I share here in blog form my original manuscript of this week’s (February 10-16) Sabbath School Adult Teacher’s Edition for people to compare with the edited version. The changes were not massive or disruptive in most cases. I share my analysis of the changes in the next blog. The Teachers’ Edition is based on the standard quarterly edition written primarily by my friend Ranko Stefanovic.
THE SEVEN TRUMPETS
Part I: Overview
Key Text: Rev. 10:7.
Study Focus: 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).
Introduction: 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. Reference to both altars and the prayers of the saints in Rev. 8:3-4 connects the trumpets 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 throughout Christian history.
Lesson Themes: The lesson and the focus passage 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.
Life Application. The prayers of the saints (Rev. 8:3-4) and the nature of opposition to the gospel provide two life applications in a fairly dark vision.
Part II. Commentary
The seven trumpets 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. But there are aspects of the passage that are reasonably clear and some of these are elaborated below.
Main Themes of Lesson 7 Elaborated:
1. The Meaning of Trumpets in the Bible. The Greek words for trumpets and trumpeting occur 144 times in 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. In ancient Israel the trumpets were always to be handled by the priests (10:8), even in warfare. So there is a spiritual meaning that Israel was to discern in the blowing of trumpets. Signaling trumpets represented a prayer to God for intervention in 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.
Most of the occurrences of trumpets and trumpeting in the NT are in Rev. 8-9. At first glance it might seem that signaling in warfare is the primary meaning in the seven trumpets of Rev. But the connection between the trumpets and the fifth seal (see Introduction above) 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). 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 (compare 6:10 and 8:13—see Life Application number 1 below).
2. The Time When the Trumpets Begin. The throwing down of the censer (or fire) in Rev. 8:5 suggests to some Adventist interpreters that the events that follow (8:6) are after the close of probation. This would mean that the seven trumpets represent end-time events rather than a forecast of events in 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 is that the visions begin with the NT 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). The gospel is still going forth (10:11; 11:3-6, 12-13). That the “interlude” of Rev. 10:1 – 11:13 should be included in our understanding of the sixth trumpet is shown in Theme 4 below. 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.
3. The Meaning of the Imagery in the First Six Trumpets. 1) The first trumpet uses the OT 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 lesson’s suggestion that 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). The lesson, therefore, associated this trumpet with 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. The lesson, therefore, associated this trumpet with the condition of the church in the Middle Ages. 4) In the fourth trumpet, the sources of light (sun, moon and stars) are darkened, 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 (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 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).
4. The Relation of the “Interlude” to the Seven Trumpets. The trumpets focus on the wicked (Rev. 9:4, 20-21) but the “interlude” (Rev. 10:1 – 11:13) focuses on God’s people. The “interlude,” however, is not separate from the trumpets, it is part of the sixth trumpet. Rev. 8:13 describes three woes coming upon those who live on the earth. The first is the fifth trumpet (Rev. 9:12). The second woe is the sixth trumpet, but does not end until Rev. 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).
5. The Allusion to Dan. 12 in Rev. 10. One of the clearest allusions to the OT in all of Rev. 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. The connection between the “time, times and half a time” of Dan. 12:7 with the “time no longer” of Rev. 10:6 indicates that the angel of Rev. 10 is announcing the close of Daniel’s time prophecies in the context of the sixth trumpet (preparation for the final events, see Theme 4 above).
Part III: Life Application
1. The material in the seven trumpets does not lend itself to a great deal of life application. But the teacher could ask the following questions, with possible answers suggested.
2. 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. 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.
3. 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 in two distinct ways; opposition from inside and from outside. Jesus was crucified when the leaders of Israel (inside) combined with outside powers (Rome). The greatest opposition 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 one is indifferent to the father, the other is motivated by selfish gain.