The eighth chapter of the revelation brings us to the conclusion of John’s vision of the book (scroll) with seven seals. After the opening of the first six seals in chapters 4-6 and the “pause” seen in chapter 7, the final seal of the book is now opened. The opening of the seventh seal, which had concealed the contents of the book, might seem to suggest that “the end is near.” The appearance of the Lamb (ch. 6) had begun the revelation of the book’s contents, and the breaking of each seal had revealed coming tribulations on the earth because of the persecution of the saints. It might therefore seem logical that opening the seventh seal would represent the conclusion of God’s judgement; instead, it serves as the introduction to the next series of symbols, the sounding of seven trumpets (chapter 8:2-11:19).
In chapter 7, the servants of God were identified (“sealed”) for their own protection; the sounding of the trumpets now indicates that God is ready to proceed with judgement against a stubborn world! Note that a dramatic silence (lasting half an hour) takes place when the final seal is opened (8:1), seemingly signifying the “the calm before the storm” (cf. Habakkuk 2:20; Zephaniah 1:7; and Zechariah 2:13). During this silence, all sounds, voices, announcements, and even praises cease. Some commentators think the brief period of time here represents God’s judgement being delayed (God forbearing “just a little while longer”), while others see it merely as a pause for dramatic effect. Regardless of its purpose, opening this seal reveals seven angels standing ready – in God’s presence – to signal the next series of judgements upon the earth! Before they act, however, the prayers of the saints come up before God (vv. 3-5) and the noise and violence that result in vs. 5 seems to represent Heaven’s response to those prayers.
Notice that in this vision, the altar for incense actually stands in God’s presence before His before throne, whereas in both the tabernacle and the temple it was in front of the veil in the “Holy Place” (the “outer” room), not in the “Holy of Holies” (the “inner” room). The fact that an angel is given much additional incense to add to the prayers of the saints (vs. 3, cf. 5:8) may represent the intercessory help of Christ and the Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 8:26 & 34; Hebrews 7:25; and 1 John 2:1).
John “sees” the trumpeters prepare themselves in vs. 6, and as each one sounds we see a new series of “judgements” revealed against the earth. The first judgement in this series reminds us of the plagues on Egypt in Moses’ day (cf. Exodus 9:24), and also echoes various calamities that happened during the first century. While the judgements unleashed by the fourth horseman (Revelation 6:8) only affected one-fourth of the earth, these judgements are larger (though still “limited”), impacting one-third of it.
The angels each now blow their trumpets in rapid succession, heralding the devastation of sea life and ocean-going commerce by a “burning mountain” cast into the sea (vv. 8-9 – Mount Vesuvius had erupted in 79 A.D., utterly burying the city of Pompeii and devastating the port of Naples,an image that would still be fresh in the minds of many in the Roman Empire). Mountains often symbolized political power, military strength in the old testament, and the “movement” (Psalm 46:2; Isaiah 54:10) or burning/melting (Micah 1:4; Nahum 1:5) of mountains in the old testament symbolized great trouble. Babylon, which Jeremiah depicted as a “destroying mountain,” was itself made a “burnt mountain” by the Lord (Jeremiah 51:25).
As each successive trumpet is heard, John sees more and more of the world being affected by God’s judgement. The image of a falling star suggests the decline of a great power, and ancient Babylon (called “Lucifer” in the KJV) is pictured as the daystar or morning star, fading as daylight grows (Isaiah 14:12). Note that the term “Lucifer” in the KJV comes from the Latin for “day-star,” but the scripture NEVER applies this term to Satan.