At this juncture, we once again encounter a major fork in the road of interpretation where many interpreters insist on understanding the effects of the judgments of the trumpets as being symbolic rather than literal. As we discussed in our treatment of Interpreting Symbols, this leads in the direction of conjecture and supposition out of which it is nearly impossible to obtain an unambiguous understanding of what God intends to reveal. For the reasons before stated, and because of the Golden Rule of Interpretation, we choose to allow the context to determine whether symbolism is in view. When we do, we find that a literal understanding of physical phenomena is most likely in view.
We are aware that a majority of interpreters maintain that the results of this first Trumpet are not literal. They seem as anxious to get rid of the miraculous and the supernatural from Interpretation, as the Rationalists are to eliminate it from Inspiration. But why, unless the plagues of Egypt also were not literal plagues, we cannot understand, Again we ask, Why should not these be literal judgments which are to come upon the earth? What is the difficulty? . . . To explain this away is to manifest a want of faith in the power of God, and in the Word of God. Such things have taken place on earth. Why should they not take place again?1We note the similarity between the judgments found here and the physical, literal judgments which God poured out upon Egypt. Indeed, Isaiah indicates that literal events future to his day would rival those of the Egyptian Exodus:
The LORD will utterly destroy the tongue of the Sea of Egypt; with His mighty wind He will shake His fist over the River, and strike it in the seven streams, and make men cross over dry-shod. There will be a highway for the remnant of His people who will be left from Assyria, as it was for Israel in the day that he came up from the land of Egypt. (Isa. Isa. 11:15-16)In the seventh plague which God sent upon the Egyptians on behalf of Israel, God sent hail, and fire mingled with the hail, so very heavy that there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. This judgment was sent on man, on beast, and on every herb of the field [emphasis added] (Ex. Ex. 9:22-23). Significantly, in the sounding of this angel, the same mix of fire and hail destroys a third of the trees and all the green grass. This includes grain being grown for food (see below). Hail which is sent by God in judgment is often of a great size inflicting severe damage (Jos. Jos. 10:11; Eze. Eze. 13:11; Hag. Hag. 2:17; Rev. Rev. 16:21+). In the seventh bowl judgment, the hail weighs one talent (Rev. Rev. 16:21+)ranging between 75 to 88 pounds.2 The hail is drawn from Gods treasury of hail . . . reserved for the day of battle and war (Job Job 38:22). Under the Law of Moses, the penalty for blasphemy and idolatry was stoning (Lev. Lev. 24:14-16; Deu. Deu. 13:6-10; Deu. 17:2-5). During the Tribulation period, the earth dwellers continue in blasphemy and idolatry. Perhaps this explains why God stones them with large hailstones (Rev. Rev. 16:21+).
The language is evidently drawn from the plagues of Egypt, five or six out of the ten exactly corresponding: the hail, the fire (Ex. Ex. 9:24), the water turned to blood (Ex. Ex. 7:19), the darkness (Ex. Ex. 10:21), the locusts (Ex. Ex. 10:12), and perhaps the death (Rev. Rev. 9:18+). Judicial retribution in kind characterizes the inflictions of the first four, those elements which had been abused punishing their abusers.3
Hailstorms are normally isolated, yet this will be a hailstorm that will blanket and devastate an area larger than the entire North and South American continents (together they represent 28% of earths land surface). What a fearful storm that will be. This will be the first stroke of Gods scourge, a thunderstorm, or series of thunderstorms, which has no precedent, or anything even mildly approaching it in violence in mans history since the flood.4See The Plagues of Egypt and the Tribulation.
Fire generally speaks of judgment. When John the Baptist spoke to the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to his baptism, he called them a Brood of vipers! and warned them of impending judgment. He spoke of a Coming One who was greater than he who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire . Those who repented and turned to God, after the Day of Pentecost, were baptized by Jesus with the Holy Spirit and joined to the Body of Christ (1Cor. 1Cor. 12:13). Those who rejected God would eventually be baptized with fire (Mtt. Mat. 13:41-42). In the context of this baptism, John presented two alternative categories which encompass all men: wheat and chaff: His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire [emphasis added] (Mtt. Mat. 3:12). Here, the earth dwellers get their first taste of Gods judging fire which ultimately culminates in the Lake of Fire (Rev. Rev. 19:20+; Rev. 20:14-15+).
mingled with blood
Mingled is μεμιγμένα [memigmena] , perfect tense: having been mingled. The perfect tense indicates an inseparable mix.5 As in the Egyptian judgments, blood is included in the concoction thrown to the earth. Joel predicted this day: And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood and fire and pillars of smoke (Joel Joel 2:30). All three of these elements are present in this event as the blood is mingled with the hail and the fire causes the green grass and trees to burn generating huge plumes (pillars) of smoke.6
thrown to the earth
This is the first judgment specifically targeted at the destruction of life-supporting natural systems on the planet. Even now, those who reject God worship the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. Rom. 1:25). At the time of the end, God will set about destroying this idol of the earth dwellers.
