The Seven Trumpets - Part III
The Trumpet Judgments (3)
Revelation 8:6-9:21; 11:14-19
First Explanatory Interlude (9:12)
In saying that “the first woe has passed” John does not mean “that the events have already transpired in history but only that the vision containing them is now past” (Beale, 505).
The Sixth Trumpet (9:13-21)
Whose “voice” is it that John hears? Is it that of Jesus (as in 6:6), or an angel (as in 16:7), or God the Father? The fact that the voice emanates from the golden altar connects this sixth trumpet judgment with the saints’ prayer in 6:10-11 for vindication.
People in the OT “sometimes expressed a desire to seek safety and protection from others by holding on to the horns of the altar (1 Kgs. 1:50-51; 2:28-34). Could the ‘four horns of the golden altar’ here refer to the full power of God that will be expressed in answering the cry of the saints by judging the wicked in the following trumpets?” (Beale, 506).
We see in v. 14 that “four angels” have been bound (deo; cf. 20:2) “at the great river Euphrates,” apparently restrained against their will (cf. the demons in 9:1-3).
G. B. Caird points out that “to the Roman the Euphrates was the eastern frontier, but to the Jew it was the northern frontier of Palestine, across which Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian invaders had come to impose their pagan sovereignty on the people of God. All the scriptural warnings about a foe from the north, therefore, find their echo in John’s blood-curdling vision” (122). On this see especially Isa. 5:26-29; 7:20; 8:7-8; 14:29-31; Jer. 1:14-15; 4:6-13; 6:1,22; 10:22; 13:20; Ezek. 38:6,15; 39:2; Joel 2:1-11,20-25; as well as Isa. 14:31; Jer. 25:9,26; 46-47 (esp. 46:4,22-23); 50:41-42; Ezek. 26:7-11.
These demonic invaders are coming at God’s appointed time so that they might kill a third of mankind. Is this arithmetically literal? Or is it John’s way of describing a preliminary, partial judgment that will only later, at the end of history, reach its consummation?
There is an interesting chain of command among the angelic and demonic hosts in this paragraph. First, we read of one angel commanding another (the sixth of the seven trumpet angels; vv. 13-14). Second, this angel then commands four other angels (perhaps demons; v. 15). Third, these four angels then release countless demonic angels into the earth (vv. 15ff.).
Although it isn’t explicitly stated, it appears that these four “angels” have power over a massive demonic army of horsemen numbering 200,000,000. Apparently this huge “army” is responsible for the killing of 1/3 of mankind. Literally, the number is a “double myriad of myriads,” a “myriad” typically equivalent to 10,000. A “myriad” is often used symbolically for an incalculable number, an innumerable, indefinite group (see Gen. 24:60; Lev. 26:8; Num. 10:35-36; Deut. 32:30; 33:2,17; 1 Kings 18:7-8; 21:12; Dan. 7:10; etc.). See esp. Rev. 5:11.
There is no basis whatsoever for trying to identify this “army” with the literal military forces of Red China that allegedly stand poised to invade Israel!
Again, let us take each descriptive item in turn. In doing so, however, we must be careful not to let our concern for the particular elements of their makeup obscure the overall visceral impact that John intends. In other words, John’s point in piling up these monstrous metaphors is to underscore “that the demons are ferocious and dreadful beings that afflict people in a fierce, appalling, and devastating manner” (Beale, 510).
· The riders of the horses (and perhaps the horses themselves) “had breastplates the color of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone” (9:17).
· The heads of the horses “are like the heads of lions” (9:17). Again, this points to their fierceness.
· Out of the mouths of the horses “proceed fire and smoke and brimstone (or sulphur)” (9:17). Elsewhere in Revelation “fire and brimstone” are descriptive of scenes of the final judgment of unbelievers (14:10; 21:8) and of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet (19:20; 20:10). See also “fire, sulphur, smoke” in several OT texts relating to judgment (Gen. 19:24,28; Deut. 29:23; 2 Sam. 22:9; Isa. 34:9-10; Ezek. 38:22).
· In v. 19 the power of the horses is said to be in their tails, “for their tails are like serpents and have heads.” John likens their tails to serpents, the heads of which are the source of the harm inflicted. That these are demonic armies is thus confirmed, for elsewhere in Revelation the “serpent” (ophis) is always a reference to Satan (12:9,14-15; 20:2). This reference to the serpent-like tail of the horses may specifically allude to their deception of unbelievers, for “the sweeping of the Serpent’s ‘tail’ [in Rev. 12] is symbolic of his [Satan’s] deception of the angels whom he caused to fall” (Beale, 514).
