The purpose of Revelation is not to promote speculation about the future. When we read about these trumpets today, the purpose is not to get us thinking about what this image or that symbol might mean in our day and wondering on what date this or that is going to happen. That is not the point.
Think about it with me. What are these trumpets? Two weeks ago, we talked about how these visions in Revelation are not necessarily arranged chronologically, but cyclically. Together, they’re like a spiraling story, viewpoints of the same game from different perspectives, repeating one another and building toward a climax. In Chapters 6-7, we saw seven seals, and now here in Chapters 8-11, we see seven trumpets, and soon we’ll see seven bowls. These seals and trumpets and bowls are repeating symbols of God’s judgment upon a world full of sin, and they’re progressing in intensification, all leading up to the final judgment and the return of Christ for His people.
Now the specific symbolism of these trumpets is significant. Throughout Scripture, trumpets were blown to warn of coming judgment or to announce victorious salvation, and Jesus specifically says in the Gospels that with a trumpet He will gather together all people for judgment or salvation at His return. Trumpets symbolize judgment and salvation all throughout Scripture.
Specifically, most scholars see a deliberate reference here in Revelation 8-11 to two stories in the Old Testament. One is the plagues that God poured out upon Egypt. Most of the images there (hail and blood and darkness) recall God’s judgments on Pharaoh and the Egyptians for holding His people in captivity. God sent those plagues as judgments for the sin of Egypt and the rebellion of Pharaoh. The other Old Testament story behind these trumpets is Joshua and the battle of Jericho. You’ll remember that God commanded seven priests to sound seven trumpets for seven days, at the end of which they would shout, the walls of Jericho would come down, and the Israelites would officially enter the Promised Land. The imagery here is eerily similar as seven trumpet blasts progressively and ultimately pronounce judgment upon sinners and victory for God’s people as they enter into heaven.
When you put this Old Testament background together with Revelation 8, you see the first four trumpet blasts depicting systematic physical judgments across creation. We talked a couple of weeks ago about how the essence of sin is the worship of created things rather than the Creator. Here we have a figurative picture of everything in all creation—from the land to the ocean to the rivers to the sky—systematically being destroyed.
In the first trumpet, you have hail and fire coming from heaven, burning up the earth and the trees and the grass. In the second trumpet, a mountain is hurled into the sea, destroying a third of the world’s oceans and all of its life and trade as the waters turn into blood. See the parallels here with the Egyptian plagues, with hail in the first trumpet and now water turning to blood in the second.
In the third trumpet, a meteor-like star falls from heaven, inflicting the earth’s rivers with poison and causing death to those who drink from them. And then, in the fourth trumpet, a third of the sun, moon, and stars were struck so that they provided a third less light taking us back to the plague of darkness in the book of Exodus, the last Egyptian plague before the Passover. The picture is clear here of coming darkness upon the earth. And again, you see this imagery intensifying as it repeats itself. With the opening of the fourth seal, the pale horse whose rider’s name was Death was given authority over a fourth of the earth. Now here, with the fourth trumpet, judgment comes to a third of the earth.
And the overall point of these first four trumpet judgments is clear: do not put your ultimate hope in created things. All things—even what you think are the most secure, things like the light of the sun—all things in heaven and on earth are passing away.
So we have physical judgments across creation then, in the fifth and sixth trumpets, we see personal judgments for idolatry and immorality. And terrifying is the right word. The imagery here is frightening. It’s not just judgment on physical creation anymore; this is judgment upon people.
Look at Revelation 8:13, “Then I looked and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, ‘Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth’”
If you’ll remember, that phrase—“those who dwell on the earth”—is used to describe unbelievers who have turned from God and are living for this world.
This is a threefold pronouncement of woe and misery upon all who turn from God to live for this world.
Then in Chapter 9, we begin to see demons torturing such unbelievers in a violent depiction of God’s judgment. With the fifth trumpet, the sun again is darkened, a picture of the spiritual darkness of men’s hearts, and for five months locusts (again, remember the plagues in Egypt) from the pits of hell terrorize unbelievers. Smoke rises from the abyss as the bottomless pit of hell is unlocked. Legions of hell are unleashed upon the earth in the form of locusts that look like horses prepared for battle with human faces and lion-like teeth and breastplates of iron. They come with the speed of chariots, and they sting with tails like scorpions. They torment unbelievers for a set period of time under the direct authority of Satan or one of his lieutenants, and all of this takes place under the ultimate authority of God. These demonic locusts are fierce and horrific. They cause people to long for death.
