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Bible Commentary on the
Book of Revelation
By Brian Pepper
King James Version
The Seventh Seal and the Golden Censer
The silence mentioned in this verse is brought about by different circumstances. This is mentioned in Matthew 25:31, "When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory."
In heaven all is quiet. The heavenly hosts have left the celestial courts to accompany Christ to this earth, at long last the great event actually takes place, soon the Redeemed will be on their way to the celestial land never more to be separated from the Saviour.
About the space of half an hour
Using the Bible formula for prophetic time, a Day in prophecy equals a Year. Half an hour is a 48th part of a day. A Bible year is 360 days and so the 48th part of 360 equals 7.5 days. So half an hour would be about one literal week.
AND I SAW THE SEVEN ANGELS WHICH STOOD BEFORE GOD; AND TO THEM WERE GIVEN SEVEN TRUMPETS.
And I saw the seven angels which stood before God
Hardly had the Seven Seals been opened when John is called to view seven angels ready to blow Seven Trumpets. These trumpets parallel the Seven Churches and the Seven Seals. The Seven Churches picture conditions within the church during the Gospel age. The Seven Seals portray the condition of the church at different periods, plus great events connected with our Lord's return. The Seven Trumpets reveal political and military events which affected the church.
And to them were given seven trumpets
In ancient times, trumpets were used to warn of danger, or to announce important events. The trumpet was especially used as an alarm for war. Jeremiah 4:19 latter half says, "...I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, 0 my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war."
All three of these heavenly visions terminate with the Second Advent of Jesus Christ. "By the seven trumpets the world's kingdoms are overturned to make way for Christ's universal kingdom." (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown. Commentary on the Whole Bible.)
AND ANOTHER ANGEL CAME AND STOOD AT THE ALTAR, HAVING A GOLDEN CENSER; AND THERE WAS GIVEN UNTO HIM MUCH INCENSE, THAT HE SHOULD OFFER IT WITH THE PRAYERS OF ALL SAINTS UPON THE GOLDEN ALTAR WHICH WAS BEFORE THE THRONE.
And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense.
After seeing the seven angels receive the trumpets from God's throne, John's attention is directed to another scene. As the seven angels stand poised ready to blow seven trumpets, and as the details of battle, bloodshed, and cruelty are about to be given, still another angel is seen in heaven. This angel has a golden censer about to be offered at the altar. It is a reminder that in the middle of a world torn by battle, God's people are remembered in heaven.
That he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne
The angel standing before the golden altar symbolises Jesus' work as our heavenly mediator. The golden altar on which incense burned perpetually, is a type of Jesus' continual intercession. Romans 8:34 says, "Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us."
As Jesus stands before the golden altar and the throne, He is actively engaged in influencing not only men but also God. Jesus has entered heaven "to appear in the presence of God for us" (Hebrews 9:24). His personal interest assures us that our prayers are taken to God and as He ministers before the golden altar, He mixes our prayers with incense, a symbol of His shed blood and His righteous life.
AND THE SMOKE OF THE INCENSE, WHICH CAME WITH THE PRAYERS OF THE SAINTS, ASCENDED UP BEFORE GOD OUT OF THE ANGEL'S HAND.
Ascending before the throne from the golden altar of incense are the prayers of God's people. One thing is clear, that which is revealed in the sounding of the Seven Trumpets, may seem as if all is in confusion among the nations, but the events which take place are under God's direction. There is the assurance that the prayers of God's people as they ascend to the throne room of God are heard and answered.
AND THE ANGEL TOOK THE CENSER, AND FILLED IT WITH FIRE OF THE ALTAR, AND CAST IT INTO THE EARTH: AND THERE WERE VOICES, AND THUNDERINGS, AND LIGHTNINGS, AND AN EARTHQUAKE.