Again, the four angels who were bound at the river Euphrates, who are then released, employ this massive demonic army to kill 1/3 of mankind (cf. 9:15), utilizing the “fire and the smoke and the brimstone” that proceeded out of their mouths (9:18). The similarities with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah are obvious (Gen. 19:24,28). Note that these three elements are now called “three plagues” (v. 18). Whereas the locusts in 9:5 were not permitted to kill anyone, but only to torment, this demonic army from beyond the Euphrates is permitted to kill. Is this a literal, physical termination of human life, or is it figurative for spiritual or emotional or psychological “death”? The verb translated “kill” (apokteino) generally refers to literal physical death in Revelation. That would seem to be confirmed by v. 20 (“the rest . . . who were not killed”). If that is the meaning here, John envisions this demonic host (under and subordinate to God’s sovereignty; see 16:9) killing a sizeable number of earthdwellers (i.e., unbelievers), whether through illness (perhaps outbreaks of infectious diseases), accident, natural disaster, famine, suicide, etc.
In v. 19 these demonic horses/horsemen are said to do “harm” (adikeo), the same Greek word used in 9:4,10 where demonic “locusts” torment, but do not kill, those who lack the seal of God (cf. also its use in 2:11; 7:3). Perhaps, then, the “harm” here (v. 19) is not physical death but a variety of forms of spiritual and psychological torment and emotional anguish short of, but a prelude to, death itself. In light of v. 20 that follows, “part of the harm mentioned in v. 19 includes deceiving people to participate in idolatry” (Beale, 519).
Verse 20 does not explicitly say that the purpose of the demonic plagues was to induce or stir up repentance. Certainly such plagues serve as a warning, but one that goes unheeded. This highlights the hardness of heart of those who lack the seal of God on their foreheads. Wilcock adds this insightful comment:
“The death-dealing horsemen of Trumpet 6 are not tanks and planes. Or not only tanks and planes. They are also cancers and road accidents and malnutrition and terrorist bombs and peaceful demises in nursing homes. Yet ‘the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues’, still do not repent of their idolatry, the centering of their lives on anything rather than God, or of the evils which inevitably flow from it. They hear of pollution, of inflation, of dwindling resources, of blind politicians, and will not admit that the first four Trumpets of God are sounding. In the end they themselves are affected by these troubles, and for one reason or another life becomes a torment: the locusts are out, Trumpet 5 is sounding, but they will not repent. Not even when the angels of the Euphrates rise to the summons of Trumpet 6, and the cavalry rides out to slay – by any kind of destruction, not necessarily war – a friend or a relative, a husband or a wife: not even in bereavement will they repent” (99-100).
Here we have a typical OT list of idols according to their material composition (see Dan. 5:4,23; Pss. 115:4-7; 135:15-17; Deut. 4:28). John portrays the worship of idols, in whatever form that idolatry might take, as the “worship” of “demons”. We should probably translate v. 20 – “so as not to worship demons, that is, the idols . . .” On this he agrees with Paul (1 Cor. 10:20) as well as several OT texts (Deut. 32:17; Ps. 96:5; 106:36-37).
In v. 21 they are described as not repenting of yet additional sins, a brief list obviously derived from the Ten Commandments. These particular four vices are often associated with idol worship in both OT and NT (see Jer. 7:5-11; Hosea 3:1-4:2; Isa. 47:9-10; 48:5; Micah 5:12-6:8; Rom. 1:24-29; Gal. 5:20; Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5).
[Just as there was an interlude, a parenthetical pause, in 7:1-17 between the sixth and seventh seals, so also there is a similar parenthesis in 10:1-11:13 between the sixth and seventh trumpets.]
Second Explanatory Interlude (11:14)
The Seventh Trumpet (11:15-19)
Some contend that these verses do not describe the content of the seventh trumpet but simply anticipate it. The content of the seventh is then identified as the seven bowls. They argue that these verses portray no action but merely songs or hymns of God’s reign. But action is, in fact, portrayed in these verses. A song or hymn can depict the content of a “woe” or trumpet judgment as easily as a vision can. Also, what could possibly be more severe or demonstrable than the last, climactic, judgment itself, regardless of how long it lasts? Also, the most natural interpretation of 11:14, where the third woe or seventh trumpet is said to be “coming quickly,” is that 11:15-19 form its content.
Question: How could John have heard these “loud voices” if they occurred “in heaven” (v. 15a)? See also 12:10 and 19:1. Elsewhere he speaks as if from an earthly perspective and uses the phrase “from heaven” (10:4,8; 11:12; 14:2,13; 18:4). It would seem that on a few occasions John was either in a visionary trance state or bodily/spiritually present in heaven when he received his revelations.
The “loud voices” are either those of the angelic hosts worshiping God, or perhaps the saints in heaven (7:9; 19:1,6), or perhaps the twenty-four elders who are then portrayed as falling down in worship and speaking their praises in vv. 17-18.
