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 LITERAL OR SYMBOLIC?

Another important consideration is whether the figures used in the trumpets should be considered to be fairly literal, or instead are highly symbolic or metaphorical. Obviously, much of Revelation is highly symbolic, but the extensive use of simile[1] in the first six trumpets (chapters eight and nine) suggests a fairly literal interpretation. John saw “something like a great mountain burning with fire…the shape of the locusts was like horses…their faces were as the faces of men” etc. The words for like and as (Greek hos, omios) are used to indicate a similarity between two things that are compared rather than a metaphorical or symbolic usage.

This understanding is supported by the chiastic pairing of the trumpets with the seven last plagues (see 1: Chiastic Literary Structure). One of the helpful features of the chiastic organization is that it allows a comparison of the analogous sections to see if the corresponding section uses symbols and figures in a literal or a highly symbolic way. The section analogous to the 7 trumpets is the seven last plagues/judgment of Babylon. The seven last plagues themselves use figures which seem to be fairly literal. For example, the first plague causes “a terrible and grievous sore…on the men who had the mark of the beast” (Revelation 16:2). There is nothing to indicate that this is not a literal sore, especially since later “they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores” (v.11). The sea and water becoming like blood (vs.3,4), the sun scorching men with great heat (v.8,9), the great earthquake (v.18) and great hail from heaven (v. 21) all seem to be literal.[2]

This is followed by the judgment of Babylon, which uses highly symbolic language, with beasts, horns, a woman, hills—and in this section there are explanations for a number of the symbols that are used.[3]

From this pattern we would expect that the seven trumpets would also have two sections, one relatively literal and the other more symbolic.[4] This seems to be the case, with a relatively literal section from Revelation 8:7 through 9:21 (the first six trumpets) followed by a symbolic section in chapters 10 and 11 (the seven thunders, the eating of the little book and the two witnesses).

Continue to next section: 8:5 THROWING DOWN THE CENSER



[1] Simile is “a figure of speech in which two distinct things are compared by using “like” or “as”, as in “she is like a rose.” Compare metaphor, which is the application of a word or phrase to an object or concept it does not literally denote…a symbol” Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, 1997, Random House

[2] There are some symbols in this section such as the River Euphrates (v. 12) and the unclean spirits like frogs (v. 13). But even verse 13 uses simile rather than metaphor (“like frogs”), and is a reference to the plague of frogs in Egypt. As will be seen in 16:13 The Unholy Trinity the purpose of this figure is to show that the evil spirits “like frogs” will be everywhere.

[3] For example, “the ten horns are ten kings…the waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and tongues” (Revelation 17: 12, 15).

[4] This phenomenon is also found in the seals (chapters 4 thorough 7) which are highly symbolic. Their analogous section, the executive judgment found in chapters 19 and 20 is also highly symbolic.