People today are very concerned about saving the environment. Fears about the depletion of the ozone layer, pollution, the destruction of the rain forests, and global warming are constantly in the news. There is a passionate concern to save endangered species, everything from whales to spotted owls to California condors, and a host of lesser-known species. For many, protecting the environment has become far more than a concern for health and safety; it has become an issue of idolatry, as they worship Mother Nature by trying to protect and perpetuate the earth. . . . Fallen mankind has failed to recognize and honor God as Creator, choosing instead to make a god out of the earth. But the environmental, evolutionary pantheism that devalues man, elevates animals and plants, and ignores the Creator will be severely judged. Earth Day that year will be a gloomy and dismal affair; in a scorched and ravaged world there will be little of the environment left to celebrate.7These are the judgments which the 144,000 Israelites were sealed for protection from. See commentary on Revelation 7:1.
In each of the trumpet judgments which result in death, a third of the population receiving the judgment perishes. A third of the trees is burned up here, a third of the earth is burned up (Rev. Rev. 8:7+, MT and NU text), a third of the sea becomes blood (Rev. Rev. 8:8+), a third of the sea creatures and ships are destroyed (Rev. Rev. 8:9+), a third of the rivers is polluted (Rev. Rev. 8:10-11+), a third of the sunlight, moonlight, and starlight is affected (Rev. Rev. 8:12+), and a third of mankind is killed (Rev. Rev. 9:15+, Rev. 9:18+).
trees were burned up
This judgment is literal, just as was the similar judgment of Egypt, as recounted by the psalmist: He turned their rain into hail, with lightning throughout their land; he struck down their vines and fig trees and shattered the trees of their country (Ps. Ps. 105:32-33). This would include fruit-bearing trees contributing to conditions of famine. See The Plagues of Egypt and the Tribulation. Rev. 6:5-6+) prophesied a severe famine during which food will be horrendously expensive. Compounding this already severe food shortage will be the destruction of one-third of the earths foliage, a destruction wreaked by hail and fire mixed with blood (Rev. Rev. 8:7+).8 The natural disasters which attend these judgments are a problem for those whose interpretive system requires a previous fulfillment in history. Preterist interpreters attempt to identify this judgment with Roman military tactics during the fall of Jerusalem:
Chilton tries to find a literal fulfillment of Revelation Rev. 8:7+ during the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. He says, Literally, the vegetation of Judea, and especially of Jerusalem, would be destroyed in the Roman scorched-earth methods of warfare. He then quotes a passage from Wars 6:6-8 describing the desolation of Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside caused by war. What Chilton does not say is why the Romans cut down the trees. . . . The Romans cut down the wood in order to build earthworks for the siege of Jerusalem. They didnt burn as part of a scorched earth policy. The actual cutting of the trees stands in marked contrast with the description of the first trumpet judgment.9all green grass
Green is χλωρὸς [chlōros] , the same word which describes the color (pale ) of the horse attending the fourth seal (Rev. Rev. 6:8+). Grass is χόρτος [chortos] which can describe stalks of grain in their early, grass-like stages Mtt. Mat. 13:26; Mark Mark 4:28.10 Thus, this judgment may bring not just environmental destruction, but destroy grain production and contribute to the conditions of famine already initiated by the fourth seal. Joel, in speaking of the locust-induced famine of his day, also speaks of the eschatological Day of the Lord:
Alas for the day! For the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as destruction from the Almighty. Is not the food cut off before our eyes, joy and gladness from the house of our God? The seed shrivels under the clods, storehouses are in shambles; barns are broken down, for the grain has withered. How the animals groan! The herds of cattle are restless, because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep suffer punishment. O LORD, to You I cry out; For fire has devoured the open pastures, and a flame has burned all the trees of the field. The beasts of the field also cry out to You, for the water brooks are dried up, and fire has devoured the open pastures . (Joel Joel 1:15-20) [emphasis added]Those who take trees and grass here in a symbolic way encounter a logical inconsistency. If trees represent authorities or governmental powers and grass is generally understood as representing the human race (1Pe. 1Pe. 1:24), then we have the situation where all green grass (humanity) is destroyed, but only one-third of the trees (authorities). Symbolic interpretation leads to a hopeless quagmire of contradictions. For instance, the earth, grass, and trees are symbols of nations and men in the first trumpet (Rev. Rev. 8:7+), but in trumpets 3, 5, and 6 these objects of nature appears side-by-side with men (Rev. Rev. 8:11+; Rev. 9:4+, Rev. 9:15+).11 Purely symbolic interpretations render a wide variety of results here which are typically subjected to great elasticity in order to avoid such contradiction. For example, the green grass is taken as Israel rather than mankind.12 It is much simpler to see these as literal, physical catastrophes which are completely in keeping with the predictions of the character of the Day of the Lord in the OT. The variation in interpretation among those who take these items symbolically is strong evidence against such an understanding:
