Revelation 8:7 The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.
This is an image of a great red storm sweeping across the earth, destroying plants and trees, including green grass. The storm evidently causes huge fires that destroy plants that would have been used for food.
Trumpets commonly announce judgment in the Old Testament. Zechariah 9:4, for example, the Lord himself will “sound the trumpet and will march forth in the whirlwinds of the south.” Similarly, in 4 Ezra 6:23 trumpets appear in a list of signs of the impending judgment on the earth “the trumpet shall sound aloud, and when all hear it, they shall suddenly be terrified.” The early Christian Didache 16:6 lists trumpets as one of the final signs before the coming of the Lord: “first the sign of an opening in heaven, then the sign of the sound of a trumpet.”
I have previously discussed the relationship of the trumpets to the Egyptian plagues. The first trumpet is similar to seventh plague in Exodus 9:13-25, hail and fire destroying the crops and livestock of the Egyptians. The purpose of this plague is “to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exod 9:16). God’s intention in all of the plagues is to demonstrate his power to the Israelite slaves so that when he calls them, they will come out of Egypt. I would suggest this is what is happening in Revelation 8 as well, God is demonstrating his power so that his people will come out of Babylon when he calls them (Rev 18:4-8).
Ezekiel 38:22 has similar language to the first trumpet. There is Lord “summons a sword against Gog” in order to judge him, raining on his hordes “torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulfur.” The reason for this apocalyptic destruction of God’s enemy is to show God’s greatness, holiness and to “make myself known in the eyes of many nations” so that they will know he is the Lord (38:23).
Fire and blood falling from heaven are among the signs of the end in the fifth Sibylline Oracle. It is likely this text has the destruction of Jerusalem in mind. In SibOr. 14:112-113, “Hail will destroy the fruits of cattle on the boundless earth.” Fire and hail appear in the Christian addition to 4 Ezra as one of several signs of the end.
Sib. Or. 5.377–380 For fire will rain on men from the floors of heaven, fire and blood, water, lightning bolt, darkness, heavenly night, and destruction in war, and a mist over the slain will destroy at once all kings and noble men.
4 Ezra 15.40–41 And great and mighty clouds, full of wrath and tempest, shall rise, to destroy all the earth and its inhabitants, and shall pour out upon every high and lofty place a terrible tempest, fire and hail and flying swords and floods of water, that all the fields and all the streams may be filled with the abundance of those waters
Fire and blood from heaven was included in Roman lists of “evil signs.” Pliny refers to rain of “blood and milk” and flesh as a particularly nasty sign from heaven:
Pliny, Natural History, 2.57.147 Besides these events in the lower sky, it is entered in the records that in the consulshipa of Manius Acilius and Gaius Porcius it rained milk and blood, and that frequently on other occasions there it has rained flesh. (trans. H. Rackham, LLC).
Why are things destroyed in thirds? In each of the first four trumpets things are destroyed in third, perhaps to indicate God’s judgment is only beginning, it is far from complete. These are warnings to mankind that God’s wrath is burning against them.
The “thirds” may be loosely based on Ezekiel 5. There the prophet shaves his head and divides his hair into thirds. Each third represents judgment on Jerusalem: a third die by fire, plague and famine inside the city, a third by the sword, and a third is scattered to the wind (5:2, 12). In the judgment described by Zechariah 13:8-9 two-thirds of the land will be cut off and only a third will remain. Even that third will be refined by fire before they call upon the name of the Lord.