And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth
In these verses, we have in the angel at the altar of incense, a picture of Christ's intercession for His people throughout the Christian era. The prayers of God's people are seen ascending, and among them the prayers of the martyrs in the fifth seal: "How long, 0 Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?"
This was not only the prayer of the martyrs, but also the theme of the prayers of all of God's children who have suffered for the sake of the Gospel. The action of the angel in throwing a censer of fire unmixed with incense into the earth symbolises that these prayers are now being answered. God's anger against those who persecute His people will not be held back forever. When it is finally poured out, there will be no mercy nor intercession of Christ.
And there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake
These are physical manifestations of nature that take place during the 7 Last Plagues and particularly under the seventh plague which climaxes with a world shattering earthquake.
AND THE SEVEN ANGELS WHICH HAD THE SEVEN TRUMPETS PREPARED THEMSELVES TO SOUND.
The Trumpets are Judgments, starting with the Roman Empire and finishing with the Plagues. The Plagues are judgments on the followers of great Babylon. It is worth noting the relationship between the Trumpets and the Seven Last Plagues.
Both the Trumpets and the Plagues are similar, as they are judgments and scourges upon the wicked. But while they are similar they are not identical; one is a type of the other. The Trumpets for the most part are in the past while the Plagues are still in the future.
THE FIRST ANGEL SOUNDED, AND THERE FOLLOWED HAIL AND FIRE MINGLED WITH BLOOD, AND THEY WERE CAST UPON THE EARTH: AND THE THIRD PART OF TREES WERE BURNT UP, AND ALL GREEN GRASS WAS BURNT UP.
The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth
The first judgment fell on the Roman Empire. It was to the Roman Empire that the soldiers of the cross first proclaimed the Gospel following its rejection by the Jews. The terrible persecutions of the Christians by Rome under the Caesars and the relentless efforts of this power to completely exterminate them is part of history. Rome, the universal kingdom at the time of Christ's first advent, was wonderfully blessed with a knowledge of the truth, but because this blessing was scorned, she crumbled and fell.
In the days of Constantine, the empire was divided, Rome being the western capital, and Constantinople the eastern. At the death of Constantine, three divisions were made in order to seat each one of his three sons on a throne; this triple division is recognised throughout the trumpet history. Of these divisions, Italy, or the Western Roman Empire, was known as 'one third'. While the three divisions are referred to, the first division into an eastern and western empire, is also preserved, until the capture of Constantinople by the Turks.
The first four Trumpets embrace the downfall of that great Western Empire between 396 and 476 A.D. "The empire was in a terrible state of decay" as one historian wrote, "a festering mass of corruption." The corruption, which existed, was largely the result of the union of church and state, which commenced with Constantine.
And there followed hail and fire mingled with blood
Hail, is symbolic of the northern origin of the invaders. Fire: the devastating character of the invasion. Alaric destroyed city and country by flame. Blood: the slaughter accompanying the invasion. Amid 'fire' and 'blood', the Visigoths under the leadership of Alaric, effected the first successful invasion of the Western Roman Empire. Edward Gibbon describes the 'flaming villages' and the 'deep bloody traces' left in the wake of these Gothic invaders.
At the time of the first Trumpet, the moral degeneration of Rome had become indescribable. Seneca, a Roman historian wrote, "Vice no longer hides itself, it stalks abroad before all eyes, innocence is no longer rare, it has ceased to exist." Strange as it may seem the Barbarian tribes from the north not only saved civilisation but Christianity as well. The Barbarian tribes came down not only to punish Rome but also to receive the Gospel that the Church had neglected to take to them.
And they were cast upon the earth
What was cast upon the earth? Hail, fire and Blood. Hail is a symbol of God's judgments. Job 38:22,23 says, "… or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail, Which I have reserved against the time of trouble, against the day of battle and war?" Fire and Blood represent His anger. Revelation 19:12,13 says, "His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns … And He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood…" The Hail and Fire and Blood being cast on the earth symbolises the judgments on men and nations.
