“Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them. The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing 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 people died from the water, because it had been made bitter. The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night. Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow.” Yes, I am stopping at the chapter break. Not because I should, because I shouldn’t. I did it to keep this a missive and not a novel.
Most pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers agree somewhat, and to varying degrees, on the imagery contained within the Seventh Seal and the Seven Trumpets. The biggest argument is the timing. When do these trumpets blow? Yes, we need to apply the CAGED method, consult our Old Testament tutor, consider the context and certainly understand the author’s aspirations to his audience.
Act 3, Scene 1-8 The breaking of the seals. The first was a rider of a white horse, representing conquests. The second seal was broken and a red horse with a rider went forth; he represents war. The breaking of the third seal shows a black horse and a rider with scales, calling out unfathomable prices for flour, giving us the imagery of famine. The ashen horse revealed by the fourth seal displayed death, in various ways, including conquests, wars and famine. The fifth seal was those who had been killed for the testimony of Jesus, and they cry out to the Lord for justice. However, they are told to wait until all the brethren who are to be killed in the same way, will be. The sixth seal was broken and we see imagery of the sky being rolled up and of the moon turning to blood and the sun being blackened and the perishing cry out, “Who can stand?” There is a pause at this point in the action, represented by four angels holding back the four winds so that devastation would cease. A proclamation was made that the bondservants of God would be sealed, the number of which John hears is 144,000 but he sees a number no one could count. they are the ones standing before the throne. Which brings us to scene 9, the seventh seal, and then…silence. The silence signals the severity of the situation. Heaven is not silent because God doesn’t care, or was caught unaware by these events. He prescribed them, he wrote the book and broke the seal. Yet the silence is out of reverence for the situation. God does care. God is holy and just and will not let sins go unpunished, but he also has much love and grace and is not willing for any to perish. Silence. After the silence, we see the prayers of the saints, demanding justice and God hears them and responds by having the angel throw the censer of prayers, mixed with fire, to the earth. This is huge, God hears the prayers and mixes them with fire, a symbol of his presence and has it thrown to the earth. Now the trumpets start to sound, seven of them. First hail, fire and blood, and a third of the earth was burned and the trees and all the green grass. And 1/3 of the sea became blood from a falling, flaming mountain. A third of the sea life and a third of the ships were destroyed. The third trumpet sounded, and wormwood makes a third of the waters bitter. And so forth. Progressively worsening as they come, 1/3 at a time.
Author’s aspirations to his audience:
Jesus, through John, was writing to the first-century, seven churches in Asia, we must not forget this or take it for granted. We need to see what they saw and understand their surroundings and settings. We need to put on their shoes and walk a while in them. I drive a lot, I see many cars and quite frequently, I will see the fish symbol on vehicles. We need to remember what that symbol symbolized in the early church–persecution. A little Vitamin E mixed in will help; “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.” -Luke 2:1. Now, while this isn’t quite the first century yet, it was written in the first century. Also, the line of emperors continued with the belief we’re about to discuss. Caesar Augustus, or his official title, Imperetor Caesar Divi Filius Augustus, considered himself the Divine ruler of the civilized world. Translated, his official title means something like, Commander of Commanders the majestic son of god. You read that right, and throughout the Julio-Claudian dynasty, the emperor consider himself Divine, not just King. This is rule that christians had to live under. Historians may call it “Pax Romana” but for the early church this wasn’t exactly the case. The reason for relative peace was because one did not mess with Rome. Jesus did, but not in the way most wanted him to. “We have no King but Caesar,” they cried out, but those who made Jesus their king, were thrown into great tribulation by Rome and the religious people, “who claim to be Jews and are not, but lie.” Therefore, the church came up with a secret symbol, the fish. It was due to the unrelenting persecution, from people like Saul of Tarsus, that they came up with a secret symbol so that they could identify each other. Much like before marijuana was made legal (in some states), the not-so-secret symbol to find another toker was to ask, “you cool?” One would then pretend to smoke a joint. Exactly, not so secretive, if one as uncool as I, was able to figure it out.
Waltz through Revelation in the shoes of the early church, not by looking out your window and interpreting it by your world. We must read Revelation as it was written, to the first century church, facing tribulation so great, that they had to figure out a secret symbol to identify each other.
In this regard, when we see imagery of a flaming torch thrown to the waters, we should not go all Hollywood and think that it is some sort of comet or asteroid falling to earth in cinematic, slow motion. Comets don’t fall, they’re fast moving projectiles. An imagery of a heavenly body cascading to earth, would be closer to lightning, rather than a great star, blazing like a torch. Remember, the first century church wasn’t ignorant, they new what a meteor or comet was, John did also. He described what he saw, but what he saw was imagery, not imagination. If he saw a comet, he would say that. The intent of the imagery is the aspired outcome, not the imagery itself, we get bogged down by that. Think about what a comet would look like racing to the earth. For perspective; if a comet, the size of Mt. Everest, which is approximately 1% the size if the moon, was the same distance to us as the moon, it would be almost invisible. Traveling at an average speed for a comet, which isn’t in Earth’s gravitational pull, it would hit the earth in less than 15 minutes. That’s like lightning, not a torch or mountain and certainly not a nuclear warhead. It’s imagery; John describes the heavenly perspective in ways they would understand; which brings us to…
Apocalypse, which contains vivid imagery, the use of numbers and symbols and more vivid imagery. Take for example; hail and fire mixed with blood. A very strange mixture in the real world, but within the scope of the genre, taken as imagery, it paints a very vivid picture and stimulates our senses. Is fear a sense? Honestly, this use of imagery is frightening. Remember, this is an unveiling. Jesus is pulling back the curtain of the play and letting us get a behind the scenes look. We read the imagery and think that they are literal, future events but the genre reveals to us that what we read is about the unseen work of God. We dismiss this notion for two reasons; we were never taught this, and it makes God look evil. God is not evil, he is holy, a word we struggle to define because we don’t know it. And when we grasp that it is God that sent the plagues to Egypt, who beat up on Israel, who sent Assyria and Babylon and Rome, then we can begin to fathom the depths of his love and grace. He sends all kinds of tribulation to bring people to himself.
