Description
The seventh seal reveals the prayers of the saints and introduces the seven trumpets. The first four trumpets result in environmental disasters that destroy a third of nature. The fifth and sixth seals destroy a third of humanity.
Commentary
7th seal - Incense offering (8:1-5)
This chapter begins in verses 1 to 5 with the seventh seal. There are two main elements to the seventh seal. Firstly, it is a commissioning of seven angels who are given seven trumpets in preparation for the next series of judgments. Secondly, the seventh seal is an offering of incense on the golden altar before God's throne in the heavenly temple. We are told that this incense is the prayers of the saints. What that represents is the involvement of the Church in the coming trumpet judgments. Although the Church will still be present on Earth during the trumpet judgments, these judgments are not against the Church. Rather, the Church will be involved in their release through its prayers. There is silence in heaven for about half an hour while the incense is offered. This may reflect the amount of time that it normally took to make an incense offering, but the silence also seems ominous, anticipating the severity of what is about to take place through the trumpet judgments. In verse 5, the angel mixes the incense with fire from the altar and throws it on the earth. This causes a thunder and lightning storm, together with an earthquake. In verse 6, this is a signal to the angels to prepare to blow their trumpets.

Trumpets 1 to 4 (8:7-12)
According to Revelation 6:11, the seal judgments will kill a quarter of the earth's population. Here in chapter 8, the first four trumpet judgments each destroy one third of various parts of creation. The progression from a quarter to a third reflects a progression in severity from the seals to the trumpets. These trumpets are as follows:

1st Trumpet - hail and fire mixed with blood destroy a third of the land, trees and grass (v7).

2nd Trumpet - a great mountain of burning fire turns a third of the sea to blood and destroys a third of the sea creatures and ships (v8-9). This seems to be a volcanic eruption on the ocean floor.

3rd Trumpet - a huge burning star falls on a third of the rivers and fresh water supplies, making them bitter and deadly poisonous (v10-11). This could be a meteorite, but is more likely an intercontinental nuclear missile or hydrogen bomb.

4th Trumpet - a third of the sun, moon and stars are struck, so there is no light for a third of the day or night (v12). This is surely describing things from the perspective of an observer on earth. John seems to be describing the effects of localised atmospheric pollution that blocks light from one direction. So for example, while the sun is in the east its light might be blocked by dense pollution in the eastern sky. But later in the day when the sun is in the southern sky it shines through. Similarly at night, the stars in the eastern sky might be invisible.

Trumpets 5 to 6 - The Woes (8:13, 9:1-21)
Verse 13 introduces the last three trumpets with a triple declaration of 'woe' to those who live on the earth. The triple declaration implies the 'superlative of woe'. Whereas the first four trumpets target creation, the last three target humanity.

5th Trumpet - 1st Woe - a star falls from the sky, is given the key to the Abyss and opens it (v1). This releases smoke like from a giant furnace that darkens the sun and the atmosphere (v2). I assume this star to be a righteous angel, and possibly the same one that locks up Satan in the Abyss in Revelation 20:3. Although a star fallen from the sky might sound like a fallen angel, surely only a righteous angel would be entrusted with the key to the Abyss. I also assume that the war in heaven and casting down of the fallen angels (Revelation 12:7-12) takes place early in the Great Tribulation, significantly before the fifth trumpet, so there will no longer be fallen angels 'in the sky' at this point. The description of smoke rising like from a giant furnace suggests the possibility of a volcanic eruption. But the Abyss in view here is not just a physical place. It is primarily Tartarus, the Abyss of Hell in which demons can be locked up (Luke 8:31, 2 Peter 2:4, Revelation 20:3). Out of the smoke comes a swarm of locusts. From their description in verses 3 to 11, it is clear these are no ordinary locusts. They are more like demonic creatures from hell. They can sting like scorpions with their tails, and are allowed to torture people for a period of five months. Their king is 'the angel of the abyss' known as 'Apollyon' (meaning destroyer), both of which seem to be references to Satan. However, they are only allowed to harm people who do not have God's seal on their foreheads (v4). This is somewhat strange because it implies they are led by Satan but can only attack those on Satan's own side. The result of this fifth trumpet is that people will long to die, but not be able to.

Joel 2 also describes a locust army in an end-time context. But in Joel, the locusts are viewed as God's warriors and he leads them to bring Israel to repentance. It is still possible that both passages are referring to the same locust army, but seen from different perspectives. In Isaiah 10:5, Antichrist is viewed as God's club of judgment with which he brings Israel to repentance. Similarly, in antiquity God used his 'servant Nebuchadnezzar' to discipline Judah (Jeremiah 25:9 & 51:20). The locust army comes from the pit of hell, but can still be viewed as God's army which ultimately helps to fulfil his end-time plan for the world.