The declaration is that what Satan formerly ruled, in a manner of speaking, as the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2; cf. 6:12) and “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), has now finally and wholly been taken by the Lord and His Christ! Whereas in 1 John 5:19 we are told that now, in some sense, in this present age, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one,” a day is coming (this day, described in 11:15-19) when such shall no longer be! This is the consummate overthrow of all God’s enemies and the manifestation of the universal and cosmic extent of his rightful rule! Whereas the “world” could refer to the totality of creation it more likely “refers to the human world that had been in opposition to God and in conflict with his purposes” (Aune, 2:638). Interestingly, the only other verbal parallel to this phrase is found in Mt. 4:8 where Satan offers dominion of “the kingdoms of the world” to Jesus if he will only bow before him. The implication is that such dominion was, at that time, Satan’s to offer. But no longer! G. B. Caird explains:
“In one sense God’s sovereignty is eternal: he entered on his reign when he established the rule of order in the midst of the primaeval chaos (Ps. xciii. 1-4); he has reigned throughout human history, turning even men’s misdeeds into instruments of his mercy; and above all he reigned in the Cross of Christ (xii. 10). But always up to this point he has reigned over a rebellious world. A king may be king de jure, but he is not king de facto until the trumpet which announces his accession is answered by the acclamations of a loyal and obedient people” (141).
Three additional observations:
· The past tense “has become” in v. 15 is used proleptically, that is to say, a future event is so certain to occur that it is described as a reality of the past.
· Who is the “He” in v. 15 that “will reign forever and ever”? Is it God the Father, the “Lord” of v. 15, or God the Son, i.e., “His Christ”? Or is it both, as John envisions them as an inseparable unity?
· A phrase parallel to “He will reign forever and ever” is found in 22:5 where it refers to us in the New Jerusalem! God will reign forever and ever, but so will we . . . with Him!
The twenty-four elders once again resume their familiar posture: face down in the presence of God! Their cry is one of gratitude. They address God as the “Lord God, the Almighty” (cf. 19:6). But their declaration “who is and who was” (v. 17) lacks the third element found earlier, “who is to come” (1:4; 4:8). This means, notes Beale, “that the last part of the triadic name for God is not merely a general time reference to his sovereignty over the future but specifically speaks of the end time, when God will break into world history and end it by overthrowing all opposition to his people and setting up his eternal kingdom. Though this had not yet happened in John’s time, the seventh seal vision showed him what would happen at the end. The events about which he now hears are cast in the past tense because they have already happened from the perspective of those offering praise” (613).
The rage of the nations is provoked by the inception of God’s rule through His Christ. This is a clear reference to Psalm 2:2 – “The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed” (see also vv. 5,10-12). The word translated “wrath” (orge), which is said to have come, is always used in Revelation of the final outpouring at the end of history (6:16-17; 14:10-11; 16:19; 19:15). Note well: “the nations were enraged (lit., orgisthesan) and Thy wrath (orge) came.” This is an example of how the punishment fits the crime: their rage against God is met by God’s rage against them!
The fact that this is the time “for the dead to be judged” and the faithful rewarded proves that John has in view the end of history. The parallel in Rev. 20:12-13, which all acknowledge speaks of the final judgment, makes this inescapable. Again in v. 18 we see that the punishment fits the crime (sin), for God “destroys” (diaphtheirai) those who have sought to “destroy” (diaphtheirontas) the earth (the “earth” here is probably a reference to God’s people).
Believers, on the other hand, now receive their heavenly “reward”, part of which, perhaps, is bearing witness to the judgment of those who have persecuted them (and thus this, too, is God’s positive answer to the prayer of 6:9-11). For the response of God’s people (described in almost identical terms) to judgment of the wicked, see 18:24-19:5. For other elements of this “reward”, see 2:7 (22:14); 2:11; 2:17; 2:26-27; 3:5 (7:14); 3:12; 3:21; 7:15-17; 22:3-4; 22:14.
We have already noted the use of this phraseology in contexts related to the final judgment (cf. 4:5; 8:5; 16:18).
There is a tradition in Judaism that some expected the return of the ark of the covenant at the end of history when God would once again graciously dwell among his people. Indeed, one legend had it that Jeremiah removed the ark to safety in a cave or buried it on Mt. Sinai where it would remain hidden until the final restoration of Israel (see 2 Macc. ii.4-8; cf. 2 Bar. vi. 5-10; lxxx.2). But no such expectation is found in the biblical literature. Thus “the presence of the ark of the covenant in the heavenly temple implies that it is the ‘true’ ark, which served as an archetype for the construction of the ark housed in the earthly tabernacle and temple (cf. Exod. 25:9,40; 26:30; 27:8; 1 Chr. 28:19; Wis 9:8; Acts 7:44; Heb. 8:1-5; 9:24)” (Aune, 2:677).