When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.
The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing 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 people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.
The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.
Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”
Understanding And Applying the Text
When the Lamb breaks the seventh seal there is silence in heaven for half an hour. Some think the reason there is silence is that Christ appeared as the final Warrior and Judge. (Mark 13-24-27). Heaven stood in awe of Him. This is not a bad guess. But John does not tell us why. So it is only a guess.
The next part of John’s vision is the seven trumpets. The flow of the vision of seven trumpets is like the flow of the breaking of the seven seals. With each trumpet, the judgment becomes more devastating. And there is a break in the narrative between the sixth and seventh.
This raises a question. Are these the same events in different imagery? Or Are they different events?
This is apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic literature is full of symbols, metaphors, and figurative language. Also, John is in heaven. He saw things in the spiritual realm. Natural events occur as a result of events in the spiritual realm.
My position is the seven seals and the seven trumpets describe the same natural events. I am no alone. Many others take this position. There are both futurist and preterist who hold this position.
Some claim this is spiritualizing the text. That condemnation ignores the fact Christ tells us in chapter 1 this is a book of figures and images. (Revelation 1:20) John tells us twice he was in the spirit. (1:10; 4:2) This is in spiritualizing the text. The text its self says so.
Those who spiritualize the book are taking it literally. That is, they take the book as John intended. Those who spiritualize the text are true to its nature. Taking it in a wooden literal sense distorts the message. In fact, no one is consistent in taking the book in a literal sense. The imagery is too strong to allow that.
Being spiritual does not mean less real. The reality in the Spiritual realm manifests itself in the natural realm. John’s peers into the spiritual realm and tells us what he sees there.
The seven seals began with an announcement of riders. These riders were to bring calamities (6:1–8:1). The seven trumpets, describe the calamities themselves. With each trumpet the intensity of judgment increases. Yet God spares some things. Most of the trumpet plagues fall on a third of the people or the land. The locust plague of 9:1–12 only lasts five months. And some people survive the collapse of the city in 11:13.
The angel took the censer containing incense and threw it to the earth. In 5:8 John told us the incense was the prayers of the saints. The martyred saints in 6:10 cried out “How long” This may be in answer to that prayer. The Lord avenges the blood of His servants.
The word translated earth is a reference to the land of Israel. Elsewhere in the New Testament, the same Greek word refers to “the land” or an area, i.e. “the land” of Israel. We should not assume a change of meaning here.
According to Strong’s Greek dictionary, the word ϒή (ge) has a primary meaning of soil. And by extension a region or the solid part or the whole of the globe. – country, earth (-ly), ground, land, world.
Kings used trumpets in warfare to signal and coordinate an assault. The first may signal the archers. The next a flank of the infantry. Another the cavalry. And so on. Modern warfare uses similar techniques. The difference is a whistle has replaced the trumpet. But it performs the same function.
The seven angels blast their trumpets. Each blast is a signal for an act of judgment. The first four trumpets correlate to the Olivet discourse. (Luke 21:25-28, Matthew 24:29-31) In the Olivet discourse, Jesus speaks of the earth, sea, sun, moon, and stars. It shows God’s displeasure at the unbeliever. The convulsion and agitation of the natural world is the result of its wickedness.
The last three trumpets are different. It is easy to understand them in a historical context.
The first four trumpets deal with thirds. A third of the trees, sea, grass, fish, rivers are destroyed. A third of the sun moon and stars lost their light. A third of the day and night lost light. These do not contain a historical or literal understanding. They do describe the judgment God sends. And it coming in waves. One right after another.
The first angel blows his trumpet. Hail and fire, and blood fall to the land. A third of the land is burned up. Saying the earth burned up does not mean a third of the entire planet burned. Claiming this refers to the entire earth is an exercise in missing the point. It misses the meaning of the book. John is stating there is much devastation but not complete destruction.
The second angel blows his trumpet. A third of the sea, sea creatures, and shipping are destroyed.
The third angel blows his trumpet. A third of the freshwater is contaminated with wormwood. Wormwood is a bitter herb. The taste stays with you for up to 15 minutes. The absinthe in wormwood is a toxic chemical. It FDA regulates it. Until recently the US and most of Europe ban it.
The fourth angel blows his trumpet. The sun, moon, and stars lose a third of their light.
These first four trumpets strike the four major regions of creation. They strike land, sea, freshwater, and sky. The early church period saw these visions fulfilled. Both natural calamities and spiritual calamities fulfilled them. The spiritual afflicted the souls of the wicked. In such apocalyptic imagery, one type of calamity can represent the other. Both humans and the natural world undergo stress until the time of final renewal (Rom. 8:18–25).
When you read, read straight through don’t stop. Don’t stop to analyze each trumpet. When you do it is easier to see and feel the message. This is an unrelenting assault. God’s judgment keeps coming.
After the fourth trumpet, there is a short break in the flow of the writing. An eagle appears. The eagle flew overhead. It cried, “Woe Woe Woe. To those on the earth.”
In ancient literature, the way to emphasize something was to repeat it. To state it three times raised it to the superlative level. The eagle’s pronouncement had a dual meaning. The misery will be great. And there will be three “woes.”
Notice this is an eagle, not an angel. The eagle is a symbol of war. There is a parallel between John’s vision and Hosea 8:1.
“Set the trumpet to your lips! One like a vulture is over the house of the LORD, because they have transgressed my covenant and rebelled against my law.”
Here the eagle comes with the same message. It is announcing woe, war, and judgment. Second, notice again the use of the same Greek word for land. The reference to inhabitants of the earth is a reference to the land of Israel. Judgment was coming to Israel for her rejecting God.
The last three trumpets contain the three woes. These plagues differentiate between the saints and the wicked. This is like the Egyptian plagues. There God spared the Hebrews.