As the newly redeemed host of Israel is led out of slavery in Egypt into the wilderness to worship God at Mt. Sinai and receive His Law, trumpets were heard loud and clear. Exodus 19:16-20 describes this scene, “On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.”

After this moment trumpets continued to play a role in Israel’s life with God. Trumpets were used to sound the beginning of the year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:9), a year characterized by rest, by release, and by restoration. Perhaps more pointed to our text this evening in Revelation, trumpets played a role in Israel’s victory over Jericho on their way into the promise land. Remember it? God commanded that after marching around the city the priests leading the army of Israel were to blow their trumpets, the people were to shout, and all were to watch as God broke down the walls of the Jericho. And as God told them, so the people did, and down came Jericho. Fast forward to the Joel 2: where we read, “Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the Day of the LORD is coming; it is near….” Fast forward once again to the New Testament where similar things come into view when we read that a trumpet will be the signal of the Second Coming of Christ (1 Thess. 4:16).

When we get to Revelation 8:6 and we read of the angels preparing to blow their trumpets, what we know about the role of trumpets throughout Scripture ought to alert us that an event is about to begin that is both like and greater than the events of the Exodus, Mt. Sinai, the year of Jubilee, and the victory against Jericho. What event is about to begin? The blowing of the seven trumpets. One commentator puts it like this, “Certainly the holy war of Joshua 6 (Jericho) has its final counterpart here in Revelation as God wages war against Satan and all that is evil and against those who refuse to repent.”[1]

You might be tempted to think that these trumpets represent a new phase of God’s judgment that occurs after the seals. I’d urge you to not give in to that temptation and to see it a bit differently. There is great parallel between what we saw in chapter 6-7 in the seals and what we will soon see in the trumpets of chapters 8-11. In fact, the seals and the trumpets follow the same progression. The first four seals are opened, then two more, then a brief section occurs between the sixth and seventh seal. The trumpets will follow the same pattern.[2] Lesson? Both the seals and the trumpets are telling the same story from different points of view. This is part of what we meant long ago when we began studying Revelation and said that the book as a whole tells the same story seven different times, increasing in its intensity each time. Derek Thomas helps us on this point saying, “The seals view the unfolding of the redemptive purposes of God from the point of view of the Lord’s own people, those who are sealed; the trumpets view this same reality from the point of view of the unsealed, those who are not the people of God. The openings of the seals brings great consolation to the people of God. The sounding of the trumpets brings great woes upon those who are not the people of God.”[3]

So here at the beginning of the trumpets we need to be reminded again of how important it is to interpret these things rightly. Far too many popular Christian authors tend to read these things and look for events in our modern time in order to say that we’re witnessing the fulfillment of prophecy. One such example with the trumpets has to do with the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.[4] Experts on prophecy stated with confidence that the word Chernobyl is the Ukrainian word for wormwood, and because of that the nuclear event was the fulfillment of the third trumpet. As you can imagine excitement was buzzing in certain circles that God was fulfilling prophecies in our own day…but it would prove to be short lived. Not only was there much debate about the actual meaning of the word Chernobyl but eventually it was seen how far short that event fell from the actual event described in the third trumpet (though it was surely horrendous for the residents of that area). Also, if that interpretation were true, the third trumpet would have no meaning for Christians in John’s own day and all Christians living in the nineteen centuries before the nuclear meltdown occurred.

All this to say, those kinds of interpretations, instead of interpreting Scripture, actually lead us away from what the biblical text is doing. But take caution. Do not hear in these things what I’m not saying. Revelation does depict actual history, but it does so using symbolic images. Images that become clear to us, not from looking to modern newspapers, but from their earlier uses in the Old Testament. So as we’ve done before, we’re about to do again: look back into the Old Testament to determine the intended meaning we’re meant understand in these seven trumpets.

This evening we will not cover all the trumpets but we will begin, and Lord willing make it through the first four, all of which are found in chapter 8. These first four trumpets have one common theme; they all depict God’s sovereign control over nature. And when that theme comes into view the largest Old Testament example of God wielding nature to destroy His enemies is the ten plagues He let loose on Egypt. Remember through the plagues God was bringing, through nature, a holy war against the false gods of Egypt. Just as God warred against all of Egypt for enslaving His people, so too these trumpets are God’s war against those who persecute His Church.[5]

So without further ado, let’s begin.

Trumpet 1 (v6-7)

“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.”

While the seventh plague against Egypt consisted of hail and fire being hurled from heaven, that plague was only against one nation. This first trumpet consists of greater and more intense calamities: hail and fire mixed with blood thrown from heaven against not just one king or one nation, but a third of the entire earth such that a third of all green grass and a third of all trees were burned up. Do not think of this in vague general terms but think specifics here: Yosemite, the Amazon, Yellowstone, the Congo, the lush Rift Valley, the English countryside. These are all up for grabs among what is destroyed. Causing devastation by burning earth was an ancient strategy for war.[6] Many nations would weed out their enemies by encircling whole cities with fire. One famous example is in Homer’s Iliad as the fortress of Troy is burned to the ground by Agamemnon after the infamous trojan horse incident. God has forbid Israel from doing such a thing to their enemies in war (Deut. 20) but other nations felt no such constraint. The holy war from heaven will also not be held back by those who oppose Christ the King. Even so, not all the earth is burnt and made bloody, only a third of it.

Trumpet 2 (v8-9)

“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.”

