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The Judgment of The
Seven Trumpets

Revelation 8-11

James R. Davis

Revelation 8:1-5
When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.

As the seventh seal is opened there is a chilling silence in heaven as God is about to unleash his temporal judgment for Rome's sins. The scene shifts to seven angels who are preparing to blow seven trumpets. Another angel with a golden censer stood at the altar ready to offer up incense as the prayers of the saints rose to God's throne. Earlier when the fifth seal to the book of man's destiny had been opened, there were saints standing before the throne of God crying out in prayer. They cried, "How long, Sovereign Lord . . . until you judge the inhabitants of the earth . . .? It is here in chapters 8-11 that we see the saints' prayers answered. The angel with the golden censer in his hand fills it with fire and hurls it to the earth. Then we hear thunder, rumblings, we see flashes of lightning and then we feel the rumbling earthquakes all of which signify the judgment of God has come to the inhabitants of the earth.

As the judgment of God is about to occur, it is significant to keep in mind that a seal of protection has been placed upon the foreheads of all the saints on earth. This is a seal of encouragement to those struggling to keep the faith in such tribulation. It is a seal of assurance to saints about to undergo persecution from Rome. John said earlier concerning the wrath of the Lamb, "For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand." (6:17) As we think about such tribulation it reminds us of Jesus' words. Jesus said, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand." (John 10:27-29) Of course this promise is contingent upon Christ's sheep listening to his voice and following him even through death if necessary.

In the sounding of the seven trumpets we understand that now the wrath of the Lamb has come and only those who are sealed by God will be able to stand.

The Sounding of the Trumpets - God's Temporal Judgment Against Sin

In Jeremiah 51, God's vengeance upon the ancient Babylonian Empire is pronounced. Babylon is portrayed as being full of guilt for destroying God's people. Jeremiah says, "God will stir up the spirit of the destroyer against Babylon . . . the land will be devastated . . . her armies will be destroyed . . . his judgment reaches to the skies . . . she will be filled with men [enemies] as a swarm of locusts . . . Jeremiah calls Babylon a destroying mountain . . . it will become a burned out mountain . . . God will send armies like a swarm of locusts . . . to lay waste the land of Babylon . . . her dwellings are set on fire . . . the marshes are set on fire . . .the sea will be dried up . . . a horror Babylon will be . . . then heaven and earth . . . will shout for joy . . . and her slain will all lie fallen within her . . .  the Lord of retribution will pay.

This figurative language employed by Jeremiah portrays to us in earthly terms how God's spiritual judgment is dealt to nations. It is indicative of the nature of John's writing about the destruction of Rome as the trumpets begin to sound. John's description of Rome is more obscure than Jeremiah's bold mentioning of Babylon. John is endeavoring to write in a fashion so as not bring more brutality upon Christians from Roman persecution. So Rome is not mentioned by name, yet, later she is figuratively spoken of as Babylon. But those being persecuted had no doubt as to what John was saying.

Historians tell us that there were three major contributors to the fall of Rome: natural calamity (earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruption all played a role in Rome's demise) internal rottenness, and external invasion. All these are figuratively symbolized in Revelation as instruments ready for God's use to rescue God's people. They had already begun to work in John's day. John saw them as the judgment of God.

In the sounding of the seven trumpets John portrays the judgment of God against the sins of man. It is always difficult for me to go back and identify a particular historical reality with a specific thing mentioned in John's vision. Although seemingly this may be done with a certain degree of accuracy by others? I can get the message of Revelation without doing this for John sums up the meaning of the trumpet scenes. In Revelation 9:20-21 "The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshipping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood-- idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts." John leaves no doubt as to what the calamities befalling mankind are about. They are God's temporal judgment against sin. They are designed to bring men to repentance. We see very clearly that John is speaking about the temporal judgment of God against sin.

John describes God's judgment in cataclysmic terms. (8:6-13) The first trumpet brings a scene of hail and fire mixed with blood hurled to the earth burning up a third of the earth, trees and green grass. The second trumpet sounds and a huge mountain, all ablaze, is thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turns to blood, a third of the living creatures die, and a third of the ships are destroyed. As the angel sounds the third trumpet a star named Wormwood falls from the sky and turns the water bitter and many people die from drinking the water. As the fourth angel sounds his trumpet the sun was struck and there is a universal upheaval as the sun and moon are struck, the stars were struck and they turned dark. Then an eagle flies overhead and pronounces that the worst judgment is yet to come to the inhabitants of the earth.

Some interpreters believe we can better understand the message John is communicating if we can understand what is already firmly fixed in the minds of the readers. In A.D. 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted pouring forth a fiery flood that engulfed Herculaneum and Pompeii and many small villages. The ashes from the burning mountain fell on ships out at sea. The avalanches of fire rolling down the mountainside rolled into the sea killing fish. Many people were suffocated by the sulfurous fumes. There were many other natural disasters (famine, earthquakes, floods, etc) that had already taken place. It was through John's writing's these Christians understood that these calamitous upheavals caused from natural disasters were no mere chance happenings of history.

