Chapter 19 - The First Four Trumpets: The Last Days (8:7-13)
Once again the reminder is necessary that the application of
this part of Revelation to the First Century is a much easier proposition than
the interpretation of it with reference to the end of the age. That it should be
so applied hardly admits of doubt. The evidence already submitted is adequate to
shew this. And there is plenty more to follow. But even if the student is
reasonably sure that he is interpreting the symbols according to Biblical usage
(and some doubt regarding this is not unseemly now and then), to use these
Scriptures in order to anticipate events still in the future is an exceedingly
precarious business, never to be attempted with any degree of confidence, much
less of dogmatism. So this chapter is necessarily a mixture of Biblical
illustration and surmise as to its outworking.
The events described in these Trumpets are the results of
great clouds of incense coming up before God. These are like thc importunate
prayers of the widow in the parable (Luke 18:1-8), for Jesus was careful to set
that exhortation, that “men pray and not faint”, in a context which
is all about his Second Coming (17:20-37; 18:8).
The outcome of these prayers - “voices, and thunderings,
and lightnings, and an earthquake” - are described once again in
Revelation 16:18, where the setting belongs (past all argument) to the Last
Days. The words describe a mighty theophany, as at Sinai (Exodus 19:16, 18), and
also the titanic effects of God’s judgement, as this evil generation will
yet experience them.
This angel, casting fire to the earth, and the seven
trumpet-blowers with him suggest the “seven shepherds and eight principal
men” who are to “waste the land of Assyria with the sword, and the
land of Nimrod in the entrance thereof: and he shall deliver us from the
Assyrian, when he cometh into our land, and when he treadeth within our
borders” (Micah 5: 5, 6).
JUDGEMENTS ON ISRAEL AND ON THE WHOLE WORLD
The Biblical evidences of a final desolation of Israel in the
Last Days need not be repeated here. But this Micah passage seems to imply that
when the Land is overrun, the enemy of Israel will be punished there in the very
place where his triumph has been most complete and savage.
But, since, equally plainly, the final judgements of God are
to be visited on the whole earth, it would be unwise to insist on a restricted
reference of these Trumpets to the Land of Israel only, or even to the countries
round about Israel.
It is rather remarkable that the language of the First Trumpet
- “hail and fire mingled with blood” - is used in Isaiah, first to
describe the “overflowing scourge” with which God afflicted His
wayward people, and then even more powerfully regarding the divine deliverance
which He provided for the sake of the faithful remnant in the days of Hezekiah
(28:2; 30:30). The counterpart to this in the day of Christ is not difficult to
The destruction of trees was seen to have both a literal and a
figurative element. All who have any interest in the developing state of Israel
have been impressed with the efficient and industrious way in which the
mountainsides are being re-planted, so that within a generation barrenness has
been replaced by maturing forests. In a way it is sad to think that these
splendid attempts to re-clothe the nakedness of the hills of Israel are all to
be brought to nought, but their present glory and promise is of small account
compared with what is to be when the verdant splendour of the Holy Land is
renewed by the blessing of Heaven (Isaiah 35:1, 2).
However, the more fundamental application of this Trumpet will
be in a manner comparable to the fulfilment of Christ’s own figure of
“green tree and dry tree” - in the nation of Israel, all being alike
destined for “burning” (Luke 23:31; cp. Jeremiah 7:20).
FIRE IN JERUSALEM?
The “great mountain burning with fire” has already
been given good Biblical reference to the downfall of Jerusalem and its temple
in A.D. 70. Today, in the place of the temple, on the very site, stands the
Moslem Dome of the Rock. How the fanatical forces of hyper-orthodox Jewry would
love to see that centre of false religion burnt to the ground. Yet they dare not
attempt it. But it is readily conceivable that the confusion of some acute
Israel-Arab crisis in the near future might well provide the excuse or the cover
for their incendiarism. This is only a guess. The fulfilment of this vivid
symbol may take a completely different form, with more immediate relevance to
the destruction of life and ships in the sea. Judgement on the ships of Tarshish
is a distinctive feature of certain prophecies (Isaiah 2:16; Psalm
Amos 7:4 has a very remarkable allusion (in the context of
“locusts;” see the Fifth Trumpet) to “the Lord God contending
by fire ... and it devoured the great deep, and would have eaten up the Land
(R.V.)” - LXX: “the Lord’s portion.” It is difficult to
say how the primary fulfilment of this prophecy came about. A giant meteorite
falling into the Sea of Galilee? It goes on to foretell that “the high
places of Isaac (where Isaac was offered - the Rock!) shall be desolate, and the
sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste.”
