Biblical Studies (NT)/IV. The Seven Trumpets
REVELATION: VISIONS OF THE END
IV. The Seven Trumpets
NOTE: Revelation is an enigmatic work which presents a challenge for interpreters. While most of the ideas presented in these lessons can easily be found in numerous published works, they are not presented here as definitive, but as a starting point for further analysis and discussion.
The First Six Trumpets[edit | edit source]
The opening of the seventh seal begins a whole new series of seven judgments, more severe than the first. They are referred to as the trumpet judgments, because each one is heralded by a trumpet blast from an angel.
At the sound of the first trumpet, hail and fire mingled with blood fall from the sky, destroying a third of the trees and all the green grass (7:7). The hail and fire could be interpreted as an ancient vision of modern weapons, with the blood symbolizing the associated loss of life.
At the second trumpet, a “great mountain” falls into the sea, turning a third of the sea into blood and destroying a third of the life in the sea and a third of the ships. This great mountain could be a comet or a huge meteorite which strikes the earth. It is unclear if we should understand this passage to mean that the sea is literally turned to blood or if this is a poetic expression meaning that there is much death and destruction. This reminds us of the story of the Exodus, when the Nile turned to blood at the command of Moses.
When the third angel sounds, a “great star” called Wormwood falls from the sky, causing a third of the rivers and springs to become poisoned, resulting in the death of many of the Earth’s inhabitants. Like the “great mountain” of the second trumpet, it appears to be a huge meteorite or comet, though it might also represent a nuclear weapon, which not only causes great destruction, but poisons the environment with radiation. Wormwood is actually the name of an extremely bitter herb, and it may be that the name is used symbolically in reference to the bitter effect the event has.
At the sound of the fourth trumpet, “a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened; and a third of the day did not shine, and the night likewise” (8:12). Just as the seal judgments began with a group of four (the four horsemen), the trumpet judgments follow the same pattern, also beginning with a set of four. Each of the trumpets results in the destruction of a third of one particular aspect of earth’s life support system.
After the fourth trumpet, John writes, “I looked, and I heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, ‘Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!’” (8:13). The word, “woe,” is repeated three times, once for each of the remaining trumpets.
At the sound of the fifth trumpet, an angel comes down from heaven to open the bottomless pit. Smoke pours out of it, and out of the smoke comes a plague of locusts which have the power to sting like scorpions: “In those days, men will seek death and shall not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them” (9:6). These locusts have been interpreted in different ways. Some say that they are demons, others that they symbolize a huge army. Whatever they are, they have a king whose name is Apollyon, meaning “Destroyer.” Apollyon is described as “the angel of the bottomless pit” (9:11), so some scholars identify him with Satan. Concerning the locusts, John writes, “They were commanded that they should not harm the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads” (9:4).
When the sixth angel sounds his trumpet, four angels are released from the Euphrates River. This river begins in eastern Turkey, then flows through Syria and Iraq to the Persian Gulf. These angels unleash an army of two hundred million, “and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone” (9:17). It is an interesting description, considering that at the time of writing, armies fought with swords and clubs. This army brings about the death of a third of mankind, yet “the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent” (9:20).
The Two Witnesses[edit | edit source]
Once again, we see a similarity with the pattern of the seal judgments. Just as there was a pause before the final seal where John has a vision of the people who have been saved from the tribulation, we now have an interval before the final trumpet. In this interval, John sees two “witnesses.” He says, “These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire” (11:6). These witnesses prophesy for one thousand, two hundred and sixty days, or three and a half years. The witnesses, then, are prophets.
According to the common interpretation of the “seventy weeks prophecy” in Chapter 9 of Daniel, the tribulation covers a seven-year time period which is divided into two periods of three and a half years. If this is so, the three and a half years of the two witnesses is probably the first half of this seven-year period. At the end of this time, the two witnesses are killed by “the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit” (11:7) and their bodies are left in the streets of Jerusalem. There is great rejoicing over their deaths because they torment many people on the earth.
However, the rejoicing soon turns to fear and astonishment, for after three and a half days, the witnesses are restored to life and they ascend to heaven in a cloud in the presence of their enemies – an event which causes many people to believe in God. It may be that the three and a half days that their bodies lie in the streets of Jerusalem are symbolic of the remaining three and a half years of the tribulation.