There may be disagreement over precisely what each individual scene depicts but as we have noted there is no doubt about the overall meaning of the trumpet scenes.  God is behind them and he is using them to punish and break the wicked Roman Empire. I think that this makes Revelation so relevant today. God is still on his throne and his temporal judgment against sin continues to be meted out through every age. Paul's statement continues to be true: "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord." (Romans 12:19)

Although Revelation is not a book specifically describing God's judgment for our times, we can rest assured that God still judges us for our sins on earth today. As you look from the eruption of Mt St. Helen's in the 80's to the earthquake in Afghanistan this past week, from hurricane Andrew to El Nino and from the floods in the midwest to California, you can only wonder if all the calamities that we have seen in the decades of the 80's and 90's are a sign of God's judgment? As you look back through history you can only wonder, is it a prelude to what is coming? It is certainly not something that most like to think about. But, if it is, faithful Christians can have the same hope John's readers had. It may be difficult if not impossible for us to speak about specifically but his judgment is real. We reap what we sow. Just look around in our society.

John portrays the hellish judgment that comes from the bowels of the earth. (9:1-12) As the worst comes, the fifth trumpet is sounded, a star falls into an earthly abyss and clouds roll forth from the abyss darkening the sun. Then one begins to see dimly through the smoke, locusts ascending up out of the abyss. The locust had men's faces, women's hair, lion's teeth, stingers like scorpions, armored like horses for battle, the horses had tails, and stings like scorpions, and the sound of their wings was like the noise of many chariots. They were to spend five months, the life span of a locust, tormenting men until they desired to die. There was an angel from the abyss called Abaddon in Hebrew, or Apollyon in Greek. The name meant "Destroyer." The Destroyer was leading the ghastly locust in their destruction.

John is describing the internal decadence of humanity that results from evil human powers. Man's inhumanity to man is always the worst judgment for our sins. It makes life on earth hellish. The evil from within poses our greatest threat. It becomes all consuming as it devours those given to it. Rome became her own worst enemy through a decaying society, which was the result of the greed of the aristocrats. At one point in Rome's history after the death of Alexander Severus, a period ensued during which great confusion prevailed in Rome and throughout Italy. Of his 12 Successors who ruled in the next 33 years, nearly all came to a violent death, usually at the hands of soldiers who had established them on the throne. Such is the judgment of God.

John describes the judgment of God through external difficulties. (9:13-19) The angel with the sixth trumpet sounds and four angels who have been restrained at the river Euphrates are released to kill a third of mankind. The number of mounted troops was two hundred million. The riders had breastplates of fiery red, dark blue and yellow like sulfur. The horses' heads looked like heads of lions with smoke and sulfur bellowing from their mouths. A third of mankind was killed. The horse's tails were like snakes, which were inflicting injury.

Rome felt her greatest vulnerability as a result of the possibility of invading armies that could invade her from her eastern boundaries. Beyond her eastern boundaries, which bordered on the Euphrates River, were the Parthians who were Rome's greatest threat. John may not be speaking of the Parthians in particular but he is alluding to fierce invaders like them that should be feared and dreaded. John is no doubt portraying the reality of that threat as two hundred million troops approach.

Recapping the Panorama of It All

John is endeavoring to portray the judgment of God clearly in unimaginable and horrifying terms. Try placing yourself mentally in a panoramic movie theater as you read this part of John's vision. As you stand there with all the movie screens around you, imagine experiencing what occurs at each sound of the trumpet. Imagine on one screen an angel sounding a trumpet as a huge mountain is thrown into the sea, the sea turns to blood, and a third of all sea life washes up on the shores. Then an angel on another screen sounds a trumpet and destruction of cataclysmic proportions occur as a star comes blazing from the sky and falls upon the rivers and on the springs of water. You behold the dying corpses lying around after drinking the water. Imagine a third of the moon and stars turning black and a third of the day turning to darkness. Imagine as the background music the sounds of trumpets. It is a sound of an overwhelming sense of foreboding gloom and doom. Then an eagle flies over and says the worst is yet to come!

Just as the eagle passes over pronouncing the worst is yet to come, the trumpets sound. An even more foreboding trumpet sounds as a star falls from the sky into an earthly abyss. Smoke rises from the abyss as the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun is darkened. As the smoke begins to clear you begin to see hellish creatures emerge from the abyss led by a king that is set on destruction. The creatures look like locust, some of them have crowns of gold on their head, their faces resemble human faces, they have hair like women, teeth like lions, breastplates of iron and the sound . . . that awful sound of invading armies as they ascend up out of the abyss. Their tails sting like scorpions and they began destroying those who do not have a special seal on their foreheads. Then suddenly an even more foreboding trumpet sounds and on another screen two hundred million mounted troops ride toward you with earthshaking momentum. They have fiery red, dark blue and yellow breastplates. The horse's heads resemble heads of lions, out of their mouths bellow smoke and sulfur. Their tails are like snakes, which inflict injury as they descend in destruction. A third of mankind is killed and nothing but corpses is left in their wake.

