[the Lamb] opened the seventh seal, a silence occurred in heaven for about a half hour. And I saw the seven angels that stand before God, and seven trumpets were given them.”—Revelation 8:1, 2.
A Time for Fervent Prayer
2 A significant silence this! Half an hour can seem a long time when you are waiting for something to happen. Now, even the constant heavenly chorus of praise is no longer heard. (Revelation 4:8) Why? John sees the reason in vision: “And another angel arrived and stood at the altar, having a golden incense vessel; and a large quantity of incense was given him to offer it with the prayers of all the holy ones upon the golden altar that was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense ascended from the hand of the angel with the prayers of the holy ones before God.”—Revelation 8:3, 4.
3 This reminds us that under the Jewish system of things, incense was burned daily at the tabernacle and, in later years, at the temple in Jerusalem. (Exodus 30:1-8) During such incense burning, the nonpriestly Israelites waited outside the sacred area, praying—no doubt silently in their hearts—to the One to whom the incense smoke was ascending. (Luke 1:10) John now sees something similar happening in heaven. The incense offered by the angel is associated with “the prayers of the holy ones.” In fact, in an earlier vision, incense is said to represent such prayers. (Revelation 5:8; Psalm 141:1, 2) Evidently, then, the symbolic silence in heaven is to allow the prayers of the holy ones on earth to be heard.
4 Can we determine when this happened? Yes, we can, by examining the context, together with historical developments early in the Lord’s day. (Revelation 1:10) During 1918 and 1919, events on earth harmonized remarkably with the scenario described at Revelation 8:1-4. For 40 years before 1914, the Bible Students—as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called—had been announcing boldly that the times of the Gentiles would end in that year. The distressful events of 1914 proved them correct. (Luke 21:24, King James Version; Matthew 24:3, 7, 8) But many of them also believed that in 1914 they would be taken from this earth to their heavenly inheritance. That did not happen. Instead, during the first world war, they endured a time of severe persecution. On October 31, 1916, the first president of the Watch Tower Society, Charles T. Russell, died. Then, on July 4, 1918, the new president, Joseph F. Rutherford, and seven other representatives of the Society were transported to the Atlanta, Georgia, penitentiary, wrongly sentenced to long years in prison.
5 The sincere Christians of the John class were perplexed. What did God want them to do next? When would they be taken up to heaven? An article entitled “The Harvest Ended—What Shall Follow?” appeared in the May 1, 1919, issue of The Watch Tower. It reflected this state of uncertainty and encouraged the faithful to continued endurance, adding: “We believe it is now a true saying that the harvest of the kingdom class is an accomplished fact, that all such are duly sealed and that the door is closed.” During this difficult period, the fervent prayers of the John class were ascending, as though in the smoke of a large quantity of incense. And their prayers were being heard!
Hurling Fire to the Earth
6 John tells us: “But right away the angel took the incense vessel, and he filled it with some of the fire of the altar and hurled it to the earth. And thunders occurred and voices and lightnings and an earthquake.” (Revelation 8:5) After the silence, there is sudden dramatic activity! This is evidently in response to the prayers of the holy ones, since it is triggered by fire taken from the incense altar. Back in 1513 B.C.E., at Mount Sinai, thunders and lightnings, a loud noise, fire, and a quaking of the mountain signaled Jehovah’s turning his attention to his people. (Exodus 19:16-20) The similar manifestations reported by John likewise indicate Jehovah’s giving attention to his servants on earth. But what John observes is presented in signs. (Revelation 1:1) So how are the symbolic fire, thunders, voices, lightnings, and earthquake to be interpreted today?
