Welcome to a revelation of Jesus. In the last two videos we have laid the foundation for our study of the Seven Trumpets. We have seen that they include end-time disasters (destruction, pollution, fire, poisoned waters, wars, pestilences and etc.) that Satan inflicts upon the world.
In this video we will take a detailed look at the first four trumpets.
“The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth. And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up” (Revelation 8:7). Before we check out links to the Old Testament to find out the symbolic meaning of trees, grass and blood, we should recognize that not all of Revelation is highly symbolic. While figures like the beasts, horns, women, and water that we find in various sections of Revelation are most certainly symbolic, there is evidence that the figures in the first half of the Seven Trumpets are not.
Let’s look first at the chiastic structure. As we saw in video #4, Revelation is arranged in mirror-image sections, and we can answer questions about one section by looking at the features of its chiastic pair. The Seven Trumpets are paired with chapters 15 through 18. This section is divided into two parts, the Seven Last Plagues and the judgment of Babylon. Although the judgment of Babylon is highly symbolic, with a blood-thirsty harlot sitting on a seven-headed ten-horned beast, the Seven Last Plagues do not seem to be very symbolic.
The plagues start with loathsome sores. These seem to be very real, not symbolic sores; “They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent” (Revelation 16:11).
The sea and water become like blood. The sun gets too hot and then the beast’s kingdom is plunged into darkness. There is a mighty earthquake and devastating hail. All of these seem to be literal descriptions of real things that will happen just before Jesus returns.
The Seven Trumpets are the chiastic pair of the Seven Last Plagues and the judgment of Babylon, and they too are divided into two parts. The second half with a bizarre mighty angel, a book to eat, measuring the temple, and the two witnesses who are “two olive trees and two lampstands” (Revelation 11:4) are obviously very symbolic. But considering that the first half is paired with the literal Seven Last Plagues, we would suspect that it is literal too.
This hypothesis is supported by the use of simile in the first half. As you may remember from your grade school English classes, figures of speech include metaphors and similes. In Revelation highly symbolic metaphors abound which use a figure to symbolize something else; for example, “the ten horns which you saw are ten kings” (Revelation 17:12).
But similes, in which something is described as being like something else, are widely used in the first half of the trumpets. For example:
- “Something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea” (Revelation 8:8).
- “The shape of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle. On their heads were crowns of something like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men… the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses running into battle” (Revelation 9:7-9).
There are many more examples, especially in the first and second woe.
The use of simile suggests that John saw real but unfamiliar things that would appear in the future, and since he did not have words for them he compared them with things that he knew about. For example, if he was shown attack helicopters he would have no idea what they were, but he could compare them with huge locusts that sounded like galloping horses.
Now I’m not saying that the locusts that John described in Revelation chapter 9 are attack helicopters. I’m saying that John saw things in the future that he didn’t have the language or technical background to identify clearly so he used comparisons.
Coming back to the first trumpet, John saw “hail and fire, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth. And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up” (Revelation 8:7).
Although we can only speculate as to what the “hail and fire, mingled with blood” might be, we are familiar with massive forest fires, and the ones prophesied here take the most destructive fires that we have seen to a new level of devastation.
“Then the second angel sounded, and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. And a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed” (Revelation 8:8,9). Again we see fire falling from the sky, this time much larger than the hail and fire of the first trumpet.
This burning mountain is unusual because it turns a third of the water into blood. I am not thinking that this section is so literal that a laboratory analysis would find hemoglobin and white blood cells in what used to be the sea after the burning mountain falls into it. No doubt a massive red tide would look enough like the blood that John would call it blood.
One consideration is the extent of these plagues. A burning mountain that was big enough to damage a third of the world’s oceans and destroy a third of the world’s ships would cause such a huge tsunami that much of the world’s population would be wiped out. But the massive loss of life is not mentioned here; it is not until the next trumpet that we see that “many people died” (Revelation 8:11).
