What does Revelation chapter 8 mean?To this point in Revelation, John has witnessed Jesus open six of the seven seals of judgment seen on the scroll in heaven (Revelation 5:1–5). After the opening of the sixth seal and its consequences, John described the sealing of 144,000 Jewish believers, listed by their tribe. This was followed by a vision of an enormous crowd of people, of every possible race and language, worshipping God (Revelation 7).
Chapter 8 begins with the opening of the seventh seal, immediately followed by a brief period of silence. The judgments which follow are associated with seven trumpets, given to seven angels, and these seven trumpets are themselves part of the seventh seal judgment. Prior to the sounding of these trumpets, an angel is seen with a censer—a metal container used to burn incense. In Scripture, incense is used as a physical symbol of prayers, which ascend towards heaven much like smoke. This same container is then filled with fire, again symbolizing judgment, and thrown down onto the earth (Revelation 8:1–5).
The first trumpet judgment is described as a rain of hail, fire, and blood. The result is a loss of one third of earth's trees and, it seems, all its grass. The primary effect may be a loss of crops and food supplies, including any livestock depending on those for survival. Based on the description of the other trumpet judgments, some have speculated this might be a type of meteor shower, preceding an especially devastating impact in the second trumpet (Revelation 8:6–7).
The second trumpet also results in something fiery falling from the sky, this time described "like a great mountain." In context with the first and third trumpets, some suggest this might be an especially large meteor or comet, which lands in the ocean, destroying ships and polluting the water. Others suggest that the imagery of a "mountain of fire" may describe the effect of nuclear weapons. In any event, the impact of this judgment is on the salt waters of earth: the seas and oceans. Loss of shipping craft, food supplies, and other effects would be catastrophic and felt worldwide (Revelation 8:8–9).
The third trumpet once again involves something falling to earth from the sky. Where the second trumpet judgment affected the seas and oceans, this judgment targets fresh waters: lakes, rivers, springs and streams. These not only serve to provide food and transport, they are vital for providing drinking water. Polluted waters result in sickness and death (Revelation 8:10–11).
The fourth trumpet also involves something "above" earth, though in this case the primary effect is a loss of light. This might be a caused by after-effects of the first three trumpet judgments, or from some completely unique and unrelated event. Whether blocked by pollution, clouds, or some other means, earth loses a third of the light normally received from the sun, moon, and stars. Again, this would result in drastic changes to weather, energy use, agriculture, and animal life (Revelation 8:12).
As catastrophic as these events might seem, this era of God's judgment can—and will—become even worse. John describes a bird calling out "woe" to those who are about to experience the other three trumpet judgments. The Greek word used for "eagle" here is aetos, which might also refer to carrion birds such as vultures. The horror of the remaining trumpet judgments, beginning in chapter 9, is somehow direr than what's been seen so far (Revelation 8:13).