7 On one occasion, Jesus told his disciples: “I came to start a fire on the earth.” (Luke 12:49) Truly, he did ignite a fire. By his zealous preaching, Jesus made God’s Kingdom the paramount issue before the Jewish people, and this sparked heated controversy throughout that nation. (Matthew 4:17, 25; 10:5-7, 17, 18) In 1919 Jesus’ spiritual brothers on earth, the small band of anointed Christians who had survived the trialsome days of World War I, set light to a similar fire in Christendom. In September of that year, Jehovah’s spirit was remarkably in evidence as his loyal Witnesses assembled from near and far at Cedar Point, Ohio, U.S.A. Joseph F. Rutherford, recently released from prison and soon to see all charges against him dropped, boldly addressed that convention, saying: “Obedient to the command of our Master, and recognizing our privilege and duty to make war against the strongholds of error which have so long held the people in bondage, our vocation was and is to announce the incoming glorious kingdom of Messiah.” That is the primary issue—God’s Kingdom!
8 Referring to the recent hard experiences of God’s people, the speaker said: “So pitiless was the onslaught of the enemy that many of the Lord’s dear flock were stunned and stood still in amazement, praying and waiting for the Lord to indicate his will. . . . But notwithstanding the momentary discouragement, there was a burning desire to proclaim the message of the kingdom.”—See the September 15, 1919, issue of The Watch Tower, page 280.
9 In 1919 that desire was satisfied. This small but active group of Christians was set on fire, spiritually speaking, to begin a worldwide preaching campaign. (Compare 1 Thessalonians 5:19.) Fire was hurled to the earth in that God’s Kingdom was made the burning issue, and so it continues to be! Strong voices replaced silence, sounding out the Kingdom message with clarity. Thunderous storm warnings from the Bible pealed forth. Like flashes of lightning, brilliant beams of truth shone from Jehovah’s prophetic Word, and, as if by a mighty earthquake, the religious realm was shaken to its foundations. The John class saw that there was work to be done. And to this day, that work continues to expand gloriously throughout the entire inhabited earth!—Romans 10:18.
Preparing for the Blasts of the Trumpets
10 John goes on to say: “And the seven angels with the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.” (Revelation 8:6) What does the blowing of those trumpets mean? In the days of Israel, trumpet blasts were used to signal important days or noteworthy events. (Leviticus 23:24; 2 Kings 11:14) Similarly, the blasts of the trumpets that John is to hear will call attention to matters of life-and-death importance.
11 As the angels got ready to blow those trumpets, no doubt they were also giving direction to a preparatory work on earth. From 1919 to 1922, the revitalized John class was busy in reorganizing the public ministry and building up publishing facilities. In 1919 the magazine The Golden Age, known today as Awake!, had been brought forth as “A Journal of Fact, Hope, and Conviction”—a trumpetlike instrument that would play a key role in exposing false religion’s political involvements.
12 As we shall now see, each of the trumpet blasts heralds a dramatic scene in which terrible plagues affect portions of the earth. Some of these remind us of the plagues that Jehovah sent to punish the Egyptians in Moses’ day. (Exodus 7:19–12:32) These were expressions of Jehovah’s judgment on that nation, and they opened the way for God’s people to escape from slavery. The plagues seen by John accomplish something similar. However, they are not literal plagues. They are signs that symbolize Jehovah’s righteous judgments.—Revelation 1:1.
Identifying the “Third”
13 As we shall see, when the first four trumpets are blown, plagues are inflicted on “a third” of the earth, of the sea, of the rivers and fountains of waters, and of the earth’s sources of light. (Revelation 8:7-12) A third is a considerable part of something but not the whole. (Compare Isaiah 19:24; Ezekiel 5:2; Zechariah 13:8, 9.) So which “third” would be most deserving of these plagues? The vast majority of mankind has been blinded and corrupted by Satan and his seed. (Genesis 3:15; 2 Corinthians 4:4) The situation is as described by David: “They have all turned aside, they are all alike corrupt; there is no one doing good, not even one.” (Psalm 14:3) Yes, the whole of mankind is in danger of receiving an adverse judgment. But one section thereof is particularly guilty. One part—“a third”—should have known better! What is that “third”?
