This main section is the first of seven cycles of judgment which all end with a picture of the final judgment. Each of these judgments come from the throne of God and are initiated based upon the work of the Lamb.
The beginning of the seals introduces the reader to the fact that Christ presently reigns over the hard things in life. In all of the judgments that take place in this book, one cannot forget that it is the Lamb who opens the seals. Thus Christ is sovereign over events that at first glance look completely out of control. There is a purpose in these judgments.
Caird writes, “During the last thirty-five years of his life John has lived through a series of grim events which might well seem a challenge to the Christian belief in the kingship of Christ: the earthquakes of A.D. 60 (Tac. Ann. xiv. 27); the persecution of the Christians which followed the fire of Rome in A.D. 64 (Tac. Ann. xv. 13-17); the four-year horror of the Jewish war which ended in A.D. 70 with Jerusalem in ruins; the suicide of Nero in A.D. 68 and the political chaos which ensued as four claimants battled for the imperial throne, and for a whole year the Roman world echoed to the tramp of marching armies; the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79 which had obliterated the luxury resorts of the Bay of Naples and created a pale of darkness so widespread that men feared the imminent dissolution of the physical order (Pliny, Ep. vi. 16); and the serious grain famine of A.D. 92 (Suet. Dom. 7). John’s vision of the four horsemen is intended to assert Christ’s sovereignty over such a world as that” (Caird, The Revelation of St. John, 79).
Christ uses evil to purify and or punish in the church age 6:1-8
Depending on whether you view Revelation from a futurist or a recapitulationist perspective, one might see the events of chapter 6:1-8 as (1) solely pertaining to the future directly after Christ’s second coming; or in the other case, (2) one might view this as an inaugurated action of latter day events that began in the ministry and death of Jesus and continues on until the final consummation of the age.
One will recall that Christ was enthroned in heaven upon his death, resurrection, and ascension (Rev 5). Thus Christ is not waiting to reign at some future point in time; rather He is currently reigning…NOW!!!
OT Background of the seals.
John is combining two visions of Zechariah. (1) Four horsemen Zech 1:8-11; (2) Four chariots Zech 6:1-8. The first vision describes God’s omniscience and the second his omnipotence. Both of these attributes are combined in the Revelation vision to focus on Christ’s sovereignty and his omnipotence in judging non-believers and purifying the church.
the colors of the horses in Revelation is similar to the color of the horses in Zechariah. Revelation is different however in that it uses these colors to symbolically represent the action or function of each horse; whereas, Zechariah’s use of different colors represents the “four winds” or the “four points of a compass.”
OT background of the four horses
White = Conquest [Rev. 6:2]
Red = bloodshed [Rev. 6:4]
Black = famine [Rev. 6:5-6]
Pale Green = death [6:7-8]
Question: How would a futurist see the church escaping the universal judgments mentioned in Rev 6?
Question: Is this escapist theology consistent with the OT and the NT.
Rev 6:8 is an allusion to Ezek. 14:21 which depicts trials on a universal canvas. Israel along with the nations is going to face suffering. The principle of escape only comes at the day of judgment when Christians escape the second death by being in Christ.
6:1) I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, "Come!"
Only the Lamb is worthy to open the seals, because of his death and resurrection. As soon as the Lamb opens this seal, a thunderous voice commands the first horse to go throughout the earth.
6:2) I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.
Some have equated the white horse in Rev 6 with the scene from Rev 19:11, and describe the conquest as the conquest of the gospel. Note however that the riders in both of these chapters are armed with different instruments (6:2 “Bow”; 19:15 “sword”).
The fact that this is a white horse might echo back to the notion of counterfeiting in Revelation.
6:3) When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!"
The first rider is the introductory rider who brings along with him war. The next horses that we will see illustrate in more detail what takes place in this calamity. Furthermore, this includes both physical and spiritual dimensions of the world and of warfare. The goal of Satan in all of this is to frustrate the saints through suffering so that they abandon their faith. Again note the ironic element to suffering in that it brings some closer to God.
