The Sound of Trumpets (Revelation 8:6-12)
Two fundamental truths about the world is that (1) God created everything good, but (2) sin has corrupted everything. Without this understanding, much of life is nonsense. This explains why our desires are so often at odds with what is truly good for us.
Man has fallen into an estate of sin and misery that the Westminster Shorter Catechism defines as “the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin” (WSC Q.18). Because man has been created in the image of God we have desires that we cannot satisfy in this life due to sin.
What God creates out of his goodness, man decreates out of his sinfulness. How our deepest longings can be satisfied in light of our ongoing sin is the puzzle that can only be solved by Christianity. Corruption cannot simply be wiped away, it must be judged. If God is just, then he must punish every sinful word, deed, and thought. This is where the sound of the trumpets is relevant. But let’s briefly recap what we have covered so far.
The structure of the book of Revelation is significant for interpretation. The book is not chronological, but cyclical. Instead of one long timeline we should perceive the vision as recapitulations of the same judgments. Each new cycle provides greater detail of the last days.
The seven churches were the primary focus of the first three chapters. Although John could have sent his revelation to more churches, seven symbolizes the complete universal church.
The seven seals were the primary focus of chapters 4:1-8:5. Once the Lamb was recognized as being worthy to open the scroll and break its seals, he began to do so in chapter six. Last week, we concluded the section with the opening of the seventh seal. There was silence in heaven for half an hour. During that time the prayers of the saints ascended to God. Then the section concluded with the final judgment at the second coming of Christ. Now, the seven angels (8:2) begin to blow their trumpets.
Read Revelation 8:6-12
8:13 serves as an introduction to the last three seals.
THE PURPOSE OF THE TRUMPETS (6)
Trumpets were used by musicians to accompany choirs. City officials used them to make announcements. And military officers used them to signal the beginning of war (Jer 4:19), gather the troops for battle (Jdg 6:34), and warn of a pending attack (Ezek. 33:3-6; Joel 2:1). God is calling the Church militant to prayerful endurance and preparation as they witness the powerful display of his judgment.
The seals, trumpets, and bowls depict events that occur between Christ’s first and second coming. But there is a distinction in the way they are portrayed.
Derek Thomas The opening of the seals brings great consolation to the people of God. The sounding of the trumpets brings great woes upon those who are not the people of God.
Many interpret the trumpets as warnings but, that fails to see the connection between this passage and the plagues recorded in Exodus. Most of the trumpets allude to one of the plagues that fell upon Egypt. God sent the plagues in order to harden Pharaoh’s heart (Exod. 4:21) knowing that they would serve as a bold contradiction to Egypt’s idolatry. All who observed or experienced the impact of the plagues would know that the God of Israel was the true Sovereign (Exod. 7:5).
The plagues were not meant to bring Pharaoh to repentance, but to harden his heart and display God’s sovereign power. Pharaoh was still responsible for his actions. He hardened his own heart too. But God was not disappointed in Pharaoh’s refusal to repent. Everything happened according to God’s plan. The plagues were more judgment than warning, just like the trumpets in Revelation.
This leads us to…
THE IMPACT OF THE TRUMPETS (7-12)
Several of the seals portrayed a limited devastation (6:6, 8) which is consistent with the first four trumpets.
1. A Third of the Earth (7)
God sends hail, fire, and blood upon the earth scorching a third of the land, trees, and all the grass. The seventh plague that fell upon the Egyptians was one of hail and fire which burned up the vegetation and the trees (Exod. 9:22-25). This allusion to Exodus causes some to anticipate a literal fulfillment to this first trumpet that clearly has not yet occurred. We have not seen a third of the earth scorched by hail, fire, and blood sent from heaven. Should we expect a literal or figurative fulfillment? To answer that question we have to remember the difference between historical narrative and apocalyptic literature.
The most common word in this passage is “third”, which occurs 14x. It seems likely that this is due to the influence of Ezekiel 5 where Israel is divided into thirds for subsequent judgment. Ezekiel was told to shave his head and his beard and to divide the hair into three equally measured portions (5:1). A third was to be burned, a third was to be struck with the sword, and a third was to be scattered in the wind (5:2). This physical demonstration was fulfilled when Israel suffered pestilence, famine, death, and scattering during the Babylonian invasion (5:12).
Notice then, the portion of Israel that was “burned up” literally suffered from famine. It was not a literal fire, but a figurative symbol of judgment (cfRev. 6:5-6). The famine that is described in figurative language may be representing a literal famine or intense suffering in general. Both are possibilities that span the entire age.
Later on, Ezekiel describes the final defeat of Gog by raining upon the nation blood, hailstones, and fire (Ezek. 38:22). It describes an ongoing battle that will not reach its conclusion until the end of the age. Again, the apocalyptic language is not meant to convey literal fire from heaven, but the crushing defeat of all who stand opposed to God—in a partial sense now—and in full when Christ returns.
