Harry Whittaker
Five Minutes To Twelve

13. Seals And Trumpets

Those readers whose minds are set irrevocably on a continuous historical exposition of Revelation and who leave no room for any other reading of that elaborate symbolism may choose to give themselves the luxury of omitting this chapter.

But even as they do so, it might not be amiss for such to ask themselves whether this 'received' interpretation really is "continuous":


2nd and 3rd centuries A.D.
The sealing of the faithful.
Goths, Huns, Vandals, Saracens, Turks (5-15C.)
The rainbowed angel; 7 Thunders: The Last Days.
Huguenots; 16th C.
Constantine and after, 4-6C.
Papal persecution; 12-17C.
Last Day judgments.
Napoleonic wars, and as far as 18-20C?
The Second Coming; judgments on the Papacy.
The end of the Millenium.
The Kingdom established.

Just how 'continuous' is the foregoing? Does not that key word have to be applied in a somewhat elastic sense?

Also, just how historical are the 'fulfilments' traditionally pinned on to some of the chapters in the above list? Regarding Revelation 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, just how close and how satisfying is the correspondence between prophecy and history? In quite a few places the proposed 'fulfilment' is anything but convincing, and is altogether too trivial. A considerable sequence of decidedly awkward questions needs to be answered

But there is no intention here to press inquiries of this sort, but only to suggest that, even if the continuous historic scheme be considered satisfactory, there is also room for more than one interpretation of the Apocalypse. There are literally scores of prophecies and typical histories in the O.T. where students of the Word are accustomed, almost as a matter of course, to look for more than one meaning. It would be a straightforward job, an easy task, to fill a volume with examples of this dual fulfilment, this foreshadowing of one set of events by another earlier set.

One feature of the Apocalypse almost shouts for this kind of approach. It is this: Omitting from present consideration Revelation 1-5 and 21-22, it is still a relatively easy matter to compile a list of well over 500 allusions or quotations from Holy Scripture in the other 17 chapters. In other fields of N.T. study such quotations from and allusions to the O.T. are, almost always, automatically assumed to be strictly relevant. They are never assumed to be casual similarities. Rather, they are picked up eagerly as God-sent clues to a fuller understanding of the text in both places, both the original and the quotation. Yet in Revelation the continuous historic method of interpretation is unable to make any worthwhile use of this vast accumulation of interpretative hints. Instead, they go virtually (but not virtuously) ignored, and instead the great stand-by is: "History tells us..." What has come over "the People of the Book" that they so readily abandon the well-proven principle of interpreting Scripture by Scripture, and instead choose to be known as "the people of the history book"?

The foregoing words are written with much sadness, but they are written because they have to be.

Continuous historic fulfilment there may be, but for real progress in understanding this method cannot hold a candle to the Biblical approach.

The six Seals of Revelation 6 provide plenty of illustrations of the relative power of the two methods:

  1. Verses 4-6, 12, clearly foretell war, famine, pestilence and earthquake. The same dreadful combination of horrors comes into the Olivet prophecy (Mt. 24: 6,7). And every student of that pronouncement by Jesus knows what it is about. This item by itself may be just a coincidence of judgment language. But such an explanation loses its force when a regiment of other examples ranges itself alongside.
  2. Verse 8 repeats the sequence of troubles: "Power over the fourth part of the earth (the Land), to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death (i.e. pestilence), and with the beasts of the earth". Here the Greek text uses the very words to be found in Ezekiel 14: 21 (LXX), where the immediate context sums them up as "my four sore judgments on Jerusalem". Then, why the dogmatic insistence that when the words are quoted in Rev. 6: 8 they refer to the history of a by-no means-important segment of the third century Roman Empire?
  3. In the Sixth Seal the interpretative references proliferate. Frightening signs in sun, moon, and stars (v.12, 13) positively shout for reference to Israel (e.g. Gen. 37: 9, 10; Jer. 31: 35, 36; and for copious other evidence, see "Bible Studies", H.A.W. ch.6.01). This conclusion is strongly underlined by:
  4. "as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs" (v.13). Again, if evidence is needed that this also points to Israel, see " Bible Studies" ch.6.02. Here the identification of Seal Six with Israel's tribulation (when?) could rest; the case has been made. But there is plenty more evidence.
  5. “And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together". This quotes Is. 51: 6; Heb. 1: 11, 12, which speaks of the end of the Mosaic order.
  6. Verse 15 has a long catalogue of mighty men hiding from the Glory of the Lord "in the dens and the rocks of the mountains". This passage is derived from Isaiah 2: 19; 3: 2, a Scripture that is cited by Paul in 2 Th.1: 9 with reference to the Second Coming. The context in Isaiah is clearly judgment on Israel.
  7. And these scared fugitives say "to the mountains, and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb" (v. 16). It is inconceivable that this language was intended to describe a power struggle in obscure parts of the Roman Empire, a civil war that nobody remembers today (except the few Christadelphians who read Gibbon), when the identical words were first spoken by Hosea (10: 8) in a mighty prophecy against his own people (see "Gospels", H.A.W., p.764f.) - words which were quoted verbatim by the Lord Jesus with reference to inevitable judgment on his apostate nation (Lk.23: 30).
  8. "For the great day of his wrath (the wrath of him that sits on the throne) is come, and who shall be able to stand?" (v. 17). Did the great day of God's wrath really take place just before Constantine came to the throne? And when the question is asked: "Who shall be able to stand?" (Jesus quoting his own words about the Second Coming; Lk. 21: 36), does the answer "Of course Constantine will" sound at all convincing?
Clearly all the Bible evidence in this chapter of Revelation calls for reference to a dramatic accumulation of divine judgments against wayward Israel in the end of this age. And with the little state of Israel in the precarious situation it at present finds itself in, how long before the thunderclouds of God's wrath burst over the Holy Land? After all, the entire corpus of Bible prophecy centres on Israel and the New age. Prophecies about Gentile nations are there in the Book only because of their intimate relation with the people of God. Then is it likely that the Apocalypse was designed and intended to go off in a completely different direction, concerning itself with Rome, Imperial and Papal, European wars and Communism and the E.E.C.?