And the third part of the trees were burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up
The 'third part' used so frequently in connection with the Trumpets suggests incompleteness. This term is not used with the Plagues, as these are much greater in extent and severity than the Trumpets. It is rather interesting to notice that when God foretold the doom of the nations and the coming of Christ, He declared: "I will overturn, overturn, overturn it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him" (Ezekiel 21:27). A single overturning would have been incomplete, only a part, or third of the whole. On three occasions Alaric besieged Rome (A.D. 408, 409, 410.). The third time he was successful in capturing it.
The trees burnt up, and all green grass
The earth with its vegetation is shown as the special target of this scourge. It is a symbol of the severity of the invasion of the Roman Empire by the Visigoths under Alaric.
AND THE SECOND ANGEL SOUNDED, AND AS IT WERE A GREAT MOUNTAIN BURNING WITH FIRE WAS CAST INTO THE SEA: AND THE THIRD PART OF THE SEA BECAME BLOOD.
And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea
The words "as it were" show that the mountain is not literal but symbolic. In Jeremiah 51:25 Babylon is described as a destroying mountain, "Behold, I am against thee, O destroying mountain, saith the LORD, which destroyest all the earth: and I will stretch out mine hand upon thee, and roll thee down from the rocks, and will make thee a burnt mountain." You can see how neatly this fits the picture of a burning mountain cast into the sea, for Babylon is described as a destroying mountain which later becomes a burnt out mountain.
The scene of the second Trumpet changes from the shores of the Baltic to the coasts and waters of the Mediterranean. This great sea was the centre of the Roman world and of the commerce and life of many of the ancient nations.
The Vandals under the leadership of the 'terrible Genseric' was one of the fiercest and most destructive of the barbarian nations. The prophecy says "was cast into the sea", and how true, for the Vandals became a maritime power and were called "the pirates of the sea." In Edward Gibbons' History of the Roman Empire Vol 3. Chap 36 he writes, "Genseric cast his eyes toward the sea: he resolved to create a naval power." The Vandals have left a name that even today stands for violent destruction.
And the third part of the sea became blood
The prophecy says that as a result of the burning mountain being cast into the sea, a third part of the sea would become blood. The sea becoming blood is a symbol of war, destruction, and bloodshed. The sea in this case must be literal as there is mention of ships, however it is also a symbol of peoples, nations and tongues as we notice in Revelation 17:15.
We have noticed two symbols, possibly three used in this verse 'burning mountain' and 'blood'. The 'sea', though literal, can still be used in a symbolic sense. The suggestion is that fire would bring about this bloodshed.
AND THE THIRD PART OF THE CREATURES WHICH WERE IN THE SEA, AND HAD LIFE, DIED: AND THE THIRD PART OF THE SHIPS WERE DESTROYED.
And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died
Obviously this is a symbol, and like the burning mountain and blood represents death and destruction. It is worth noting the similarity between this text and chapter 16:3 "And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea."
And the third part of the ships were destroyed
The Romans assembled two mighty fleets to defeat the Vandal power, but the clever Admiral of the Vandals under the cover of darkness, towed ships loaded with combustible materials, among the ships of the Roman fleet, setting fire to them. That night saw more than 1,113 ships and 100,000 men destroyed. "The fire of the Vandal volcano might not spend itself, until not only what was habitable in the Western sea was destroyed, but the "third part of the ships" also; those that navigated the sea - third of the Western Empire" (Horae Apocalypticae. Rev. E.B. Elliot, A.M. Vol. 1 pp 353-356, 3rd edition).
