When Six Trumpets Sound (Revelation 8:6-9:21)
Topic: Revelation Passage: Revelation 8:6–9:21
Happy Ever After
When Six Trumpets Sound
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
March 8th, 2015
I. And You Don't Even Need a Passport
I don't know if you've thought about it this way, but the book of the Revelation is like travelling to a foreign country, not only because we are exposed to exotic sights and sounds within its pages, but also because we are quickly confronted by the fact another language is being spoken here. It's the language of imagery and symbolism. And if we are not somewhat conversant in this language, we run the risk of—just like when travelling abroad—we run the risk of getting stuck in a bog of confusion and misunderstanding.
Let's see if we can grow in our fluency with this language as we try to understand the majority of Revelation chapters 8 and 9. We'll be starting in chapter 8, verse 6 this morning.
But first, a quick recap: the Apostle John is recording a vision given to Him by Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, for seven churches in western Asia Minor. John has already witnessed Jesus, the Lamb, take and open a scroll that represents God's decree or plan for ultimate justice to be brought to the earth. The first five seals of this scroll represented present realities for the church in John's day: war, violence, economic hardship, death in general, but also more specifically, dying for Jesus...martyrdom. Do you remember the souls under heaven's altar that were crying out for justice?
Well, that's where seal #6 comes in. Seal #6 revealed the righteous of wrath of God, a coming time of judgment that would shake heaven and earth; it revealed God's answer to the prayers of those martyrs. But before God's plan for ultimate justice was to be implemented, chapter 7 reminded us that God seals, God secures, and God ultimately saves those who belong to Jesus.
II. The Passage: “Who Had the Seven Trumpets” (8:6-9:21)
So as we come back to chapter 8 this morning, it's important to remember that chapter 8 begins with the opening of the seventh seal. I believe the opening of the seventh seal is symbolic of the implementation of the decree itself. The scroll is now open all the way! And as we talked about last time, the execution of this plan comes, as we see in verse 4, in response to “the prayers of the saints”, that is, the cries of the martyrs and the prayers of the churches.
How is this decree of and for ultimate justice implemented? Well, verse 5 describes the first stage of implemetation by means of yet another symbol: then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. If you recall, that is a symbolic picture of God coming to earth, or more specifically here, of God's judgments coming to the earth.
And those judgments are announced by the “seven trumpets” we first heard about in verse 2 of this chapter. Now, what we are going to see in these two chapters is that these seven trumpets follow a similar pattern to the seven seals: we will read about four trumpets (remember the first four seals, the horsemen?), then two trumpets, then an interlude, and then finally, the seventh trumpet. But that takes us into chapter 11. This morning we will only focus on the first six trumpets.
So let's look at what we discover when these six trumpets are sounded.
A. The Teetering of Nature (8:6-13)
Listen to what John tells us in verses 6-13 about the first four trumpets:
Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.  The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.  The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood.  A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.  The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water.  The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.  The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.  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, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”
So notice that what John is being shown here represents the teetering of nature. This is the world convulsing. The key to understanding this imagery is to experience it as a whole. What is in view here? Trees, grass, the sea, sea creatures, rivers and springs, the sun, the moon, the stars. This is the unraveling of creation. Here's an example of what I mean: on the fourth day of creation in Genesis 1, God created the sun, moon, and stars. But as the fourth trumpet sounds, all of these heavenly bodies are struck and dimmed.
And notice why creation is teetering. “Hail and fire from heaven”. A “great mountain” being cast into the sea. A “great star” falling from heaven. These are symbols, symbols of what only God can do. God is at work here. The earth is reeling under the judgments of God.
But one key to understanding this book is to 'follow the fractions”. We learned in the opening of the fourth seal that God had decreed that a fourth of humanity would die in light of those realities represented by the first three seals. But here, we move up. Fourteen times in six verses the fraction “a third” (one-third) is used as a qualifier. A third of the sea, a third of the springs, a third of the sun. What is this telling us? It's telling us that the effects of these judgment are limited. This is still the beginning of God's wrath.
But as the eagle, as this 'bird of prey', tells us in verse 13, the worst is still to come.
B. The Torment of Demons (9:1-12)
Look with me at the first of these three woes. It's described for us in 9:1-12...
And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit.  He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft.  Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth.  They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.  They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone.  And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.  In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces,  their hair like women's hair, and their teeth like lions' teeth;  they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle.  They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails.  They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.  The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come.
