Revelation belongs to a kind of Jewish literature, called Apocalyptic, that always needs to be treated with great care. The messages are often full of highly symbolical forms and pictures and that is the reason why it is often difficult decide if a certain portion of the text should be understood literally or figuratively. Things that look like a sequence of events do not necessarily demand a chronological interpretation and application. Outward forms, movements and colors try to convey a deeper message or issues.
It is advised to read this study after having read the one of the Seven Seals. The reason is that after the seventh seal is opened John sees seven angels of which each one receives a trumpet (Revelation 8:1,2).
The First Trumpet; Revelation 8:7
When the first angel has blown his trumpet, John observes that hail and fire, mingled with blood are cast upon the earth and as a result nature is damaged extensively: One third of the trees and all the grass are burned. I wonder if not the present yearly occurring wildfires on earth, that are burning increasingly larger areas of wood, bushes and grass, are the beginning of the fulfillment of this apocalyptic vision. God is allowing man to ruin the surface of the earth. Nature as created by Him and given to us, took many ages to build up all the forests and jungles, but through men's stupidity they are going to be destroyed within a few decades. God is not directly involved in this, He is not doing it, but as the sovereign Lord, He allows stupid, arrogant, godless mankind to have its way for a certain time.
The Second Trumpet; Revelation 8:8
Here is something difficult to describe: It looks like a burning mountain that is cast into the sea. A considerable amount of fish and sea creatures - one third - dies as a result and also a third of all ships is lost. Could this be a description of a gigantic volcanic explosion in the ocean - why not? Under the surface of the oceans - so we know today - are locations with dangerous volcanic activity. Scientists predict already for a number of years that heavy eruptions can be expected, undoubtedly with terrible results. Through the fall man lost his faith power over the forces in this planet. Jesus himself said that by faith mountains could be removed and cast into the sea. By faith volcano's could be dwindled to nothing and shut up so that no harm will follow. But man is now a helpless creature, a victim of the great forces in this planet.
The Third Trumpet; Revelation 8:10
A great burning star, it looks like a torch, falls on the surface of the earth. It seems that particularly water is affected by what seems to be a meteorite or comet. It burns like a torch, so John wrote, and this is a good description of the sight of a comet with its tail of glowing particles. This comet however does not pass the earth at a safe distance but penetrates the atmosphere and actually falls on the planet. The impact released tremendous energies.That water is affected by it may just be one way of saying that the vital necessities of life, water and food, are hit hard.
Scientists are quite certain now that big changes on the surface structures of the planet and the extermination of prehistoric animals were caused by a great meteorite that actually hit the earth. They fear that something like this could happen again, but predictions are difficult to make.
The Fourth Trumpet; Revelation 8:12
John sees a darkening of the sun, the moon and the stars, it is getting dark on the earth. Could this not a prophetic vision about the increasing polluting of the atmosphere as it takes place today? Or it could be the result of ashes of the volcanic activity or even a result of the meteorite, for its impact would also release enormous amounts of dust and ash in the atmosphere, darkening it.
John saw a large eagle flying in the midst of the heavens, who cried out because of the following woes that would hit the earth.
The Fifth Trumpet; Revelation 9:1
When the fifth angel has blown his trumpet John sees a disaster coming of a different nature than the previous ones. The star that has fallen on the earth receives a key to open the shaft of the bottomless pit, in the Greek language called the ‘abyss.’ The fallen star is undoubtedly lucifer, satan, who is fallen into an endless region of ever increasing darkness. The smoke that ascends out of this abyss is not the usual one, but - as John looks intensely - it appears to consists of locusts with the power of scorpions. Here we have undoubtedly the apocalyptic description of destructive spiritual forces. They are instructed not to hurt those who have the seal of God on their forehead. God is able to protect his children when He allows disasters to hit the godless. He protected his people in Egypt, He will do it again but then on a global scale.
