The Seven Trumpets: The First Five
The seven letters gave instruction, the seven seals revealed, and starting with this section we are introduced to seven trumpets. Trumpets were used to give warnings (Joel 2:1; Amos 3:6; Hosea 5:8). Warnings, however, are only useful if they are heeded (Ezekiel 33:2-5). The seven warnings in Revelation vaguely remind us of the ten plagues of Egypt. Each warning gets progressively severe as the warnings are ignored.
An angel brings out a bowl of incense. To it are added the prayers of the saints – likely referring back to the cries of the martyrs under the altar who were asking God, “How long?” Thus, an answer to those prayers is being prepared (Luke 18:7).
The imagery comes from the way worship was conducted under the Old Law (Leviticus 16:12-13). Fire was obtained from the alter, it is used to light the incense, which was then placed on another altar before God. As the incense burned, prayers were offered up (Luke 1:9-10). In Revelation, the angel fills the censor with fire from the altar, adds to it the prayers of the saints, but then the bowl and fire are thrown to the earth with devastating effect.
Seven trumpets are then sounded. The first four are described as impacting nature, while the last three impact mankind.
The First Trumpet
With the sounding of the first trumpet came hail and fire (lightning) with blood mixed in. These were thrown to the earth, causing damage to a third of the earth. Lightning and hail are common weapons of God (Job 38:22-23; Isaiah 30:30). What is described is general devastation to a large portion of the empire. When man sins, the response can be boarder than just the sinner (Jeremiah 7:20).
The Second Trumpet
A volcano is thrown into the sea. Mountains are supposed to be stable, but a volcano is an unstable mountain. Nations are sometimes portrayed as mountains, but governments can be toppled, especially when they are destructive to the nations around them (Jeremiah 51:24-25, 42).
In this destruction, a third of the sea life was destroyed. The sea and waters often represent the general populace of the world (Revelation 17:15). Thus, in this warning we see harm coming to the general population.
A third of the ships, the carriers of merchandise is also destroyed. Thus, there is also an economic disaster in this warning.
Both destructions are centered around the sea and its commerce and it brought about by the nation collapsing.
The Third Trumpet
A star, named Wormwood, falls on the rivers and springs. In the past, stars were used to represent rulers, such as in Isaiah 14:2 where the Babylonian ruler is called a star. The prophecy of the Messiah arising from Judah also referring to Jesus coming as ruler (Numbers 24:17).
Wormwood is a bitter, nauseating plant. Those who after idolatry would yield wormwood (bitterness) (Deuteronomy 29:18). God said He would feed the idolaters wormwood (Jeremiah 23:12-15).
Thus, a ruler would arise whose rule would be like meteor (flashy but brief) and the effect of his rule would be bitter o the people. In John’s prophecy a third of the fresh water sources become bitter causing many people to die.
The Fourth Trumpet
The sun, moon and stars are struck causing one third to be darkened for a third of the day and night. This type of description is common in the prophets to indicate divine judgment (Amos 9:8; Joel 3:15; Jeremiah 15:9). As we just noted rulers are sometimes represented as stars. If we see light as the wisdom that is from God (Psalms 119:105, 130) and God’s word as being the basis of all wisdom (I Corinthians 2:6-7), then the removal of light is the removal of wisdom (or guiding lights) from a nation. Just before Judah was destroyed, her wise men were removed (Isaiah 29:14). The same happened to Edom (Obadiah 8; Jeremiah 49:7). Without wise guidance and nation starts making serious blunders that can eventually lead to its downfall.
A Warning about the Final Three Warnings
An eagle warns those who dwell on the effects the last three trumpets will have on the earth. It calls out “woe, woe, woe.” Repeating a word or phrase gives emphasis like a comparative does in English grammar. Stating something three times causes it to function like a superlative. This is not just a greater woe, it is the greatest of woes. And there is one woe for each of the last three trumpets.
In these days, an eagle was seen as the bearer of ill tidings, much as we see ravens or vultures today. The King James Version translates this word as “angel,” but this is a mistranslation. An eagle is keen of eye (Job 39:29) and sweeps down rapidly on its chosen prey (Job 9:26). Thus, in warning of pending judgment, Hosea uses the image of a descending eagle (Hosea 8:1). The invading Babylonian army was also described as an eagle after prey (Habakkuk 1:8). Therefore, the eagle sees the upcoming disasters well in advance, disasters that will strike suddenly.
The Fifth Trumpet
A star falls from heaven. It is someone who is given the key to the abyss, which he uses to open the abyss. In Revelation 9:11 the fallen star is named “Destroyer” both in Hebrew and in Greek. Continuing the idea of a star representing a ruler, we know that Satan is referred to as the ruler of this world (Ephesians 2:2; John 12:31). Satan was cast out of heaven (Revelation 12:9; Luke 10:18). He is also a destroyer and a liar (John 8:44).
When the bottomless pit is opened, smoke pours out, blocking the light. Seeing the light as God’s word, Satan is veiling the from those who will not see (II Corinthians 4:3-4).
Out of the smoke comes a swarm of locust. Locust is another common symbol used describe the punishment of a nation (Psalms 105:34-35; Deuteronomy 28:37-38). But what comes out of the pit are not ordinary locust. These locust have the power to sting like scorpions. Scorpion stings are extremely painful, but they are rarely fatal. Thus, these locust will be causing a lot of misery, but not to the point of death. It will be so bad that people will wish they were dead, much like how Job felt (Job 3:20-23).
The plague lasts five months. Most see this as meaning a definite period of time that seems long, but has an end. But notice that this is a plague that only affects non-Christians (Revelation 9:4). It also doesn’t hurt the world at large.
The description is much like Joel’s description of the invading Babylonian army (Joel 1:3-7; 2:1-10). The locust wear victory crowns, but they only seem like gold; that is, they will not endure. They have human faces, indicating they are intelligent. They have long hair, which probably indicates that they are dishonorable (I Corinthians 11:14). But they also have teeth like a lion, which means they are frighteningly destructive (Joel 1:6).
Here is a spiritual war being conducted that deceives the non-believers, causing them great anguish for a period of time. It seems odd because non-believers are already in Satan’s camp. Why would Satan cause anguish on his own followers? But Satan wages a war against all the world. He has no respect for those who follow him. That is why sin causes so much harm to the sinner. In addition, the deception and the torment keeps the non-believer from obeying God (II Thessalonians 2:9-10). Yet, the only true protection is from being a follower of God.