Posted by: stpowen | August 2, 2012

Revelation (5). The First Six Trumpets.

Revelation, Part Five.  The Seven Trumpets

Chapter 8, verse 2 commences another sequence in the Book of Revelation.    This is another view of the period between our Lord’s First and Second Comings, but seen from a different aspect.  As was explained in the first of these articles, Revelation is not a continuous narrative, but explores the same expanse of time in seven different ways.  It is rather like climbing a mountain; as one gets higher, so one sees the same view, but can see much further and hills, valleys, rivers and buildings that were previously invisible come progressively into view.  In the last sequence, we saw six seals opened, then a brief coda, and then the seventh seal which signified the final judgement of God.  Now we shall hear six trumpets, then a short excursus (10:1-11:14) and then the seventh trumpet bringing judgement.

This article will deal with the first six trumpets.  So, first of all, what does a trumpet signify?  As usual in Revelation, we shall find the answer on the Old Testament, for instance:  ‘Son of man, speak to the children of your people, and say to them: “When I bring the sword upon the land , and the people of the land take a man from their territory and make him their watchman, when he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet and warns the people, then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet, and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head”’  (Ezek 33:2-4; cf. Jer 6:16-19).  Trumpets are warnings; plagues or disasters that God brings upon the world to warn it of His wrath against its sin and of impending judgement.  It would be good to pause here and read Amos 4:6-13.  There are two sorts of Divine judgement, corrective and finalCorrective judgements are designed to bring a people to repentance;  when they are left unheeded, they lead to final judgement; but if heeded, they lead to restoration (cf. Psalm 107, esp. vs. 10-16).  So these trumpets of Rev 8 are warnings to the people to repent.  If unheeded, they become the bowls of wrath of Chapter 16.

8:2.  ‘And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to the were given seven trumpets.’  It is not necessary to equate these ‘angels’ with the angels of Chapter 2, nor indeed with literal angelic beings.  The word angel is simply the transliteration of the Greek word for ‘messenger’ and need not even refer to animate beings at all.  As James Ramsey {1} has pointed out, Psalm 104:4, ‘Who makes His angels, spirits; His ministers , a flaming fire,’  could better be translated,  ‘Who uses the winds {2} as his messengers; the lightning as His servants.’  These seven angels represent symbolically God’s power issuing forth from His throne.  They are another reminder of God’s absolute sovereignty in His creation- that all events, no matter how sombre or tragic they may appear to us, have been ordained by Him.  ‘But our God is in heaven;  He does whatever He pleases’ (Psalm 115:3).

In verse 3 we see ‘another angel.’  We shall see him several times as we study this book.  Sometimes the description fits the Lord Jesus Christ; certainly he is one who acts for Him.  Here he offers incense with the prayers of the saints.  The Psalmist pleads, ‘Let my prayer be set before you as incense’ (Psalm 141:2).  It seems to have been the practice of God’s the Israelites to burn incense when the people were praying (Luke 1:10).  So should we be doing that today?  Certainly not!  Our incense is the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is His name that makes our prayers acceptable to God so that He is pleased to hear and answer them (John 14:13-14).

So God does not bring calamity on the earth without hearing the prayers of His saints.  We see that in the case of Abraham and Sodom (Gen 18:16ff).  If you, the reader, feel that your prayers for your nation are not being answered, perhaps it is because you are praying for the wrong thing.  For the nation, your friends or your family to be saved without coming to repentance is not going to happen so if you are praying for that, you will be disappointed.   But if you pray for your loved ones to be saved whatever it takes- for their earthly hopes and ambitions to be shattered so that they will despair of worldly success and look for something better- that is a prayer that God may be pleased to answer.  These trumpets are plagues upon the earth, but restorative in purpose (cf. James 5:17-18).  People should see and fear, but mostly, as we shall see, they don’t.

The exact nature of the plagues which the trumpets bring upon the earth is debateable; every commentator seems to have a slightly different view and I offer mine tentatively and with all due humility.  What is clear, however, is that the plagues affect every part of earthly life:  the first four trumpets afflict the land, the sea, the rivers and the heavens. “Every earthly good is so far smitten as to show that curse is on it, and that in it men can never find a satisfying portion” {3}.

Verse 5. ‘And there were noises, thundering, lightnings, and an earthquake.’  These are to show the awesome power and might of God (cf. Exod 19:16).  Some commentators find parallels between the plagues with which God afflicted Egypt and those which the trumpets bring upon the earth.  Parallels are certainly there to be found, though I don’t believe they are the main purpose of the vision.  Just as the plagues on Egypt revealed the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart, so the plagues of Revelation show the hardness of men’s hearts in the last days (9:20-21).  Just as Israel as a nation came through the plagues and eventually reached the Promised Land, so God’s people will come through the tribulations of these times and finally attain heaven (14:1-5).   It is worth noting that most of the tribulations involve something falling or being cast from heaven to earth.  The one who is cast down from heaven in Scripture is Satan himself (Isaiah 14:12 {4}; Luke 10:18; Rev 12:7-12).  It is worth noting that Satan’s fall brings woe, ‘To the inhabitants of the earth and the sea’ (12:12).  Christians are not ‘inhabitants’ of the world, we are ‘sojourners and pilgrims’ through it (1 Peter 2:11).  Also, unrepentant humanity is often likened to the sea (eg. Isaiah 57:20-21), so these trumpets and their associated plagues are specifically designed as wake-up calls for the unconverted if only they will heed them.

