All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
Note: I recommend reading the commentary on chapter 16 after you have read through all the trumpets, as there’s a parallel between the trumpets and bowl judgments.
1 And when he opened the seventh seal, there followed a silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.
Seventh Seal – Silence in Heaven
The seventh seal follows the sixth seal which revealed the return of Christ in judgment. That of course, is followed by the destruction of the present universe, and creation of the New Heaven and New Earth — the Eternal Kingdom.
I believe this silence in Heaven after what was revealed in the sixth seal, suggests the incomprehensible nature of eternity in the presence of God. The silence suggests that there aren’t any words to describe it. We get a glimpse of it in the final two chapters of Revelation, but the full scope of eternity with our Lord and Savior is indescribable, unfathomable.
This seal does not introduce the seven trumpets. The silence in Heaven is the seventh seal.
2 And I saw the seven angels that stand before God; and there were given unto them seven trumpets.
3 And another angel came and stood over the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should add it unto the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.
4 And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand.
“prayers of all the saints”
I believe this refers to all the prayers of all the saints throughout the Christian era. We live in an evil world, and Christians are persecuted all over the world, and always have been. I believe these prayers represent prayers for grace and deliverance, and also for vindication and justice (Rev 6:9-11; 16:7; 19:2).
These prayers of all of God’s people provides further confirmation that the events of Revelation occur throughout the whole Church era, from Pentecost to the return of Christ.
5 And the angel taketh the censer; and he filled it with the fire of the altar, and cast it upon the earth: and there followed thunders, and voices, and lightnings, and an earthquake.
“cast it upon the earth”
I believe the casting of the “prayers of all the saints” upon the earth is symbolic of those prayers being ultimately answered in judgment of the world — upon those who rejected Christ and persecuted His people. This is our vindication as followers of Christ.
“there followed thunders, and voices, and lightnings, and an earthquake.”
This description indicates that our prayers are going to be answered in no small way. God’s righteous judgment upon this evil world will be seen and felt around the globe. No one will have to doubt what’s going on when God judges the world, and everyone will forever know that Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords and Savior of the world. Furthermore, His followers, whom they ridiculed and persecuted and hated, will finally be vindicated in their sight.
6 And the seven angels that had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.
With seals two thru four, we saw warfare, famine/poverty, and death. With these first four trumpets we see calamities upon the earth, which would naturally have a direct effect upon man and beast. Keep in mind that these have the whole Church period in view.
I believe what we’re seeing here with the afore mentioned seals and first four trumpets is, the tribulation of life that is common around the world throughout history. They reveal the hardship and destructive nature of this life in contrast to the peace and perfect order of Heaven and the Eternal Kingdom. Sin spoiled the beautiful and perfect world that we had in the beginning of creation. Also, sealing of the 144,000 (the Church), is a reminder to us that no matter how bad things get in this world for us, we have eternity in the glorious presence of the Lord to look forward to.
7 And the first sounded, and there followed hail and fire, mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of the earth was burnt up, and the third part of the trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.
First Trumpet – Hail, fire, blood
This apparently refers to the destruction caused by hail and forest fires. Mention of blood would refer to man and beast who lose their lives in the midst of these catastrophes. The destruction caused by hail and forest fires can be very extensive, especially as it relates to fires. Loss of life can also be extensive. Fires are caused primarily by man’s carelessness, spontaneous combustion, lightning, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
The “third part” likely refers to the limitation God places on these things, so that the world is not totally consumed. “All the green grass” should be understood to mean all the green grass within the third of the earth.
8 And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood;
9 and there died the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, even they that had life; and the third part of the ships was destroyed.
Second Trumpet – Sea death
“great mountain burning with fire”
Immediately one thinks of a volcano, but that interpretation is not required. And of course, a single volcano could never cause what’s described here. A volcano pours a foreign substance into the ocean, causing death and destruction. Therefore, this should be regarded as symbolic for all the different ways that causes the death of sea creatures and the destruction of sea vessels — such as pollution, oil spills, sea battles, and of course, volcanic eruptions. Again, I believe the “third part” refers to the limitation God places on it. The third part of the sea becoming blood, should be viewed as symbolic for the loss of life as a result of these catastrophes. Where the “third part” is mentioned in each of these seals, the meaning is the same.
