Keys to Understanding the Book of Revelation
'And the LORD said to Joshua: “See! I have given Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all you men of war; you shall go all around the city once. This you shall do six days. And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. But the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets.' ( Joshua 6:2-4 )
In the passage above; we might recognize some similarities to the 8th chapter of Revelation, which we will now embark on a study of. Some who have studied this book more thoroughly have noted, as I have previously, a kind of 'double-talk' here, or what I've called a 'biblical parallelism', saying the same thing twice, in two different ways, repeating a warning to convey the immanence, or immediacy of the purposed event. I'm not going to try to make a case that Joshua and the children of Israel did or did not ( necessarily ) actually march around the city of Jericho once a day for six days, and then seven times on the seventh day ( though arguably; this must have included 'breaking' the Sabbath ( Exodus 31:14 & 15 ); that's not the point! The point is that they were showing the inhabitants of the city ( who were already 'trembling' ( Joshua 2:11 ), through their perfect obedience, that God had determined to make an end of the city.
When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.
The children of Israel, in Numbers 29:1, were commanded concerning 'The Feast of Trumpets'; 'And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work. For you it is a day of blowing the trumpets'. As far as I could tell; the Author used the Hebrew feminine noun תרועה ( 'alarm, signal, sound of tempest, shout, shout or blast of war or alarm or joy' ) here, in the last phrase, to remind His people that He fought for them, that they were to be constantly ready for battle, and to rejoice because the battle had been one, in Him they rested! Throughout Scripture, as we'll see as we study further, the sounding of the trumpet was symbolic of God's presence, and meant that a judgment had been made, and was about to be carried out, whether for good or evil. In Exodus 19 & 20, we see examples of this. God commanded His children, to announce God's righteous judgment upon their enemies, in Numbers 10:9; 'When you go to war in your land against the enemy who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, and you will be remembered before the LORD your God, and you will be saved from your enemies', while in Leviticus 23:24 and 25:9; we see that they were also used to signal the accepted feasts, and thus the communion, or Presence, of God with His people. After the separation of the tribes ( kingdom ) of Israel upon the death of Solomon; II Chronicles 13:12 records that the grandson of Solomon made this speech to the northern tribes when they came against him for war; 'Now look, God Himself is with us as our head, and His priests with sounding trumpets to sound the alarm against you. O children of Israel, do not fight against the LORD God of your fathers, for you shall not prosper!', while in II Chronicles 29:27, when Hezekiah king of Judah had renewed the temple worship, we read that 'Then Hezekiah commanded them to offer the burnt offering on the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the LORD also began, with the trumpets and with the instruments of David king of Israel'. When Nehemiah was rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem, he told his workers ( and fighters ), 'Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us' ( Nehemiah 4:20 ), and the psalmist's words in Psalm 81:3, 98:6, and 150:3, called His people to worship. When he began to pronounce God's judgment on the nations; Isaiah prophesied, 'All inhabitants of the world and dwellers on the earth: when he lifts up a banner on the mountains, you see it; and when he blows a trumpet, you hear it' ( Isaiah 18:3 ). Warning his people of God's coming judgment upon them; the prophet Jeremiah told the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem, 'Blow the trumpet in the land; cry, ‘Gather together,’ and say, ‘Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the fortified cities' ( Jeremiah 4:5 ), and in Jeremiah 6:17, God told these same hardhearted children, 'Also, I set watchmen over you, saying,‘ Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ but they said, ‘We will not listen'. In Joel 2; the sounding trumpet signals the coming 'Day of the Lord', His judgment ( for evil ) against His apostate children, and His judgment ( for good ) upon His blessed ( and repentant ) ones, and calls His obedient ones to His sacred assembly and rest ( verse 15 ). The prophet Amos asked his covenant-breaking people, 'If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid? If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it?' ( Amos 3:6 ) When the apostle Paul began to give his defense before his Jewish adversaries, in Acts 21:40, a situation not unlike what John described above, in the latter part of the first quotation from the 8th chapter of Revelation, is recorded. 'So when he had given him permission, Paul stood on the stairs and motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great silence, he spoke to them in the Hebrew language'. I believe that the same thing happened in the Revelation passage; God was read to reveal His final judgment on His apostate children, and 'there was silence........for about half an hour', for all knew (realized ) that the time had come for judgment, and, out of respect, were silent.
Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.
The writer to the Hebrews in chapter 9, verse 4, speaking of the 'Holiest ( place) of All' in the earthly temple in Jerusalem, wrote that it 'had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant', taking us back to Leviticus 16:12, speaking of the priestly instructions to Aaron for the 'Day of Atonement', where we read, 'Then he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil', and Numbers 16:46, when, upon the rebellion of Korah and his followers, Moses commanded Aaron, 'Take a censer and put fire in it from the altar, put incense on it, and take it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them; for wrath has gone out from the LORD. The plague has begun'. Referring back to Revelation 5:8; 'Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.' After David, king of Israel, had sinned by taking a census, in his pride, of the children of Israel, in II Samuel 24:25; we read that 'And David built there an altar to the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD heeded the prayers for the land, and the plague was withdrawn from Israel.' Again, returning to Revelation 6:9, we see that 'When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”' From these few examples; we can see what this angel was offering before God. These prayers, I believe, were those offered to stop the plague that the prophet Amos reminded his people about, in Amos 4:10; 'I sent among you a plague after the manner of Egypt; your young men I killed with a sword, along with your captive horses; I made the stench of your camps come up into your nostrils; yet you have not returned to Me,' says the LORD', and that Jeremiah prophesied of in Jeremiah 19:8.
And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.
'Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma. Then the LORD said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.' ( Genesis 8:20 & 21 )
Peter speaks of the coming destruction of the Old Covenant 'regime' in these terms; 'For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly' ( II Peter 2:4 & 5 ). Matthew 24:37 compares the coming of the Son of Man in judgment to the 'Great Flood' of Noah's day. After this messenger of God had offered these prayers to God; he threw the censer to the ear, bringing to mind passages like Lamentations 2:1, speaking of the unfaithfulness, and subsequent destruction, of God's typical Old Covenant 'children of Israel'; 'How the Lord has covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in His anger! He cast down from heaven to the earth the beauty of Israel, and did not remember His footstool in the day of His anger', and Ezekiel 32:4-8, in which the prophet fore-tells of the coming judgment upon the weapons of God's indignation against His children. ( read also Ezekiel 31:16 ). Referring to the passage from II Peter 2, above; we have seen before that later, in chapter 3 of his letter, Peter again speaks of the coming judgment on Old Covenant Judaism in terms of the former destruction, by water ( verse 5 ), of the 'world' of Noah's day: 'But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.[c]' ( I Thessalonians 5:2 ) We might also remember the priestly instructions to Aaron concerning his duties on 'The Day of Atonement'; 'Then he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil' ( Leviticus 16:12 ). Also, in Isaiah 9:6 & 7, when I Isaiah was commissioned to reveal God's message to His children; it is recorded that when the angel had removed a live coal from the altar, he symbolically touched the lips of the prophet with it and said '“ Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.” ' ( see Daniel 9:24, II Peter 3:13 ). This 'fire from the altar', as we have seen, and will further see, was not only indicative of the adverse judgment of God upon His apostate children, but also as a cleansing agent to His covenant people.
So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.