2. A Third of the Sea (8-9)
A fiery mountain is thrown into the sea turning a third of it into blood and killing a third of the sea creatures and destroying a third of the ships. Similarly, in the first Egyptian plague, Moses literally turned the Nile river into blood (Exod. 7:20-21). Should we interpret this literally?
Many preterists/postmillennialists have argued that this was fulfilled during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. This would make sense of the symbolism but, as devastating as that eruption was to Pompeii (which disappeared under the volcanic ash), it came nowhere near the destruction described in this trumpet. If volcanic eruption is a plausible interpretation it would have to receive multiple manifestations of fulfillment to effect anywhere near a third of the sea.
On the other hand, prophetic literature often refers to nations as mountains. It seems best to interpret the imagery as symbolic of a great and wicked nation being overturned by God. This is similar to the angel who illustrates the destruction of Babylon by throwing a great millstone into the sea (Rev. 18:21). Jeremiah referred to Babylon after her judgment as “a burned out mountain” (Jer. 51:25). These figures of speech convey God’s power over wicked nations.
3. A Third of the Rivers (10-11)
The great star, Wormwood, fell from heaven and corrupted a third of the rivers and springs of water causing many people to die. It is unlikely that this is referring to a literal meteor. How could a single meteor impact a third of the world’s fresh water supply? Some dispensationalists have suggested that this depicts the Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union in 1986 because “Chernobyl” is the Ukrainian word for “wormwood”. But it is hard to understand how that relates to a star falling from heaven. Plus, the impact was significant, but nowhere near effecting a third of the rivers. This kind of interpretation may be fun, but it is awfully imprecise and, in the end, quite distracting from the main idea.
The term “wormwood” (which was a bitter plant in Palestine) occurs frequently in Scripture as a metaphor for the bitterness of suffering (Lam. 3:15, 19). Jeremiah prophesied that God would feed lying prophets bitter food and poisoned water (Jer. 9:15; 23:15). Solomon warns his son of the adulterous woman who “is bitter as wormwood” (Prov. 5:4). Rather than expecting a meteorite to wipe out a third of our water supply, we should expect to witness the judgment of God’s enemies which results in bitter suffering throughout this age.
4. A Third of the Sun (12)
A third of the sun, moon, and stars were struck so that a third of their light was darkened. The ninth plague that was carried out upon the Egyptians was darkness (Exod. 10:21-23). The allusion does not imply a literal fulfillment to this trumpet anymore than is likely with the first three.
The sixth seal depicted a black sun, a covered moon, and stars falling to the earth (6:12-13). According to Joel, the day of the Lord is marked by the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars (Joel 2:10; 3:15). If the sun, moon, and stars are shining at all, this judgment must precede the final judgment pictured in the opening of the sixth seal. That would also make sense of their partial darkening.
While the unsealed unbelievers are judged, believers have been sealed for protection from the harm that impacts “the earth or the sea or the trees” (7:1-3).
Beale All four trumpets have in common that they affect three parts of the created order. The parts that are struck suggest that the basic content of creation is being systematically undone. Though not in the same order as in Genesis 1, the elements affected are light, air, vegetation, sun, moon, stars, sea creatures, and humans. The notion of a “de-creation” is supported by the fact that the Apocalypse climaxes in new creation (21:1ff.)…
We might conclude that there is nothing encouraging to say. Each trumpet blast brings further destruction. But, Revelation depicts the victory of the Lamb. As the vision unfolds with greater detail of the judgments that occur during this present age, we need to keep in mind God’s sovereign purpose. How does this passage reveal God’s eschatological purpose?
God cleanses the corruption of creation by bringing an increasing amount of judgment upon it. As this world becomes increasingly uninhabitable we look forward to a new earth that has been cleansed of corruption. The same Lord who formed creation must cleanse creation of its corruption. Each blast of the trumpet represents the systematic process of decreation. The judgments that follow, undo the work of creation. Decreation is the result of sin.
Paul teaches us in Colossians 1:16 that “by Christ all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created through him and for him.” Yet, what makes Christianity different, is that it is also through “the blood of his cross” (1:20) that reconciliation can occur. The One by whom all things were created, was Himself decreated by His death on the cross, in order that those who were alienated from God because of their evil deeds could be brought near (1:22). Believers, decreated by their own sin and rebellion against their Maker, have been recreated into the image of his Son by faith so that they might be presented in heaven, holy and blameless before God.
It is in light of that truth that we hear the summons of the trumpets and report for duty. Even as the Lord slowly but surely removes the corruption of the world through judgment, His Spirit is slowly and progressively transforming us into the creatures that he intends us to be. Let us submit to his Lordship and walk by faith in the righteous garments that we have washed in the blood of the Lamb.