Harry Whittaker
Revelation - A Biblical Approach

Chapter 18 - The First Four Trumpets: A.D. 70 (8:7-13)


Hail and fire mingled with blood are cast upon the earth (the Land). A third of the trees and all the green grass is burnt up.

The contrast in Revelation 9:4 between grass and trees, and “those men that have not the seal of God in their foreheads” suggests that there is a markedly literal element about the language of these Trumpets. This feature will be found to run through the entire series.


Practically every Biblical hint available for the interpretation of this First Trumpet insists on an application to God’s judgements against His own wayward people, the Jews.

Four passages are particularly emphatic and interesting.

1. Jeremiah 6. Phrase after phrase here anticipates the language of Revelation 8, 9, so much so that explanation by coincidence becomes too facile.

v. 1:
“Blow the trumpet in Tekoa.”

v. 17:
“Hearken to the sound of the trumpet.”

v. 15:
“They have committed abomination ... nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush” (9:20, 21).

v. 20:
“Your incense and offerings are not acceptable” (8:3-5).

v. 22:
“A people cometh from the north country” (9:14-16).

v. 23:
“They ride upon horses” (9:16).

v. 26:
“O daughter of my people ... bitter lamentation” (8: 11; reference to the trial of the bitter waters of jealousy? Numbers 5).

In the midst of this prophecy come the words: “For thus hath the Lord of Hosts said, Hew down her trees (RVm.), and cast a mount against Jerusalem: this is the city to be visited; she is wholly oppression in the midst of her” (Jeremiah 6:6).

Doubtless these things applied primarily to the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah’s own day, but to limit the words to such a fulfilment only would be shortsighted indeed, especially in view of what is contained in the next chapter, now to be considered. It will be immediately recognized that here is a picture of another punishment of Jerusalem at a later date.

2. Jeremiah 7. Verse 11 was quoted by Jesus with reference to the abuses current in his own day, and which he himself inspected in the temple: “Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the Lord.” Verses 13, 16 continue: “And now, because ye have done all these works, saith the Lord, and I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called you, but ye answered not ... therefore pray not thou for this people.” It is worthwhile also to notice how closely verse 9 is echoed in the Sixth Trumpet (9:20, 21).

Now attention must be given to verse 20: “Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Behold, mine anger and my fury shall be poured out upon this place, upon man, and upon beast, and upon the trees of the field, and upon the fruit of the ground; and it shall burn, and shall not be quenched.” Is not this the language of the Trumpets, especially of the First?

3. Ezekiel 20:47: “Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree: the flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be burned therein.” These words also were taken up by Jesus on his way to crucifixion (Luke 23: 31). In his time, even when the people were enthusiastically crucifying him, the national tree was still green; there was still sap in it. By A.D. 70, forty years later, it was as dry as tinder and fit only for burning.

4. Zechariah 11:1, 2: “Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars. Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen; because the mighty are spoiled: howl, O ye oaks of Bashan; for the forest of the vintage is come down.” These words come at the beginning of a prophecy of the rejection of Jesus and of the divine retribution that must come because of this great national sin. Cp. also Jeremiah 21:14. The conclusions to be drawn from these passages would seem to be:

the First Trumpet and details in the prophecies themselves require a repeat fulfilment, as in A.D. 70.

reference is to be understood to literal trees.

a figurative fulfilment is not excluded, but is rather required in addition to the other.

Thus it came to pass. The Roman War of A.D. 70 marked the end of national Jewry. The Jewish tree was burnt utterly. And in the final stages of the campaign by Titus point was put to this by the destruction of the literal trees in their thousands. Josephus tells how the vicinity of Jerusalem was- ravaged for miles around. Trees were felled indiscriminately to build engines of war and high platforms so that the attackers could fight on level terms with the besieged. And later the crucifixion of prisoners had to cease through lack of timber to make crosses. And partly because of these circumstances Palestine continued a treeless waste until the present century.

The hail of this Trumpet is an easily understood figure of heaven-sent destruction (Isaiah 28:2, where the primary reference is almost certainly to Sennacherib’s invasion). And the fire and blood have a similar meaning. Josephus wrote of the early part of Vespasian’s campaign: “Nor did the Romans leave off either by day or by night, burning the places of the plain and stealing away the cattle that were in the country, and perpetually killing whosoever appeared capable of fighting, and leading the weaker people as slaves into captivity, so that Galilee was all over filled with fire and blood” (B.J. 3.4.1).


Even the detail “green grass,” involving as it does an apparent tautology, is not without significance. Grass is not always green in Palestine, but only in the early spring. Thereafter it becomes dried, withered and scorched by the fierce heat of the sun and the hot winds from the desert. Hence the Bible figure: “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the wind[35] of the Lord bloweth upon it” (Isaiah 40:7). The gospels mention the green grass at the time of the Passover (John 6:4, 10; Mark 6:39). Josephus is explicit that the immense loss of life amongst the Jews was occasioned by their being trapped by the Roman armies in Jerusalem at Passover time: “for they (more than two million people, he exaggerates) were come up from all the country to the feast of unleavened bread, and were on a sudden shut up by an army” (B.J. 6:9:3).


