|By: Dr. Robert Thomas; ©2001|
|This article looks at the first four trumpets found in Revelation 8:7-13. Do they mark the beginning of the outpouring of God’s wrath? How about the time of tribulation?|
THE BEGINNING OF THE GREAT TRIBULATION
The Scripture in Revelation 8:7-13 lends itself to being entitled several different ways. “The Beginning of the Seventh Seal” is a possibility because it begins to delineate the contents of that seal, as last month’s article outlined. “The First Four Trumpet Judgments” is also an accurate depiction of its contents, but we have chosen to call it “The Beginning of the Great Tribulation.” We do this because the passage specifies events early in the period following the abomination of desolation spoken of by Christ in His Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:15). The Great Tribulation is a period that comprises the last half of Daniel’s seventieth week (Dan. 9:24-27), a period of intense and unparalleled suffering on earth because of the consequences of God’s wrath (cf. Matt. 24:21). The first six seals speak of God’s wrathful dealings during the first half of that week, but with the arrival of the last half of the week, matters will become even worse for earth’s inhabitants because of their rebellion against God.
A word of caution is in order here because some have mistakenly taken the seventh seal and the first four trumpets as the beginning of the wrath of God. By doing that, they understand incorrectly the timing of the rapture by placing Christ’s coming for the church either at a point when the wrath begins during the last half of Daniel’s seventieth week or at a time when the wrath comes at the end of that week. Those positions are impossible because the sixth seal has already informed us that the outpouring of God’s wrath is already in progress when that seal judgment begins. In describing the sixth seal, Revelation 6:17 indicates the cries of earth’s victims: “The great day of their wrath has [already] come.” That points back to the first seal as the beginning of God’s wrath. The seventh seal and the first four trumpets mark the beginning of the Great Tribulation, but not of the outpouring of God’s wrath. The latter will begin with the breaking of the first seal.
The first four trumpets continue the wrath of God with a stepped-up intensity as compared to the first six seals. Those four direct their affliction against natural objects such as the earth, trees, grass, sea, and rivers. These are the judgments held back in Revelation 7:3 until the completion of the sealing of God’s servants.
The First Trumpet (Rev. 8:7)
“And the first sounded; and hail and fire mixed with blood came, and were cast into the earth; and the third part of the earth was burned up, and the third part of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.” History has recorded upheavals of nature similar to this plague, but none has been nearly so awful as this. To interpret this language as symbolic is futile since the trumpet visitations so closely parallel five or six plagues that the Lord sent against Egypt in Moses’ day. The Old Testament prophets understood that the miracles of Egypt were to be repeated in the future (see, for example, Isa. 10:22-25; 11:12-16; 30:30; Jer. 16:14-15; 23:7-8; Ezek. 38:22; Mic. 7:15). In a way similar to God’s judgment against Egypt, the first trumpet as well as those to follow will directly impact the world of nature, creating extremely distressing conditions for people living on earth.
When hail and fire mixed with blood fall on the earth, the result will be threefold. The first will be the burning of significant portions of earth’s vegetation just as hail in a comparable Egyptian plague destroyed the vegetation of Egypt (Exod. 9:25). The second result will be the destruction of trees such as fruit trees that are so important to life in Israel and Asia Minor. The third result will be the burning of “all the green grass.” The fact that some green grass is left at the time of the fifth trumpet (9:4) is no contradiction to the prediction here. Either the time lapse between the first and fifth trumpets will be sufficient for grass to regrow, or the first trumpet will not affect the dormant grass, which will eventually return after the period of dormancy ends. Either possibility allows for the “all” in this case to be taken literally without being contradicted by 9:4.
The one-third portions mentioned in the first two destructive events show the non-finality of the trumpet judgments. Those fractions are more sweeping than the one-fourth referred to under the fourth seal, but are not nearly as all-inclusive as will be the judgments of the seven bowls to come.
