The first cycle of judgments is ending. The 144,000 have been commissioned and a huge group of martyrs has arrived in Heaven. In many places on Earth war rages unchecked, with its attendant famine and pestilence, and yet in other places peace still prevails. Those lucky enough to enjoy it are fooled into thinking that soon the rest of the world will settle down too, and it'll be business as usual. Since the anti-Christ has not yet been revealed as Satan's man for Planet Earth, many still see him as a talented world leader doing his best to restore order, and despite the unprecedented death tolls and all the missing people, they still give him high ratings.
But in Heaven it's a different story, because God is about to unleash the 7 Trumpet judgments. It gives Him no pleasure to do this. But as bad as they were, the now concluding Seal Judgments simply weren't severe enough to turn man's stubborn heart back to Him. Alas, He knew it all along, but that doesn't make matters any easier. If only He didn't love them so much, He could just let them destroy each other. But while His righteousness demands justice, His love requires that He keep on trying to save them.
The Seventh Seal and the Golden Censer
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.
Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. (Rev. 8:1-5) The half hour of silence fills Heaven with a sense of foreboding, as if all the angels are holding their breath, waiting for the Lord to act. The post-Rapture believers on Earth know what's coming too, and their urgent prayers come up before the Throne in a giant cloud of incense.
But the time for mercy ended with the Rapture. This is a time for justice and as the angel hurls fire from the altar, God announces the coming judgments in His traditional way, with thunder, lightning and earthquakes.
Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.
The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up. (Rev. 8:6-7) Reminiscent of the plagues of Egypt the first judgment is upon the land. Fire breaks out over a third of the Earth, the acrid smoke from the grass and trees filling the skies above.
The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. (Rev 8:8-9) This judgment appears to be a giant asteroid or meteor crashing into the Earth's oceans. This has happened to Earth hundreds of times in it's history. The latest was on June 9, 2006 when a meteor slammed into Northern Norway with an impact force equal to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.
Astronomers are currently watching 736 potentially hazardous Near Earth objects (NEO). As of now none are projected to collide with Earth but these scientists caution us that NEO's often appear suddenly and with very little warning. How many of us knew that one was about to strike Norway?
The meteor strike referenced in this passage causes astounding devastation, turning 1/3 of the world's oceans a poisonous red color, killing 1/3 of marine life and destroying over 43,000 ships. (In 2005 there were 130,000 ships registered in 195 countries.)
The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter. (Rev. 8:10-11) Now judgment falls on the world's fresh water supply. One third of it becomes poisonous because of something like a shooting star that fell from the sky. The star is named Wormwood, from the Greek word apsinthos (absinthe). Because of this, some commentators believe that the agent making the waters poisonous is radioactive contamination.
They say this because, although it's not free of controversy, the Russian word chernobyl can be translated as wormwood and on April 25 and 26 of 1986 the world's worst nuclear disaster occurred in the Ukranian city by that name. A nuclear reactor in the Chernobyl power plant exploded during testing, releasing amounts of radioactive fallout into the atmosphere 300 times greater than the atomic bomb exploded in Hiroshima. If you saw the movie "China Syndrome" you learned that out of control reactors can burrow into the ground and once that happens are all but unstoppable.
There's no official word on whether that did or can happen at Chernobyl. But containment efforts are still ongoing 20 years later, and if European aquifers become contaminated, it's easy to see how this view of Rev. 8:11 could be accurate.
The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, 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 turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night. (Rev. 8:12) Between the smoke from the grass and forest fires, and particulates thrown into the air by the meteor strike the atmosphere has become so dense that 1/3 of the light from the heavenly bodies is blocked. I'm reminded of TV footage from the fires that Saddam's troops set in Kuwait's oil fields while retreating. The smoke was so dense that it was like night during the day, the sun like a dark red ball floating in the blackened sky above. That's about what it'll look like as the world awaits the fifth trumpet.
As I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying in midair call out in a loud voice: "Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!" (Rev 8:13) This is no ordinary eagle. The Greek text uses the word normally translated angel, indicating some kind of supernatural messenger, sent to prepare the world for what's ahead. Four of the trumpets have sounded, and the Earth is reeling from this onslaught. But now the judgments turn supernatural and are directed at man himself. It's about to get personal.
The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. (Rev. 9:1-2) This star had fallen some time previous to the 5th angel's trumpet, and by using a personal pronoun, John identifies him as a living being. In Luke 10:18 Jesus said that He had seen Satan fall like lightning from Heaven, so it can be assumed that the star is Satan and he's been told to open the shaft of the Abyss to release a swarm of "locusts."
And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not given power to kill them, but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes a man. During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.
