A Study on Revelation chapter 8
On Friday the thirteenth—April, 2029—an asteroid named Apophis will come close enough to us to destroy TV satellites. Apophis is taller than a hundred-story building, traveling at ten-times the speed of a bullet. If scientists miscalculated Apophis’ trajectory, it would blast the earth with the fury of 65,000 atom bombs. The name Apophis derives from the Egyptian god of darkness and destruction.
Apophis is one of 4,700 “PHA’s” (potentially hazardous asteroids)—much like the football-field-sized “city-killer” that caught astronomers by surprise when it whizzed by this June. Many bible scholars believe that an astronomical event could be what’s described by Revelation 8, which is our chapter for today. Prophecy teacher Thomas Horn openly speculates that NASA is involved in a mass-coverup about Apophis. When he was interviewed by the 700-club, he shared what he believes to be a prophetic dream, where an asteroid caused mass devastation. When he woke up, he said, “it was as if a voice spoke into my room. I don’t know if it was an audible voice, or if it was just in my head. But I heard a single word, and that was the word, ‘Apophis.’”
We’re in a series called, “The Eye of the Storm,” which is a study in the Book of Revelation. To give you the context: in chapter six, the Lamb of God opened six of the seven “seals,” each revealing another “plague” of sorts. In chapter 7, there was a pause so that God could set His own people apart for protection. Now, in chapter 8, the seventh seal is opened, and it ends up being seven more trumpets—each revealing more plagues. The purpose of this unexpected delay of the end is to bring people to repentance and salvation. Now, let’s read.
1 When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. 3 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. 5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. 6 Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them. 7 The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. 8 The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. 9 A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. 10 The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11 The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter. 12 The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night. 13 Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”
So, how should we understand these plagues? Prophecy teachers err, in my opinion, on two sides. On one side, they interpret everything so symbolically that the plagues mean nothing for the times in which we live. On the other hand—and this is especially true today—teachers tend to “over-literalize”, so that people are worked up into a panicked frenzy over every headline, regardless its biblical relevance. My hope is that, by the end of our time together, you’ll be able to interpret both the Bible and the times by properly balancing literal and symbolic interpretations. To help us, I’ll address three characteristics of the plagues we just read about. The first, we’ve just touched on: the plagues are not merely symbolic; they are also literal.
As I’ve mentioned, there can be a tendency to interpret Revelation in an overly symbolic manner. For instance, some interpreters understand trees to represent “men of high standing” and grass to represent “common man,” so that all that’s happening in these trumpets is a somewhat intense societal upheaval, which may just as likely be speaking of the French Revolution as it is about humanity’s future. Unfortunately, this does not do justice to the text.
What we have to remember is that our model for understanding these plagues goes back to the Exodus story. The plagues of fire and hail, water turned to blood, and darkness, all appear in the Exodus story, and then they reappear here. If we believe the Exodus plagues literally happened, then it’s more natural to understand their reoccurrence in Revelation as being literal also. Furthermore, when the plague of water-to-blood occurs again in Revelation 16, an angel tells us the reason: “You shed the [literal] blood of God’s people, and now you’ll be given [literal] blood to drink.” Once again, it’s far more natural to understand these plagues literally.
So, how might this play out, if it is indeed literal? We can’t say with certainty. But if it was Apophis, all four of these trumpets would play out almost simultaneously: The first trumpet focuses on the burning of earth’s vegetation, which would be the outcome of burning space debris, caught in the gravitational pull of Apophis, colliding with the earth like warning shots of an approaching enemy. The second trumpet would describe the impact of Apophis’ cataclysmic splash into the ocean, instantly destroying millions of creatures and spilling much blood. The third trumpet describes how this falling “star” would pollute the earth’s drinking water, which feasibly could result from seismic activity—set off by Apophis’ disruption—suddenly releasing toxic gases into rivers and aquifers. Last of all, the fourth trumpet emphasizes the darkness of the sky, which undoubtedly would result from the ash, dust, and debris of a meteoric crash.
Regardless of how this happens, the plagues are not just symbolic; they are also literal. If our interpretation causes us to understand these plagues as anything less than cataclysmic, we are being overly symbolic. Interpreting the times requires us to rightly interpret our Bibles.
Now, let’s move to our second point. The plagues are not just natural; they are also supernatural.
And this is where we see the symbolic side coming into play. Most Bible scholars agree that John’s original audience would have interpreted the “falling star” as a fallen angel, for this was common metaphor in the day. In fact, we even have an example of a “fallen star” in Revelation 9:1 that’s referred to as “he,” and in 9:11, he’s called “the king” of demons. Almost certainly, the “falling star” of 8:10 is an evil angel that has been cast down by God in judgment.