While the first four trumpets represented the teetering of nature, this fifth trumpets surely symbolizes the torment of demons. Just as in verse 10, we see another star falling here. But this star is given a key. Clearly this is an angel, probably a fallen angel, maybe even Satan himself. In fact, verse 11 may be talking about the same angel. His name? Both Abaddon and Apollyon mean “destroyer”. And that's precisely what his army does.
Now the description of this army is highly symbolic, but each feature tells us something important about this judgment. First of all, they are pictured as locusts (grasshoppers). The books of Judges and Jeremiah remind us that the imagery of locusts was often used to describe a vast and devastating army. But as we see in verse 4, these are not real locusts who WOULD be sent to consume every green plant in sight. These are something else.
Second, notice these creatures come out of the bottomless pit, that is, the abyss. This is a good indication these are in fact demons. You may remember how some of the demons that Jesus encountered in His ministry were fearful of being sent into this abyss. But here, they have been released. And why have they been released? To torment those who, verse 4, do not have the seal of God on their forheads. That's takes us back to chapter 7, doesn't it.
But third, verses 7-10 give us an extensive description of these demons. Look at the rich symbolism that is being employed here. What seem to be crowns of gold speak of the limited authority they've been given. Their human faces and long hair may speak of their craftiness and ability to entice. Their teeth like lions' teeth speak of their ferocity. Their iron breastplates remind us they are extremely formidable enemies. The noise of their wings, as we see there in verse 9, is symbolic of the dread they inspire. And finally, their scorpion tails speak to the kind of pain they can inflict, pain that is long-lasting, but still limited (that's what the time indicator of “five months” seems to be symbolizing (five months=just over a third?).
What kind of torment might these demons bring? Surely it is a spiritual torment. It is the kind of inner pain, despair, confusion, bitterness, conflict, the kind of inner torment that, according to verse 6, drives people to prefer death to life. But for whatever reason, death will elude them. But this army will not be allowed to torment God's children. Remember, they are sealed and safe. That doesn't mean Christians cannot struggle on the inside, but such struggles are not inspired and sustained by demonic powers. For the believer, there is always hope.
C. The Terrors of War (9:13-19)
But these judgments are not over. There is still a sixth trumpet to be sounded. There is a second woe coming. Listen to how verses 13-19 describes that second woe...
Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God,  saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.”  So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind.  The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number.  And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions' heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths.  By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths.  For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.
In addition to the teetering of nature and the torment of demons, this passage reminds us that God's judgment is also manifested in the terrors of war. For John's readers, for the seven churches, mention of the Euphrates River would almost certainly inspire thoughts of the Parthians. The Parthian Empire dominated the land east of the Euphrates and was a constant thorn in Rome's side. In fact, a common fear throughout the Empire was the possibility of a Parthian invasion. Of course, the Euphrates was also the boundary over which many destroyers of Israel passed, incuding Assyria and Babylon.
All of that being said, what I believe this symbolism was intended to do was paint an awful picture of military carnage. And as before, we see angels involved in this judgment. But if these angels are “bound”, they are also most likely fallen. So again, God is using demonic forces to inspire the kind of military movements represented here. And look at the terrifying imagery being used! A mind-boggling number of war horses who, like lions, can devour ferociously from the front and who can strike from behind, like snakes, with deadly force; so deadly that (not surprisingly in light of the other trumpets) a third of mankind is killed.
Six trumpets, two woes, a third of the world devastated, and one very clear message that God will bring ultimate justice to the world.
III. When Things Get That Much Worse (9:20, 21)
So what are we to make of all this? Maybe a better question would be, “What would the original readers of Revelation make of all this?” I think there are two things we can conclude about these six trumpets. I believe this is...
1. A Picture of Disastrous, But Familiar Suffering
If we keep in mind that Revelation uses the language of symbolic imagery, then I think the ancient readers could have recognized, for example, some of the elements described by the first four trumpets. Remember, Mount Vesuvius in Italy had erupted only 12-15 years before Revelation was written. Darkened skies, cinder and ash raining down, the effects on the Bay of Naples; all of it could have, by God's design, informed the reader's interpretive imagination.
