Tag Archives: the seven trumpets of Revelation

The Spiritual Payoff in the Trumpets (Trumpets 7)

The material in the seven trumpets does not lend itself to a great deal of application to everyday life experience. But the following two points have been helpful to me.

1) How does the connection between the introduction to the trumpets (Rev. 8:3-5) and the fifth seal (Rev. 6:9-11) offer encouragement to those suffering for the sake of the gospel today? The martyrs’ cry for judgment in the fifth seal is answered by the seven trumpets (see Rev. 8:13). The trumpets are God’s judgment within history on powers that have been oppressing His people. The message of the trumpets is that God sees the suffering of His people and responds to the injustice, not only at the end of time, but in the course of history. Like Job, we may not always understand what God is doing, but we have reason to trust Him even in the darkest times.

2) The judgments of the first two trumpets fall on those powers that combined to crucify Jesus (the religious authorities of Jerusalem under Caiaphas and Roman civil authority under Pilate). What does this tell us about opposition to the gospel? Opposition to the gospel and those who embrace it tends to come from two distinct directions; opposition from inside the house and from outside the house. Jesus was crucified when the leaders of Israel (inside) combined with outside powers (Rome) to put Him to death. Historically, however, the greatest opposition to the true gospel and its followers often comes from those in the same faith.
A similar dynamic is seen in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). The father is not only rejected (initially) by the son who left, but also by the one who stayed. The former is indifferent to the father, the latter is motivated by selfish gain. The prodigal son represents those today who care little about God and faith and are visibly on a different track. The elder son, on the other hand, represents those in the church who do not know or exhibit the character of the Father. On the outside they look pious and obedient, but inside is the heart of a rebel.

The Allusion to Daniel 12 in Revelation 10 (Trumpets 6)

One of the clearest allusions to the Old Testament in all of Revelation is found in 10:5-6 (compare Dan. 12:7). The two passages have eight major words in common. Both passages have heavenly figures standing on or above bodies of water. In both cases the heavenly figure raises his right hand to heaven and swears by the one who lives forever and ever. In each case there is a reference to prophetic time. So the allusion to Daniel 12 in Revelation 10 is one of the two or three clearest allusions to the Old Testament in the entire book.

Renowned British scholar C. H. Dodd articulated a very important principle based on his study of the quotations of the Old Testament throughout the New Testament. He noticed that New Testament writers did not refer to the Old Testament for the sake of “proof texts,” references that would by themselves support what the writer was saying (as we often do today). Instead they referred to specific parts of the Old Testament as pointers to a much larger context. In a few words one can bring a whole section or theme of the Old Testament into play. That is clearly what is going on in Revelation 10.

The key to the allusion to Daniel 12 in Revelation 10 is in the reference to time. The reference to “time no more” parallels the reference to “time, times and half a time” in Daniel 12:7. Daniel 12:7 is in one of several explanations of the original Hebrew-language vision of Daniel 8:3-14. So the reference to Daniel 12:7 is a pointer to the entire prophetic context of Daniel 8 through 12. The vision of Revelation 10 invites the reader to consider the whole context of Daniel 8 through 12. This passage contains a number of references to prophetic time (2300 evenings and mornings [Dan 8:13-14], 70 weeks [9:24-27] and the 1260, 1290 and 1335 days [12:7-11]). The “time no more” of Revelation 10:6 is announcing the close of Daniel’s time prophecies in the context of the sixth trumpet. Thus the close of the sixth trumpet ushers in the final events of earth’s history. Revelation 10 is building a case based on the entire last five chapters of the book of Daniel.

The Relation of the “Interlude” to the Seven Trumpets (Trumpets 5)

The trumpets focus on the opponents of God and of those bearing witness for Him (Rev. 9:4, 20-21) but the “interlude” between the sixth and seventh trumpets (Rev. 10:1 – 11:13) focuses on God’s people. The big question is whether the “interlude” is truly a pause or an “interruption” within the seven trumpets or whether it is actually part of the sixth or seventh trumpets themselves. Related to this is whether the interlude should be seen in terms of the timing of one of these trumpets or is it timeless in some sense. We have already seen that the “interlude” of Revelation 7 is closely related to the sixth seal rather than truly independent. Chapter seven answers the question of who will stand in the day of God’s wrath against the persecutors of His people (Rev. 6:17).