'They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.' ( I Peter 4:5 )
As we have noted before, about the significance of the number '7' ( signifying perfection, wholeness, completeness ) in reference to the 'seven churches', 'seven stars' , 'seven lampstands', 'seven seals', etc. ( In Revelation 15:1, John reports, 'Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete.' ) I believe that Jesus, by continuing to use the number 'seven' to reveal His purpose to John, is telling John, and his contemporary readers ( and listeners ) that the judgment has been made ( decided upon ) and is about to happen. We see, in Genesis 7:1-4, that when Noah, at the instruction of God, had prepared the ark, 'Then the LORD said to Noah, “Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation. You shall take with you , a male and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female; also , male and female, to keep the species alive on the face of all the earth. For after I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and I will destroy from the face of the earth all living things that I have made'. Note the multiple usage of the number 'seven'; 'seven each of every clean animal', 'seven each of birds of the air', 'seven more days': I don't believe that this is coincidental, but that God was revealing to Noah, as to John, the completeness of the purposed destruction. In the previous study, of Revelation 7; we saw how God showed to John His perfect purpose, in the final and complete destruction of the Jewish Temple, thus bringing a decisive end to the Old Covenant 'age': now we see that complete and utter destruction ( Matthew 24:2, Luke 21:6, Romans 16:20, James 5:8-10 ) being unfolded before John's 'eyes'.
The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth.[a] And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
As Jesus reals these next 'seven' significant judgments to His servant John, my readers may notice some similarities to the creation story in Genesis 1, in reverse, if you will.
'Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. So the evening and the morning were the third day.' John's language above, of course, should also bring to mind the plagues of Egypt: Exodus 9:24 reads 'So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, so very heavy that there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation' ( see also also the similarities in Matthew 24:21 ). Ezekiel uses this same measure (1/3 ) in referring to the purposed judgment upon the apostate Old Covenant 'children' of Israel: 'One-third of you shall die of the pestilence, and be consumed with famine in your midst; and one-third shall fall by the sword all around you; and I will scatter another third to all the winds, and I will draw out a sword after them.' ( Ezekiel 5:12 ), while in Zechariah 13:8 & 9, it is the one third that are 'brought through the fire' (Isaiah 48:10, Daniel 12:10, I Corinthians 3:15, I Peter 1:7 )
Then 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 living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
'And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth'. ( Daniel 2:35b )
Some of my readers might recognize this short passage as coming from the so-called 'Stone Kingdom' prophecy that was revealed to Daniel for the instruction of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. In the context of Nebuchadnezzar's dream/vision; God was revealing to him what would transpire, not only after his kingdom had passed away, but also what would happen in the 'end of the days' ( Daniel 12:13, I Peter 2:4 & 5 ). When God came down and rested His glory upon Mount Sinai, recorded in Exodus 24:17; we read that 'The sight of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel' ( Exodus 3:2 ). We have already seen, in places like Exodus 15:17, that God's promised 'land' of rest is often referred to in terms of 'the mountain of Your inheritance'. The sons of Korah sang of His dwelling-place, in Psalm 48:1, 'Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in His holy mountain', and Isaiah, prophesying of the glory of God's future 'temple' ( ), wrote, in Isaiah 2:2, 'Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it.' ( see also Isaiah 11:9, 25:6 & 10 ) Speaking to His rebellious Old Covenant 'children', in Isaiah 65:11, God reminds them 'you are those who forsake the LORD, who forget My holy mountain, who prepare a table for Gad,[a] and who furnish a drink offering for Meni.