The fifth and sixth seals on the heavenly scroll revealed the existence of martyrs and their cries to God for vindication (Rev. 6:9–7:17). In the opening of the seventh seal, we see that the Lord hears and answers these prayers, as the prayers are cast down to earth and the signs of judgment accompany them. The seventh seal releases seven angels with seven trumpets (8:1–5), and the blowing of the trumpets will show with more specificity how judgment is meted out to the nations.
According to the Old Testament, trumpets announced the presence of the Lord both at Mount Sinai and when the Israelites gathered for the feasts (Ex. 19:19; Num. 10:10). Trumpets also frequently warned of the coming of God to judge and defeat His enemies (Josh. 6; Joel 2:1–11). The angels released by the seventh seal blow the trumpets to declare God’s wrath on His and our enemies (Rev. 8:6).
Revelation 8:7–13 describes what happens when the angels sound the first four trumpets. Note, first of all, the commonalities between the ensuing judgments and the plagues against Egypt in the time of the exodus. Blood, hail, darkness, poisoned water, and fire were all released against Egypt, and in these last days before Christ consummates God’s plan, they are released against those who oppress His people (vv. 7–13; see Ex. 7; 9; 10:21–29). Moreover, since Pharaoh’s defeat and the exodus accompanied the plagues thousands of years ago, we understand that these judgments on the enemies of the church will surely occur and finally defeat them.
Second, given the symbolic nature of the book of Revelation, it is unlikely that Revelation 8:7–13 means actual hail will fall or that the heavenly bodies will truly shrink by one-third. In fact, the destruction John describes matches what happened in warfare in the ancient world. The burning of grass, trees, and land accompanied siege warfare (v. 7). Invading armies would poison water supplies (vv. 8–11). Smoke from all this would create darkness (v. 12). In sum, John seems to be saying that even the mightiest powers who oppose His church can fall to other earthly military powers. These judgments also seem to be the concrete results of the four horsemen released earlier, as they were to unleash war, violence, disease, and death (6:1–8). This lends support to the idea that Revelation is not giving a strict chronological order of events but is looking at the same kinds of things again and again from different perspectives.