14 It is Christendom! In the 1920’s, her realm embraced about one third of mankind. Her religion is the fruit of the great apostasy from true Christianity—the apostasy that Jesus and his disciples foretold. (Matthew 13:24-30; Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 2 Peter 2:1-3) The clergy of Christendom claim to be in God’s temple and have represented themselves as teachers of Christianity. But their doctrines are far removed from Bible truth, and they continually bring God’s name into disrepute. Aptly represented by the symbolic third, Christendom receives potent, plaguing messages from Jehovah. That third of mankind merits no divine favor whatsoever!
15 In line with there being a sequence of trumpet blasts, special resolutions were featured at seven conventions from 1922 to 1928. But the trumpeting has not been confined to those years. The powerful exposing of Christendom’s wicked ways has been continuous, ongoing, as the Lord’s day progresses. Jehovah’s judgments must be proclaimed universally, to all nations, despite international hatred and persecutions. Only then does the end of Satan’s system come. (Mark 13:10, 13) Happily, the great crowd has now added its voice to that of the John class in making those thunderous pronouncements of worldwide importance.
A Third of the Earth Burned Up
16 Reporting on the angels, John writes: “And the first one blew his trumpet. And there occurred a hail and fire mingled with blood, and it was hurled to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees was burned up, and all the green vegetation was burned up.” (Revelation 8:7) This is similar to the seventh plague on Egypt, but what does it mean for our time?—Exodus 9:24.
17 In the Bible, the word “earth” often refers to mankind. (Genesis 11:1; Psalm 96:1) Since the second plague is on the sea, which also has to do with mankind, “the earth” must refer to the seemingly stable human society that Satan has built up and that is due to be destroyed. (2 Peter 3:7; Revelation 21:1) The plague scenario reveals that Christendom’s third of the earth is scorched by the searing heat of Jehovah’s disapproval. Her prominent ones—standing like trees in the midst of her—are burned up by the proclaiming of Jehovah’s adverse judgment. All her hundreds of millions of church members, if they continue to support Christendom’s religion, become like scorched blades of grass, spiritually wilted in God’s eyes.—Compare Psalm 37:1, 2.
18 How is this judgment message delivered? Generally, not by the world’s news media, which are part of the world and often reproachful of God’s “slave.” (Matthew 24:45) It was proclaimed in a notable way at the second historic gathering of God’s people at Cedar Point, Ohio, September 10, 1922. These unanimously and enthusiastically adopted a resolution entitled “A Challenge to World Leaders.” In outspoken terms, it put the modern-day symbolic earth on notice, as follows: “We therefore call upon the nations of earth, their rulers and leaders, and upon all the clergymen of all the denominational churches of earth, their followers and allies, big business and big politicians, to bring forth their proof in justification of the position taken by them that they can establish peace and prosperity on earth and bring happiness to the people; and their failing in this, we call upon them to give ear to the testimony that we offer as witnesses for the Lord, and then let them say whether or not our testimony is true.”
19 What testimony did these Christians offer? This: “We hold and declare that Messiah’s kingdom is the complete panacea for all the ills of humankind and will bring peace on earth and good will to men, the desire of all nations; that those who yield themselves willingly to his righteous reign now begun will be blessed with lasting peace, life, liberty and endless happiness.” In these corrupt times, when man-made governments, especially those in Christendom, are failing utterly to solve the world’s problems, that trumpeting challenge rings out with even greater force than in 1922. How true that God’s Kingdom in the hands of his conquering Christ is mankind’s one and only hope!
20 Through resolutions, tracts, booklets, books, magazines, and discourses, this and later proclamations were trumpeted forth by means of the congregation of anointed Christians. The first trumpet blast resulted in Christendom’s being beaten as with the hardened water of a pounding hail. Her bloodguilt, due to her share in the wars of the 20th century, has been laid bare, and she has been shown to be deserving of the fiery expression of Jehovah’s wrath. The John class, with later support from the great crowd, has continued to echo the first trumpet blast, drawing attention to Jehovah’s view of Christendom, as being fit for destruction.—Revelation 7:9, 15.