The Second Trumpet (Rev. 8:8-9)
“And the second angel sounded; and [something] like 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, which had life, died, and the third part of the ships were destroyed.” The fractional judgments against other parts of the natural world continue with the blowing of the second trumpet. Great diversity has marked attempts to assign a symbolical meaning to the “great mountain.” Various sources have suggested Babylon, Zion, a heathen nation, and Rome, a variety of interpretations reflecting the subjectivity of systems that avoid a non-literal understanding. Since literal understanding allows for obvious figures of speech, the term “like” indicates that what John saw was similar to a mountain-like mass, very possibly a meteoric chunk ablaze with fire.
The sea into which the mass fell includes all the seas worldwide, not just the Mediterranean Sea, and turned a third of them into blood. This recalls Israel’s deliverance in Egypt when the Nile River turned into blood (see Exod. 7:20; Ps. 78:43-44), but this judgment will affect a third of the sea water of the whole earth, not just the Nile River in Egypt. In the natural realm, of course, it would be impossible for a burning object to transform one-third of the sea into blood, cause one-third of marine life to perish, and destroy one-third of the shipping vessels. But this is a supernatural visitation that goes beyond anything that even the advances of modern science could emulate.
Fish cannot survive in a blood-filled environment any more than they could in the first Egyptian plague (see Exod. 7:21; also Zeph. 1:3). Sea-going vessels will also be hard hit too. At the time this natural calamity strikes, they will meet with destruction. That will mean death to the captain and crew of each ship on a third of the ships that are on the high seas. That will be far worse that the naval tragedy inflicted on American ships at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. It will be far worse than any maritime loss ever suffered by a nation. This is a judgment of God during a period of world history, the likes of which have never before been seen and will never be seen again except in the period of the bowl judgments yet to come (see Matt. 24:21).
The Third Trumpet (Rev. 8:10-11)
“And the third angel sounded; and a great star burning as a torch fell from heaven, and 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 among men died from the waters, because they were made bitter.” The third trumpet brings to the earth a falling meteor burning like a torch. The meteor pollutes a third of the fresh, drinking-water supply, both the rivers and the springs, recalling again the first Egyptian plague (Exod. 7:21). This kind of plague was a familiar token of divine punishment (Jer. 9:15).
The means of contamination will be wormwood, a plant with a bitter taste that did not necessarily cause death but could in some cases. In the Old Testament wormwood was a token of divine punishment (Jer. 9:15; 23:15; Lam. 3:15, 19). Many, but not all, who drink that water will die as God’s cumulative wrath builds, bringing more misery to those who oppose Him.
The Fourth Trumpet (Rev. 8:12-13)
“And the fourth angel sounded; and the third part of the sun and the third part of the moon and the third part of the stars were stricken, so that the third part of them was darkened and the day did not brighten for a third part of it, and the night likewise. And I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in midheaven saying with a loud voice, ‘Woe woe woe to those who dwell on the earth because of the rest of the trumpet-sounds of the three angels who are about to sound.’” The sun, moon, and stars bear the brunt of this judgment with a resultant darkening of them and a shortening of daylight hours. This recalls the ninth Egyptian plague with the darkness it brought to that country for three days (Exod. 10:21- 22). Darkness is a distinguishing characteristic of the future day of the Lord (Amos 5:18; see Isa. 13:10; Joel 2:2; Mark 13:24).
The question of how a darkening of a fractional part of the heavenly bodies can bring a shortening of daylight hours has troubled some. This is no great problem to the Creator of all things, however. He certainly can devise a plan whereby a partial eclipse can produce a shortening of duration from the light-bodies.
The announcement of the eagle in 8:13 is brief but vital: the past trumpets have been woeful in themselves, but the remaining three will be especially grievous, so much so as to earn for each of them the title of “woe.” In other words, the three woes refer to the three remaining trumpet-blasts which will impact people directly, not just indirectly through the world of nature.
Many people today are talking about environmental crises in our world, created by human technology and plundering. These crises, if they exist, are nothing compared to the future environmental crises to come at the hand of an Almighty Creator, crises brought on by human rebellion against His will. O that people would come to their senses and accept God’s way to reconciliation through His Son Jesus Christ! Whoever will do that will not have to experience the darkest of times that await the world.
Note: For more details about the first four trumpets, see my discussion in Revelation 8–22 (Moody Press, 1995), pages 14-25. To order this volume, you may contact Grace Books International at (800) GRACE15 or www.gbibooks.com.