Seven Trumpets of Judgment: Chapters 8:2–11:19
Historical context and analysis
- Altar and incense
The references to the altar and incense burner has been dealt with before. We have clear references to the morning and evening prayer times in the temple and the synagogues.
- The trumpets
The blowing of the trumpets may echo various OT references. However, in conjunction with the preceding verses reminding one of the Day of Atonement, the most prominent OT reference is Lev 25:9-17: “9 Then on the Day of Atonement in the fiftieth year, blow the ram’s horn loud and long throughout the land. 10 Set this year apart as holy, a time to proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live there. It will be a jubilee year for you, when each of you may return to the land that belonged to your ancestors and return to your own clan. 11 This fiftieth year will be a jubilee for you. During that year you must not plant your fields or store away any of the crops that grow on their own, and don’t gather the grapes from your unpruned vines. 12 It will be a jubilee year for you, and you must keep it holy. But you may eat whatever the land produces on its own. 13 In the Year of Jubilee each of you may return to the land that belonged to your ancestors.”
While the Day of Atonement in the Jubilee year is implied and the accompanied blast of the trumpet is noted, the following events do not necessarily fit. In the OT there is a celebration whereas in Revelation there is harsh judgment.
- One third of …
The reference to one third of … is without antecedent and any specific reference to something in particular is speculative.
- The first four trumpets
These all vaguely reminds one of OT judgments – hail and fire mixed with blood the plagues of Egypt; mountain of fire Jeremiah predicting the fall of Babylon (Jeremiah 51); great star falling from the sky Isaiah and the morning star (Isaiah 14); and darkness another plague in Egypt and also judgment of Babylon in Isaiah 13.
This is probably representing God – Exodus 19:6, and then indirectly referenced in various Psalms.
- The 5th and 6th trumpets and all who belong to this world
Those who belong to this world is a reference to those who are not believers. The first 4 trumpets seem to affect the whole created order whereas the 5th and 6th trumpets only seem to affect the ungodly … those who belong to this world. Again reference is made to those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.
CBC (480-481) explains the seal as follows: “The seal is more than a mark; it has something to do with the very nature of those who are marked. As the vision progresses, John sees that the citizens of fallen Babylon are also marked on the forehead with a mark that has something to do with the “name”, that is, the very nature of the beast (13:16-17) … John also saw that the citizens of God’s New Jerusalem have the name of God and the Lamb on their foreheads (14:1; 22:3-4). According to the OT, the forehead represents one’s inner posture of relationship with God. God’s people were to be formed by the Torah – they were to bind it upon their foreheads (Ex 13:9, 16; 28:38; Deut 6:8; 11:18). When they turned away from God and became disobedient, they were said to have a brass forehead (Isa 48:4), a harlot’s forehead (Jer 3:3), or a hard forehead (Ez 3:7). When King Uzziah sinned against God and usurped the role of the priests, he was struck with a leprous forehead (2 Chron 26:16-21).”
The reference to locusts is another reminder of the plagues in Egypt. The torture of 5 months has no antecedent in the OT or other ancient literature. It may simply refer to the lifespan of locusts while there is vegetation available. The image of teeth like lions reminds of Joel’s imagery in 2:4-5. The leader of the locusts is called the Destroyer – a strong reference to John 10:10.
- Those who refused to repent (verse20)
This is another reference to the fact that judgment is coming against those who are not believers (who do not have God’s seal). There is also a chance for repentance during this period. It seems as if the purpose of the plagues and torture is not final judgment, but rather aimed towards repentance of the ungodly.
- The mighty angel
This might refer to Jesus – refer to the attributes of the angel.
- The small scroll
This might refer to the old covenant – sweet when you eat it, but turns sour in your stomach. God’s law is good, but difficult to apply.
- The two witnesses
The two witnesses are required for judgment (Deut 19:15) and refer to Moses and Elijah (Num 16:1-35 and 2 Kings 1:10-12). Their death and resurrection and ascension to heaven seems to point to Jesus.
- The seventh trumpet
This denotes God’s final judgment is about to take place. Whereas the previous trumpets and acts against humanity and unbelievers seems to have testing, trials and tribulation in mind on the one hand and repentance on the other, there is no further opportunity for further growth/repentance after the final judgment.
As with the seven seals, this section also seems to be a summary of the whole vision. It starts off with a time of difficulty for all of humanity (the 1st to 4th trumpets). Sin and its consequences seem to have the upper hand. But then the tide turns and only the wicked is subject to particularly harsh punishment – but still with a view towards repentance (the 5th and 6th trumpets). The sovereignty of God is emphasised (interlude) before the final victory is announced (7th trumpet).
As far as the development of the drama is concerned, we are still in the phase of developing the conflict, building up to the climax or crisis point of the drama.
This rather long and difficult passage has one main purpose: to illustrate the sovereignty, power and might of God. He is the one in control, regardless of the circumstances we might face or our perception of our environment. As with previous sections, we seem to have the responsibility to decide where our allegiance lies – with the sovereign God or with the world.
Sometimes we think that as Christians there is no difference between our circumstances and that of those who are “of this world”. The first 4 trumpets clearly show that the time of testing is poured out on all of humanity. However, its gets worse for those who are not marked with the seal of God;
Despite this, there seems to be a veil over the eyes of the ungodly. They refuse to repent and they kill God’s witnesses. However, the victory is short-lived and we soon read of God’s intervention and His final judgment;