If Revelation were a great piece of music, then chapter 8 would be the start of a new ‘movement’ within it. According to the commentator William Hendriksen, there would be seven such ‘movements’ and we are now in the third, chapters 8-10. But similar to a great piece of music, there is a coherency to the whole thing, the same ‘themes’ appear repeatedly, and there are clever links between the movements. Here, the ‘seals’ that represent persecution of the redeemed give way to the trumpets of judgment that warn the unrighteous. In fact, the seventh seal does the job of bringing those trumpets into play.
“Silence in heaven for about half an hour…” – what could that mean? Using my ‘piece of music’ analogy, it would signal the end of one movement and the start of another, i.e. the end of one vision and the beginning of the next. In the Old Testament there are some scriptures that might help:
“Be silent before me, you islands!
Let the nations renew their strength!
Let them come forward and speak;
let us meet together at the place of judgment”. (Isaiah 41:1)
“Be silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near” (Zephaniah 1:7)
“Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling” (Zechariah 2:13)
In all these, God is preparing himself for acts of judgment, to avenge the cruelty and persecution towards his faithful chosen people. An angel with a golden censer offered incense to the Lord – this incense was actually the prayers and intercessions of all God’s people (see Rev 5:8) but refined and purified by the altar of God. He hears our cries, he takes note of all our prayers, he rescues us and works justice on our behalf!
And so, the Lord acts: these trumpets and their effects are reminiscent of the plagues of Egypt – warning judgments sent by the Lord against a godless nation and its rebel king. Just as in Egypt, there is an implicit call for the ungodly to repent – not everything is destroyed, just a third. The Trumpets are basically warnings!
The first four trumpets have a physical effect on the earth. The first produced a storm of hail, fire, and blood, burning up a third of the vegetation. The second caused a huge fire-filled mountain to be thrown into the ocean, destroying a third of what is living and what is manmade. The third causes pollution of some of the inland waters and fourth creates abnormal functioning in the solar system and our galaxy. So these four trumpets could represent ‘natural disasters’, inflicted upon the earth by God as punishments and warnings to repent. Romans 8: 20-22 tells us that:
“For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time”.
When Adam first sinned, creation also ‘fell’; consequently, we live in a broken world. This is not to say that every so-called natural disaster is an act of God’s judgment, but it is also clear from scripture that some events are judgments (Isaiah 45:7). In the case of Revelation 8, the emphasis is on the ungodly receiving warning punishments, rather than the righteous. This is similar to Israel being protected from the plagues of Egypt – and having been sealed by the blood of the sacrificial lambs.
EZRA 1, 2 and 3
The Book of Ezra speaks at long last of the Jews’ return from exile to their own land, after seventy years. It is clearly an act inspired and executed by God himself: “…in order to fulfil the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus King of Persia to make a proclamation…”. God had originally inspired Jeremiah to prophesy this; then he moved the heart of Cyrus to command it; finally, he moved the hearts of his people to give up what was by then a comfortable, relatively secure existence in Babylon and to return to the frontiers of the empire, to Jerusalem!
Some main points about the book of Ezra and the return from exile:
o The main Bible books that deal with the Return of the Jews from exile include: Daniel chapter 7-12 (prophetic), Ezra (historical), Haggai (historical + prophetic), Zechariah (prophetic), Ester (historical), Nehemiah (historical), and Malachi (prophetic)
o Northern Israel had been exiled by the Assyrians in 722 BC, never to return. Southern Judah was exiled by the Babylonian, and then Medo-Persian, empires from 605 BC onwards.
o In 536 BC (after 70 years, as prophesied by Jeremiah in 25:11-12) Judah returned to the land
o The temple was first rebuilt (see Ezra), followed by the city of Jerusalem (see Nehemiah)
o Judah was then a sovereign state until 70 AD, when the Roman empire scattered them again
o 2 Chronicles 36 explains why and how Judah’s exile occurred. This is repeated at the beginning of Ezra. Note how God in his sovereignty used a pagan king (Cyrus) to make this happen. In Daniel’s prophecy of the four beasts (ch. 7), these represent the four successive empires of: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. God raises and deposes the world’s rulers as he pleases (see Romans chapter 13).
o Daniel’s visions in chapters 7-12 speak of the near future (return from exile in 536 BC), the distant future (Greece, Roman and beyond), and finally the End Times and Christ’s Return.
o In Daniel 9, the prophet understands from Jeremiah’s writings that the current exile would last 70 years. In response, he calls upon the Lord, confesses and intercedes for the people.
o Later, as written by Ezra, Jeremiah’s word and Daniel’s prayer start to be answered. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel, and encouraged by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the altar was repaired to enable sacrifices and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. Notice that the temple is useless and worship impossible until the appropriate sacrifices have been offered – hence the need first for an altar of sacrifice. Similarly, no aspect of the life of God can be accessed until the would-be worshipper accepts the sacrifice of Christ on the cross as his own offering to God.
o Then the work on the temple was begun in 536 BC and completed in 516 BC. It took longer than expected – 3 ½ years – due partly to outside opposition and partly to selfishness on the part of the Jewish settlers, who wanted to finish their own homes first (see Haggai ch. 1)
o Ezra the priest then arrived in 458 BC and began to teach about the Law, about correct worship in the temple, and on proper relationships and marriages. Repentance followed.
So, we see that the sequence was ALTAR – TEMPLE – CITY. That is the way that it still works today; until we have personally come to God via the sacrifice of Christ, we cannot become part of God’s holy temple (Ephesians 2:21). Only then, can we influence the city – our local society – to make a life-changing difference to it.
The temple built by Zerubbabel was the least well known of all, compared with Solomon’s temple a long time before, or Herod’s much later. Unlike the other two, it was not destroyed by enemy action, but was gradually reconstructed over a long period until replaced entirely by Herod’s great building.