“And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshipped God” (Revelation 11:16 NASB).
by Benjamin and Gabriella Stein
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The seven trumpets sounding in Revelation 8-11 represent the messages from each of the seven messengers. The text does not reveal how each trumpet sounded, nor the content of each message. Instead, it describes the effect of each sound. Thus,
the symbols do not reveal the content of each message but the effect of each message on the world.
The picture of the seven trumpets is distinct from that of the seven seals. While the seven seals show the effect of the message on the true church, the seven trumpets reveal the effect that each message has on the rest of the world. It is important to note that the passages related to the seven trumpets are written from the perspective of the world; how the world sees itself being affected by the messages. Therefore,
when something bad happens, it may only be bad from the perspective of the world and the nominal religious systems.
The seven trumpets pictured in Revelation 8-11 are similar to the seven days when the children of Israel circled the ancient city of Jericho and blew seven trumpets. As with the seven seals, the Lord’s people (Israel) had a very different perspective on Jericho’s destruction than its inhabitants. So, the true church
sees the destructive effects of the trumpets and rejoices because they depict the righteous judgments of God.
The First Trumpet, Revelation 8:7
The first trumpet saw hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of the trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burned up. This depicts God’s judgment upon the nation of Israel. It was during the first period of the church that the Jews lost God’s favor and were dispersed. “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:38). As green signifies life, green grass is an apt description of the Jews who were justified under the law. However, with the transition into the Gospel Age, typical justification under the Law was no longer valid. “And there is Salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Thus, the Jews lost their standing before God; the green grass withered.
The Second Trumpet, Revelation 8:8-9
When the second angel sounded his trumpet, a mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea. Mountains represent civil governments (kingdoms). It was during this period of the church that Pagan Rome began its demise under the rise of what would be known as Papal Rome. The destruction of one-third of the ships might depict the many merchants who lost business as Pagan Rome fell.
The Third Trumpet, Revelation 8:10-11
When this trumpet sounded a great star fell from heaven and fell upon 1/3 of the rivers and waters. The third messenger to the true church was Arius. Arius was repeatedly excommunicated for speaking truth against the false doctrine of the nature of Jesus. Arius may be the great star which fell from heaven. Heaven here represents religious authorities (not the true heaven). So, his being excommunicated was not shameful, since it corresponds to falling from favor of the nominal religious system. Arius, the great star, is here called “Wormwood,” which means bitterness. Remember, this is written from a worldly perspective, the nominal Christian perspective. To the nominal religious system, Arius and his teachings were quite bitter, since his preaching of the truth contradicted their own false doctrinal teachings.
In the text, those who drank the bitter water on which Wormwood fell, died. Actually, those who followed Arius were deemed to be “not Christian” by the growing and powerful church-state system. Since the trumpet messages are written from the nominal perspective, death here would signify a loss of their nominal followers. Even to our day, many footsteps followers of Christ are still deemed to be non-Christian for not subscribing to the false doctrine of the trinity.
The Fourth Trumpet, Revelation 8:12
The fourth trumpet saw 1/3 of the sun, moon, and stars darkened. This represents a further darkening of the light of truth during the papal reign of the Dark Ages. The messages of the Gospel (sun), Prophets (moon), and Apostles (stars), faded in their integrity.
Woe, Woe, Woe, Revelation 8:13
These first four trumpets correspond to the first four seals of Revelation 6. The horses (doctrine) degraded to a sickly, pale horse, or a darkening of all the avenues of truth. But Revelation 8:13 marks a transition in the effect of the trumpets. Up to this point, there was a degradation of doctrine, because they rejected the truth poured out by each messenger. Similar to following the fourth seal, after the sounding of the fourth trumpet, its message brought some truth back to the true church. However, true doctrine is never welcomed by nominal systems. Therefore, these last three trumpet messages are seen as three major “woes” because of their effect on the Papal system.1
(1) Editor’s comment: Ezekiel 2:10, “and it was written within and without: and there were written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe.” The 7 trumpets correspond to: (1) Lamentation, (2) Mourning, (3) Mourning, (4) Lamentation, (5) Woe, (6) Woe, (7) Woe.
The Fifth Trumpet, Revelation 9:1-12
Similar to the third trumpet, when the fifth trumpet sounds, we see another star falling from heaven. Accordingly, we should expect to see in history a great spiritual leader disowned by the papacy. This leader unlocks the bottomless pit out of which come locusts like horses, who sting like scorpions. This dramatic and picturesque language indicates that doctrines (horses) emerge that act like a plague to the Papal system (locusts represent a plague of sorts, especially with the added ability to sting like scorpions). A reasonable explanation that fits the time period would be the translation of the Bible from Latin to English by Wycliffe.
Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible had an immense impact on the European population since it opened up an unlimited amount of potential truth that had been previously restricted by papacy’s control of the Bible in Latin. How appropriate to use the release from a bottomless pit to illustrate such a profound and unlimited impact that the Word of God would have on both those who diligently study it and those that do not! Alternatively, some consider this fifth period to be the Reformation, beginning in 1517 with Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and then his translation of the Bible into German.)
During this time, papacy’s stronghold on the people was most powerful, and the effect of Wycliffe’s Bible translation did not spread throughout Europe. The verses indicate that the locusts sting the Roman Catholic system for a limited amount of time and torment them. However, according to verse 6, “men will seek death and will not find it; and they will long to die, and death flees from them.” Recall that death indicates a conversion. Here we see that many individuals wanted to convert away from Catholicism but could not. Many wanted to become Protestant, but the time had not yet come. Thus, this period caused many problems for the papacy, but their problems would only worsen. The woe of the Reformation was about to come with the next trumpet.
Note: Verse 4 helps verify our view that the trumpet passages are written from the perspective of the rest of the world and are not the opinions of the true church. The locusts, which seem negative, actually prove to be from God, because they are not permitted to harm anything green (anyone who is justified through Christ), but are only permitted to attack those who “do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” This is a good reminder that the Lord is with his saints. Even though Revelation is filled with many plagues, torments, and woes, we are assured that God is with the true church and will continue to provide nourishment to His precious flock (Psalms 23).2
(2) Editor’s comment: The stars falling from heaven suggest to some the times of Arius and of the Reformation. The time of Wycliffe does not seem to have been much different than the time of the Dark Ages and Peter Waldo; so that the Reformation may better conform to the Fifth Trumpet.
The Sixth Trumpet, Revelation 9:13-21
Reformation came in the Sixth period of the church at the sounding of the trumpet, starting with the release of the four angels. Revelation 9:15 tells us that these four angels are “prepared for the hour and day and month and year.” This time prophecy most likely brings us to 1799 AD (the wording links it to the prophet Daniel’s 1,260 days). 1799 AD marks the time that papacy lost its political power; the pope died and Napoleon prevented the election of a new pope. Thus, the culminating event which dismantled papal power had its roots at the sounding of the sixth trumpet and the release of the four angels. (Alternatively, some begin this period earlier, though not before 1648 AD.)
These angels, at the time of the Reformation, are accompanied by many horsemen. Horses, as we have already seen, represent doctrines, and the Reformation saw many doctrinal truths re-emerge in spite of the papal influence. Most notable was the truth promoted by Martin Luther that salvation came through faith, and not through Catholic-instituted rituals, repetitions, and works. The next several verses describe how the horses, or doctrines, plagued the people and killed them. Those who are not killed by the fire are killed by the suffocating effect of the smoke and brimstone.
Once again, killing here would indicate a conversion away from Catholicism and toward true Christianity. This experience shows a remarkable contrast with the previous trumpet, in which many sought death but did not die. During the Reformation, many people converted, while during the preceding fifth trumpet, relatively few actually left the nominal system. Revelation 9:20-21 reveal that those who are not killed/converted by the doctrinal reform do not repent of their many sins. Similarly, those who did not leave the papal system (especially leaders) were not morally pricked by the events during the Reformation, but rather, they fought even harder to maintain their power and authority over the people.
However, the 6th trumpet is not just about religious reform. Luther’s message empowered the people by giving them control over their own beliefs, and the Reformation set a precedent for questioning papal authority. Interestingly, this precedent spread to the masses and eventually challenged geopolitical powers as in the French Revolution of 1789 AD. In 1799 AD, papacy’s political control was finally removed when the pope died in prison. We see, then, that the sixth trumpet not only affected the religious world but also the geopolitical world and society in general. The sixth trumpet was a very comprehensive trumpet and resulted in a major “woe” for the papal system.
However, this did not mark the end of the 6th trumpet. Instead, it caused an explosion of biblical enlightenment beginning in the early 1800’s.
Biblical Enlightenment and the Seven Peals of Thunder
In Daniel 12:4, Daniel is told to “shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end.” Daniel 12:9 adds, “And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.” The promised understanding of Daniel’s prophesies would only come at the time of the end.