AND THE THIRD ANGEL SOUNDED, AND THERE FELL A GREAT STAR FROM HEAVEN, BURNING AS IT WERE A LAMP, AND IT FELL UPON THE THIRD PART OF THE RIVERS, AND UPON THE FOUNTAINS OF WATERS;
And the third sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp
A Star is a symbol of angels (Revelation 12:4, first part, verse 9, last part). It is also an emblem of a prince or a ruler, or person of distinguished rank. Moffat gives it this way, "A huge star blazing like a torch dropped out of the sky". This is clearly the description of a meteor which appeared suddenly, had a short and brilliant career, then disappeared as suddenly and unexpectedly as it had came. A Meteor flashing through the sky is a good description of the third Barbarian horde that scourged Rome and especially the Western Empire. Under the leadership of Attila, the Huns devastated the country and helped to overthrow the country.
It is rather significant that Attila styled himself as "The Scourge of God." He claimed that he was divinely directed to scourge the Roman Empire. "Not merely the degenerate Romans, but the bold and hardy warriors of Germany and Scandinavia, were appalled at the numbers, the ferocity, the ghastly appearance, and the lightning-like rapidity of the Huns ... His own warriors believed him (Attila) to be the inspired favourite of their deities, and followed him with fanatic zeal. His enemies looked on him as the preappointed minister of Heaven's wrath against themselves" (Decisive Battles of the World, Sir Edward S. Creasy, Chap 6. p.162).
The fact that this power 'fell' and was not 'cast' upon the Empire has a special significance. The Huns were not driven by another foe as were the Goths and the Vandals. They came voluntarily for they claimed supernatural guidance. The Huns were of Mongolian stock and were Asiatics rather than Europeans. They conquered China in 200 B.C. In the latter part of the 4th Century they marched westward, driving the Teutonic tribes before them, literally pushing them or casting them on the empire of Rome.
And it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters
This symbolic meteor "fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters." Because the commerce of the Empire cantered in the Mediterranean, the Romans called it 'our own sea'. Of still greater importance to the existence of the Empire were the three great boundary rivers by which the legions of Rome kept back the Barbarian hordes for centuries.
These rivers were the Rhine, the Danube and the Euphrates. The Huns became the masters of the river Danube, thus the meteor fell upon one third of the rivers, or one of the three rivers upon which the life of the Empire depended.
AND THE NAME OF THE STAR IS CALLED WORMWOOD: AND THE THIRD PART OF THE WATERS BECAME WORMWOOD; AND MANY MEN DIED OF THE WATERS, BECAUSE THEY WERE MADE BITTER.
And the name of the star is called wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood
Wormwood is a plant of bitter taste that grows in Palestine. In Scripture it means bitter sorrow and death. Lamentations 3:19 says, "Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall." Like flames of fire from heaven, came Genseric the Vandal, Alaric the Goth and Attila the Hun, leaving in their wake scenes of ruin, desolation, carnage and blood.
The Star called 'wormwood' pictures the bitter desolation after his attacks. Rushing like a blazing meteor, this bold and crafty leader boasted that the grass would never grow where his horse's feet had trod. The word 'Hun' to this day is a synonym for plunder and destruction.
And many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter
Fountains, rivers, and wells are sources of life and blessing. This star which fell from heaven fouled up the waters. Many died and continued to die, that drank of the waters, through famine, disease, and pestilence which usually follow in the wake of war.
Like a shooting star, the Huns disappeared as suddenly as they came. As H.G. Wells the historian has said "Hereafter the Huns, as far as that name goes in Europe, the Huns of Attila, disappeared out of history." Attila, king of the Huns, died in 453. His light went out like the snuffing of a candle. But Rome was not delivered from her enemies. The Vandal king, Genseric, was in the height of his power, and continued to ravage the southern coasts until the final overthrow, about twelve years later.
AND THE FOURTH ANGEL SOUNDED, AND THE THIRD PART OF THE SUN WAS SMITTEN, AND THE THIRD PART OF THE MOON, AND THE THIRD PART OF THE STARS: SO AS THE THIRD OF THEM WAS DARKENED, AND THE DAY SHONE NOT FOR A THIRD PART OF IT, AND THE NIGHT LIKEWISE.