While the first plague against Egypt consisted of much blood as Moses placed his staff in the Nile. Many fish died and the water stank. Think of that on a far grander scale as God, in this second trumpet, tosses a flaming mountain into the sea causing a third of it to turn to blood. As results abounded in Egypt from the Nile turning to blood, so too here because of this many sea creatures died and a third of the merchant ships or trading vessels on the sea were destroyed also.[7] But more is in view here. In Jeremiah 51 God referred to Babylon as a great mountain that was destroying the whole earth (51:25). God then promises that He’ll come against Babylon and make it a great burning mountain and cause the sea itself to come against it making it a horror among the nations (51:25-42). Certainly this is the backdrop imagery in view in this second trumpet. As Egypt was to Moses and God’s people then, as Babylon was to Jeremiah and God’s people then, so too Rome is to John and God’s people in the day he wrote this. Even so, not all the sea is made bloody, only a third of it.

Trumpet 3 (v10-11)

“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.”

While the first plague against Egypt not only turned the Nile to blood but caused many fish to die and the waters to stink, it also made the life giving waters of the Nile unusable for sustenance. So too here in the third trumpet when this blazing comet falls from the heavens it didn’t come to the seas but inland, to the rivers and springs of water, causing them to be unfit for human consumption. It is likely that many people died in the first two trumpets but here in the third we have the explicit mention of many people dying from this catastrophic event. Some focus on the great star that fell from the heavens in these verses mainly, I think the main thrust is on the wormwood that caused such ruin, rot, and death. To understand the mention of Wormwood and waters becoming wormwood we go back once again to Jeremiah but not his large book, no, here we go to Lamentations. In 3:15 and 3:19 we see wormwood spoken of. “He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood…remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!” Perhaps you see it. Wormwood is an herb that made bitter all water it touched.[8] It isnt poisonous but it was so bitter to the taste that it is used often as an image of God’s judgment throughout the Old Testament. Here all of that is brought forward as this great flaming star falls and brings wormwood to another one of humanities resources. Water that ought to be life giving is a source of death and judgment. Even so, not all the rivers and springs became wormwood, only a third.

Trumpet 4 (v12)

“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.”

While the ninth plague against Egypt consisted a literal darkness, this fourth trumpet is to be taken as darkness but not literal darkness. A third of the sun, the stars, and the moon is darkened here. What’s going on then? Here we see another repetition of what we’ve seen before. Back in Rev. 6:12-13 we saw the sixth seal open, the sun blackened, the moon turned bloody, and stars fall to earth. Now we see a partial darkening of all the great lights in the world? Does this mean this happened twice? Rather, what the sixth seal is to God’s chosen people, this fourth trumpet is to the wicked. While the sixth seal showed the all creation giving way, God’s chosen people saw a preview of a new creation that would come in the New Heavens and Earth. So too, while the fourth trumpet showed a partial darkening of all things, the wicked saw a preview of what would come in the final judgment of all things.[9] Again, this is more proof that repetition is in view. This unraveling of all creation doesn’t happen two times, no. This same unraveling is seen in the seals (with God’s people in view) and the trumpets (with the wicked in view). Even so, not all is dark, only a third.

Now let’s ask about that. Why is a third repeated in each of these first four trumpets? Is it because God is aiming to get the wicked’s attention by His severity and bring them to repentance? I think so. Egypt could have repented and turned to God in the Exodus and He would’ve shown mercy, but did they? No, they hardened their hearts against God. So too, we see some of the same realities here in this text as well.

Conclusion (v13)

As chapter 8 draws to a close we see one last thing in v13, “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!”

This warning of woe from the eagle provides a break from the trumpets for a brief moment. This bird of prey, translated as ‘eagle’ or ‘vulture’ pronounces three woe’s on those dwelling on the earth. These three woes teach us: 1) that the three trumpets to come will bring woe with them (9:12, 11:14, 12:12), 2) that the trumpets to come will be worse than the four that have already occurred, and 3) that the wicked will experience of the opposite of the redeemed. Around the throne the redeemed from all nations sing a threefold ‘holy, holy, holy’ while the wicked experience a threefold ‘woe, woe, woe.’

I do desire you to be alarmed from this text. God will judge sin in mammoth ways, these trumpets show that. But I also desire you to be encouraged from this text. All of this Egyptian plague imagery in the trumpets “…is an emphatic way of saying that these present disasters are but a prelude to God’s greater deliverance. In each of the heavenly trumpet blasts God is saying to the Pharaoh of the new Egypt, ‘Let My people go!’ At the same time He is saying to the redeemed, ‘When all this begins to happen…hold your heads high because your rescue is at hand.”[10]

At the end of all things, God’s people are saved through Christ’s blood spilled on the cross, and wicked are judged through the spilling of blood onto the world. 

[1] Paul Gardner, Revelation: The Compassion and Protection of Christ, Reprint edition (Fearn: Christian Focus, 2008), 127.

[2] G.K. Beale, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2015) page 170.

[3] Derek Thomas, quoted in Richard D. Phillips, Revelation (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2017), 276.

[4] Phillips, 226–27.

[5] Phillips, 278. See also Gardner, page 127.

[6] Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, First Edition (Phillipsburg, N.J: P & R Publishing, 2001), 143.

[7] Phillips, Revelation, 279.

[8] Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, 145.

[9] Johnson, 146.

[10] G.B. Caird, quoted in Phillips, Revelation, 283.

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