The Trumpets of Judgment (Revelation 8-9)

On January 13th, 2018, the Hawaii Emergency Management System sent a text message to all residents on the island, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.[i]” An unpredictable dictator in North Korea, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and a volatile political discourse, made the text message very plausible. It was not a drill; it was an accident. A simple staffer clicked live alert instead of test alert. It took the officials’ 38 minutes to send a follow-up text of the mistake and everyone and everything was safe. Thirty-eight minutes of silence waiting for a ballistic missile to crash into the island. What would you have done during those 38 minutes? Where would you have gone for shelter? What would you say to your family? What would you say to God? Thirty-eight minutes of silence.

            Waiting for disaster is nothing new. The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 or the War Scare of 1983, America has been under serious threat of attack in the past. Hawaii was on ready alert for imminent and immediate disaster. “THIS IS NOT A TEST.” Putin. Kim Jong-un. Trump. Three leaders who can attack irrationally and make verbose claims of their country’s military prowess. Former Secretary of State William Perry recently warned, “We are at greater risk of nuclear catastrophe now than we were during the Cold War.” If you woke up to a that text message, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO THE UNITED STATES. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” what would you do? Would you dismiss it or seek shelter?

Scripture warns of a far greater threat than a ballistic missile. The Bible warns that God will pour out his wrath on all the earth. I pray today that as you receive this “text message,” from God’s Word, you would seek shelter from the storm of God’s wrath. 

The Preparation

In Revelation 5, John sees a scroll sealed with seven seals. He begins to weep because there was no one worthy to open the scrolls. And as John wept, one of the elders said, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Rev.5:5) Jesus is the only one who is worthy to open the seals. Revelation 6 begins with Jesus opening the seals. There is an interlude between the sixth and the seventh seal reminding the readers of the great multitude who cry out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”  (Rev. 7:10) It is a glorious picture of the throne room of heaven. Revelation 7:17, “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water and God will wipe away every tear from eyes.” After this glorious picture of grace and mercy, and those who were washed and clothed with white in the blood of the lamb, the seventh seal is opened.

      The seventh seal brings God’s wrath to bear on a rebellious world. The proud and the arrogant, the lawless and the obstinate, will finally face God’s justice. Heaven is full of God’s praises. The cherubim and seraphim, the twenty-four elders, and the angelic choir fill heaven with their praises of the Triune God until the seventh seal is open. Revelation 8:1, “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” There is a holy anticipation and awe for the coming of the power of Almighty God. There is silence. Heaven is preparing for the end.

      There is rarely silence in our day. Silence is a gift. It forces contemplation. It presses our minds to consider our own mortality and our eternity. Maybe once a month you can model Revelation 8:1 by sitting in silence meditating on what God has done and what God will do as a sober reminded of our ever-present need of him. Heaven is silent and then prepares for the trumpets of judgment. Revelation 8:2-5,

Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

The prayers of, “how long,” from the persecuted saints in Revelation 6 are brought before the Lord. “Your kingdom come. Your will be done. On Earth as it is in Heaven.” Heaven joins with us in our longing for the justice of God to come to earth. God answers the prayers of the saints in a visible manifestation of his power.

            The storm imagery in verse 5 (the peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake) would have brought the original readers back to Mount Sinai and God’s deliverance from Egypt through the plagues. Through the plagues account in Exodus there is a refrain giving the purpose God’s actions, “that they may know that I am the Lord.” Each plague shows how that the LORD is above the earthly gods of the Egyptians. There is only one Lord. In the blowing of the trumpet, the LORD is showing that he is far above any earthly gods. The plagues were sent to Egypt to deliver Israel and now the plagues are sent to the Earth to deliver eschatological Israel. As One scholar notes,

As plagues will preceded the release of the children of Israel from their Egyptian masters, so plagues will precede the Exodus of the church from hostile political powers. They are the prelude to the great and final Exodus in which the church is taken out of the world and enters the eternal presence of God. Constant allusion throughout this section to the Egyptian plagues is a way of emphasizing that in the last days God will again bring punishment upon those hostile powers that oppress his people.[ii]

The Exodus was only a small preview of his power.

