The last time, when we studied the first five verses of chapter 8, we read that, after the opening of the seventh seal on the scroll which the Lord Jesus had taken from the Lord God Almighty, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I suggested that the silence signifies God’s judgment on the world. So, when the sixth seal was opened, John saw that the judgment was about to come; and when the seventh seal was opened, the judgment had come; and the silence represents either the silence of God’s enemies right before the judgment fell on them, because they’re in dread of what is about to happen; or else it’s the silence which follows God’s judgment whenever God’s enemies are finally destroyed.
Meanwhile, back in chapter 7, John told us how the church triumphant is in heaven, where they enjoy perfect peace and rest in the presence of the Lord for ever. And the message the Lord is teaching us here, through these visions which John received, is that believers mustn’t give up the faith or give in, but we must persevere, despite all the sorrow and suffering of this troubled life, and despite all the opposition of the Evil One. We mustn’t give in, because in the end, while the wicked will fall silent before the Lord who comes to punish them, all who believe and who remain faithful will stand before the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb who was slain in the life to come.
And in the life to come, there will be no more sorrow or suffering or tears or death, but only perfect peace and rest. So, don’t give up or give in, but keeping going every day and remain faithful to the Lord who rules over all and who will bring us at last to be with him for ever.
That’s a wonderfully encouraging message. But the revelation of Jesus Christ doesn’t stop there. After the seven seals in chapters 6 and 7 and into 8, we have the seven trumpets in chapters 8 to 11. And like the seven seals which were divided into four, then two, then one, so the trumpets are divided into four, then two, then one. And like the seven seals — when there was a gap between the opening of the sixth seal and the opening of the seventh seal, so there’s a gap between the sounding of the sixth trumpet and the sounding of the seventh trumpet. And so, today, we’re only going to be thinking about the first six trumpets.
Now, before we look at the trumpets in detail, let me remind you that very often the visions which John received from the Lord Jesus are reminiscent of things we read in the Old Testament. For instance, the silence in heaven, which we read about in verse 1 of chapter 8, recalls how the nations were commanded to be silent in the Old Testaments books of Zechariah and Zephaniah. And in verse 5 of chapter 8, John wrote about peals of thunder and rumblings and flashes of lightning and an earthquake; that recalls Exodus 19 when the Lord came down to Mount Sinai to meet his people. Or back in chapter 1, John wrote how the Lord Jesus made us to be a kingdom of priests. That recalls what the Lord said to the Israelites at Mount Sinai when he promised to make them a kingdom of priests. And there have been other connections to the Old Testament. And when we get to the sounding of the trumpets, we’re to think about two things at least from the Old Testament.
First of all, we’re to think about the fall of Jericho. Do you remember what happened to Jericho? The Lord commanded the Israelites to walk around the city and the seven priests were to blow seven trumpets. They were to do this, once every day for six days. Then, on the seventh day, they walked around the city seven times; and the seven priests, blew their seven trumpets. And after they had done that, the walls of the city collapsed and the Lord’s people gained the victory over their enemies. Well, here in the book of Revelation, we have the blowing of seven trumpets. And after the seventh trumpet is sounded, we have the announcement of Christ’s victory over his enemies. In both cases, we have the blowing of trumpets, and we have the defeat of God’s enemies and the victory of Christ and his people.
So there’s that. But then, when the trumpets are sounded in Revelation, all kinds of disaster fall on the world: we’ll see that in a moment. And some of the disasters we read about here in Revelation remind us of some of the plagues which the Lord sent on the Egyptians in the days of Moses. So, when the King of Egypt refused to let the Lord’s people go, the Lord sent one plague after another to punish them. Well, just as he sent those plagues on the Egyptians, so the Lord is here announcing through John that he will send more plagues on his enemies.
And you see, both of those things — the connection with the fall of Jericho and the connection with the Egyptian plagues — are important to note, because that helps us to see that what we’re reading about now is how the Lord God Almighty is punishing the wicked right now, in this life. Yes, they will be judged whenever the Lord Jesus comes again, and they’ll be punished for ever for their disobedience. But right now, in this life, the Lord will afflict them with temporal punishments. And this shouldn’t surprise us, because we read about the same thing in Romans 1. Do you remember Romans 1? Paul wrote that the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven right now against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness. And when we studied the book of Romans together, we saw how the Lord often punishes the wicked in this life by letting them fall deeper and deeper into sin and into all the misery which their sin brings. Well, what Paul wrote about in Romans, John writes about now in the book of Revelation.
