The Seven Trumpets
In the scene of the fifth seal, we saw that the cry of God’s oppressed people reflects the cry of the faithful of all ages. These faithful ones were portrayed as souls under the altar, crying to God for justice and vindication, saying: “ ‘How long, O Lord?’ ” (Rev. 6:10, NKJV). The voice from heaven urged them to wait, because the day was coming when God would judge those who harmed them. Revelation 6:15–17 pictures Jesus returning to this earth and bringing judgment upon those who did evil to His faithful followers.
The scene of the fifth seal represents the experience of God’s suffering people throughout history, from the time of Abel until the time when God will finally judge and avenge “ ‘the blood of His servants’ ” (Rev. 19:2, NKJV). God’s suffering people must remain firm and believe that God hears the prayers of His people.
The vision of the seven trumpets shows that, throughout history, God already has intervened on behalf of His oppressed people and has judged those who harmed them. The purpose of the seven trumpets is to assure God’s people that heaven is not indifferent to their suffering.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, February 16.
Revelation 8 opens with a picture of seven angels standing before God, ready to blow their trumpets. Before the trumpets are blown, another scene is inserted. Its purpose is to explain the theological meaning of the trumpets.
Read Revelation 8:3, 4 along with the description of the daily services in the temple in Jerusalem given below: a Jewish commentary on the Bible explains that at the evening sacrifice the lamb was placed upon the altar of burnt offering, and the blood was poured out at the base of the altar. An appointed priest took the golden censer inside the temple and offered incense on the golden altar in the Holy Place. When the priest came out, he threw the censer down on the pavement, producing a loud noise. At that point, seven priests blew their trumpets, marking the end of the temple services for that day.
One can see how the language of the evening service is used in Revelation 8:3–5. It is significant that the angel receives incense at the “golden altar which was before the throne” (Rev. 8:3, NKJV). The incense represents the prayers of God’s people (Rev. 5:8). Their prayers are now being answered by God.
Revelation 8:3–5 provides important information regarding the trumpets in Revelation:
a. The seven trumpets are God’s judgments on rebellious humanity in response to the prayers of His oppressed people.
b. The trumpets follow the death of Jesus as the Lamb and run consecutively throughout history until the Second Coming (see Rev. 11:15–18).
The angel fills the censer with fire from the altar and hurls it down to the earth. Significantly, this fire comes from the very altar on which the prayers of the saints were offered. The fact that the fire comes from that very altar shows that the seven trumpet judgments fall upon the inhabitants of the earth in answer to the prayers of God’s people and also that God will intervene in their behalf in His appointed time. The throwing down of the censer also may be a warning that Christ’s intercession will not last forever. There will be a close of probationary time (see Rev. 22:11, 12).
In portraying God’s interventions on behalf of His people, Revelation uses the imagery of trumpets in the Old Testament. Trumpets were an important part of the daily life of ancient Israel (see Num. 10:8–10 and 2 Chron. 13:14, 15). Their sound reminded people of the worship in the temple; trumpets also were blown in battle, at harvesttime, and during festivals.
Blowing trumpets went hand in hand with prayer. During worship in the temple or during the festivals, the trumpets “reminded” God of His covenant with His people. They also reminded people to be ready for the “day of the Lord” (Joel 2:1). During battle, the trumpet sound gave key instruction and warnings and called upon God to save His people. This concept is the backdrop for the trumpets in Revelation.
The events triggered by the trumpets in Revelation denote God’s intervention in history in response to the prayers of His people. While the seals concern primarily those who profess to be God’s people, the trumpets herald judgments against the inhabitants of the earth (Rev. 8:13). At the same time, they are warnings for those who dwell on the earth to bring them to repentance before it is too late.
The seven trumpets cover the course of events from John’s time until the conclusion of this earth’s history (Rev. 11:15–18). They are blown while intercession goes on in heaven (Rev. 8:3–6) and the gospel is being preached on earth (Rev. 10:8–11:14). The judgments of the trumpets are partial; they affect only one third of creation. The seventh trumpet announces that the time has arrived for God to assume His rightful rule. The seven trumpets apply approximately to the same periods covered by the seven churches and the seven seals:
(a) The first two trumpets herald judgments upon the nations that crucified Christ and persecuted the early church: rebellious Jerusalem and the Roman Empire.
(b) The third and fourth trumpets portray heaven’s judgment against the apostasy of the Christian church in the medieval period. (c) The fifth and sixth trumpets describe the warring factions in the religious world during the late medieval and post-Reformation periods. These periods are characterized by increasing demonic activity that ultimately draws the world into the battle of Armageddon.
The sixth trumpet brings us to the time of the end. What are God’s people called to do during this time? Before the seventh trumpet sounds, an interlude is inserted, explaining the task and experience of God’s people at the end time.
“The mighty angel who instructed John was no less a personage than Jesus Christ.”—Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 971. He places His feet on the sea and the land, signifying His universal rule and that what He is about to proclaim has worldwide significance. He shouts with the roar of a lion. A lion’s roar symbolizes God’s voice (see Hos. 11:10, Rev. 5:5).
John is not allowed to write down what the thunders have said. There are things concerning the future that God has not revealed to us through John.
When the Angel states that there will “be time no longer” (Rev. 10:6), the Greek word chronos shows that He refers to a period of time. This points back to Daniel 12:6, 7, where an angel states the persecution of the saints will last for a time, times, and half a time, or 1,260 years (a.d. 538–1798) during which the church was persecuted by the papacy (compare Dan. 7:25). Since in Daniel and Revelation a prophetic “day” symbolizes a year (Num. 14:34, Ezek. 4:6), 360 “days” equal 360 years, and three and a half times (or “years”) equals 1,260 “days” or years. Sometime after this prophetic period, the end would come.
