In Revelation chapters 8 and 9 and Chapter 11 verses 15-19 we read a prophecy about Seven Trumpets. What are these Trumpets and what do they mean? Let us take a look at these trumpets and what the Bible tells us about them.
Trumpets Announce the Day of Atonement
There is another Old Testament account of trumpet blowing that bears a significant likeness to the trumpets of Revelation. In Numbers 10:1-10, God commanded Israel to make two silver trumpets. The primary purpose of these trumpets was to assemble the people for solemn meetings. The most important of Israel’s meetings was the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. Leviticus 23:23-32 explains that for ten days prior to Yom Kippur the trumpets were blown to announce its speedy arrival. The sound of the trumpets carried a clear and serious message: “Afflict your souls,” that is, enter into repentance before the Lord. All sin was to be confessed and cast off. Any who refused to enter into the spirit of the occasion were to be excommunicated or executed. Once the most solemn day of Israel’s symbolic year had been announced by the trumpets, on the tenth day of the seventh month the high priest entered into the Most Holy apartment of the temple to make final and full atonement for sin before the ark containing the broken law. The imagery of Revelation’s trumpets is very similar to this account. Before the trumpets are sounded, the seven angels who are to blow them stand before God in His heavenly temple. Another Angel stands before the golden altar of incense in the Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary. This Angel is undoubtedly Christ, for He holds the golden censer and ministers at the golden altar, a task only performed by the high priest on the Day of Atonement. Since Jesus is the High Priest of the heavenly sanctuary, it follows that He is the Angel here described. The High Priest is given much incense, which He puts into the golden censer with fire and then throws it to the earth. As He does so there follows the sound of voices, and thunder, and lightning and an earthquake. Obviously something stupendous is about to occur. It is then that the trumpets are sounded. After the last trumpet is blown we read these words: “And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in His temple the ark of His testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail” (Revelation 11:19). The sequence is identical in both instances: (1) trumpets are sounded, and (2) the Most Holy Place is opened for its final atonement service. We conclude then that the trumpets of Revelation represent judgment-type events that announce the time of final judgment for the world.
Military Action in the Trumpets
When we take an overview survey of the seven trumpets of Revelation, it becomes clear that they are intended to represent judgments of God in the form of military conflict. Under the second trumpet we read that “ships were destroyed” (Revelation 8:9). Under the fifth trumpet we see “horses prepared unto battle” (Revelation 9:7), and “horses running to battle” (Revelation 9:9). Under the sixth trumpet we are shown “the number of the army of horsemen” (Revelation 9:16). Under the seventh trumpet we are told that “the nations were angry” and that God will now “destroy them which destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:18). Not only do we find these direct references to war, but we also find various Old Testament symbols of war in the seven trumpets. Under the first trumpet we see hail and fire mingled with blood burning one third of the earth’s green vegetation (see Revelation 8:7). Isaiah likened the Assyrian attacks on Israel to a raging fire burning vegetation (see Isaiah 10:16-19). Obadiah 18 likens the military attack of Israel against Edom to “a fire” and “a flame” to burn them up as “stubble.” Under the second trumpet we see “a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea.” In Jeremiah 51:25, 42, Babylon is called a “destroying mountain,” and is immersed in the sea because she destroyed other kingdoms. Under the fourth trumpet we hear a fierce “eagle” (RSV) proclaim, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabiters of the earth” (Revelation 8:13). In Hosea 8:1 the attack of Assyria on Israel was likened to an eagle. Under the fifth trumpet we encounter “locust” that have power to torment like “scorpions” (Revelation 9:3). Joel compared warring armies to locust (see Joel 1:4-7; 2:2-11). Clearly, the trumpets are to be viewed as judgments of God on ungodly nations in the form of military conquests against them. When a nation abandons itself to evil, the Lord abandons that nation to war. But His intent is not to punish arbitrarily. The Trumpets Call to Repentance Under the sixth trumpet we are given an insight into God’s purpose in sending judgments on the world. After much pain and bloodshed the sad statement is made: “And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk. Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts” (Revelation 9:20-21). The trumpet judgments are intended to bring forth repentance for the evils in the land. Tragically, those who suffer under the trumpets do not repent. Nevertheless, it is God’s intent that they would turn from their sins to Him (see 2 Peter 3:9; Ezekiel 33:11).
The Trumpets Compared to the Plagues
There are many similarities between the seven trumpets and the seven last plagues of Revelation 16. • Both the first trumpet and the first plague affect the “earth.” • Both the second trumpet and the second plague affect the seas. • Both the third trumpet and the third plague affect the fresh waters. • Both the fourth trumpet and the fourth plague affect the sun. • Both the sixth trumpet and the sixth plague have to do with the river Euphrates. • Both the seventh trumpet and the seventh plague involve an earthquake. So are the trumpets and the plagues the same events? No. While there are similarities, there are also three vital differences. 1. The judgments described in the trumpets are said to come upon only one-third of the earth, one-third of the sea, one-third of the fresh waters, one-third of the sun. The one-third is clearly symbolic. It represents restraint, limitation, that is, judgments mixed with mercy. In contrast, there is no such limitation mentioned for the plagues. The plagues accomplish unlimited destruction, without mercy. 2. The trumpets are blown while the angels are in the temple of God, indicating that probation is still open, intercession has not ceased. When the plagues are poured out the angels have vacated the temple, and none are allowed to enter, indicating that probation has closed; intercession has ceased. The trumpets represent judgments that occur before probation is closed, tempered with mercy in order to warn, awaken and call to repentance. On the other hand, the plagues occur after probation is closed, unmixed with mercy, intended to punish rather than call to repentance. 3. The trumpets demonstrate the exceeding wickedness of sin. The plagues bring a halt to sin. Together, the trumpets and the plagues insure that sin and all the suffering it inflicts will never rise again. All will see how absolutely wrong sin is. And all will confess God’s goodness in eradicating it from the universe. Peace and harmony will forever reign under the sovereign charge of the One who always was, who is, and who will soon come. As we have already seen, the trumpets are highly symbolic descriptions of human warfare. They are judgments of God only in the sense that He is the Sovereign Ruler of the universe and nothing occurs without His allowance. “He removeth kings, and setteth up kings” (Daniel 2:21). “The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will” (Daniel 4:25). These Scriptures demonstrate that God possesses ultimate authority over the affairs of human beings. The rise and fall of nations is under His control. That is not to say that He desires war or in any sense takes delight in the pain that attends war. What it does mean is that the Lord determines when to allow and when to restrain the evil pursuits of men. In His perfect wisdom He knows when it is best to withdraw His restraining mercy and let people suffer the natural results of their evil ways. The Lord has at least three positive purposes to accomplish by allowing the world to experience the devastating effects of their own departure from His law. (1) Sinners are given an opportunity to realize the terrible nature of their sin. (2) The unfallen universe and all honest humans may witness the true character of sin and become settled in their loyalty to the principles of truth and righteousness. (3) God will be viewed as just when He finally destroys all sin and unrepentant sinners along with Satan, the originator of rebellion. If the plagues were poured out before the trumpets sounded, God’s character might come into question. But by allowing evil to run its course, it becomes self-evident that the Lord must step in to execute judgment on those who persist in sin. In the midst of the plagues, an angel proclaims, “‘You are righteous, O Lord, the One who is and who was and who is to be, because You have judged these things. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. For it is their just due.’ And I heard another from the altar saying, ‘Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments’” (Revelation 16:5-7, NKJV).