Sermon: The First Four Trumpets: Revelation 8:6–13

Old Testament Reading: Exodus 7:1–20; 9:22–26; 10:21–23

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water. Stand on the bank of the Nile to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that turned into a serpent. And you shall say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.’ But so far, you have not obeyed. Thus says the Lord, ‘By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood. The fish in the Nile shall die, and the Nile will stink, and the Egyptians will grow weary of drinking water from the Nile.’’ And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, their canals, and their ponds, and all their pools of water, so that they may become blood, and there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’’ Moses and Aaron did as the Lord commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile turned into blood” (Exodus 7:1–20, ESV).

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, so that there may be hail in all the land of Egypt, on man and beast and every plant of the field, in the land of Egypt.’ Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. And the Lord rained hail upon the land of Egypt. There was hail and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very heavy hail, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field. Only in the land of Goshen, where the people of Israel were, was there no hail” (Exodus 9:22–26, ESV).

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.’ So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived” (Exodus 10:21–23, ESV).

New Testament Reading: Revelation 8:6–13

“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. Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, ‘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’” (Revelation 8:6–13, ESV)!

Introduction 

Not only should we remember that the book of Revelation is a book that communicates truth through symbols, that it is organized, not chronologically, but thematically and theologically, and that it is not only about events yet in our future, but things past, present, and future to us (these three principles were emphasized last Sunday), we must also remember that the book of Revelation was written for a church under attack.

The book was delivered to churches, and to the Christians who were members of those churches, who were being assaulted by the evil one in a variety of ways. This is how the evil one operates. His tactics are not uniform, but diverse, creative, and cunning. It is true that he, like a prowling lion, but the Christian should remember that he will devour in a variety of ways.

Sometimes he will seek to lull the Christian into a state of sleepy, disengaged, and comfortable complacency.

Sometimes he will attempt to seduce the Christian with the world. Like a fish attracted to the flash of the lure, so he seeks to draw Christians away from their singleminded devotion to Christ to chase after the shinny things of this world.

At other times the evil one assaults the church by way of false teaching. Here he seeks to capitalize upon the religious devotion and fervor of men. “Let them remain religious”, he reasons, “but let us be sure that the content of the religion is Christ-less”. This is one of his tactics – to keep men and women from God and from Christ by way of a worldly religion. False teaching is as potent a weapon as any other in the evil one’s arsenal. The world is filled with people who are deeply religious and yet do not know God, for they have not come to him trusting in Christ alone, who is the only mediator between God and man. Indeed, the world is even filled with those who bear the name “Christian” who are in fact enemies of God, for they do not trust in Christ alone, but in their own righteousness. False teaching, in its many forms, is a weapon used by the evil one in his battle against the church.

So too is persecution. It may be that the Christian stands firm in the face of these other attacks and yet begins to falter at the thought of public shame, economic hardship, imprisonment, beatings, and death. Certainly the evil one uses persecution in seeking to keep men and women from Christ, or to draw them away from their profession of faith.

It would not take very long to review the letters to the seven churches found at the beginning of the book of Revelation to be reminded of these things. The book was written to churches under attack. The objective of this book from begging to end is to encourage the Christian to endure, to turn from sin, and to persevere in the faith on to the end of life.

At the end of the letter to the church in Ephesus Christ said, “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7, ESV).

To the church in Smyrna he said, “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:11, ESV).

To Pergamum he said, “To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it” (Revelation 2:17, ESV).

To Thyatira he said, “The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star” (Revelation 2:26–28, ESV).

To Sardis he said, “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels” (Revelation 3:5, ESV).

To the church at Philadelphia he said, “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name” (Revelation 3:12, ESV).

And to Laodicea he said, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21, ESV).

We are at war, then. The evil one would have us to turn back from following Christ. But God’s will for his people is that they conquer. The intent of the book of Revelation is to inspire the Christian to conquer – that is, to persevere in the faith to the very end.

The seal cycle, which we have already considered, inspires the Christian to persevere by showing that, though the Christian may suffer in this world as the four horsemen described in the breaking of the first four seals roam the earth, working their death and destruction, God will make those who belong to him through faith in Christ to stand. The seal cycle encourages the Christian to see the sufferings experienced in this world in the light of eternity. We are to bear up under suffering knowing that God cares for us in the midst of it. The one who has faith in Christ is sealed by Christ. God and Christ will judge the wicked in the end. In other words, the Christian will conquer, for Christ has conquered.