As John keeps looking, the form of the locusts seems to change, verse 7-10. They look like horses for war. On their heads are golden crowns and their faces resemble those of men with hair of women. Lets pause here to ponder over the meaning of all this. It appears that we have here not only the activity of pure spirit powers but also the involvement of ruling earthly powers, men and women of this world. We learn from this that the combination of evil spirits and political forces will be a cause of great torment for mankind, specifically tormenting all who have not the seal of God on their foreheads. Men and women, who do not yield to the claim of God, refusing to accept the salvation of Christ, become victims of the powers of darkness, who destroy the high functions of men, such as his personal freedom to think, choose and decide. The king of these evil forces is 'Abaddon,' a Hebrew word meaning destruction; look up e.g. Psalm 88:11; Proverbs 15:11; the Greek name equivalent to it is 'Appollyon,' meaning destroyer.
Verse 12. The five trumpets apparently form together the first series of Woes upon the earth. The sixth and seventh form together the second and last one series.
The Sixth Trumpet; Revelation 9:13
John is in this vision transported to the holy chamber in the temple and he looks in the direction of the golden altar, also called the altar of incense. This altar stood before the veil, symbolizing prayer and worship. He hears a voice, which seems to come from the four horns of the altar. The horns had the function to give support to the priest while he performed his duties on the perhaps hot altar.
A command is given to release the four angels, which were held in the region of the Euphrates. As they are released, there appears a very great army with fearful looking horses. Fire, smoke and sulphor issue from their mouths. Their tails are also dangerous weapons. They are like snakes that bite. John takes particular note of the message that though men are hit hard and suffer immensely, they do not cry out to the living God to repent of their sins, particularly of the sins like worship of evil spirits, idolatry, sorcery and adultery.
The region of the Euphrates, especially the lower part, which was once called Mesopotamia - the present state of Iraq covers most of its territory - is from almost the beginning of the history of the nations in the Middle East the area where demonic religions had a firm grip on men. From this vision we can deduct that God has been waiting for a long time, keeping his angels bound to inactivity, to counteract and eliminate these evil and destructive religions. But even His severe judgments do not move men to conversion.
Before this vision of the sixth trumpet fades, John sees an entirely different scene unfolding. An angel descends from heaven, the rainbow on his head - remember that the rainbow was the sign that God would never again destroy the earth with a flood - and his face is as bright as the sun, it must be an angel of light. When the mighty angel has set his feet on land and sea. John sees an opened book in his hands. The angel speaks and the echo of his voice is as powerful as seven thunderclaps.
John is asked to take part in this vision. He receives the book from the angel and has to eat it. This is an apocalyptic description of the prophetic ministry. The prophetic ministry is a high calling and it seems so sweet and satisfying to receive from God. But when the prophetic words are digested it will make the prophet sick for the burdens are heavy and the words are often not pleasing to those who hear them. People may even turn against the prophet and persecute him. But the Word of God has to be proclaimed and prophesied. It is evident that the divinely inspired word will have an important function in the end phase of the drama of human history on this cursed planet.
John is asked to participate further in this vision - this shows how real it was to his consciousness. First, chapter 11:1,2, he finds himself again in the temple. He has to measure it, but the outer court is left out, for it is given to the gentiles. For three-and-halve years they will trample the holy city and the two witnesses, verse 3, will preach, dressed as mourners. We are reminded of what is written in Daniel 9:27.
Verse 4 makes a reference to Zechariah 4:3,11-14, where we read of the two anointed ones, that supply the lamps with oil. The question is asked who are those two anointed ones? According to Revelation 11:6 they will a tremendous power, even over the elements of the earth. Their ministry seems to resemble the ministry of Moses and Elijah. Moses caused the water of Egypt to turn into blood and Elijah closed the heavens, so that it did not rain. It seems to be clear then that these two powerful witnesses have apocalyptic equivalents of the ministries of Moses and Elijah. Jesus said in Matthew 11:14 that John the Baptist was the Elijah that was to come, referring to Maleachi 4:1. He makes clear that the prophecy of the coming of Elijah need not to taken literally, as he were coming really back to life, but that it should be understood as coming ‘in the power and with the message of Elijah.’
