Revelation Jewish New Testament, JNT, CJNT, David H. Stern

chapter 8
1. When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for what seemed like half an hour.
After the seventh seal the scroll (5:1) is not mentioned again, but what follows is a description of its contents. 

2. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and they were given seven shofars.
The seven angels who stand before God. Seven "Angels of the Presence" have a well-documented history in Jewish literature (see 1:4N), possibly commencing with Isaiah 63:9, which mentions "an angel of his [God's] presence" (compare Lk 1:19, "I am Gavri'el," the angel answered him, "and I stand in the presence of God."), and Ezekiel 9:2, which speaks of "six men... with slaughter weapons, and one man among them clothed in linen with a writer's ink well at his side," to whom God speaks.

In the Apocrypha, Rafa'el identifies himself as "one of the seven holy angels" (Tobit 12:15). 1 Enoch 20 gives the names and functions of seven "holy angels who watch": Uri'el, Rafa'el, Ragu'el, Mikha'el, Saraka'el, Gavri'el and Remi'el. The first four are called "ministering angels" ("mal'akhey-hasharet") in the Talmud, the siddur, and the kabbalah; compare the fact that in vv. 7-12 four angels are singled out to announce the four "non-woe" shofar judgments. See also 1:4N on "the sevenfold Spirit" and v. 4&N below. On whether angels exist at all, see MJ 13:2bN.

Shofars ("ram's horns"), not trumpets. The idea that the Great Judgment of the Last Days is heralded by blasts on the shofar has its roots in the Tanakh. "YHVH will be seen over them, his arrow will go forth like lightning, and Adonai YHVH will sound the shofar and will move in the stormwinds of the south.... And YHVH their God will save them [Y'hudah and Efrayim] on that day as the flock of his people" (Zechariah 9:14,16). Similarly God protects Israel at 7:1-8 before setting the shofar judgments in motion "on that day," half an hour afterwards (8:1). Compare Isaiah 27:13, Joel 2:1, Zephaniah 1:16 and, in the Pseudepigrapha, Psalms of Solomon 11 and 4 Ezra 6:23-26. In the New Testament see Mt 24:31&N, 1С 15:52&N and 1 Th 4:16&N. 

3. Another angel came and stood at the altar with a gold incense-bowl, and he was given a large quantity of incense to add to the prayers of all God’s people
It is not clear from the Greek grammar whether this verse speaks of two altars or one. The temple in Jerusalem had two — one for burnt offerings and another for incense. But, as R. H. Charles puts it, "since there could be no animal sacrifices in heaven" (this is also consistent with MJ 9:18-10:20), there is only the altar for incense. Moreover, the rabbinic citations in 6:9N mention only one altar. 

4. on the gold altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense went up with the prayers of God’s people from the hand of the angel before God.
The smoke of the incense added by another angel accompanies the prayers of all God's people (not only those of the martyrs, as at 6:9-10); both rise to God together — but it is not clear just what this means. Nevertheless, compare Exodus Rabbah 21:4:
"What is the meaning of 'O Thou that hearest prayer' (Psalm 65:3)? Rabbi Pinchas in the name of Rabbi Me'ir and Rabbi Yirmiyahu in the name of Rabbi Chiyya bar-Abba said, 'When the people of Israel pray, you do not find them all praying at the same time, but each assembly prays separately, first one and then another. When they have all finished, the angel appointed over prayers collects all the prayers that have been offered in all the synagogues, weaves them into garlands and places them upon the head of God.'"

Also Testament of Levi 3:5-6:
"In [the heaven next to the highest heaven] are the angels of the presence of the Lord, who minister and make propitiation to the Lord for all the sins of ignorance of the righteous. And they offer to the Lord a sweet-smelling savor, a reasonable and bloodless offering." The prayers are evidently for judgment to begin, and God answers at once (v. 5 through 14:20); but see also 6:10N. 

5. Then the angel took the incense-bowl, filled it with fire from the altar and threw it down onto the earth; and there followed peals of thunder, voices, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.
6. Now the seven angels with the seven shofars prepared to sound them.
7. The first one sounded his shofar; and there came hail and fire mingled with blood, and it was thrown down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
8. The second angel sounded his shofar, and what looked like an enormous blazing mountain was hurled into the sea. A third of the sea turned to blood,
9. a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
10. The third angel sounded his shofar; and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky onto a third of the rivers and onto the springs of water.
11. The name of the star was “Bitterness,” and a third of the water became bitter, and many people died from the water that had been turned bitter.
Bitterness, literally, "wormwood, absinthe"; compare Jeremiah 9:15, 23:15: "I will feed this people wormwood and give them water of gall to drink." 

12. The fourth angel sounded his shofar; and a third of the sun was struck, also a third of the moon and a third of the stars; so that a third of them were darkened, the day had a third less light, and the night likewise.
The first four shofar judgments affect nature directly and people indirectly (compare Mt 24:4-8) and resemble the plagues of Egypt (see Psalm 105:29, 32), while the last three plagues (v. 13) affect people directly (compare Mt 24:13-22).

The idea that the End-Time plagues will recapitulate those of Egypt can be found in the Midrash Rabbah:
'"Behold, tomorrow about this time I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail such as has not been in Egypt from the day it was founded until now' (Exodus 9:18).... However, there will be one like it in the time to come. When? In the days of Gog and Magog, as it is written,... 'A torrential rain, and great hailstones, fire and sulfur' (Ezekiel 38:2,22)." (Exodus Rabbah 12:2)

Compare below at 11:19, 16:21, 20:7.
Consider the function of the Egyptian plagues. The well-known song, "Dayenu" ([It would have been] "Enough for us"), from the Passover Haggadah, says that God through the plagues judged both the Egyptians and their gods (compare 9:20). He did this by turning against the Egyptians the very things they worshipped. They worshipped the Nile River; it became blood. They worshipped beetles (scarabs); they got lice and locusts. They worshipped frogs and found them in bed. They worshipped the weather and had their crops destroyed by hail.

If these verses in Revelation are to be understood literally, then, since God uses nature to accomplish his purposes, one can imagine asteroids plunging into the earth, other materials from outer space darkening the skies and infecting the water, and heat flashes setting fire to the vegetation; and one can seek scientific explanations for such phenomena. But if these are graphic but figurative ways of describing God's judgment and the terror it will evoke, such speculations and researches are irrelevant. There are intelligent, well-informed, God-fearing New Testament scholars taking each approach. 

13. Then I looked, and I heard a lone eagle give a loud cry, as it flew in mid-heaven, “Woe! Woe! Woe to the people living on earth, because of the remaining blasts from the three angels who have yet to sound their shofars!”
A lone eagle, representing swiftness, or "a lone vulture," representing pursuit of carrion (as at Mt 24:28&N, Lk 17:37).
Woe! Woe! Woe! The remaining shofar judgments are directed not at nature but at the people living on earth (the pagan world hostile to God; see 3: ION) in order to get them to repent (9:20-21), while the sealed are spared (9:4; 7:1-8). These three "woes" are announced by the remaining shofar blasts, and are described at 9:1-12,9:13-11:14 and 11:15-18:24 respectively. Just as the seventh seal (v. 1&N) included the seven "shofar" judgments, so the seventh shofar blast includes the seven "bowl" judgments, which begin at 16:1. 

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