Like a Burning Mountain
21 “And the second angel blew his trumpet. And something like a great mountain burning with fire was hurled into the sea. And a third of the sea became blood; and a third of the creatures that are in the sea which have souls died, and a third of the boats were wrecked.” (Revelation 8:8, 9) What does this frightful scene picture?
22 We may best understand it against the background of the convention of Jehovah’s people held in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A., on August 18-26, 1923. The featured Saturday afternoon talk by J. F. Rutherford was on the topic “Sheep and Goats.” The “sheep” were clearly identified as those righteously disposed persons who would inherit the earthly realm of God’s Kingdom. A resolution that followed drew attention to the hypocrisy of “apostate clergymen and ‘the principal of their flocks,’ who are worldly men of strong financial and political influence.” It called on the “multitude of the peace and order loving ones in the denominational churches . . . to withdraw themselves from the unrighteous ecclesiastical systems designated by the Lord as ‘Babylon’” and to ready themselves “to receive the blessings of God’s kingdom.”
23 Doubtless, this resolution came as a result of the sounding of the second trumpet. Those who would in due course respond to that message would separate from those described by Isaiah in these words: “But the wicked are like the sea that is being tossed, when it is unable to calm down, the waters of which keep tossing up seaweed and mire.” (Isaiah 57:20; 17:12, 13) Thus, “the sea” well pictures restless, unsettled, and rebellious humanity that churns up unrest and revolution. (Compare Revelation 13:1.) The time will come when that “sea” will be no more. (Revelation 21:1) Meantime, with the blast of the second trumpet, Jehovah pronounces judgment against a third of it—the unruly part that is in the realm of Christendom herself.
24 A great mountainlike mass burning with fire is hurled into this “sea.” In the Bible, mountains very often symbolize governments. For example, God’s Kingdom is portrayed as a mountain. (Daniel 2:35, 44) Ruinous Babylon became a “burnt-out mountain.” (Jeremiah 51:25) But the mountainous mass that John sees is still burning. Its being hurled into the sea well represents how, during and after the first world war, the question of government became a burning issue among mankind, especially in the lands of Christendom. In Italy, Mussolini introduced Fascism. Germany embraced Hitler’s Nazism, while other countries tried different forms of socialism. A radical change occurred in Russia, where the Bolshevik revolution produced the first Communist state, with the result that religious leaders of Christendom lost power and influence in what was formerly one of their strongholds.
25 The Fascist and Nazi experiments were snuffed out by the second world war, but government continued to be a fiery issue, and the human sea continued to churn and throw up new revolutionary governments. In the decades following 1945, these were installed in many places, such as China, Vietnam, Cuba, and Nicaragua. In Greece an experiment in military dictatorship failed. In Kampuchea (Cambodia) an excursion into fundamentalist Communism resulted in a reported two million and more deaths.
26 That “mountain burning with fire” continued to make waves in the sea of mankind. Struggles over government have been reported in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific islands. Many of these struggles have taken place in lands of Christendom or where Christendom’s missionaries have become activists. Roman Catholic priests even joined up with and fought as members of Communist guerrilla bands. At the same time, Protestant evangelical groups worked in Central America to counter what they called the Communists’ “vicious and relentless thirst for power.” But none of these convulsions in the sea of mankind have brought peace and security.—Compare Isaiah 25:10-12; 1 Thessalonians 5:3.
27 The second trumpet blast reveals that those of mankind who got involved in revolutionary conflicts over government rather than submit to God’s Kingdom are bloodguilty. Particularly Christendom’s “third of the sea” has become as blood. All living things therein are dead in God’s eyes. None of the radical organizations floating like boats in that third of the sea can avoid ultimate shipwreck. How happy we are that millions of sheeplike people have now heeded the trumpetlike call to separate from those who are still wallowing in the narrow nationalism and bloodguilt of that sea!