It is not difficult to see that the trumpet cycle, which we are now considering, communicates a similar message. It too portrays the conquest of God and Christ, over the ungodly, particularly those who persecute Christians.

The cry of the souls of those who had been martyred should still ring in our ears. Do you remember the question asked by the souls of the martyrs that cried out when the fifth seal was opened? “They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” (Revelation 6:10, ESV)

Seals six and seven answered that question, but so do the trumpets. When the first six trumpets are blown we see, to quote G.K. Beale, is “God [responding] to the saints’ prayer by using angels to execute judgments on the persecuting world, leading up to the last judgment (8:6–9:21)”, which is portrayed in the sounding of the seventh trumpet in 11:15.

The first four trumpets clearly belong together  – the structure of the text makes that evident – and when they are blown we see, to quote Beale again, “God [depriving] the ungodly of earthly security because of their persecution and idolatry in order to indicate their separation from him (8:6–12).”

Do you remember the sermon from last week where I emphasized the connection between the seven trumpets of Revelation and the seven trumpets that were blown before the destruction of Jericho as recorded in Joshua 6? That is a significant connection to make and to keep in mind. Israel marched around Jericho once a day for 6 days and seven priests blew seven trumpets as they did. What was the function of those trumpet blasts? The warned of impending doom. They announced that the judgment of the God of Israel was near. And on the seventh day the people marched around the city seven times while the seven priests blew the seven trumpets. And what was the result? The walls of that city fell, the people of Israel rushed in, a full and final judgment came upon the Jericho, and Israel began her conquest of the land promised to her.  The seven trumpets blown on the seventh day ushered in judgment and conquest.

The seven trumpets of Revelation are designed to bring that story to mind. And when the Jericho story comes to mind the church is to think, “as it was under the Old Covenant, so will it be under the New Covenant”. God will fight for his people. He will bring them safely into the land promised to them. This time it will be, not a small sliver of land in Palestine, but into the new heavens and new earth. And God will judge his enemies. At the end of time it will be, not one city that fall, but all of the inhabitants of the earth that will stand before God to be judged fully and finally.  And just as was with Jericho, so too will it be with the world – God will constantly sound the trumpets which warn of the coming of the day of the Lord.

But the story of Jericho is not the only one alluded to in this passage. The reader should also think of the Exodus event and the ten plagues that God poured out upon the Egyptians leading to the deliverance of Israel.

Do you remember the story? God called Abraham and promised, among other things, to make a great nation out of him. It was his grandson and his great-grandson’s who went down into Egypt being driven there by a famine. Joseph, their brother, had attained power in that land and was able to provide safely for his family. 430 years past and the descendants of Abraham had grown exceedingly in number. But the people of Israel no longer enjoyed favor in the land – the king who had shown favor to Joseph was long dead. Now the descendent of Abraham were slaves to the Pharaoh. Moses was called by God to set the free. And they would be freed, not by military conquest, but by the mighty hand of God as he sent ten plagues upon the Egyptians culminating with the death of the first born in all of Egypt, while sparing the Israelites. The plagues were these:

  1. Water turned to blood (Exodus 7:14-25).
  2. Frogs cover the land (Exodus 8:1-15).
  3. The dust turns into gnats or lice (Exodus 8:16-19).
  4. Swarms of flies cover the land (Exodus 8:20-32).
  5. Death of all Egyptian livestock (Exodus 9:1-7).
  6. Boils break out on the people of Egypt (Exodus 9:8-12).
  7. Hailstorms kill unsheltered humans, animals, and vegetation (Exodus 9:13-35).
  8. Locusts cover the land and consume all remaining vegetation (Exodus 10:1-20).
  9. Darkness covers Egypt for three days (Exodus 10:21-29).
  10. The firstborn children of all Egyptian people and cattle die (Exodus 11:1-10, 12:29-32).

Notice that the plagues functioned in two ways simultaneously. One, they were judgment to the enemies of God – to those who persecuted God’s chosen people. Two, they were the means by which Israel was delivered. The plagues were simultaneously judgment to the enemies of God, but salvation for his people.