And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars
When the sun, moon and stars cease to shine, there is complete darkness. As this Trumpet judgment is directed against the Western part of the Roman Empire, the lights are to be extinguished.
Now who would be the leading lights of Western Rome? The Emperors, senators and consuls, without these, the Empire cannot continue to exist. Notice this excellent statement by Joseph Mede, "The sun shone at Rome as long as the consular dignity and the kingdom was possessed of authority over other cities and provinces. The moon and the stars shone there as long as the ancient power of the senate and of the other magistrates remained. But these being all taken away (which was done by this trumpet), what was there but darkness, and a universal failure of light, both diurnal and noctural namely, what belonged to that city, to which a third part of the light of heaven was attributed" ('Clavis Apocalyptica' by Joseph Mede (1627), translated by R.B, Cooper, p.171 London: Rivington 1833).
One puppet Emperor after another arose until at last a mere boy, Romulus Augustulus was given the Roman purple. During the last twenty years of the existence of the Western Empire, nine emperors had successively disappeared. Augustulus was a mere tool in the hands of the numerous barbarians who were now in Italy and upon her borders.
In the year 476 Odoacer, the chief of a barbarian remnant of Attila, declared that the name and office of the Roman emperor of the West should be abolished. The Senate bowed in submission, and so Romulus Augustulus the last of the Roman rulers was dethroned. The Sun of the Empire had set. The 'moon' and 'stars', that is the consuls and the Senate lingered a little longer. But before another half century had passed these too, were extinguished.
So as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise
The Roman Empire of the West was a thing of the past. The territory once held by the ruling kingdom of the world was divided among the barbarians who had assisted in its overthrow. Rome was now broken into fragments, and the ten divisions presented by the prophet Daniel were each given power. Just as it is impossible for iron and miry clay to unite, so the fragments of the Western Roman Empire will remain separate until the end of time.
The history of the Middle Ages begins with the fall of Rome in the year 476 A.D. and within the next few years every obstacle was cleared away for the Papacy to have a clear road to the throne. Odoacer, by faith an Arian and the king of the Heruli, was the first of the three horns to be plucked up by the Little Horn of Daniel 7:8 which exalted itself, and spoke great words against the Most High. As the nations fell, and the emperors were unable to provide protection, then men sought for safety in the shadow of the church. Rapidly the power of the bishop increased, and from the decaying ruins of ancient Rome, the Papacy arose.
Europe was now entering the time when the "Sun of Righteousness was to be obscured" and God's Two Witnesses were to do their prophesying clothed in sackcloth. The fall of Rome was a mighty event and its fall is a type of the time of trouble, which takes place just before the final destruction of the world.
AND I BEHELD, AND HEARD AN ANGEL FLYING THROUGH THE MIDST OF HEAVEN, SAYING WITH A LOUD VOICE, WOE, WOE, WOE, TO THE INHABITERS OF THE EARTH BY REASON OF THE OTHER VOICES OF THE TRUMPET OF THE THREE ANGELS, WHICH ARE YET TO SOUND!
And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven saying with a loud voice
This temporary break in the sequence of the Trumpets calls special attention to the last three woes. The Barbarian warfare had crushed a once mighty and powerful nation. The prophecy indicates that there are worse things ahead. Now we leave the first Four Trumpets behind and move into the time of the Three Woes.
Woe, woe, woe to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound
The last Three Trumpets are known as the Woe Trumpets. These war scourges symbolise the judgments that would lay Eastern Rome in the dust, and down at the end of time, the modern nations in the awful war of Armadeggon.
The prophecy moves into a period, which goes down in history as one of the worst this world has known (the Dark Ages). The struggle between truth and error has always been a bitter one. In all of God's plans He has man's welfare and happiness to the fore, while Satan works hard for the utter destruction of all things. As we move into a study of the Three Woes we see once again the efforts of Satan to bring ruin to the plan of Salvation.