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The Seven Trumpets of Revelation

As of the writing of this sermon, doctors and pharmaceutical companies are working tirelessly to create a vaccination for COVID-19. The belief is that such a vaccine will better enable society to function without the horrific fallout of deaths and overwhelming of hospital facilities. I wonder how folks felt in the days of polio, the Spanish Flu, and various other pandemics. Some birthed advances in medicine and sanitation, but one thing that hasn’t yet been cured is death. No matter what advances are made, people continue to die. This is why we Christians place our hope in what Jesus has done to defeat death.

Similar to how God protected Israel when the angel of death passed through Egypt, so He has taken provisions to preserve the elect in Asia against the breaking of seals and sounding of trumpets. Jokingly I often employ Revelation 8:1 to argue that there will be no women in heaven, given the thirty-minute silence. However, this may have been the amount of time it took the priest to incense the temple. What occurs in heaven would have been understood by what happened on earth. Instead, in this instance, the angel makes the offering and does the incensing, then throwing some incense to the earth, God’s answer to the saints for vengeance is heard (cf. Rev. 6:9–11). Stylistically, one may note that the first four of the seals and trumpets form a unified whole. The fifth and sixth seals and trumpets express a more extended narrative preceded by the final one being loosened and blown.

When we view the seven trumpets as a unified whole, we’ll note a similarity between the occurrences in Revelation to that in Joshua. In the procession around Jericho in Joshua 6:3–6, seven trumpets led with the Ark of the Covenant in tow. At the end of the seven trumpets in Revelation, the Ark of the Covenant appears (11:15–19). After the purposes of the trumpets, the Ark of the Covenant is seen to be a prevailing relic that represents God’s presence and triumph in both cases.[1] 

The Meaning of the Trumpets 

The first trumpet demonstrates how vegetation is effected (8:7), the second regards the sea (8:8), the third regards freshwaters (8:10–11), and the fourth regards the sky, or heavens (8:12). Each of these corresponds to plagues that God visited upon Egypt: the seventh (Exod. 9:22–26), first (Exod. 7:14–25), and ninth plagues (Exod. 10:21–29) correlate to the first four trumpets that sound. When one considers the vegetation and waters, we think of forms of commerce that were prevalent in the ancient world. If such were affected, then the food supply and economy of many folks would have been affected. God’s children have already been sealed and would be protected from the harm that befell such. A warning is given that the next three trumpets will be woes (Rev. 8:13). Not like Bill and Ted, but in the ancient sense. A woe was often a gruesome outcome or horrific occurrence.

What likely makes the next trumpets so harsh is that they afflict humanity directly rather than just the earth. The fifth trumpet entails a star that has fallen (Rev. 9:1), which may be one of several interpretations: an angel (cf. Rev. 20:1), fallen world powers, fallen angel, or Satan (cf. Is. 14:12–20). Whichever it is, He who has the keys of death and Hades permits this angel to open the abyss (cf. Rev. 8:10–11). A hellish smoke now contrasts with the incense of prayer.[2] Swarms of locusts arise, akin to the eighth plague of Egypt (Exod. 10:12–15) but more like the judgment of Israel in Joel’s time via an army (Joel 1:2–4; 2:11). Their king is the angel of the abyss, whose name is equivalent in both Hebrew and Greek (Rev. 9:11). The root of the name reminds us of the god, Apollo, who was an archer god, one of whose emblems was the locust. Caesar Domitian himself was sometimes portrayed as Apollo, so the link may be rather apparent to the Asian Christians.[3]

The sixth trumpet again draws our memories back to the prayers of the saints by the incense altar (Rev. 9:13). This is how God will avenge them—the Parthians. Similar to the President of the United States wants to build a wall along the Mexican border, so the Euphrates was the line of demarcation between East and West (Rev. 9:14–15). To the East of the Euphrates was the Parthian Empire (Iran) that had frequent skirmishes with the Roman Empire. In the late 50s and 60s CE, the Romans and Parthians fought until peace was reestablished in 66 CE. This peace lasted until the Caesar Trajan campaigned against them between 114–17 CE, so it may be that this conflict John sees depending on when one dates the Revelation. The depiction of the battle is seen here from a heavenly perspective, though, so the fanciful imagery of angelic beings moving the nations to war is what often boggles the mind of the reader. One image given historical explanation is what appears in Rev. 9:19: the Parthians were gifted horsemen who once lured the Romans after them by riding uphill. As they retreated upward, the Romans pursued only to suffer from a volley of arrows that cost the Roman army two legions, and Rome never forgot to avoid pursuing the Parthians uphill.[4] Closing these two trumpets are the fact that their chastisement was meant to invoke repentance, but the hearts of many, like Pharaoh, were hardened.

The Little Book and Witnesses 

Before the seventh seal, a pair of visions were given that concerned the people of God. Thus, before the seventh trumpet, a couple of images pertinent to the church are provided too. An angel appears from heaven, clothed with a cloud, and a rainbow above his head (Rev. 10:1). He has a book in his hand, smaller we presume in comparison to the scroll in the palm of God from whence Christ broke the seals. He stands on the earth, sea, and raises his hand into heaven, thus touching all of God’s creation (Rev. 10:2–7; cf. Exod. 20:4, 11). John is to eat the book, which is sweet to the taste but bitter on the stomach—as the Word of God can be at times (Rev. 10:8–10). This is the same thing Ezekiel did (Ezek. 2:9–3:4). The book John swallowed would enable him to speak the Lord’s words (Rev. 10:11).

The next chapter, and the measuring of the temple, might lead everyone to believe it refers to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. That’s how one might conclude if read literally, and the Roman siege of Jerusalem lasted three and a half years, which would allow the time listed here to make sense (Rev. 11:1–2). If this passage is read symbolically, the church is the temple that fills the whole earth and not just Jerusalem. If we consider how the temple is mentioned elsewhere in Revelation, it’s depicted symbolically and not literally (see. Rev. 3:12; 13:6). Elsewhere, the temple as invoked symbolically refers to the church, which is composed of both Jewish and Gentile believers (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:18–22; 1 Peter 2:5). It isn’t the temple herself that will be trampled, but the outer court.

The two witnesses remind us of Elijah and Moses, who called forth fire from heaven to devour heathens and, respectively, shut up the sky and turned water into blood (Rev. 11:3–6). They’ll be killed in Jerusalem, it would appear, who has at this point become like Sodom and Egypt. The people will rejoice at their deaths (Rev. 11:7–10), but they won’t remain dead (Rev. 11:11–12). Since this is a message for the church, how are we to understand it? You’ll likely find any number of interpretations depending on what sources you consult. However, stopping to try to make something out of every vision can be stifling, so look at what comes next: with the blast of the seventh trumpet, we read about the triumph of Jesus Christ and His kingdom (Rev. 11:15–19). How does the kingdom of God triumph? As a result of divine wrath. For the Christian whose hope is in Jesus, wrath isn’t something to be feared “because it is the victory of freedom over slavery, justice over injustice, and Moses over Pharaoh. The wrath of God is the last thing in the world that Christians should be afraid of, for the wrath of God is on their side (Mt. 23:35–36).”[5]


[1] Reardon, Revelation, 64.

[2] Ibid., 67.

[3] Keener, Revelation, 269.

[4] Ibid., 271.

[5] Reardon, Revelation, 75.

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