Expository exegis of examples.
We’ll start right here in the context, in this Act of the play. Notice the first seals that have been broken are representations of a general conquest, wars, and famine, but then we see that 1/4 of the Earth is ravaged. Then the martyrs cry out, and then an interlude. Now, each trumpet is increasingly devestating and now affects 1/3 of the earth, sea, rivers and people. Things seem to have gone from bad to worse, and that is explicitly what the imagery represents. But not literally! Notice verse 12, “The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night. Do you see it? Let’s look at another translation. “The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night.” Do you see it now?
Three nights ago I took this photo of the moon, it is quite obscured by the clouds but was shinning brightly through them. I thought it was beautiful, I took the picture and added it to my missive. We’re in Revelation and I thought it was fairly relevant. Little did I know it would be a visual aid. I took this picture last night, at the same time, pointing in the same direction, from the same spot, with the same camera, using the same shutter speed, f-stop and zoom. Nature, set by God, in three days can change from a bright cloudy night to a dark night without a cloud in the sky. If the night was without a third of its light, that’s not a problem, we’ve all experienced new moons on cloudy nights; it’s very dark. We could get used to it. The meaning is much deeper. But consider the sun struck; if the sun were to lose 1/3 of it’s mass; bye bye earth. Not only would we freeze to death, the gravitational pull would be completely compromised. This would be more than devestating. The text indicates that it goes completely dark for 1/3 of day and 1/3 of night. Do we take this literally? It doesn’t make sense. it’s darker longer, no big deal. Like December in New England, it is cold and dark but hardly devestating. How about Alaska or Siberia? they seem to manage. This text is not meant to be taken literally, It’s figurative language. It’s imagery. It’s used to show us God’s behind the scenes workings. Like famine or war or conquest, the darkness represents the natural order being undone because of our sin, but even more, God’s grace. God is using it to wake people up. Can God cause a new order in the heavens? Of course, but that misses the mark. The point of the seals and the trumpets is that God is undoing, not redoing. He is making his presence increasingly known. This earth and heaven will be destroyed to make way for the new, that’s not progressive. That will happen in an instant, at the second coming. In the same way, I don’t believe that the seven trumpets are literal and chronological but cyclical.
You may well ask, What about Isaiah and Hezekiah; did not the Lord make the sun retreat? He did, but let’s not jump to conclusions that are out of context. Rather, Let’s talk about Isaiah, our Old Testament tutor. Isaiah 1, starting in verse 5: “Where will you be stricken again, As you continue in your rebellion? The whole head is sick, And the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head There is nothing sound in it, Only bruises, welts, and raw wounds, Not pressed out or bandaged, Nor softened with oil. Your land is desolate, Your cities are burned with fire, Your fields—strangers are devouring them in your presence; It is desolation, as overthrown by strangers. And the daughter of Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, Like a watchman’s hut in a cucumber field, like a besieged city. Unless the LORD of hosts Had left us a few survivors, We would be like Sodom, We would be like Gomorrah.” Israel was bruised all over and they made no attempt to heal themselves. God ask where he can strike them again because he has stricken them all over. There is nowhere left of which to strike–they are covered in untreated wounds. My friends, this is the seven seals.
Romans 1 declares; “that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools.” Man should know God simply by creation itself, yet we, “exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” We, like Israel have gone in search of fulfillment in anything but God. So he bruises us and we don’t change our minds. He bruises us again, with no results. But, at some point, many will change their minds. It’s what John the Baptist came preaching, change your mind! How does God get us to change our minds? His kindness, notice again in Romans: “And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. And do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment upon those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”
While the events of the trumpets may seem to be vengeful, and they are, they are out of love and grace. God could snap his fingers this very minute and eliminate his enemies now. Problem, from day one of sin, we’ve all been enemies. “But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Like the martyrs, we want our apocalypse and we want it now. But as Peter says; The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”
Dividing rightly the word of truth:
Israel is the microcosm, God did what he could to them and most didn’t repent, but some did. In Revelation chapters 4 -9, Act 3, we see God turning up the proverbial heat. To those perishing; judgement but to those being saved, grace!
We’re in the third Act of Revelation, in which a pause was made to let the reader know that while God will send his wrath on humanity, he is also bringing people to himself through these trials. The text is not to be taken to literal extremes. But rather in the way in which it was intended. Like the plagues in Exodus, God strikes and tells them to repent, they don’t. He strikes again and again and again. The same is true to this day and in the future. God is patient and kind. He continues to increase the striking while withholding his wrath so that all the ones who will be sealed, will be sealed. Men will have no excuse.
For further reading in O.O.T.T. see; Ezekiel 32 and Zechariah 13.