The statement that time will be no longer refers to the time prophecies of Daniel, particularly the 2,300 prophetic days of Daniel 8:14 (457 b.c.–a.d. 1844). After this period, there no longer will be prophetic time periods. Ellen White states: “This time, which the angel declares with a solemn oath, is . . . prophetic time, which should precede the advent of our Lord. That is, the people will not have another message upon definite time. After this period of time, reaching from 1842 to 1844, there can be no definite tracing of the prophetic time. The longest reckoning reaches to the autumn of 1844.”—Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 971.
Read Revelation 10:8–11. Eating in the Bible is used to describe the acceptance of a message from God in order to proclaim it to the people (see Ezek. 2:8–3:11, Jer. 15:16). When received, the message is good news; but when it is proclaimed, it sometimes results in bitterness as it is resisted and rejected by many.
John’s bittersweet experience in eating the scroll (representing the book of Daniel) is related to the unsealing of Daniel’s end-time prophecies. John here represents God’s end-time remnant church that is commissioned to proclaim the everlasting gospel (see Rev. 14:6, 7) at the close of Daniel’s time prophecy (Dan. 7:25) or 1,260 days/years.
The context indicates that John’s vision points to another bittersweet experience at the conclusion of the prophetic 2,300-year period. When, on the basis of Daniel’s prophecies, the Millerites thought that Christ would return in 1844, that message was sweet to them. However, when Christ did not appear as expected, they experienced a bitter disappointment and searched the Scriptures for a clearer understanding.
John’s commission to “prophesy again” to the world points to Sabbath-keeping Adventists, raised up to proclaim the message of the Second Coming in connection with the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation.
This passage continues the scene of Revelation 10. John was commanded to measure the temple, the altar, and the worshipers. The concept of measuring in the Bible refers figuratively to judgment (see Matt. 7:2). The temple that was to be measured is in heaven, where Jesus ministers for us. The reference to the temple, the altar, and the worshipers points to the Day of Atonement (see Lev. 16:16–19). This day was a day of “measuring,” as God judged His people. Thus, Revelation 11:1 refers to the judgment that takes place prior to the Second Coming. This judgment concerns exclusively God’s people— the worshipers in the temple.
Revelation 11:1 shows that the heavenly-sanctuary message lies at the heart of the final gospel proclamation, which includes the vindication of God’s character. As such, it gives the full dimension of the gospel message regarding the atoning work of Christ and His righteousness as the only means of salvation for human beings.
The idea of two witnesses comes from the Jewish legal system, which requires at least two witnesses to establish something as true (John 8:17). The two witnesses represent the Bible—both Old and New Testaments. The two cannot be separated. God’s people are called to proclaim the full Bible message to the world—“ ‘the whole counsel of God’ ” (Acts 20:27, NKJV).
The witnesses are pictured as prophesying in sackcloth during the prophetic period of 1,260 days/years (a.d. 538–1798). Sackcloth is the garment of mourning (Gen. 37:34); it points to the difficult time when the truths of the Bible were buried, and covered over, by human traditions.
The beast that kills the two witnesses arises from the very abode of Satan. This killing of the witnesses applies historically to the atheistic attack on the Bible and the abolition of religion in connection with the events of the French Revolution. The antireligious system established in France possessed the moral degradation of Sodom, the atheistic arrogance of Egypt, and the rebelliousness of Jerusalem. What happened to Jesus in Jerusalem now happens to the Bible by this antireligious system.
The resurrection of the witnesses points to the great revival of interest in the Bible in the aftermath of the French Revolution, which resulted in the rise of the Second Advent movement with its restoration of Bible truth, the establishment of Bible societies, and the worldwide distribution of the Bible.
Right before the end, the world will witness one final global Bible proclamation (Rev. 18:1–4). This final message will provoke opposition empowered by the demonic entities, working miracles, to deceive the world and draw worshipers of the beast into a final battle against God’s faithful witnesses (see Rev. 16:13–16; Rev. 14:12).
Further Thought: The seventh trumpet (Rev. 11:15–18) signals the conclusion of this earth’s history. The time has come for God to reveal His power and to reign. This rebellious planet, which has been under the dominion of Satan for thousands of years, is about to come back under God’s dominion and rule. It was after Christ’s death on the cross and His ascension to heaven that Christ was proclaimed to be the legitimate ruler of the earth (Rev. 12:10, 11). Satan continues to wreak all the havoc he can, knowing that his time is short (Rev. 12:12). The seventh trumpet heralds that the usurping powers have been dealt with and that this world finally has come under Christ’s rightful rule.
The seventh trumpet outlines the content of the remainder of the book: (1) The nations were angry: Revelation 12–14 describes Satan as filled with anger (Rev. 12:17), who with his two allies—the sea beast and the earth beast—prepares the nations of the world to fight against God’s people. (2) Your wrath has come: God’s answer to the anger of the nations is the seven last plagues, which are referred to as God’s wrath (see Rev. 15:1). (3) The time for the dead to be judged is described in Revelation 20:11–15. (4) And to reward God’s servants is portrayed in Revelation 21 and 22. (5) To destroy those who destroy the earth: Revelation 19:2 states that end-time Babylon is judged because it destroyed the earth. The destruction of Satan, his hosts, and his two allies is the final act in the drama of the great controversy (Rev. 19:11–20:15).