The fact is that the Bible writers don’t talk about oceans. The Greek word thallasa is used for medium-sized lakes like the sea of Galilee all the way up to the Great Sea, the Mediterranean. Israel’s neighbors the Phoenicians were aware of the Atlantic Ocean out beyond the straits of Gibraltar, but the farthest the Bible takes us is Spain. Solomon’s trading ships on the gulf of Aqaba may have ventured via the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean and Africa, but if they did it is not mentioned in the Bible.
So it may be that when John said that a burning mountain was thrown into the sea, he was referring to the Mediterranean sea. Of course, even a catastrophe of that magnitude would have earth-shaking ramifications. But it doesn’t seem like the second trumpet is a mass extinction type of event.
Going on, “The third angel sounded: and a great star fell from heaven burning 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 men died from the water because it was made bitter” (Revelation 8:10,11).
The star was called Wormwood, and it caused the rivers and water to become like wormwood.
Wormwood is a very bitter but not particularly poisonous herb that is sometimes used medicinally or to flavor alcoholic beverages. In Jeremiah 9 God says through the prophet, “Because they have forsaken My law which I set before them… and have walked according to the dictates of their own hearts… I will feed them, this people with wormwood” (Jeremiah 9:13-15). Here we see that God warned His people who disregarded His law that they would have to drink bitter wormwood, an indication of how bitter life is when we abandon God.
But in the previous video we saw that Satan is the source of the trumpet plagues; they are a counterfeit of the Seven Last Plagues, and Satan uses them to accomplish his purposes. We will see several times and especially in chapter 13 that Satan brings on disasters and then blames them on God.
We just read in Jeremiah 9 that God warned His people that they would drink wormwood if they forsook His law. During the Seven Trumpets, Satan will spread the narrative that we have broken God’s law and He is punishing us. He will then tell the world what they have to do in order to get right with God, and thus recruit the multitudes into following him in his diabolical plans to destroy God’s faithful followers.
Keep in mind also that in the first half of the Seven Trumpets John compared things that he knew about, like wormwood, to try to describe things that he saw in a vision that he wasn’t familiar with. Wormwood is very bitter but not very deadly, but the wormwood from this star made the water so poisonous that “many people died from the water because it was made bitter” (Revelation 8:11).
There was some substance or influence from this star that spread through the water supplies and caused the water to have a bitter flavor and a deadly influence. Before we speculate as to what that might be, let’s review the fourth trumpet.
“Then the fourth angel sounded: 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 were darkened. A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night” (Revelation 8:12).
The first three trumpets were similar: fiery hail, a fiery mountain, and a fiery star burning up the grass and trees and poisoning the water. The fourth trumpet was different: the sun, moon, and stars were struck and lost a third of their light.
It is hard to imagine that some actual damage to the heavenly bodies takes place in the far reaches of outer space. But the explosive destruction and massive fires described in the first three trumpets would cause dust and smoke to billow up into the atmosphere, causing darkness and severe weather disturbances.
Little “ice ages” and summerless years have been geologically correlated with major volcanic eruptions, and computer models show that volcanoes, large asteroid strikes, or extensive nuclear warfare with resulting dust and smoke can partially obscure the sun. So the fourth trumpet may not be a new assault, but the result of the first three trumpets.
Notice that in the fourth trumpet there is a major emphasis on a third: a third of the sun, a third of the moon, a third of the stars, a third of the day, and a third of the night were affected. Although there will certainly be a literal reduction in the amount of light, John’s description is not so much designed to detail the number of lumens that will be shining from the heavenly bodies.
As we pointed out in the previous video, John uses a third to identify the source of the plagues.
Satan, described as a fiery red dragon in Revelation 12, “drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth” (Revelation 12:4). I want to take a minute to talk about why a third is used to describe Satan’s activity.
We arrive at a third by dividing a whole something into three parts and focusing on one of the divisions. Three represents the divine union: “the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). There is one God but He is a union of the three divine persons. This incomprehensible reality is expressed in the doctrine of the Trinity.
The word trinity is not found in the Bible, but the concept of the Trinity is found in many scriptures, as you can find with a simple internet search. Some of the most destructive divisions and heresies have resulted from efforts to define the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But the importance of the trinity is not so that we can understand a theological doctrine, but so that we can understand more about God’s character.