The recurring mention of “a third part” in this and other Trumpets creates a major problem of interpretation in this section of the book. There seem to be three Biblical ideas associated with this phrase, and each of them much akin to the others and to the exposition already put forward.

In Ezekiel 5: 1-5 the prophet is bidden act the doom he is to pronounce upon his people. After shaving the hair of his head he is to divide it carefully into three parts, except for a mere few bound in the hem of his robe. These three parts are then consigned to summary destruction by fire or sword or scattering. The straightforward interpretation is then given in the rest of the chapter. The idea, is, plainly enough, that with the exception of the faithful remnant (cp. Ezekiel 9: 4; Revelation 7:3) the entire nation was to suffer from one of the three afflictions mentioned. Not all the horrors of apocalyptic judgement were to fall on all the people, but none was to come through unscathed, save those few who had the name of God written in their forehead.

The familiar words of Ezekiel 21:27 speak of three over turnings of the kingdom. These can be identified fairly confidently as:

Babylonian Captivity.

The Roman destruction of Jerusalem.

The great crisis of the Last Days.

Can it be, then, that this repeated mention of “the third part” is to remind the reader of a threefold ruin of the Holy City, the earliest being a type of the other two?

In a prophecy of the Last Days Isaiah 19:24 speaks of Israel as being “a third with Egypt and with Assyria.” Whereas in history and in prophecy Israel was and will be a battle ground for Egypt (the king of the south) and Assyria (the king of the north), in the day of Messiah the three are to form a harmonious unit serving the Lord. This passage suggests “the third part” as being Israel itself in contrast to the warring forces of north and south that battle in (against?) the Holy Land. This idea is of special value in considering the Last Day fulfilment of the Trumpets. It will be dealt with later in greater detail.


A burning mountain is cast into the sea. A third part of the waters become blood, and a third part of the ships and of living creatures in the sea are destroyed.

The “great mountain burning with fire” immediately recalls (as doubtless it was intended to do) an enigmatic prophecy made by Jesus. It was immediately after his acted parable of the cursing of the fig tree, by which he signified God’s rejection of fruitless Israel. When the disciples marveled Jesus went on: “Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea, it shall be done” (Matthew 21:21). “This mountain” was Zion, before which he stood at that time, with its altar fire, which never went out. The Judaism entrenched in the temple was to be the greatest obstruction to the apostles’ preaching of the gospel. Your faith will move this hindrance from your path, foretold Jesus. And so it came to pass.

Jeremiah 51:25 has a similar though not identical, prophecy of a “destroying mountain” becoming a burnt out volcano and being rolled down from its high eminence. But this is Babylon, the enemy of God’s people. In the light of what is tentatively suggested in chapter 34, even this is not without its relevance.

But in what way was the sea turned into blood in the period under consideration? Once again Josephus supplies the answer. He tells of a tremendous encounter on the Sea of Galilee between a Jewish fleet and many ships commandeered by the Romans. In the fight the Romans slew ruthlessly. Even the drowning were shot dead by arrows. And the Jews forced to land were destroyed as they sought to come ashore. “One might see the lake all bloody, and full of dead bodies, for not one of them escaped. And a terrible stink, and a very sad sight, there was on the following days over the country. In this way thousands were slain” (B.J. 3:10:9). Likewise, on the Mediterranean coast, a fleet of the insurgents, turned pirate, was destroyed in a mighty storm. Many of these Jews slew themselves in despair rather than perish miserably at the hands of the Roman soldiers, a fate which actually befell those who managed to reach land. “The sea was bloody a long way, and the maritime ports were full of dead bodies ... and the number of the bodies that were thus thrown out of the sea was 4,200” (B.J. 3 :9 :3).


A burning star falls on “the rivers and fountains of water.” The waters are made bitter and in consequence many die.
A Biblical identification of the “rivers and fountains of waters” presents few difficulties. Several passages identify the Land of Israel.

The picture in Revelation 7 of the wilderness journey of the redeemed is made to culminate in their reaching “fountains of waters of life” (7:17 R.V.). The figure of a literal Land of Promise is only too obviously behind the use of these words.

Ezekiel 6:3: “Thus saith the Lord God to the mountains and to the hills, to the rivers (R.V.: water courses; better still: wadis) and to the valleys.” And the previous verse specifies “the mountains of Israel.”

Ezekiel 36:4, 6 uses identical language of the land of Israel, in a context - let it be noted - which is definitely the Last Days.

Joel 1:20: “the rivers of waters are dried up.” Once again it is the land of Israel in the Last Days.