Verse 7.  ‘The first angel sounded:  and fire and hail followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown down to the earth.  And a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.’

This first trumpet introduces a blight upon agriculture.  The Hebrew word translated ‘grass’ is literally ‘herb’ and could certainly stand for corn or maize.  The produce of the earth is struck, reminding us perhaps of Joel 2:11f:  ‘Be ashamed, you farmers, wail, you vine dressers, for the wheat and the barley; because the harvest of the field has perished.  The vine has dried up and the fig tree has withered; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree- all the trees of the field are withered; surely joy has withered away from the sons of men.’  Note that the fire, hail and blood do not throw themselves down, they are thrown down.  It is God in His sovereignty who brings this plague with the purpose of turning men away from material things and back to Himself.

Verses 8-9.  ‘Then the second angel sounded:  and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood.  And a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.’  The mountain may be none other than Satan who is described as a ‘destroying mountain’ in Jer 51:25.  At all events this burning mountain is thrown into the sea and causes a plague within it.  If the sea represents unsaved humanity, as it often does (eg. Isaiah 57:20), then we may be looking at the illnesses that afflict the world of sinners:  AIDS, cirrhosis, STDs and so forth.  Some commentators, however, believe that the sea stands for international trade and commerce (cf. Psalm 107:23ff), and that it is this which is blighted by this second trumpet (cf. 2 Chron 20:35-37). Whichever interpretation is correct, we see God’s warning shot against a sinful world.

Verses 10-11.  ‘Then the third angel sounded:  and a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water.  The name of the star is wormwood.  A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it had been made bitter.’

It seems likely that this star falling to earth is none other than Satan.  Here he introduces bitterness into the world.  It could be that the rivers and springs which are made bitter represent inland waterways and therefore internal trade, but I am more disposed to see this as a blight upon religion; the Psalmist declares, ‘All my springs are in You’ (Psalm 87:7); Isaiah speaks of the ‘Wells of salvation’ (Isaiah 12:1-3) and the Lord Jesus Christ spoke of ‘living water’ (John 4:10; 7:37-8), meaning the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Wormwood is a bitter herb that makes water undrinkable.  In the Old Testament, wormwood is a metaphor for the unfaithfulness of Israel and her leaders and God’s resulting judgement (eg. Deut 29:17-18; Jer 9:15; 23:15).  The years following our Lord’s ascension to heaven have seen Christianity blighted by false teaching, especially, though by no means exclusively, during that time of Papal ascendancy that we call the Dark Ages, when error was imposed upon heathen and believer alike by force and the gentle doctrines of our Lord were made the excuse for war and murder.  To our shame we have to confess that this continues in some form or another to the present day.  Yet once again, we see that God has limited Satan’s power so that only a third of the rivers and streams are affected.  He has not permitted true Christianity to perish from the world, nor will He do so.  The very fact of such an abomination within Christendom should be enough to set God’s people praying for revival.

The fourth trumpet presages darkness over the world.  A third part of the light from the sun, moon and stars is dimmed.  This darkness symbolizes ignorance and superstition which have spread themselves over mankind.  In years gone by it was an unbiblical obsession with witchcraft which led to the burning of many innocent women on trumped-up charges.  Today it manifests itself in an unhealthy interest in eastern religion, paganism, astrology, Feng Shui and the like, and also in belief in the theory of evolution, when any fool can see that the Universe could not have created itself and all nature displays the wondrous design of its Maker.  God gives over a proportion of mankind to their own foolishness (Rom 1:21-25), but preserves for Himself a remnant saved by grace.

Verse 13.  ‘And I looked, and I heard an angel {5} 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.”’

The angel gives a call of warning which is also a call to repentance.  People should take note of these trumpet blasts and repent.  The woes are directed to ‘The inhabitants of the earth.’  Elsewhere in Revelation this term is used to indicate unbelievers (6:10; 11:10; 13:8; 17:8). Christians are ‘sojourners [temporary residents] and pilgrims’ (1 Peter 2:11) through this world.  “If you think the first four trumpet blasts were bad, “says the angel, “Just wait until you see the next three!”