Also in view could be the effects of earthquakes — in and around the ocean.
Here’s an excerpt from an article about pollution of the ocean and its deadly effects:
There is evidence that the oceans have suffered at the hands of mankind for millennia, as far back as Roman times. But recent studies show that degradation, particularly of shoreline areas, has accelerated dramatically in the past three centuries as industrial discharge and runoff from farms and coastal cities has increased.
Pollution is the introduction of harmful contaminants that are outside the norm for a given ecosystem. Common man-made pollutants that reach the ocean include pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, detergents, oil, sewage, plastics, and other solids. Many of these pollutants collect at the ocean’s depths, where they are consumed by small marine organisms and introduced into the global food chain. Scientists are even discovering that pharmaceuticals ingested by humans but not fully processed by our bodies are eventually ending up in the fish we eat.
Many ocean pollutants are released into the environment far upstream from coastlines. Nitrogen-rich fertilizers applied by farmers inland, for example, end up in local streams, rivers, and groundwater and are eventually deposited in estuaries, bays, and deltas. These excess nutrients can spawn massive blooms of algae that rob the water of oxygen, leaving areas where little or no marine life can exist. Scientists have counted some 400 such dead zones around the world. (Marine Pollution, National Geographic)
10 And the third angel sounded, and there fell from heaven a great star, burning as a torch, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of the waters;
11 and the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.
Third Trumpet – River death
This is an extension of the second trumpet. This “great star” should be viewed as symbolic for that which causes bitterness (“wormwood” – Lam 3:19). Use of the word “bitter,” easily describes pollution caused by chemicals. The chemical pollution of rivers and streams is well known and well documented. We see what factories have done with their chemical dumps. Here’s an article about this practice just in the United States alone: Chemical Dumps by Factories.
Disease-infested waters in third world countries is also well known. Safe drinking and bathing water is a severe problem in many countries. Read about that Here.
12 And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; that the third part of them should be darkened, and the day should not shine for the third part of it, and the night in like manner.
Fourth Trumpet – Climate/Weather
The “third part of the sun” being “smitten,” is to be viewed as symbolic. We know for sure that this is symbolic, because if the sun was actually struck and then diminished by one third, all life on earth would be destroyed. God has designed the sun and our distance from the sun to be perfect — not too close to incinerate us, and not too far away to freeze us. A change in the sun by one third would put earth in a place where no life could survive. The positive conclusion that what is being described here is symbolic, gives us confidence that the description of the other trumpets are also symbolic — to the degree that I indicated for each one. That goes for the remaining trumpets, as well.
Any changes with the sun would naturally impact the climates and weather of the earth. Thus I believe what John is talking about here are all the various catastrophes related to climate and weather. This would include the harsh and destructive effects of the bitter cold and snowstorms; the deadly effects of intense heat; tornadoes, hurricanes; tidal waves; flooding from rain storms; lightning, etc.
It should be noted that moon and the stars don’t actually shine, but merely reflect the sun. So if the sun’s rays are diminished by a third, then the reflection will also be a third less. The normal darkness, of course, would be a third greater. In other words, darker by one third. So we see that the focus is still actually on the sun and how it would impact the earth if the sun were struck.
Since all this is merely symbolic, we must conclude that what’s being depicted here are all the various disasters relating to climate and weather due to the position of each area of the earth relative to the sun. Regarding the darkness that is mentioned, there are places on earth that are in total darkness for several months of the year. Imagine the problems that causes for the people living in those areas.
13 And I saw, and I heard an eagle, flying in mid heaven, saying with a great voice, Woe, woe, woe, for them that dwell on the earth, by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, who are yet to sound.
The remaining three trumpets are distinguished from the first four. This indicates that the essence of these remaining trumpets are different than the others. In other words, they’re in a different category. Also, use of the term “woe,” and the repeating of it three times, indicates that these remaining trumpets are of a more serious and devastating nature.