The seven trumpets begin a new section in the Revelation. We will now be looking at material that will describe how God has fought against evil forces through the centuries. In this third vision, we find the seven trumpets (chapters eight and nine); the development of God’s last day church (chapter ten); and God empowering His Two Witnesses, the Old and New Testaments (chapter eleven).
Trumpets are a symbol of war and coming judgment
In ancient times trumpets were used to awaken the people to impending danger or to sound an alarm. See Ezekiel 33:1–9; Isaiah 58:1; Joel 2:1, 15. Trumpets have often been used as a symbol of war. See Numbers 10:9; Jeremiah 4:19; 42:14. The sound of the trumpet could initiate an attack or sound a retreat. The seven trumpets of Revelation, therefore, teach us that we are at war with evil forces.
Evil forces have warred against God by rejecting truth and by persecuting His people. In the visions of the seven churches and the seven seals, the Revelation referred to both apostasy and persecution within Christianity. We know historically that God’s people have been persecuted by other religious powers and even atheism. But the most tragic display of persecution against God’s people has been by the Church of Rome.
In our study of the seven trumpets, we will behold God’s intervention in human history, particularly church history, as He protects His people from annihilation. We will behold the love of God, trying to warn the persecutor to turn from his errant ways.
The seven churches, seven seals, and seven trumpets
All three visions (the churches, seals, and trumpets) terminate at the soon return of Christ. And all three begin with early church history. The seven seals and seven trumpets are similar in that they both have a parenthetical chapter between the sixth and the seventh. In other words, there is recorded the sounding of the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth trumpets. Then there is an interruption between the sixth and seventh trumpets. The sixth trumpet is described in Revelation 9:13–21. But the seventh trumpet is not described until Revelation 11:15. What separates the sixth and seventh trumpets is chapter ten. Therefore, we call chapter ten a parenthetical chapter.
The purpose of this chapter is to highlight an important event that must take place before Christ returns. In this case, God will raise up a special church for the express purpose of preparing a people for Christ’s Second Coming.
The seven seals are written in the very same say. We have the breaking of the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth seals. Then there is an interruption between the sixth and seventh seals. Chapter seven separates the sixth and seventh seals. This teaches us that the events of chapter seven must take place before the breaking of the seventh seal and the second coming of Christ.
Therefore, there must be 144,000 living saints that follow Jesus wherever He goes before Jesus returns the second time. This helps us to understand why the devil is so diligent in discouraging anyone from striving to be among them. In effect, Satan is trying to postpone the Second Coming, if not delay it indefinitely. However, we know that there will be such a people because John saw them in vision in heaven.
Verses 1: The Seventh Seal
We had discussed the seventh seal in a previous study on the seven seals in Revelation chapter six.
Verse 2: Seven Angels
John now sees seven angels that will be associated with the seven trumpets, which stood before God to carry out His orders.
Verses 3, 4: Christ’s Intercessory Work
The altar of intercession: In the earthly sanctuary, the altar of incense was located in the Holy Place. It represents intercessory prayer. When Jesus ascended to heaven in AD 31, He entered into the Holy Place of the heavenly Sanctuary. He ministered there for us until He entered into the Most Holy Place compartment. When Jesus entered the Most Holy Place in 1844, He took with Him the incense from off the altar of incense. When Jesus finishes His work in the Most Holy Place, He brings the incense out with Him. This is what is referred to as the incense being cast down. See Revelation 8:5.
“An angel with a writer’s ink horn. . . reported to Jesus that his work was done, and the saints were. . . sealed. Then I saw Jesus, who had been ministering before the ark containing the ten commandments, throw down the censer. He raised His hands, and with a loud voice said, ‘It is done.’” Ellen G. White, Early Writings, pages 279, 289
The work of Jesus in the Most Holy Place is the work of continued intercession, cleansing, and judgment. When the last case has been decided, the judgment is over, Christ’s leaves the Most Holy Place, He brings the incense out with Him, and He prepares for His Second Coming.
“Christ is the connecting link between God and men. He has promised His personal intercession. He places the whole virtue of His righteousness on the side of the suppliant. He pleads for man, and man, in need of divine help, pleads for himself in the presence of God, using the influence of the One who have His life for the life of the world. As we acknowledge before God our appreciation of Christ’ merits, fragrance is given to our intercessions. As we approach God through the virtue of the Redeemer’s merits, Christ places us close by His side, encircling us with His human arm, while with His divine arm He grasps the throne of the Infinite. He puts His merits, as sweet incense, in the censer in our hands, in order to encourage our petitions. He promised to hear and answer our supplications.” Ibid., Testimonies to the Church, volume 8, page 178
This description of the altar of incense and the time when the incense is cast down, helps us understand that the events of the seven trumpets will cover a time when Jesus is in both the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place of the heavenly Sanctuary. We will find that the first six trumpets occur prior to 1844, when Jesus is in the Holy Place, and that the seventh trumpet is sounded after 1844.