The Punishment

            As we read of the effect of each trumpet blast, it is easy to see terror and dread that comes upon the earth, but notice that through the first four trumpet blast, the destruction is not permanent. God has warned with words and continues to warn with partial destruction giving people a chance to repent. Revelation 8:6–12,

Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them. The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter. The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.

The first four trumpets are brought upon nature. The judgments affected the physical earth in the burning of trees and grass, the seas and those creatures who depend on the sea, the rivers and springs, and even luminaries of the sun, stars and the moon.

            There are three main ideas in these first four trumpet blast. First, God is powerful. We never want to forget the power of Almighty God. God will not be mocked. We should not approach him in a light and trivial manner. God is holy and awesome, and we should approach him as such. Second, God is proving how he is greater than all earthly gods. God is not just powerful, but he is supreme. It is futile to turn against him. Third, God wants people to repent. God does not destroy all the earth, but only a third. The third could be taken literally or it could be that each trumpet affected a large section of the earth. Either way, it is to communicate a partial destruction. A partial destruction is giving people a change to turn to him. It is foolish to follow earthly gods. They will come to nothing; only God will last.

            As the first four trumpets affect the physical earth, the next three impact the people who walk on the earth. This was like the seals as the first 4 affected the earth and the next 3 impacted those on the earth. There is an ominous warning from an eagle about what was still to come, “Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overheard, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!” (Rev. 8:13) Remember every time John references “those who dwell on the earth” he is referring not referring to humanity, but only to those who do not trust in the Lord (earth dwellers equal unbelievers).

            One may say, “God is unfair to send these judgments on the earth.” This merely exposes our exalted view of our own importance. God is God. We are creatures. Creatures do not dictate to the Creator. We should hear of these first four judgments and the impending woe of the last 3 trumpet blasts to bring us to repentance. God is kind in giving people an opportunity to repent. He is kind to you to today. These trumpets are warnings. They are warning you to repent, but never forget who opened to seventh seal to bring these trumpet blasts. It was the Lamb who was slain to ransomed people for God from every tribe, and language, and people, and nation. The One who will judge the earth is the same One who came to save the earth. The Lord Jesus first came to take our punishment on the cross. He lived perfectly before the Father and was punished for the sins of all who would turn and trust in him.

            God is kind. He has made a way for salvation. “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” The power we see in the trumpet plagues is meant to bring repentance from those who dwell on the earth and to encourage his people. God will vindicate his people. God will deliver his people from the hostile powers of the day. His power is an ever-present reminder to his people to hold fast to Christ and wait for his coming. As his power is an ever-present remind to everyone else to turn to Christ or face his wrath.

            The last three trumpet judgments are woes that fall against the wicked. The fifth and the sixth judgments are twice as long as the first four. Revelation 9:1-12,

And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.

In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women's hair, and their teeth like lions' teeth; they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon. The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come.

The demonic forces are sent to destroy their worshippers. Those who worship the things of the earth will be destroyed by the things of the earth. They will long for death, but death will escape them. The leader of these demonic forces, Abaddon or Apollyon, both mean Destroyer. The message is clear: the demonic forces are meant to destroy the image of God.

            I am reminded of the story of Pinocchio. Pinocchio went with this friends for the promise of fun only to become a donkey. The world promises fun and excitement and pleasure, but its real aim is destruction. Earthly pleasure leads to eternal torment. Do not be deceived with the intent of earthly gods. Their ultimate aim is not your good, but to torment and destroy.

            Mankind longed for death in the torture of the scorpion-like locust and were granted death by the demonic cavalry unleashed and led by angels for that very purpose. Revelation 9:13–19,

Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” So, the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions' heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths. By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.