John writes that the two witnesses are "the two olive trees and the two lamp stands standing before the God of the earth” (11:4). This passage is identified with the words of the prophet Zechariah, who wrote: “I asked the angel, ‘What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lamp stand?’ So he said, ‘These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth’” (Zech 4:11,14).
The Seventh Trumpet[edit | edit source]
John writes, “The seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever!” (11:15), indicating that this time is the time for God to establish his authority over the Earth. John continues, “The temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of his covenant was seen in his temple” (11:19). The ark of the covenant, which according to the Torah was used to house the original stones upon which God wrote the Ten Commandments, symbolizes law and judgment. This is the time of God’s judgment upon the Earth.
Like the seventh seal, the seventh trumpet is not an end, but a new beginning. When it is sounded, yet another series of seven catastrophic judgments begins. These are the seven bowls (or vials, depending on the translation) which are poured out on the earth by seven angels coming out of the heavenly temple. But before the bowls are poured out, John is shown several things which further shed light on the events of the end.
The Dragon, the Woman, and the Child[edit | edit source]
Before the first bowl is poured out, John sees a woman “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (12:1). The woman is giving birth to a male child, but a dragon is waiting to devour him. Revelation identifies the dragon as Satan.
One possible interpretation is that the woman represents Mary, the mother of Jesus. After Jesus was born, King Herod the Great ordered all infants in Bethlehem to be killed because he was told that a prophesied king of Israel had been born in Bethlehem at that time. In this interpretation, Jesus is the male child and Satan, acting through Herod, is the dragon who seeks to devour him.
Another interpretation is that the woman represents Israel. The sun with which she is clothed represents God, the moon represents the people of God, and the twelve stars are the twelve tribes of Israel. The male child is the Christian Church, which began as a Jewish sect until it came of age and was born as a separate religion (see Acts). The dragon who seeks to devour the child is Satan.
John says, “Her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness” (12:5-6). There is a limited parallel here with Herod’s efforts to kill the infant Christ and the escape of Joseph and Mary to Egypt with him. If the woman represents Israel, then the escape to the wilderness for three and a half years may be in response to a terrible persecution of the Jews which takes place after the “rapture” of the Church, which is “caught up to God and to his throne.”
The Return of the Christ and the 'Resurrection of the Dead'[edit | edit source]
It is interesting that the passage concerning the woman clothed with the sun whose child is "caught up to God and to his throne" should occur at this point, immediately after the seventh trumpet, for Paul writes: “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed” (1 Cor 15:51-52). If we equate Paul’s “last trumpet” with the last trumpet of Revelation, then the resurrection and the rapture would be in the middle of the tribulation, after the seal and trumpet judgments, but before the bowl judgments.
Scholars of the New Testament have differing answers to the question of the timing of the resurrection and a rapture, but most agree that the New Testament teaches that there will be a resurrection (of dead believers) and a rapture (of living believers) at the time of Christ's second coming. Again, Paul says: "The Christ himself will descend from the heavens...and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess 4:16-17). With regard to the timing of these events, there are three major positions:
- a) Pre-Tribulation. This position holds that the resurrection and the rapture take place at the beginning of a seven-year tribulation period.
- b) Mid-Tribulation. This position holds that they take place at the mid-point, after three and a half years.
- c) Post-Tribulation. According to this position, they occur at the end of the tribulation, at the time of (or immediately preceding) Christ’s coming with the armies of heaven to vanquish Satan and his armies.
There are arguments for and against all three of the above positions, however. Jesus son of Joseph said, “Of that day and hour no one knows. No, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (Mt 24:36,42).
Another view is that there is no literal rapture - the term rapture is not found anywhere in the Bible. 1 Thess 4:17 is Saul's/Paul's prophecy of a time of airplanes, helicopters, and spacecraft. Revelation states that the Christ returns, "He ushers in a 1,000 years of peace", "Judges everyone according to their actions", and there's a "resurrection of the dead" that is explained through (A) zombie apocalypse or (B) reincarnation. John the Baptist and Jesus were Essenes - mystic keepers of the ancient sacred Mysteries - and believed in reincarnation.
Satan is Cast Down[edit | edit source]
The next thing John sees is a war in heaven between the archangel Michael and the dragon, and their respective armies of angels. This war results in the dragon’s expulsion from heaven. Revelation then clearly states the identity of the dragon:
- The great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has only a short time. (12:9,12)
When he sees that he is cast down from heaven, Satan begins to persecute the woman and her offspring. This passage seems to reinforce the idea (above) that the woman and her child may represent Israel and the Church. John writes, “The dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (12:17).
