imposed darkness on all the land, except for Goshen (Ex 10:21ff). Darkness is the character of eternal separation from God (Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). The alternating periods of day and night have always served as a symbolic reminder of the Two Ways – Life and Death. Mankind has ignored this perpetual sign (Rom 1:19-20) and the extended period of total darkness announces the doom that awaits those who refuse to repent.
Announcement of Woes (8:13)
13― Then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in mid-heaven, saying with a loud voice, "Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!"
I heard an eagle: Grk. aetos, a large bird of prey, eagle or vulture. John's attention is drawn from the trumpet sounding as he sees an unusual sight. In fact, it was such an unusual sight that he feels the need to emphasize that he really did see and hear an "eagle" or a vulture talking to him. The TR (KJV) reads "angel," perhaps influenced by a similar phrase in 14:6, but the earliest MSS (reflected in the WH Text/NA27) and majority of MSS (reflected in the Maj-Text) have aetos (eagle) rather than angelos (angel). The Greek word aetos can also mean a vulture, which could be appropriate to the devastation to come (cf. Matt 24:28; Luke 17:37). Ancient taxonomy classed vultures and eagles together. An angel may seem more appropriate than an eagle-vulture since these birds are classified as unclean in the Torah (Lev 11:13). However, the message was apparently for John's benefit and the surreal use of the vulture anticipates the great supper of 19:17.
Even though most scholars believe that "eagle" is the correct reading of the Greek text, not all are prepared to accept the report literally. After all, birds of any kind cannot speak intelligible words. See 5:13 regarding John's report that "every created thing" praised God. It is unnecessary to cast doubt on the veracity of John's narrative by suggesting he was just using a dramatic word picture to make a point. But, to those who prefer the symbolic interpretation John says, "I heard." In other words, God or an angel did not translate "eagle-speak" into Greek or Hebrew nor was the experience just a figment of his imagination. John heard the eagle speak in his own human language, just as Balaam heard a donkey speak in his language (Num 22:28). John may have been just as amazed as the multinational crowd on Pentecost who witnessed the divine gift of languages manifested (cf. Acts 2:7f).
flying in mid-heaven: Grk. mesouranēma, "mid-heaven," in ancient astronomy referred to the meridian and the zenith of the sun directly overhead of an observer on the land. "Mid-heaven" is used only three times in Scripture and all three in Revelation (14:6; 19:17). Mid-heaven has a very general frame of reference meaning the height of the sky that an observer on the ground would be able to see. Birds can fly up to altitudes of 25,000 feet, at which point they are above two-thirds of the atoms of the atmosphere (Humphreys 61). This bird is clearly within John's vision.
Woe: Grk. ouai is normally used in the apostolic writings as an interjection denoting pain or displeasure, "woe" or "alas." Here ouai is a substantive noun referring to a calamity. In the LXX ouai renders Hebrew words meaning "to howl," which may express grief (Prov 23:29), despair (1Sam 4:7), lamentation (1Kgs 13:30), dissatisfaction (Isa 1:4), pain (Jer 10:19), a threat (Ezek 16:23) or simply to attract attention (Isa 55:11) (DNTT 3:1051). The repetition of "woe" three times corresponds to the three remaining trumpets. In the rest of Scripture "woe" normally refers to events already experienced and expresses lamentation, grief or deep distress. At this point in the narrative the announcement of woes reflects the overwhelming emotional impact of surviving horrendous calamities only to be told that far worse threats to human life and property are imminent. Worse is still to come.
those who dwell: Grk. katoikeō. See 3:10 on "dwell." The idiom designates the pagan world in its hostility to God and in particular those who take the mark of the beast. The identification of the objects of the judgments suggests that any saints alive on the earth at this time are miraculously spared from the suffering caused by these manifestations of God's wrath (cf. 9:4).
BAG: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
Barnes: Albert Barnes, New Testament Notes. Baker Book House, 1949. Online.
BBMS: Henry Morris, Biblical Basis for Modern Science. Baker Book House, 1984.
Danker: Frederick William Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. The University of Chicago Press, 2009.
DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 Vols. Colin Brown, ed. Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.
Earle: Ralph Earle, The Book of The Revelation. Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. X. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1967.
Johnson: Alan F. Johnson, Revelation. Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Zondervan Publishing House, 1983. (Zondervan CD-ROM Version 2.6, 1989-1998)
Juster: Daniel Juster, Revelation: The Passover Key. Destiny Image Publishers, 1991.
Ladd: George E. Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972.
LSJ: Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon. Revised and augmented by Sir Henry Stuart Jones. Clarendon Press, 1940. Online.
Marshall: Alfred Marshall, NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English. Zondervan Pub. House, 1986.
Morris: Henry M. Morris, The Revelation Record. Tyndale House Publishers, 1987.
Mounce: Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation. rev. ed. New International Commentary on the New Testament. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.
Rienecker: Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. 2 Vols. The Zondervan Corporation, 1980.
Stern: David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. 5th ed. Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., 1996.
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