The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. Their hair was like women's hair, and their teeth were like lions' teeth. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. They had tails and stings like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months. They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon. (Rev 9:3-11) They're unlike any locusts ever seen on Earth before. Normal locusts are vegetarian, but these are prevented from eating the grass, plants, or trees. Instead they attack people, but only unbelievers, and when they do they sting them like a scorpion would, causing pain so intense that their vistims will pray for death. And their leader is the angel of the Abyss, whose name means "Destroyer" in both languages. (In one of those precious little tidbits of wisdom that God's word is noted for, Proverbs 30:27 informs us that normal locusts have no king lending credence to the idea that these "locusts" are something else.)
John had certainly never seen such a thing before, and in describing them he exceeded even the limits of his imagination. You've got to appreciate the nature of his challenge here. He was a first century man called upon to describe twenty first century warfare. But he had to do it in such a way that all the generations in between could interpret it as well. Even today we can't relate these so-called locusts to anything in our world. They're clearly a demonic manifestation of some sort.
So why are they only attacking unbelievers? Good question. Certainly it's a God ordained judgment, but did Satan willingly turn these little monsters loose on his own people? Was he ordered to, or is it some diabolical scheme to further inflame the hatred of the people of Earth toward God? After all, His followers aren't suffering. Did Satan deliberately do this so he could blame God for it, advancing his strategy of turning Darkness into Light and the Lie into the Truth? A little later John will inform us that none of these torments turned the people of Earth from their rebellious ways.
The first woe is past; two other woes are yet to come.
The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the horns of the golden altar that is before God. It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, "Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates." And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number.
The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur. A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths. The power of the horses was in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails were like snakes, having heads with which they inflict injury. (Rev. 8:12-19) Traditionally, the Euphrates River has been the territorial, cultural and religious boundary between East and West. Rarely have customs, traditions or philosophies crossed from either direction. As a result the Eastern world is far different in almost every respect from its Western counterpart. This passage helps to explain why that's so. There's been a boundary in the spiritual world as well. But with this command from the very throne of God the boundary comes down and the effect is deadly beyond comparison.
The combatants released by the lowering of this barrier wind up killing 1/3 of the remaining population of Earth. Remember 1/4 of mankind met their end in the seal judgments. With this additional third that means that over 3 billion people will have died by the time this is over, and the Great Tribulation hasn't even begun yet.
The cause of this destruction is the release of angels at the Euphrates River, but the River hasn't been dried up yet allowing the Kings of the East to cross. That comes later in Rev. 16:12. I think this passage is describing warfare that takes place in the Far East where over 40% of the world's population lives (many in crowded conditions increasing the potential for mass casualties) where religious and ethnic tensions are traditionally high, and where several countries can mount huge armies. I think it's the coalition formed by the winners of this war that storms across the dried up Euphrates while the anti-Christ is distracted by other uprisings. (Daniel 11:40-44)
The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts. (Rev. 9:20-21)
You'd think that with those demonic locusts attacking only non-believers and 3 billion people dying from wars and other disasters, people would be flocking to the Lord in search of comfort and security. But this just doesn't happen, and I'll tell you why.
There is a belief floating around that's as old as mankind but in the last days will become a religion that deceives almost everybody. It's called the Luciferian Doctrine and understanding it helps explain why the world won't turn to its Creator in this, the worst time in human history.
The Luciferian doctrine is named of course after Lucifer, a Latin name meaning, "light bearer." It holds that Lucifer is the good guy trying to enlighten the people of the world in preparation for the spiritual evolution necessary to bring peace to all mankind. According to Luciferian Doctrine our physical evolution is finished and all we need to do now is throw off the bonds of Judeo-Christian thinking to complete our spiritual evolution and enter into our long awaited Utopian Era.
But Lucifer's being hindered in all this by the evil Adonai (Hebrew for Lord) Who, along with His followers, is working to thwart Lucifer's grand plan by requiring everyone to adhere to His reactionary religion, effectively preventing our spiritual evolution. In order for humanity to achieve Utopia those who insist on clinging to their obsolete Judeo- Christian faith have to be eliminated. The Great Tribulation is characterized in Luciferian Doctrine as the evil Adonai's last great effort to destroy mankind's "light bearer" and prevent our ascension into Utopia, keeping us in bondage to Him.
Following the church's disappearance the Truth will become pretty scarce on Earth and the whole world will be deceived into believing the Luciferian Doctrine just as Paul warned would happen (2 Thes. 2:9-12). So naturally, thinking the Lord is the bad guy, they became even more intense in their worship of Lucifer, hoping that he'll prevail and bring an end to their suffering. (There is a way that seems right to man, but the end thereof is death ... Prov. 14:12) Lucifer, of course, is also widely known as Satan or The Devil.
Next time we'll learn about the two witnesses, discover where the New Temple will be built, and witness the event in heaven that signals the beginning of the Great Tribulation. See you then.