John is in the midst of a vision of Heaven; he has seen the One who sits on the throne and the Lamb as having been slain (Revelation 4:1-11). The Lamb has a scroll with seven seals and has opened the seven seals, ostensibly allowing the scroll to be opened (Revelation 5:1-8:1). As the seventh seal is opened, silence comes over Heaven for a half hour, and then seven trumpets are given to the seven angels before God’s throne (Revelation 8:1-2). Another angel takes a golden censer, fills it with the incense, the prayers of the saints, and the fire from the altar, and casts it upon the earth (Revelation 8:3-5). The time had come for the angels to sound the trumpets (Revelation 8:6).
As the first four angels sound their trumpets, John sees great environmental damage take place. Hail and fire mixed with blood destroy a third of the land, trees, and grass (Revelation 8:7). A mountain burning with fire is cast into the sea, turning a third of it to blood and killing a third of the sea creatures (Revelation 8:8-9). A star, Wormwood, falls from the sky, making a third of the freshwater brackish and poisonous (Revelation 8:10-11). A third of the stars, moons, and other lights in the sky are struck and are darkened (Revelation 8:12).
Yet this is just the beginning. An eagle cries out to warn people regarding the woes that will come with the next three trumpet blasts (Revelation 8:13).
The fifth trumpet, or the first woe, leads to the opening of the pit of the abyss, and fearsome locust creatures come out, prepared as for war, which are commanded not to attack vegetation but people, particularly those who did not have the seal of God, causing them such great pain and distress that many seek to die but will not find it (Revelation 9:1-10). Their king is the Destroyer, called Abaddon or Apollyon (Revelation 9:11).
The sixth trumpet, or second woe, leads to the releasing of the four angels at the Euphrates and a cavalry of two hundred million who kill a third of mankind with their plagues of sulfuric fire and smoke and brimstone (Revelation 9:12-19). And yet, despite all of these plagues and great devastation, those on the earth who remained did not repent of their idolatry, sorcery, murder, adultery, and theft (Revelation 9:20-21).
The second woe only fully comes to an end in Revelation 11:14, yet there seems to be some sort of an interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpet/second and third woe as there was between the sixth and seventh seals (cf. Revelation 7:1-17). John sees a strong angel coming down from heaven, standing on earth and sea, holding a little book, proclaiming that the delay shall be no longer, but the mystery shall be finished with the seventh trumpet (Revelation 10:1-7). John is then exhorted to take the little book and eat it, and it is sweet to the taste but bitter in the stomach, and he will again prophesy about peoples and nations and kings (Revelation 10:8-11). John is then given a reed to measure the temple of God, but only the inner court, since the outer court will be trampled by the Gentiles for forty-two months (Revelation 11:1-2). Two witnesses, the olive trees and lampstands before God, will prophesy to the people for 1,260 days, wearing sackcloth and having power to shut up the heavens and bring fire upon their enemies (Revelation 11:3-6). The beast from the abyss will rise up and kill them, and the people of earth will make merry and give gifts to each other, but after three and a half days God will raise them up and will go up into heaven in a cloud, leading the people to fear and give God glory (Revelation 11:7-12). A great earthquake then kills seven thousand people, and the second woe is ended, but the third woe comes quickly (Revelation 11:13-14).
When the seventh trumpet sounds, great voices in Heaven cry out that the kingdoms of the world are now the kingdom of the Lord and His Christ, and He shall reign forever; the twenty-four elders give thanks to the Almighty “who is and was,” for He has taken His power and now reigns, having poured out His wrath upon the nations and rewarded His servants (Revelation 11:15-18). John then sees the Temple, the Holy of Holies, opened up, so as to be able to see the Ark of the Covenant, followed by lightning, voices, thunders, an earthquake, and great hail (Revelation 11:19).
The seven trumpets prove more challenging and mystifying than the seven seals. All sorts of interpretations and identifications are advanced to explain John’s meaning, yet few prove very satisfying.
