In the temple (Godís house) at Jerusalem, the gold altar was the special table where the priests burned incense (a substance with a sweet smell).
In heaven, that altar was the place where the prayers of Godís people rose, like the incense, to God (8:3-4). From that sacred place, Godís people who had died because of their relationship with him, had appealed for his help (6:9-10). They had asked him to make his judgement against the people who had killed them.
Now a voice came from that altar, with a serious command. The voice came from one of the 4 corners of the altar. Those corners had the shape of horns. (Horns are the sharp bony points on the heads of some animals. Those animals use their horns to fight, so in the Bible, a horn is a word-picture for strength.)
The altar is a very holy place. The angel who sounded the trumpet (loud musical instrument) is a very holy servant of God. However, the 4 angels whom someone had bound (tied up) are evil angels. These evil angels are agents of the devil, and they only carry out wicked and cruel acts. That is why it was necessary to bind them. God would not permit them to do anything until it was absolutely necessary for this terrible judgement to happen.
The river Euphrates is one of the most important rivers in the Bible. It is near the place where people first lived (Genesis 2:14). Abraham went along this river when he moved from Ur to Haran (Genesis 11:31). The great city called Babylon (18:2), which was a fierce enemy of Godís people (Psalm 137), was by the Euphrates. Here, John shows us that this river will again be important during the final battles before Christís return (see also Revelation 16:12).
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© 2016, Keith Simons.