The Four Trumpets – Revelation 8
Read the Passage: Revelation 8
Reminder: The book of Revelation is structured around seven parallel sections, each describing the time between Jesus’ first and second comings. These sections can be delineated into chapters 1–3, 4–7, 8–11, 12–14, 15–16, 17–19, and 20–22.
Prelude to the Trumpets (8:1–6)
Back in Rev. 5:5 we were told that the scroll, which represents God’s plan for all of history, had seven seals on it. Jesus, the Lion and the Lamb, was identified as being the only one worthy to receive and to carry out God’s plan. Rev. 6–7 details the opening and unfolding of this plan utilizing the rubric of the seven seals. Yet, these two chapters only give us details about six of the seven seals, which is surprising. The seventh seal is not actually described until the beginning of third cycle of the story of history at Rev. 8:1–6. The reasons for this are two-fold. First, this writing technique helps to tie the entire book of Revelation together. Second, the book is becoming increasingly more eschatological in emphasis with each cycle of the story; John uses the placement of the seventh seal to aid in this emphasis. Note that Rev. 8:1–6 is similar in content to what we read in Rev. 5:8.
Whereas seals usually are broken to reveal knowledge, trumpets are usually sounded to warn people. In the Bible trumpets sometimes announce the coming of a leader in victory. Examples of trumpet blasts in Scripture include God’s arrival at Mt. Sinai (cf. Exod. 19:16), assemblies at the Tabernacle (cf. Num. 10:2–3), the start of the Jubilee (cf. Lev. 25:9), and king Solomon’s coronation (cf. 1 Kings 1:34). Perhaps the most well-known example of trumpet blasts in the Old Testament are the seven trumpet blasts at Jericho (cf. Josh. 6:2–21). In Revelation 8 the trumpet blasts convey reoccurring calamities throughout history that are a foretaste of final divine judgment. These calamities are limited in scope, as only 1/3 of the earth is affected. Observe the first four trumpets, which are described in Rev. 8:1–13, describe physical harm. The last three trumpets, which are described in Rev. 9:1–21 and 11:15–19, describe spiritual anguish.
When John sees Christ open the seventh seal, surprisingly there is silence in heaven for about half an hour. This may represent the seeming silence of God at times in history, which is often misunderstood as God’s absence or His approval (cf. 2 Pet. 3:1–9). In the unfolding of John’s narrative, this silence is a prelude to the seven trumpets, which rehearse the previously described seal judgments. It is significant that John sees an angel with incense and mentions the prayers of the saints at Rev. 8:3. This is the same picture John saw before the opening of the seals at Rev. 5:8, with the content of these prayers being noted at Rev. 6:10. The importance of this picture is that it is in response to these prayers that the seven angels prepare to sound their trumpets and divine judgement begins. Indeed, God hears the prayers of His saints and His judgment of the earth is, at least in part, an answer to those prayers. Christians’ prayers, then, can be viewed as integral to the defeat of and judgment upon the enemies of God.
Trumpets One and Two (8:7–9)
As the trumpets are sounded, it is evident that there are parallels between the judgment described here and the ten plagues of Egypt depicted in the book of Exodus. The first trumpet details the destruction of some of the earth’s vegetation by hail, fire, and blood. This is similar to the seventh plague upon the Egyptians detailed in Exod. 9:22–26. The reference to hail and fire is likely an allusion to natural disasters and the reference to blood is a reference to destruction by war or other violent acts of man. The second trumpet brings “something like a great mountain burning with fire . . . thrown into the sea” (Rev. 8:8). This results in some of the sea turning into blood and the death of many sea creatures. The allusion here is to the first plague upon Egypt—that is, the Nile turning to blood (cf. Exod. 7:20–21). The idea being communicated with this trumpet is that of disaster upon the waters, which were central to the economy in biblical times.
Trumpets Three and Four (8:10–13)
The third trumpet is like the second in that it consists of an object being thrown into the waters. The difference is that the second trumpet contains something like a mountain being thrown into the sea, while the third trumpet contains a great star from heaven being thrown into other (presumably fresh) waters. The picture is one of terror and decay specifically relating to polluted water—a necessity for human life. This mimics the pollution of the Nile River in the first plague upon Egypt (cf. Exod. 7:24). Note that wormwood was a bitter herb in the area of Palestine (cf. Jer. 9:15; 23:15). The fourth trumpet mentions destruction in the heavenly bodies similar to those described with the opening of the sixth seal (cf. Rev. 6:12–17). This trumpet is related to the ninth plague upon Egypt, which was the sign of darkness at Exod. 10:21–23. The first four trumpets, then, speak of decay and disaster upon the physical realm, including the land, sea, water, and heavens.
- What is the value of repetition in teaching? Why do you think John retells the story of history, and God’s ultimate triumph, so many times from so many angles?
- What is the difference between a seal and a trumpet? Why does John switch illustrations from seals to trumpets as he retells the story of history?
- How should we view and react to great natural disasters (cf. Luke 13:1–5)? Has your maturing Christian worldview changed how you view suffering?
- Do you ever feel like God does not hear your prayers? In the face of evil and suffering do you ever feel like you do not know what to pray (cf. Rom. 8:26–27)?
- How does God usually bring about judgment: supernaturally or naturally? Have you seen the decay and disaster of the physical realm in your lifetime?