Elliott says that this first Trumpet denotes the wars of Alaric the Goth and Rhadagaisus the Vandal against the Western Roman Empire. We should never have guessed this ourselves. There is nothing about this or even like it in this Scripture. . . . One says trees mean princes and great men; and grass means mens power and glory (Wordsworth). J. N. Darby says that which is elevated, eminent, lofty is intended by the trees; the young, feeble and aged are meant by the green grass. Wetstein says Trees mean fortified cities; grass unwalled villages. Others say by trees are signified apostles and great doctors; by grass, common Christians (Paralus). Alford holds that it appears rather to indicate a general character of the judgments, than to require any special interpretation in each particular case. To all this we have one simple remark to makeWe prefer to believe Gods own special interpretation of His own judgments, in the plain literal sense of the words.13
To some, the sea is pure doctrine; the mountain, aspiring prelates; the fire, their ambition; the discoloration of the waters, the introduction of false doctrine; the fishes, the lower orders of ecclesiastics and monks; the ships, the bearers of the Gospel. To others, the mountain is Rome; its burning, the conflagration of that city by Alaric; the destruction of the ships, the plunder of its wealth. Still others see in the record, a symbol of the ravages by Attila. And I only wonder that no one has discovered that it denotes the settlement of the Mormons in Salt Lake Territory! The simple truth is, that if it does not mean what it says, as men ordinarily use language, no man can tell what it does mean; and the opinion of one is just as good, and just as bad, as that of another.14A short sample of the varied meanings derived by various symbolic interpreters underscores the subjective nature of the entire approach:15
|Fiery Mountain||Satan; a great heresy; Vespasian; prelacy;16 Rome; a system of power; the Messianic Kingdom (Dan. Dan. 2:1); the Jewish state; Babylon; Zion; a heathen nation.|
|Sea||The nations; the churchs baptismal waters; sea of Galilee; pure doctrine; confusion and anarchy; the non-Roman world.|
|Blood||Corruption of deadly error; introduction of false doctrine; spiritual death and apostasy.|
|Living Creatures||Destruction of souls; Jews; Ecclesiastics (monks); people.|
|Ships||Congregations; churches; cities of Palestine; bearers of the gospel; sack of Rome; commerce and means of communication; little states at the time of the Roman empire.|
|Trees||Men in the haughtiness of pride and position; the elect remnant.|
|Grass||The people of Israel; the elect remnant.|
|Great Star||Mohammed; Simon Magus; Montanus; Arius; Cerinthus; Pelagius; Eleazar; Josephus; Genseric; Attila; Menander; Manes; Novatus; Origen.|
|Sun, Moon, Stars||Cities of Galilee and the people of the Jews; the Jewish temple, Jerusalem, and its population; the Bible, its doctrine, and the ministers of the Church; the decay of imperial government from Valens to the fall of Augustus, false doctrines and corrupt manners of the patriarchs and bishops; the great prevalence of errors, defections, apostasies, and confusions in Christendom; the subversion of the Western imperial government and its dependencies.|
3 A. R. Fausset, The Revelation of St. John the Divine, in Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, 1877), Rev. 8:7.
4 Monty S. Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John (Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries, 1987), Rev. 8:7.
6 The specific cause of the hail and fire . . . thrown to the earth is not revealed, but from a scientific standpoint an earthquake of the magnitude and extent of the one in Revelation Rev. 8:5+ would likely trigger worldwide volcanic eruptions. Besides spewing vast quantities of flaming lava (which could be blood red in appearance) into the atmosphere, the atmospheric disturbances caused by those eruptions could trigger violent thunderstorms that would produce large hail.John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), Rev. 8:7.
8 Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John, Rev. 8:7.
9 Gordon Franz, Was Babylon Destroyed when Jerusalem Fell in A.D. 70?, in Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, eds., The End Times Controversy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2003), 228-229.
10 Frederick William Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 884.
14 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 195.
15 [Bullinger, Commentary On Revelation, Rev. 8:7-11], [Scott, Exposition of The Revelation, Rev. 8:7-11], [Steve Gregg, Revelation Four Views: A Parallel Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997), Rev. 8:7-11], [Thomas, Revelation 8-22, Rev. 8:7-11], [Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation, 194-199].
16 Church government administered by prelates.