Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. There was silence in heaven: which is to represent as it were a general consternation, and an expectation of dreadful events at the opening of the seventh seal, and when seven Angels stood prepared to sound seven trumpets. (Witham)
Ver. 3. Stood before the altar, having a golden censer. In the visions is an allusion to the tabernacle and its parts. The altar of perfumes was in the sanctum[the holy place], hard by the entrance into the sanctum sanctorum[the holy of holies], and here the golden altar is said to be before the throne of God. The incense from the censer is said to be the prayers of all the Saints, which the Angel offered up. The altar seems to signify our Saviour Christ, as the prayers of all the faithful are always made through the merits of Christ, our only chief Mediator or Redeemer. By the fire cast upon the earth, (ver. 5.) is signified the fire of divine charity, now to be exercised by the ways of justice, to draw persons to their conversion by punishments. (Witham) — We may observe both in this and other places of the Apocalypse, that St. John makes continual allusions to what was done in the temple of Jerusalem, for which he gives us symbolical reasons. Thus on the present occasion, the incense which was offered morning and evening in the temple, on the golden altar, is represented as done here in heaven. (Calmet)
Ver. 7. The first Angel sounded, &c. From this place to the eleventh verse of chapter xx. the visions are differently expounded. Some interpret them, without applying them to any particular events, as general comminations, in a mystical and allegorical sense of the many persecutions which God permits to happen to his Church. Others think that they are all predictions, which shall not happen till a little time before the end of the world, in antichrist’s time, after which will follow the day of the general judgment, the punishment of the wicked, and the reward of the just. But there are others, both ancient and later writers, as in particular Alcazar, the bishop of Meaux (Bossuet,) Pere Alleman, to whom we may add among the Protestants, Dr. Hammond, whom the bishop of Meaux calls the most learned of all the English Protestants. According to the interpretations which these writers have followed, these predictions of St. John (except the last persecution, when the devil shall be let loose, Chap. xx. 7, in the time of the great antichrist) have already happened in the three first ages[centuries], during the persecutions of the heathen emperors, as I shall briefly take notice. Hail therefore, and fire, blood, falling of stars, &c. some look upon as mystical representations, to signify that a great many trials and persecutions shall happen to the good, and a great many punishments and chastisements shall fall upon the wicked; with this grand difference, that the sufferings of the good shall be short and momentary, and their reward a crown of endless glory; but the wicked, if any of them escape punishments in this world, can never escape eternal torments with the devils in the next. 2. It is also a very common opinion, that all these disasters shall happen in a great measure, literally about antichrist’s time, a very short time before the end of the world. 3. Others apply all these events to the judgments which God’s justice exercised either upon the Jews, in the time of Trajan and Adrian, or upon the heathen Roman emperors, and upon the pagan city of Rome, for persecuting the servants of God. (Witham) — As these Angels with their trumpets, according to Pastorini, denote the sufferings of the Church during the seven ages that it lasts, it may not be improper to point out the time, according to his opinion, when each Angel sounded the trumpet. Thus the first trumpet denotes the persecutions of the first three centuries, in which the Christians suffered death by the sword, (denoted by blood) by being stoned, (denoted by the hail) and by fire, when the third part of the trees were burnt, that is, the third part of the clergy were destroyed. (Pastorini)
Ver. 8. The great mountain denotes the heresy of Arius, which caused the greatest troubles in the Church, and destroyed many churches, which are here denoted by the ships. (Pastorini)
Ver. 10. A great star fell. The bishop of Meaux [Bossuet] thinks this agrees very well to Cochebas, or Barcochebas, who in Adrian’s time pretended to be the true Messias of the Jews; his name also signifying a star. He was the chief cause of those wars, and of the utter destruction of the Jews. (Witham) — The third trumpet points out to us the punishment that falls upon the Roman empire, in its destruction by the northern nations. These people spread themselves over the third part of the rivers and provinces of ancient Rome. The star is called wormwood, from the bitter calamities and miseries which they inflicted upon the Roman empire. (Pastorini)
Ver. 12. The third part of the sun was smitten. This may signify a third part of men killed in those wars, or (according to the opinion that refers all to antichrist’s time) that in those days the sun and moon shall not give above a third part of their light. (Witham) — Here we behold a noble figure of the Church, which whilst in its most flourishing state, like the sun, is suddenly obscured, and a third part extinguished by the heresy and schism of the Greeks, under Photius, which began in 866[A.D. 866], and infected all orders of Christians, clergy and laity, princes and individuals, signified by the sun, moon, and stars. (Pastorini)
Ver. 13. The voice of one eagle: in divers Greek copies, of an Angel, saying, Woe, woe, woe! It is to foretell, in general, greater punishments and miseries. The Protestant translation has followed those Greek copies that read an Angel; but Dr. Wells, in his amendments, has restored that reading of an eagle which the ancient Latin interpreter had met with. (Witham) — An eagle, on account of its swiftness, is here represented as chosen to announce by its cry of woe on the three succeeding ages of the Church, greater disasters to be sustained than in the preceding ages. (Pastorini)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The seventh seal is opened: the Angels with the seven trumpets.
1 And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven, as it were for half an hour.
2 And I saw seven Angels standing in the presence of God: and to them were given seven trumpets.
3 And another Angel came, and stood before the altar, having a golden censer: and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer of the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, which is before the throne of God.
4 And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God, from the hand of the Angel.
5 And the Angel took the censer, and filled it with the fire of the altar, and cast it on the earth, and there were thunderings, and voices, and lightnings, and a great earthquake.
6 And the seven Angels who had the seven trumpets, prepared themselves to sound the trumpet.
7 And the first Angel sounded the trumpet, and there was hail, and fire mingled with blood, and it was cast on the earth, and the third part of the earth was burnt up, and the third part of the trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.
8 And the second Angel sounded the trumpet: and as it were a great mountain, burning with fire, was cast into the sea, and the third part of the sea became blood;
9 And the third part of those creatures died which had life in the sea, and the third part of the ships was destroyed.
10 And the third Angel sounded the trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, burning as it were a torch, and it fell on the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters:
11 And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood: and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.
12 And the fourth Angel sounded the trumpet, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars, so that the third part of them was darkened, and a third part of the day shined not, and of the night in like manner.
13 And I beheld, and heard the voice of one eagle flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice: Wo, wo, wo to the inhabitants of the earth, by reason of the other voices of the three Angels, who are yet to sound the trumpet.