13 The Trumpet Judgments


A quick summary, first, of the conclusions that have already been stated regarding the trumpets.

1. The sixth seal is a summary of the trumpet programme.

2. The seventh trumpet introduces the vial series.

3. A new section of Revelation, the 'signs' section, begins with chapter 12. The signs run parallel with the trumpets.

Another impressive parallel

Careful readers of Revelation will already have noted a parallel between the trumpets and the vials. Here is a table of comparison. In each case, only a key word or phrase is set down. Readers might like to do their own checking: Revelation 8—11 concerns the trumpets, and chapter 16 the vials.



1st. earth


2nd. sea (salt water)

sea (salt water)

3rd. rivers and fountains (fresh water)

rivers and fountains (fresh water)

4th. sun, moon, stars

sun, moon, stars

5th. sun and air darkened

kingdom of beast full of darkness

6th. River Euphrates

River Euphrates

7th. "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord"

"It is done"

Significant differences

Despite the impressive parallel, there are significant differences:

1. Repeatedly the word "third" occurs in the trumpet series (". . . and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars . . ." etc.) This fractional feature does not apply to the vials. The devastating effect of these bowls of divine wrath affects the whole.

2. The consequences of the seven trumpet blasts cover a long period. Warnings and encouragements are interspersed. In contrast, the vials come in rapid succession. Their finality is implied by the words, "the seven last plagues".

3. Though providentially directed, the trumpet judgments are effected through a variety of agents, some of them evidently human. The sound of the trumpet is the signal for a destructive operation to begin. The vials, however, are all poured out by angels. (It has been suggested, however, by some expositors, that these angels represent saints because they are clothed in white linen.)

4. Because the seventh trumpet marks the end of the waiting period of the saints, the people of God do not share in any way in the suffering that follows the pouring out of the vials. Indeed, they are vindicated by these judgments. (See Revelation 16:5, 6, 7.)

5. This leads to the conclusion that the trumpets are sounded before the advent (the seventh announcing the Lord's presence). The vials, which follow, are post-adventual.

The sealing of the 144,000

Now let us try to fit the trumpet series into a larger 'Revelation' context.

A useful clue is provided in chapter 7:

"And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth,neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads" (verses 1,2, 3).

Immediately after this, details are given about the sealing of the 144,000.

Turning now to chapter 8, which concerns the first four trumpets, it is interesting to observe that the first two trumpets "hurt" those things which were protected until the sealing had been completed. The first trumpet hurts the earth and the trees, and the second, the sea:

"The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the

third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up. And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; and the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died . . ." (8:7-9). The fact that the destructive operations introduced by the first two trumpets are held back until the sealing of the 144,000 means that the sealing of the 144,000 comes before the trumpets. The servants of God are marked before the judgments begin.

A sealing operation is described in Ezekiel 9. This chapter speaks of six men, each with a "destroying weapon" in his hand, being sent to slay the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Before them goes a man "clothed with white linen, with a writer's inkhorn by his side". His instructions are: "Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof." The other six are told: "Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: slay utterly old and young, both maids and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary" (Ezekiel 9:4-6).

Sealing first, then destruction: the parallel between Ezekiel and Revelation is impressive.

Who then are the 144,000 who are sealed? Repeatedly, emphatically , they are declared to be Israelites. The twelve tribes are mentioned, one by one: from each of the tribes 12,000 are sealed. It is not suggested that the numbers are to be taken literally; that there are exactly 12,000 from Manasseh, and not a single one from Dan — though there must be significance in the omissions and the inclusions, and lessons to be learned.

Verse 9 of Revelation 7 presents a marked contrast: "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands . . ." Having heard the number of those who were sealed from the tribes of Israel, John now sees a great multitude "which no man could number, of all nations . . ." The scope of the gospel preaching has been extended. Paul's words come to mind: "It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46).

Note the three points of contrast between the 144,000 and the "great multitude":


"great multitude"

1. John "heard"

John "beheld"

2. A specified number (in the symbolic language of the chapter)

"a great multitude, which no man could number"

3. Of the tribes of Israel.

"of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues"

These three points of contrast are sufficient to demonstrate that whereas the 144,000 represent the redeemed of Israel before the door of opportunity was finally closed to them, the "great multitude" represents, as the words imply, the redeemed from all nations.

Isaiah 49 concerns the destiny of both Jews and Gentiles. It is interesting to observe that in the section of Revelation 7 concerning the great multitude there is a quotation (in verses 16,17) from the 'Gentile' section of Isaiah 49: "They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them" (verse 10).

Further reference is made to the 144,000 in Revelation 14. Here they stand with the Lamb upon Mount Zion. Many seem to take it for granted that these are the redeemed of all nations, and would want to argue that the 144,000 of chapter 7 should be understood in the same way.