And please recognize this – when the first four trumpets are blown the plagues that were poured out upon the Egyptians are alluded to?

I want you to see how wonderfully complex the book of Revelation is. We have in this passage – in the trumpet cycle – a kind of tangled mess of allusions to theologically significant events in the Old Testament. Jericho is clearly alluded to, but so is the exodus event. It was through the plagues sent upon the Egyptians that God delivered Israel from bondage, and it was through the trumpet blasts at Jericho that Israel was brought into the promised land.

What is the message, then? Is it not this – that God will fight for his people – that he will do for the New Covenant church what he did for the Old Covenant church?

Let us consider the first four trumpets one at a time.

The First Trumpet – Hail, Fire, And Blood Cast Upon The Land

Look at verse 6: “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” (Revelation 8:6–7, ESV).

This should be compared with Exodus 9:22-25 and the seventh plague that is described there – the hailstorm that killed unsheltered humans, animals, and vegetation.

Notice that the seventh plague is in the first trumpet both limited but also universalized. It is limited in that only a third of the earth is said to be effected. But it is universalized in that it is one third, not of Egypt, but of the whole earth is effected.

The Second Trumpet – A Mountain Cast Into The Sea

Look now at verse 8: “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” (Revelation 8:8–9, ESV).

This should be compared with Exodus 7:1-20 and the first plague that is described there – the turning of the Nile into blood.

Notice that the first plague is in the second trumpet both limited but also universalized. It is limited in that only a third of the sea is said to be effected. But it is universalized in that it is one third, not of the Nile of Egypt, but of the seas of the earth that are effected.

The sea turned to blood and the sea creatures perishing certainly is to remind of of the first plague poured out upon the Egyptians, but what of the burning mountain thrown into the sea?

The futurist takes this literally and imagines that this is a prophesy concerning a meteor that will one day fall to into the sea or a description of a volcanic eruption. The trouble with this interpretation is that it is inconsistent with the principle of interpretation that is to be used throughout the book of Revelation. The book communicates truth via symbol. I might also add that the futurist isn’t even consistent within their own system which strives to interpret the book literally whenever possible, for the text does not say that meteor will fall into the sea or that a volcano will erupt, but that “something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea”. Even they must say that this “something like a great mountain, burning with fire” symbolizes or stands for a meteor or volcanic eruption.

It is far better to remain consistent in our interpretation of the book of Revelation and to recognize that mountains often symbolize nations in the scriptures, and that fire symbolizes judgment, as does the thought of something being consumed by the sea. What we have here then is a symbolic depiction of the God’s judgment falling upon a nation. God judged Egypt. God judged Babylon. God judged Rome. And God will continue to judge the nations of the earth bringing about both their rise and fall.

Turn with me to Jeremiah 51 and look at verse 25. Here God, through the prophet Jeremiah, is pronouncing judgment upon the Babylonians for their harsh treatment of Israel. Listen to the language used. “Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain, declares the Lord, which destroys the whole earth; I will stretch out my hand against you, and roll you down from the crags, and make you a burnt mountain. No stone shall be taken from you for a corner and no stone for a foundation, but you shall be a perpetual waste, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 51:25–26, ESV).

Look now to verse 42 of the same chapter. “How Babylon is taken, the praise of the whole earth seized! How Babylon has become a horror among the nations! The sea has come up on Babylon; she is covered with its tumultuous waves” (Jeremiah 51:41–42, ESV).

Do you hear the language that was used to describe the judgment of Babylon? She was called a “destroying mountain”. God promised through the prophet to make here “burnt mountain” and to cover her with the “tumultuous waves” of this sea. This happened. Babylon fell, as have many other nations in the history of the world to this present day.

Look now at Revelation 18:21. This passage describes the judgment of Babylon. And of course this is not to be taken as literal reference to Babylon. As we will see in our study of the book of Revelation “Babylon” will symbolize the nations of the earth. Look at how the judgment of “Babylon is described in Revelation 18:21: “Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, ‘So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more’” (Revelation 18:21, ESV). Here it is a millstone that symbolizes Babylon, but notice that the nation is said to be thrown into the sea. This corresponds with what is described with at the sounding of the second trumpet when “something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood.” This symbolizes the rise and fall of nations.

