REVELATION 8Revelation of Jesus | Revelation of JohnT: REVELATION 8:1-138:1 SILENCE IN HEAVENTHE TRUMPETS8:3 THE GOLDEN CENSERARE THE TRUMPETS PAST OR FUTURE?ARE THE TRUMPETS LITERAL OR SYMBOLIC?8:5 THROWING DOWN THE CENSER8:7-11 THE FIRST THREE TRUMPETS8:12 THE FOURTH TRUMPET


ARE THE TRUMPETS PAST OR FUTURE?

One of the important considerations concerning the trumpets is their chronology—have they already taken place in history, or are they still in the future, and if they are future, how do they relate to the time of trouble, the close of probation, the rapture of the church, and the Second Coming? Since the trumpets comprise nearly twenty percent of the Book of Revelation, it is important to get the context correct.

Some commentators teach that the trumpets give a review of some aspects of history, comparing the pattern in the book of Daniel in which there are a series of visions which review the historical progression of world empires, with each consecutive vision covering the same history and adding more details. However, there are a number of problems with applying this pattern to the trumpet plagues.

First of all, the book of Daniel is a series of visions, interspersed with stories from Daniel’s life in Babylon. The Book of Revelation, in contrast, presents itself as one continuous vision with a number of scenes, more like one of the visions of Daniel than the book of Daniel.[1] Moreover, the elements of the repetitive visions of Daniel have obvious correlations with each other, but this is not the case in the series of seven churches, seals and trumpets in Revelation.[2] The chiastic structure organizes the Book of Revelation and aids in its understanding rather than the repetition-of-history structure that is used in the book of Daniel.

The internal context of the trumpets does not allow them to be placed in the distant historical past. In chapter 7 the angel from the rising sun told the four angels to hold “the four winds of the earth that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea or on any tree’…saying, ‘hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads” (Revelation 7:1-3). In the next verses this sealing is shown to be that of the 144,000—“And I heard the number of those which were sealed; and there were sealed 144,000 of all the tribes of the children of Israel” (v. 4). The sealing of the 144,000 is clearly an end time event, as discussed in chapters seven and fourteen. As the trumpets begin, the destruction falls on the earth, sea and trees, the very things that were to be spared until after the sealing of the 144,000; thus these trumpets must be last day events as well.

Furthermore, the locusts of the fifth trumpet were “commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God in their foreheads” (Revelation 9:4). Although there are a number of seals spoken of in the scriptures,[3] this text refers to a specific seal, “the seal of God on their foreheads.” This is identified in Revelation 7:3,4 as the sealing of the 144,000, so the fifth trumpet takes place after the sealing of the 144,000 rather than in the historical past.

The locust army itself (Revelation 9:3-12) is the same army mentioned in the book of Joel (see 9:3 The Locust Army). The context is the end of time, the “day of the Lord” (Joel 1:15), when “the sun and moon grow dark” (2:10). The battle of the locust army in turn correlates with the final battle between the King of the North and the King of the South, which takes place “at the time of the end” (Daniel 11:40, see 9: Kings of the North and South).

Finally, attempts to find an application of the 7 Trumpets in history have resulted in fantastic, speculative interpretations of the symbols, the assigning of historical importance to obscure events which do not even appear in a standard encyclopedia, and the ignoring of some of the details of the prophecies which, if they are actually a part of history, should be readily identifiable.[4]

Other scholars have concluded that the trumpets take place after the “close of probation,” that the throwing down of the censer shows that Jesus no longer mediates in the heavenly sanctuary, so forgiveness of sins is no longer possible after this point. It is true that during the sixth trumpet “the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent” (Revelation 9:21). However, John was told that he “must prophesy again” (Revelation 10:11), and after the ministry of the “two witnesses” (Revelation 11:1-13) “the remnant were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven” (vs.11, 13). This is an obvious response to the great appeal of Revelation 14:7, “Fear God and give glory to Him,” an appeal that takes place before the close of probation (see 15:5-8, The Close of Probation).

Moreover, when the seventh trumpet sounds “the temple of God was opened in heaven, there was seen in His temple the ark of His covenant” (Revelation 11:19), implying that the door of mercy is still open. It is not until the seven last plagues are about to fall that “the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power, and no one was able to enter the temple” (Revelation 15:8). This is the end of probation, not the throwing down of the censer.

Finally, many evangelical commentators have placed the trumpets after the rapture of the church, in other words, after the faithful Christians have been taken to heaven before the time of trouble. This theory does not have scriptural support (see 9: The Rapture—When? and Appendix 4). This commentary takes the position that the seven trumpets take place during the time of trouble, after the sealing of the 144,000 and before the close of probation, and that during the time of the seven trumpets God makes a final, powerful appeal for repentance to those who are in “Babylon”.

Continue to next section: ARE THE TRUMPETS LITERAL OR SYMBOLIC?



[1] The book of Daniel does have repetitions of history. However, each repetition is part of an obviously distinct vision in which the prophet tells the date of the vision, often the location where it took place and his own personal situation. For example, the vision in chapter 8 of the ram, the goat and the “little horn” begins “in the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar…I was in Shushan, the citadel, which is in the province of Elam, and I saw in the vision that I was by the river Ulai” (Daniel 8:1,2. See also Daniel 2:1, 7:1, 9:1, 10:1,4). The book of Revelation does not have these kinds of obvious divisions; John only gives the setting of the vision once at the beginning (Revelation 1:9,10).

Moreover, the historical portion of each of the visions of Daniel starts at the time of the vision rather than some years earlier or later. In contrast, most of the historical interpretations of the trumpets begin not at the time of John’s exile on Patmos (usually thought to be about A.D.95) but at an earlier or later date.

[2] The details of the various visions of Daniel can be correlated with each other. For example, the iron legs and ten toes of the fourth kingdom of Daniel 2 correlate with the iron teeth and ten horns of the fourth empire of chapter 7. Likewise the four heads of the third empire of chapter 7 correlate with the four horns which came up toward the four winds of heaven of chapter 8, as well as the “kingdom…divided toward the four winds of heaven” of chapter 11.

In contrast, the symbols and details of the trumpets cannot be correlated with the other “historical” passages (the seven churches and seven seals, according to those who hold this theory). For example, the elements of the first trumpet are hail, fire, blood, trees, green grass and burning up. These do not correlate with the elements of the first church (seven stars, golden lampstands, false apostles) or with the elements of the first seal (the first living creature, a voice like thunder, a white horse, a bow, crowns, conquering activity). Likewise the other trumpets do not correlate with their “corresponding” seals or churches.

[3] These include the sealing of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13, 4:30, 2 Corinthians 1:22), the seal of circumcision (Romans 4:11) and the seal of apostleship (1 Corinthians 9:2).

[4] In the historicist interpretation of Daniel, every beast, metal and horn can be identified in the well-known facts of history. This is in contrast, for example, to the locusts of 9:7-10 with their hair like women’s hair, teeth like lions’ teeth, breastplates of iron, wings with a sound like chariots and tails like scorpions. Most commentators who support a historical interpretation do not even attempt to make an application of these details.