The answer to the question is not difficult to find when it comes to the material between the sixth and seventh trumpets. The “interlude,” however, is not separate from the trumpets, it is clearly part of the sixth trumpet. This is found in the sequencing of the three woes. Revelation 8:13 describes three woes coming upon those who live on the earth. According to Revelation 9:12, the first of these woes is the fifth trumpet. The second woe is the sixth trumpet, but it does not end at the close of chapter nine, it is described as ending at Revelation 11:14. So the bulk of chapters 10 and 11 are part of the sixth trumpet. While the forces of evil are gathering for the final crisis during the sixth trumpet (Rev. 9:16), the forces of the righteous are gathering to counter them (Rev. 7:4; Rev. 10:1 – 11:13). Since the sixth trumpet ends with the close of human probation (Rev. 10:7– the point where conversions no longer occur), the “interlude” within the sixth trumpet describes the final proclamation of the gospel to the world.

The Meaning of the First Six Trumpets (Trumpets 4)

Here’s a nutshell summary of the key themes in the first six trumpets. 1) The first trumpet uses the Old Testament language of God’s judgments (hail, fire and blood– Exod. 9:23-26; Isa 10:16-20; Ezek. 38:22) directed against symbols of God’s OT people (vegetation and trees– Isa. 28:2ff.; Ezek. 20:47-48). Hence the first trumpet represents God’s judgment on the Jerusalem that had rejected Christ (Matt. 23:37-38; Luke 23:28-31). 2) The second trumpet recalls in general God’s judgments on those who opposed Him (Exod. 7:19-21), and in particular the fall of ancient Babylon (Jer. 51:24-25, 41-42). This trumpet seems to describe the fall of the Roman Empire.

3) The symbolism of the third trumpet parallels biblical imagery for the work of Satan (Isa. 14:12-19; Luke 10:18; Rev. 12:9). But the symbolism of lamp, springs, rivers and water suggest spiritual life and growth (Psa. 1:3; 84:6-7; 119:105; Jer. 2:13). The falling of the star and the embittering of the waters connect the two ideas suggesting a perversion of truth and a rise of apostasy. This trumpet, then, may foretell the condition of the church in the Middle Ages. 4) In the fourth trumpet, on the other hand, a third of the sources of light (sun, moon and stars) are darkened, in other words, the symbols of truth are partially eclipsed. This could represent the rise of secularism after the Middle Ages or the deepening of apostasy in the church during the Middle Ages (Exod. 10:21-23; Job 38:2; Isa. 8:22; John 1:4-11; 3:18-21).

5) With the fifth trumpet the partial darkness of the fourth trumpet becomes total and worldwide (Rev. 9:1-2; Luke 8:31). If the fourth trumpet represents the rise of secularism after the Middle Ages, the fifth would represent the triumph of secularism in the modern age. With God and truth totally eclipsed, sinful mankind is left to the demonic torment of suicidal desires (Rev. 9:3-11; Luke 8:31; 10:17-20). The only safety is in genuine relationship with God (Rev. 9:4).

6) While the first five trumpets have many allusions to ancient Egypt, the sixth trumpet particularly echoes biblical accounts regarding ancient Babylon. There are references to the river of Babylon (Rev. 9:14), the idolatry of Babylon (Rev. 9:20; Dan 5:4, 23) and the fall of Babylon (Rev. 9:21; Isa 47:9-12). There are also many parallels with the sixth bowl (Euphrates, battle language, demonic imagery– Rev. 16:12-16). So the sixth trumpet portrays the rise of end-time Babylon, with its opposition to God arising from within the church (Rev. 17:4-5).

The readings in this blog are an attempt to take seriously the exegetical meaning of the trumpets, how the imagery would have been understood when it was originally written. It also takes seriously the apocalyptic nature of the trumpets and God’s ability to foretell the main lines of history in John’s future. The trumpets are not easy to understand, but when the imagery is read with an eye to its Old Testament backgrounds, the meaning is easier to follow.

The Time When the Trumpets Begin (Trumpets 3)

The throwing down of the censer (or fire) in Rev. 8:5 suggests to some Adventist interpreters that the events that follow (8:6—the blowing of the seven trumpets) are after the close of probation. This would mean that the seven trumpets represent end-time events rather than a forecast of events throughout the course of Christian history. But a number of indications in the text make this very unlikely.

First, the pattern in the first half of the book of Revelation (the churches, the seals and the trumpets) is that the visions begin with the New Testament era and cover events throughout Christian history. Second, whatever the casting down of the censer (fire) in Rev. 8:5 means, probation is clearly not yet closed at the time of the sixth trumpet. The intercession at the altar is still taking place (Rev. 9:13) and the gospel is still going forth (10:11; 11:3-6, 12-13). That the “interlude” of Revelation 10:1 – 11:13 should be included in our understanding of the sixth trumpet is shown in a following blog. Chapter ten and eleven are part of the sixth trumpet, not an independent vision. Finally, the proclamation of the gospel ends and probation fully closes only at the sounding of the seventh trumpet (Rev 10:7). So the seven trumpets of Revelation cover the whole course of history from John’s day to the close of probation and final events.