It is interesting to look at further resemblances here. We remember that Moses died and nobody knew his grave, as if he was taken from the earth and Elijah went to heaven in a whirlwind before the very eyes of Elisha. It is therefore not surprising to read here in Revelation that after the ministry of the two anointed ones has ended they are killed by the beast out of the abyss, but they are raised from the dead after three-and-a-halve day and after a divine invitation they ascend to heaven; verse 12. After they have gone to heaven there is a great earthquake, a tenth part of the city - it must be Jerusalem - collapsed. Survivors finally praised the God of heaven.
This was the second woe, the third one will come shortly.
The Seventh Trumpet; Revelation 11:15-12:17
Victory is proclaimed from heaven. The Anointed One will now become King. The elders praise and worship Him. The temple of God in heaven is opened. The ark of his testament became visible in the Most Holy Place. The effect of this disclosure of the presence of God is immediate: Lightnings, tremendous release of energies; voices, they may indicate prophetic ministries and commands that are issued; thunderings, God is speaking powerfully from heaven; earthquakes, the things men rely on will be shaken to shake them.
We continue to read in chapter twelve of Revelation. John saw a great portent in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, on her head a crown of twelve stars, who delivered a male child; verse 5. This woman is not to be understood as referring to Mary but rather as the chosen nation of Israel, out of whose life the Messiah was born. The Gospels tell us that evil powers set out to destroy the young child, but God cared for its protection and Joseph and Mary fled with the child to Egypt. This story is placed here in apocalyptic context.
Verses 7- 12 of Revelation chapter 12 could be regarded as a background insight, necessary to understand what follows after. It explains why there is satanic influence on the earth. Satan, pictured as a dragon, has been cast out of heaven, because he was not worthy to function any longer before the throne of God Almighty. The casting down of satan means two things: First, the victory of God and his people is coming soon - notice in verse 10, ‘Now is come.’ Second, the struggle on the earth will for a short time intensify, with the result the Gods people will suffer much - read verse 12b, ‘for he knows his time is short.’ But, again, victory is certain.
Verse 11 declares how the saints conquer the powers of evil. They have a threefold key to victory: First, their faith in the atoning blood of the Lamb. Second, the word of their testimony. Third, their determination to sacrifice their life if necessary, instead of renouncing their faith in Christ.
The woman, who had borne the male child, Israel, is coming back in the apocalyptic scene in verse 13. Satan will attack Israel again and he knows that his time is short (verse 12). God will protect the woman again. She is given two wings so that she can fly to the wilderness. Satan still tries to follow and kill her, but his attempts are not successful. God causes natural forces of the earth to protect her from the destructive anger of the serpent (verses 14-16). The dragon however continues with great anger against Israel maintaining this anger for generations; read verse 17, ‘to make war on the rest of her offspring.’ How true this is today - I write in December 2000, as we see the terrible hatred against Israel. And this is still true in 2009 when I revised this study. The hatred is even increasing and becoming more dangerous.
The nation that is being persecuted is further identified as having the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus. This does not necessarily mean that she believes in Jesus but that she has the prophetic testimony of Him in the Holy Scriptures. Some interpreters think that the church is meant here but then we have a difficulty with understanding ‘that keep the commandments of God.’ Some argue on this ground that true Christians should observe the laws and institutions of the old covenant given to Israel. But when we understand that this section still refers to Israel, we have no such difficulty. Chapter 12 closes with the announcement that the dragon stood still on the sand of the sea. For the moment he is stopped, but the next chapter shows that he has more evil strategies to deceive humanity and harass Gods people.
message of Revelation: The Almighty God
will vindicate His Chosen One and His faithful people and lead them to
the destined victory. Woe upon them that hinder Him in reaching this
T. J. de
Ruiter, pastor Elm Pentecostal Church,
Hilversum, The Netherlands
6 december 2000, revised 22 November 2006