We do well to remember that while John sees what is in the vision, the various aspects of the vision have meaning based in the long-standing themes of the Old and New Testaments. Furthermore, the seven trumpets come forth based upon the opening of the seventh seal: as a seal is a mark of identification and surety that a document has not been corrupted, a trumpet blast proclaims a message and/or sounds a warning for war and judgment (Ezekiel 33:1-6, Hosea 5:8-9). Throwing the coals of the altar upon the earth is a sign of impending judgment and destruction of Jerusalem in Ezekiel 10:1-7; the plagues unleashed by the first five trumpets have much in common with the plagues God cast upon Pharaoh and Egypt to liberate the Israelites from the bondage of slavery, Ezekiel’s warning to Gog about what God will do to him and his land if he attacks the people of God, and Zephaniah’s declaration of what God will do to the land of Judah because of their transgression (Exodus 7:1-12:32, Ezekiel 38:18-23, Zephaniah 1:3). The fearsome locusts, beyond their association with one of the plagues upon the Egyptians, are similarly described in Joel 1:4-2:25. The “Destroyer” is as the destroying angel of God (Genesis 19:1-29, 2 Kings 19:35). The terrifying and ominous army to the east, coming to destroy, is a theme repeated throughout Israel’s history with Assyria and Babylon (cf. Habakkuk 1:6-11).
God tells Ezekiel to eat a scroll in Ezekiel 2:8-3:3, and it is sweet to the mouth but bitter in the stomach. Measuring a temple features prominently in Ezekiel 40:1-48:35, Amos 7:7-9, and Zechariah 2:1-5 to lay out the plan for the restoration of the people of God and cutting off of those who refuse and rebel; in the New Testament, the people of God are the temple (1 Corinthians 3:14-16, 6:19-20, Ephesians 2:20-22, 1 Peter 2:5, 9). Forty two months, 1,260 days, and three and a half years are roughly the same amount of time, and is heavy with symbolism: Antiochus IV Epiphanes desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem by offering pig’s flesh on the altar and that devastation lasted from 167 to 164 BCE. This time period now becomes a way of expressing a time of persecution by an oppressive power (cf. Daniel 9:27, 12:7). The integrity of the church will be maintained, but there will be distress from those who are without. The two witnesses prophesy and are described in terms of the images of the high priest and governor of Israel as well as the exploits of Moses and Elijah (1 Kings 17:1, 18:41-46, 2 Kings 1:10-14, Zechariah 4:1-14); many seek to identify them as Elijah and Enoch, Moses and Elijah, the Old and New Testaments, but they likely represent the proclamation of the Gospel according to the witness of the God in Christ through the Holy Spirit and the witness of believers. The beast features prominently in Daniel 7:21-25 and 8:23-24 as the power of the oppressive nation, and Sodom and Egypt both represent the world, iniquity, and oppression (Genesis 13:13, 19:4-11, 24, Exodus 1:1-14:31). Jerusalem is the city in which the Lord was crucified, and it is expanded to include the whole world, since all see the events taking place. Yet the witnesses are raised and ascend to heaven: the proclamation of the Gospel cannot be so easily defeated, and no matter what the oppressive power may attempt to do, God’s people will continue to proclaim it.
The seventh trumpet is described in terms of the end of time: the kingdoms of men now are the Kingdom of God, and He reigns; the time of judgment and resurrection is now seen in the past (cf. Psalm 2:1-12, Acts 17:30-31, Romans 2:5-11, 1 Corinthians 15:20-57, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:10, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-11). The Temple is now open; the Ark can be seen; God’s promises are fulfilled.
Yet Revelation is not over; there are still eleven more chapters to go! We do well to remember that John has ingested the scroll, which is to absorb the message of God, and must now again prophesy regarding peoples, tongues, nations, and kings. Through the images of the temple, the witnesses, their death at the hand of the beast and their subsequent resurrection, we get a glimpse into what John will see more fully in Revelation 12:1-20:10. Through the seventh trumpet blast we get an idea of what will take place as described in Revelation 20:11-22:6.
In Revelation 4:1-10:11, John sees the vision of Heaven and how things look from the heavenly perspective; God in Christ directs the action, and there is no opposition. In Revelation 11:1-14 John receives an overview of the challenges which lay ahead: the persecution of believers by an oppressive, hostile power, but the promise of Revelation 11:15-19 should sustain them: they will overcome through God in Christ, for the kingdoms of the world will become the Kingdom of God in Christ. No matter how difficult or challenging the situation may seem, we do well to remember that God is in control, He will not delay, and those who oppose Him will suffer His wrath in judgment, and believers must continue to overcome all evil through the blood of the Lamb. Let us glorify and praise the Lord and His Christ!