Is the evangelical position of yesteryear correct about these being a symbol of military conquest? The 7 Trumpets
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Panorama of Prophecy
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Were the Later Reformers Right?

The Seven Trumpets of Revelation

by Bob Pickle

  1. Early Evangelical Positions
  2. Post-Reformation Old World Views
  3. Post-Reformation New World Views
  4. Breakdown of the Passage
  5. Military Conquest: Fifth Trumpet
  6. Emblem of Islam
  7. Military Conquest: Sixth Trumpet
  8. Military Conquest: Seventh Trumpet
  9. Military Conquest: First Trumpet
  10. Judgment for Drunkenness
  11. Punisher Gets Punished
  12. Military Conquest: Second Trumpet
  13. Confederacy of Kings
  14. Military Conquest: Third Trumpet
  15. Babylon or Israel? Which?
  16. Babylon = Apostate Christians
  17. Military Conquest: Fourth Trumpet
  18. Problem With Future Fulfillment
  19. Timing of the Trumpets
  20. Conclusion

[The information in the following three sections is summarized in a chart of 53 evangelical writers, a significant number of whom were quite prestigious. This chart is on this web site under the title, "7 Trumpet Chart."]

Early Evangelical Positions

The seven trumpets of chapters 8 and 9 of the book of Revelation have been interpreted in a number of different ways. Beginning with the Reformation of the sixteenth century, certain positions on these prophecies began to be widely held by evangelicals.

Perusing Froom's four-volume series, Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, it would appear that a consensus first started forming regarding the sixth trumpet, and then the fifth trumpet, and finally the first four trumpets.

During the Reformation era, 1522-1653, Froom identifies two writers (one being Luther) who interpreted the sixth trumpet as involving the Mohammedans. Another four writers narrowed this down to the Turks. Regarding the fifth trumpet, Froom identifies two writers of this time period who interpreted it as involving the Saracens, and a third who identified it as the Mohammedans. One writer, Thomas Brightman, identified the first four trumpets, at least in part, as being the barbarian invasions of the Roman Empire.

Post-Reformation Old World Views

During the post-Reformation era, 1603-1798, the consensus becomes quite marked. Froom's summary chart for this era lists thirty-seven expositors. Of these thirty-seven, we know what twenty-four said about the sixth trumpet. Of these twenty-four, twenty-one identified it as being the Turks, two as the Mohammedans, and one as Antichrist. Regarding the fifth trumpet, twenty-four apparently took a position. Eighteen said it was the Saracens, two the monks, two the pope or his retinue, one the Roman clergy, and one the Jesuits. Fourteen of the thirty-seven took clear positions on the first four trumpets. Of these fourteen, twelve are identified as interpreting them to be the barbarian invasions, and two the heresies that afflicted the church.

Additionally, seven of these thirty-seven writers interpreted the tenth part of the city of Revelation 11, part of the sixth trumpet, as being France. This is from Froom's chart. However, in the text of his work, eighteen different writers of this time period are referred to who utilized the trumpets to predict the coming French Revolution of the 1790's. Perhaps Thomas Goodwin was the earliest, predicting such in 1639.

Post-Reformation New World Views

These are the writers from the Old World. For those of the New World of this time period there is a different chart of forty-three writers. All fifteen who took clear positions on the sixth trumpet connected it with the Turks. Nine writers connected the fifth trumpet with the Saracens or early Mohammedans, and two with the clergy or papacy. The three writers who wrote clearly about the first four trumpets connected them with the barbarian invasions.

It is not often that a particular view on the prophecies garnishes support from writers of divergent religious backgrounds. Few interpretations gain such a following, even for a time. Unfortunately, why such men in prior centuries had such convictions on the trumpets is not so readily apparent today. Their interpretations have descended to us without all the reasons why, and thus to many their interpretations sound strange and irrelevant.

But are they really?

Breakdown of the Passage

Before we examine this question in the light of Scripture, let us first note what a simple outline of the passage might look like:

  1. The Introduction - Rev. 8:2-6.
  2. The First Four Trumpets - Rev. 8:7-13.
  3. The Fifth Trumpet - Rev. 9:1-12.
  4. The Sixth Trumpet - Rev. 9:13-11:14.
  5. The Seventh Trumpet - Rev. 11:15-19.