In addition to volcanic activity, imagine how forest fires, or a Mediterranean cyclone, or a tsunami (mountain thrown into the sea?) might provide the original audience with a sense of what was being conveyed. Add to this military tactics of deforestation, sea battles, and other catastrophic events that might destroy crops and pollute both the air and water supplies. And let's not forget the devastating war or wars symbolized by the sixth seal.
In fact, ancient writers tell us about all of these kinds of things in the decades and centuries that followed the writing down of the Revelation: later eruptions of Vesuvius in 203AD and 472AD. Devastating Mediterranean tsunamis in 365AD and 373AD. Terrible plagues in Rome in 165 and 250 that killed millions of people. And many, many wars, civil wars, and invasions also plagued the Empire over the next several centuries.
Doesn't the Revelation begin with Jesus telling John that this us a revelation...to show...the things that must soon take place (1:1)? That the readers must listen to this prophecy...for the time is near (1:3)?
But wait a minute. Isn't human history littered with periods of intense turbulence: of great wars, of devastating plagues, of natural catastrophes, even in our own lifetime? Yes, it is. But does that rule out the idea that God has also used many of these events to bring judgment? Of course not. We know the Scriptures give us many instances of God doing just that. But I think that brings us to a second observation. I think what we see here is...
2. An OT-Inspired Warning of Worse to Come
As we've already talked about, and you may have noticed, these two chapters are painted with an OT palette: blood, hail, fire, smoke, darkness, locusts, lions, wormwood; all of these and more are taken from either literal descriptions or figurative language used in the OT. Even the “seven trumpets” described in 8:2, 6 are from the OT. Remember how God instructed Joshua to conquer the city of Jericho? In Joshua 6:6 we read...
So Joshua the son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant and let seven priests bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark of the LORD.” (Joshua 6:6)
You may remember the how the army and the priests marched around the city blowing those trumpets for six days, then seven times around on the seventh day, after which the walls of the city would simply collapse after the last trumpet blast.
What does that mean for our study here? I think it's simply a reminder that these kinds of judgments are most likely connected with the imagery of trumpets because they are warnings, warnings of a coming destruction that is full and final. These kinds of catastrophes are devastating, but they are still limited. Remember the symbolic fractions involved?
But the greatest tragedy contained in these chapters is not the suffering, the devastation, or even death. It is the hardness of heart described in verses 20 and 21 of chapter 9...
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.
Not only does this remind us to interpret the Revelation in its original setting, but in light of that, we know the seven churches would have recognized all of these things. In fact, some in these churches were dabbling with or had given themselves over to these kinds of sins. Remember the false teaching that infected many of these churches, teaching that tried to justify compromise in terms of idolatry and sexual immorality?
But clearly, these closing verses were meant to tell us that even though the majority of mankind has not and will not listen to God's warning trumpets...they should. They should see the teetering of creation and turn to the stability of its Creator. They should cry out from under the torment of evil spirits and ask God for His Holy Spirit. In the face of the terrors of war they should run and find comfort in the Prince of Peace. Instead, they look for counterfeit solutions and use such suffering to blame or dismiss God.
It's no wonder that Paul used the present tense of the verb “to be” when he wrote the church in Rome: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18)
But the fate of so many should not stop us from being sobered by these catastrophes, by this kind of turbulence. And it should not stop us from calling men and women to repentance. I find it interesting that we discover here another confirmation of what it means to be sealed and safe. Did you notice that it only talks about the safety of those who were sealed in regard to the torment of demons? Natural disasters, political upheaval, epidemics; we have not been given a heavenly hall pass when it comes to these things.
But remember why we are seal and safe. Because of Jesus. And because Jesus took the wrath of God upon himself, because ultimate justice was first poured out on God's Son, we can be assured that nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39) God will in fact use all things for our good, if we have trusted in Jesus as our only hope.
But if we are flirting with sin, if we are tolerating compromise, then we better listen up. We better listen for the sound of God's trumpets. They are warnings to be heeded. The are correctives that remind us we are not in control, and that we are but dust. May God be honored as we pray, live, and worship in light of His power, justice, and mercy. And may He be glorified as we speak to others in light of those merciful warnings.
More in Happy Ever After (Revelation)
November 22, 2015Keep What is Written (Revelation 1:1-22:21)(overview)
November 15, 2015I am Coming...Come! (Revelation 22:6-21)
November 1, 2015A Tour of Our Future Glory (Revelation 21:9-22:5)