The Trumpet Judgments Revelation 8:1–9:21
When John “opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour” (v. 1). This seventh seal contains the seven trumpet and seven bowl judgments. These judgments are similar to but do not retrace or overlap the seal judgments mentioned in the sixth chapter. The trumpets follow the six seals chronologically and begin at the middle of Daniel’s 70th week, often called the Great Tribulation. As one author aptly stated, “It is not the silence of rest and peace, but the ominous quiet in preparation for God’s wrath ready to be poured out in quick succession.”
Prayer for Judgment
John saw “the seven angels who stood before God…given seven trumpets” (v. 2). They should not be identified with the seven spirits of God (5:6) nor with the angels who will pour out the seven bowl judgments. Trumpets were used in Israel to announce feast days, ceremonial processions, and war and to warn of the coming day of the Lord. “Another angel” appeared before John standing “at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar” (v. 3). The text does not identify this eighth angel, but he is an angel, not Christ functioning in His intercessory ministry, as some teach. The angel does not intercede for saints but simply offers up incense with the saints’ prayers. The word another refers to another of the same kind of angel as those mentioned above. The text clearly says that this is an angel, not Christ.
Some scholars have questioned whether the altar mentioned in verses 3a and 5 is the brazen altar from which coals of fire are taken to burn incense on the golden altar (v. 3b). There is no indication that the altar in verse 3a is a burnt altar. The offering of incense is taken from the Old Testament worship, when the high priest burned incense on the golden altar in the Tabernacle. A thick cloud of smoke filled the Tabernacle, symbolic of Israel’s offering prayer and worship to God (Ex. 30:34–38).
The prayers rising to heaven are cries from Tribulation saints asking God for deliverance and the destruction of their enemies (vv. 3–4). The smoke is not the same as the prayers; rather, it ascended “with the prayers of the saints” (v. 4).
After the offering of prayer, “the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire from the altar, and cast it upon the earth” (v. 5). In response, John heard the sound of “voices, and thunderclaps, and lightnings, and an earthquake” (v. 5) proceeding from the throne of God, symbolic of His authority, power, and approval of the imminent judgment about to be poured out on the earth. The seven angels were thus prepared to announce the coming judgments (v. 6).
Perils of Judgment
The First Trumpet: When “The first angel sounded [his trumpet]…there followed hail and fire mixed with blood, and they were cast upon the earth” (v. 7; cp. Ex. 9:22–26). Some find it difficult to comprehend how hail, fire, and blood can be mixed together and rained upon the earth. They must remember that this is a supernatural event orchestrated by God from heaven. The earth was affected in two ways. The “third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up” (v. 7). Some translations add “a third of the earth was burned up,” indicating that all of the earth’s vegetation was destroyed by this event. Others see a contradiction between “all” green grass being burned up (v. 7) and the grass not being hurt in the fifth trumpet judgment (9:4). The problem is solved by understanding that grass will grow back after being burned.
The Second Trumpet: When “the second angel sounded…a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea” (v. 8). Most likely this is a huge meteor. The result is threefold. A third part of the sea became literal blood (v. 8; cp. Ex. 7:19–21). “The third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed” (v. 9). This will greatly impact the world ecologically and economically, considering that three-fourths of the earth’s surface is water.*
The Third Trumpet: When “the third angel sounded…there fell a great star from heaven, burning as though it were a lamp” (v. 10). This star is called “Wormwood” (v. 11), a strong-smelling and extremely bitter-tasting plant that grows in many varieties throughout the Middle East. In Scripture it is a symbol of bitterness, sorrow, calamity, and divine punishment (see Jer. 9:15; 23:15; Lam. 3:15). The star polluted a third part of the fresh water, “rivers,” and “fountains [springs]” (v. 10), making them unfit for human consumption. Although the plant wormwood is not normally a fatal poison, many of those who drank the water poisoned by “Wormwood” the fallen star died (v. 11).
The Fourth Trumpet: When the fourth angel sounded, the third part of the sun, moon, and stars were smitten, “so that the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise” (v. 12; cp. Ex. 10:21–22). This judgment will greatly affect agricultural production, animal life, and mankind’s physical, psychological, and social health.
During this fourth trumpet judgment, John “beheld, and heard an angel [some translations read eagle] flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!” (v. 13). The woes distinguish these last three trumpet judgments as more severe than the previous four because they will greatly increase the destruction about to be unleashed on the earth. The phrase inhabiters of the earth (lit., earth dwellers) is used throughout Revelation in reference to unbelievers who are against God and follow the demonic intents of the Antichrist.
