SYNOPSIS: An overview of the Seven Trumpets and the several intervening events – Revelation 8:7-11:19.
Structurally, the Seven Trumpets follow the same pattern as the Seven Seals. The series begins with the first four trumpets. Like the first four seals, the first four trumpets form a group distinct from the last three. The group is followed by fifth and sixth trumpets. Then, several events interrupt the series before the seventh trumpet sounds.
When the seventh trumpet “sounds,” it results in the consummation of the Kingdom and the judgment of the dead. Like the Seven Seals, the series of Seven Trumpets ends with the “Day of the Lord” and a display of “lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.”
The first four trumpets parallel the first four seals. Both seals and trumpets inflict damage within predetermined limits. The first four seals harm a fourth of the earth, the first four trumpets a third of the earth, sea, rivers, and the heavenly luminaries. Both series are preceded by the prayers of the saints, represented by incense (Revelation 8:1-12).
There are differences. The first four seals cause human suffering and death. In contrast, the first four trumpets affect the things necessary for society to function – agriculture, the seas that carry cargo, fresh water, and the light from heavenly bodies. Men are killed but only indirectly when they drink the bitter water caused by the third trumpet. The Seven Seals were opened by the Lamb. The Seven Trumpets are sounded by seven angels.
Possibly, the change in agency to “seven angels” is due to a change in focus. Primarily, the Seven Seals are concerned with the saints who belong to the Lamb (e.g., The souls under the altar, the sealed company, the innumerable multitude). In contrast, the Seven Trumpets afflict the “inhabitants of the earth” who are hostile to the Lamb.
The first four trumpets borrow imagery from two Old Testament stories – The ten plagues of Egypt, and a prophetic dirge by Jeremiah against ancient Babylon (Jeremiah 51:25).
Next, an angel pronounces the arrival of “three woes.” They correspond to the last three trumpets. The first four trumpets caused harm to things (e.g., agriculture, transportation). In contrast, the final three trumpets harm persons, specifically, the “inhabitants of the earth.” This group is hostile to the Lamb throughout the book of Revelation (Revelation 11:10, 12:12, 14:6, 17:2-8).
The fifth trumpet, or the “second woe,” introduces the “Abyss” to the reader. Throughout the remainder of the book, it is the place from which all things satanic “ascend” to attack the saints. For example, the “Beast from the sea” is first introduced as the Beast that ascends from the “Abyss.” Symbolically, the “sea” and the “Abyss” are identical. At the end of the age, Satan will “ascend from the Abyss” one last time in a final attempt to annihilate the “saints” (Revelation 11:7, 13:1, 20:7-10).
With the unlocking of the “Abyss,” a horde of demonic creatures likened to “locusts” ascends out of the “smoke of the Abyss” to torment the “men who do not have the seal of God.” In contrast to the first four trumpet blasts, the “locusts” must not “hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree.”
The sixth trumpet, or the “second woe,” unleashes a destructive force from beyond the “Euphrates River,” one that kills a third of humanity. Prior to the sounding of this trumpet, “four angels” were restraining this force; most likely, the same four angels described earlier restraining the “four winds of the earth” until the servants of God were “sealed” (Revelation 7:1-3).
Despite the horrific harm inflicted by the first two “woes,” the “inhabitants of the earth” refuse to repent. Apparently, the “plagues” unleashed by the trumpets only succeed in hardening the hearts of men. Something more is needed:
- (Revelation 9:18-21) – “By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths. For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt. And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.”
This is followed by three events that intervene between the sixth and the seventh trumpets – They are NOT diversions but integral parts of the literary unit, the sounding of the Seven Trumpets. First, John receives a “little scroll” that is already opened. He is ordered to consume it, which prepares him to “prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.” God is not done with His redemptive activities (Revelation 10:1-11).
Next, John is commanded to “measure” the “sanctuary” in the Tabernacle and “them that worship therein.” In Revelation, images based on the sanctuary and its rituals are drawn from the Tabernacle carried in the wilderness, NOT from the later Temple building in Jerusalem. Most likely, the measuring of the “sanctuary” and its “worshippers” parallels the earlier “sealing” of God’s servants.
This incident is followed by the “Two Witnesses” who present the world with a prophetic witness for the duration of the same period as the “measuring of the sanctuary,” that is, “forty-two months,” or “a thousand two hundred and threescore days.” Quite probably, the “measuring” of the sanctuary and the ministry of the “Two Witnesses” present different aspects of the same set of events (Revelation 11:1-6).
The “Two Witnesses” complete their ministry. However, the “Beast that is to ascend from the Abyss” kills them. The “inhabitants of the earth rejoice”; the prophetic testimony of the witnesses served to torment them (Revelation 11:7-13).
This causes God to act. The “Two Witnesses” are raised from the dead and the seventh trumpet sounds, the “third” and final “woe.” This produces the consummation of the Kingdom of God, the judgment of the dead, and the vindication of the righteous. As with the sixth seal, the reader finds himself at the end of the age, the Day of the Lord (Revelation 6:12-17, 11:14-19).
The literary unit closes with “flashes of lightning, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.”