[b]' Again; God reminds His covenant-breaking 'children' ( of Israel ), His typical Old Covenant 'dwelling-place', in Jeremiah 17:3, 'O My mountain in the field, I will give as plunder your wealth, all your treasures, and your high places of sin within all your borders' ( see also Jeremiah 31:23 ). God, through the prophet Jeremiah, warned His 'instrument of indignation', the Babylonians, whom He use to chastise His Old Covenant 'children', in these terms; 'Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain, who destroys all the earth,” says the LORD. "And I will stretch out My hand against you, roll you down from the rocks, and make you a burnt mountain' ( Jeremiah 51:25 ). Using hyperbole to describe His servant, the king of Tyre, in Ezekiel 28:14-16; God rebuked him by saying 'You were the anointed cherub who covers; I established you; you were on the holy mountain of God; you walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones. You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you. By the abundance of your trading you became filled with violence within, and you sinned; therefore I cast you as a profane thing out of the mountain of God; and I destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the fiery stones'. As the prophet Daniel prayed his famous intercessory prayer on behalf of his exiled people, in Daniel 9:16, he pleaded with God that 'according to all Your righteousness, I pray, let Your anger and Your fury be turned away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people are a reproach to all those around us.' Exulting in the future blessedness of His covenant people, in Zechariah 8:3, God reveals that 'I will return to Zion, and dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth, the Mountain of the LORD of hosts, the Holy Mountain'. And finally, in this highly misunderstood ( and misused, I believe ) passage; Jesus, speaking of the influence of Old Covenant Judaism on His people, metaphorically tells His disciples 'whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says' ( Mark 11:23 ( see also Matthew 17:20, and Isaiah 54:10 ). We can see from these few examples that when John 'saw', in his vision, that a 'great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea'; it was not only hyperbolic, but metaphorical for the divorce, or casting away, the judgment of apostate Judaism, God's typical Old Covenant 'children' of Israel. We saw, above, how the 'third' passages above are symbolically indicative of a partial destruction of His typical covenant 'creation'; leaving His remnant, the true 'Israel of God'. The last part of the passage from John's vision, above, about 'a third of the ships', immediately brings to mind these words from a somewhat obscure passage from Israel's history ( II Chronicles 20:35-37 ): 'After this Jehoshaphat king of Judah allied himself with Ahaziah king of Israel, who acted very wickedly. And he allied himself with him to make ships to go to Tarshish, and they made the ships in Ezion Geber. But Eliezer the son of Dodavah of Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, “Because you have allied yourself with Ahaziah, the LORD has destroyed your works.” Then the ships were wrecked, so that they were not able to go to Tarshish'.
Then 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 water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter.
'While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; and I alone have escaped to tell you!' ( Job 1:16 )
The above passage comes from the story of Job, a typical story of God's chastening of those that He loves, not necessarily through any fault of their own, but to test them, try them, and to prove them, through trials and tribulation. The book of Revelation, as we've studied, is about the revealing of Jesus, as the Son of God, not only to those He came to save, but also to those first-century Jews that had rejected Him. ( Matthew 26:64, Romans 1:18-32 ) When God confirmed His covenant with Abraham; Genesis 15:17 records that 'when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces', and in his vision in Ezekiel 1:13, the prophet recorded that 'As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches going back and forth among the living creatures. The fire was bright, and out of the fire went lightning'. This 'great star..........................burning like a torch', whether speaking, as is traditional, of 'Satan' being cast out of Heaven to the earth, or simply symbolical of God 'loosing' His judgment upon covenant-breaking and apostate Old Covenant Israel; it should be fairly clear that God, by whichever means, did reveal, 'in flaming fire' ( II Thessalonians 1:8 ), judgment upon His enemies, the adversaries of His people, in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, in AD70!
My readers might also remember what Moses did, when after witnessing the idolatry of the 'children' of Israel, in Exodus 32:20; 'Then he took the calf which they had made, burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder; and he scattered it on the water and made the children of Israel drink it', and, as I have mentioned previously, the priestly instructions given in Numbers 5:11-31, concerning the 'unfaithful wife'. The very last word in the above passage above might also bring to remembrance the words of Naomi, in Ruth 1:20; after she had returned to the 'Promised Land': 'Do not call me Naomi;[a] call me Mara,[b] for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.' ( Naomi and her family had left the country because of famine, typically seeking sustenance elsewhere than where God had called them )
Then the fourth angel sounded: And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night.
'Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.' ( Matthew 27:45 )
'And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring'. ( Luke 21:25, Mark 13:24 & 25, Matthew 24:29 )
'He delivers and rescues, and He works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, Who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions'. ( Daniel 6:27 )
'All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; all their host shall fall down as the leaf falls from the vine, and as fruit falling from a fig tree'. ( Isaiah 34:4- 'Judgment on the Nations' )
'Looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?' ( II Peter 3:12 )
When Jesus took upon Himself the sins of His people; God signified His judgment of that sin by removing His covenant blessing for a typical period of three hours. Not only was Jesus 'The Light' ( John 1:4 & 5, 9:5 ); I believe that God's removal of light in the middle of the day served as a reminder to the 'children' of Israel of what God had done to the Egyptians, when the Pharaoh held them captive. ( Exodus 10:21-23 ) From the Old Testament prophets, such as in Isaiah 34, above, and others, like Ezekiel 32:7 & 8 ( concerning judgment upon the nation of Egypt ), Joel 2:30 & 31 ( concerning judgment of God's people-see also Isaiah 13:9 & 10 ), Micah 3:6, and Amos 8:9, we can see that God used this sort of language ( hyperbole ) to symbolize His judgment upon any given nation or its people. We see from the story of 'Daniel and the Lion's Den' that God is the One who works these signs ( Isaiah 45:7 ) , and shows these wonders ( Psalm 136:4 ) in judging ( for good or evil ) His creation. From the final two examples above; we can easily see that Matthew and the Gospel writers, as well as John, in the Revelation, borrowed heavily ( in some places, almost verbatim ) from the Old Testament prophets. There is no valid reason that we should take the words of John ( which, after all, were 'seen' ( 'signified'-Revelation 1:1 ) in a vision ) in any more of a physically literal way than we take the words of the Old Testament prophets!
And I looked, and I heard an angel[b] flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!
'Now while I was speaking, praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God for the holy mountain of my God, yes, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, reached me about the time of the evening offering.' ( Daniel 9:20 )
'Then I turned and raised my eyes, and saw there a flying scroll, and he said to me, “What do you see? So I answered, “I see a . Its length is twenty cubits and its width ten cubits.” Then he said to me, “This is : ‘Every thief shall be expelled,’ according to this side of the scroll; and, ‘Every perjurer shall be expelled,’ according to that side of it.' ( Zechariah 5:1-3 )
The 'angel' Gabriel was sent to Daniel to inform him of the judgment that had been made concerning his people, the judgment upon God's typical Old Covenant 'children' of Israel, which judgment was consummated and finalized in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, in AD70. One may wonder if this was not the same 'angel' that John 'heard' warning of the 'three angels who are about to sound'. The 'flying scroll' that Ezekiel 'saw' in his vision warned of the same thing; 'the curse that goes out over the face of the whole earth' ( Luke 21:35 ) When Paul spoke to Felix the governor of Judea, in Acts 24:15; he told him, 'I confess this to thee, that, according to the way that they call a sect, so serve I the God of the fathers, believing all things that in the law and the prophets have been written, having hope toward God, which they themselves also wait for, [that] there is about to be a rising again of the dead, both of righteous and unrighteous'. ( see also verse 25, especially ) ( I quote here from Young's Literal Translation, which, I believe, more correctly translates the Greek μέλλω as 'about to ( be )' ) The writer to the Hebrews follows this theme, when he wrote that 'a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery zeal, about to devour the opposers' ( Hebrews 10:27-again, quoting from YLT ) Peter talks about the glory that was 'about to be' revealed, in I Peter 5:1, and Jesus uses the same Greek noun in Revelation 1:19 to show to John the things that were 'about to be'.
I pray that through this study revealing the past fulfillment of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, that God will be glorified, and that His Kingdom will be strengthened and edified with the knowledge that 'all these things' ( Matthew 24:34 ) DID come upon that generation ( first-century Judaism ), that God now dwells with us, as He promised ( John 14:23, Revelation 2:7 ( Genesis 3:8, 22 ).
May God bless you,