Hello everybody and welcome in to episode #344 of the Bible 2021 podcast. We are reading Revelation 8 today and our focus is on What Will the End of the World Be Like? How Much Do Our Prayers Matter to God? What Does the Star Wormwood Symbolize?. We are a daily 10ish minute podcast, where we will dig in to the truth of the Word of God by reading one Bible chapter a day and discussing it. Welcome to new listeners in Yangon, Myanmar, Al Qahira, Egypt, Minas Gerais, Brazil, Kashmir, India, Parts unknown, Finland, Ontario, Canada, Baja California, Mexico, Punjab, Pakistan, Birmingham, Alabama, Atlanta, Georgia, Sarasota, Florida, Oakland, California, South Bend, Indiana, Miami, Florida, Anchorage, Alaska, Columbia, Missouri, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Quincy, Illinois. Our goal is to encourage DAILY Bible reading, so you can jump in at any time and join with us. We want to invite as many people as possible to join us in daily Bible reading, so help spread the word and share the podcast! Don’t forget about our web-page, Bible2021.com – contact page, show notes, transcript and more– Click here for our Bible 2021 reading plan\
So, I am on the verge of completing 2 years of everyday podcasting on the Bible – that’s about 710 episodes in. In almost every single of those 710 episodes, I never had to struggle with a topic or a focus – the Bible is so deep, it just has so many options to focus on. Today, however, is a little different. Last year, when doing the Bible Reading Podcast, and I got to Revelation 8, we were reading four chapters a day, so it was easy to choose a different chapter to read. This year – we must focus on Revelation 8. Don’t hear me saying that it is a bad chapter – not at all, nor a boring chapter. It is actually really quite fascinating. But it is a 100% end times focused chapter (unless you are a preterist who believes that the events of the Book of Revelation have already been fulfilled), and being an end-times focused chapter, it is really hard to interpret, and there are many disagreements over the meaning of Revelation 8 – including one I just alluded to – have these events already happened (preterist view) or are they in the future (futurist view.) I am a futurist, and thus believe that much of Revelation is pointing to future realities that we have not yet arrived at.
In this chapter, the Lamb – Jesus – opens the seventh seal, and rather than being a massive climactic explosion or something – what happens is even more dramatic, in many ways – there is absolute silence in Heaven for about 30 minutes. After that, a series of profound events happens:
2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand in the presence of God; seven trumpets were given to them. 3 Another angel, with a golden incense burner, came and stood at the altar. He was given a large amount of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar in front of the throne. 4 The smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up in the presence of God from the angel’s hand. 5 The angel took the incense burner, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it to the earth; there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. Revelation 8:2-5
This is, as they say, the beginning of the end…or, perhaps, the middle of the end, if you count the releasing of the first six seals of the Lamb’s scroll to be the beginning of the end. At any rate, the seven angels that are closest in proximity to God are given 7 trumpets. Then, a different angel comes to stand before the Lord’s altar with a “large amount of incense.” Along with this incense, he has the prayers of the saints, and the angel apparently mixes the incense and the prayers and burns them on the altar, which causes the smoke of that offering to waft up into the direct presence of God. SO MANY QUESTIONS! For one- how can prayers be a tangible thing that can be held, and offered on a fiery altar and burned at that altar? I don’t know the answer to that question, but we certainly see a clue in Revelation 5: 8 When he took the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and golden bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints. Now – this is fascinating and sort of mind boggling, but we discover here that the incense IS the prayers of the saints!! How prayer can be tangible like this, I do not know. Is this 100% symbolic language – somehow connecting the prayers of God’s people with incense, perhaps in the sense that they go up to God and He is as pleased with the prayers as He would be with a sweet smelling perfume? OR – is this more literal – showing that, somehow in Heaven, prayers become a tangible thing? I suspect the answer is somewhere between those two options, but it certainly could be something else entirely. The big takeaway, is that prayers matter – they make a difference. Could it be that all of history is waiting for these incense bowls of prayer to be somehow “filled” with the prayer of God’s people- and that genuine prayer actually speeds the return of Jesus, because it helps to fill the incense bowl? I don’t know, but would not be the first preacher or commentator to suggest such a connection. This passage should spur us on to be more diligent than ever in “praying without ceasing.”
One other big question: What does the star wormwood symbolize? We get this name from Revelation 8:10, “10 The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from heaven. It fell on a third of the rivers and springs of water. 11 The name of the star is Wormwood, and a third of the waters became wormwood. So, many of the people died from the waters, because they had been made bitter.”
It would be a good time to mention that “star” is probably not a good translation of the Greek word in this passage, “ἀστήρ astḗr” Yes, the word “star” is etymologically related to our Greek word here, but moderns and ancients meant an entirely different thing when that word is used. By star, we mean “an astronomical object consisting of a luminous spheroid of plasma held together by its own gravity.” By aster, the Greeks simply meant a heavenly body, which could refer to a meteor, a moon of another planet, a comet, or any number of things, presumably. So – wormwood is quite likely a meteorite or similar object that somehow poisons the waters of the Earth. Thousands of possibilities have been put forward for what wormwood is, including that it figuratively referred to the early church father Origen- a claim made, possibly humorously, by none other than Martin Luther. Commentator John Yeatts gives us a another wormwood candidate, which has since been discredited.
In 1988 the world began to become aware of a tragedy that had taken place in Russia’s Chernobyl nuclear plant, and although the world did not know until later the extent of that catastrophe, a significant amount of radiation had been released into the atmosphere. In the years that followed, more information came out about the extent of the effect of this nuclear disaster.
In a manner that is all too common, biblical prognosticators related the tragedy of Chernobyl to the symbolism of Revelation, in this case to the third trumpet. The nuclear plant, “blazing like a torch,” had made the waters bitter, and “many died from the water.” Indeed, some claimed an etymological connection between the words, “Wormwood” and “Chernobyl.” It did not seem to matter that the other symbolism did not fit so well. In what sense was the nuclear plant “a great star” that “fell from heaven?” Such inconsistencies in the literal occurrence did not deter some from making predictions about the significance of the Chernobyl incident, which many saw as a literal fulfillment of the third trumpet and a prediction that the eschaton was soon to occur.
Years have now passed, and Chernobyl is rarely mentioned except for an occasional news item about the effects of the disaster on the health of the people in that locality. Chernobyl has given way to other events that inspire prophetic prediction. Indeed, Boyer (1992) has documented hundreds of such occurrences that have been read as indications that the end would be soon. While Revelation makes it clear, particularly in chapter 22, that Christians should anticipate the coming of Christ and the culmination of history, experience has demonstrated clearly that specific predictions based on contemporary events are futile.
John R. Yeatts, Revelation, Believers Church Bible Commentary (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2003), 177.
The bottom line with this future prophecy, like many of the Bible’s future prophecies, is that they won’t be very clear until we are very near in time to the fulfillment. So – what is Wormwood? I don’t know, but it sure isn’t Origen or Chernobyl. Watch and pray – maybe it is right around the corner?!
Bible Memory passage for the month of December: Revelation 5:12, “They said with a loud voice: Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
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