In 9:1, we see once again a star fallen from heaven.  I have no doubt that this is Satan (Isaiah 14:12), and we shall learn a little more about him and his being cast down to earth in Chapter 12.  In 9:11, we see that he is the captain of the demonic host and that he is also called Abaddon and Apollyon, which both mean, ‘Destroyer.’   He is the one who lures the wicked to destruction, but just as in Exodus 12:23 the destroying angel was not allowed to strike the Israelite households with death, so Satan cannot destroy God’s elect.  He may prowl about ‘Like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour’  (2 Peter 5:8), but his power against true Christians is limited by God (Job 1:12).

Satan, being cast down to earth, sends out his servants, likened here to locusts (vs. 1b-3).  They are given certain powers, but they are not allowed to hurt nature, nor Christians, likened here to trees (cf. Psalm 1:3; Jer 17:8 etc.);, but ‘only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads’ (v.4. cf 7:3).  These locusts are amazing creatures:  they have stings like scorpions, are shaped like horses, wear crowns on their heads, have hair like women and teeth like lions.  Those who say that prophecy must always be interpreted literally have got real problems here!  Obviously the locusts and their remarkable attributes must be interpreted figuratively.  They are the fears, miseries and deceptions that assail those who don’t know God.   They themselves may have no form, but their effects are real.  They cause real anguish like the sting of scorpions; they are as rampant and militant as war horses.  They are the fear of death that stands like a spectre over men’s every pleasure to spoil them,  and keeps them in bondage (cf. Heb 2:14); they are the superstitions that cause men to bow down in front of idols and sacrifice their children to them; they are addictions like gambling, drugs and drink and besetting sins like homosexuality.  They seem attractive at the outset, and are likened to the hair of a woman, but in the end they destroy their victims like the teeth of a lion.

Christians may be oppressed by these fears and temptations, but they cannot be overcome by them.  ‘Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; for He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.  In their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-8).  You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot’ (Psalm 91:9-13).  If you, the reader, are one of Christ’s people, bought for God by the precious blood of Christ, then you are ‘more than conquerors through Him who loved us’ and ‘the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly’  (Rom 8:37; 16:20).  Why not spend a few minutes right now thanking God for His gracious and undeserved mercy towards you and contemplating just what the cost of that mercy was (1 Peter 1:18-20)?

V13. ‘Then the sixth angel sounded.  And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.”’

The voice from the altar, if it is not the voice of God Himself, obviously speaks with His authority.  When we saw the sixth seal (6:12ff), we noted that, unlike the other seals, it dealt with the situation just before the return of Christ.  This sixth trumpet may be similar.  It appears that just before our Lord’s coming there will be a time of unprecedented disorder and violence, particularly against God’s people.  It is sometimes called ‘Satan’s Little Season’ after 20:3 & 7.  The four angels whom we see here represent worldwide (North, South, East, West) catastrophe, and are not to be confused with the four angels who are holding back disaster in 7:1.  The Euphrates was the border of Israel at its largest extent (Josh 24:2; 1 Kings 4:24) and it was the area from which disaster came to God’s people from the Assyrians and Babylonians (cf. Hab 1:6).  Hear we see vast numbers of fearsome horses and riders.  Fire, smoke and sulphur remind us of God’s judgement upon Sodom.  All these features are figurative to give the impression of horror and impending doom.

Yet these warnings which are precursors of God’s final judgement, terrible as they are, do not, for the most part, bring men to repentance (vs. 20-21).  All these disasters have no salutary effect upon mankind.   Men and women continue to worship their idols, which include money property, possessions (Eph 5:5b).   Nor do they repent of their other sins.  They are ripe for the seventh and final trumpet.

All this makes for depressing reading, yet God’s people should not be downcast!  The Conqueror on the white horse (6:2) is still riding; people are still being saved as they have been all through the age; the Great Crowd (7:9) is still before the throne; God is still reigning, even in the midst of His enemies (Psalm 110:2).  

 

Notes.

{1}  Revelation, An Exposition of the First Eleven Chapters (1977, Banner of Truth)  

{2}  Both Hebrew and Greek use the same word for both ‘spirit’ and ‘wind’ (Heb. Ruach; Gk. Pneuma).

{3}  James Ramsey, Revelation, An Exposition of the First Eleven Chapters (1977, Banner of Truth)

{4}  In Isaiah 14, Jeremiah 51 and elsewhere, Babylon seems to be taken as a symbol of sinful, rebellious humanity, and the king of Babylon as Satan himself.  The fall of Babylon, which happened in a single night (Dan 5:30-31), serves as a warning that the world itself will be overthrown suddenly and finally (1 Thes 5:2-3; 2 Peter 3:10; Rev 18:8,10).

{5} The majority of the surviving manuscripts and most modern translations have an eagle (Gk. aetos) rather than an angel (Gk. angelos) proclaiming the woes.  Doubtless the difference is due to an error in copying.  I am not inclined to think that an eagle would be used to proclaim the word of God, but the meaning of the text is not affected whichever word is preferred.

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