In this way the judgment of God is portrayed figuratively. It leaves you with an overwhelming eerie feeling of gloom and destruction. Yet, it is the merciful hand of God's judgment endeavoring to bring sinners to repentance. To us, as Christians, it is seen as the merciful hand of God's protection, afforded because God has placed a seal on our foreheads because we have been washed in the blood of the Lamb.

Rome's Destruction Is Sure

John portrays that Rome has gone too far to be saved. (10:1-11) As chapter ten opens an angel comes down out of heaven robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head and his face was like the sun and his leg like fiery pillars. He had a scroll in his hand and his right foot was upon the sea and his left foot was upon the land and he gave a shout like the roar of a lion. Then the foreboding voices of seven thunders spoke. John was about to write what the voices spoke, but a voice from heaven said seal up what the seven thunders have said, do not write it down. Then the angel standing upon the land and the sea raised his right hand to heaven and swore by the creator of all things. "There will be no more delay!" Rome has gone too far to be saved. The seven thunders no doubt proclaimed God's imminent judgment. The warning given by the seven trumpets had been sufficient; men refused to repent; retribution will be visited without further delay. The hearts of the wicked have become hardened to the point that they are unable to repent. The judgment of God has come there will be no more warnings. God's longsuffering is completed. John is forbidden to write down what the seven thunders said. Now that Rome has passed up her opportunity for repentance, judgment is sure and punishment will be swift.

The angel gives John the scroll and commands him to eat it. It was as sweet as honey but turned his stomach sour. John was told that he must prophesy about many peoples, nations, languages and kings. Eating a scroll in Ezekiel's time was like taking a book and digesting its contents. It was spoken of as eating the book. John has a message to digest and upon trying to digest the message it turns sours in his stomach. The saving message of Jesus Christ has the same effect. As I try to digest John's message in Revelation it is encouraging and discouraging. It is encouraging in that Christians have won through the blood of the Lamb. It is discouraging in that this same message dooms those who refuse to believe it.

John assures the saints of the protection of God and their final triumph. (11:1-14) As the scene opens in chapter eleven, we see John given a reed and he is told to measure the temple and altar. During the Babylonian captivity Ezekiel portrays the Jewish temple being rebuilt. He gives the dimensions to which it is to be built. As he writes, he is in Babylonian captivity and the temple has been destroyed. But in his vision he sees it rebuilt. This was a vision of encouragement for the Jews in captivity.It gave them a renewed hope that God would deliver them from captivity. John is involved in a similar vision. This time the measuring of the temple is indicative of God's protection for Christians who are now the temple of God. The outer courts of the temple are excluded because it has been given to the Gentiles. The outer courts represent the world, which would be unprotected during the coming disasters. Yet they would trample the holy city for a period of time and many Christians would die.

The two witnesses, two olive trees and two candlesticks represent the church. She will be given power to prophesy for a period of time, as she is clothed in sackcloth. The church will be sad and mournful as she is trampled underfoot but she will remain faithful through the trying circumstances. She will suffer at the hands of evil men but she remains committed to the Lamb. If anyone tries to harm her God will destroy them. (11:5-6) She has similar power to that of Elijah when he prayed that it would not rain for three years. This signified the power of his message. The church is portrayed as having power to shut up the skies, turn the water to blood and strike the earth with every kind of plague.

In other words her testimony would be powerful and very effective. God seems to be saying, Rest assured though the world is dominated by evil men, you will be protected and the gospel will be preached; your testimony will be preserved for all generations.

Yet, when the Church's powerful testimony is completed the beast will ascend from the Abyss attacking and killing many Christians. The Church will be all but annihilated. Their bodies will lie in the streets for three and half days without proper burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over the sight of their bodies lying in the street. But then a breath of life comes from God and resurrects them to their feet. Terror is struck in the hearts of them that beheld them and the saints are called up into heavens as their enemies looked on.

But then comes the judgment of God as a severe earthquake destroys a tenth of the city and seven thousand people die. The survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.

It is amazing how Rome persecuted Christians and all but destroyed the church. Yet the cause of Christ came back after that period of persecution stronger than ever. By the time Constantine became emperor of Rome in the fourth century A.D., Christianity had triumphed over Diocletian's attempts to crush it by persecution. Constantine adopted it as his own religion and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, an event of far-reaching significance for the cause of Christ. And he proclaimed the day of each week that Christians were in the habit of worshipping a national holiday. Praise be to God that for over 1600 years since Constantine Christians have been coming together on that day in a victory celebration, which has been made possible through the power of God and the blood of the Lamb.

Conclusion:

As the seventh angel sounds his trumpet and angelic chorus burst out in songs of praise.
 
 

"The kingdom of the world has
become the kingdom of our
Lord and of his Christ,
and he will reign for ever and ever."

Then the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying:

"We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
the One who is and who was,
because you have taken your great power
and have begun to reign.
The nations were angry;
and your wrath has come.
The time has come for judging the dead,
and for rewarding your servants the prophets
and your saints and those who reverence your name,
both small and great--
and for destroying those who destroy the earth."

                                            (Revelation 11:15-18)
 

 

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