And there’s one last thing to say by way of introduction to the sounding of the trumpets: notice how often John uses the word ‘like’. It’s there in verse 8 of chapter 8:
like a huge mountain….
It’s there in verse 10:
like a torch….
It’s there in verse 2 of chapter 9:
like the smoke from a gigantic furnace.
And so on, all through this passage. That reminds us that these visions which John saw are pictures; and he’s trying to describe them to us, but it’s so hard to do so. So, he has to use comparisons and similes and figures of speech. In other words, we’re not to interpret these things literally, but we’re to try to work out what these pictures and visions point to and mean.
Trumpets 1 to 4
Let’s look at the sounding of the trumpets. And we read in verse 6 of chapter 8 how seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them. And when the first angel sounded his trumpet, there came hail and fire mixed with blood. Well, this corresponds to the plague of hail and thunder and lightning which the Lord sent on the Egyptians. However, whereas in the days of Moses, everything growing in the fields was destroyed, here in Revelation, the hail and fire led to the destruction of only a third of the earth, and a third of the trees, although all the green grass was burned up. So, there’s a kind of restraint on these plagues; we’ll see that again and again, because again and again we’ll read the words ‘a third’ because the judgments which the Lord is sending on the earth in these, the last days, are limited and restrained, so that not everything is destroyed, but only part of it.
When the second trumpet is sounded, something like a huge burning mountain was thrown into the sea. As a result, a third of the sea turned into blood, and a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. Well, this is reminiscent of the first of the Ten Plagues the Lord sent on the Egyptians when all the water in Egypt turned to blood.
When the third trumpet is sounded, a great, blazing star — named Wormwood — fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on a third of the springs of water, making them bitter and poisonous so that many of those who drank from the water died. This also reminds us of Egypt’s first plague. But we should also notice how after the first trumpet, the land was affected; after the second trumpet, the seas were affected; and after the third trumpet, the rivers and springs were affected.
Well, when the fourth trumpet was sounded, the sky was affected, because a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars. And day and night were also affected. This reminds us of the ninth Egyptian plagues, when a thick darkness covered the land of Egypt.
And then, as John watched these things, he heard something. It was the sound of an eagle which was flying overhead. And this eagle was able to speak; and it said in a loud voice:
Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!
What this flying, speaking eagle said is very important, because the expression ‘inhabitants of the earth’ — or ‘those who dwell on the earth’ — is almost a technical term for those who don’t believe. Those who don’t believe are earth-dwellers; whereas those who believe are heaven-dwellers. Those who believe belong in heaven, with the Lord Jesus; whereas those who don’t believe, belong on the earth which is destined for destruction.
And so, here’s this flying, speaking eagle who is letting us know that all of these woes, all of these plagues, which the sounding of the trumpets announce, are directed at those who don’t believe. In other words, what John is seeing in this vision is the way the Lord afflicts his enemies with temporal punishments. And the temporal punishments are restrained for the time being, because the Lord will wait until the coming Day of Judgment before he punishes them finally and for ever.
When the fifth trumpet is sounded, John saw a star which had fallen from heaven to earth. Well, this star is a person, because he’s given the key to the shaft of the Abyss, the bottomless pit. And with the key, he opened the shaft; and smoke rose up from it; and the sun and the sky were darkened. And out of the smoke came these locusts, which remind us of the plague of locusts which the Lord sent on the Egyptians. But whereas the locusts in Exodus ate whatever was growing in the fields, these locusts in Revelation were told not to harm the grass or the plants or the trees. Instead of destroying plants, these locusts — which could sting like a scorpion — were sent to harm all those who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. This seal was first mentioned back in chapter 6 where the Lord’s people were marked with a seal to indicate that they belonged to the Lord and were under his protection. Well, these locusts were now sent to harm those who were not sealed; in order words, they were sent to harm those who did not belong to the Lord.
Now, the locusts were not permitted to kill them, but only to torment them, and only for five months. So, once again we see a restraint: they can’t kill, but can only torture; and they can’t torture for ever, but only for a limited period of time. But the torment they would cause would be so severe that those who were afflicted would long for death and for the relief death might bring. But death would elude them.
