How do people respond to a God who is pictured as a judge of evil?
If the seven seals show the sealing process of God’s people, the language of the trumpets appears to be that of judgment. How God responds to evil in the world places God’s actions in direct examination of both humans and beings from unfallen worlds. The Great Controversy in some ways hinges on this issue. Is God just and righteous when He deals with sin in His way that is both ultimately loving and ultimately authoritative and final?
The trumpets are structured like the seals: the first four are related through fractionally-numbered destruction and short length while the last three are considered “woes.” Just as there was an interlude between the 6th and 7th seals, there is an interlude between the 6th and 7th trumpets. Warning: the trumpets are perhaps the most difficult passages in Revelation to interpret historically, especially the 5th and 6th, and there is much disagreement even among faithful Adventists over their meaning. It is vital that we catch the big picture here, and allow room for disagreement on the details.
The introductory sanctuary scene here is the altar of incense. Its proximity to the Ark of the Covenant already suggests judgment, and the prayers of the saints mixed with the incense call a response from God that appears to be just that—judgements on the earth. These limited trumpet “plagues” have parallels in the world-wide final plagues in chapter 16. Likely these trumpet judgments come in response to the souls under the altar asking how long before God judges and avenges their blood. The answer is that God has been providing periods of judgement throughout Salvation History, decisive moments in history that have called for decision.
Trumpets are given to the angels. This recalls the feast of trumpets that preceded the Day of Atonement, giving Israel 10 days to prepare themselves for Israel’s most solemn festival, one in which personal introspection and self-denial led to repentance and trusting the blood of the lamb and the work of the priest on their behalf.
Another important event where trumpets were blown was at the fall of Jericho. Trumpets blown announced the fall of the city, and the redemption of Rahab and her family within.
What other events can you recall in scripture where trumpets are blown and what is the significance of those events?
While Stefanovic in the Sabbath School lesson does an admirable job explaining the big picture of the trumpets with the space allowed, the real challenge is in showing the many allusions in the trumpet-texts and how they inform Revelation. Jon Paulien’s doctoral dissertation entitled “Decoding Revelation’s Trumpets” is 500 pages of explanation of how these allusions function. Stefanovic lists some of the verses, but very little explanation on how these verses contribute to Revelation. I would recommend each trumpet be studied with the Old Testament firmly in mind.
Here are a few of points to remember when interpreting the trumpets:
- The end of the sixth trumpet may indicate a time when all decisions have been made for God, but no indication is given before this that these plagues are to be seen as final events. They should be understood as occurring throughout history starting with John’s time.
- And yet, the trumpets mirror the plagues in ch. 16 to a degree; the plagues are a final judgment of God based on what He’s done in the past.
- We should consider that these plagues come because of the cries of the saints under the 5th seal. They are covenant responses by God to His hurting people, not arbitrary angry outbursts.
- The fractional numbers throughout the first four seals suggest localized events, not worldwide. These are limited in range, scope, and duration.
- The destruction isn’t literal. God loves His creation, of course, but the trees and grass and rivers aren’t the focus; Revelation isn’t an ecological treatise. Rather these are symbols for people, systems, and philosophies.
Why does God use such destructive language to describe these events? Does fear play a role in our response to God? Shouldn’t a God of love approach His erring people with an attitude of generosity and kindness?
This section is the interlude following the 6th trumpet-“woe”. The angel of ch. 10 parallels an angel in Revelation 12 with similar wording. John is commissioned to eat a little scroll that was sealed, but is now opened, reminding readers also of Ezekiel’s commission to prophesy to stubborn Israel (Eze 2-3). Early Adventists saw their own experience in John’s commissioning where the little book was Daniel—the message of Christ’s return was sweet to the Millerites, but the disappointment when He didn’t come was bitter. But as John was commissioned to preach again, so Adventists went back to Daniel and realized there was more to do.
The two witnesses in ch. 11 are God’s final testimony to the world before the 7th trumpet blows. Ellen White’s commentary on this passage in The Great Controversy suggests the two witnesses are the Old and New Testaments during the time of the French Revolution. Others have suggested that the Olive Tree/Lambstand language (alluding to Zechariah) should also include the Holy Spirit as one of the witnesses to God. Either way, what happened during the French Revolution and its attitude toward Scripture is becoming a world-wide apathy toward spiritual things in these last days before Christ sets up His Kingdom.
God will not leave the world without a witness to His character and love. What is your role in His last-day witness to the world? How do you share His transforming grace and resurrection power to others?
The 7th trumpet—the final woe!—is the establishing of God’s kingdom. God’s Kingdom is wonderful news to His people, but horrible news to His enemies. The reign of God and His Messiah appears to parallel the conclusion to Revelation.
Verse 18 is the hinge-verse to the entire book of Revelation. It concludes the 7 trumpets series and introduces the 2nd half of the book with a summary of its content.
What will God’s kingdom look like in reality? Can you imagine what God will be like as our King and the entire Kingdom made of faithful citizen-subjects?
The seven trumpets are God’s response to the prayers of His covenant people. He hasn’t forgotten them even in their distress. He is also not abandoning his enemies, but is seeking to get their attention. He’s tried using kindness and graciousness, but they haven’t responded to that method. The trumpets seem extreme, and maybe they are; God will go to any lengths within his righteous character to bring people to Him, or at least guide them to make a decision for or against His Kingdom.