6:4) Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.
Persecution is part of God’s will in this world, it could be pictured as international conflict, as it probably is here, or even personal chaos in the life of a believer.
The word sphazo “slaughter” would support the notion that persecution is included in this seal. It is always used to refer to the death of Christ and his followers in the book of Revelation (5:6, 9, 12; 6:9; 13:8; 18:24).
On the word translated “was given” ( edothe ) Caird remarks, “John uses this word three times of a gracious gift of God which is in keeping with his purpose of redemption (vi. 11; xii. 14; xix. 8); but more frequently he uses it of the divine permission granted to evil powers to carry out their nefarious work—the denizens of the abyss (ix. 1, 3, 5), the monster (xiii. 5,7), and the false prophet (xiii. 14, 15)” (Caird, The Revelation of St. John, 81).
6:5) When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand.
Suffering is again seen in the authority of this horse and rider; this time it is that of famine which is represented by the scales in the hand of the rider.
“ In the ancient world food was distributed by rationed amounts (using scales) when it became scarce (see the metaphorical use of scales indicating famine also in Lev. 26:26; 2 Kgs. 7:1; Ezek. 4:10, 16)” (Beale, Revelation, 381).
6:6) Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, "A quart of wheat for a day's wages, and three quarts of barley for a day's wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!"
Beale comments on the prices that are given for food in this woe, “The prices listed here are about eight to sixteen times the average prices in the Roman Empire at the time (cf. Cicero, In Verrem 3.81). Therefore, those suffering from the famine will only be able to buy limited food quantities for their family, and there will be nothing left over to provide for any of the other necessities of life such as ‘wine and oil.’ That the trees and vines producing oil and wine are not affected further emphasizes the limited aspect of the famine (the revocation of Domitian’s edict of A.D. 92 ordering half of the vineyards in Asia Minor to be destroyed could stand partly in the background, but that had no reference to ‘oil’)” (Beale, Revelation, 381).
6:7-8) When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come!" 8 I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
This is the first of the horsemen who is given a name thanatos “death”. “Hades” is the abode of the dead; it could also represent hell or the final place of punishment. It is best understood as the realm of the dead. The LXX pictures death and Hades together to symbolize the realm of the dead (Pss. 6:5; 49:14-15; Prov 2:18; 5:5; Job 17:13-16; 33:22).
This final rider summarizes the first three, yet he adds another image to the vision: the plague of the beasts. His name “death” encapsulates all of the images of the riders and the plagues that they bring. Thus the fourfold image of judgment is virtually identical in each instance; moreover, in the OT (Ez 14; Jer 16) the fourfold judgment scene is sent from God to Israel or the nations. Its purpose is to weed out faith.
The Fifth seal: the Cry of the Martyrs under the altar (6:9-11)
“ When a slaughtered beast was laid on the altar of burnt offering in the Jerusalem temple, its blood was allowed to run around the foot of the altar. John presumably has some such analogy in mind when he says that underneath the heavenly altar he saw the souls of the martyrs; for ‘the blood is the life’ (Lev xvii. 11). They are now underneath the altar because at some time in the past they have been offered in sacrifice on it” (Caird, The Revelation of St. John, 84).
The fifth seal has often been interpreted as a hymn to God’s justice. If this is true, then the fifth seal would act in the same interpretive manner as the other hymns in Revelation. It would interpret the previous vision 6:1-8.
6:9) When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.
This passage presuppose the heavenly existence of martyrs and believers after they die.
Aune writes, “Nevertheless, there are several passages in the Pauline letters, and perhaps two in the Fourth Gospel, that suggest that immediately following death believers are ushered into the heavenly presence of God (2 Cor 5:1; Phil 1:23; 1 Thess 3:13; 4:14; 5:9; cf. John 14:2-3; 17:24)” (Aune, Revelation, 403).