Military Conquest: Fifth Trumpet

The typical evangelical interpretation of yesteryear of the first six trumpets involved military conquest of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and the world. Is this biblical?

Just the context alone of trumpets five through seven would agree with this interpretation. For instance, the fifth trumpet's description says,

And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle. . . .

And the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle. (Rev. 9:7, 9)

Clearly we have depicted an invading army.

Emblem of Islam

Evangelicals generally looked at this trumpet as having something to do with Islam. Interestingly, something about this passage appears to be a reference to a popular symbol of Islam.

And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. (Rev. 9:2)

Now picture what this might look like:

If the sun is darkened, we only have the moon and the stars left, a popular symbol of Islam. What do Algeria, Kelantan, Malacca, Mauritania, Northern Cyprus, Pakistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Western Sahara, and other countries and states, some of which do not exist today, have in common? Their flags have a crescent and a single five-pointed star on them. Comoros uses four stars instead of one, Karakalpakstan and Turkmenistan use five stars, and Uzbekistan uses twelve stars. Azerbaijan uses a single eight-pointed star instead of a five-pointed one, and Malaysia uses a fourteen-pointed one. The flags of the Arab League, Iran, the Islamic Conference, and the Maldives use a crescent without any star.

Definitely looks like the fifth trumpet may have represented some sort of Islamic power.

Military Conquest: Sixth Trumpet

Likewise, the description of the sixth trumpet says,

And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them. And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them . . . . (Rev. 9:16, 17)

Again, this is a clear reference to an invading army.

Military Conquest: Seventh Trumpet

The description of the seventh trumpet is not quite so blatant:

And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. (Rev. 11:15)

This is a picture of Christ conquering the world through military conquest, though of quite a different sort than brought to view under the other trumpets. That this is so can be seen from the fact that this verse is an allusion to Psalm 2.

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed. (Ps. 2:2)

Since the word "Christ" means "anointed," the phrases "our Lord, and of his Christ" and "the LORD, and against his anointed" are essentially the same, though using different prepositions.

Revelation's idea of the Lord and His Christ taking over the kingdoms of the world is found in Ps. 2:8.

Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. (Ps. 2:8)

The very next verse says,

Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. (Ps. 2:9)

This prophecy also is referred to in Revelation:

And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. . . . And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron. (Rev. 19:11-15)

Here the second coming of Christ is pictured as Christ leading a heavenly army to battle to take over the kingdoms of this world, an event predicted in Psalm 2 and referred to in Revelation 11:15. Thus the seventh trumpet also is connected with military conquest.

Military Conquest: First Trumpet

But what about the first four trumpets? Were the evangelicals who connected these with military conquest correct?

The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up. (Rev. 8:7)

Hail can be found as a symbol of invading armies in Isaiah.

Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine! Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand. The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet. (Is. 28:1-3)

Here the Assyrian army that desolated apostate Israel is likened to hail. 

Judgment for Drunkenness

As one peruses chapters 28 and 29, it is readily apparent that this judgment comes because of Israel's sin of drunkenness. Yet,

Stay yourselves, and wonder; cry ye out, and cry: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink. For the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered. (Is. 29:9, 10)

If they aren't drunk with real wine, what are they drunk with?

Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. (Is. 28:9)

They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine. (Is. 29:24)

Notice that the last verse said that those who would learn doctrine were those who had erred in the spirit. We just read that those who were drunk but not with wine were those who had "a spirit of a deep sleep" poured upon them.

Notice also that it is a simple fact that old drunkards aren't too interested in grape juice, but just-weaned babies are. Isaiah alludes to this fact when he says that just-weaned babies can be taught doctrine and knowledge in contrast with the Israelite drunkards.

It is pretty clear that Isaiah. 28 and 29 are using wine as a symbol of false doctrine. A similar theme is found in Revelation, for Babylon the Great makes all the world drink her wine, bringing God's wrath down upon her. It is a simple fact that new babes, new believers, can more easily accept biblical truth than those who have imbibed false doctrines for decades. Old opinions die hard.