But is it so obvious? There is evidence that the 144,000 of chapter 14 are also of Israelitish stock. Observe first that they are called "firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb" (14:4) — an expression particularly appropriate for the redeemed of Israel; and then take note of the fact that the harvest (the agricultural imagery is carried through) is spoken of in verse 15 of the same chapter — and no one would question the application of this passage to the saints generally.

Judgments on Israel and on her destroyer

Sealing first, then destruction. The proposition therefore is this, the 144,000 should be thought of as the redeemed of Israel who were reconciled to God before the nation was rejected. When the number of God's elect from Israel was completed, judgment descended on the people and the land.

It has been noted that whereas earth, trees and sea were protected before the sealing of the 144,000, they suffer damage after this operation. These acts of devastation are consequences of the sounding of the first two trumpets.

Immediately before the details of the first trumpet are recorded, the following words occur:

"And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thun-derings, and lightnings, and an earthquake" (8:5). These words should be compared with those of Ezekiel 10:2 — the chapter that follows the one concerning the marking on the forehead of the righteous in Jerusalem:

"And he spake unto the man clothed with linen, and said, Go in between the wheels, even under the cherub, and fill thine hand with coals of fire from between the cherubims, and scatter them over the city."

Ezekiel and Revelation are still running parallel. In Ezekiel, the Babylonians were the instruments of God's judgments on Israel. In the corresponding judgments of the first trumpet of Revelation, God's instruments of punishment are the Romans. The hail and fire of the first trumpet recall visitations on Sodom and Egypt. Now, however, Jerusalem, the city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, and the land associated with it, are laid waste. What then of the casting of this great mountain burning with fire into the sea? Although Sinai is called "the mount. . . that burned with fire" in Hebrews 12:18, and Sinai is a symbol of the Israel of the Old Covenant, it seems unlikely that the second trumpet is also concerned with the destruction of the Jewish kingdom. This kingdom had virtually lost its independence before the great preaching campaign of the Lord and his apostles, and the fiery judgments of the first trumpet would surely be sufficient to account for the ultimate ruin of this kingdom.

The mountain of the second trumpet is a great mountain, and its effect on the sea is immense, turning a third of it into blood and destroying many sea creatures and ships. Here is the antithesis of the creative work of Genesis 1, when land came forth from the sea. It represents the ultimate in divine wrath on a kingdom — "though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea" (Psalm 46:2).

Concerning Babylon, the first destroyer of Israel, the prophet Jeremiah says: "Behold, I am against thee, O destroying mountain, saith the Lord . . . and will make thee a burnt mountain" (51:25).

The suggestion offered here is that now the Roman power, having fulfilled God's purpose in destroying Israel, is itself destroyed. She is the burning mountain that causes such havoc when cast into the sea.

The third and fourth trumpets

The third trumpet concerns a star that falls from heaven. Burning like a lamp, it falls on rivers and fountains of water, making them bitter. Those who drink of these bitter waters die. Lying behind this remarkable piece of symbolism is a bewildering array of related scriptures. Genesis provides the key. The rivers of Eden were life-giving streams for irrigating thirsty land: they were not channels of transport.1 The rivers and fountains of water that gave life to the world of the apostles and their contemporaries were the words of the gospel message. The call of the gospel is described in Isaiah 55 as an invitation to drink freely, and those who respond are led to living fountains of water, in the language of Revelation 7:17. These life-giving streams were poisoned by something — a falling star!

One gets the impression from Jude (13) that wandermg or shooting stars represent false teachers. Here is a star that falls from heaven and then poisons the life-giving gospel streams. Following up the recommendation that we should look for parallels between the trumpet and the sign sections of Revelation,2 could not this star, cast from heaven to earth, be regarded as the equivalent of the dragon, that old serpent, of Revelation 12, which was cast from heaven to earth? The validity of this parallel is confirmed by the juxtaposition in each setting of the cry of "woe to the in-habiters of the earth". In chapter 8, people drink the water; in chapter 12, the earth swallows a flood (of propaganda?) from the mouth of the dragon/serpent. Of course there is a difference of emphasis. Whereas the dragon similitude invites us to witness the ejection of a political power, the star burning like a lamp suggests religious activity.

What then does this light-bearing star that kills people by poisoning fresh water mean? (Incidentally, it may already have occurred to some readers that this is the opposite of the miracle of Marah.3) Surely this is a brilliant description of the meteoric fall of the religion of the Jews, whose bitter teaching subsequently defiled and destroyed so many potential Christians.