The Archangel Michael[edit | edit source]
Although angels play a highly visible part throughout Revelation, Michael is the only one mentioned by name (12:7). He is given the considerable responsibility of expelling Satan and his demonic armies from heaven. He is first mentioned in the Bible in a vision of Daniel, where another angel refers to him as “one of the chief princes” (Dan 10:13). Even then, he was involved in the battle against the forces of evil in the heavenly realms, for the other angel tells of how Michael came to his aid against the angels of Persia and Greece, saying, “No one supports me against them except Michael, your prince” (Dan 10:21). In a further mention of Michael in Daniel, we find out that he is the protector of Israel, for in a passage about the end times, the angel tells Daniel, “At that time, Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise” (Dan 12:1). We hear of him again in the New Testament epistle of Jude, which shows that he was active in Moses’ time also. Jude writes, “Even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” (Jude 9).
The Beast from the Sea[edit | edit source]
After Satan is cast down from heaven, John sees two strange beasts. The first rises from the sea, and the second from the land. He writes, “I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads the name of blasphemy” (13:1). This beast is identified with the Antichrist, a powerful political leader. Revelation says that he is given power and authority by the dragon (i.e. Satan), and he will have power for three and a half years. Given that he is being introduced at this point in the account, this time period is presumably the second half of the seven year tribulation period and coincides with the seven bowl judgments which are yet to come.
There is a difficulty with this interpretation, however. John says, “It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation. And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world” (13:7-8). This passage indicates the kind of problem we run into when trying to pinpoint a chronology for the events of the Revelation, for if the resurrection and the rapture take place at mid-point (after the first three and a half years), and the beast from the sea comes into his authority during the second three and a half years of the seven-year tribulation, how is he able to make war with the saints? This kind of conundrum is part of what makes Revelation so fascinating. It is like a puzzle where, however good at it we get, we are never able to completely master it.
The Beast from the Land[edit | edit source]
John continues, “I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon. And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast” (13:11-12). This second beast is identified as a false prophet. He is able to make fire come down from heaven (a vision of modern weapons?). He deceives the people of the earth, and proclaims that the Antichrist is the Messiah. He then has the image of the Antichrist set up in the temple. This act is the “abomination of desolation” mentioned in the Old Testament prophecy of Daniel. (An issue for the futurist interpretation here is that the temple at Jerusalem no longer exists. According to this understanding of the prophecy, the temple would have to be rebuilt at some point.) The false prophet compels people to worship the image in the temple under penalty of death. He also forces everybody without exception to receive a mark on their right hands or foreheads, the “mark of the beast,” without which they cannot buy or sell anything. This is of particular interest to us today because, for the first time in history, the technology is now available for this to happen. Revelation gives us a clue concerning the identity of this second beast: “Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: And his number is six hundred and sixty-six” (13:18). There have been many theories concerning this number, but none have been conclusive. If it does indeed represent a future leader, perhaps the answer will become clearer when the time comes.
The Abomination of Desolation[edit | edit source]
With Satan and his angels cast down to the Earth, evil prevails in a way which has never been seen. World politics come under the control of the Antichrist, religion comes under the control of the false prophet, and the two are in partnership. Controlling both politics and religion gives them complete power over the Earth. They conquer Jerusalem, and the Jews flee to the wilderness in the face of terrible persecution (see the section entitled The Dragon, the Woman, and the Child, above). The exile of the Jews, supposedly, leaves the way clear for the “abomination of desolation,” the image of the Antichrist, to be set up in the temple.
In Daniel’s vision, the angel says, “The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And on a wing of the temple, he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him” (Dan 9:26,27). Jesus referred to this prophecy, saying, “When you see the ‘abomination of desolation’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place… there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Mt 24:15,21).
The Harvest[edit | edit source]
The abomination of desolation is the signal for the beginning of the harvest. John says, “I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat one like the Son of Man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle” (14:14). Accompanying the Son of Man are three angels, who assist him in reaping. The image of the harvest reminds us of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares (tares are weeds which grow in wheat fields). The wheat represents the people of God, and the tares represent the followers of Satan. To uproot the tares would damage the wheat, so they are allowed to grow together until the harvest. Jesus says, “The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore, as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age” (Mt 13:39 40).
Test Your Knowledge[edit | edit source]
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