Revelation 8 Bible Study Questions and Answers: The Prayers of the Saints Rise to God
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Revelation 8:1-13 Bible Study Questions and Answers
“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!”
Let’s take a moment and remember where we’ve been. What happened in chapter 7? What is the ongoing context of Chapter 8?
Chapter 7 featured a massive reprieve from what had been occurring in John’s vision. In chapter 6, John saw the first six seal judgments unleashed on the earth. In chapter 7, he saw God set aside 144,000 “sons of Israel” to be sealed for their last day’s mission. Then, he saw an innumerable multitude of people from every tribe, nation, tongue and language standing around God’s throne, crying out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!”
He is then told that the multitude is those coming out of the Great Tribulation and that their “reward” (vv.15-17) would be to have Jesus as their Shepherd forevermore.
When Chapter 8 begins, it immediately picks up where Chapter 6 left off: chapter 6 ends with the sixth seal being broken; Chapter 8 starts with the seventh seal being broken.
Why does chapter 8 begin with “silence in heaven for about half an hour”?
There is silence in heaven because the cry of the martyrs (6:10) is finally being answered. During the 5th seal, we read:
Revelation 6:9-11 “9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”
It is safe to assume that the Christian martyrs – those who had faithfully bore witness to the Lordship of Jesus at the cost of their natural lives – have been crying out for vengeance from beneath the altar of God since the blood of the very first martyr, Stephen (Acts 7), was shed. At this point in the Great Tribulation (the 7th seal), God begins specifically answering their cry.
Is there something significant about “the seven angels who stand before God”? Does Revelation say if this is a reference to specific angels? Does anywhere else in the Bible mention these angels?
There is nowhere else in the Bible that mentions seven angels standing before God’s throne. However, anyone familiar with Second Temple Judaism (the intertestamental time in which Jesus lived) knows this reference would have been very familiar to a first-century audience (especially the first-century Jewish faction).
The seven archangels are mentioned multiple times in books that were well-read by first-century Christians. Tobit is included in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and other Christian canons. While most Christian denominations consider Enoch uncanonical, there is no doubt that it contains historical facts that informed the biblical worldviews of the New Testament writers, including John.
Enoch 20:1-8 “These are the names of the angels who watch. Uriel, one of the holy angels, who presides over clamor and terror. Raphael, one of the holy angels, who presides over the spirits of men. Raguel, one of the holy angels, who inflicts punishment on the world and the luminaries. Michael, one of the holy angels, who, presiding over human virtue, commands the nations. Sarakiel, one of the holy angels, who presides over the spirits of the children of men that transgress. Gabriel, one of the holy angels, who presides over Ikisat, over Paradise, and over the Cherubim. Remiel, one of the holy angels, whom God set over those who rise.”
In Tobit 12:15, Raphael identifies himself as “one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One.” Tobit 12:15
In addition to this, in Luke’s Gospel, the angel Gabriel confirms that he stands in the presence of God:
Luke 1:19 “And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.”
When putting all this together, one is likely to conclude (including this writer) that the seven angels who stand before God are a reference to the seven archangels listed in Enoch and mentioned in Tobit. For the implications this has on the Book of Enoch, listen to our podcast episode on the Book of Enoch.
How do the smoke and incense work together in verses 3-5? What is the significance of John telling us about this?
The smoke and incense create a visual of God receiving and answering the martyrs’ prayers. Has God heard their prayers all along? Of course. Revelation 6:9-11 informs us that until this point in church history, God had been answering the martyrs with a response that had to suffice for the time being. The answer that was previously given? Not yet. While the martyrs in heaven have been crying out for justice for what appears to be thousands of years (from our vantage point), only now, during the seventh seal, is God ready to answer their request with affirmative action.
An angel brings the incense to “mix it” with the prayers of the saints. This creates a visual for them and us: as the smoke of the incense, mixed with the prayers of the saints, rises to God, he receives it and begins to respond. Ultimately, he responds by using the same censer that carried the incense to initiate his vengeance on the earth. This is undoubtedly a figurative depiction, but a significant one. God uses the same vessel that carried their prayers to him to answer their cry for vengeance. The message? Ultimately, the prayers of God’s saints will usher in the judgment of the last days.
What are the first four trumpet judgments in this chapter? And how are they connected to the seal judgments?
1. After the first trumpet, we see hail and fire (mixed with blood) being thrown onto the earth. This causes 1/3 of the world, including trees and grass, to be burned up.
2. After the second trumpet, we see a great mountain, burning with fire, being thrown into the sea (this reminds us of what Jesus said in Mark 11:23). This causes one-third of the ocean to become blood (this reminds us of the first plague God brought on the Egyptians through Moses). One-third of the sea creatures and ships are also destroyed.
3. After the third trumpet, a great star falls from heaven named Wormwood. Wormwood is a bitter herb, and water contaminated by it can be poisonous. (“For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end, she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword” Proverbs 5:3-4.) While the second trumpet affected the sea, the third affects freshwater – rivers and springs – and many people die from drinking the contaminated water.
4. When the fourth angel blows his trumpet, one-third of the light on earth is removed – the sun, moon, and stars are all affected by this – so that people cannot see well. A darkness is coming upon the earth, and God is slowly fading the light like a dimmer switch being turned down. This harkens back to the 9th plague that was brought on the Egyptians.
Thus, the seventh seal judgment is not a single judgment but the commencement of the seven trumpet judgments.