“God is love” (1 John 4:8). His very nature is other-centered; Jesus said, “You, Father, loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). Even before creation the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit loved to love each other. The closest we can come to understand this kind of love is in a family.
A newlywed husband and wife may believe that there can be no greater depth of love than that which they have for each other. But when children arrive they find that the love they see their partner expressing for their beloved child kindles a new depth of love that they didn’t know was possible. Three is the minimum number that allows the fullest extent of unselfish love.
But Satan is the complete opposite of unselfish love. He is all about himself. Instead of wanting to love others, he wants others to love or at least serve and worship him. One third, the anti-trinity, is a fitting number to describe him, his kingdom principles, and his activity in the world.
Coming back to the Seven Trumpets, the emphasis that they destroy “a third” may not be so much an attempt to quantify the extent of the destruction as to identify the source: Satan, the “angel of the bottomless pit” who is introduced in the next trumpet.
Let’s consider now what the first four trumpets might be. The first three are fairly similar: hail and fire mingled with blood falling on the earth, a mountain burning with fire thrown into the sea turning it into blood, and a star burning like a torch falling on the waters and making them bitter. Since these represent disasters that Satan will bring about in the future, it is largely a matter of conjecture as to what they will actually be.
Jesus said, “I tell you before it comes that when it does come to pass, you may believe” (John 13:19). This principle applies here—God’s followers will recognise through the Holy Spirit these disasters as the fulfillment of prophecy, and this will help them know where they are in the stream of time.
That being said, there are some fairly obvious candidates. One would be a collision of the earth with a comet or asteroid. In 1994 the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 struck the planet Jupiter, “providing the first direct observation of an extra-terrestrial collision of Solar System objects” (Wikipedia Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9).
As the comet approached, the planet gravity tore it into pieces and it made a series of strikes, some large “chunks” (which might resemble a burning mountain or falling star) and others smaller (maybe looking like hail and fire). I don’t think that science can predict whether the “dirty ice” of a comet or an exploding asteroid could cause the type of fiery and poisonous conditions described in this passage. We do know that a collision with a large asteroid or comet would cause massive destruction and climate change.
It seems to me that a more likely candidate would be a nuclear attack with multiple warheads. Besides the resulting fires which could destroy trees, grass, and ships, the poisonous radiation would be like “wormwood,” contaminating the water so that it would kill those who drank it.
Since the trumpets are brought about by Satan’s activity, it seems more likely that they would represent warfare which he could easily incite rather than a collision with a heavenly body like an asteroid or comet which he presumably does not control. And in fact, the language of the rest of the first six trumpets points to a devastating armed conflict.
For example, in the fifth trumpet, John saw an army of what looked like “locusts” whose appearance was “like horses prepared for battle” and whose sound was “like the sound of chariots with many horses running into battle” (Revelation 9:7,9).
The sixth trumpet also involves a huge army: “The number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million” who “kill a third of mankind… by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which came out of their mouths” (Revelation 9:16-18).
The language and images all point to a global conflict incited and directed by Satan himself—“And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit” (Revelation 9:11). In the next video we will see that links to Old Testament prophecies will enable us to identify the details and even the protagonists in the greatest war of all time.
The fourth trumpet concludes with a startling announcement. “And [John] looked, and he heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, ‘Woe, Woe, Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound” (Revelation 8:13).
The chaotic conditions that result from the first four trumpet plagues set the stage for the three “woes” that follow.
The use of the word “woe” shows that Satan is going to be working fiendishly to bring about destruction and death. But the phrase, “An angel flying in the midst of heaven” reminds us that Satan is not the only one who will be active.
In Revelation 14 John saw “another angel flying in the midst of heaven,” having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 14:6). God may not be protecting the world from the consequences of their sin, but He will be calling everyone to leave their sins behind and come into the safety of His love.
True, the Trumpets will bring about the most extensive and intense period of suffering the world has known up to that time, and Satan will appear to be triumphing. But by arresting the attention of every person on earth, the Seven Trumpets will also prepare the way for the most powerful proclamation of the gospel that has ever taken place.
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