So does this mean it can’t be a meteor? I would suggest that it could be both a meteor and a fallen angel; in other words, the judgment could be both natural and supernatural. I say this, once again, because of the background of the Exodus story. Most people think that the Exodus plagues were merely natural—the plague of darkness, the plague of hail, the plague of frogs—these were all natural phenomena. What people miss, however, is that they were simultaneously supernatural judgments against the “gods” (demons) of Egypt. Take, for example, the plague of frogs, where God sent frogs on the land of Egypt in such quantities that people couldn’t stop stepping on them. Have you ever thought that was just a strange form of judgment? It wasn’t random. God was publicly mocking the Egyptian goddess, “Hequet,” who manifested her presence in the form of a frog. To step on a frog in Egypt was a capital offense. So you could imagine the terror when the soles of Egyptians’ feet were unavoidably covered with the corpses of their beloved “god”! Every Egyptian plague mocked one or more of Egypt’s gods. Thus, the Exodus describes both a supernatural judgment upon demonic so-called “gods” and a natural judgment on earth. Given this background, it seems feasible that Revelation 8 could describe both a supernatural judgment (a fallen angel) and a natural judgment (asteroid).
Again, I’ll make a conjecture of how this might happen. I’m not even saying I believe this; just that I believe it’s possible. Let’s come back to Apophis. It’s not hard to see how the asteroid could fulfill the “natural” side of this cataclysmic judgment. But might it be more than a coincidence that this asteroid is named after an Egyptian god—almost as a poetic reminder of the original Exodus, which figures so prominently in Revelation 8? What if God’s supernatural victory over an evil angel subsequently plays out upon the earth with the strike of an asteroid, so that His judgment is both natural and supernatural? Perhaps it happens this way, and perhaps it doesn’t. What’s most important is not that we get the details all right, but rather, that we interpret both the Bible and the times. The plagues are natural and supernatural.
Okay, and now for the last characteristic of the plagues. This one is going to sound a little silly, but just hang with me as I unpack it: the plagues are not just bad; they are good.
Again, the Exodus serves as our backdrop. If you were an Egyptian, the Exodus plagues were 100% bad. But if you were an Israelite, the plagues were actually… good. They meant that your evil slave-drivers could no longer oppress you. Like the plagues of Exodus, the plagues of Revelation are not just a terrifying judgment, but also, a means of liberation. This is why, throughout the Scripture, God’s final judgment is called “the great and terrible day of the Lord.” Whether the day of the Lord’s wrath is terrible or great depends on who you are. If your sins have been forgiven through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, you’ll be protected in the eye of the storm. But if you have not repented, the day of God’s wrath will be terrible. That’s why we should all take heed and give our lives to Jesus, before it’s too late.
Now, I want to point out one more way in which these plagues are portrayed as good: not only are they a means of liberation, but also, they are an answer to prayer. The introduction to the trumpets in the first five verses reveals a scene where there is silence in heaven for a half-hour. In Jewish thought, God would have periods of silence to hear the prayers of the saints. Clearly that’s taking place in verse 4—where prayers come before God, and then the judgments fall.
I know it seems strange that the answer to our prayers would come in the form of plagues, but that’s short-sighted. When you pray for a baby, you take it for granted that it will include pregnancy and labor. In the same way, when we pray for God’s kingdom to come, for Jesus to come back, for God’s perfect peace and healing and justice and relief… we have to understand that, just like with pregnancy, pain precedes the promise. This is the sense in which plagues are an answer to prayer: pain precedes the promise of Jesus’ return. The plagues are good in the same way that birth pains are good: they mean that the promises we’ve been praying for—even groaning for, like a woman in labor—are soon to be delivered.
Now, let’s summarize: the plagues are not just symbolic; they are also literal. They are not just natural; they are also supernatural. The are not just bad; they are good. Whether they are “good” for us depends on where we stand with Jesus. Thus, the insistence on being a people of prayer who find their refuge—not in a bank account, not in chemical happiness, not in an asteroid-bunker—but in Jesus, whose name means, “safety”.
With these things in mind, I think we have to have our head in the sand to not understand these present global “shakings” as a precursor to the greater global shaking that’s predicted in Revelation. To interpret the Bible rightly is to interpret the times also. Outside of Noah’s flood and two world wars, there’s never been an event that affected literally every human on the planet like what we’re now experiencing. In the midst of these “shakings,” Revelation 8 gives us a picture of God’s end times church—sheltered in the eye of the storm and ushering in the return of Jesus—through prayer.
That’s why I want to make an urgent plea for you to join me in a concentrated season of prayer and fasting, from now, till the end of the year. I’ve committed to fasting more intensely. Maybe you could do a day a week, or even a lunch a week. With regard to prayer, starting tonight at 7pm, and then every Sunday night for the foreseeable future, we are going to have a thirty-minute-long prayer meeting over Zoom, as a perfect match for the thirty minutes of silence in heaven. If you can only make it for five minutes, that’s fine. Just click the link we send you this afternoon, or find it in the description of this video. I’m asking you: in light of the Bible and the times, will you commit to making this prayer meeting part of your Sunday evening routine?
I believe the shakings we’re now experiencing will intensify through at least the end of the year because pain precedes God’s promise. I want your family to be ready, and I want our church family to be ready. The way we get ready is by turning to Jesus, more than ever before. Jesus is coming quickly, and despite what the hardships might seem to indicate, Jesus is not the god of darkness and destruction. He’s the Prince of Peace, and He’s the Savior of the world.