Punisher Gets Punished

One important principle found in the Old Testament is that the punisher of God's people in the end gets punished too. For this reason, after apostate Israel gets pummeled by the hail of the Assyrian army, the Assyrians too receive hail . . . and fire:

And the LORD shall cause his glorious voice to be heard, and shall shew the lighting down of his arm, with the indignation of his anger, and with the flame of a devouring fire, with scattering, and tempest, and hailstones. For through the voice of the LORD shall the Assyrian be beaten down, which smote with a rod. (Is. 30:30, 31)

Combining hail with fire here makes this an even closer parallel to the first trumpet. Thus these chapters in Isaiah are closely connected with Revelation, and if hail refers to invading armies in Isaiah, it is likely that it refers to the same in the first trumpet.

Military Conquest: Second Trumpet

What about the second trumpet?

And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed. (Rev. 8:8, 9)

Just to read this, it sounds like some sort of naval battle. But let's take a look at Jeremiah where the symbolism of a burnt mountain is used.

Behold, I am against thee, O destroying mountain, saith the LORD, which destroyest all the earth: and I will stretch out mine hand upon thee, and roll thee down from the rocks, and will make thee a burnt mountain. . . . Set ye up a standard in the land, blow the trumpet among the nations, prepare the nations against her, call together against her the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni, and Ashchenaz; appoint a captain against her; cause the horses to come up as the rough caterpillars. Prepare against her the nations with the kings of the Medes, the captains thereof, and all the rulers thereof, and all the land of his dominion. And the land shall tremble and sorrow: for every purpose of the LORD shall be performed against Babylon, to make the land of Babylon a desolation without an inhabitant. (Jer. 51:25-29)

This is a judgment against Babylon. Through the agency of the invading, confederated armies of at least four kingdoms, Babylon would become a burnt mountain.

Confederacy of Kings

This compares quite well with Revelation's Babylon who is destroyed and burnt by a confederacy of ten kings:

And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. . . . And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. (Rev. 17:12-16)

To avoid confusion, it should be added that it is highly unlikely that the second trumpet and these verses are talking about exactly the same thing, since the second trumpet only desolates a third of something while chapter 17 is talking about total desolation. Yet it is safe to say that they are talking about something similar, a judgment upon Babylon caused by invading armies.

Military Conquest: Third Trumpet

What about the third trumpet?

And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter. (Rev. 8:10, 11)

This is similar to something else in Jeremiah:

Why do we sit still? assemble yourselves, and let us enter into the defenced cities, and let us be silent there: for the LORD our God hath put us to silence, and given us water of gall to drink, because we have sinned against the LORD. We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of health, and behold trouble! The snorting of his horses was heard from Dan: the whole land trembled at the sound of the neighing of his strong ones; for they are come, and have devoured the land, and all that is in it; the city, and those that dwell therein. (Jer. 8:14-16)

Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will feed them, even this people, with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink. I will scatter them also among the heathen, whom neither they nor their fathers have known: and I will send a sword after them, till I have consumed them. (Jer. 9:15, 16)

Upon apostate Judah comes this judgment. Drinking bitter water is being used as a symbol for the experience of being conquered militarily and having your homeland thereby desolated.

Babylon or Israel? Which?

Before we move on, please note that the first trumpet used symbolism from a prophecy against apostate Israel, the second a prophecy against pagan Babylon, and the third a prophecy against apostate Judah. The fourth uses symbolism from a prophecy against pagan Babylon. It is almost as if the apostate, professed followers of God are being identified with Revelation's mystical Babylon itself.

This isn't the only place in Revelation where pagan Babylon is associated with apostate professed believers. Babylon, a pagan kingdom, was never part of Israel or Judah in Old Testament times, yet Revelation 2 says,

Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. (Rev. 2:20, 21)

Jezebel was a heathen princess who had become part of Israel. Her husband Ahab, the king of Israel, had apostatized more than most. How long was the space Jezebel was given to repent?

Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. (James 5:17)

During this time she martyred the prophets of God:

For it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the LORD, that Obadiah took an hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water.) . . . Was it not told my lord what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets of the LORD, how I hid an hundred men of the LORD'S prophets by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water? (1 Kings 18:4, 13)

For three and a half years it didn't rain in the days of Elijah, Ahab, and Jezebel. For three and a half years it doesn't rain while Revelation's two witnesses prophecy, and while the beast reigns and persecutes God's people:

And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. . . . These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy. (Rev. 11:3, 6)

And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months. . . . And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. (Rev. 13:5, 7)

Thus Jezebel appears to be in cahoots with the beast, since the same time period is tied to both, and both persecute. More than this, Jezebel appears to be called by the name of "Babylon" in Revelation 17. There we have a woman named Babylon who represents a "city" that persecutes God's people:

