An overview of the series of seven trumpets and the several intervening events between the sixth and seventh trumpets– Revelation 8:7-11:19.
The “seven trumpets” follow the same literary pattern as the “seven seals.” Like the first four seals, the first four trumpets form a distinct group, and the last three trumpets are marked off from the first four as the “three woes.” Furthermore, like the “seven seals,” several events interrupt the series between the sixth and seventh trumpets, and both series are preceded by the “prayers of the saints.”
When the seventh trumpet does “sound,” it results in the consummation of the kingdom and the judgment of the dead. Like the “seven seals,” the trumpets end with a final judgment scene characterized by “flashes of lightning, voices, claps of thunder, an earthquake,” with “great hail” added for good measure.
The first four trumpets parallel the first four seals. Both groups inflict damage within predetermined limits. The first four seals harmed a “fourth of the earth,” and the first four trumpets affected a “third” of the earth, sea, rivers, and the heavenly luminaries.
But there are differences. The first four seals caused human suffering and death. In contrast, the first four trumpets affected the things necessary for society to function – agriculture, the seas that carried cargo, freshwater supplies, and the light from heavenly bodies. Men were killed, but only when they drank the “bitter waters” caused by the “third trumpet.” The seven seals were opened by the Lamb, but the seven trumpets were sounded by seven angels.
The change in agent from the “Lamb” to the angels may reflect the change in focus. The “seven seals” concerned primarily the status and fate of the saints (e.g., The “souls under the altar,” the “sealed company,” the “innumerable multitude”). In contrast, the “seven trumpets” targeted the “inhabitants of the earth” that were hostile to the “Lamb” and his servants.
The first four trumpets employ imagery from two Old Testament stories – The ten plagues of Egypt, and the prophetic dirge against ancient Babylon by Jeremiah – (Jeremiah 51:25).
After the sounding of the first four trumpets, an angel pronounced the arrival of the “three woes,” the last three trumpets. The first four trumpets harmed things (e.g., agriculture, transportation); the final three harmed persons, the “inhabitants of the earth,” a group hostile to the “Lamb” throughout the book – (Revelation 11:10, 12:12, 14:6, 17:2-8).
The “fifth trumpet” introduced the reader to the “Abyss,” the place from which all things satanic “ascend” to attack the people of the “Lamb.” For example, the “beast from the sea” was first seen ascending from the “Abyss” to kill the “two witnesses.” Symbolically, the “sea” and the “Abyss” are identical. At the end of the age, Satan will be released from the “Abyss” for one final attempt to annihilate the “saints” – (Revelation 11:7, 13:1, 20:7-10).
When the “Abyss” was unlocked, a horde of demonic creatures like “locusts” ascended from it to torment the “men who do not have the seal of God.” In contrast to the first four trumpet blasts, the “locusts” must “not harm the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree.”
The “sixth trumpet” unleashed destructive forces from beyond the “Euphrates River” that killed a third of humanity, and prior to its sounding, “four angels” restrained this force; most likely, the same four angels seen earlier restraining the “four winds of the earth” – (Revelation 7:1-3).
Despite the horrific harm inflicted by the first two “woes,” the “inhabitants of the earth” refused to repent. Apparently, the “plagues” unleashed by the fifth and sixth trumpets only succeed in hardening their hearts. Something more was needed to cause their repentance – (Revelation 9:18-21).
The first six trumpet blasts were followed by three events that occurred before the seventh and final trumpet sounded. First, John received the “little scroll” that was already opened. Next, he was commanded to “measure” the “sanctuary” and “them that worship therein.”
The “measuring of the sanctuary” was followed by the vision of the “two witnesses” who presented the world with their prophetic witness. Their ministry coincided with the same period as the “measuring of the sanctuary,” the “forty-two months” or “thousand two hundred and threescore days” – (Revelation 11:1-6).
When the “two witnesses” completed their prophetic testimony, the “beast that ascended from the Abyss” killed them, and the “inhabitants of the earth rejoiced” over their deaths since their “testimony” tormented humanity – (Revelation 11:7-13).
Their deaths caused God to act. The “two witnesses” were raised from the dead, then the “seventh trumpet” sounded, which ushered in the consummation of the Kingdom, the judgment of the dead, and the vindication of the righteous.
As with the “sixth seal,” at the conclusion of the “seventh trumpet,” the reader finds himself at the end of the age – the time of judgment and “wrath.” As with the “seven seals,” the literary unit closes with “flashes of lightning, and voices, and claps of thunder, and an earthquake, and great hail.”