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!” (Revelation 8:6-13)
It can be very easy to get lost and confused going through the book of Revelation, especially in a passage like this. Some commentaries noted that the seven trumpets was the hardest section of Revelation to interpret, and even they weren’t sure if they are right or not. At first glance, all I could see was utter destruction – a third of everything nearly gone. How could such a passage apply to me today? How can it apply to us as a church?
When I listen to and study this passage, one thing that hits me is that God’s judgment is very real. It is the reality of this judgment that causes me to draw some applications that I want you to take away.
- God’s judgment calls us to reflect on His Justice.
- God’s judgment calls us to remember the cross
- God’s judgment calls us to repent and accept the sacrifice that Jesus provided in His first coming.
- God’s judgment calls us to ready ourselves for Christ’s Second coming.
I’ll elaborate more on these later, but I want you to keep these in your mind as we are going through the different interpretations of these trumpets.
Explanations/Possible Theories of the Trumpets
The seven trumpets deal with God’s judgment, similar to the 7 seals that came before it and the 7 bowls that are going to come later in Revelation. Similar to the 7 seals and the 7 bowls, the 7 trumpets are literarily structured the same way, sectioning itself into two groups with 4 trumpets first and 3 trumpets second, with a pause between the 6th and 7th trumpet. The first 4 trumpets, which I’m going to be talking about today, are judgments directed against natural things – the trees, the sea, the rivers, the sun and moon, etc. The last 3 trumpets are judgments directed mainly against mankind, specifically those that don’t have the seal of God on their foreheads, or those who aren’t saved. Why these judgments are structured this way I can’t really answer. In biblical numerology, 7 is often noted as the number of completion. So the 7 seals, trumpets, and bowls could symbolize God’s completed judgment upon the world. 4 is sometimes seen as representing the world, which can offer us insight as to who the judgments are directed against. 3 is often a representation for God or perfection. It’s unclear to me how that would correspond to these passages.
But literary structure aside, when interpreting this passage, there are essentially two questions I found that divide the eschatological camps. 1) When do these events take place? Have they already taken place in the past or are they still to come in the future? 2) Are these events literal or figurative? Are a third of the trees really going to be burnt up, or is that representative of something else?
Based on how those questions are answered, you get 4 possible lenses to interpret this passage.
- A historical, figurative interpretation – These events are representative of major events that took place in the past. There are quite a number of scholars who hold to this position. The thinking goes that these were future events when John was writing Revelation, but to us now they are historical events.
- A historical, literal interpretation – These events literally took place in the past. Based on the fact that the historical record does not reflect this interpretation, we can discount this one as being incorrect.
- A future, figurative interpretation – These events are representative of major events or changes that will take place in the future.
- A future, literal interpretation – These events are literally going to take place at some point in the future when God unleashes His judgment upon the world.
I personally believe that the events will still take place at a future date. But another question that needs to be asked is – to what degree do we interpret these events to be literal or figurative? I lean more towards a literal interpretation where reasonable. I think that when God does unleash his full judgment or wrath upon the world, we will know without doubt that is the case. That will involve God using supernatural means by which to judge the world. You will often see parallels between these judgments and the plagues described when God judged Egypt in the book of Exodus. To me, it’s reasonable to say that if we believe those events to have taken place literally, then these judgments could also be literal and supernatural. But I could very well be wrong and don’t take a stance too strongly one way or the other.
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. (Revelation 8:6-7)
Looking at the first trumpet, there are a number of ways this could be interpreted. It reminds us of the seventh plague of Egypt (Exodus 9:22-25), which described large hail and fire raining down from heaven, destroying men and beasts and all manner of vegetation. (Also see Joel 2:30).
Those who hold to a historical figurative interpretation have looked at this as being representative of a major military invasion of some kind in the past, like the destruction of Jerusalem, the invasion of the Goths or the destruction of the Roman Empire. Others allegorize it to refer to a strong spiritual delusion or heresy that sweeps over the early church. Some people don’t interpret this as a single event but multiple events that might take place in multiple places over time, rather than a single worldwide judgement. But there always is that possibility of a single worldwide judgment in the future in which supernatural hail and fire mixed with blood destroys a third of the earth and trees, and all of the green grass.