Question: Is this vision limiting those around the altar as only belonging to the category of “martyrs”?
Beale gives 4 reasons to view these as Christians in general.
Note the inclusive language of overcoming in 2-3. All believers who conqueror by not sinning and compromising with the world are rewarded.
Because Christ is symbolized as a slain lamb, Christians are symbolized in the same garb. Thus all faithful ones are said to maintain their testimony in the face of troubles.
John is imprisoned on patmos “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus (1:9).” He has not faced literally death yet but he is described as doing the same thing that the saints in Rev 6 are doing.
If you contrast Rev 20:4 (an almost identical picture of Rev 6:9) to 20:5, one will notice that verse four is meant to describe all deceased believers.
6:10) They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?"
The appeal of the saints is not a cry for personal revenge; rather, they are asking God to protect his just reputation.
As noted by Beale (392) and Caird (84), the cry “How Long” is used in the OT concerning the question of when God will ultimately punish evil and vindicate the righteous (Pss. 6:3; 13:2; 74:10; 79:5; 80:4; 89:46; 90:13; 93:3; Isa. 6:11; Jer 47:6; Hab. 1:2; Dan. 8:13).
6:11) Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.
“ In answer to their plea the martyrs are first given the assurance of personal vindication: each of them was given a white robe, the symbol of victory, purity, and bliss” (Caird, The Revelation of St. John, 85-86).
These white robes were a solemn declaration to the saint’s purity and righteousness.
Beale writes, “The final judgment will begin when all believers whom God has decreed to suffer finally fulfill their destiny” (Beale, Revelation, 394).
The Sixth Seal: God’s final judgment and the Second Coming (6:12-17)
The plea of the saints in verse 10 is answered on a grand scale in verses 12-17.
Beale introduces this section by saying, “If this segment is the response to the plea in 6:9-11, as most commentators agree, then it must deal only with the final judgment, since 6:11 affirms that all God’s people who are to suffer must complete their suffering before the last judgment is executed. Therefore, the calamitous scene in 6:12-17 assumes that the persecution of all Christians who are to be persecuted has finally run its course and that all that remains is to execute final punishment on the persecutors, which strikes the very last note of world history. Consequently, this passage cannot deal with preparousia judgments of unbelievers during an extended tribulation period, since they have not yet finished persecuting the saints at that point” (Beale, Revelation, 396).
6:12-14) I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, 13 and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14 The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
The scene that is depicted in verses 12-14 is taken straight from the Old Testament cosmic and final judgment pictures. Some of the most notable texts are (Isa 13:10-13; 24:1-6, 19-23; 34:4; Ezek. 32:6-8; Joel 2:10, 30-31; 3:15-16; and Hab 3;6-11). The Nestle Aland Greek text along with Beale affirm that this exact same imagery is used in Matt 24:29 and Acts 2:20 which describes the second coming and the end of times in relation to the Joel 2:30-31 prophecy.
There are four key elements to the OT scenes of final judgment as well as Rev 6:12-14. (1) Shaking of the earth or the mountains; (2) the darkening or shaking of the moon, stars, sun (3) and or the heavens; (4) and the pouring out of blood.
25 the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.' 29 "Immediately after the distress of those days "'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.' 13 and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14 The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree. Mark 13:25 Matt. 24:29 Rev 6:13-14 Isaiah 34:4
That this is a figurative inaugurated final judgment is seen by the fact that Revelation repeats this same scene using the same terminology of a “great earthquake” (6:12-14; 11:13; 16:17-21).
Notice also the fact that the “sky splitting apart and…every mountain and island were moved out of their places” (6:14) is almost identical to 20:11where heaven and earth flee “from the presence of one sitting on the throne.”
6:15) Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.
