Judgment & the Sound of the Trumpet
Who Will Hearken?Of all the prophecies in the book of Revelation, the 7 Trumpets of Revelation 8-11 and the 7 heads on the scarlet beast of Revelation 17 have shown to be two of the most challenging. Yet, the book begins with a statement from Jesus Christ that the Revelation is given "to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass" (Rev. 1:1). He who reads it is blessed (Rev. 1:3) and he who keeps it is blessed (Rev. 22:7). Also, the book of Revelation was not sealed or kept secret (Rev. 22:10) and is meant to be understood.
Since the time of Jesus' second coming is rapidly approaching, we can expect these last mysteries of the prophetic book to come increasingly into sharper focus. We can also expect these prophecies to unfold just as other prophecies, with logical progression of the Revelation story, in harmony with historical events and using consistent Biblical methods of interpretation. With these expectations in mind, the following pages attempt to provide some degree of clarity on a difficult subject.
In even a brief perusal of the 7 Trumpets, one quickly recognizes that they involve calamity, affliction and suffering on massive scales. The descriptions are full of unpleasant conditions and destructive forces like fire, violence, darkness and torment. These types of descriptions are not new in Revelation, but are found throughout the Bible, portraying the disasters that result when nations turn away from God's ways.
An example is found in Ezekiel, chapter 30, which contains a prophecy that outlines the calamities Egypt would experience. The calamities are described as judgments of God (v. 14, 19) that occur at the hands of the king of Babylon (v. 10-11). Words like fire and darkness are used to describe the hardship and destruction they would experience through captivity (v. 18), scattering the people among other nations (v. 26), death (v. 5) and the desolation of cities (v. 7). The judgments also resulted in the rulers of Egypt losing power (v. 6, 18, 22, 25).
Another example of divine judgment is provided in Jeremiah chapters 6 and 7. This passage provides excellent insight into how God's judgments relate to the sounding of a trumpet. When God sent Jeremiah to warn Judah that Babylon would overtake them, He likened His warning to a trumpet. "O ye children of Benjamin, gather yourselves to flee out of the midst of Jerusalem, and blow the trumpet in Tekoa, and set up a sign of fire in Bethhaccerem: for evil appeareth out of the north, and great destruction" (Jeremiah 6:1).
Other Bible writers also use the trumpet to portray the sounding of a warning of judgment. "Set the trumpet to thy mouth. He shall come as an eagle against the house of the LORD, because they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my law" (Hosea 8:1).
A voice with a message is also likened to the sound of a trumpet elsewhere in Revelation. "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet" (Revelation 1:10). "After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter" (Revelation 4:1).
In continuing the passage in Jeremiah, he goes on to give the warning, describing that hardships were already occuring and that worse calamity would ultimately befall on them. He points out that these hardships and pending destruction were happening because of their own actions (see also Jer. 4:17-18). Their wickedness and rebellion were causing God to depart from them, along with His protection and guidance, resulting in suffering at the hands of their enemies. "As a fountain casteth out her waters, so she casteth out her wickedness: violence and spoil is heard in her; before me continually is grief and wounds. Be thou instructed, O Jerusalem, lest my soul depart from thee; lest I make thee desolate, a land not inhabited" (Jeremiah 6:7-8).
The Trumpet warning speaks to two groups. The first group was God's faithful people who were told to "gather yourselves to flee" (Jer. 6:1). Jeremiah also stated this previously in more detail. "Declare ye in Judah, and publish in Jerusalem; and say, Blow ye the trumpet in the land: cry, gather together, and say, Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the defenced cities. Set up the standard toward Zion: retire, stay not: for I will bring evil from the north, and a great destruction" (Jeremiah 4:5-6).
