by David Groendyk
Revelation 8 begins the third section of Revelation. Let’s review briefly. In the first section (chapters 1–3), we see Christ walking and dwelling in the midst of the seven churches, personally aiding them and warning them in their individual struggles. In the second section (chapters 4–7), we see that same Christ on the throne in heaven, carrying out God’s plan and being worshiped; we also see that the church faces many trials and persecutions but that God seals them and protects them and brings them safely home to heaven. The theme of the third section (chapters 8–11) is God warning the whole world of a coming judgment but also explaining the church’s role in the midst of that warning.
The seventh seal prepares us for what will happen in the rest of the chapter. Three things happen when the seventh seal is opened: silence, prayer, and fire. Silence is a deafening warning that God is about to do something. Everyone shuts their mouths and watches in awe. The prayers are the prayers of the persecuted believers on earth. They’re pleading with God to intervene and help. The fire is God’s answer. God himself will send some sort of judgment on the wicked.
Then come the seven trumpets. The big point about the seven trumpets: they are earthly calamities that are meant to warn wicked people that a final eternal judgment is coming. These are earthly woes that can befall any person at any time in any part of the earth until Christ comes again. Keep in mind that these are trumpets. Trumpets announce that something’s coming. They warn. So these woes are not the final judgment. You’ll notice they also affect only 33% of the earth, the sea, the living creatures, etc. That’s not a statement about how many people are affected but rather that these are initial, temporary, earthly judgments.
Especially the first four trumpets in chapter 8 affect the physical being (the final three are more spiritual in nature). Actually they sound a little bit like the ten plagues that God sent upon Egypt, and that is intentional. The ten plagues were also little bits of earthly judgment that God sent on wicked Egypt so that they would recognize who the true God is and repent of their sin. Famously, they did not repent, and one final judgment at the Red Sea destroyed them. In a sense, God is continuing to send some version of plagues upon the earth in order to warn us to repent and turn to Christ.
Christ himself had a similar warning. It comes in Luke 13:1–5. Two tragedies had happened: Pilate had murdered a number of Galileans while they were offering sacrifices, and a tower in Siloam had fallen and killed eighteen people. The application Christ gives is the same as the application in Revelation 8: repent, or else you too will perish, but in an even worse way. All of the disasters that you can think of—the September 11 attacks, the earthquake and tsunami that killed 200,000 in southeast Asia in 2004, Hurricane Katrina devastating New Orleans in 2005, the Las Vegas shooting in 2017, the coronavirus killing 200,000+ in 2020—all of these serve as reminders that we must be ready to face death at any time. They are a trigger for us to dwell on our own mortality, consider who the Creator God of the universe is, and recognize that his gift in Christ Jesus saves us from eternal punishment. The whole world is meant to do this.
If you are reading this and already trust Christ, praise God! Revelation 8 is a good reminder for you. Continue to find hope in Christ in the midst of tragedy and persecution. Hold fast to Christ as if today were your last.
If you are reading this and have not yet believed that Christ’s death on the cross pays the eternal punishment that you deserve and gives you forgiveness and eternal life, I urge you to dwell on it now and come to a decision today. What would you do if you knew today would be your last day? You would probably spend it doing things and being with people that you value most, and rightfully so. But I urge you to consider eternity and your life after this one. Consider what the Bible says. The good news about Jesus Christ is true, its implications for your life are eternal. This is the most important thing you’ll do today.