Revelation (Part 13): Trumpets 1 through 4
Another reason for the silence upon opening the seventh seal can be that it is heaven’s reaction to the event taking place. Remember, the actual activity is not seals opening. This opening of seals and horsemen coming forth and sky rolling up and mountains moving are all figurative expressions to describe the effect of sin in the world and God’s involvement through OT history in this redemptive plan that culminates with Christ on the cross. We talked about the scroll symbolizing the title to redemption. The opening of the scrolls showed preparation to that redemption being realized. But with the seventh seal broken, the scroll is loosed. It falls open. Redemption is accomplished. That event in God’s redemptive history is Christ at the cross. So that is what we should understand with the opening of the seventh seal: Christ on the cross.
Before continuing with the text in relation to this thought, we have to pause to satisfy a bit of bewilderment. If this is Christ on the cross, why do we not have one word about a cross, about blood being shed, or about cleansing from sin? Since the end of chapter 7 and the beginning of chapter 8 have no mention of blood, cross, and death, are we just assuming the wrong event at this point?
Consider first that nowhere in Revelation do you see the cross and blood specifically in those terms. The whole New Testament emphasizes the shed blood of Jesus on the cross, and yet Revelation is seemingly silent about that ultimate event of the accomplishment of atonement. Why? To answer that, we have to take another look at the atonement—what it means and how the Bible presents it.
In the atonement, God had to hold to a balance between two ideas. Those ideas are love and judgment. The atonement pictures both. Love is the active expression of God’s truth, goodness, and beauty. We talked of this before when explaining God’s image in us. Truth, goodness, and beauty are the very essence of God. They are not outside virtues that God tries to maintain. They are born in and actually are the essence of who God is. As image bearers, God made us to recognize or apprehend that truth, goodness, and beauty that are who he is. We have conceptual intelligence to understand his truth. We have conscious morality to understand his goodness. We were made with a critical aesthetic to understand his beauty. What do we do with this apprehended truth, goodness, and beauty? Well, we can either reject/deny it, or we can embrace/approbate it through our concluding faith and continuing hope. After apprehending and approbating that truth, goodness, and beauty, as image bearers of God, we then articulate it through love, imitating God in his expression of his own truth, goodness, and beauty in love. That’s why we (and John in I John) say that God is love. Expressing his truth, goodness, and beauty is not an option for God—it is who he is.
Judgment is sort of the opposite idea. Judgment is God’s active response to the non-expression of truth, goodness, and beauty (TGB). When humanity fell into sin, God could not simply say that since he is a God of love, he will simply love this fallen creation. He would have been unbalanced—unjust—in relation to truth, goodness, and beauty, without responding in judgment. And neither could God have simply destroyed humankind because of sin if a way of redemption were possible. That would have been unbalanced and unjust in ignoring his love.
The atonement was the just balance of love and judgment delivered through Jesus. Death is the judgment of separation from God for the non-expression of TGB—in other words, for sin. But Jesus died a sinless death—a death without just cause for sin. That is why Jesus could then offer us his death. We who have sin and are deserving the judgment of death, may through faith accept Jesus’s offer having his sinless death applied to us, satisfying our judgment of death. Having then died through Jesus to Adam’s sinful heritage, we may be reborn in the resurrected life of Jesus with no more guilt of sin. That is what the atonement did for us. It applies Jesus’s sinless death to our own sinful condition so that we can be born again in the resurrected, righteous life of Jesus.
Now, there are many aspects of this atonement that the Bible explains in different terms. For example, in speaking about God, we understand the attitude of punishing sin. God is angered at sin. It is offensive. His image bearers, failing to reflect his TGB, dishonor God. For that propitiation (satisfaction) must be made against sin.
But we may also discuss the atonement from the aspect of Jesus in his role of redeeming us. He paid the price. He became the Kinsman Redeemer, claiming us through his payment as his own, resulting in redemption
We may discuss the atonement for its effect on us. We have been cleansed of sin, washed with his blood, receiving forgiveness and the imputation of his righteousness, resulting in justification.
We may also discuss the atonement in terms of its renewed life or embrace of God. Jesus removed our sin, bore our sins, took away the penalty, made amends (expiation), resulting in righteousness (a new faithfulness to the covenant).
And we may discuss the atonement in terms of the kingdom of God, realizing a rescue won. Sin and death had us imprisoned. Satan is the enemy. But Jesus did battle with this evil and conquered, resulting in victory.