Then the second woe is introduced in the form of the sixth trumpet as a third of mankind is wiped out across the earth. (Again, this doesn’t mean that chronologically this happens next; the imagery is just building.) In this bloodcurdling vision, we see a cavalry of 200 million (literally two myriads of myriads) demonic warhorses released across the earth. With breastplates like fire and heads like lions and tails like serpents and smoke coming from their mouths, they come to kill and destroy.
Now look at Revelation 9:20-21. Don’t miss this. Even in light of all of this, even in light of all of these judgments upon physical creation and upon people, John writes:
“The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts”
That’s what I mean by terrifying personal judgments for idolatry and immorality. Despite the harmful, destructive effects of idolatry and immorality upon people’s lives in this world, people continue to trust in the things of this world! Unbelievers here are depicted like Pharaoh, who despite judgment after judgment, plague after plague, continue to resist God in sinful rebellion. This is the picture of mankind. Men and women who know and see and feel the effects of sin, and yet go running back to sin time and time again. They refuse to repent. Sin kills, yet men and women do not turn from it.
Robert Mounce said of these two verses at the end of these two chapters,
“Nowhere will you find a more accurate picture of sinful humanity pressed to the extreme. One would think that the terrors of God’s wrath would bring rebels to their knees. Not so. Past the point of no return, they respond to greater punishment with increased rebellion. Such is sinful nature untouched and unmoved by the mercies of God.”
There is no more tragic picture of human depravity than this—to refuse to repent even in the face of the horror of sin.
Now all of this leads to the seventh trumpet, which doesn’t come until the end of Chapter 11, the final judgment of God upon a sinful world.
We’ll talk about that more at the end, but at this point, in light of our quest not to miss the point, let’s ask the question: Why do we have these trumpets? And the answer, in light of all that we’ve seen, seems clear.
On one hand, God is giving the world warning. In God’s judgments upon sin in the world today, God is warning us to turn from sin. In physical destruction, spiritual deception, and natural death all around us, we are seeing the effects of sin.
Look at the war in the Ukraine, we see the effects of sin in the world—whether it’s terror or tumors, personal disease or physical destruction or painful death—see the effects of sin and repent and be reconciled to God today before it is too late.
God is giving the world warning in His judgments, and at the same time God is calling the church to war. Now I want to be careful here not to imply in any way that this is a call to war in an Islamic fundamentalist sense, or even in the sense of the Christian Crusaders from the past. No. But the picture is clear in Revelation 8-9 that there are spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, and we are not in peacetime in this world. We are in wartime. Just like the imagery we talked about with Joshua and the battle of Jericho, each passing trumpet announces a new stage in the battle for God’s people to enter into His promise. So here it is.
Pray For God’s Kingdom to Come:
When we confront these powers of darkness through prayer and the proclamation of the gospel, we need to be prepared! It will not be easy and will be costly!
Read Revelation 8:2-6
The judgments and the ultimate consumption of God’s Kingdom are happening in response to the prayers of God’s people! “COME SOON LORD JESUS”
Fearlessly Be About The Gospel Today
So in chapters 10-11 there is an important word, “prophet” or “prophesy” that is mentioned 6 different times. Let me give you a few examples:
10:7 “but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.”
10:11 “And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”
11:13 “And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”
11:18 “The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great,
So the emphasis on “prophets” and “prophesying” highlight the role of God’s people in the middle of these judgments. What do we do during this time? We speak God’s Word to this world!
So first we see John depicted as a prophet. Chapter 10 recounts, in a sense, God’s commission of John to write these revelations, or visions, down. Interestingly, there’s one vision he’s not supposed to write down—the voice of the seven thunders—which is a good reminder to us that Revelation is not intended to be an exhaustive account of every single thing that will happen in the coming of God’s kingdom.
But in imagery that’s very similar to Old Testament prophecy, God tells John to eat this message—this message that is both bitter and sweet at the same time. It’s bitter because it’s a message of judgment and condemnation, and it brings suffering to all who proclaim it. But it’s sweet because it is a message of salvation for all who believe and stake their lives on it. Verse 7 is actually the only time in the entire book of Revelation where we see the world evangelion, which means to announce the gospel, and the picture is God announcing to and through his prophets the good news of God’s grace in the midst of God’s judgment.
And then, when you get to Chapter 11, John describes the ministry of “two witnesses” and there has been a variety of debate about who these “two witnesses” are. Are they literally two specific people that God will raise up in the last days as His witnesses to be His prophets like Moses or Elijah or John the Baptist? Or are these “two witnesses” a figurative representation of the entire church? My inclination is to lean toward these two witnesses being a figurative representation of the entire church.