The Fifth Trumpet: When the fifth angel sounded, John “saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth” (9:1). The star is an intelligent being of some sort because he is announced as an individual: “to him” (v. 1) and “he” (v. 2). Scholars are divided as to whether this individual is an angel, a special messenger from God, a fallen angel, or even Satan himself. Textual evidence seems to indicate that this is an angel sent from God to release demonic beings from the bottomless pit to punish unbelievers on the earth.
When the bottomless pit was opened, “there arose a smoke…like the smoke of a great furnace,” so thick that “the sun and the air were darkened” (v. 2). Throughout Revelation, smoke is associated with judgment, doom, and torment. Coming out of the pit will be a swarm of locusts (v. 3; cp. Ex. 10:12–20) that almost defy description. Their very look, not to speak of their ability to torment, will strike terror in the hearts of all people. They are like horses prepared for battle. They have crowns like gold on their heads, faces like a man, hair like a woman, teeth like a lion, breasts like breastplates of iron, motion in their wings sounding like many horses running to battle, and tails and stingers like a scorpion (vv. 7–10). These are not real locusts, since they do not feed on grass or any green thing. John used the words “as” or “like” to describe these creatures. They are demonic spirits from the pit who are so vile that they have been chained there for centuries.
Their king is named “Abaddon” in Hebrew and “Apollyon” in Greek (v. 11), both meaning destroyer. Most scholars identify him as Satan, but a case can be made for an unnamed demonic angel who is in charge of the bottomless pit. Satan is the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2; 6:12) and does not come in contact with the bottomless pit until he is cast into it during Christ’s thousand-year reign (20:1–3).
God put a number of limitations on the locusts. They cannot hurt “the grass…neither any green thing, neither any tree” (v. 4). They cannot hurt those who have the seal of God in their foreheads. This would exempt the 144,000 Jewish men (7:4–8), and possibly all believers, from being tormented by the locusts during this judgment (cp. Ex. 8:22–23). They can torment but not kill their victims (v. 5). They are allowed to torment their victims for only five months (vv. 5, 10).
The agony and duration of their sting will be so painful that people will seek death by suicide to be relieved of the torment, but “death shall flee from them” (v. 6). With the end of the locust plague, one woe is past and two more are yet to come (v. 12).
The Sixth Trumpet: When the sixth trumpet sounded, John “heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God” (v. 13). The prayers of the persecuted saints were offered to God at this altar (8:3–5), and the judgment of the sixth trumpet is linked to these prayers. The voice commanded the sixth angel to “Loose the four angels who are bound in the great river, Euphrates” (v 14). Obviously these are wicked angels loosed to carry out their mission of God’s appointed wrath on mankind. They “were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, to slay the third part of men” (v. 15). God has a precise period of time during which to carry out His program of wrath on a designated portion of people. On this occasion, His goal is not torment but death.
Without any explanation, John revealed that “the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand [200 million]” (v. 16). This gives the impression that they are connected in some way to the four wicked angels. Is the army composed of men or demons? The description of the horses and their riders gives the impression that it is a supernatural army of demonic beings. The emphasis is on the horses, not the riders. The power to kill comes from the horses’ mouths, by which they killed the third part of men (v. 18) by “fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone” (v. 18) and with their tails, which were like serpents’ tails with heads to hurt men (v. 19).
Remarkably, “the rest of the men who were not killed by these plagues…repented not” (v. 20). The trumpet judgments failed to produce contrition of heart, confession of sin, or a change in conduct or cardinal beliefs. Such depraved people remain defiant against God and under the delusion of demonic power (see 2 Th. 2:9–11), of whom Pharaoh of Egypt is a classic illustration. They did not repent “of the works of their hands…idols of gold, and silver, and bronze, and stone, and wood, which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk” (v. 20). They did not repent of the “worship [of] demons” (v. 20); that is, the unclean spirits represented by their idols. The very demons who were agents inflicting widespread death under the sixth trumpet were the objects of their worship.* They did not repent of their wicked walk, “murders…sorceries…fornication, nor of their thefts” (v. 21). The word sorceries (pharmakia) refers to the use of drugs and witchcraft for the purpose of casting magic spells or divinations or to heal. Demonic practices of witchcraft are often associated with drug use, especially today. The sins mentioned here are growing at an alarming rate worldwide.
Those without Christ during the Great Tribulation will suffer the wrath of the trumpet judgments. Scripture clearly teaches, “now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). Come to Christ today, my friend, and you will not be exposed to the terrors of the trumpet judgments tomorrow.