Beale does the best job of any commentator in this section. He notices that the only place where “the kings, and the rulers, and the great ones” is mentioned in the Greek OT is in Isa 34:12, which is a scene depicting those who undergo divine judgment because they are a part of the corrupt world order.
Beale goes on to say that the reason that they are hiding in the caves of the mountains is due to idolatry. Note especially Isa. 2:10, 18-21: “You enter into the rocks and hide yourselves in the earth from the presence of the terror of the Lord…But the idols will completely vanish. And they will go into caves of the rocks and into holes of the ground before the terror of the Lord…”
6:16) They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!
It is interesting to note that Adam and Eve tried to flee in the same manner that these earth dwellers are trying to flee from the wrath of the Lamb. Thus one could conclude that God is taking care of sin in the same way that he did in creation. The beginning is a picture of the end and the end is a picture of the beginning. For a development of the concept of the end repeating God’s action in the beginning see Dumbrell, “The end and the Beginning.”
6:17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"
The “great day” in 6:17 is probably equivalent to the coming of wrath in 11:18 and the “great day of God” in 16:14 and the “great supper of God” in 19:17-18. In all of theses scenes the same group of people are being destroyed, thus they all probably refer to the same final end-time judgment.
Spiritual protection is given to the saints (7:1-17)
“ Rev. 7:1-8 explains how believers are sealed so that they can persevere through the first four tribulations enumerated in ch. 6. The vision in 7:9-17 reveals the heavenly reward for those who do persevere. It amplifies the brief picture of the saints in 6:9-11, who have finally entered into God’s presence, after having successfully completed their course of suffering (see esp. 7:13-15) ” (Beale, Revelation, 404-5).
, “The announcement of the seventh seal is dramatically delayed while the saints receive assurance that God knows them and protects them (v. 3) in the midst of the calamities depicted in chapter 6. They are sealed from harm as in Ezekiel 9:4. The focus is on protection from spiritual harm, since it is clear in Revelation that they may suffer persecution and sometimes death for the sake of their faith (Rev. 2:10, 13; 13:15). The interlude contains two complementary pictures: the vision of the 144,000 in 7:1-8 and the vision of the great multitude in 7:9-17. These visions picture God’s protection of his people, but from two different perspectives” (Poythress, The Returning King, 117-18).
As both Caird and Beale point out, chapter seven answers the question posed in 6:17 “Who can stand.” The answer is that those who are sealed by God can endure the day of final judgment (Caird, 93-94 and Beale, 405). Thus this chapter as a whole is a parenthesis that further explains the content of chapter 6.
The sealing of the Martyrs 7:1-8
7:1) After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.
The four winds of the earth are best understood as the four horsemen of Rev. 6. This is collaborated by the fact that the four housemen in Zech 6:1-8 are described as “the four winds of heaven.”
Notice also that the four winds must be held back, this indicates that they need to be held in check.
7:2-3) Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: 3 "Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God."
Another angel having the seal of God calls out to the four angels who are in charge of the four winds (four horsemen 6:1-8). Note the divine passive “had been given” in 7:3 and also in 6:4, 8. This identical language would lend good evidence to conclude that both 7:1-3 and 6:1-8 are referring to the same events.
What is the Seal?
It is spiritual protection from the harm of becoming an unfaithful follower (Ez 9; 14:12-23).
It could represent a metaphor for salvation and corporate association to Christ (i.e., ownership). Note Rev. 14:1 and 22:4.
It is the opposite of the mark of the beast.
The Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30).
Who receives the seal?
The redeemed 7:3-8 and 14:1-4.
The redeemed remnant as described in 5:9; 14:4 and 7:3-8.
The church in its entirety which is given the number of completeness (144,000).
Only the faithful among Israel.
7:4-8) Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. 5 From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000, 6 from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000, 7 from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar 12,000, 8 from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000, from the tribe of Joseph 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.