The Jews of New Testament times regarded themselves as God's special people. Unto them had been committed the oracles of God,4 though ironically they rejected the man whose coming their prophets had foretold. The words of the Lord Jesus come to mind: "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven" (Luke 10:18). Because these people rejected the Lord Jesus and his apostles, God rejected them and permitted the Romans to destroy the land and many of the people. Yet their religion did not die; and in the immediate sense the graceless Judaism of this discredited people prevailed. The life-giving streams of Christianity were poisoned by Judaism. To use the words of Hebrews 12 (verse 15), a root of bitterness had sprung up and many had been defiled. Two features of this corrupt Christianity were: a host of priestly rituals, and the doctrine of justification by works. Both of these were derived from the Law of Moses — not the law as God had intended it, a system of works designed to lead the people to Christ, and having done so to disappear,5 but the law as misunderstood by the Jews who rejected Christ. By making it into a permanent institution they built a barrier between man and God.

In the fourth trumpet there is a reminder that we are now approaching the time of the end. The striking similarity between the Lord's prophecy concerning the last days in Luke 21 (signs in sun, moon and stars, and upon earth distress of nations with perplexity) and the details of the fourth trumpet followed by the cry of woe to the inhabiters of the earth, have been noted.6

God is the great, original source of light. Put there by the power of God, the sun was appointed to "rule the day" (Genesis 1:16). According to God's will, the sun was darkened, or commanded to stand still, or caused to go back, or made to look feeble in the presence of a greater glory. It is a fitting symbol of Gentile rulers who are set up or deposed according to the will of the Almighty.7 The smiting of the third part of the sun, moon and stars is then an appropriate way of describing disturbances amongst political and ecclesiastical rulers — a characteristic of the last days. To most readers this will not be a new thought.

The first woe

So to the latter-day judgments on scattered Israel that seem to be referred to in the fifth trumpet, or the first woe of Revelation 9. The locusts of the fifth trumpet act in a very un-locust-like way. Unlike real locusts, they have a king.8 And, astonishing to relate, they are forbidden to touch grass or any vegetation! Once again the instruction seems to be: "Hurt not the earth, nor the trees" — only on this occasion it is given to locusts.

The land has no immediate relevance. At the time of this prophecy the land of Israel has been laid waste. As a consequence of the first trumpet the third part of trees was burnt up and all green grass (8:7).

The people of Israel have been scattered into other lands, but the locusts pursue them relentlessly. As in Joel, these locusts are a symbol of the enemies of Israel. The thoroughness of locusts is proverbial. The people who have cut themselves off from God — "which have not the seal of God in their foreheads" (9:4) — are persecuted so severely that they seek death. As a nation, they want to die. They want to lose their national identity and be assimilated by other nations and thus escape persecution: but this is denied them. It will be recalled that all this happened to the Jews in Europe before and during the second world war. The process of assimilation had gone a very long way in Germany where Jewish persecution was so severe.

The second woe

"One woe is past, and behold, there come two woes more hereafter" (9:12). Events move on.

The sixth trumpet describes the next phase, when Israel is restored to its land. In ancient days the Euphrates was important because of its strategic position relative to Israel. Invading armies came from the other side of this river of Babylon. Here then, it is suggested, is a great, invading army. Two hundred million. Literal or not, it conveys the impression of a vast company.

The associations of the Euphrates with ancient Babylon may provide a clue. The name Babylon conies from Babel, the place where the nations were united in wicked endeavour until God frustrated their purposes by confounding their tongues (Genesis 11). The modern counterpart of Babel is the United Nations. Does the vast army of the sixth trumpet, poised for action, represent the nations brought together by a common desire to destroy Israel? This is a situation that could develop soon. Many nations are already in a mood to wipe Israel off the map of the world.

Of course this is a subject of prophecy outside of Revelation. Joel 3 and Zechariah 14 come immediately to mind, and Psalm 83 is probably relevant. Arab oil is an important factor in modern politics. Many nations have already shown their willingness to sell their consciences for oil.

Thus the stage is set for the events of Revelation 11. Early in the chapter comes the reminder that Jerusalem is still not a Jewish city: "The holy city shall they tread underfoot forty and two months" (verse 2).

The third woe

Things happen quickly. The two witnesses; the beast from the bottomless pit — a Jewish beast; the vindication of the witnesses. The seventh trumpet or third woe.

The seven last plagues; the destruction of Babylon, the destruction of the beast . . .

References and Notes

1. Genesis 2:10

2. See Part 2, chapter 12 — The great division; complementary prophecies.

3. Exodus 15:23-26

4. Romans 3 :2

5. Galatians 3:24,25

6. Part 1, chapter 3. See section concerning Revelation 8 and 9.

7. Sun: darkened — Exodus 10:21; stood still — Joshua 10:12,13; turned back — 2 Kings 20:10,11; made to look feeble by greater glory — Acts 9:3 (compare Acts 26:13). In Ezekiel 32:7 the abasement of Pharaoh is described in terms of an eclipse of the sun: "And when I shall extinguish thee ... I will cover the sun with a cloud" (R V).

8. Proverbs 30:27

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