The sixth trumpet finishes what the fifth began. The demonic cavalry rides to destroy.

It is unwise to think about parallels in Johns days (Parthian invaders) or in our day (tanks and helicopters). We must read these theologically. What is John’s purpose? Why did God give him this vision? These visions were given so that the people would repent. People will be destroyed by the very things they worship. Grant Osborne writes,

The message for John’s day and for our day is clear. We must help believer and unbeliever alike to realize what is at stake. Idolatry in our society is not so obvious but is just as real as it was in John’s day…Whatever we place ahead of God in our lives is our idol. Therefore, the modern world is replete with idols: money, possessions, power, pleasure, sex, success, fame, drugs. These are all tools of Satan, and there are countless stories in which these very things have tortured and killed those who pursue them. We must warn people of the cosmic powers in control of this secular world and call them to God.

Friends, this world will disappoint and destroy. Do not believe the lies of the evil one. This world and your idols will turn on you. Do not trust them. Turn to God and live. He is the only trustworthy Savior. He is the only Sovereign. He is supreme. Turn to God through Christ and live.

The Protection

            The saddest part of these two chapters is in the end of chapter 9. God has sent his judgments on the earth and those who dwell on the earth and people still do not repent. Revelation 9:20–21,

The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

The greatest tragedy of life is a lack of repentance. God has made a way, but people refuse to listen to God. They follow their own idols to the grave. They love sex and greed more than the gracious, merciful, compassionate God who made them. They are blinded by the spirit of the age as C.S. Lewis as said, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”[iii]

            Friends, let us not fall into the tragedy of this passage. Let us run from our idols and seek shelter in the storm. God is our refuge. We cannot avoid the trumpet blast. The storm is coming, but we can seek protection from God. Revelation 9:4, “They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” The Great Tribulation will be severe, but it will not be able to touch those with the seal of God on their foreheads.

            Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. Everyone who confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord and believes that he rose from the dead is marked for eternity. We are sealed as sons and daughters by the Holy Spirit of God. As Paul so beautifully wrote by the Spirit, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Jesus Christ is the only sure shelter in the coming storm. Bob Kauflin writes,

I have a shelter in the storm
When all my sins accuse me
Though justice charges me with guilt
Your grace will not refuse me
O Jesus, I will hide in You
Who bore my condemnation
I find my refuge in Your wounds
For there I find salvation


I have a shelter in the storm
When constant winds would break me
For in my weakness, I have learned
Your strength will not forsake me
O Jesus, I will hide in You
The One who bears my burdens
With faithful hands that cannot fail
You’ll bring me home to heaven[iv]

Friend, Jesus is our own shelter in the storm. Heed this “text’s message,” “DANGEROUS THREAT INBOUND TO EARTH. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Friend, this is not a drill. The trumpets will blast, and woes shall come. Repent of your sins and seek shelter in Christ. He is our sure and steady anchor in the fury of the storm. When the winds of doubt blow through us, and our sails have all been torn. In the suffering, in the sorrow, when our sinking hopes are few; let us hold fast to the anchor, it will never be removed. Christ the sure of our salvation, Ever faithful, ever true! We will hold fast to the anchor, it shall never be removed.[v]

 

[i] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/01/16/the-hawaii-alert-was-an-accident-the-dread-it-inspired-wasnt/?utm_term=.23091dd98b0b accessed 1.28.18

[ii] Mounce, Bill. The Book of Revelation. 8:5.

[iii] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/we-are-far-too-easily-pleased accessed on 1.28.18

[iv] Kauflin, Bob. I Have A Shelter in the Storm. 2014. Music and words by Steve & Vikki Cook and Bob Kauflin. © 2008 Integrity's Hosanna! Music/Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP)/Integrity's Praise!Music/Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI). Sovereign Grace Music, 

[v] Boswell, Matt. Christ, the Sure and Steady Anchor.