Major parts of Revelation DO concern end-time events in human history. But when John goes there, he makes it fairly clear that he is doing so. While each of the seven-fold series (churches, seals and trumpets) ends in the final era, the central focus of the second half of the book is almost entirely focused on the last events of earth’s history.

The Meaning of “Trumpets” in the Bible (Trumpets 2)

The seven trumpets section of Revelation (particularly 8:2 – 9:21) is one of the most difficult passages in the Bible to interpret. Faithful Adventist students of the Bible have not come to agreement on its meaning through the years, even though Ellen White makes passing reference to the passage in the book Great Controversy. There are enough biblical and historical issues with Josiah Litch’s explanations (referenced in GC) that consensus on the passage’s meaning has been elusive. But there are aspects of the passage that are reasonably clear and one of these is how it builds on the symbolic meanings that trumpets have exhibited throughout the Bible.

The Greek words for trumpets (nouns) and trumpeting (verbs) occur 144 times in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT. The vast majority of those references (105 out of 144) concern either signaling in warfare, worship and prayer, or a combination of both. The clearest single passage on the meaning of trumpets is Num. 10:8-10. According to this text, in ancient Israel the trumpets were always to be handled by the priests (10:8), even when being used in the context of warfare. So there is a spiritual meaning that Israel was to discern in the blowing of trumpets.

The defense of the nation of Israel was considered a sacred task in the OT. So when Israel went out into battle, the trumpet priests went with them. The sounding of the trumpets not only indicated the moves that the battle line was to make, it represented a prayer for God’s intervention in that battle (10:9). Likewise, in the temple and on the feast days, the blowing of trumpets invited God’s spiritual intervention in the lives of His people (10:10). So the core meaning of trumpets in the OT is covenant prayer, calling on God to remember His people, both individually and collectively.

Most of the occurrences of trumpets and trumpeting in the NT are in Revelation, chapters 8 and 9. At first glance it might seem that signaling in warfare is the primary meaning in the seven trumpets of Revelation. But the connection between the trumpets and the fifth seal (see previous blog) underlines the prayer theme as the primary one here too. The trumpets are a response to the prayers of the suffering saints of God (Rev. 6:9-10; 8:2-6, 13). It assures them that God has noticed their suffering and, even though He may seem silent in their experience, He is already acting in history against those who have persecuted them. So the trumpets are more than just an outline of history, they contain a deep theological message for those who are suffering. God’s silence in the experience of His saints is not the whole picture. He is often responding in ways that we may not detect until later.

The Purpose and Key Themes of the Seven Trumpets (Trumpets 1)

The seven trumpets (Rev. 8:2 – 11:18) build on a view of the incense altar (8:3-4) and contain an “interlude” (10:1 – 11:13) which offers a view of God’s people in the midst of the horrific sixth trumpet (9:12-21).

The purpose of the trumpets is clarified in connection with the fifth seal (Rev. 6:9-11). In the daily (tamid) service of the temple in John’s time, incense was collected at the Altar of Burnt Offering and then offered at the Altar of Incense in the Holy Place of the earthly sanctuary. At the close of that service in the temple of Jesus’ day, seven priests blew seven trumpets to indicate that the sacrifice was complete. In the opening of the trumpets (Rev. 8:3-4) there is reference to the two different altars in the context of the daily service of the temple. The first altar mentioned is a reference to the Burnt Offering Alter of the fifth seal. The second altar mentioned is the Alter of Incense. Reference to both altars and to the prayers of the saints in Rev. 8:3-4 connects the trumpets as a whole with the scene in Rev. 6:9-10. The seven trumpets answer the prayers of the saints for judgment on those who have persecuted them (compare also 6:10 with 8:13). The trumpets, therefore, fall on the opponents of God’s people in the course of Christian history.

Our brief survey of the trumpets will introduce the following themes:

1. The Meaning of Trumpets in the Bible.
2. The Time When the Trumpets Begin.
3. The Meaning of the Imagery in the First Six Trumpets.
4. The Relation of the “Interlude” to the Seven Trumpets.
5. The Allusion to Dan. 12 in Rev. 10.

I’ll be exploring the five themes above in future posts.