Were the Later Reformers Right?
The Seven Trumpets of Revelation
by Bob Pickle
[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."]
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.
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.
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?
Before we examine this question in the light of Scripture, let us first note what a simple outline of the passage might look like:
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,
Clearly we have depicted an invading army.
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.
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.
Likewise, the description of the sixth trumpet says,
Again, this is a clear reference to an invading army.
The description of the seventh trumpet is not quite so blatant:
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.
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.
The very next verse says,
This prophecy also is referred to in Revelation:
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.
But what about the first four trumpets? Were the evangelicals who connected these with military conquest correct?
Hail can be found as a symbol of invading armies in Isaiah.
Here the Assyrian army that desolated apostate Israel is likened to hail.
As one peruses chapters 28 and 29, it is readily apparent that this judgment comes because of Israel's sin of drunkenness. Yet,
If they aren't drunk with real wine, what are they drunk with?
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.
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:
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.
What about the second trumpet?
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.
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.
This compares quite well with Revelation's Babylon who is destroyed and burnt by a confederacy of ten kings:
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.
What about the third trumpet?
This is similar to something else in Jeremiah:
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.
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,
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?
During this time she martyred the prophets of God:
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:
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:
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
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:
Now for the fourth trumpet:
This contains allusions to one of Isaiah's prophecies about the downfall of Babylon:
How was Babylon to fall?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
The basic framework of the evangelical position on the trumpets is biblically sound.