Even as He sends the warning so that His faithful people can escape, He also sends the warning to His unfaithful people so they can repent. He does not yet abandon the rebellious. He says to "be thou instructed," or reproved and corrected. "Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken" (Jeremiah 6:16-17). Jeremiah's writings make it clear that if they would turn away from doing harmful things to themselves and others, they could yet escape the disaster:
"At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them" (Jeremiah 18:7-10).The people would not change their ways. They would not listen to the trumpet. Because they rejected the trumpet warning and continued to break God's law, even their offerings and sacrifices became useless. "To what purpose cometh there to me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country? your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet unto me" (Jeremiah 6:20). Their law-breaking and cruelty developed to such a point that prayers offered on their behalf would be of no avail. "Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear thee" (Jeremiah 7:16). There is a point, beyond which, judgment cannot be averted.
This story gives us insight into how God's judgments work. A nation experiences a moral fall by persistently rejecting God and His laws. This rejection of God causes Him to withdraw His protection in response to their choices, which allows forces to be put in motion that bring afflictions and disaster. The forces that cause affliction on this earth can be those commanded by Satan (as the story of Job illustrates) or those commanded by God (as the story of Jericho illustrates). If God did not intervene in human affairs, evil would wipe out all that is good. There would be no one left to disseminate God's truth to the world (see From Eternity Past 347.4 to 349.3).
Through it all, God sends warning messages to call individuals to repent and provide the faithful with instructions to escape the disasters. Eventually, after all have heard the warning, the nation more fully experiences the results of its choices. God has given mercy bountifully and endured long, but there is now a fair and necessary recompense. There are great hardships and calamities, such as captivity, violent destruction of cities and loss of knowledge. Ultimately, those ruling the nation lose their power and another ruling entity takes over.
With these Old Testament examples in mind, we can apply the same pattern to the Seven Trumpets of Revelation. Since the Trumpets portray judgments, there must be specific nations or entities that rebel against God and receive the judgments. In addition, because nations bring judgments upon themselves when they reject God, and afflictions occur as a result of their own sins, there will be evidence that the very nations experiencing the Trumpet disasters play a part in causing them. In other words, the ruling entities, by their own action (or inaction), are responsible for the affliction and disasters in the Trumpets.
Each Trumpet involves the same process revealed in the Old Testament of an entity experiencing a moral fall, warnings being sent by God and the entity receiving the judgments of God through affliction and disaster. More detail of this process is provided below:
- A Moral Fall Occurs: An entity (nation/political power) experiences a moral fall by repeatedly refusing God and His laws. This occurs after a long time of pleading and warning by God (Jer. 7:13, 25-28, Jer. 19:15).
- A) Choice is Sealed: God is patient and longsuffering, striving with people until they go so far that they step beyond His help (Gen. 6:3, Mic. 1:9). They reject the pleadings of the Holy Spirit for so long that their conscience becomes seared (1 Tim. 4:2). This is the unpardonable sin (Matt. 12:31) and the filling of the cup of iniquity (Gen. 5:16), and signals the end of the entity's probation and the assurance of its destruction. Note: Nineveh is an example of a nation responding to the pleading of God, averting disaster and prolonging its probation (Jonah 1:2, 3:1-10, 4:2).
- B) Intercession Ends: Intercessory prayer for the entity becomes of no avail (Jer. 7:16), however, prayers for individuals belonging to the entity continue.
- God Begins to Withdraw: The entity's rejection of God forces Him to withdraw from them, in respect of their freedom of choice. This allows afflictions to begin. They have brought these hardships upon themselves because of their own sins (see Hosea 5:8-15, Hosea 8, Jer. 30:15). Affliction may or may not appear immediately, but the withdrawing of God's protection releases the forces that put in motion destructive events.
- Warning Is Given: The sound of the Trumpet is heard in the form of warnings proclaimed by God's faithful people. These warnings speak to two groups:
- A) The call to the faithful to assemble and organize for action, whether a meeting, journey, to flee or battle (see Numbers 10:1-10, Lev. 23:24-25, Ex. 19:13,16, Judges 3:27-30, Neh. 4:19-20, Jer. 4:5).
- B) The warning to the unfaithful to repent (see Ez. 33:1-9, Joel 2:1,12, Is. 58:1, 1 Cor. 14:8-9), which includes an explanation of what they are doing wrong, what will happen if they continue and how to escape the pending disaster. Though the immorality of the entity or system is denounced, the individuals that compose the entity, such as the people within the nation, can still be saved out of it.