And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration. . . . And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth. (Rev. 17:5, 6, 18)

It would almost appear that the beast is the king and Babylon is the city where he presides. Or maybe we could say that Babylon is the wife of the beast, as Jezebel was the wife of Ahab. At any rate, the connections between Jezebel, Babylon, and the beast in Revelation are so close that they seem to refer to the same persecuting, apostate power

Babylon = Apostate Christians

This all leads us to the conclusion that Babylon is a code name for 1) professed followers of God who are half-converted pagans, and/or 2) professed followers of God who have allied themselves with paganism. The end result is apostasy to the point that these professed followers of God have become persecutors of true believers. This agrees with John's association of the Antichrist with professed believers:

Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. (1 Jn. 2:18, 19)

Military Conquest: Fourth Trumpet

Now for the fourth trumpet:

And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise. (Rev. 8:12)

This contains allusions to one of Isaiah's prophecies about the downfall of Babylon:

The burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see. . . . For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. (Is. 13:1, 10)

How was Babylon to fall?

Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them, which shall not regard silver; and as for gold, they shall not delight in it. Their bows also shall dash the young men to pieces; and they shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eye shall not spare children. And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees' excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. (vss. 17-19)

So Babylon was to fall by military conquest, and when it did, the sun, moon, and stars would be darkened. The simple conclusion is that either the symbols or the wording of all seven trumpets mandate that the trumpets have something to do with military conquest.

Problem With Future Fulfillment

The fourth trumpet provides a major logistical obstacle to finding another interpretation than the one evangelicals used to hold.

For one thing, we cannot say that it is to be taken literally, for how could having only two-thirds of the sun left cause us to lose four hours of daylight? The sun just doesn't work that way.

Two passages will help us understand what the sun, moon, and stars are symbols of.

And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. (Gen. 1:16)

And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me. And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth? (Gen. 37:9, 10)

In these passages, the sun and moon are used to represent or are explicitly described as being different levels of authority. So in the fourth trumpet it is possible that the sun, moon, and stars are referring to three levels of authority within Babylon.

But it is only a third of them that are smitten. This raises some questions. In the U.S., the presidency might be likened to the sun, but how would a third of the president be smitten? Amputation of his legs?

In order to fulfill the prophecy, Babylon must be an entity composed of three divisions. Each of those three divisions must be governed by three levels of government. The first two of those three levels of government within each of those three divisions must work closely enough together that they can be symbolized by a single sun and a single moon, not three suns and three moons.

After Constantine died, the Roman Empire was split three ways between his sons, Constans, Constantius, and Constantine. More closely to the period of the barbarian invasions the Empire was ruled again by three emperors. When Theodosius came to the throne, he was but one emperor of three. 

While the sun would be a symbol of the emperor, what would the moon be? The next level of bureaucracy was the consuls. While difficult to determine today who were the consuls where, we do know that at least from 303-312 AD there were three sets of consuls in the Empire.

Is it conceivable that sometime in the future the world, Europe, or the United States will be divided up into three parts, each of which has three levels of government? If this doesn't seem likely, we must either find a better biblical way to interpret the symbols or stick with the interpretation the evangelical world held in the past.

Timing of the Trumpets

The identification of apostate Israel with pagan Babylon in the first trumpet is a key to when to start the trumpets. When did this happen?

And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. (Rev. 17:9)

So the woman Jezebel, mystic Babylon, is a city sitting on seven hills. This must be a reference to Rome. Rome was decidedly pagan till Constantine's time, and then a transformation took place. In 385 AD, the transformation had progressed to the point that "Christians" began killing Christians. At first church leaders complained, but then such things began to be common place.

This was during the reign of Theodosius. From his time onward, the Roman Empire became decidedly Catholic rather than pagan or Arian. 395 AD, the year he died, Alaric and his Goths began their rampages that marked the end of the glories of old Rome.

So Babylon became synonymous with apostate "Israel" sometime between the reigns of Constantine and Theodosius. This identification precisely fits with the formerly-popular evangelical interpretation that the trumpets began with the barbarian invasions of the Roman Empire. Beginning there, these trumpets would extend down to the second coming, when the kingdoms of this world will become His.

Conclusion

The basic framework of the evangelical position on the trumpets is biblically sound.

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