The picture we’ve seen throughout Revelation, and all of Scripture for that matter, is of every follower of Christ in the church testifying to the word of God and the gospel. This is why the Spirit of God is in Christians. No longer, like we had in the Old Testament, is the Spirit in a few prophets, but according to Joel 2 and Acts 2, the Spirit is upon all God’s people for the purpose of prophesying, proclaiming God’s Word.
This is the primary function of the church—to be a witness in the world. It’s the primary thrust of the book of Revelation—to compel all Christians to proclaim Christ, even when it costs them their lives. Every follower of Christ (without exception!) has been given the Spirit of Christ to testify to the gospel of Christ in the world. Even the imagery in Revelation 11:4 of two lamp-stands, which we’ve already seen as imagery for the church, seems to indicate this. And much like two witnesses in the first century world would be used to establish a particular matter, this symbolism would certainly make sense here.
So the picture that Chapter 11 gives us is of God’s people, His church, witnesses in a world full of God’s judgment upon sin, testifying to the gospel of God’s grace in the gospel. This is not just first century Christians. This is you and me.
“The church will go underground. We had that under the Soviet Union. The church did not forget what it means to be persecuted, We will rearrange, reorganize, and do what we always do: Preach the gospel.”
Yaroslavl Pyzh, President of Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary
We are witnesses in a world that is under the judgment of God, and we fearlessly proclaim God’s gospel to all. So a couple of things as we think about this this morning as we think about our role:
The first part of Chapter 11 can be really confusing, and like various parts of Revelation, there’s some disagreement over exactly what is meant by the temple or the 42 months and the 1,260 days.
You may or may not remember that God called Ezekiel to do a similar thing to this—to measure out the temple—and this action in Ezekiel was a symbolic depiction of God’s protection of His people. Ezekiel prophesied that in the rebuilding of the temple, God would restore His presence to the people of Israel, and God would once again show Himself as their provider and protector.
So in the picture here, John is not measuring off a physical temple, but a spiritual temple, His church, and God is promising to be with His witnessing people, to protect and provide for them. He will never leave them or forsake them, and they will always and ultimately be safe and secure in Him. God’s people have no reason to fear.
Yet at the same time, you’ll notice in Revelation 11:2 that the outer court of the temple, the court of the Gentiles, is left vulnerable and open to be trampled for a particular period of time (42 months), and the message seems to be that yes, while are lives are ultimately secure, our suffering is expected for a time.
This 42 months, which is also referred to as 1,260 days or three-and-a-half years, was prophesied way back in Daniel and is now signified here in Revelation as a time of tribulation in which God’s people experience suffering and persecution as His witnesses in this world. Again, some people view this as a literal three-and-a-half-year time of tribulation. But in light of understanding these witnesses as the church and in light of the context we’ve seen already here in Revelation, this seems to be a symbolic portrayal of a time of suffering that the church will endure before the final judgment. Not only does this seem to fit Daniel’s prophecies, but not coincidentally, this also reflects symbolically the approximate length of Jesus’ ministry on earth.
So the witnesses reflect the True and Faithful Witness, who for a time suffered in His testimony to the Word of God. And just like Christ, on one hand, these Christians are absolutely and eternally secure in the presence of God, yet on the other hand, they are vulnerable to attack, suffering, and persecution in this world as they witness. This is us.
Read Revelation 11:15-19
We see it again. With the 7th Trumpet, our mission is complete, God’s judgment is final and God is glorified!
OUR GOD WINS!
Matthew 24:14 “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
And John closes with an image of heaven opened, the ark of His covenant with His people, symbolizing the mercy seat where people can rest in God’s presence by the blood of Jesus, God welcoming his people in!
So at Mission City Church, as we study Revelation, let’s understand the purpose of this study is to compel us to actionNOW! Let’s fervently PRAY FOR GOD’S KINGDOM TO COME and passionately PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL OF JESUS TO ALL.
Pastor Matt Surber discusses Revelation 6 and 7 and reminds us that Revelation is written to encourage suffering Christians, call us to radical holiness, and give us hope to endure to the end!Read More /
Pastor Matt Surber studies The Throne Room in Revelation 4 and 5 as we look at God’s sovereignty.Read More /
Pastor Matt Surber discusses Revelation 2 & 3 and reminds us that God promises eternal celebration for those who endure until the end.Read More /