It is not unlikely that there is a certain element of the literal about this symbol. “There was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city (Jerusalem), even a comet, that continued a whole year” (B.J. 6:5:3). The phenomenon has since been identified by the astronomers as Halley’s comet.

It is rather remarkable that Isaiah’s prophecy (14:12) about Lucifer, the morning star, was appropriated by Jesus to describe the fate of his contemporaries who so stubbornly resisted his appeal. “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.... Thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shak be thrust down to hell” (Luke 10:18, 14; more on this in Chapter 20). The Third Trumpet repeats the idea with vivid detail added. The retribution came, it need hardly be repeated, in the Roman War.

The bitterness that ensued after the fall of the star is mentioned in Jeremiah: “Behold I will feed them, even this people, with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink. I will scatter them also among the nations” (9:15, 16). “Behold, I will feed them with wormwood, and make them drink the water of gall: for from the prophets of Jerusalem is profaneness gone forth into all the land” (23:15). And Jeremiah 6:26, already expounded in connection with the First Trumpet, has the same idea.

The basis of this language of judgement is that awe-inspiring ordinance of Numbers 5, the trial of the bitter waters of jealousy. A man suspecting unfaithfulness in his wife could bring her to the priest where she was given to drink the holy water of the Tabernacle mixed with dust of the floor of the sanctuary. And as she drank there was pronounced a most horrible curse against her fecundity. If she were guilty this was duly fulfilled; but if she were innocent, nothing befell.

Even so Israel, joined to the Lord by solemn covenant, had proved most unfaithful. Now here was her trial of the bitter waters. And the curse came into operation in all its frightfulness.

In the waters made bitter there is an impressive reversal of what Israel experienced (in a literal sense) at the very beginning of their life as a nation of God. When the People left Egypt, the bitter waters of Marah were made sweet when Moses thrust in a tree which the Lord shewed him (Exodus 15: 23-27). This strange experience was interpreted by the early church as a figure of the work of Christ. Service to God under the Law of Moses, hard and bitter as Egyptian bondage (Exodus 1:14), was made sweet by the Tree (the cross of Christ, 1 Peter 2: 24), and at the same occasion it was proclaimed: “I am the Lord that healeth thee.” The narrative continues: “and they encamped there by the waters” (Exodus 15:27).

But now in A.D. 70, with the salvation of God thrust aside and the cross of Christ execrated, there was and there has been throughout the centuries nothing but bitter waters for Israel, “and many men died because of the waters. “


Sun, moon and stars are darkened (by the smoke from the bottomless pit? Revelation 9:2).

It can easily be overlooked that the sun, moon and stars are used in Scripture frequently as symbolic of Israel; in fact the majority of passages where this figure is used support this point of view far more clearly than the idea often heard that the sun represents the ruling powers and the moon the ecclesiastical powers (for which, indeed, the evidence appears to be nonexistent).

Joseph’s dream, where sun, moon and stars stand for his father, mother and brethren, i.e. the whole family of Israel.

Revelation 12:1. The woman clothed with the sun and with the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars similarly represents the nation of Israel. From this starting point the chapter yields a coherent and highly relevant interpretation (ch. 27).

Genesis 22:17: “I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven.”

Jeremiah 31:36: “If those ordinances (sun, moon and stars; v. 35) depart from before Me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me forever.”

Joel 2:10: “The sun and moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining” - the final invasion of Israel in the Last Days (cp. ch. 3:15).

Daniel 8: 10: “The little horn waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them.”

Amos 8:9: “I will cause the sun to go down at noon” is coupled with: “I will turn your feasts into mourning.”

Luke 23:45: “And the sun was darkened and the veil of the temple rent in the midst.” Strange conjunction of phenomena in one verse except it is that both are symbolic of the same thing - the end of the Mosaic economy.

Revelation 8:12 says the third part of the sun, moon and stars were “smitten”. Is it just accident that the same word is used in the LXX of Isaiah 1: 5 and 9:13 concerning reprobate Israel?

All told there would seem to be a considerable preponderance of Biblical evidence in favour of interpreting this Fourth Trumpet on the same lines as the first three, i.e. with reference to God’s hammer - blows of wrath (Jeremiah 23: 29) in A.D. 70 against His rebellious people.

Manifestly the writings of the prophets have been ransacked for every available figure of speech to express in one form or another in this part of Revelation the idea of divine wrath - wrath inevitable, inescapable, condign, and complete - on a people who were now rejecting with haughty pride and stubborn hearts their last opportunity to turn away the anger of heaven.

It may well be, as in other Trumpets, the figurative had also a fair element of the literal. Tacitus and other writers of the period mention that the years A.D. 68-69 were made memorable by exceptionally impressive eclipses and terrific devastating storms.

[35] Cp. Revelation 7:1, which speaks of the first four trumpets as “the four winds of the earth”.
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