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. (Revelation 8:8-9)
The second trumpet is similar to the first plague of Egypt (Exodus 7:17-21), in which God turned the Nile river into blood. Those who hold to a historical interpretation of these events may refer to the rise of Arianism in the early church, a heresy which denied the deity of Christ and thought he was a created agent of the Father. Under this interpretation, the great mountain mentioned here could refer to leaders of that movement and God’s judgment upon them. This view also analogizes the ships to be churches, presumably, ones that followed Arianism or some other form of heresy.
Another opinion thinks this great mountain is a volcano that spews lava into the sea. It’s interesting to note that some 10-20 years before John wrote this, Mt. Vesuvius had erupted and destroyed Pompeii. However, it is unlikely that a volcano can cause this kind of destruction. It is more likely this is a supernatural judgment (John notes that it is something “like a great mountain”) that turns a third of the sea into blood, destroys a third of ocean life and a third of the ships. Such a judgment, if literal, would cripple the world’s economy and trade.
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. (Revelation 8:10-11)
Wormwood is a desert plant with a very bitter taste. In the Old Testament, it is often used symbolically to represent sorrow and judgment. Historical interpretations think this great star Wormwood is some sort of great political figure that died or perhaps a prominent leader in the church. Others believe it was a heretical leader in the church that caused many to fall away from the faith.
More literal interpretations think it is a meteor of some kind that breaks up in the atmosphere and affects a third of the rivers and other fresh water sources. It could also be an angel. In Revelation, angels are referred to in many places as stars. It may be given the name Wormwood based on what it accomplishes.
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. (Revelation 8:12)
With the fourth trumpet, there is a similarity with the tenth plague in Egypt (Exodus 10:21-23), in which complete darkness covered the land for 3 days. However, in this judgment, we only see a third of the light being dimmed. Historical interpretations will say the sun, moon, and stars represent important historical figures or leaders within the church. It could also refer to a period of spiritual darkness. More literal interpretations will say that a third of the light is diminished, perhaps caused by smoke from the previous judgments. God could also supernaturally diminish the output of the light from the sun, moon, and stars, but more likely will just reduce the amount of light that the earth can perceive.
Woe’s for the final 3 trumpets
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!” (Revelation 8:13)
Lastly, we are going to look at verse 13, in which we see an eagle warning the earth of the last 3 trumpets. (If you are reading out of a King James or New King James Bible, the word “eagle” will be rendered “angel.” This is because some of the source texts for those translations used the word angel. However, most of the older manuscripts that have been discovered use the word “eagle” rather than “angel,” and so most modern translations will have the word eagle in it.)
The three woes here are often interpreted as representing the three upcoming trumpets. I think it can also be seen as a point of emphasis, similar to how the word holy is used 3 times for emphasis when describing God (see Isaiah 6:8 & Revelation 4:8). The phrase “those who dwell on earth” is a reference to those who are not saved – those that love the things of earth rather than the things of God. If we were to continue to the final three trumpets, we would see that those who have the seal of God on their foreheads are spared from the upcoming judgments.
Essentially, this is communicating, “If you thought the first 4 trumpets were bad, the next 3 are going to be even worse.”
So why should you care about any of this? How should knowing this affect your life?
1. God’s judgment calls us to REFLECT on God’s Justice
I want to begin this section by reading a passage from Genesis 18.
Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.” So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:20-25)
Is God just? I want you to truly think about that. Do you really believe in your heart that God is just? We just went through a passage in Revelation where we saw a third of nearly everything get destroyed, and we weren’t even done. Is God justified in taking such actions? Not only is He justified, but if you don’t believe He is just, then you do not understand the gospel.
Scripture makes two things very clear:
- None of us are perfect. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23)
- Without Christ, we all deserve death and hell. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. “ (Romans 6:23)
To understand God’s justice, you have to understand your own moral ineptitude. Most people understand that they aren’t perfect. However, God is perfect. And our sin creates a gap between us and God that we cannot bridge. No matter how “good” a life we may live, no matter how many good deeds we may perform, there will always be a gap between us and God, a gap we cannot mend in our own strength or power. We cannot make ourselves perfect as God is perfect. And God, being the perfect judge of the entire world, is completely justified pouring out his full wrath upon us. We deserve Hell.
But praise be to God, that isn’t the end of the story. God is not only perfectly just, but is also perfectly merciful.