There are three unique elements to this listing of the twelve tribes. First, Judah is listed first, which is probably a way of highlighting the fact that the Messiah came from Judah’s line (Gen 49). Second, Dan is not listed in this group. Poythress and others note that this is due to the idolatry of Dan (Poythress, The Returning King, 118). Finally, Manasseh one of Joseph’s sons is listed among this grouping.
Who are the 144,000?
A literal 144,000 remnant of ethnic Israel.
All ethnic Israel will be saved at the second coming (Rom. 11:24-26). Two of my favorite interpreters believe this, Doug Moo and John Piper…Bless their souls, but this is one place in which I would disagree…You heard that right!!!
A Christian remnant of ethnic Jews living in the 1st century.
The number should be understood figuratively, and thus this is representative of the complete number of God’s people.
144,000 is figurative for the totality of the redeemed which form an army to conduct ironic holy war. (Bauckham’s view, Climax of prophecy , 217-29).
One should also note the figurative use of numbers in Revelation; especially interesting is the use of 12. This number is used 5xs in relation to the completeness of the New Jerusalem and the New creation (Rev. 21:12, 14, 16, 21; 22:2). Thus one could say that this is list that represents the completeness of the saved.
In support of the last view Bauckham states three reasons: (1) Census’ in the OT were only done to prepare for war, (2) Males were the only ones counted, as in Rev. 14:1-4 “male virgins” which is parallel to Rev 7, (3) there was expectation that the ten tribes would take part in holy war.
The great multitude is purified through a tribulation period (7:9-17)
Commentators who view the group mentioned in 7:1-8 as a literal remnant from Israel, would view the group mentioned in 7:9-17 as a different set of peoples. There are several variations to this view which would hold that only the martyrs are mentioned in the entirety of chapter 7, first from the remnant Israel and then from the other nations. However, it is more probable to view the group mentioned in 7:9-17 as the same as that of 7:1-8 except this time instead of casting the group in terms that would represent the complete number of those sealed, John actually mentions their vast number by saying “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language.”
9) After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
Notice that 5:9 mentions the exact same group that is referred to in this verse, “with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Moreover, the great crowd that no one could count should bring to our attention the promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:3; 17:5). Thus John is referring to Christians in the terms of Israel and saying that through them is fulfilled the prophecy to Abraham (cf. Gal. 3:7, 29).
The saints are given white robes which probably symbolize their purity in the face of trial and their heavenly reward (cf. 3:4 and 6:11)
7:10) And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb."
The servants of God are not celebrating their fully consummated salvation in this scene; rather they are celebrating their triumphant passage through trials and persecutions.
7:11-12) All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!"
“ The motif of the adoration of heavenly beings who fall prostrate before the throne of God is normally limited to the twenty-four elders (4:10; 5:14; 11:16; 19:4). Here they are joined by the angels encircling the throne and the four living creatures, while in 5:8 the twenty-four elders are joined by the four living creatures (though in 5:8 the object of worship is the Lamb rather than God.)” (Aune, Revelation, 471).
7:13-14) Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes-- who are they, and where did they come from?" 14 I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
The OT background for the “great tribulation” can be found in Daniel 12:1. Here the saints are persecuted because they remain loyal to God’s covenant; while there are some among their group who apostatize and try to drag the faithful down with them.
The fact that the saints have washed their robes and made them white by the blood of the Lamb takes the reader back to the throne room scene (5:9) and Christ’s redeeming power (1:5). It also highlights the purity of the saints because they are the ones who have washed their robes in his blood…i.e., they have followed Christ and have overcome through suffering in the same way that he overcame the world through the shedding of his blood. Thus blood is both the agent of purification and the model to be imitated. Note also that it is Jesus who is picture as a slain lamb (Rev. 5) and a warrior whose robe is dipped in blood (Rev. 19:13).
7:15-17) Therefore, "they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. 16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
The word “therefore” in the NIV translated “for this reason” in the NAS signifies that the reason the saints are able to enjoy the peace and comfort of God and the Lamb in 7:15-17 is because of their perseverance based upon Christ’s death and their participation in it 7:9-14.