- The Warning Reaches Everyone: God's mercy holds back the full forces of destruction in order to give every person a chance to hear the warning, learn the truth under circumstances that bring conviction and make their own decision. Many repeatedly reject the warning, revealing their own steadfastedness in rebellion and participation in the entity's fall. But, there are some who heed the warning and join the faithful in sounding the Trumpet.
- God's People Escape: God mercifully delays the full force of judgment in order to give individuals time to escape. God's faithful people follow God's instructions for escaping the disasters, which may include separating themselves from the entity or coping through its downfall. The Trumpet can also announce the proclaimation of liberty and act of deliverance of the faithful (see Lev. 25:9-13, Psalm 47, Is. 27:13, Matt. 24:31, 1 Cor. 15:52).
- Terrible Destruction: The entity's moral fall is completely matured and exposed. God further withdraws His protection, resulting in the culmination of the judgment through destruction and calamities and the overthrowing of the unfaithful (Joshua 6, Judges 7:16-22, Amos 2:2, Zeph. 1:14-18). The ruling entity loses its priveleges and the land is given over to another ruling power (Ezekiel 30:6,18-25. Amos 1:15, 2:2-3, 3:11). Thus, the Trumpet ends.
The relationship between nations rejecting God and the resulting judgment is not vague or distant, but an intimate connection of guaranteed cause and effect. Because of this inseparable relation in the Bible between nations or powers experiencing a moral fall and the resulting warning and judgment, this approach links the 7 heads on the scarlet beast of Revelation (the ruling powers) with the 7 Trumpets (the judgments). The details of the thinking behind this approach is detailed as part of the study of Revelation 17 (see "Linking the 7 Trumpets to the 7 Heads"), as we develop the thought process and outline the resulting assumptions or guidelines that will be used to interpret and identify the symbols, timeframes and ruling powers. By the end, each Trumpet is explored in detail, along with the affected ruling power (Head), the timeframe and judgment.
It is comforting that God always sends warnings that inform people of what is about to happen and how to avoid trouble. Trumpet messages are prophetic, signaling what is about to take place. God also gives each individual and nation plenty of time to hear and adhere to the warning. Even though so many earthly powers are allowed to perpetrate a multitude of evils in the land, God is in control and His followers can have peace and knowledge of the bigger picture and eternal issues at stake. "Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it? 7 Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:6-7).
This assurance of a clear warning and ample time accompanying a Trumpet blast make it clear that God is reluctant to withdraw His protective power and send judgments upon any nation. Those repentant souls who plead with God in prayer for those still in rebellion, those who understand the solemnity of just one lost soul, and those who "do unto others as they would have others do unto them", gladly take up the role as watchman and help to sound the Trumpet as loudly as possible.
"Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman: If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people; Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul. But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand. So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live? Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 33:1-11).A Trumpet can sound for a long time, but does have an end. Those with understanding long for it to end. What horrible suffering! What needless agony!
"My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. 20 Destruction upon destruction is cried; for the whole land is spoiled: suddenly are my tents spoiled, and my curtains in a moment. 21 How long shall I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? 22 For my people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge" (Jeremiah 4:19-22).As we study the Trumpet warnings and judgments of God as foretold in prophecy by the apostle John, let us always keep in mind our relationship to the sounding of the Trumpet. We are either (a) helping to sound it, (b) hearing it and repenting, or (c) hearing it and rejecting it.
The 7th Trumpet, being the last, is of special interest to people living today. It heralds the last warning to the inhabitants of earth, the final phase of Christ's intercession, the ultimate destructive encounter and the ushering in of an everlasting ruling entity. Revelation reveals many specifics of this final warning message, which goes out to His faithful and rebelling people. As the pages of history unfold, and Trumpet after Trumpet sounds, we are all wondering when the last warning will end. When will the loud blasts of the 7th Trumpet end as the warning message receives its last rejection, affliction destroys its last friend, and power transitions to its last and everlasting ruler? We will have to wait for the answer to this question, but each of us can answer a most important question...
Will I hearken to the sound of the trumpet?
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