The Trumpets and the Western Empire
We know that the origins of the church begin with Jesus in Jerusalem. He left us with a perfect church that had that upper room experience and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Satan would attack this infant church with the Roman empire and the Sanhedrin. Satan tried to physically destroy the church, but it grew instead.
Satan would then try to destroy the church from within. He would raise up men who love to have preeminence over others. He would equip them with the most abominable heresies. In time, they would come to power and rule over the affairs of men. The result was the persecution of the church by the Church of Rome. Over 50 million were murdered for rejecting the primacy of the pope.
The trumpets could have been focused on the Roman empire as the enemy of God’s true church. But as we will see, the trumpets were designed to protect God’s people from the adulterous relationship between Rome and the Church of Rome. This became necessary, because the true church was being fiercely persecuted by this unholy alliance. Therefore, the first four trumpets will focus on the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries, when Rome began to support the Church of Rome, and when the Church of Rome would take over the reins of government.
The fifth and sixth trumpets will focus on the time of the Inquisition, when the Church of Rome murdered millions as she ruled over the nations.
The seventh trumpet is focused on these last days when the Church of Rome will regain her lost ascendency, and will rule once again before the Second Coming of Christ. As in the past, the servants of God will be persecuted by this unholy alliance between church and state.
The First Trumpet
Verses 6, 7
Alaric and the Goths, AD 410
The first trumpet refers to Alaric and his Gothic armies from the north. “Hail” well represents the northern origins of the Goths who came from the shores of the Baltic. “Fire mingled with blood” represents destruction. There was a terrible loss of life. The countryside itself was scarred and burned.
The Goths were successful in overrunning the areas of Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, southern France, and Spain. By AD 410, they had even ransacked and captured Rome. History records the following:
“At last the seals were loosed, and the barbaric tornado was poured out of the north. Through the Alpine passes came rushing cohorts of warriors, each with the rage of Scythia in his stomach and the icicles of the Baltic in his beard. The great bulk of Rome tottered, fell, and lay dead on the earth, like the stump of Dagon.” Ridpath, History of the World, Volume 3, 29.
This trumpet was targeted toward the Roman Empire and the Roman Church for entering an adulterous relationship. This was a time when the Roman Church seriously perverted her way. The Roman empire began to enforce her dogmas, which resulted in the persecution of God’s true church.
The moral degeneration of the Roman Church is most tragic. Her determined steps in baptizing paganism has now brought forth the divine judgments of God. It seems that nothing but invasion of foreign powers would wake her up to her apostasy, but even then, “she would not repent.” Revelation 2:21.
The northern barbarians came to punish Rome. However, along the way these barbaric tribes were introduced to the truth by the persecuted church, God’s true church. Imagine the dynamics taking place. God sends these barbaric tribes to punish Rome for her apostasy. He had hoped that Rome would repent of her backsliding. These invading forces alleviate the persecution towards the true church. At the same time, the persecuted church was evangelizing these barbaric tribes. Imagine if everything would have worked out perfectly. The Church of Rome would have repented of her apostasy from the truth. The true and persecuted church would no longer be persecuted. And these barbaric tribes would be fully evangelized. But Rome repented not.
The Second Trumpet
Verses 8, 9
The Vandals Under Geneseric, AD 431
Because Rome did not repent, God would blow another trumpet to punish Rome and to protect His true and faithful. This time the invaders would come from the shores of the Mediterranean. The Vandals under the leadership of Geneseric were rightly symbolized as a burning mountain cast into the sea. They were a maritime power that crossed the straits of Gibraltar in AD 431.
In AD 457, the Vandals destroyed a fleet of Roman war vessels carrying some 75,000 marines. In AD 468, Rome sent 1,113 ships and some 100,000 men to destroy Geneseric. But again, Geneseric defeated them and fulfilled the prediction that “the third part of the ships were destroyed.” Revelation 8:9.