A Star Falls From Heaven
28 “And the third angel blew his trumpet. And a great star burning as a lamp fell from heaven, and it fell upon a third of the rivers and upon the fountains of waters. And the name of the star is called Wormwood. And a third of the waters turned into wormwood, and many of the men died from the waters, because these had been made bitter.” (Revelation 8:10, 11) Once again, other parts of the Bible help us to see how this scripture applies in the Lord’s day.
29 We have already met the symbolism of a star in Jesus’ messages to the seven congregations, in which the seven stars symbolize the elders in the congregations. (Revelation 1:20) Anointed “stars,” along with all others of the anointed, inhabit heavenly places in a spiritual sense from the time that they are sealed with the holy spirit as a token of their heavenly inheritance. (Ephesians 2:6, 7) However, the apostle Paul warned that from among such starlike ones would come apostates, sectarians, who would mislead the flock. (Acts 20:29, 30) Such unfaithfulness would result in a great apostasy, and these fallen elders would come to make up a composite man of lawlessness that would elevate himself to a godlike position among mankind. (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4) Paul’s warnings were fulfilled when the clergy of Christendom appeared on the world scene. This group is well represented by the symbol of “a great star burning as a lamp.”
30 John sees this particular star falling from heaven. How? The experiences of an ancient king help us to understand. Speaking to the king of Babylon, Isaiah said: “O how you have fallen from heaven, you shining one, son of the dawn! How you have been cut down to the earth, you who were disabling the nations!” (Isaiah 14:12) This prophecy was fulfilled when Babylon was overthrown by the armies of Cyrus, and its king made an abrupt descent from world rulership to shameful defeat. Thus, a fall from heaven can refer to losing a high position and falling into ignominy.
31 When the clergy of Christendom apostatized from true Christianity, they fell from the lofty “heavenly” position described by Paul at Ephesians 2:6, 7. Instead of offering fresh waters of truth, they served up “wormwood,” bitter lies such as hellfire, purgatory, the Trinity, and predestination; also, they led the nations into war, failing to build them up as moral servants of God. The result? Spiritual poisoning of those who believed the lies. Their case was similar to that of the unfaithful Israelites of Jeremiah’s day, to whom Jehovah said: “Here I am making them eat wormwood, and I will give them poisoned water to drink. For from the prophets of Jerusalem apostasy has gone forth to all the land.”—Jeremiah 9:15; 23:15.
32 This fall from the spiritual heavens became apparent in the year 1919 when, rather than Christendom’s clergy, the small remnant of anointed Christians was appointed over the Kingdom interests. (Matthew 24:45-47) And from 1922 that fall was dramatized when this group of Christians renewed their campaign of frankly exposing the failings of the clergy of Christendom.
33 Outstanding in this connection was the proclamation made at what The Golden Age magazine described as “the greatest convention of Bible Students held during the ages.” This convention assembled in Columbus, Ohio, July 20-27, 1924. No doubt at the direction of the angel that sounded the third trumpet, a forceful resolution was there adopted and later 50 million copies were distributed as a tract. It was published under the title Ecclesiastics Indicted. A subheading presented the issue: “The Seed of Promise Versus the Seed of the Serpent.” The Indictment itself roundly exposed Christendom’s clergy on matters such as their taking of high-sounding religious titles, their making commercial giants and professional politicians the principal ones of their flocks, their desiring to shine before men, and their refusing to preach to the people the message of Messiah’s Kingdom. It emphasized that every dedicated Christian is commissioned by God to proclaim “the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn.”—Isaiah 61:2, KJ.
34 Since the third angel started to blow his trumpet, the clergy’s position of dominance among mankind has been slipping until, in this day and age, very few of them retain the godlike powers they enjoyed in former centuries. Because of the preaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses, great numbers of people have come to realize that many doctrines taught by the clergy are spiritual poison—“wormwood.” Furthermore, the clergy’s power in northern Europe is almost spent, while in some other lands, the government strictly curtails their influence. In Catholic parts of Europe and in the Americas, the clergy’s scandalous behavior in financial, political, and moral affairs has sullied their reputation. From now on, their position can only get worse, since soon they will suffer the same fate as all other false religionists.—Revelation 18:21; 19:2.