And then John in verses 7 to 10 describes what the locusts looked like: they looked like horses ready for battle; they wore something like a crown; their faces were like a human face; their hair was like a woman’s hair; they had teeth like a lion; breastplates of iron; and they made a sound like many horses and chariots, rushing into battle. And with their tails, they stung and tormented those who did not belong to the Lord and who were not under the Lord’s protection. And they had a king who ruled over them; and the king’s name meant Destroyer. Destroyer.
It’s likely that this king named Destroyer is the same person as the fallen star who released them from the pit. So, who is this fallen star? Who is this king called Destroyer? Most likely it’s the Devil, who was cast down from heaven. And you see, the Devil cares for no one. Those who have been sealed by God belong to God and are under his protection. And those who have not been sealed by God belong, in a sense, to the Devil. But he doesn’t care about them; instead he sends these locusts to torment them. Isn’t that interesting? Those who will not believe think they’re better off, doing as they please, living the way they want to live. But that way only leads to sorrow and despair, because while they may have sided with the Devil in their rebellion, the Devil does not care about them, but is happy to see them tormented. As one of the commentators puts it: the Devil does not send the locusts to attack his enemies, but to attack his allies on the earth. That’s how wicked he is.
When the sixth trumpet is sounded, John heard a voice, coming from the horns of the altar. And this voice commanded the sixth angel to release the four angels who are bound at the River Euphrates. These four angels have been kept ready by the Lord for this very hour and day and month and year. And so, when the time is right, they were released to do what? Well, the first four trumpets brought destruction to the land, seas, rivers, and sky; the fifth trumpet brought torture and torment, but not death, on those who were not marked with God’s seal. And now, this sixth trumpet brings death; death on a third of mankind. And so, John sees a great army, numbering millions upon millions, riding horses, and bringing in their wake fire and smoke and sulphur to kill and destroy a third of mankind.
Now, what are we to make of all this? Are we to look for and expect a mighty swarm of locusts to cover the earth? Are we to look for and expect a great army to attack and kill a third of mankind? What is John talking about here? Well, we’re to remember how he uses the word ‘like’ again and again and again. He’s using comparisons and similes and figures of speech and pictures and symbols to convey the Lord’s message. And the Lord’s message reminds us of the fall of Jericho, when the Lord destroyed his enemies in the days of Joshua. And the Lord’s message reminds us of the plagues on the Egyptians when the Lord afflicted the Egyptians with all kinds of woes to punish them. That’s what John is talking about here: how, in these, the last days, the Lord will punish the wicked with all kinds of temporal punishments before the great and terrible Day of Judgment comes when he will punish them finally and for ever.
And look at the tragedy of verses 20 and 21: and this is especially poignant in the current crisis: the rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent. Like the Pharaoh in the days of Moses, who only hardened his heart again and again, so the wicked will only harden their hearts again and again and again. We like to think that the Lord’s temporal punishments on them will awaken them of the danger they’re in, so that they will repent and believe. But no. Despite all the warnings, they will not repent or change their ways. And whatever happens to them will only harden them in their opposition to the Lord.
Now, of course, we don’t know who they are. And so, the church is commanded to preach the gospel to all, knowing that while many — those who have not been marked with God’s seal — will never believe, nevertheless, all those who have been marked will repent and believe. And so, the church is to preach the gospel to all.
And here’s the thing: As we read about those who did not repent, we need to remember that we would have been just like them, if it were not for the Lord’s mercy upon us, because he’s the one who chose us before the world was made, and he’s the one who called us through the preaching of the gospel, and he’s the one who enabled us to do what we could not do ourselves, which is to turn from our sin in repentance and to turn to the Lord in faith. And all who turn to the Lord in faith are delivered from their sin and misery, so that God will no longer punish them — even though we all deserve to be punished — but he will pardon them for the sake of Christ who suffered and died in their place.
And so, whenever we read a passage like this one, and are reminded of the punishment which the Lord will send on the wicked, we ought to pause and give thanks to the Lord for sending his Son to suffer in our place in order to save us from the condemnation we deserve. We ought to give thanks to him. And we ought to demonstrate our gratitude by living our lives, not for ourselves, but for him and for his glory, while we wait for our Saviour to come again.