The Roman Eagle Over Jerusalem

The trumpets represent God’s judgment according to His Law, the Torah. The nations will either be justified or justice will be carried out against them. With each symbolic trumpet blast, the wrath of God is unleashed against the nations. The work is perpetual, and will be finally revealed at the second-coming of Christ. The trumpets do not represent a special, future seven-year tribulation. They signify, at least in part, the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. They symbolize Christ’s work of judgment against the nations whose God is not the Lord at the appropriate times throughout history.

Revelation 8:7-13

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 the green grass was burned up.

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, and a third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed.

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 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 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.

Then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in midheaven, 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!”

The four trumpets (v. 7-12)

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 the green grass was burned up.

Since Revelation is a picture, not a puzzle, we imagine the image John presents. The first angel blasts his trumpet. When he blasts his trumpet in heaven, there is a fiery, bloody hailstorm on the earth that burns one-third of the earth, trees, and all the green grass. What meaning is John trying to convey through his apocalyptic language to the seven churches in the midst of their tribulation?

Raining fire, hail, and blood remind us about The first plague against the Egyptians before the Exodus:

Moses stretched out his staff toward the sky, and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. And the Lord rained hail on the land of Egypt. So there was hail, and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very severe, such as had not been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. The hail struck all that was in the field through all the land of Egypt, both man and beast; the hail also struck every plant of the field and shattered every tree of the field. Only in the land of Goshen, where the sons of Israel were, there was no hail (Exodus 9:23-26).

Pharaoh did not let Israel go. He denied God. God’s first judgment against the nation was hail and fire from the heavens, doubtless a bloody mess. God spared His chosen people, who lived in Goshen. John is describing a past judgment to reveal a perpetual and eschatological reality—which will be finished at Christ’s second coming.

One-third of the earth, trees, and all the green grass is burned up in John’s vision. Such was the result of the storm in Egypt. God struck the vegetation and the animals but spared that which was in Goshen. John utilizes the apocalyptic number 3, the number of holiness, to show us that God’s wrath is revealed against that which is unholy ⅓ instead of the whole just like God spared the people He was delivering and who lived in the land of Goshen in Egypt.

We often hear about the Trumpets as if they will be trouble for the whole of creation. God’s judgment against nations has always spared those who belong to Him and are being delivered. Such is God’s judgment against Rome during the time of the seven churches and against the nations today. If God’s wrath is being revealed (punishment rather than discipline), it is only revealed against the unholy—those who have not been set apart by God as His own possession. The plagues may not always take the form they did in Egypt, but the land under judgment will lose its prosperity, abundance, and provision. Her crops will not yield nor her green grass grow. God’s chosen people are not struck—not because of merit but because of calling.

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, and a third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed.

With the blasting of the second trumpet, John alludes to the words of the prophet, Jeremiah, against Babylon:

“But I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea for all their evil that they have done in Zion before your eyes,” declares the Lord. “Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain, Who destroys the whole earth,” declares the Lord, “And I will stretch out My hand against you, And roll you down from the crags, And I will make you a burnt out mountain. They will not take from you even a stone for a corner Nor a stone for foundations, But you will be desolate forever,” declares the Lord. Lift up a signal in the land, Blow a trumpet among the nations! Consecrate the nations against her, Summon against her the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni and Ashkenaz; Appoint a marshal against her, Bring up the horses like bristly locusts” (Jeremiah 51:12-27).

John’s burning mountain is not a volcano but a nation, Babylon. The sea is destruction. God threw Babylon into destruction by bringing military powers against her—more blood, military personnel (the creatures in the destructive sea) died, and the sea-faring vessels destroyed. Israel was delivered. Babylon was judged. Those set apart by God as holy are delivered. The unholy, those not set apart by God’s calling alone, are judged.

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 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 third trumpet sounds and the symbol transports us to Isaiah 14:12. Isaiah was prophesying against Israel, whom he identified as the fallen star that brings the whole world down with it. John identifies Israel by the name Wormwood, a poison, which brings down the world through Israel’s rebellion against God. Israel’s fall, implying even the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, signifies the fall of the whole world apart from Christ.

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 symbol accompanying the fourth trumpet reminds us again of the Exodus:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even a darkness which may be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the sons of Israel had light in their dwellings (Exodus 10:21-23).

The unholy were plunged into a darkness that could be felt. Only the chosen could see. The darkness was not mere physical darkness but spiritual. Such darkness, even if not physical, is the wrath of God against the unholy—symbolized by the apocalyptic ⅓. Spiritual darkness in the land prohibits people from seeing the kingdom of heaven. Only those who are given eyes to see can see, only those who are born again by the spirit (cf. John 3). God’s wrath means people will be trapped in spiritual darkness, unable to see.

The eagle (v. 13)

Then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in midheaven, 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!”

Like in the Exodus narrative, the first four trumpet blasts signify warning shots. Woe to those who dwell on the earth and who are not able to heed the warnings—the unholy third. The eagle, the national symbol of Rome, flies like a prophet in midheaven, the sky, declaring woes upon the world because of the following three trumpet blasts. The eagle does not call the world to repentance. At this point, he simply says woe—repeating it three times to reveal the holy and important intention of the just judge. With this symbol, John identifies Rome as the proctor of God’s wrath against Israel and the whole world during his own time.

When God begins the process of judgment in any nation, including the final judgment to come, He does so after all those who will be sealed are sealed (cf. 7:1). He will only begin the final judgment after all those on earth who will be sealed are sealed. Like Pharaoh’s heart was hardened in Egypt, so will every unholy heart be hardened and there will be no repentance in response to God’s judgment (cf. 9:20). We often talk about what it will take to restore a nation on this earth. When God is finished saving His people in a nation, He ruins that nation. In the end, His government will be the only government remaining. Here we find a warning for our nations on this earth. If we are no longer seeking the kingdom of God, judgment will come in God’s perfect timing and after He is finished saving people within our borders for His own kingdom. We are also encouraged. God does not permit nations to exist unless He is saving a people from within that nation. He does not permit human religious systems to persist unless He is saving a people for Himself from among those systems. The great irony of human religion—God is calling people out of them, not into them. Eventually, the people of God being called out from among the nations will be the only kingdom of the earth and will inherit the whole earth. The people of God are people of God by calling, not merit, religious affiliation, ancestry, or heritage. God will be glorified. Christ will be exalted.

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