In each of these aspects, we find Scripture using a different set of terms and examples to help us understand the effect of the atonement. The burnt offering was used to help us understand the offense against God and punishment required. Boaz, in the book of Ruth, displayed the aspects of the kinsman redeemer, showing us Jesus’s role. Ritual baptism images the washing we undergo to be cleansed. The scapegoat in Israel (Leviticus 16) imaged the taking away sin. And King David personified the victorious kingdom of God.
This chart shows all these elements.
The point is that the book of Revelation, we learn in chapter 1 verse 1 is a revelation of Jesus. And therefore, we are looking at the atonement primarily through the Kinsman Redeemer scenario—redemption by paying a price. So Revelation does not show the crucifixion and blood in those terms because of its focus. Yet it still refers to the atonement made through the redemption imagery and terms.
So, then, back to our text, when the last seal is broken and the scroll falls open, redemption is accomplished—the payment is made. And we know that payment was Jesus on the cross. So, certainly the response in heaven is, in part, this silence—this grief at the scene before God. But the silence is short—figuratively, a half hour. And the silence changes to the loud blaring of seven trumpets.
As the scene transitions, we read in the first few verses of chapter 8 that the angel trumpeters march out to sound. But another angel is first shown take the prayers of the saints, mix them with incense, and have them ascend to God. Who is this angel—this messenger—that is acting as an intercessor, a mediator between God and humankind? First Timothy 2:5 and Hebrews 7:25 make clear that this function is performed by no one other than Jesus himself.
Notice that the response of God to the prayers (performed by the angel) is the hurling of coals to the earth, resulting in thunder, lightning, and earthquake. God is not pleased with the sinful treatment of his people who had prayed to him for intercession. God cares about his people and acts in the affairs of humankind in response. And that is precisely the motivation for the trumpet judgments.
These trumpet judgments may provide similar expressions to those already seen through the breaking of the seals, but the emphasis is different. The breaking of the seals showed us the course of the world following the entrance of sin. The three relationships God had established in the Garden (humankind with the rest of creation, humankind with God, and humankind with each other) all suffered because of sin. We see the pronouncement of those broken relationships in the curses of Genesis 3, and we saw their effects through the horsemen of the first four seals. We will see these same effects now with the trumpets. But the emphasis here is God’s involvement in the care and gathering of his people through the inter-advent period.
The first four trumpets all pertain to the disruption of relationship between humankind and the rest of creation (just as the third seal’s black horse and rider did). In the first trumpet, the land is harmed (therefore, land producing food for humankind is harmed). At the sound of the second trumpet, the sea is harmed, signifying trade difficulties (wind, storm, etc.). The idea of the blazing mountain falling into the sea is government having difficulty in providing through trade dependent on shipping. The next trumpet harms the rivers and springs from which humankind gets water to drink. All of these are problems of the material creation that make survival difficult for humankind. All of these are the harmful effects of sin that God then judges and manipulates to bring people to him and to care for his own.
The fourth trumpet shows the sun, moon, and stars being darkened. These heavenly bodies are so often used with the display of either God’s favor or anger that we cannot ignore that aspect here. As sin increases, the light of God’s revelation is blocked and God’s anger at sin results.
In each of these cases of broken relationship, the result is either in searching for satisfaction either despite the broken relationship or in recognition that only through God can the relationship be restored. And therefore, these trumpets, although highlighting the brokenness, still offers a means by which people can see the brokenness and return to God. This was the function of the Law for Israel. It was not a means to God’s favor, but it was a way to highlight their sinfulness so that they could see their need for a savior.
The broken relationship with the rest of creation turned humankind’s focus to idolatry, worshipping the very material surroundings which God had given them originally over which to exercise dominion. The broken relationship with God resulted in pride in self—setting up self as their own god. And the broken relationship with others turned care and concern inward toward one’s own selfish interests, even to the harm of others’ interests.
The first four trumpets highlighted the broken relationship with the material earth. But a division occurs with the next three trumpets (described in 8:13 as woes) because the last three specifically concentrate on the self-focused of humanity.
The section discussing the fifth trumpet opens with a star falling from heaven. Stars usually represent angels. We see God make this connection in Genesis, Job, Psalms, Ezekiel, and Daniel. This angel, we surmise, must be evil. It has “fallen” the text tells us. It falls from heaven to the abyss. Later in this section, we find this fallen angel as king of the other demonic creatures, with the name Abaddon (destruction) and Apollyon (destroyer). Certainly this angel is evil and, given his exalted position as king, must be Satan himself. He is said to be given the key to the pit. The key means control, and thus he leads the demon army. That demon army, then, will be the focus of this fifth trumpet judgment.