In Chapter 8 we find one of the most graphic sections discussed so far. But it doesn't start that way. After the seven churches and the throne room and the picture of the slain Lamb on the throne, we read six of the seven seals; conquer, war, famine, and death, then the martyrs, and then the great tribulation. Over the last two weeks, we've then seen the two visions of God's protection over His people. We now open the seventh seal, and... silence...
This is quite the anticlimax. However, not necessarily unexpected in the style that we find in Revelation. Various ideas are put forward to what this seventh seal shows. The silence could be needed for God to hear all of the saints' (believers') prayers. This makes sense in the context of the rest of the chapter, with a focus on burning incense and the picture of sacrificing from the Temple. Silence would have been observed during a sacrifice and a time of prayers. These early verses pull many references from other Jewish writings, outside of the Old Testament.
We are now entering the seven trumpets and the seven bowls which are linked to divine judgement. When we think of the link throughout the book to Rome, the Imperial cult and the influence trade and the growing rich of the elite at the cost of others, including Christians, it's not hard to show that this judgement is linked to Rome's abuse of power and wealth.
Wail, you who live in the market district; all your merchants will be wiped out, all who trade with silver will be destroyed. (Zephaniah 1:11)
We find the seven angels, some link these messengers to the seven churches, but they could also be the seven archangels from Jewish writings that are doers of God's judgement, (for example, Exodus 12:23).
The first four trumpets show plagues that resemble, (but are not identical), to those plagues that came across Egypt in the book of Exodus. Hail mixed with fire, the water supply turned to blood, while darkness is another characteristic (Exodus 10:22). However, as God's marked (sealed) people, it is clear that we are protected.
“‘But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the Lord, am in this land. (Exodus 8:22)
The only place it did not hail was the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were. (Exodus 9:26)
The story of Exodus is the story of the Passover Lamb. That we are preserved by the slain Lamb, the blood of the slain Lamb. Wormwood is bitter and a metaphor for sin. While Pagans or Gentiles (non-Jewish) would also know and recognise the theme of judgement. Pagan gods showed anger, violence, and revenge.
The final verse of the chapter provides us with 3 x woes... to the inhabitants of the earth. Is this a warning of the judgement to come or is it sympathy for the world we now live in? The eagle, the symbol of the army legions, a symbol usually placed above the letters SPQR, (the abbreviation for Senātus Populusque Rōmānus, "The Senate and People of Rome"), is an emblematic abbreviated phrase referring to the government of the ancient Roman Republic), is the vehicle used to deliver this message. Does this show that God's eagle sours higher than any human army, or that God's people are superior to Rome's people? That God is sovereign of Cesear and the Roman Republic?
Again John uses images from Jewish writing, the Old Testament, and pagan references to paint a colourful and often frightening picture. By doing so, he paints God as sovereign, and that we are His people and are protected. This chapter begins and ends with one clear call to action, and that is to pray!
We are to be thankful for He is sovereign over His creation, we are to be thankful for His son, the slain Lamb, and we are to be thankful that through His son, Jesus Christ we have been redeemed, reconciled and made righteous in His eyes, so that we are protected from what has come and what is to come. We are to pray with that thanksgiving in our hearts... and God will provide silence so that He can hear our prayers.