35 Jehovah’s plaguing of Christendom is not yet finished. Consider what happens after the fourth trumpet blast.
36 “And the fourth angel blew his trumpet. And a third of the sun was smitten and a third of the moon and a third of the stars, in order that a third of them might be darkened and the day might not have illumination for a third of it, and the night likewise.” (Revelation 8:12) The ninth plague on Egypt was a plague of literal darkness. (Exodus 10:21-29) But what is this symbolic darkness that comes to plague men?
37 The apostle Peter told fellow believers that they had been in darkness, spiritually speaking, before they became Christians. (1 Peter 2:9) Paul too used the word “darkness” to describe the spiritual state of those outside the Christian congregation. (Ephesians 5:8; 6:12; Colossians 1:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:4, 5) But what about those in Christendom who claim to believe in God and who say they accept Jesus as their Savior?
38 Jesus said that true Christians would be recognized by their fruits and that many claiming to be his followers would be “workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:15-23) No one looking at the fruits of the third of the world occupied by Christendom can deny that she is groping in gross spiritual darkness. (2 Corinthians 4:4) She is most blameworthy, for she claims to be Christian. Hence, it is only proper that the fourth angel should trumpet the fact that Christendom’s “light” is, in fact, darkness, and her sources of “light” are Babylonish—non-Christian.—Mark 13:22, 23; 2 Timothy 4:3, 4.
39 In line with that heavenly proclamation, a capacity crowd of God’s people assembled in convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.A., on August 29, 1925, and adopted for publication a forthright resolution entitled “Message of Hope.” Again, some 50 million copies were distributed in a number of languages. It described the false light held out by the combine of commercial profiteers, political leaders, and the religious clergy, as a result of which “the peoples have fallen into darkness.” And it pointed to God’s Kingdom as the real hope for receiving “the blessings of peace, prosperity, health, life, liberty and eternal happiness.” It took courage for the small band of anointed Christians to proclaim such messages against the giant organization of Christendom. But consistently, from the early 1920’s until now, they have done so. In more recent times, in 1955, a further exposé of the clergy class was made by the worldwide distribution in many languages of a booklet entitled Christendom or Christianity—Which One Is “the Light of the World”? Today, Christendom’s hypocrisy has become so evident that many in the world can see it for themselves. But Jehovah’s people have not let up in exposing her for what she is: a kingdom of darkness.
A Flying Eagle
40 These first four trumpet blasts truly resulted in uncovering the desolate and death-dealing condition of Christendom. Her part of “the earth” was exposed as deserving of Jehovah’s judgment. Revolutionary governments springing up in her lands and elsewhere were shown to be inimical to spiritual life. The fallen condition of her clergy was laid bare, and the general darkness of her spiritual condition was exposed for all to see. Christendom is truly the most reprehensible part of Satan’s system of things.
41 What more is there to reveal? Before we find the answer to this question, there is a brief pause in the series of trumpet blasts. John describes what he next sees: “And I saw, and I heard an eagle flying in midheaven say with a loud voice: ‘Woe, woe, woe to those dwelling on the earth because of the rest of the trumpet blasts of the three angels who are about to blow their trumpets!’”—Revelation 8:13.
42 An eagle flies high in the sky, so that people in a wide area can see it. It has exceptionally keen sight and can see a long way ahead of itself. (Job 39:29) One of the four cherubic living creatures around God’s throne was pictured as a flying eagle. (Revelation 4:6, 7) Whether it is this cherub or another farsighted servant of God, it loudly proclaims a dynamic message: “Woe, woe, woe”! Let earth’s inhabitants take note, as the three remaining trumpet blasts are heard, each of them linked to one of these woes.