In Revelation 10:2, a little book is mentioned, probably referring to the book of Daniel. Continuing in the same verse, an angel puts his right (favored) foot on the sea, which usually represents restless humanity, and his left foot on the land, which represents the established authority in the earth. This act could show that the favor was then transferred from the established authority (land) to the people (sea). This is important because it verifies that we are in the correct time-period after the French Revolution when many nations underwent revolutions which transferred power to the people (changing absolute monarchies into limited monarchies).
This transfer of authority also allowed people the freedom to study biblical prophecies in their own languages, which would naturally lead to a deeper understanding of biblical prophecy and truths.
The next verse, Revelation 10:3, talks about seven peals of thunder that utter their voices. Evidently, there is a big message that comes out at this time, revealing biblical prophecies that had previously remained unknown. Scholars have had a difficult time identifying this message. Perhaps the reason is given in Revelation 10:4, “And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write. Then I heard a voice from heaven, saying, ‘Seal up what the seven thunders said, and do not write it down!’”
The thunders really do sound, but they are not written down. Thus, this big message containing truths about biblical prophecy actually comes out at this time, but it does not gain popularity nor does it sway the people. (Some link the seven thunders with the seven voices of Psalms 29:3-8.)
In the 1820s, forty clergymen and laymen of various religious backgrounds convened at the Albury Conferences and, in 1829, published seven conclusions concerning biblical prophecy. These seven conclusions could correspond to the seven peals of thunder since they fit the timing and description. They are strikingly similar, if not identical, to what we would consider biblical truth today! The Albury Conferences conclusions were:
(1) The present Christian dispensation will not pass into the millennial state by the gradual increase of the preaching of the gospel, but it will be terminated by the judgment ending in the destruction of the church and political systems, the same way the Jewish dispensation ended.
(2) The Jews will be restored to their own land during this time of judgment.
(3) The Judgments will fall mainly upon Christendom and begin with the part of the church of God that has been most highly favored and is, therefore, most deeply responsible.
(4) After these judgments will be the Millennial Age, that period of universal blessedness to all mankind, even to the beasts.
(5) Jesus’ second advent will begin either before or at the start of the Millennial Age.
(6) The 1,260 years began during the reign of Justinian and ended during the French Revolution when the vials from Revelation began to be poured out.
(7) Our blessed Lord will shortly appear.
It is remarkable that these men were able to discern and agree upon so much truth before the return of our Lord in 1874 AD.
The Seventh Trumpet, Revelation 11:15
The seventh trumpet sounds in Revelation 11:15, and loud voices in heaven proclaim “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” Br. C.T. Russell’s ministry corresponds to Jesus’ return in 1874 AD, and this verse is most commonly thought to show the commencement of Jesus’ reign at that time. Jesus is using his authority now to tear down the kingdom of this world, and he will soon establish his peaceable kingdom on earth. This is shown in verses 18 and 19.
Revelation 11:16-17 describes 24 elders worshiping and praising God. The 24 elders are believed to represent Old Testament prophets or prophecies, and during this period of the church, when we are on the verge of God’s entire plan coming together for the blessing of all mankind, they are praising God. Alternatively, they are represented by either the 24 courses of the priesthood (1 Chronicles 24, typifying the priesthood, the church) or 24 courses of the musicians (1 Chronicles 25, typifying the ancient worthies). The latter viewpoint may be supported by the 24 elders each having a harp.
Acts 3:21 reminds us about “the times of the restoration of all things, which God spoke about by the mouth of His holy prophets from the beginning.” The Old Testament prophecies were proclaiming God’s loving plan to restore mankind. Yet somehow, through Satan’s cunning deceptions, men have failed to recognize this love and have painted Him as a God of vengeance, without mercy. But now, in the seventh stage of the church, when knowledge is increased and the book can be opened, these prophesies are being understood to show God’s marvelous plan for human redemption.
This was the message of brother C.T. Russell. He opened the scriptures to us to show God’s plan to give Jesus as a ransom for Adam, and showed how Jesus’ ransom sacrifice was applied to all mankind, in harmony with God’s justice. C.T. Russell’s unique message revealed not only the doctrine of the ransom, but other doctrines as well: two salvations, the sin offering, permission of evil, our Lord’s return, restitution, etc. We often take these truths for granted because they are the foundations of our faith. It is easy to lose our focus and think that we might be more enlightened by looking into the intricate details of scriptural events instead. Let us remember that these simple foundations of our faith were earth-shattering to many in C.T. Russell’s day.
The message of the 7th angel to the church has brought us this incredible understanding — meat in due season. As a result, we are blessed beyond measure to be living in a time of so much light. Let us remember to always let that light shine to others in order that they may see God’s true character. Our righteous example will engender others to praise our Heavenly Father during this unique time in which we are privileged to live.