Scene 3 of 7: “God’s wrath, seven trumpets.” (chapter 7-9): As we begin scene three of Revelation, the focus is shifting from heaven to the earth. Chapter seven is a parenthetical section where John (and us!) are provided some background information before the action continues. This vision begins with four angels.
John notes that these four angels are holding back the fury of God’s wrath, and it is clear that this pause will not last long. Before Jesus opens the seventh seal, God needs to put HIS seal upon the foreheads of 144,000 servants of God (verse 4). John takes the time to record the identity of these people in verses 5-8. There is no need to view this symbolically, this group of "sealed servants" are from the twelve tribes of Israel.
In verse nine we are introduced to another great multitude, including people from every nation, tribe, people, and language. In verse 14 we learn that, “these are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Having identified these two large groups of people in heaven, we return to the action on earth in chapter 8. Now it is time for the seventh seal to be removed. Now it is time for the scroll book to be opened. Now it is time for God to act directly. In the first few verses of chapter 8 the angels in heaven prepare for what is to come. Most notably, the prayers of God’s people (incense) rise up before the throne of God. In Revelation verse 6 the removal of the seventh seal allows the book to be opened AND unleashes the seven trumpets of God’s wrath. We will consider each of the trumpets individually:
Trumpet 1 (verse 7, land): When the first trumpet is sounded, hail and fire, mixed with blood is hurled on the earth. A third of the earth is burned, a third of the trees are burned, and all of the green grass is burned up. Some theorize that this hail, fire, and blood is the result of the activity of the angel in verse five. Others consider this a reference to earthquakes or volcanic activity. Still others hypothesize solar flares or asteroids. What we do know is that in a short span of time, one-third of the earth will be burned including the majority of plant life. Consider the impact that this will have on the remaining human population!
Trumpet 2 (verse 8, sea): At the blast of the second trumpet, something like a huge mountain is thrown into the sea and a third of the sea is turned to blood. A third of the sea creatures die and a third of the sea going ships are destroyed. Many speculate that this is a reference to a large meteorite striking an ocean. If this is the cause, those remaining on the earth will suffer from massive disruption in weather patterns, commerce, and transportation.
Trumpet 3 (verse 10, water): As the third trumpet is sounded, a great blazing star caused one third of the fresh water on the earth to become bitter. The name of this star is Wormwood. Wormwood is a bitter tasting and poisonous plant. It is possible that the earth could intersect with the tail of a comet. If comprised of some noxious material the fallout from a comet could cause devastation to much of the earth's freshwater. The connection to Wormwood will be clear at the time of the third trumpet.
Trumpet 4 (verse 12, the heavens): The fourth trumpet results in a third of the sun, moon, and stars to be darkened. Some speculate that this is a reference to a (strange) type of eclipse. Others hypothesize that this is caused by particulate matter in the atmosphere, perhaps the result of the first three Trumpets. What is clear is that most heavenly bodies will be dimmed significantly as viewed from the earth. As the earth reels from the devastation of the first four Trumpets, an angel declares, “woe, woe, woe.” This is because the next three Trumpets focus directly on humanity. In addition, rather than physical calamities these upcoming three woes include an evil, spiritual component that will be devastating.
Trumpet 5 (verse 9:1-11, evil tormenting locust): The fifth Trumpet, the first woe, unleashes hordes of demonic locusts. These locust-like creatures are controlled by Satan and have the power to torment those not sealed by God. John uses a couple of symbolic descriptors which will be quite clear to those experiencing the fifth Trumpet. These locust-like creatures have the ability to painfully sting humans as does a scorpion. Another very locust-like quality is that these creatures only act for five months. However, five months will seem like an eternity, people will seek death rather than the torture of these demon-creatures.
But we know these creatures are not typical locusts because they do not consume plants. Beginning in verse 7 John provides addition detail about these locust-creatures: “... looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. Their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. They had breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses…” Many have speculated on what John is witnessing here and I’m not sure that is wise to do. As Satan controlled beings they will be deceptive. They will have a physical nature but more importantly, they have spiritual nature controlled by Satan (verse 11).
One final note: Since John specifically mentions that these creatures are only allowed to torment those not sealed by God, we can assume that some of God’s people are on the earth during this period.
Trumpet 6 (verse 9:13-21, a great battle): The second woe is released as the sixth Trumpet sounds. A voice from heaven declares, “Release the four angels who are bound at the river Euphrates.” As an aside, the Euphrates originates in Turkey, flows through Syria and Iraq, before terminating in the Persian Gulf. John notes that these four angels have been “kept for this very hour and day and month and year…” This is a very specific, very exact time. John continues by declaring that these four “angels” will be responsible for leading a battle that will kill one-third of humanity (billions of people). In verse 16 John is given another very specific number, 200,000,000. This is the number of battle-ready infantry troops following the lead of the four “angels.”
Beginning in verse 17 John provides a description of this infantry of 200-million. Keep in mind that John is using first-century language to symbolically describe future events. “Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and sulfur. A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths. The power of the horses was in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails were like snakes, having heads with which they inflict injury.”
Some have speculated that this represents tanks, and others nuclear missiles. I do not think it wise to speculate too specifically; it will be very clear at the appointed time. We should note the elements mentioned by John: red, blue, and yellow. Fire, smoke, and sulfur. Power from the mouth (front) and from the tail (rear). Most importantly, that billions of people will be killed by the triple plagues of fire, smoke, and sulfur that came out of the mouths of these warriors.
In spite of the fact that billions of people will be killed in this battle, there are still many humans on the earth. Even after learning about this terrible battle, those remaining continue to sin, continue in idolatry, and continue to ignore God.
Note: At this point we come to an interlude, similar to the one that preceded the seventh seal. Only this break is longer. Maybe John needed a moment. In any case, the next few chapters differ substantially from what we have just read. I am convinced that John (and us) needed some background information to understand the details of the upcoming tribulation.