Revelation 8.6-13

Two truths collide in this passage.

First, God will judge.

Second, the means by which God will judge have been here described figuratively.

These trumpets, and their destructive accompaniment, should be read as symbols of divine judgment and not as depictions. “A third of the earth,” for example, literally refers to “a third of the ‘soil’” (Greek {he} {ge} Strongs #1093). Whereas “earth” sounds like 1/3 of planet earth, a better translation of this Greek word would help us properly understand that the judgment spreads to 1/3 of ‘the landscape.’

Does that mean God’s judgment is merely figurative? Pleasant even?

No. God’s judgment is just, but hard. It is never pleasant, though it is good.

The purpose of God’s judgment is not vengeful destruction, but harmonious, self-perpetuating creation. However, in order to make room for the new heavens and the new earth, God has to clear away the corruption currently in place. Whenever God judges, his judgment is comprehensive—attending even to the created order itself. However, whether that judgment takes the form of earthquakes literal or metaphorical is quite insignificant compared to the fact that he will no longer tolerate the “destroyers of the earth” (see Revelation 11.18).

We must guard ourselves against two common mistakes.

First, the erroneous assumption that God will never judge evil.

Second, the erroneous misinterpretation of these seals/trumpets/bowls as literal predictions of future planetary destruction.

In the first case, we’ve got to remember that God will ultimately right every wrong and straighten every bent thing. He may take longer to do so than some would wish, but there will come a day when he acts in swift, executive justice over the earth.

In the second case, we’ve got to remember that apocalyptic language is symbolic, image-rich, and metaphorical. We don’t focus on the details, we focus instead on the purpose of the author and the understanding of the audience. In this case, that author meant for his audience to understand that God is making things right, and there are some who will kick and scream and rail against the whole process.