2. God’s judgment calls us to REMEMBER the cross
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)
The world will deny this truth that God is both perfectly merciful and perfectly just. Normally, we always see these two things as being in conflict and that one comes at the expense of the other. Normally, that would be right. Mercy by definition means that someone did not get what they deserved. In other words, normally, if you are merciful to someone, then justice was not fulfilled. So how can God be both just and merciful? The answer is found in the cross.
God is perfectly just and perfectly merciful because He himself took our punishment for us. Jesus, as the perfect sacrifice, took our sin upon himself and also took God’s wrath in our place, fulfilling both mercy and justice.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Contrary to what the world tells us, God loves you. God loves you so much, that even when he had the complete justification to send us to Hell, He chose rather to say, “Come to me!” And he created that way to come to Him through the cross. It was on that cross where God’s justice was fully satisfied, where he poured out His full wrath upon His only Son and said, “It is finished!” It is through that cross that we receive forgiveness for our sins and justification before God.
3. God’s judgment calls us to REPENT and accept the sacrifice that Jesus provided
In light of this, I urge everyone who has not yet received Christ as their Lord and Savior to do so.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)
Today is the day of salvation, especially when we put it in context of that judgment in the future. We don’t know when that’s going to start happening. It could happen 5 minutes, 5 years, or 500 years from now. Now your decision to follow Christ shouldn’t be done out of fear of judgment, but rather out of love – the love that God has first shown us on the cross.
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
If there is something holding you back from responding to God’s love and making that decision to follow Christ and receive forgiveness, seek out someone who can talk you through it.
4. God’s judgment calls us to READY ourselves for Christ’s second coming.
To those of us who are Christians, how can we ready ourselves for Christ’s second coming? How can we ready ourselves for something when we don’t even know when it’s going to happen? To answer that, I’m going to be picking some verses out of 2 Peter chapter 3. If you have the opportunity, you should read the entire chapter because it deals with this very issue.
Ready yourself for Christ’s second coming by sharing the gospel
Why is it that God has not yet come? One of the answers is that he is still waiting for people to come to know Christ.
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
And count the patience of our Lord as salvation… (2 Peter 3:15)
God is reserving judgment because he wants every possible person who is able to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ to do so.
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:13-15)
We are commanded by God to preach the gospel and to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). This ties in directly with the events of the last days. God has put people in your life that he wants you to share the gospel with, even if it’s to plant seeds that will later grow into a saving knowledge of Jesus. Be obedient to that calling.
Ready yourself for Christ’s second coming by developing Christ-like character
Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. (2 Peter 3:14)
… take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:17-18)
Christ like character is developed through obedience to God’s commands. Obedience is gained through sacrifice – the sacrifice of your own desires and wants, putting God’s priorities ahead of your priorities, and by counting others as more significant than yourself. Love and serve one another. Love and serve God wholeheartedly.
Christ like character is developed though reading and applying God’s Word. Develop that foundation in God’s grace and knowledge so that when temptation or false doctrines come your way, you will know the Truth to stand on. Don’t be deceived. Don’t simply go after what sounds or feels right. Root yourself in the assurance found only in Scripture.
Christ like character is developed by trusting in God through difficult circumstances. That is perhaps the hardest one for us, but by exercising trust in God, we will also gain his peace.
I don’t know where you’re at right now in life. Perhaps you feel that God is not just. Maybe something happened to you or to someone close to you that has caused great pain in your life. I may not know your specific circumstances or why certain events took place in your life, but I do know this – God is the only one who offers redemption, who can turn bad into good.
In the book of Genesis, Joseph is sold into slavery by his own family because his brothers were jealous that he was the favored son. After rising to prominence as a servant at Potiphar’s house, being thrown in jail on false charges, being released from jail after being able to interpret pharaoh’s dream about a coming famine, and again rising to prominence in Egypt in order to prepare for this coming famine, his brothers then come to Egypt in search of food because of that famine. When Joseph had every right to be angry at them and had the authority to repay the evil done to him, he did not, but instead says this:
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Genesis 50:20)
God let the evil done to Joseph be used for good, to save many people from starvation. God is able to do the same with you. God is the only one who can redeem the evil that was done to you and turn it into good. I may not know how that works out in your particular situation, but I know the character and power of God. He is just.
God is the only one who offers us hope. The gospel gives us hope. It gives us hope for forgiveness. It gives us hope for eternal life. It gives us hope that we can be free from the sins that weigh us down. I sincerely hope that you believe this.