Those students who have been impressed with the dual fulfilment of almost all Bible prophecy- a near and also remote (Messianic) fulfilment - may like to consider the possibility that the Apocalypse has a good deal to say, also, about God's 3½ years judgments on His people in the 1st century. But that is another story not strictly relevant to the present enquiry.


On very similar lines to what has been explored regarding the Seals, it is possible to trace copious Biblical directives concerning the seven Trumpet visions. What follows here is a very brief summary.

  1. It was first pointed out by Sir Isaac Newton that the introduction to the Trumpets (8: 1-5) makes at least five separate allusions to the Day of Atonement ceremony as it was practised in the time of the apostles. A strange anomaly, surely, if these visions refer to the barbarous hordes of Europe in the centuries of darkness! Ought not this feature to steer attention immediately to Israel? It is worth noting also that on the Day of Atonement the seven angels sounded together and not one after the other. Does not this suggest a simultaneous fulfilment of all the trumpets?
  2. There is one dramatic difference from the Biblical Day of Atonement. Instead of a high-priestly blessing on the multitude waiting in silence and prayer, there is a sensational outpouring of coals of fire on "the Land". Compare Ezekiel 10: 2: coals of fire on the city of Jerusalem.
  3. The Biblical allusions scattered throughout Trumpets 1-4, when followed up with care and patience, prove to be so many interpretative leads to earlier prophecies about God's rejection of Israel.
  4. Trumpets 5 and 6 employ the vivid figure of a locust invasion swarming through the Holy Land. The similarity between Hebrew words for "locust" and "Arab" may be accidental. But what can be no accident is the long series of verbal contacts (at least 15 of them) between Revelation 8, 9 and the Prophecy of Joel. Why has this interpretative directive gone ignored? That Joel is a prophecy with both 1st century and 20th century fulfilments is a commonplace conclusion with students of prophecy. Then ought not the same to be considered for Revelation 9? That there is Messianic reference almost shouts from the facts that Trumpets 5, 6, immediately lead on to Trumpet 7 (Rev. 11:14ff) - note the phrase "cometh quickly"); and this Trumpet 7 is about the kingdom established, the Last Day Resurrection and Judgment.
  5. the specific period of "five months" (9: 5,10) links very easily and exactly with the 1st century reference-the A.D. 70 siege of Jerusalem lasted precisely this length of time. And in the Messianic reference it turns out to be, equally exactly, the equivalent of Daniel's 2300 evening - mornings (on this, see "Bible Studies", H.A.W., ch. 4.08).
Various other Biblical clues, when followed up instead of being quietly ignored, lead all the time to conclusions harmonizing beautifully with the general pattern sketched out here.

When will the people of the Book waken up to the fact that in O.T. and N.T. prophecy there is still a vast field of revelation waiting to be explored? And there is not much time left. What deters? - laziness? or fear? or ingrained conservatism?

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