Zephaniah has the same association of ideas: “I will
consume the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and will bring the
wicked to their knees (N.E.B.) ... and I will cut off the remnant of Baal from
this place (the temple)” (1:3, 4).
THE WRATH OF HEAVEN
It is important to observe that all the first five trumpets
find the source and origin of their dramatic action in the sky:
- Hail and fire mingled with blood cast upon the earth.
- A burning
mountain cast into the sea.
- The falling of a great star burning like a
- Sun, moon and stars smitten; unnatural darkness.
- A star fallen
from heaven to earth. This is introduced by an angel flying in
There may or may not be connection between these features and
the fact that between them Russia and America have something like a thousand
pieces of hardware orbiting this globe. Of course almost nothing is known
publicly about the purpose of this mighty army of sputniks - “the host of
the high ones on high” (Isaiah 24:21) - but it may be taken as certain
that many (most?) of them have a much more sinister purpose than that of
harmless highly useful telecommunications. And it is readily conceivable that in
the heat of a Jew-Arab crisis Russia may not be loth to use Israel as a
guinea-pig regarding some of these scientific toys in the way that America used
Japan at the end of World War II, and has more recently used Vietnam.
The “great star falling from heaven, burning as a
lamp,” is perhaps to be understood as a reference to the Star of David,
which is now known in all the world as the symbol of the state of Israel. In
modern times, Israel has let go all hope of the appearance of a divine Messiah,
and has blasphemously substituted itself instead as the Messianic State and
Nation. So it would not be inappropriate that there should be a dramatic rebuke
of such a perversion of Old Testament truth. The figure of a falling star is the
more fitting by contrast with the true Messiah, the “Bright and Morning
Star” (Revelation 22:16).
On the other hand, if the Third Trumpet is to have a less
restricted application than this, the effect of turning all the waters to
bitterness may well be one of the fiendish ideas of modern war, which has
already been seriously explored. Dumping a large consignment of LSD in a city
reservoir would be a trivial school-boy joke by comparison. There could be no
easier way of winning a war than by poisoning the enemy’s water supply
The darkening of sun, moon and stars may similarly have a more
literal fulfilment than has been thought possible hitherto. At the crucifixion
of Jesus there was a period of unnatural darkness. Several Scriptures suggest
the possibility of a similar phenomenon when he comes again (Zechariah 14:6;
Joel 2:2; Matthew 24:29; Isaiah 5:30). Again one is left guessing as to the
means by which this might come about, whether by natural causes-such as the
dense pall of smoke from the burning forests or from volcanic eruptions- or by
supernatural means as at the crucifixion.
THE SAME THEME IN ISAIAH
On this theme Isaiah 13 is specially impressive. Misled by the
opening verse, commentators generally have sought to apply the whole of this
prophecy to Babylon. In fact, most of it (v. 2-16?) refers primarily to
God’s judgement on Israel brought through the instrumentality of the
Assyrians (often called Babylon in Isaiah). Only at verse 17 does the wrath of
the Lord turn to “punish the stout heart of the king of Assyria”
(10:12); “Howl ye, for the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as a
destruction from the Almighty. Therefore shall all hands faint, and every
man’s heart shall melt (this is Luke 21:26): and they shall be afraid:
pangs of sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be in pain as a woman that
travaileth (this is Paul’s figure of the day of the Lord, in 1
Thessalonians 5: 2, 3) ... For the stars of heaven and the constellations
thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going
forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine (the Fourth Trumpet) ...
Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place
(Revelation 8:5), in the wrath of the Lord of hosts and in the day of his fierce
anger ... their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished (this is
Zechariah 14:2)” (Isaiah 13:6-16).
Thus the Fourth Trumpet is seen as an integral part of the
impressive drama of events in the end of the age. It presents an ominous picture
of the eclipse of Israel, to be followed - as one Messianic prophecy after
another makes clear-by a breath-taking rehabilitation when the King of Israel
sits on his throne.