Third Part: The reference to “a third part” probably means a partial destruction. Not every tree or blade of grass was destroyed. But there was great devastation. In the same way, the first few plagues also describe partial destruction. For example, the second and third plagues of the waters becoming blood could not be universal. If they were universal, there would be no purpose for the following plagues. All life would have been already destroyed. See Revelation 16:3, 4
Again, we must not forget that these judgments of invading forces are for the purpose of punishing an empire that is having “intelligence” with a corrupt church. See Daniel 11:30. This adulterous relationship between the state and the apostate church caused the most abominable persecution of the saints. It is bad enough for pagans to persecute the saints of God; it is another thing for a corrupt church to use the arm of the state to punish the faithful. This is a clear warning to any nation to refrain from instituting and enforcing the dogmas and teachings of the church. Nations are not to enforce religion, but to protect liberty of conscience. They are to enforce civil laws that protect the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of all its citizens. But if any nation takes that tragic step in enforcing the decrees of the church, it will lead to national ruin.
The Third Trumpet
Verses 10, 11
Attila the Hun, AD 451
Rome still didn’t repent, so there came the third trumpet. It was another invading force. This time it was the Huns under the leadership of Attila. It is significant that Attila termed himself “The Scourge of God.” He claimed that he was divinely directed to scourge the Roman Empire.
Third Part of the Rivers: This symbolic meteor or star “fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters.” As the Vandals controlled the seas, the Huns controlled one of the three great rivers protecting the Roman empire. The three great boundary rivers by which the legions of Rome kept back invading forces for centuries were the Rhine and the Danube in the north, and the Euphrates in the east. The Huns occupied the valley of the Danube with all its tributaries. Thus, the meteor fell on one third of the rivers, or one of the three great rivers.
Attila’s Campaigns: In AD 451, Attila declared war on the Western Empire. He amassed a 500,000 man army, and swept through the surrounding countryside, pillaging as he went. He invaded Gaul and sacked and burned most of the cities of France. On the battlefield of Chalons on the Marne, the combined armies of the Romans and Visigoths met him in one of the bloodiest and most decisive battles of history. A million men were engaged in battle, 500,000 on each side. At the close of the day, 160,000 men lay dead on the field. Some place the number killed closer to 300,000. When darkness came, both armies retired. During the night, the Huns retreated unobserved. They then invaded Italy and destroyed the cities of northern Italy and reduced the countryside to a desert.
Wormwood: Wormwood is a plant of bitter taste that grows in several varieties in Palestine. See Jeremiah 9:15; 23:15; Lamentations 3: 19. The falling meteor would cause bitter sorrow and death.
Suddenly he is gone: Like a shooting star, the Huns disappeared as suddenly as they came. In AD 453, Attila returned to the banks of the Danube where he suddenly died from the bursting of an artery. The Huns then rapidly dispersed and mysteriously disappeared. What better symbol could be used to describe the short but flashing career of Attila?
The Fourth Trumpet
The Heruli Under Odoacer, AD 476
After three invasions, Rome still didn’t repent. Then came the fourth trumpet. Here is described the Heruli under the leadership of Odoacer. It was at this time, that the western Rome empire fell in 476 AD. But tragically, the vacuum of power would be filled by the Church of Rome in 508 AD. The purpose of these four judgments was to prevent the Dark Ages of Papal rule.
The Third Part: Europe, Asia, and Africa were the three great divisions of the Old World. One of these, Europe, that had great light, eclipsed that light. Jesus, the “Sun of Righteousness,” was eclipsed by the false claims of the Papal clergy, who would rule in the European division. As Paul wrote, “the man of sin, … the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4.
The “moon” represents the Word of God, and it was eclipsed by church traditions and forgeries. The “two witnesses,” representing the Old and New Testaments, were said to be clothed in sackcloth during the 1260-year rule of the Papacy. See Revelation 11:3.
“The accession of the Roman Church to power marked the beginning of the Dark Ages. As her power increased, the darkness deepened. Faith was transferred from Christ, the true foundation, to the pope of Rome.” Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, page 55
The “stars” have reference to the early apostolic ministry and leadership of the twelve apostles. The priesthood of the Papacy shall “neither … regard the God of his fathers [the apostles], nor the desire of women [by rejecting the reformed churches], nor regard any god [of any religion]: for he shall magnify himself above all. But in his estate shall he honour the God of forces: and a god whom his fathers knew not shall he honour with gold, and silver, and with precious stones, and pleasant things.” Daniel 11:37, 38.
All this darkness came as a rejection of the teachings of Christ. Strife and darkness are the fate of both nations and religious bodies who refuse to walk in the light of God’s Word. See John 12:35, 36.
Verse 13: Three Woes
The heralding of these three woes indicates that the remaining judgments are of a greater magnitude. They will be judgments against a system that would for over one thousand years refuse to repent and be responsible for the martyrdom of over one hundred million of God’s saints.