Verse 12 proclaims that the first woe has passed but two are still to come. This seems to reaffirm that the trumpets match the chronology of events, and are revealed in their correct order.

6th Trumpet - 2nd Woe - four angels that had been bound by the River Euphrates are set free to kill a third of humanity. They do so by raising up an army of 200 million soldiers mounted on horseback. Their horses kill people with fire, smoke and sulphur from their heads and tails. It is possible that John's description is an attempt to describe modern machines of warfare. Their riders wear breastplates that are coloured red, blue and yellow. If this is a literal mechanised army, it is possible these colours relate to their country's flag. Because of the stated size of this army, it is sometimes assumed to be a Chinese army. However, the Chinese flag currently just contains red and yellow. Perhaps China will undergo political change and add blue to its flag, moving away from its communist past. Verses 20 to 21 tell us that the two-thirds of humanity who are not killed by this army still do not repent, but continue to worship idols. Worshipping idols implies that they continue to give their allegiance to a false god.

For consideration of the human death-toll during the Great Tribulation, please see my comments on Revelation 6:8.
Tags
Places: China, River Euphrates
Symbols: Incense, Seven trumpets, Locust army, Warhorses
Tags: End-time prayer, Environmental disasters, Humanitarian disasters, Plagues, Water contamination, Sun and moon darkened,
Locust army, Volcano, Abyss, Hell, Army from the East, Two hundred million soldiers, Idolatry, Refusal to repent, Names on foreheads
The Seventh Seal
8 Now 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 Another angel holding a golden censer came and was stationed at the altar. A large amount of incense was given to him to offer up, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar that is before the throne.
4 The smoke coming from the incense, along with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.
5 Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it on the earth, and there were crashes of thunder, roaring, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
6 Now the seven angels holding the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.
7 The first angel blew his trumpet, and there was hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was thrown at the earth so that a third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.
8 Then the second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain of burning fire was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea became blood,
9 and a third of the creatures living in the sea died, and a third of the ships were completely destroyed.
10 Then the third angel blew his trumpet, and a huge star burning like a torch fell from the sky; it landed on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water.
11 (Now the name of the star is Wormwood.) So a third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from these waters because they were poisoned.
12 Then 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 them were darkened. And there was no light for a third of the day and for a third of the night likewise.
13 Then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying directly overhead, proclaiming with a loud voice, “Woe! Woe! Woe to those who live on the earth because of the remaining sounds of the trumpets of the three angels who are about to blow them!”

9
Then the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the abyss.
2 He opened the shaft of the abyss and smoke rose out of it like smoke from a giant furnace. The sun and the air were darkened with smoke from the shaft.
3 Then out of the smoke came locusts onto the earth, and they were given power like that of the scorpions of the earth.
4 They were told not to damage the grass of the earth, or any green plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their forehead.
5 The locusts were not given permission to kill them, but only to torture them for five months, and their torture was like that of a scorpion when it stings a person.
6 In those days people will seek death, but will not be able to find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.
7 Now the locusts looked like horses equipped for battle. On their heads were something like crowns similar to gold, and their faces looked like men’s faces.
8 They had hair like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth.
9 They had breastplates like iron breastplates, and the sound of their wings was like the noise of many horse-drawn chariots charging into battle.
10 They have tails and stingers like scorpions, and their ability to injure people for five months is in their tails.
11 They have as king over them the angel of the abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon.
12 The first woe has passed, but two woes are still coming after these things!
13 Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a single voice coming from the horns on the golden altar that is before God,
14 saying to the sixth angel, the one holding the trumpet, “Set free the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates!”
15 Then the four angels who had been prepared for this hour, day, month, and year were set free to kill a third of humanity.
16 The number of soldiers on horseback was two hundred million; I heard their number.
17 Now this is what the horses and their riders looked like in my vision: The riders had breastplates that were fiery red, dark blue, and sulfurous yellow in color. The heads of the horses looked like lions’ heads, and fire, smoke, and sulfur came out of their mouths.
18 A third of humanity was killed by these three plagues, that is, by the fire, the smoke, and the sulfur that came out of their mouths.
19 For the power of the horses resides in their mouths and in their tails, because their tails are like snakes, having heads that inflict injuries.
20 The rest of humanity, who had not been killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so that they did not stop worshiping demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood – idols that cannot see or hear or walk about.
21 Furthermore, they did not repent of their murders, of their magic spells, of their sexual immorality, or of their stealing.
(NET)