Again, notice that the limitation. It is one mountain that John saw, and a third of the sea is said to be effected. This represents, not the final judgment, but the partial judgments that are ever present with the rise and fall of nations in the history of the world.

I’d like to take you quickly to two other places in Revelation where the full and final judgment is portrayed so that you might compare them to the partial judgments symbolized here.

Turn quickly back to the Revelation 6:12 and to the breaking of the sixth seal which symbolizes the final judgment. There we read, “When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place” (Revelation 6:12–14, ESV).

Turn now to Revelation 16:3 which described the pouring out of the second bowl – the bowl cycle describes the final judgment. “The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea” (Revelation 16:3, ESV). If you were compare the trumpet cycle with the bowl cycle you would see that what is judged in part in the trumpet cycle is judges in full in bowl cycle. This is because the first six trumpets symbolize judgments that are partial, and not final.

The Third Trumpet – Burning Star Falls On Rivers And Springs

Look at Revelation 8:10: “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” (Revelation 8:10–11, ESV).

The star that John saw falling from heaven who name is Wormwood symbolizes the casting down of the angel who has authority over the nation who’s fall was just portrayed.

I understand that this might sound strange to you. You’re probably accustom to the futurist/dispensational interpretation which says that this is a prophesy concerning yet another meteor that will fall to earth someday poisoning one third of the rivers.

Turn over to Revelation 9:1. There we find another reference to a star falling. “And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth…” Is it meteor? No, look at the text!  It says, “…and he [the star fallen from heaven] was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit” (Revelation 9:1, ESV). Clearly this is not an impersonal space object, but a living being. The “star” of 9:1 represents an angelic being! This should not surprise us for the Bible uses this symbolism elsewhere. Should we not take 8:10 in the same way, then? The stars name is Wormwood. Wormwood is an herb that makes things bitter. It is used to symbolize judgment.

Listen, for example, to Jeremiah 9:14-15: “…but they have walked according to the dictates of their own hearts and after the Baals, which their fathers taught them,” therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will feed them, this people, with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink” (Jeremiah 9:14–15, NKJV).

And listen to Jeremiah 23:15:  “Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets: ‘Behold, I will feed them with wormwood, And make them drink the water of gall; For from the prophets of Jerusalem Profaneness has gone out into all the land’” (Jeremiah 23:15, NKJV).

The star falling from heaven is symbolic of the casting down of the angel who had authority over the nation who’s fall was portrayed by the burning mountain that was thrown into the sea.

The Fourth Trumpet – Sun, Moon, And Stars Darkened

Look now at 8:12: “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” (Revelation 8:12, ESV).

Some futurists/dispensationalists imagine that this is prophesy concerning a time when we will have 18 hours of darkness and 6 hours of daylight. It is better that our minds go to Exodus 10:21-23 and the description of the ninth of the ten plagues when the land of Egypt was covered in complete darkness for three days.

Notice that the ninth plague is in the fourth trumpet both limited but also universalized. The judgment is limited  in that the sun, moon and stars are darkened, not completely as it was in Egypt, but by a third. The judgment is universalized in that the darkness covers, not only Egypt, but the whole earth.

The darkening of the sun, moon, and stars symbolizes the judgment of God. What happened when Egypt was struck? Darkness for three days. What happened when Christ hung on the cross? There was darkness at noontime.The fourth trumpet symbolizes the partial and perpetuals judgment of God that will be poured upon the nations of the earth during the church age, particularly those nations which persecuted the church, who is the Israel of God.

Conclusion

Do these visions shown to John have a historical fulfillment? Yes they do! When the Christians living in 90 A.D. read this letter they undoubtably thought of Rome and the conflicts that surrounded them. You and I also see the historical fulfillment to these visions in the world today. Iraq comes to minds, as does Syria. This world will be marked by wars, rumors of wars, famines and plagues between Christ’s first and second comings.

But our God is able to judge his enemies while preserving his people, delivering them from the evil one and bringing them safely into the eternal land of promise. He proved it in the Exodus. He proved if at Jericho. Those were but a prototype of the victory won by Christ. He has conquered. And we will rule with him if we persevere in faith.

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6, ESV).

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