The imagery of serving God in his temple, should resurrect images of the priesthood of believers that John has already explained in 1:6 and 5:10 (Ex. 19:6). Serving in the temple was the central function of the priest, in the same way the saints are the new priesthood in the new temple context.
These saved saints in Revelation look like the prophesied restoration of Israel. Again we see the church through the work of Christ taking over the promises to OT Israel. Verse 16 is much like Isa. 49:10 which states that the people of God, “will not hunger or thirst; neither shall the heat or the sun smite them…and by fountains of water he will lead them.”
The Seventh Seal and the Conclusion of the series of seals recast as the final judgment 8:1-5.
When the seventh seal is opened one would expect this to be the climatic end of the world, since seven throughout the book has represented completeness; however, the seal is opened and we find silence. However, this silence is not without meaning. One should understand this as the continuation of the last judgment seen in 6:12-17. Chapter 7 was a parenthesis that answers the question posed in 6:17 “who can stand,” and now John is completing the scene of final destruction.
8:1) When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
Many interpreters view the silence of the seventh seal as emptiness, thus they would say that the trumpets and bowls are its content. However, silence in the OT does not mean “void of content”; rather John is picking up where he left off in 6:17 and completing the picture of final judgment.
Silence is associated with divine judgment in the OT (see 1 Sam 2:9-10; Ps. 31:17; 115:17; Isa. 47:5; Ezek. 27:32; Amos 8:2-3; Lam 2:10-11).
John talks about the cycle of judgment seven times throughout Revelation ( (1) 6:12-17 and 8:1, 3-5; (2) 11:14-19; (3) 14:14-20; (4) 16:17-21; (5) 18:9-24; (6) 19:19-21; (7) 20:11-15).
8:2) And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.
“ It is tempting to identify them [seven angels] with the seven guardian angels of the seven churches in chs. 2-3 (see on 1:19). Angels as divine agents executing the plagues follows the trajectory of biblical and Jewish tradition, according to which God appointed angels to perform the judgments against the Egyptians, especially at the Red Sea (Exod. 12:23; Ps. 78:47-48; Targ. Jer. Frag. Exod. 4:25; 12:42; 15:18; Jub . 49:2; Mekilta de Rabbi Ishmael, Beshallah 7.30-35, 40-45)” (Beale, Revelation, 454).
8:3) Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne.
The angel in this verse could be the angel of the presence (Isa. 63:9), and he is standing before the altar (6:9). In the same manner that the saints ask God to punish their persecutors (6:10), the angel offers up the prayers of the saints. This is probably a formal allusion to 6:9-11 and thus 8:3-5 are seen to connect along with 6:12-17 and 8:1 as the final judgment scene.
8:4) The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand.
The angel here is acting in the role of a mediator by offering up the prayers of the saints to God. Incense in the OT and NT is always associated with sacrifice (Lev. 16:11-19; Exod. 29:18, 25; Lev. 2:1-2; Eph. 5:2). The sweet smelling odor of the incense is characteristic of an acceptable sacrifice to God. Along with the saints pray is their offering of sacrifice (suffering and persecution) that is acceptable to God because they died for the testimony they maintained.
8:5) Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.
God accepts the offering of praise and now he responds by unleashing hell (the final judgment).
The inclusion of “fire” followed by “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake” all lead to the conclusion that this is final judgment (see 11:19 which picture final judgment at the conclusion of the trumpets and 16:18 which does the same thing at the conclusion of the bowls).
These same judgment special effects are seen in the OT in reference to Divine Judgment (Exod. 19:16, 18; Ps. 77:18-19; Isa. 29:6). Moreover, early Jewish and Christian writings employed the great earthquake along with the Sinai theophany scene in Ex. 19 to describe the end of the cosmos.